December 24, 2010
Mr. President: It's Christmas and the time to cast aside differences of which
there are many.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.
From the "ofthisandthat.org" family!
December 17, 2010
Mr. President: This week has seen Julian Assange released on bail -- a
horrendous sum of $310,000 for a minor charge that only the Swedes could have
invented. Moreover, the likelihood of two such offenses over 48 hours strains
the imagination. If clandestine services are involved in a "honey trap" as has
been alleged, my only hope is we are not. From renditions to secret prisons to
the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Bagram ... the world sneers at us as hypocrites as
Our record at home is a steady diminution of liberty. The heavy-handed, intrusive
Patriot Act supposed to protect us from terrorism is busily being employed for
other purposes. Thus the number of delayed-notice search warrants granted last
year under this act in connection with drug offenses was 844; the number related
to terrorism, 6. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said that if we give up our
liberties for security, soon we will have neither.
The Patriot Act broadens "material support" for terrorism to include "expert
advice or assistance" -- bear in mind the Israeli Likud party was home to
individuals considered terrorists by British authorities for activities such as the
bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. In a suit brought by the
Humanitarian Law Project seeking to aid Tamil tsunami victims, your own Solicitor
General (now herself Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan argued on behalf of
the government. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, held that the law
criminalizes speech "under the direction of, or in coordination with foreign
But if your views are similar to the foreign group's, is that in coordination? When
you yourself were active against South African apartheid during your
undergraduate days, were your views not in coordination with the African
National Congress, labeled a terrorist organization at the time? The law imposes
a penalty of 15 years. Had this law been in effect then, I would not be writing this
letter to you. Consider yourself lucky!
Others have not been so. Scores of FBI agents raided the homes of antiwar
activists, serving grand jury subpoenas to 14 people. The common thread was
participation in a Minnesota Anti-War Committee rally outside the 2008
Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. One is reminded of the
old quip about any prosecutor worth the name can get a grand jury to indict a
turnip. Hence they are not cooperating citing the Fifth Amendment.
Here we are busily and lustily eviscerating the Bill of Rights all in the name of
security. Was it this bad during the commie-under-your- bed period?
December 10, 2010
Mr. President: Today is the 62nd anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human
Rights. It is also the day the Nobel Peace Prize is being awarded to the Chinese
dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese are complaining, calling Mr. Xiaobo's actions
and writings treasonous. You defended the award and Mr. Xiaobo's right to
freedom of speech as a fundamental human right enshrined in the UN Declaration.
But then there is Julian Assange. Like any journalist, he disseminated
information freely given to him. Yet our politicians are calling it treason; your
Attorney General's devising ways to prosecute him; some legislators want to pass
a targeted new law to facilitate the process; yet others want to bypass legalities
altogether, and put him on the receiving end of one of our targeted
assassinations -- one cannot but wonder how vigilante justice conforms with the
Human Rights Declaration.
It seems we dwell in a blinkered world of simultaneous realities -- like
Schrodinger's cat -- where freedom of speech does and does not exist at the
same time ... and war and peace do. Water boarding, once known as 'the water
cure' is and is not torture -- when we prosecuted the Japanese post WWII it was,
now according to Mr. Cheney it's just a little dunking. Torture, or cruel and
degrading treatment is specifically proscribed under the UN Human Rights
Declaration. That the UN Human Rights Council has just issued 228
recommendations specifically for us to address violations is, of course, not
This week has seen an agreement to extend the Bush era tax cuts. Another
three-quarters of a trillion to the super-rich in a society that is the most unequal
among developed countries. Add the estate tax deal and they are well larded.
Cyclical measures like this, and the Fed's efforts, might keep our heads above
water for a while, but they are not the answer to structural problems that require
bold, imaginative thinking and long term investment
Yes, the argument is advanced that it was the only way to extend unemployment
benefits. But how do we know, when no one stood up to fight. To those who
believe such payments encourage lazy bums to not look for work, the data reveal
the vast majority do; they simply wish to find a job and get on with their normal
lives. Moreover, their unemployment situation is not through any fault of their
own. Most economists agree that without benefits, unemployment can have a
cascading effect because a rapid spending decline causes further
unemployment. Even Republicans would not wish to be blamed for that.
Finally, a word of thanks to Senator Bernie Sanders, who stood up talking for
hours to lead a filibuster against the bill.
December 3, 2010
Mr. President: Everyone appreciates your post-Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan
to thank the troops for their sacrifice. However, not many will agree any longer
with your statement that the fight against the Taliban is keeping us safe here.
Most people might point out the Taliban had no direct role in the 9/11 attack; in
fact were not even aware of its planning. Moreover, considering the
consequences, it is hardly likely al-Qaeda will ever have the same influence
there, and most rational experts have already concluded that al-Qaeda does not
need a formal headquarters anywhere. The 9/11 attackers based themselves,
and trained, right here in the U.S.
The farcical nature of our Afghan policy -- if it has not been so devastating to
both Afghanistan and Pakistan -- is illustrated by a new report, Afghanistan
Transition: Missing Variables, released last week by the International Council on
Security and Development (ICOS). A think tank, far removed from the peace
activist camp, whose board Chairman is a former Secretary General of Interpol,
its focus is security. In October 2010, they interviewed 1000 men in Helmand and
Kandahar provinces and 500 in Panjshir and Parwan. Given the rigor, the study is
able to claim "a unique insight into the most relevant cohort of the Afghan
population, in the most relevant areas of the country".
The most disturbing finding is that 92% of the respondents in the south, where
we are now actively engaged, "are unaware of the events of 9/11 or that they
triggered the current international presence in Afghanistan." The research has
shown that Afghans are quite plainly hostile simply to the presence of the
international community. They are "unsure of its objectives, and are unaware or
untouched by international development efforts." Many (40%) believe the
purpose of the NATO force is "to destroy Islam, or to occupy or destroy
So, we are told our troops are out there to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-
Qaeda; but al-Qaeda has left Afghanistan. We are told our young men are out
there to prevent another 9/11; but, of 9/11 the enemy knows nothing. It is war in
'parallel universes'. Forgive me, Sir, but most people appear to be tired of the
rhetoric, tired of the destructive farce being played out in Afghanistan, and even
more tired of similar 'parallel universes' in domestic policy. They have given vent
to their frustration with the "shellacking" at the polls a few weeks ago, and, if
there is no change of course, another one two years hence will not be
November 26, 2010
Mr. President: Everyone hopes you had a fine Thanksgiving -- aside from the
basketball injury from which we hope you will recover quickly.
This week has seen again the consequences of the current South Korean
President's brash, aggressive tack towards the North. On assuming office in
February 2008, Mr. Lee Myung-bak immediately sought humiliating concessions in
exchange for the aid the South had been providing. As expected, the response
from the North was equally aggressive.
The Lee administration claims not to disrespect agreements, yet it has reneged
even on a continued commitment to an industrial park in the North -- planned to
employ North Korean labor in South Korean designed and owned facilities. That
scheme withered along with all the confidence building measures so carefully
and painstakingly put in place by his predecessor, President Roh Moo-hyun. Had
it not been for President Bush's demands and rhetoric, the earlier negotiations
initiated during the Clinton era, might well have have borne fruit. As a result of
our policy shift, the North's predictable response was nuclearization. Then along
comes Mr. Lee -- elected with 48.7% of the vote -- who does a complete about
face of the previous five-years of policy, and we now have a tinder box.
An interesting side note: Mr. Lee's predecessor President Roh was a human
rights lawyer. Mr. Lee is a businessman, a former President of Hyundai
Construction, and, on the margins, in a stock manipulation scheme, where his
associate went to jail, plus a property scandal in which his brother was also
involved. The question for you, Sir, is whether we should fully embrace an
ideologue who has brought his country to the brink of war.
President Roh's plan to aid in the economic and commercial development of
North Korea leading eventually to a China-like model has been eviscerated by
President Lee's messianic rigidity and narrow, blinkered view. As a BBC reporter
after a brief tour of China reported recently, people express opinions more
openly than he had ever imagined. That the same could have been expected of
North Korea is not beyond belief. China is inextricably linked to the world
community now, and a war with Taiwan is as unimaginable as a war between the
Koreas would have been had President Roh's vision seen fruition. In the
nightmarish present, however, there is little choice but to seek China's
assistance in getting the North Koreans to the table. The two-party talks they
want might break the ice if we accede to their wishes but at a low diplomatic
level. It is certainly a better alternative than war on the peninsula, or even a
constant overhanging threat causing damage to a sophisticated economy.
November 19, 2010
Mr. President: Your supporters have long been disappointed -- 29 million of
them didn't show up at the polls. It seems time to set down a marker and there is
no better issue than the Bush tax cuts. They were always a wedge intended to
destroy social programs, and quite frankly, no one would really mind if they were
allowed to lapse -- except the very rich. The middle class get about $800, the
poor (lowest quintile) about $45 per year. Both groups would rather have Social
Security and Medicare strengthened than these paltry amounts. The total
savings ... about $13.7 trillion in the next decade -- should also be a boon to our
Sir, your recent travels (travails?) have amply demonstrated the power shifts
emerging from a wounded U.S. economy. The architects are enjoying a luxurious
retirement: Sanford Weill has purchased a vineyard in California paying top
dollar. This in addition to a 14-acre estate in Greenwich, Conn., a $42.4 million
penthouse in New York City and 120 acres in the Adirondacks. Ah! yes, the fruits
of hard labor for another "savvy businessman". He sought an exception
permitting the merger of his Travelers Group with Citibank because the former
had an investment banking arm and the merger would have violated Glass-
Steagall. He ended up with having Glass-Steagall repealed altogether on
November 12, 1999 through the agency of Secretary Bob Rubin and his successor
Larry Summers. Mr. Rubin moved on to a $15 million a year job at Citi (plus
enormous bonuses) and Summers earned $10 million in consulting fees.
In the meantime, millions of lives have been destroyed (no doubt including
suicides), the economy is in tatters, the tax payers are paying the bill. In many
countries such behavior would lead to long prison terms, in others, like China,
much worse. But in our beloved country the man buys a vineyard. We are,
however, busy prosecuting a man for a bombing in Kenya, and the jury has just
found him innocent of all 280 substantive charges. So they got him on one
charge of conspiracy. They used to say you can convict a turnip on a conspiracy
charge. But then, Sir, you are the lawyer.
I understand the NATO meeting in Portugal is planning an exit strategy for
Afghanistan. Here is an exit strategy -- leave! Nothing could be worse than the
planned exit (of combat forces?) we have just concluded in Iraq.
November 12, 2010
Mr. President: Much is being written about the extravagance of your trip ... and
the lack of success -- $5.8 billion in arms sales but little else and little to give
India except a promise (more like a post-dated check) to support its bid for a
permanent Security Council seat; no trade agreement in Seoul or support for our
efforts in the Chinese Yuan revaluation.
They pointed out that the Fed is splurging with dollars. As it continues to push
with an ever more flaccid rope, the economy is crying out for a demand pull. It
needs investment, our infrastructure is crumbling; seems a perfect match and a
trillion there could work wonders for the economy and our competitiveness.
Imagine, for example, the Eastern Corridor linked with 350 mph trains -- similar to
Japan's recently announced plans for a new maglev line -- that would convert the
region into one giant accessible job base with soaring commercial potential.
Let me return to India for a moment. Humayun's tomb that you mentioned in your
speech to Parliament, the Delhi Red Fort, the Taj Mahal in Agra - a tomb to Shah
Jahan and his beloved wife. All those monuments were built by the Mughals,
who were Muslim. In 1947, the British apportioned Pakistan to India's Muslims.
So there you have it, the monuments remain in India, the descendents of the
builders in Pakistan. Humayun's grandson (Shah Jahan's father) has a tomb
outside Lahore, should you chance to visit Pakistan. A final historical note: Shah
Jahan also had a Parsi (Zoroastrian) wife. Their son Dara Shikoh was a major
contender for the throne. One can only speculate on the nature of India had he
been successful -- perhaps a few more different monuments.
The Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay, where you stayed -- apparently renting the whole
place -- was built by the Parsi Tata family as a response to the British colonial
habit of segregating the best hotels. That it was their focus is testimony to the
historical ignorance of the attackers so enraged by the atrocities in Kashmir.
Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize winning novelist and activist for the oppressed
in all parts of India, has been accused of sedition and threatened by Hindutva
gangs as she continues to fight for the rights of Kashmiris as well as peasant
farmers in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, etc. Fully twenty out of twenty-eight
provinces are suffering an insurgency of some sort as poor farmers try to fight
off land grabs by powerful industrial interests. Roy has called India a "used-up
democracy" for its failure to respond to the needs of its most deprived citizens --
a majority. As for Pakistan, it hardly made it to first base in this ballgame. A Nobel
Peace Laureate, one would have imagined, would have spent his time trying for
confidence-building measures aimed at peace between these two poverty
stricken (though nuclear armed) rivals, rather than arming them both.
November 5, 2010
Mr. President: Much has been written about the election. At your news
conference you took comfort from Bill Clinton's similar circumstances during his
first term. He then took a turn to the right. But here's the difference: You have
already made that turn; this Presidency started that way on the two most
significant issues -- the wars and the economy. The bank bailout offended the
electorate. It is interesting to note that during the last East Asian crisis a few
years ago the IMF refused to allow a bank bailout. Of course we are exempt -- we
run the place and the dollar is the main reserve currency.
When it was pointed to Rahm Emanuel (during the health care debate) that a
substantial majority of Americans supported a single-payer plan, he responded
"f--k--g retards". There was an arrogance that the people who had voted for real
change in 2008 had nowhere to go. Well, it turned out to be correct ... so they
simply stayed home.
The question, Sir, is where do you go now? The economy is in the doldrums as
you were warned it would be (in this letter, and by many distinguished
economists) if policy was not changed. But then Mr. Geithner's primary objective
was saving the banks, and the stimulus package proved not large enough and
As you travel to India, I am sure I don't have to mention the ramifications in
Pakistan. India is uncomfortable with our military aid to Pakistan and vice versa
for the $5-12 billion worth of arms to be sold to India. The affinity for the Hindu
nationalist Hindutva philosophy of some in your circle is certainly not appreciated
in Pakistan. For the U.S. an ideal scenario is for improved relations between the
two countries -- no matter how difficult, given the recent violence directed by
Indian forces on unarmed demonstrators in Kashmir. Arundhati Roy, the
prominent Booker Prize winning novelist and activist has spoken and written
forcefully about the Kashmir issue as have others. For her troubles, she is being
threatened by Hindutva extreme right mobs (Nov 1 article).
One way to start the ball rolling is to promote confidence building measures with
the U.S. as mediator. I have always felt the solution to the subcontinent's
animosities is some sort of economic collaboration in the European Common
Market mode, in which the Kashmir problem is quietly finessed through a kind of
autonomy within the economic and cultural union. Over time with borderless
travel the conflicts would ameliorate naturally.
Finally Sir, if your hosts fail to hide all the abject poverty in the place, you are
likely to be surprised and appalled. However, let me leave you with this thought:
The Gini Index, the most recognized measure of socio-economic inequality, is
36.8 for India, 30.6 for Pakistan, and it is, believe it or not, 40.8 in our own U.S.
The people promised change had expected you to do something about it.
October 29, 2010
Mr. President: Nestor Kirchner died tragically this Wednesday morning aged only
sixty. Hundreds of thousands have come out to mourn him, and it occurred to me
that if your policies had, like him, prioritized the people, you would not now face
the need for mailing urgent appeals, emails, recorded telephone calls, an
unprecedented appearance on Jon Stewart's comedy Daily Show, all in a last
ditch effort to persuade us to vote for your party.
It was at The Daily Show that you, when pressed, blurted out, "Larry did a heck of
a job". Commentators have seized on the uncanny resemblance to Bush's
"heckuva job Brownie" during the hugely messed-up response to hurricane
Katrina, even pointing to a Freudian reversion. But Larry Summers simply
danced to the bankers' tune, the same as when he and his mentor Bob Rubin led
the gutting of Glass-Steagall which, coupled with greed, led inexorably to the
When Nestor Kirchner stood up to the IMF, its backing of the lenders, its
austerity prescriptions, he was, like Franklin Roosevelt, on his own against the
bankers, the economists, who prophesied the roof would fall in, and capital
interests; instead it was the IMF that blinked and restructured the loans. It took
courage, it took new ideas, new local Latin American trade agreements to break
the IMF cordon, but he was successful in saving his people from many more
years of misery.
In our case the bankers were not lenders, they were not owed money; they had
incurred gambling losses and we chose to cover them. And many economists
including prominent Nobel Laureates opposed Summers. Coddled by the banks
to the tune of $10 million, he coddled them. Of course, any politician trying to
stay alive in our political climate needs the oxygen of campaign dollars and can
hardly afford to offend such powerful backers. You said a major bank failing
would have led to a hundred banks failing. It may be disingenuous (or politic) but
not fact because bank failure nowadays is receivership and restructuring. The
shareholders and the bank's executives lose, the depositors are secured. Banks
fail every week, and in a quiet smooth process are transitioned by the FDIC
without the bank's depositors even noticing anything amiss other than perhaps a
As things stand now, the economy is sluggish because the sludge is still there.
We have been witnessing financial legerdemain. The banks still carry the toxic
assets, just marked up to purchase price because accountants were forced by
the bankers through Congress to change the mark-to-market accounting rule.
Until the markets clear and the sludge is out, we are mired in a blocked kitchen
sink thanks to Larry's excessive fat recipe for bankers. The Fed keeps adding
more water -- carried off fortunately by the Chinese -- when what we need is
October 22, 2010
Mr. President: There has been a story in the news for the last two months that
requires prompt clarification. In the original version (Dawn newspaper of August
21), the Tori embankment was ordered breached causing the raging Indus and its
canals to flood Balochistan's green belt and destroy the homes and farms of a
half million and more, all because the Sindhi ministers wanted to protect their
own areas, which also happen to include the Shahzad air base. The base has
been leased by us and apparently houses drones and other equipment
considered by us to be so militarily sensitive that Pakistanis are generally not
allowed in it. In this particular version of the story, contractors allied with the
minister were also afraid a flood would expose their shoddy construction work at
There is another far more insidious version now doing the rounds. In an
interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Feryal Ali-Gauhar, an actress,
author, a former UN Goodwill Abassador and a human rights activist, charges the
embankment was breached at the U.S.'s behest to save the base. If she is
correct, and she claims to have investigated the story, then we are guilty of moral
turpitude of the kind witnessed in dictatorial regimes like the former Yugoslavia.
Imagine flooding millions of people (according to Ali-Gauhar) destroying their
homes, farms, no doubt followed by some subsequent loss of life, for the sake of
military equipment and personnel that were possible to evacuate in the worst
circumstance. The story has enraged the Pakistani public according to an article
in Common Dreams yesterday about losing the battle there to win hearts and
minds. It surely deserves an investigation to ascertain the truth and respond
appropriately, or people will become convinced of the latter version and accuse
us of acting with impunity and criminal disregard of Pakistani life and property.
In other news this week, we are giving $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan over
five years. Actually, if truth be known, we are not giving much as most of the
package is in the form of loans. So, we lend money to an impoverished country
to buy equipment to fight their own people ... who have never directly attacked or
threatened us. The logic escapes this observer. Of course, as with any package
to a country larded with corrupt politicians (and I don't mean us -- for that one can
refer to another article) there will be plenty of skimming by them leaving the
taxpayers to face the debt in the future. A country devastated with the worst
flooding in living memory, twenty million homeless, vast tracts of farm land
destroyed, and the government is busy making military purchases. Of course the
politicians are delighted.
In the same week Saudi Arabia, a puny country in a population comparison with
Pakistan, bought $60 billion worth of advanced military equipment. The deal
amplifies the paltry nature of the $400 million per year arrangement with Pakistan,
which, despite that fact, still upsets India.
The much touted civilian aid/loan package of $7.5 billion to Pakistan amounts to
about $40 per capita. It wouldn't buy a meal at a Washington D.C. hotel and it's
spread over five years. What was it we gave to the banks? $2 trillion in Fed toxic
asset purchases with more to come, and $700 billion in direct loans -- costs a lot
to feed a banker!
October 15, 2010
Mr. President: In a superb feat of civil engineering, Sissi, the giant boring-
machine drilling in the Gotthard Base broke through to connect the two ends and
form the longest tunnel (57km) in the world, 3 km longer than the next longest,
the Seikan rail tunnel in Japan. When finished in 2017, high-tech tilting trains will
travel through it at 250 kph (approximately 155 mph) putting to shame our so-
called high-speed rail in Illinois scheduled to run at speeds similar to The Royal
Scotsman, a British steam locomotive from the 1950's. What has happened to us?
This week Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist whose son was killed in Iraq,
wrote an opinion piece on the shocking story of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. Too many
unanswered questions in this case, implausible scenarios, and an odious whiff,
which reminds one of all the death row inmates in Illinois awaiting execution (for
separate and unrelated cases) who were found to be innocent because DNA
evidence became available. Do witnesses lie? Yes, they do, particularly if they
have shot someone, out of fear or error. In Illinois, these were death penalty
cases, in which, one would have assumed particular care would have been taken
to prevent a miscarriage of justice. What has happened to us?
The Rule of Law Index report was released this week by the World Justice Project
based in Washington. Among the 11 wealthiest nations, the U.S. ranked ninth or
lower on six of the nine variables used in the index. It was 10th on absence of
corruption and fundamental rights, and 11th on access to civil justice. It does not
instill confidence. Our incarceration rate is over five times higher than other
developed countries. At 748 per 100,000 population, it is even greater than China
(120) and India (32). What has happened to us?
Our Gini Index, measuring social inequality, is 40.8. It is far worse than Japan and
the Scandinavian countries (around 25), and of course Europe. But even
Pakistan (30.6) and India (36.8) are better than us. The latest poverty report
confirms the story. We now have more Americans in poverty (43.6 million or 1 in
7) than ever in the history of these reports -- the situation is actually even worse
as the poverty index has not been adjusted for inflation. Have we become
socially a third world country? What has happened to us?
A direct impact has been the steady deterioration of our property tax funded
schools in poor districts where the decline in the tax base has left them strapped
for cash and the students at a severe disadvantage no matter how many ways we
parse 'no child left behind'. Instead of righting the social ills producing the
unteachable children, we blame the teachers. As an example, Finland is forever
at the head of European school league tables. There, teachers are paid well,
and, as respected in society as doctors and lawyers. Here, we are busy devising
new ways of punishing them. One wonders who in the administration believes
this is the right way to attract the best people into the profession. People who
have never taught in a disadvantaged area telling teachers how to teach,
politicians who have never fought in battle, or even served in the military,
plunging us into wars. What has happened to us?
That is the question a leader seeking genuine change has to answer.
October 8, 2010
Mr. President: The national oil spill commission's preliminary report released
Wednesday accuses the government of underestimating the Gulf oil spill and
denying a request by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to
release their worst case estimates. It also accuses the government of
underestimating the oil remaining by claiming most of the oil was "gone" when
the analysis actually stated it could still be there. The "disappearing oil" claim
was so egregious it prompted an article by this commentator. While the report
attacks the administration's candor with the American people, one appreciates
your forthrightness in the appointment of the investigating commission.
Drone strikes in September reached an all time high for any month as did the
consequent casualties -- the vast majority of which are women, children,
relatives and friends of the insurgent targeted. This week a further escalation
involved a helicopter strike within Pakistan killing two soldiers. This time
Pakistan has closed several border crossings choking the supply line, and taking
advantage of the situation scores of trucks and tankers have been destroyed by
the insurgents. Not an unexpected result when our tactics are in conflict with
the strategy of winning hearts and minds.
To remove the Taliban we allied ourselves with the Northern Alliance, essentially
intervening in a civil war on their behalf and against the largest ethnic group the
Pashtuns comprising a 42 percent plurality. This state of affairs has not changed
and the Pashtuns remain alienated; in fact, the constitution we promulgated
excludes large segments of the Pashtun population. The Afghan army remains
primarily a Northern Alliance construct with no legitimacy in the Pashtun areas.
Within such a framework peace is impossible because it requires we subdue the
Pashtuns, which, of course, we have failed to do.
A recent report by the Afghan Study Group recommends a different tack, power
sharing and political reconciliation with the Pashtuns. Such an approach would
also allay the fears of Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan.
Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as the most corrupt bar one among
180 nations. That one is Somalia where we orchestrated an Ethiopian invasion,
and where, with other avenues of earning a living closed by the long running
civil war, piracy is a favored occupation. In Afghanistan, corruption runs rampant,
the Karzai government is hated for it and we are caught in the middle. The few
score al Qaeda are in Pakistan, so what are we doing there?
This week, Sir, you awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Staff Sgt. Robert
J. Miller. At age 24 the youngest member of his Special Forces unit, he gave his
life to save his comrades. Thankfully the spirit of self-sacrifice remains alive and
well in this country ... with one exception, and that is the banksters leading our
economic recovery, who continue to fatten themselves with bonuses at our
expense while lack of lending and investment keep the measured unemployment
rate stuck at around 9.5 percent - the actual rate reputed to be more than 20
percent. Itl will be the major reason if Democrats lose in November.
October 1, 2010
Mr. President: Rahm Emanuel has left to run for Mayor in Chicago. In an
elaborate send-off ceremony for a Chief-of-Staff you lauded him for his public
service; of course, one can hardly forget his short stay with the investment
bankers Wasserstein-Parella after leaving the Clinton Administration. In two and
a half years at the bank, he was included in eight deals earning him $16.2 million.
A singular achievement made even more remarkable by his qualifications: he has
a BA in Liberal Arts, a Masters in Speech and Communication, and no legal or
business experience to contribute. Also, for a 14-month stint on the Board at
Freddie-Mac just before it went belly-up, he received $320,000. It was during his
time on the board supposedly overseeing shareholders interest, that Freddie-
Mac was found guilty of overstating earnings to ensure executive bonuses.
Unlike the Daleys, who have always lived in a modest part of Chicago, Rahm grew
up in the affluent North Shore lakefront suburb of Wilmette, where income is
three times the national average and houses similarly priced.
The other prominent departure, Larry Summers, returns to Harvard in December
where rules would have lost him tenure if he had been absent longer. He made
only $10 million in consulting and speaking fees from the banks after leaving the
Clinton Administration. Among other things, he is famous for his irascible phone
call to Brooksley Born (the distinguished Stanford lawyer heading the CFTC who
wanted to regulate the toxic derivatives that finally brought the house down) in
the presence of 13 bankers who claimed regulation would cause irreparable
harm to the industry and economy. Mr. Summers led the chorus shouting down
Ms. Born and we know what happened. He helped pass the Commodity Futures
Modernization Act of 2000 barring the regulation of those self-same derivatives,
and Ms. Born's fears were proven correct. No matter, Mr. Summers' consulting
yielded well and will surely continue to do so. No surprise then that the Financial
Reform Bill has no real teeth to prevent the recurrence of another crisis and the
derivatives remain unregulated. And no surprise also in the tepid support for
Democrats by a public seeing little change. The fact is, Democrats have to
decide if they wish to be Republican-lite, just more benign overseers of
capitalism, or want to stand for something substantial like a more equitable
society brought about by a fundamental change in the balance of power and
The wars continue unabated. The civilian toll in Iraq is not unknown; it is not in
the 'tens of thousands' the phrase most often used; it has been established as
exceeding a million by the best demographic science known and has been
reported in peer-reviewed articles in the prestigious journal Lancet that has over
a century-long history.
