June 24, 2006

WEEKEND SPECIAL: DENNY DIMWIT FACES CONTROVERSY


Ordinarily, the weekend Goat Rope post is reserved for the learned commentaries of bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton “Denny” Dimwit (pictured left). Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Entrepreneurship Center, which models itself closely on the WVU Entrepreneurship Center. And, contrary to persistent rumors, he is not the ghostwriter for the political columns of the WV State Journal.

However, due to unusual circumstances, we have been asked to allow Persephone, aka Denny’s BIG hen, (pictured right) the opportunity to make a public statement

The BIG Hen Speaks

I would like to say that I was mortified to discover that a certain…creature known as Denny Dimwit has been writing about me on the worldwide web. In his weekly screeds, he speaks of me in the most objectifying manner and implies that some kind of relationship exists between us.

Let me state firmly that I am not now and never have been romantically involved with this little squirt. Until very recently I wasn’t even aware that he was a rooster. I thought he was just an unusually loud and irritating mosquito.

Further, I would not be involved with Denny Dimwit even if he bought the stilts that he so desperately needs on his beloved free market and was the last rooster on earth. Finally, Denny Dimwit’s views regarding females are as backward and wrongheaded as his views on economics.

Thank you for this chance to clear the air.


NOTE FROM THE EDITOR. It is the strict policy of Goat Rope to maintain scrupulous neutrality in intra-henhouse disputes. However, we did allow Dr. Dimwit the opportunity to respond.

THE DIMWIT DISPATCH

Crudzooks! That was SO not funny! I don’t know who wrote that but they're gonna pay. Probably those goats or that lazy cat. I’ll deal with them later

Just get this through your head. The BIG hen did NOT write the above statement. At all. She’s crazy about me. Totally bonkers. Nuts. Gaa Gaa. Gone. And in case you’re wondering, Jack, yeah—she’s with me!

This is just a cheap trick by those caterpillar brains who write for this blog during the week to draw attention away from their own stupidity and to discredit the free market system. Well, it’s not going to work.

Market this!

That’s the truth. You bet your cloaca.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

June 23, 2006

MINIMUM WAGE...CALCULATOR TIME AGAIN


Caption: Back by popular demand: big crawdads and little crawdads join forces to support raising the minimum wage.

The contrast between the long string of congressional pay raises and the refusal of the current ruling clique to raise the minimum wage makes a pretty tempting target.

And to El Cabrero, a longtime devotee of the classical martial arts, wacking away at tempting targets is something of a Christian Duty or, in more inclusive terms, a veritable Kantian categorical imperative. So here goes again…

Since Congress raised the minimum wage to $5.15 in 1997, the value of the wage has shrunk by 20 to 25 percent. In the same period, it has increased its own pay by $34,900, more than a typical worker makes in a year.

As Holly Sklar points out in a recent op-ed,

Members of Congress like to talk about values. They sure don't mean the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

While more and more hardworking Americans struggle to make ends meet, Congress showed what it really values -- the rising value of congressional pay.


I think it’s calculator time again.

A minimum wage worker working 40 hours a week (probably at three different jobs) would have to work 6,777 hours to make the raises Congress has voted itself since the last increase. It would take a little over 3 years and three months.

And the worker in question probably would have done more socially useful work and less harm than the current ruling congressional junta. At least they probably wouldn’t have gutted Medicaid, increased the price of student loans, and slashed other programs.

As Sklar, author with Dr. Paul Sherry of A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future, puts it:

Full-time workers at minimum wage make less than $900 a month to pay rent, food, healthcare, gas and everything else. No wonder the U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Survey found that 40 percent of adults requesting emergency food assistance were employed, as were 15 percent of the homeless.

Childcare workers and security guards struggle to care for their own children. EMTs and health care aides can't afford to take sick days.

Yet Congress has given itself raise after raise, while giving none to minimum wage workers.


Some congressional opposition to raising the minimum wage is faith based, the faith in question being the worship of the market god and fear of its displeasure. This is bad theology as well as bad social science. Increasing the minimum wage stimulates the economy and can help improve employee morale and motivation.

And finally, as the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign sums it up, “A job should keep you out of poverty not keep you in it.”

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

June 21, 2006

DEFLATING THE PUBLIC SPHERE


Caption: Venus opposes privatization, partly because she wants to eat the National Arboretum.

Several years ago, a friend was part of a group that got arrested for leafleting in a mall about sweatshops. This was deliberate. The goal was to establish a precedent that shopping malls had become the modern equivalent of the public square.

The case went to court. It was a simple case of the Bill of Rights versus Private Property and—you guessed it—the Bill of Rights got creamed.

This happened during the late 1990s, before Leader Worship became an official religion and mall visitors had to face immediate exit or arrest if they wore insufficiently reverential tee shirts.

This is another illustration of how the privatization of American life threatens democracy. When the public sphere is eroded, so are basic rights. This is the theme of a book mentioned here before, The Fox in the Henhouse by Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich.

