Snowden’s Huge Gamble by Bill Honer

June 10, 2013

Edward Snowden had a well-paying job as an intelligence analyst with high security clearance. Although already depicted by some conservative politicians as a “technician”, he was in fact an analyst who had been a former senior adviser to the CIA. Snowden was living in Hawaii, which is to say in many respects he was living in paradise. I say that as a former resident of Hawaii. In effect, he sacrificed a large salary and a pleasant lifestyle for the sake of letting the American people know how their privacy rights had been eliminated and abused by both Congress and the Administration.

We will no doubt be exposed to the rhetoric of politicians and government officials claiming that he had sinister motives. However, such assertionsmay be readily discredited. He had access to the rosters of everyone working in the CIA and elsewhere at home and abroad. Snowden could have sold that information for a great deal of money to the Russians and other governments. He did not do so. He had such  high level of authorization that not only could he have intercepted your e-mails and phone calls, he could have done so to the President. Moreover, if he had wanted to shut down the entire secret system of spying on the American people, he said he could have done that in one afternoon. Referring to him as merely a “technician is a falsehood and designed to diminish his status.iI the 12 minute interview that he gave that was presented on CNN (to their credit I might add), he made the  fundamental argument was that the public should have the right to say wheter the government should have access to their e-mail accounts,  phone records, and Internet usage. He also indicated that he was unwilling to live unfreely in such a society. Snowden said that he recognizes that he could be extradited and charged with criminal penalties, hunted down by the CIA or its third-party operatives in other nations; he is prepared to sacrifice himself for the common good. What is his biggest fear? It is that the American people will stand by and do nothing about the revelations.

The argument set forth in the media that giving up privacy is essential to combating terrorism is specious. After a potential terrorist is identified abroad, government authorities could go before a judge to secure a search warrant. The massive collection of data on all American citizens is not essential to antiterrorism work and is simply an abuse of privacy  perpetrated upon the American people. 

Bill Honer is a social activist And Author of “the Moon Landing in the Mob”

Unfortunately, Edward Snowden has every right to fear that the American people will fail to react. There is a long history of American political disengagement. Evidence of this was pointed out in Robert Putnam’s sociological work “Bowling Alone”, in which he cited that Americans under 40 were only 50% as likely to write a member of Congress, write a letter to the editor, or attend a public meeting.

A brief comparison may be helpful here in understanding the high level of political disengagement by Americans. When the Spanish government agreed to support the Iraq war, an estimated 16 million Spaniards took to the streets in cities throughout the nation. For a similar protest in the United States, we would need to see more then 70 million Americans publicly protesting. Such political engagement by a sizable percentage of American society has never taken place. One other issue needs to be considered. the law banning the leak of classified information necessarily makes government workers and contractors accessories to unreasonable or criminal activities without any recourse but to break the law. Consider that any the government analyst who knows of wrongdoing must remain silent  and permit the wrongdoing to continue, thereby arguably becoming an accessory to such actions. How can such a law be good for society?

It took a great deal of courage to do what Edward Snowden did. If Americans fail to demand that their privacy rights be respected and that government agents must present probable cause to a court to obtain a search warrant.before searching Internet and telephone records of American citizens, than his sacrifice will have achieved  nothing. 

Bill Honer is a social activist and author of “The Moon Landing and the Mob.” on Amazon kindle.

 

Boston Bombing Security Failure at Marathon

April 20, 2013

Where were the Police at the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon?

By Bill Honer

As I look at the videos of the finish line prior to the explosions and observe the two attackers moving with their deadly cargo, a fair question is “where were the police?”.

The finish line was likely the most congested area of the entire marathon. Their absence appears glaring, yet the media is not commenting on this. The failure of the police to observe and question two individuals carrying suspicious backpacks while walking along and seemingly paying no attention to the runners must be subjected to a thorough review.

A major breakdown in police security occurred. Had the attack taken place in a more remote area of the marathon, it would be easier to overlook this; after all, the police cannot be everywhere. However, the bombing transpired at the most congested location. An independent review needs to be conducted to identify deficiencies within the Boston Police Department and to strengthen security for future events.

Unfortunately, there are reasons why such an independent review may not be conducted. More than one hundred fifty persons were injured and lawsuits against the City of Boston are likely being prepared for filing at this moment. Another factor is the sensitivity of the police towards public criticism or negative articles in the media. While all government agencies dread such public exposure of their shortcomings, none is more resistant to such public scrutiny than the police.

This was not a case of technological error. The police simply needed “feet on the street” at a vulnerable location. A failure of this magnitude, if widely publicized, could reduce public confidence in a major institution and lead to demands for significant improvements. Given the desire of the corporate media to protect the fabric of critical institutions in American society, this debacle will likely receive less than the full attention it deserves. .

What happened? Did the security design require police officers to be present in the area where the bombs were deposited? If so, were they away having coffee? Whether the result of a poor design or a lapse in judgment by specific officers to leave their post, the police were simply not where they needed to be.

At the moment, there is a great deal of self-congratulation among law enforcement for a job well done in the investigation of tracking down the perpetrators. Given the swift progress made, along with the achievement of capturing one suspect alive, the officers involved have every right to take pride in their performance. However, more effective performance by the police in securing the marathon would have eliminated the need for not only the investigation, but for the loss of life and injuries sustained by so many.

Readers may wish to review the videos and look for the police presence, or tragically in this case, its absence.

billhoner35@aol.com

Why Mass Murder is More Likely in America

December 15, 2012

 

  Why Mass Murder is More Likely in America than in other Advanced Nations    

                                                          By Bill Honer

 

After reading part of the first paragraph, one might assume that I am a supporter of the NRA. Such is not the case. The prevalence of guns within a country does not always a result in high homicide rates. Guns are widespread in Switzerland and Israel, yet these nations have low homicide rates. Gun-control is needed more in America due to the social distance between Americans that renders it easier for its citizens to kill one another. The fundamental problem is therefore not guns, but rather the very cultural soul of the United States, with its emphasis on individualism that separates Americans from one another, rather than bringing them closer together as a society.

 

The latest mass murder in Connecticut left me, as it did most, deeply moved and saddened. The ages of the children rendered this violence especially tragic and poignant. Sociological studies, conducted by Geert Hofstede and others, revealed that no nation the world has a greater shared sensibility of individualism than America. This deeply held value that each individual is responsible for himself rather than a shared responsibility within society is implicitly a national rejection of a sense of community. It is currently reflected in the saying of some Americans “why should I pay for someone else’s health care?”

Statistics compiled by the United Nations office of drugs and crime revealed that the homicide rate for the United States (4.2 per 100,000) was four times greater than other advanced nations of Europe (Sweden 1.0, England 1.2, Norway 0.6, Italy 0.9, Spain 0.8, Germany 0.8, and France 1.1.) Given the higher incidence of homicides, the United States has its work cut out for it to join the other nations of high human development in achieving a lower homicide rate.

 

Strict gun-control is therefore essential simply because it is too easy for Americans to kill each other. There are 12,000 dead Americans in the last year to support this argument.

However, greater efforts have to be made to help the United States become a nation

of shared dreams and aspirations. This will not be an easy task. The spirit of 19th-century rugged individualism runs deeply through the core of American society. The welfare Reform Act of 1995 that resulted in millions of children being thrown into greater poverty was called The Personal Responsibility act. In effect, the message that was sent was, “don’t tell us you can’t get a job, don’t tell us you have no one to take care of your kids, don’t tell us that the job you found does not pay enough to support your family, do something about it yourself. Don’t expect society to help you.”