In Af-Pak helicopters in "hot pursuit" crossed over into Pakistan territory and
killed three lightly-armed border guards. The Pakistani public is incensed. The
Government has closed down several border crossings into Afghanistan and 27
truck tankers bringing aviation fuel for our forces have been attacked and
destroyed. The drone strikes continue. Having lost the hearts and minds of the
Pushtuns in Afghanistan, we are working on their brethren (and the rest of the
population) in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu continues to insult our envoys and the peace talks are in
September 24, 2010
Mr. President: So Larry Summers is leaving. But the clan and the discredited
philosophy remain. The question, of course, is, why was he there in the first
place? We have had a milk-toothed Financial Reform Bill lacking the bite to
prevent a similar disaster recurring -- the toxic derivatives remain unregulated.
When Brooksley Born, the distinguished Stanford-educated lawyer and newly
appointed head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the Clinton era,
warned of the dangers of unregulated derivatives, she was shouted down. Then
Long Term Capital Management, a so-called brains trust run hedge fund (which
included Nobel Laureate Myron Scholes of the Black-Scholes derivative pricing
model), went belly-up because it misjudged derivative risk. Brooksley Born had
been proven right. Yet, she was still shouted down, and the power to regulate
derivatives was withdrawn from the CFTC at the behest of bankers' lobbyists and
the Rubin, Summers, Greenspan triumvirate.
When the major banks went bankrupt, Brooksley Born was proven right again.
Sir, the people voted for a candidate promising change. What did they get: the
Rubin crowd, yet again -- protege Geithner at Treasury, Summers as Economics
Adviser and Gensler at CFTC. The 10% swing voters who decide elections are,
quite frankly, disgusted, your supporters disillusioned. Barrel loads of money to
the banks to cover their losses and nothing from them to stimulate the economy.
Nine and a half percent unemployment going into an election bodes ill for
Democrats and worse for the Presidency in the remaining two years. Even
worse, a missed Rooseveltian opportunity for an historical Presidency, which
could have set the keel for a stable economic future for our country.
In Afghanistan, NATO forces roughed up and arrested three journalists for
spreading propaganda. Their crime? Reporting on the election last Saturday,
which turned out to be a farce. Roughing them up, ransacking their homes,
frightening their wives and little children ... it ill behoves an enterprise fostering
democracy. They have been now released but according to one of the wives,
four thousand dollars in savings hidden under a mattress have not been
The killing on both sides continues at an accelerated pace. Our casualties are
the highest ever each month since summer, and drone strikes have increased to
the point where 75 people (of course, mainly civilians) had been killed in the first
half of this month. There is something eerie, and contrary to conscience and
ethical beliefs, that some operator sitting in Nevada serves as executioner of a
whole family because spies have spotted a wanted man, particularly, when some
horrible mistakes have come to light. I wonder how we would react to a similar
response from our enemies.
The lady who told you this week at a campaign rally that she was tired of
defending you had a point. We are all wondering what the change has been.
September 17, 2010
Mr. President: The arms control treaty with the Russians is out of committee, and
the positive vote by some Republicans increases the likelihood of ratification by
the full Senate. Congratulations!
Other news in these dark days is less sanguinary. We have now had 13 drone
strikes in the first half of this month killing 75 people. There is something chilling
about targeting an enemy fighter, pressing a button in Nevada to unleash a
rocket with a half ton of explosives on his home without regard to family or
visiting friends -- the latter two groups, i.e. civilians, being the vast majority of
casualties if human rights groups are to be believed. Aside from the moral issue,
there is the undeniable possibility of faulty intelligence; bad enough as it is to
surmount these moral hurdles, there is the practical question of making more
enemies exponentially as each person killed has family and friends who then
Those who promote our Af-Pak policy point to the success of the surge in Iraq.
That itself is debatable, but if devastated, part ethnically cleansed, government-
less Iraq is a success, heaven help Afghanistan ... and perhaps Pakistan if we
recall Laos and Cambodia. I thought we were meant to be a force for good in the
On a positive note, we all hope Afghanistan's election tomorrow runs better than
the earlier Presidential one where a reporter covering a Kabul polling station
saw no one come to vote, yet full ballot boxes at day's end.
Last week in this weekly letter, I mentioned our Gini index (measuring inequality)
was the worst in the developed world and surpassed by many developing
countries including India and Pakistan; this week the published poverty report
confirms the obvious: We are losing our middle class. The figure of 43.6 million
poor, the highest in the history of these estimates, amounts to one in seven
Americans. Now here's the kicker, and I wonder if your aides ferreted out this
little gem: The poverty line has not been adjusted so that it is now 27% of income
as opposed to 48% originally. So, the number in poverty has still hit a record
while the poverty line has been lowered drastically over the years. Surely we are
not headed towards islands of gated communities with private security guards in
a sea of slums like some South American countries? One hopes this ominous
trend, since the eighties, will be soon reversed by more enlightened legislation.
Sir, the just announced Elizabeth Warren appointment as an adviser has a
barnyard odor that can not be masked. An adviser advises, an agency head
executes. Why could she not have had an interim appointment to head the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)? She herself is willing to accept
half-a-loaf but one wonders how long she will last as her efforts are downgraded
like the appointment.
The Financial Reform Bill lacks the teeth to prevent a repeat of our current
financial disaster. Now, it is beginning to look as if the CFPB will be structured in
a way that can not stop the gouging of the consumer by the financial services
industry. Forgive me, Sir, but do you really expect people, desperate for change,
who last time voted in the Democrats only to get more of the same, to vote again
for them in November?
September 10, 2010
Mr. President: Today is Eid -- the biggest holiday in the Muslim calendar -- and
perhaps an opportunity to reach out to the billion and a half Muslims in the
world. But I don't see anything on the White House calendar. Pity, because the
news media have plastered everywhere the face of an obscure Florida Pastor,
who leads a congregation of a size to fit easily in anyone's living room, and who
wants to burn the Koran. His daughter has called him mad; yet he has become
the face of an intolerant America. Is book-burning another sign of our retreat
This week you proposed tax breaks for Research/Development and in
Depreciation of long-term assets. Pharmaceuticals carrying high R&D budgets
would gain most from the former, and the latter, a kind of half-price sale, is likely
to spur machinery expenditures including upgrades to more modern automated
equipment. Guess what? The latter will cause lay-offs in the short term -- hardly
a cure for the stubborn unemployment rate measure stuck at around 9.5% and
which inched up another tenth of a percentage point just recently.
Moreover, anyone familiar with the Congressional calendar knows it will be
impossible to enact such legislation in the time remaining before the recess for
the mid-term elections. So, I guess, election season, promises of change, a
better future, proposals for economic resurgence, thrust and counter-thrust
(your proposal) are upon us.
You have also proposed, Sir, a $50 billion infrastructure package. The American
Society of Civil Engineers grades our infrastructure as D. They would like to add
another zero to your figure. And that excludes rail.
I remember the last stimulus package. It has helped, but the states need more.
They too have suffered the ravages of our economic crisis -- policemen, firemen,
teachers, building inspectors, etc. are all being laid off. In the immediate future,
the unemployment rate can be lowered faster by funneling aid to state
governments instead of flush-with-cash pharmaceuticals. As happened with the
banks, despite the trillions, top-down approaches have little immediate effect.
Pennies to help the victims, trillions to the knaves. Shown at the Telluride Film
Festival, Charles Ferguson's Inside Job is a clear, concise and sharp analysis of
our global financial crisis. But if you want to know, Sir, why the people have lost
faith in the Democrats, just watch the movie. It shows the villains and their
associates who caused the crisis are now well represented in your
administration; in fact, have led the response to it.
September 3, 2010
Mr. President: The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have started ... yet again.
Someone once likened talking to the Israelis as trying to agree on the division of
a pizza with a man who keeps gobbling it down. Others have described the
Israelis as wanting talks without end and the Palestinians as wanting an end
without talks. There is much wry humor, all indicative of a political impasse.
Israel is not uncomfortable with the present situation -- though the world is
becoming less sympathetic to it -- and the Palestinians are marginalized. Not
much chance of a breakthrough, particularly when the Palestinians themselves
are divided, and Israel has installed 500,000 illegal settlers on Palestinian land
since the peace process first began. In South Africa's case, it took severe
sanctions before the apartheid regime was brought to its knees. Nothing like
that is even close to the horizon.
The economy continues to sputter -- better step on the gas before it stalls. We
have labor flexibility which means it is easy to fire people -- doesn't cost as much
as, say in Europe. On the positive side it means firms are not afraid to hire when
the economy begins to turn. Unfortunately, the churning loses experienced
workers, and can be harmful in the long-term. It also causes unnecessary misery
among those affected, often aggravated by inadequate unemployment
compensation. Monday is Labor Day and a reminder that our labor laws certainly
need a second look. As unions are gutted, there is no one to defend ordinary
workers against abuse. Rates of workplace injury are rising, and income disparity
between rich and poor has increased to the point where it is the highest among
The best known measure of inequality is the Gini Index. Ours is 40.8 compared to
the Scandinavian countries and Japan at around 25. We are easily beaten by
Hungary (26.9), the Czech Republic (25.4), and of course the major European
countries. Worse still, even Pakistan (30.6) and India (36.8) fare better! So, what
has happened to our once relatively egalitarian society? As Wilkinson and
Pickett have pointed out in their book, The Spirit Level, unequal societies have
greater social dysfunction. Sadly, our crime statistics and incarceration rates are
a textbook example.
There is much to be done and no one is doing it.
August 27, 2010
Mr. President: President Carter has returned from North Korea with Mr. Gomes.
Aside from this service, President Carter's Carter Center has been doing
wonderful work trying to eradicate river blindness, monitoring elections in
difficult places, and in general trying to make life less burdensome for those in
need. An exemplar for future retiring Presidents, he surely deserves recognition
by the Democrats while they are in power.
The anniversary of Dr. King's march to Washington appears to have been
hijacked by Glenn Beck, the right-wing commentator. No doubt he and Sarah
Palin will talk about American values and patriotism -- as if the rest of us do not
esteem these attributes. There is talk of Palin winning the Republican
nomination in 2012. If so, here is some information to ease your mind. Palin's
autobiography was originally priced at $28.99. It is now freely available for 50
cents at Amazon albeit in good used condition. A used copy of your "Dreams of
My Father" still sells for $12.95. Perhaps Sarah Palin doesn't wear well after all.
Economic news this week has again been distressing; the odds of a double dip
recession are increasing and the Fed claims to be on guard. Either way, the
ordinary person will continue to suffer. First, the dollar continues to decline -- it
reached a new 15-year low against the yen. It means the wealth of Americans on
an international basis has fallen ... drastically. When George Bush came into
office, 80 cents bought a Euro; now it's $1.20. Yes, profligacy under Bush is partly
to blame, but so are Bill Clinton's policies, especially NAFTA which exported our
jobs, and the abolition of Glass-Steagall that led in large part to the financial
fiasco and thence the severe recession of 2008-2009.
Then there is the problem of using these same bankers as a vehicle to lead us
out of the recession. It has not worked well and it's going to cost you. This letter
and commentaries on this website predicted as much over a year ago. No great
feat, many economists and observers were concerned. Our elders used to say,
'take your time and do it right'. It holds true today.
We have squandered our money on knick-knacks. Our infrastructure is
crumbling. We rely on airplanes and automobiles when high speed rail offers
enormous potential and I mean real high speed not the farce in Illinois. It
requires substantial investment in new railroad tracks and the railroads cannot
do it by themselves -- after all we pay for the roads for competing trucks to use.
We burn too much fossil fuel and waste too much electricity. We could offer help
to homeowners to invest in solar panels. New technologies are revolutionizing
lighting. We have barely moved from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs while
others are producing LED bulbs. Samsung has made a huge investment in such a
plant aided by their government. The Japanese are already into post-LED
technology. They are fast developing Organic Electroluminescent Displays.
These permit sheet lighting, a whole wall or ceiling. Moreover, the devices can
also generate sound so such TVs could have sound incorporated in the screen.
Where are we? We need investment, investment, investment, Mr. President, not
handouts to useless bankers interested in lining their own pockets. Yes, savvy
they are all right.
August 20, 2010
Mr. President: As you know, the floods in Pakistan are the worst, by far, in its
history: 20 million people stranded - including 3.5 million children, the floods
cover the entire Indus valley. In certain areas, the river is now over 20 miles
wide. Eventually the waters will recede but crops, livestock, homes have all
disappeared. It will take enormous resources to make these farming
communities whole again. Volunteers from religious charities and organizations
are there already providing emergency relief. The question is, are we again
losing the battle for hearts and minds as we dither. I offer a "real politik" reason
for helping because the humanitarian calls seem to be falling on deaf ears.
If the UN appeal is successful, we will have collected about $24 per head for the
displaced flood victims. Our offer, while much larger than anyone else, is still a
mere $2 for each person. We must do more. For a start, the $7.5 billion aid
package Congress approved recently should be changed immediately to a grant,
instead of a loan. Second, the amount should be tripled. That would still be less
than a quarter of what we are laying out in Afghanistan -- and the purpose in
Pakistan is uncontestedly noble. The resulting expenditure of $1000 per head
would have an actual impact on our image immeasurably beyond that in Iraq
where people now long for the safety, stability, free health care, free schooling
through university, of the Ba'ath Party days. So, what did we get for the trillion
It is a relief the last combat troops are out of Iraq. Congratulations, Sir. Sadly,
the legacy of that sorry episode continues to haunt Iraqis. Civilian casualties are
on the rise again, and still no government many months after the election.
We have so many serious problems, yet the Mosque issue is center stage. The
behavior of the Republicans, with a few exceptions, has been appalling. The
people that say (starting with Abe Foxman) that Moslems' right to worship is not
contested, it's a sensitivity issue. Really! For does it not mean then, they hold
the religion of Islam responsible for 9/11? It begs the question, why not
Christianity for Timothy McVeigh?
A wag said recently: the Israelis want to talk without ending, and the Palestinians
want the end without talking. So they come here on September 2nd, a barely
elected heavily coalitioned Israeli leader and an unelected Palestinian -- we don't
talk to the elected Palestinian leaders; they are terrorists! The goal is a two-state
solution within a year. Are you kidding? The marginalization of Palestinians is
being accelerated: the latest is Israeli Arabs being denied slots at Israeli
universities; of course, property seizures continue unabated in the relentless
march to apartheid.
Which reminds me that our former President, Mr. Carter has lived the life of a
saint since leaving office. The Carter Center has done remarkable work towards
eradicating river blindness in Africa. While in office, he secured Israel's safety
through the peace treaty with Egypt. Yet, he was pilloried for the mildest of
rebukes in his book on Israel and the West Bank. It is high time he was honored
in some way by the Democratic Party.
Christopher Hitchens, the renowned journalist is dying of cancer. Known for his
'eloquence', he called Bill Clinton a scumbag recently. Just a word to the wise ...
who wants to be tarred with that brush?
August 13, 2010
Mr. President. This country was great because it provided universal education,
some semblance of class equality and some chance of rising to the top. Less and
less of the latter if recent records from top schools are any guide, and class
inequality is growing rapidly as income differences between top and bottom
continue a shameful divergence.
Our workers used to be the best educated, could think for themselves, offer
useful suggestions and often improve product and process. Now teachers are
being laid-off, education is a shambles, and the value-added declines as real
manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas. Tool and die-workers, the cream of
manufacturing operations, taking years to train, are idled and wasted. True,
computer-controlled laser sintering has been introduced but its impact to date is
minuscule. Nowadays, assembly operations are ballyhooed by politicians as great
manufacturing jobs. All of this comes to mind in light of the Manufacturing
Enhancement Act signed into law this week. Yes, it will improve the situation
(some) for manufacturers by reducing tariffs on their inputs, but we need a major
coherent rethink of policy, not just a patchwork of fixes, if there is to be a
structural shift in manufacturing and service sector trends.
Have you ever driven through the industrial heartland of Europe? I don't mean
the relatively new auto plants in Wales and Sunderland (U.K.); they are just
assembly operations like ours in Alabama and Ohio and Tennessee set up by
foreign makers. No, I mean the industrial heart of Germany, the manufacturing
centers of high-end machine tools and precision machinery there, or in
Switzerland, France, or Sweden and so on. By the way, Holland might be known
for cut flowers and butter but it also houses Phillips one of the largest electrical
manufacturers in the world and joint inventors of Blu-Ray.
We and the U.K. responded to industrial pressure from newer economies by cost-
cutting (generally workers salaries while increasing management bonuses),
trying to compete on price. The Europeans decided, instead, to move upscale
improving training levels and skills. So while European automakers are thriving,
ours (and the British) have been moribund. Recent GM successes, too, owe a
heavy debt to the designers and engineers at Opel in Germany. There is a
shortage of engineers and computer scientists in Germany while ours are being
laid off and new graduates can't find a job.
Economists boast of our per capita GDP but that disguises a multiplicity of sins,
all raising our GDP: the guarding of prisoners in jail (highest rate of incarceration
in the developed world); crime and its associated machinery (also highest); the
lawyers in a litigious society; the income chasm between high-end and low-end
services when the manufacturing middle has been hollowed out; thus each
billionaire CEO raising the per capita GDP of thousands of minimum wage
earners; the wasted resources in mindless form-filling and rule enforcing by our
health care industry (costs for administration, again, the highest in the
developed world while health care delivered is rated near the bottom). The list is
endless, although it clearly demonstrates the futility of equating per capita GDP
with quality of life. On the latter subject, did I mention the six-week and more
European vacation, paid leave for up to a year following the birth of a child,
unemployment compensation plus retraining to secure a new job, or working
1500 hours or less compared to 2000 and more in the U.S. We work a third more
than they do, or they work a quarter less than we -- this alone points to how
confusing and deceptive numbers can be.
To see the difference between GDP numbers and quality of life, one can walk
around a city here and in Europe for comparison -- but not in Britain for they
having followed similar policies to us are suffering the same consequences.
It is high time we investigated apprenticeship and retraining programs (the
German model is a good starting place) necessary for a work force to meet the
needs of modern manufacturing. No longer will the high-school-plus-corporate-
training model suffice if we are to become competitive again and restore the
working middle class.
On another topic, it's "Oops"! once more from BP as reported today. The plug is
no longer a perfect plug and oil is leaking again. Why can't they just get on with
the relief well?
August 6, 2010
Mr. President: There have been articles in the news media writing the epitaphs
of a failed presidency. I think it's a trifle premature. But for what it's worth, here
are the top ten reasons why it might well become a failed presidency (with
apologies to Dave Letterman).
#10 The President is out golfing.
#9 Bibi slamdunks his peace envoys and thumbs his nose.
#8 McChrystal clear.
#7 The health industry is laughing all the way to the bank.
#6 Banks win coming and going - bill to the taxpayer in trillions.
#5 Twenty million reasons - the jobless.
#4 BP, a major 2008 campaign contributor, craps the Gulf.
#3 WikiLeaks blows the lid off the Afghan war.
#2 The President is henpecked on The View.
#1 People are ready for 'change you can [really] believe in'.
July 30, 2010
Mr. President: The Wikileaks bombshell of over 76,000 documents this week has
been accompanied by disappointing accusations from your administration. There
is nothing more incongruous than a senior Admiral, emblazoned in medals,
throwing a hysterical fit worthy of a trussed-up Victorian grande dame. Why is it
that every politician on the outside is so keen in ferreting out 'truth' until he is on
the inside? For some time now, your administration has been accused of going
after whistle blowers with a vengeance, and Admiral Mullen's call for the FBI to
investigate and charge the leakers only strengthens these accusations. The
Admiral claims Julian Assange, the hero of the hour, has soldiers' blood on his
hands. How? Highly regarded, respected and responsible -- read sensitive to
exactly the kind of hyperbole leveled by Mullen -- news organizations have
printed the documents. In addition, they and Wikileaks have withheld 16,000
documents where there may be a chance of endangering intelligence sources.
In the first place, it is now clear that your administration has been hiding the truth
-- we are losing the war. The reasons why we can never win were outlined in this
letter over a year ago. Suffice to say we are in the middle of a civil war and are
aligned against the majority. Go figure how one can win and have a democracy
under such circumstances. Secondly, one can hardly blame Pakistan for keeping
its options open when our record there of abandonment and volte-face is hardly
a generation old. And by the way, the people we are fighting, the Pushtoons ...
their relatives live on the other side of the border -- the Durand Line arbitrarily
drawn up by the British and unrecognized by locals. Perhaps it is time to revisit
Indian / Pakistani history, intertwined with Afghan, from the eleventh through the
The last time I was in the area -- a few decades ago, an open market of smuggled
goods arrayed in permanent shops and stalls was flourishing within sight of the
border post. The Pakistan Government's writ did not extend to even collecting
customs and excise taxes. And you expect them now to police this area. We
have a habit of arrogance and ignorance requiring extended rehab but we seem
unable to take that difficult step. In the meantime, what can we say to the families
of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in this misadventure. I
understand the figures of killed and injured are now the highest ever.
There has been another oil leak (this time in Michigan); about a million gallons
escaped before the pipeline was shut down. the oil made its way into the
Kalamazoo river, and is now, as I write, flowing towards Lake Michigan
endangering the water supply of the Midwest. Environmental disasters are
multiplying, yet we cannot get our act together to focus on solar and other
alternatives. A photo-voltaic solar panel on every home, as suggested here
earlier, is beginning to appear ever more attractive.
Economists use a term 'regulatory capture' to describe a common occurrence
whereby the regulators are captured by the industries they regulate. A particular
egregious example was the Materials Management Service and big oil, leading to
the Gulf spill. Perhaps the Norwegian and British restructuring of their
supervisory agencies after their own oil disasters is worth examination.
July 23, 2010
Mr. President: With the arrival of the new Senator from West Virginia, a filibuster-
proof majority could be mustered to extend unemployment benefits. Economists
of every stripe, across the spectrum from left wing to right, support the
extension as necessary for the economy -- quite apart from the verifiable needs
of families who find themselves in severely strained circumstances through no
fault of their own. Republicans appear to have but one motive - to inflict pain
which they expect will bring out angry anti-incumbent voters in November.
During the Presidential election when Mrs. Clinton presented a positively
pugilistic stance on Iran, you appeared to show wiser restraint. Then what
accounts for the activities of Mr. Stuart A. Levey, the Under Secretary for
Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at Treasury and Andrew J. Shapiro, the
Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs at the Department of State. When
our own Intelligence Estimate has clearly negated the so-called Iranian nuclear
threat, Mr. Levey is trying, with some success, to cripple the Iranian economy by
preventing international banks from transacting with Iranian counterparts. One
might well ask: Is this likely to bring Iranians to the table or make them more
intransigent? For the Iranians, of course, there is always China and Russia -- the
latter playing a double game of duck 'n weave and deal.
Mr. Shapiro is busy plying Israel - already a regional superpower - with billions
more dollars of the latest military hardware. It is hardly likely to encourage Israel
to be serious about peace talks when it is being rewarded for insulting our Vice-
President, thumbing its nose at our President, ignoring our peace initiatives and
generally running roughshod over your peace envoy -- whatever happened to
him? -- and your administration. As Uri Avnery, the respected Israeli
commentator, has observed frequently, the Israeli government needs tough love
not pandering if we are to have any chance of peace in the Middle East. By the
way, the number of letters I get from charities, food depositories, shelters etc.
now average a half dozen daily. A single billion dollars would probably take care
of all their needs. But then who cares about them; after all, it was a Democratic
president who put the screws on welfare recipients, the social security elderly --
through the farcical core rate of inflation - and even unionized workers.
I mentioned Senator Byrd's seat earlier. He was like a very fine Bordeaux, harsh
and unpalatable in his youth - some say he joined the Ku Klux Klan - but matured
well. He was an auto-didact. As a legislator, he became eminently well-informed
on the Constitution, the Senate's rules and procedures, and, when I heard him,
the War Powers Act. I remember his speech opposing blanket authority to
George Bush to pursue the Iraq war while your Secretary of State was a
prominent supporter. Would that we had listened to him then? Over a million
Iraqis have died, four to five million displaced, their country devastated, the
economy shattered, all for no valid reason. It has also cost us plenty. But it is
what Israel's neo-con supporters wanted just as they have their sights set on Iran
now, again busy manufacturing evidence where it does not exist. Mr. President,
our country is exhausted. We need to help our own.
July 16, 2010
Mr. President: The Gulf well has been capped, the Financial Reform Bill passed,
and you are off to a well-deserved vacation. It's been a good week. The nagging
question is whether it will be enough for November.
The problem is one word: unemployment. It continues to hover around ten
percent but that is only because the statistic drops discouraged workers who
give up looking for work. If they are included, the figure is nearer a fifth of the
work force and as much as a half in some subgroups. As a result, people
continue to lose their homes, and these foreclosed houses continue to put a
damper on the housing market.
On the major issues, Sir, forgive me for saying so, but your rhetoric is directed to
appeal to the public while actual actions appease the large donors and powerful
interest groups. This high-wire act lasted a while but the overwhelming
evidence is every day life plus some bad luck (the Gulf spill) has ended it. Your
poll numbers now show the negative overtaking the positive. If the Republicans
take over either legislative body in November, you can look forward to a series of
investigations, as appears to be the norm these days, causing more distraction
and demands on your time.
When you were about to dispense our tax money to the banks, many (including
this letter) warned you of the folly of dropping money into these financial black
holes. They are still using that and their earnings to shore up their balance
sheets -- through loss reserves to be used when they finally end the farce of
retaining worthless holdings at purchase price. As you were warned, they have
not circulated the money into the economy. But the sad fact remains that even if
they had, it would not have generated the well-paying manufacturing jobs of old,
just low-level service work plus some very high-level professional jobs in our
increasingly two-tiered economy. Here is a statistic your advisors may not have
brought to your attention: During the robust growth years from 2002-2006, 75% of
the increase in income went to the top one-percent in this country.
The Financial Reform Bill has everything except what is really necessary to
prevent a repeat of the financial catastrophe (despite assertions to the
contrary). It omitted the Volcker rule limiting securities trading by commercial
banks, or, better still, the separation of commercial and investment banking
required by Glass-Steagall. It is like having a car that is missing the differential
which transmits the engine's power to the wheel. The Bill places the onus, of
guarding the public interest and watching the banks, on regulators. But as
economists have pointed out earlier, regulators are eventually almost always
compromised by the industry they regulate. One doesn't have far to look: the
Gulf spill is a textbook example. And the Goldman-Sachs fine of a half-billion
dollars (about two-weeks profit) is another. Its stock shot up five percent on the
news. Perhaps there is a chance for criminal prosecution but intent is always
difficult to prove in fraud cases.
July 9, 2010
Mr. President: On March 24, 2005, an explosion rocked BP's refinery in Texas City
killing 15 and injuring hundreds. Last year BP was fined $87 million dollars, the
largest in the history of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA), for maintenance failures prior to the blast. Since then safety problems
continue to plague the plant: four more employees have been killed and well
over a hundred sent to hospital.
Overshadowed by BP's ongoing oil catastrophe in the Gulf, there has been yet
another sizable problem at the Texas City refinery. Just prior to the oil leak, BP's
refinery spewed over half-a-million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air over a
40-day period because of failure to repair certain components -- they placed
greater importance on the financial loss from a shut down. The leak has been the
worst in Texas for over a decade and would most certainly not have been
permissible in other states -- for example, California's environmental laws would
have forced a shutdown. Benzine is a known carcinogen and any release over 10
pounds needs to be reported; BP released over 17,000 pounds during the
BP's history shows a callous disregard for the safety of its own people and the
environment. And it has amply demonstrated a culture of profits before anything
else. After the Deepwater Horizon sinking in the Gulf, Exxon, no environmental
saint itself, pointed out that they always have their own supervising engineers at
a subcontractor rig. Not so with BP.
