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Pro-Life before Birth, Anti-Ice Cream

[ 40 ] July 24, 2014 |

I know what this is like, to be attacked by lunatics from around the country whipped up by frothing goat-molesting idiots:

A Portland ice cream shop is bombarded with dozens of threats from people clear across the country after raising money for Planned Parenthood.

The owners of What’s the Scoop? in North Portland created a specialty flavor for Planned Parenthood last week that sold as a fundraiser for the organization.

It’s something the shop says they do all the time for local organizations, to give back to the city that supports them.

The backlash only began after an anti-abortion blog caught wind of the fundraiser and published the information.

Now, the shop’s phone is ringing off the hook with threatening phone calls from as far away as New York. Their email account was also inundated with disturbing messages and threats over the weekend.

“Some of the calls and e-mails are really really gross. I don’t even like to say it out loud it’s so disgusting,” said owner Jodie Ostrovsky.

“It’s a flat out attack, there’s nothing behind it but hate,” said Ostrovsky. ” To attack us on unfounded grounds, to accuse of things that we haven’t done, to accuse an organization for things they haven’t done, it’s not right.”

Ostrovsky says many loyal customers have shown their support by responding to some of the online comments and buying ice cream.

I will say this though–the single easiest and most pleasant way to support reproductive rights is through eating ice cream. I will briefly be in Portland in a couple of weeks and now I have a definite stop on my agenda.

ISIS: More Competent than the Bush Administration

[ 32 ] July 24, 2014 |

If I’m Doug Feith or Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz, this is just crazy talk.

An aid worker who travels to Raqqa said the ranks of ISIS were filled with volatile young men, many of them foreigners more interested in violence than governance. To keep things running, it has paid or threatened skilled workers to remain in their posts while putting loyalist supervisors over them to ensure compliance with Islamic rules.

“They can’t fire all the staff and bring new people to run a hospital, so they change the manager to someone who will enforce their rules and regulations,” the aid worker said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to endanger his work.

Sure you can fire all the staff! And then replace them with people that have theoretical fealty to outside administrators who know nothing about the country and have no qualifications other than good connections within the Republican Party, thus bringing a level of incompetence to a nation that will truly prove the United States has the interests of the people in mind. Given how brilliantly this worked in the Bush Administration, I don’t see how ISIS hasn’t learned this lesson in Syria.

Poor International Comparisons

[ 119 ] July 24, 2014 |

Somehow I don’t think Niger lowering its birth rate is going to lead to it becoming the next Singapore:

There is no mystery about the immense benefits that Niger and its neighbors would realize if they brought their birthrates under control.

The so-called Tigers in East Asia have recorded sharply falling birthrates since the 1960s. And in a recent, influential paper titled “African Demography,” Mr. Guengant and a fellow demographer, John F. May, noted, “Human capital formation investments (for example, education and health) and job creation appear to have been greatly facilitated by a rapid decline in fertility.”

In the interview, Mr. Guengant drew this conclusion: “If you don’t get a handle on birthrates, you are going nowhere. The nongovernmental organizations have not been up to the job. Everybody looks at everybody else. Nobody has the political courage. And nothing is moving.”

No mystery? Actually I think there is plenty of mystery. Even more mysterious is how this makes it past the first round of editing since there’s a whole lot more to why Niger is poor and Singapore is not than women having too many babies. Although blaming everything on poor women of color having too many babies is a favorite theme of rich white people.

If You Support Alternative Energy, You Support Enormous Tubs of Ocean Lard

[ 30 ] July 23, 2014 |

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Seals have far surpassed Americans in their support for offshore wind energy:

The scientists observed eleven harbor seals outfitted with GPS tracking tags in the North Sea frequenting two active wind farms, Alpha Ventus in Germany and Sheringham Shoal off the southeast coast of the United Kingdom. One seal even visited 13 times, according to a report published this week in the journal Current Biology.

The wind turbines make up a grid. When foraging for food, the seals moved “systematically from one turbine to the next turbine in a grid pattern, following exactly how the turbines are laid out,” says study author Deborah Russell of the University of St. Andrews. “That was surprising to see how much their behavior was affected by the presence of these artificial structures and how they could actually adapt their behaviors to respond to that.”

If the Republicans nominated a seal for president in 2016, it would be an improvement over the current possible candidates.

Apple Treats Labor Like Dirt

[ 89 ] July 23, 2014 |

Given that Steve Jobs was a sociopath and given the labor conditions at overseas factories where Apple products are made, it’s not at all hard to believe that the company would treat their U.S. labor horribly:

A state court in California has granted class certification to nearly 21,000 current and former Apple employees over claims that the company failed to provide timely meal and rest breaks as required by the law, and sometimes denied workers rest breaks altogether.

In a ruling late Monday, Judge Ronald S. Prager of the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego granted the class certification for a large group of retail employees and workers at corporate headquarters.

Under California law, employers are generally required to provide 30-minute lunch breaks within an employee’s first five hours at work each day and provide a 10-minute rest break every four hours or major fraction thereof. In addition, California law requires employers to provide a second rest break for shifts that run six to 10 hours, and Judge Prager wrote that the evidence showed that Apple had failed to authorized second rest breaks under these circumstances.

Freedom Summer and Union Organizing

[ 1 ] July 23, 2014 |

Freedom Summer was 50 years ago this year and its anniversary has been pretty underreported. Anyway, this is an interesting piece from one of the white organizers about the relationship between organizing civil rights workers and union organizing in Mississippi. Obviously, biracial unionism did not exactly take hold in Mississippi or the rest of the South but still, there are potentially useful lessons here.

Kindly Old Robert E. Lee

[ 204 ] July 23, 2014 |

Robert E. Lee was a kind slavemaster, certainly not the type of man who represents all that was inhumane about the Confederacy:

Lee married into ownership of nearly 200 slaves at Arlington and adjoining properties. Pryor forthrightly confronts this side of Lee’s life; he disliked slavery and found it a burden, but he was no “good” master, communicated badly with his slaves, and considered them naturally indolent and incapable of freedom. He confronted an “epidemic of runaways” (264) in the late 1850s and oversaw one brutal beating of a returned fugitive, including brine sewn into the wounds. Modern day Lee lovers will cringe at some of Pryor’s conclusions, rooted in strong evidence: Lee broke up families and “denied the slaves’ humanity” (275).

H/T Jamelle Bouie

Victory

[ 25 ] July 22, 2014 |

I know I am supposed to be all doom and gloom all the time. But that’s only true 99% of the time. Sometimes there are victories. Such as the concession workers for the San Francisco Giants who just ratified their first contract with 98% of the members voting yes.

Instead, it took place in the stands where 800 seasonal concession workers organized by UNITE HERE Local 2 just ratified by 98% a contract with Centerplate, the subcontracted concessionaire at Giants Park and one of the largest hospitality companies in North America.

The agreement provides the best wages and benefits in the country for their type of work.

The terms included an immediate raise of $1.40 an hour with some back pay, strong job security protections, dental insurance and fully paid family medical coverage without co-pays through the contract’s 2019 expiration date.

The agreement will also fund a big improvement in pension benefits and will tie future health care and wage increases to San Francisco’s big hotels – so when Local 2 hotel workers get wage and benefit increases, Centerplate will match them at Giants stadium.

This convergence of interests is not accidental.

Local 2 members regularly discuss the importance of solidarity. Membership unity across job classifications and work sites strengthens the union and, as results indicate, increases its bargaining leverage considerably.

Tying their salaries with those of the hotel workers in a strong local is a big deal.

Poor Doors: The New Housing Jim Crow

[ 140 ] July 22, 2014 |

In August 2013, word came out about a luxury development on the Upper West Side with a few affordable housing units where the developer wanted to force the occupants of those units to go through a separate “poor door.” New York has now approved the development, with the DeBlasio administration saying there’s nothing they can do since Daddy Warbucks Bloomberg originally approved it and the construction was too far along. This is a new version of Jim Crow and is disgusting. Ariella Cohen makes the connection:

Isn’t it just a door? I mean, is going in a different entrance really that big of a deal?

Again, yes — sort of like drinking from separate water fountains was a big deal and sitting in different seats on the bus was also a pretty damn big deal. Plus, the two-class entrances is part of a larger trend of segregating buildings by rent levels; in a growing number of mixed-income buildings, owners are barring rent-stabilized tenants from using amenities open to their more affluent neighbors.

In one Upper West Side building called Stonehenge Village, tenants weren’t allowed to pay extra to use the gym on the lobby level even after local pols intervened on behalf of tenants and public advocate Letitia James filed a discrimination complaint.

“These rent-stabilized tenants offered to pay for gym memberships, and they were refused,” said West Harlem City Councilman Mark Levine. “It’s about exclusivity. It just so happens that the rent-regulated tenants being blocked from the gym happen to be older and more often people of color than the market-rate tenants, which is the same as the tenants who would be affected by the ‘poor door.’”

In the New Gilded Age though, keeping the poors away from the deserving rich is a must. It’s bad enough that the takers can live in the same building as non-servants. That’s obviously Obama’s fault. Only when true freedom returns to this nation can these people be kicked onto the streets and the rich can rain crumbs of bread down from their windows, laughing as they watch the poor fight for them in the mud.

Obama Opens East Coast to Oil Drilling

[ 86 ] July 22, 2014 |

My dismay toward President Obama’s decisions to open the ocean off the east coast to oil drilling cannot be overstated. This is a terrible decision that is in line with his drilling policies throughout his entire administration. Combined with his restrictions upon coal-fired power plants, my evaluation of Obama’s overall energy policy is that it has been nothing less than incoherent, good in some areas and terrible in other, closely related, areas. Moreover, the technology that allows oil companies to find the deposits has potentially devastating impacts on already overstressed and declining marine wildlife:

The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects may operate simultaneously. To get permits, companies will need to have whale-spotting observers onboard and do undersea acoustic tests to avoid nearby species. Certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.

Still, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over distances of thousands of miles, and the constant banging — amplified in water by orders of magnitude — will be impossible for many species to avoid.

Whales and dolphins depend on being able to hear their own much less powerful echolocation to feed, communicate and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound, said Grant Gilmore, an expert on fish ecology in Vero Beach, Fla.

“We don’t know what the physiological effects are. It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal,” Gilmore said.

More than 120,000 comments were sent to the government, which spent years developing these rules. The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the world’s remaining 500 north Atlantic right whales.

These whales give birth and breed off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

“Once they can’t hear — and that’s the risk that comes with seismic testing — they are pretty much done for,” said Katie Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League based in Charleston, S.C.

“Even if there were oil out there, do we really want that? Do we really want to see these offshore rigs set up?” she asked.

The answer to that question for the Obama Administration is obviously yes.

Pulling Back the Curtain of Production Concealment

[ 23 ] July 22, 2014 |

Concealment.

This is primary benefit of outsourcing work and supplies from the United States. That goods are produced far, far away from the eyes of consumers benefits the corporations tremendously. It means that when the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Bangladesh collapses, no Americans see the deaths that result from a system that provides them cheap clothing at Wal-Mart, Gap, and other retailers. That’s very different from the Triangle Fire, when New Yorkers were outraged when they personally saw the deaths of the women who made their clothing. They acted and conditions in the textile factories improved. Today, most of us have absolutely no idea what the conditions of work are in the places that make our clothing, that grow our food, that produce our paint and glass and steel and auto parts. That’s exactly how companies want it. When it comes to meat production, you have states like Idaho passing ag-gag bills, making it a crime to document what happens in a meat production factory. Knowledge is indeed power and the meat producers want to make sure that you have none of it so they have all the power.

