Sunday, July 5, 2009

Freedom is just a Word

Our 18th century founding fathers and ancestors fought against tyranny from the British, but did not hesitate for a moment to practice tyranny on the slaves. They saw fit to exclude all but property owners from the right to participate in representative democracy. Our 19th-century ancestors had a Supreme Court that in 1896 that decided that institutions serving blacks and whites were "separate but equal"--a lie that the judges could observe every time they opened their eyes.

The last 50 years of American society have been hindered by millions of uninformed, anti-intellectual Americans who viewed themselves as "Patriots" and who never hesitated to waive the American flag and say "my country right or wrong!", but sadly never bothered to read books or keep themselves informed on issues.

On a return from a trip to Borneo in 2002, I was asked by immigration for officials if I had a business card. I responded by asking them if I had a legal right to refuse presenting it since I was presenting myself with a valid passport. They called the supervisor, who informed me that it was helpful for me to present it, but that I was not legally required to do so. I responded that our rights have value only if we use them, refusing to present the card that was sitting in my pocket.

Given the fact that America has operated the School for the Americas in Georgia, an institute where the police of the dictators throughout Latin America and elsewhere learned torture techniques from US trained teachers with taxpayer money. The US supported Pinochet in Chile, the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Guatemala and Iran during the fifties, Somoza in Nicaragua, Marcos in the Philippines and a host of other dictators around the world. It is therefore difficult and somewhat embarrassing for Americans to talk about freedom our nation has exported dictatorship and repression for decades.

At home, off-duty policeman acted like thugs for large businesses to break up union
organizers in the early part of the 20th century. The Sedition Act sent Americans to prison for speaking their minds on issues. FBI agents went to prison in the sixties for shooting members of the Black Panther group in their beds, while a Latina friend of mine had to ask a white girlfriend to buy candy for her at a candy store in Texas in the 1960's, when she was eight years old, because she wasn't allowed in the store. Those of us born before 1960 have witnessed three fixed elections (1960-Illinois, 2000-Florida-2004 Ohio). The Patriot Act is an open invitation to abuse ordinary people in America.

For much of our history, to quote Gil Scott Heron, "freedom is just a word", just another word.



Thursday, June 25, 2009

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Presidential Inauguration

Reflections on the Inauguration of Barak Obama

Bill Honer, (Copyright 2009)

The press coverage of the presidential inauguration offered another demonstration in unwarranted national pride. From the tone of many journalists and politicians, there was more pride than shame that less than 50 years ago, American Blacks and Latinos in the southern states, including Texas, could not attend the same schools, restaurants, and other public places, marry whites, or experience full participation within American Society. A sense of sadness and humility that such unjust and dehumanizing conditions were allowed to exist well into the 20th Century would not have been inappropriate.

Another example of excessive pride occurred during the discussion of the peaceful transition of power in America. America hardly has a monopoly on democratic institutions. Dozens of democracies around the world, from Britain to Japan, experience such orderly transitions in political power; there is nothing special about the routine transition of power within the United States that sets it apart from other democracies.

Indeed, one could make the case that if America had a parliamentary system, the nation would not have been saddled with George Bush for the full eight years.

As for the recurring theme of Americans’ belief in freedom, there is such a strong disconnection between the reality of the United States and the image held by its people. Surveys reveal that the roughly 50 percent of Americans na├»vely believe that the United States attempts to “do good” in the world, rather than simply promoting its national interests. Few nations on earth have supported repression and dictatorship during the last 60 years more than the United States, having supported Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, Pinochet in Chile, the Shah of Iran and numerous other tyrants. Few Americans know that the United States exported repression through teaching torture techniques to the police of various dictators who studied at the infamous School of the Americas in Georgia.

According to the United Nations 2008 Human Development Report, the United States is ranked 15th in overall human development, and 31st in life expectancy, slightly ahead of Cuba; these statistics are hardly a basis for pride. The nation currently has more than 45 million people without healthcare coverage and more than one million persons homeless. Under these circumstances, there is strong reason for Americans to feel humble about their nation. Unfortunately, American arrogance and pride still resonates with the majority of the American people, the media, and its political leaders. It would be gratifying to witness the arrival of a day when Americans consider themselves as equals to other democracies, with a more humble worldview. Viewing the United States in a more critical light might hasten a needed elevation of the quality of life in American society.