March 17, 2007


For first time readers, Goat Rope covers fairly serious topics during the week, generally accompanied by gratuitous animal pictures.

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

This weekend, we are pleased to welcome back official Goat Rope Farm film critic Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY) who will discuss the classic film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

(We must remind the reader that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury when he crashed into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he has been known on occasion to transpose the plots of the movies he discusses. However, we believe that his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming."


OK, like this movie is about the conflict between people and dogs and authority.

There's like this guy, see, who's in prison but thinks if he gets put in a mental hospital things will be easier. So he goes into one and thinks it will be one big party.

But the thing is, there's this nurse in there who likes to grind everybody down.

Doodus says Moomus is kind of like that nurse. Moomus tells Doodus to shut up or she'll shock him again.

Anyway, the guy and the big nurse and the whole platoon have to go and rescue this private cause all his brothers got killed in the war. It gets pretty bloody and some of the guys get killed but then there's this amazing plot twist.

They wind up at this resort and they're like a family. The guy turns into this girl called Baby who takes dancing lessons and falls for the nurse, who is like a guy now.

They win a contest building this baseball field and everybody comes. Even the dead guys.

That is some heavy social criticism.

If Doodus won't make me some popcorn, I'm going to try to get Moomus to shock him some more.


March 15, 2007


Caption: Art imitating life. This picture of a picture of a painting (holy post-modernism, Batman!) is titled "Goat Contemplating Her Universal Purpose" by Barbara Marsh Wilson (no relation) and was sent by an amiga in the faith.

BUDGET CALL IN DAYS. The federal budget proposal President Bush submitted to Congress is...everything you might expect. It includes cuts in programs for working people, children and the elderly to pay for more tax cuts for the rich and the mess in Iraq. The House and Senate budget committees are now considering funding options.

The American Friends Service Committe, Coalition on Human Needs and many allied groups are urging people to call Congress toll-free 1-800-459-1887 and urge adequate funding for human needs such as health care, housing, education, nutrition, and other services. Click the link for more.

MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE. The federal minimum wage increase is still in congressional limbo. The latest twist was an attempt to include the increase in supplemental spending for the war in Iraq. The Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign opposes linking the wage increase to war spending and is urging Congress to instead deal with it in conference.


L. Paul Bremmer III, the guy Bush first installed as overseer of the Iraq occupation, now concedes that he okayed the shipment of $12 billion from the U.S. treasury to the Iraqi interim government. In cash! Shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills were loaded on wooden pallets and flown to Baghdad. It was 363 tons of cash.

I guess that's fiscal neo-conservatism.

Here's a good op-ed on Iraq by WV AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Larry Matheney.

On Saturday, WV Patriots for Peace will be holding an anti-Iraq war rally in the state capitol rotunda at 2:00 p.m. The purpose is "to remember 4 years of US occupation of Iraq, to mourn the tragic losses and to demand an end to this failed Bush policy."

AND PICKING UP THE LOW WAGE THEME...The Center for Economic and Policy Research just released a report on low wage work in the U.S.:

Over 40 million jobs in the United States — about 1 in 3 — pay low wages ($11.11 per hour or less) and often do not offer employment benefits like health insurance, retirement savings accounts, paid sick days or family leave. These low-wage jobs are replacing jobs that have historically supported a broad middle class.

GO TELL THE SPARTANS...It is no secret that El Cabrero is an ancient Greek dork. Or maybe dork about ancient Greece would be a better way to say it. Here's an interview I did about the factual basis of the movie 300 from the online Gazette arts amd entertainment section The Gazz. Moulon labe!



Comment: Inequality, demonstrated here by two crawdads, can cause serious public health problems.

This is the second post in a series about poverty, inequality, and public health.If this is your first visit, please scroll down to yesterday's post.

This series was inspired by a recent scholarly article in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine by Steven H. Woolf (MD, MPH), Robert E. Johnson (Ph.D.), and J. Jack Geiger (MD, MS) titled "The Rising Prevalence of Severe Poverty in America: A Growing Threat to Public Health."

Yesterday's post looked at growing severe poverty from an economic and social standpoint, while today's will deal with health consequences, many of which are obvious and serious:

The public health implications of increasing poverty are profound, given how strongly social class is linked with premature mortality, disease, and mental illness. The poor have greater exposure to risk factors, such as those caused by homelessness, substandard housing, and environmental pollutants. They experience greater rates of smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity, in part because impoverished neighborhoods are not conducive to healthy lifestyles (e.g., having built environments for walking and supermarkets that offer healthy food choices); these communities are also targets for the promotion of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and fast foods.

(Note: footnotes were removed from quoted passages for easier reading.)

Poor people who work generally don't have jobs that offer insurance and can't afford to buy it themselves. This may cause people to do without care or postpone seeking it until the situation worsens. Further, the cost of uncompensated care shifts costs to other health care consumers.

Education is another factor related to poverty that can lead to adverse health consequences. The authors note that the inadequate education that usually goes along with poverty makes it harder for people to have the information to make good health decisions and to get the kinds of jobs that provide access to health care.

