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 26, 2018 (posted January 29, 2018)
Mr. President: A few days ago Oxfam reported on wealth inequality: The richest one
percent wrapped their hands around 82 percent of the wealth created last year.
Worse the 3.7 billion people comprising the poor half of humanity gained nothing.
If anyone in the U.S. thinks those poor are remote, take a walk along with Leilani
Farha, a Canadian lawyer and UN special rapporteur on adequate housing. Her job
is to assess compliance with international human rights law. Yes, housing is a right
according to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Ms. Farha has visited slums and shanty towns in poorer countries like Mexico,
Philippines and Indonesia. But now she is here in central San Francisco at the
invitation of activists. It is a town where the median home value exceeds a million
dollars but the reason for the invitation lies with the homeless under bridges, in
alleyways and nooks, around 7,500 last year. "I couldn't help but be completely
shocked", she remarks. She is headed to Los Angeles next, and is concerned
because everyone has told her the situation there is much worse.
The area west of the two main railroad stations in Chicago looked dilapidated thirty
years ago but you would seldom see a homeless person or a panhandler. Now sleek
new buildings fill the adjacent streets; there are new shops, businesses and food
places but so are panhandlers lining the street.
Minimum wage is no longer enough to afford shelter, and the country is short about
7.5 million units of affordable housing according to the National Low Income Housing
Coalition. That the problem is structural is evident: Tax policy has since the Reagan
years favored the rich, both individuals and corporations, upon the backs of the
defenseless poor. It has been true under Republicans and under Democrats. After
all, it was Bill Clinton who 'reformed' welfare by cutting payments to the bone, and the
so-called liberal Obama who tried aiming at social security pensions.
According to the Center for American Progress, the new tax bill's benefits are aimed
at the top one percent while the cuts will ultimately cost middle Americans. They will
add by most estimates at least $1.4 trillion to the budget deficit threatening programs
for the middle class and the poor such as Medicare and Medicaid, and who knows
perhaps even Social Security. This was a bill requiring 60 votes (out of 100) in the
senate and with only 51 Republicans, it needed Democratic votes.
Yes, inequality in the U.S. gets worse by the year and is the worst among developed
nations but it doesn't stop there -- world inequality is a problem. Every year before
Davos, Oxfam issues a report and then brings the subject up at the forum. Each year
the attendees listen, each year Oxfam is invited back, and each year the situation
deteriorates. It was rare to find a beggar in Britain (as indeed in the U.S.) in the
1950s and 1960s; it is commonplace now.
No one can be sure what tips the balance, but everyone knows extreme inequality is
dangerous. It has and will lead to extreme events.