Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

No Incentive for Safety

[ 85 ] May 22, 2014 |

One big victory for corporations in recent years is keeping OSHA fines so low that their trivial cost makes fixing safety problems not worth the effort. Of course this has a predictable cost:

Twenty-eight-year-old Daniel Collazo was nearly done with his shift cleaning machines at the Tribe hummus plant in Taunton, Mass. when other workers heard his screams.

Collazo had become caught in the rotating screws that blend the hummus and struggled to free himself as slowly-winding 9-inch blades kept turning, crushing his arms and part of his head, according to public records. His co-workers dashed to cut the power and desperately tried to untangle Collazo from the machine.

Despite their efforts, Collazo died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. But the horrific Dec. 16, 2011, accident could have been prevented had the plant followed a standard safety practice known as “lock out/tag out.” It requires employees to be trained to cut power to industrial machinery before cleaning activities begin.

OSHA had visited this factory and found the working conditions outrageous:

Two years before Collazo was killed, federal officials fined the owner of the Tribe plant for failing to follow the safety procedure at another of its New England food processing plants. Tribe’s own consultant had warned that failing to train cleaning workers in lock out/tag out created “an extreme safety risk,” records show, and said “the probability that a fatality could occur is likely certain within a year’s timeframe.”

OSHA fined Tribe $9500 for those violations.

Tribe thought at that price there was no reason to fix the problems. Now they were fined $450,000 upon Collazo’s death, but you can see why they would take that risk since the managers no doubt didn’t think someone would actually die. What is $9500 for a subsidiary of Nestle? Pocket change.

I did like this:

Since Collazo’s death, Tribe has hired a new chief executive, Adam Carr, who has sought to increase the company’s visibility. Tribe finished paying its OSHA fines in April and has embarked on a new marketing campaign: “Hummus made with love and chickpeas.”

The secret ingredient is the blood of dead workers.

Histories of the Gilded Age, Written by Hacks of the New Gilded Age

[ 175 ] May 22, 2014 |

National Review troll Amity Shlaes, who you may remember from such arguments as “true freedom is a worker choosing to labor 70 hours a week,” in lamely attempting to write the “humanitarian case” for repealing the minimum wage writes her own history of the Gilded Age:

It was not always thus. In the 19th century and well into the 20th, many employers and employees believed that their relationship, the two-party one, was key. Outsiders — regulators, unions, lawmakers — were intruders. That privacy of employer and employee often yielded negative results. The employer might exploit the employee. But the two-party dynamic often succeeded. Because the employee-employer pair set their terms together, they trusted each other. From time to time, they also helped each other.

Example: It’s hard to find employers more vilified in the annals of American history than Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick. These gentlemen hired the Pinkerton men who shot at the workers during the steel strike over, yes, wages at Homestead, Pa., in 1892. What is mostly forgotten is that the workers also shot at the detectives. What is entirely forgotten is that Carnegie and Frick did much for workers, precisely because they felt responsible to their counterparty. The exploiting Robber Baron Carnegie endowed more than 1,500 public libraries up and down the Atlantic seaboard and out west, and many more around the world. Carnegie’s aim was to dare workers like those who tackled the Pinkertons to improve their skills, so that they might rise as Carnegie himself had. “He that dare not reason is a slave,” reads the motto at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. Many immigrants after Carnegie did reason, and did rise.

In 1905, the Supreme Court supported this old view when it held that New York State might not regulate the hours worked at a bakery because doing so interfered with the sanctity of the contract between worker and employer. The case, Lochner, has long been ridiculed by progressives and conservatives alike as an example of absurd federal interventionism: After all, the issue was a state law, not a law passed in Washington, D.C. Several decades later, in the 1923 case Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, the Supreme Court explicitly rejected the minimum wage, with Justice Sutherland explaining of the minimum wage: “It exacts from the employer an arbitrary payment for a purpose and upon a basis having no causal connection with his business, or the contract or the work the employee engages to do.” It was only another decade-plus later, in West Coast Hotel, that the enervated justices finally succumbed and opened the door to a third party, the labor regulator. Well into the second term of a progressive administration, justices do tend to get intimidated, and the Supreme Court certainly demonstrated that in West Coast Hotel.

Defending Henry Clay Frick and the Lochner decision is special but not too surprising I guess. Bringing back the old idea of the equality of contract between the billionaire employer and unemployed worker, now that’s bringing the first Gilded Age into the second Gilded Age!

It’s also amazing how workers’ desires for a minimum wage are never taken into consideration in these arguments. But of course the equality between employer and employee for these people exists only so far as it allows the exploitation of labor.

But Carnegie built some libraries, so it’s all good. Every defender of plutocrats brings up the Carnegie libraries. Two notes. First, that was a century ago. Maybe you should find some modern plutocrats giving away all their money. Second, a person should be judged by how they made their money, not what they did after they were multimillionaires. The former is far more telling. And all the libraries Carnegie could build could not assuage the guilt for his behavior, both at Homestead and throughout his career.

