January 19, 2007

MINIMUM WAGE TO MOVE IN U.S. SENATE: PLEASE CALL TOLL-FREE, and a brief mention of trains and locomotives

Caption: Once more unto the breech...Seamus McGoogle prepares himself for a final push to raise the federal minimum wage.

The word on the proverbial streets (not that there is much in the way of streets at Goat Rope Farm) is that the U.S. Senate is set to take up a bill to raise the minimum wage as soon as Monday.

The American Friends Service Committee and the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign are urging people to call their Senators today and Monday to urge them to raise the minimum wage and reject amendments that undermine workers rights or are fiscally irresponsible.

The AFSC is providing a toll-free number to call: 1-800-459-1887.

Here's a suggested script from Let Justice Roll:

Step 1: Call 1-800-459-1887 to be connected to the U.S. Capitol Switchboard.

Step 2: Ask for the office of one of your senators. (To find out your senators' names, click here.)

Step 3: Tell the person who answers the phone:

"Hi, my name is _______________ and I'm a constituent. Please tell Senator _______ to vote for S. 2, the minimum-wage bill. Please oppose ALL amendments, including “poison pill” tax breaks and assaults on worker rights. Will Senator ___ vote in favor of S. 2 and oppose amendments to it?"

Step. 4: Repeat Steps 1, 2, and 3 for your second senator.

BACKGROUND. On Jan. 10, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 315 to 116 to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by 2009. The bill faces a tougher fight in the Senate.

Currently, a full time minimum wage worker earns $10,712 per year--nearly $6,000 below the federal poverty level for a family of three. In the 10 years since the federal minimum wage was last raised--the longest period since we had a minimum wage--Congress has raised its own pay by $31,000. That's three years full time work at the current minimum. It's past time for a change.

The Let Justice Roll soundbite says it all: a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.

You can find all kinds of facts and figures about the need to raise the minimum at the LJR website above and copious coverage of the topic, with pictures of Seamus, in the Goat Rope archives.

It's been a long, hard fight, but we're almost there. Please do your part--Seamus needs a rest.

NOW A WORD ON TRAINS. El Cabrero recently "heard" from another blogger that merely mentioning the word "trains" will drive up hits to blogs. This is a test. (Note: there is method to my madness. Anyone cool enough to like trains is likely to be cool enough to call their senators in support of raising the minimum wage.)

In addition, it is the official position of Goat Rope that trains, locomotives and related things are cool.

In fact, sometimes El Cabrero dreams of trains. And like tunnels and stuff.


January 18, 2007


Caption: These guys are protected. Why not workers?

William Greider, writing in the Jan. 29th Nation, asks an interesting question. Here's the background.

Several years ago, American consumers were mortified to discover that some of the collars on their imported coats were made with the fur of cats and dogs. Congress responded by passing the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000, which banned imported garments made with cat or dog fur and "included fines of up to $10,000 for each illegal item and barred repeat violators from importing fur products."

(El Cabrero devoutly hopes that the bill does not apply to those who wear or are worn by live domestic animals or clothing made from other materials and incidentally decorated with cat or dog hair. But I digress...)

Here's the question:

If Congress can protect the rights of dogs and cats in foreign trade, will it do the same for the young girls--some as young as 11--who work in sweatshops? They stitch garments for as little as 6 cents an hour and typically work twelve- to sixteen-hour days, sometimes longer and often in brutal conditions?

Greider reports that anti-sweatshop legislation is in the works. One is modelled on a bill introduced last year by Senator Byron Dorgan and Representative (now Senator) Sherrod Brown.

It bars imports produced under internationally defined "sweatshop" conditions and holds companies accountable for using forced labor or denying basic human rights to workers, including the right to organize.

Even if the proposed legislation doesn't go anywhere soon, this could raise public awareness and force politicians to take a stand on the issues.

ON A TOTALLY DIFFERENT NOTE, this is encouraging.


January 17, 2007


El Cabrero is winding his way slowly through Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. I seem to recall that the print was bigger last time around...

If you think your family is a mess, spending some time with self-destructive Dmitri, tortured intellectual Ivan, the otherworldly Alyosha and their whacked- out old man might make you feel better.

One thing that makes the book so interesting are the long and deep conversations about life, death, suffering, divine and human justice or the lack thereof, and the meaning of existence. Here's a question a question posed by Ivan after he recounts a terrible story of the abuse of an innocent small girl by her parents:

Tell me frankly, I appeal to you--answer me: imagine that it is you yourself who are erecting the edifice of human destiny with the aim of making men happy in the end, of giving them peace and contentment at last, but that to do that it is absolutely necessary, and indeed quite inevitable, to torture to death only one tiny creature, the little girl who beat her breast with her little fist, and to found the edifice on her unavenged tears--would you consent to be the architect under those conditions?

The question isn't as hypothetical as it sounds. The current edifice of the global economy, which delivers a questionable amount of contentment to a few, rests on more unnecessary suffering than that. As Jeffrey Sachs writes in The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time,

Every morning our newspapers could report, "More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty." The stories would put the stark numbers in context--up to 8,000 children dead of malaria, 5,000 mothers and fathers dead of tuberculosis, 7,500 young adults dead of AIDS, and thousands more dead of diarrhea, respiratory infection, and other killer diseases that prey on bodies weakened by chronic hunger. The poor die in hospital wards that lack drugs, in villages that lack antimalarial bed nets, in houses that lack safe drinking water. They die namelessly, without public comment. Sadly, such stories rarely get written. Most people are unaware of the daily struggles for survival, and of the vast numbers of impoverished people around the world who lose that struggle.

