May 06, 2006

GOAT ROPE OF THE WEEK: MAKING US SAFER (NOT)



Caption: She's back. Goat Rope national security advisor Lily is howling over the results of the latest State Department Report on Terrorism.

One of the frequently given but constantly changing rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq is that it would make us and the rest of the world safer from terrorism.

It doesn't seem to be working out that way. The Los Angeles Times reported April 29 that the annual State Department report on global terrorism "concludes that the number of reported terrorist incidents and deaths has increased exponentially in the three years since the United States invaded Iraq, largely because of Iraq itself."

There were 11,111 attacks that caused 14,602 deaths in 2005. According to the Times, "Those figures stand in contrast to prior State Department reports, which cited 208 terrorist attacks that caused 625 deaths in 2003; and 3,168 attacks that caused 1,907 deaths in 2004." Thirty percent of the attacks and 55 percent of the deaths occurred in Iraq.

The State Department has changed its methodology over the last two years in compiling the report after criticism that the statistics presented an overly optimistic view that overlooked much terrorist activity.

To view current and past State Department reports on terrorist activity, click here.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: HIGHER THAN IT HAD TO BE

May 05, 2006

WEEKEND SPECIAL: DENNY DIMWIT ON MARKET DRIVEN HEALTH CARE



The Goat Rope is pleased to once again welcome another learned commentary from bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit. Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Entrepreneurship Center, which is still, alas, not directly affiliated with the WVU Entrepreneurship Center.

This feature is part of Goat Rope's ongoing effort to provide space for opposing viewpoints and to create a climate of mutual respect, dialogue, and civility.

THE DIMWIT DISPATCH

Crudorama! This blog must have cornered the stupid market. Did you guys like major in stupidity when you went to stupid school?

And what's this thing you had in there on health care this week? The one with the picture of Dr. Big Jim Fuzzy Rooster? You call that a rooster? I thought he was a dust bunny. If I'd have known he was a rooster, I would have introduced him to the sheriff of this county. Which is to say: me.

Well get this, crud brains, once and for all. I'm the Head Rooster in Charge on this farm, see? And I know WAY more than Fuzz Ball about health care. And I can prove it scientificologicalicalistically.

Check out the picture. See that handsome guy in the background? The really good looking one? That's me. And see that looming mountain of beauty in front of me? Know what that is? I'll tell you. That's one BIG hen. And she's with me. Got it?

Does Fuzz Ball have a BIG hen? I didn't think so. It's just one more proof of the beauty of the free market.

That's the truth. You bet your cloaca.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

May 04, 2006

OIL COMPANIES CASH IN ON TAX BREAKS



Caption: This oil magnate is sitting even prettier thanks to tax breaks passed two years ago. "Let them eat Vaseline," he says.

If you have been as worried as El Cabrero about whether oil companies are doing OK these days, you can relax. Not only is Big Oil cashing in on record prices, but a tax break passed in 2004 has turned out to be oil-fired gravy train.

According to the May 8 issue of Business Week,"The tax breaks were part of a 2004 law intended to benefit U.S. manufacturers. But oil producers, along with many other businesses, got in on the action. Profits from both oil produced domestically and foreign crude refined in the U.S. are eligible. 'There is no reason why they should have this deduction, except they have very effective lobbyists,' says Leonard E. Burman, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center."

Just how much are the tax breaks worth? Reportedly, Conoco-Phillips saved $106 million last year. Business Week says the "provision has already cut taxes paid by oil companies by hundreds of millions of dollars and could be worth as much as $10 billion over the next decade."

You gotta hand it to those oil industry lobbyists. Selling this administration on tax breaks for oil companies--that's got to be a tough job.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: HIGH BUT NOT AS HIGH AS OIL COMPANY PROFITS

May 03, 2006

HEALTH CARE: HERE, THERE, AND EVERYWHERE



Caption: Dr. Big Jim Fuzzy Rooster, Goat Rope health policy advisor, says "Hey you dingbats--it's all about health care."

