Tag Archives: Donald Kaul

Gridlock and Bedlam


It’s scary, but I’m starting to agree with my pessimist friend.

Donald KaulBy Donald Kaul

My friend Richard is a little crazy and very smart. He spends his days filling the Internet with screeds and rants on his favorite subject — the continuing collapse of our society. I’d tell you his last name, but if you wrote him, you’d get his scary emails too.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent effort after the stock market had a bad-hair day.

“As I’ve said all along, it’s Depression II. The stock market is catching on. Dow is down 4.5 percent today. Has a long way to go (down) to get to a reasonable value considering the fundamentals…Corrupt and disintegrating governmental systems here and in England. Gridlock. Incompetence everywhere…”

Did I mention that he is an angry old man? He seems to have caught the zeitgeist, however: that vague feeling of terror caused by being at the mercy of mysterious forces we can’t control.

To scroll through a good newspaper (there are still a few) is to be confronted with one horror story after another.

If the “Arab Spring” isn’t threatening to go sour on us, the Israelis and Palestinians are making rude Italian gestures at each other in the United Nations. Every time the Greek government blows its nose, financial markets throughout the Western world get pneumonia. Pakistan’s military is preparing its country for war, quite possibly with us — even though we supply them with weapons and money. Every other month or so Congress goes to the brink of shutting down the government and with it the economy, which is already dead in the water and sinking, slowly.

In 18th-century London people used to go to Bedlam, the city’s mental institution, to amuse themselves by gawking at the insane, sometimes paying a penny for a special peek. Today we watch Republican presidential debates.

So far we have heard cheers for both executions and America’s shortage of health insurance. There have been boos for a soldier who served in Iraq because he was gay. During each of those appalling moments, no candidate raised his or her voice in protest.

We have seen Mitt Romney and Rick Perry back away from their most noble achievements as governors simply to appease the unappeasable.

We have witnessed Michele Bachmann make a fool of herself time after time with no one, apparently, noticing.

What an awful bunch. It’s like an early round of “American Idol.” I suppose Romney is the least worst of them. If elected, he’s likely to abandon his current positions as readily as he did most of his previous positions.

Barack Obama has been no great prize either. He holds his great achievements — the health care bill and the rescue of the auto industry — at arm’s length, as though he doesn’t want them to stain his suit.

The world has begun the fourth year of a financial crisis with no end in sight. Our leaders not only don’t have the answers; they don’t seem to know the questions.

I don’t agree with everything my friend Richard says, but I’m beginning to share his rising sense of panic.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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So You Think You Can be President?


Likening Social Security to a Ponzi scheme was the least crazy thing Perry said during the recent debate among Republican presidential candidates.

Donald Kaul By Donald Kaul

 In a country with a functional political system, Rick Perry‘s presidential candidacy would be laughed out of the room.  I mean, really. This is the 21st century, right? It’s the information age.

 Is it reasonable to take seriously a candidate who doesn’t believe in evolution, is contemptuous of  even the possibility of climate change, and calls the chairman of the Federal Reserve a traitor for attempting to help the economy?

It…is…not.

Gov. Perry’s dismissal of global warming is especially ironic. His state, Texas, is in the midst of the hottest weather and longest drought in its history. Fittingly, when Perry led a mass prayer meeting to ask God for relief, God answered by giving him the biggest wildfire in the state’s history.

You might imagine that the “lamestream media” — the aggressive left-leaning press that exists largely in the fevered imaginations of the hard right — would characterize him as a fool and buffoon.

It…does…not.

It considers him a legitimate candidate, a worthy opponent for President Barack Obama. Actually, he’s dumber than Michele Bachmann.

Perry doesn’t get an entirely free pass, of course. Following a recent debate among leading GOP presidential hopefuls, the media got on him (naturally) for his least crazy statement — his calling Social Security “a Ponzi scheme.” You would have thought he’d insulted Nancy Reagan.

(DonkeyHotey / Flickr)In reality, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, of a kind. It was sold as an insurance program, but it never was. It depends on people putting money into the system faster than other people take it out. That’s classic Ponzi.

But Social Security isn’t the theft kind of Ponzi. It’s one that simply recognizes that younger generations have a societal responsibility to help support older generations. That responsibility is becoming heavy, however.