Not surprisingly, the effects of severe poverty are hardest on children:

Children are especially vulnerable to harm from severe poverty because of its influences on perinatal outcomes, growth, nutrition, parenting, safety, development, emotional health, access to health care, adolescent pregnancy, cognition, and educational success. Children exposed to severe poverty are at greater risk of experiencing unemployment, learning disabilities, mental illness, physical disease, substance abuse, and crime as adults. They are also more likely to remain in poverty as adults,104 thereby perpetuating the cycle for their children. According to one report, only 6% of children who grow up in the lowest quintile of income attain the highest income quintile as adults (compared to 42% of those who grow up in the highest income quintile).

The authors conclude that government policies in recent years has been

to promote vibrant commerce as a vehicle for job creation and to reduce outlays for social services to finance tax cuts and other incentives to “grow the economy.” The findings reported here suggest that this policy has improved incomes for only a small proportion of the population—primarily the most affluent class—while poverty rates at the other end of the spectrum have increased. Millions of Americans, over-represented by children and minorities, have entered conditions of extreme poverty. After 2000, Americans subsisting under these conditions grew as a class more than any other segment of the population. Potential solutions to poverty are formidable and politically difficult, but the first step is to recognize the problem, which to date has received little exposure, and its implications for public health and society. Policymakers should consider our data in judging whether policies enacted in recent years have helped or hindered the public.

El Cabrero's unauthorized translation: we're on the wrong road and we need to change directions.

BIG NEWS! Caliente damn! DSL has arrived at Goat Rope Farm! This means big changes for this blog, including more than one post per day as things arise, video clips, and maybe even podcasting (once I figure out what, exactly, podcasting is)...unless I get lost in youtubeland.


March 14, 2007

POVERTY AND PUBLIC HEALTH: THE SCIENTIFIC DATA, plus an Iraq factoid and another instance of the passive voice

A poor chicken is a sick chicken.

OH, MY PROPHETIC SOUL! Monday's post was about the Bush administration's use of the passive voice when it royally screws up.

Here we go again. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales demonstrated his mastery of the passive voice by stating "“I acknowledge that mistakes were made here" to members of congress over the latest scandal.


Medical researchers have long known that poverty is a public health issue, although that awareness hasn't seemed to trickle down to policy makers.

Maybe it's time.

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine recently published a very well documented article by Steven H. Woolf (MD, MPH), Robert E. Johnson (Ph.D.), and J. Jack Geiger (MD, MS) titled "The Rising Prevalence of Severe Poverty in America: A Growing Threat to Public Health."

The problem, according to the authors, isn't just the growing number and percentage of people in poverty (from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.7 in 2004), but the growth severe poverty, which means 50 percent or less of the federal poverty level. This population grew by 20% between 2000 and 2004.

By contrast, the article reports that the proportion of Americans living below the poverty line declined by 25 percent between 1993 and 2000.

The mean income deficit, i.e. the difference between income and the poverty level, increased by 14 percent for families (from $6820 to $775) and by 20 percent for unrelated individuals (from $4388 to $5259). The biggest growth, however, was among those with an income deficit of $8000 or more. "The population experiencing severe poverty was over-represented by children, African Americans, and Hispanics."

So what? Well...

A rise in poverty rates is important because of the enormous difficulties faced by the poor in meeting the most basic human needs (e.g., food security, clothing, housing, health) and in obtaining the means to escape their conditions (e.g., education, jobs, higher earnings). This suffering alone is sufficient cause for concern among those who advocate social justice, but rising poverty rates are also relevant to those who reject a moral duty to help the poor. The global competitiveness of the U.S. economy suffers if workers are too poor to obtain an education and modern job skills, the government loses tax revenue and spends more on public assistance because of poverty, and communities fall victim to urban decay, crime, and unrest.

The study also found that severe poverty may be producing a "sinkhole effect on income for other Americans:

Just as a sinkhole causes everything above it to collapse downward, families and individuals in the middle and upper classes appear to be migrating to lower income tiers that bring them closer to the poverty threshold.

Next time: the health consequences.

IRAQ WAR FACTOID. On a not entirely unrelated note, Foreign Policy magazine notes that we are now spending about $250,000 a minute on the unnecessary war in Iraq.

WV WALKOUT? it's not yet clear how widespread it will be, but at least some counties will have a one day teacher's strike today.


March 13, 2007


Caption: Bantam rooster and noted free-market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit is a master of rhetoric.

Political rhetoric is never exactly innocent, but El Cabrero suspects that the rhetoric of our time, particularly that of people in power, is way over the top.

What better antidote can there be than a dose of George Orwell's classic 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language"?

Here are some nuggets:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible...

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer...

Political language--and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists--is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

WINNERS AND LOSERS. Tha March/April issue of Foreign Policy has an interesting feature by several authors on the subject of "Who Wins in Iraq?" There are ten winners.

Sneak preview: the U.S. didn't make the list.

The top three winners were

1. Iran ("After nearly 25 years of wrestling with Saddam Hussein, Iran's Shiite rulers have the war to thank for their newfound power.");

2. Moqtada al-Sadr ("How a radical Shiite cleric became the most powerful man in Iraq"); and

3. Al Qaeda ("The terrorist network was on life support after September 11--until a new front opened in Baghdad and revived its mission.")

