January 05, 2008


For first time readers, this blog generally discusses fairly serious human issues during the week. Weekends, however, are reserved for the contributions of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we are not altogether pleased to feature a commentary by a snapping turtle who refuses to give his name and is known only as the Untrustworthy Reptile. The views expressed by this contributor and other talking animals are not necessarily those of the staff of Goat Rope, nor do we assume any liability for those who act upon these views. In fact, we believe that doing so would be a particularly bad idea in this case.

Despite our reservations, we have decided to run this commentary because of our deep commitment to the First Amendment, although the extent to which it applies to reptiles is not clear. It is our hope that providing space for the expression (bio) diverse viewpoints will promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


Hey you--with the face. C'mere. You look like hell. I think you got a case of SAD. That stands for Sorry @$$ Dude--I mean Seasonal Affective Disorder. This winter weather must be killing you. You look kind of dead already.

I won't even talk about shrinkage...

Look at me--see any snow here? Do I look like an icicle? I'm warm as can be. I have this special force field all around me that keeps me nice and toasty. I got my own sunshine.

You know how I do it? I got this special ointment, see. It's made from platypus urea--a top secret recipe. All I gotta do is rub a little on me and it's permanent springtime. You could use a little of that.

Today is your lucky day. It just so happens that I've got a little vial on me. I'll let you try it free. Let's see...where did I put it. Oh yeah, I remember now. It's right here in my mouth.

All you gotta do is reach in there and get it. Just stick your hand part way in there for a second. Just a little bit. Come on, go ahead. Just for a second...

Hey! Where are you going? Come back here! OK, fine--I hope you shrivel up and freeze! I hate you!


January 04, 2008


Caption: This man has been squeezed out of the middle class.

El Cabrero is winding up the week of New Year by highlighting some important books published in 2007. If this is your first visit, please click on previous posts.

Today's selection is Paul Krugman's The Conscience of A Liberal. Krugman is a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton but is best known for his columns in the New York Times. An earlier book of his, The Great Unraveling, is also worth a look.

(Come to think of it, this is probably also true of his earlier works, but I haven't read them. Yet.)

Conscience is a very readable guide to where we've come from, where we are, and where we might go as a nation in terms of economic policy and shared prosperity. Krugman looks first at the post-Civil War Gilded Age, with huge disparities of wealth and little, no safety net for working people, and disenfranchisement of millions of Americans.

This system was challenged by populists and progressives and was only overcome through the struggles of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and post-World War II policies which helped create the American middle class.

He calls this period, which lasted from the late 1940s to the mid 1970s as "the Great Compression." Taxes were high on the wealthy, some big businesses were regulated, pro-union policies were in effect, and government programs protected incomes, safety, education, and home ownership--and the country prospered as never before.

Things have obviously changed, due largely to the rise of what he calls "movement conservatism" (and what Jonathan Chait calls "crackpot economics"):

The American I grew up in was a relatively equal middle-class society. Over the past generation, however, the country has returned to Gilded Age levels of inequality.

Krugman offers a number of market and "aftermarket" policy measures to reverse this trend and builds a strong case for the "health care imperative"--the need to create a universal system of care. He notes that a weird reversal has occurred in our current political climate:

One of the seeming paradoxes of America in the early twenty-first century is that those of us who call themselves liberal are, in an important sense, conservative, while those who call themselves conservative are for the most part deeply radical. Liberals want to restore the middle-class society I grew up in; those who call themselves conservative want to take us back to the Gilded Age, undoing a century of history. Liberals defend long-standing institutions like Social Security and Medicare; those who call themselves conservative want to privatize or undermine those institutions. Liberals want to honor our democratic principles and the rule of law; those who call themselves conservative want the president to have dictatorial powers and have applauded the Bush administration as it imprisons people without charges and subjects them to torture.

There's a lot of history, ideas, and information here. I'd recommend checking it out. As Maude Lebowski said in that classic of American cinematography, "He's a good man--and thorough."

ANOTHER ROADBLOCK to a fresh war with Iran may have emerged. The U.S. military reports that Iran is no longer supplying training or materials to militants in Iraq.

MORAL VALUES DEPARTMENT. By way of the Washington Post, here are a series of questions religion professor R. Gustav Niebuhr would ask candidates.

UNKIND. Here's the Bush administration's latest smackdown of efforts to expand health care.

DEBT. El Cabrero has recently been trying to make sense of the massive debt/credit goat rope that is tripping up the nation. Here's a new blog by six academics on these issues: Credit Slips.


January 03, 2008


Caption: Seamus McGoogle does not like to be conned.

El Cabrero is winding up New Year's week by highlighting some important books about current events published last year. Today's pick is The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics. The title is kind of self-explanatory. The author is Jonathan Chait, one of El Cabrero's favorite writers at The New Republic.

The book is one of several with the how-did-we-get-in-this-mess theme. Here are the first two paragraphs by way of a teaser:

I have this problem. Whenever I try to explain what's happening in American politics--I mean what's really happening--I wind up sounding a bit like an unhinged conspiracy theorist. But honestly, I'm not. My politics are actually quite moderate. (Most real lefties, inf fact, think I'm a Washington establishment sellout.) So please give me a chance to explain myself when I tell you the following: American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possible insane. (Stay with me.)

The scope of their triumph is breathtaking. Over the course of the last three decades, they have moved from the right-wing fringe to the commanding heights of the national agenda. Notions that would have been laughed at a generation ago--that cutting taxes for the very rich is the best response to any and every economic circumstance, or that it is perfectly appropriate to turn the most rapacious and self-interested elements of the business lobby into essentially an arm of the federal government--are no so pervasive they barely attract any notice.

