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
December 13, 2013
Mr. President: Your speech at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg
stole the show. Congratulations! Its theme of reconciliation, centered on Mr.
Mandela's enduring legacy, is credited by most to have sustained South Africa as a
viable economy -- in contrast to, say, Zimbabwe where the opposite has prevailed. At
the same time, some contend he surrendered too much to capital at the expense of
labor: the former white owned, the latter black. They cite the rising inequality in
South Africa, the violent response to recent labor unrest and the lack of black
progress (except for a handful of elite) in the nearly two decades since apartheid
Inequality was a secondary theme, and it was also the subject of your speech here
last week. This column has raised the issue of inequality repeatedly. The fact that
the Gini coefficient measure of inequality has been rising steadily in the U.S., after
falling to 0.386 in 1970, and is now at 0.49 is a cause for concern; even more so
when the U.S. is the fourth most unequal society among the 34 OECD countries, and
is worse even than low-income India or Pakistan, both in the 0.3 range.
While the U.S. claims free upward movement between income classes based on hard
work, the cold economic data present a different picture. In fact, social mobility is
easier in Europe. This is mostly because the education system is better and more
uniform. Schools in the U.S., funded primarily through property taxes, are at a
disadvantage in low-income areas, and confer the same on their students. Even
funding equivalence if possible can not erase the socioeconomic stresses faced by
children in blighted communities and their impact on learning.
Reconciliation must be in the air for the conference committee has a budget deal.
Despite complaints from left and right, it is likely to go through. Yet, the economy is
far from well notwithstanding the upbeat jobs report. The fact is the U3 measure of
unemployment used excludes those who have given up looking for work. The U6 rate
includes them for up to a year and stands at 13.2 percent. Furthermore, a good
three-quarters of the 203,000 new jobs created are very low-paid service jobs. The
quality manufacturing jobs have been exported.
It is not an encouraging profile of a future U.S. economy made worse by bureaucratic
failures in our school system. As noted earlier, it is further ravaged by societal
problems, including but not limited to long prison sentences for victimless crimes,
chronic joblessness, poverty, lack of healthcare (including prenatal that can lead to
learning disabilities), drugs, gangs, etc., etc.
Lastly, an issue worth repeating: Work on infrastructure can produce well-paying jobs
and ours is badly broken, so what are we waiting for? This column has brought up
the subject repeatedly. Allied to it is work on high-speed rail with a potential impact
on the economy not dissimilar to the interstate highways.