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Beaches

[ 159 ] July 29, 2014 |

Beaches are indeed pretty unpleasant.

Hot, boring, and gross is not a great combo for me. Give me a rocky coastline and tide pools any day. Or some mountains.

This is your late night thread on me asserting my aesthetic preferences are objectively correct.

Request in comments for picture of hiking at Mt. St. Helens, a far cooler experience than the beach, granted.

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Labor and Climate Change

[ 1 ] July 29, 2014 |

The stereotype is that unions oppose any action to fight climate change. Certainly that’s true for some unions, especially the Laborers and United Mine Workers. But it is not true for all unions. In fact, like most issues, organized labor is divided over climate change. That however means there are unions that see the absolute necessity for alliances with environmental organizations and to participate on the side of environmentalism. After all, climate change is very much a working class issue as the effects will be felt disproportionately by the poor.

That Pro-Life Hobby Lobby

[ 102 ] July 29, 2014 |

Hobby Lobby puts its pro-life, pro-child policies into practice:

When a very pregnant Felicia Allen applied for medical leave from her job at Hobby Lobby three years ago, one might think that the company best known for denying its employees insurance coverage of certain contraceptives—on the false grounds that they cause abortions—would show equal concern for helping one of its employees when she learned she was pregnant.

Instead, Allen says the self-professed evangelical Christian arts-and-crafts chain fired her and then tried to prevent her from accessing unemployment benefits.

“They didn’t even want me to come back after having my baby, to provide for it,” she says.

And here I thought Hobby Lobby was acting out of very strong principle for life and not because it hates women and wants to punish them for having sex.

There’s also this gem:

When Allen applied for unemployment benefits, she says Hobby Lobby’s corporate office gave the unemployment agency a false version of events, claiming she could have taken off personal leave but chose not to. In the end, Allen says she won her claim for unemployment benefits, but she felt she had been wrongly discriminated based on the fact that she was pregnant. In February 2012 she sued Hobby Lobby, but her lawsuit was swiftly dropped because, like most—if not all—Hobby Lobby employees, Allen had signed away her rights to sue the company.

Though the multibillion-dollar, nearly 600-store chain took its legal claim against the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court when it didn’t want to honor the health insurance requirements of the Affordable Care Act, the company forbids its employees from seeking justice in the court of law.

Allen had signed a binding arbitration agreement upon taking the job, though she says she doesn’t remember doing so. The agreement, which all Hobby Lobby employees are required to sign, forces employees to resolve legal disputes outside of court through a process known as arbitration.

Lying so she couldn’t get unemployment is very special, but forcing employees to sign documents waiving their right to sue the company in order to be hired should be as illegal as the yellow-dog contract. I would ask how something like that is even legal in this nation, but of course I already know why–because corporations control our lives in ways they have not in a century.

Chait on Israel

[ 210 ] July 29, 2014 |

Count Jonathan Chait among the long-time supporters of Israel depressed about the nation’s dead-end stance toward Gaza:

The story further reveals that Netanyahu appeared on several occasions to approach the brink of agreement, but pulled back in the face of right-wing pressure within his coalition. Numerous figures in the story attempt to plumb the Israeli Prime Minister’s psychology — does he truly have it in him to go over the brink and make peace, or is he merely bluffing? — but the exercise turns out to be ultimately futile. Either Israeli politics or Netanyahu’s own preferences kept Netanyahu from striking a deal. And since that failure, the most moderate leadership the Palestinians ever had, and probably ever will have, has been marginalized.

Viewed in this context, the campaign of Israeli air strikes in Gaza becomes a horrifying indictment. It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy — to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” — yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety. The liberal Zionist, two-state vision with which I identify, which once commanded a mainstream position within Israeli political life, has been relegated to a left-wing rump within it.

Couple of points. First, going forward into the future, I have no idea how this turns out well toward Israel. Netanyahu seems to count on only ally as necessary–the Republican Party in the United States. Yes, there are still many many Democrats who are 100% on the side of Israel as well and AIPAC’s power in U.S. politics can’t be overestimated. But as they insult Democratic presidents and blow off John Kerry, they are going to lose support. And if Israel is starting to lose people like Jonathan Chait, then it’s support in the U.S. is showing real signs of eroding. Yes, Chait is still holding on to wrong ideas on this issue–such as his claim that the Palestinians are to blame for the decline of the Israeli left. But still, it’s a remarkable essay.

Within their own land, the demographic crisis is inevitable, leading to the nation needing to choose between inclusion and going full apartheid. It’s pretty clear that the Israeli public is moving toward the latter choice, not only in Gaza but in right-wing intimidation and violence against left-wing Israeli critics of the violence. Netanyahu is doing nothing but strengthening Hamas. If anyone can point out some way these attacks help Israel in the long run, let me know because I can’t think of any.

