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
March 25, 2016
Mr. President: January 1928 to March 2016 is a very long time -- more than a lifetime
for most people. So congratulations on your visit, and for restoring relations with
Cuba. The obligatory sermon on human rights was not responded to in kind.
But here is what the Cuban leader could have said. Healthcare and education in this
modern world are human rights. Everyone has free healthcare in Cuba. No one is
dying in Cuba because they do not have access to healthcare. They are in the U.S.,
and the figure for these preventable deaths is estimated for 2012 at an astonishing
48,000. The infant mortality rate per thousand live births is 4.63 in Cuba compared to
5.87 in the U.S., and so on.
Education in Cuba is free so there are no young people saddled with crippling loans
they are unable to pay because of a lack of jobs. We have graduates of the
universities, lawyers, liberal arts majors, even scientists driving Uber over weekends
to pay off college loans. Did you see anyone panhandling in Cuba? Of course not.
No shortage in Chicago or any other major U.S. city. Now why should that happen in
the greatest country in the world.
For anyone who has lived or traveled extensively in Europe, returning to the U.S. is a
shock. The infrastructure is so dilapidated, you have to blink to make sure you are
not in a developing country.
Why is all this? The reason is quite straightforward: Nowadays, people want all the
rights of a taxpayer and none of the responsibilities of a citizen. So they want to pay
less taxes to benefit themselves but are unwilling to contribute to the common good.
The 1980s propaganda to lower taxes, to benefit the rich out of all proportion, has
nevertheless cemented firmly in the minds of the middle classes.
On freedom of speech, there is the anecdote of the Russian who managed to get out
of the Soviet Union and arrived in New York with great hopes for his writing. His wry
conclusion: here you can write what you want but nobody reads. As a result,
candidates political leaders, even top office holders go on talk shows, comedy shows,
do routines with rappers, all intent on getting their voice heard.
Poor little Belgium ... in the cross-fire again. It paid a heavy price for its geography,
being right between the major belligerents in two world wars. Of course, the dramatic
bombings there this week eclipsed the presidential Cuban visit in the news cycle,
taking away some of the shine. Would the Belgium attacks have happened if Iraq and
Syria had been left alone? Of course not.
The secular regimes of Iraq and Syria were not into extremist global jihadism; society
was pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious. Iraqi and Syrian Christians had lived in the
region for millennia. In fact, Saddam Hussein's prime minister, Tariq Aziz was a
Christian. Moreover, women were being emancipated, could go out freely, attended
universities -- Zaha Hadid the famous Iraqi architect now London based is one
example. What we have now is a hell for minorities, war between Shia and Sunni
Muslims (when before there was intermarriage,) hundreds of thousands dead, millions
displaced. These people have been told time and again, the West is bringing them
freedom and democracy. Some freedom! Some democracy! Regime change has
backfired, destabilized the countries, and fanned the flames of hatred. It has been a
disaster, and the perpetrators refuse to accept responsibility.