September 05, 2009

What does labor want?

“What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.”--Samuel Gompers, 1850-1924

FRIENDLY SUGGESTION FOR WEST VIRGINIANS: if you go to a Labor Day event this weekend, make it a real one. Here are some:

Marion County Labor Day Weekend Celebration
Sunday September 6, 2009
Hough Park, Mannington, WV
12 Noon- 4:00 pm
Everyone Welcome! Open to the public.Bring your lawn chair
FREE Food, Ice Cream and Soft Drinks
Live music by Don Hayes and the Country Raiders
Inflatable Fun Houses for children ages 2-12
Over $1,500 in Door Prizes
(Must be present to win)
Program Begins at 2:00 pm
Special Guest Speaker Governor Joe Manchin as well as other elected officials and labor leaders
For additional information contact Marion County Labor Council President,
Vern Swisher at 304-367-0316 or


Paden City Labor Day Parade
Monday September 7th - Line up begins at Noon
Parade begins at 1 PM
For additional information contact Marshall-Wetzel-Tyler Labor Council President,
Shelva Smith at 304 845-6002 or


UMWA Friends of Coal Miners Labor Day Celebration
Featured Speaker
UMWA President, Cecil Roberts
Everyone is invited to show their support of West Virginia working families by attending this fun filled day of entertainment, speakers and drawings for door prizes.
John Slack Memorial Park – Racine WV
Activities begin at Noon - Monday, September 7th
For additional information contact: UMWA District 17 Office at 304-346-0341
Proud UMWA Coal Miner & South Central Labor Council President -Clyde McKnight

As my friends at the WV AFLCIO put it, "Labor day is about workers, not corporations."

Have a great Labor Day weekend--and remember the folks who gave us the weekend!


September 04, 2009

Paranoia strikes deep

Senator Rockefeller speaking at a health care town meeting in Charleston. This one was fairly calm.

The theme at Goat Rope this week has been political paranoia, with a special focus on historian Richard Hofstadter's classic essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." The series was inspired in part by today's Whackadoodle political climate and this summer's wild and wooly health care controversy. If this is your first visit, the series started Monday.

As was discussed earlier, there's nothing necessarily new about political paranoia. Today, the trigger may be health care reform. In the past other targets included Freemasonry, the Roman Catholic Church, communist conspiracies, the United Nations, etc.

Taking the long view of history, Hofstadter believed that the tendency to paranoid worldviews is a constant among some people, usually a small minority. But in periods of social strain or major change, these can sometimes erupt into mass movements and political parties.

(Looks like we lucked out...)

He argued that the adherents of such views seem to suffer whether they win or lose. No victory for them is ever complete. Any loss or setback only seems to confirm their darkest imaginings.

Hofstadter concluded by saying that

“We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”

Here’s hoping the latest flare-up of political paranoia won’t cause too much harm.

WILL IT FINALLY HAPPEN? Here's a Gazette editorial on the history of health care reform efforts.

THE CULT OF THE MARKET GOD that dominated much of the field of economics is given a critical review here by Paul Krugman.

TOOL USING ANIMALS? Chimpanzees use more than one.


September 03, 2009

Imagining the enemy

Source: Sam Keen's Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination. View slides here.

Goat Rope has been looking at political paranoia this week, past and present, with a special focus on historian Richard Hofstadter's classic essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics. This series was inspired in no small measure by the current political climate and the debate over health care reform.

If this is your first visit, it might help if you clicked on earlier posts, starting with Monday's.

According to Hofstadter, in the paranoid view, the enemy

“is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced."

There are no accidents in this view of the world. Everything that happens is the result of someone’s malevolent will. The enemy is seen to hold vast sources of power, whether through mass media, educational institutions, or financial resources. The enemy is always a master of mind manipulation.

Hofstadter believed that there was also an element of psychological projection involved in this worldview, where all the unsavory traits or desires of the elect are attributed to the enemy.

As psychologist Philip Zimbardo pointed out, this view of the enemy leads to dehumanization, which can in turn lead to all kinds of nasty stuff.

TWICE ROBBED. Low wage workers are often cheated out of overtime and minimum wages according to a new report.

WHAT'S NEXT WITH HEALTH CARE might become clearer after next week.

HAPPY LABOR DAY? Wage growth continues to erode in the wake of the recession, according to this snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, bailed out CEOs are doing pretty good.

NATION AS VILLAGE. A children's book examines what America would look like if it was a village with 100 people.


September 02, 2009

Apocalyptic visions

This week the theme at Goat Rope is political paranoia. In particular, I'm revisiting a classic essay by historian Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in light of current events, including the health care debate.

Hofstadter, following sociologist Daniel Bell, found a sense of being dispossessed to lie at the root of the modern form of political paranoia. Its proponents believe that:

“America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.”

(Again, this was written in 1964.)

Adherents of this view see the world in apocalyptic terms. They see themselves to be at the barricades at the last battle, with everything at stake. Political conflicts are not seen as routine differences of viewpoints to be mediated in a rational way. Rather, they are wars between absolute good and absolute evil:

“Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention.”

