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Out of Sight

[ 40 ] November 5, 2014 |

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Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe is now available for preorder at Amazon. I know Amazon is evil. However, many independent bookstores now base their orders on preorders from Amazon. So what are you going to do? I am going to have a follow up post about this issue more specifically. In any case, preorders actually really help move a book, or at least this is what I am told.

Anyway, you know it’s going to be an awesome holiday present for yourself or your family. That it isn’t being released until June should not matter in your decision making! If you pay now, you’ll forget about it by then and be surprised by the “free” book you received in the mail!

I am also rather fond of the cover.

Postmortem

[ 321 ] November 5, 2014 |

A few thoughts, loosely tied together, on last night’s disaster.

Obviously Democrats need to spend some time figuring out what the heck happened. In many ways, few fundamentals had changed since 2012. Gridlock dominates Washington. The economy is not really any worse for the 99%, but nor is it appreciably better. Yet people seem to genuinely dislike Barack Obama at all points when he is not actively campaigning. Mitch McConnell deserves a lot of credit for understanding that the politics of fireeating would work wonders because everyone would blame the president no matter whose fault the problems in Washington actually lie with. He knows that most Americans simply don’t understand how politics work and want the president to solve problems, period. Manipulating that was horrible for the country but great for the Republican Party.

So it’s tough out there.

I don’t want to hear that the problem last night was the map. Yes, the Senate map was tough for Democrats. Winning at this point in Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and South Dakota is very difficult. However, that’s a limited explanation because it says nothing as to how the widely despised Paul LePage was reelected in Maine even after Eliot Cutler dropped out. It says nothing as to how Scott Walker was reelected in Wisconsin and Rick Snyder in Michigan. It certainly says nothing as to how a Republican became governor of Maryland. Maryland! This is a lot more than a tough map. Also, you can mostly forget about easily winning the Senate back in 2016. That map isn’t so great either and Democrats are in a deep hole.

I also don’t want to hear too much about money. It’s not that it isn’t important. It’s that a) the plutocrats always have tons of money and have always used it aggressively except for a relatively brief period in the decades after World War II and b) it can be overcome and has been overcome. Elections can be bought but grassroots campaigns can make that not happen. Obviously, Democrats failed miserably on this point.

So what’s up? I think there are a few really important points. Democrats need to just stop trying to appeal to old white people. White men voted for the GOP 64-34. It is a loser strategy. This demographic overwhelmingly votes GOP. Alison Grimes, who ran an utterly pathetic and embarrassing campaign, refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama is the prototype of how not to do it. No one is going to believe you. Heard a bunch about the North Carolina race last night and all the discussion about how Ebola, ISIS, and immigration dominated voters’ agenda. When I hear those three things in this context, I hear three words: racism, racism, and racism. And the Supreme Court supporting racist policies to restrict blacks from voting by eviscerating the Voting Rights Act allowed racists to indeed restrict black voting in meaningful ways that may well have swung North Carolina to the execrable Thom Tillis. Developing entire political campaigns to swing a few of these voters to the Democrats isn’t going to work–as we saw quite clearly last night.

Instead, Democrats need to give Latinos, African-Americans, and the young a reason to vote. Check this out:

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37%!! That means that Democrats simply could not get young people to vote while Republicans did an outstanding job motivating their base.

That means that Democrats have to rethink their midterm election strategy is a very real way. It’s one thing when there’s a presidential campaign. But the politics of midterm elections means that the same types of political calculations don’t work. How do you do that? You make your party about actual issues that young people and people of color care about. You support legalizing marijuana and prison reform. You support a vigorous government jobs program. You embrace immigration all the way, demonizing those who oppose a path to citizenship and the decriminalization of undocumented immigrants as racists. You make a $15 national minimum wage central to your campaign strategy. You have to call for student debt forgiveness. You have to make your party the party of the poor and the non-white, and not just in the passive way. If the racists and the plutocrats don’t like that, well, they weren’t going to vote for you anyway. Alexis Goldstein offers more radical ideas that may well be effective too. See also Harold Meyerson on this.

