Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

Bernie and the Establishment

[ 206 ] February 12, 2016 |

947579_1_new hampshire_standard

Yglesias has had a couple of interesting pieces about the implications of the Sanders campaign on the Democratic Party. First, after Iowa:

Most of all, uncomfortable though it may be, Democratic leaders are going to have to make more effort in the future to convince their supporters that they are genuinely trying as hard as they can to deliver the things they promise.

On the campaign trail, Clinton likes to emphasize her decades of experience fighting for children, health care, the environment, and other progressive causes.

It’s a message that shows that she and her campaign understand what the voters they are trying to reach care about. They admire people who have dedicated their lives to fighting for those causes. Except it’s not quite true that Clinton has dedicated her whole life to fighting for these causes.

Between serving as US secretary of state and hitting the campaign trail, she made millions of dollars delivering high-priced speeches — often to for-profit companies or trade associations with interests at stake in political debates. She didn’t do this to put food on the table for her family, as she and her husband were already rich thanks to Bill Clinton’s own buckraking adventures.

And after New Hampshire:

Fresh from his win in New Hampshire, it’s now clear that whether or not Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination outright, he’s already won in another, perhaps more important way: His brand of politics is the future of the Democratic Party.

Sanders is the overwhelming choice of young voters, scoring a staggering 84 percent of voters under 30 in the Iowa caucuses and projected to do better in New Hampshire.

Any young and ambitious Democrat looking at the demographics of the party and the demographics of Sanders supporters has to conclude that his brand of politics is extremely promising for the future. There are racial and demographic gaps between Clinton and Sanders supporters, but the overwhelming reality is that for all groups, the young people are feeling the Bern.

Whether the first Sanders-style nominee is Sanders himself or Elizabeth Warren or someone like a Tammy Baldwin or a Keith Ellison doesn’t matter. What’s clear is that there’s robust demand among Democrats — especially the next generation of Democrats — to remake the party along more ideological, more social democratic lines, and party leaders are going to have to answer that demand or get steamrolled.

And while we’ve all learned enough hard lessons about believing in demographic determinism since 2008 to not take the implications of these primaries too far, it seems pretty clear that a large swath of the Democratic base has learned some other lessons–that of the Tea Party. The era of centrist Democratic decision making isn’t over–after all, politicians need that Wall Street money after Citizens United. But the base isn’t going to accept that and neither should it. The polarization of American politics means that the centrist swing voter barely exists anymore. Democrats should demand their politicians actually represent their preferred policy choices. Certainly young voters are demanding that and that’s driving the Sanders boom, despite his very real flaws as a candidate and clear electability problems in the fall.


You May Not Be Surprised That….

[ 28 ] February 12, 2016 |


….Voter ID laws dampen turnout for minorities and young voters.

Researchers at UC-San Diego are working on a study on how voter ID laws affect turnout rates, and a working paper they released detailing the results thus far seems to confirm what the laws’ critics have often said.

Voter ID laws adversely affected the turnout of minorities, and particularly that of Latinos, the paper found. The study also revealed that turnout among Democrats was disproportionately affected, backing up claims of a political motivation behind the laws, which have been overwhelmingly championed by GOP legislators.

“Our study is the first really comprehensive study that’s been done over many election cycles — I think we have something like 51 elections in there — that very clearly shows how minority voters are affected, and how they’re adversely and disproportionately affected compared to their white counterparts,” Nazita Lajevardi, one the study’s authors told TPM.

It’s almost as if the voter fraud talk is really just about gaming the system for white Republicans!

The researchers also tested the hypothesis that the laws were having a larger effect on Democratic turnout, and thus benefiting GOP candidates.

“Not just racial consequences, there are political consequences of these laws. People always surmised that there would be a skew towards the left, but no one has actually shown it,” Lajevardi told TPM.

Indeed, the turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats doubled from 2.3 points to 5.6 points in general elections in strict photo ID states.

Maquiladora Workers Fight for Justice

[ 19 ] February 12, 2016 |


America’s move to ship production overseas exists to maximize corporate profits by exploiting cheap labor. When that labor stands up to their exploitation, they are simply eliminated, either through violence or through firing. In Juarez, an independent union movement is trying to organize the maquiladoras. The American companies they work for are throwing them on the streets.

