June 02, 2006

WEEKEND SPECIAL: DENNY DIMWIT ON UNIONS


Goat Rope is pleased to once again feature a learned commentary by bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton “Denny” Dimwit. Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Entrepreneurship Center, which models itself very closely on the WVU Entrepreneurship Center.

Dr. Dimwit has also requested that Goat Rope editors use this opportunity to quash a persistent rumor. Contrary to popular belief, Denny Dimwit has not been ghostwriting the weekly political column of the print version of the WV State Journal. While we intend no disrespect to anyone, it should be clear to any reader that Dr. Dimwit is a writer of great erudition whose style is easily distinguishable from the competition.

As always, Goat Rope values the opportunity to share its space with a writer of this caliber who challenges us with an opposing viewpoint. In this way, we hope to contribute to a climate of profound respect, deep listening, and utmost civility.

THE DIMWIT DISPATCH

Crudapatootie! This blog has sunk lower than a crawdad hole. It’s more like a crawdad sewage pipe.

What’s all this stupid stuff about unions this week? Who needs unions?

And I’m not scared of those goats either. You can tell them where they can put their horns.

Unions interfere with the freedom of the market to stick to people where it hurts the most…. I mean to operate efficiently. Yeah, that’s it.

I can prove it calculo-anylatico-trigonemetrologically. Just check out that picture. Guess who that dark, handsome guy in the background is. That’s right. It’s me. Do I look like I need to belong to a union? And see what’s standing in front of me? Did somebody say BIG hen? Yowza! There’s only one kind of union I’m interested in. That’s the beauty of the free market..

That’s the truth. You bet your cloaca.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

CAFTA: COSTA RICAN UNION LEADERS THREATENED


Caption: Union goats are prepared to journey to Costa Rica to support fellow workers. According to union president Arcadia S. Venus (left), “We’re ready to rumble. And I want to eat some rain forest.”

Last summer, a coalition of labor, environmental, community, and religious groups waged a losing battle to stop CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement., which passed the House by two votes.

El Cabrero took some consolation in the fact that none of the votes for CAFTA came from West Virginia, although some of us here have a cynical interpretation about one of those votes.

Although it was a tough fight, it was largely a war of words. In Costa Rica, things may get rougher.

According to LabourStart, a global trade union news service, unions have had their offices raided by armed men and union leaders have received death threats as they prepare for a “street referendum” on June 7th and 8th to protest CAFTA.

Costa Rican unions are asking supporters to email protest messages to President Oscar Arias Sanchez, a CAFTA supporter, and other national leaders. Costa Rica is the only nation which has not ratified the agreement.

To see the action alert, click here.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

June 01, 2006

PRIVATIZATION AGAIN: PART D



Caption: You may have heard that the devil is in the details. This is him.

Privatization has many faces. One of these that millions of American seniors have had to face recently is the Medicare Part D drug program. Actually, the term is a little misleading and is part of the problem.

Instead of being a program run directly by Medicare, which has low administrative costs and could negotiate lower prices from the pharmaceutical industry, Part D is only available through private plans. The legislation that created Part D actually forbids the government from negotiating lower prices. This creates a bonanza for insurance and drug companies but will add hundreds of billions of dollars to costs paid by taxpayers and seniors.

It's another classic example of what authors Si Kahn and Elizabeth discuss in their book, The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy (although El Cabrero's henhouse has had more problems with weasels than foxes).

Speaking of seniors, many recently faced a May 15 deadline to sign up for one of the many private programs or face lifetime financial penalties. It's not clear at this time how many were unable to meet the deadline. Many advocacy groups supported an extension of the deadline and removal of the penalties. So far, this effort has not been successful, although legislation to do so has been proposed.

It won't be long before many people who did enroll in the program will hit what has come to be known as "the doughnut hole," a gap in coverage of annual drug costs between $2,251 and $5,100 in which seniors must pay for all prescriptions themselves even as they continue to pay monthly premiums. This will probably lead many to skip vital medications altogether.

For the philosophically inclined, I would suggest that the program approximates the Platonic ideal of a goat rope.

Around West Virginia and the nation, seniors and allies are coming together to urge Congress to fix the program. This article from today's Charleston Gazette does a good job of outlining the problems and the solutions.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: DIZZYING

May 31, 2006

RESTORING THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE



Caption: Ethel Fuzzy Chicken says "Support the Employee Free Choice Act!"

