Monday, November 24, 2003

I entered this post earlier tonight, before leaving to see Garrison Keillor and Calvin Trillin, and just as I posted it, blogger came down. So here I am retyping this, hoping it doesn't happen again.

While the world focused on the Michael Jackson affair all weekend, three events took place without so much as a whisper, which events are much more likely to have serious consequences for everybody's life here in the U.S. of A.

One : In Miami, peaceful demonstrators against the FTA were greeted by what a journalist, who was shot with a rubber bullet, qualified as "the most violent response by police he had ever seen."

Those peaceful demonstrators were attacked by police in full riot gear, who used tear gas, concussion grenades, taser guns, rubber bullets, rubber bullets filled with some white powder that dispersed and burnt their skin on contact, rubber truncheons and night sticks. Several had their teeth broken. Others were kicked in the face, or kicked in the head. Some 125 were hurt.

The violence took place towards the end of the demonstration, when all the regular media cameras and reporters were packing it in for the day and the crowds were beginning to thin out. At that point, the police commanded that the remaining demonstrators disperse, which they immediately started to do, moving from the street to the sidewalk in orderly fashion so as to avoid unnecessary confrontation, chanting "Put your weapons down! We are dispersing! Put your weapons down! We are dispersing!" As they reached the sidewalk, they were barred from proceeding by lines of police in full body armor blocking the way, who proceeded to drive them into containing fences, where they started knocking them down, macing them and beating them up.

Some 250 people were arrested, among them non-embedded reporters, legal observers, lawyers, and a bunch of Harvard students, who had come down with one of their Harvard professors. The "non-embedded" reporters are mentioned specifically because there were also a number of "embedded" reporters present, in police uniform and riot gear, with press badges. There were also some undercover police provocateurs, wearing T-shirts with such slogans as "FTA sucks", who were promptly taken to safety behind police lines at the start of the violence.

One young female reporter noticed she was being treated more gently than the other demonstrators, and she thought this preferential treatment might be attributable to the fact that she was wearing her press badge, until she heard some voices calling out: "She's not with us! She's not with us!" at which point everything changed and she was knocked down, knocked about, maced and finally arrested.

While under arrest, since her clothes were covered with the tear gas, etc., chemicals she had been sprayed with, she was forced to take a shower with all her clothes on. After which she was obliged to strip off all her clothes, in a room filled with male policemen who were watching, despite her protestations. They then took away all her clothes, and put them into a plastic bag which they took away, and they gave her prison garb to wear, which is what she wore when she eventually went home.

It seems that Florida has received an extra stipend, a windfall (you might call it that), of $8.7 million from Washington, siphoned off from the $87 billions recently voted for Iraq.

The Miami police is apparently gloating over what they consider a successful operation. You can bet it is a model for the future.

We can all look forward, I am sure, to the Republican Convention next year in Madison Square Gardens.

And I always associated American political conventions with balloons and cheerleaders.... Well, parents, I don't know. You might consider keeping your children home this time around.

How much money is trickling down for New York City, I wonder? It cost some $13 million for the President to sleep over in Buckingham Palace, for heavens' sakes.

Second: In Fort Benning, Georgia, a demonstration was held by thousands of people protesting the continuation of operations of the School of the Americas, more commonly known as the "School of Assassins", which was renamed WHISC in 2001, the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation".

This is the school which trains foreigners from "friendly" countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, for instance, and others (I am sorry, I don't have a complete list), in methods of assisted interrogation, a euphemism for torture. It trains people in the use of various equipment and methods to obtain information from reluctant informants, I think I will just say "by any means necessary".

Officially, America does not condone torture. Unofficially, unfortunately, we train others in the "best" way to do it, and we deliver the appropriate "subjects", whenever we deem it necessary, into the hands of authoritarian governments who have no such squeamish scruples and who have bought the necessary equipment and learnt the know-how from us, and who are quite happy to do it for us -- unofficially, of course.

I suppose that with the reversals of alliances which sometimes occur in the field of foreign policy, it is a matter of time before one or our boys, or girls, will find themselves experiencing the benefits of our superior expertise and know-how, if it hasn't already happened somewhere, which would not surprise me too much.

Think about it for a moment and ask yourself whether this sort of thing meets the standards of the religion you profess to practice.

Three: Late during the night, that is very early Saturday morning, Congress passed a Medicare reform bill. The voting period, usually some 15 minute or so, was extended for a period of three hours, giving the President the opportunity and the time to telephone those unsure members, those undecided wusses incapable of thinking things out for themselves who had not yet voted, at 2 a.m. in the morning, to encourage them presidentially to vote this bill in.

A really naive person, looking at this bill, will only see that it is proposing prescription drug coverage for seniors, something that would look real good, on the face of it, for Bush's reelection campaign. Hidden within the text of the bill, however, is the real stick behind that sweet carrot, the future privatization of Medicare.

Privatization of Medicare is a perfect nightmare, if you scrutinize what it means, which simplistically is loss of control and loss of choice.

Under Medicare, you can choose any doctor you want. If he takes "assignment", you pay practically nothing out of pocket.

In an HMO, however, you are obliged to take "their" doctors, and if you prefer to stay with the practitioner who has your trust, who has been treating you for years, but he is not on their lists, you might as well not have coverage, you will be out of pocket a huge amount.

Under an HMO, unlike under the present Medicare system, you will also not be able to go to a specialist unless they approve it. That means, you will not be able to see the heart specialist of your choice, just because you have a cardiac problem, or see the urologist of your choice, just because you have a kidney ailment. The bureaucrats will determine your medical needs, and their motivation will be -- what else -- PROFIT.

At least, under present Medicare, the only problem you have is getting past the office nurse, who tells you: "I don't think you have a urological infection...I think you should go and see your gastroenterologist..." And won't put you through. Serious!

Shame on you, AARP, for having supported this bill, without giving your huge membership a chance to weigh in with their opinions.

Shame on you, Congress, for slipping this in, in the small hours of the morning, just as you slipped in the bill reducing benefits for veterans, just at the time we were seeing our young men and women off to the war on Iraq.

If the Senate passes this bill, mark my words, the next thing is Social Security. And if you think privatization of Social Security is a good idea, I jolly well hope you are also happy with the performance of your portfolio, if you have one.

* * * * *

In Algeria, some butchers of imagination are passing off donkey meat as beef.

Is this an idea for the Democrats? Maybe. After bisonburgers, what would we call these? How about "Asspatties" or "Asswhoppers"?

The Garrison Keillor and Calvin Trillin gig was just great.
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