McDonald’s Ruled a “Joint Employer”

[ 29 ] July 29, 2014 |

Big news for workers’ rights today. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled McDonald’s a “joint employer.” This basically invalidates the claim used by fast food corporations that franchise out the stores that they are not responsible for what happens to the workers. Of course this is going to be challenged, but it opens up an attack on one of the ways corporations protect themselves from liability while undermining workers’ rights. The ability of workers to, say, sue McDonald’s for the bad working conditions of their stores would be a major gains in labor rights.

Lydia DePillis wrote on the potential of this decision a couple of weeks ago
:

That may be true of some franchise models. In the case of McDonald’s, though, advocates argue that the fast-food giant’s franchise agreement and actual business practices are so restrictive and pervasive that franchise owners have little latitude with their staffing arrangements and no choice but to keep labor costs as low as possible. In a somewhat unusual arrangement, McDonald’s even controls its own real estate and extracts exorbitant rents from its franchisees, who are on the hook for expensive renovations. All that has driven profit margins down to the point where former McDonald’s executive Richard Adams, now a consultant, estimates that about a quarter of franchises don’t even generate positive cash flow for the owner. That doesn’t give them many options.

….

It’s not just fast food, though: The Browning-Ferris decision could impact janitors, nurses, assembly-line techs, clerical workers, you name it. But what does having a joint employer look like in practice? How do you bargain with two bosses at once?

For the closest example of how this might work, look to show business, says Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine.

The big movie studios, after all, haven’t directly employed the people they depend on — like writers, set designers and lighting techs — since the 1940s. But they all know they have to deal with the unions that represent them, which set standard rates for their services. “You get access to all that labor, but you’re going to pay minimum terms,” says Fisk. “People who work in Hollywood recognize that if they all start working for half as much, writers won’t be able to pay their mortgages.”

Things could work similarly in other types of service industries, if it were clear that a large employer couldn’t just pick the contractor that agreed to provide labor for cheap.

Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

[ 95 ] July 29, 2014 |

What is life like inside the immigrant detention centers the U.S. has set up to house the thousands of migrants fleeing Central American gang and drug violence?

I went down to Artesia, New Mexico last week to see for myself what has become of these vulnerable families. What I found brought me to tears. Mothers and their children are being hidden away, held in inappropriate detention facilities without access to adequate services, medical care, or legal counsel. And they are being deported in the middle of the night without warning and without the opportunity to a fair hearing.

I was able to speak first-hand with several of the moms, all who shared their feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. I could see the fear and desperation in their eyes. Many of the moms are young and some have been recently widowed, with painful stories of domestic abuse and wide-spread violence driven by drug cartels and gangs. Their stories reflect what the research has consistently documented: increasing rates of gender-based violence in Central America, where rape is now a common fate for women and girls as young as 8-years-old. In fact, in Honduras, gender-based violence is now the second highest cause of death for women of reproductive age. And yes, while these mothers themselves were targets of violence in their home communities, what ultimately drove these mothers to flee was not their own safety. They were fleeing for the sake of their children, many of whom were just too little to make the journey on their own.

One mother, Carla, told me her story while weeping, her two-year old daughter wiping her mother’s tears with visible concern on her round face. Carla fled Guatemala City after her husband was murdered. Once apprehended by Border Patrol, she and her daughter were held in a freezing, crowded cell and she was denied a blanket for her daughter. Carla had to remove her own t-shirt just to try to keep her daughter warm. She suffered the same conditions when she was transferred to Arizona, where officers laughed and insulted both her and her daughter, calling them “poor” and other names. When we met, Carla told me that her daughter had been suffering from severe diarrhea for more than five days, and that the doctor insisted she just keep giving her more water. In fact, all of the mothers I spoke to informed me that their children were suffering from some sort of dietary issue, whether it was diarrhea, not eating, or losing weight. I was told over and over again, “there is no medicine here, just water.” Carla said she had to beg for more than 24 hours just to get a diaper for her daughter.

These are basically inhuman conditions and are the official American response to a refugee crisis. If we aren’t going to allow people into our nation escaping horrifying violence, then what do our values mean? And then even if we aren’t sure we are going to allow them into our nation, is it that hard for a nation this wealthy to provide humane conditions while we figure out what to do? The answer to that question of course is no, it is not that hard. We could obviously provide diapers for babies. And we don’t.

….On how U.S. policies have made the Central American crisis much worse.

Nixon on Panda Sex

[ 18 ] July 28, 2014 |

I’m not saying this is on the level of LBJ ordering pants, but Richard Nixon talking about panda mating patterns is not something you expected to hear when you woke up this morning. And look, he got his information from Bob Haldeman, so you know it’s reliable!

The Hillary Juggernaut

[ 177 ] July 28, 2014 |

The fundamentals in 2016 are unbelievably in favor of a Hillary blowout.

