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Expanded OSHA Rules

[ 12 ] December 9, 2014 |

Good call from Obama’s OSHA:

Beginning Jan. 1, OSHA rules will go into effect that may reveal higher daily death and injury counts on the job. Although most workplaces are far safer today than in the past, terrible accidents do occur, and the agency is implementing some broader reporting requirements for employers.

The new rule expands the list of severe work-related injuries that all employers with 10 or more employees must report to OSHA. The reports must be made within eight hours of the event. Reports also must be submitted within 24 hours for any work-related hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye. Previously, employers had to report only hospitalizations of three or more employees resulting from a workplace accident or illness.

Ridiculous that this isn’t already the case.

Little less thrilled about this:

The other big change in the new rules is an update of the list of industries that are exempt from routine injury and illness reporting requirements based on their “relatively low occupational injury and illness rates.” That change possibly could reduce some reporting requirements, but the full effect isn’t yet known.

I don’t think exempting industries is a good idea here because there are almost ways workplaces can be made safer and healthier. If office work seems like a place that should be exempted from OSHA requirements (and I don’t know if it is exempted or will be but it seems likely), what about ergonomic standards that could make that work healthier and happier for employees?

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Oh, White People

[ 45 ] December 9, 2014 |

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No Rats Allowed

[ 19 ] December 8, 2014 |

Jimmy Durante promoting the National Recovery Administration.

I am consistently amazed at FDR’s propaganda network. I can only imagine what conservatives would say if Obama tried something like this.

….From Michael Hiltzik’s book on the New Deal:

Ickes groused about having been forced at a movie theatre to sit through a film clip featuring “a most disgusting exhibition put on by a low-class comedian as NRA propaganda” before the main show began. (The unnamed comedian was Jimmy Durante.)

“It would hardly appeal to the lowest order of human intelligence,” Ickes recorded in his diary, “and I am wondering if this sort of thing is being put on extensively. If it is, it will do the NRA more harm than good.” Frances Perkins, overhearing Ickes complain, volunteered that she had heard that “movie audiences in New York City were booing NRA propaganda.”

Drink Like a President

[ 36 ] December 8, 2014 |

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Dwight Eisenhower liked his booze and you can drink your booze Ike-style. If you like egg nog, here is Eisenhower’s personal recipe.

Veronica Lake

[ 68 ] December 8, 2014 |

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This is an excellent long-read on the brief career and spectacular flame out of Veronica Lake.

Who Grows Your Food?

[ 16 ] December 8, 2014 |

PRODUCT OF MEXICO | Day 1 | Labor camps

The food industry, along with the apparel industry, has long led the way in labor exploitation. Throughout the 20th century, agricultural interests went to extreme lengths to keep labor costs down, which meant paying them as close to nothing as possible, crushing any organizing efforts through violence, winning exemptions from labor law, and creating arrangements to bring in immigrant workers who lacked all rights. In the era of capital mobility and subcontracting agreements, food companies can now use the same types of arrangements that allow Walmart and Gap to get clothes made at factories that burn or collapse without any corporate consequence to acquire the food we buy. All the corporations care about is one thing–keeping costs down. How that is done is up to the contractor. Don’t ask, don’t tell. But make sure you do what is necessary to keep those costs low.

The Los Angeles Times published an outstanding piece of journalism yesterday investigating the labor conditions of huge vegetable farms in Mexico that export produce to the United States. It will not surprise most readers here that the conditions are nothing more than rank labor exploitation, on par with the worst working conditions in the history of the United States and those today of Honduras, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and India. You obviously need to read it all, but just real quick:

The Times found:

Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.

Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.

Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.

Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.

Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

Basically, big American vegetable sellers contract with farms in Mexico. Those companies might claim they care about labor sourcing but we all know that’s a lie. Those farms then recruit poor Mexicans, largely indigenous people from southern Mexico, with promises of payment. They then house those workers in hovels, refuse to pay them, underfeed them, don’t provide them with bathing facilities, etc. All so you can eat tomatoes for cheap in January. See that image above? This is the “housing” of the people who grow the produce you eat from Mexico. Which is a lot of your produce, especially this time of the year.

The only way the companies care about this is when all their efforts to hide production from American consumers fails. Then they develop strategies to avoid culpability and stall reporters long enough for everyone’s attention to be turned to some other issue. It’s quite effective, even when their documents on how to do this are leaked.

As I argue in Out of Sight, these conditions are precisely why central to our demands for a just world must be international labor standards enforceable in U.S. courts. Anything else will keep workers in these conditions. If Subway wants to use tomatoes grown in Mexico, fine. But those tomatoes have to be produced in conditions that stand up to a basic test of human rights. If wages are stolen, workers threatened, bathing facilities not provided, etc., then workers should have the right to sue for recompense in American courts. Subway, Safeway, McDonald’s, etc., must be held legally responsible for the conditions of work when people labor in growing food for them to sell.

This has to be a legal framework. Mass movements are useful only in the short term because we will move on to the next issue. One month it is protesting war, the next it is sweatshops, the next it is police violence. There are too many injustices in this world to rely on mass movements. People only have so much time. Only through a legal framework can those people who do devote themselves to this issue full time have a framework to enforce worker rights in the long term.

Today in Police Violence

[ 56 ] December 7, 2014 |

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Seattle cop handcuffs a drunk black woman and throws her in the back of a police car. She tries to kick at him. He punches her in the face and breaks her orbital bone. Seattle’s city attorney urges charges to be pressed as the cop committed a clear felony. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg refuses. Cop goes scot free. Woman spends four days in jail because the cop says she assaulted him and messed up his jaw, even though he was determined to have no injuries after an examination. The charges against the woman were dismissed.