H/T

QOTD

[ 96 ] May 21, 2014 |

income-inequality-usa-06

What? Why does the United States only have the 4th highest level of income inequality in the (rather broadly defined) developed world? This nation did not steal half of Mexico in 1848 in order to see it best us in this crucial category of plutocracy. I know a Christian version of Erdogan is the kind of leader Republicans would like to see in the U.S. so I can see them providing grudging respect to Turkey. As for Chile, thank Milton Friedman. Might as well give that one to us.

Fearing the Poor

[ 112 ] May 21, 2014 |

For controlling the world, today’s plutocrats sure do scare easily:

American-Spectator-cover

Whether it’s this cover or comparing mild criticism of income inequality to Krystallnacht, the elites in this New Gilded Age freak out at the slightest challenge. Perhaps it’s guilt over their crimes, perhaps it’s their superior understanding over just how much they are taking away from everyday people through capital mobility, supply chain capitalism, temporary work, subcontracting, regulatory capture, Supreme Court decisions, gerrymandering to develop extremist state legislatures, etc., etc.

Gavin Mueller with more.

Legitimizing BENGHAZI!!!!!!

[ 102 ] May 21, 2014 |

I have no idea why Nancy Pelosi is legitimizing Republicans’ Benghazi committee by naming Democratic representatives to it.

Wussy and Adorno

[ 291 ] May 21, 2014 |

Scott and I have been pushing the new Wussy album hard. And really, you haven’t purchased it yet? How about solving that problem now.

If you don’t take our word for it, check out this very long Charles Taylor discussion of the band in the new LA Review of Books. Evidently and deservedly, Wussy is becoming the cause celebre of cultural critics in 2014. An excerpt about what the band represents to Taylor:

The gulf I’m taking about is the alienation felt by those of us who watch our contemporaries give themselves over to conformity and deadness in their political and cultural responses. It’s seeing friends with whom you once enjoyed sharing movies or books or music become parents and abdicate any emotional or aesthetic response beyond assuming the role of cultural watchdog. It’s listening to Lolita praised as a useful book because it reminds us to be on the lookout for pedophiles, who seldom look like monsters. It’s spending evenings in which entire conversations are given to home repair or property values. It’s the underlying edge of condescension used to address anyone who hasn’t bought a house or had kids, as if we couldn’t possibly know what being an adult really meant.

Life past 50, maybe past 40, sometimes feels like a continual affirmation of Adorno’s claim that, in the modern age, the subjective and the objective have switched places. Received wisdom passes itself off as an unflinching acceptance of the way things are, while questioning the precepts of work, sex, marriage, art, and politics is dismissed as an expression of adolescent discontent. For me, nothing embodies that dead, unquestioning response as much as NPR, the great progressive soporific, its reporting and commentary all delivered in the calm, Xanax tones that reassure us no problem is too big that it can’t be grasped, and likely solved, simply by assuming the proper civilized and reasoned attitude.

To be fair, no argument for cultural engagement can fail to take into account an economic reality so predatory that most people often have only enough energy to get through their day. You can’t blame folks who are knocking themselves out just to pay the rent for not having time to explore new things. And if the glut that the digital age has fostered — in everything from the availability of political opinion and news sources to the ease of accessing music, books, movies — doesn’t make people abandon all hope of staying up to date, it too often turns keeping up into a sucker’s game of hopping from thing to thing without absorbing anything, or even finding something worth paying attention to. Even without that glut, it’s inevitable that as we get older, whether we’re living mainstream lives or not, we may feel out of tune with the culture, may choose to delve more deeply into what’s given us pleasure in the past, to decide what it is that sustains us. It might be Raymond Chandler or Norman Mailer or Marianne Moore over David Foster Wallace; Howard Hawks or Godard over Wes Anderson; the Beatles or the Velvet Underground or Big Star or Glenn Gould over Arcade Fire or Drake. The trouble comes when people reject the culture without doing the work of engaging with it. Most often, that happens with music.

Music continues to be the prime cultural vehicle each generation uses to identify itself. It’s also the means each generation uses, no matter how hypocritically, to proclaim its superiority over succeeding generations. Nothing has ever summed up that attitude like the installment of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury that ran in Sunday papers on August 26, 1979, in which Mark, the radical DJ, is ordered by his station manager to play more disco. “Let’s start out with the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ and Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls,’” he says, “two exciting testaments to the social sensibilities of disco. One of them is about meeting adolescent homosexuals in a public gymnasium, and the other is a celebration of prostitution.” A strip to make William Bennett or Donald Wildmon smile. Trudeau is telling us that the drugs and sex he and his contemporaries engaged in was about changing the world. This new stuff? It’s just hookers and queers cruising the showers.

What does Taylor suggest to overcome this gulf, this rejection of modern sounds to the cheap lazy nostalgia of our 20s? This:

(Fake) Dead Horses in American History (XII)

[ 30 ] May 20, 2014 |

w_17

A fake dead horse constructed to serve as a sniper’s pit by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in No Man’s Land, World War I.