The question I would like to put to you, Sir, is simple. Why does BP continue to
remain the Pentagon's largest supplier of fuel?
The meeting with Mr. Netanyahu was notable to the news media for the long,
pumping, staged handshake. All is forgiven, it seems, including the killing of the
New York born peace activist aboard one of the ships trying to bring aid to Gaza,
where the children are now stunted and anemic from chronic undernourishment.
The activist/idealist just 19 years old was shot five times. He was unarmed.
Exactly how this shooting was the claimed self-defense is beyond most people's
imagination, and I wonder if Mr. Netanyahou had an explanation.
We have also had a Keystone cops type of spy ring rolled up, and, this week,
exchanged for four of our spies. I understand a slight hitch was caused by the
reluctance of one of the spies to return to Russia; he wanted to continue living in
the West promising never to spy again. Why not? After all, he did us little harm
compared to the banks, and they were given billions based on vague promises.
July 2, 2010
Mr. President: The G-20 meeting is over. Firm resolutions to cut deficits
everywhere, not withstanding, the markets continue their slide. The people are
so fed up with their leaders, the riots accompanying these meetings were far
worse. By the way, why do you think people riot whenever this forum convenes?
The cost this time is reputed to top a billion Canadian dollars. If you'll forgive me
for saying so, it's a lot to waste for hot air.
In our domestic economy, you were caught on camera saying, you could have
sent a check to each American to make yourself popular but you didn't. So where
did the checks go? You simply sent those checks to the bankers. The
individuals would have spent the money benefiting the Chinese economy plus
the personnel at our retailers; the bankers kept it to pay off each other and keep
the casino running. If you think 'casino' is an exaggeration, look at the major
sources of profits for them in the previous quarter. The above might sound trite
but think about it: Individuals cannot make infrastructure investments, the most
they can do is purchase durable goods. Our roads, bridges, schools are falling
apart; state governments have been bankrupted, necessary services
compromised, school teachers laid off, particularly in poorer districts further
eroding a precarious structure. By helping, the Federal government can inject
life into our economy while lubricating the machinery of commerce.
Ms. Kagan is in the news again. Hearings continue and she is likely to be
confirmed even though another disturbing piece of news about her emerged this
week. While in the Clinton Solicitor-General's department, she doctored the
doctors' (College of Gynecologists) report on third term (partial-birth) abortions.
To paraphrase, they said, in almost all cases where there is danger to the life of
the mother, there are alternatives. She reversed the meaning. If the doctors are
correct, the 'right to choose' becomes the right to infanticide. Do we want a fair
Justice or one who feels free to manipulate facts to justify her point of view?
Afghanistan is in the news again. The BBC reports a senior Taliban official's
rejection of any peace talks. He said they are winning -- a position confirmed by
the leaked confidential report sent by General McChrystal -- and had no reason
to talk. We sent in 15,000 troops to Marjah, a sparsely populated area of about
twice that many inhabitants. According to COIN -- a new acronym for an idea as
old as the hills -- a 1 to 50 ratio of troops to population is adequate. Well, if 1 to 2
hasn't worked, what's next? Perhaps we will billet a squad in every Pushtoon
home. The Taliban were never a popular government but our ham-fisted
behavior coupled with the venality of the Karzai government has resulted in the
people now hating us more; of course, we have the added burden of being a
foreign force to which humans have a visceral antipathy. The lessons of Vietnam
have been forgotten, and George Santayana's oft-repeated quote 'those who
forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it' is yet again apropos.
June 25, 2010
Mr. President: General McChrystal, your hand-picked commander in Afghanistan,
really did let loose. No one was spared including you, Sir. The sad fact remains
that his remarks have more than an element of truth. Still, the General needed to
go. This is a thinking man's war; not a maverick fighting man's war -- rather a
general who spends his mornings thinking than running. In the end the General
might have done you a favor. Petraeus resolved Iraq (as far as we are
concerned) not by defeating the Sunni insurgents but by coming to terms with
them -- paying them off in most cases. Perhaps he can forge a settlement with
the Taleban meeting the minimum requirement of all sides (without needing to
satisfy the impossible demands of the parties) which would be acceptable to
Aside from the above and the questionable judgment of allowing a tag-along
journalist free access for a month, the other (and possibly most glaring) element
of the Rolling Stone story is the evident failure of our policy in Afghanistan.
Marjah is far from a success: the population remains unwelcoming and
indifferent to us; the Taleban have melted away - they are not there, yet they are
there. Despite all efforts, we have had the deadliest month of the war -- eclipsed
in the news by the worst environmental disaster in our history. Helicopters go
down every week, and we now go through the charade of not acknowledging the
cause under the guise of pending investigation, only to announce quietly it was
enemy fire a month or so later.
On the economic front ... the failure and incapacity of free markets to self
regulate has been evident since the Savings and Loan disaster of the Eighties
Yet the protections of Glass-Steagall were signed away, not by a Republican, but
by your Democratic predecessor. The new Financial Reform Bill envisaged had
an immediate effect on the market: Wall Street breathed a sigh of relief and bank
stocks shot up. The bill has all kinds of protections for consumers and all kinds
of rules, including a weakened Volcker rule for banks and a better readiness
provision to deal with large failing companies. It also has all kinds of ...
loopholes. Sir, you claim it has 90% of what you wanted. Forgive me for
expressing it this way, but it is tantamount to someone claiming to be a 90%
virgin. The bill is incapable of forestalling the kind of economic disaster we have
just experienced and from which the recovery is still neither complete nor
certain. Yet everyone remains in thrall of major financial institutions and their
The oil spill continues to destroy the Gulf. The precarious dome, capping and
siphoning some of the leak, was nudged by a robot, dislodging it, and, loosing
the full leak into the Gulf until it was reseated. There is nothing you can do to fix
it, yet people hold you accountable, and for that you have my sympathy. There is
no reason, however, why we can not institute a stricter regulatory control
regime. And given the California coast disaster earlier and now this, there is
good reason to reduce offshore activity. We need to think big in terms of
alternatives ... like a solar panel on every residential roof in ten years.
June 18, 2010
Mr. President: Your speech last Tuesday was not a resounding success. I have
allowed every sympathy towards your administration, despite numerous
disappointments, and I tried yet again. I have to say, Sir, you sounded like
someone going to a wake and offering the bereaved a careful accounting of
The estimates for the spill have risen to 60,000 barrels per day. How could BP's
original estimate of 1,000 have been so wrong? A bit of simple arithmetic shows
the following: 1000 barrels per day divided by 24 gives 42 barrels per hour; divide
this result by 60 gives two-thirds of a barrel per minute, and again by 60 gives
1/90th of a barrel per second. As there are 42 gallons in a barrel this flow equals
a little less than a half-gallon per second. The gas pump filling our car delivers a
half-gallon in less time than it takes to say "oil spill," and the nozzle is about an
inch in diameter, the pressure that of a relatively small electro-mechanical pump.
The crude oil in the Gulf continues to gush out under the pressure of water a
mile deep. That is enormous pressure out of an enormous pipe. If I can explain
all of the above in a small paragraph, how is it that all the experts at BP (and our
agencies) continued to deny the estimates made by various engineering
professors of 50,000 to 70,000 barrels per day ... until now that is.
Amid much fanfare a $20 billion settlement fund was announced by BP at the
White House. The requisite photo-ops, rapid agreement and smiling faces all
round. Guess what? BP's stock price shot up on the news. Everyone, BP and its
stockholders could breathe a sigh of relief. No such luck for those who make
their living off the Gulf and may have lost not only their livelihood but also a way
The stream of executives from other companies blaming BP for taking short-cuts
of one form or another begged the question: Where were our agencies, and how
could your administration approve new drilling under this safety regime after a
decade of suspension?
Ralph Nader, an honorable, honest man if ever there was one, has come out
forthrightly for the reinstatement of Helen Thomas. A new Post poll finds 88
percent of respondents sharing the same sentiment. It would be nice to see her
back in her regular chair.
I have before me a letter from a credit card company removing the longstanding
independent arbitration clause from the card member agreement - take it or
leave it. They no longer wish to submit to an impartial arbitrator. When the Vice
President is not defending the Israeli government - no matter how egregious its
actions as in the recent universally condemned attack on the aid flotilla that led
to the death of a 19-year old American peace activist among nine others - he is a
staunch fighter for credit card companies. And his efforts have led to even
greater one-sided credit card agreements. One might wonder, how our lives are
being improved under your administration.
P.S. On the flotilla raid issue, there are many principled Israelis opposed to the
wanton recklessness of their government. Let me recommend an article (http:
//zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1276348453) by Uri Avnery, the
distinguished Israeli writer and activist.
June 11, 2010
Mr. President: The wildly varying estimates of the Gulf oil spill continue to rise.
BP first estimate was 1000 barrels per day then 5000 and so on. It is now officially
40,000 barrels per day (US Geological Survey) with the riser drawing 15,000
barrels. It still leaves 25,000 spewing into the ocean. Surprising, is it not that
they did not know the capacity of their own well. It is claimed the flow meters
were destroyed in the explosion without any mention of past collected data.
Surely BP is aware of the producing capacity of its own wells.
There has been a reluctance on your part to place blame on the previous
administration, which is laudable. Carried too far though and it leaves you with
the hot potato. Why aren't officials out there pounding the Bush-Cheney
antipathy to regulation? This disaster is a direct result of allowing oil companies
a free hand in setting their own safety requirements. Blow-out preventers have
a habit of often failing when activated. Therefore, an acoustic switch has been
recommended (not mandated) as a backup by the Minerals Management Service
for at least a decade. BP decided to save the half million or so dollars instead.
Under such a shaky safety regime, it would be unseemly to open up off-shore
drilling up and down the Atlantic coastline, particularly if one were an even larger
recipient of campaign largess from the oil industry than Senator McCain. Forgive
me, Mr. President, but what were you thinking?
Exactly what is going on with Iran? First, you meet with the Turks and Brazilians.
In separate letters to each you outline the parameters of an acceptable deal with
the Iranians. They deliver. The Iranians agree to ship out their uranium for
enrichment retaining half as assurance. This latter would be kept under lock and
key, secured and overseen by the watchful eyes of the International Atomic
Energy Agency. So, instead of celebrating, we come out swinging against the
deal. The Turks and Brazilians must think we have schizophrenia, and the
Iranians ... well we are Satan, and this is confirmation. We have pushed through
another round of sanctions through the Security Council and the Iranians have
canceled the deal. Their uranium is no longer secured; however, we have
gained some more sanctions -- likely to be as ineffective as before and at a
diplomatic cost. Iran's program marches on. Does it all make sense?
Poor Helen Thomas! bushwhacked at age 89 after an illustrious career, and that,
too, by the school kid son of a political Rabbi. She said, 'they should get out...'
not Jews should get out'. And she meant the Europeans who moved there,
because she also added they should go back home to Polan and Germany and
the US. It is clear from her remarks she did not mean local Jews, who have lived
in the Middle East for millenia. The Rabbi was clever in his substitution, and
Helen was made to pay a stiff price. The public will suffer because she asked the
tough questions -- seldom answered. The White House considered it
'despicable'; yet the death of an unarmed US citizen shot five times at close
range by Israeli commandos boarding a humanitarian aid ship brought only
'regret'. When Ariel Sharon said bluntly, 'Israel runs the US', he was not far off.
But all of Israel did not elect Sharon, and most of Israel would prefer peace; many
want a firmer hand by the US in dealing with its upstart ally so we can move
towards a meaningful peace, not this never ending peace-process-cum-war.
June 4, 2010
Mr. President: Dominating the news this week has been Israel's assault on the
aid convoy to Gaza. Here are the rules, in sequence, required of a country
imposing a blockade in dealing with ships trying to break through.
- A radio broadcast warning
-An attempt must be made to talk
-A warning shot across the bow
-Attempt to use ships to physically prevent the blockade running ships to get
through and to change their direction of travel.
Of these Israel used only the radio broadcast warning and then proceeded with a
commando assault. Nine people died. Out of these, three were delayed
emergency evacuation to a hospital for several hours by the Israelis and bled to
death. The latter according to an Israeli woman Member of Knesset and peace
activist who was on board. Israel has somehow transformed itself from a David to
the neighborhood bully the police can not quite control.
Among the dead was a US citizen: New York born Furkan Dogan was of Turkish
ancestry and just 19 years old. According to the autopsy report he was shot five
times, from less than 45 cm away, twice in the leg, in the face, the back of the
head and the back. Not only have we not issued a protest to date, but we have
not asked the obvious questions: Exactly how was the repeated shooting of this
19-year old self-defense? According to Uri Avnery, the prominent Israeli writer
and peace activist, you are so terrified of AIPAC and its Likudniks that you will go
to any length to appease them -- at least until the November election. He hopes
you will show some sinew during the following year before the onset of the
Presidential election cycle.
Cause for much jubilation this week was the drone killing of al-Masri, the al-
Qaeda number three. First, al-Qaeda is so loosely structured and now so
depleted, one wonders how effective these top leaders are. They seem to be
more bombast than actual action which various local groups seem to undertake
on their own initiative. Second, is it really worth compromising our values to the
extent we have? His wife, three daughters, a grandchild, relatives and friends
including more women and children were killed. Do we have evidence to prove
they too were guilty? If not how can we justify taking their lives? Quite apart
from the damage to our moral psyche, it was a drone strike that tipped the scales
for the Times Square bomber.
Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said this week
that the US, in particular, was seriously harming the structure designed to protect
the right to life; adding that our actions carried a significant risk of becoming war
crimes. I'd hate to see you, Sir, become the target of an ambitions Spanish
prosecuting judge as their laws permit such indictments for war crimes.
The Gulf oil spill continues unabated, improved only by the fractions and
percentages invented by the public relations arm of BP. Fishermen, shrimpers
and others who have harvested the rich bounty of the Gulf for generations are
now in danger of losing their livelihood. The marshlands, which serve as the
nursery for the Gulf, are now in danger. The blame, first, lies squarely on your
predecessors who permitted the oil companies to police themselves. But then,
Mr. President, you have been in office for a third of your term and you proposed
re-opening drilling a couple of months ago. That would seem to imply an analysis
and evaluation of existing structure. Either this was not conducted or the people
doing it were incompetent. Both ways it reflects very poorly on the
By the way, it turns out that BP chose to save a half-million dollars rather than
install an acoustic blowout preventer, which would have given earlier warning
and perhaps averted the catastrophe. So much for self-regulation and policing.
The economy is sputtering again. Perhaps a stimulus is needed that focuses on
our decaying infrastructure rather than on issuing small amounts of money to the
people who promptly spend it on Chinese manufactured goods.
May 28, 2010
Mr. President: About two months after off-shore drilling was opened up for the
first time in ten years, we are witnessing the worst ever oil spill in our history. It
will have far surpassed Exxon Valdez by the time we see the end of it. A cursory
examination of safety records reveals the chances of problems with blow-out
valves to be one in ten. It begs the question, as to the data analyzed when you
made your decision. One might add, even your predecessor - a Texas oil man
himself - never resumed off-shore drilling. The question is relevant for it offers a
window on the parameters of decision making in your administration.
We are now in the scapegoating stage of the disaster - the firing of bureaucrats,
etc. -- in an effort to allay responsibility while accepting responsibility. If we
consider the fact that this administration has completed one-third of its term,
surely that is adequate time to appraise the attributes and competencies of
senior personnel. A simple computer check of resumes would have revealed
past affiliations and conflicts of interest. But then where else would they
develop the expertise to be able to inspect the work. The real issue is whether
they return to these companies - the revolving door syndrome.
The problem is pervasive and had something been done about it, we, perhaps,
could have seen 'change we could believe in'. The number of Goldman Sachs
personnel in senior government positions is astounding. It includes their chief
lobbyist who is now at Treasury. One would be forgiven for wondering if the
mindset of these individuals carries over into their new, very different
responsibilities, on behalf of and supposedly for the benefit of the general public.
The North-South Korea flare-up is not unexpected. Before the present right-
wing, hard-line President was elected in South Korea, they had had a decade of
liberal rule with an explicit policy of economic and cultural engagement. Three
months before the current government was installed, a broad-ranging agreement
for opening up ports and much greater investment had been signed. The current
President abrogated past agreements, unilaterally withdrew from their signed
treaty and raised the insult level and rhetorical temperature. Add to this the
sinking of the patrol boat last year and the current state of affairs is no surprise.
It does not excuse the sinking of the South Korean ship; just provides a more
logical explanation than the far-fetched ideas emanating from major media.
Sometimes our allies need a firm hand if we want a peaceful world, and having
our Secretary of State sound like John Bolton is hardly helpful.
Welcome home to Chicago, Mr. President. It has been a long time. Your friend
Mr. Riszko is in jail, the governor about to go on trial, and we haven't heard much
from your old minister. Hope you have a relaxing holiday.
May 21, 2010
Mr. President: As the oil spill continues its inexorable course to ecological
disaster, why are government agencies just quietly playing janitor to BP? Even
stalwart Democrats have begun to make accusations of the White House playing
the political game. They are saying if you become actively involved, you will own
the spill and you refuse to touch this hot potato.
British Petroleum's original estimate of the leak -- 1000 barrels per day -- has long
been reassessed to 5000 then 50,000 to 70,000 barrels once independent
scientists received access to BP's video, which they were extremely loath to
release. But is not the quantity being released vital to the amount of dispersants
necessary? So why were they allowed to take this long? As no one knows the
possible ecological harm caused by these chemicals, which have heretofore
never been used in these quantities, one would consider minimal use prudent.
Shouldn't everyone be working together to minimize damage instead of letting BP
continue its bungling ways? And given their record, why would anyone take them
at their word without outside verification? Surely an independent panel of
experts needs to be convened immediately?
Contrary to usual practice, a more stringent version (than the House's) of the
Financial Reform Bill passed the Senate. Nevertheless, bankers breathed a sigh
of relief and bank stocks shot up. In a week, where the world's markets were
being butchered by the Euro crisis, Wall Street found solace in another toothless
nematode. Well, it has one thing in common with the last major piece of
legislation - the Health Care Reform Bill - the stocks of companies supposedly
being restrained shot up then also.
The too-big-to-fail banks remain sacrosanct. And Congress plus our executive
branch continue to demonstrate they are too big not to fail. By the way, Sir,
whatever happened to the 'Volcker Rule'. This was produced by your man and
your party, and tried just a little to restrain big bank proprietary trading? Where
was the support from the White House?
This letter is dated Friday and given the time zones, Friday is over in Iraq and
every Friday (the sabbath there when people collect) the bombings have become
as certain as summer heat in Baghdad. And, this is a place we are ready to wrap
up and deliver as a flourishing democracy to the poor Iraqi people.
Afghanistan continues to be a killing ground. And now another five of our brave
young men plus many more civilians have lost their lives in an attack in the
center of Kabul. The drone killings have accomplished nothing observable as
the insurgency grows stronger by the day. Civilian victims continue to perish
from the activities of both sides. It now turns out the Pashtuns, long the masters
of ambush, are attacking at distances of 2500 feet with long range rifles and our
soldiers M-4s are effective only up to 1000 feet. Pity the poor soldiers and save
them from operations planners.
May 14, 2010
Mr. President: Mr. Karzai's visit this week lasted five days rather long for a trip
of this nature; yet, he was sheltered from the press except for the usual joint
appearance. He has been severely criticized earlier by this administration until
(one assumes) the realization dawned that his support is critical for the
impending operations in Kandahar.
For his part, Mr. Karzai has been quite blunt and angered by the civilian killings
in his country by our soldiers. So it was ironic that nine civilians were killed
yesterday resulting in large demonstrations there -- just silence here. We are
told that the Taleban are on the run, while all reports indicate a strengthening of
their support. Our actions have alienated the population, and, as long as we
pursue our present course, will continue to do so. In this type of asymmetric
conflict, the Taleban do not have to win; they are victors as long as they can just
hold out. We, the conventional force, have to win, or we lose.
The oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's original estimate was
1,000 barrels per day, later increased to 5,000. Figures now being quoted range
as high as 50,000 to 70,000 barrels daily. This is an Exxon Valdez disaster every
four days and there is no end in sight. The ludicrous caps being tried have all
failed. Must we continue to take such risks with the pristine Alaskan
An interesting week for your Supreme Court nominee, Mr. President. Aside from
reporting on the usual rounds of visits with Senators and the accompanying
photographs, we have news of sexual orientation. The Wall Street Journal
implies she is gay, The Nation has an article offering a new definition: she can not
be gay because she has not admitted to being gay. The religious right is
disturbed. Gay activists are silent. Truth lies in the eye of the beholder. By the
way, Pat Buchanan points out the Democrats have not appointed a Protestant to
the Supreme Court in sixty years.
The price of gold shot up again this week as the huge Greek rescue package
was given further scrutiny. It requires fiscal tightening by Greece to reduce the
deficit which, of course, slows down the economy. But Greece needs a growing
economy to generate the revenues to pay back its debt. This requires deficit
spending. It is the kind of economics go around that prompted me to write an
article on the subject quite a few years ago, when politics were just a gleam in
your eye, Mr. President. The former majority leader, Dick Armey (an economist
himself) was so taken by it, he read it out in Congress and offered a lunch
invitation. But as far as economics is concerned nothing has changed.
May 7, 2010
Mr. President: The central news this week continues to be the oil spill. An
attempt to cap it with a bell like cotter dam to funnel the oil to a surface tanker
has run into difficulties. Meanwhile, the oil continues to gush out into the water
proving the absurdity of the term, safe offshore drilling.
Yes, we must rely on oil at present. Unfortunately the steps being taken in
transition to green sources of energy are so minuscule, one can foresee many
ecological disasters before we overcome our unhealthy dependence on fossil
fuels . Here's a simple suggestion: a $10,000 check to each of our 100 million
households, at a cost of a trillion dollars, for solar collector installation. It will cut
fossil fuel consumption by three quarters and we can eliminate nuclear power
and its legacy of nuclear waste. The cost is less than our wars and financial
disasters, and the construction and installation will bring transforming economic
growth. However, it requires facing up to the 'savvy' gnomes of Wall Street and
their counterparts in government.
The misguided Mr. Faizal Shahzad was fortunately incompetent, or, perhaps, he
did not wish to harm anyone, he was just making a statement. He seems happy to
talk, belying any hard-core Taleban affiliation. What he said, however, was
interesting and demonstrated yet again the negative effects of drone attacks and
their collateral damage. It turns out Mr. Shahzad had witnessed the aftermath of
a drone attack. He was so angered by what he saw that he sought to deliver a
response, and the Times Square event was the result.
The Taleban are as strong as ever, the leaders killed in the drone strikes
replaced, and the far larger number of women and children killed are a matter for
our country's conscience. A military solution is not possible - even our
commanding General has admitted as much - so we have to talk to the
insurgents. The longer we delay, the more powerful they become and the lesser
the voice of moderates. In the meantime, the Shahzads will keep coming and we
may not be quite so lucky next time.
Just a quick note on the UK election. It should be a sobering experience
because Mr. Brown's economic efforts were in many ways somewhat similar to
ours. With our unemployment hovering around 10% and with little prospect of job
creation at a level to make a significant dent in it, the Democrats' prospects in
November do not look too bright.
April 30, 2010
Mr. President: There was a reason for the ban on off-shore oil drilling which is
why we were surprised and concerned when you lifted it about a month ago
without addressing the safety issues. This week the reason hit us with the force
of a volcano -- except this one instead of laying new ocean floor, happens to be a
gusher spewing out at least 5000 barrels of oil per day rising to the top in a
floating ecological disaster. How do you cap a blowout on the sea floor? That's
the problem confronting the experts, and, as yet, there is little evidence of a
You have stated there is to be no oil drilling until the cause is discovered. Well,
let us suppose the cause is discovered and additional safety devices installed,
then what of the the next time? This time the blowout-preventers failed --
possibly because of the massive surface explosion; next time it will be something
else. We have been flying airplanes for decades, yet who can claim there will
never be another accident. Accidents happen, and will continue to happen --
sometimes human error, sometimes equipment failure. We will continue to
improve on both but no one but a fool can guarantee perfect safety.
Solicitor General Kagan's interview with you is another cause for concern. Why
would anyone consider Ms. Kagan, who has no experience as a judge and is
therefore a blank slate as to judicial temperament or views? No doubt she is an
eminent academic jurist. But is that enough when she is also a prominent
defender of your predecessor's unconstitutional indefinite detention of an
overwhelming majority of innocents - including minors - at Guantanamo and even
worse places. It has been a stain on our nation's honor and a recruiting tool for
al-Qaeda. A Supreme Court position is for life, so why would one take a chance
when there are other excellent candidates including Judge Wood. The latter has
an admirable record on the bench, as judge and as successful advocate of her
views in being able to turn the other judges around.
Mr. President, you said something recently that should be of concern because it
is not exactly true. Perhaps you misspoke. Addressing a black audience you
used the phrase "the sacrifices of our (my emphasis) ancestors." But, Sir, here
are the bare facts: your mother was white, you had a white middle-class
upbringing, and you parlayed all your admirable qualities including Afro-American
ethnicity into Columbia and Harvard. Your father came from Kenya in East Africa -
the slaves originated in West Africa - as a privileged student and returned home
after a few years. As I said earlier, perhaps you misspoke.
There is also a significant backsliding between campaign rhetoric and the
present reality. As many have observed, you ran us an 'outsider' but are
governing from the 'inside'. When you flatter Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman-Sachs
as 'savvy' and we now see Goldman-Sachs' type of savvy, there is again much
April 23, 2010
Mr. President: The horror of the killings in Gardez, where two pregnant women
among others were gunned down by Special Forces, continues to make news.
Now the Vice Chancellor of the University there is speaking out. How is it that
our rules of engagement permit troops to surround a family home and start
shooting? The cover-up attempts by the troops, including gouging out bullets
from the bodies, only fanned the anger as did the stonewalling and lying at the
command levels. Bad intelligence is not enough of an excuse. Surely the
military has investigators outside the chain of command.
The countless civilian deaths in drone attacks also challenge the sincerity of our
frequent avowal to minimize them. The attacks have also not weakened the
insurgents in any perceptible way. Our tactics defeat our strategic goals, which
themselves are open to question. It is not the way to win wars, not even a face-
In Israel/Palestine, we have been delivered another calculated slap in the face.
According to Amira Hass of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the new law that has
gone into effect is designed to allow deportation of Palestinians from the West
Bank almost at will. Peace requires confidence building measures; this law
erodes trust further. It is designed to sever ties between Gaza and the West
Bank and it makes life for divided Palestinian families even more painful.
In Iraq it is Friday, the Muslim sabbath, when worshipers gather for prayer
services providing larger targets for bombers. And they have been busy: a half-
dozen bombs in Baghdad and several in other parts of the country have killed
scores. They have had an election -- declared a success by us -- and we are
preparing to leave. In the meantime, negotiations to form a government
continue, and the major losing party is claiming fraud. One hopes it is not what
the Afghans can look forward to.
Despite all that has happened, there is a tendency among some to blame "the
government" for the financial disaster. They blame "Fannie" and "Freddie" for
the subprime problem and the Fed for its easy money policy. But "Fannie" and
"Freddie" are not investigative bodies; they rely on the veracity of the
paperwork. The so-called "liars-loans" where borrowers' incomes were
fraudulently inflated were a direct result of a radical change in the housing loan
business. Caused by the big Wall Street Banks' voracious appetite for mortgage
instruments (which were sliced, diced, repackaged and sold worldwide at
enormous profit), it had two effects. The local banks, the loan originators began
to resell the loans and therefore had little interest in carefully checking out the
loan applications. In fact, the more loans passed through, the more money they
made. Secondly, the mortgage brokers also driven by demand (and greed)
encouraged exaggeration by applicants. And so far hardly any prosecutions.
