February 17, 2007


For first time readers of Goat Rope, it is our policy to cover semi-serious public issues during the week.

The gratuitous animal pictures are just kind of there.

However, the weekend editions are reserved for the commentaries of the talking animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

The opinions expressed by these talking animals are not necessarily those of the Goat Rope staff, nor will we assume any liability for the consequences of those who act upon their advice.

Nonetheless, it is our deepest hope that by providing space for (bio) diverse viewpoints, we are elevating the level of public discourse and promoting a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.

This weekend, we are pleased to once again welcome Ferdinand the peacock, our very own gangster of love, who will offer advice to the lonely and lovelorn.


Dear Ferdinand,

Why are men such jerks? I'm looking for a serious relationship but so many guys I know are immature and/or self-absorbed. Even if one is smart or cute or funny, there's always a downside. What qualities do you think are most important for a prospective partner?

Frustrated in Fairmont

Dear Frustrated,

You silly, silly, silly little woman, why do you ask such an obvious question? There is and can only be one and only one quality upon which you must decide.

And what is that quality, do you ask? I will tell you. It is display. A female should always and only fling herself at the feet of the male with the most glorious display.

Always cast your eye on the poofing of the feathers and listen for their seductive rustle and you will feel your silly little human heart grow delirious with the delectable delights of love.

Trust my words and you too will drink the ambrosia of Aphrodite...



February 16, 2007

WEDGES OR BRIDGES? but first some cool stuff from WV

Caption: Workers rally at WV state capitol in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

BREAKING WV NEWS. It was a hot time in the old town yesterday when workers and citizens held a feisty rally in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in the capitol building of El Cabrero's Beloved State of West Virginia (ECBSWV).

(Briefly, EFCA would make it easier for workers to join unions, raise penalties for companies that threaten, fire or otherwise illegally intimidate workers trying to organize, and provide mediation and arbitration for first contracts. For more on EFCA, check the link on Monday's post.)

That bill has just been reported out of committee in the U.S. House of Representatives where it will soon face a floor vote.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE LEGISLATURE, the WV House of Delegates yesterday passed a resolution in support of EFCA. I regret to say that I missed the debate, but I'm told the rhetoric was flying like minnie balls in a Civil War battle.

In another interesting WV note, reportedly 25 delegates have signed on to a resolution opposing the "surge" of troops in Iraq. This may come for a vote as soon as Monday.

The resolution is pretty Spartan. It simply states
That the West Virginia House of Delegates and the citizens of West Virginia will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

Further resolved:

That the West Virginia House of Delegates disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

Be it further resolved, That a suitable copy of this resolution shall be sent to George W. Bush, President of the United States, to the Congressional delegation of our state, and to the United States Congress.
OK, BACK TO A MAJOR NATIONAL ISSUE. One of the nastier aspects of political life for the last few decades has been the use of wedge issues which have been cynically exploited by clever operators.

Often, these have pitted the middle class against the poor and both against themselves for the benefit of the very wealthy.

It's the old divide and rule thing which I believe was first articulated by Julius Caesar, although the practice is older than him.

In the Feb. 2007 issue of Sojourners, Tamara Draut, director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos, calls for the building of a "grand alliance" between the poor and the middle class.

The challenge to end poverty and improve economic opportunities for low-income households must be linked to the broad economic insecurity plaguing America’s middle class. As the concentration of income and wealth has reached historic proportions, Americans at the bottom and the middle of our income distribution have suffered the consequences. Rising costs of essentials—health care, housing, energy, college—are a shared anxiety. A reliance on high-cost debt, risky home finance (and refinance) deals, and the proliferation of predatory lending threaten to strip the working poor and the middle class of the few assets they can claim.

Some advocates for the poor may see this as a step back, but the fate of the two groups is linked.

And besides, purity is generally politically useless.

(El Cabrero, a modern day student of Aristotle, would argue that the main problem with the middle class is that it isn't big enough. I say let's get the poor folks in there too.)

Draut argues persuasively that

Unless we build a broad coalition around a shared agenda for the bottom 60 percent of the income distribution chart, it's very likely that the next generation will indeed be worse off than their parents.

As they say, do the math.


