Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
JULY 19, 2013
Mr. President: It has not been the best of weeks for American justice. First, is the
story of a man (Willie Smith Ward) who was caught at the check-out counter trying to
slip out with a $35 slab of ribs. When the cashier asked him what else he had, he
said, "I gotta knife." That turned the crime into a felony. Because of prior convictions
including felonies, his sentence ... an unbelievable 50 years. Stealing goods over
$1000 often constitutes a felony. Willie Smith Ward is black and a cocaine addict;
most likely his crimes supported his habit, and evidence that blacks are treated more
severely in the system is irrefutable. It costs $65,000 to $100,000 a year to keep a
man in prison. Not only is it more ethical and kinder to treat this man's addiction, but
costing less, it makes economic sense.
Behavioral economists tell us that when income inequality increases -- it is the worst
in the U.S. among developed countries and even worse than some developing
countries -- the elite have less empathy with the rest. Material possessions command
greater importance than the lives of the poor and perhaps a 50-year jail term for
attempting to steal $35 worth of pork ribs is the result. In the 19th century, Victor
Hugo was so appalled at French criminal justice, he wrote "Les Miserables". But Jean
Valjean ended up with a sentence totaling only 19 years for stealing that loaf of bread
and several attempted escapes. Victor Hugo, the vividly imaginative author of
"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Around the
World in Eighty Days" could not imagine a longer prison term. One thing for sure ...
there is never a guarantee of the world becoming a better, more civilized place.
The story dominating the news has been George Zimmerman. Demonstrations
everywhere in response to his acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The facts are
simple: Trayvon Martin a black, 17-year old was returning home with a can of iced
tea and a bag of skittles when he was spotted by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch
volunteer who had armed himself with a 9mm handgun. Zimmerman called police
using the term "f...ing punks" in characterization. Then contrary to a police request,
he followed Trayvon Martin leading to an altercation in which Zimmerman shot and
killed the teenager.
It took more than a month of outrage and demonstrations for the police to charge
Zimmerman. He claimed self-defense and the jury of five white and one Hispanic, all
women, agreed with him. Take away all the disputes as to who started the fight and a
single fact remains: If Zimmerman had obeyed the police, he would not have pursued
Trayvon, who would still be alive.
You have called for calm -- a call ignored -- saying a jury has spoken and we are a
nation of laws. Are we?
From its first documented use during the Spanish Inquisition, water boarding has
always been torture. In fact, it was so effective converting Muslims and Jews to
Christianity, it was called "the water cure". Moreove, Japanese soldiers were
prosecuted for it by the U.S. after the Second World War. Then all of a sudden,
torture it was not -- because the Bush administration decided it was not. Mr. Cheney
called it a little dunking.
From torture to execution ... just another step, and it hasn't taken long. American
citizens have now been executed by drone, their guilt decided not by a court of law
but by the executive.
American citizens are being spied upon in direct contravention of the Second
Amendment, under blanket court orders.
Yes, there is a difference of opinion about these matters, but what price is safety
when the Constitution has been made ambiguous? And if basic rights and freedom
are being discarded, then what are the armed forces and security services fighting
It may not be the first time these questions are asked, yet, surely, they are worth
asking again and again ...