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DONALD KAUL: Nobody wins a game of chicken at the Capitol

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | 3:57 p.m. CDT; updated 5:26 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The problem with the game of chicken — two people racing toward each other, each daring the other to turn aside — is that the crazy one always wins.

The one who doesn't care about head-on collisions has a stunted imagination and can't conceive of the consequences a crash would produce.

The rational player, on the other hand, is ultimately forced to swerve out of the oncoming madman's way. It's the responsible thing to do.

Yet, the guy who swerves first is viewed as the loser and a wimp.

That's pretty much the way President Barack Obama's debt-ceiling game with the tea party Republicans has played out. Obama has been branded the loser and a wimp. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is beating his chest in triumph.

It doesn't seem fair, but that's what we have in Washington these days. Adults are playing games that not even slow-witted teenagers play anymore.

I fear that in swerving to avoid the Tea Party Express, Obama has driven his administration into a ditch from which it won't soon climb out.

Even his staunchest supporters are asking questions like these:

"If you cannot stand up against the right wing on an issue like the debt ceiling — which is, after all, more a legal requirement than an option — what can you stand up for?"

"If you cannot explain to the American people the need to raise the debt ceiling without surrendering to political blackmail, what can you explain?"

I don't get it. If Obama can't be outraged at this spectacle, what can he be outraged by? Instead of "No Drama Obama," he's more like "No Pulse Obama."

When Obama popped onto the national scene just seven years ago, he dazzled millions of Americans. He was woefully short on experience, but he was obviously whip-smart and able to speak eloquently about the problems that vexed us. After eight years of being Bushwhacked, that seemed like sheer heaven.

Then he relocated to the White House. Obama the Eloquent disappeared, replaced by the Great Compromiser. Rather than using the Oval Office's bully pulpit to make the case for his positions, he started playing "Let's Make a Deal" with the Republicans. He sought a bipartisan solution to every problem, and he always began by giving away half the store before negotiations started.

Someone should tell him that it takes two to tango and that the Republicans don't want to dance.

Obama allowed the Republicans an open field to push the view that the deficit was the crucial issue of the moment, rather than chronic unemployment. Thus, he was only able to get an anemic stimulus package passed which, while it helped avoid disaster, didn't do enough to put a real dent in joblessness.

As a result, he managed to alienate his political base — liberals — while empowering his fiercest enemy — the tea party. And he keeps running around, looking for someone to hug.

I realize that Obama has faced a very difficult situation — I've defended him on that basis for months now — but sooner or later he's going to have to do something or we'll decide he's not very good at politics.

That's not the worst thing you can say about a citizen, but it's one of the worst you can say about a president. Politics is his job.

That said, the deal that emerged from the debt-ceiling crisis is an awful thing, a Frankenstein monster of a "compromise" that promises more than it can possibly deliver. Put into action, it will do more harm than good.

The deficit will continue to balloon, poor people will get poorer and rich people and vast corporations will continue to avert paying their fair share of taxes.

Can we stop the world for a minute? This is where I want to get off.

Donald Kaul writes for otherwords.org, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.


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Comments

Cheyenne Greene August 11, 2011 | 9:42 a.m.

#1 Mr Kaul - define 'fair share'. Clearly you are not an economist, or at least not a good one.
#2 - 'politcs' is not his job. THe psople of this country hired him to lead, he has faild to be a good leader. He is in forever campaign/holiday/crisis management mode.
#3 a job is just busy-work if you don't produce something that someone is willing to pay for. The stimulous packages would not do that in any form.
#4 the Tea-Party is not the "fiecest enemy" they are the PEOPLE, the citizens! The fiecest enemy is emerging from the East!

I'll have to look you up but suspect you are a product of the liberally biased education system. You will learn from the crisis and not from history... if you learn at all.

(Report Comment)
Cheyenne Greene August 11, 2011 | 9:47 a.m.

having glanced at your bio I see you must be (sigh) unteachable and unreachable. My words here were will fall on deaf ears.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 10:30 a.m.

Suppose that a couple with one child owns a $300K house and that $2K of their property taxes goes to the school district, which spends an average of $9,300 to educate each child. Would Kaul consider that couple to be paying their fair share? Or would he argue that they should lose their child-related tax credits/deductions and also pay, say, another $6K toward their child's annual education costs?

(Report Comment)
Cheyenne Greene August 11, 2011 | 10:39 a.m.

Private School or Home School is the better alternative. Currently Fed funded Public School system is inadequate and clearly our society is not getting our money's worth.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller August 11, 2011 | 10:41 a.m.

Donald Kaul, a retired opinion columnist from the Des Moines Register, enjoys an unrelenting hatred for George Bush, Republicans, Conservatives, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Halliburton, tax cuts of any nature and anyone who disagrees with him. Otherwise, he is objective and tolerant in his approach.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 11:00 a.m.