February 15, 2007


Caption: Snow isn't the only thing that's piling up these days.

It occurs to El Cabrero that, for an administration that relies on military solutions for almost every problem, this one doesn't have the best record for listening to the military or for treating its personnel very well.

The following item from McClatchy Newspapers is encouraging:
A day after the U.S. military charged Iran's government with shipping powerful explosive devices to Shiite Muslim fighters in Iraq to use against American troops, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday that he hasn't seen any intelligence to support the claim.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace's comment could make it harder for the Bush administration, its credibility about Iran questioned because of its false pre-war claims about Saddam Hussein, to make its case that Iranian meddling in Iraq is fueling sectarian violence and causing U.S. casualties.

I wish somebody would listen this time, but it looks like the judge, jury and executioner has spoken...

ENCOURAGING SIGNS. One thing that has become clearer since the 2004 elections is the reality that the religious right doesn't speak for all Christians or indeed for all evangelicals.

Further, it's becoming pretty clear that a wide variety of Christians are consider things like poverty to be moral issues.

A recent example is the formation by Sojourners and Call to Renewal of A Covenant for a New America, which aims to "overcome poverty with religious commitment and political leadership."

Recognizing the biblical imperative of social justice, particularly for the poor, the campaign holds up this vision:

*Work must work and provide for family economic success and security. Those who work responsibly should have a living family income in which a combination of a family's earnings, and supports for transportation, health care, nutrition, child care, education, housing, and other basic needs provide a decent standard of living. Those unable to work should be supported with dignity

*Children should not be poor. We also need specific and concrete commitments to brighter futures for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. We will never end the cycle of poverty if we continue to allow lack of opportunity to be the formative aspect of a child's life. Our nation should develop and commit to a plan that reduces child poverty by half over 10 years.

*Extreme global poverty must end. The U.S. should support effective aid, good governance, just trade policies, and debt cancellation in order to lift billions of people out of extreme poverty. U.S. international development assistance should be increased by an additional one percent of the federal budget to honor our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, designed to cut global poverty in half by the year 2015.

More Jesus + less jihad = better religion.

OPPOSING TORTURE. Another group bringing an authentic moral voice to public issues is the National Religious Coalition Against Torture, which recently issued the following release:

(Washington, DC) – The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) today announced its support for legislation introduced by Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russell Feingold (D-WI), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to rollback key provisions of the Military Commissions Act signed into law in October of last year by President Bush. The bill, "Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 -- A Bill to Provide for the Effective Prosecution of Terrorists and to Guarantee Due Process Rights", would restore the right of habeas corpus, reinstate the United States' commitment to the Geneva Conventions with respect to the treatment of detainees, and restore important elements of due process to hearing procedures for detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay.

"This legislation is urgently needed," Jeanne Herrick-Stare, Chair of NRCAT Coordinating Committee, said, "to not only restore the core elements of due process to our treatment of detainees, but also to restore the United States’ role as a world leader in human rights. Enactment of the Military Commissions Act was a dark day in our nation's history; the legislation introduced today -- if enacted -- will help restore a measure of dignity to an America we can again believe in."

NRCAT empowers members of America’s faith community to join one another in religious witness to ensure torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment never plays a role in U.S. policy. Since its formation in January 2006, 100 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives of the Catholic, Evangelical Christian, Mainline Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities. NRCAT’s “Torture Is a Moral Issue” statement has been endorsed by prominent religions leaders and organizations such as Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jimmy Carter and Eli Weisel.

MEANWHILE BACK AT THE WV LEGISLATURE... the word is that the House of Delegates will be debating a resolution in support of the federal Employee Free Choice Act, which would restore the right of workers to organize. These resolutions send a message to congress and the debate is usually pretty entertaining. There will also be a rally for EFCA. More on this tomorrow.


February 14, 2007


Whenever the Census Bureau publishes comparative state data, residents of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia usually wind up looking odd.

Charleston Gazette staff writer Paul Nyden pointed to several such nuggets from the 2006 Statistical Abstract of the United States in Tuesday's and today's paper. Here are a few:

*Residents, to paraphrase Dylan, are busier dying than being born.

