Weekly Letter to the President
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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
January 12, 2018 (posted Jan 16, 2018)
Mr. President: War, namely, the use of actual force hovers in the background, while
warfare, which is really all other means in relations between states, remains the
Trumpian leitmotif. Contumely for African countries one day, invective for Iran the
next. Last week it was Pakistan. It's all grist for a presidential mill in a psychedelic
world where facts swirl about on the periphery dominated by a frenzy of colorful
falsehoods in the center.
Forget the beautiful Benin bronzes, the contributions to arts, culture, the rhythms of
dance, jazz, and pop. The continent is reduced to 'shithole countries' in the Trump
cranial toilet bowl.
Has Iran fulfilled its JCPOA (Iran deal) obligations? Yes, say all the parties and the
supervising IAEA. No, says Donald Trump. Iran is violating the spirit of the deal. But
it's a nuclear deal, Mr. President. If you envision a broader agreement, no one is
stopping you from new negotiations. Surely one also needs to ask who is largely
responsible for the destruction of Syria, the arming of rebels, the millions of refugees,
and now the bloated bellies of starving Yemeni children.
In Africa, the real issue is the U.S. role in ravaging the countries on the continent:
from the 1961 execution of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo independence leader and
first elected Prime Minister, by a U.S. supported Belgian task force to the present day
rape of Libya and a proxy invasion of Somalia.
Libya used to be an economic magnet for temporary African migrants; the U.S.
invasion turned it into an exporter of refugees from a ravaged country. While the
flood of weapons leaking out have empowered religious extremists groups like Boko
Haram, raining violence and terror on countries as distant as Nigeria. Another group,
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has been responsible for attacks in Algeria, Mali,
Niger, Tunisia and elsewhere.
There is an aspect of Mr. Trump's remarks that has been overlooked. Among the
most developed OECD countries, there is one that, in relative terms, matches
Trump's description. His own. Its situation is also likely to get only worse under the
Trump tax cuts favoring the asset rich.
The OECD ranks the U.S. as almost the worst (35th out of 37) in terms of poverty and
inequality. It has the highest Gini coefficient of all Western countries.
Close to 40 million (or 1 in 8) Americans live in poverty. One in five households (19.7
%) say they have difficulty affording food at some point during the year.
Lack of a national health care system means the 'health gap' between the US and its
peer countries continues to become worse. It leads to such outcomes as the worst
infant mortality rates and the lowest life expectancy.
At five times the OECD average, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the
world. It causes both economic loss and personal tragedy on an untold scale.
The US education system (schooling) still lags behind its advanced peers. The
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted every three
years, ranked the US 38th of 71 countries. Among the then 35 OECD participants,
the US ranked 30th in Math and 19th in Science. It does not bode well for future US
global competitiveness, and might also explain to some extent the high incarceration
The poor US metrics cry out for greater social intervention. Yet US elected
representatives respond principally to rich campaign donors in an election system of
The US appears to have long forgotten that the true measure of a society is not how it
treats the rich, but how it meets the needs of its least privileged. Sadly, of little
concern to Mr. Trump in his universal vilifications.