It’s increasingly clear, with the minimum wage hikes in deep red states and marijuana legalization continuing its march, that the nation wants these progressive policies, but they don’t see the Democratic Party as any vehicle to get them done. And maybe it isn’t. Certainly the party of Andrew Cuomo isn’t going to do much for the poor. And many may say that the Democratic coalition is too diverse for such a program. And the control of Wall Street over Democratic Party is toxic. But in the Senate at least, the remaining Democratic caucus is as progressive or more so than anytime in history. There simply aren’t conservatives left in that caucus outside of Manchin and King, both of whom could flip to the Republicans (although I am a bit skeptical McConnell wants them to since he can use them for his bipartisan cred). Mark Warner will be on the far right of the caucus. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown–these are people who represent what actual Democrats want to see. They are the future of the party. And the Democratic Senate can push forward really progressive legislation, even if it isn’t going to pass. They can lead the way in developing a left-leaning platform that, hopefully, motivates the young to vote.

Because whatever Democrats are doing is not working and will probably not work in 2018 either. Money will remain vital to that election and Democrats are scared of offending their big money donors (see Mark Pryor saying he doesn’t support raising the minimum wage even though it passes in his state). But that challenge must be overcome to motivate enough voters to compete in the midterms. More commercials about how Republicans are evil isn’t going to do that. Convincing base Democratic groups that the party wants to make their lives better and is the agent for doing that will.

So there’s a lot of work to be done. In case this post was too long, here is a short open letter to the Democratic Party with some visuals.

Dear Democrats,

Less this:

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More this:

immigration-march-4

Thanks,
Erik

Election Day

[ 124 ] November 4, 2014 |

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Vote today. How bad is it if cats of all animals have more civic responsibility than you?

Burkina Faso

[ 24 ] November 3, 2014 |

Like most of Africa, Burkina Faso is terribly underrepresented in the media. As you may have heard, a popular rebellion overthrew the nation’s dictatorial ruler this weekend. Here’s a good rundown of the issues and what may come next.

Shrimp Sourcing

[ 19 ] November 3, 2014 |

We can pass regulations forcing corporations to divulge sourcing. But unless those regulations come with more stick than carrot, the corporations will fib. See the ever-exploitative shrimp industry:

In a report released Thursday, ocean-advocacy group Oceana conducted a survey of 111 restaurants and grocery stores across the U.S., and found that more than a third of the sampled shrimp were vaguely labeled, or else mislabeled entirely.

The confusion begins with the fact that there are 41 species of shrimp sold in the U.S., but any of them may just be labeled as “shrimp.” It deepens when it turns out that many of those labeled “Gulf” or “wild-caught” were really a species of farmed shrimp. It’s easy to prawn off these crustaceans as more valuable versions of themselves when more than 90 percent of the U.S. shrimp is imported, and only a small percent of that is ever inspected. Still, the depth and variety of deception is shrimply staggering. Consider this from the Guardian:

Unexpectedly, some of the shrimp that were identified in the survey were genetically unknown to science, and one sample taken from a bag of frozen seafood even turned out to be a banded coral shrimp — a species renowned on reefs and coveted as a ‘pet’ shrimp by aquarium enthusiasts, but certainly not as food. “It’s one of the things you look for on a reef,” Warner says. “How it ended up in a bag of salad-size shrimp, I have no idea.”

This says an awful lot about the food system that respects nothing approaching sustainability or ecological boundaries and instead pursues short-term profit.

In other words, more sticks for industry. Vigorous regulations with real consequences in the only answer to solve these problems.

The Coal Narrative

[ 11 ] November 3, 2014 |

Ken Ward has an excellent piece on the media’s complicity in the War on Coal narrative to describe the decline of coal jobs in Appalachia. In short, blame it on Obama and the hippies. This is of course absurd because the real reasons for coal’s decline in the region and the disappearing of the jobs is depletion of the resource, automation, the turn to natural gas and other cleaner forms of energy, and investment in the Powder River basin of Wyoming and other new coal fields. Instead of explaining this though, far too much of the media just repeat industry talking points that obscure the actual reasons in favor of cheap politics that cover up industry’s fault in the disappearance of jobs.