What would have stopped it? Better controls and audits. But then to some
regulation is a bad word. So far, no one is doing much explaining to the public,
and the controls envisaged in the new legislation lack real teeth. Asking bankers
to play nice for the good of everyone is not going to work. And the "Teapartiers"
want "freedom". They can tell that to the people who lost their homes in the free
The above paragraph is simple, easy to understand and explains the disaster.
So, why is a large segment of the public uninformed or misinformed? Laying the
blame squarely, cleaning house, and bringing back Glass-Steagall would put us
on an even keel. So, what's the problem? Everyone knows the answer to that
one - campaign money; it is why they are losing faith in our democracy.
April 16, 2010
Mr. President: The headline today is the SEC's indictment of Goldman-Sachs in a
case peripheral to the financial disaster. We still await any meaningful change in
our laws to prevent a recurrence. How our democracy has changed! Ralph
Nader noted in a recent article that after he wrote "Unsafe at any Speed" it took
less than a year for new safety laws to be passed. It's over two years now and
despite the pleas of Economics Nobel Laureates and others in countless op-ed
pieces and web pages including this website, nothing has happened; any
legislation proposed is rapidly rendered toothless.
I remember well your speeches against the power of lobbyists and vested
intersts during the election campaign. Yet it is painfully obvious, the bankers got
what they wanted, the insurers are far from dissatisfied with the health care bill
and the health care providers are not complaining. Perhaps the lobbying compex
is beyond the capacities of one man to handle. The constant rumors that the
White House Chief of Staff works within a mental frame of fund raising, merely
reinforces the cynics and their views on our present democracy.
Stories abound, Sir. Ond of them predicts Jamie Dimon, the present chief of JP
Morgan Chase, as your next Treasury Secretary. Poor Brooksley Born the former
head of the CFTC. She tried to regulate Credit Default Swaps to no avail and now
is off the radar. It would have mitigated the disaster. Rubin and Summers who
stopped her, are doing fine, the latter earning $5.2 million from a one-day-a-week
job at a hedge fund for a couple of years and several more million in consulting,
and the former's made untold millions. When the Helping Families Save Their
Homes Act was defeated, an appalled Sen. Durbin declared, "And [the bankers]
frankly own the place." Forgive me for saying so, Sir, but treading the path
between taking their money and working for the populace is like walking a
tightrope. Mr. Geithner is a protege of Bob Rubin and counts Jamie Dimon as a
close personal friend. The banking world, regulators and the regulated, are one
big happy family unlike the families who could not save their homes.
The nuclear summit was an interesting exercise. A major newspaper likened it to
a speed dating event with the favored leaders being ushered in for a quick few
one-on-one minutes with yourself. Following the summit the BRIC (Brazil, Russia,
India and China) group took off for Brazil where Russia signed lucrative contracts
for the first time with Brazil . Not so long ago that region was our purview.
It's vacation time again with Spring Break and I just thought I'd mention the
International Pizza Expo. Aside from the varieties of pizza, the pizza dough
twirling competition is a sight to behold.
April 9, 2010
Mr. President: May I recommend three books this week; at least they are a
relatively easy read and shouldn't take up too much time.
"Death and Life of the Great American School System" by Diane Ravitch; "13
Bankers" coauthored by Simon Johnson and "The Value of Nothing" by Raj Patel.
Diane Ravitch was an Asst. Secretary of Education in the Bush administration and
a strong advocate of "No Child Left Behind." She has now reversed her position
as audited data reveal it has been a failure - no improvement in Reading and a
slight improvement in Math, which is a worse outcome than before the 'reform'
She blames current policy as advancing the worst aspects of "No Child ..." i.e.
school closings, penalizing teachers, etc. According to a RAND study the simple
best predictor of poor school performance is poverty. It seems the problems
afflicting our society are distilled into the classroom. Blaming teachers instead of
supporting them, she says, is not only misguided, because by and large the
problems laid at their door have not been caused by them, but it has not worked
before and will fail in the future. It is also driving away the best talent. I know a
Vassar graduate who has been working with a consulting firm and seriously
considered a teaching career out of a desire to contribute to society despite the
financial cost but after the latest policy announcements changed her mind. It's a
hard enough job without the constant abuse and blame. Driving away good
teachers and good potential teachers is not the way to solve this problem.
Simon Johnson formerly Chief Economist with the IMF and far from a left wing
idealogue is now a Professor at MIT. He advocates a stronger regulatory regime
not unlike the position adopted by this website years ago. The fact remains that
the insatiable thirst of the big banks for mortgage instruments led to
unacceptable fraud at the broker level, fed all the way up when these securities
were sliced, diced, repackaged and by sleight of hand given triple A ratings by
the agencies. None of this would have happened under the Glass-Steagall
regime because commercial banks could not have participated and the feverish
demand would not have existed. The sad fact remains that the people
responsible, who should be shouldering the blame for causing so much misery,
continue to make policy while the critics who predicted disaster when Glass-
Steagall restrictions were lifted remain on the outside. Interesting ... the world of
money ... and politics ... and the relations between them.
Raj Patel's book, while suffering from some minor flaws in logical argument as
anyone with exposure to finance will detect, is nevertheless an interesting
exercise in idealism examining fairness, justice and true democracy.
The needless Af-Pak slaughter continues. I notice you said in your speech there
that America never quits. Somalia and Vietnam notwithstanding, even in
Afghanistan the generals have given up on victory and have stated clearly there
is no military solution. Almost daily drone strikes with an estimated kill ratio of
only two percent makes for an unconscionable number of civilian deaths mostly
women and children as the strikes are on homes. And last week was a
particularly gruesome reminder that Special Forces have become a law of their
own. Two women dead, one of them pregnant, and the bullets gouged out in an
attempt to disguise they were shot. It is not the way to win hearts and minds.
Supposing we did get a "prosperous democratic" Afghanistan. Does that
eliminate Islamic fundamentalism? No, the causes are elsewhere as Gen.
Petraeus himself recently pointed out.
April 2, 2010
Mr. President: I am glad you visited our troops in Afghanistan. A soldier's job is a
thankless one and some pay dearly, so it was a wonderful gesture and we
Why is it, Sir, that our important officials have to visit these countries in the dead
of night, unannounced, in utmost secrecy? Yes, there is a war going on but
haven't we been there eight years, and the news implies stability in Kabul and the
north. And surely after all these years plus a democratic election in Iraq, we
should be sending an official there to be showered the appreciation of the Iraqi
people in an open parade. Do we have a volunteer? After spending a trillion
dollars of our rapidly diminishing wealth in achieving democracy in Iraq, it is the
least Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney can do. It would surely be a vindication for them.
Mr. Sarkozy's visit and his affirmation of support for sanctions on Iran, reminds
one of the old adage warning us to be careful what we wish for, for such a policy
would be a death blow to any putative effort towards greater freedom by the
opposition there. Fortunately for us, the Russians and the Chinese would de-
claw and de-fang the sanctions before approval.
Mr. President, a senior Federal Reserve official, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas
City President Thomas M. Hoenig, has declared openly and forcefully for
separation of investment banking activities and commercial banking. Given this,
he believes, the banks will by themselves become smaller and no longer too big
too fail. For over a year now, this writer has advocated a similar if slightly
stronger position vis-a-vis the major banks. Their behavior in the past year
showing a reversion to big bets and trading profits at the cost of commercial
lending demonstrates clearly that nothing has changed. If allowed to continue,
we will eventually be picking up the tab for another and most likely even larger
disaster in the future.
An interesting postscript to the Iraqi election: Muqtada al-Sadr's party is in the
unique position of king maker. It is now polling its members to decide if it should
join Allawi or Maliki; it is an expression of democracy shaming the back room
deals of other parties. The irony should not be lost on us because Muqtada al-
Sadr has steadfastly refused to meet or have any dealings with us. He is
especially close to Iran.
March 28, 2010
Mr. President: Congratulations on getting the health care bill through. As the
Vice President expressed it succinctly, "It is a (bleeping) big deal." Failure would
have weakened the chances of other initiatives, and there are plenty of problems
needing to be tackled. It is a first step and, as the Congressional Budget Office
report shows, a small one. But in the present climate of histrionic politics it is an
achievement all the same, particularly as it redresses in a small way the shameful
transfer of wealth to the rich in the previous two and a half decades. So,
congratulations once again.
One wonders what has happened to all those politicians who would reach across
the aisle on important issues (you, Sir, can certainly not be faulted here).
Perhaps the reason is the change in the news media. We used to have the
Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times as voices of restrained, thoughtful
Republican argument. Now we have blaring Fox News where facts are a minor
impediment to be skipped over lightly and language a fog horn.
Congratulations also on the arms treaty with the Russians to replace START 1. It
reduces the nuclear warheads on each side to 1,500. Given that it will take a
couple of dozen to destroy the U.S., why the redundancy? How it increases our
credibility in dealing with Iran and North Korea at the coming non-proliferation UN
conference in May as claimed by Secretary Clinton is even harder to fathom
when there are no weapons in one case and very few in the second.
Sir, I happened to see a television interview with Professor Johan Galtung. On
the off-chance, you have not heard of him, he is a Professor of Peace Studies and
an advocate of the "transcend method" for resolving conflicts. By this he means
a resolution of conflict where both sides win. A prolific writer, the esteemed
Professor is the author of over 1000 articles and more than a hundred books. He
has even won Norway's top literature prize. His methods, were successful in
resolving the Peru - Ecuador border dispute over which the countries had
previously fought three wars. His uncanny and accurate prediction in 1970 of
the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1990 has been followed by his forecast of the end
of the U.S. Empire - though not the U.S. republic which he thinks will be the better
off without the empire much like France and Britain -- by 2020.
I bring him up because of his idea for a European Community like Middle East
incorporating Israel, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, plus ... . Asked if any
progress can be made, he averred, "It won't happen under Obama. He is too
much in the pocket of the U.S.-Israeli combine." Everyone hopes it is not true
irrespective of recent events. Of course, he is referring to AIPAC. Certainly, J-
Street, many distinguished Israelis, Israeli peace groups and even most Israelis
would welcome such a proposal.
March 19, 2010
Mr. President: I remember you railing against lobbyists and Washington ways
when you were a candidate and I thought at first we might see change. But then,
Sir, you decided to forgo public campaign money which limited private funding
and I began to wonder. Now I am certainly not saying there is any connection, but
so far it seems as if, on every major issue, the lobbyists have won.
The basic idea of a lobbyist implies a private interest inimical to the general
public good, for if the two were the same, the lobbyists would become
redundant. No surprise then that the public rallied behind your banner. And it is
the same issue that has caused many to be disillusioned for their perception of
this administration's policies implies a volte-face.
On health care reform, the bill to be voted on in the House this Sunday will bring
in an additional one-third trillion dollars into the coffers of insurers through its
mandatory insurance provision. If the public does not support this bill perhaps it
is because it rewards the people who have made illness a living hell for many. If
the bill fails, then given the recent premium trends, the insurers are likely to
make even more money. They win both ways. And hospitals, now run as
monopolies in local markets by for-profit corporations, have raised prices
astronomically in the last decade. What happened to the Medicare-for-all single-
payer plan favored by a vast majority of the public? A new research report
produced by the California Nurses Association shows such a plan would even be
a stimulus for jobs. Well, we are told it is not feasible. Apparently our democracy
no longer responds to the will of the people.
In the banking crisis we have now spent $700 billion on the Troubled Asset Relief
Program (TARP) plus $1.25 trillion on the Quantitative easing program with the
Fed using ex nihilo money to transfer toxic assets to its own balance sheet while
rewarding the perpetrators of this financial meltdown. These assets are likely to
be forced on Freddie and Fanny eventually. Why could we not have put the
major banks through FDIC interventions so the worthless assets could have
been written off and used the money being spent to rewrite the homeowners'
mortgages at current home prices -- the expertise at Freddie and Fanny would
have eased the administrative burden. The homeowners would have been happy
-- fewer would have lost homes -- and the banks, without the toxic assets
hanging over them, would have started lending. Instead our banks are off
gambling again. So much so that the Prime Minister of Greece came all the way
here to complain about their behavior. Wouldn't reinstating Glass-Steagall have
stopped it? One could ask if that is not in the public good instead of having to
bail out the same culprits in different guises. I write this as another trillion
bailout is on its way to cover second liens.
The public are both weary and angry.
March 12, 2010
Mr. President: The Vice President's trip to Israel turned into fiasco when the
government there announced plans to build 1600 new homes in the West Bank
including the politically charged and highly sensitive area of East Jerusalem.
Over these forty years, Israel has denied building permits to Christian and
Muslim Palestinians and continues to bring in settlers. The Christians of course
are the descendants of the earliest converts and have been there for two
thousand years. As rules and more rules, petty regulations specifically designed
to strangle growth and development, and road blocks that restrict movement
even for emergency care, take their toll many are choosing to give up and
Under these circumstances, the present government of Israel, despite lip
service to the contrary, is not interested in negotiating, even if it means -- as the
New York Times called it - a slap in the face of its best ally. At the same time
coincidentally, the European Community was endorsing the Goldstone report.
We, of course, in shameful genuflection to lobbyists, trashed it, calling it 'flawed'
without stating any reasons why, or responding to Judge Goldstone's challenge
to show him how it was flawed. It is precisely this hypocrisy and turning a blind
eye to potential war crimes that outrages the world and fires up the jihadis. A
peace settlement for Israel would be a historic legacy for any administration and
deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize received in advance and anticipation.
The Israeli trip also showed, with startling clarity, that carrots can only go so far
and the velvet hand in velvet glove leads to a slap in the face. Had we
maintained the leverage offered by the Goldstone report, we could have held our
heads high, and, I would be willing to bet a hundred to one, our Vice President
would not have been insulted. Instead, the Israeli government would be
listening attentively to our proposals.
On the healthcare front, even Howard Dean, a former chairman of your party, Mr.
President, and a practicing physician, has been marching against the health care
bill. As the lobbyists for this industry are deafeningly quiet, one can assume they
are not unhappy with the bill. That alone gives some pause. The single payer
plan preferred by the vast majority and the public option, a bone to assuage hurt
feelings, have been ditched.
The Greek Prime Minister has been in town complaining to you about the
behavior of our banks. They have been betting against Greece. And going by
their financial reports, betting is much more lucrative than the quotidian grind of
lending to small businesses so our economy can start generating jobs. The
stimulus money seems to have done more for the Chinese economy by spurring
consumer demand for their goods.
All we can do, Mr. President, is hope.
March 5, 2010
Mr. President: Where are we headed? We seem to be laboring furiously to stay
in the same place much like a pet hamster on an exercise wheel. Here is what
has happened on the three major issues (health care, the economy and the wars):
The health care bill before us affords some improvements, principally the ending
of rescission and denial of coverage, limiting out-of-pocket expenses and better
regulation. But at what cost? The mandatory coverage provision is estimated to
cost the tax payer about $500 billion -- money directed into the coffers of
insurers. No wonder their stocks rise and fall with the fortunes of the bill.
The public option offering meaningful competition is excluded, and little
attempted to rein in the exponential rise in health care delivery costs at
increasingly corporate-owned for-profit treatment facilities. The latter are now
powerful enough to be able to negotiate higher fees with insurers who in turn
pass them on to consumers in the form of higher premiums -- the recent
increases of up to 39% are a case in point. If this bill passes, we will have
entrenched and strengthened the present structure. We have confused
insurance with actual care and as this becomes more evident when the bill takes
effect, reform will again have to be undertaken against an even more powerful
industry. We had the opportunity for real reform but it required public pressure
particularly through the Presidential bully pulpit against the powerful lobbies;
instead the White House preferred to remain silent (until now), and worse, we
gave away the store at the outset.
The economic disaster was another opportunity, and a unique one, to effect
changes preventing a recurrence. We chose not to try. As it stands now, banks
continue to speculate with depositors funds, enjoying the profits and the salary
bonuses that accompany them, in the comfortable assurance of the taxpayer
covering their backs because they are too-big-to-fail. Commercial lending
offering less coverage and lower proportionate profits continues to lag.
Moreover, profits are being used to quietly shore up balance sheets instead of
being pumped back into the economy. The credit default swaps remain
unregulated and an attempt to make trading them more transparent was
quashed. The stage is thus set for sluggish growth and an eventual repetition of
speculative excess. We could have had Glass-Steagall and its protections
preventing speculation by commercial banks. Instead the crowd responsible for
unbounded deregulation and the subsequent disaster are back in, while those
who warned correctly against the dangers of repealing Glass-Steagall remain on
the outside. Again the lobbyists representing special interests continue to win.
On the war front, the killing continues unabated as does the drag on the
economy. Imagine elections in this country with bombs going off at polling
places, as in Iraq, and people threatening to kill anyone voting. One wonders
how many would come out to vote. Of course, Afghanistan's answer was ballot
stuffing. It costs us a million dollars per soldier in Afghanistan, and one man,
Greg Mortenson, has set up forty schools for girls there with the same amount --
not hard to figure out what is appreciated more by the locals.
February 26, 2010
Mr. President. It is over a year since your inauguration and time for assessment.
So here is a balance sheet, not prepared by one person, rather a distillation of
opinion from a spectrum of commentators.
* The cessation of torture -- good.
* The inability or unwillingness to hold perpetrators accountable -- bad, for it
signals impunity for the future.
* The attempt to secure health insurance coverage for everyone -- good.
* The unwillingness to consider a single-payer plan, widely accepted as the most
efficient means of providing health care (also labeled, 'Medicare for All') -- bad.
* Bailing out the banks -- good.
* Allowing them the facade of solvency -- bad, as they are using profits to shore
up their balance sheets instead of lending.
* Stimulus plan -- good.
* Failure to follow up with a meaningful jobs bill -- bad, because without jobs how
will we pay for the massive deficit?
* The Israel-Palestine peace initiative -- good.
* Leaving the peace envoy hanging without support -- bad.
* Calling on a settlement freeze -- good.
* Letting Netanyahu thumb his nose at us -- bad.
* The Cairo speech to the Muslim world -- good.
* Subsequent actions vis-a-vis the Goldstone report and the Iran hysteria -- bad.
* The Noble Peace Prize -- good.
* Reading out a justification for war in acceptance speech - bad, because
reasoning flawed and venue inappropriate.
* Opening channels to the Taleban -- good.
* Surge of troops in Afghanistan -- bad, for we cannot afford them and it will make
* Talking with Iran - good.
* Attempting to lay the groundwork for regime change through support of
insurgencies and/or external agencies -- bad.
* Expanding drone development and activity -- good.
* Using drones for extra-judicial killings of Taleban leaders -- bad ... because it is
ineffective as leaders are replaced easily in the loose-knit structure of the
insurgency; because the attacks are killing too many civilians, usually women and
children, for each target; because they are legally debatable; and because it is
not the way we are going to win hearts and minds.
* Finally, holding a reception and State dinner for the Indian Prime Minister's visit
-- necessary protocol.
* Having gate crashers at the reception -- farcical ... and taking this long to fire
the Social Secretary looks indecisive, particularly as she did not provide the
Secret Service a check list of guests despite being asked.
February 19, 2010
Mr. President: Among the news items this week was the assertion by Dubai's
chief of police that he is 99% certain it was Israel's Mossad who killed the Hamas
official in his hotel room there. The British have called in the Israeli ambassador
to explain how the British passports of six British Israelis living in Israel came to
be used in the assassination. The Irish government is doing the same in
connection with three Irish passports; ditto for the French.
We can call Hamas what we want - that is our subjective opinion. The objective
fact of Hamas winning an open election certified as being free of fraud - a rarity in
that part of the world - can not be contested. Therefore, Hamas is a legitimate
government and if the assertions are true, Israel is guilty of killing the
representative of such a government. All of which makes hypocritical our claims
of promoting democracy in the region particularly when we invaded Iraq for a
series of reasons which cascaded down from 'weapons of mass destruction'
ending up with 'bringing democracy to the Iraqi people.'
Hamas now claims to be preparing a response. While it is unlikely, one wonders
how we would feel if they did respond in kind. Israeli commentators claim the
dead official was a terrorist implicated in the death of two Israeli soldiers. Please
correct me if I am wrong but doesn't international law grant the right to resist an
occupying force? The egregious conditions imposed on Palestinians are well
documented but "A Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the
Occupied Territories" is a vivid memoir. Written by Anna Baltzer, a courageous
young Columbia University graduate and Fulbright scholar, it is a graphic
portrayal of wanton cruelty and needless suffering.
A little over a year ago, Israel attacked Gaza leaving behind over a thousand
dead. The horror proved to be too much even for Israel's staunchest supporters
and an investigation was launched. Justice Goldstone, an eminent jurist with
similar prior experience in Bosnia produced his report and was roundly
condemned by us. We said it was 'flawed' but could not respond to the Judge's
challenge to show the flaws.
It seems the death of two or tens leads to the label terrorist but the deaths of a
thousand and more ... well, that's self-defense even when there is no meaningful
opposing military. Mr. President, do we really have to be so supine to Israeli
exceptionalism, whether in nuclear capacity, extra-judicial killing, repeated and
ongoing violations of international law, or, now, even alleged war crimes in a
respected jurist's report? I doubt if our all too obvious hypocrisy is in our own or
even Israel's long term best interests. It couldn't be clearer that Israel's
activities and our response have caused a running sore incapable of healing and
causing continual damage to our world standing.
As Bin Laden himself has stated, the Israel/Palestine issue was the principal
cause for the 9/11 attack and the one in Britain. There have also been several
unsuccessful attempts since then. The consequences of 9/11 have been two
wars that continue to drain us economically -- the patient has become anemic, its
influence waning and its economic clout a shadow of the past. Sir, you need to
take a page out of Bush Sr.'s book and read the riot act to our upstart ally.
February 12, 2010
Mr. President: Let me begin this letter on a personal note. My wife has a dear 90-
year-old aunt, intelligent, just completed a book on reminiscences from a rural
upbringing, conservative politically and a life long reasonable Republican. Hard
to imagine how she could fall for the tea-bagger and birthers propaganda about
your foreign birth; yet she is convinced. A constant repetition through all
channels: talk shows, demonstrations, personal emails, facebook, etc., and
presto! you have been transformed into a foreign-born super socialist -- despite
the billions to maintain the banks' status quo and the deals with the insurers and
hospitals. What a remarkable feat? And, one may add, a testament to the money
and resources behind the project as I have learned in reading up about the
Koch Industries - about $100 billion in sales - is one of the largest privately held
corporations in the country with interests in petroleum, plastics, chemicals and
on and on. Founded by Fred Koch, it is now controlled by his sons, Charles and
David. A love of ultra-conservative causes, and the energy to actively participate
runs in the family: father Fred founded the John Birch Society, son Charles the
Cato Institute (in 1977). David started Citizens for a Sound Economy now re-
labeled Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in 1984. The current president is Tim
Phillips of South Carolina fame, where he helped George Bush beat a rising John
McCain in the primary by starting a rumor he had fathered a black child out of
wedlock - the fact was Cindy McCain had adopted a child from Bangladesh. A
past master of dirty tricks and now supported with deep Koch pockets, the tea-
baggers have been one of his newer projects. Who was it who said that a lie
repeated often enough becomes the truth.
Much has happened this week. Charlie Wilson died. Famous now through the
Hollywood version of his escapades, he funded the Mujahideen to help repel the
Soviets. Through the chaos emerged Al-Qaeda and the Taleban, following
history's not unusual pattern of unexpected consequences. It reminds us, Sir, to
be very careful what we sow.
Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release after a 27-
year stretch in prison following conviction by white South African courts. It is a
testament to the great man's forbearance, and the old African chiefs' habits of
rule through consensus and conciliation, that we have a peaceful South Africa.
In ethnically divided Israel/ Palestine, however, a terrible tragedy is allowed to
continue. May I suggest a book, Anna Baltzer's "Witness in Palestine: A Jewish
American Woman in the Occupied Territories." One learns much that is kept from
us by our self-censoring media though, of course, you are far better informed
than the rest of us.
Today is Lincoln's birthday and in his experience we learn the limits of
forbearance. In Afghanistan, we have launched the long-awaited offensive; yet,
one wonders if our limits now are not inordinately misaligned.
February 5, 2010
Mr. President: The January Harper's reports surprising 401(K) retirement savings
figures (taken from the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington): The
average balance today is $45,000 down from $62,000 in 1998, and 46 percent are
worth less than $10,000. So the much touted stock market gains used to sell 401
(K)'s to the public has not materialized. Instead of ballooning our accounts into
retirement heaven, we are heading to the poor house. In the meantime,
corporations have happily jettisoned the burdensome guaranteed pension
plans. If nothing is done, retirees are headed for serious problems, particularly
as the cost of living allowance (COLA) now added is so contrived. Thanks to Mr.
Clinton your Democratic predecessor, who was desperate to reduce the deficit,
COLA has ceased to correspond to real inflation, and imposes a disguised tax
penalty on Social Security pensions.
A revised report released today informs us 8.4 million jobs have been lost so far
in this recession. According to your press office, the stimulus money spent for
each job created or saved is $250,000. So it would take $2.1 trillion to retrieve
the lost jobs, and obviously not a job for the government alone. Yet, the big
banks refuse to open their coffers to lend for investment. It is why they should
have been put through the FDIC process for failing banks as this letter
recommended many times in the early days of your administration.
Mr. President, did you happen to see Dr. Margaret Flowers on Bill Moyers'
Journal? Clear-eyed and full of compassion, she has seen the ravages of our
healthcare system, the needless suffering, the unnecessary deaths. As a
spokesperson for a physicians group advocating a single-payer plan - slogan:
Medicare for All - she tried to deliver a petition at the White House. She was
arrested. Now, one would think a person could drop off a letter at your door but
At first, the Congressional committees gave her group a hearing. She thought,
naively as it turned out, that when the alternative plans were compared, single-
payer offering better health care for less would win out. Not so. The White
House unable or unwilling to challenge the industry pulled the rug out from
under it. In the same TV program, your party and the Republicans were called
equal opportunity hypocrites.
You are the first President since Richard Nixon to have chosen to run entirely on
private fund raising. As of December, you had attended twenty-six fund raisers
averaging one every two weeks; George Bush in the same period had six. Here's
another statistic: By the end of last October, you had played more golf than
George Bush did in his entire term of office.
Sir, on one of the news programs, you were musing the other day about being a
one-term President. Forgive me for saying so but if you are, it won't be for want
of trying to help those that elected you, it will be because you never really did
try. Given the Scott Brown primer, the hope is there will be real change; my hope
is you will come to be remembered as a statesman, not a glib politician.
January 29, 2010
Mr. President: Congratulations! It was a fine speech, mesmerizing in its flow of
words, reminding us yet again why the people elected you. The enormity of our
problems, the near twenty percent real unemployment rate, the trillions in
deficits, the homeless, the dead and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan ... all washed
away as we bathed in the warm glow of your words accompanied by a chant, albeit
a little tentative, of 'we're number one' by the legislators --- when you stated we
were going to be second to none in clean energy and high speed rail.
The consequence of a misspent youth --- all kinds of journals come across my
desk; among them the organs of the Institution of Engineering and Technology
(basically Electrical Engineers) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. As a
result, much on the French TGV and cross-channel Eurostar has become familiar.
Imagine my surprise and dismay then, when the Illinois piece of the high speed
rail development was touted as 'will have speeds up to 110 mph, up from 70
mph'. A long time ago the TGV set a record of 357 mph, while its usual runs have
averaged 320 kilometers per hour (200mph) on some lines and 300 kph (187 mph)
on others. We have a long way to go.
