Weekly Letter to President Obama
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INAUGURATION,   January 20, 2009

Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape

To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.

The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.

Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.

--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
---  Native American proverb
January 24, 2014

Mr. President:  The peace conference on Syria commenced last Tuesday.  It never
ceases to amaze how preconditions become a prerequisite even when no one
believes them.  Iran's invitation given and withdrawn because failure seemed imminent
is just one example.  Mr. Kerry continues to insist Bashar Assad cannot have a future
role.  Would the Syrian Foreign Minister really continue to sit there if he had agreed?  
And what of the Syrians (a very likely majority) who  support Assad including
minorities and educated Sunnis particularly the urban populations -- the latter in
Aleppo suffering at the hands of jihadists.

The Syrian army has actually taken prisoners instead of simply executing defeated
combatants.  They also inform the families of prisoners, some as far away as North
Africa, of their status.  Thus the report on torture claiming it had tortured and killed
11,000 seemed a stretch.  That it had been funded by Qatar, a leading sponsor of
jihadists fighting in Syria, brought to mind the funding of smoking research by tobacco
companies sprouting reports contesting the linkage with lung cancer.  Journalists
soon discovered problems with the report, and a highly critical article appeared in the
Christian Science Monitor.  The initial publicity claims, horrendous as they were,
turned out to be baseless and unsupported by evidence in the body of the report.  It
died shortly thereafter.

Also this week, additional evidence unearthed in the Damascus suburb gas attack
points away from the government.  The expert team meeting in Washington concludes
the rocket used had too short a range for it to have been fired from Syrian
Government positions.  Earlier Russian experts had expressed doubts about the
initiating explosive.  Now what?  Is punitive action against the rebel group responsible
and its sponsors not appropriate?  When this letter pointed out at the time that there
was no strategic or tactical reason (regular explosives and an air force being more
effective) for the Syrian regime to employ chemical weapons and reap opprobrium, it
was a view rejected by major media.  The White House statement that a red line had
been crossed is now thrown back at it by Republicans like Senators McCain and
Graham, as well as rebel leaders and rank and file.  What is now required is exercise
of the leverage afforded by this latest determination to exert pressure on the rebels
and their sponsors to cease the madness and forge a settlement.

While this Letter has been for a few years discussing the growing divide between rich
and poor and quoting and requoting the Gini Index by which the U.S. leads developed
nations in inequality, your speech was welcome.  But many observers believe what
the country needs is equality of access through equality of education to enable
upward mobility.  Instead of pushing testing and charter schools (no great panacea
according to Diane Ravitch armed with facts and figures in her new book), Arne
Duncan might well profit from visiting Finland to study its schools' remarkable
turnaround from the worst in Northern Europe to the best.  To them, frequent testing
and charter schools are inconceivable, and a visit there would have Mr. Duncan
undoubtedly abjuring them.