Women and men, more than 70 of them, were fired on December 9th from the factory on the Mexican side of the Mexico-Texas border where they made printers for the American company Lexmark. They say they were terminated because they were trying to form an independent union. The company says they were fired because they caused a “workplace disruption.”

Now, the workers protest by occupying a makeshift shack outside the factory, still advocating for a raise and for a union, even though they no longer have jobs. Outside, a spray-painted banner reads “Justicia A La Clase Obrera” meaning “Justice for the Working Class.” Inside, a wood stove burns as they make coffee and cook tortillas and wait for someone to hear what they have to say.

“We are hungry. Our children are hungry,” Blanca Estella Moya, one of the fired workers, tells me. “You cannot live on these wages in Juarez.”

In the Lexmark maquiladora, or factory, Moya made 112 pesos, or roughly six U.S. dollars, a day. Her shifts were nine-and-a-half hours long, her lawyer, Susana Prieto Terrazas, says. That’s about 39 cents an hour. That wage is a legal one in Mexico, but Terrazas argues it shouldn’t be.

“It’s not possible to live on these wages. It’s not human,” said Terrazas, who has dark, curly, dyed-red hair, and was wearing a plaid checkered blouse and jeans. “They are creating generations of slaves.”

It’s not just Lexmark: Workers at Mexican subsidiaries of FoxConn, Eaton, and CommScope in Juarez have all protested working conditions and compensation in recent months. Women tell of sexual harassment at the factories and of working multiple shifts to make ends meet. The devaluation of the peso has meant their money buys less than it once did. The protests come at an inopportune moment for Mexico. Many companies, especially automakers, are moving production to Mexico after deciding that the costs and logistical headaches of manufacturing in Asia are too great to bear. Mexico is trying to welcome them with open arms.

But workers, especially those on the border, aren’t making that easy.

“This is a historic thing that’s happening here. In 50 years, there hasn’t been this level of labor discontent,” says Oscar Martinez, a professor at the University of Arizona who spends time in Juarez and has written numerous books on the border, including Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. “We could be seeing the beginning of a larger movement that spreads to other parts of Mexico and challenges the whole system that has been created for these multinationals.”

I want to give due credit to Lexmark’s American employees as well for showing international solidarity:

Still Terrazas and other advocates say there are a few things that are different this time. Some 700 workers in Juarez joined a “slowdown” at the factory, which Terrazas said prompted the firings and signaled widespread sympathy for the protesters. Workers in El Paso and Lexington, Kentucky, the home of Lexmark, have been staging rallies in solidarity with the Mexican maquiladora workers. The group has received donations and help from as far away as Geneva, and dozens of people across the border in El Paso have been listening and donating, she told me. The donations from abroad have made it possible for the workers to continue to stay outside the factory, despite the freezing temperatures and freezing rain. And other factories in Juarez have given workers small raises in the time the Lexmark workers have been protesting, she says. Even a supervisor who harassed workers has been fired since the workers started protesting, Terrazas said.

That solidarity is helping. And the workers’ actions are making small but real difference, albeit at real personal sacrifice.

But I ask once again why the United States should allow its employers to treat workers this way, no matter where they locate production. Allowing them to fire workers for organizing, pay them extremely low wages, countenance sexual harassment and assault of women on the job, etc, just makes U.S. workplaces move toward the same levels of exploitation, as has slowly been happening since the 1970s. These Mexican workers need basic human rights on the job–the right to not be sexually harassed, the right to a living wage, the right to organize. Labor rights are human rights. But American companies have no interest in either. The question is whether we the public does. Why aren’t we are asking our politicians what they will do to crack down on the exploitation of workers around the world. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership coming up for a vote and with Bernie Sanders in the race, this is a prime time to do this. Yet it is not part of our political conversation at all.

And I once again ask those who defend the shipping of jobs to the lowest wage workers around the world what they would say to these Mexican workers if they were standing in front of them? What is your obligation to support these workers in their fight for justice and living wages? Because you have one.

Why I Hate 2016 and Hate Everything About How People are Responding to the Democratic Primary

[ 450 ] February 12, 2016 |

Sady Doyle tweeted this:

I responded:

That mildly snarky tweet caused Sady Doyle to block me on Twitter.

This pretty much sums up why I hate everyone during election years. And it isn’t any better when Bernie supporters are bringing up Benghazi to attack Hillary.

Can people please not be stupid? Please.

