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Problems with Renewables

[ 54 ] August 19, 2014 |

When your solar panels burn so hot that the birds flying over them burst into flames, your energy plans have problems.

As I’ve said before, all forms of energy are going to have negative environmental consequences. But while far more birds die from smashing into glass buildings that will ever die from solar panels, the visuals on this are pretty horrible.

What’s Wrong With White People (II)

[ 110 ] August 18, 2014 |

Oh white people.

Current job approval of President Obama by race:

African-American: 85%
Hispanic (a term I dislike but that’s what they use): 52%
White: 32%

In other news, we live in a post-racial society.

It’s Always About Profits

[ 21 ] August 18, 2014 |

Since the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, shares of Taser International have risen 25 percent. Given that the company makes tasers and body cameras for police, it’s not totally clear to me which is driving the jump. Both probably. For the capitalists, it doesn’t matter. The company profits on police violence and on regulating police violence. Hard to find a better example of capitalism.

Faux Outrage over the Poor Owning Technology

[ 48 ] August 18, 2014 |

In other words, people who whine that the poor have cell phones instead of their proper role of starving or that those “choosing” to have something like a cell phone rather than health insurance are the undeserving poor are idiots. Because these often aren’t actually choices and even if they are, what the hell is it to you that people make the choices that improve their lives in ways they see fit with their limited resources?

The Deadly Workplaces of Texas

[ 31 ] August 16, 2014 |

Excellent Dallas Morning News expose on dangerous work in the Texas construction industry.

More workers die here than in any other state. On average, a Texas worker is 12 percent more likely to be killed on the job than someone doing the same job elsewhere, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal data.

That translates to about 580 excess workplace deaths over a decade.

Construction has contributed mightily to Texas’ booming economy. And the state’s construction sites are 22 percent deadlier than the national average.

Forty percent of Texas’ excess death toll was among roofers, electricians and others in specialty construction trades. Such workers are sometimes treated as independent contractors, leaving them responsible for their own safety equipment and training. Many are undocumented immigrants.

Government and industry here have invested relatively little in safety equipment, training and inspections, researchers say. And Texas is one of the toughest places to organize unions, which can promote safety.

“There’s a Wild West culture here,” said University of Texas law professor Thomas McGarity, who has written several books about regulation. Texans often think, “We don’t want some nanny state telling workers how to work and, by implication, telling employers how to manage the workplace,” he said.

The Texas construction industry flourishes in the state’s business-friendly climate, Gov. Rick Perry has said.

“Let free enterprise reign, and be wary of overregulation,” he declared in a 2009 speech at the Central Texas Construction Expo. “All that regulation adds to your overhead, and you can’t operate at a profit.”

Which is more important than keeping workers alive.

What causes this higher danger?

A 2013 report by the Workers Defense Project, an Austin-based advocacy group, estimated that 41 percent of construction workers in Texas are improperly treated as independent contractors.

A state law passed in the last legislative session allows a fine of $200 for each misclassified worker found at a publicly funded project. The Texas Workforce Commission says it has issued one fine under the new law.

In Illinois, a similar law also covers construction companies working on private projects. A roofing contractor there was fined $1.6 million for having 10 misclassified workers.

“Now that’s a deterrent,” said Mike Cunningham, executive director of a labor union association called Texas Building Trades.

What would fix the problem?

Texas is a right-to-work state. That means workers aren’t required to join a union if one exists for their shop. Texas has the sixth-lowest rate of union membership in the country.

The News’ analysis found that states with weaker labor unions tended to have a higher fatality rate. Long-term academic research that studied other factors has come to similar conclusions.

Of course.

In conclusion, Texans will continue to die while working construction. That many are undocumented immigrants is a feature of the system.

More Bottled Water Absurdity

[ 79 ] August 16, 2014 |

More on America’s most ridiculous industry: bottled water. Where are the sources of that water?

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Yeah, that’s sustainable.

But that only accounts for 55% of the bottled water. What about the rest?

The other 45 percent comes from the municipal water supply, meaning that companies, including Aquafina and Dasani, simply treat tap water—the same stuff that comes out of your faucet at home—and bottle it up. (Weird, right?)

Not weird at all. It shows that you can create a fake problem (there is something wrong with the tap water!), develop a consumer market around it, and then sell people the same water they would be drinking if they turned on their faucet. Now that’s a capitalist success story! More on that:

Then there’s the aforementioned murkiness of the industry: Companies aren’t required to publicly disclose exactly where their sources are or how much water each facility bottles. Peter Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession With Bottled Water, says, “I don’t think people have a clue—no one knows” where their bottled water comes from. (Fun facts he’s discovered in his research: Everest water comes from Texas, Glacier Mountain comes from Ohio, and only about a third of Poland Spring water comes from the actual Poland Spring, in Maine.)

