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Labor Relations in the Marijuana Industry

[ 13 ] March 17, 2015 |

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The more the marijuana industry becomes ensconced in the regulatory lap of the American state, the harder it is going to be make it illicit again. That marijuana workers filed charges against employers with the National Labor Relations Board that the NLRB chose to consider is a piece of this; even if the case is non-binding, it brings the industry closer to a normal business. The case, brought by the United Food and Commercial Workers and over retaliation against workers organizing against pesticide exposure, was settled last week. That federal labor law now applies to the marijuana industry, regardless of its legal status from a federal perspective, is really important.

Guatemala

[ 8 ] March 17, 2015 |

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I am leaving today for a wedding in Antigua, Guatemala. I have some posts already in the queue but any interaction from me on the blog could be light until next Monday.

Abolish the Tipped Minimum Wage

[ 39 ] March 16, 2015 |

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Massachusetts is trying to do something about its tipped minimum wage. It raised it in a recent bill all the way to $3.75 an hour by 2017. To say the least that’s not good enough. A new bill has been introduced in the state legislature to eliminate the tipped minimum wage by 2022. That’s a positive step but still isn’t good enough. The tipped minimum wage should be abolished immediately. I’d sure like to see some statement from the Obama Administration about tipped minimum wages. Not sure what power it would have to eliminate these discrepancies without a bill passing Congress (which of course would never happen), but the tipped minimum wage needs to end.

The Real Power of Fraternities

[ 48 ] March 16, 2015 |

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Katie McDonough understands the real reason why fraternities are almost invincible on the university campus: their members make up the alumni network university presidents rely on for donations. In a university system ever more reliant on private donors for money and ever more willing to turn their institutions into nothing more than training schools for those donors, presidents, assuming they even care about the racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior of the Greek system on their campuses, are hamstrung in their ability to do anything about it. Go after the frats and the donors who are members of said frats close their pocketbooks.

The Origins of Modern Christian Symbolism in the United States

[ 40 ] March 16, 2015 |

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Kevin Kruse excerpts his new book on how corporations created the public symbols of modern Christianity as part of their mobilization against the New Deal. It’s a must read, as is no doubt his book:

Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.

The two had been described as soul mates before, but in this campaign they were wedded in pointed opposition to the “creeping socialism” of the New Deal. The federal government had never really factored into Americans’ thinking about the relationship between faith and free enterprise, mostly because it had never loomed that large over business interests. But now it cast a long and ominous shadow.

Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology’s appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns. Generous funding came from prominent businessmen, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag and Henry R. Luce to lesser-known leaders at U.S. Steel, General Motors and DuPont.

In a shrewd decision, these executives made clergymen their spokesmen. As Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew noted, polls proved that ministers could mold public opinion more than any other profession. And so these businessmen worked to recruit clergy through private meetings and public appeals. Many answered the call, but three deserve special attention.

From this alliance between preachers and capitalists comes most of the ideas that right-wing Christians today cite about why this is an overtly Christian nation and why socialism is a sin. It’s toxic and it’s powerful. Kruse pushing the timeline of this alliance back from the 50s into the 30s is really important in understanding its deep roots.

Abolish the Senate

[ 148 ] March 16, 2015 |

It’s difficult to see the down side.

Why Does Douthat Think the Poor Exist?

[ 242 ] March 15, 2015 |

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You guessed it–too much sex!

That idea makes some people on the left angry. As they see it, it’s money and only money that Murray’s Fishtown and Putnam’s hometown lack and need. And it’s unchecked capitalism and Republican stinginess, not the sexual revolution, that has devastated working-class society over the last few decades. Fight poverty, redistribute wealth, and you’ll revive family and community — it’s as simple as that.

Actually, it’s not quite that simple Ross, but whatever. The sexual revolution is responsible for today’s poor! Why? Who knows! In Ross’ world, the fact that the poor have cable and cell phones is why they aren’t actually poor. They are lazy, shiftless, and too horny. In other words, Douthat is in many ways the prime columnist of the New Gilded Age, blaming the poor for their own poverty by taking an elitist, paternalistic, and strongly disapproving view of working class moral behavior. All they need is religion, sobriety, and to listen to their betters and Horatio Alger lives.