By Our Hands

[ 1 ] February 11, 2016 |


The AFL-CIO has started its own online magazine based at Medium. Titled In Our Hands, it hopes to feature a few stories of working Americans at a good-looking website. Is it the be all and end of all union educational efforts? No. But it is the type of the thing the federation should be doing. Hopefully it picks up some traction.

Does Racism Influence Our Response to Terrorist Organizations?

[ 97 ] February 11, 2016 |


Probably. Boko Haram is as if not more deadly than ISIS. But because it is strictly in Africa, the media hardly covers it at all. Yet ISIS is the epitome of terrorism because they kill white people. This is reflected in policy as well, with far more political attention paid to ISIS than Boko Haram.

On November 13, 2015, ISIS members coordinated a bombing attack throughout France that brutally massacred 130 innocent souls from Paris to Saint-Denis. The world sat in disbelief at the audacity of the attacks, and prayers everywhere went out to France.

On January 31, 2016, just earlier this week, the Nigerian terrorist faction Boko Haram savagely killed 86 people in Dalori Village by firebombing huts and burning innocent children alive. Just 5 kms outside of northeast Nigeria’s largest city, a survivor recalled hearing unimaginable screams as their flesh was burnt away from their bodies.

Yet, days later, the executions of these same innocent victims of extremism have not garnered the world’s attention. While the mainstream media response about this tragedy has been underwhelming, the added calamity lies in how the Obama administration has seemingly neglected to treat Boko Haram and the victims of their maniacal violence with the same resources and attention that has been provided to ISIS and victims throughout Europe.

This past October, President Obama deployed 300 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to Cameroon to surveil Boko Haram, but it all seemed ‘too little too late.” The Pentagon recently asked for $7.5 billion dollars to take on ISIS in 2017. Despite the fact that Boko Haram and ISIL are responsible for half of all terrorism deaths, the response to both is clearly uneven in many ways.

We prayed and mourned with France. Global leaders pledged swift justice to those responsible. Every presidential candidate had to address the Paris attacks, including Donald Trump, who used the moment to promote prejudice against Muslims. Most American politicians took a stance on whether or not ground troops should be sent to confront ISIS on the battlefield.
-Boko Haram burns kids alive in Nigeria-

Yet the continual slaughter of innocent Africans has not elicited an equal response from the nation or from the Obama Administration, when in fact Boko Haram is the most deadly Islamic terror group on Earth. This is no exaggeration. In 2014, Boko Haram killed 6,664 people, while ISIS was responsible for 6,073 deaths. Boko Haram is also the faction that kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Government Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, which prompted the viral #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.

I know the story here is more complicated than just racism, but this scenario sure reinforces the fact that the United States and its citizens simply care less about Africans than any other people in the world. And then gets reflected in both media coverage and foreign policy priorities.

Fighting Climate Change in Agriculture

[ 9 ] February 11, 2016 |

EF figure 2

Agriculture is a significant driver of climate change, both through the use of fossil fuels and the production of methane from cattle, yet it receives very little public attention when we think about fighting it. So I’m glad to see California start taking the lead on this issue, channeling money to new ways to limit climate change-creating emissions on the state’s farms:

In fact, said Jeanne Merrill, Policy Director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), protecting the nation’s food supply might be the central reason for the dramatic increase. “I think the governor is concerned with food security,” she told Civil Eats. The more farmers can combine their efforts to mitigate the current problems by reducing the worst greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the farm, she added, “the better we are at maintaining a secure food system.”

The suite of proposed agricultural programs include existing strategies such as methane digesters on dairy farms, and new ones, like the Healthy Soils Initiative, which aims to increase soil organic matter and carbon sequestration. They would all receive an unprecedented allotment of funds from the state’s cap and trade program, which allows large GHG-emitting businesses in California to buy and sell allowances beyond the state-wide cap. According to CalCAN, there is currently $1.7 billion in cap-and-trade funds that have yet to be allocated.

So why the remarkable increase? Merrill points to a landmark 2012 study from the University of California at Davis that made a compelling argument for the value of climate-smart farming practices, and showed—among other things—that more GHG emissions were released from urban land than irrigated farmland. She adds that the state’s land trust and conservation communities have also rallied behind sustainable agriculture and helped inform decision makers about the undeniable connections between farming and climate change.

But most supporters of the proposed budget aren’t too concerned about why the change is happening—they’re just glad to see that it is.