 

If America is to achieve homicide rates commensurate with other advanced nations, social distance between Americans must decrease. Asians, African-Americans and Latinos are more open to having government play a role in their lives than are the majority of Whites, according to a PEW research study. Given the decline of the percentage of Whites in the total population of the United States, there is hope for

common dreams in the future, but how long will it take to achieve them?

(Bill Honer is an Author and Social Activist)

 

True Stories from from a World Traveler Bill Honer: A Trip on the Peruvian Amazon Copyright BillHoner2010

September 11, 2011

1979: I meet Sinners and Saints in Lima, Take a Boat Ride on the Amazon, and encounter a Crocodile

The flight from Mexico City to Lima proved to be quite illuminating. Another passenger shared an underground travel guidebook for South America; It painted a picture of a far more predatory landscape than the one described by the conventional guidebooks I had been reading. One section read:

“Hepatitis is a serious health risk, given the poor standards of hygiene in most South American countries. Many travelers go to Quito to recuperate. Gamma globulin can help somewhat, though it does not guarantee protection from the disease.”

The book proceeded to discuss personal safety:

“Pickpockets are especially prevalent at bus stations and crowded squares.   Armed robberies occur both in the cities and the more remote areas as well. Be careful with your possessions.”

I decided not to keep more than thirty dollars in cash when walking around town. The travelers’ checks were safe enough, but I would need to be vigilant to avoid being a crime victims.

After clearing immigration in Lima, I began looking around for someone who might be running a guesthouse. A woman saw me and offered a room. Her home was located in Miraflores, one of Lima’s nicer areas. It offered access to transportation and decent restaurants. The poorer the country, the better class restaurant I chose for dining, viewing the additional cost as health insurance. This approach often resulted in paying the same price one would pay for a meal at a medium-priced restaurant at home. I had taken only one carry-on bag, thus eliminating long waits for baggage claim.

As I waited for my new hostess, I noticed an older Germanic-looking woman pass by. Her features were rather severe. I could not help wonder what she had been doing in 1943; South America was a haven for many German war criminals.

The house was very comfortable; it overlooked a rocky bay called La Herradura, the horseshoe. I appreciated nature; perhaps it was all those trips as a child to the boat harbor in Flushing in Queens with my family. At least twice a week after school, my dad would drive us to the ocean or to Flushing, where we would remain until sunset.

That night, I went to La Colmena, the beehive, in the center of Lima. The huge plaza was quite a spectacle, with singers, dancers, and actors performing small pieces of theater, along with a plethora of ladies of the night. After an hour of watching the spectacle, I went to a café, ordered one beer and hen took a taxi back to Miraflores.

The next day was initially devoted to obtaining the gamma globulin injection. I went to a public health center and obtained a prescription. Next, I purchased some from a pharmacy, where I was told to go to, of all places, the local convent for my injection. A rather attractive nun extracted a small sum of Peruvian money from me and injected my bare bottom with gamma globulin..

“I have had my ass grabbed by a saint and solicited by a sinner in the last twelve hours!” I thought to myself. .

Leaving the convent and walking toward the bus station, I turned right at the next corner, only to see three tanks and a group of soldiers coming towards me.

I immediately turned and ran nonstop for two blocks, never looking back. There are times in life to ask questions and there are other occasions to lose no time running away. This was clearly the latter. It appeared that I had come close to walking into a revolution.

A leftist military coup was in power; it has made improvements in health and education, but in the end it was still a dictatorship.

I attended the horse races for the afternoon at the beautiful Hipodromo, where I had

two winners. The next morning I left for Iquitos, where I made arrangements to stay at a lodge run by anthropologists who were studying the Yagua Indians.

I knew there would be crocodiles nearby the lodge; thus it would be too dangerous to walk around without a guide. The river contained pirhanas; there were also some dangerous snakes. As long I was with a trained guide, I believed I would do quite well.

The boat that carried me from the town of Iquitos to the lodge looked like a larger version of the boat used in the movie The African Queen. It had a motor in the middle and chugged down the river in a leisurely fashion. There were three other passengers, a couple from South Africa and a government administrator from Lima who was on holiday.

The South Africans told a familiar story. Someone had used a knife to cut into their knapsack while they were traveling on a bus in La Paz, Bolivia; they lost their money,  but retained their passports. Of the twenty foreigners I had encountered in Peru, at least one-half had been robbed, some at knifepoint. It was not surprising I felt safer in the jungle than in Lima.

It was very hot and muggy on the river. The jungle landscape included a missionary compound and some temporary settlements. After many hours, the boat turned into a tributary and stopped. We climbed into a small motor boat and were taken to the lodge operated by the two Anthropologists, who were present to greet the new arrivals and

given an overview of “Adventure Lodge.”

“We hope this will prove to be an interesting and enjoyable experience for you. If you follow the rules, it is likely you will have a safe and healthy stay. When visiting the Yaguas, please do not offer money. If there is something you desire, please offer to barter something in return for it. Most importantly, please do not leave the lodge area without a guide and remember to drink lots of liquids, said one of the Anthropologists. . .

As I walked to my room, I passed a bright green macaw sitting on the railing.

“Hello,” said the bright red and green bird.

“Hello to you.” I answered.

After passing the friendly bird, my eyes turned towards a strange scene in the garden. A huge rodent, certainly the largest I had ever seen, was munching on plant leaves. His dining was interrupted by a playful kitten that stalked the larger animal and was pouncing on its back. The rodent remained undeterred from eating the lettuce. I later learned that I had been in the presence of “Charley” the pet capybara and “Elmo” the cat.

My room was unlike any I had experienced. The walls did not reach the ceiling. Mosquito netting was draped on top of the bed in tent-like fashion. I put my clothes away and decided to wander around the grounds.

Charlie was still consuming plants. I noticed a sign posted on a tree:

NOTICE :Do Not Go Beyond This Point!!! It is dangerous to do so.
This is not an amusement park. Please remain inside
the garden area unless accompanied by a guide.

I went to the main lodge in search of a guide and found one. Marco had been retained by the Peruvian civil servant, but was available for short-term excursions. It was a fairly long walk through the jungle to the encampment of the Yagua Indians. The guide was of Peruvian Indian ancestry; he wore short pants and was constantly slapping mosquitoes away from my legs.

I asked him to say some phrases in the language of the Yagua Indians. Upon arriving at the bamboo house of the Chief, the Shaman was sitting with him. As I entered, I said a few words of greeting to them in the language of the Yaguas.

The Cief pointed to me and waved his arm towards the Shaman, as if to say, “Will you look at this guy!” Both men laughed.

The guide smiled and said “they think you are pretty funny.”

All members of the tribe wore grass skirts; the men often carried bamboo blow guns and curare tipped darts to kill animals. Recently, a pregnant boar had been killed; a piglet had been saved and was being fed and nurtured by the tribe. A nine-year old boy was walking around with a monkey perched on my head; the women had decorated their faces with a paste from red berries. They were beautiful, with very dark eyes and beautiful smiles when they chose to share one.

The Indians greeted me with only mild interest since visitors were common. I found I was free to roam around. The nine year-old with the monkey perched on his head tagged along. Communication tended to be limited to pointing and smiles. Soon the guide appeared, indicating it was time to return to the lodge. I noticed the guide had a rather broad smile on his face. He had previously explained that every few months, the entire adult tribe took a euphoric drug and held a party that lasted several days. I wondered whether the guide had perhaps decided to get an early start on the party.

I went to the bar and ordered a beer. The cold drink was a relief from the incessant heat and humidity.

