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
October 6, 2017 (posted October 9, 2017)
Mr. President: If there is a mass shooting and anyone is asked where, the answer is
likely to be the United States. The reason of course is the easy availability of guns,
even guns that fire like machine guns. The Second Amendment allows the 'right to
bear arms' -- to prevent tyranny say the proponents. Yet, the world has moved
beyond guns for the tyranny we face today is a tyranny not of guns but of the mind.
Psychiatrists say the psychosis gene, if present, expresses itself in the twenties or
sixties. The Las Vegas shooter, a self-made millionaire, was 64, the San Bernardino
pair 28 and 29. Unless they have previously sought medical help and labeled
dangerous, guns can easily and legally be bought by such disturbed people.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Senator Diane Feinstein
introduced a bill banning "bump stock" weapons -- an adaptation allowing
machine-gun-like rapid fire -- but it was defeated in the Senate. So if you are a
nutcase seeking ultimate renown, the U.S. welcomes you with weapons of your choice
including machine guns. Note, however, the country's president has already topped
you: he is threatening to nuke North Korea. The 'land of the free' is also the 'land of
The prevailing belief that Donald Trump plans to pull out of the Iran Nuclear
agreement might have been the final catalyst for the Nobel Peace Prize committee in
Norway. It awarded it to ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear
Weapons. Unlike Aung San Suu Kyi or Barack Obama, it at least is not going to dim
its luster and blacken the award.
That war, so glorified in history, does not have an equivalent honor seems a curious
omission. Of course, there are always the spoils of war, and individuals persuaded to
serve as gun fodder are beribboned and bemedaled, but no Nobel War Prize. We
really do not know if Alfred Nobel would have approved although surely all the
promoters, the war merchants (now the military industrial complex) have enough
resources. So how about something named after Henry Shrapnel, inventor of the
single most devastating killer from the battlefield of his day continuing through to the
artillery carnage of World War I. Awarded to the world's most belligerent, it has
interesting possibilities: For example, Barack Obama would have been among the
few, the very few, holders of both the Nobel and the Shrapnel.
Likely aspirants are busy. On Wednesday (October 4) a joint U.S. and Niger Special
Forces patrol was ambushed near the Mali border about 200km north of the capital
Niamey -- where the U.S. has a drone base. A second drone base costing $100
million is planned for Agadez. Now how many people in the U.S. know there are 800
men stationed in Niger, a number likely to increase as the new second drone base is
readied. The drones have to be serviced, the base guarded and protected, even
though the drone pilots may be sitting at a terminal back in the U.S. itself -- an odious
thought and a precursor of the future as people kill at the other end of the world from
the safety of an arm chair in an office.
The cost of the Niger ambush: Four U.S. dead, two injured seriously enough to be
flown to a base hospital in Germany. What is happening in Nigeria, Niger and Mali is
a direct result of Libya's dismemberment. Once it led Africa on the Human
Development Index and kept fundamentalists in check, now it's a hornet's nest of
factions spilling arms to Islamic extremist groups like the one that attacked the patrol
in Niger. Blowback from bad policy and a growth opportunity for the U.S. Africa
The U.S. has been using war as a solution to global problems and disagreements for
too many years. It is a state of mind, a national disease, causing incalculable loss --
countries destroyed, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, millions of lives devastated,
a refugee crisis affecting European cohesion, even the recent German election, etc.,
and who is to say it did not affect a disturbed man in Las Vegas. Glorification of war
and its inevitable heroes has its costs.