Saturday, October 30, 2010

A one-page guide to Understanding Politics and the 2010 American Election

By Bill HonerThis guide is designed for those Americans who, by necessity or inclination, do limited reading and analysis of social and political conditions within the United States. Point 1. America has only one political party with two wings, the Democratic wing and the Republican wing. Discussion: The Democrats campaign from the left and govern from the center; the Republicans campaign from the right, then govern from the center-right while pursuing a pro-business agenda that does little to elevate the quality of life of ordinary people in America. As a result, there is only a modest range of potential change in policy that occurs between the center and center-right positions, resulting in a frozen democracy and the continuance of the status quo desired by the politicians’ masters. The latter include influential members of the financial sector, the Republican and Democratic party leaders , and owners of the media. Lewis Lapham and Walter Karp refer to this group as “the permanent government” in America. Congress and the Presidency constitute the provisional government, where the morality play of social and political issues unfold; however, the real decisions are made by their masters. Point 2. Congress is clearly the largest house of prostitution in the nation, with ordinary American’s experiencing the illusion, not the reality, of representative democracy. As one Republican Congresswoman was bold enough to say, “if you want access, you have to pay for it.” The five member conservative majority on the Supreme Court demonstrated its corruption in the Gore decision after the 2000 election by reversing their long-standing respect for states rights while indicating that this decision was an exception. It was a politically motivated act to aid the Republicans to whom they owed their appointment to the High Court. The Court declined to allow a recount in the State of Florida, where there were numerous flaws in the election process, including a system that fraudulently denied certification to eligible voters and police roadblocks in Volusia County designed to limit Black turnout in the election. Presidential Obama, like his predecessors, campaigned for change, but has largely promoted a continuance of government policies in many areas. Moreover, in the healthcare debate, he could have submitted an administration backed bill that included a comprehensive single-payer plan. Instead, he avoided a contentious debate where he could potentially lose political points, leaving it to the corrupt Congress to pass a watered-down version of health care that still excludes millions of persons from healthcare coverage to this day. On a personal level, it is not inspiring that he bought his house in Illinois at below market value from a man subsequently convicted of bribery and extortion. Point 3. The American Electorate is divided into two groups. The first includes the majority of conservative White voters, along with a smaller percentage (10% of Blacks, 33% of Asians, and 33% of Latinos) of minorities. The second group is comprised of roughly 40% of progressive White voters, along with 90% of blacks, 67% of Latinos and 67% of Asians, and smaller populations. The Conservative White Majority constitutes the poison that permeates American society through its promotion of 19th-century rugged individualism, anti-intellectualism, and racism. Discussion: The rugged individualism is cast in modern-day society as “personal responsibility”, the name the Republicans gave to the 1995 welfare Reform Act. Under their view, each individual is responsible for himself; it is a form of social Darwinism that rejects collective responsibility and mutual support. Although they fear socialism, they have no idea that government subsidies to oil, agriculture and other industries constitute socialism. Indeed, as the late economist John Kenneth Galbreath observed, America has long had socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. This is beyond their meager understanding. The anti-intellectualism is manifested with George Bush prancing around the stage and 2004 throwing out clichés such as “you can run, but you can hide.” and the success of Sarah Palin, despite her intellectual implosion on national television in her interview with Katie Couric. The racism is reflected not only in the placards from the tea party march in Washington depicting the President as a monkey, but in Sarah Palin’s vice presidential campaign when she said, in addressing a White audience, that “ it is good to be around real Americans”. How likely is it she would refer to a gathering of people of color by that term? The so called “American Dream” is a pathetic one of a job, house and a car, with no discussion those basics being simply a point of departure for enriching life through the arts, music, literature or other pursuits that enhance the human experience, rather vthan the basics serving as the end point. The dreams of the White majority are individual ones; mutual sharing and support are rejected. Point 4, Under these conditions, is it a good idea to vote? One reason to vote for a different party is to deny legitimacy to the one party system of Democrats and Republicans. At the same time, a good reason to vote Democratic is, if one is not wealthy, to block the Republicans and their disregard for the quality of life of ordinary people.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School: Physical Abuse in the Fifties

Bishop Loughlin offered an excellent academic education during the fifties. However, the price in my case was too high due to the exposure to an atmosphere of occasional violence that I have never witnessed before or after in life. At the age of 14, I recall a fellow student savagely assaulted by a Christian brother whose name I do not recall. This is not to suggest that this was a daily occurrence, but I personally witnessed another violent attack by another Christian Brother during my junior year.

