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
January 16, 2015
Mr. President: The EU depends on Russia for 25% of its gas supplies, and therefore
were reluctant to disturb the status quo in Ukraine. But "f*** the EU" said our intrepid
envoy and a democratically elected government was toppled (not for the first time) at
a cost in her own words of about $5 billion dollars. Then sanctions were imposed on
Russia for its response with the Europeans again dragged along reluctantly. They
are paying the price in export losses and now in the gas supply cut. Part of the
reason why this week the IMF chief predicted a glum economic future for the EU.
Russia claims Ukraine is siphoning off gas intended for Europe without paying for it --
an old problem, Ukraine is broke. However, now with the worst of the winter upon
Europe, Russia has decided to act. The British "Daily Mail" quotes Valentin
Zemlyansky of Naftogas, the Ukrainian gas company, saying the supply has been cut
60% from 221 million cubic meters per 24 hours to 92 million. As a consequence oil
and gas prices have shot up, which of course helps the Russian economy.
Six southern European countries now face a complete cut-off. Among them Bulgaria,
visited by Mr. Kerry on his way to Paris to assure US assistance. Increasing the
capacity of the nuclear power station being built by Westinghouse or the promise of
future gas supplies from the US cannot solve their immediate problem.
Starting with the classic example from the days of the limelight, free speech has
limits: thus shouting fire in a packed theater, or, in our times, inciting racial violence.
This week Pope Francis interviewed on his way to the Philippines reminded us of
limits to freedom of expression. Asked about the Charlie Hebdo, he responded,
"There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity."
Then gesturing towards the adjacent Alberto Gaspari, who organizes papal travel, he
went on, "If my good friend Dr. Gaspari says a curse word against my mother, he can
expect a punch. It's normal. It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the
faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others." With the right to free
speech comes the responsibility to remember "the common good", he added. A
lesson for the likes of Bill Maher and Sam Harris who under the guise of atheism
launch vituperative attacks against one particular religion.
For those of us not too familiar with the history, Charlie Hebdo is emerging as not
entirely a haven for free speech. "He'll go a long way in life, that little lad," were the
words that got 80-year old Maruice Sinet fired from the magazine. The reference was
to the engagement of Sarkozy's son to Jewish heiress Jessica Sebaoun-Darty and to
a rumor that he was converting to Judaism. Mr. Sinet had been with the magazine for
20 years and sued the magazine successfully for $40,000 euros in 2009. No such
luck for our own Helen Thomas turfed out for a sentence about the European Jews
who settled Israel. She had served for many decades more than 20 years. Free
speech seems to be confined to ideas we agree with, and against groups we have
been made to dislike. The ACLU remains a notable exception in our society.
Journalists practice self-censorship to preserve careers and livelihood and suffer
when they forget. Just three days ago at the Charlie Hebdo rally in Paris, BBC
reporter Tim Wilcox faced calls to resign when he noted Palestinian suffering in
speaking to a woman marcher who expressed fears Jews were being persecuted.
All of our highly charged conflicts may turn out to be small potatoes in comparison
with what we are doing to the planet. NASA and NOAA scientists report 2014 was the
hottest year on record, 0.07F (0.04C) higher than the previous record. It was also
the 38th consecutive year of above average temperatures, and high time we worked
to save our little blue marble for future generations. Rightly done it might even unite
the human race in a common purpose.