September 08, 2007


Note for first time readers: It is the policy of this blog to deal with fairly serious issues during the week. Sort of, anyway. Weekends, however are generally reserved for the commentaries of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we are pleased to welcome back Alpine dairy goat Arcadia S. Venus, doyenne and diva. Venus' particular speciality--one shared by many goats--is the field of ethics and morality. A stern devotion to virtue has been, after all, the central feature of caprine behavior through the centuries.

Venus has taken time from her busy schedule of raiding ornamental plants to share her unique insights with our readers.


GR: Venus, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with us this weekend. The issue we're grappling with is the relationship between free will, determinism, and moral responsibility.

Venus: Do you have any of those apple things?

GR: The issue is this: the natural sciences are deterministic in their orientation for the most part. They often assume uniform laws of nature and the strict rule of cause and effect...

Venus: That hay you gave us is crappy.

GR: The question is, does this deterministic schema apply to humans as well? And, if it does, what does this mean for the concept of moral responsibility.

Venus: You bought that crap, didn't you? Why don't you take some responsibility for that?

GR: So what you seem to be saying is that regardless of the apparent determinism that reigns in the realms of the natural sciences, this doesn't completely relieve us of moral responsibility. Because if it was all determined, you wouldn't have any reason to blame me for the bad hay, correct?

Venus: Shut up and give me some alfalfa cubes. And you better keep em coming if you want to see that grape plant and the wisteria again!

GR: I think I understand what you're saying. Despite all the forces that condition us and limit human freedom, we still have the power and duty to choose between courses of action and accept the consequences. Thanks so much for clearing that up, Venus!

Venus: Alfalfa cubes now or that smoke tree is going down...


September 07, 2007


Caption: See second item.

The theme this week at Goat Rope is about the future of the labor movement--and of the middle class. The two are pretty intertwined and one rises or falls with the other.

If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

Yesterday's post was about the background on the Employee Free Choice Act. Today's is about its prospects.

The bill passed the House of Representatives earlier this year with bipartisan support (not counting WV 2's Shelley Moore Capito). It enjoys a bare majority of support in the Senate, although not enough to overcome a filibuster. President Bush has indicated--no shock--that he would veto the measure if it came to his desk.

That means the next serious chance to pass it will be after the 2008 elections, assuming a change in the composition of the Senate. In the meantime, supporters need to keep on making noise in favor of this measure and build a stronger base in public opinion in favor of its passage.

This could be the most significant social legislation in decades. If the right to organize was truly restored, a lot of other problems would take care of themselves.

At the state (WV) level, HB 2346, popularly known as the Worker Freedom Bill, was introduced but not passed last time around. This bill would prohibit employers (with appropriate exemptions) from requiring workers to attend meetings in which their views on politics, religion, and labor organizing are discussed. Here's the text. Efforts in support of that measure will continue.

MORAY EEL UPDATE. Please allow El Cabrero to apologize for neglecting this vital subject. By way of amends, it pleases me to share the following information:

Moray eels, those snake-like predators that lurk in coral reefs, use a second set of jaws to pull prey back into their throats with deadly efficiency, researchers said on Wednesday.

From what I can surmise (from a distance), these buggers have an extra jaw that is usually behind the skull when not in use. When needed, the extra jaws shoot up into the mouth and pull the prey back down the throat. Scientists were reportedly amazed to discover how it worked. It sounds to me like the monster in the Alien movies...

IT'S ABOUT TIME. According to this item from The Nation, some folks are getting serious about doing something about poverty.

MORE ON MINE SAFETY. Here's the latest about mine safety hearings in Congress (fireworks included).

MORE ON COAL. This op-ed by Jeff Goodell, author of Big Coal, came out in late August, but I just found it.


September 05, 2007


Caption: As this gray tree frog will tell you, it's hard to hang on these days.

The theme of this week's Goat Rope is the future of the labor movement. To be exact, Monday's was about the benefits of union membership, Tuesday's was about the reasons for it's decline, and yesterday's was about the dirty and illegal tricks employers often play to prevent workers from organizing.

