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Frank Gifford, RIP

[ 14 ] August 10, 2015 |

You have to give Frank Gifford some credit. Not only did he deal with Cosell and Meredith in the booth, but he also lived through being paired with Joe Namath and OJ Simpson in 1985, probably the worst choices in the history of sports broadcasting, Dennis Miller included. That 1985 disaster actually led to Gifford being replaced as the play-by-play man by Al Michaels, but he still introduced Monday Night Football games. Here’s his introduction to a totally meaningless MNF game between the Dolphins and Patriots in 1987.

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The Animas Mine Waste Spill

[ 27 ] August 10, 2015 |

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Colorado’s Animas River suffered a pollution episode late last week, when an EPA effort to deal with mine waste backed up behind an underground dam actually breached it instead, leading to an acid spill into a tributary of this beautiful river. The EPA screwed up here, but they are not the real problem, as Jonathan Thompson points out. Rather, the Colorado mountains have thousands of underground mines that leach heavy metals and acids and it’s very difficult for the government to create a comprehensive response to that. Sometimes some old wood timbers will fall down and create an underground dam. Eventually, the water pressure will blow away those timbers and spills will result. However, today’s mining companies and owners of some of these properties are fighting against having them declared a Superfund site, thus bringing the government to bear as strongly as possible. While that would hurt property values–and there’s little people in the Colorado mountains care about more than property values–doing so is the best move in the long run.

Let me recommend the excellent 2004 book by Gillian Klucas on Leadville
to get at these issues in a more in depth perspective.

The Golden Parachute

[ 91 ] August 7, 2015 |

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Phyllis Wise is stepping down as chancellor of the University of Illinois, in no small part for her utterly disastrous handling of the Stephen Salaita firing, which Farley covered earlier today. She is really suffering as result:

Wise leaves on the cusp of her final contract year that would pay her $549,068 – making her one of the highest paid public employees in Illinois. She is said to be moving into a faculty job at more than $250,000 annual salary.

According to her original contract, a $500,000 bonus was to be payable after completing five years of service – which she wouldn’t hit until 2016 – or if she was terminated by the U of I Board, the money would be prorated.

However, a university spokesman told the I-Team “she will receive a prorated $400,000 of the retention compensation in a negotiated agreement.”

Wise’s actual faculty salary will be up to the U of I Board of Trustees. But her current deal states that if she returns to a faculty position, she is entitled to a nine-month sabbatical, so she may be paid an additional $250,000 or so for not actually teaching the next year.

I hope she can recover from this blow to her career, perhaps by purchasing a Caribbean island.

New Media Unionization

[ 19 ] August 7, 2015 |

The march to new media unionization continues rapidly, with writers at Vice Media voting to unionize. It’s not a huge percentage of the company’s employees, but is still significant because it shows how rapidly new media writers are seeing the benefit of representation to push back against the exploitation that seems to be just accepted by so many employees in the internet world today.

Might be time to unionize LGM writers against the Farley/Lemieux tyranny!

This Day in Labor History: August 7, 1978

[ 14 ] August 7, 2015 |

On August 7, 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency at Love Canal, New York, in response to the discovery of massive amounts of toxins underneath a school and near a housing development for the working class who lived in the city of Niagara Falls, near Buffalo. This event was a key moment in the American working class standing up to the environmental depredations of American industry and eventually led to the creation of Superfund, the last major environmental legislation passed to address the popularly-based environmentalism of protecting people from pollution that played a major role in American politics during the 1970s.

William T. Love wanted to build a small canal intended to connect the Upper and Lower Niagara Rivers around 1900 to generate power for the community he hoped would grow there. It failed and by 1910, the partially built canal was abandoned. Industry began turning it into a waste dump. Hooker Chemical Company purchased the land in 1942 and continued using it for toxic waste. In 1953, Hooker capped the land and looked to sell it. By this time, there was 21,000 tons of toxic chemicals in the canal, including at least 12 carcinogens. The company buried the waste in barrels 20-25 feet deep and capped it with dirt, allowing grass to quickly cover it up. Hooker sold it to the school board of Niagara Falls to build the public school for a growing suburban neighborhood near the canal site. It included a caveat in the contract about what was buried there and felt itself absolved from legal liability.