@Karl: Yet Kaul's unrelenting hatred apparently doesn't apply to Arianna Huffington: www.huffingtonpost.com/donald-kaul

From the LA Times:

Huffington Paid Little Income Tax
The candidate for governor has criticized 'fat cats' for avoiding taxes. She denies taking advantage of loopholes and unfair deductions.
By Rich Connell and Robert J. Lopez
Times Staff Writers

August 14, 2003

TV commentator and author Arianna Huffington, who launched her campaign for governor with criticism of "fat cats" who fail to shoulder a fair share of taxes, paid no individual state income tax and just $771 in federal taxes during the last two years, her tax returns show. . . .

The returns show that at least for the last two years, her income was far outweighed by losses that she reported were incurred by Christabella Inc., the private corporation she owns and uses to manage her writing and lecturing business.

In announcing her candidacy last week, Huffington blamed California's fiscal crisis, in part, on the corrupting influence of special interest groups that have helped "corporate fat cats get away with not paying their fair share of taxes."

Failing to close corporate tax loopholes, she argued, would "be a slap in the face of all the hard-working taxpayers being forced to dig deeper and deeper in their pockets so the well-connected can pad their bottom line."

In an interview Wednesday, Huffington said there was no inconsistency between her campaign message and income tax record. She characterized her deductions as "very conservative" and said that any comparison between her and those whom she has criticized would be unfair.

"There isn't any loophole here. There isn't any dodging here," she said. "This is basically putting your income against your expenses."

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 11, 2011 | 11:12 a.m.

JimmyBearfield: Now *that's* funny!

Arianna is a fat cat in denial.

PS: Liberals believe there is OK-rich, and not OK rich.

Arianna is ok rich. So are the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Gores, Soros, sports athletes, movie stars, pop singers, and non-profits that are favored.

CEOs of ANY private corporation that makes stuff are NOT ok-rich.

This means it is ok to be rich so long as you verbally advocate for those who are not rich. You don't have to actually DO anything...you just have to say the magic words.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 11, 2011 | 11:27 a.m.

I see, Mike. So when your business loses money next year you are going to pay taxes as if it didn't. Right?

Don't worry. Maybe someone will be stupid enough to agree with your logic and accept a bad smear job for what it isn't.

(Report Comment)
Brian Wallstin August 11, 2011 | 11:38 a.m.

J. Karl Miller, a retired Marine, enjoys an unrelenting hatred for Barack Obama, Democrats, Liberals, ACORN, the ACLU, tax revenues of any nature and anyone who disagrees with him. Otherwise, he is objective and tolerant in his approach.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 11:40 a.m.

I can't figure out how Huff escaped the AMT. A company can have zero cumulative net profits year after year and still be subject to the AMT.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 11, 2011 | 11:46 a.m.

Paul: Nah, I no longer own a business. I retired at age 52.

I'm absolutely positive Arianna did not use any loopholes in her accounting...you know, those accounting tricks that folks like you positively abhor.

AND, she's rich. She's one of those folks who have accumulated so much money on the backs of the poor. You should ask her to write a check immediately. Unless, of course, she's in your "ok rich" classification....spouting one thing, doing another.

Now, back to "the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Gores, Soros, sports athletes, movie stars, pop singers, and non-profits that are favored". Anything to say about them????

PS: Arianna IS a fat cat.

(Report Comment)
Cheyenne Greene August 11, 2011 | 11:48 a.m.

All Air = 0 (ZERO) logic. think; profit outweighed losses! Of course you have to first understand the Schedule C line for 'profit'.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 11, 2011 | 11:51 a.m.

And Mike is someone who must believe that I am stupider than he.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 11, 2011 | 12:03 p.m.

But obviously not quite as bad as who said this:

"All Air = 0 (ZERO) logic. think; profit outweighed losses!"

which contradicts this:

"The returns show that at least for the last two years, her income was far outweighed by losses that she reported were incurred by Christabella Inc., the private corporation she owns and uses to manage her writing and lecturing business."

which is from the article provided by someone weakly alleging improprieties and who's view the person was weakly attempting to defend.

And

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 11, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.

Paul Allaire says, "And Mike is someone who must believe that I am stupider than he."
__________________

I don't think "stupider" is a proper English word. The proper words are "more stupid". But, thank you for supporting your own post with which I agree.

Hey, I'm not the one who thinks Arianna, Kennedys, Gores, Soros, athletes, pop singers, Hollywood-types, etc., are ok-rich but corporate types are not ok-rich.

You need to explain why it is ok for some folks to be rich, but not others. Otherwise, I doubt your writings on this topic will be taken seriously....which is already a rather low bar. So far, your only responses have been insults; care to try again?