West Virginia already experienced her share of extreme anti-worker privatization in the form of coal camps, company towns totally owned and controlled by (usually absentee) corporations where workers lived in company houses, went to the company doctor when sick or hurt, and bought goods at the company story with company scrip. Often company control extended over schools, churches, and the flow of information (the post office often being in the company store.

Order was maintained by private mine guards in the interests of the owners and trying to exercise rights of free speech and the freedom to assemble could get you kicked out of your house and job…or worse.

There was no public sphere.

The ultimate extreme of privatization is slavery, where people are literally privatized, with no rights or public standing.


At the other end of the spectrum, a contemporary example of upscale privatization is the gated community, which in its own way can erode public spaces and institutions. People living securely behind the gates and receiving private services are likely to resent and resist paying taxes to maintain public services, which can cause these to deteriorate.

It’s the same strategy being used to undermine public education and (so far without success) Social Security.

The attack on the public sphere and the transfer of remaining resources and power into the hands of corporations is ultimately an attack on democracy.

As Kahn and Minnich put it:

When a government established to promote the public good is “shrunk,” so is the possibility of acting for, preserving, and enjoying the rights conferred and backed up by that government. This is obviously reason to be deeply concerned about privatization. But to understand fully what we lose with the increase in privatization, more of us need to realize that whether we have or lack public rights has great effects on all aspects of our lives.

If we do not have the legal, political rights that protect free and equal public lives, we also do not have the rights that protect private lives. ) And without protected private lives, our personal lives are not safe, not free.


MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE. The good news is that a majority of senators voted for a clean bill yesterday to raise the minimum wage. The bad news is that they didn't have the required 60 votes. A poison pill version with a smaller wage increase and anti-worker provisions was defeated by a larger margin. The House is expected to take up the bill again soon. Here's a statement from the American Friends Service Committee on the issue.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

June 20, 2006

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE WAL-MART



Caption: This gentleman wears sweatshop-free apparel...or he wears nothing at all.

It’s been so long since El Cabrero wrote about Wal-Mart that they’re probably feeling neglected. So here goes…

A recent issue brief by the Economic Policy Institute takes a critical look at the retail leviathan’s claims that consumers benefit from low prices more than workers are hurt by low wages. According to EPI, the main point isn’t whether Wal-Mart is good or evil but rather “whether the economic benefits provided by Wal-Mart (and other big-box retailers) can be preserved even if their labor compensation is dramatically improved.”

The answer, in brief, is yes:

Wal-Mart could raise wages and benefits significantly without raising prices, yet still earn a healthy profit. For example, while still maintaining a profit margin almost 50% greater than Costco, a key competitor, Wal-Mart could have raised the wages and benefits of each of its non-supervisory employees in 2005 by more than $2,000 without raising prices a penny.


The study also questions claims made by Global Insight that Wal-Mart saved consumers $263 billion. This claim was based on the Consumer Price Index, although 60% of the items that compile the CPI are things like housing, health care, and transportation, which Wal-Mart doesn’t sell. These are also the things that are increasing the most in price while “the prices that are reduced through Wal-Mart’s expansion constitute an ever shrinking share of American families’ expenditures.”

Wal-Mart essentially gives people the ability to buy food, apparel, household goods, and furniture at reduced prices…By contrast, the expenditure shares on health care, housing and transportation for families have gone up over time. These cannot be bought at Wal-Mart, yet they constitute an ever-growing share of American household expenditures. In short, the benefits from the same price effect in Wal-Mart’s product areas are shrinking over time. The real pressures on family income are coming from items that can’t be bought at Wal-Mart. These products and services can, however, be bought with higher wages.


In the past, low wage earners have depended on government programs such as Medicaid to help make up the difference from low wages and benefits, but this will be more of a stretch given the cuts to these programs by the Bush administration and its allies in Congress. The downward pressure on wages combined with cuts to the safety net create a scissors effect for many working families.

Wal-Mart could do better by its workers without losing its profitability. And the impact of this would spread to many other workers whose wages have been depressed by competing with it.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: INDEXED TO THE CONSUMER PRICE INDEX

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WEST VIRGINIA!



Caption: A flower for West Virginia, which she helped to grow.

Today is the 143rd birthday of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. On this date in 1863, West Virginia achieved statehood with the help of President Lincoln, having seceded from the secessionists a little earlier.

Alas, no sooner had we gained our independence when we lost it again as the state's vast mineral wealth was gobbled up by outside corporate interests, making much of it a virtual mineral colony.

But we didn't take it lying down. In fact, the state has a strong tradition of struggling against the odds for social justice. Probably the biggest labor strike in the 1800s began in Martinsburg, WV in 1877 in response to a pay cut for railroad workers. The strike spread like wildfire across the country.

The Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strikes by the United Mine Workers in 1912 and 1913 inspired Wobbly poet Ralph Chaplin to write what has become the international anthem of the labor movement, "Solidarity Forever."

