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
April 6, 2012
Mr. President: In the late 1950s, I remember a fellow student at King's College
(University of London) traveling to the United States for a summer job, then reporting
back that it was a land of milk and honey. Here is the question: If the U.S. could be a
land of milk and honey with the tax rates in force then, why can't those rates be
reinstated now? If they were, our mushrooming budget deficit would begin to
disappear, and we could begin to climb back to a measure of respectability instead of
careening down a slope towards Spain, Portugal and Greece. The same could be
said of Social Security: if there was no cut off at a little over a $100k and the tax
continued at the same rate on higher incomes instead of being regressive, there
would be no question of any problems with the system. Of course, this is all pie in the
sky -- the reality is election funding, think tanks funded by very wealthy donors, etc.,
all aimed at maintaining low tax rates for the wealthy with enough loopholes and
lowered rates on unearned income that the wealthy are now paying less than a 20%
rate, sometimes lower. It appalled Warren Buffett enough to complain he was in a
lower tax rate than his secretary.
Something of course could have been done in a small way. So why were the Bush tax
cuts not allowed to lapse? And when they were skewed so heavily towards the rich,
why the red herring of removing only the tax cuts for the rich? It was common
knowledge the Republicans would never agree to that one, and it had no chance of
passing -- a political Kabuki dance perhaps, where one could appear to be fiscally
responsible, and at the same time could not be accused by a Republican opponent in
2012 of having raised taxes.
This and other issues - like Israel/Palestine which always has such a small window in
the election cycle that the moribund peace process has been ongoing for decades -
raise the question of a single-term President. Eight years over two elections is too
much. Many lose after the first term, so the country suffers discontinuity and
too-soon policy reversals. If four years is too little and eight too much we are left with
a median six. This issue is not being raised for the first time, and it will certainly not
be the last, but it is an idea that is right for our times, given the mess the country is in,
and the urgent need to diminish the role played by money in politics, even if ever so
We hope it will lead to a President less preoccupied with elections, donors and
political pressure groups, who can concentrate on doing his best for the vast majority
of people -- like an FDR for example. There will be outliers, of course, like your
Democratic predecessor with a latent retirement package in mind ($100 million and
growing), or his wife, who to date has not been able to provide a convincing
explanation of how she converted $1000 into $100,000 in rapid-fire commodities
trading over the course of one year during their poverty stricken period in Arkansas,
and why then with such consummate trading skills as would make the legendary
trader Paul Tudor Jones turn green with envy, she abruptly ended her commodity
In 2009, this column pointed out there was a choice going forward of restoring a
proper regulatory environment for banks so they would not become too big to fail, and
would not through greed put the economy at risk again. Instead we have muddled
along mired in the political game offering up a toothless Dodd-Frank bill that has done
little to change the financial landscape. In healthcare, a dusted up revival of a
conservative plan designed to force everyone to purchase insurance, and
implemented earlier by (now likely Presidential candidate) Mitt Romney in
Massachusetts, was chosen over single-payer. In an irony of ironies, the Supreme
Court in hearings on the constitutionality of the new healthcare law left the distinct
impression that a single-payer plan was without doubt constitutional. The fate of the
new law has yet to be decided.
So here we are in the last lap ... no FDR but a Chicago politician who intimates he is
doing the best he can, but with the wrong set of advisors to be of any real help to the
majority of people, or, for that matter, to really invigorate the economy. What a pity!