May 05, 2007


Note to first time readers: It is the policy of this blog to offer fairly serious material during the week. During the weekend, however, we open this space to various animal commentators in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This week, with some admitted angst and trepidation, we once again feature commentary by a snapping turtle who refuses to personally identify himself and is known only as the Untrustworthy Reptile.

The Goat Rope staff would like to stress that his inclusion in this space is by no means an endorsement of his opinions. Further, we will accept no liability for the consequences of anyone who chooses to follow his advice.


Hey you! Yeah, you, Zombie Head. Know what your problem is? You need peace of mind. Yeah. Yeah. Like spiritual enlightenment or something. It'll give you immortality and you won't have to be reborn as mammal, which is like the TOTAL worst thing to be.

I got just the thing for you. It's a...ummm...Secret Teaching. Yeah, a secret spiritual teaching. Once you understand, you get your mind straightened up and you can have anything you want. Some people might even like you.

I just happen to have the thing for you. It's like a Lost Gospel or something. Forget all the other ones--this is all you need. You'll be blissed out for eons.

Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you where it is. It's right here in my mouth, back in there a little ways.

All you gotta do is reach in there and get it. That's all. Just reach part way in for a second. Yeah, part way for a second.

Hey! Where are you going? Wuss! Come back here! Fine--you're gonna sizzle and pop in hell! I hate you!


May 03, 2007


Caption: This man can barely keep his head above water.

The guiding thread of this week’s Goat Rope has been about the politics of resentment and the disastrous results this has brought to the nation as a whole.

Fortunately, there is some good news.

Ruy Teixeira, writing for the Center for American Progress, reports that public opinion research nonetheless shows that “the public is very willing to extend a helping hand to the least fortunate in society.” In fact, this sentiment is increasing, perhaps due to the growing sense of economic insecurity and growing concerns about inequality:

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in January of this year, for example, shows that 69 percent agree that “the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep” and an identical 69 percent agree that “it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” These figures are up 10 and 12 points respectively relative to their recent low point in 1994.

Americans are also willing to consider a wide range of options for helping the poor. The most complete results along these lines are provided by an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard poll from 2001. As the chart below shows, four proposals garnered 80 percent support or higher: expanding subsidized day care, increasing the minimum wage, spending more for medical care for poor people, and increasing the tax credit for low-income workers. Yet every option offered, even increasing cash assistance for families, received majority support.

The country as a whole needs policies that promote shared prosperity and grow the middle class again. The research shows that people want it. Now we have to make it happen.

NEW TRADE BLOG. People interested in issues of fair trade by want to check out Public Citizen's new "Eyes on Trade" blog.



Caption: These chickens had to scratch for a living.

(First, a correction to yesterday's post on "The Two Bums." A closer inspection of the photo reveals that there were in fact three bums in that picture. Second, a reminder that all the posts this week are loosely connected. Please click on the last few days if this is your first visit.)

Something good happened to this country between the end of World War II and the early 1970s. In that period, the US economy grew dramatically.

And, while there has always been great inequality in this country, the benefits of growth were shared among all sectors of the population.

But that positive trend came to an end in the 1970s. Contributing factors were the costs of the Vietnam War, the energy crisis, and economic stagflation that baffled many economists.

Stagflation refers to a slow economy with high unemployment accompanied by high inflation. This puzzled many economists at the time as the conventional wisdom was that you either had unemployment or inflation but not both at the same time.

Real wages for American workers began to stagnate and fall, a tendency that continued for more than a decade.

This crisis created the political opening for right wing, which had been building its political and ideological base since the mid 1960s , to gain power. They were aided in part by growing resentment among middle income Americans against “welfare queens,” unions, minorities, a backlash against the civil rights movement, etc.

The growth of the religious right enabled this movement to exploit divisive issues and “culture wars" and thus gain support from middle and lower income Americans for an agenda which would ultimately betray them.

Let them eat jihad…

Once in power, the right pursued policies that made the income gap between the very wealthy and everyone else begin to grow. As a result, when the economy grew, the benefits weren’t shared across the population as they had been in the post war period.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (get link) after tax income for the wealthiest one percent of the population grew by 111 percent between 1979 and 2002. It grew by 48 percent for the top fifth.