The student appeared to be Hispanic; he either left voluntarily or was expelled after his freshman year. I never saw him again. The incident had a sufficient impact upon me that, after 50 years, I can still recall his name. The Christian Brother was a man, but at that moment he behaved more like an animal as he savagely hit him in the head several times with tremendous force. If there were any justice during that era, he would have been arrested and charged with assault.

My sister and I had no problems at St. Matthias grammar school. I do recall that when my sister came home crying from her second-grade class, my father sweetly said that we had to return to school. He was a large and imposing man. I remember he suggested to her he might be inclined to wrap her around the flagpole in the schoolyard if my sister returned home in tears in the future. That little visit ended problems at the grammar school. My sister once observed that our father had “intimidated the intimidators.” Had I been the victim of the brutal attacks that I occasionally witnessed at Bishop Loughlin, I fear the Christian Brother involved would likely have required hospitalization after my father had finished with him. These were infrequent occurrences, but they happened.

I followed my father’s path of concern for the vulnerable, having founded the Coalition for Equity for Minorities in California, a social justice group that called for Grand Jury Investigations of the police on the use of excessive force
And the shooting of unarmed suspects. The events at Loughlin in the fifties, with Christian Brothers wielding physical coercion over vulnerable students, will never be forgotten. Bill Honer Class of ‘59

Bill Honer, Class of 1959

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Tea Party Movement and the Emergence of the Multi-cultural Majority in America By Bill Honer

The Tea Party Movement and the Emergence of the Multi-cultural Majority in America
By Bill Honer

United States Census Projections reveal that by 2042, Non-Hispanic Whites will comprise a mere 38% of the population. This suggests profound changes within American society are likely to occur; research indicates that the emerging 62 % majority of Asians, Blacks, Hispanic Whites and others share different values on key issues than the current White majority. White voters soundly rejected Barak Obama in the 2008 election, supporting the Republican candidate by 56% to 43%. Yet Obama won handily by eight million votes. Only one in three Asians and Hispanics and one out of ten Blacks supported the defeated Republican candidate. There is reason for conservatives to be concerned.

The 2008 election demonstrated that the days of White domination of the electorate will give way to the tide of racial demographics in the form of a multi-cultural majority of Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and others. Can conservatives, with their calls to patriotism and the 19th century traditions of rugged individualism and anti-intellectualism, succeed politically in the coming decades without promoting policies that extend beyond the patriotic colors of red, white and blue?
The Tea Party Protest is a response to the loss of power of the White conservative vote in America. It is not clear how many conservatives support the movement, nor is it known how many conservatives have been embarrassed by it, given the racist caricatures portraying President Obama as a primate during demonstrations, or by the Tea Party Convention’s opening speaker Tancredi lamenting the unconstitutionality of literacy tests that prevented many Blacks from voting in decades past. He offered the assessment that a continuation of those laws would have prevented an Obama Presidency. .
The core values of the tea party protesters include anti-intellectualism, individualism, and for at least some, racism. According to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, Whites are the only racial group with a majority favoring the death penalty and the only one opposed to government assistance, viewing such aid as "socialism". This suggests the emergence of an American society that will expect more substance from elected officials in the future than simple appeals to individualism and anti-intellectualism. Such appeals are unlikely to resonate to the same degree with the majority of the emerging majority that includes traditions of collective support and respect for the well educated.
American Life Under the White Majority. During the past 50 years, the traditions of rugged individualism, anti-intellectualism and racism were woven deeply into the American social and political fabric. Less than one half a century ago, America’s Blacks and Hispanics were denied access to stores, schools, public facilities and full participation as equal citizens. A Latino friend recalls growing up in Texas during the sixties, where she had to have a white friend buy a candy bar because she was not permitted to enter the store.

