February 10, 2007


Caption: This is another one to howl about.

This headline item from the last few days probably came as a surprise to nobody:

A special unit run by former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's top policy aide inappropriately produced "alternative" intelligence reports that wrongly concluded that Saddam Hussein's regime had cooperated with al-Qaida, a Pentagon investigation has determined.

Of course, that misinformation helped bolster the bogus case for this unnecessary war. Think of all the unnecessary misery, death and destruction the ideological fanatics who gave us this war have created...

At this writing, well over 3,100 U.S. soldiers have died there and at least 100,000 Iraqis, maybe more.

And as for financial costs, as of Sunday it was around $366 billion, according to the National Priorities Project. And that's just what people know about as of now.

One can only wonder what the final butcher's bill will be. (Or, for that matter, what the final cost will be for the administration's efforts to suppress federal action on global warming.)

It's going to take a lot of people a very long time to undo even a portion of the damage that has been done to this country over the last six years.

Oh yeah...now they're working on Iran.

ON A DIFFERENT NOTE the following rant of yours truly in support of the Employee Free Choice Act appeared in yesterday's Charleston WV Sunday Gazette-Mail.

MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE. For those following the federal minimum wage saga, the U.S. House is considering its own $1.3 billion package of business tax cuts in an effort to free up obstacles to final passage. Anticipated House cuts are about 1/6th the amount of the cuts that were attached to the bill that recently passed the Senate.

We'll see...



For first time readers, Goat Rope is a public affairs blog that comes out six days per week.

During weekdays, it features fairly serious items about current events, economic justice, politics, culture and all that.

With gratuitous animal pictures...

However, during the weekend, it is our policy to feature guest commentary from animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

The views expressed by these talking animals are not necessarily those of the Goat Rope staff (although they might be).

It is our hope that by providing this space for (bio) diverse viewpoints, we are elevating the discourse of our time and promoting a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.

This weekend, we are pleased to introduce a new commentator, Ferdinand the Love Peacock, who will answer questions posed by the lovelorn.

(Note: we assume no liability for the consequences of anyone who acts upon his advice.)


Dear Ferdinand,

I'm writing because I'm lonely and have a hard time meeting people. I'm so shy that the thought of asking for a date makes me dry-heave. Plus, I'm really awkward around women and when I get nervous I compulsively pick my nose, sweat, and make all kinds of involuntary body noises.

Can you please help me?


Hopeless in Hamlin

Dear Hopeless,

I feel sorry for you, my silly little human friend. But lucky for you I am here. Only one word is needed to solve your problem. That word is display.

Look at me in the picture. I am lovely, am I not? Who could resist one such as me?

This is what you must do. The next time you are in the presence of a likely partner--and one can never be sure one is not around--you must poof up your tail feathers. Then you must rattle them and rotate like a Spanish dancer. The sight and sound of this drives the females wild with passion.

Now, here is the thing. Since one can never tell exactly who a likely partner is, you must display often and to anyone or anything. I have displayed to a cat, chickens, goats, dogs, people, trees, and even many inanimate objects. Displaying is my spiritual practice. Sooner or later, the arrow of love will find its mark.

Best wishes,

Ferdinand the Love Peacock


February 09, 2007


Caption: This man could easily be a character of Dostoevsky's.

Lately El Cabrero has been listening to Johnny Cash and re-reading Dostoevsky (specifically the Brothers K.).

Not at the same time--that would really mess with your mind. But they do go pretty well together.

Both share a concern for the marginalized and down and out. Shared themes are sin and redemption, mercy and compassion.

The main difference is that it's easier to play Johnny than Fyodor on a guitar--three chords and a bass run can take you a long way.

I went back to this book to refresh my memory on one of literature's most memorable parables, Ivan Karamazov's "poem" (the kind that don't rhyme) about Christ and the Grand Inquisitor.

It's pretty relevant to the state of religion and of differing versions of Christianity in today's world.

(In the sad history of much of institutional Christianity, the score has been something like Grand Inquisitor 97-Christ 6.)

In this story within a story, Christ returns in human form as of old to Spain in the 1500s

...during the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when the fires were lighted everyday throughout the land to the glory of God and

In the splendid autos-da-fe'
Wicked heretics were burnt

Christ walks in silence among the crowd, blessing and healing the sick and raising the dead when he is spotted by the Grand Inquisitor (GI for short), a Cardinal of nearly 90 years, who orders his guards to arrest him at once and confine him to a dungeon.

The GI is not exactly happy to see JC. As the latter sits in silence, he says

...you have no right to add anything to what you have said already in the days of old. Why, then, did you come to meddle with us? For you have come to meddle with us, and you know it. But do you know what is going to happen tomorrow?...tomorrow I shall condemn you and burn you at the state as the vilest of heretics, and the same people who today kissed your feet, will at the first sign from me rush up to rake up the coals at your stake tomorrow.