I returned to the room and tried to take a nap, climbing under the mosquito netting and stretching out on the bed. It was too hot for sleep; the humidity rendered the air suffocating. Outside, the jungle was noisy from the sounds of the macaws and monkeys. I had slept in Times Square in New York City and in the jungle; the former was clearly the more peaceful place. After much tossing and turning, I fell asleep.

The next day, I once again visited the Yagua village. Another group of tourists were already there. The guide explained that some of the men would demonstrate proficiency with blowguns in a few minutes.

They reminded me of Dizzy Gillespie hitting high C when they performed.

I walked around the village, observing the life of the Yagua. The women were preparing food, and the men were working on their blowguns.

After lunch, I went out with a guide in a rowboat; we traveled along one of the tributaries to the Amazon.

There were orchids growing sixty feet above ground. The butterflies were huge; some were the size of my hand. The guide pointed to a school of pirhanas.

It was proving to be a good trip; one more day in the jungle would be sufficient. I began checking on boat departures for the return trip down the Amazon to Iquitos.

That evening, I went for a walk with one of the guides. The jungle was so thick with vegetation that it made walking a slow process. He suddenly stopped and motioned me to be still.

I could see him staring intently into the stream. Finally, I saw the eyes peering out from the water; it was a crocodile.

The guide turned to me with an anxious expression and pointed to his lips to maintain silence. After viewing the mostly submerged creature, I continued the walk through the jungle. The colors were intense; I had never seen such bright yellow bananas.

That night, I slept restlessly under the mosquito net. It was wonderful to visit the Amazon, but it was also nice to leave it.

 

 

Wild but True Stories from America and around the World Chapter 16: 1979: I travel behind the Iron Curtain, but can I return to the West?

April 6, 2011

It was November, 1979; I had been staying in Mallorca for several months in the village of Soller, located on the north coast of the island. Hana and I met on the final day of her one week island vacation from Berlin.

“Why did I have to meet you on my last day here?” she said with a sense of frustration at having missed out on a holiday love affair.

“I could travel to Berlin next month; I have the time” I said hopefully. She had a pretty face and was well endowed in all the right places. Five weeks later, I called her up and she invited me to come for a visit. I caught a late morning flight from Palma to Frankfurt, then changed planes for a flight to Berlin

I arrived at two o’clock in the afternoon; the winter sky was already dark. It was bitter cold, but I was well prepared wearing a warm winter coat. I have long had a reputation among my friends and as a “candy ass.” I wear my label with pride.

Hana was there to greet me, but she was not alone. She introduced me to her ex-husband Heinrich. He was a man in his thirties, with a pleasant appearance, dark hair and medium-height. I was surprised to see him, but did not form any conclusions.

During the ride from the airport to her apartment, the conversation was relaxed, although I didn’t quite know what to make of the presence of the ex-husband. Communication between Hana and me was a challenge. She spoke Czech and German, with some limited Spanish. I spoke English and French, and a small amount of Spanish. We were therefore required to communicate in our weakest common language. Fortunately, Heinrich spoke good English and was very kind in communicating parts of our conversation in German for Hana’s benefit.

Her apartment was located in a four-story apartment building in the Charlottenburg section of Berlin. The living room faced the street.  Eric, her 11-year-old son ws introduced to me; he clicked his heels together, shook my hand and bowed his head in a formal, yet friendly manner. A great commotion ensued as three daschounds went wild at the sight of Hana. She talked to them in a loving, high-pitched voice that appeared to transport them to a state of ecstasy. The apartment exuded warmth and offered an agreeable contrast to the cold snowy street outside.

Heinrich spent the evening in the apartment, leaving around midnight. It appeared that he was serving as a chaperone at Hana’s request. At no point did he show any affection towards her. He was quite open with me; we discussed his business and he gave me every indication that he would enjoy having me as a friend.

The Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin had wide avenues; the coffee shops were clean and the pastries excellent. However, the coffee was a poor substitute for a Spanish café con leche’. My plan was to stay approximately ten days. The next morning, I explored the city, passing the afternoon and evening with Hana and Heinrich. There were hours during when Hana and I were alone, but neither of us made a sexual advance.

On my third day, I had a rather unpleasant experience that could have been avoided had Hana given more thought to the situation. I indicated that I would like to take the elevated subway across the Berlin Wall to see East Berlin, where Hana’s good friend Kristen lived. .

Kristen said that it was fine for us to come, although she didn’t understand why anyone would want to see the East Berlin. We took the elevated subway across the no man’s land between the wall on the West Berlin side and the East Berlin wall that prevented East Germans from fleeing their country. After the train arrived at the East Berlin station, we were required to pass through immigration; this turned out to be a major problem for me,

It was well-known by most locals that East German police harassed visitors to East Berlin , except those passing through immigration at a station referred to as Checkpoint Charlie, where the behavior of the East Germans was more closely monitored by American soldiers. Unfortunately, we were not at Checkpoint Charlie.

The major problem was that my old passport photo presented me with much longer hair and a much larger beard, giving me the appearance of a Russian dissident. A series of ten different police examined me and my passport, asking me to turn my head in different directions. After a while, I became alarmed that perhaps some charge was about to be trumped up. However, all that happened was I was denied entrance and sent back on the train to West Berlin. In a suggestion that was too little too late, Hana proposed we visit Checkpoint Charlie in order to cross without further problems. However, I had had enough interaction with officialdom for, the day, and was unwilling to suffer further indignities.

There were relatives living in Czechoslovakia in the town Brno; Hana suggested we take a five trip through East Germany to Czechoslovakia. At that time, the Soviets were occupying the country.

She visited Brno regularly, bringing clothes and food that were unavailable behind the “Iron Curtain” in Eastern Europe. Her car was an improbable three wheeler that inclined towards the front. The orange and yellow exterior added a further comic touch. She proposed that we make a five-day excursion through East Germany into Czechoslovakia and down to Brno. Ever interested in seeing a new part of the world,   I immediately accepted the offer.

As with most dictatorships, considerable contact with officialdom was required. Hana obtained a transit visa that allowed us to travel on the highway in East Germany leading to Czechoslovakia. A good navigational sense was essential since it was a crime to be found more than two miles from the road, which could lead to one’s arrest and likely imprisonment.

I visited the Czech Consulate the following day to obtain a visa. It turned out to be a very easy process since I was the only one who had come to the consulate that day requesting a visa. In the seventies, Czechoslovakia was hardly a popular travel destination; it was apparently something of a rarity apparently for Americans to visit. During my entire stay, I never saw another American tourist, or at least one recognizable as such.

Hana packed the little car full of chocolate, sardines and other canned goods that were difficult to obtain in Czechoslovakia. “We hate the Russians” she explained. “When they   first arrived, the first thing that we did was to remove all the street signs to make travel more difficult for them. None of the young girls would talk to the Russian soldiers; I heard stories that some of the soldiers cried when the girls refused to talk to them.” said Hana.

We started off on our trip early in the morning on a very cold day. There was no problem entering East Germany at the border; the road leading to Czechoslovakia was in good condition. We passed the cities of Halle and Dresden. Hana maintained a lively conversation while driving. She appeared excited at the prospect of returning to her native country and seeing her relatives and friends.

When we arrived in Brno, which is located in Moravia, Hana said that I needed to present myself at the local police station, a compulsory formality during the Soviet occupation. The conversation there was in Slavic and was beyond my comprehension. However, from the glances of the police in her direction, Hana’s well-endowed features surely counted for something. We left without the police asking me a single question.

