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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "letters to the editor"

Creating an Equal Opportunity Page

October 3, 2012 ·

Letter to the Editor

I spotted letters from 14 men and three women on the Sept. 22 Free for All page. It caused me to wonder if women’s letters aren’t being published or whether we’re just not writing many letters to the editor. But then I remembered that I’m a woman. And, hey, I wrote a letter to the editor about the extraordinary inaugural reading by our new poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, that wasn’t published. Trethewey is not only a woman but also the first person of color to hold the laureateship in 17 years.

What gives? Is another grammatical error in The Post (the subject of several of the Free for All letters) really more important than one of the most significant cultural events of the season? Or is this some guy thing I just don’t understand?

Sarah Browning
Washingston, D.C.

This letter was originally published in the September 21st edition of The Washington Post.

Letters to the Editor: Readers Respond to Kaul's Departure, Part II

July 29, 2012 ·

Here's another sample of the poignant letters Donald Kaul received following his farewell column and my tribute to him. We've gotten more than 100 emails and at least a dozen snail-mailed letters and cards so far. Keep them coming and continue posting to the comment sections below Don's column and my commentary. As I explained in an earlier post, please re-send any emails you thought were delivered to OtherWords@ips-dc.org prior to Tuesday July 24. Due to a snafu, they were lost.

—Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Send (or re-send) your letters to Donald Kaul via email to otherwords@ips-dc.org. You may also snail-mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.

Your insight, wit, commentary, analysis, story-telling, embellishment, etc. have delighted me since elementary school. You are one hell of a story teller, and always with a twist that makes your readers think. For better or worse, your writing made a big impact on my life. I learned to think and to question and to not be a dumb sheep in life. I became a Democrat partly because of you. Thank you for opening my eyes and inspiring my ability to feel for the less fortunate and to call bullshit on the indifferent. Thanks for making me laugh and making me cry. Thanks for making me mad and indignant enough to get involved in good causes…I would wave my good health wand all around you if it would help. Good luck and God Bless You, Donald Kaul.
—Cara Murphy, West Des Moines, Iowa

Donald Kaul (right) at the annual bike tour of Iowa he helped found in 1973 (Des Moines Register).

Please — after you recuperate from your heart glitch — continue to occasionally entertain us with your wit and humor. I have been amused for years with your columns and enjoyed the humor of Mike Royko, Rob Borsellino, and Clay Thompson from the Arizona Republic. It is nice to be able to pick up the newspaper and smile about SOMETHING that I've read! Columns such as these are a good antidote to all the reality around us. I hope your recovery goes well, and hope we haven't heard the end of you yet!
—Deanna Rhiner, Fort Dodge, Iowa

I've enjoyed your writing for many years. Don't quit now. We need your insights and opinions.
—Connie Goeb

Take care of your health first. Then, please, please, please come back to doing what the public forum needs most – and, generally lacks – a voice yelling “the emperor isn’t wearing any clothing!” and then explaining in measured tones the reason for the outcry.
—Cynthia Boyer Blakeslee

Thank you for all the insight you've contributed to the Des Moines Register. I suppose there are a lot of other things to do at age 77 but your wisdom and insight is greatly appreciated. First, I wish you and your family the best as you recover from your health issues. Next, you are the reason I read the newspaper even in the Internet age. God bless you for questioning things and wondering where our nation is headed. I am scared to death, too…I wish you could write forever and perhaps, some way, some how, you can. Keep the faith. God bless.
— Chip Giles, Des Moines IA

I have read and enjoyed your political columns for many years. You have a special ability to find and analyze kernels of truth that many others miss. Your humor and well-placed sarcasm are also effectively used to help make your point. I share your frustration with the current sad state of our hyper-polarized political discourse. Here in southwest Missouri, we are "blessed" with an abundance of "Bible-thumping know-nothings fueled by money from modern robber barons," as you so aptly put it. I certainly understand your decision to suspend writing your column indefinitely. Selfishly, however, I hope the day will come when you decide to resume writing, at least on an occasional basis. You have much to say, and you say it so well. Thanks again and best of luck.
—Roger W. Leonard, Republic, Missouri