Racism and discrimination continue to plague America, although significant advances have been made. Despite of the denials by many conservatives, discrimination continues to exist. Although given to cries of socialism during the health care debate, many conservatives fail to grasp that America has long had, with its oil and other corporate subsidies, in the words of the economist John Kenneth Galbraith "socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor." The Tea Prty cries for fiscal responsibility are surprising since the tax cuts and the reckless “borrow and spend” policies of conservative Presidents, including Reagan and Bush resulted in huge budget deficits. kAmerican conservatives are overwhelmingly White. Indeed, the 2008 Republican convention floor was filled with so many white faces that one commentator noted that it was a good place to play the children’s game "Where's Waldo?", with Waldo as a person of color. Can Republican supporters have failed to notice that their party has been less than pro-active in remedying discrimination against minorities? From the “whiteout” at the republican convention, it would appear that minorities have taken notice of the lack of support for equitable treatment.

Individualism in America.

It was no accident that the 1995 Welfare Reform Act that limited aid to dependent children and their families was entitled “The Personal Responsibility Act”. The message from the conservative Congress was clear. Individuals in American society are responsible for themselves, rather than their bring the responsibility of the government or society, for their survival. The Constitution’s explanation of the purpose of government is “to promote the general welfare” is generally excluded from the conservative reading of the Constitution. Recently, a Lieutenant Governor in South Carolina, in explaining why he was opposed to welfare, commented that his mother encouraged him never to feed stray animals because they would continue breeding. Although these comments were condemned in some circles, political scientists noted that they would be well received by his Evangelical Republican base in South Carolina.

Anti-intellectualism. For evidence that anti-intellectual sensibilities continue to prevail among many White Americans, one need look no further than the popularity of former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who publicly disgraced herself on national television in 2008 with her lack of general knowledge on the issues of the day. Aides to presidential candidate John McCain added to the derision by providing examples of her rather astonishing ignorance, commenting that Palin believed Africa was a country rather than a continent. Despite her widely publicized intellectual limitations, the majority of White American voters cast their ballots to place her a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

What social conditions have been present under the White Majority during the last 50 years? Fifty million Americans lack health insurance. The death penalty, widely rejected by the advanced nations of the world, continues to exist. The United States is ranked 31st in life expectancy, according to the United Nations 2010 Human Development Report, with Cuba ranked 32nd. The government admits to over 600,000 homeless in America, but most analysts consider this figure well below the actual incidence of homelessness in the nation. U.S. 2007 Census data reveal one half of working Americans earn less than $2000 a month. The incidence of poverty is hidden by the government by a low threshold of $1800 a month for a family of four.
Given the cost of rent, food, and utilities, the threshold is designed to save the government the embarrassment of acknowledging that close to five Americans is living a poverty ridden existence. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) using a different measure for poverty declared in 2008 that child poverty in the US is 20% and poverty among the elderly is 23%.

The White American majority has offered people “The American Dream”, which is still widely quoted as something marvelous to achieve, even by the current President. How is the American dream defined? The most obvious answer appears to be ownership of a home and a car, along with having a job. For many members of the advanced nations of the world, these are considered the essentials of life upon one which one builds a quality of life involving travel, literature, the arts, music, and other areas of social interest. The American Dream rather pathetically begins and ends with the basics. International travel is a limited option since only one in five Americans possesses a passport.

A recent National Geographic/Roper survey found that, among 18 to 24 year olds, six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East, forty-seven percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia, seventy-five percent were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East, nearly three-quarters incorrectly named English as the most widely spoken native language, six in 10 did not know the border between North and South Korea is the most heavily fortified in the world, thirty percent thought the most heavily fortified border was between the United States and Mexico.

As a young, crude, and brutal nation, America has more of its citizens incarcerated than any nation in the world, with more than 1% of its adult population in prison. (Pew Center on the States-2008). America faces challenges in achieving a high level of social advancement, given the pervasive individualism that clearly militates against a sense of community among its people. The Sociologist Kluegel has surveyed American attitudes towards the poor. Roughly 75% of Americans attribute poverty to the “personal and moral deficiencies of the poor.” Unlike Americans who blame the poor for their poverty, respondents from twelve European nations attributed poverty to structural issues, such as unemployment, discrimination, and low wages. The prospects of increased social advancement with the emerging multi-cultural majority are enhanced by the strong values of mutual support extant among many Asians, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders.