We are in the midst of Cover the Uninsured Week. Around the country, diverse coalitions concerned about the US health care crisis are staging events to draw attention to the fact that nearly 46 million Americans lack health care and as many as 18,000 die prematurely because they don't have it.

For a good overview of what this means at a personal level, check the book Uninsured in America: Life & Death in the Land of Opportunity by Susan Starr Sered and Rushika Fernandopulle. I've plugged the book before, but it's worth a look.

DESPITE SPENDING MORE, AMERICANS SICKER THAN BRITISH

Meanwhile, the AP reported May 2 that:

"White, middle-aged Americans--even those who are rich--are far less healthy than their peers in England, according stunning new research that erases misconceptions and has experts scratching their heads.

Americans had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and cancer--findings that held true no matter what income or education level.

Those dismal results are despite the fact that U.S health care spending is double what England spends on each of its citizens."

Richer Americans were about as healthy as low income British.

Researchers were at a loss to explain the differences, although El Cabrero would suggest that guaranteeing citizens health care would go a long way towards heading off serious diseases.

Dr. Michael Marmot, an epidemiologist at University College London "offered a different explanation for the gap: Americans' financial insecurity. Improvements in household income have eluded all but the top fifth of Americans since the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the English saw their incomes improve, he said."

Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health, although not involved in the study, suggested that financial related stress could contribute to US health problems: "'The opportunity to go both up and down the socioeconomic scale in American may create stress,' Mr. Blendon said. Americans don't have a reliable government safety net like the English enjoy, he said."

POOR HEALTH CARE A LEADING CAUSE OF GLOBAL POVERTY

Elsewhere, in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy, Anirudh Krishna, assistant professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, writes that of all factors that can push people into poverty, "the leading culprit is poor healthcare."

The results come from a study in which Krishna and colleagues followed thousands of families in several countries (not to mention North Carolina). They found that "health and healthcare expenses are the leading cause for people's reversal of fortune."

By the numbers, among the newly poor:

*in western Kenya, 73 % cited ill health and medical costs as the cause of a decline in well being;

*in Indian Gujarat villages, 88% blamed health care issues;

*in Peru, the number was 67%.

According to Krishna, "Millions of people are living one illness away from financial disaster, and the world's aid efforts are unsuited to the challenge....governments must stand ready to prevent backsliding by providing affordable, accessible, and reliable health care."

Krishna notes that "The phenomenon exists in the rich world as well; half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are due to high medical expenses."

Krishna concludes "It's well past time that political leaders put as much effort into stopping the slide into poverty as they do easing the climb out of it."

In the US, it's well past time that political leaders put as much effort into either of the above as they do to helping the rich get richer.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

May 02, 2006

SOCIAL SECURITY...THE SEQUEL



Caption: Seamus McGoogle, Goat Rope leisure editor and labor economist, warns: "Don't let them try it again."

Last year, people around the country waged an energetic and successful fight against the Bush administration's effort to privatize the Social Security system. The fight may not be over yet.

It is likely that pro-privatization forces will try to take advantage of the just-released annual report of the administration's Social Security trustees that says the trust funds for the Social Security system will be depleted in 2040, a year earlier than their previous projection.

The privatizers are likely to take advantage of the fear factor, their favorite card to play, to push for a cure that is worse than the disease.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in a new report says that "Anyone concerned about Social Security's long-term impact on the federal budget ought to be even more concerned about the long-term impact of extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. If made permanent, the tax cuts will cost nearly three times as much, over the next 75 years, as the 75-year deficit in Social Security."

Further, "Private accounts financed by borrowing would aggravate the problem, as they would drain resources from Social Security and increase its deficits for at least several decades."

For that matter, "Just the cost of the tax cuts for the top 1 percent of Americans, those currently making more than $400,000, is nearly as large as the trustees' estimate of the 75-year Social Security shortfall. It is larger than the CBO's [Congressional Budget Office] estimate of the shortfall."