The best solution to this problem is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). I've written about it many times in this blog and elsewhere.

(For more background, search this blog for Employee Free Choice Act--not abbreviated--in the top left corner of the screen.)

Here's the short version. This bill would essentially restore the right of workers to organize and form unions by doing several things.

*It would allow people to bypass NLRB elections by a card check system. Under this, if the majority of workers signed a card in favor of union membership, the union would be recognized as the bargaining agent.

*It would increase penalties for companies that illegally fire and/or intimidate workers trying to organize; and

*It would provide mediation and arbitration for first contracts.

Opponents of this measure pretend that the measure is an attack on secret ballots. This is bogus for more more than one reason. First, secret ballots remain an option. Second, it's not a fair and free election if you can be intimidated, demoted and fired for voting for a union (see yesterday's post). For a good look at the differences between a federal election and a union election under the current system, click here.

Next time: prospects for passage and a state initiative.

ALONG THE THEME of rebuilding the middle class in a postindustrial age, here's an item from the Washington Post.

SICKNESS UNTO DEATH. I'm talking health care, not Kierkegaard (although he could well show up here at some point). Here is a good interview about US health care woes with Jonathan Cohn, author of SICK and a writer for the New Republic.

WHAT'S (NOT) UP. This is from the latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute:

American families today are increasingly feeling the pinch of higher energy prices, housing market uncertainty, and growing health care costs. Historically, typical families could expect to see annual increases in their earnings to help cope with financial challenges, improve their standard of living, or just save for a rainy day. These expectations of economic progress are no longer being met.

Last week the Census Bureau released new estimates of inflation-adjusted household incomes and individual earnings. Median real household income in 2006 was $48,201, an increase of $356, or about 0.7%, from 2005. At this point in the economic recovery, we should expect to see an increase. But it is important to put this increase in historical context, as well as closely examine the causes.

In an alarming reversal of past progress, real household income for the typical family has declined over the last seven years. Despite increases over the prior two years, median household income for 2006 (the last year for which data are available) is still $1,043 below its peak in 1999...

VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN. WV Governor Joe Manchin is pretty popular here, but one of his decisions isn't. I am of course referring the to the "Open for Business" signs at the state borders, which replaced the "Welcome to Wild Wonderful West Virginia," which most people seemed to like. State residents now have a chance to vote online at the following sites:, or El Cabrero is in the restorationist camp.



The theme for this week's Goat Rope is the future of the labor movement. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

We know that union members tend to have better wages and benefits than their non-union counterparts and that polling indicates that millions of Americans would join unions if they could. So why isn't that happening?

American Rights at Work provides some answers:

Every 23 minutes a U.S. worker is fired or retaliated against for their support of a union.

Between 1993 and 2003, NLRB reports indicate an average of 22,633 workers per year were awarded backpay from employers after being fired or demoted for trying to organize.

91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors during union organizing drives...

51% of employers illegally coerce workers into opposing unions with bribes or special favors during union organizing drives...

30% of employers illegally fire pro-union workers during union organizing drives...

49% of employers illegally threaten to close a worksite during union organizing drives if workers choose to form a union...

46% of workers report being pressured by management during NLRB elections...

(Click the above link for more statistics and sources.)

There oughta be a law...

...about which more tomorrow.

AT THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM, here's Barbara Ehrenreich on CEO pay. An excerpt:

...CEOs of large companies earn an average of $10.8 million a year, which is 362 times as much as the average American worker, and retire with $10.1 million in their special exclusive CEO pension funds.

Citing a recent report released for Labor Day by United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies, she notes that US CEO pay "wildly exceeds that of their European counterparts, who, we are invited to believe, work equally hard."

The report states that

"The 20 highest-paid individuals at publicly traded corporations last year took home, on average, $36.4 million. That's ... 204 times more than the 20 highest-paid generals in the U.S. military."

