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
Oct 14, 2011
Mr. President: A little over two centuries ago, 1795 to be exact, Immanuel
Kant published a political pamphlet Zum ewigen Frieden (To a Perpetual
Peace). It was a practical alternative to war and an approach to conflict
resolution but human nature remains unrestrained. I am reminded of it as
butchery continues in many parts of our planet; driven by simple hatred in
some cases and elitist philosophies like "just war" in others. Kant
recognized the futility of his effort and concluded man's only peace would be
that of the grave. Churchill said "Jaw, jaw is better than war, war." We have
reversed his aphorism. Should international law afford protection to the
small as well as the large, the poor as well as the rich, the weak as well as
We have the most unequal society in the developed world ( Gini Index 40.8)
and only 6.9% of our work force are union members, 93.1% are not. Contrast
that with Germany (Gini Index 28.3), which is almost completely unionized,
where wages are among the highest in the world, yet it remains the world's
second largest exporter. Workers representatives sit on the boards of
corporations with a voice in decision-making. The employees have a sense
of ownership and their interests, views and advice on all matters from
strategic direction through process improvement are given due weight.
Exporting jobs is not the easy option it is here. We could also learn from
their vocational programs where schools and companies, through
apprenticeships, play a joint role in training a highly skilled work force.
There is a joke doing the rounds these days that goes something like this:
We used to have Johnny Cash, Steve Jobs and Bob Hope; now ... no Cash,
no Jobs and no Hope. The last might be the reason for the anemic response
of ordinary people for the Presidential re-election campaign. Its email first
offered the chance (through a drawing) of dinner with the President for a
donation of $75. That price has dropped steadily to $3 -- a little tough on the
early contributors! People supported the campaign last time, not because
they wanted a favor in return, but because they hoped they had a candidate
at last who would escape the tentacles of the Wall Street octopus. Now they
have lost hope.
Take Elizabeth Warren for instance. A leading advocate for the interests of
ordinary people, she was brought in as Chair of the Congressional
Oversight Panel to oversee the banking bailout under the TARP program.
Well and good. Everybody cheered. But when she asked Secretary Geithner
what happened to the $700 billion doled out to the big banks, there was a
near audible squirming and no clear answer. As time went on and the
Republicans laid into her for her probing; there was nothing but silence from
the White House.
A long-time advocate for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she
served as Special Advisor to set it up under the provisions of Dodd-Frank,
but then was eased out and not nominated for the post of its Director. She is
now running for Senator from Massachusetts.
Professor Warren's 2003 book (coauthored with daughter Amelia Tyagi) The
Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke
would be useful as required reading for our leaders today. As she points
out, a U.S. family with two incomes has "less income left over today than did
an equivalent single-income family 30 years ago". Things are much worse
now, eight years later, and not getting better. Delinquency notices for
mortgage payments are rising again according to the latest report. These
often herald foreclosures.