Hana explained that for a host of reasons, she recommended that I stay in a government operated hotel, where the room was spacious and comfortable. The hotel itself was a lesson in bureaucracy run amok. Each floor had its own cleaning staff, reception, and accounting operations.  No one appeared to be terribly busy, nor did anyone seen particularly tired from overwork.

Czechoslovakia was proving to be an unsettling experience. Speaking English, French and Spanish enabled me to communicate in most countries in the world, but not here. I did not even have a Czech phrasebook at my disposal since the trip was unexpected. .

The next stop for us was the bank, where I changed money. There were few people waiting in line, yet progress was slow indeed. Hana leaned over and whispered “that teller is complaining to the customer that she is having trouble getting her six-year-old to eat. The clerk next to her is talking about her boyfriend. She loves him madly and is describing how wonderful he is. From the look on the face on the other clerk, it appears she harbors doubts as to the boyfriend’s excellent qualities. Notice the very thin smile on her face that is remaining in one place. It is likely that she has heard this conversation many times before, and wishes she had not done so.” said Hana saucily.

After the bank, we went to a nearby restaurant. What followed was an education in the scarcity of goods in Soviet controlled Czechoslovakia. The restaurant was almost empty, with only three patrons sitting at one table. The waiter arrived with large menus; Hana translated the dishes for me. I pointed to the chicken with potatoes; the waiter immediately shook his head and said “not today”. I pointed to two other entrées; neither was available. At that point, I put the menu down, smiled and said to Hana “Please ask him what entrées are available today.”

I studied Hana carefully during the meal; she had a different presence about her in Czechoslovakia than in Berlin. She was dressed elegantly and was wearing makeup. In Berlin, she wore unpretentious clothes, usually blue jeans and a green Army jacket. Of course, with her pretty face, nice legs and her other charms, she would have been appealing wearing anything, including a nun’s habit. Upon further reflection, Hana dressed in a nun’s habit presented erotic possibilities. Was she trying to impress her relatives and friends, or was her behavior designed to increase her status with the authorities?

She had bribed the border guards at the immigration checkpoint entering Czechoslovakia with bratwurst. This was not a profit-making venture, but rather one that provided enjoyment for her relatives and friends. She appeared to be reveling in her role as the rich relative from the West; I was unsure that I cared for the transformation.

Brno offered street scenes reminiscent of a 1920’s movie. An old-style trolley traveled noisily along a wide avenue under gray winter skies. Hana’s relatives were formal with me, well short of friendliness. There was a reserve that may have been due to my long hair and beard, or perhaps to my undefined relationship with Hana. For whatever reason, I felt uncomfortable at the obvious scrutiny and lack of warmth. These were not people I desired to spend time with. During one visit, her brother-in-law noticed that my socks did not match, making an issue of it. I have long had a habit of being comfortable wearing socks that do not match. While I don’t go out of my way to avoid matching them, I am not particularly concerned if the two are different.

They were unhappy people, hardly surprising given the harsh circumstances of living in an occupied country, yet I suspected they might have been unhappy in better times as well. The former Czech government of Alexander Dubcek had introduced a more liberal form of Communist government referred to as “Socialism with a human face.” The changes had not been well received in Moscow; soon the presence of Soviet tanks and troops were striking evidence of that displeasure.

The Soviets ousted Mr. Dubcek, relegating him to work as a night watchman, while placing their own man in power. Meanwhile, the Czechs could do little about it.

I overheard Hana’s cousin Nicole say to her husband “Look at this American traveling the world free as a bird, living in Mallorca and flying to Berlin on a whim, while our store shelves are half-empty.”

Given the uncomfortable welcome and the pettiness of some of the comments, I excused myself, citing travel fatigue, returning to my hotel with a feeling a relief to be away from her relations. After taking a nap, I strolled around town, stopping at a café, where I sipped coffee, listened to John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” on my portable cassette player and read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude.” This was a better way to spend my time.

That evening, Heinrich and Hana came to my hotel to invite me to an evening at one of Brno’s popular nightspots. It was a huge cave built into the side of a hill and lighted by large torches on the walls. We were soon joined by a Russian named Anatoly, who was the manager of a tire factory in his homeland. He was friendly and gregarious, talking freely about meetings with then Russian premier Leonid Breshnev and production difficulties that necessitated bribing other state enterprises responsible for raw materials that he needed at his factory. It was obvious that he trusted Heinrich and Hana and was clearly ready to have a few laughs and enjoy himself.

I wondered if Hana had cultivated him as a friend to give herself some insulation from the current régime; dictatorships fostered paranoid thinking. Everyone was in a good mood.  Heinrich, usually a man of few words, seemed quite content to join in the conversation. It was hard to know what was going on inside him. I wondered what had caused them to separate, and how they had remained on reasonably good terms. Although Eric was not Heinrich’s son, perhaps he was the reason why Heinrich kept in close contact. I could see that Hana could be exasperating. One night I was just coming into the living room when Hana started teasing him about something. I was surprised when he gave her a hard slap on her bottom. As she walked towards the kitchen, I noticed her rub herself to alleviate the sting. I would have loved to a volunteered for the task!

From their first meeting, Heinrich had been quite friendly towards me, speaking openly about the challenges facing him with his small business, where he employed two workers. It was a shop he had inherited from his father, and one that he was not pleased to operate. At the moment, it was not profitable enough to sell, but at the same time it made enough to pay the employees and provide him with a modest income.

There were indications that, given Hana’s self-absorption, she was not an easy partner. I felt intuitively that Heinrich was a decent man who was wise enough to realize he had made a mistake getting involved with her, but was drawn to her and her son for whatever reason. Back in Berlin, Heinrich always left Hana’s apartment in the evening. Did he have a lover waiting for him somewhere in Berlin? After my second night, Heinrich spent less time in Hana’s apartment in Charlottenburg. Perhaps, Hana concluded that Heinrich no longer needed to serve as a watchdog since I had not made any sexual advances.

The experience with Hana confirmed my suspicion that one of the reasons why the European ladies that I met in Mallorca usually willing were always willing to go to bed on the first night.  Mallorca was not home. They were on vacation and open to adventures, including those of the sexual variety. When they were in their hometown, their sensibilities were not the same.

The more that I observed her, the less I felt inclined to be her lover. The party at the nightclub continued; there was excellent wine, along with music provided by a quartet of violinists. The others were laughing, which I joined in on without understanding the language or the humor. Language had remained a major problem since neither Hana nor I was fluent in Spanish, which was our only common language.

At about two in the morning, fatigue overtook the group; it was time to leave. We went to the coat room to retrieve our belongings. In the presence of Heinrich, Hana suddenly lunged at me, hugging me in a tight embrace and looked expectantly in my eyes as she awaited a kiss. Ever inclined to avoid offense and concerned over the possibility of Heinrich’s discomfort, I gave her a peck on the cheek, gently pulling away from her.

The nightclub was within walking distance of my hotel. I found myself excited at the prospect of making love to her, wondering if I could invite her upstairs to my room. Would that create problems with the hotel staff?  How uncomfortable would Heinrich feel as if he watched his ex-wife enter a hotel with someone else? I had never been in a position like this; the language difficulties prevented me from knowing Hana’s relationship with her ex-husband. Had he left her because she had other sexual affairs? Did she tell him that she was not interested in a relationship with him, but needed his  help during my stay?

There were many opportunities during the first days for us to have made love discreetly. Was her sudden sexual interest designed to provoke Heinrich, or was her arousal simply due to the large amount of wine she had consumed?