She is quick to point out, however, that they need every penny of it since it's so expensive to be rich these days.

NOW THAT SUMMER IS KIND OF OFFICIALLY OVER, here's an item on the vanishing American vacation.

COSMIC WATERGATE. From the Charleston Daily Mail:

Nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman arrives in West Virginia's capital Friday with "overwhelming evidence" that aliens from beyond have been visiting planet Earth for a long time...

For almost half a century, Friedman has explored the UFO phenomenon and spent much of his time on the lecture circuit, meeting audiences on better than 600 campuses and appearing on national television interviews, including, of late, the "Larry King Show."

His message:

"UFOs are real, and the government has been covering them up in what I call the ‘cosmic Watergate,' " Friedman told The Register-Herald in a recent interview.

The conference will be held this weekend in Charleston.


September 04, 2007


Caption: These guys are organized.

Yesterday's post looked at some of the benefits of union membership for working people. Short summary: better pay and benefits like health care, paid sick leave, vacations, and pensions. And the benefits of union membership compel many non-union employers to offer competitive benefits.

The fate of the middle class is inextricably linked to the fate of the labor movement.

An obvious question is, if that's the case, why don't more workers join unions? Membership has declined from more than 1/3 of the workforce after WWII to around 12 percent now, even though a recent survey suggests that 60 million workers would join a union if they could.

What's going on?

Part of it has to do with economic trends and policies. In El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, the United Mine Workers was once a huge union with tens of thousands of active members. That number has declined dramatically due to the mechanization of the mining industry. Other union-dense industries such as steel and textiles have been decimated due to deindustrialization, globalization and NAFTA like "free trade" policies. More recently, the privatization of public services has been a factor.

Those factors help explain the loss of union jobs. But there is another huge factor at work here as well: employer hostility and government collusion to prevent workers from organizing to start with.

About which more tomorrow.

PRESENT TENSE. On the same theme, here's a recent column by Bob Herbert on the future of labor.

CLASS BEATDOWN. Here's an item from the UK's Guardian about the US's one sided class war. Short sample:

Long ago the wealthy declared war on the poor in this country. The poor have yet to fight back.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, a woman in Texas believes she has found the remains of a legendary bloodsucking beast called a "chupacabra," which means goat-sucker in Spanish.


September 02, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle on the prowl in defense of the toilers of the world.

This seems like as good a week as any to look at the state of the labor movement in America.

First the good news. According to the 2006/2007 State of Working America, published by the Economic Policy Institute, the union premium or degree to which union wages and benefits exceed nonunion wages and benefits is high. Union workers earn 28.1 percent more in wages than nonunion workers. If you look at total compensation, the union premium is 43.7 percent.

Union workers are 28.2 percent more likely to have employer provided health insurance, usually with lower deductibles and premiums. Over 70 percent of union workers have pensions, compared with 43.8 percent of nonunion workers. Union members enjoy more paid time off work for vacations (14.3 percent more) than nonunion workers.

These are the kinds of jobs and benefits that make it possible to raise and care for a family. These kinds of jobs have promoted the growth of the middle class, stimulated the economy, and formed the basis of a shared prosperity. In addition, there is a spillover effect which benefits nonunion members. This is because union compensation packages encourage other employers to offer competitive benefits.

The bad news will keep until tomorrow.

HAPPY 100! Sept. 1 marked the 100th birthday of Walter Reuther, longtime president of the United Auto Workers, West Virginia native, civil rights leader and all around good guy. Here's a blast from the past in the form of a tribute to Reuther that appeared here last year (after being recycled from one of El Cabrero's old Gazette columns).

HAPPY 75! Also recently celebrating a birthday is the Highlander Center, which played a major role over the decades in the labor and civil rights movement. El Cabrero had the privilege of knowing one of its co-founders, the legendary Appalachian poet and activist Don West, who is the subject of a recent biography, A Hard Journey: The Life of Don West by James J. Lorence.