Chait does a good job of tracing the rise of supply side economics from the fringes to center stage and suggests that the main thing that has changed about US politics over the last few years is that the right wing has moved from a moderately conservative position (think Eisenhower) to an extreme position. That's the key to our current so-called polarization. He does a good job of lambasting the media for not noticing this and attempting to portray moderates as people who split the difference between yesterday's consensus and the far right.

It's worth a look. Here's a link to the NY Times review.

SPEAKING OF THE WHOLE BUSINESS LOBBY THING, the lobbyist-written Medicare Part D prescription drug plan is about to stick it to seniors this this year.


THE HEALTH GAP. According to new research,

the relative advantage in child mortality rates and health associated with social and economic advantage was about the same at the end of the 20th century as it was at the beginning of the 20th century. People with more money, more education and higher status jobs experience consistently better health and lower child mortality rates.


January 02, 2008


At this time of year, lots of people join gyms. El Cabrero is all set to cash in on this trend. I hereby announce the founding of the Hillbilly Health Club. It's all right there in the perty picture.

It has the latest in exercise equipment--including sledge hammer, wedge, splitting maul, wheel barrow and sycamore stumps--and offers a comprehensive exercise program with the following elements:

*Resistance. Splitting and chopping wood. Sycamore is all about resistance.

*Flexibility. Bend over, pick up the split wood, and put it in the wheel barrow. If you are anything like El Cabrero, this can be the hardest part, especially after an hour or so of splitting and chopping.

*Aerobics. Push the wheel barrow to the woodpile.

Holistic health--Appalachian style!

Annual memberships are now available, with special discounts to Goat Rope email subscribers. Ask about special family rates.

SHOCKED, SHOCKED. El Cabrero would like to round out the week of New Year by mentioning three 2007 books that are worth a look. Today's choice is Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her basic thesis is that economic, political, and ideological elites have taken advantage of human-made and natural disasters to impose an extreme version of unregulated capitalism on populations that would otherwise have rejected it.

Klein does an interesting job of weaving the history of shock therapy and other efforts at mind control with the rise of the Chicago School of economics as represented by Milton Friedman until his recent death. Friedman opposed unions, social programs, public education, business regulations, safety laws, etc. in the name of the "free" market.

He acknowledged that most people would find this distasteful, and said that

only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.

Friedman got the chance to put his ideas into action when General August Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected president of Chile in 1973 and imposed a military dictatorship. Then, with the help of mass murder, repression, and torture, he was able to advise the regime on how to impose the blessings of the "free" market.

Klein's book looks at several examples of disaster capitalism in the U.S. and around the world. Katrina was a classic case in point, as was the development of Iraq's "Emerald City" as a free market utopia under the direction of Friedman disciple Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq. Both of those went over real well...

It's interesting that in WV, some advocates of "Unleashing Capitalism" have tried to create a climate of panic and crisis in the hopes of pushing through a political agenda which includes attacks on union membership, worker safety rules, etc.

SAD NEWS from Kenya.

PUBLIC OPINION ON IRAQ is at odds with the views of many presidential candidates, according to this item.

THE STATE OF THE NATION in the Bush years is the subject of this New Year's Eve NY Times editorial.

LABOR UNDER ATTACK. Here is some info on the anti-union bias of the Bush Labor Department.

TWO YEARS AFTER SAGO, mine safety is still an issue. As Ken Ward reports in today's Gazette, 67 US miners have died since that disaster.


December 31, 2007


Caption: This man has resolved to cut back on the brewskis.

At this time of year, lots of Americans make New Year's resolutions, many of which last about as long as a WV snowstorm.

El Cabrero is actually pretty big on making resolutions, although they don't necessarily correspond with the New Year. I think there's something cool about picking some fairly distant goal and then putting in the time and effort to get there. Some take way longer than planned. My BA, for example, was acquired on the 10 year plan.

Some of the kinds of resolutions that I've enjoyed the most were of the physical type, like studying martial arts or training for a marathon or triathlon.

To me a marathon is a classical kind of goal. Most people (in their right mind anyway) can't or won't run 26.2 miles at a go. Even if you don't injure yourself trying, the body runs out of gas after 20 miles or so and most of the rest is run on some combination of guts or stupidity (the latter in my case). The secret, if there is one, is paying for it with training and focusing on one mile at a time.

Training for one usually involves months of methodical work, such as intense long runs, intervals, and tempo runs at least three times a week. I've probably run my last, as in spite of all that my heart is probably in worse shape than Dick Cheney's.

Triathlons are good ones too. The combination of swimming, biking, and running is easier on the joints than a marathon but just as intense. This is all the more so if one swims like a stone like me.

One year I went on a tear and resolved to learn a little trigonometry, having gotten off the math train with geometry in high school. That one didn't last too long, although I amused myself for a while with sine, cosine and whatever the other thingie is problems.

Several years ago, I resolved to learn Spanish. The secret in this case is marrying a teacher of the same, although I wouldn't recommend that to everybody. I can read some, babble a bit, and comprehend some if spoken slowly but I know enough to bring a native speaker to tears in a matter of minutes. I'm working on ancient Greek now, but the jury is still out on that one.

Sometimes, I resolve to do kind of random things, like read Thomas Mann's eternal novel The Magic Mountain, which is kind of like the Seinfeld show of German literature. When I got done, I wasn't sure why it seemed so important at the time.

Occasionally, I resolve to do the truly impossible, like keep my desk cleaned off and eliminate piles of paper, but that never happens. As Dirty Harry said, a man should know his limitations.

Happy New Year!

QUESTIONING THE MARKET GOD. Here's an item from the NY Times about second thoughts on an idol with feet of clay.

ON A RELATED NOTE, here's a good Gazette editorial on growing economic inequality. And here's another one all the way from Minnesota along the same lines.


THINKING DIFFERENTLY. Here's an interesting item on innovation.