In contrast to the trustees, the CBO estimates that the trust fund will not be exhausted until 2052.

Take home message: Social Security is eminently sustainable without resorting to the bad medicine of privatization, which is analogous to cutting off one's feet to deal with a sore throat.

An obvious step would be to raise the $90,000 income cap on payroll taxes. Other simple steps include scaling back some tax cuts on people who don't need them and/or dedicating a portion of the preserved estate tax toward the long term viability of the program.

Social Security has strengthened American society across the board and benefits rich and poor alike. Compared to the other problems the country faces, this one is pretty easy.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: LUNAR

May 01, 2006

LOVE LETTER FROM WALT WHITMAN



Caption: Ferdinand, one of several poets in residence at Goat Rope Farm, has quite a barbaric yawp of his own.

In these dark days for democracy, sometimes a shot in the arm is needed--and who could be better to give it than Walt Whitman, poet of democracy and its wound dresser.

Here's a sampler (note: the computer will probably mess up the format a little, but the words are right).

Sage advice from "To the States:"

To the States or any one of then, or any city of the
States
Resist much, obey little.
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth,
ever afterward resumes its liberty.

Whitman knew that democracy requires a rebellious spirit to sustain itself. As he put it in the last poem cited here,

...Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over,
And he going with me leaves peace and routine behind him,
And stakes his life to be lost at any moment...

Whitman knew that life was struggle and that the struggle continues win or lose. We just need to get used to it. In "Song of the Open Road," he wrote:

Have the past struggles succeeded?
What has succeeded? yourself? your nation? Nature?
Now understand me well--it is provided in the essence of
things that from any fruition of success, no matter what,
shall come forth something to make a greater struggle
necessary.

He knew that victory is never final and defeat can have its dignity. In "To a Foil'd European Revolutionaire," he wrote:

Did we think victory great?
So it is - but now it seems to me, when it cannot be help'd, that
defeat is great,
And that death and dismay are great.

The same poem offers some pretty good advice as well:

COURAGE yet, my brother or my sister!
Keep on - Liberty is to be subserv'd whatever occurs;
That is nothing that is quell'd by one or two failures, or any
number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by any
unfaithfulness,
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal
statutes.

What we believe in waits latent forever through all the continents,
Invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is
positive and composed, knows no discouragement,
Waiting patiently, waiting its time.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: NOT LOW BUT DEEP

GOAT ROPE OF THE WEEK: KATRINA AND EVERYTHING AFTER



Caption: The ongoing goat rope in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is still something to howl about, according to Goat Rope homeland security advisor Lily.

Hurricane Katrina blew the cover off more than the Super Dome last September. It uncovered poverty, racism, and exactly what happens when government is run by people who don't believe government can do anything and act accordingly.

An Associated Press poll
conducted in April found that 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the administration's handling the disaster and recovery.

Hurricane victims are not the only ones to suffer in the storm's long wake. Recovery workers have also been taking hits. As the May 1 Business Week put it, "We've heard about the charity, insurance, and procurement fraud surrounding the post-Katrina recovery effort. Less noticed have been the abuses of wage-and-hour laws suffered by some of the thousands of workers who have poured into the three afflicted Gulf states." Business Week reports that the Labor Department is now pursuing 190 cases of wage and hour violations involving thousands of workers.

The stage was set for this abuse when the Bush administration suspended prevailing wage rules immediately after the storm, a move that was reversed in Nov. 2005 after a bipartisan storm of protest.

A new Senate report titled "Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared" sharply criticized the administration's response.

According to the executive summary, "The suffering that continued in the days and weeks after the storm passed did not happen in a vacuum; instead, it continued longer that it should have because of--and was in some cases exacerbated by--the failure of government at all levels to plan, prepare for and respond aggressively to the storm. These failures were not just conspicuous; they were pervasive."

Meanwhile, a new hurricane season is approaching.

How's that homeland security coming?

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ABOVE THE TREELINE