When Social Security began in the 1930s, there were far more workers than retirees, and the retirees didn’t, as a rule, live all that long. Providing them with a minimal lifetime income was a cinch. That’s no longer the case. We can now see a time when each worker will be supporting a single retiree, who in turn expects to keep driving around in his or her RV. Not going to happen.

My solution would be to raise or even eliminate the cap on payroll tax contributions. That way, a guy who makes $30 million-a-year would pay the same percentage of his income into Social Security as the guy who cleans his office. (I guess I’m just a flat-taxer at heart.) In any case, something has to be done, and we’re not doing it.

Overall, that Republican debate was kind of depressing, inspiring an “Is this all there is?” feeling.

Mitt Romney continued his imitation of the job-seeking teacher who, when asked if he believed the earth was round, said: “I can teach it round and I can teach it flat.”

Bachmann didn’t do much. The rest of them were…the rest of them.

Folks, we’re trying to pick someone who might become the next U.S. president. There’s no sign so far that Republicans actually care which candidate would make the best president. They just want the thrill of a contest. I thought that’s what “So You Think You Can Dance?” was for.

The day after that Republican debate, Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on the economy where he laid out a program that would create jobs, cut taxes, and might do some good.

The Republicans of course were dismissive, even though he promised to travel the country hitting them over the head with their reluctance to provide jobs for workers instead of tax cuts for people who don’t need them.

All of which is fine. But his solution, while welcome, is still too timid. It’s better than nothing but where was this speech and this program last year?

We’ve officially got 14 million Americans unemployed, and the total number of people who are out of work, have given up looking for work, or are scraping by with part-time jobs when they want to work full-time is an estimated 25 million. Yet these guys keep playing games.

None of this would be happening if the news media were still alive.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. – www.otherwords.org

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Sleazy Corporate Holiday


You were right, Dad; they’re all in it together.

Donald Kaul  By Donald Kaul

  My father, long dead, spent his working years in tool and die shops in Detroit, an experience from which he crafted a political, economic, and social philosophy of life.

  “They’re all in it together,” he would say. That was the very core of the philosophy.

  Were high wages bad because they made prices go up? Were high profits good because they made the stock market go up? Did politicians who complained about how little they were paid mysteriously become millionaires while in office? Did the World Series go seven games?

It was all evidence to him that his theory was sound. He never bothered to say who “They” were, but it was fairly obvious whom he meant: the forces that made sure that in any given situation the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and, more than that, that the scales of justice were short-weighted to the advantage of money and privilege. Life, to my father, was just one big company store and the prices were not negotiable.Creative Commons image by Erlend Aasland

  I wish he were alive today to see what’s happening. Even a cynic like him would be shocked at how the conspiracy that so outraged him has been codified into a system of government.

  Tell a conservative Republican that the rich are getting richer and the poor    are getting poorer and he’ll say: “So? What’s wrong with that?” His only  quarrel with what’s happening is that the rich aren’t getting richer fast enough.

 Go to the Supreme Court and say: “Your Honors, is there any chance soon that you’ll rule against a corporation being sued by an individual who’s  been cheated, misused, and left on the beach to die?” By a 5-to-4 majority  the court would reply: “Get lost. We don’t pick winners and losers; we just  apply the Constitution. Is it our fault that the Founders loved owners better  than workers?”

 The latest example of the imbalance in our society to come down the pike is  the lobbying effort by giant U.S. corporations to win a huge tax break on overseas profits. This isn’t chump change we’re talking about. Apple has $12 billion out there, Google $17 billion, Microsoft $29 billion, others more.

These are profits earned overseas, often by sending jobs overseas. If they brought the profits home right now, they would be taxed at the official, though mythical, 35 percent corporate rate.

They want the government to declare a one-year “repatriation holiday,” taxing the foreign profits at 5.25 percent a year. It would be great for the economy, the lobbyists argue, increasing tax revenues and allowing the companies to invest in new jobs back home. If they don’t get the break, the profits stay overseas, untaxed.

It sounds like a deal, right? Except, isn’t there something sleazy about American companies sending jobs overseas, then holding American taxpayers for ransom before they’ll pay taxes on the profits they earned doing so?

As for companies using the money to create jobs here, it probably won’t happen. After the last big tax holiday in 2005, companies tended to pass back the extra money to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks.

Many of them did create new jobs, of course — by building new plants overseas.

You were right, Dad; they’re all in it together.

I still don’t think seven-game World Series are fixed, though. Maybe the umpires, just a little.

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