Mr. President, you have asked for suggestions on reducing the deficit. Here is
one. We started outsourcing many military functions, at enormous cost, because
of a smaller volunteer force. Recruiters are now meeting quotas despite the
wars and the likelihood of being sent to one of them. It makes sense, therefore,
to reclaim the hugely expensive outsourced activities and enlarge our active
force. This would both alleviate the unemployment problem and reduce defense
Here is another one. I have often wondered what the army does when we are not
at war. Oh, yes, there are training exercises but the national guard does pretty
well with training over weekends. Let us take a leaf from the Chinese book. Our
soldiers, as soldiers everywhere, are notoriously underpaid. Why can we not
persuade manufacturers to set up plants near our bases? The soldiers could be
paid a wage as a salary supplement, their wives would have a shot at decent jobs
and transfers would become less frequent. The details will have to be worked
out by your experts but the advantages are transparent. Soldiers improve their
standard of living; corporations become export competitive because the
supplement would be less than standard manufacturing wages, and our
government will take a share of the profits thereby reducing the deficit.
Finally, Mr. President, there is one area -- among many for sure -- where we are
truly number one, and that is the number of adults incarcerated. It is an
enormous wasted resource. As we spend about a $100,000 annually per inmate,
they should be put to useful work. I am sure specialists and experts can conjure
up great ideas. Here's a starter: How about using them to shore up our
crumbling infrastructure; in fact, we could put them to work on our version of
high-speed rail right away.
January 22, 2010
Mr. President: Not so long ago people were saying, 'Don't vote for a third party
candidate, you will be wasting your vote.' It seems the good people of
Massachusetts, liberal to the core, took the advice to heart. They voted
Republican! Their message this time has had an impact. They had voted for
change in November 2008; instead they were given more of the same -- the same
wars, the same coddling of bankers plus the additional coddling of the health
Now it seems the abomination of a health care bill - forgive me, Mr. President, but
some are calling it Obamanation -- has been put on hold. During its development,
single payer advocates were shut out despite polls showing 70% of the country
favoring such a plan as the most effective and least costly way of delivering
You have now come out in favor of regulating the private equity and hedge fund
operations of banks. But, Sir, the time to act was when the bankers were on their
knees. That was the time to bring back Glass-Steagall that served us so well for
more than half a century. Instead we got the people who were instrumental in its
demise, then had topped it off with the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of
December 2000 which prevented the regulation of Credit Default Swaps, a
significant factor in the financial disaster. As long as commercial and investment
banking are allowed to co-mingle, we are prone to disaster. It is a natural
consequence over the long term of trading where there is a high probability of
profit and a very, very small risk of a huge loss. What is more troubling of course
is that bankers have now experienced a bail out, so they are further emboldened.
Everyone appreciates the help you have offered to Haiti. Those who have taken
the trouble to review our history there might feel the $100 million should have
been a grant rather than a long-term loan. As it is, Haiti is unable to repay its
older debt and its present government is barely functional. Would you consider
supporting a UN mandate, as in Bosnia, until the country can get back on its feet?
Lastly, reasonable people of all faiths are grateful to your government for finally
offering Professor Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University, a noted Islamic
philosopher, a visa. Earlier, he was unable to take up a visiting appointment at
Notre Dame because the Bush administration revoked his visa based on a claim
that he had contributed to a terrorist organization. It did not help our relations
with the Islamic world just as it does not help to put all citizens of fourteen
countries, of which thirteen are Islamic, on a terrorism watch list because of one
disturbed young man from Nigeria about whom we were warned in the first place.
January 16, 2009
Mr. President: Lurching from disaster to disaster, poor benighted Haiti needs
help and we are all happy you stepped forward with a generous offer. Thank
you. As usual, the citizenry will do its part through contributions to NGOs.
If there is any quibble, it's with the emergency management response. There are
now twenty international search and rescue teams operating in Haiti of which
only four are ours. Given the time it can take one team to rescue one person,
you will have to agree, Sir, we could have done better. And one may ask why the
US AID administrator is leading this effort - surely his purview is long term.
Whatever happened to the fine professionals of FEMA which developed into an
excellent emergency response agency during the Carter years? Yes, it was
gradually starved, had its "heckuva job Brownie" moment in New Orleans under
your predecessor, and finally swallowed by the Homeland Security monster. But
there must be some professionals left, or are we here at home going to be in
trouble again when we suffer the next disaster?
As is clear to all, the first few days after an earthquake are critical. Yet there was
no one there for the first two. Surely a satellite survey would have revealed the
extent of damage, the non-functioning airport tower, the damaged harbor, the
devastation in the cities. It should have been enough for us to have immediately
sent as many search and rescue teams as we could muster and a temporary
airport control system.
The estimates of dead are now in the tens of thousands and one has to wonder
how many more lives could have been saved. It is also sobering to realize that
Los Angeles had a similar magnitude seven earthquake a few years ago and the
death toll was sixty-three. Yes, poverty has its price.
Mr. President, yet another bank has reported a huge profit increase. This time
it's JP Morgan Chase. Profit for the last quarter of 2009:? Over $3 billion
compared to $0.7 billion a year earlier - aid from taxpayers, $25 billion. One would
think the bank has substantially increased lending to businesses, bringing jobs
into the economy. But no such luck, the profit is from trading and investment
banking. So, it's back to the casino. How long until the next bust? We'll just
have to wait and see. Will we ever return to the reasonable rules and
regulations we had a couple of decades ago before the deregulation disease
infected our law-makers as much as the addictive election coffers that sent them
into torpor? Again, we'll have to wait and see but it's unlikely we will soon have
as good a chance of doing something as we did a year ago.
Good luck in Boston on Sunday! If the Democrats lose that Senate seat we will be
in more trouble than we are in now.
January 8, 2010
Mr. President: The report on the attempted Christmas bombing of a plane over
Detroit has been a shocker. If the bomber's father, worried about his son and in
an effort to prevent him harming himself and others, had informed our embassy
in Nigeria about the young man's extremist inclinations, and if we still could not
stop him, we have a problem, and one not easily solved given the quantity of data
being processed. Yes, he was put on a watch list and he was going to be
questioned when he landed, and yes, better screening or interrogation in
Amsterdam might have helped but then the French thoroughly questioned the
shoe bomber to no avail before he was allowed on board.
Perhaps a better way to look at the problem, Sir, is to ask ourselves why we are
hated so much. Your predecessor's answer, which he sold to the American
public quite effectively was, 'they hate our freedom'. Really! But then he also
sold the idea that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. And, he rolled Congress on two
wars and a lot else -- there is much to learn from the man. To return to the
question though, could it be our policies and actions?
Whether it has been Latin America, where our habit of extracting resources with
the help of a complicit elite led to the impoverishment of common people, or the
Muslim world appalled at our (or Israel's) use of firepower on civilians, or Africa,
or ..., it is always our policies and actions that inform attitudes and feelings
Which brings us to our problems in Afghanistan. Our new counterinsurgency
(COIN) strategy much vaunted by the army seeks to minimize civilian casualties.
Yet, the drone program, run by the CIA, has been determined to have an average
kill ratio of two percent meaning: we kill forty-nine civilians -- mostly women and
children since we are attacking homes -- for every active insurgent leader. The
question to ask is if these two instruments of our power are acting in concert. By
the way, Sir, here is another reason why most of us would not want to be
President. There aren't too many who could calmly sign an order consigning
women and children sitting down to dinner to oblivion. I suppose we can think
The way many see it now, the war is unwinnable but the political climate not yet
suited to bringing the troops home. They are saying the only exit strategy is to
find a respected mediator and come to some sort of understanding where the
majority Pashtuns are truly represented in this current Tajik dominated
government and army.
They are also saying the COIN strategy will not win the war in the long run, just
stave off defeat long enough for a politically feasible withdrawal. And young men
on both sides must die needlessly in the interim, not to mention the civilian
havoc in Pakistan. There is surely a case for a single five or six-year term for our
January 1, 2010
Mr. President, a happy new year to you and your family.
The new year is also a time for assessment. Some say your economic policies are
working, others differ. The stock market has been climbing, sixty percent since
March, and the people's stock in you Sir, judging by the polls, is falling in equal
measure. The junkie bankers got their fix from us instead of rehab and are back
on bonuses ($140 billion this time).
How are we going to pay the horrendous bills racked up? Some are saying our
economy will be dead in the water for the next decade much like Japan, who also
refused to confront the bankers and their junked assets. This website, Sir,
warned you of the problem in both Commentary and Letter sections nine months
ago. Of course, the people only have polls to express their resentment, not the
financial clout of, say, a Goldman-Sachs.
The war has been going badly, particularly this week when the CIA suffered its
biggest single loss in a quarter century. The last time something of this
magnitude occurred, Reagan was smart enough to get out (of Lebanon). Pakistan
has suffered thousands killed ever since we forced them to attack their own
population. Just today ninety died (and the final figure will, as always, be higher)
in a suicide bombing during a volleyball tournament at a sports stadium. We
used to blame our failures in Afghanistan on Pakistan 'not doing enough' but one
supposes being killed is enough for those voices have muted. The new
bogeyman is Karzai and his corrupt government. Corrupt or not, without money
and without a functioning army, what can he do? His writ barely covers Kabul.
The history of this war is tragic. Innocent civilians died in 9/11. Afghans were not
involved in the attack. Yes, the Pashtun government led by the Taleban refused
to give up bin Laden et al in accordance with their strong traditions of obligation
to guests. But negotiations would have achieved a better objective than the
status quo. Instead, we bombed, killing more innocent civilians, who probably
were not even aware of the existence of New York's twin towers.
We used the Northern Alliance, who controlled some of northern Afghanistan in
an incipient civil war, to help drive out the Pashtun government. We, the allies of
the Northern Alliance and ipso facto antithetical to Pashtun interests, are now
also viewed as foreign occupiers. As the killings of civilians rise through the
increase of drone attacks, so does the resentment against foreign militaries.
Force escalation implies we can win by subjugation, Mr. President. But given the
history of these people, do you really think it feasible?
On the healthcare front, the bills before Congress are so weak in real
improvement, they have lost public support. To this observer, we have conflated
health insurance with health care.
All of the above, yet hope brightens our day, Mr. President. We continue to hope,
and we wish for you in 2010 the wisdom to make the right decisions and the
determination to see them through.
December 25, 2009
Mr. President: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family.
May we hope the New Year brings the courage to lead, the wisdom to lead in the
right direction, and the strength to bend Congress to fulfil the expectations
(raised by your rhetoric) of the many who lodged their trust with you.
December 18, 2009
Mr. President: As the Climate Change Conference winds down, a neutral
observer might ask this question: You have, Sir, on occasions too numerous to
recount, exhorted us to take responsibility for our actions. Might not the island
states of the Maldives and Tuvalu about to be submerged ask you the same
question? In the past century, the US and Europe have emitted 315 and 419
billion tons of CO2; the developing world a relatively paltry 50 billion tons. These
nations now suffering our excesses might expect you to take the lead in offering
future sacrifice and a stringent regime to reduce pollution. The short-term
financing pledges ($11 billion from Japan, $10.6 billion from EU and only $3.6
billion from the US) underscore our half-hearted efforts to help.
The way the health care bill is shaping up, the winners and losers in health care
(and banking) have been already summarized quite trenchantly and with unerring
predictive accuracy in the July 26, 2009 "Specieal" News satire (Fat Cats
Bacchanalia) on this website. No doubt many well-meaning democrats will hold
their noses and vote for this bill - in a triumph of the domestic version of
Kissinger's realpolitik over Wilsonian idealism. And just as realpolitik in foreign
policy has brought us unimagined enemies crawling out of the woodwork, so
does it look to be a disaster for Democrats in future elections.
In buying the silence of insurers, pharmaceuticals and the health industry, may I
say the White House has carried realpolitik a step too far for it has trodden over
the backs of the poor and defenseless. Mandating the purchase of unaffordable
health insurance (or affordable but useless high-deductible, low payout
insurance) from for-profit insurers is a massive transfer of wealth from the
already strapped poor strata of society to the rich. Wall Street has given its
verdict on the health care bill this week. Despite a down market, health industry
and insurance stocks hit 52-week highs.
By the way, only the ingenious mind of Rahm Emanuel could have gotten you
between a rock and a hard place on this bill. If it passes, you and the Democratic
party are going to suffer the public's wrath when the effects begin to bite. If it
does not, the Republicans will have a heyday reaping the benefits of failed
This week we not only sent out our AfPak drones but also bombed (pardon me,
"provided fire power, intelligence and other support") "al Qaeda camps" in
Yemen. When we bomb homes, what do we expect? In this case early reports
indicate 17 women and 23 children killed. When this kind of news is broadcast
around the world, one wonders if it wins us friends anywhere? Given human
nature, it surely reinforces the resolve of insurgents and depresses the spirit of
our allies in these countries.
Forgive me, Mr. President, but in this your first year, you seem to have snatched
disappointment out of promise, despair from hope and defeat from victory. One
can only wish you have learned and will begin to represent the interests of those
who elected you during the next three years. Not all the goodwill is lost and the
country is desperate for a leader.
In this holiday season let me wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
December 11, 2009
Welcome back from Oslo Mr. President and congratulations once again.
November through early December is about the worst time of year there: short
days, dark, and rain freezing as it touches the ground. As they use gravel more
than salt, the city to the less nimble visitor becomes a vast skating rink. The
snow comes as welcome relief. Easier to walk on and brightening up the city, it
cheers us on to Christmas festivities and to the days becoming progressively
When I was there, researching industrial innovation and teaching, I found the
Norwegians to be a kindly, polite, very reserved, well-meaning people who did far
more than their share of helping the world. But reserved insularity can make for
mistakes in political judgment.
As I watched a live broadcast of the ceremony, the Nobel Committee Chair's
speech stood out as unusual. Most speeches of this nature recount the
awardee's many accomplishments but Mr. Jagland spent his time justifying the
award itself. Your speech, Mr. President, was cut off unfortunately by the time
constraints of the BBC broadcast.
I understand you discussed the concept of "just war" against "evil" in this
world. Just war against Iraqis causing hundreds of thousands civilian deaths?
Yes, you didn't vote for that war (you were not there) but you voted for funding
the ongoing slaughter. The Iraqis continue to suffer. Just this week huge car
bombs devastated Baghdad with 200 dead and over 500 wounded. If this is the
kind of success and stability envisioned by the generals, heaven help the poor
Mr. President, you have repeated often that they attacked us. Forgive me, Sir,
but the Afghans have never been involved in international terrorism and have
never attacked anyone outside their country. Yes, the al-Qaeda leadership was
based there but so far there is not a shred of evidence implicating the Taleban.
In fact, the planner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was based in Pakistan and the
detailed preparation was carried out in Europe and the U.S. Exactly how the poor
illiterate Pashtun civilian, the main victim of our vengeance, is responsible
requires sophisticated rhetorical skills.
You say a President can not be a pacifist; as a fellow citizen, I agree. But you
must explain one nagging question: The drone attacks have now been assessed
a kill ratio of 2%, namely, ninety-eight civilians (mostly women and children
because we are bombing houses of insurgents) on average are killed for every
two targets. The latter are of course replaced by the insurgents just like one of
our generals would be if the circumstances were reversed. My question to a
Nobel Peace Laureate is simple: How did you, Sir, not just sign-off on the old
regime but actually escalate these attacks? Forgive my question, Mr. President.
But the issue is very serious because Judge Richard Goldstone has stated
categorically that under a modern 21st century interpretation of the laws of war
such an act constitutes a war crime.
Sir, you evoke Reinhold Niebuhr's concept of just war to protect the innocent but
the early thirties when he authored the idea represented a gathering Nazi
menace and rampaging Japanese imperialism. These were a far cry from the
starving benighted people of Afghanistan, and I cannot recall the Afghan
Pashtuns ever threatening to attack the U.S. mainland. We ought not to forget
Reinhold's brother Richard (the reason for Reinhold's commentary) who argued
obedience to God's commandments required Christian nonviolence and anything
less meant a distrust in God and God's promises. It is a sentiment, you as a
committed Christian are certain to appreciate but for some reason it is quoted
Evoking evil, you served as a reminder of your predecessor. One cannot
compromise with evil. But as any observer of the Afghan scene will inform you, a
solution there will require Pashtun participation and necessarily that of their
strongest representatives, the Taleban. Sitting down with them after calling them
evil leads to charges of hypocrisy and moral surrender.
Despite the barrage of half-truths and misinformation from the major media, the
populace is just about split on the Afghan 'surge'. Not that it means much other
than a lack of trust in the main news organs and government. They have learned
from the past. A substantial majority supported the Iraq war three-quarters
holding Saddam Hussein quite erroneously responsible for 9/11 mainly because
of the official half-truths flooding the airwaves. At enormous cost, much of it still
to be paid, we overthrew a secular government (with a Christian Prime Minister)
which was viscerally opposed to al-Qaeda's fundamentalist philosophy.
As the war escalates next spring and Afghanistan spirals toward chaos with
Pakistan in its wake, one will be reminded of another Peace Nobelist, Henry
Kissinger, whose peace in Vietnam supporting a corrupt government was
obliterated even while the medal was still warm in his pocket.
December 4, 2009
Mr. President, when you promised us change, we believed you. As we proceed
with the surge in Afghanistan, I am thinking that more and more young men are
going to lose their lives. For what, Mr. President? You said you want to deny al-
Qaeda a base. Do they need one? The attack on us was planned in Germany and
right here. Since then our much improved police work has resulted in many
Insurgents do not offer themselves in pitched battle; they will simply wait us out.
Witness Iraq where the outcome is still quite uncertain. Sir, as you were asked in
a previous letter: Suppose we sent all the men and equipment necessary to stop
the insurgents. Then what? They would still be around, among the people, quiet
Mr. President, the cynics are saying the Afghanistan timetable you have
presented has little to do with Afghanistan's needs and is all about the 2012
election with which it happens to dovetail perfectly. I hope not, Sir, because it
would define your administration as callous, calculating, and putting politics
above human life.
We are also preaching honesty to the Karzai government. This, when in our
system of campaign contributions' the bankers paid huge sums to key
committees and we saw the incredible spectacle of money being funneled to
them in an upward siphoning from the poor to the rich. The insurance and
pharmaceutical companies are quite content with the health care bill which does
little to contain cost or improve the system faced by the ordinary person. And
our middle class, bled to death by taxes, insurers, mortgage bankers and credit
card companies, is rapidly vanishing.
Our Secretary of State has still not explained how $1000 became $100,000 over
one year in a commodities trading account she owned in Arkansas back in the
days when her husband was earning about $30,000 annually. Such masterful
trading -- then why did she cease after a year? After his term in office, her
husband has earned over a $100 million in speaking fees, again causing
Forgive me, Mr. President, but what was that expression about stones and glass
November 27, 2009
Happy Thanksgiving! We all hope you had a wonderful day yesterday with family
and friends. We don't see you come 'home' to Chicago very often but then home
is a concept unsuited to the mobile society we have become. A case in point: a
young couple across the road bought their house about a year ago at the peak of
the boom and now things must have gone drastically wrong for they have lost it.
Too many "for sale" signs for far too long -- an indicator perhaps of the depth of
our troubles. But what amazes us is that many of the architects of our travails
continue to reside in your administration.
Your decision on troop levels in Afghanistan is imminent, and most expect a
compromise from the compromise President. The problem in Afghanistan is
deeper than a simple pacification of the insurgency. For even if we are
successful, that would not last unless we stayed. The reason is not hard to
fathom: Afghanistan is in the midst of a long-running civil war between the
Northern Alliance we support and the Pashtuns. Yes, there are many Pashtuns
who do not like the Taleban (especially the educated urban elite) but at present
they are the best organized resistance to the NATO-Tajik alliance and the
common people are flocking to their banner. Our ham-fisted methods have lost
us any modicum of goodwill we might have had eight years ago; instead of
behaving as a mediator, our actions moved us inexorably to the Tajik side and
the Afghan (Tajik) army. The Afghans are eventually going to have to sort out
their own problems just as they are trying to in Iraq.
The worst aspect of the situation is the instability created in Pakistan by policy,
and our constant prodding of a weak government to attack its own people. It is
yet another reason to back off and let the insurgency subside. The good news is
the dilution of religious fervor among the insurgents allowing room for
negotiation, and perhaps a unique opportunity for a compromise President. If we
can mediate a settlement between the factions, we really will have 'won' in
Afghanistan, and, as a corollary, in Pakistan.
November 20, 2009
Welcome home, Mr. President. You have certainly encountered the first signals
of our diminished influence. Japan, your first stop, wants to renegotiate the
agreement leasing military bases signed a short while ago. They want them
moved. At the APEC conference, the Chinese were the center of attention,
looked to for economic recovery and lauded for their prompt and effective
response in alleviating the effects of the crisis. We, of course, were the cause of
it. The two wars have only exacerbated our deficit spending proving yet again
the old adage, namely, wars are costly to empire. In all fairness, one must add
that the Chinese, and also the Japanese, get a free ride as we police the waters
and keep shipping lanes free. But we like our unchallenged authority.
This week Israel yet again undermined our credibility in the world. First, they
were supposed to cease building settlements, then we acquiesced to the
expansion of existing settlements, now they have announced nine hundred new
houses in Gilo, a most sensitive area abutting Jerusalem, despite our envoy's
specific request to delay the announcement. Mr. Netanyahu's "in-your-face"
attitude if unanswered does not augur well for our policy or the image of the
American Presidency. And this after we went to great lengths to defend them
against the credible Goldstone report looking to all the world like hypocrites.
Perhaps a smarter move might have been to use the opportunity to extract
concessions from Netanyahu first as these pages advised.
In the meantime Amnesty International has accused the Israeli government of
"denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water ... and pursuing
discriminatory policies" causing great distress and hardship. Discrimination is
something you must be acutely sensitive to, Mr. President. Uri Avnery, a
prominent Israeli writer and former member of the Irgun and the Knesset, calls
the present Minister of Interior a religious scoundrel (http://www.counterpunch.
org/avnery11182009.html). The Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered a
platform of overt racism. Good luck with the peace talks and the two-state
solution, Mr. President.
The health care reform bill has become a late-night-show joke. Everybody is now
convinced you will sign any bill as long as it says "health care reform". The bills
before Congress seem to meet that definition. Huge out-of-pocket costs, large
deductibles, and subsidies to pay for health insurance -- not the care itself!
Except for the Commission negotiating Medicare costs and keeping Congress
and the lobbyists out, the bills before us seem like a great big handout to the
insurers. I am sorry to have to say this, Mr. President, but the public is becoming
increasingly cynical of your administration's ability to accomplish anything
substantive on any major issue. Change has come, but Sir, the public sees it not
as you changing Washington -- rather as Washington changing you.
November 13, 2009
We are given to understand, Mr. President, that you have postponed a decision
on Afghanistan pending a definitive evaluation of strategy. It is good news. So
far, our policies have made us even less popular in the region. Mrs. Clinton was
heckled and challenged, her speeches met with boos and groans, and this by the
elite who cannot abide al-Qaeda or the primitive Taleban. By all accounts, her
trip to Pakistan designed to repair relations was an unqualified disaster. This in a
country where we are forking out $7.5 billion. And she dare not set foot in
Afghanistan outside our bases. (She proceeded to the Middle-East, however,
and called Netanyahu's "no" to settlement freeze a concession. Mahmoud Abbas
promptly threw in the towel and decided not to run again for President.)
In Afghanistan, less than 18% favor an increase in our forces, who are now
viewed as occupiers. The insurgency led by the Pashtun majority is against the
minority Tajik-dominated government (including the military) and us as their
backers. Afghanisation means a Tajik-Uzbek army unacceptable to the Pashtuns.
Having lost the majority population, we have no chance of success even if we
could define it as Matthew Hoh argued convincingly in his letter of resignation.
Yet withdrawal is not an option being put on the table by your advisers. Sad to
say, Mr. President, but Afghanistan has become your Vietnam. You cannot 'win'
(militarily) there and you 'lose' (politically) no matter what you do. In the
meantime, the politics of winning and losing mean the senseless killing and
displacement of hundreds of thousands continues. Far better in the old days
when the King led his soldiers and could see the slaughter first hand, and it was
confined mainly to the soldiers.
On the economic front, the economy is beginning to show signs of a recovery
thanks to the massive dose of antibiotics. But just like antibiotics, the side
effects are not pleasant. The bankers are further emboldened and the dollar
teetering. Just as in mathematical catastrophe theory, beyond the tipping point
lies disaster. The dollar has almost halved in value in the last half dozen years.
Without knowing it, people are half as wealthy (compared to, say, Europeans) as
they were and of course their retirement portfolios are shot.
The individuals and policies (written about frequently in earlier letters)
engineering our economic disaster are at the helm again planning a recovery
designed to insulate the perpetrators. Deficits per se are not bad. They can be
good ... when the money is used for investment in education, technology, well-
planned infrastructure, etc. But when it is spent on two wars and absorbing
bankers' trading losses, the consequences are not all benign. Mr. President,
there is still time to rethink policy and send your economic advisers also back to
the drawing board. Better still, new advisers with a better sense of direction
would bring a sigh of relief. You have banker-friendly ardent supporters of no
controls or apparent but not real controls. On the other side are several Nobel
Laureates. The choice, of course, is yours Mr. President. What we are looking
for is Glass-Steagall to insulate us from further profligacy, and a better return on
the money doled out.
November 6, 2009
Much has happened this week, Mr. President, and most of it very disturbing. A
Marine officer went berserk yesterday and shot over forty fellow soldiers.
Thirteen have died. A majority of the people now do not support the wars if the
latest polls are to be believed. Your policies are proving to be so unpopular poll
ratings are falling precipitously and two Democratic governors have lost
elections to Republicans. The people when they elected you, Sir, thought they
were investing in a champion of their rights but discovered to their regret a
politician unable or unwilling to fight the power brokers. The poll numbers
merely reflect their disillusionment.
An Italian court has sentenced 23 CIA agents to five-year prison terms with the
exception of the Milan station chief who got eight. They were found guilty of
abducting an innocent Muslim cleric who was parceled off to our air bases in
Aviano, Italy and Ramstein, Germany before being shipped to Cairo. There he
was imprisoned for four years and routinely tortured. Democracies according to
the Italian judge - admonishing us publicly - must respect basic rights and follow
the processes of law. Following President Clinton and Bush, you too, Mr.
President, have signed off on rendition. It elevates the CIA to a position of
judge, jury and executioner and makes a mockery of our laws as we continue to
conduct torture by proxy.
The UN General Assembly voted to endorse the Goldstone report on the Gaza
war and asked for credible investigations. We have called the report flawed, and
Congress passed a resolution stating it is biased. Judge Goldstone says he is
always willing to learn and improve and would like to know where it is flawed and
how it is biased. The open challenge remains unanswered by us. As a Jew who
loves Israel, Judge Goldstone says democracies must respect international law
and thinks it is in Israel's long term interest as a society and democracy to do so.
The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, is refusing to run again citing the
impossibility of negotiating with the Israelis. Mr. Netanyahu appears to have
stared you down, Mr. President, and continues to build settlements. The
Palestinians are fast learning the inability of secular nationalism to bring them
justice, and are turning increasingly to the Mosque and religious leadership.
Compromises begin to appear a distant mirage. However secure Mr. Netanyahu
may feel today, the future is laden with uncertainty and the specter of
Palestinians unable to secure a separate state that is not a Swiss cheese of
settlements demanding equal rights in a single state.
