March 18, 2006


In an effort to provide the kind of fair and balanced reporting the public deserves, Goat Rope is pleased to introduce a new contributor to this blog whose viewpoints may challenge those which regularly appear here.

Professor Denton "Denny" Dimwit, Ph. D., holds a degree from the Close Cover Before Striking School of Free Market Economics. He is director of the Goat Rope Farm Entrepreneurship Center (which is not directly affiliated with the WVU Entrepreneurship Center, although it is actively seeking affiliation).


OK. It's about time you had somebody on this blog who knows what he's talking about. I'm getting sick of hearing about workers' rights. We should be talking about the free market, which is all good, all knowing and all perfect. Think of it as a rooster like me, only bigger. Yeah, that's it. A really big rooster just like me.

The beauty of the big rooster, I mean free market, is that anything you do to help working people only hurts them and that the best way to help them is to really hurt them. I mean really stick it to them good. Isn't that great?

Another thing. Government should never interfere with the free market. Ever. In fact, government should never do anything. Except maybe give corporations tax breaks or outright subsidies or grants or maybe unbid contracts. That would be OK. Or protect patents or intellectual property. And clean up the messes corporations make so they don't have to. And like maybe provide infrastructure. Busting unions is OK too. So is locking up lots of poor people in prisons, especially if they are privatized, and defending the sacred rights of property. And invading other countries to protect corporate interests. But that's it.

This is why it's good for Wal-Mart to get a billion dollars in government subsidies but it's bad to make Wal-Mart provide more health care or pay states the difference. It's totally scientific.

I'll prove it: OK. Suppose that a stands for all that is good and b stands for all that is bad. It follows that a is not b. Got it? Ok. Then a=a and b=b. What could be clearer?

And that's the truth. You can bet your cloaca on it.


March 17, 2006


I’ve gone several days without mentioning wages, so here goes. There is a movement in progress in the US House of Representatives to force a debate on the federal minimum wage. Congressman John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat, has introduced House Resolution 614 which would move the issue to the floor if a majority of lawmakers (218 out of 435) sign it.

The resolution, called a “discharge petition,” would force debate and possible action on 2429, which would raise the federal minimum in three steps to $7.25 an hour, i.e. to the same level approved by the WV Legislature for workers covered under HB 4023.

Meanwhile, here are some factoids on wage inequality:

*According to United for a Fair Economy, CEOs of major corporations now “earn” 431 times as much as average American workers.

*A Just Minimum Wage, written by Holly Sklar and Paul Sherry for the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign (see link), reports that the same CEOs "earn" as much as 952 minimum wage workers.

*A New York Times editorial noted in Jan. 2006 that “If the minimum wage had advanced at the same rate as chief executive compensation since 1990, America’s bottom-of-the-barrel working poor would be enjoying salad days, with legal wages at $23.03 an hour instead of $5.15.”

COMING WEEKEND ATTRACTIONS: You guessed it--more gratuitous animal pictures.


March 16, 2006


Last year an impressive coalition of religious, labor, community, and advocacy groups fought hard to oppose drastic cuts to social programs in the federal budget. While not able to stop $40 billion in cuts to Medicaid, student loans, child care, and other programs, they were able to limit some of the damage to low income and working families.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration's proposed budget for this year includes more of the same, including $182 billion in cuts over five years to domestic programs excluding homeland security. Medicaid would take another hit, as would student aid. Vocational education programs would be cut or eliminated. Head Start would be frozen, a step which the National Head Start Association said would cause 19,000 fewer children to be served. Food packages to the elderly would be stopped as would housing programs aimed for this population. You get the idea.

You may have guessed the rest of it: the budget also includes $285 billion in tax cuts, including making permanent those set to expire as well as new ones. According to the Coalition on Human Needs, "Although the service cuts hit people with low to moderate incomes hardest, they get very little out of the tax cuts. On the other hand, millionaires will average $136,000 a year in tax breaks..."

For a detailed analysis of the budget from CHN check

So it's once more unto the Breach...


March 15, 2006


Researchers have estimated that as many as 18,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to lack of quality health care. For a good look into this situation, check out the book Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity by Susan Starr Sered and Rushika Fernandopulle. Despite the apparent wonkiness of a book on health care, it’s actually a page turner, with hard data combined with profiles of uninsured people across the country. (It would have been cooler if there were goats in it though.)

While there is a tendency today to blame lack of health care (and poverty) on individual choices, the authors argue that “The inability of a large portion of the U.S. population to access health care services in a systematic and medically competent manner is a consequence of social and economic developments that predate and underpin individual life histories.”

Instead of following the path of most industrialized nations in providing universal health care—which presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman supported—health care in the United States was often linked to employment. That worked pretty well for a while, but globalization and the switch to a low wage service economy has weakened or severed the link for millions of Americans, including retirees who were promised care for life.

Despite the delusions of the true believers in the cult of the market god, health care is more like a public good, such as public education or fire protection, than a commodity like iceberg lettuce or even alfalfa cubes for goats. (And remember, the same people who are now pushing Health Savings Accounts are the ones who thought starting the war in Iraq was a good idea: see Goat Rope archives).