If the post-war pattern had continued, there would have been similar gains across the board. Instead, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the middle fifth gained on 15 percent, while the bottom fifth gained five percent. By other measures, lower income Americans actually lost ground.

As previously noted in this blog, Census data for every year since 2000 has reported increasing poverty, stagnant wages, and a growth in the number of the uninsured for every year since 2000.

It can’t be stressed enough that this growing inequality was not the result of “market” forces acting alone but through the use of political policies to shift budget priorities, promote trade deals benefiting multinational investors at the expense of ordinary people, attacks on unions, and cuts to the safety net.

As Dean Baker, economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has repeatedly pointed out, there has been a conscious and deliberate use of the powers of government for the last 25 years to redistribute wealth upward. He calls it “a right turn leading to a dead end.”

The country can no longer afford the politics of resentment and the circular firing squad it creates.

But there is some good news, about which more tomorrow…

NO COMMENT. This item appeared in the UK Guardian.

WEST VIRGINIANS SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE WAR. A number of groups, including WV Patriots for Peace, WV Citizen Action Group, the AFL-CIO, and AFSC held a press conference yesterday on the occasion of President Bush's veto of the Iraq supplemental.

FIG TREE NOTES. Here's the latest edition of Jim Lewis's Notes from Under the Fig Tree.


May 02, 2007


Caption: Here are two bums.

(This week's posts are loosely connected. If this is your first visit, please consider clicking on the last two.)

El Cabrero has a soft spot for the Wobblies, a nickname for the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical branch of the labor movement that saw its best days between its founding in 1905 and the massive political repression that accompanied the First World War.

Their goal was to unite all workers, regardless of skill, race, sex, religion, or national origin, into One Big Union. They were also very clever in making use of funny and irreverent songs, poems, and signs (similar to modern bumper stickers) which they called silent agitators to get their message across.

They gave the labor movement some of its best songs, such as Solidarity Forever, which was inspired by a coal strike in El Cabrero’s beloved state of West Virginia, The Commonwealth of Toil, Bread and Roses, and The Preacher and the Slave.

One Wobbly poem called The Two Bums, is the most eloquent statement on social policy that I’ve ever found.

Then as now, people are all to ready and eager to blame all social problems on poor and working people and ignore the vast harm done to the vast majority by a wealthy and powerful minority of people who own and control most economic and political power.

Here it is:

The Two Bums

The bum on the rods is hunted down as an enemy of mankind
The other is driven around to his club, is feted, wined and dined.

And they who curse the bum on the rods as the essence of all that's bad
Will greet the other with a willing smile and extend a hand so glad.

The bum on the rods is a social flea who gets an occasional bite
The bum on the plush is a social leech, bloodsucking day and night.

The bum on the rods is a load so light that his weight we scarcely feel
But it takes the labour of dozens of folks to furnish the other a meal.

As long as we sanction the bum on the plush the other will always be there
But rid ourselves of the bum on the plush and the other will disappear.

Then make an intelligent organised kick get rid of the weights that crush
Don't worry about the bum on the rods get rid of the bum on the plush.

(Railroad trivia note: the "rods" referred to here are the rods underneath rail cars--not a very safe way to travel cross country.)

ON THE PLUSH. Our old friend Wal-Mart made the cover of the print version of Business Week again, but this item about its human rights record from the online version of the magazine is even more interesting. Here's the lead:

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental group based in New York, is best known for scathing reports on political issues such as the Rwandan genocide and the Congo's use of children in its military. But late on Apr. 30, the human rights group focused on Wal-Mart (WMT), issuing a report that charged the giant retailer with using strong-arm tactics and, in some cases, illegal means to stop its workers from forming unions. In a 210-page report, the organization says "the retail giant stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus."

This is only the second time in the organization's 29-year history that it has issued a book-size report on a corporation. The first one was on Enron in 1999. The study's author, Carol Pier, says the group decided to focus on Wal-Mart because of its broad impact on labor practices and the U.S. economy. "Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world. Therefore, the way it treats its workers matters," says Pier, senior labor rights and trade researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Our message is that when the world's largest economy has labor laws that are so weak that it is unable to prevent the world's largest corporation from violating workers' rights to organize, it is troubling."

