March 25, 2006

WEEKEND SPECIAL: DENNY DIMWIT DEFENDS FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS


In Goat Rope’s continuing efforts to provide fair and balanced coverage of the issues of today, we are pleased to once again welcome Professor Denton “Denny” Dimwit, Ph. D. Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Entrepreneurship Center, which is not yet affiliated with the WVU Entrepreneurship Center but is getting closer every day.

THE DIMWIT DISPATCH

OK. I see you had some more stupid stuff in this blog about free trade. Free trade is AWESOME. Yeah. It lets the market do whatever it wants to do. That’s the way it should be, see? If the market wants to use the bathroom on your rug, deal with it. Because whatever it does is good. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t. Got it?

The market automatically puts everything where it’s supposed to be, based completely on merit.

I can prove it. OK. You know what I’ve got? I’ve got this BIG hen. I mean she’s huge. She’d make about six of me. Man… And I’m the only rooster, see? Isn’t that great? Yowza! That’s the market and I say don’t mess with it.

Here’s the scientific economistic proof. OK. X-1 means a rooster just like me without a BIG hen. That would be bad, see? Especially if it was me! So let’s stick with X. That’s what I say

And that’s the truth. You bet your cloaca.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED


March 24, 2006

NEEDED: A PAINTBALL ECONOMY

When El Cabrero's kids were younger, we went paintballing. For the uninitiated, if there are any, paintballing is where you run around and shoot at other players with pellets of dye. Needless to say, both the daughter and son found this to be The Coolest Thing Ever.

It was kind of like an up to date version of the Viking paradise where you do battle to your heart's content without having to go through inconvenience of injury, death, and decomposition. If you lost, it might sting some and you got splattered, but you could start right over.

The image of paintballing came to mind again while trying to get a handle on the global economy. While we clearly need to block and/or substantially modify so-called "free trade" agreements to protect labor and environmental standards, this will not be enough to protect stable democracies or economies. We need a paintball economy.

Here's a partial list of some ingredients:

*First, we need universal, affordable and comprehensive health care. The old link between work and insurance isn't working as well as it used to--and it never worked for many people. For many Americans today, loss of a job means loss of health care, which in turn makes it harder to find another job. This is what the authors of the recent book Uninsured in America (see Goat Rope archives for more) called the "death spiral." Unfortunately, those words sometimes literally apply.

This is urgent purely from a business standpoint. The high costs of the current health care unsystem (I think I made a new word) make it difficult for US businesses to compete with those operating in countries (the majority in the developed world) that provide universal health care. The recent problems in the auto industry are only one recent example.

And this will require public policy. The market god won't get us there, no matter how much its worshippers wish it to be so.

*Second, we need to guarantee lifelong access to education and training. I mean as much education as you can stand. This could be done by beefing up financial aid and by expanding tax credits such as the Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits and other deductions for education related expenses.

*Third, we need wage insurance. Wage insurance would replace some of the earnings of workers who lose their jobs and find other employment that pays less. This should not replace unemployment compensation, but provide another option for workers shaken up by layoffs, outsourcing, plant closures, etc.

*Fourth, we need sane federal budget priorities where investments in infrastructure, the social safety net, and education are more important than unnecessary wars and tax cuts for millionaires. For lots of reasons, these investments--and particularly a strong social safety net--are more important than ever under globalization.

*Fifth, we need to restore the right of workers to organize. Every year, thousands of workers are fired for attempting to organize unions and many more are intimidated. Passing the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (more to come on this) would be a start. This proposed legislation would certify unions as bargaining representatives once the National Labor Relations Board rules that a majority of workers signed cards in favor of membership. It would also increase penalties for employer intimidation and violation of workers' rights.

This isn't exactly a Bolshevik--or even a Menshevik--program. Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat and poet laureate of outsourcing--calls for most of these measures in his bestselling book. With these measures in place, we may get splattered by the global economy but can start over again with minimal damage. Paint stains are easier to deal with than blood stains.

Moving in that direction, however will require steering our national ship of state in a different direction.

March 23, 2006

APPALACHIAN SPIRIT: GREATEST HITS, VOL. III

One of the things El Cabrero loves about Appalachia and West Virginia in particular is our tendency to occasionally get rebellious. This rebellious spirit was seen in the American Revolution--Thomas Jefferson and others praised the "Overmountain Men," i.e. hillbillies, who rallied to the cause at critical times.

The tradition continued when western Virginians, with a little help from Abraham Lincoln, seceded from the Virginia secessionists to form West Virginia in 1863 (or Year Zero, as I like to call it). It flourished again and again in epic labor struggles beginning with the great rail strike of 1877 that started in Martinsburg and spread across the country and continued with the many (sometimes literal) battles to build the United Mine Workers of America and other unions.

The UMWA, once established, helped create the Congress of Industrial Unions, which organized mass production industries around the country and contributed greatly to the democratization of American life. Other struggles, such as the black lung movement and Miners for Democracy, sprang from here but had nationwide implications. The last really big rebellious episodes in our time were the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989-90 and the Ravenswood Lockout of 1990-92. Those who participated in these struggles and this spirit were women and men, young and old, black and white, native and foreign born.

One troubling tendency of recent decades is that many of the people who inherited the Appalachian spirit have had to go into exile, leaving the area and hanging up their lyres on the willows by the rivers of Babylon as mines closed down and jobs were shipped offshore. Many of those who have since moved in don't share the traditions.

