Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

Now That’s Higher Education!

[ 55 ] July 18, 2013 |

In all the hubbub about the ridiculous salary CUNY wanted to pay David Petraeus to teach, we never thought to ask what kind of teacher he would be. The answer–he’s using his position to channel corporate-funded research about fracking to students.

According to the syllabus, Petraeus will devote two weeks to energy alone, naming those weeks “The Energy Revolution I” and “The Energy Revolution II.” The two “frackademia” studies Petraeus will have his students read for his course titled “The Coming North American Decade(s)? are both seminal industry-funded works.

One of them is a study written by industry-funded National Economic Research Associates (NERA) concluding liquified natural gas (LNG) exports are beneficial to the U.S. economy, despite the fact that exporting fracked gas will raise domestic home-heating and manufacturing prices. NERA was founded by “father of deregulation” Alfred E. Kahn. The study Petraeus will have his students read was contracted out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to NERA.

The other, a study written by then-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research professor Ernest Moniz – now the head of the DOE – is titled “The Future of Natural Gas” and also covers LNG exports. DOE oversees the permitting process for LNG exports. That study was funded by the Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for Chesapeake Energy and covered in-depth in the Public Accountability Initiative’s report titled, “Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?”

Noticeably absent from the reading list: studies tackling the climate impacts, air quality impacts, over-arching ecological impacts such as water contamination, wastewater impacts and supply issues (aka diminishing supply).

Together, the two crucial studies on the syllabus reading list – and the lack of critical readings on the topic of fracking – offers a gimpse into the stamp of legitimacy industry-funded studies get when they have the logo of elite research universities on them. It’s also another portrayal of the ascendancy of the corporate university.

For this kind of deep critical study, I don’t see how one could argue with a $200,000 salary!

The Part-Time Reality

[ 139 ] July 18, 2013 |

In our part-time and contingent reality, where workers can’t get 40-hour a week jobs even at the minimum wage, what they really need is their bosses giving them advice on how to live off their meager hours, multiple jobs, and low wages.

[PC] I have some thoughts on this.

In Case You Needed a Good Purge Today

[ 38 ] July 18, 2013 |

If anyone needs to puke, reading Lanny Davis appropriating the Washington Nationals to push his dream of a purple America where everyone in the Beltway can just get along by the Democratic Party moving to the right should accomplish it.

….A reminder of the all-time greatest take down of Lanny Davis.

The ESPYs

[ 15 ] July 17, 2013 |

So the ESPYs are super dumb and self-serving. Unless Norm Macdonald is the host. If you’ve never watched his monologue from when he hosted in 1998, you really should do so. Not only do you get reminded of sports scandals of the past–Anthony Mason!–but there’s the general feeling of discomfort that Macdonald delivers. And of course a OJ joke.

Banning Howard Zinn

[ 101 ] July 17, 2013 |

I certainly have my critique of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a good history book, but it’s power and importance can’t be denied. And that’s why Mitch Daniels wanted it banned from state universities when he was governor of Indiana. Unfortunately for the good people of the Hoosier State, the same Mitch Daniels with his die-hard commitment to academic freedom is now the president of Purdue University. Were there any justice in the world, Daniels would be forced to resign for such an awful goal.

Kevin Drum Wants You To Stop Saying Bad Things About McDonald’s

[ 416 ] July 17, 2013 |

I shouldn’t be surprised by Kevin Drum defending the McDonald’s budget for its workers, but it’s pretty irritating. Moreover, his defense is awful weak, as is that of Tim Lee at the Wonkblog, who also defended the corporation. Drum believes that McDonald’s is not telling its workers to work two jobs but is rather assuming two incomes. Not only is there no actual evidence of this, but even if true, who cares? The average McDonald’s employee has to work two jobs to survive if they are not with an employed partner. And if they are and have kids, they still probably have to work two jobs.

Both Drum and Lee also focus on the fact that these wages are a reality for many workers. So what? That’s true, but it’s a terrible thing. Lee is really the worst on this, since he extrapolates from his own life to say this is a fine budget to plan around. That a Washington Post writer thinks his experience as a 21-year-old sharing an apartment with a friend in St. Louis or whatever has any relevance at all to the vast underclass of service workers struggling along without higher education or the ability to make more than minimum wage says a whole lot about the problems with the Beltway elite. What neither seem to get is that such a budget can be both realistic and cruel.

You’d think the real focus here would be to tell enormously profitable and gigantic corporations like McDonald’s that they should pay their workers more money. But for Drum and Lee, defending McDonald’s current business practices and naturalizing the low wages of the nation’s service workers is evidently more important.

