July 29, 2006

WEEKEND SPECIAL: DENNY DIMWIT ON GROWING INEQUALITY


It is the policy of the weekend edition of the Goat Rope to feature guest editorials by bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit.

Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Entrepreneurship Center and is regarded by Goat Rope staff as by far the most intelligent free market economist of our times.

Dr. Dimwit generally uses this space to comment, not usually favorably, on the past week's Goat Rope. It is our fondest hope that by providing for the expression of differing viewpoints we are overcoming the tragic polarization of our times and contributing to a climate of deep listening, profound mutual respect, and civil discourse.

THE DIMWIT DISPATCH

Crudawongapotamus! This blog stinks worse than the dead possum up the road! Did the jibbering dingbats who put this thing out roll around in it or what?

And what's this stupid stuff Friday about growing inequality? Growing inequality is AWESOME! The more the better I say.

I can prove it by empirico-observationo-experimentology. Just look at the picture. I'm the incredibly handsome little guy in the backround. See what's in front of me? Know what that is? Let me tell you. That's one BIG hen.

I mean she's huge. She's got her own zip code and gravitational field. And you know what else? She's with me, Jack!

Talk about growing inequality...she's getting bigger every day. You don't see me complaining do you? Yowza! Bring it on!

That's the beauty of the market.

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


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 28, 2006

THE GROWING GAP


Caption: Goat union leaders urge militant direct action to counter the growing divide between the rich and everyone else. "We say jump over the fence and eat their shrubs! And don't forget the tree bark!"

It will probably come as a surprise to no one that inequality has grown in recent years. According to Teresa Trich, however, writing for the New York Times,

there is a new twist to the familiar plot. Income inequality used to be about rich versus poor, but now it's increasingly a matter of the ultra rich and everyone else. The curious effect of the new divide is an economy that appears to be charging ahead, until you realize that most of the people in it are being left in the dust. President Bush has yet to acknowledge the true state of affairs, though it's at the root of his failure to convince Americans that the good times are rolling.


From 2003 to 2004, the most recent years covered by the data, the real income of the top 1 percent of households with incomes over $315,000 per year grew by 17 percent. For everyone else, incomes increased by only 3 percent, with most of that growth happening in the top 20 percent of households. According to the article, the top one percenters "enjoyed 36 percent of all income gains in 2004, on top of an already stunning 30 percent in 2003."

The same group also owned 57.5 percent of corporate wealth, a rise from 53.4 percent in 2003.

Among the factors that fuel or aggravate the growing gap are tax cuts aimed at the wealthy, failure to periodically raise the minimum wage, outsourcing, and twisted budget priorities such as the $40 billion recently cut by the Bush administration and Congress from programs that help low income and working people such as Medicaid and student loans.

This growing divide is not good for the future of democracy and republican government. As Aristotle, Goat Rope's official philosopher in residence, noted long ago, the most stable societies are those based on a large and strong middle class.

Apologists for the current oligarchy claim that somehow, if we live long enough, all this might trickle down. But as Aristotle noted in his Politics, "There comes a time when out of a false good there arises a true evil, since the encroachments of the rich are more destructive to the constitution than those of the people."

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: WIDENING

July 27, 2006

OUT OF THE MARGINS



Caption: Protestors assemble along Charleston's South Side Bridge. This photo courtesy of Evelyn Dortch, Direct Action Welfare Group. (El Cabrero forgot that cameras could be used on people.)

Only a few years ago, presidential visits to West Virginia were almost as common as total eclipses of the sun. Now they're pretty common.

It's no news either that a presidential visit often means protestors. Under the Bush administration, these are usually isolated and marginalized far from the scene.

What is news is that Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, a Republican and Vietnam veteran, changed all that.

When WV Patriots for Peace planned a protest along the route, Jones was quoted yesterday in the Charleston Gazette as saying "We're working very closely with that group," he said. "I know their leaders. I think I know what they want to do. I think we're going to find a place where they'll be contained but seen.

"The president, as I understand, tries not to go very many places by car for this very reason. We want to give them a place, at least in this city, where they can be seen and heard."

That's a welcome example of the Bill of Rights in action. Score a point for the public sphere.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 26, 2006

KING IS GOOD



Caption: This man agrees with Mel Brooks. "It's good to be king."

For some time, observers have marveled over the fact that President Bush has only vetoed one piece of legislation (stem cell research) in his term in office even though he disagreed with many. Now we know why: he doesn't think that laws apply to him.