Not very hospitable, huh? Then follows a long monologue from the GI on human freedom where he scorns Christ for wanting people to be able to choose for themselves:

For fifteen centuries we've been troubled by this freedom, but now it's over and done with for good.

From his viewpoint, freedom is a curse for humanity:

I tell you man has no more agonizing anxiety than to find someone to whom he can had over with all speed the gift of freedom with which the unhappy creature is born...Or did you forget that a tranquil mind and even death is dearer to man than the free choice in the knowledge of good and evil?

In the place of a religion of justice and compassion, the Grand Inquisitor and his ilk have built an edifice based on mystery, miracle and authority--spectacle awe, entertainment, and fear--which keeps the masses in a state of happy bondage.


To conclude the story, Christ listens in silence, then he

suddenly approached the old man and kissed him gently on his bloodless, aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man gave a start. There was an imperceptible movement at the corners of his mouth; he went to the door, opened it and said to him: "Go, and come no more--don't come at all--never, never!" And he let him out into "the dark streets and lanes of the city." The Prisoner went away.'

It makes you wonder what kind of welcome some of the purveyors of authoritarian versions of Christianity today would give if they were in the same situation...


February 08, 2007


Caption: Here's another odd alliance.

Here's something I could never have made up. On Wednesday, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced the formation of a campaign for universal health care.

That's not strange in itself. The weird part is in the alliances. According to the SEIU press release,

The founding members of the new partnership, which was announced at a Washington, DC, news conference, are SEIU and Wal-Mart, the largest health care union and the largest corporation in North America, respectively; AT&T; Intel; Kelly Services, Inc.; Communications Workers of America; the Center for American Progress; the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy; and the Committee for Economic Development.

Did anyone else notice the mention of a certain Arkansas-based company in that list?

SEIU is in fact a very active partner in Wal-Mart Watch, the mission of which states

Our aim is real change -- transparent and lasting -- to benefit Wal-Mart communities. To date, we have made remarkable progress in getting Wal-Mart to respond to a wide array of concerns about its business practices. Wal-Mart has acknowledged the harm it causes by providing poor health benefits that force its employees to seek taxpayer-supported public assistance. It has taken some promising first steps on a long road toward creating a more environment-friendly business. We are hopeful the company is serious when it acknowledges that change is necessary, and we will continue to push Wal-Mart forward.

As our nation's largest employer and most successful company, Wal-Mart is most certainly an American institution. Wal-Mart occupies a unique position in our world by virtue of its size, reach and responsibility for the livelihoods of millions of workers and the needs of billions of consumers. And with such overwhelming influence come certain moral responsibilities.

In 2006 we launched A Handshake with Sam, seven moral principles that reflect sound business practices and responsible corporate behavior in the twenty-first century. Our mission is to persuade Wal-Mart to assume its leadership role as America's largest corporation and enact positive change. If Wal-Mart commits to these principles and assumes the moral responsibility we expect of our biggest and most important American corporation, it will have proven worthy of America's admiration.

The new campaign released a statement of principles, which begins thus:

America’s health care system is broken. The traditional employer-based model of coverage in its current form is endangered without substantial reform to our health care system. It is being crushed by out of control costs, the pressures of the global economy, and the large and growing number of uninsured. Soaring health costs threaten workers’ livelihoods and companies’ competitiveness, and undermine the security that individuals of a prosperous nation should enjoy. We can only solve these problems – and deliver health care that is high quality, affordable, accessible and secure – if business, government, labor, the health care delivery system and the nonprofit sector work together.

If nothing else, this will draw a lot of attention to the issue, if only because of the unexpected alliances. This one falls under the "dog bites man, no news/man bites dog, news."

Another idea that occurs to me is that this shows that even giant corporations respond to public pressure.

This will be one to watch...


February 07, 2007


Caption: The Bush administration has its priorities backwards once again.

Here we go again! President Bush recently submitted his proposed federal budget to Congress.

Here's the non-surprise of the year...it contains more tax breaks for the wealthy and program cuts for just about everyone else.

Oh yeah, and lots of money for the unnecessary war in Iraq.

Here's a preliminary analysis from Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A sample:

In a sign of the President’s misguided priorities, his budget puts extremely large tax cuts for the most affluent Americans ahead of the needs of low- and middle-income families as well as future generations. Low- and middle-income Americans would be hit by budget cuts in areas from education to protection of the environment and assistance to the poor. Future generations would foot the bill for the much larger long-term deficits that the President’s extravagant tax cuts would produce. The tax cuts in the budget far exceed proposed reductions in domestic programs.