I have a few email “friends” who occasionally send me right-wing garbage. I sometimes respond by sending them a link to one of your columns…Thank you for all these years of interesting, informative and good humored reading.
—Judy Guy, Springfield, Missouri

Just read your latest column and I'm so sorry you had the cardiac event, however, happy that you survived it and haven't lost your feistyness. I always look forward to your column and frequently give you a big "yes" — almost always, really. I'm 79 years of age and certainly understand your desire to retire but, trust me, you will be sorely missed. What with all the idiotic Republican rhetoric, you are our one bright, intelligent read. I live in Salida, Colorado, a mountain town of about 5,000 souls — many who don't agree with my beliefs — translated that would be Republicans. Anyway, we just co-exist in relative peace. I wish you all the best and especially good health and peace.
—Norma Smith, Salida, Colorado

No question about it Donald, all Iowans are "heartbroken" regarding the news of your recent bout with your heart…With your way with words and the scores of folks like me who have enjoyed your columns over the years, get back too it ASAP!
—John Langin, Johnson, IA

Darn oxygen. You'd think a molecule like that (O2), which makes up 21 percent of the atmosphere, would cooperate a little when it comes to nourishing your heart muscle. But, alas, there are lots of reasons that little molecule couldn't get to those nice heart muscle cells. I imagine you've become a bit of an expert in that process by now. Most people react after the fact and, you're probably like the rest of us, researching that process. I would urge you to go one step further with the oxygen molecule. Now that it's nourishing your heart muscle, which is dutifully pumping your blood, follow the next oxygen molecule as it exits your aorta and hangs a left up those nice carotid arteries leading to your brain. Now it's time for those great neurons of the brain to receive their gift of life. The neuron lives and your thoughts flow with the reading of these words. Isn't oxygen great? Keep your words flowing so my neurons keep requiring that oxygen molecule, and I keep thinking. Because, when it comes right down to it, no words: no thinking. And, then, what's the point? Happy oxygen pumping and neuron firing! Continue to heal quickly!
—Clark Harris, Branson, Missouri, Clark Harris [cdaharris2@gmail.com]

Since Molly Ivins left us, you have been the only link to reason in this crazy world.
—Dr. Larry L. Shaw

Please do not desert us in this wasteland, Mr. Kaul. I've been reading your column since I was fifteen years old (yes, I was a girls basketball player) and I hold you responsible for my deep-rooted cynicism. You're the light shining in the darkness. Do not unscrew your lightbulb now. Take some time for R&R&R (rest, recovery, etc.) and give us some more of what you've got. Love and best wishes.
—Eileen Nelson, a faithful Iowa reader

I am a long time reader/admirer of your columns and am so sorry you've hit a bump in the road that brings the columns to an end. As a fellow heart attack survivor (talk about denial...I drove myself to the hospital!) I know there's a lot of life left after the attack. My cardiac rehab involved riding a stationary bike....you can handle that. It's my hope you will soon feel well enough you'll want to resume writing. You have had the gift over the years to express what I was thinking and feeling but was unable to express nearly as coherently or cleverly. I own your books, have a collection of yellowing clippings of your columns and really still hope for more.
—Nancy Ross

Your words in today's Winston-Salem Journal made me declare aloud, "Yes, he has earned his freedom from our frightening national political scene." You have been a "friend" for most of my life; I began reading your column in the Des Moines Register when I was a freshman at Simpson College in Indianola. Fortunately, you have appeared in newspapers wherever I have lived. I will miss both your wisecracks and your wisdom. But, you know, when I recently retired, walking away from my role as Human Resources Director of an organization of over 2,000 employees, I compared it to what I imagine experiencing weightlessness feels like. You deserve that also! Let your burden down!
—Carol Gearhart, Pfafftown North Carolina