The Nature of Modern Protest

[ 37 ] November 2, 2014 |

I found this article on the rise of radical ecoprotests in France really interesting because it reinforces my understanding of the nature of developed world protest since 1991 as being opposed to high modernist ideology rather than capitalism or socialism. These protestors seem to have much the same worldview as many involved in Occupy, Earth First, or various other anarchistesque groups in the last 20 years–resentment toward the big project building that marked 20th century political leadership, a distrust of institutions of all kinds, and a resentment toward centralization. I’m not saying this is good or bad, just noting the point. These protestors say as much:

“We saw the trees falling one after the other,” said Camille, 18, who would not give her last name for fear of running afoul of the authorities. “It was an environmental disaster.”

Like many others, Camille said she had come to the ZAD to denounce “grand projects that are useless and imposed.”

“I have heard about the crisis ever since I was born,” said Camille, who said she had just passed her final exams. “As long as there will be capitalist policies, there will be crisis.”

The demonstrators felt vindicated last week when a report commissioned by the government found that the project was too expensive, that local needs for the dam had been overestimated and that alternative options had not been sufficiently explored. But the report also said it would be difficult to stop construction at this stage.

The entire logic of such a project is offensive to a certain set of people. Perhaps most offensive is the logic that something is unnecessary but it’s already started so let’s finish it. And there’s a good reason to be suspicious of such a mentality given the number of disastrous projects completed for just such a reason over the years.

Democrats: The Real Racists

[ 28 ] November 2, 2014 |

Mary Landrieu mentioned the history of racism in the South. Naturally, Louisiana Republicans were outraged that she would do so.

Obviously, like all Democrats, Mary Landrieu is the real racist here. It’s hard being a conservative white person in this country.

This Day in Labor History: November 2, 1909

[ 26 ] November 2, 2014 |

On November 2, 1909, the Industrial Workers of the World called a free speech strike in Spokane, Washington. The free speech movements would highlight what the IWW did well and where is struggled, as the organization exposed the hypocrisy and brutality of Gilded Age capitalism and exposed to the nation the terrible lives of working people while at the same time failing to build on a major early victory when it won this battle.

The IWW was founded in 1905 to give power to the millions of industrial workers who lacked it in Gilded Age America. With the American Federation of Labor largely unwilling to organize women, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, farmworkers, children, or the giant industrial workplaces developing during the late 19th century, there was a tremendous vacuum for someone willing to organize the masses. The IWW would step into that vacuum.

Conditions in northeastern Washington were as bad as the rest of the nation. This was farming and logging country and both industries relied on itinerant labor. Working and living conditions were terrible and pay was poor. What really made workers angry was the employment agency scam. Companies and farmers would contract out with employment agencies, forcing workers to use them for a job. Workers paid for this service. If a job wasn’t there when they arrived, no money back! Return to Spokane and try again. Same if the job just lasted a couple of days. This was rank exploitation of the poor.

These conditions made Spokane an early IWW organizing hotspot. By mid 1909, the city and surrounding region had up to 1500 dues-paying members and a nice headquarters. It expanded its presence through street speaking. This is the literal meaning of “get on your soapbox” in action here. In angry speeches denouncing the exploitation workers faced, Wobbly speakers attempted to convince the workers passing through Spokane from job to job to fight back. As 1909 went on, the Spokane police began cracking down against this. In March, the city council passed an ordinance banning public speaking to all “revolutionists.”

anit-IWW cartoon from Spokane Spokesman Review 1909

Anti-IWW cartoon from Spokane newspaper

As arrests grew, the IWW moved toward a larger action. When local Wobbly leader Jim Thompson was arrested for speaking without a permit on October 25, the IWW demanded his release and threatened to send speakers from around the country to city and flood the jails. Spokane called the IWW on its bluff and the IWW began its first major free speech fight on November 2. Spokane police began arresting everyone who tried to speak. Soon 400 people were in jail, overwhelming the prison system. As the members cycled out of jail, often after a 30-day sentence, they got themselves rearrested. Conditions in the prisons were terrible. Overcrowded and cold, the prisoners were intentionally underfed and forced to take ice-cold outdoor showers in the winter.

This was not quite the first free speech fight, but it was the first to become a national story. Major radical speakers like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn arrived. Flynn was nineteen and pregnant. She was arrested as well, after chaining herself to a lamppost to avoid it. When she was in prison, she had a story published in Industrial Worker that the Spokane police were using the prison as a brothel. The police went ballistic and attempted to confiscate all copies. The intense resistance of the IWW surprised Spokane and overwhelmed its ability to deal with the crisis of its own making.