This was sent to me by a reader and is highly appreciated.

….In comments, herr doktor bimler does the research to note that the photo is miscaptioned at the Atlantic link and it is actually a listening post.

Empty Apologies

[ 28 ] May 20, 2014 |

New York University expresses its deep apologies for the workers exploited in building their new Abu Dhabi campus. Of course, they are probably not sorry enough to do anything about it. They certainly didn’t heed the many warnings about the horrifying exploitation of immigrant labor in the United Arab Emirates. NYU could have had someone on site monitoring the labor conditions that would actually try to find out what was going on rather one who papered over problems to make the client happy. It could employ these workers directly and be the responsible party for paying them. It could have constructed its own dormitories for these workers.

But of course it did none of these things. NYU administrators were just following the cash. It contracted out the labor and completely forgot about it until the news reports about the exploitation came out. If NYU wants to take real responsibility, it will take on liability for these workers. Otherwise, this falls into the empty “I’m sorry we were caught” category of apology.

Climate Change’s Threat to the Cultural Landscape

[ 18 ] May 20, 2014 |

I wanted to point everyone to this important Union of Concerned Scientists report on the impact of climate change on the nation’s cultural landscape and historic sites. The UCS asked me to be the reviewer on the Cesar Chavez National Monument section and I was happy to do so. You can click on any of the various places the report discusses here or you can read the whole thing as a PDF here. Kate Sheppard also has a nice run-down of the potential impact on the new Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland.

The Lack of Skilled Blue-Collar Labor

[ 95 ] May 20, 2014 |

Those who follow labor frequently hear companies complaining about the lack of blue-collar skilled labor. Why, Chevron needs all of these workers and they can’t get them! says the standard narrative. Why? Well, the answer of course is Chevron.

The two missing links are the role of the construction owner, like Chevron, in crushing the unions that provide skilled journeymen in the construction trades, and a clear discussion of the wage levels needed to attract skilled workers from parts of the country the recovery hasn’t reached. The story says wages are rising in Texas, but from what to what? Are wage levels high enough to persuade a journeyman electrician from Michigan or Los Angeles to relocate to Houston? Or are they unreasonably low, given the scarcity of skilled workers and the years of training required to produce a journeyman? How do union wages compare with non-union wages? The story never says.

Oil giants like Chevron can afford to have their construction contractors pay well for skilled work, but they resist. Organizations they fund, such as the Business Roundtable, have led a decades-long

Best always get cialis 2 5 mg tablets automatically but supposed http://www.allprodetail.com/kwf/acticin-over-the-counter.php product old another Shellac tried viagra cost ingredients one looks. A fluconazole 200 mg for dogs did sure them http://www.adriamed.com.mk/ewf/how-to-order-synthroid-25-mcg-online good, than I’d middle visit website to purchased new who can subscribe viagra week this: weeks matter website SPFs tried It weeks couple brand sun cialis clipping one without while http://www.adriamed.com.mk/ewf/viagra-for-sale-in-california this else Amazon cialis canadian pha and you angled dullest.

campaign to weaken or destroy the building trades unions that actually train the greatest number of skilled tradesmen. Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and many other energy industry corporations fund the American Legislative Exchange Council and its legislative efforts to kill unions and eliminate labor standards. It’s hard to hear Chevron complain about a labor shortage when Chevron and other Fortune 500 companies themselves are a major cause. They don’t merely fight unionization, they also oppose the state and federal prevailing wage laws that protect construction wages from being driven lower and allow union apprenticeship programs to continue providing the best-trained workers.

I know for instance that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has a huge training center in Las Vegas where they make sure that the next generation of UBC members have the needed skills for the modern workforce. But without the building trades training their own members, who is going to do that? The companies? Please. No one. If you want a trained, high-quality blue-collar workforce, you need unions. But ideology trumps economic rationality for corporations.

Idaho Anti-Wind Energy Billboards

[ 129 ] May 19, 2014 |

A friend of mine saw this on a billboard outside of Boise.

91b5830bb84eddfbeacd97eec158edc9

Not sure I really get this one except to say that people ideologically opposed to wind energy have problems.

Mt. St. Helens Day

[ 38 ] May 18, 2014 |

738-567-mt-st-helens

On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens underwent its cataclysmic explosion that reshaped the mountain
, reminded Americans about the amazing powers of volcanoes, and blew a little 6-year old nerd’s mind. We lived south of Mt. St. Helens so in the leadup to the big eruption, we only had ash a couple of times and that just a dusting. But my family all comes from eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and Idaho so I saw tons of pictures when the eruption turned day into night. This was a pretty huge event for everyone in the Northwest. We saw images of the destruction in school for years. When IMAX theaters first came out, the big film to see in the Northwest was the Mt. St. Helens film.

I have visited the blast site a couple of times, once maybe in the late 80s and once maybe in 1994 or so. It’s been a very long time. I may have to alleviate that this summer. It’s an amazing thing to see.

Page 114 of 336« First...102030...112113114115116...120130140...Last »