I’m 76 and have retired three times. Likewise, I’ve returned to the newsroom thrice. For my story, just patch in your brilliant column. My attack came on gradually but ended up with a December 12, 2011 open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve with bovine skin and a double bypass in the bargain. The recovery was brutal. Long story short: I’m back in the newsroom, which includes banging out a weekly column (for 46 years), upon which western civilization depends. Now I’ve never lied to you before, right? My fervent advice is: Go back to work, forthwith! Your kind of writing and blunt truth is needed now more than ever. I believe the Republic is hurting. Finally, what in the world could you do that would be more profound. Just existing in good health is not a viable option. Thank you for your great piece on the attack and warning to other poor wretches such as we.
—Bob “Hawk” Ellis

I read your column regularly (in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader). I don’t always agree with you...in fact, you and I are often on opposite sides of political issues...but I find your column interesting and provocative, and at times very helpful to me as I try to think through just where I stand on various matters; it “makes me think,” in other words.

I guess I qualify as one of those “...Bible-thumping know-nothings” (Republicans!) you write about, in some ways, but I also agree with you 100 percent that this is not the America I grew up in, nor is it the America I long to pass on to my children… Please know that I value your work as a columnist who speaks his mind, and, being in my 70s also, I understand somewhat what you are dealing with. I hope and pray that your good health can be restored, and if you do decide to begin writing your column again, I’ll be here (Lord willing) to again benefit from reading it. God bless you, and hang in there!
—Mabe Davidson, Branson area of Southwest Missouri

I was saddened to read of your recent heart attack. I hope this finds you in good spirits, recovering on schedule and preparing your next column. I'm happy to continue to read you in the Des Moines Register, a tradition reaching back to the 1960s, when my family would discuss your writings around our dinner table. Nowadays, if you see a family gathered around a meal table with their heads down, you can be assured that — rather than sharing a moment of silent reflection — they're checking their mobile devices for whatever form of electronic ephemera is the current rage. Your work is a beacon of sanity in a crazy world — I'm reminded of what Jonathan Swift said about how a man of genius never failing to rally a confederacy of dunces. Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery!
—Michael K. Bryant

I have been reading your columns since I was a kid growing up in Iowa. Maturing from being a follower in a super conservative family to becoming a sound and active liberal adult, I have evolved while enjoying your take on life. Your ability to zero in on the issues of the day, cutting through all the accompanying BS, has been a joy to read. While saddened at the turn of events with your health, I know from personal experience that modern cardiac medicine really can put you back together until you are about 100 percent. So, from this corner of beautiful northeast Iowa, know that a fan is thinking and praying for your excellent recovery and (hopefully) a return to doing some writing.
—Jane Kemp, Decorah, IA

We hope you can rest, recuperate, stick to your vegan diet (!), and come back with pencil sharpened! We do need your voice in these fearful times. And thank you for alerting us to The China Study. It is changing our lives.
—Winifred and Ellis Standing Earlham, Iowa

We will miss him so much. My husband and I live in northeast Missouri and drive 12 miles every Sunday to buy the Des Moines Sunday Register, mainly because of the Donald Kaul articles. I sometimes can get it online from the website of the Burlington, Iowa Hawkeye newspaper. We hope Donald is able to resume writing his columns in the near future.
—Ann Barker

I have so enjoyed the return of your columns to the Des Moines Register. I'm a big fan from your original time in that paper. Please, please consider continuing your column when you feel up to it. You know you're going to keep up on current affairs anyway so you might as well tell us what you're thinking. We need you! Best wishes either way,
—Art Horgen, Knoxville, Iowa

The political atmosphere in the USA is enough to give a thinking, caring person, like you, a heart attack. Your health now is primary. Take care, and thanks for all your thought-provoking columns.
—Barb Sorlie, Ankeny, Iowa

If you decide for sure not to write any more columns, I will sorely miss reading them. Politically, we are usually on the same page, me being a liberal Democrat without much patience for Republicans —although some of them are friends of mine, I have to say. You can't avoid Republicans when you live in Lewisville, North Carolina…Democrats have few voices willing to speak out with as much conviction as you do, but you've done your share and then some. If you want to smell the roses until you're a hundred, you've certainly earned the right! I just want to tell you that I'm sorry for your health troubles, and that I'll miss your columns more than I can say. Thank you for writing them.
—Terri Kirby Erickson, Lewisville, North Carolina