The authors of Uninsured in America say that the only approach to the problem is “to make the provision of basic, comprehensive health care for all Americans a public rather than a private responsibility.” Far from a radical idea, this is acknowledging a reality. In West Virginia, for example, the vast majority of those with health insurance—over 70 percent--get it from some public program, whether it is Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, or the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

There is some local good news. The legislature passed HB 4021, which expands CHIP coverage to children in families up to 300 percent of the poverty level, provides pilot primary health care programs, and allows insurance companies to see bare bones policies. The bill also created a panel to explore ways of achieving universal coverage here. These are positive incremental steps, but as a nation we are still not heading in the right direction.


March 14, 2006


Last week, an interesting article appeared in the New York Times about our old friend Wal-Mart. I meant to write about it at the time, but was consumed by the campaign to raise the you-know-what.

It seems that Wal-Mart is looking for love in the world of blogging. This is probably due to some bad publicity and legislation passed in Maryland and proposed around the country which would require the giant retailer to spend more on employee health care or pay states the difference. The company has been sending pro-company messages to bloggers in an effort to boost its image. And some have been using them, sometimes word for word.

According to the article, “Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.”

Apparently the company has not been directly paying bloggers to say nice things about it. That’s too bad because, while I’m opposed to crass materialism, the goats are almost out of the alfalfa cubes they like and good hay. Still, it might be worth a shot. Here goes:


I love Wal-Mart. I think it’s great that they’ve gotten around a billion dollars in subsidies from state and local governments that otherwise might have been wasted on education, infrastructure, and human services. I especially like the fact that my beloved state of West Virginia has given the company millions in subsides so that it could run local companies out of business.

And that Wal-Mart store in Canada that they shut down because the workers wanted to join a union—that was just awesome. I am especially proud that the largest private employer in my state and nation with around $300 billion in annual sales pays so little in benefits and wages that states pick up the tab with public assistance programs. I’m also really glad that the company has been messing with around employees at the Nitro, WV. They were probably spoiled anyway.

The End

Excuse me while I check the mailbox. I’ll be right back…

Nothing there. OK. They had their chance and blew it. It’s on again.


March 13, 2006


It is the devout hope of El Cabrero not to use the words “minimum wage” again for a long time. It’s bad enough to watch the goats swagger around and listen to them bragging (see previous post). Still, a wrap-up might be in order.

THE GOOD NEWS. The legislature overwhelmingly passed HB 4023 which raises the state minimum wage in three steps to $7.25 per hour by June 30, 2008. Odds were very high against the passage of this bill, particularly in the Senate, where it was referenced to three committees, usually a sign that a bill is destined to fail. It nearly crashed and burned at several points in the last few days. The bill was amended in the Senate to include state employees. A handful will benefit by the change this year, but the number will increase in the future.

THE LESS GOOD NEWS. Although you couldn’t tell by reading it, the bill does not cover most employers in the state. This is due to exemptions and definitions in state law and reportedly a state Supreme Court decision. It has been estimated that at first only about 1,500 or so of the approximately 20,000 minimum wage workers in West Virginia will benefit right away. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

THE NEXT STEPS. We need to start working now on next year’s campaign to amend the law so that it covers everyone. This will take a little research and also will involve keeping intact and building upon the coalitions that made this happen.

SPEAKING OF WHICH. The success of this campaign showed the power of diverse coalitions. Speaking in very general terms, the key partners were (aside from the goats) labor, the religious community, and advocacy groups and community organizations. These groups haven’t always worked together in the past but are getting a whole lot better at it. This shows what coalitions can do. There were also some very dedicated people in the WV House and Senate who pushed this issue to the center stage.

STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE. This victory will probably have significance beyond West Virginia. Several campaigns are now in progress to raise state minimum wages. Anytime another state does so, it makes it easier to argue for doing it somewhere else.

The location of WV is also significant. Most of the states with higher minimums are in the northeast or west. There is a lot of ground we need to take in the south and the center.
It’s one thing to say that it happened in California or Massachusetts and another to say it happened in West Virginia. Finally, every state win should add to the pressure on Congress to raise the minimum for everyone.

So nice job, folks--us hillbillies did it again! Jog a victory lap.


March 12, 2006


“We came, we saw, we kicked,” said a jubilant Arcadia S. Venus, leader of the United Cabrines and Surly Quadrupeds of America (UCSQA) after the WV Legislature passed a bill raising the state minimum wage. The goat union previously endorsed the increase measure.

When asked about the contributions of other groups to the struggle, Venus was dismissive. “You guys did what you could, but face it: you were toast till we got here. The thing to remember about us goats is, we don’t care. When we roll, we roll.”

Venus also observed that working people would be more likely to gain their just objectives if they “became more goatlike. The motto of the UCSQA is ‘All attitude all the time.”

Still, she cautioned observers not to misinterpret goat involvement. “It’s not that we like you guys that much. You’re just lucky we were bored.”