This was the period of the postwar housing boom in the United States. And while the New Deal state had already led to enormous positive changes for the now upwardly mobile white working class, guaranteeing them good union contacts if they wanted them, the 8-hour day, the minimum wage, and then a variety of new benefits after World War II like federally insured home loans through the Federal Housing Administration and GI Bill (so long as you were white and building in the suburbs), little progress had been made to protect the working class from the environmental impact of industrialization. At Love Canal, housing developments for working class people–both some public housing and single-family housing–began filling some of that housing need.

 

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Most of the early conservation movement was predicated on efficient resource use. The New Deal did take working people into account in its planning, but primarily on the farms with the creation of the Soil Conservation Service and other responses to the Dust Bowl. The giant dam projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority also sought to improve working people’s lives through large-scale regional planning, but pollution issues were an afterthought here as well. During the 1950s, the proto-environmental movement worked on pressing for more conservation of natural resources and more public planning, while building support for new national parks and trying to bring some limits onto the dam building mania that would eventually lead to the damming of Glen Canyon and the near damming of Dinosaur National Monument. Organized labor was involved in all of this, much more so than is usually acknowledged, a project I am presently researching for a future book. The CIO had a full time staffer working specifically on conservation issues through the 1955 merger with the AFL and the UAW had a full-time atomic energy staffer. But pollution, that just wasn’t really on the radar in the 1950s. In fact, as the nation geared up for the Cold War, pollution was often seen as a problem, at least in the post-Donora Fog period, but an acceptable sacrifice for preparedness and economic growth.

What this all meant is that new housing developments and public schools could be built upon toxic waste dumps and no one would bat an eye. But by the 1970s, the American working class, building on a foundation laid by the growing environmental movement, began demanding accountability from corporations over the sacrifices they suffered. Some of that was in famous cases like the Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1969 or the Santa Barbara oil spill of the same year. In the latter case, oil workers’ unions were deeply involved in demanding the companies be held accountable for pollution. The growing emphasis on thinking about the relationship between pollution and personal health by the late 1960s helped fuel this as well. The Black Lung Associations within the United Mine Workers of America was a rejection of horrific union leadership as well as the impact of coal on their bodies. Everyday people, union members or not, began trying to understand the science behind the chemicals transforming the world and how they impacted their own bodies, such as in the anti-pesticide movement. This popular epidemiology would play a major role in Love Canal, especially as residents began to notice the horrible cancers, birth defects and other diseases that affected them, especially their children. No one really knew what was happening until heavy rains led to erosion that began uncovering the barrels of toxic waste in 1976.

Lois Gibbs was the leader of the Love Canal residents. Her son suffered from a variety of healthy problems. After reporters began reporting on what was in the barrels in 1976 and the New York State Health Department declared the site an emergency on August 2, 1978, leading to Carter’s decision a few days later. But what would happen to the residents? Gibbs took the lead here against a state not wanting to do much of anything. She continued investigating, discovering the canal itself was the site of the contamination. The growing investigations discovered dioxin among many other hazardous chemicals in the soil and drinking water of the housing. The government finally relocated 800 of the 900 families nearby and compensated them for their homes. Some still remain on the site today, or at least were there during my visit to what is a very spooky place two years ago.

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Lois Gibbs

Carter then responded by pushing for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Popularly known as Superfund, this law mandated the cleanup of the nation’s most toxic sites. At first, a polluter tax paid for the program, creating a $3.8 billion surplus for the program by 1996 and creating a very successful agency. Unfortunately, in 1995 Congress did not extend that tax, meaning the rapid depletion of that surplus and an underfunded agency, a defeat of successful government becoming ever more common in that decade. Organized labor strongly supported the creation of Superfund, both for the jobs it could create and for the protection of working people from industrial hazards. Ultimately, Superfund and the outrage Love Canal caused did help protect Americans from these hazards. Yet disparities in toxic exposure between rich and poor still exist today, and as these things go in America, they tend to fall on racial lines, with African-American and Latino communities exposed to toxicity at much higher rates than wealthier or whiter communities.

This is the 153rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

A Particularly Terrible Way to Attract a Mate

[ 21 ] August 7, 2015 |

This ad seems less than effective.

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Things That Are Dumb

[ 102 ] August 5, 2015 |

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I am more or less out of touch for the next week due to a confluence of page proofs for my logging book, family obligations, and Oregon hiking. But I will agree that lawns are dumb. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a lawn if you want one, but the idea that you are somehow awful if you let your yard go wild and attract a variety of wildlife instead of conforming to a chemically-induced monoculture of grass that serves no real purpose is ridiculous. But people freak out if they see a yard that doesn’t conform to the norm. So they crack down to the point of using law enforcement against the hippies who want frogs and snakes and other natural creatures on their property.