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was all over that one. In her Autobiography, she said "There is never peace in West Virginia because there is never justice." She also promised that "When I get to the other side, I shall tell God Almighty about West Virginia."

Labor struggles in 1920 inspired film maker John Sayles to produce "Matewan," about a shootout in Mingo County. Shortly after that incident, the state hosted the largest worker's insurrection in American history as union miners and supporters marched on Blair Mountain in Logan County in an effort to help fellow workers gain the right to organize.

The marchers, called "rednecks" because of their red bandanas, fought a pitched battle with company supporters that only ended with the intervention of the US military.

Labor organizers from the UMWA helped build the mass production unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which in turn helped to create the American middle class. The state also contributed greatly to more recent movements for workplace and coal mine safety and democratic unions.

The tradition continued into the 1990s with the Pittston coal strike and the historic victory of Steelworkers during the Ravenswood lockout.

In recent years, the state has lost thousands of good paying jobs in mining and manufacturing in the wake of mechanization and NAFTA type "free" trade agreements. Residents of the coalfields are continuing to struggle against the depredations of colonial mining companies which are now literally removing entire sections of the Appalachian mountains in quest of coal.

The billions of dollars of wealth extracted from the state has largely benefited absentee landlords and mining companies. Some of the poorest counties in the state are the very ones from which the greatest wealth was extracted.

As the mining disasters of this year have shown, the battle for mine safety continues.

But the people here are as tough as the land and aren't about to give up. They've won quite a few rounds over the years.

It would be nice, though, if Mother Jones would get around to having that conversation with God.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

June 19, 2006

THIS AND THAT


Caption: The minimum wage vote has this man sitting on the edge of his seat.

Here's random selection of updates on several issues.

MINIMUM WAGE

As mentioned in yesterday's post, the Senate is expected to vote on the minimum wage as early as Wednesday. The AFL-CIO has provided a toll free number to the Capitol switchboard for people to contact their senators. Supporters of the increase are asking for people to call as soon as possible and urge passage of Senator Kennedy's amendment and oppose any alternative proposals that would weaken it. The number is 1-888-355-3588.

MEDICARE PART D.

Speaking of goat ropes, the Associated Press reported earlier this month that four to five million seniors did not sign up for the prescription drug plan by the May 15th deadline and now face permanent financial penalties. A number of groups urged Congress to eliminate the deadline and penalties. These have not moved although legislation to do so was introduced. Meanwhile a real fix to the program would put Part D under Medicare, end the gravy train to drug and insurance companies, negotiate for reduced prices and eliminate gaps in coverage.

COMPARISONS. According to Newsweek (June 12 issue), the US comes in second behind Finland in growth-competitiveness rankings. The strong performance of countries like Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland shows that having a strong social safety net--especially universal health care--doesn't hurt and can actually help increase economic competitiveness.

The July/August issue of Foreign Policy shows that the US ranks with China at zero in the number of weeks of legally required vacation time. Some countries with four weeks or more of legally required vacation time, including Ireland, Norway, and France, ranked ahead of the US in productivity.

Maybe we should all do our patriotic duty and slack off for a while to catch up.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

June 18, 2006

US SENATE TO CONSIDER MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE


Caption: Seamus McGoogle laid down on the job today and swore to refrain from productive activity until Congress raises the minimum wage. This is no idle bluff: he's refrained from productive activity for the last five years.

Word has it that the Senate is poised to consider increasing the minimum wage in the days ahead as an amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill. Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee recommended an increase as part of a larger bill, although the measure didn’t survive in the full House.

Here’s something to think about. The same Congress which has refused to pass an increase in the minimum wage for nine years just gave itself a raise of $3,300. This is the seventh straight year that they have voted themselves and across the board two percent cost of living raise. Base pay for a congressperson is $168,500.

Contrast this to the experience of minimum wage workers, who would earn $10,712 a year working 40 hour weeks without a break. Let’s picture a single mother of two in that situation. The hardest part to believe is the 40 hours part. Her earnings would be $5,888 less than the federal poverty level of $16,660 for a family of three. Put another way, she’d earn less than 2/3 of the poverty level.

The single mom would have to work around 32,718 ½ hours or 15.7 years at 40 hours per week to earn what the congressperson does. In fact, she’d have to work about 641 hours just to make as much as the Congressional cost of living increase.

If the congressperson had to work 40 hours per week to get the base salary, he or she would surpass mom in a little over three weeks.

Conditions are better for the anti-worker Congressperson too. Unlike Mom, the Congressperson in question gets regular salary increases, not to mention good health insurance and lots of vacations or recesses. By contrast, Mom probably does without health care and hasn’t seen a recess since elementary school.

El Cabrero is not suggesting that everyone in Congress should be paid a minimum wage (although some would still be ripping us off at that rate) but is rather stating the obvious: it’s way past time to raise the minimum wage.

For more information on the growing campaign to raise the minimum wage at the state and federal level, check the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign and download the useful report A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future by Holly Sklar and the Rev. Paul Sherry.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED