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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.

I Guess Open Racism is Now Acceptable on the Washington Post Editorial Page

[ 138 ] July 16, 2013 |

I mentioned it below, but Richard Cohen’s openly racist op-ed deserves its own post:

I don’t like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize. I don’t know whether Zimmerman is a racist. But I’m tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognizing the reality of urban crime in the United States, I am a racist. The hoodie blinds them as much as it did Zimmerman.

One of those who quickly donned a hoodie was Christine Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council. Quinn was hardly a lonesome panderer. Lesser politicians joined her and, as she did, pronounced Zimmerman a criminal. “What George Zimmerman did was wrong, was a crime,” Quinn said before knowing all of the facts and before the jury uncooperatively found otherwise. She was half-right. What Zimmerman did was wrong. It was not, by verdict of his peers, a crime.

Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78 percent of all shooting suspects — almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.

Those statistics represent the justification for New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, which amounts to racial profiling writ large. After all, if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk. Still, common sense and common decency, not to mention the law, insist on other variables such as suspicious behavior. Even still, race is a factor, without a doubt. It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.

Where is the politician who will openly race bait? Where is the politician who will call for racial profiling? Where are our leaders in this time of political correctness, where blacks have everything handed to them on the plate? After all:

Crime where it intersects with race is given the silent treatment. Everything else is discussed — and if it isn’t, there’s a Dr. Phil or an Oprah saying that it should be. Crime, though, is different. It is, like sex in the Victorian era (or the 1950s), an unmentionable but unmistakable part of life. We all know about it and take appropriate precaution but keep our mouths shut.

Where is our Betty Friedan, ready to expose the new problem with no name!!

…..As Atrios points out, Cohen has a long history of racist columns.

The Dumbest Article You’ll Read Today

[ 83 ] July 16, 2013 |

David Brooks wins that title with most of his articles, but his piece fretting about men in the economy is particularly bad. After a long pointless discussion of The Searchers, which I guess he means to use to fill his word count construct men as pioneers who become irrelevant, Brooks proceeds to misunderstand completely why male employment has not recovered like female employment. It’s not because of some crisis of values, which Brooks loves to push. It’s because of the very economic model for which he has spent a whole life selling us.

The definitive explanation for this catastrophe has yet to be written. Some of the problem clearly has to do with changes in family structure. Work by David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that men raised in fatherless homes, without as many immediate masculine role models, do worse in the labor force. Some of the problem probably has to do with a mismatch between boy culture and school culture, especially in the early years.

But, surely, there has been some ineffable shift in the definition of dignity. Many men were raised with a certain image of male dignity, which emphasized autonomy, reticence, ruggedness, invulnerability and the competitive virtues. Now, thanks to a communications economy, they find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.

Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn’t want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on. A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things.

This is, frankly, stupid. The reason why male employment hasn’t recovered is because the jobs men used to have no longer exist. That the 20th century economy was inherently sexist cannot be questioned. Men had industrial jobs that became high paying after decades of union organization. The middle-class of salesmen, middle managers, etc., was also dominated by men. Women were in service positions. Now you tell me, which jobs still exist in the United States in 2013? The industrial jobs on the shopfloor? Uh, no. Even college educated men are told that they will change jobs multiple times in their lives. The basis of a secure economy that came from knowledge that your job would last a lifetime is long gone. Even lawyers have no work. What remains is a service economy, with jobs long defined as female. Housekeeping, nursing, child care, entry level office work, Wal-Mart–these are jobs that are available. This is not so different than the Great Depression, when men found themselves out of work and women often did not. That’s because telephone operators, teachers, secretaries, and other female-defined jobs proved more stable than a mechanic, working in an auto plant, or mining coal. In the 1930s, you saw a rash of men, embarrassed because they could no longer fulfill their masculine duties of maintaining a household, running away, hopping trains, committing suicide, leaving their families behind.

None of this is to excuse gender divisions at work. It’s to say that (likely) long-term shifts in American capitalism are to blame for what David Brooks would like to blame on culture.

……I stand corrected. Richard Cohen saying that our fear of even mentioning crime committed by young black men is like our fear of talking about sex in the Victorian Era is the dumbest article you’ll read today.

Stand Your Ground: The New Slave Patrols?

[ 104 ] July 15, 2013 |

Does it go too far to compare stand your ground laws with slave patrols? Given the ability of George Zimmerman to slay a random nonthreatening black kid like Trayvon Martin with no consequence and the backing of the Florida legal system, it’s an argument at least worth considering.

Of Thee I Sing

[ 24 ] July 15, 2013 |

If the students of Hoover, Alabama want the government to provide bus service so they can get to school, they are basically moochers anyway and we don’t need them getting in the way of our freedom to not provide basic 20th century government services.

Mystery Meat

[ 46 ] July 15, 2013 |

The meat industry is very upset by new regulations forcing meat producers to tell consumers where the meat comes from:

“Segregating and tracking animals according to the countries where production steps occurred and detailing that information on a label may be a bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy, but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process,” Mark Dopp, an AMI executive, said in a statement.

Segregation! Is the cow black? If that’s the case, I suppose it’s OK. But those lighter colored cows, no way. That’s a superior cut of meat right there. Really, I haven’t been this outraged since George Zimmerman didn’t receive a parade for killing that hoodlum Trayvon Martin. I’ll bet some of black cows wear hoodies. Heck, they can’t even spell. I’ve seen my share of Chick-Fil-A commercials and we know how those gangster cows with their hoodies and their weed and their walking home at night act.

In all seriousness, we should probably assume most of meat, especially anything ground, has a high percentage of dog.