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The IWW won a pretty complete victory in the free speech fight here. All the unconstitutional restrictions on their activities were taken away and the free speech prisoners freed. It could hold outdoor meetings without the police harassing them. And during the strike, the employers gave up the contract labor system in order to take away part of workers’ reason to be angry. But the employers could have held out. Most of the arrested strikers were out of town revolutionaries and the IWW leadership was having trouble finding more. The IWW actually approached the Spokane city government for a deal because it knew it would lose soon.

What I find fascinating about the IWW response to Spokane is how rapidly the conditions of work in Spokane disappeared from the pages of Industrial Worker, the most important IWW newspaper, once this struggle became about free speech. Instead of the hellish lives experienced by the rank and file, the fight was about free speech, heightening the contradictions of capitalism by forcing mass arrests, and the potential for revolutionary change. But the actual conditions of work became secondary, basically disappearing from Wobbly documents. That might make sense in the short term. But when the strike ended, Spokane itself faded from view. The Wobblies moved on to the next big national struggle. The focus on conditions in Spokane that was common in the paper before the strike was completely gone after it was won.

Even after the strike was won, the conditions of labor were still terrible. But the IWW as a national organization really failed to build upon this victory. It could have really doubled down in Spokane and started pushing further improvements to the lives of the loggers, agricultural workers, and urban workers (who were really the same people since people switched work in this economy all the time). But it did not. The loggers would still remain active IWW members and northeastern Washington and northern Idaho the heart of Wobbly radicalism in the Northwest timber industry. But it would take another decade, more strikes, and government intervention to solve the labor unrest caused by the terrible exploitation of the timber industry.

I don’t necessarily blame the IWW here for its failure to build on the free speech fights, a problem it would have throughout its history. Nor do I want to downplay the significance of the victory in Spokane. This was a young organization with the struggles that new groups have. It was very good at certain things, such as throwing the hypocrisy of the capitalists back in their face, creating public displays, and promulgating powerful cultural images. It also managed to make strong connections some of the nation’s poorest workers. It was not good at understanding how to build a long-term struggle, nor would it ever be. For many IWW leaders and intellectuals, ideas of revolution and struggle had more appeal than the day to day organizing needed to build long-term worker power. For an organization so dedicated to the struggles of the nation’s poorest, a lot of its leaders and famous speakers could abstract the working class at the same time as providing material assistance to it at its hardest times.

I think the real relevance of this story today is in the tricky connections between free speech and long-term organizing. The commitment of American radicals to free speech as a principle has waxed and waned over time, but today, like a century ago, it’s high on the radical agenda. And fighting for the spaces and rights for that speech against what can be a coercive state is a major demand, like a century ago. So I guess I see Occupy Wall Street and the IWW free speech fights as having certain similarities. Demanding the soapbox is a vital principle, but it’s awfully hard to build on that to other issues that connect directly to everyday people’s lives. This went far to undermine Occupy and proved a barrier for the IWW as well. The free speech fights were noble, but in the end they didn’t do a whole lot for empowering the rank and file to control their own lives.

This is the 124th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Nic Kristof: The King of the 21st Century White Slavery Scare

[ 98 ] November 1, 2014 |

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Even though Nic Kristof has been shown to be incredibly gullible about child prostitution, that hasn’t stopped the Times from letting him promote his insane horror rhetoric:

IF prostitution of children is illegal, why is it that we allow an estimated 100,000 underage girls and boys to be sold for sex in America each year — many on a single American website, Backpage.com?

That’s a reflection of law enforcement priorities, but several brave girls who allege that they were pimped on Backpage are trying to change them. They are fighting back in lawsuits that could have far-reaching implications for sex trafficking in America.

100,000 children. Really? Does anyone actually believe that? Because that number is insane. And it’s not like Kristof has any credibility on these issues at this point. He should have lost his column over his willingness to repeat lies about the Cambodian sex trade but it hasn’t fazed him at all.

