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
March 8, 2013

Mr. President:  We have the finest military in the world; we spend more on it than the
next dozen and more nations combined.  But how does it benefit the average citizen
of our country -- the average citizen whose income in real terms has not increased
since the 1970s.  The usual answer is, it keeps us safe; it keeps the lanes of
commerce open.  However, the citizens of the other developed countries are safe
without such expense, and the burden of free commerce can be shared; not just by
the taxpayers of the countries involved but also by the titans of commerce responsible
for and benefiting from the lion's share of international trade

Do we really need a grandiose military when the only rival (China) depends on
exporting to us and our friends, and we on it for financing our deficit?  In such an
interrelated economic world, military power appears a crude instrument generating
enemies instead of cultivating friends.

Perhaps it is the enemies our policies and wars have spawned and created that we
now fear.  A disastrous adventure in Iraq costing hundreds of thousands of lives and
five million refugees replaced a secular government having a Christian (Tariq Aziz)
Prime Minister with a Shiite regime.  The Christians have fled in large numbers, and
the Sunnis fight an insurgency -- bombs go off every week.  Afghanistan is little better
-- a long drawn-out war when the ideal would have been patience, negotiation, and
pressure on the regime's supporters.  Instead, we have a destabilized Pakistan (which
has scores of nuclear weapons), numerous fundamentalist groups wreaking havoc,
and a Taliban revitalized and refusing to negotiate.

Behind our military interventions is an idee fixe of a phantom menace.  It used to be
communism and the domino theory, now it's Islamic fundamentalism.  No matter the
numerous counterexamples -- democratic India's close relations with communist
Soviet Union for instance, or our friendship with Saudi Arabia, an exporter of
fundamentalism -- the zeitgeist of the period is implanted firmly in the public mind.

When the target was a secular dictatorship (Iraq and Libya), a certain elasticity of
mind was required and 'bringing democracy' became the theme.  In both countries the
rights of women have been trampled and religious or ethnic schisms bedevil them.  
Whatever else may be said of the Libyan regime, Libyans had been raised to the top
of the Human Development Index in Africa, and now the country is a shambles, as is
Iraq.  The blowback in Mali and beyond multiplies the human tragedy.

The death of Hugo Chavez this week brought out massive crowds in Caracas, their
grief evident.  He, too, had done wonders for the long ignored poor.  Despite being
elected more than once, he was labeled dictator or dictatorial in our media because
he nationalized a TV station denying, it was claimed, an adequate voice to the
opposition.  Tell that to former presidential candidate Ralph Nader refused a seat at
the podium, and, in Italy, Berlusconi continues a monopoly of the media.

Wars bring little else but grief and bankruptcy.  Here's a correlative statistic:  the real
wage of most Americans has not changed since the Vietnam war, and the minimum
wage has fallen by forty percent.