It was not worth it. I shook hands with Heinrich, gave Hana a hug, and excused myself, saying I was tired and would see them in the morning. She gave a little shrug, as if to say “well, you had your chance.” Meanwhile, Heinrich’s face remained as inscrutable as back of a Japanese corporate executive.

The returns trip to West Berlin filled me with dread. Would East German immigration  deny me entrance to East Germany based on the variance between my passport photo and my current appearance?  If so, would I be forced to return to Czechoslovakia?

I decided that if that occurred, I would take a train to the Austrian border. How long would that take? My return flight to Mallorca was due to leave in less than two days.

Would these fascists arrest me on suspicion of using someone else’s passport?  Would I receive assistance from the American consulate? Consulate staff did not enjoy a good reputation for helpfulness.

The questions and concerns were churning in my brain. I decided not to share such   thoughts with Hana or Heinrich. They could not do much to help; there was no point in making them nervous.

The car pulled up to the border checkpoint. It was an extremely cold night, probably close to 15° Fahrenheit, yet the guards ordered us to turn off the engine. Travelers were being carefully questioned. I was feeling edgy; would I make it through or would these Fascists in leather hip boots cause me problems?

After an agonizing wait, it was our turn. The officials opened my travel bag and began looking through my books on yoga; perhaps looking for smuggled letters. It was doubtful they were seeking answers to metaphysical questions, or even the mundane question “why should these people have to wait in the cold when the car has a heater?” The uncertainty was taking an emotional toll on my psyche.

Hana was asked numerous questions, which she handled calmly. After a few minutes, the officer waved his arm to proceed. There were no amenities of “good evening” or “good bye”, certainly not the Californian phrase “Have a nice day”.

The remainder of the trip went smoothly.  As we entered the apartment in Berlin, I was surprised to see how orderly the place had been maintained by Eric. Here was an 11-year-old boy who had the ability to prepare my meals, take care of three dogs, go to school and adequately maintain a five room apartment. In the United States, Hana would have probably been arrested for child abuse after the neighbors complained to the authorities that am 11-year-old child had been left alone. The reason Hana gave for leaving Eric behind was that she feared, probably with good reason, that because he had been born in Czechoslovakia, Eric might not have been permitted to leave that country.

Years later, Hana visited me in Mallorca, with Heinrich still in toe. She came to my house in Puerto de Soller on the north coast of Mallorca, where I was living with my current lover. We both spoke more Spanish and were able to communicate effectively, but I continued to feel that I could not sense an emotional connection with her. traveling to Berlin had been an interesting life experience, but I did not expect that we would see each other again.  We never did.

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Tales from America and around the World by Bill Honer

February 26, 2011

Wild Tales from America and around the World

By Bill Honer

Chapter 3

How One Family Supported the California Criminal Justice System

Eagle is a Paiute Indian. I first met him in 1975 when he was enrolled a public jobs program in Sacramento that I helped to implement. He had originally been sentenced to death in Nevada for murder. Eagle was placed in a nonprofit organization targeting Native Americans, where he assisted in encouraging persons with alcohol addiction to seek treatment. I made a decision that, given his background of 16 years in prison prior to being paroled, he would need considerable assistance. He is now 78; he has never returned to prison.

Back in 1975, I could see he needed a lot of work to succeed. I invited him to my apartment for lunch on several occasions. He was very personable and showed considerable motivation in his work recruiting other American Indians to attend alcoholism counseling programs. It was an odd sight for the guards at the Sacramento County office building to see him arrive with his graying ponytail, colorful headband, and Fu Manchu style beard. Invariably questioned on the purpose of his visit,

he would reply “I have to go see Bill Honer. He’s my boss.”

Eagle had no relatives in the Sacramento area. His father lived on a reservation in Nevada. I introduced him to my mother and my sister. He continued to show excellent progress, and was such an excellent role model that the authorities at San Quentin Prison permitted him to accompany me on Friday nights to meet with a group of about 25 prisoners known as the American Indian Cultural Group.

The purpose of the visit was to help the men who were being paroled to Sacramento obtain work through the government sponsored public employment program that Nixon began and Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter continued.

Of the 10 ex-convicts who came to Sacramento and were employed in the public jobs program, only two returned to prison, a decent track record given the fact that they all had multiple felony convictions on their curriculum vitae. After the program was eliminated by President Reagan, the chances were quite good that many of those paroled to Sacramento did not become model citizens.

Once an official in the Office of the County Executive at Sacramento County said to me “you are leaving Sacramento County and visiting Marin County on a regular basis. “

I replied “That’s correct. I’m working with prisoners who are coming back to Sacramento so that when they arrive, they won’t hit people over the head and take their money.” He said “Oh” and walked away. I never heard any more about my leaving the county after that encounter

During my first visit inside San Quentin, the Sergeant of the guards said to me “Mr. Honer, we do not recognize hostages. In the event of problems, we shoot at blue” (the inmates wore blue). I was, of course, wearing blue pants; in fact the two pairs of pants that I owned were both blue. My impression was that the warning was an attempt to intimidate me.

I doubted we were in any danger; nothing ever happened during our many visits. On one occasion, we were waiting in the hall before entering the visiting room where the meeting was held. The sergeant started yelling “let’s move some guns”, after which guards went up the catwalk with large weapons. This felt like more intimidation. As we continued with what seemed to be an interminable wait, a dozen inmates led by several guards passed by on their way to death row. The good Sergeant, ever enthralled with the sound of his voice, called out “Dead men coming through.” As an opponent of the death penalty, it was a less than pleasant moment.

Eagle and I usually began the trip by stopping at Eppies restaurant in West Sacramento prior to heading to the Bay Area on Highway 80. After purchasing my coffee, I would call the Chief of my Division. “Clyde, I am on my way to San Quentin” His response was always the same “tell me Bill, what color pants are you wearing today?” I would say blue, and he would cry out “Oh my God!” It was a little joke, but it was nice to share it.

After one meeting, we drove back to Sacramento. On the way, Eagle said “there is a woman being released from the Sacramento County jail at midnight and I need to pick her up. Is that okay? “Sure, let’s go do it.”, I said.

 

I was living alone at that time and was in no hurry to return to the apartment. As we pulled up to the county jail, she was waiting outside. As soon as she saw Eagle, she ran to his Ford Thunderbird and climbed in the back seat.

“Bill, this is Alice”, said Eagle. We exchanged greetings and started on the ten mile drive to the center of Sacramento.

“How is your daughter Alice doing?” asked Eagle.

“Oh, she is right here!” pointing to the jail. “She has 30 days more to do on a shoplifting beef.” said Alice.

“How about your cousin George, how’s he doing?” said Eagle.

“He’s coming up for parole in a couple of months. George wants to get out of. Folsom;  he said it’s real hard time there.” said Alice.

Eagle’s tone became serious. “Alice, I hear your son could be sniffing gas for that murder in Fresno” he said.

“Yeah” she replied, “I’m kinda worried about him.”

The car stopped in front of Alice’s apartment in downtown Sacramento. After she left, Eagle and I just looked at each other in disbelief. All her relatives were at various stages of the criminal justice process. The family appeared to be doing an excellent job of supporting the criminal justice system in California. Perhaps it would have been a good idea for some of the prison guards to send a modest amount of their weekly paycheck to the family. Alice and the others were keeping them working for a long time to come.

The program enabled hundreds of thousands of unemployed persons nationwide to obtain gainful employment that improved the infrastructure of the nation and enabled them to live a modest middle-class lifestyle. Once Reagan, a destroyer of the American middle class, arrived in office, one of his first actions was to close the program and put 585 000 Americans out of work.