The bankers have again begun to perform like trapeze artists with a secure
safety net. Back to business as usual with their lobbying power intact, they are
likely to display an even more thrilling act next time. Let's try to rein them in
before it's too late, Mr. President, and Glass-Steagall is a good place to start.
Every plan for Afghanistan carries a three-to-five year optimistic time frame and
at least a ten year realistic one. Do the American people have that kind of
patience or confidence in our policy makers? The only viable plan is a sensible
negotiated withdrawal - this time with development aid where the spigot of cash
can keep the warlords from starting another civil war, at least long enough to
alleviate the misery of the ordinary people, who have been suffering for decades.
October 30, 2009
Mr. President: The market was up sharply yesterday when quarterly GDP
numbers showed positive growth; it is crashing today as the consumer spending
report fails to confirm continuance. The stimulus has worked to jump start the
economy but the consumer is failing to provide the fuel necessary to keep it
growing. Your policies have attempted to return us to the status quo ante, but
with respect sir, that was the cause of the disaster in the first place. There is a
good reason why Glass-Steagall functioned effectively for almost seven decades
and why commercial and investment banking should be separate. Allowing
commercial banks to bet on high-risk / high return derivatives and similar
securities puts the economy at risk and reduces their capacity for commercial
lending. It is, of course, the latter that fuels the economy. When the bets turn
really sour, as will eventually happen, it can be catastrophic as we discovered
last year. You have chosen to absorb their losses with the public purse without
requiring change, so now,quite naturally, they are further emboldened.
In fact, the system has become such an admixture that Goldman-Sachs, an
investment bank for over a hundred years, has changed itself and chosen to be
owned by a pseudo commercial bank like holding company allowing it to borrow
from the Fed -- almost free money at the current rate. Hence, their huge profits,
all from trading securities, which does nothing for the economy. Pardon me, sir,
but the expression is, 'being taken for a ride'.
Today, Mr. President, is also the day your generals will be playing yet more
Afghanistan wargames to engineer the best tactics for defeating the insurgency
and to determine force levels. Now here is a game for you, Mr. President. It's the
kind of game taught in courses on optimal decision-making, and, at its core, is not
unlike the mind games Einstein employed when he was developing his theories.
It's very simple: In this case one would say, suppose you have all the men you
need and you are able to pacify Afghanistan. No more attacks, and the
insurgents are nowhere to be seen, though one cannot completely disable or
disarm them because they simply melt into the population. Now what? You know
what'll happen if we leave, so what do we do?
It is precisely because we have not answered these questions, the "end game"
as Matthew Hoh calls it, that he recently resigned rather publicly, and is against
putting more young American lives at risk or causing further death and
destruction in Afghanistan - a Predator's kill ratio according to the latest analysis
is 2%, i.e. 98 civilians killed for every two insurgents. For several years, a State
Department political adviser on the ground in Afghanistan dealing daily with
Afghans, Hoh considers the war unwinnable but he also asks the fundamental
question: Is it worth winning?
His view: Al-Qaeda has evolved and now exists mainly on the internet; training
has always been local to the attacks; it recruits world-wide thanks to the
disaffection engendered by our actions; Afghans have not been involved in any
of the al-Qaeda attacks; Afghans are local and parochial -- they have always
resisted authority, and will fight anyone trying to govern their lives be it a central
government or an occupation force; etc., etc. The last statement will be
confirmed by anyone who has studied Afghanistan. In other words, our presence
fuels the insurgency. Mr. President, one hopes you will ponder these issues as
you set about making your decision.
P.S. Sir, our Secretary of State went to Pakistan to improve relations. In three
days, she managed to offend even the small minority of the elite who support our
efforts. Is this another "heckuva-job-Brownie" moment?
October 23, 2009
Mr. President, they are saying now that you are a man who keeps compromising
until he has compromised himself. Not very nice but the examples being quoted
from your political career give one pause. One's got to say this about your
predecessor: No matter how wrong or outrageous a decision, George Bush got
his way. Perhaps, there's a lesson there somewhere.
Sir, your poll ratings are falling off the cliff. You have had the biggest drop in
nine months of any President in history. One can only hope change, promised so
long, is imminent. Here is what people see:
Goldman-Sachs rescued from oblivion reported $3.1 billion in quarterly profits.
Did they make money from investments which would benefit the economy and the
country? No! The profits were made from trading securities. So, it's back to
gambling again, and the casino now pays back bankrupting losses. Have we
done anything about regulating their predilection for gambling and quick
profits? No, instead we have made it easier for Goldman-Sachs to borrow from
the Federal Reserve (at almost no interest these days) because they have
decided to become the kind of bank the Fed lends to, and absent Glass-Steagall,
they can. After the two-decade long deregulation binge bringing us this mess,
we had the kind of crisis where some regulatory order could have been
reimposed. Unfortunately, the banks, the perpetrators and the facilitators were
left in place, some even brought back into government. The 'audacity of hope'
has become the 'brazenness of bankers'. You see, Mr. President, there is a
reason your poll ratings are in free fall.
Judge Goldstone's report has been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council. A
notable jurist, veteran of investigations in Rwanda, Bosnia and his native South
Africa, he is a Zionist who loves Israel, and only accepted the assignment to
investigate humanitarian law violations in Gaza when his mandate was extended
to include any misdeeds by Hamas. We dismissed his report as 'flawed and
unbalanced'. He says he is most willing to learn and wants to know what the
'flaws' are, but so far we have been unable to tell him.
The report is horrendous, as you well know, painful to read, and as you also
know, critical of Hamas and of Israel. But Israel's military stands out and not
positively. Even such respected organs as The Financial Times of London, a
strong supporter of Israel, considers the report balanced. None of our three
major European allies voted with us against endorsement and we mustered a
mere six votes out of forty-two cast.
One would have thought this was the ultimate leverage to face down Netanyahou
on settlements. But he will continue building and the talks are stalled. For the
Palestinians, it's like trying to divide a pizza with someone who keeps wolfing it
down while one is still trying to agree on the portions. Ultimately, Israel is likely
to have a severe case of indigestion. Peace activists in Israel are sorely
disappointed. Mr. Mitchell, the fabled peacemaker, seems to have disappeared
over the horizon.
Mr. President, forgive me for saying so, but when are you going to stand up for
us who took you the White House? So far the health industry, the banks, the
hawks on the war, and even Netanyahou have all faced you down, or you have
taken their side. It makes us, the public, very unhappy and the polls reflect it.
October 16, 2009
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. President, also shoulders responsibility on
the recipient to maintain a certain authenticity. You have been to the UN
recently, and I wonder if you gave a glance to this poem at the entrance to the
Hall of Nations:
Human beings are members of a whole
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain
The name of human you cannot retain.
~ Saadi (1207? - 1291) of Shiraz, Iran
The Iranians have a long history and storied civilization. The question is whether
the world of today, and we in particular with about a thousand military bases
girdling it attesting our uncontested might, are worthy of Saadi's 13th century
I am thinking also of Iranian king, Cyrus, who showed remarkable religious
tolerance for the time (539 BC) and exceptional generosity in liberating enslaved
Jews in Babylon and offering to repatriate them to Jerusalem. They went on to
build the second temple which was destroyed by the Romans. How the world has
Modern Israel offers a stark contrast in the second class treatment of its Arab
citizenry and apartheid-like treatment (in former President Carter's words) of
occupied Palestinians with check points, identity cards, separate license plates,
designated areas with permits required to move, etc.
Israel comes to mind because it is in the news today: this morning the UN Human
Rights Council endorsed the Goldstone report and forwarded it to the UN
General Assembly. The vote was 25 for, 6 against with 11 abstentions. The
abstentions were significant because many of these countries usually voted for
Israel. The Israeli military's wanton behavior as depicted in the report, which also
condemns Hamas for its rocket attacks, has disappointed and disillusioned many
friends who wish for nothing more than peace in the area.
Mr. Goldstone, a distinguished South African jurist with a long record of
defending human rights, is a Jew and a strong supporter of Israel, but, as he
says, of a law-abiding Israel that takes its obligations under international law
Mr. President, we did not distinguish ourselves too well in this episode having
tried to bury the report with economic pressure on Pakistan and the Palestinian
President. They were then instrumental in postponing the initial resolution. Now,
that the report has been forwarded, it sets the clock ticking on Israel and Hamas
to start credible investigations. Failure to comply could lead to investigation by
the International Criminal Court.
Today is also World Food Day and a reminder that one in six in our world (i.e. over
a billion) will go to bed hungry tonight and every night. Jacques Diouf the
Director General of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome says we
need about $44 billion in aid to agriculture. Contrast this to the one and a half
trillion in military expenditures and we get a sense of the distorted priorities
plaguing the human race. One should also add that developed countries
distribute $365 billion in subsidies to farming, distorting price and severely
hurting subsistence farmers in the developing world. More than anything else,
what they need are storage facilities to prevent spoilage and infrastructure to
speed transportation. Something to alleviate world hunger, Mr. President, would
echo Saadi's invocation, and indeed be worthy of a peace prize.
October 9, 2009
Congratulations Mr. President! Who would have thought... but then I understand
your staff was equally stunned and you were humbled. It is too happy a day for
me to be churlish and introduce the problems facing us.
Some are saying you haven't done anything yet but I say it's anticipatory. Wangari
Maathai, a Kenyan like your father and a 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate, when asked
to comment, expressed her surprise and thought too the Committee was
anticipating your future accomplishments. It's an "understandable dynamic"
(whatever that means) in TV pundit speak and the language of diplomats.
Some are saying, if they are giving it to you, it should be called a "War Prize". But
I say, to bring peace you use the tools of our American heritage. In the riotous
nineteenth century the Colt 45 was our "peacemaker", and in the twentieth, we
assigned the name to a powerful ICBM with a hydrogen bomb in its nose. A
sneeze from that would have rid us of innumerable verminous Commies.
Some are saying, it is a repudiation of George W. Bush, who was universally
hated in liberal Western Europe, but I say give credit where it's due -- it is a
manifestation of the power of the spoken word. So, once again Mr. President,
congratulations and sleep easy. The world brims with confidence in your capacity
for solving its problems. After all, miracles never cease: the deadline for
nominations was a mere eleven days after your inauguration.
October 2, 2009
"Three strikes you're out," is ingrained in our psyche. Be careful Mr. President,
the American public has a low tolerance threshold. Another strike is being called
against you. This time it's the ill-fated effort on behalf of Chicago's bid. Well, it
was a gallant try. Unfortunately, many people believe you laid our country's and
your prestige on the line. You made it our country's bid instead of just Chicago's,
and we were all snubbed.
The rescue of our economy handed over to the people who caused the problem
in the first place is another source of much disaffection. The propped-up major
banks recording profits set aside to offset the toxic assets, still on the books at
purchase price, is a major problem as the banks have little left over to lend and
stimulate the economy. As a result, people are still seeing neighbors being laid
off and are naturally saving for their own rainy day. Let me be generous and give
you a single on the economy. Handled right, it could have been a home run and
you can't say you did not know. Several Nobel Laureates in Economics were
screaming out their messages and warnings.
The health care bills in Congress do next to nothing to solve the problem.
Adding the uninsured is in fact likely to exacerbate it. It takes on average three
weeks to see a primary care provider these days. No wonder the emergency
rooms are overused. Our procedure-based payment system underpays family
doctors, and consequently fewer and fewer are choosing that area while
specialists are multiplying. Chronic disease is poorly managed leading to
unnecessary acute problems and enormous cost. Thus, the diabetic ends up
getting amputations, the hypertensive has a stroke.
Secondly, the real problem, namely the system itself, is not addressed at all. We
focus on profit instead of care. The providers are in competition with each other
for the patient dollar instead of collaborating towards patient well-being. Thus, if
a hospital has a record of treating some condition particularly well, it is reluctant
to share its protocol with a competing hospital; instead, this becomes
proprietary information and is guarded like an industrial secret. Of course the
hospitals, no longer non-profit community-run but bought up by large
corporations as the Medicare and other government programs turned on the
spigot of cash, are free to set their own prices. Hence the $100 aspirin tablet. I
hasten to add I am in favor of Medicare, it's the hospitals and other providers
that need a referee. For all these reasons 70% of Americans wanted a single-
payer plan. And we sent you, Mr. President, up there to get it for us. Sad to say,
you did not even try. Strike two.
On Afghanistan, the pressure is to escalate is increasing. You leaped in without
a careful look and are now paying the price. Of course neighboring Pakistan has
been doing so for a while. This issue has been addressed so many times that I
refer you to earlier letters. The question is, will it be strike three?
A small note, Mr. President. Today is Gandhi's 140th birth anniversary. If he
could bring the British Empire to its knees with non-violence, the Taleban should
not be a problem. It is time to negotiate.
September 25, 2009
This week a leak raised the ante. Three weeks ago we were told that to win in
Afghanistan we would need more troops. Now we are told that if more troops are
not provided forthwith, we will not only relinquish any gains made but we will
lose. The ghosts of Vietnam and General Westmoreland are upon us.
Exactly what are we doing in Afghanistan? Do we have well-defined objectives
and a coherent strategy? We have imposed essentially a minority Tajik
government on the Pashtoons who comprise 42% of the population (and more if
one includes those living on the other side of the porous, locally unrecognized
border); the Tajiks make up 24%. In eight years we have not developed the
wherewithal to hold free and fair elections with people not afraid to vote -- their
fear explains the abysmal turnout leading to the stuffing of ballot boxes with
It is claimed that we want an al-Qaeda free Afghanistan. But in this global internet
connected world, al-Qaeda can just as well direct operatives in Berlin, Paris or
London. All they need is an apartment and a computer. To catch them requires
good old-fashioned police work not a huge military. It was our internal policing
apparatus that failed against the 9/11 hijackers when they received their flight
training and laid their plans here in the US.
Given what it cost them, it is doubtful the Taleban will again allow al-Qaeda the
same latitude in Afghanistan. The time has come for a face-saving
accommodation and an honorable retreat. Forgive me, Mr. President, but leaping
without looking can have disastrous effects. Now it is going to take enormous
amounts of political courage to reverse policy and defy the generals.
Another leak this week -- this time on the economic front -- informs us that the
financial overhaul being contemplated by your staff retains the "too-big-to-fail"
concept. Quite simply, it's a bad idea. It gives the favored banks an implicit
government guarantee and thus an unfair competitive advantage over their
rivals. It will ensure the big banks get bigger, and reduce competition in the
market at the expense of consumers. And it's a sure fire recipe for greater
hubris, another fall, and another bailout.
After the hoopla and histrionics at the UN, the two-day G-20 summit starting today
will be a sober contrast. Changing realities, changing economic strengths -
France wields 4.9% of IMF votes, China 3.7%, when China's economy is 50%
larger. Clearly world institutions need restructuring to reflect the new
environment. China has recovered quickly from the crisis and is fast becoming a
driver of the world economy. We have to get our own house in order, Mr.
September 18, 2009
The Baucus bill is out. It is flawed -- too many flaws to be precise. First the
public option intended as help for less than five percent, but more importantly
directed at keeping insurance companies in check has disappeared. Replaced
by a co-op alternative that is specifically forbidden to negotiate lower prices -- so
much for cost control.
Next, the plan stratifies enrollees thereby forming five small pools of members
divided by risk and likely to make insurance unaffordable for the higher risk
group, namely, the middle-aged and older. The benefits of having one large pool
whereby the premiums from the low risk members help defray the costs of the
rest are lost.
The plan does next to nothing to tackle the cost control problem. We pay, on
average, twice per capita in comparison with other advanced countries for worse
outcomes. Without doubt our health care delivery systems need a serious
overhaul. If the CEO of a health care company pays himself a billion dollars - and
this is not idle conjecture - the cost is eventually borne by the consumers. The
same applies to excessive hospital fees, doctors' fees, laboratory and radiology
fees, etc. And the situation has become markedly worse in the last dozen years.
It is the cause of Medicare's woes and a serious factor in diminishing the
competitiveness of our industries. You, Mr. President, have witnessed it first-
hand with GM, where heath care costs were one of the significant factors in its
demise. Quite clearly, we need a referee in the system to prevent such
In Afghanistan the news is that at least a quarter, if not more, of the votes cast in
the election were fraudulent. So, after eight years, thousands of lives and
billions of dollars, we are unable to hold a fair election. Participation rates were
abysmally low thanks to the Taleban threats. As Afghans put it, this government
is the most corrupt they have seen, so why bother to vote in a choice between a
couple of insiders. What are we doing there, Mr. President? What is our ultimate
objective, and is it realistic? The daily cost in lives and treasure demands clear
September 11, 2009
It was a masterful speech, Mr. President. Congratulations! Of the two aspects of
health care reform, namely, access and cost of delivery, I commend you for
addressing and reassuring all the involved parties on the access question. On
health care delivery, I think you will agree we have a serious problem. We spend
twice as much per capita as other industrialized nations for an outcome that is
comparatively abysmal on a national basis.
We are hobbled by multiple for-profit insurers and providers, each keeping
separate sets of records. Patients moving from one doctor to another often
repeat tests. Hospitals paid per procedure are inclined to maximize them.
Numerous investigations have revealed a culture of unnecessary over-testing
and medication resulting in an every increasing spiral of costs and premiums,
and causing problems throughout the economy.
Quite clearly the best experts of both Republican and Democratic persuasion
need to come together to address this problem. Other countries offer models for
study varying from fully government owned facilities and salaried staff to closely
supervised independents. It is evident major structural changes will not be
forthcoming at this juncture but a detailed report with recommendations before
the next election would certainly put some heat on Congressmen and Senators.
We have to fundamentally change the distorted incentives of a fee-for-service
Mr. President, we observe today the anniversary of the senseless 9/11 attack. As
we pay our respects, we need also to ask ourselves what we are doing in
Afghanistan. What exactly is our objective bearing in mind that no Afghans were
ever involved and have never been implicated in any acts of international
terrorism? Some say we want a safe Afghanistan with a government that will
never be a sanctuary for al-Qaeda.
It begs the question, what is al-Qaeda? There is al-Qaeda in Somalia, Iraq,
Morocco and elsewhere. There are extremist sympathizers in Europe and the
British have just recently convicted a group planning to down some planes. All it
takes in the internet age is a computer and a place to stay. On the face of it, the
job calls for police skills rather than military might. Al-Qaeda itself has apparently
become a franchised idea.
In Afghanistan -- and not unlike Latin American civil wars -- our soldiers visit
villages during the day and the Taleban visit at night. We promise development
and the Taleban guarantee death to 'collaborators'. The poor Afghan caught in
the middle just wants to be left alone. They have a government that is more
corrupt than the Taleban and the recent elections are tainted. It is a difficult
problem, Mr. President and you would have my sympathy but for the fact that you
have made it worse by injecting it into Pakistan as well. It has created millions of
refugees. Some are being told they can go back. But what have they to go back
to? Their crops and homes destroyed, livestock dead - for subsistence farmers,
it's a death warrant.
Mr. Gorbachev tried but could not extricate himself gracefully from Afghanistan.
In the end the Russians were simply kicked out. Let's hope we can negotiate a
September 4, 2009
"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley" (Robert Burns)
And the poem ends
"But och backward I cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear."
Mr. President, the quotes, from this poem to a mouse, seem to be a perfect
metaphor for our Afghanistan policy. I write this today when scores of civilians
have again been killed in an air strike - this time on two tanker trucks hijacked
earlier by insurgents. As we continue to play into their hands and offer them
more and more recruits with out actions, the war is not going well. That appears
to be the gist of your commander's report (Commentary for Sept 2, 2009 on this
site offers a discussion).
We say we are fighting the Taleban who sheltered al-Qaeda. In fact they
sheltered foreign fighters - lauded by President Reagan at the time - who helped
them expel the Soviets. Al-Qaeda itself has no formal organizational structure
and seems to have become an idea. So we have al-Qaeda in Iraq, in Yemen, in
Somalia, etc. It is logical to ask, if we must fight in Afghanistan, why not the other
The people we are fighting, Pashtoons, live on both sides of a porous border
drawn up arbitrarily by the British and not recognized by the locals. Families live
on both sides and cross freely - now somewhat hampered by unpopular
militaries. No Pashtoon has ever been involved in any international terrorism.
Their quarrel is with the Tajik dominated central government and our support of it
and presence there. Yet, we have forced Pakistan to violate its treaties with the
semi-autonomous Pashtoon tribes living in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal
Areas) and attack them. As a result the largely semi-literate conservatively
religious tribes, whose members often come down to seek construction and
other such jobs in Pakistan proper, are in revolt.
Before 2004, there were no attacks in Pakistan and no Taleban there; now it is
suffering continual suicide bombings with a couple of dozen Taleban groups
claiming responsibility. The heavy-handed approach required by us of the
Pakistan military in Swat to combat a few thousand, whose presence in the valley
was a direct result of the earlier army offensive in the tribal areas, has caused
devastation on a scale never seen before in Swat. Homes, orchards (which take
years to grow), livestock destroyed and estimates of two to four million
refugees. The estimates vary because many have moved in with families in other
parts of Pakistan.
Since the border police/military is drawn mainly from local populations, Pakistan
is in the midst of a defacto civil war in Balochistan and the Frontier provinces.
Without the resources for such a protracted conflict and dependent on
Balochistan for natural gas suppplies, it is also facing economic collapse.
There is zero support for the war among liberals here, and now respected
Republican commentators are calling for halt and withdrawal. Mr. President, the
country is telling you something: it is time for dialogue with the insurgents and
the planning for a face-saving departure.
August 28, 2009
It has been a sad week, Mr. President. Senator Kennedy passed away on
Wednesday. His endorsement of your candidacy at the critical juncture in the
primaries when Hilary Clinton was ready to sweep some large states where your
organization had not been able to commit many resources helped save your
candidacy. And I am sure you have never forgotten. His life's dream was
universal health care for Americans. I hope you are able to honor his memory by
pushing through a plan that would have met his standards.
'Pushing through' are the key words, Mr. President. President Johnson's efforts
are legendary. His carrot and stick, his charm and arm-twisting, his willingness to
get down and dirty in the rough and tumble of back room politics got us
Medicare, one of the most popular government programs in the country, and the
other Great Society legislation.
As you continue your vacation in Martha's Vineyard, I hope you can ponder these
issues, so we can have meaningful reform in health care. By the way, a recent
report out in Europe validates the benefits of a vacation particularly when one is
able to set aside the rigors of daily existence. If you are able to recharge your
batteries, Sir, the tax payers will be amply rewarded for the $30K - $50K per week
they are being billed for the rental of the vacation quarters for you and the
August 21, 2009
Mr. President: Polls show that two-thirds to 70 percent of Americans favor a
single-payer health plan but we are arguing about minor tweaks in an
unsustainable system. There are even assessments reporting over 20,000
deaths in our country due to inaccessible health care - the uninsured, the under
insured, the people sacrificing their lives to avoid bankrupting the family; there
are all kinds of heroes out there, though not in the health care industry. It is a
national scandal. Yet, our elected representatives are unable to devise a plan
that would resolve these issues. Even you Mr. President - forgive me for saying
so - have backed off and backed off until there are hardly any substantial
changes left, and they are still pushing. Senator Grassley is out talking about
"pulling the plug on Grandma" and "rationing" care for the elderly in Britain (see
the Commentary section, August 19, 2009). Such blatant falsehoods seem to be
sticking, if one goes by the comments at town hall meetings and internet forums.
Britain is ranked far ahead of us in the WHO survey of health care systems.
France is #1, Spain is #7; we are #37 just ahead of Slovenia and quite a way
behind Morocco and Oman. They have not-for-profit or single-payer systems; we
do not. If you get sick there, you go to a doctor of your choice; if you have an
emergency - appendicitis, for example - you go to the hospital. That's it. They
take care of you - no bills, no pre-approvals and no designated lists of doctors
and hospitals from your insurer. Per capita, most of the countries spend half of
what we do. How do they do it? They have taken out the profit and they do not
need the layers of bureaucracy at insurers, HMOs or hospitals. No bills charging
$100 for an aspirin tablet from the latter.
When the people are crying out for decent health care, and are being thwarted by
for-profit insurers and health care providers and their armies of lobbyists, our
system of government begs the question: Do we have representative
democracy? Arundhati Roy had an interesting phrase to describe India's system
of governance. She called it a "used-up democracy" because it is now so
beholden to corporate interests, it no longer represents the majority of the
people. So, forgive me for asking you, Mr. President: have we become a "used-
August 14, 2009
Mr. President, congratulations to the Medal of Freedom winners and to you for an
eclectic and impressive choice - with one continual omission, a man responsible
for saving more lives since Louis Pasteur, pasteurized milk, and the discovery of
vaccination. Ralph Nader single-handedly forced safety devices on the largest
corporation in the world, GM (at the time), and the other automobile
manufacturers, in a situation where market forces failed (much like health care
today) to generate an optimum. It would also have been graceful as he ran
against you Mr. President. Perhaps next time.
August 14/15 pass by unnoticed here but they are celebrated as Independence
days by almost a billion and a half on the Indian subcontinent. From the brutal
communal violence during the pangs of birth to two heavily armed nuclear
adversaries, the basic hostility between them continues and given their nuclear
weapons represent a threat to the world. Kashmir remains a tinder box of
parched sorrow with scores of thousands dead and disappeared. The situation
begs for muscular diplomacy.
The health care debate has deteriorated into name calling and disruptions at
town hall events -- in your case a misguided man with a loaded gun and a
threatening sign all set to defend his freedom probably as a result of the virulent
talk show host commentaries that make a mockery of truth.
To senior citizens the worry is the money you plan to take out of Medicare. No
question there are savings to be extracted in a pay-for-service system. By its
nature it encourages providers to do more than truly necessary. The June 1,
2009 New Yorker carries an article, "The Cost Conundrum," on this very point. It
explains how expensive procedures are now performed routinely when in the
past, the patient would simply be sent home.
The second problem is the for-profit nature of our health system. Some say it
leads to innovation. They seem to overlook the fact that some of the largest
pharmaceutical companies are Europe based; that they have in the past and will
continue to produce a stream of new drugs. The ubiquitous CAT scan was
developed initially by engineers in Britain and subsequently bought by GE and
refined. Moreover, we can hardly be considered innovative in delivery systems
when we spend 250% more per capita than other industrialized countries for
Have a happy vacation, Mr. President.
August 7, 2009
Mr. President, Happy Birthday. Everyone hopes you had a wonderful day last
Also this week on August 6, the Japanese and the world commemorated the
atomic bombing of Hiroshima and all the horror it wrought. How necessary it was,
is still being debated but one thing is for certain: in a flash of a second several
hundred thousand people were killed or maimed in one of the most horrific
incidents in human history. Barely given the chance for the machinery of their
government to respond, Japanese civilians in Nagasaki were also administered
a dose of the same horror.
We seem to have developed fantastical technologies, Mr. President, yet our
behaviors are mired in a primitive threat-attack-and-response syndrome not
unlike chimps defending or extending their territories. Sixty-four years after
Hiroshima and Nagasaki our aggressions and mute submissions remain exactly as
they were that hot August day.
This was evident as we played North Korea's tune and served up Bill Clinton and
Al Gore as errand boys to hand Mr. It-Pays-to-Have-a-Nuke Kim Jong Il a
propaganda coup. Contrast the treatment Iran is receiving and it will be no
surprise if, contrary to their expressed beliefs, they decide ultimately to go
nuclear as a safety measure.