This unrealistic approach to social conflict and the desire for absolute victory over the perceived forces of darkness only increases the sense of frustration felt by the true believers, even if they experience partial success. The enemy is always elusive and dangerous. The triumph is never complete.

This may explain why some hard core right wingers were outraged and angry not so long ago even when their allies controlled all branches of the federal government.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HEALTH CARE FORUM. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I attended another health care town meeting yesterday in southern West Virginia held by Congressman Nick Rahall. This time around supporters of reform seemed to outnumber opponents, but a loud and disruptive contingent of teabaggers attended. In what was a new low in my experience, one of them actually heckled a priest during the opening prayers. When in the course of the prayer the priest mentioned some obviously Bolshevik idea such as caring for one's neighbor, someone shouted something like "How much are you getting paid?"

I'm guessing that must have come from a charm school dropout.

SPEAKING OF HEALTH CARE, the Economic Policy Institute is stressing the need for a public health insurance option to hold down costs.

SPEAKING OF POLITICAL PARANOIA, this item from West Virginians for Affordable Health Care debunks distortions and whackadoodle ideas about health care reform.

YOUNG WORKERS are still losing ground, according to the AFLCIO. From their blog,

Something bad happened in the past 10 years to young workers in this country: Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be on their own.

BOTTOMING OUT. Some economists are suggesting the recession has passed a turning point and that the economy is beginning to expand again.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS (FOR ME). Alcohol consumption (in moderation, whatever that is) may be good for aging brains.



September 01, 2009

Paranoia's pedigree

Political paranoia 1800s style: an anti-Catholic cartoon from 1876.

El Cabrero is thinking about political paranoia this week. I'm inspired both by the current political climate and by a classic essay on the topic by historian Richard Hofstadter titled "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."

For what it's worth, this isn't anything new.

In the 1990s, we saw the paranoid style in the form of militia-related movements aimed at countering a United Nations takeover of American. Before that, there were groups like the John Birch Society, which imagined a communist conspiracy that included such noted Soviet agents as Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. Then there was Senator Joseph McCarthy, who accused the U.S. Army of being a hotbed of subversion.

One can find the paranoid style recurring from the early days of the republic, when pamphlets appeared in the late 1700s regarding the evil conspiracies of the Freemasons and the dreaded Bavarian Illuminati, a group that some people still think is really pulling the strings.

In the 1800s, some were alarmed by an alleged conspiracy involving a traditional enemy of the Masons, i.e. Roman Catholicism, especially the dreaded Jesuits. One such writer claimed that “Jesuits are prowling about all parts of the United States in every possible disguise, expressly to ascertain the advantageous situations and modes to disseminate Popery.”

(In a great one liner, Hofstadter called anti-Catholicism "the pornography of the Puritan.")

In 1855, a Texas newspaper reported that “…It is a notorious fact that the Monarchs of Europe and the Pope of Rome are at this very moment plotting our destruction and threatening the extinction of our political, civil, and religious institutions. We have the best reasons for believing that corruption has found its way into our Executive Chamber, and that our Executive head is tainted with the infectious venom of Catholicism.…”

Substitute a few words and this could have been shouted out at a health care town hall meeting this summer.

More to come...

A PERSONAL NOTE. I attended a health care town hall meeting in Huntington, WV yesterday led by Congressman Nick Rahall. The moon was howled at. And, while the howlers were in the minority, they were probably loudest and packed the microphone line. It reminded me both of Hofstadter's essay and of Yeats' line about the best lacking all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, here's more on health care paranoia. And here's an op-ed by a friend of mine on the problems of private health insurance and a news item on the politics of reform in WV.

CIVIL RIGHTS. The Obama administration is planning a stronger approach to civil rights enforcement.

THIS COULD EXPLAIN A LOT. El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia is the most medicated state in the US.

THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY RELATED, but a crocodile (or was it an alligator?) was found in a WV creek.


August 31, 2009

Paranoid is back in style

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Goya.

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter published an influential essay in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” I’ve been thinking about it lately in lieu of the more extreme versions of the hysteria and hyperbole that has arisen during the current health care debate. It fits the moment pretty well.

Hofstadter opened by observing that “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.” Off and on throughout the nation’s history he found a style of mind that was paranoid not necessarily in the clinical sense but was nevertheless characterized by a “sense of heated exaggeration, auspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy…”

Holy granny-whacking, Batman! This same style of mind has shown itself to be alive and well in the current debate over heatlh care reform, with bizarre rumors of death panels, mandatory abortions, euthanasia, government takeovers, Sovietized health care, etc.—sometimes seasoned with a dash or two of speculations about the Kenyan birth of a certain elected official.

I'll be taking a look at Hofstadter's insights into political paranoia this week. Stay tuned--same bat time, same bat channel.

THEN AND NOW. Here's the latest from Paul Krugman, including a bit of Nixonian nostalgia.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION. Here are some suggestions for keeping the nation from spinning out of control.


MICRO-LENDING is one kind of banking that survived the credit meltdown.