Indeed Donald Kaul's column in the Des Moines Register has been a wonderful blend of biting humor and penetrating insights into our life and times pushing us all to look more carefully at the distressing tenor of our political and social life today. He has indeed been a breath of fresh air as our political climate has become more combative on the state and national levels. His insights on his own life and our life together have been entertaining, insightful and challenging and we hope that he will contribute more writing as he is interested and able. Thanks, Donald, for sharing from all of your heart.
—Nancy and Dale Hanaman, Rippey, Iowa

It has been 16 years since I had my triple bypass and I am doing great at 85, cussin’ Republicans and eating juicy tomatoes from my own garden. I was saddened, as I am sure you were, by the death of William Raspberry. I know you must have appreciated his work as I did, but I recommend that you do not join him, at least right away. If you crank up the sharp pencil again I promise I will find a way to get hold of your work. Best wishes! Pax et bonum.
—Curt Welborne

I am, I think, a Christian in the arena waiting for the sound of thundering lions paws here…Don, You have no idea how important you are to all of us, We can only pray that reasonable people like you will be able to derail what I think is sure to come, that our country will, if it hasn't already, become a country of lords and serfs. What a beautiful country and what a great shame. I for one am fighting to my last breath to try to in my own small way save what I love so dearly, and I know that there are lots of us out there!
—Chuck Maloney, Springfield, Missouri

Sorry to hear that problems with your bleeding heart may deprive us of the laughs provided from your left-wing nut perspective. Along with the laughs provided from the right-wing nut perspective of Ann Coulter, sometimes the opinion section is funnier than the comic section. If you ever need to take a quick nap, I suggest you try reading a column from the boring George Will…Enjoy your retirement.
—John Ross, Gulfport, Mississippi

Say it ain't so! You absolutely MUST continue writing (aka truth-telling). Your columns have always said exactly what’s been on my mind; however, you always said it better and with more flair than I could have…Please, I beg of you to reconsider and share your valuable insights as part of the largely silent majority. Yes, I agree that educated thought and civility is in decline in this country. But if your voice is silenced, the ignorant, small-minded and mean-spirited bigots WIN (even if they are in the radical right minority). If you stop writing, yours won’t be the only heart that is broken.
—VaLinda Parsons, Ames, Iowa

I am extremely saddened to read that you are considering not returning at all. While I can completely understand after reading today's column, I can still regret the loss of one more voice of reason in this era of scary people like Rush Limbaugh. With so many moderate, reasonable politicians getting out because of what you described, I keep wondering who is going to be left to speak for those of us who have no forum. My memory is not as good as it used to be but I'm sure you recognize the poem I'm referring to: Who will be left to speak for me? My husband and I live in southwest Missouri — not exactly a hotbed of liberal thinking! Sometimes, we feel as if we're the sole liberals left in this county!...Good luck in your "last years" and remember that you gave many of us a great deal of enjoyment with your learned, enlightening words.
—Lana Roach, avdrdrs@sbcglobal.net, Missouri

This is a moan of anguish! As a Richmond, Virginia native, I (and my wife, Lake), had to rely on the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News Leader for all political philosophy for almost 50 years before moving away. Your reasonable approach to the D.C. situation has been a breath of spring. It has been available to us through the Biloxi Sun Herald. We look forward to your views and would be greatly disappointed to see you retire.
—Tom Andrews, Mississippi

While I have no clear idea how I plan to spend the waning years of my life, as you seem to be deciding how to spend yours, one thing is certain. In my view, the world is a less colorful, informed, and intelligent place without your public voice in it. Thank you for letting me listen.
—Patrick Lord

Trump is nobody. YOU are THE DONALD. Please don't stop writing columns. I am 77 and I was retired for 10 years. It was awful. Don't lose the momentum.
—Dan Felshin, Springfield, Missouri