The hot, humid days of August are upon us. Congress has disappeared into
Junketland and the news cycle is in its usual summer doldrums. Hope you too,
Mr. President, have a great vacation / staycation - the later seems to be the new
July 31, 2009
Mr. President: They say, there is a right way and a wrong way; there is no half-
right-half-wrong way because when something is half-wrong, it cannot possibly
be right. This comes to mind because of a recent article in Harper's: Titled
"Barack Hoover Obama" with a front cover dressing you up in Herbert Hoover's
clothes, the article lauds your good intentions but questions the likelihood of
your success; in fact, it predicts failure.
Herbert Hoover was not only a real rags to riches success story but an early
hands-on philanthropist. Orphaned and penniless at nine, he was brought up by
an uncle who employed him as an office boy when he was fourteen. On his own
he continued at night school, and secured admission at Stanford to study
Geology and Engineering. He paid his way doing all kinds of jobs and running
several small businesses. After graduation, he worked as a mining engineer
across the world, and eventually, Indiana Jones style, he discovered a long
forgotten silver mine in Burma which made him a small fortune.
In China and besieged in the Boxer rebellion, he and his wife nevertheless found
a way to smuggle food to Chinese Christians trapped in another part of the city.
During the Great War, he was prominent in leading the effort to feed the
distressed people of occupied France and Belgium. He donated part of his
fortune and risked his life, time and again, crossing the U-boat threatened
With such a resume, both parties wanted to run him for President. When he was
elected, the people were confident he, the engineer, would solve all their
problems. So, what happened? With great insight, Hoover foresaw the effort
needed. He met with hundreds of business leaders, encouraged public and
private projects, in fact, his Reconstruction Finance Corporation was allotted a
then unthinkable $2 billion to help banks and railroads stay afloat. It was a bold
program but it never worked. The business leaders made promises but went
home to slash jobs and cut spending, possibly as a result of market forces. The
banks simply shored up their balance sheets -- much as now -- instead of lending
to stimulate the economy. The projects got going at a snail's pace.
As it turned out, the 'New Deal' was substantially what Hoover had started but it
took Roosevelt to give it teeth. He endorsed reforms regulating the banks and
Wall Street, and backed labor as a countervailing force to business. Employed
workers with a paycheck are able to spend more, and bank lending stimulates the
economy. Still, it took Roosevelt's willingness to take on the power brokers to
get there. Consensus is well and good but an equitable solution to problems
takes a balance of power between the parties involved.
We all know what the banks need to do. We all know what Congress needs to do
in health care. The question, Mr. President, is whether you can set up the
necessary countervailing forces to persuade them. Unfairly maybe, but history
can be unforgiving: President Hoover, a good, kind, brilliant and great man, a
hero and champion of humanity, is remembered chiefly as a disappointing failure.
July 24, 2009
Mr. President: This week the Attorney General of Minnesota won a significant
victory on behalf of consumers. A release of ownership records revealed that
the arbitrators (National Arbitration Forum) had ties to the creditors. The poor
consumer gets it coming and going from usurious interest rates to crooked
forced arbitration. Now is the time, Mr. President, to pass legislation against
forced arbitration in credit card (and other such) contracts.
We all enjoyed your press conference this week and thank you for your
invitation/reminder to watch. You will forgive me, Mr. President, if I liken your
health care plan to putting a coat of paint on a rusty bucket. In this case, sadly,
the bucket also has a hole; it will be just as difficult to ferry water. From the blog
posts and comments you appear to have lost many of your regular supporters
because they see no significant change. All we see is a battle of wills between a
majority of Democrats and the Republicans with the latter wanting to hand you a
defeat. Either way the insurers come out ahead just as the banks did. A major
story yesterday concerned the 27 meetings you have had with senior health
industry executives. So far no reports of any with anyone representing us -
Representative Conyers for example?
Mr. President, the war in Afghanistan continues as do the killings in Iraq. Drone
activity along the Af-Pak border is at a new high. Yet a memo leaked recently
disclosed the British Chief of Staff's assessment that the Afghan War had already
been lost and was no longer winnable. We can still bomb them to smithereens,
have a six-month drop in insurgent activity, declare victory and leave. To what
It seems to this observer that every US President should have in the Oval Office
two things: a copy of Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" on a side-table for
continual reference and a copy of Picasso's "Guernica" on the wall. Perhaps
Madrid's Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia can lend the original as a
service. The painting recalls the attack on the Basque city of Guernica one
sunny afternoon - the Basques were resolutely opposed to Franco - over 70
years ago. Exhibited first at the Paris World's Fair 1937, it had little effect on
those who bombed London, Coventry, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Perhaps it will help us redraw a long forgotten line between civilian and
Living in a period where human values have disintegrated, we could learn from
Vonnegut and Picasso. The former recalls the fire bombing horror visited on the
entirely civilian population of Dresden, where he as a P.O.W. continued to be
treated civilly despite what his compatriots had wreaked. Picasso displays the
fragments from the destruction of innocents, animal and human, viewed through
the distorting mirror of our compromised values. It is a lesson not to be
forgotten, and therefore needs to be ever present.
Finally, Mr. President, if the past is any indicator (and the sages surely tell us), it
is better to build than to destroy for a lasting legacy.
CLICK HERE FOR IMAGE
Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937 (Oil on canvas)
July 17, 2009
Letter to the President
Last week Mr. President, this letter suggested the Chinese economy was
humming along nicely after barely a hiccup. Well, this week the figures are in: the
Chinese have resumed their growth - a 7.9% rate in the last quarter. Their foreign
exchange reserves, mostly dollar denominated, have risen to $2.13 trillion. One
has to wonder who has leverage over whom.
Why have the Chinese recovered so quickly? The answer is two words: "toxic
assets". Their banks do not have any; ours do. Citigroup's report a little over a
month ago demonstrated clearly their effect when they set aside 90% of profits in
a loan loss reserve. That left a paltry 10% for any lending activity to stimulate the
economy. I am afraid you, Mr. President, are being given a run around by the
Citigroup and Goldman-Sachs cabal while they are doing little for the economy
and making out like bandits.
This week also Goldman-Sachs reported profits exceeding analysts' expectations
and bonuses to their 28,000 employees averaging three quarters of a million
dollars. There was a time when investment banks sought out the most profitable
industries; no more. Now money is made slicing, dicing, packaging, moving,
buying and selling paper. Instead of weeding out inefficient industry, the
activities of these banks have led to overpriced housing now lying vacant.
It seems like the banks are back to their old ways. We had the best opportunity in
decades to set up a strong regulatory domain and we gave them a blank check.
When profits are private and the bill for losses landed to the public the least we
can expect is a rein on egregious behavior. Forgive me, Mr. President, but your
proposals leave far too many loopholes.
July 10, 2009
The G8 summit is over and if we have learned anything, it is how the mighty have
fallen. Not only can we do little about climate change without help from Brazil,
China and India, but we also might need their help to pull us out of this deep
recession. There was a time when ...., if we caught a cold, they (and the rest of
the world) got pneumonia. No more. After barely a hiccup, their economies, have
started to hum nicely while the G8 countries remain adrift in the doldrums.
Mr. President, on climate change everyone is going to try to try! On the
economic front, the engines driving Europe already have sophisticated and
generous systems in place for hard times, and these governments can not spend
much more. It seems we are the center in both cause and remedy.
Unfortunately, feeding the systems and institutions that caused this catastrophe
-- for that is what it is for millions -- is probably the least efficient means of
addressing the problem.
By the way, Mr. President, perhaps it is adversity but for some reason members
of your administration manifest an adroit, almost Orwellian, sense of euphemism;
the latest being "legacy assets" as a term for the worthless mortgage-backed
securities held by the banks. Whose legacy, is a question worth pondering. One
hopes you will put a stop to it.
Finally, Mr. President, congratulations on your latest web page offering, a place
for people to vent their frustration with health insurers.
The horror stories, mostly from people who carried insurance merely underline
the importance of a closely supervised single-payer system, or at a distant
second, carefully and strictly regulated insurers.
Welcome back home, Mr. President. It was a pleasure to have an articulate,
personable and generally sympathetic figure representing us.
July 3, 2009
Mr. President, the course of the economy outlined in the June 12th letter
appears to be confirmed in the new unemployment figures - greeted by Wall
Street with a significant down day. The predicted job losses were 40% off the
mark and the reported unemployment rate of 9.5% a twenty-five year high. Of
course if we include the discouraged who have given up looking for a job
because they can't find one, the forced part-timers and contract workers the
figure almost doubles and is the highest since 1948.
While the economy will eventually take a turn, the question is whether we can
return it to the robust growth we experienced before the downturn. Here the
toxic assets millstone and the missed opportunity of instituting on effective
international system of capital markets governance is likely to hobble us for
some time to come.
Forgive me, Mr. President, but if one's economic advisers and Treasury officials
are either proteges of, or belonging to the cabal that brought this economic
disaster down upon us, one cannot expect radical necessary changes from their
mind-set. On the other hand, Mr. President, it is difficult to blame a young man,
albeit well-intentioned, who goes to Washington without a developed
constituency, and is forced to rely on party power brokers.
The good news this week for which you and many others are grateful --- Al
Franken is finally certified as the Senator from Minnesota and your party has a
filibuster-proof majority. Your comments, however, do not bode well for those
seeking meaningful health care reform.
The band-aids being plastered all over a wide gaping wound will not alter the
basic facts with regard to health care: the headaches of myriad bills will continue,
the refusal of insurers to pay and subsequent fights costing crucial time, effort
and money during serious illness will continue, bankruptcies due to health care
bills (at present 62%) will continue, etc., etc.
What surprises most of us is how your administration has not even attempted to
take on any of the special interest groups, the bankers, the insurers and the
right-wing (often extreme) supporters of Israel.
The war in Afghanistan is heating up with Operation Khanjar (Strike the Sword) ---
nobody informed the Generals that khanjar means a curved dagger, which
certainly does not bolster confidence in the quality of our intelligence. How this
operation will win hearts and minds is not clear; particularly, the ridiculous
patronizing tale of the general out to buy watermelons. It is quite likely that in
each family someone or another, fed up with the occupation and the corrupt
government it supports, has joined up with the Taleban. Killing that person will
not endear us to his mother, his siblings, his cousins, uncles, aunts, friends and
others in his orbit. Just as Iraq is imploding, we bring the same tired techniques
to Afghanistan. .
On this holiday weekend, have a happy Fourth, Mr. President. You may wish to
ponder the last part of Robert Lowell's poem written in 1967 (reproduced below),
and also reflect on the desire of our founding fathers that we avoid the European
penchant for war.
.... No weekends for the gods now. Wars
flicker, earth licks its open sores,
fresh breakage, fresh promotions, chance
assassinations, no advance.
Only man thinning out his kind
sounds through the Sabbath noon, the blind
swipe of the pruner and his knife
busy about the tree of life ...
Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet volcanic cone;
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war -- until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.
.... Robert Lowell --- (1967)
June 26, 2009
The spate of bombings in Iraq and the escalation in Af-Pak are a reminder that one
can keep patching a leaking roof but eventually it has to be replaced. Forgive the
trite analogy, Mr. President, but it happens to be my current problem when money is
tight and the future uncertain -- the latter annoying because the economic ship
could have been righted and prevented from listing precariously. We can buy off the
Sunnis in Iraq temporarily, but it doesn't solve the problem; we can pay off some of
the tribal chiefs in Af-Pak but it can never be a recipe for a stable Afghanistan.
Mr. President, you rightfully condemned this week the death of seven demonstrators
in Iran. The previous day though 45 people were killed at a funeral in Afghanistan by
a drone strike. What have we become when we attack funerals? One cannot help
but ask if any of the easily replaceable tin-pot mullahs and faction leaders can be so
important that we can no longer afford the basic universal human civility of respect
for the dead. Homer recounts the story of Achilles, killing Hector in battle then
desecrating his body --- tying it to his chariot and dragging it across the field before
Troy. As one might recall, the gods were not pleased. Time and again the policy of
bombing civilians has been found to anger the population, making it more
determined to resist. Not only is it impractical, losing us hearts and minds, but the
morality is dubitable.
This year the Red Cross celebrates a century and a half of operation. Henri Dunant
witnessing the Battle of Solferino and its carnage - 40,000 soldiers and one civilian -
in 1859 during the Italian wars of independence was so moved by the dead and the
cries of the dying, he founded the Red Cross to ameliorate such suffering. On this
150th anniversary, they have issued a report "Our World: Views from the Field" and
its findings are not unexpected: "Civilians now in the 21st century suffer the brunt
of war," affirms Pierre Krahenbuhl, the current Red Cross Operations Director in a
Here is the question, Mr. President: If in 1859, the ratio of military to civilian deaths
was 40,000 to one, and if now civilian deaths are in the majority, how have we
become more civilized in the intervening century-and-a-half?
The number 150 coincidentally is also the landmark in days just crossed by your
Presidency. It means, of course, that very soon the Af-Pak insurgency, Iraqi
instability and our precarious economy will all in the public mind carry your stamp.
You will have complete ownership of the Bush legacy including the Iran
The first whiffs are in the air, and the scent evident in the recent poll numbers. The
Republicans will no doubt get bolder as will the blue-dog Democrats. We all hope
your freedom to act, Mr. President, is not much hampered, and we wish you well.
June 19, 2009
Mr. President, your regulatory proposals unveiled this week are laudable in some
aspects. The question to ask oneself is a simple one: Would the current crisis have
been prevented had they been in place? The answer is not clear and that, Mr.
President, given the scope of the present economic mess, is not good enough. You
have proposed 5% participatory requirements, George Soros has been calling for
10%, and I would say to you Glass-Steagall did very well by us for a half-century and
more. We should bring it back. Gambling, where profits are private and the losses
public (so far about $30,000 per capita in the present escapade) is not an option.
Having a maze of regulators is another problem particularly when giant corporations
have multiple businesses and can thus pick and choose from among them. True
reform requires Rooseveltian steps --- as we dawdle the new economic powers
(China, India, Brazil) continue their growth after barely a hiccup; now they seem to
be self-sustaining and not entirely dependent on us.
The demonstrations protesting the election result in Iran continue . The 'moderate'
Mr. Mousavi, a friend and early supporter of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, used to be
labeled a hard-liner. His reason for running apparently was Iran's extremist image
abroad because of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Could we have expected a change in policy if
he had been declared the winner? It seems unlikely given the ultimate authority, the
Supreme Leader, remains the same.
However, the massive demonstrations, clearly an outpouring of simmering anger at
the regime, have changed the equation. The fractious divisions amongst the
political leadership makes the theocracy feel vulnerable, and the government might
well seek some kind rapprochement to wave Neville-Chamberlain-like at the public.
We have to seize the moment, Mr. President, but let's be fair so that whatever
agreement we achieve is lasting.
June 12, 2009
It appears, Mr. President, we are just about hitting the period of disillusionment.
They say the onset of recession triggers a response from the government and the
market reacts positively. The euphoria continues until facts and figures belie the
efficacy of the government response and the market begins another slide. Some say
it is so bad this time, we are in for a period of deflation and your measures to push
the economy out of recession is like playing pool with a rope. Others claim there is
life in the old mule and a good kick will get it going. They worry about a
hyperinflation because of all the money being printed to pay for the programs. Yet
others say the amount is quite within the capacity of the economy to absorb.
Economists were always a quarrelsome bunch, and I don't envy you your job, Mr.
The issue bothering this observer, Sir, is, why are we paying for worthless assets?
Take Citigroup for example: they have revenues of $100 Billion, expenses of $60
Billion and profits of $40 Billion; all well and good until they take off $36 Billion as a
loan loss reserve for these 20-30 year mortgage assets. It doesn't leave very much
for lending to get the economy moving, does it? These toxic assets have not been
marked down to market through a special dispensation by the FASB (Financial
Accounting Standards Board) at the behest of Congress. And one source of our
problems, Sanford Weill, the former CEO, is living it up (see Pam Martens' article and
the April 11, 2009 Letter here in.) Would it not have been simpler to have put the
banks under FDIC control and written off the worthless assets? At the very least,
they would now be lending again.
This week we saw the introduction of the H.E.L.P. plan. Any individual looking at it
would also scream HELP! Amazing that a half century and more after most advanced
countries developed one, we still cannot have a decent single-payer system. Of
course, their plans are all non-profit based or, in a few cases, closely regulated. Are
we being told, Mr. President, that our democracy is so inept and so insensitive to its
constituents that it cannot devise an efficient single-payer plan (preferred by the
vast majority) to provide health care for our sick and injured.
One cannot fail to notice your envoy is making repeated trips to Israel without
making any headway. Here is a suggestion, perhaps radical but likely to appeal to a
man of your intellect:
The situation we face is one of settlements so peppered throughout the West Bank
that a two-state solution is infeasible. Could the answer be a loose union of states
like the EC in Europe? Israel would remain more or less as is, and the West Bank
would be Palestinian governed with freedom of movement to Israel. The settlers
could stay put just as the Palestinians in Israel. People could also move freely to
where there were jobs, solving Israel's perpetual labor shortage. Like Europe, people
could live in any State but would vote only where they were citizens. This would
preserve Israel's Jewish majority. Think about it Mr. President. Would it not be a
magnificent achievement to stop the bloodletting?
June 5, 2009
It was a careful speech, Mr. President: carefully crafted, carefully measured in tone
for careful effect, and carefully apportioning blame and relief to the different
interested nations and actors. The media billed it as an attempt to reach out to the
Islamic world, and any effort to reach out in friendship must be landed. I must add
the rhetoric was a welcome change from the abusive bellicosity of the Bush-Cheney
Mr. President, the first time this observer heard of Islam as an adversary was during
(and in the aftermath) of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Menachem Begin claimed
he was helping the Lebanese Christians against Muslims - one can only speculate if
the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps were a consequence. Of course,
the objective, as everyone knows, was to expel the Palestinians from Lebanon, and,
ironically, it was supported openly by the Shia community. It was only when the
Israelis continued to occupy Southern Lebanon that the Shia turned against them.
The point is that religion is often a mask over the real reasons for conflict. Islam has
no quarrel with us. In fact, we are friends with the three largest Islamic nations:
Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
The Middle East is a region of turmoil. It so happens that a majority of the people
living there follow Islam, but not all. For example, almost a quarter of Palestinians
Christian. One of the most rigid Palestinian leaders is George Habash, a Christian
who opted out of 'Arafat's folly' (his definition of the peace agreement) and in
retrospect claims he was right. The most prominent of Palestinian advocates in the
US, the late Edward Said, was a Christian. The best known Palestinian cabinet
member Hanan Ashrawi is a Christian. So is Arafat's widow. Mr. President, we
deceive ourselves when we frame a territorial conflict in religious terms - Jew
versus Muslim, or even, farcically, Christian plus Jew versus Muslim --- the latter, of
course, a calculated deception by some in our own country.
Iran is Shia, al Qaeda fundamentalist Sunni and a mortal enemy. Iraq was secular
when we invaded; it had a Christian Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. The Ba'ath party's
founders included Christians. There is no monolithic Islamic world offering a single
viewpoint, except perhaps on Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians.
In Afghanistan the Kabul government and the Pushtoons all belong to the same
faith. Circumstances and our policies allowed religious leaders to fill a power
vacuum, and now religion is being used as a recruiting tool against a foreign
Perhaps the pill delivered with a thicker coating of sugar is a first step. In that case,
congratulations Mr. President, you made a fine start. However, after the wanton
killings of recent years, that part of the world is looking for concrete changes in
May 29, 2009
Mr. President, you have a host of problems all of a sudden and you have our
The North Koreans have decided to play hard-ball. Their just-demonstrated
enhanced nuclear capability means your options are limited. Sanctions, if severe,
will be vetoed by China and Russia. You can not offend the Chinese lest they start
converting their dollars to euros. It is only one of the reasons the largess shown to
the banks was ill-advised. You have also indebted each family of four to almost the
value of a house, and the toxic assets (still on the books at fake values) merely
poison the lending pool sentencing us (like Japan) to a tepid, sputtering economy for
years to come. I notice Mr, Geithner has been off to China already.
The North Koreans say they want a bomb and have a bomb. It is quite different from
the Iranians who do not have a bomb and say they don't want one because it's
against their religion. This is easier to deal with because we simply need a
mechanism to verify their assertions. The world would be a happier place if we had
more "jaw, jaw" and less "war, war" to paraphrase a famous leader.
Several people including David Kilcullen, well known to you and General Petraeus as
a counter-insurgency expert, have come out against the continued use of drones.
The bombing results in untold civilian deaths and they say it is turning the civilian
population against us. On the Commentary pages, Mr. President, you can read his
You will also notice a link to the distressing video Torturing Democracy
demonstrating a clear link between senior officials and torture --- mostly, by far, of
innocents --- using new names for age-old techniques all prohibited by Article 3 of
the Geneva Convention, and therefore violating our own laws. I hope you have
given some thought to this because the Convention also gives the right to any
signatory to bring criminal charges against violators. Spain has already done so
against six senior officials of the Bush administration, and you, Sir, might soon be
facing an extradition request.
To some your nominee for the Supreme Court smacks of a two-fer --- a Hispanic and
a woman. What surprised us was the fact she was first nominated to a judgeship by
George Bush Senior, and her nomination held up by a Democratic Congress. How
times have changed?
Good luck with Af-Pak! The poor Pakistanis are suffering horrendously as a result of
this war. Two weeks ago (May 16) this letter introduced you to a grand design for the
region. I hope you will give it serious thought. Wishing you the best, Mr, President,
May 23, 2009
Mr. President, the letter this week poses a moral dilemma. I feel certain, and I'm sure
your pastor will agree, you will come through with flying colors as they say.
Consider the following: You are at a garage sale ....
"Just having a house clear-out" says the middle-aged woman greeting you. "All the
items are marked."
You pick up an old vase, somewhat grimy from disuse --- it's marked $10. You also
notice the Rookwood Pottery mark and realize it is an antique worth fifty to hundred
times the asking price.
Question 1: Do you pay the $10 and walk off with what antique dealers call a 'steal'.
Or, do you tell the lady she has a treasure she did not know about.
Question 2: You decide to tell the lady the vase is worth many times more than her
asking price. So, you pick up the vase to take it to her only to knock your hand into
someone else behind you. The vase drops and breaks. It is now worthless. Do you
pay the lady $10 or a good estimate of its real value, say $750?
Question 3: Same as (2) except that through your own clumsiness (entirely your
own fault) you fall, breaking your ankle and the vase. Before you are carted off to
emergency, swearing under you breath in pain, do you pay the lady $10 or $750 for
her broken vase?
The answer to these questions, Mr. President, will inform a person about him or
herself. Nobody has to tell anyone. It stays between them and their conscience.
However, the fact remains that most people might discover parallels between some
of the above and many of our domestic and foreign policies. It might also explain
how and why we are viewed abroad the way we are.
May 16, 2009
Mr. President, it really does not look like rationality will prevail over vested interests
with either the banks or health care -- no mighty snorting of a bull in our future,
more the off and on sputtering of a two-decade Japanese economy; no FDR laurels,
just a very comfortable retirement of book deals and speaking fees like your
However, there is one area where there is a possibility of a grand design, and that is
the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India problem. Yes, India is included because it too has
several growing insurgencies.
Not many are aware that the Mughal Empire constituted almost all of present-day
Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Mr. President, this historical fact germinated the
seed of an idea with the prospect of a worthwhile legacy for yourself.
What is needed in this region is a loose confederation, not unlike the European
Community, of several autonomous regions. Thus the Pushtoons in Afghanistan
together with their brethren in Pakistan could form a self-governing region free to
run their own affairs but within a Federal constitutional framework. The same would
be true of the other minority groups in Afghanistan.
Several regions in India and Pakistan, culturally, linguistically, or politically whole
before partition by the British in 1947, could now come together. Thus, Bangladesh
and West Bengal would constitute a region with a population of a quarter billion, the
fifth largest in the world. Similarly, the Punjab, and particularly Kashmir, where a
several decades old insurgency with over a hundred thousand estimated deaths
would come to an end. Finessing the Kashmir problem would end the resentment
and anger of the Muslim population of the subcontinent and reduce substantially the
fuel lighting the jehadi movements in Pakistan and India.
India gains in many other ways also. First, a huge market will have been formed for
its growing industries. Second, an end to several insurgencies, given those peoples
would now be autonomous with a voice in the Federal capital. Third, a federation
constituting the largest country and democracy in the world.
Pakistan would see an end to the chaos gripping it and threatening its destruction.
The Pushtoon insurgency would cease and the crippling defense costs of a huge
standing army, air force and navy would become unnecessary. Regarding defense
expenditures, the same would apply to India though to a lesser extent.
All in all, a tall mountain to climb, Mr. President, but then legacies are not formed
May 9, 2009
Mr. President, this Letter dated March 27, 2009 detailed the story of one victim, called
Uma in the article, a tailor's wife out to deliver her husband's work, returning home
to find nothing - no husband, no children, no house, just a hole in the ground.
This week there are reports of over a hundred civilian deaths in western
Afghanistan from another air raid. Meanwhile, the drones continue their work in the
border regions. Who in your mind is ultimately responsible for this shedding of
innocent blood? Forgive the question, Mr. President. It is only intended as a
reminder of legacy.
Your predecessor engaged in a war against a country (Iraq) innocent of the
accusations leveled against it. Contrary to their suggestive implications, Iraq had no
hand in 9/11. Nevertheless, the Bush-Cheney 'war on terror' resulted in over 1.2
million Iraqi deaths and 10 million displaced persons (according to the latest analysis
by MIT professors using the best estimating methods). If the horror of Uma's story is
heart-rendering, can one imagine multiplying it over a million times and leaving that
as one's legacy. Quite frankly, Mr. President, few ordinary mortals would want to be
The Pushtoons also had no hand in 9/11. Their beef is with the Northern Alliance
Government, and with us only because we installed and support the regime. Quite
naturally, the Pushtoons resent this minority government of Tajiks and Uzbeks
imposed upon them externally. Religion and the Taliban have become merely the
instrument of Pushtoon nationalism. Our policies have served only to exacerbate
the schisms between the Pushtoons and the governments of Afghanistan and
Pakistan with disastrous results, first for the former and now, as we see in the faces
of fleeing refugees, for the latter.
In the brief hundred days of your term, Mr. President, the number of refugees in
Pakistan are fast approaching a million, mostly because of the new policy of
escalation. This is supposed to be a war for the hearts and minds of these people.
Forgive me for asking Mr. President, but if put in their place, what would be in your
heart and mind regarding this policy?
Suffice it to say, your directives have already had the effect of displacing as many as
a tenth of all the displaced in Iraq during the whole Bush term. Mr. President, I
would be lying if I did not say, your supporters are gravely disappointed.
On the torture question, your ambivalence is also a surprise. If it's torture, we have
statuary laws against it, and it's a criminal offense. Your Constitutional oath, Mr.
President, is to enforce the laws of this land.
A short while ago criminal proceedings against Bush Administration officials were
initiated in the Spanish courtroom of Judge Baltasar Garzon. As a lawyer, you
perhaps remember him for bringing the famous case against Pinochet. Gonzalo
Boye, a Chilean-Spanish lawyer and a specialist in human rights law has filed a
lawsuit citing the torture of five alumni from Guantanamo. The criminal complaint
names Douglas Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense and others. It certainly
merits preparation for the decision awaiting you if arrest warrants are issued for
these officials, and the prima facie evidence seems to point in that direction. Rather
ironic then that Mr. Bush's famous phrase, "he can run but he can't hide" has had a
A final thought, Mr. President, with respect to Af-Pak as you folks are now calling it,
please remember the "golden rule" as you deal with Pushtoons or let me be the first
to predict your poll ratings in the thirty to forty percentile by the next election.
