By Orson Aguilar

President Obama advocated many of the right things in his State of the Union address.

He demanded real action on climate change, voting rights for minorities, immigration reform, equal pay for equal work, the minimum wage, and tax policies that benefit the middle class and not just the wealthy.

And his decision to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors will bring real money to people's wallets soon.

But the speech failed to focus enough attention on the growing inequality in our country and the dire consequences that are leading us to a caste system where opportunity is defined at birth.

Obama does seem to understand how serious this is. He told the New Yorker recently: "I will measure myself at the end of my presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class."

That is a big goal that demands big thinking.

Underneath the president's lofty rhetoric and charm, he could have thought bigger.

Inequality isn't just about income; it's about wealth. Savings and assets make all the difference when you lose your job or face an unexpected illness. And here the gap is not only huge, but it also has a stark racial dimension.

According to the U.S. census, for every dollar a white family in the United States has, the median Asian-American family has 81 cents, the median Latino family has about 7 cents, and the median black family has less than 6 cents. In a country where communities of color will be the majority by 2042, this is simply not sustainable.

But addressing it requires grappling with race, a subject Obama approaches cautiously and ignored in his speech.

In the New Yorker, he noted that marijuana laws fall more harshly on blacks and Latinos, but the big picture was missing. We need a president bold enough to say that the drug war was racist from its beginnings 140 years ago and still devastates Americans of color -- saddling millions with criminal records that make them nearly unemployable -- while utterly failing to prevent the real harm drug abuse causes.

We need a president bold enough to call for a more inclusive economy in which people of color are not disproportionately confined to the basement or kitchen.

We need a president who acknowledges that minority-owned businesses get less than 3 percent of contracts from Fortune 500 companies and that the federal government itself doesn't do a good job hiring minority-owned businesses.

We need big ideas and bold initiatives.

True, Congress is unlikely to act on these issues. But with a Congress unwilling to do anything but vote against Obamacare, the president had an opportunity to dream.

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why," Robert F. Kennedy said. "I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?"

Dream, Mr. President. It's not too late.

Orson Aguilar is executive director of the Greenlining Institute. He can be reached at

Copyright Orson Aguilar.


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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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