Despite the fact that almost all U.S. tap water is better regulated and monitored than bottled, and despite the hefty environmental footprint of the bottled water industry, perhaps the biggest reason that bottling companies are using water in drought zones is simply because we’re still providing a demand for it: In 2012 in the United States alone, the industry produced about 10 billion gallons of bottled water, with sales revenues at $12 billion.

As Gleick wrote, “This industry has very successfully turned a public resource into a private commodity.” And consumers—well, we’re drinking it up.

Yosemite and the Legacy of White Colonialism Upon the Land

[ 37 ] August 16, 2014 |

theodore-roosevelt-yosemite

This is a fascinating essay on the terrible wrath white colonialism has created in the Yosemite Valley. There are a couple of facets. First, in the early 1850s, whites committed genocidal acts against the indigenous peoples living in Yosemite, clearing out the population. Then in the late 19th century, the Yosemite became the nation’s first “protected” space, based in no small part upon the landscape indigenous people had created in the Yosemite Valley through the applied use of fire to clear brush. In the early 20th century, under the guidance of the supposed father of Yosemite and of the modern environmental movement John Muir, fire was banned entirely, drastically changing the region and, ironically, creating the circumstances for much hotter and out of control fires because of denser and smaller vegetation. As the West dries out and heats up today, the costs of controlling these fires gets higher and higher in harder and harder conditions, thanks a century of white American land management practices.

In other words, the history of white colonialism in the Yosemite Valley is not just about a distant massacre of indigenous people 150 years ago. It’s about land management practices with a series of ideologies–aesthetic, economic, racial–behind them that still profoundly shape the area today, and not for the better.

Systemic Police Violence Against African-Americans

[ 57 ] August 16, 2014 |

As I’ve said a number of times in the last few days, what is happening in Ferguson is not unique but rather part of a systemic, nationwide plague of police violence against African-Americans. The biggest mistake we can make coming out of Ferguson is thinking of this as an isolated incident because the police are committing horrible violence against African-Americans every day in this country without consequence.

We can also ask why our police departments need mine-resistant vehicles and other leftovers from the Middle Eastern wars.

Your Clearly World Series Contending Seattle Mariners

[ 86 ] August 16, 2014 |

Run differential as of 8/15/14

1. Oakland +163
2. Seattle +94
3-30. Some other, less good teams.

And outside of the actual 3 and 4, which are the Angels and Nationals, there’s no one else even close.

My brain tells me not to take the Mariners seriously. And my heart kind of tells me that too. But the statistics do not lie. This is a team that has been one of the best in the major leagues this season and it isn’t luck. They are simply better than most other teams.

Hall of Fame

[ 102 ] August 15, 2014 |

The Baseball Hall of Fame voting procedures are a joke, now even more so with random rule changes to ensure that those big bad steroid users everyone loved at the time and weren’t breaking any rules don’t get in. A sensible way to improve those voting procedures is to expand the number of people voters can choose. Of course, baseball will probably react to this by lowering the number since everyone knows that baby boomers’ childhood nostalgia of the right kind of baseball players is the real important dividing line between who belongs and who doesn’t.

The Ferguson PD

[ 157 ] August 15, 2014 |

Ferguson’s police department is long noted for its violence and random beatings of innocent people. It would be a mistake however to single out this department as uniquely bad. It might be unusually bad. Or it might not be. But cops commit violence against innocent people, and especially innocent people of color, every day in this country. Ferguson is a lot closer to the norm than we want to believe. What makes it unique is that the citizens of the town finally decided to stand up to the police violence. More people need to take to the streets against the legalized violence they face from police.

See also for the effects of this violence on black families. And presumably Latino and Native American families in some areas. We shouldn’t forget that race in this nation is just black-white.

The Old South Returns

[ 111 ] August 14, 2014 |

Chris McDaniel may be the most known example, but the Tea Party in the South has always been about the return of the post-Civil War race baiting white South to respectable politics. Who are the real ancestors of the Tea Party?

We often think of the typical segregationist politician of yore as a genteel member of the white upper crust. But the more common mode was the fiery populist. Names like Thomas E. Watson of Georgia, “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman of South Carolina and James K. Vardaman and Theodore G. Bilbo of Mississippi may be obscure outside the South, but for most anyone brought up here, they loom large.

In the early 20th century, these men rose on an agrarian revolt against Big Business and government corruption. They used that energy, in turn, to disenfranchise and segregate blacks, whose loyalty to the pro-business Republican Party made them targets of these racist reformers.

Their activities spawned a second wave of Southern Democratic populists, who defied federal court orders and civil rights legislation during the 1960s, even as more moderate politicians were moving on. Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, among others, portrayed himself as a tribune of the working class while championing segregation.

McDaniel and dozens of elected officials across the South are very much the descendants of not only Wallace and Faubus, but Tillman and Watson. So long as the government has the willpower to enforce minority voting, they will be eventually be repelled, but as the Supreme Court showed in gutting the Voting Rights Act last year, that willpower may well not be there at the court of final decision.

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