And here’s the thing–it’s not like this issue is not a problem. It’s terrible. But Kristof does not help by repeating extremely absurd claims that lack evidence. He’s a joke and so are his claims. Anyone involved in the trade of children for sex is a horrible person. But exaggerating claims hurts these children rather than helping them. And that’s what Kristof has done time and time again, without accountability as to his embarrassing journalistic standards.

Joe McPhee

[ 9 ] November 1, 2014 |

I spent my Halloween evening in New Haven, seeing the legendary saxophonist Joe McPhee play with drummer Chris Corsano and cellist Daniel Levin at Firehouse 12. This was amazing and someone I never thought I’d get to see live. I’ve been listening to McPhee for years, especially his groundbreaking early albums like Nation Time and Trinity. This is as close to an approximation as I can get on YouTube, albeit Evan Parker gives a very different dynamic than a cellist. Technically, it was also Levin’s trio. Firehouse 12 is also an outstanding space, especially when compared to the terrible space (albeit necessary and with great shows!) that is John Zorn’s Stone on the Lower East Side. Lower rents and all that.

A note about the merchandise table. When I go to a show like this, I want to support the cause by buying a CD or two. That’s especially true at a jazz show because CDs are released on so many tiny labels that I would never hear of otherwise. But at both the Jon Dee Graham show I went to on Wednesday and this, the merch table was not exactly a priority of the musicians. Graham was talking about his CDs for sale and then immediately after the show went outside to smoke cigarettes for at least 15 minutes. I waited around that long and then couldn’t wait any longer as I had a 45 minute drive ahead of me. Last night, only Corsano hung around after the first show (I really couldn’t stay for the second as it is 100 miles from New Haven to Providence and I was tired enough when I got back to RI as it was). McPhee and Levin went to have a drink downstairs. The problem here was that McPhee hadn’t even bothered to put his music out for sale and Corsano had no idea how much Levin was selling his albums for. So I bought a couple pieces Corsano was on and that’s great–I am really excited to listen to them. But you’d like to think there’d be a bit more of a concerted effort to actually sell this stuff.

A Conservative Halloween

[ 166 ] October 31, 2014 |

Conservatives are such fun people. They can’t let a holiday go without turning it into part of the culture war. The American Spectator clearly planned this one for awhile:

Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers kill kids rushing to become adults. Is it too much to ask of the ghoulish trio to apply their talents toward adults rushing to become kids?

The grownups who have decimated the ranks of trick-or-treaters by aborting 10 million of them in the last decade offer penance for their sins against Halloween by dressing up in place of the missing children. The National Retail Federation estimates that adults will spend $1.4 billion on their own Halloween costumes this year. That’s $1.4 billion that they could have spent on man-cave clubhouses, a huge birthday party, a collection of Care Bears, or some other pastime recently favored by adults.

Whining about adults spending money on costumes instead of doing what Real Americans are supposed to do–breed and raise new conservatives–is the height of how to connect with the broader public.

Meanwhile, this does not make sense:

Society appears beset by myriad identity disorders and too eager to label the clear-headed confused. A recent story highlighted the alleged racial confusion of well-mannered, well-spoken, well-educated Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Men now dress up earnestly as Milton Berle once did for laughs. But age, not race or sex, plays as the role that confuses the culture most.

But the real problem is, of course, abortion. Because we kill all our fetuses, we have to compensate by staying children ourselves. Or something:

The decimation of the ranks of children leaves us with fewer kids and more adult imitators. The lucky ones protected in the womb grow up overprotected outside of it. An adult-surveilled childhood responsible for structured playdates, chauffeured trips to school, and digital babysitters shielding youngsters from the fresh air may also be responsible for the delayed childhoods of adults earlier denied them. It’s also hard to not conclude that a society mired in gadgets and amusements quite naturally favors frivolity. And marriage, an institution known to quickly mature its partners, elicits more “I don’ts” than ever.

Surely the National Parent sets a bad example here. Pajama Boy, that cradle-to-grave sponge “Julia,” and the health-care act regarding 26-year-olds as dependents entitled to coverage from their parents’ insurance plans all recast adolescence long beyond its biological boundaries—25 is the new 12.

Yes, nothing shows the depravity of our abortion culture like allowing 25 year olds to have health insurance!

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