"Between 2000 and 2004, West Virginia was the only state in the nation not to have a natural increase in its population." Deaths outnumbered births for a net loss of 2.044. New arrivals, however, lifted the total population.

*In 2004, only Florida had a higher population of people 65 and older (15.3 vs. 16.8).

*In 2000, 21 percent of Americans lived in rural areas, compared with 53.9 percent of West Virginians. Only Vermont and Maine had higher percentages.

*"West Virginians were also less likely to move to a different house than residents of any other state." I can explain that one: if you're already home, why move? Duh.

*West Virginia had the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents of all states and the District of Columbia.

*Just 2.1 percent of state residents speak a language other than English in the home, compared with 18.5 percent of all people older than 5.

(Note: El Cabrero has figured out two possible ways to increase our linguistic diversity. The first is admittedly a drastic remedy but I have tried it: marry a foreign language teacher. That way, if at 3:00 a.m. you want to find out how to say "There are dogs in my nose" in Spanish, all you have to do is ask. Just watch out for elbows. And by the way, it's "hay perros en mi nariz.")

((The other remedy would be to get hillbilly declared its own language. Then we'd just have to work on English.))

*We had the highest white infant mortality rate and the highest death rates from heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. We also come in only second to Kentucky in smoking rates (30.8 to 27.4), which is probably not unrelated to the previous statistic.

*We still have the lowest rate of college graduates. On the other hand, state residents are much less likely to be victims of violent crime and identity theft than most Americans. The low crime rate is kind of odd considering that, to overgeneralize, we are a bunch of heavily armed poor people.

*I didn't see this one coming: we have the smallest water surface rate among states, and just about all that consists of flowing water. I guess all the water is trying to get downhill...

*We have the lowest workforce participation rate in the country, but state workers have a higher than average rate of union membership, although that has declined due to job loss in major industries.

SPEAKING OF UNIONS. Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, best known for his recent unsuccessful effort to buy the state legislature, testified in Montgomery in a National Labor Relations Board hearing about discrimination against union miners at Cannelton. His hostility to unions is a matter of public record. Check out this Gazette story by Susan Williams if you haven't already.

AND LEST WE FORGET, here's a link to the report on the Massey-owned Aracoma fire that killed two miners last year in Logan County. The report was prepared for Gov. Manchin by J. Davitt McAteer and associates.


February 13, 2007


Caption: This is him.

The more you learn about President Bush's proposed federal budget, the less there is to like.

Here is a fairly detailed but still readable analysis from the American Friends Service Committee's
Washington Office.

Here's the intro:

The federal budget is the ultimate embodiment of our nation’s priorities and direction, a roadmap of our shared plans as a society. What will our tax money buy? What are the moral mandates we share? What are our national aspirations today? What are our intentions with regard to future generations?

The Fiscal Year 2008 budget request released by the Administration this week offers a troubling response to these questions. The request seeks the highest level of military spending in two decades – even before supplemental funds for current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are taken into account.

It includes supplemental FY07 war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan that would bring the annual expenditure for those conflicts to a level more than five times higher than the entire State Department budget for the same period. It proposes cuts to essential programs that help children receive health care and elders pay their heating bills, while spending billions for a “virtual fence” on our southern border.

And that's just the intro.

SPEAKING OF THE DEVIL, here's another Brothers Karamazov moment brought to you by Dostoevsky. It involves the retelling of an old Russian folk tale about "a very wicked old woman" who never did a single good deed in all her life.

Her guardian angel was desperate to think of some way to rescue her from the devils who threw her into the lake of fire. He finally told God that he once remembered seeing the old woman pull an onion from her garden and give it to a beggar...

And God said to him: Well, take that onion and hold it out to her in the lake, let her catch hold of it and pull, and if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.

Well, the angel held out the onion and told her to pull herself out.

And he began pulling her cautiously and was on the point of pulling her out when the other sinners in the lake, seeing that she was being pulled out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was terribly wicked and she began kicking them. 'It's me who's being pulled out,' she said, 'and not you. It's my onion, not yours.'

You can probably guess the end. The onion broke and she fell back in.

Moral of the story: methinks the big boys need to do a better job of sharing the onions and stop kicking people down. The rest of us probably should too.