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 11, 2011 | 1:01 p.m.

"Hey, I'm not the one who thinks Arianna, Kennedys, Gores, Soros, athletes, pop singers, Hollywood-types, etc., are ok-rich but corporate types are not ok-rich."

And that is likely to be the third or fourth time you implied that I was. Kind of typical for you.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 11, 2011 | 1:30 p.m.

Paul: My "logic" was that there was a dichotomy between types of rich among liberals.

You commented negatively on my "logic", said it was a "bad smear job", and wondered if anyone would be stupid enough to agree with me.

Which means you *don't* agree with me. Unless, of course, you are one of those stupid enough to agree with me.

So....where are we now? Well, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that we truly don't know if you believe there is ok-rich and not-ok-rich.

Care to take a stab at it?

As that poor radioman messaged to Admiral Halsey, "The world wonders."

(Note: He reacted adversely, too).

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 11, 2011 | 1:42 p.m.

Can someone define "ok-rich" and "not-ok-rich"? Just anyone that wants to try to take a stab at that.....

And just a note for the "cheap seats". Technically, the proper way to spell "ok" is "okay"......

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
http://www.rmriinc.com
(573) 529-0808

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 2:28 p.m.

Maybe "ok-rich" is someone who criticizes America for not doing enough for "the least of these" but gives less than 1% of his $1.2M earnings to charity.

Or maybe it's someone who says, "Catholic social doctrine as I was taught it is, you take care of people who need the help the most," but gives an average of 0.02% of his income to charity over 10 years.

Or maybe it's someone who urges developing countries to forgive loans to developing ones but moves his company to a country that has a lower tax rate.

Or maybe it's someone who complains that his secretary pays a higher tax rate but then doesn't order his accountants to calculate his taxes based on what he believes should be his rate.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 11, 2011 | 2:53 p.m.

Yeah, I understand your definitions; Jimmy. But it occurs to me that anyone that is doing any of these things that you mention is just "playing by the rules" that are laid out for them.

I mean it would be one thing if the people that are doing these things were actually breaking the law; but it seems to be quite another if they are only doing what our laws allow them to do. Now, if they were in fact breaking the law; they would probably no longer be "rich"; since the government could charge them, "freeze" their assets, and if the government can convict them; seize their assets and imprison them. But this does not appear to be the case in the examples that you giving.

If we want to blame anyone for allowing someone to be "not-ok-rich"; blame the government for allowing it to happen.

It's kind of like those "Wal-Mart Life Insurance Policies"; where Wal-Mart takes out a life insurance policy on their employees and names itself as the beneficiary. Then the employee dies and Wal-Mart profits from his or her death. That's clearly "NOT-OK"; but as long as our government allows that to happen; these large corporations are going to do it. And really, who can blame them? They are only doing what they are allowed to do under our laws. When it comes to whether or not you think it is "ok" versus a corporation profiting millions of dollars; as long as it is legally allowed to happen do you think that these corporations really care if you think it is "ok" or not? Are you going to stop shopping at Wal-Mart because these "Wal-Mart Life Insurance Policies" are not "ok"?

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
http://www.rmriinc.com
(573) 529-0808

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 3:06 p.m.

"But it occurs to me that anyone that is doing any of these things that you mention is just 'playing by the rules' that are laid out for them."

Which would be fine if they weren't being hypocritical. If they really believe what they're saying, they can immediately put their money where their mouth is, instead of waiting for the government to force them to. They could pay more than what they're required to and still be playing by the rules.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 11, 2011 | 3:19 p.m.

Well Jimmy, I suppose we could all pay more than we are legally required to, but who wants to be the first one to set the example and do so?

I mean do we really expect anyone to pay anymore money than they have to? I understand charity, but that is voluntary and for a perceived good cause. I don't think paying more taxes that we are supposed to is considered "charity" in many people's minds..

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
http://www.rmriinc.com
(573) 529-0808

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 3:50 p.m.

I would hope that those who criticize others for not paying "their fair share" or not doing enough "for the least of these" would lead the way, but apparently not. I guess it's cheaper and easier when the posturing doesn't include reaching deeper into their own pockets.

If they'd prefer to give more of their money to charity, that's fine. Warren Buffett does that, but it's odd that he'd prefer to see some people forced to give more of their money to the government than to charity. Would he be comfortable if the government intercepted all of his contributions to the Gates Foundation and other charities?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 11, 2011 | 4:39 p.m.

I think you and I are right on the same sheet of music, Jimmy. You make a very good analogy.

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
http://www.rmriinc.com
(573) 529-0808

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 4:59 p.m.