This is not the first time Satterberg has refused to charge a police officer for violence against a person of color. In 2011, he refused to charge a Seattle police officer for shooting and killing a Native American woodcarver, saying the law protected the police with few exceptions.

Politics of the New Gilded Age

[ 65 ] December 7, 2014 |

There’s a reason that corporations love state regulators and state politicians–they can easily buy them for cheap. Such is the politics of the New Gilded Age, when politicians are as openly for sale as they were in the first Gilded Age. The energy industry is just openly purchasing Republican attorney generals, especially in fossil fuel heavy states like Oklahoma. Companies write the bills and lawsuits, their hacks submit them without even bothering to change the wording:

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

“Outstanding!” William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt’s office. The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature. “The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House.”

Mr. Whitsitt then added, “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”

The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.

The whole story really goes into detail on how beholden these politicians are to the energy capitalists. Only a real citizen movement to retake our democracy will stop this from continuing. We did it a century ago in the Progressive Era that ended the first Gilded Age. We can do it again. But we have a long ways to go.

Martin Litton, RIP

[ 7 ] December 7, 2014 |

The great environmentalist Martin Litton has died. A radical within what was traditionally a pretty conservative Sierra Club, Litton allied with David Brower to lead the fight to save Dinosaur National Monument from the Echo Park Dam in 1956, a key moment in the rise of American environmentalism. He continued fighting for untrammeled wilderness throughout the rest of his very long life (married for 72 years!). His particular love was the Colorado River and Grand Canyon. That’s a fight that continues to be fought today as some want to turn the Grand Canyon into Niagara Falls.

Trenchant Historical Commentary on Eric Garner’s Murder (II)

[ 17 ] December 7, 2014 |

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Thurgood Marshall:

Although the city instructs its officers that use of a chokehold does not constitute deadly force, since 1975 no less than 16 persons have died following the use of a chokehold by an LAPD police officer. Twelve have been Negro males […]

It is undisputed that chokeholds pose a high and unpredictable risk of serious injury or death. Chokeholds are intended to bring a subject under control by causing pain and rendering him unconscious. Depending on the position of the officer’s arm and the force applied, the victim’s voluntary or involuntary reaction, and his state of health, an officer may inadvertently crush the victim’s larynx, trachea, or hyoid. The result may be death caused by either cardiac arrest or asphyxiation. An LAPD officer described the reaction of a person to being choked as “do[ing] the chicken,” in reference apparently to the reactions of a chicken when its neck is wrung. The victim experiences extreme pain. His face turns blue as he is deprived of oxygen, he goes into spasmodic convulsions, his eyes roll back, his body wriggles, his feet kick up and down, and his arms move about wildly[…]

The training given LAPD officers provides additional revealing evidence of the city’s chokehold policy. Officer Speer testified that in instructing officers concerning the use of force, the LAPD does not distinguish between felony and misdemeanor suspects. Moreover, the officers are taught to maintain the chokehold until the suspect goes limp, despite substantial evidence that the application of a chokehold invariably induces a “flight or flee” syndrome, producing an involuntary struggle by the victim which can easily be misinterpreted by the officer as willful resistance that must be overcome by prolonging the chokehold and increasing the force applied. In addition, officers are instructed that the chokeholds can be safely deployed for up to three or four minutes. Robert Jarvis, the city’s expert who has taught at the Los Angeles Police Academy for the past 12 years, admitted that officers are never told that the bar-arm control can cause death if applied for just two seconds. Of the nine deaths for which evidence was submitted to the District Court, the average duration of the choke where specified was approximately 40 seconds.

Officially Sanctioned Hippie Punching

[ 43 ] December 6, 2014 |

Just because you are a police officer doesn’t automatically mean you support the racist killing of black people by your co-workers. There are some Bunny Colvin types out there. Including in St. Louis. But the official disapproval of standing with people fighting against racist law enforcement officials is really strong. In the protests over Eric Garner’s murder going unpunished, a single fire fighter in Providence appeared before the protests in a window and raised his fist in solidarity. This was filmed. He was punished while the firefighters openly mocking the protestors were not. Providence journalist Steve Ahlquist is responsible for the coverage. He’s sad and angry that it led to the punishment of the firefighter.

Commissioner Paré recognized the humanity of the action immediately. It was the sincerity of the gesture and the humanity expressed that made a silhouette with raised fist so dangerous. For the system to work, one side must be strong, powerful and monolithic and the other side must be weak, compliant and diverse. When the strong show tenderness and tolerance or the weak demonstrate strength and solidarity, the system strains to breaking, and punishments must be meted out.

I feel sad that my footage has caused the firefighter censure and official punishment. Commissioner Paré says the firefighter should have remained neutral, but were the disdainful looks or dismissive chuckles of other figures in the windows neutral? Dismissive attitudes also lack neutrality, yet it never occurred to me or the protesters to note such attitudes, because they are common. It seems neutrality is only neutral when it serves those in power.

If in the future I film police officers at protests laughing or taking a dismissive attitude towards the activists, will Commissioner Paré take them to task for their lack of neutrality? Perhaps the police should wear helmets to hide their emotions and mask their humanity. No one can see the tears of a stormtrooper as the trigger is squeezed.

Neutrality über alles.

If this kind of enforced anti-protestor mentality exists among firefighters, imagine the peer pressure among the police.

Dead Horses in American History (XV)

[ 26 ] December 6, 2014 |

A reader sent this to me, to which I give thanks.

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This is the cover of the February 12, 1898 issue of Harper’s. Thanks to Google Books, the greatest invention since indoor plumbing. You can buy a print of it here. Or you can buy it and give to me as a gift.

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