Of the 500 individuals participating in the program in Sacramento that I tracked, 63% had entered unsubsidized employment at the time of termination from the program. During the Reagan era, roughly 17% of Americans who had formerly been a part of the middle class left the ranks of the middle class as their income declined to below $12,000 per year, while the wealth of the top one percent of Americans increased by roughly fifty percent from 25 to 37 percent of the total wealth of the nation, complements of President proposed Reagan’s tax cuts that were passed by a Democratic Congress. Under his presidency, the minimum wage remained largely unchanged, accompanied by a huge increase in low-paying service jobs and a major decline in well-paying manufacturing jobs. Despite all of this, the majority of Americans, especially White Americans, rejoiced at having Ronald Reagan as President. Nothing could change that. Reagan imploded intellectually during a Presidential debate, and was forced to resort to the old acting trek of saying anything and us proceeded to wax on about the beauties of the California countryside rather than the issue at hand. Sadly, that may have been a function of

of the Alzheimer’s disease that destroyed his later life.

However, he told Americans what they wanted to hear, that all was well in the garden of America, and those who disagreed were simply “whiners.” The fact that Reagan acknowledged committing impeachable acts, such as violating the Boland amendment prohibiting mining of the harbors of Managua and that he sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages, did little to diminish his personal popularity among Americans, many of whom in all probability did not delve too deeply into the state of the nation.

The prison guards could have also sent a little gift to Ronald Reagan for keeping them employed with an additional supply of customers. Thanks to the CIA/Contra/crack cocaine connection that set loose a flurry of drug addictions in the ghettos of Los Angeles and elsewhere, the prison population in America soared during the Reagan administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild but true Stories from America and around the World –Chapter 2 Bill Honer

February 14, 2011

Chapter 2

1969: Watching the Moon Landing with Mobsters

In 1969, Maureen and I were living in Forest Hills Queens. It was the night of the Moon landing; we decided that we needed to see this historic event on a larger television than the small one sitting in our living room. We found a lounge on Queens Boulevard that had a good television set and very few patrons.

The room was dim, with a beige satin dropped ceiling. The seats were oversized white leatherette and were very comfortable with their huge cushions. Sinatra was singing “There’s a Small Hotel” on the juke box. Other than the two men seated at the bar, the place was empty. I ordered two Schaefer’s, our New York brew of choice.

I tried to be discreet in observing the two men, who were wearing black suits and white shirts with the top button open. The large hands, heavy eyebrow ridges, and long sideburns indicated likely ties to the mob. One said, “Hey Mizzooch. I bet you five bucks you can’t name the seven dwarfs!”

The other gangster looked at his colleague carefully to make certain that he wasn’t bull-shitting him. He wasn’t. “Joey!” he yelled to the bartender. “Did you hear what Sal said? I get five bucks for naming the seven dwarfs. Okay, you animal. Listen good — Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy…”; he proceeded to name them all. Sal opened his wallet to withdraw a five dollar bill, saying “I didn’t think you were that smart, go figure.”

Meanwhile, Maureen and I sat quietly sipping our Schaefers. It was likely their only civic duty was a monthly visit to the office of their respective parole agents. Rather than making us nervous, their presence had the opposite effect. We felt safe and secure; no one would be robbing or fighting in a “connected” establishment. In the early seventies, there were three streets in the Bronx — Fox, Simpson, and Tiffany — which were known to be very rough. Police statistics revealed that a person living on those streets had a one in eighteen chance of becoming a homicide victim, not even a twenty-to-one shot!

On the other hand, persons living where the Mafia did, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, had a one in twelve hundred chance of becoming a crime victim. Maureen and I continued to talk softly, although it was more fun to overhear the mobsters’ conversation.

“Hey, Sal, my cousin said to me that he thought he seen you working at a store on West Thirty-seventh Street. I told him he gotta stop eating those mushrooms.” said Grizzooch, as he gave those present his best Cro-Magnon smile.

Sal laughed “Working? Ya gotta be kidding me. I ain’t worked since that time in the fifties when Louie got us that job painting one of the bridges. I think we lasted three days. This friend of Lou’s comes over with an Irish guy and says that Mike here is our crew chief and that if we got any questions, all we gotta do is ask Mike. So me being a smart ass, I say to him, “Listen, Mike, do you think Ericco can get that pig he’s riding’ home first in the sixth at Aqueduct?’ So the Mick just looks at me with a hard stare and says, ‘This is a bridge, not the track, so get to work.’

“I look surprised and says, “You mean this ain’t the track? I must’a taken a wrong turn and I’m in the wrong place. Thanks for telling me.”

“You shouldda seen the look on the Irishman’s face when I walked off. He started yelling ‘Where you going?’

“I yelled back, ‘I’m going to the Big A, where the fuck do you think I’m going?’ Even the bartender laughed at that one.

The evening passed quickly and pleasantly, with a few more mobsters arriving. The juke box appeared to be dedicated exclusively to Frank Sinatra. Then the bartender raised the television volume as the first astronaut from the earth was stepping onto the surface of the moon. Even the two gangsters appeared awed at this historic moment.

“Hey Mizzooch! Look at this.” said Sal.

“Sal, you see something like this and then you wonder how they can tap a phone?” said Mizzooch. Such was the relevance of the moon landing to the Mafia.

(Bill Honer is an independent world traveler, consultant, former government analyst, social worker and host of the cable television program “Social Issues.”)

 

Wild but True Tales from America and around the World: Chapter 1 By Bill Honer

February 14, 2011

Chapter I: A Practical Joke Results in Freedom for a Folsom Prison Inmate

One Sunday, I was sitting in the visiting room at Folsom Prison with Eddie, a former resident of Dannemora prison, which was where we first met when I was working on a prison rehabilitation project through the State University of New York. Over coffee, Tommy told me the astonishing story of how a practical joke he played changed the life of his prison buddy Joey.

I knew Joey. He was a big man, well over six feet and weighed at least 240 pounds. It isn’t easy having fun in prison. One day, Eddie was browsing through one of the tabloids and saw an ad encouraging those wanting their soul saved to write a woman who was a member of a Baptist church somewhere in Mississippi. “As a joke”, said Eddie, “I wrote a letter to them saying I was asinner and deeply in need of spiritual salvation. Then I signed Joey’s name to the letter”.

“Shortly after that, Joey starts receiving letters from Mary, a member of the church in Mississippi. Her letters became very personal, writing that she was open to having a relationship with him as well as saving his soul. Joey answered her “well I would certainly be interested in having a relationship with you. The only problem is that after I finish my sentence here in California, I’m scheduled to be extradited to Florida to face charges for another crime.”

“Mary wrote back ‘I am going to look into the charges in Florida. Maybe I can help.’ I have no idea what she did, but she managed to have the charges in Florida dropped. They continued writing, with their letters becoming more intimate. Joey then decided to propose marriage to her. Mary accepted and they were married inside the walls here.”

“How soon will you be able to be paroled?” she kept asking him during their Sunday visits. Joey said something like “Well honey, it would really help if I had a job before I meet the for parole board.” Ever willing to help, Mary told him “let me see what I can do.” Within three weeks, she found an employer in Sacramento willing to hire him. Now Joey had a wife, no pending charges, and a job waiting for him. He is going to be paroled in three weeks, go figure.” said Eddie

“That’s quite a story Eddie” I replied. During my previous visit two weeks before, Eddie had grown a full beard, complements of a decision of the California Supreme Court extending sartorial rights to prisoners. Today, the beard was gone. When I inquired why, Eddie replied, smiling wryly, “they wanted to take a picture of me with the beard. I did not want them to have that.” This strongly suggested that Eddie was not seriously considering making any major career changes after his release. As Joey walked by, Eddie looked up and said “Joey, how come you shaved your mustache?” Joey smiled, “I thought it made me look too masculine!”