Among programs targeted for cuts are the Children's Health Insurance Program, low income home energy assistance, child care assistance for low income working families, Head Start, food programs for low income elderly Americans. Cuts are also proposed for mandatory programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Tax cuts for the wealthy would be made permanent, adding between $2.3 to $3.5 trillion in costs over the next ten years. Needless to say, all this would increase the nation's growing inequality and the national debt.

As the Charleston Gazette noted about the war budget:
The White House plan would pump another $100 billion into the Iraq and Afghan wars this year, plus $145 billion more next year. The Pentagon budget would leap to $625 billion a year — perhaps exceeding the warmaking expenditures of all other nations on Earth, combined.

CONGRESSIONAL RESPONSE. The Bush budget won't be received with many cartwheels in Congress, where the new majority will face some difficult decisions. As the New York Times
put it yesterday,

...Democrats know that the only way they can find the revenue to restore the administration’s proposed spending cuts would be to cut back on military spending, delay their stated intentions to balance the budget or rescind the Bush tax cuts in future years. They are not especially eager to do any of these.

The most likely result, even some Democrats acknowledge, will be a limited reshaping of the budget by restoring some proposed cuts in a variety of domestic programs, including children’s health care, Head Start and home heating assistance for the poor and the elderly.

I hope they'll do better than that. In any case, advocates of working people, the elderly, and children will have another budget battle in the days ahead.

RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE DAY: If you ever get really bored, try this. Watch infomercials on TV. It doesn't matter what they're for--exercise gear, cleaning materials, cookware, health gimmicks. Then call the toll-free number and ask whoever answers stupid questions about the product, such as a. Can this be used for time travel? b. Will it remove the taint of Original Sin? Does it convey the power of invisibility? El Cabrero and his cabritos used to pass many a dull afternoon in this manner.

Goat Rope...your source for better living.


February 06, 2007


Caption: This is a plan even a snowy goat would like.

The health care debate is heating up once again in America.

One interesting example is the recent alliance of AARP, the Service Employees International Union, and the Business Roundtable, which have joined to urge Congress to take action to address the health care crisis.

Business Week recently noted another kind of health care related economic problem: "job lock." Kelly Services Chief Executive Carl T. Camden is among those advocating a major health care fix. According to the article, titled "Held Hostage By Health Care,"

Workers, he says are increasingly shackled to their jobs for no reason other than to cling to their employer's health insurance coverage. These are people, he says, "who don't leave a job even though they're unhappy and would be more productive somewhere else."

Of all the proposals on the table, probably the least appealing are the President's, which would tax workers with good benefits, cut Medicare, and push health savings accounts.

One of the most interesting has been proposed by the Economic Policy Institutes's Agenda for Shared Prosperity, which would

extend insurance to all non-elderly Americans through a new Medicare-like program and workplace health insurance, while creating an effective framework for controlling medical costs and improving health outcomes to guarantee affordable, quality care to all.

This proposal merits serious discussion and isn't out of step with public opinion. In Sept. 2006, an ABC News/Kaiser Family Foundation/USA Today survey found that 56 percent of Americans would support a government-run program "like Medicare." More on this to come.

MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE. While we wait for more action on minimum wages at the federal level, the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign just announced that there are now 500 business owners or executives who have signed on to a statement in support of the increase. To view the statement and signatories, click here. If you know of sympathetic executives or business owners, please urge them to add their names to the growing list.

RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The next time you are at a meeting and someone says "Are there any questions?," ask the following: "What is the square root of negative 1?"


February 05, 2007


Caption: At least these chickens don't think they're hawks.

The Bush administration has a pretty consistent record of disregarding the warning voices of experienced military and intelligence experts.

Here's hoping they don't do the same thing again.

According to the Associated Press, former high-ranking U.S. officials are urging for a diplomatic rather than military approach to U.S. tensions with Iran:

LONDON - Three former high-ranking U.S. military officers have called for Britain to help defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, saying military action against Tehran would be a disaster for the region.

In a letter to the Sunday Times newspaper, the three former officers urged President Bush to open talks, "without preconditions," with the Iranian government in a bid to find a diplomatic solution.

The signatories were retired Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, a senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, D.C.; retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, former head of U.S. Central Command; and Vice Adm. Jack Shanahan, former director of the Center for Defense Information.

So far, in the two way contest between sanity and administration policy, sanity comes in a distant third.

BONUS FEATURE. There is a great deal of evidence that social inequalities are hardening in the U.S. and that that social mobility now is actually greater in some European countries. For a breakdown, here's an op-ed by your humble goat herder in yesterday's Gazette-Mail.