January 06, 2007


For first time visitors, during the week this blog is devoted to serious topics related to social and economic justice, the common good, democracy, etc.

The gratuitous animal pictures are just thrown in for good measure.

During the weekend edition, however, the animals get to speak for themselves.

This weekend, Goat Rope is pleased to introduce another animal commentator, cat Seamus McGoogle (left, with friend), whose image has frequently graced this weblog.

Seamus is perhaps best known for his stern work ethic and tireless devotion to the cause of the toiling masses, although he also has extensive interests and expertise in the field of feline cuisine.

His unique culinary style combines elements of Japanese sushi preparation with traditional feline methods.

In this feature, he will share his favorite recipe.

(Note: this feature is primarily intended for cats. If by chance the Gentle Reader has not the fortune to be numbered among the felines, perhaps he or she will consider sharing this with a favorite cat.)

((Further note: the opinions and culinary tastes expressed by weekend animal commentators are not necessarily those of Goat Rope staff. In future issues, we will be happy to provide space for opposing viewpoints, particularly of those creatures which Seamus deems to be of gastronomic interest.) )

(((Further note: the staff of Goat Rope does not now nor has it ever engaged in or condoned the consumption of birds, nor would we indeed be disposed to discuss it if in fact we had.)))


This perennial favorite is one of many reasons why it is so good to be a cat. There are many schools of thought regarding preparation and presentation but in my experience the following recipe is second to none.

We will begin with the sushi part. This requires rice and nori, which is the seaweed wrap used for sushi. First, lick the fishy taste off the nori, then discard. Scatter the rice under the bird feeder.

Then, wait patiently and motionlessly under the bird feeder in early morning or at dusk. Other choice times include those in which the weather is about to change.

When a suitable item has been selected, coil and pounce. Secure item firmly in mouth and shake vigorously three times.

Then comes the most enjoyable part of the process. Release item and pretend to allow it to escape. Recapture with paw. Repeat until bored.

Finally, consume selected parts and follow with grass salad.

Note: this also makes an excellent gift. Simply bring item into the house and place in any convenient and prominent location. If that is not feasible, deposit the item on doorstep of a favorite human.


January 05, 2007


Caption: These ugly chickens cherish the Enlightenment. Do you?

El Cabrero is kind of a conservative in that I think one of the most important things we can do is preserve the gains of the past.

That's admittedly a pretty broad subject but one legacy of the past that is under attack today is that of the Enlightenment, that period in history around the 18th century when a number of ideas that have made life worth living for millions of people were articulated and took their first halting steps in the world.

Among the ideas of the Enlightenment are representative government, human rights, religious tolerance, freedom of speech and thought, etc. Of course, the Enlightenment itself was influenced by the legacy of the past, including the Renaissance and the legacy of classical Greece and republican Rome.

And, yes, it was imperfect and incomplete but it gave us the tools with which we can critique it. (Did you guys notice the elegant way I avoided ending the last sentence with a preposition?)

I've been thinking about that embattled legacy a lot lately, most recently on reading Craig Nelson's excellent biography Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations.

Some of the leading thinkers of this period recognized the need for economic justice as well as political reform. Here are a few quotes from the period:

"When in countries that are called civilized, we see age going to the work-house, and youth to the gallows, something must be wrong in the system of government."--Paine

"When it shall be said in any country in the world, 'my poor are happy, neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want; the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness'; when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its Government."--Paine

While Paine was to the left of many Enlightenment thinkers, his ideas here weren't out of the mainstream:

"A too great disproportion among the citizens weakens any state. Every person, if possible, ought to enjoy the fruits of his labour, in a full possession of all the ecessaries, and many of the conveniences of life. No one can doubt, but such an equality is most suitable to human nature, and diminishes much less from the happiness of the rich than it adds to that of the poor."--David Hume, 1752

You can find similar sentiments even in Adam Smith's 1776 Wealth of Nations:

"They who feed, cloathe [sic] , and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged."

Works for me...


January 04, 2007


Caption: This rooster, known as Stewpot to his friends, enjoys a strong safety net.