Of course there are lots of questions about effectiveness, implementation, whether cap and trade systems can work at all to fight climate change, etc. But this is where the political energy and ability is to try anything at all and experimentation is a very good thing at this stage. Hopefully this will lead more states to try it. Although Oklahoma and Texas will probably see this and up their methane emissions out of spite.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 17

[ 11 ] February 11, 2016 |

This is the grave of William Clark, copper capitalist and Gilded Age plutocrat.


I have discussed Clark before. He was a miner turned capitalist in Montana who became one of Montana’s three Copper Kings. He’s remarkable not so much for that, but for being the personification of Gilded Age corruption. Clark really wanted to be a senator. Of course, in the 1890s, senators were chosen by state legislatures. So he did what any Gilded Age capitalist who wanted to be a senator would do. He bribed them. Supposedly, he later said, “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale.” This was no doubt true. But he was so corrupt that even the Senate, where there was no shortage of open corruption, would not seat him. He became for Mark Twain, the single symbol of the corruption of the period. He later still returned to the Senate, this time not so openly buying people off. He served a term. All of this inspired the 17th Amendment, which some of the right oppose today, being totally fine with rich people subverting democracy and buying off state legislators to control the Senate. None of this affected his massive wealth of course, as the grave above demonstrates.

William Clark is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York

It’s So Hard to Be a Capitalist in 2016

[ 102 ] February 11, 2016 |


Above: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein

I just feel so bad for the head of Goldman Sachs. He’s so sad about Bernie Sanders’ success:

The head of Goldman Sachs said on Wednesday that Bernie Sanders’ insurgent candidacy “has the potential to be a dangerous moment.”

Lloyd Blankfein, who is chairman and CEO of the bank, was speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
In January, Sanders was asked by Bloomberg Politics to list an example of corporate greed, and he listed Blankfein.

“I don’t take it personally since we never met,” Blankfein responded.

But he added that Sanders’ attacks on the “billionaire class” and bankers could be dangerous.

“It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street not just for the people who are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line,” Blankfein said. “It’s a liability to say I’m going to compromise I’m going to get one millimeter off the extreme position I have and if you do you have to back track and swear to people that you’ll never compromise. It’s just incredible. It’s a moment in history.”

Where “a dangerous moment” means “Bankers might actually be held responsible when they commit crimes.”

Does the head of Goldman Sachs speaking out against Bernie Sanders do anything but give him more credibility with the American public? I mean, not the American public that counts of course, by which I mean Washington elites. But the part that doesn’t count.

Privatizing Air Traffic Control

[ 32 ] February 10, 2016 |


Hard to see what could go wrong with the next target of Republican privatization schemes:

The Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act is intended to prevent an interruption in federal aviation funding next month. It would extend the FAA’s funding until 2022, but the measure would also create a new nongovernmental organization that would take over air traffic control from the agency in approximately three years.

The FAA bill is one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation left on the congressional agenda this year. As such, it also represents an opportunity for lawmakers looking for a vehicle on which to attach pet issues.

Supporters of the bill said separating air traffic control from the FAA would modernize the nation’s aviation system and bring it on par with countries such as Canada that have already set up independent flight navigation systems.

“The United States has led the world in aviation since pioneering this modern mode of transportation. We have the safest system in the world, and we will continue to do so under this bill,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the transportation committee. “But our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system.”

Of course, Congressional Republicans could fund that modernized system but then that wouldn’t accomplish their goal of turning public goods private, even if that ends up costing more for taxpayers, as Democrats claim, likely correctly.

Climate and Empire

[ 30 ] February 10, 2016 |


The question about climate change and empire is sadly ever more relevant as climate change drastically transforms the world. So more research like this is valuable:

A new paper, just published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, proposes a link between a marked cooling event in the fifth and sixth centuries AD and a period of dramatic social change across Europe and Asia, including a pandemic plague outbreak, food shortages, political turmoil in China, migrations and even the rise of the Islamic empire. It’s impossible to say for sure whether the climatic shift was actually responsible for all the upheaval that went on during that time, the researchers say — but since the two periods coincided, the scientists are proposing that a connection is likely.

“There are a lot of things that occurred at the same time, and now it’s certainly very difficult to disentangle to what degree was it caused by climatic fluctuations,” said the study’s lead author, Ulf Büntgen, who heads a research group specializing in tree-ring science at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research. “But we just cannot exclude it anymore.”