WV ITEM. We hear a lot of complaints in this state from conservatives about the drastic growth of state government. Last week, Antipode did some math and found that state spending actually declined over the last 25 years as a proportion of state GDP.


May 01, 2007

THE BLAME PATTERN, plus stuff on Hurricane Katrina and "Mission Accomplished"

Caption: I blame them. Why do you think they call them "scapegoats" anyway?

Note: this post is loosely related to yesterday's. If this is your first visit, please click on the previous entry.

As the eminent Wobbly philosopher Utah Philips once said, a common political dynamic of our time is the fact that “the blame pattern has been manipulated.”

That is to say that people take out the anger over very real social grievances not on the people who actually cause and profit by them—who tend to be wealthy and powerful—but rather on the people immediately below or slightly above them in social standing.

You can fill in the blanks. The convenient target could be welfare mothers, people receiving Medicaid, immigrants, uppity union workers wanting better pay or benefits, injured workers trying to get some justice, someone paying for groceries with food stamps, women, ethnic or religious minorities, etc.

Admittedly, not everyone in those target populations is a model of civic virtue. But it’s also a lot easier and less risky to kick people who can’t kick back.

This dynamic typically keeps people who have common interests from working together and ultimately benefits dominant groups. It’s the old divide and rule. The sad part is we do it to ourselves. This led one social theorist to comment that “domination is perpetuated by the dominated.”

In other words, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings…

SPEAKING OF GOAT ROPES, the Washington Post reported Sunday that the Bush administration didn't accept or otherwise blew most of the $854 million in aid offered from other countries:

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services -- such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships -- were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder of the federal government's difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

Heck of a job.

"MISSION ACCOMPLISHED." What more can one say? Maybe this:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq's sectarian warfare fueled a sharp increase in global terrorism in 2006, the U.S. State Department reported Monday.

The total number of terrorist attacks was up more than 25 percent from the previous year, according to the State Department's annual report on global terrorism.

Incidents in Iraq accounted for nearly half of the 14,000 attacks and about two-thirds of the more than 20,000 fatalities worldwide. The number of deaths blamed on attacks increased by about 40 percent.


April 30, 2007


Caption: This man doesn't like his client very much.

Last week, El Cabrero had to give a talk at a social work conference. It’s sort of an annual ritual and one that I have mixed feelings about.

There are a lot of good people and old friends there. It’s a great place to catch up with people I don’t get to see very often.

It’s a huge conference with all kinds of topics covered. Many who attend are not officially social workers but may be employed in various agencies or nonprofits.

The downer is that a small minority of those who attend seem to feel a mixture of hatred, contempt, and/or resentment for the people they serve. Sometimes these feelings, no doubt based on real experiences with some people, are generalized to cover whole populations.

It’s sad because this situation tends to make everyone miserable. For the worker, every day is provides fresh fuel for resentment. People tend to see what they expect to see. For those using the agency’s service, every contact with someone who sees them as scum is another slight. This kind of dynamic doesn’t bring out the best in anybody.

It’s not confined to any single profession. There are certainly some teachers, for example, who feel the same way about their students.

Part of the problem is no doubt that workers in social service agencies are typically overworked and underpaid. And there are those receiving services who game any given system—probably about the same proportion.

The best solution to the abuse of systems, however, is to deal directly with the outliers rather than punish the whole population. Last year, Malcolm Gladwell had an interesting article in the New Yorker about this very thing.

From a larger perspective, this is a small example of a political dynamic that has taken place on a grand scale over the last 25 or so years with disastrous consequences.

But, as Scarlett O’Hara, said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day…”

WV RANT: GREED IS GOOD. A major multi-state bank is spending its surplus in promoting the...uhhh..."philosophy" of Ayn Rand. Here are my comments from a post in yesterday's WV Blue.

ISN'T IT IRONIC, DON'T YOU THINK that if Gonzales goes down, it won't be over desecrating the constitution with his enabling of torture and if Wolfowitz goes down, it won't be over the tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths he helped to cause in Iraq?