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
October 11, 2013
Mr. President: Malala Yousafzai has won the EU Sakharov Prize. She is from Swat, a
scenic paradise of lush green hills and crystal clear trout streams. I visited there
four-and-a half decades ago as a guest, and their hospitality is overwhelming. No
one ever heard of terrorism in this beautiful, tranquil valley until the global war on
terror unleashed forces beyond the control of civil or military authority. Through
threats, and violence against any opposition, the Taliban began to close girls' schools
to comply with their version of Sharia -- an interpretation far removed from the
standard views of the vast majority.
A pre-teen Malala spoke out against this injustice to girls, and we all know the result.
An assassin's shot to the head; miraculously, she survived. She continues to speak
for education, but her rational thinking warns you also of the harm to the U.S. of
drone strikes. They produce more terrorists than they kill because of the innocent
victims for a bomb is a blunt instrument, and obliterating a family home has its
expected casualties. As in Vietnam, so in Afghanistan and Pakistan: killing does not
win hearts and minds, it is why guerrilla wars almost always have a consistently
negative outcome for the outsider.
While Malala continues to speak for education in her country, it reminds us there are
enough problems on that score here as well. A recent informal 'describe yourself'
exercise in a failing school's First Grade class revealed information about fathers that
should give pause: In a class of about two dozen, only three had a regular two-parent
home, six of the fathers were in jail, the children lived with mothers or grand parents,
or other guardians, or in foster families. They live in great insecurity, in trying
financial circumstances with little or no regular medical care. It is patently obvious the
problems in the classroom emanate elsewhere.
Here is another statistic, this one freely available from the National School Supply and
Equipment Association: The percentage of teachers spending money out of their own
pocket for school supplies is almost a hundred (99.5%). On average, these poorly
paid professionals spend $485 annually, but this and other evidence of teacher
dedication is ignored in the constant barrage leveled at teachers.
Poorly performing schools are often representative of their beleaguered communities
in an increasingly unequal society -- caused one might add by the policies originating
in Washington, D.C. The children perform poorly not because of, but despite the
efforts of the teachers. Learning is not confined to the school compound, for children
to achieve success it has to continue outside school, handicapping the
As the budget games continue in Washington, no doubt to be settled by the debt
ceiling deadline, the rest of the country is just fed up with their elected leaders.
Congress' approval rating is close to single digits, and in one publicity-seeking poll,
dog poop won out over our Congressional representatives.
In the meantime, decaying infrastructure, poor healthcare, insufficient funding for
K-12 education, an increasingly regressive tax code are all contributing to reduced
competitiveness in a global economy. The loss of jobs is to be expected but has
been exacerbated by corporate flight aided by NAFTA, and now TPP in the offing. It
is surely obvious even to Congress that work on infrastructure would help the job
picture, the U.S. economy, and the ability to compete abroad. Without a
complementary fiscal policy, Janet Yellen will continue playing pool with a rope
pushing QE, like her predecessor, to the benefit of (an addicted) Wall Street, not