May 2nd, 2009
Mr. President, it looks to us like the bankers have won. Trillions now, and more
trillions to come. By some estimates, the total of deficits is likely to exceed $9
trillion. More worrisome, these estimates always turn out to be far less than actual
-- remember the Iraq war estimates of $60 billion vs. the rapidly approaching trillion
Forgive the presumption, Mr. President, but it is time for an arithmetic lesson. The
population clock records us as just over 300 million. It means your advisers, Mr.
President, in the first hundred days have set us on a course of indebtedness that
puts each man, woman and child in hock for $30,000. Given the proclivity for
underestimating deficits, the debt incurred might well require a family of four to pay
back through taxes and inflation the cost of a median family house. What an
enormous transfer of wealth to rich bankers, and other such stakeholders, from the
poor hard-working lower and middle classes.
In your favor Mr. President is your confident, pleasant, soft-spoken, gravitas exuding
manner persuading the people of your ability to solve their problems. Fortunately for
both your party and the Republicans, few in our country have had the benefit of a
decent education, and few really understand what's going on: over fifty percent
believe the earth was created, as is, 10,000 years ago; very few can understand
credit card agreements, mortgage documents or any of the financial complexities of
our modern existence; almost a quarter are functionally illiterate.
Gone is the industrial base providing well-paying jobs for the school-leavers, and
with it have gone the taxes funding their schools. Any wonder, the drug business
thrives. For this disadvantaged class (all other avenues being closed), it often
becomes the only rational way to make a living.
There is a strong case for legalizing drugs, Mr. President. The dealers are providing
a service our society appears to demand. Much like alcohol, harm is self-caused by
addicts, and the increased murder and mayhem a direct result of the illegality.
Would it not be better to employ the millions wasted on this losing "war on drugs"
towards rehabilitation and job training programs to give people alternative choices?
Finally, on the torture issue and the looming debt, do be careful Mr. President. If you
keep looking forward, you might be totally unaware of the tsunami behind.
April 25, 2009
In a recent short story in "The New Yorker" (The Elephant by Aravind Adiga) the
protagonist is a cycle cart driver in South India. He tries to better himself by helping
in a political campaign promising a better future. He works extraordinarily hard and
manages to corral the minority vote which secures victory for his candidate.
Expecting some kind of reward, he goes to the party office. He is kept waiting, and
waiting and waiting. Finally, he is offered a boiled sweet. When he protests in
exasperation, he gets slapped and thrown out.
Mr. President, you enjoy popular support. Please, do remember, however, that the
Republicans are going to peel off come election time and the Democrats are
beginning to get dissatisfied. It started with the left wing but as the mainstream
discovers your policies are no different from George W. Bush on the major issues --
would have been difficult to imagine a few months ago -- you will be in for a fight.
Lewis Lapham in his inimitable style, weaving a silk tapestry with his words, wrote in
the March Harpers of a seamless transition between administrations where the best
and the brightest "learn to work the system, not to change it."
But the system has failed us and the time for change is upon us. Lapham reminds us
that "FDR composed a 'Brain Trust' of individuals (some of them academics, others
not, none rounded up from the quorum of usual suspects)" ready for new
Mr. President, I do not mean to cast doubt on your sincerity, just on the possibility of
any substantial accomplishment if you rely on Mr. Lapham's "quorum of usual
suspects." Perhaps you also need help in the form of the Pecora hearings of the
1930s and your party's leaders in Congress can be made to oblige.
Torture is in the news again. We appreciate the openness of your administration.
But if water boarding is torture -- and we prosecuted the Japanese as war criminals
post WWII for employing it -- then surely it is inconsistent to ignore our own
culpability. At the very least, the lawyers who promulgated these extraordinary legal
determinations should have their legal judgment and capacity questioned in a court
Finally, Mr. President, I hope you are having fun with your dog.
April 18, 2009
The new HDI (Human Development Index) report shows us down again, now from
12th to 15th. The HDI is a normalized compendium of life expectancy, literacy,
educational attainment and GDP per capita. Iceland, Norway and Canada lead the
list. Much denigrated Cuba keeps climbing!
Why is our neighbor to the north so far ahead? One word, Mr. President, health
care. They have a superb single-payer system we could learn much from, and be
lucky if we adopt it.
You, Sir, want to expand the current system -- but covering more people is a poor
partial answer. Most personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills when people
actually have insurance. Why? Because of policy restrictions (the fine print) and co-
payments, and because the companies cut them off at renewal time when they are
seriously ill. Then, facing a choice between health insurance and eating, they
choose the latter.
The public hospitals like Chicago's Cook County -- in your old haunts, Mr. President
-- are so underfunded and overwhelmed, they do not have the resources to
administer anything more than an initial treatment. What happens to these people?
Impoverishment of families, bankruptcy, Medicaid and death from inadequate care,
in endless variations. Is this a morally justifiable way of treating the weak and
vulnerable in a rich developed country is a question we should ask ourselves? By
the way, Mr. President, congratulations on acquiring your new dog. I assume he, like
most pets, will have better health care than many millions of humans in our country.
The economy remains the elephant in the room, Mr. President. Left-leaning
economists and conservative economists, including eminent Nobel Prize Laureates,
all oppose the approach being used by your administration. Mr. Geithner and Mr.
Summers are handicapped by their long association with banks and the latter is
tainted with accepting speaking and consulting fees from the entities receiving
Is it time to reconsider? The remedies being advocated are too close to the
Japanese solution of twenty years ago, which has left Japan in the doldrums ever
since. We have to ask if it is fair to risk sentencing an entire generation to misery.
No bank is really too big to fail; it's the old threat used to get public money. The
trouble is, if we give them the money, we give them further incentive to take risks
they should not. Why? Because we make profits private, and losses public. It's
nothing new; everyone knows about it as it's happened before. The FDIC, of course,
has a tool called a 'bridge bank' to deal with the big ones like Citi and BofA, the two
in worst shape. Let's start with these and see how the others fare. Otherwise,
unfortunately, the pall cast by them will continue to prevent the clean banks from
helping the economy.
Mr. President, toxic assets have to be eliminated -- purged to clean out the system.
Think of it, Sir, as a radiator flush before fresh coolant! Why should we poor folk pay
for the banks' worthless assets, anyway? Why can't that money be used to get the
economy rolling again instead of supporting a rotten banking structure? That's what
all the Nobel Prize winners and the rest of us want to know. When will you start
standing up for us, Mr. President?
April 11, 2009
The CEO of GM has been forced to resign. Mr.President, you forgot one thing --- GM
actually produces something in this increasingly empty shell of a country of ours,
and under Rick Wagoner they had finally brought out cars like the Malibu and the
Cadillac CTV that were competitive with the Germans and the Japanese. And, GM is
not the cause of the disaster, it is a victim like the rest of us. It begs a simple
question, Mr. President, "How is it that the CEOs of the banks that brought this
disaster upon us, and who are receiving an order of magnitude more in bailout
money than GM, are still with us and how did they do this to us?"
The bankers wanted to cut loose the shackles limiting risk-taking. After much
lobbying, the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 limiting bankers' freedom to gamble, and the
fruit of experience from the depression, was repealed. Why did they want more
freedom? Because very, very simply, they were very, very greedy. Here are the
actors and the scenario:
- Sanford Weill, former CEO of Citigroup, takes over Citibank and forces out the
- Herb Greenberg at AIG prepared and ready to insure the derivatives.
- Treasury Secretary Rubin, formerly from Goldman-Sachs and his protege Larry
Summers soon to follow him as Treasury Secretary, when he moved to
Citigroup to head the investment committee.
- Former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and his wife, the former head of the
Commodities Futures Trading Commission and his cohorts, and
- The constant drumbeat of deregulation since the Reagan years as a panacea
for all our ills.
Forget the crippling infrastructure, forget the decaying industrial base, forget the
crippling health care costs that have hamstrung our companies; instead enter the
twilight zone of the industrial scale manufacture of money, simply by labeling pieces
of paper differently. Enter regulator Brooksley Born, a true heroine of this saga.
She tried to regulate the CDFs . Summers, Rubin, Phil Gramm and friends came and
said "We will block this."
How did they do it? The Commodities Modernization (read deregulation) Act of
December 2000, signed into law by Bill Clinton, specifically excluded the Credit
Default Swaps from regulation. Yes, there were subprime mortgages, slicing and
dicing and repackaging of mortgage paper like a Caesar salad, ethically challenged
rating agencies, greedy investment bankers' hunger for more and more paper
because it was so profitable; yes, they were all there but it could not have gone on
so long without the illusory insurance provided by the CDFs.
Mr. President, why are the people who have caused so much misery, and brought us
economic disaster while profiting handsomely themselves, still being rewarded?
Why have you not appointed someone neutral and honest to investigate this mess
and report to us?
April 4, 2009
Dear Mr. President:
The economic world does not revolve around a (former Treasury Secretary) Rubin
axis. So far, your economic team, tied closely to him, is trying to replicate the
response to the Mexican crisis during his tenure. But propping up the banks this
time around, as you have found, is a several trillion dollar venture not the relative
chicken feed of the Mexican disaster. And, it's certainly not over.
Mr. President, you have the mandate, the support of the people, and even the poll
ratings to defy orthodoxy. The people sent you up there to challenge the bankers,
who had ruined their lives, not cozy up to them. Everyone - no exceptions - among
the ordinary people is disgusted with the bankers.
You have very little time before this economic disaster begins to have an Obama
imprint. By then, your poll numbers will be dropping and so will your leverage.
Even though your policies are costing several times more money (that could have
gone towards health care) than necessary, let us at least get a decent set of rules, so
this calamity does not befall us again. Rolling back the deregulation regime and
listening to the Europeans on developing strong international regulations could be a
first step -- not increasing the unelected and uncontrolled Fed's power.
So far, Mr. President, you have Mr. Geithner, who as head of the New York Fed
helped fashion the Bush Administration's approach to the financial crisis, and Mr.
Gates who ran the Defense Department for President Bush. Did we hear 'change
you can believe in' or are we living in a twilight zone where the US becomes a one-
party state like the former Soviet Union?
Mr. President, this is your FDR moment. Don't let it slip by; seize it to work for the
people who sent you up there.
March 27, 2009
NOT JUST A RESPONSE BUT A JUST RESPONSE
Let us call her Uma. Her husband was a tailor and she often made deliveries for
him. Returning from such an errand to a neighboring village, here is what she
found. Her house including all her possessions, carefully accumulated in the hard
scrabble of a war-torn country, had disappeared into a large deep crater. Buried
under all this rubble were all her children and her husband, who she had left
working on his sewing machine --- all obliterated. This was the beginning of the
"War on Terror" - the attack on Afghanistan commencing with a bombing
campaign. Ask Uma what the twin towers are and you will get a blank stare. The
technical wizardry employed in this violent injustice is astounding. Target selection
by experts in the United States using sophisticated computers and satellites,
airplanes from aircraft carriers meeting up with tanker airplanes flying in from land
bases for mid-air refueling, and smart bombs so accurate they home in on their
target day or night through clouds or smoke.
Ask Uma why all she has left is a large hole in the ground and the mindless
wandering of a casualty of modern warfare, and she will say, "It was God's will."
That was over a half-dozen years ago. Ask the relatives and survivors of the forty-
seven civilians killed when a wedding party was bombed, and they will say the
Americans easily surpass the Soviets in brutality. This time the local response was
to attack an American outpost killing nine of our brave men and wounding dozens -
none having had anything to do directly with the bombing of the wedding party. The
outpost has been abandoned. The mindless tit-for-tat continues.
The questions to ask are, Did any Afghan take part in the 9/11 attack? Did any
Afghan plan the attack? Did any Afghan finance the attack? The answer to all
these question is the same resounding, "No!"
The actual 9/11 attackers were Saudi Arabians led by an Egyptian. The operational
planner, a Pakistan national, was arrested by the Pakistan police and handed to the
The organization responsible, al Qaeda, headed by a Saudi and an Egyptian was
based in Afghanistan. As is common knowledge, they are a group of fundamentalists
with political not religious goals. Originally supported by us, they helped to repel the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and were unceremoniously dumped (as were the
Afghans) after the Soviets left. The Afghans' gratitude was more permanent, and,
true to their famed code of hospitality, made these Arabs welcome in Afghanistan.
Also true, and for the same reason, they did not surrender bin Laden and his cohorts.
Could the smart answer have been careful negotiation, diplomatic and military
pressure through Pakistan accompanied with financial incentives for both countries,
and, not just satellite surveillance but on the ground intelligence collection?
Perhaps in the end, a small special forces operation against al-Qaeda would have
been necessary but it would have had the benefit of superior intelligence and
probably Pakistan's help because they had 'no dog in the fight' as far as al-Qaeda
was concerned. It would almost surely have left Uma's family intact, and might even
have spared Pakistan its present misery.
Mr. President, before you dig yourself deeper into the hole that is Afghanistan, and
before Pakistan suffers the fate of Cambodia, please remember: if you go to a
specialist with an ailment, he or she is likely to provide a remedy from his specialty.
Unfortunately, your predecessor went to a gynecologist for a couple of ulcers and
gave birth to a pair of monsters. Of the two, the outcome in Iraq is so very
uncertain, and Afghanistan is a headache that we hope doesn't turn out to be brain
cancer. The history of attempted military solutions in Afghanistan is not
encouraging and perhaps a review by your staff of past British campaigns there is
called for. Everyone who has invaded there, including the Soviets, thought they
knew better, so it would be instructive to understand the Afghan/ Pathan character.
We wish you well in your endeavors on our behalf.
The other news this week, Mr. President came from your Treasury Secretary. He
wants to spend another trillion on helping speculators buy up toxic assets. In this
plan, their losses are covered by us and we allow them a highly leveraged
investment (20 cents on the dollar) with the potential for enormous profit. Forgive
me, Mr. President, but it seems the four major banks, the investment banking
houses, the hedge funds, etc. have got your Administration and Congress in a bear
hug, shaking out every penny the ordinary Joe has or will save. These trillions are
going to cost us plenty because no one can print money like this without economic
growth and not have a horrendous inflation. There is one other possibility - a stock
market collapse down to the value of real future income. As this is not the most
efficient or cheapest way to deal with the problem (please refer to several earlier
letters on FDIC takeover and the Swedish model), I have two questions:
1. Why are you putting scaffolding on a crumbling banking structure that caused
2. Why do you employ people who set up the rules that let this happen?
There are a host of other questions to ask about banks and I refer you to the link
below for the Nieman Watchdog
March 23, 2009
P.S. The plan unveiled today providing strong incentives for private investors to
purchase the banks' toxic assets and dubbed by this year's Nobel Prize winner in
economics, Paul Krugman, as "cash for trash" does, firstly, very little to stimulate
lending, and, secondly, lands the tax-payer another huge bill. Why? Here is a simple
analysis, Mr. President.
Who owns the toxic assets? The banks. Who owns the banks? The shareholders.
Why should we help the shareholders and least of all the bankers, who have brought
us this catastrophe?
Our financial structure is based on capitalism. The banks, shareholders, and
executives took their risks for profit but lost. The banks are now bankrupt. Why
can't the FDIC intervene as it does when banks fail. The depositors will be protected,
the shareholders gone, the toxic assets marked down, though these will probably
gain in value as the economy recovers. More importantly, the huge amounts of
proposed bailout money can be used to begin lending to stimulate the economy.
What is wrong with this plan? Only that the bankers and shareholders do not like it
because they lose, and they seem to carry considerable clout in both the Congress,
and, sad to say, your Administration. The question is, "Whose side are you on, Mr.
President? Are you with the people or the bankers?"
March 21, 2009
Dear Mr. President:
Here are two quotes:
President Bush after the New Orleans disaster, "Brownie, you are doing a heck of a
You Sir, Mr. President, on the economic disaster, "Treasury Secretary Geithner is
doing an outstanding job."
Mr. President, here are some facts:
The unions and the corporations (like GM) actually producing something tangible are
given a relatively paltry $50 billion or so with strong admonitions particularly to the
unions to make sacrifices -- read cut pensions, health care, pay, etc.
Meanwhile the bankrupt banks, and their lead insurer AIG, larded up with over a
trillion have awarded bonuses to those executives, who invented and used the toxic
derivatives, plus other incompetents so drowned in their Hamptons' luxury that
reality had passed them by. Of course, these bonuses have been renamed 'retention
payments' as if these pampered 'geniuses' are flying out the door to waiting jobs. Mr.
President, exactly who is rushing to hire them?
Now, it has been discovered, that the 'outstanding' Treasury Department knew about
these bonuses all along. Of course, you have stated, you did not. And, Mr.
President, I do not doubt your veracity. But here is something you do know, and if
not, this letter will tell you.
The following is a brief summary of the crisis drama:
Mortgages assumed by homeowners, and previously retained by local banks, were
now packaged and sold to Wall Street -- thanks to deregulation.
The locals no longer worried too much about risk because the mortgages were soon
off their hands. Meanwhile, Wall Street's hunger for mortgages multiplied and the
quality of borrowers declined as numbers dried up.
Enter the rating agencies like S&P: There were persuaded by the vendors that poor
quality subprime mortgages when sliced thinly enough and packaged together
deserved a higher rating because of diversification. It did not take a lot of
convincing because it was also a highly profitable arrangement for the rating
Enter the insurers (AIG): They introduced Credit Default Swaps (unregulated) which
offered banks insurance protection for their mortgage paper. Unfortunately, hedge
funds began to use the swaps as market proxies and as a result, trillions of these are
Enter the government officials: Your bailiwick, Mr. President. Starting with the
Reagan administration, there has been a constant and persistent gutting of the rules
designed to curb rampant speculation and keep banks from getting themselves into
trouble. The final straw, perhaps, was the Commodities Deregulation Act of
December 2000, which excluded Credit Default Swaps from regulation.
Former Secretary Rubin, a strong deregulator, your informal adviser, with numerous
acolytes; he moved to the investment arm of Citigroup, and was recently relieved of
Mr. Summers, acolyte #1, successor to Mr. Rubin and now your economic adviser,
was an ardent supporter of the December 2000 Commodities Act.
Treasury Secretary Geithner and his four advisers from Citigroup fall in the same
Alan Greenspan -- who acknowledged his heretofore erroneous faith in markets
regulating themselves and called for a takeover of the banks. Much cheaper for the
taxpayers and consequently a disaster for the executives and shareholders of
Citigroup and the other banks. No bonuses, for sure.
Phil Gramm, the notorious backer (with his wife, a former chairperson of the
Commodities Futures Trading Commission) of the December 2000 Commodities Act.
He was economic adviser to your opponent in the Presidential election, but
disappeared into the wilds of Texas after the financial tsunami hit.
President Bill Clinton signed the December 2000 Act into law. He also famously
pardoned Mark Rich, the crooked commodities dealer who fled the U.S. Mr. Clinton
earned over a $100 million giving speeches and dispensing advice after leaving
Secretary of State Clinton, who parlayed $1,000 into $100,000 in one year's astute
commodities trading and then decided to shelve this remarkable skill (in an arena
where ninety percent of novice traders lose all their money) to return to the
impecunious life as the wife of an Arkansas government official earning in the order
of $30,000 per year.
Mr. President, if someone were to come and rob another's house, you would say, "Let
the law take its course." But what of people responsible for taking away, not just the
contents, but the house itself, and not just one house, but thousands upon
thousands, and destroying not just one life, but millions. What should be done to
Some of them even work for you, Mr. President, when there is no shortage of very
smart, honest and capable people in this beloved country of ours.
Needless to say, you are well aware of Congressional elections nineteen months
away and your next election two years thereafter. You may not have known about
the bonuses but you do know about these people.
Let us all hope your policies, while costing four times more than necessary, work out
for all our sakes. The cost in sacrifice and future inflation will have to be borne by
the poor and powerless, but that's just one of the hazards of living in a democracy.
March 13, 2009
In an interview with Charlie Rose this week Treasury Secretary Geithner was asked
why they hadn't seen this financial tsunami coming. Well, he says in his inimitable
style, head cocked, forehead crinkled, eyes looking up showing the whites under the
pupils,"...the regulatory system was designed ninety years ago... not up to the task
Ordinary Americans are reasonable people Mr. President, remember they elected
you. But not to hear fabrications -- it gets the dander up.
Most people are aware that since the Reagan administration, the rules set up in the
thirties have been steadily and progressively eroded culminating in the December
2000 Commodities deregulation fiasco signed by President Clinton. This pet child of
former Senator Phil Gramm (erstwhile economic advisor to candidate McCain) who
melted away into the wide plains of Texas never to be heard from again after our
tsunami hit, was strongly supported by Mr. Rubin, his protege, Larry Summers then
Treasury Secretary and Mr. Geithner.
Mr. Rubin headed Goldman Sachs before he was Treasury Secretary and went to
Citigroup after. Mr. Geithner has four helpers from Citigroup including a former
lobbyist. His predecessor Mr. Paulson came from Goldman Sachs and his package to
the banks he claimed received paper at par. Law Professor Elizabeth Warren from
your alma mater, Mr. President, leading the Congressional Oversight Panel reports
that in actual fact we received half of par on the dollar in terms of paper from
Citigroup while other private investors, sovereign wealth funds from Abu Dhabi, etc.
were getting $1.00 to $1.25. In effect Citigroup obtained a subsidy, a gift, from the
taxpayer of fifty to seventy-five cents for every dollar of paper amounting to tens of
billions of dollars. When is the regime of private profits and public losses going to
Why can't Citigroup, a failed bank, be treated like other failed banks? Alan
Greenspan is now in favor of an FDIC intervention as are many distinguished
economists. Without the specter of bad loans or the conflicting interests of
shareholders, the banks could start lending again. The longer we wait, the worse
will be the problem. Mr. Geithner is much too sensitive to bankers interests, to
represent the people that elected you, and it is time for him to find other pastures.
Ahead of the G-20 Finance Ministers Conference the Europeans are calling for
firmer international regulation to prevent another collapse like the one we are
undergoing. What's wrong with that? But bankers (obviously) and Mr. Geithner
(naturally) are opposed to this. Need one say more.
P.S. Some of the banks are now claiming they are operating profitably if we ignore
the bad loans. It's as if a mortgage holder who can no longer make his mortgage
payments says to the government, 'Look I'm living within my means except for the
mortgage. Just pay it off would you.'
March 6, 2009
There are four major banks: everyone knows them. A owes to B which owes to C
owing to D and back to A. If we prop up each of these banks supporting each of the
interbank loans, it will cost us four times as much. The banks are insolvent. Let's
face up to it and use the process already available for dealing with defaulting banks.
The FDIC moves in and takes over. We the taxpayers would be far better served
than trying to shore up each bank. So far we have given money, bought preferred
stock and now have progressed to acquiring almost worthless common stock.
The bankers are powerful. They have paid well for the elections of the members of
the Senate banking committee as well as the House body. They have even paid well
in the Presidential election. The question is can anyone face down the bankers on
behalf of the taxpayers.
The same problem with healthcare. The people by an overwhelming majority
support a single-payer system, like Canada has for example. In Canada a large
hospital might have one person responsible for billing the state. Around here there
will be at least a dozen or more. Administrative savings, it has been estimated, will
cover insuring the uninsured. Despite all this your recent healthcare summit
excluded single payer proponents until overwhelming protests forced you to
reconsider. So again, who is going to face down the insurance companies on behalf
of the people.
Mr. President, you made a moving speech talking about the bankruptcies healthcare
bilils are causing in our country. But, Sir, most of the bankruptcies happen to
people who are already insured because of the 80%/ 20% requirement leaving
insured responsible for 20% plus the non-renewal of policies when a person
becomes seriously ill. Insuring the uninsured does not solve this problem.
A recent visit to the doctor for a viral infection that moved to the lungs cost $645.
Not in one simple bill, no way! The bills started arriving: from the doctor, the blood
lab, the Radiology department for the X-ray, the radiologist for reading the X-ray,
copies of bills to the insurance company, copies from the insurance company,
reminders that money was owed even though the insurance company had not
responded, bill outlines for each of the bills from the insurance company stating new
amounts for the charges (apparently insurance companies pay about 40% less for
the same services) and how much the insurance company would cover. Then new
bills from the doctors and other providers stating the new charges and how much
the insurance company had paid. Even worse after the bills had been paid, more
bills as reminders because the computers had not recorded the payments, the latter
discovery after a tedious interminable -- "all our representatives are busy" -- phone
call. Is this any way to run a railroad? And how does it get better if you perpetuate
this system? In the UK you never get a single bill. And, please, do not listen to lies
about the service provided under single-payer systems. It is the most popular
government-run service supported by all political parties.
February 27th, 2009
Mr. President, I regret very much having to say this but your policies, most
unfortunately, have begun to have the stale taste of reheated weekend leftovers on
a Monday night in a Chinese restaurant.
Employing bankers' representatives will not lead to the painful treatment necessary
for bankers and their stockholders. Your policies are reminiscent of Japan with
problems fueled likewise by property speculation where the stock market has traded
between one-third and half its highs for twenty years and the country has been in
the doldrums. It will also diminish your importance in history when you could very
well be a Roosevelt – at least I hope so. The case of Sweden, some years earlier,
offers a model of a successful intervention. It will be better for the rest of the market
and even for the banks in the end, and best of all we know it works. The weakness of
the stimulus package in its immediate impact, and the dithering and incoherence
from the Treasury Secretary have received their grades in the stock market already.
Throwing money at banks is unlikely to work because while toxic assets and $62
trillion of credit default swaps are floating around, bankers will keep shoring up their
balance sheets. The problems caused by the swaps are a direct result of the
Commodities Deregulation Act of December 2000, and, unfortunately, you have
appointed an ardent advocate, Larry Summers, as a major advisor. I can think of
several Nobel Prize winning economists and other major thinkers who can serve you
By the way, how could anyone (except under Summers' advice, I suppose) have
picked Gensler, a notorious deregulator, to head the CFTC. To bring back into
government the self-same promoters, who advocated policies leading to the worst
financial mess since the Great Depression is difficult to comprehend, especially
given the pain and suffering in the disadvantaged communities that elected you, Mr.
You have so many voices for the bankers on your team; forgive me for asking but
who represents the common person whose pension funds are being eviscerated and
will continue to unless the banking cancer is cut out.
February 19, 2009
I write less in anger, more in dismay at the seeds of a failed Presidency already being
sown by your Administration.
You were probably too young to remember the Savings and Loan crisis – caused by
deregulation. It was not solved by throwing money at the S & Ls. The current
problem has the same root cause and it makes very little sense that some of the
strongest advocates of deregulation have senior positions in your government and
strong voices in the proposed solutions. Former senator Phil Gramm of Texas, his
wife who headed the CFTC, Larry Summers etc. helped pass the Commodities
Deregulation Act in Dec 2000. So what is Larry Summers plus banking lobbyists and
several senior bank officers of these troubled banks doing in your government when
we were promised no lobbyists? Their solution seems to be loading the common man
(and his offspring given the size of the problem) with taxes to pay for the banks'
profligacy. So far it has not worked.
There is an obvious solution for the banks. The template has been furnished by the
Swedish banking crisis and it does work. When a small bank fails, the process of
intervention used by the FDIC works perfectly well, and with appropriate financial
backing can work also for these mammoths. The toxic assets would be marked down
to their real value; government backing would ensure lending resumes – unlike the
present when any money given to the banks is used to shore up reserves against
toxic assets. Of course the strutting bank chiefs would have to go as well as the fake
$500K cap (as many holes as Swiss cheese) on their salaries.
Sad to say, but in my circle just about everyone is reevaluating their 2008 vote if
only to punish people who do not do what they promise. All the same, I wish you the
very best in your endeavors and hope that you will pay some tangible (not rhetorical)
attention to the hard-working people in addition to the banks.
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
|Note: Letters updated
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We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb