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Johnny Cash as John Brown

[ 45 ] May 7, 2014 |

For the 1985 miniseries North and South, the producers hired the greatest actor of his generation to play John Brown. His name? Mr. John R. Cash.

Via

Temporary Work is Dangerous Work

[ 26 ] May 7, 2014 |

On July 29, 2013, a Florida propane plant owned by Blue Rhino, who makes those big propane tanks you can buy at Wal-Mart, exploded. 5 workers were severely burned. OSHA claims Blue Rhino broke 26 workplace safety rules and fined it $73,000. Which is almost nothing considering the size of Blue Rhino and the injuries involved. Blue Rhino of course denies everything and blames careless employees, i.e., what almost every single employer has said about almost every single workplace accident for the entire history of industrialization. But for me, the lede is buried.

Many of Blue Rhino’s employees were temporary workers from a staffing agency, which is also facing OSHA fines for failing to properly train the laborers to work with hazardous materials.

While it’s unclear whether any of the injured workers were temp workers, the fines strongly suggest they were involved. It’s not surprising at all that these workers would be poorly trained for the dangerous labor they were engaged in. And of course, these should have been Blue Rhino employees. But manufacturers use temp labor all the time, sometimes to solve a short-term staffing problem, but quite often to offload the risk and cost of a new employee onto a contractor, allowing the company to pay them very little while trying them out on the job. It’s an exploitative system and one that can be quite dangerous.

Republicans Celebrate WPA Day by Honoring the Nation’s Infrastructure

[ 83 ] May 7, 2014 |

As we discussed, yesterday was the 79th birthday of the Works Progress Administration, a huge government program to employ the nation’s unemployed while building a modern infrastructure.

How did the Republicans celebrate the occasion?

Republicans controlling the House unveiled legislation on Tuesday that proposes a huge cut to a transportation grant program championed by President Barack Obama that funds road and bridge projects, light rail networks, port construction and bike paths.

The so-called TIGER grant program dates to Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill and was funded at $600 million this year. Obama wants to nearly double the program’s budget, but the newly released spending bill covering federal transportation and housing programs offers the administration just $100 million, an 83 percent cut from current levels.

The $52 billion measure maintains funding for community development block grants popular with local governments and fully funds an upgrade to the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen air traffic control system. But it proposes cuts to Amtrak capital construction and slices $1.2 billion from Obama’s request for housing subsidies for the poor.

The Republican Party, as forward thinking as always.

Cheerleader Wages

[ 92 ] May 7, 2014 |

I guess I always assumed that NFL cheerleaders were reasonably well-compensated for the rather significant role they play for most teams. Of course I was wrong.

The Jets are Gang “Not a Lot of” Green when it comes to paying their cheerleaders, a new lawsuit charges.

The suit, filed by a former Jets cheerleader identified in court papers as Krystal C., says she was paid an average of $3.77 an hour for her time on the Flight Crew — or $1.50 an hour after out-of-pocket expenses.

“The Jets, while paying millions of dollars to its male athletes for a single season of work, have historically and currently pay less than minimum wage to its cheerleading staff,” the Bergen County, N.J. lawsuit says.

“We didn’t complain because we were always told how lucky we were to be able to perform and we were lucky,” Krystal told the Daily News. “But I didn’t think it was right to pay us so little when we all worked so hard and we were 100% there all the time.”

Her deal called for her to be paid $150 per game and $100 for special events — but that didn’t take into account the full cheer schedule.

She loved the fans and her fellow Flight Crew members. She gave a lot of thought to taking this step.

“The cheerleaders are required to work ‘off the clock’ at home, attend rehearsals three days a week from May through December without pay, attend ‘charity events’ without pay, and are required to spend their own money on travel, uniform maintenance and cosmetic and hairstyling requirements set by the Jets,” the suit says.

They’re also required to show up three and a half hours before game time, and to stay 30 minutes after the end of the game, the suit says.

Practices were held three times a week, and lasted about three hours, and the cheerleaders were required to keep practicing at home, the suit says.

They were also required “to maintain a specific personal appearance, including hair style, make up and nail appearance,” all at their own “personal expense,” the suit says.


Cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills are also suing over their low wages.

And the lesson is to always assume workers are getting screwed over. Always. Because you are rarely going to be wrong.

The Cost of Violating OSHA Regulations

[ 125 ] May 6, 2014 |

You violate OSHA regulations, you may become a superhero:

In “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is a mild-mannered electrical engineer with an inferiority complex. That is, until he becomes Electro in one of the most blatant series of workplace safety-protocol violations ever committed to film.

He’s forced to stay behind after hours to fix a circuit. Without a buddy or spot — and thus not complying with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation 1910.120 — Max climbs to the top of a catwalk above several tanks of genetically modified electrical eels. He does so without the proper use of a standard harness, infringing OSHA fall-protection guidelines. He is unable to get another employee to shut off power, in blatant violation of rudimentary OSHA electrical guidelines. He balances on top of the catwalk railing and — without the use of standard work-issue insulted rubber gloves (see OSHA 1910.137(a)(1) for voltage-class requirements) — reconnects the cable. He then pushes the cable back into its slot, is severely shocked, falls a long distance into one of the eel tanks, is shocked by those eels and eventually becomes Electro.

This sequence of events — and essentially the entire plot of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ — could have been avoided if Max’s employer, Oscorp Industries, complied with even the most basic workplace health and safety standards.

You have been warned.

Kick Stacey Campfield Out of the Tennessee Senate

[ 27 ] May 6, 2014 |

As I mentioned in the comments on the Stacey Campfield post where he compared Obamacare to the Holocaust, I lived in east Tennessee in the late 90s when he was getting his start. He’s always been a lunatic. I still have friends in the Knoxville area who are deeply involved in liberal politics there. And based upon their support, I urge you to donate to Cheri Siler, who is running against Campfield.

This was Siler’s response to Campfield:

cheriquote.jpg

It’s not often that I endorse a specific candidate on the blog, but this is a special case.

Stimulus

[ 34 ] May 6, 2014 |

The obvious reason we should build the Keystone XL Pipeline is that the inevitable spills will stimulate the economy since we have to clean them up.

Kinder Morgan wants to spend $5.4 billion tripling the capacity of an oil pipeline between the tar sands of Alberta and the Vancouver, B.C., area. Yes, the company acknowledges, there’s always the chance of a “large pipeline spill.” But it says the “probability” of such an accident is “low.” And anyway, if a spill does happen, it could be an economic boon.

“Spill response and cleanup” after oil pipeline ruptures, such as the emergency operations near Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2010 and in the Arkansas community of Mayflower last year, create “business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers,” the company argues.

Those aren’t the outrageous comments of a company executive shooting off his mouth while a reporter happened to be neaby. Those are quotes taken from an official document provided to the Canadian government in support of the company’s efforts to expand its pipeline.

I don’t want those hosers to get all the good economic opportunity. Now I want all the pipelines to come through the U.S. Make ‘em nice and leaky!

This Day in Labor History: May 6, 1935

[ 86 ] May 6, 2014 |

On May 6, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 7034 creating the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Passed and funded by Congress in the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act of 1935, the WPA became among the two most important federal jobs programs of the New Deal and a model for how government investment in the economy can not only solve short-term unemployment problems but also build the infrastructure of a strong, modern nation.

The WPA is not the sexiest New Deal program. People love the Civilian Conservation Corps while the Tennessee Valley Authority is more famous for its ambition in reshaping an entire region of the country. But during its 8 year existence, the WPA provided nearly 8 million jobs to unemployed Americans. WPA administrator Harry Hopkins was one of FDR’s closest advisers (he actually lived at the White House). The president felt strongly about this program, in no small part because he wanted to show the American people that his plan to fight the Great Depression was working before the 1936 elections. The WPA was an expansion of the Civil Works Administration (CWA), an earlier and smaller attempt at employing the nation’s unemployed, also led by Hopkins.

WPA_Main_Image

The WPA (along with the Public Works Administration) built most of the nation’s modern infrastructure. WPA workers constructed 5900 new schools, 9300 recreational buildings, 1000 libraries, 7000 dormitories, 900 armories, 2300 stadiums and grandstands, 52 fairgrounds, 1686 parks, 3026 athletic fields, 254 golf courses, and a whole lot more. Among the most famous WPA-constructed building projects are Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon, LaGuardia Airport in New York City, and Camp David in Maryland. It build flood control projects, roads, airports, utility projects, and electrical infrastructure. One of the roads it built was the Blue Ridge Parkway, today one of the nation’s finest drives.

