Weekly Letter to President Obama
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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
April 13, 2012
Mr. President: Not so long ago, John S. Reed, the former CEO of Citibank, as it was
known before the merger with Sanford Weill's Travelers Group, commented on Bill
Moyers' Journal that Weill said to him, "We'll be rich". Mr. Reed, now teaching at MIT,
said he never particularly wanted to be rich; he just wanted to run a good bank, which
in fact Citibank was. It was the kind of greed exhibited by Sanford Weill that led to the
persistent lobbying by banks, their representatives, their allies in and out of
government, all of which resulted in the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the exclusion of
Credit Default Swaps from CFTC controls, against the advice of then head Brooksley
Born, and together with some other shenanigans caused our financial disaster. Then
they had the audacity (and political clout) to ask for and get a bailout.
What's the result? Now Citi wants $20 a month to maintain a checking account; Wells
Fargo wants $15. One can avoid these exorbitant charges by keeping a deposit equal
to between two and three times the median income in the U.S. Bank fees for all kinds
of services have gone through the roof, in part because they couldn't kick their
gambling habits, and our government became a facilitator.
The funds extended to the banks, the cost of the wars, the doldrums economy, have
together forced our country into a relationship with China, which economists have
described as akin to that of Greece with Germany. After almost four years of a
government that was supposed to free us from the ill-conceived policies of the
previous administration, hardly anything has changed.
True, we are out of Iraq but that has little to do with this administration's wishes or
policy; the fact is Mr. Maliki did it a favor and kicked us out. No such luck in
Afghanistan, where Mr. Karzai still needs us to survive. No doubt the Taliban are
preparing their Spring offensive, as they do each year, and no doubt Kabul will get its
share of carnage.
On April 12, the Pakistan parliament showed a rare spirit of unity. The government
and opposition voted together to condemn U.S. drone attacks. Hugely unpopular and
killing an inordinate number of civilians, generally women and children -- what can
one expect when bombing family residences?-- they have cost us the support of their
general public. Moreover, the vaunted success of these attacks does not manifest
itself in any significant weakening of the insurgents. They believe they are winning,
and we want to leave.
Under any reading of international law, the drone attacks are illegal. We are bombing
a country, Pakistan, with which we are not in armed conflict, in violation of the U.N.
charter. It also violates our own Constitution, though we have been doing that for a
while, including in Libya, where the unique claim was made that because U.S. troops
were not on the ground, the constitutional requirement of a Congressional vote and
declaration of war was not necessary. One can imagine this reading tied to the
hundreds of ICBMs loaded with multiple nuclear warheads each capable of destroying
"Your master is not dead Pancho; he has gone to a better world where only truth
prevails." Man of La Mancha. So why should any of the above be a surprise.