Obviously things can change of course.

Fault

[ 400 ] July 28, 2014 |

Where does the fault lie for the problems between Israel and Palestine? As John Judis correctly points out, it lies heavily with Israel. In part:

Israel is one of the world’s last colonial powers, and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are its unruly subjects. Like many past anti-colonial movements, Hamas and Fatah are deeply flawed and have sometimes poorly represented their peoples, and sometimes unnecessarily provoked the Israelis and used tactics that violate the rules of war. But the Israeli government has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to rule harshly over its subjects, while maintaining a ruinous blockade on Gaza. That’s the historical backdrop to the events now taking place.

Israel’s settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now number over 500,000. Palestinians are allowed to build on only about 40 percent of the West Bank. Settlers enjoy Israeli citizenship and rule of law. The Palestinians are under harsh military rule. No Palestinian may travel abroad without Israeli approval. There are 542 roadblocks impeding the movement of Palestinians, but not of settlers on the West Bank. Water rights are restricted. The settlers consume about six times more water than the 2.6 million Palestinians. Settler attacks on the Palestinians, which the police often ignore, have steadily increased. The number of “price tag” attacks spiked by 300 percent this last spring during the peace talks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the failure to end the occupation through a two-state solution, but Netanyahu and his administration undermined the negotiations. That was the initial conclusion that Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiators conveyed to reporter Nahum Barnea immediately afterwards. As Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tabon recounted, Netanyahu made some concessions to Kerry last winter, but he still wouldn’t agree to any limits on an Israeli military presence in a future Palestinian state; and he wouldn’t budge on East Jerusalem or on the borders of a Palestinian state. And while the negotiations were occurring, Netanyahu and his administration reneged on a promise to release Palestinian prisoners and accelerated housing development in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. His administration announced plans for almost 14,000 housing units, or 50 a day, during the nine months of negotiations.

The reality is that Israel is indeed a colonial power and acts as such toward its subjugated peoples. That the Israeli state evolved in response to one of the greatest acts of horror ever committed in the human race is especially ironic given the nation’s behavior toward the Palestinians. Unless Israel’s supporters are willing to say that Europeans keeping them in overcrowded ghettos with no jobs or water or hope, similar to what they have done in Gaza and the West Bank is OK, they are massive hypocrites.

I really wish I could see Martin Peretz’s face as he read this article in his former magazine. Although it is countered by this “moral defense” of Israelis killing civilians, which is gross and morally bankrupt.

The Carceral State

[ 104 ] July 28, 2014 |

It’s entirely possible that in 100 years, historians will look back on the early 21st century United States and remark not only on the racist prison system that shows how little advanced we are from the Jim Crow era but also how little most Americans, even most liberals, really cared about the issue. Yet the imprisonment of millions is a really defining characteristic of the country today:

Mass incarceration’s effects are not confined to the cell block. Through the inescapable stigma it imposes, a brush with the criminal-justice system can hamstring a former inmate’s employment and financial opportunities for life. The effect is magnified for those who already come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Black men, for example, made substantial economic progress between 1940 and 1980 thanks to the post-war economic boom and the dismantling of de jure racial segregation. But mass incarceration has all but ground that progress to a halt: A new University of Chicago study found that black men are no better off in 2014 than they were when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act 50 years earlier.

The common retort is that people of color statistically commit more crimes, although criminologists and scholars like Michelle Alexander have consistently found no correlation between the incarceration rate and the crime rate. Claims about a “black pathology” also fall short. But police scrutiny often falls most heavily on people of color nonetheless. In New York City alone, officers carried out nearly 700,000 stop-and-frisk searches in 2011. Eighty-five percent of those stops targeted black and Hispanic individuals, although they constitute only half the city’s population. Overall, NYPD officers stopped and frisked more young black men in New York than actually live there. Similar patterns of discrimination can be found nationwide, especially on drug-related charges. Black and white Americans use marijuana at an almost-equal rate, but blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession nationally. In Pennsylvania, Illinois, and other Midwestern states, that arrest disparity jumps to a factor of five.

The collective impact of these policies is as rarely discussed as it is far-reaching. Mass incarceration touches almost every corner of modern American society. Any meaningful discourse on racism, poverty, immigration, the drug wars, gun violence, the mental-health crisis, or income inequality is incomplete without addressing the societal ramifications of imprisoning Americans by the millions for long stretches of time with little hope for rehabilitation.

The New Gilded Age

[ 16 ] July 28, 2014 |

For the plutocrats, the real outrage is that income inequality hasn’t grown by more. Give it another 5 years:

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Seafarers

[ 11 ] July 27, 2014 |

I was unaware that Stanley Kubrick had made a documentary about the Seafarers International Union in 1953. I have not seen it, but it is now available here, although I will have to wait until I am back in the U.S. to watch it.

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