Today, Ivan might ask us, if you wouldn't consent to that proposition, what would you be willing to do about it?

BONUS RANT. In a recent interview, President Bush seemed a little baffled by an apparent lack of gratitude emanating from Iraq. I wonder if this has anything to do with it...


January 16, 2007

MOVING FORWARD, and more sad news from WV

Caption: We need to start moving in the right direction. This little guy already started.

As El Cabrero recalls, the first lines of Dante's Divine Comedy go something like this:

"In the middle of our life's journey I awoke to find myself in a dark wood, having lost the true path."

That's a common personal feeling for a lot of us, but, sad to say, it's an apt description of current state of the United States under this disastrous regime.

Even leaving aside for now the incalculable damage that has been done to the international standing and security of the country, at the domestic level there is a lot of damage to undo. One place to start is moving from the upward distribution of wealth towards something like the common good.

The Economic Policy Institute thinks the American people could use "an economic agenda that will spur growth, reduce insecurity, and provide broadly shared prosperity." They've recently started a new initiative called the Agenda for Shared Prosperity in which they plan to articulate an economic program that is "comprehensive, understandable, and workable."

Here are the first three points:

1. Health care and retirement security: Building on existing popular and effective programs to provide accessible and affordable health care and ensure retirement security, we will propose: (a) that all Americans have guaranteed access to affordable health care through employer-provided insurance or a public plan; and (b) that retirees receive at least 70% of their pre-retirement income via a supplement to a strengthened Social Security.

2. Fair trade: An alternative approach to globalization and competitiveness will include policies to rebalance trade, to invest in new technologies that generate high-quality domestic manufacturing employment, and to promote environ-mental and labor policies to ensure that globalization benefits working people in both developed and developing nations.

3. Rewarding work: A plan for rebalancing the labor market will include raising and indexing the minimum wage, ensuring the right of workers to organize unions, and making full employment a central commitment of economic policy.

Other items on the agenda include energy policy, investments in infrastructure, family policy, the safety net, fiscal policy, and ensuring opportunity for all. Look for more as this develops.

SAD WEST VIRGINIA NEWS: I'm sad to say that the death toll from the apartment fire in nearby Huntington is now nine. That city has taken some major hits over the years.

MORE SAD WEST VIRGINIA NEWS: Two miners were killed this weekend in a McDowell County roof fall. According to Ken Ward, writing in the Charleston Gazette, the deaths were caused by a risky practice known as "retreat mining," in which the last remaining coal is extracted from pillars holding up the roof of the mine.

In all the mining disasters the state has suffered in the last year, has anyone heard that drug abuse by miners was a factor? I didn't think so. The recent proposal of the state coal industry for mandatory drug testing of all miners seems to me to be a cynical effort to divert attention from mine safety.


January 14, 2007


El Cabrero has been thinking about the uses of history lately. This seems like a fitting topic on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had some interesting things to say on this topic in his essay "On the uses and disadvantages of history for life" in his Untimely Meditations.

As the title of the essay suggests, Nietzsche wasn't interested in history as a social science or academic discipline but rather in how people can make use of history for their own purposes, and specifically to enhance human vitality.

The essay begins with a quote from Goethe:

"In any case, I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity."

Thinking about history has some risk since life requires both remembering and forgetting and we can suffer from both a scarcity and a surplus of historical awareness. We can get lost in the past to the detriment of the present.

Nietzsche identified three ways in which history could serve to enhance human life:

*There is a need to revere, conserve and treasure those things of the past that give people a sense of identity. He called this the antiquarian approach.

*For oppressed people, there is at times a need to "break up and dissolve a part of the past...bringing it before a tribunal, scrupulously examining it and finally condemning it..." He called this the critical approach.

*For those who aspire to making their own mark on history, the past can contain inspiring examples of the deeds of others. From these, we learn "that the greatness that once existed was in any event once possible and may thus be possible again..." He calls this the monumentalistic conception of history.

In the context of remembering the life and work of Dr. King and the tens of thousands of others who made huge gains for civil rights and social justice, the latter approach can be most useful to our life today. It would be tragic to allow this huge struggle to simply become a pious memory instead of a goad to action.

Here is one way to think about the legacy of Dr. King and others in Nietzsche's monumentalistic manner:

Once upon a time not too long ago, a relatively small number of people, in spite of all their human limitations, made a huge difference to the nation and the world against all odds. The fact that it was done is proof that it can be done.

That's the awareness we need to bring to the struggle for a living wage for working people. As Dr. King wrote in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?,

There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer.

That's the awareness we need to bring to the struggle to restore the rights of workers to organize, a struggle for which King literally gave his life in Memphis.

That's the awareness that we need to bring to the struggle to end the unnecessary war in Iraq and reshape America's domestic and foreign agenda. As King said,

There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

In other words, don't just remember the past, use it as an inspiration. Other people, who were just as screwed up as we are, did pretty damn good. It's our turn.