Other "winners" who made the list were, in order, Samual Huntington of "Clash of Civilizations" fame; China; Arab dictators; the price of oil; the United Nations (diplomacy may not be so stupid after all); Old Europe (see previus item); and Israel.

My guess is that the legitimate interests of the American people are buried somewhere in the "also ran" category.

ANOTHER MISTAKE WAS MADE. The latest collateral damage inflicted by the Bush administration hit the Medicaid program, which provides health care to around 55 million children, people with disabilities, low income families, and elderly Americans.

The so-called Deficit Reduction Act of 2006 (you know, the one that didn't reduce the deficit) included draconian cuts to social programs and harsh new rules in order to pay for more tax cuts for the rich. This is from the New York Times:

A new federal rule intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid has instead shut out tens of thousands of United States citizens who have had difficulty complying with requirements to show birth certificates and other documents proving their citizenship, state officials say...

Under a 2006 federal law, the Deficit Reduction Act, most people who say they are United States citizens and want Medicaid must provide “satisfactory documentary evidence of citizenship,” which could include a passport or the combination of a birth certificate and a driver’s license.

Under a 2006 federal law, the Deficit Reduction Act, most people who say they are United States citizens and want Medicaid must provide “satisfactory documentary evidence of citizenship,” which could include a passport or the combination of a birth certificate and a driver’s license.

The article quotes state officials who say that the rule changes haven't turned up many undocumented immigrants receiving Medicaid but has resulted in significant drops in rolls due to the difficulty of complying with the new rules.

Of West Virginia's congressional delegation, only Shelley Moore Capito supported the Deficit-Reduction-Act-Which-Didn't-Reduce-the-Deficit.

SPEAKING OF IMMIGRANTS EATING ALL THE HEALTH CARE (NOT)...Doh! The same issue of Foreign Policy cited above has a little item titled "You Can No Longer Argue..." It completes the sentence like this: "...that illegal immigrants are an excessive burden on U.S. healthcare...According to a RAND Corp. study on healthcare spending in the United States, foreign-born residents, particularly the undocumented, use far fewer medical services relative to their population share than U.S.-born citizens."

Legal immigrants make up 9.9 percent of the population and account for 7 percent of health care spending; undocumented workers are estimated to be 3.2 percent and account for 1.5 percent of healthcare spending.


March 12, 2007


Caption: Mistakes were made by this man, but they were pretty mild.

El Cabrero has been thinking lately about the subject of political rhetoric.

The immediate trigger was musing over President Bush's comments on Iraq to the effect that "mistakes were made." That kind of phrase is often used in lieu of more straightforward expressions such as "I screwed up."

While I ain't no grammarian, this is a case of using the passive voice. Consider the difference between saying "the glass was broken" vs. "I broke the glass."

As Wheaton College professor Michael D.C. Drout wrote in the course guide to his enjoyable series of lectures, A Way with Words: Writing, Rhetoric, and the Art of Persuasion,

What if you want to leave out information? Then passive voice is your friend. "Mistakes were made," you say, when challenged about the collapse of the multibillion dollar corporation you were running. Why not say "I made mistakes"? Well, it makes you a lawsuit target (you have just "admitted" to making mistakes), whereas if you just say "mistakes were made," you end up looking as if you've admitted something without actually doing any admitting. "I made a mistake" is a performative utterance, with all the difficulties that go with it. "Mistakes were made" is not performative. As an analyst of rhetoric, look out for passive voice...

On the same note, here's an interesting fairly recent commentary on the president's use of the passive voice.

Now, on to some more recent "mistakes" that were made...

DOMESTIC SPYING A number of congressional representatives, not to mention many Americans, are outraged over the federal government's domestic spying on ordinary citizens. It looks like another mistake was made.

CARING FOR IRAQ VETERANS. It's fair to say that some major "mistakes were made" in this department. Marie Cocco, syndicated Washington Post columnist put it well:

A culture of contempt for government infects those who govern. It has shamed America and left the government itself in a shambles.

It is seen in the callous maltreatment of gravely wounded soldiers who've returned from Iraq. The scandal of Walter Reed Army Medical Center is compounded by a veterans' health care system starved of funds needed to accommodate a new generation of the disabled and disfigured -- a shortfall that has long been clear to those who use the system and who lobby for veterans, but not to those who blindly protect the Bush administration's tax cuts above all else...

It is the same cavalier incompetence that led to the debacle of the Hurricane Katrina response, its nightmarish aftermath still lived by the uprooted and the abandoned. The overlap between the twin tragedies of Katrina and Walter Reed is not imaginary. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has uncovered an internal Army document outlining how the hiring of a private contractor to provide support services at the military hospital led to an exodus of skilled government workers and put patient care ``at risk of mission failure.'' As it happens, the very same contractor had botched its role in the response to Hurricane Katrina.

(By the way, it was a native of West Virginia, Army Spc. Jeremy Duncan, who blew the whistle on the wretched treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Good job and best wishes to him and all those in similar situations!)

Mistakes have been made indeed.