One of the complexities of modern capitalism though is that American business don’t just want to outsource production. They also want to open up new markets for their products. That’s certainly true for fast food corporations, who have vastly expanded around the world over the past two decades. This means that in at least some places, production and consumption takes place in the same country and thus when the supply chain system inevitably fails as the big corporations want to push down costs and the suppliers respond through cutting corners on safety, outrage results:

The Chinese outlets of McDonald’s and KFC have stopped using meat from a Shanghai company after a local television news program accused the supplier of using chicken and beef past their expiration dates, setting off an investigation by food-safety officials.

The program, broadcast Sunday evening on Dragon TV, showed hidden-camera footage of workers at a meat-processing plant operated by Shanghai Husi Food using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products for McDonald’s and KFC. In some cases, workers were shown scooping up meat that had fallen onto the assembly line floor and throwing it back into a processing machine.

In response, the Chinese units of McDonald’s and KFC said in news releases posted from their official Sina Weibo social-media accounts that they had halted use of all products from Shanghai Husi, which is owned by the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill. Starbucks also said it had pulled sandwiches with chicken from Shanghai Husi from the shelves of its stores in China. Starbucks said a supplier for the sandwiches had used the meat.

When people see footage of horrors they act. That is what has happened in China. It’s what happened at Triangle and when the Cuyahoga River burned and during the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. Thus, the corporate strategy becomes making sure you see nothing. In this case, the curtain was pulled back, but just in one factory. McDonald’s and KFC have no intention of running a tighter ship with their meat suppliers and they certainly don’t want to run their own meat production sites, although this is an entirely reasonable solution for them. Rather, they want the problem to go away. Such disgusting conditions could be taking place in 100 Chinese meat production factories, just as they could be (and are) in the United States meat industry. It is precisely this kind of information getting out that leads to ag-gag bills here and I’d be shocking if the fast food companies aren’t having behind the scenes talks with Chinese authorities to clamp down on such information becoming public there. That this production facility is owned by an company based in the United States should remind you that there’s no reason to think what you eat is safer, not in a system dominated by exploitative New Gilded Age era capitalism without proper regulatory frameworks and vastly underfunded inspection agencies.

Bad Business Fee

[ 50 ] July 22, 2014 |

Should businesses who pay atrocious wages, just offloading the responsibility to keep people fed and clothed onto the state, be taxed to make up for it?

Can you name the worst job you’ve ever had? For Cliff Martin, that’s not an easy question. All three of his current jobs—delivering newspapers, delivering magazines and working as a janitor—are strong contenders. Taken together, they pay so poorly that the 20-year-old Northfield, Minnesota, native relies on MNsure, the state Medicaid plan, for healthcare and lives at home with his father to save money. But what if Martin’s bosses had to fork over a fee to the state for paying him so badly? That money, in turn, could be used to help support Martin and his fellow low-wage workers in a variety of ways, from direct subsidies for food and housing to social programs such as Medicaid or public transportation.

TakeAction Minnesota, a network that promotes economic and racial justice in the state, wants to make that fee a reality. It’s developing the framework for a bill that it hopes will be introduced in 2015 by state legislators who have worked with the network in the past. As conceived, the “bad business fee” legislation would require companies to disclose how many of their employees are receiving public assistance from the state or federal government. Companies would then pay a fine based on the de facto subsidies they receive by externalizing labor costs onto taxpayers.

TakeAction Minnesota’s plan is one prong of a larger national effort. As progressive organizations grapple with how to turn years of public outrage over income inequality into policies for structural change, a network of labor and community organizing groups has seized upon the bad business fee as a solution that might take off.

It’s certainly an interesting idea. Moreover, if one state promoted this, even if it didn’t pass, I do believe you’d see a pretty quick turnaround in workers’ wages, at least locally. A real threat to punish corporations for their antisocial behavior would likely cause change. We’ve seen that many times in the last century and the repeal and erasure of that century of gains in recent years reflects the defeat of the forces who forced those changes, especially but not solely labor unions, a strategy corporations affected through capital mobility and outsourcing work abroad.

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