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
February 8, 2013

Mr. President:  This week Defense Secretary Panetta warned against the impending
sequester at the end of the month if a budget deal is not forged.  Apparently, our
military might is threatened by the shaving off of a few percentage points in
expenditure.  Little doubt, however, that we will continue to be the pre-eminent military
power, spending enough to rival the rest of the world combined.  So, we are number
one without a doubt and will remain so in the foreseeable future.

But here is another list (linked to sources) compiled by Mike Ferner in an article on
Z-Space comparing the U.S. against the world.  We stand as follows:

  No.116 in the share of income of our poorest 10 percent.
  No. 91 in income inequality.
  No. 50 in life expectancy.
  No. 48 in infant mortality.
  No. 37 in health care provided.
  No. 35 in success at keeping citizens above poverty line.
  No. 26 in school performance and literacy.
  No. 22 in success at fighting long-term unemployment.

To this list one could easily add decaying infrastructure given a grade of D-minus for
roads, drinking water and flood control levees by the American Society of Civil
Engineers.  All of it is more than enough to keep a President busy for a long time if he
wants to.  The fact remains, no one -- not Congress, not the Executive, not the
Democrats nor the Republicans -- seems capable of, or even interested in, solving
these problems.

The first two income inequality items on the list could be improved quickly by raising
the minimum wage to a comparable inflation-adjusted level from 40 years ago.  It will
also provide a demand pull the economy sorely needs.  But the mantra, unsupported
by research, that raising the minimum wage would mean layoffs and more
unemployment holds sway.  Conveniently, it improves the bottom line of business
owners who are more likely to be campaign donors than minimum wage workers.

Better health care takes care of much of the rest.  If this appears far-fetched,
consider Finland's experience.  The transformation of their schools in a few decades
has been remarkable for they are now among the top in world rankings.  Their
remedy starts with ante-natal care including vitamins for expectant mothers, which
they found alleviates later behavioral problems in the children.  Teachers there are
highly respected -- not highly paid -- and allowed the freedom to teach and assess
their students themselves, devoting extra time to the laggards to catch up.  There are
no formal tests until pre-high school around the age of fifteen.

Our focus, on the other hand, is on repeated testing of students and on blaming
teachers despite research evidence showing teacher input as just one factor
contributing less than a quarter towards student performance.  Of course this attitude
is unlikely to attract the best into the profession.

Our uncanny ability to use solutions defying problems instead of solving them
continues on a world-wide scale.  In Iraq -- attacked in waste and left in haste --
another several dozen were killed this week.  The killing has never stopped, and the
millions who fled the chaos have not returned.  Women there used to be doctors,
lawyers, architects; now they are hiding behind veils.  The government was secular
with Sunni, Shia and Christian participation; now there is sectarian strife and the
Christians are leaving in droves.  Women's rights in Libya too have taken a dive, and
the instability following the rebel victory cost the U.S. Ambassador his life.  The
spillover from Libya is now hitting Mali and others.  Pakistan had always looked
favorably upon the U.S., now, in a recent poll, 80% of Pakistanis hold a  negative
view.  Wars have escalated in cost from billions to the trillion mark and what we seem
to garner as a result is hate.  When will we ever learn?  Come to think of it, wasn't that
a song from the Vietnam war?