I live in a small remote one-newspaper town. Our editor writes that President Obama couldn't possibly do anything right. Guest opinions are usually from The Heritage Foundation, Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity. Your columns are a breath of fresh air and you gave a sense of humor which "conservatives" do not seem to have. Your column published in The Mountain Mail on July 25th was right on. I do hope you will continue to write and appear in our local paper. Also, for your information I am not a radical left winger, but a 92-year-old long-time registered (but disgusted) Republican.
—George Blake, Salida, Colorado

Your wit and humor have been a welcome diversion from the dreary and overly dramatic dribble which too often passes for commentary these days…Our readers — at least those who were open-minded enough to read your columns to their conclusion — have benefitted from your writings, whether they know it or not. I know I have.
—J Swygart, Opinion Page Editor, Decatur Daily Democrat, Decatur, Indiana

I hope you will find the means to continue writing; your weekly editorial columns have always been a bright spot in this part of the Bible Belt.
—David B., Aurora, Missouri

Even though I am a Republican — yet one disgusted at my party — I will miss your insightful words should you decide to permanently discontinue your column. Yet I could not blame you. I hope you fully recover from your recent heart attack. And I thank you for the much-needed reminder to many to not ignore the warning signs.
—Dan Engler, Springfield, Missouri

Thanks for summing up the state of the nation so succinctly. I agree totally — and thanks for citing Yeats, that's it exactly. Best wishes for a speedy recovery and many happy years doing whatever you most like to do.
—Virginia Graziani, Redway, California

I want to thank you for almost 40 years of columns I enjoyed reading most of the time…I was sorry to read of your recent heart attack (and surprised — you're a biker and a vegan, after all!) in this morning's paper, and wish you a speedy recovery. Go ahead and have a great retirement, if that's what you decide to do. There's always Cal Thomas! Aacckkkkk.
—Lori Carroll, Muscatine, Iowa

Well, Donald, I'm sure gonna miss you. Sorry to hear of your heart problems. Hey, at 77, that's not so bad...could have been worse. I don't blame you for wanting to retire. I'm retired, and I strongly recommend it. It's a wonderful life...everyday is Saturday! I was always excited to see your column in the Lake Charles (Louisiana) American Press. I will miss your humor and your spin on the ridiculousness of the political landscape. Enjoy your freedom and take care of yourself.
—Patty Cope, a fan from Cajun Country

I don't blame you for retiring, but I will miss your voice of reason. In these times we really need people like you to illuminate the darkness. I hope there is someone who can take your place.
—Roger Clark

I have always enjoyed your columns, even though I disagree with you most of the time. I am an Independent leaning toward Republican, while you are definitely a Democrat. I do try to vote for a person rather than a party although sometimes I feel like marking "none of the above." But I have always enjoyed your take on things (although you and I will always have to disagree on Obama). You have made me laugh, made me mad, and made me think, which is what great columnists do, and there are all too few of you. I will miss your columns.
—Sharon Gates, Nixa, Missouri

You are hands down my favorite columnist. The combination of insight, humor, and sometimes even compassion are unmatched by any other columnist. If you decide to quit, no one will be able to replace you.
—Bob Michielutte

Letters to the Editor: Readers Respond to Kaul's Departure

July 25, 2012 ·

Managing Donald Kaul's fan mail got harder after his farewell column. That's no surprise — he's a master columnist with a vast and loyal following. Yet I had a hunch that this part of my job wasn't quite as challenging as it should be. So I checked with the good people who manage the OtherWords email system and got what Don would call "unsettling news."

Virtually all the emails sent to OtherWords@ips-dc.org were going nowhere. And they weren't bouncing. Anyone sending them had no way to discover that no one would ever read them.

I hate to admit this. But I want to do my best at shepherding all those messages from all the readers and editors who are relaying their kind words to Don. A tech expert has sworn that those vanished emails aren't retrievable no matter how hard he and his colleagues wave their magic wands. So, if you emailed a note to that address before Tuesday afternoon, when we fixed this snafu, please send it again.

Donald Kaul (left), during the Des Moines Register's first Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) in 1973. Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Register.