(Bill Honer is a former government analyst, social worker and world traveler)

Memoirs of a World Traveler by Bill Honer

December 4, 2010

Memoirs of a World Traveler

By Bill Honer

1970-1974

Paris and Mallorca

In November 1971, Moe and I traveled from New York to Luxembourg. It was a very inexpensive way to fly to Europe. From there, it was only a few hours by train to Paris. We found a simple hotel on the left bank on the Rue de la Huchette in the Saint Germain de Pres district that was managed by Algerians; the staff was was reserved to the point of rudeness. After placing the luggage in our room, we went for a walk along the Seine, which was only a block away. Afterwards, we stopped at a nearby café’ with a view of Notre Dame, where we ate croissants, sipped café’ crèmes and read Le Monde.

“Look! Judy Collins is playing at the Olympia Theatre. Let’s go see her,” said an elated Moe. Later that evening, we found a small restaurant not far from the hotel. Afterwards, we strolled along Boulevard St. Michel, which was crowded with street and pedestrian traffic. Finding a bookstore, we stepped inside. Moe was a minimalist in her needs. If she had cigarettes, books, and coffee, she was quite content.

Successfully encouraging her to leave was quite another matter. I bought an English translation of “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Moe picked up “L´Etrangere” by Albert Camus. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the same café by the Seine and ordered a bottle of wine. There were lights illuminating Notre Dame. The cafe was warm and cozy; it was a romantic setting. Several hours passed in quiet conversation.

Tired but satisfied with the day, we returned to the hotel, made love and fell asleep in each other’s arms. There were no thoughts about when to get up in the morning. There would be no work for the next six months, which was a nice prospect. We slept until late the next morning. The plan was to see the matinee performance of Judy Collins and then take the overnight train from Paris to Barcelona. From there, we would board the night ferry to Majorca.

Judy Collins was in excellent form; the audience was enthusiastic in its appreciation. It was the first time I had attended a televised concert. I remember being fascinated by the three cameramen intent on providing the director different perspectives to choose from during the performance. Twenty-two years later, I would produce my first television show on cable television in California.

After the concert, we made our way to the Gare du Sud, where I booked seats and couchettes on the Paris/Barcelona train. The six person compartments could be converted into “couchettes”. Although it lacked the plush comfort of the Pullman sleeping berths on American trains, a couchette was a major improvement over sitting up all night. There were two North African men and a Spanish couple already seated in our compartment. The Moroccans, Mustafa and Mohammed, were guest workers in Holland. The Spaniards Joaquin and Antonia, lived in Valencia and had just spent two weeks in Paris on vacation. Everyone used French as the common language of communication.

As was customary on European trains at the time, we shared bread, cheese, wine, and mineral water. Before long, the conductor was preparing the sleeping berths. The rhythm of the train clicking along the tracks was hypnotic; I soon fell asleep.

In the morning, we arrived at Port Bou. After clearing immigration, we boarded an older Spanish train for Barcelona. The trip along the Costa Brava was beautiful, with some outstanding views of coastal villages and the Mediterranean. In Barcelona, we went to a travel agency, where we bought tickets for the midnight ferry to Palma de Mallorca. The ship was huge, holding perhaps 100 vehicles.  There was a lounge, complete with a bar and plush leather chairs. The crossing was a bit rough, but I managed to get some sleep. When we disembarked in the morning, it was about 6 a.m.

The bay of Palma afforded views of the cathedral and other sights of the city. The sky was a pale blue, containing several puffy pink clouds. When we arrived at the Hotel Europa, which was located in El Arenal on the south coast, we were astonished to find that the cost of the room, breakfast and two four-course meals, including wine and mineral water, was equivalent to the price of two cappuccinos in a Greenwich Village cafe. It would be easy to live a very nice life here for a long time. The island, with its mountains, almond groves, and stone terraced hillsides of palm and olive trees, was beautiful.

While we were at the hotel in Paris, my friend Dan had called from Italy, where he and his lady friend Emily had been visiting Dan’s relatives in Sicily. It was agreed that we would meet at the Europa. On the first night of their arrival, we went dancing at a local nightclub. The entrance fee included unlimited bottles of champagne for the evening. At first Moe was reluctant to dance. However, after we proceeded to make a dent in the second bottle of champagne, I could not pull her away from the dance floor.

The next day we went to the Plaza Espana and took the late morning train to the village of Soller on the north coast of the island. The electric wooden train looked as though it had been built in the early part of the twentieth century. The first-class compartment was a parlor car with plush leather seats. The train tracks were set in the middle of a street that led out of the city; police stood at traffic lights at intersections stopping traffic as the train chugged along on its upward climb through the hills and mountains. At Son Pardo, the train passed the trotting race course. A decade later, my future wife Olivia would pack sandwiches and wine every Sunday in preparation for our big excursion from Soller to Palma to visit the race course for an afternoon of trotting racing.

The electric train passed fields of almond groves that gave way to the terraced hillside village of Bunyola. The next stage of the journey was a seven mile tunnel through a cordillera of mountains that separated Soller and its Port from the remainder of the island. At first light upon leaving the tunnel, a terraced canyon, appeared, covered with olive and pine trees. Slowly, the train descended down the mountainside towards the village of Soller, which was nestled under majestic peaks of Lofre and Puij Major. When we arrived at the station, we could see the orange colored tram moving along the tracks toward the front of the station, ready to take passengers through the valley of orange groves from the village of Soller to its Port.  Moe and I stopped at the Bar Turismo, with its entrance a few feet from the train tracks. I ordered a 103 cognac along with my coffee. The café was comfortable, with chairs that had armrests. The view included the church across the street, along with a view of the tram-via passing by every 30 minutes. The tram schedule provided Soller with a certain rhythm to life.

The village plaza was surrounded by cafes and the somber gray church front.  Although we lived in the Port, which was located about a mile away, our trips to the village were frequent. Often, we would sit at one of the outside tables of the cafeteria Soller, watching the local residents going about their daily business. It was enjoyable absorbing the rhythm and atmosphere of this small Spanish town. The village activity stood in contrast to the tranquility of the Port of Soller. Although the Port received busloads of vacationers from Palma, the tourists mainly sauntered along the harbor road,  stopped at one of the cafés overlooking the harbor, or sat on the beach. The side street leading to our apartment was usually empty. No one looked busy in the Port; the pace of life was invariably leisurely. The Bar Mallorca was our café of choice; the owner was cheerful man of advancing years who made excellent coffees while smoking his small cigars. The water of the circular harbor was aquamarine; it looked like a large swimming pool with a village surrounding it.

We rented an apartment from a friendly and gracious woman named Ana. Our evenings were spent drinking champagne and playing cards. During the day, we walked in the hills, read novels, and sipped coffee and cognac at the cafes. I also worked on my master’s thesis.

The sun did not rise above the tall mountains until about nine o’clock in the morning. Everyone would gather at that time on the terrace, sip coffee, and enjoy the sunshine when it arrived. The foothills of olive and pine trees offered a backdrop to the three-story medieval stone Es Port hotel, which was located directly across the street from our apartment.

“This is so different from Manhattan. I can’t believe it. The weekly cost to live here is about one half what I was paying for my therapy at the Fifth Avenue Center,” said Moe. “I would have to say that not only is this more fun, but I don’t even feel that I need therapy anymore.” she said.

