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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.

Nancy Reagan on Pants

[ 28 ] July 21, 2014 |

In 1968, Nancy Reagan spoke out on one of the important issues of the day: opposing women wearing pants.

“Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

[ 30 ] July 21, 2014 |

I certainly don’t care about the fate of most record labels, but streaming services increasingly make it difficult for musicians in less popular genres like jazz or classical to survive. Really, if you listen to music, you do owe it to the artists to buy some of their music. If it’s U2, who cares. Stream away. If it is Wussy, the album sales make a difference. That’s especially true if the labels start taking cuts of artists’ other income to make up for record sale declines. Streaming is fine to check out new artists and hear new albums, but at some point, music fans need to support the artists through purchasing their products in some way or another.

The Return of Contra Violence

[ 100 ] July 21, 2014 |

The 35th anniversary of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution has just passed. The Sandinistas, although a very different organization than in 1979, are today in power, with Daniel Ortega winning free and fair elections. Of course, the Nicaraguan right always hated the Sandinistas and thanks to illegal funding from Ronald Regan, fought a brutal war to defeat the Sandinistas. After the Sandinistas agreed to elections in 1990 and lost, they peacefully stepped down. The violence that plagued Nicaragua faded and today the country, while still very poor, is one of the most peaceful in Central America. Alas, the 35th anniversary celebrations brought out some of the old hate from the Sandinistas’ enemies:

A deadly midnight ambush targeting pro-government supporters in northern Nicaragua has stirred the sleeping dogs of war and raised new fears of a pending military campaign against rearmed guerrillas hiding in the mountains.

Five people were killed and 19 injured early Sunday morning in what appears to be a coordinated series of attacks against Sandinista party members traveling by bus through the mountainous coffee-growing region of Matagalpa, one of the main battlegrounds of Nicaragua’s civil war in the 1980s.

The buses, filled with pro-government supporters returning from Managua after a day of celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, were fired on indiscriminately from the darkened shoulder of the road by unidentified men armed with AK-47s. The first bus was ambushed near KM75 of the Pan-American highway, while the second bus was attacked at the some time in the nearby town of San Ramon. Four unidentified suspects have been detained for questioning, according to police.

A group claiming to be the successor to the Contras has claimed responsibility but it is difficult to ascertain the truth of that claim at this point. But it’s pretty clearly a right-wing political attack. Bad stuff.

Southern Democrats: Are They Making Poor Political Decisions?

[ 54 ] July 21, 2014 |

Bob Moser has a very interesting essay on what he sees as the poor political decisions made by southern Democratic senatorial candidates in 2014. Essentially, he sees Kay Hagan, Michelle Nunn, Mary Landrieu, and the like making a huge mistake by embracing old DLC-style distancing from President Obama. Rather, he argues that the better decision is to run as a liberal and motivate African-American, Latino, and youth voters to go to the polls this fall. He notes this is a plausible political strategy by citing how these states have rapidly growing minority populations that hate the Republicans.

I’m of two minds here. On one hand, given that this is a midterm election with a highly motivated and hateful set of older white Republican voters and given the historically low turnout rates for Democratic core demographics in the midterms, running away from Obama might make sense. On the other hand, it probably doesn’t since, with perhaps the exception of Landrieu because of her personal power in the Senate, that strategy doesn’t really give anyone a good reason to vote for you. Plus maybe it is possible, at least in Georgia which is now only 60% white and will probably become a majority-minority state by 2030, to run as a liberal, inspire voters, and win an election. I’m not inclined to say that political advisers are idiots, although they are scared of failure, so I would think that they feel this is not a successful strategy in 2014. But maybe they are wrong. And giving voters an actual reason to vote for you does seem wise.

Lindsey Graham’s Green Lantern Foreign Policy

[ 47 ] July 21, 2014 |

Lindsey Graham is a very serious and intelligent man. After all, he believes this is what John Kerry and Barack Obama should be doing about Russia:

Host David Gregory then asked Graham how the Kerry has failed in addressing the Malaysian plane and evidence that pro-Russia separatists likely shot down the plane with Russian weapons.

“One, he didn’t call Putin the thug that he is. He didn’t call for arming the Ukraine so they can defend themselves against rebel separatists supported by Russia,” Graham responded.

“President Obama is trying to be deliberative. It comes off as indecisive. He’s trying to be thoughtful. It comes off as weakness,” he continued.

Oh yes, I’m sure calling Putin a thug will not only stop the arming of Ukrainian separatists but also give Crimea back to Ukraine. I mean, we all see how Reagan defeated the Soviet Union by calling it “The Evil Empire” instead of negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev over the desire of the conservative foreign policy establishment. And using the term Axis of Evil has absolutely destroyed the governments of Iran and North Korea; the fact that such language helped cause the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses at the cost of 500,000 Iraqi lives and 4000 American lives is a benefit, not a bug. Why doesn’t Obama give a big speech telling Putin off. Now that’s effective American power!

Technology Will Chain You To Your Job

[ 81 ] July 20, 2014 |

I am always amused by the idea that technology will set us free from the hassles of work. Talk about utopian. The reality is that technology chains us to our jobs, creating a state of permanent surveilliance by our employers who demand more and more. The 40-hour week becomes a joke, both because many people cannot work at all or can only find part-time work while those who do have work have to labor well past 40 hours because the boss can track them.

Baseball’s Idiotic Unwritten Rules

[ 62 ] July 20, 2014 |

Given that baseball players are not the most intellectually curious of people, the battle for dumbest player can be tough. But Colby Lewis has a strong case given his outrage after Colby Rasmus committed the unpardonable crime of bunting against a shift with two outs and the Blue Jays up two in the 5th. I mean, have you ever heard of such a thing? Trying to get a runner on base up 2 with half the game left! I’m surprised Lewis didn’t throw at his head in the next at bat!

Jim Garner, RIP

[ 117 ] July 20, 2014 |

When I was growing up, my Dad watched A LOT of Rockford Files, which means I watched a lot of Rockford Files since the TV was always on. James Garner died yesterday and it reminds me of what a pleasant actor he was to watch, in Rockford or the many other projects he was involved with. For me though, he’ll always be associated with Sunday afternoon reruns with my Dad (may not have been Sunday but that’s how I remember it).

It’s also by chance my father’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday! He turns 72 today. He’s also a reader of the site so remember that when you tell me how much you hate me, you are telling that to an old man about his son. Of course, mostly his response to that nonsense is like mine.

Here’s an entire episode from Season 2. Classic 70s theme song and opening credits.

“That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, makes no difference to the relation”

[ 112 ] July 20, 2014 |

Turning schools into profit-making enterprises has been a disaster, not only in the U.S., but also in Sweden. Applying Taylorism to schools makes perfect sense to the high modernist education reformer like Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan, but does nothing positive to address the real complexities of the classroom.