This Day in Labor History: July 17, 1944

[ 48 ] July 17, 2013 |

On July 17, 1944, a munitions explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago, California killed 320 soldiers, mostly African-Americans loading munitions onto ships. This spurred them to demand improved conditions. When conditions did not improve, a group refused to load the munitions. Charged with mutiny, fifty were sentenced to long prison terms.

Is military work part of labor history? It’s not something we usually consider when we think of the subject. For one thing, soldiers don’t produce profit for capitalists, although one could broadly argue that the U.S. military serves capitalist goals and soldiers are the capitalists’ shock troops. That’s more of an ideological argument than a practical one. Soldiers aren’t traditional workers. But they do work. They labor and they get hurt and die on the job. They also have almost no way to protect themselves as workers. A union of soldiers is probably not practical and maybe not even desirable. But they surely deserve some way to express their rights, especially when they are placed in unreasonable danger, as the Port Chicago story shows.

Racial discrimination was rife in the World War II military. Like in previous wars, African-Americans were segregated and given the worst and most dangerous non-combat jobs. At Port Chicago, today the Concord Naval Weapons Station, all of the workers assigned to load munitions onto ships were African-American. Every officer was white. The sailors were not given proper training in loading ammunition, or really much useful training at all. Munitions loading was seen as low-end work. The military drew soldiers from the lower end of testing at the point of enlistment for this work.

Even the idea of loading munitions scared the sailors. Their officers told them it was safe, that the weapons were not active and could not explode. They lied. On July 17, sailors were loading the S.S. E.A. Bryan with munitions. At 10:18 p.m., an explosion took place on the pier leading to the ship. A few seconds later, the munitions on the ship exploded, creating a gigantic fireball that led to the immediate death of everyone on the ship and pier, a total of 320 people. Another 390 were wounded. African-Americans made up 202 of the dead and 233 injured, 15% of the total African-American naval casualties in World War II. Seismologists registered the explosion at 3.4 on the Richter scale. Of the 320 dead, only 51 bodies could be identified. The rest had been blown to smithereens.

Not only did African-Americans suffer high number of casualties, but the aftermath reinforced the inherent racism in the military. The Navy often gave a 30-day leave for soldiers traumatized by the deaths of their friends in combat. None of the black survivors of Port Chicago received it, even those hospitalized. All of the white officers received it. The Navy asked Congress for a $5000 payment to each victim’s family. When Mississippi Congressman John Rankin found out most of the dead were black, he insisted it be reduced to $2000, Congress compromised at $3000.

The surviving munitions loaders were rightfully scared for their lives. They began to refuse to do the work. On August 8, officers ordered 328 men to resume munitions loading. Each one refused. It was a mass strike. Over the next day, officers badgered 70 of them to change their minds. 258 continued to refuse. All were arrested. After continued pressure, including telling them soldiers fighting on Saipan were dying because of their refusal and threatening them with the death penalty if convicted of mutiny, only 44 men, led by Seaman Joe Small, refused to obey. An additional six joined them in next day. The military charged them with mutiny. They other 208 were sent to the Pacific Theater, forced to do menial duty, and received bad conduct discharges at the end of war, making them ineligible for military benefits.

The young NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall became interested in the case. He observed the trial, which ended in guilty verdicts and sentences of 15 years of hard labor (a judge soon reduced it by a few years for some of the men). Marshall began a campaign to publicize the plight of the prisoners. Marshall received permission from each of the fifty to serve as their attorney for the appeal. Before the judge, he said “I can’t understand why whenever more than one Negro disobeys an order it is mutiny.” The case began to get more attention. Eleanor Roosevelt for one asked Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal to become involved. The attention did move the judge to reconvene the court martial, but in the end the sentences were reaffirmed.

When the war ended in August 1945, there was no good reason to hold these men for such a long period of time and pressure to free them continued. Their sentences were quickly reduced to two years and then on January 6, 1946, 47 of the 50 were released to menial tasks on active duty ships in the Pacific. Two others remained in the hospital recovering from their injuries from the explosion and one was not released due to behavioral problems while a prisoner. They were given a discharge “under honorable conditions” when they left the Navy.

The Port Chicago explosion was not the only example of African-Americans soldiers resisting unsafe work conditions based upon discriminatory racial patterns during World War II. In March 1945, 1000 African-American sailors engaged in a 2-day hunger strike to protest discrimination in their work. The Navy began working toward integration in 1944 and conditions slowly improved for African-Americans.