But only if their betters also live moral lives. Which they are not because of too much sex.

The post-1960s cultural revolution isn’t the only possible “something else.” But when you have a cultural earthquake that makes society dramatically more permissive and you subsequently get dramatic social fragmentation among vulnerable populations, denying that there is any connection looks a lot like denying the nose in front of your face.

But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.

Sure, the “cultural revolution” (nice touch Ross) isn’t the only possible something else. In fact, it’s not even remotely connected to modern poverty. But let’s ignore that only possible part of the equation for me to shame people for sex, rich or poor. Meanwhile, let me go back to my mythologized vision of the 1950s that exists in only my brain.

Finally, what did Leonard Cohen do to deserve citation in this column?

The 16th Century

[ 42 ] March 14, 2015 |

Welp, this exists. From 1555.

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I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is a Protestant attack upon nuns. Time period certainly fits. As much as I hesitate to ever link to Reddit, there are people here who do seem to know what they are talking about that at least suggest it’s a commentary on how much nuns want sex.

The “We” in U.S. History

[ 45 ] March 14, 2015 |

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Elizabeth Yale has an interesting essay arguing that the real conservative outrage over the AP U.S. History standards is that AP is avoiding the “we” in history, not taking a stand that our past celebrates a glorious narrative of heroism and progress that defines “us” today. Of course, such narratives of “we” and “us” are automatically exclusionary and thus should be avoided since they inevitably imply a “you” and “them” that are not part of this grand historical narrative.

Yet, perhaps these questions don’t belong in a U.S. history classroom—or, at the very least, in that space, their answers should not be assumed. The AP framework seems to take this stance; this may be one of the reasons it so frustrates its critics. In its discussion of the early history of settlement, warfare, and colonial expansion in the territory that became the United States, the new framework resists saying “we.” On the religious roots of the American Revolution, it reads, “Protestant evangelical religious fervor strengthened many British colonists’ understandings of themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty, while Enlightenment philosophers and ideas inspired many American political thinkers to emphasize individual talent over hereditary privilege.”

This is hardly neglect: evangelical fervor is right there, strengthening British colonists’ resolve when confronted with challenges to their liberties. But in speaking of “British colonists’ understandings of themselves,” the language also sets up a distance between us and them. They understood themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty; we can adopt that view if we wish, but we don’t have to take it on uncritically. The framework creates this measure of historical distance not only between us and early American Protestants, but between us and each of the many different kinds of colonial Americans it discusses—enslaved Africans, Indians, and colonists, traders, missionaries, and adventurers from France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. It presents colonial history as a diverse space inhabited by many different kinds of people, with many different kinds of aims. Students of a range of backgrounds might see themselves here—though the framework certainly doesn’t force them to.

How do we acknowledge and move forward from the sins of the past? The historical “we” in place, the distance between past and present falsely collapsed, we can only understand them as our own. Here is where the historical distance created by the AP U.S. framework, with its careful locutions, pays off. For, of course, in seeing that U.S. history has been shaped by racism, one may be lead to reflect upon our inheritance of that history, and how it plays out in daily life, in ways big and small, across the United States. Our history, properly told, should push students towards these kinds of reflections (though it won’t dictate their outcomes). But such thoughts may be particularly painful—too painful to confront—for those who look back on the “Founding Fathers,” and say, “Them. Those are my people. Those are our people.”

That so many of the conservative critics of AP U.S. History standards are also deeply invested in exclusionary politics of other types–including repealing the meaningful sections of the Voting Rights Act–suggests that “we” is just as contested when talking about 2015 as it is about 1775.