For years, White Americans have gone to the polls voting in part on symbolic issues and values offered by conservatives. However once elected, conservative politicians often pursue a pro-business agenda while ignoring the very issues that were offered to their conservative constituents, such as prayer in the schools. The America that the tea party demonstrators have grown to know and love is changing in ways that are unlikely to be reversed. Will they accept these changes as part of the democratic process, or will a different
response be forthcoming from them? One factor is virtually assured from a reading of the US Census Projections: in the coming decades, there will be fewer Whites attending the tea party.

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

Vacation Rentals by

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 naïvely 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.

Friday, October 17, 2008

30 years of the Republican Con Game” by Bill Honer, 2008

The Republican confidence game began with Ronald Reagan, whose disastrous administration redistributed the wealth in America in favor of the rich through the passage of three tax cuts that increased the wealth of the top 1% of Americans from 25% to 37% of the total wealth of the nation. 

Prior to his administration, the percentage of wealth controlled by the top 1% of the population had remained relatively constant since World War II.  However, by the time Reagan left office, the top 10% of Americans controlled more than 65% of the wealth, a higher level of inequality of wealth than in any advanced nation in the world. President Reagan retained the minimum wage at $3.35 an hour during his eight years in office. He then followed a policy of “borrow and spend” in order to pay for the costs of government rather than have his wealthy masters pay more of the current societal costs. As one observer noted about President Reagan, “he was bought and  never even knew it”.

When he left office, the federal deficit had ballooned to more than $200 billion. Similar large deficits occurred with George H. Bush and George W. Bush. In each case, the deficit at the time of their departure exceeded $200 billion. When the Democrat Bill Clinton left office, the treasury contained a surplus of $200 billion. That surplus was promptly squandered by President Bush through the 2001 tax cut of $1 trillion, of which $500 billion, or 50%, went to those with incomes in excess of $330,000 per year.

The rich had ample reason to vote for him, but their numbers have never been sizable enough to elect a president.  Reagan needed the votes of lower and middle income citizens. Given the fact that he was not prepared to offer them substantial benefits, how did he attract their vote? He did so by selling them on the deeply flawed idea that “Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.”, while ignoring the numerous benefits, such as Social Security, unemployment benefits, educational support, and housing assistance that had helped millions of Americans during the 20th century.


Indeed, post-World War II housing and education programs created wealth and educational opportunities for the middle class that were previously unavailable. In the face of this myriad of services and benefits, how could he sell the American people on such an absurd notion that government per se was a problem? Of course, improving government services and responsiveness is a perennial problem, but not the presence of government itself, which the Constitution states exists “to promote the general welfare”?


The answer lies in part in the American experience during the 19th century that resulted in traditions of 

anti-intellectualism and rugged individualism that have continued to the present-day. The popularity of Sarah Palin, who publicly disgraced herself with the lack of knowledge of current events and a tacit admission that she doesn’t read newspapers, is strong evidence that anti-intellectualism remains alive and well in America. Geert Hofstede, a Dutch sociologist, has studied cross-cultural levels of individualism, the belief that citizens, not society, are primarily responsible for their well-being. He concluded that Americans demonstrated the highest level of individualism among the 70 nations studied.


Phrases that resonate with many lower and middle income American conservatives include “why should I send my money to Washington? or “why should I have to pay for someone else’s health care?”  In these questions, there is an implicit rejection by American conservatives of a shared society within America.

It is, by the standards of the advanced nations of the world, it is a rather crude and barbaric view of American Society. The Republican con game has continued to resonate with many Americans throughout subsequent administrations. Vice presidential candidate Palin has continued in this tradition in her campaign speeches.


 American conservatives are overwhelmingly white. Indeed the Republican Convention floor was  filled with so many white faces that one commentator noted it was a good place to play “Where’s Waldo?”, with Waldo being a person of color. However, the days of white domination of the electorate are clearly numbered.  According to the U.S. Census projections, 62% of Americans will be persons of color by 2042. Given the continued anti-intellectual and individualistic sensibilities of many white American conservatives, the Republican Party cannot survive without increased inclusiveness in its policies that extend beyond the colors of red, white and blue.