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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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IPS Blog

Entries since July 2012

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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!"

"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

The Lineup: Week of July 23-29, 2012

July 23, 2012 ·

This week's OtherWords editorial package features the last Donald Kaul column we'll run — either forever, or for a while. Don explains his indefinite hiatus in his own words, I pay tribute to him in my column, and Khalil Bendib's cartoon celebrates his brilliant legacy.

"Those loafers are going to be hard to fill," said Randy Evans, the Des Moines Register op-ed editor. OtherWords, along with the dozens of newspapers that have run Kaul's column for years, can't "replace" Donald Kaul. He's a one-of-a-kind writer. But we will offer alternatives to those papers. They're everywhere — from Jackson, Tennessee, to Watertown, South Dakota.

Starting next Monday, we'll add Sam Pizzigati to our weekly columnist lineup. Sam's a progressive inequality expert with a conversational tone that's proven popular with traditional and new media outlets. We may also give short-term guest columnists a try soon. Send your suggestions my way.

As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and visit our blog. If you haven't signed up yet, please do. I also welcome letters, get-well-soon cards, and the like for Donald Kaul. Send them via email to otherwords@ips-dc.org or snail mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.

If you support OtherWords' non-profit mission to amplify progressive voices in newspapers and new media, this time of transition is an ideal time to express your feelings with a tax-deductible contribution. Please consider making a donation.

  1. Real Nowhere Men (and Women) / Peter Certo
    Nowhereisland is about living kindly, governing gently, and not taking oneself too seriously.
  2. Green Scissors for Congress / Ryan Alexander
    The United States can't afford giveaways for mining and oil companies anymore.
  3. The African-American Swing State / Marc Morial
    Obama's re-election may require a repeat of the record rate of Black turnout in 2008.
  4. Lifesaving Law / David Elliot
    Steve Gepner's story illustrates the importance of one of the Affordable Care Act's key provisions.
  5. My Broken Heart / Donald Kaul
    I have to figure out whether I want to spend my last years writing about this new country.
  6. Donald Kaul's Breather / Emily Schwartz Greco
    With all that ink running in his veins, no stupid heart attack could interfere with a deadline.
  7. Tomato Tampering / Jim Hightower
    Scientists have figured out a way to genetically engineer the flavor back into industrial tomatoes that taste no better than their shipping cartons.
  8. Healing Mother Nature's Wounds / William A. Collins
    Our Health Is At Stake.
  9. Donald Kaul Signs Off / Khalil Bendib

Donald Kaul Signs Off, an OtherWords Cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Supreme Court Side-Steps Hate, Racial Profiling in Arizona

July 19, 2012 ·

Em Dickey is an intern for the Break The Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies.

A partial repeal of SB1070 is not enough. Photo by Ivan Boothe/FlickrThe Supreme Court split decision on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law came just 10 days after President Obama’s memo expanding prosecutorial discretion and granted immediate deferred status to all DREAM Act eligible youth. While both announcements deserve to be celebrated in light of the tenacious and courageous organizing that precipitated them, they are not lasting solutions.

Four provisions of SB 1070 were in question: Section 3, which would make it a state crime for immigrants to fail to carry federal registration papers; Section 5(C) which would make it a state crime to work in Arizona as an undocumented person; Section 6, which would give police the authority to make warrantless arrests of individuals suspected to be undocumented; and Section 2(B), which would require Arizona law enforcement to verify the citizenship of any individual they stop if they appear to be undocumented.

Of these provisions, all were struck down but Section 2(B), the notorious “show me your papers” section of the law.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based on an argument about whether or not the state of Arizona has the right to create its own immigration enforcement rules. The case did not address civil rights’ violations or racial profiling. In fact Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (representing the U.S. government), "unequivocally admitted in response to questioning from the Justices that racial profiling was not at issue in the case."

So, let’s name the elephant in the room. Racism is and has always been an issue in Arizona. SB 1070 is steeped in, produced by, and serves to perpetuate racism. From the beginning, racism has been shaping America, when the first immigrants (read: pilgrims) arrived and stole the land from the Native peoples who lived here and still live here. In fact, many Native people in Arizona are harassed and humiliated in the name of SB 1070's "show me your papers" provision by police officers whose ancestors were themselves this land’s original "illegal aliens."

So what is the result of this case neatly sidestepping the issue that is creating a real civil and human rights crisis for real people in Arizona right now? What impact, if any, will the Supreme Court’s decision have on people living in Arizona?

Continue reading this post at the Break The Chain Campaign website.

The Lineup: Week of July 16-22, 2012

July 16, 2012 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Donald Kaul weighs in on New York City's pending ban on supersized drinks and Jim Hightower celebrates the growing success of locally brewed beer. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

Supersized Liberty, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Is the State Department Going Rogue? Or Did It Just Forget How to Spell?

July 13, 2012 ·

The State Department, reporting on the latest U.S.-Israel "Strategic Dialogue," was very proud of the "productive, wide ranging discussion of issues of mutual concern."  (Apparently the recommended legalization of all the illegal and expanding settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory is not an issue of "mutual concern" to the U.S. deputy secretary of state and his Israeli counterpart).

No, the focus was only on the regional situation. Regarding Iran, the State Department made odd allusions to facts about the crisis of which nobody else in the administration seems to be aware.  To begin, State noted that the U.S. and Israel had addressed their concern that Iran is engaged in a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons." There was no explanation of why the conclusion of this U.S.-Israeli dialogue seems to fly in the face of the US intelligence agencies' actual position with regard to Iran's nuclear program, which is that Iran not only does not have any nuclear weapons, and is not building a nuclear weapon, but that Tehran has not even made the decision about whether to build a nuclear weapon.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked his own rhetorical question about Iran: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon?" He then answered with an unequivocal "No."

It was General James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who made clear that the U.S. does not even know "if Iran will eventually decide to build" a nuclear weapon.

Is that what a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons" looks like?  Or is State running its own intelligence agencies these days? 

And then they discussed Syria. Of course it's widely known that the Syrian regime has assisted Hezbollah, a political and paramilitary organization that happens to be the strongest party in Lebanon’s parliament.  But State's view, following its strategic dialogue with Israel, is apparently the other way around – that it is Hezbollah that is somehow shoring up a reprehensible neighboring regime. And apparently, the reprehensible killings it is assisting in that neighboring state are being carried out by a heretofore unknown regime led by someone named "Asad." Perhaps State's note meant to reference the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the brutally repressive government that has reigned over Syria for the past 12 years. But we can't be sure. 

When dangerous regional escalations are at stake, when Israel is threatening war against Iran, and the U.S. and its allies are threatening to join and thus further escalate the civil war in Syria, one would hope for a bit more consistency in U.S. policy – whether or not policymakers are talking to Israel.  Not to mention a bit of attention to spelling.


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