For years, we've been fed on the poisoned propaganda that the price of a growing economy is a shredded safety net, growing inequality, and economic insecurity for millions of working families.

The problem with all that is that it just isn't true. In a recent essay in Scientific American, Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of our Time, compares the economic performance of developed countries with low taxes and weak safety nets with that of Nordic social democracies, including Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. He notes that the latter countries combine "a healthy respect for market forces with a strong commitment to antipoverty programs."

The results:

On average, the Nordic countries outperform the Anglo-Saxon ones on most measures of economic performance. Poverty rates are much lower there, and national income per working-age population is on average higher. Unemployment rates are roughly the same in both groups, just slightly higher in the Nordic countries. The budget situation is stronger in the Nordic group, with larger surpluses as a share of GDP.
Key ingredients in the Nordic formula for prosperity and competitiveness are universal health care and child care, access to education and job training, and supports for the elderly and people with disabilities. Sachs notes that the U.S. pays less than almost all developed nations on services for poor and vulnerable people "and it gets what it pays for." He also draws attention to the fact that health care in the U.S. is "a ramshackle system that yields mediocre results at very high costs."
His conclusion is pretty simple:
In strong and vibrant democracies, a generous social-welfare state is not a road to serfdom but rather to fairness, economic equality and international competitiveness.

January 03, 2007


El Cabrero lives in what can safely be called the middle of nowhere, as in so far out there ain't no cable, fast internet, or newspaper delivery. But if I walk a mile from the head of the holler to the "main" road (main being strictly relative out here), there's a reminder of the kinds of things this country once did and could do again.

There, just below a country church is a stone wall that keeps the hillside from sliding into the road. On that wall is chiseled the following message: "WPA 1938."

The WPA of course stands for the Works Progress Administration, a landmark of FDR's New Deal. It provided work at decent wages for over 3 million unemployed Americans during the Great Depression and built a great deal of the infrastructure not only for El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia but for the country at large.

Several years ago, I interviewed some relatives who worked on the WPA in rural West Virginia. One woman recalled that "We lived and lived happy on it." Her husband, who build roads and bridges for the program said "It wasn't like it is now. They didn't just take people who were down and out and try to stomp them down deeper--they tried to help the people."

And they got a lot of work done. Here's a partial list of WPA accomplishments as reported in the Nov. 2006 issue of The Hightower Lowdown:

78,000 bridges

700 miles of airport runways

116,000 public buildings

24 million trees planted

650,000 miles of road

8,000 parks

4,383 new schools

9,000 miles of sewer lines

Not too shabby. And these accomplishments are important to remember today after we've been bombarded for over 25 years with right wing propaganda about the inability of government to act constructively. The disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shows what happens when we allow the government to be run by people who don't believe government can do anything and act accordingly.

We can do better. We have done better.


January 02, 2007


Here's hoping for a better 2007 for one and all. For some perspective on where we'be been, an interesting link from the Drum Major Institute about the last year provides some facts and figures about the state of economic (in)justice in the U.S.

Among the factiods in DMI's 2006 Injustice Index are these:

Wages that an average CEO earns before lunchtime: more than a full-time minimum wage worker makes in a year

Ratio of the average U.S. CEO's annual pay to a minimum wage worker: 821:1

Year when this ratio reached its highest so far: 2006

Percentage of women earning less than $40,000 per year who receive no paid vacation time at all: 37

Number of times that Congress has reduced the estate tax since it last raised the federal minimum wage: 9

Longest period in which the federal minimum wage has not been increased: 1997-2006

Number of workers who would directly benefit from an increase in the minimum wage: 5.6 million

Number of very large estates that would directly benefit from a reduction in the estate tax: 8,200

Number of households using credit to cover basic living expenses: 7 in 10
Percentage increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses for the average American in the past five years: 93
And finally, speaking of injustices, rocks and hard places, let's not forget the sad milestone we just passed with the 3,000th U.S. casualty in the unnecessary war in Iraq...
It looks like we've got our work cut out for us.