The pastoral letter "This Land is Home to Me," published by Appalachian Catholic bishops in 1975 and featured in the last few Goat Rope installments, also speaks about the Appalachian spirit:

"...the children of the mountains
have fought for a different way.
Their struggles and their poetry
together keep alive
-a dream,
-a tradition,
-a longing,
-a promise
which is not just their dream,
but the voiceless vision
buried beneath life's bitterness
wherever it is found.

They sing of a life
free and simple,
with time for one another,
and for people's needs,
based on the dignity of the human person,
at one with nature's beauty,
crowned by poetry.
If that dream dies,
all our struggles die with it."

"It is the mountain's spirit of resistance
which must be defended
at any cost,
for at stake is the spirit
of all our humanity.
There are too few spaces of soul
left in our lives."

"Dear sisters and brothers,
we urge all of you
not to stop living,
to be a part of the rebirth of utopias,
to recover and defend the struggling dream
of Appalachia itself.
For it is the weak things of this world
which seem like folly,
that the Spirit takes up
and makes its own.
The dream of the mountains' struggle,
the dream of simplicity
and of justice,
like so many other repressed visions
is, we believe,
the voice of Yahweh among us."

Here's hoping for a revival of the old time Appalachian spirit, perhaps best exemplified by goats. El Cabrero pledges to do his part. Will you?

March 22, 2006

GREATEST HITS, VOL. II

From ancient times, people have recognized the dangers of concentrated power. Countering the "usurpations" or arbitrary concentrated power of the British monarchy was the driving force behind the American Revolution. The framers of the US Constitution deliberately created a machine with lots of friction so that the different branches of government would check each others and all branches would be checked by a citizenry guaranteed basic freedoms.

Recent events have shown the wisdom of those concerns. But a dangerous trait of modern (and post-modern, if you want to go there) times is the concentration of economic power, which is now so strong that it has made the government its servant.

These issues were also powerfully addressed by the Appalachian Catholic bishops in the 1975 pastoral letter This Land is Home to Me. Here are a few excerpts that are truer today than when they were written:

"Human beings cannot be trusted
with the immense opportunities for oppression and extortion that
go with the possession of monopoly power."

"Pius XI pointed out that,
...in our days not alone is wealth accumulated,
but immense power and despotic economic domination
is concentrated in the hands of a few...
This concentration of power has led to
a threefold struggle for domination.
First...the struggle for dictatorship
in the economic sphere itself;
then, the fierce battle to acquire control of the state, so that
its resources and authority
my be abused in the economic struggles;
finally, the clash between states themselves."

"The bishops judged then that,
an important factor making for insecurity
is the immense power and despotic domination
which is concentrated in the hands of those few
who frequently are not the owners,
but only the trustees and directors
of invested funds."

It is the considered view of El Cabrero that the bishops nailed it.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

March 21, 2006

MINING SOME "OLD" GOLD

I had the occasion recently to read a pastoral statement first published by Appalachian Catholic bishops back in 1975 called “This Land is Home to Me.” OK, it was a slow day. Still, it holds up remarkably well.

One thing that is particularly striking about reading it in our gilded age of kleptocracy is its critique of the quest of profit at the expense of all human values and its exposure of the idolatry at the root of the worship of the market god (a favorite theme of the El Cabrero). As old as Isaiah, as new as today...

Some take-home messages are that 1. people make the economy and can change it; and 2. the economy exists for people and not people for the economy.

So here is the first installment of the Goat Rope version of the Appalachian Catholic Bishops Greatest Hits, Vol. I:

ON MARKET IDOLATRY

“…technological rationalization
and the profit principle
have served important functions
in human development.
It is not they themselves
that form an idol,
but the idol is formed
when they become absolutes
and fail to yield,
when the time has come
to other principles…”

“Some may say,
‘That’s economics,’
but we say
that economics is made by people.
Its principles don’t fall down from the sky
and remain for all eternity.
Those who claim
they are prisoners of the laws of economics
only testify
that they are prisoners of the idol.”

"...Worse still,
swallowing us up in things
is the power of the idol
which eats away at our openness
to the Living God."

"The choice between the Living God
and inert idols
is not only a choice between justice
and injustice;
it is also a choice
between life
and death."

Not bad at all, guys! Hats--make that miters--off to the bishops. More to come...

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: HIGHER THAN IT HAS TO BE

March 20, 2006

IRAQ WAR COSTS TO INCREASE

Around the US and the world, the third anniversary of the Bush administration's preemptive war against Iraq was marked by protests. Support for the war has dropped dramatically among US citizens and the majority of US troops now favor leaving Iraq within a year if not sooner (see Goat Rope Archives, March 3 posting).

The war has now taken the lives of over 2,300 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Nearly 17,000 US soldiers have been wounded.

But while public support of the war is dropping, the economic costs to the US are only increasing. According to Bloomberg.com, "U.S. military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan will average 44 percent more in the current fiscal year than in fiscal 2005, the Congressional Research Service said." For more, click:

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0317-01.htm

This means an increase in monthly war spending from $6.8 billion to $9.8 billion.

Combined with huge tax cuts aimed primarily at the wealthy since 2001, the war has led to record deficits. Last week, the US Senate raised the debt ceiling to nearly $9 trillion.

Ironically, rather than rolling back some of the tax cuts for those who least need them or working for a viable exit strategy from Iraq, the administration and congressional leaders cut social services for low income and working people by $40 billion for the last fiscal year and will attempt to do so again this year, even though these cuts will not result in deficit reduction.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: GETTING HIGHER