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WPA road project, Utah, 1938

The Household Service Demonstration Project trained 30,000 women for domestic employment. Most famous was the WPA art projects. The Federal Art Project employed 5300 artists. Art centers around the country offered courses to everyday people. Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Jacob Lawrence made ends meet this way. The Federal Music Project made sure classical musicians did not starve. The Federal Writers Project began the field of oral history in the United States with the interview of surviving ex-slaves while the American Guide Series provided the first comprehensive travel book series for each state. There were also attempts to write up the varieties of American food, although this project faltered in the face of it being such a make-work deal that it employed people who were incompetent. But who really cares because people were able to eat. And then there’s the Federal Theatre Project which did so much for a young man named Orson Welles.

But of course most of the WPA projects are things we don’t notice today. And in a sense, that’s a good thing because this was ultimately a government modernization investment. The WPA worked with the states and localities to co-fund projects; the feds provided 70-90% of the funding but local entities had to buy into the program. In doing so, they invested in the future of their communities, laying the groundwork (literally in many cases) for the growth of the U.S. as a superpower after World War II.

In November 1938, the WPA employed 3.3 million people, a remarkable number given the restrictions of one person per family of people on relief. It aimed to pay the local prevailing wage, which was always something of a guessing game, but the average worker received about $52.50 a month (about $857 in 2013 dollars). Over its 6 year existence, the WPA averaged 2 million Americans on the government payroll.

The WPA also employed a large number of African-Americans at a time when New Deal programs sometimes left them behind or even increased job segregation (as happened with the TVA). Given the local control over TVA programs, the impact for African-Americans was greater in the North than the South. In 1941, the NAACP said:

“It is to the eternal credit of the administrative officers of the WPA that discrimination on various projects because of race has been kept to a minimum and that in almost every community Negroes have been given a chance to participate in the work program. In the South, as might have been expected, this participation has been limited, and differential wages on the basis of race have been more or less effectively established; but in the northern communities, particularly in the urban centers, the Negro has been afforded his first real opportunity for employment in white-collar occupations.”

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WPA sewing project, New York City, late 30s

As a program dedicated specifically to providing household breadwinners work, most of the employees were men. But despite modern right-wing fantasies about historical family structure, many women have always taken over as the primary income generator for themselves and their families for any number of reasons. That includes in the 1930s and about 15% of WPA workers were female breadwinners.

Of course the right-wingers hated it, with Martin Dies calling it a “seedbed for communists.” In 1939, Congress passed the Hatch Act, which banned federal employees from partisan political activity and undermined the left-leaning artistic programs. Many critics said FDR was building a political machine through these programs, which makes perfect sense if you mean “showing the American people that the American government cares about you so you should vote for liberals.”

Like the rest of the New Deal jobs programs, the need for their existence faded once the nation geared up for World War II. FDR announced the WPA’s closing on December 4, 1942 and the agency officially folded on June 30, 1943.

The WPA shows the power of the federal government in improving the lives of Americans. If there’s one weakness to the WPA, it’s that it was too small to transform the economy. Unfortunately, we have not learned this lesson today and the politics around a federal jobs program that would employ Americans who wanted to work are impossible, even though doing so would not only rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and build new skills that people could use the rest of their lives, but also serve as a gigantic stimulus that would go far to turn this nation around and rebuild an infrastructure conservative politics have forced us to neglect for far too long.

This is the 104th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

They All Pretty Much Look the Same

[ 85 ] May 5, 2014 |

Or at least so thinks our racially sensitive friends at FOX.

One sad Asian is as good as the next it seems. At least according to Fox News.

In the clip below about the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry in South Korea, from a few weeks ago, Fox appears to have swapped in footage of random sad Asian people in place of mourning Koreans.

At about minute 1:40, the narrator talks about how relatives of the missing passengers believe there would have been more survivors had people been ordered to evacuate the sinking ship.

The problem? The corresponding footage is not of the mourning relatives, or even Koreans, but rather “people presumably from another region of Asia,” according to KoreAm, a blog covering the Korean American experience.

Another blogger suggests the footage is actually of Tibetans crying after the recent avalanche at Mt. Everest.

….In other news–for some weird reason an uncompleted This Day in Labor History published without me actually publishing it and early comments suggested there was spam in the RSS feed. Apologies for whatever the heck happened. And some of you now have a head start on your labor history lesson for Thursday.

A New Brown v. Board is Needed

[ 296 ] May 5, 2014 |

This is an excellent but depressing piece of reporting on the resegregation of Tuscaloosa schools after a series of Supreme Court decisions rolled back the progress made in integrating America’s public schools. Be sure to view the slideshow and the full story.

Of course, the schools never were fully integrated thanks to racist parents either moving to all-white suburbs or sending their children to private or religious schools to not have their pretty young white daughter dating a big black buck driving her around in his welfare Cadillac and dining her on t-bone steaks. Of course the language of the 1970s isn’t acceptable today, but the reality of education and race is pretty much the same, whether because of the only slightly more veiled racism of Tuscaloosa or because liberal professors are sending their children to private schools because the public schools “are bad.”

Still, before we can have another Brown that truly integrates our schools, we need a much better Supreme Court, which means electing liberal Democrats regardless of their flaws, a fact I will be throwing in the face of everyone who says that 3rd party voting is OK because the Dems suck on their pet issue they’ve prioritized over the concerns of everyone else in 2016.

Speech

[ 74 ] May 5, 2014 |

Scott may have more on this later, but the fact that Supreme Court justices’ opinions on free speech correlate with whether they agree with the speech is like the least surprising thing ever. I’m amazed that anyone has ever seen SCOTUS justices as somehow above politics and acting on actual constitutional principles that don’t line up and reconfirm their own personal beliefs.

And yet, here is genuine surprise from experts:

Lee Epstein, a political scientist and law professor who conducted the new study with two colleagues, said it showed the justices to be “opportunistic free speech advocates.”

The findings are a twist on the comment by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. that the First Amendment protects “freedom for the thought that we hate.” On the Supreme Court, the First Amendment appears to protect freedom for the thought of people we like.

“Though the results are consistent with a long line of research in the social sciences, I still find them stunning — shocking, really,” Professor Epstein said.

Why on earth is that stunning? I think a lot of people have blinders on about the Court that somehow these people are not as political as they actually are.

Devo and Kent State

[ 129 ] May 4, 2014 |

The Kent State shootings - May 4, 1970 04

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the National Guard murders of 4 students at Kent State University in Ohio who were protesting Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Horrible events spawn new cultural phenomena. In this case, Devo. Jerry Casale was among the protestors that day and explains its impact upon him and his philosophy of the world:

VR: Going back to your early days. You were present at the Kent State shootings in 1970. How did that day affect you?

JC: Whatever I would say, would probably not all touch upon the significance or gravity of the situation at this point of time? It may sound trite or glib. All I can tell you is that it completely and utterly changed my life. I was white hippie boy and than I saw exit wounds from M1 rifles out of the backs of two people I knew. Two of the four people who were killed, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were my friends. We were all running our asses off from these motherf&*$#ers. It was total utter bullshit. Live ammunition and gasmasks – none of us knew, none of us could have imagined. They shot into a crowd that was running. I sopped being a hippie and I started to develop the idea of devolution. I got real, real pissed off.

VR: Does Neil young’s “Ohio” strike close to your heart?

JC: Of course. It was strange that the first person that we met, as Devo emerged, was Neil Young. He asked us to be in his movie, Human Highway. It was so strange – San Francisco in 1977. Talk about life being karmic, small and cyclical – it’s absolutely true. In fact I just a got a call from a person organizing a 30th Anniversary thing. Noam Chomsky will be there and I may go talk there if I can get away. I still remember it so crystal clear like a dream you will never forget…….. or a nightmare. I still remember every moment. It kind of went in slow motion like a car accident.

VR: You said that the Kent State shooting sort of served as a catalyst for your theory of Devolution, which spawned Devo.

JC: Absolutely. Until then I was a hippie. I thought that the world is essentially good. If people were evil, there was justice and that the law mattered. All of those silly naïve things. I saw the depths of the horrors and lies and the evil. In the paper that evening, the Akron Beacon Journal, said that students were running around armed and that officers had been hurt. So deputy sheriffs went out and deputized citizens. They drove around with shotguns and there was martial law for ten days. 7 PM curfew. It was open season the students. We lived in fear. Helicopters surrounding the city with hourly rotating runs out to the West Side and back downtown. All first amendment rights are suspended at the instance when the governor gives the order. All of the class action suits by the parents of the slain students were all dismissed out of court because once the governor announced martial law, they had no right to assemble.

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