The Navy officially integrated in 1946. Harry S. Truman desegregated the military in 1948, one of the most important early steps toward the end of legal segregation. Thurgood Marshall of course went on to argue Brown v. Board of Education and become the first African-American Supreme Court justice. People have long attempted to have the Port Chicago prisoners exonerated, but there has never been an official apology or pardon, although Bill Clinton pardoned one sailor who asked for it in 1999. Resistance developed among the still living white officers and nothing came of a 1990 attempt by a group of Congressmen to see some sort of exoneration. The site of the explosion is now a National Memorial, operated by the National Park Service.

This is the 68th post in this series. The others are archived here.

12 Years A Slave

[ 41 ] July 16, 2013 |

Although I could do without the big sweeping Hollywood music in the trailer, Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s slave narrative 12 Years a Slave looks to be incredibly promising. Given the deep attention to physical detail in McQueen’s films and the fact that there really are so few good movies that deal with slavery in any serious way, I am more excited about this than any film in the last year.

Does ABC Approve of Jenny McCarthy’s Anti-Vaccination Message?

[ 219 ] July 16, 2013 |

Pareene on ABC hiring Jenny McCarthy to co-host The View:

McCarthy certainly has a more pleasant, or at least less confrontational, television style. Really the only problem with hiring her is that her life’s mission at this point is the advancement of dangerous fictions about vaccines. She devotes a great deal of energy to promoting the untrue belief that vaccines lead to autism, and it seems possible that she now views her career as a television personality and prominent celebrity as a means of carrying out her mission to spread what she believes is the truth about autism.

Vaccines don’t cause autism. Vaccines, instead, prevent disease. Vaccines have wiped out a score of formerly deadly childhood diseases. Vaccine skepticism has helped to bring some of those diseases back from near extinction. Children have actually died as a result. Vaccine skepticism isn’t just some “alternative viewpoint” that is stupid but ultimately harmless, like “detoxing” or 9/11 trutherism. Parents have been convinced by McCarthy and the people she works with and promotes. They have forgone vaccination for their children. The result has been the recurrence and spread of preventable diseases. It’s incredibly irresponsible for a broadcast television network to think Jenny McCarthy should be on television — in a position where her job is to share her opinions — every day. It should seriously be a major scandal.

…..

But McCarthy’s idiocy is of a very different, and much more damaging nature than the standard-issue right-wing idiocy of Elisabeth Hasselbeck. McCarthy is not expressing a disagreeable political position, she is spreading misinformation that has actual, tangible health risks. America’s public health authorities should be sounding the alarm. The American Medical Association and the surgeon general should be publicly calling on ABC to reverse its decision to hire McCarthy. They should have begun the campaign before the announcement was official.

Vaccine conspiracies, like so much modern cult conspiracy culture, perpetuates itself and lives on indefinitely thanks to the community-building and archiving of the Internet. With the help of some very prominent advocates, with huge audiences and a great deal of influence, it has spread far beyond the fringe. McCarthy has been one of the movement’s most prominent voices for years, and, infuriatingly, much of the media has treated her bullshit as weepy celebrity “awareness-raising” fare instead of crackpotted nonsense.

Pareene also reminds us the many Huffington Post articles giving credence to this idiocy, with links.

T-Model Ford, RIP

[ 4 ] July 16, 2013 |

I’m not sure if “great” is exactly the word for the bluesman T-Model Ford, but “interesting” certainly qualifies. He has died at the age of 94.

The McDonald’s Guide to Living On Its Wages

[ 229 ] July 16, 2013 |

That McDonald’s. It’s such a sweet New Gilded Age corporation, helping its employees learn how to live on its minimum wage salaries. Here’s the sample budget journal:

As Robyn Pennacchia notes, that $1105–that’s assuming a 40-hour workweek. So McDonald’s is telling you to work another job, adding up to a mere 62 hour workweek if they live in Illinois, that land of moochers and takers. 74 hours if they are on the national minimum wage. Very Gilded Age. And when you work those 62 or 74 hours, you know what you don’t get? Heat.

Where the $20 a month health insurance comes from, unless we are talking Gilded Age solutions of buying a bottle of whiskey to kill pain, I don’t know.

Monthly spending money includes food, gas, and any basic necessities of life. Including heat I guess.

NLRB

[ 37 ] July 16, 2013 |

Although I would have rather seen the filibuster destroyed for presidential appointments, it’s a relatively minor victory for Democrats that the Republicans caved on the seven nominations. Some politicos are calling this a major victory, but I don’t see how allowing a few appointees through after delaying effective government for several months qualifies as a great victory.

Anyway, as part of the deal, Obama has to withdraw 2 nominees for the National Labor Relations Board. But he can then name whoever he wants and the Republicans agree to an up or down vote. Given that he only needs 51 votes, we need to call on the president to name Elizabeth Warren-style appointees to the position who will be tigers in support of organized labor. The road is clear and it’s time for Obama to pay back organized labor a little bit.