Here's a collection of my favorite letters and comments that streamed into my inbox before and after this glitch got resolved, paired with gems I found in various comment sections. Please, keep them coming. I've excerpted passages from the longer missives and left in two terms that may be unfamiliar. Many readers refer to "Over The Coffee," the title of Kaul's column in the Des Moines Register for years. Because he sometimes playfully referred to himself as "O.T. Coffee," he earned the nickname "O.T."

—Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Please send (or re-send) your letters to Donald Kaul via email to otherwords@ips-dc.org. You can also snail-mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.

The Letters So Far

"Thank you for the years of wit and insight you have provided. I hope you have many years left at '100 percent.' If you do, send me the name of the doctors 'cause I haven't been at 100 percent in many years either. I don't have to go through that whole heart attack thing to get to 100 percent do I? Hug the wife, eat well and avoid nincompoops as best you can, unless you find them entertaining. Highest regards, a fan."
—Gene Ferrell

"I am 84 and if you stop writing I'll have to call 911. Seriously, please keep writing. It doesn't have to be politics all the time. Tell us about your life in journalism. You're a very funny guy who is quite serious. Don't let your fans down (and you've got tons of them)."
—Norm from Glenview, Illinois

"Your assessment of what is going on in DC, and in the rest of the country, also, the churches, is right on in my book. Please keep on writing! The world still needs the wisdom (dare I any longer use that word?) of the Silent Generation, especially yours. Besides, it will be good for you! I know that you are not a 'believer,' whatever that exactly means, but I am, whatever that exactly means, so I will just go ahead and offer prayers for your recovery and health. Best wishes."
—Elliot Blackburn

"Get well and keep us sensible folk in mind. The crazies are taking over. You have more great observations to make."
—Ann Bevington

"Even though Congress may give you a bad stomach ache, we need you to keep on a keepin' on. I'm looking forward to the day when you'll be back on the firing line. With best regards,"
—Roy Hickman, Kerrville, Texas (formerly from Ames, Iowa)

"You help to keep us sane by voicing what many of us are thinking but not articulating, certainly not as well as you do. Thanks for all of these years of great reading...may they continue."
—Sue Sharp Johnson, Oelwein, Iowa

"What a great article, My broken heart! Telling all your readers about what you went through, always adding a little humor, a little advice, but still writing about what's so important to most of us Americans. Please get back on your road to recovery and hopefully back to what you have always done best, writing! Your faithful reader,"
—Duane Lombardi

"This brings both good news and bad news about Donald Kaul. First, I'm so glad to hear that he survived the serious heart attack. But the last of what he wrote, about him dropping out of writing, is very sad/bad news. The last part of his words, about the status of our country and Congress, contain some real hard hitting zingers and I sure agree with him. Best wishes Donald. I hope you won't give up on your writing. You have sharp and needed wisdom to share. I hope I will be able to read your words at least from time to time. The crooks, the robber barons, the bible thumpers, the politicians on both sides, and the apathetic public all need your wise attention."
Charlotte Walker, Coralville, Iowa

"I wish Donald well in his recovery, will take his advice regarding chest pains and will miss his columns that were islands of respite in the sea of madness that is this on-line posting, publishing, social media or whatever we call it place on the Internet where we go to read and write now."
—Paul Deaton

"My thoughts are with you, Donald. I may be one of the few people in the country who can honestly state that I have every book you've published. I often feel like things have gone to far to keep fighting, but I've decided the alternative to fighting is dying, and I don't think you're any more ready to do that than I am. Take care of yourself."
—Maciej P. Wojtkowski, Olsztyn, Poland

"I grew up in Iowa, nurtured on a weekly diet of 'Over The Coffee' in the Des Moines Register. Donald, you were my first :-) columnist that I read regularly. Your column about Pat Buchanan's speech at the 1992 Rep. Convention is permanently laminated in my literary collection. I am wishing passionately for your complete physical recovery and hoping that you find the fortitude to keep writing. But mostly just get well!"
pammy2

"Your columns have helped me cope with the madness that's taking over. And while that might not suffice as a reason for you to continue writing, it's not nothing. Here's wishing you a long and happy life. Thank you for the many smiles, laughs and insights since I found Over The Coffee in the 1975."