A 2005 poll conducted by Peter D. Hart and Associates found that 57 million American workers would join a union if they could. And for good reason: the labor movement has been the ticket to a measure of economic security and a voice on the job.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2003, union workers averaged $21.45 per hour compared with $16.96 per hour for nonunion workers. Union workers fared better in health coverage as well. A union member’s share of employer-sponsored health care was 12% of the premium for single coverage and 19% for family coverage, compared with 19% for single and 31% for family coverage for nonunion workers. (Source: The Self-Sufficiency Standard for West Virginia 2005, p. 38.)

A major step on the way to shared prosperity and a growing middle class would be restoring the rights of workers to organize. OK, so it’s still there on the books in the National Labor Relations Act, but the decks are heavily stacked against workers as employers frequently resort to intimidation and other dirty tricks.

In a survey of 400 National Labor Relations Board elections between 1998 and 1999, employers illegally fired workers for union activities in at least 25% of organizing drives. American Rights at Work places that figure at 30% and estimates that a worker is fired or discriminated against for union activity every 23 minutes. Other tactics include mandatory anti-union group an individual meetings, mailings, and threats of workplace closure or layoffs.

A remedy that is gaining momentum is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would increase penalties for illegal firing of employees, increase worker protections, mandate union recognition when a majority of workers sign cards in favor of membership and provide for mediation and arbitration.

Despite opposition by congressional leadership, bipartisan support for the measure is growing. Continued pressure from below could make the difference.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

May 30, 2006

GOAT ROPE OF THE WEEK: THE PRIVATIZATION AGENDA




Somewhere in Joseph Heller’s classic Catch-22, the amoral capitalist Milo Minderbinder says "Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry."

At the time the book was written, this absurdity generated laughter. In retrospect, it turns out to have been prophetic.

The privatization agenda has advanced rapidly since 2001. Despite a major defeat in the case of Social Security, it continues to move “forward” in education and many former government services.

In their recent book The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy, Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich define privatization as the corporate effort to “undercut, limit, shrink, or outright take over any government and any part of the public sector that (1) stands in the way of corporate pursuit of ever larger profits, and (2) could be run for profit.” And nothing is sacred here.

Which brings us back to Milo. According to Kahn and Minnich, the US military is among the most privatized in the world. In fact, whatever one thinks about the war in Iraq, looking through the military lens can show just how far the privatization agenda has advanced and how dangerous it is.

Aside from the murky world of mercenary civilian “contractors,” many routine services provided in the past by military personnel are carried out by private corporations in Iraq and elsewhere. In late December 2004, this had tragic consequences when insurgents blew up a mess hall, killing 22 people.

Kahn and Minnich help fill in the blanks:

On December 23, Gwen Ifill interviewed retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. He raised another question. “What mystified me when I heard about this, Gwen, was that even in maneuvers back in the Cold War days when you were just playing war, you got your chow and you dispersed, because in war, if an artillery shell hit you, you wanted them to kill two or three of four soldiers at most, not forty or fifty or sixty or eighty.

“And what’s clearly happened in Iraq is we violated our own rules about troop dispersion in wartime. I suspect it has to do with outsourcing. This mess hall, mess facility, chow hall was run by a contractor.

“Instead of security, what we saw was convenience and efficiency. But it just baffled me that this base and this chow hall, specifically…had been attacked before with rocket fire, with mortars. And we were still crowding these troops, not even staggering the schedules. It just astonished me.”


Efficiency in the interest of profit trumped safety. As the authors conclude, “Outsourced, contracted out: Feeding the troops had been privatized.”

Unfortunately, while the drive to privatization has clearly gone too far already, there is no end in sight.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

May 29, 2006

IN MEMORIAM...

For those who have died in past wars and particularly for the nearly 2,500 American soldiers who have died in Iraq.

Whatever one feels about war in general or the current war, those who are or have been there have gone through a long and difficult period of training, have undergone deep personal and family hardship, and have placed their lives and physical and mental health at risk for something beyond themselves and for very little in the way of material rewards.

This is more than can be said of many people, including most of those who “gave” us this war.