I could well appreciate her comment. Moe had been suffering considerable anxiety in the final days before departure. How she had changed in such a short time! In Manhattan, she was popping valiums daily. Here, she was sitting on my lap in a cafe, with a San Miguel beer bottle in her hand, her arm around my shoulder, and a broad smile on her face. Her sitting on my lap probably scandalized the Majorcans. It was a great argument for the power of the environment. In some ways, it reminded me of how she had been in college in Plattsburgh. We would go dancing in Montreal, stay out all night, and cut classes the next day.

The absence of a stressful environment clearly worked wonders upon her. The road beside the hotel wound its way up the hillside past small “fincas”, rustic stone houses surrounded by gnarled olive trees. The road offered vistas of the harbor and eventually descended to the “Monumento”, a large stone monument, which was located at the intersection of the main road that led to the Port and the street northwards to Puij Major. There was a café where we could wait for the tram to Puerto Soller. If we started out later in the day, we would take the tram to the monument and walk through the hills to the Cafeteria Nautilus, which was located on top of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. It was a modern white two-story building with a panoramic view of the sea. Juan and Miguel, the owners, were welcoming; we would sit looking out at the Mediterranean and watch the sun sink into the sea at sunset. This was a nice way to live.   .

At night, we would go to Soller for a few hours; it was a happy time for us all.  I would play three-cushion billiards with one of the local residents. When we arrived home, the time would be spent drinking champagne, talking philosophy, and playing cards until the early morning hours. Spain was still a dictatorship in the early seventies. The “men from the Generallissimo’s office”, as we referred to the national police force the “Guardia  Civil”, wore green uniforms and hard plastic black caps. These men were a frequent presence in Palma, but were less visible in the Port and the village of Soller. There were no women among their ranks, only men.

Under the dictator Franco, the Guardia Civil were never assigned to work in their home regions. Instead, they were required to move from their hometowns to another part of the country in order to protect the dictatorship. Their motto was “Todo por la Patria” or “all for the country.” This was hardly a comforting thought to the less fascist minded citizens of Spain. One Guardia married a local girl from the Port. For more than 30 years that I visited Soller, I witnessed many shop girls marry, have children and grow into middle-aged matrons. It was a simple life, enriched for us by the presence of an English lending library, located in the back section of the Bar Turismo. It was operated by Elaina, a diminutive woman who smoked camels and had a no-nonsense demeanor that occasionally bordered on rudeness. She was very helpful in sharing her extensive collection once she found that we were interested in reading serious literature. Available books included Hugo, Balzac, Narayan, Forster, Stendahl, Solzhenitsyn, Kundera, Malraux and many others.

British and American residents would gather there each morning for an opportunity to meet other expatriates. Some would come from the village of Deya, which was about five miles from Soller. Built on a terraced mountainside and situated above a rocky cove, it was the home of Robert Graves. Writers and would-be writers enjoyed living there. The Port, with its marina and the surrounding lush green hills, was my preference. Despite its charm, few of the British or Americans chose to live there, preferring Soller. There were more houses to choose from and more stores in Soller, which may have been factors in their decision. .

In the mornings, we would go to the bakery for roles and pastries. Then we would proceed to the Bar Mallorca, where we would take a table near the water, order café’ con leches, and enjoy the view. Feisty little dogs seemed to rule the Port. Cars moved slowly around them, with most drivers demonstrating patience with the reluctance of these members of the canine community to leave the street when traffic attempted to pass them.

It was always a big day when we would leave the village and take the train to the big city of Palma. There was an outdoor café at the station. One could sit and have a coffee cappuccino, and look over the Cyprus trees; there was also a nice view of the mountains that surrounded the village.

The train to Palma took about 40 minutes. It would chug along, winding its way up the hillside; the train would pass through tunnels. As we exited the tunnel, we had a different view of the village and the valley below. The train would then travel quickly through a  seven mile tunnel and would enter the charming village of Bunyola, which was a terraced  village built on a mountainside. The train would continue the city of Palma..

When we arrived, there was a café located right at the train station where one could wait comfortably, or simply have a drink to celebrate the arrival in Palma, which we oftemn did. We would then cross the street, pass the Plaza Espana, and begin our walk through the narrow winding pedestrian street made of Kabul stones that descended into the lower level of the city where American Express office was located.  In the early seventies, it was possible to receive once male and American Express at no charge. This was an exciting moment since we usually had mail waiting for us. We would then proceed to a   café and read the letters from home. .

There was a little restaurant near American Express that offered a decent lunch at astonishingly low prices, even by the standards of low-cost Mallorca at that time. The meals always included a salad, a main course, dessert, wine or mineral water, at a cost well below one American dollar. .

Sometimes we would go to see Jai Lai matches at the fronton, or take a walk by the cathedral. It was a wonderful time; there was enough money to live on. We were young and very comfortable in each others’ presence. There were only about five trains that went from Palma to Soller. The visit to the more dynamic city was a change from the peaceful pace of life in the village of Soller and the Port. Upon arrival back in Soller, we would take the tram back to the Port where our apartment was located. It was a very effective system.  The train always waited for the tram to arrive from the Port, and the tram always waited for the train to arrive from Palma before departing for the Port.

Although the trip was stimulating, there was a also a sense of ease and bliss about everything we did.  Mallorca was safe and clean. The ubiquitous cafes offered a respite from any activity.

Often in the mornings, we would walk down to the bakery, by our pastries, and proceed to a table at one of the outdoor cafes that overlooked the harbor .Moe and Emily would order cappuccino, while Dan and I would order a cognac as well. After a leisurely breakfast, we would get up when we saw the tram beginning to move towards its trip to the village of Soller. We would then take the train and walk a short distance to the Bar Turismo, where an American woman named Elaina maintained an English lending library that contained close to 7000 volumes. There was no shortage of good literature, from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Stendahl.

The mornings at the Bar Turismo were the center of social and cultural life for English and American expatriates. The Majorcans occupied one side of the café, with the Americans and British occupying the back section. It was a comfortable place where one could have a conversation in English, read the International Herald Tribune, and enjoy an excellent coffee and cognac. For some of the regulars, particularly those that were living alone, these morning hours were the most important part of the day.

Bob, formerly of Beverly Hills, could be found in the same chair every morning. After his 25th year in the café in the same chair, the owner of the café, placed a ceramic tile on the wall behind the chair that said “Tio Bob” He sat in that chair  every morning until his death.

After visiting fifty countries, it remains my favorite place in the world.

A one-page Guide to American Politics

October 30, 2010

A one-page Guide to American Politics

This 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. 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. 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.” It would be helpful if all Senators wore race car driver outfits with logos revealing their corporate and other sponsors; it would then be easier for Americans to understand who owns them. 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. 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 Tea party movement is sponsored by two billionaires, appeals to the worst of American values, rugged individualism, anti-intellectualism and racism. Within the tea party, there is a fundamental rejection of a sense of community. During their public demonstrations, some supporters carried dehumanizing signs depicting President Obama

as a primate rather than a human being. It is important to note that many other tea party supporters were willing participants to march along side the persons carrying these racist placards. Tea party members, who are overwhelmingly white, fail to offer a positive vision of a better Society for all Americans. From the misspellings on the placards, many of the tea party supporters are not among our better educated citizens.

The so called “American Dream” is a pathetic one of a job, house and a car, with no thought given to the fact that such basics are merely a point of departure for enriching the human experience through the arts, music, literature and other pursuits that enhance the human experience. The dreams of the White majority are individual ones; mutual sharing and support are rejected. 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.

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