—John Kerr, Lee's Summit, Missouri, formerly of Rockwell City, Carroll, and Ames, Iowa

"I and most everyone I know have been reading Kaul since we were kids. Congrats to Kaul on the positive prognosis and he deserves to live his life out happy for everything he has already given us. For us though, the world is a little less sane without his commentary."
—Trish Nelson, University of Iowa

"So sorry to hear of your recent health problems but I wish you a full and speedy recovery. I also hope you will find the means to continue writing; your weekly editorial columns have always been a bright spot in this part of the Bible Belt."
—David B., Aurora, Missouri

Verizon Shortchanges the Facts

May 29, 2012 ·

Verizon's corporate communications director published a guest column a few weeks ago in the Meriden, Connecticut Record-Journal that recently came to our attention.

Bob Varettoni's column responded to our Shortchanging America op-ed distributed via OtherWords, which the Record-Journal also published. In it, he invoked Sgt. Joe Friday, the Dragnet TV show character who always called for “just the facts.” But Varettoni skewed many of his own so-called facts to paint a picture that bears little resemblance to the concerns we raised.

Our op-ed raised three principal concerns about Verizon's lack of corporate responsibility. First, we argued that Verizon is so successful at avoiding federal corporate income taxes that it claimed refunds of $758 million over the last four years, despite reporting pre-tax profits of nearly $20 billion. Second, we said that Verizon has been a major job destroyer over the last four years. Finally, we asserted that Verizon has a contentious relationship with its primary labor union.

Federal Corporate Income Taxes

Varettoni met our challenge concerning Verizon’s lack of federal income tax payment with broad and largely unsubstantiated claims that last year Verizon paid $4 billion in total taxes. That number appears to include all the taxes Verizon paid in 2011. That would mean all U.S. foreign, state, property taxes, payroll taxes, even perhaps sales taxes on merchandise purchased. We don't know for sure, because he doesn't say. This is a common shift-the-focus corporate strategy, particularly among the several dozen firms like Verizon that have turned avoiding federal corporate income taxes into an art form.

We are addressing the fact that Verizon has successfully dodged its federal corporate income taxes. In the tax footnotes of its annual reports, Verizon reports it "current federal income taxes" as follows:

  • 2011:  $193 million
  • 2010: —$705 million
  • 2009:  —$611 million
  • 2008:  $365 million

Current income taxes represents the company’s best estimate of taxes due and payable in a given year. Companies also report "deferred taxes." These are taxes which may or may not be payable in future years, due to various loopholes in the corporate tax code. We, and most other observers, use current taxes as the best representation of taxes actually paid. Like most companies, Verizon prepares its annual reports in the spring, but doesn't file its federal tax forms until September. It's therefore possible that there are slight differences between the estimates in the annual report and the actual numbers reported to the IRS, but these differences are generally small and not material.

In our op-ed, we cite more detailed analysis performed by the non-partisan, widely respected research organization, Citizens for Tax Justice. It's frequently called to testify before Congress and is widely cited as a tax authority in mainstream media publications. This organization takes the current tax number presented by companies and performs additional adjustments to correct for the federal tax effect of state taxes paid and stock-based executive compensation. In its most recent analysis, Citizens for Tax Justice found that Verizon’s four-year federal effective tax rate was minus 3.8 percent.

Varettoni asserts that our calculation of $19.8 billion in profits is wildly overstated. Our $19.8 billion number is U.S. pre-tax profits as reported in the tax footnotes of Verizon’s Forms 10-K. Taxes are calculated off of this pre-tax number. Varettoni cites Verizon’s lower after-tax profits.

If Verizon had paid the full 35 percent federal tax rate on its $19.8 billion in reported U.S. pre-tax profits between 2008 and 2011, the Federal Treasury would have received a $6.93 billion check from Verizon, instead of returning $758 million to the company. This is a difference of nearly $7.7 billion. In his rebuttal, Varettoni points to Verizon's 2011 charitable contribution of $66 million to local communities. Does he really believe that Sgt. Friday, having caught a pickpocket who had lifted wallets containing thousands of dollars, would release said suspect upon learning that he had dropped five bucks in the church collection plate?