Some people might argue that it's unfair or unrealistic to expect the ok-rich to volunteer to pay higher taxes when there are so many not-ok-rich who won't follow suit. Fair enough, but the ok-rich and their fans need to ask themselves when or even if that situation will change to the point that it makes sense to start voluntarily paying higher taxes.

For example, if they know that there will always be a few hundred or a few thousand not-ok-rich who won't agree to follow their lead, is that amount small enough that they can go ahead and start writing the checks? Some of the ok-rich and their fans have argued that they're comfortable with a minority of welfare recipients playing the system because they believe that a majority are truly deserving. Does that logic apply to their decision about when or if to volunteer to pay higher taxes?

(Report Comment)
Brian Wallstin August 11, 2011 | 5:41 p.m.

@Ricky: A single note, played over and over, is not music.

@Jimmy: So, if I asked the government to take the percentage of my taxes that go to the military and spend it all on, say, low-income housing, you'd be okay with that.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle August 11, 2011 | 5:51 p.m.

Brian Wallstin August 11, 2011 | 11:38 a.m.: "J. Karl Miller, a retired Marine, enjoys an unrelenting hatred for Barack Obama, Democrats, Liberals, ACORN, the ACLU, tax revenues of any nature and anyone who disagrees with him. Otherwise, he is objective and tolerant in his approach."
.

He also cannot stand the way them young'uns dress these days.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 11, 2011 | 5:57 p.m.

Brian asks, "So, if I asked the government to take the percentage of my taxes that go to the military and spend it all on, say, low-income housing, you'd be okay with that."
_________________________

Absolutely! I wish you had that freedom.

Because then I would have the same freedom.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 11, 2011 | 6:07 p.m.

Brian Wallstin, that was funny..

Some people consider "a single note played over and over again" music.. I guess it just depends on your taste in music. As long as the music is "true", whether it is a complex fugue or a single beat; I say: "let it play"....

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
http://www.rmriinc.com
(573) 529-0808

(Report Comment)
Brian Wallstin August 11, 2011 | 6:10 p.m.

And so would everyone else. Want to know where the money would go?

"Education had generally led spending priorities in recent
years, topping the list in 1996-2002 and 2006-2010. In absolute terms support for educational spending has been very high and changed little since 1989.
After a first place rank in 2004 Health finished second in
2006-2010. Together Health and Education distinguish themselves from the other areas as regularly being among the most favored programs during the last decade. In ten surveys since 1990 Health topped the list twice and Education finished first eight times.
Next, in 2010 comes six closely grouped areas, Assistance to
the Poor, Halting Crime fourth, Social
Security fifth, the Environment, Dealing with
Drug Addiction, and Assistance for Childcare ...
Defense is in 18th place in 2010 with a net spending score
of -9.2. It is the first topic on the list to show a negative, net spending score meaning that more people want to make cuts than to increase funding. While low on the priority list, support rose appreciably from a low of -33.4 in 1993 to a recent high of +7.8 in 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Support for more spending then was down in 2006-2010, shifting back into negative scores."

http://www.norc.org/News/New+GSS+Report+...

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle August 11, 2011 | 6:43 p.m.

Brian Wallstin August 11, 2011 | 6:10 p.m.: "And so would everyone else. Want to know where the money would go?... "Education had [snip]...

http://www.norc.org/News/New+GSS+Report+...

----------

Thank you for that link, Brian. The full report is fascinating.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 11, 2011 | 8:40 p.m.

@Brian: Michael said it best: "Absolutely! I wish you had that freedom. Because then I would have the same freedom."

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 11, 2011 | 9:57 p.m.

Well, deja vu all over again! Donald Kaul in his earlier days with the Register was one VERY funny fellow. His observations in his regular column, "Over the Coffee*," had Register readers laughing up a storm. He was occasionally referenced by the really BIG daily newspapers.

*- "Over the Coffee" was originally the vehicle of a Register stalwart named Harlan Miller. I feel confident that Harlan Miller is not related to J. Karl Miller. The Millers lived about four blocks away from us and had a pascal of kids, mostly red-headed.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 12, 2011 | 6:05 a.m.

I once worked, as an hourly extra, for the old family-owned Register, assembling sections of the Sunday Register (a task now done mechanically). I worked from 3:30 pm Saturday until anywhere from 3:30 am to 5:00 am Sunday morning. There were two lunch breaks (workers brought their lunches). I could make more money in one night than a newspaper delivery boy made in a week, without the problems of weather, etc.

I remember one early Sunday morning in late June of 1950. We were about to begin the city edition when the presses stopped. They were stopped for quite a while, and some of us climbed onto the steel assembly tables and took naps, which we were allowed to do.

Then the presses started again and the front page had changed. North Korea had invaded South Korea.

(Report Comment)

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