Rather than issue a veto, he simply uses signing statements to indicate his disagreement with the laws and signal the fact that he doesn't feel bound by them.

This reminds El Cabrero of playground games in which one kid would yell out "Not included!" during a rousing bout of "Last One to the Swingset is a Geek." OK, the analogy isn't perfect, but according to some estimates the president has issued some version of "Not included!" to as many as 750 laws.

As Mel Brooks once said, "It's good to be the king."

Things have now reached a point that some movement conservatives have expressed concern with the damage this has done and may yet do to the Constitution. Former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards, who was also chair of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, recently wrote in The Nation that:

the real issue at stake is not one of presidential policy but of the continued viability of the separation of powers, the central tenet in America's system of constrained government. The Founders deliberately placed lawmaking power in the hands of Congress precisely because it, and especially the House of Representatives, was the most democratic branch of government--people. The concentration of power in the hands of a single chief executive, whether President or King, is an outcome neither the left nor the right should welcome.


In other words, to stick to the playground analogy, the Founders believed in the "All included, no changes!" theory of government rather than that of the executive "Not included!" school of political thought.

I'm with them, although it would be fascinating to imagine a world where we all had the ability to issue signing statements at critical moments. At the very least, it would liven things up to be able to say in effect "Not included!" with things like grade cards, school rules, contracts, speed limits and other laws, solemn vows, and mortgage agreements.

El Cabrero may try that the next time the bill comes...

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 25, 2006

PRESSURE BUILDS IN CONGRESS FOR WAGE INCREASE


Caption: Toiling masses of the world, fear not! Seamus McGoogle continues his tireless efforts to raise the minimum wage.

It looks like Congressional Republicans are feeling the heat from the growing national movement to raise the minimum wage. Earlier this month, 28 House Republicans sent a letter to House Majority Leader John Boehner that states in part:

We write today to urge you to schedule a vote on legislation which would provide a substantial increase in the minimum wage before the House recesses for the August District Work Period.

As you know, it has been nearly ten years since the last increase in the minimum wage. At the current rate, a minimum wage employee who works 40-hours a week earns $10,700 per year. For a single parent with two children that amount is thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line. Nobody working full time should have to live in poverty. We believe it is time for Congress to take responsible action to raise the minimum wage and ensure our hard working constituents can provide for their families.


Sounds pretty good to El Cabrero. It makes more sense than going for a constitutional amendment to prevent same sex couples from taking away our guns and burning flags while attending marriage ceremonies sanctioned by activist judges.

For the full text of the letter, click here.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

July 24, 2006

REGARDING FAIR TAXES



Caption: Hummingbirds support fair state taxes (and access to sugar water).

So many goat ropes, so little time...

That's the best summary El Cabrero can come up with regarding the international and national situation.

But the ancient Stoic philosophers had some good advice: since some things are within our control and others are not, it's generally a good idea to focus on the former.

In El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, ordinary people still have fair to decent odds of influencing public policy. Over 25 groups have recently come together to support a fair state tax system in anticipation of Gov. Manchin's plans to call a special session of the legislature later this year to reform the tax code.

Here's a little background:

Unlike the skewed priorities of the federal government under the current Lords of Misrule, WV's are pretty good. Over 60% of general revenue goes to k-12 and higher education. Over 20 percent goes to human services, including Medicaid, which covers nearly 1 in 5 state residents. Anything left covers everything else, including infrastructure, state parks, and public safety.

It's not clear what is going to be on the table for change, although business groups (and apparently the administration itself) are supporting major cuts in corporate taxes.

The groups that signed on to the fair tax statement--which include religious, education, labor, environmental, and community organizations--recommend that whatever happens, the state should:

*maintain investments in education, services and infrastructure;

*reduce taxes first for low wage workers who currently start paying income tax with income as low as $10,000 and are also hit with sales taxes;

*bring full accountability to corporate tax credits and expenditures to ensure that the state is getting its money's worth in terms of creating good jobs.

The report, titled "Fair Taxes for West Virginia," isn't available online yet, but here's an op-ed by yours truly with some background.

Public comments on tax reform are currently being solicited. West Virginians can help with this by visiting the state tax department's website and filling in a survey about the issues.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: DEPENDS ON WHICH ONE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT BUT GENERALLY PRETTY HIGH