Those interested in learning more about Verizon's aggressive pursuit of taxpayer subsidies and avoidance of taxes at all level of government should read Unpaid Bills: How Verizon Shortchanges Government Through Tax Dodges and Subsidies. This report from Citizens for Tax Justice and Good Jobs First shows that Verizon is one of the country's most aggressive tax dodgers and documents Verizon’s behavior, which goes so far as to challenge local property taxes imposed on telephone poles.

Job Destruction

Varettoni argued that our claim of 40,000 jobs destroyed since 2004 is overstated. He points out that 9,000 of those jobs were shed when Verizon sold a piece of its business to Frontier Communication in 2010. We'll have to take his word for this, because the company makes no such disclosure in its 2010 annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the very source that Mr. Varettoni suggests readers consult). Unlike many companies that include information about material transfers of employees involved in acquisitions or disposals in the "employee" section of their Form 10-K, Verizon makes no such mention. The company does include a five-paragraph description of its disposal of assets to Frontier (Note 3 of 2010 Form 10-K), which includes a sentence that mentions in passing some employees that were shifted from Verizon to Frontier, it doesn't however quantify the number of employees affected, nor provide the reader any sense that a large number of employees were involved.

Varettoni also tried to defend Verizon by pointing out that 12,000 jobs were cut as a result of voluntary buyouts of union workers. A job lost whether through involuntary layoff or voluntary buyout, is nonetheless a job not available to an American worker. If we accept Varettoni’s assertion that 9,000 employees were transferred as a part of the Frontier deal, Verizon still destroyed 31,000 jobs globally between 2004 and 2011.

Union Relations

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the largest labor strike of 2011 involved 45,000 unionized Verizon employees. That work stoppage entailed 450,000 days of lost work.

The contentious relations between Verizon and its union can be seen at this Communications Workers of America union website which nicknames the corporation “Verigreedy.” This paints a very different picture than the one of two sides seeking to work things out Varettoni painted.

Varettoni asserts that 150 people were inside Verizon's annual meeting, but makes no mention of the hundreds more who assembled outside and marched through the streets of  Huntville, AL. Local media reports reveal the anger expressed within the meeting itself, noting that workers who protested their treatment by the company were escorted by police from the meeting hall. Photos of the outdoor protests can be viewed here.

Clarifications

Varettoni asserts that our report of Verizon's $106 billion in sales last year was incorrect. On this point he's correct. We used the Fortune 500 2011 listing which itself reported 2010 data. Verizon’s 2010 sales were $106 billion; its 2011 revenues were $111 billion, as he correctly states. Verizon currently ranks No. 15 on the Fortune 500 list.

Kaul's New Super PAC Draws Donor

February 7, 2012 ·

Photo by Basil Gilbert.Laurie Kittle of Springfield, Missouri really gets Donald Kaul's sense of humor. In response to his hilarious Destroy Our Future column, she published this letter to the editor in the Springfield News-Leader. It began by providing him with a "sweet scented rose." Thanks, Laurie!

"I’m on board, Kaul, with your “Destroy Our Future” Super PAC and am willing to donate 5 bazzillion dollars to your unlofty cause. (I don’t have 5 bazzillion dollars, but let’s not let that dissuade us.)

"You, sir, are a man who knows my own mind! I long for a revisitation to the 18th century and am currently fitting myself for a whale bone bodice, long wool skirt and itchy bloomers, of course I’ll have to grow my short hair cut out to waist length so I can mandatorily pin it up so it will not offend. I’ll pretty much look the same I figure.

"You said it masterfully and swift.May the sweet smell of unsuccess waft into the nostrils of the GOP this fall, breathe deep the unclean air and think how much more unclean it’ll be if they win and further deregulate or do away with the EPA completely. I can’t wait. Oh wait, yes I can."