The White Supremacist Origin of Right to Work Laws

[ 14 ] March 14, 2015 |

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Vance Muse is the founding father of the right to work movement. Not surprisingly, he was also a virulent racist, saying, among other things about unions:

“From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Meanwhile, right to work gets rejected for this legislative session in West Virginia, but it probably won’t be much longer given the types of politicians West Virginians now vote into office. I feel terrible about the declining work freedoms in West Virginia, but at the same time, given how hard right and racist the state has gone, in a sense voters are going to get what they asked for, even if not in 2015.

Ecooptimism

[ 120 ] March 14, 2015 |

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Should I be ecooptimistic?

Yet expressions of optimism have been popping up in various green quarters. In June Al Gore published an article in Rolling Stone titled “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate,” hailing “surprising—even shocking—good news” about a shift toward a solar-powered future. “[I]t is now clear that we will ultimately prevail,” he declared. September’s climate march in New York exceeded expectations, attracting some 400,000 people and spurring pronouncements that a mass movement had finally arrived. Longtime New York Times environmental reporter (now blogger) Andy Revkin has also attracted attention for his relatively upbeat outlook. “We are going to do OK,” he told an audience of environmental science researchers last summer.

Of course, different optimisms have different sources and different implications. Gore’s is relatively narrow: it’s based on diffusion of a particular technology, and the triumph he predicts (while somewhat ambiguous) is presumably that human civilization will survive. A more expansive vision, coming from the left wing of the climate movement, is found in Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything. Her professed optimism derives, in a sense, from horror at the status quo, which she feels is becoming so intolerable for so many that we might actually do something about it. Klein proposes that the devastation of climate change can serve as a catalyst for a broader social justice movement that will deliver us to a world better than the one we now inhabit—less exploitative of the vulnerable of all species, human and otherwise.

But perhaps most provocative are the worldviews that ground their optimism in a reconsideration of our relationship to the natural world. A couple of emerging sub-movements share certain familiar green principles but challenge others. They highlight the value and the pitfalls of optimism for social movements generally, but also the unique challenges for environmentalism. And they raise questions about what it means to be an environmentalist when the environment is rapidly changing.

I have trouble buying into this. I do support redefining environmentalism into the world around us and not just the wilderness way out there. That’s an important transition in environmentalism that needs to take place. For as much as I respect Bill McKibben, I don’t accept his definition of the environment as “its separation from human society” since a) our own permeable bodies are all too interactive with the environment and thus get sick and die from our actions and b) we live in a materialistic society that brings processed, or second, nature into our homes through what we buy. However, a new environmentalism centering these issues is also different from simply redefining human behavior and impact on the environment to create a narrative that we are acting OK and we can go on more or less business as usual.

Of course, people always say that apocalyptic narratives of environmentalism don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Perhaps true. But pollyanna narratives of environmentalism also don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Reality is that nothing is going to change human behavior and we are going to go right to sending half the world’s species into extinction.

We are also now trying to date the anthropocene. Is the date when we start seeing meaningful human-caused and permanent environmental change 1610? 1775? 1945? 1964? None of these dates make sense to me. A far more meaningful date is 1492, for the European exploitation of the Americas will launch modern capitalism and the global free-for-all that defines modern society.

….Couple of points from comments.

1. There is a seeming misunderstanding of the pessimism of environmentalism. That pessimism, including on climate change, is not “there’s nothing that can be done.” It’s “we can do something, but it will have to be radical and right now we are doing nothing and there’s no reason to think that will change.” Those are very different things. There are tons of possible solutions. They may include the end of auto and plane travel. Even with the most classic case of environmental pessimism, that of Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb, the argument was not that we were necessarily destined to outgrow the planet’s carrying capacity but that we likely would since we wouldn’t make the necessary changes.

2. The whole idea of “environmental pessimism causes people to not do anything” is such conventional wisdom, yet I haven’t seen a single bit of scholarly or even really anecdotal evidence that it is true. I’d like to be enlightened if such evidence exists.

St. Louis Strikes Again

[ 78 ] March 13, 2015 |

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Among the many, many, many culinary achievements of St. Louis, we can now add what may be the nation’s first ranch dressing themed restaurant.

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