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
February 15, 2013
Mr. President: This year is the centenary of Grand Central Station in New York City.
When opened, it was the largest terminus of its kind in the world and an architectural
delight. America then followed with luxurious modern trains traversing a continent. By
mid-century, when its interstates were the envy of the world, it could be proud of its
infrastructure. Levees were beginning to tame annual flooding except in the worst
cases. It was a pioneer in air travel, and the Boeing 707 soon dominated skies
across the world. So what happened?
Well, debilitating wars happened. An obsession with communism, unsustainable
military expenditure, and benign neglect. Meanwhile, Europe and Japan devastated
by the Second World War had not been standing still. While our relative wealth
declined, we continued to provide the military umbrella under which their economies
prospered -- aided, of course, by our relatively open markets.
Our infrastructure now is a shambles -- roads and bridges have been given a grade
of D-minus by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The chronic trade deficit and
the acute budget deficit would have long sunk the dollar, had it not been a reserve
currency. It doesn't help that the Fed's quantitative easing is in the trillions and
loading future generations with a huge debt, of which an inexcusable portion is
helping banks remove worthless securities from their books.
Of course, the nominee for Treasury Secretary was right in the thick of the banking
crisis making his future at Citigroup. Despite this background and despite dubious
Cayman Islands investments, for which he received a wink and a slap on the wrist, his
nomination sailed through. A quick look at the donor lists of the committee members
could be an eye-opener.
On the other hand, Chuck Hagel, a war hero, who was rightly critical of George
Bush in the Iraq adventure is being crucified by his own party. Anyone who thinks
Iraq has been a success should look at the news. This week, the head of security in
Mosul was assassinated. Almost every week, dozens are killed in bombings across
the country. And woe betide the millions of refugees if they went to Syria.
To return to infrastructure, a rhetorical mention in a laundry list is not enough. It
requires a sustained effort on a massive scale much like Eisenhower's building of the
Interstate road network. Otherwise, our competitiveness in a changing world and the
concomitant jobs remain at serious risk.