In Europe, the colder climate is believed to have contributed to a decrease in agricultural output, which resulted in widespread food shortages. Around the same time, there was an outbreak of plague in the Byzantine Empire, which started around 541 AD and eventually achieved pandemic status as it spread throughout Europe, killing millions and contributing to the weakening of the Empire.

The researchers have hypothesized that the agricultural declines may have helped the plague bacteria spread from Asia into Europe via wildlife moving into the increasingly abandoned agricultural fields, although they acknowledge in the paper that much remains unknown about the plague’s origin and its link to climate during this time.

Additionally, historians believe there was a great deal of political turmoil in central Asia during this time period, with particular conflict within the regimes governing northern China. Meanwhile, it appears that Slavic populations were spreading across Europe. These events may have also been triggered by social instability caused by famine, crop shortages and disease outbreaks.

The authors have even suggested that there may be a link between climate and the eventual rise of the Islamic Empire. Changes in precipitation patterns, caused by the cooling, may have helped enable the growth of scrub vegetation on the Arabian peninsula, they note in the paper, adding that“larger camel herds may have facilitated transportation of the Arab armies and their supplies during the substantial conquests in the seventh century, during which the reconstructed fraction of human land use seems relatively high in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Guestworker Exploitation

[ 12 ] February 10, 2016 |


When people talk about the undocumented immigration “problem” outside of Republican debates calling for giant fences to keep out brown people, politicians and pundits often speak of a guestworker program as a way to provide the cheap labor American businesses want without forcing people to cross without papers. There can be a sympathetic piece to this argument because thanks to the militarization of the border, those people are forced into very dangerous situations, including crossing way out in the desert when they can and do die of heat exhaustion and thirst. But the history of these programs is one of rank exploitation, with workers having few rights. That was certainly true in the Bracero Program. And it remains so today, as Michelle Chen explores:

 According to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the guestworker labor force provides US employers jobs on the cheap, offering less in wages and virtually nothing in terms of labor rights or benefits.

EPI’s analysis of a decade of data on guestworkers under the H-2B visa program, which pipes immigrants into temporary low-wage service-industry jobs, shows that the visa allows bosses to employ guestworkers at “hourly wage rates that are far lower than state and national averages in the overwhelming majority of cases.” For example, in the most popular H-2B industry, landscaping and groundskeeping, “employers saved on average between $2.59 and $3.37 per hour by hiring an H-2B worker instead of a worker earning the national average wage.”

 This is not the standard protectionist argument about immigrants’ “taking jobs,” it’s about inequality being baked into a contract system that grants legal status in exchange for rights. In a sense, contracted guestworkers are less free than undocumented workers who can at least try to switch employers. As a recent NPR story on agricultural guestworkers points out, despite the dangers of living in the country without papers, undocumented workers at least have relative autonomy (albeit without any legal protections) to try to escape an abusive boss and reenter the underground labor market.

 A civil suit recently brought by a group of Jamaican H-2B guestworkers charges the Kiawah Golf Resorts in South Carolina with systematic wage theft, alleging that the resort violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and never paid the mandated wage set under the program’s guidelines, … in part to various travel costs and fees imposed on the workers as a condition of their employment. Some workers had allegedly been underpaid by as much as $2.20 per hour. They were working as housekeepers, servers, and bell persons for patrons who paid up to $1,000 per night for their lavish service.

Complaining about the system can cost a worker a livelihood and legal status. Shellion Parris, a former H-2B worker from Jamaica, helped launch a federal crackdown when she and coworkers organized an uprising against a Florida staffing agency, charging them with fraud and exploitation after they were denied the hotel housekeeping jobs they were promised and held in squalid conditions. Her hopes of vindication were upturned, however, when her petition for immigration relief foundered, leaving her destitute and stranded abroad after paying thousands. “We were all in debt when we came here,” Parris told The Nation last October. “We’re still in debt.”

These guestworker programs are just too problematic and open for labor exploitation to be part of the solution to immigration and labor problems. Republicans in Congress have of course just expanded the program and lowering the very limited labor protections in the program. Republicans read these stories and think, “yeah, we need a lot more of this, except maybe stopping the workers from filing civil suits. Tort reform!”

Page 1 of 38012345...102030...Last »