Winners Endorse Winners

[ 40 ] August 2, 2015 |

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Jim Webb received the near endorsement from someone I know every LGM reader has been waiting to hear from in this election cycle: Holy Joe Lieberman.

In his presidential campaign announcement, Webb centered his message on teamwork. Here at No Labels, that’s a message we second.

No Labels is a nonprofit focused on bringing bipartisanship back to Washington and supporting leaders who fix, not fight. I’ve seen the damage that years of politicking and partisanship has caused our nation, and now I believe it’s time for a change.

While’s No Labels and Lieberman’s position on defending the Confederate flag are not delineated in this article, I’m just glad that Real Americans, by which I mean wealthy Beltway elites who believe that cutting entitlements, balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, shoveling endless amounts of money to Israel, and mining all the fossil fuels we have regardless of environmental consequences to show how Democrats really want to be Republicans while caving on all issues that Republicans care about, are finally represented in the 2016 elections. I wonder what Ron Fournier has to say about this!

I’m also curious about this:

I am encouraged by Sen. Webb’s focus on bipartisanship in his campaign — especially given his proven track record of success — and that we have yet another candidate in the race so committed to working with Congress. As we have seen over the years, when our politicians toe the party line instead of collaborating, it is the American people who suffer the consequences. Partisan politics just doesn’t work.

Partisan politics just doesn’t work for who exactly? Obama supporters who have recently seen many victories thanks to the president eschewing bipartisanship except when it serves his interests? Republicans who have managed to hold off much if not all legislative victories from Obama? Or just Holy Joe, Harold Ford, Sam Waterston, and other No Labels types who demand that the political system work precisely in their interests?

The Pre-College History Textbook and Persistent Dunningism

[ 62 ] August 2, 2015 |

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James Loewen calls out the eminent historian of the Civil War, James McPherson, on the middle school U.S. history textbook emblazoned with his name for its coverage of Southern secession. McPherson’s own great Battle Cry of Freedom makes it perfectly clear that the South seceded for slavery. But the middle school textbook does not and rather pushes myths about “civil liberties” and other canards to explain secession. Immediately I thought, I’ll bet McPherson outsourced the writing of the textbook. Loewen suspected this himself and McPherson basically confirmed it, saying he had little to do with the book “for at least the last ten years.” And while I get that if I was a super famous historian, it would be pretty easy to cash a large check for doing nothing, there’s also something about quality control around my own name brand. That’s an embarrassing find. Purging sub-college textbooks of faulty and racist historical interpretation must happen. Loewen does yeomen’s work for this purpose. At the very least, professional historians need to take ownership and responsibility over what is published under their names.

The Future Is Now in the Northwest

[ 38 ] August 2, 2015 |

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Having started my annual summer trip to see family in the Pacific Northwest, it’s incredibly depressing to see what’s happening to the climate and thus the ecology of the place I grew up. Basically, this year has seen the California drought spread all the way up the Pacific coast into Alaska. Some of this is a lack of precipitation, but a lot of it is only slightly below average participation amounts backed with sky-high temperatures that meant no snow pack. Record heat throughout the region throughout the entirety of 2015 has stressed what little water supplies exist To add to this, with the arrival of El Niño, the winter rains should go a long way to solving the drought in southern California, but will devastate Washington and points north, with Oregon probably dryish but not terrible. All of this has combined in a single year to create what will likely be an unprecedented fire season except that it will probably be dwarfed by next year. The salmon are dying in huge numbers because water temperatures are 5-7 and even up to 13 degrees above average–a shockingly large number considering the lack of normal variation in water temperatures. This not only is an ecological disaster but an enormous cultural disasters with huge implications for regional identity, foodways, and Native American heritage.

Yes, some of this is a confluence of unique events. Drought happens. Unprecedented heat however does not happen, not when the world set its all-time heat record in 2014 and is on the way to breaking that again in 2015. This hasn’t received the attention it should in the U.S. because one of the only parts of the globe that has been colder than normal in 2015 is the northeast of the United States. But whether the Northwest is specifically fated to see vastly higher temperatures than other parts of the world or not, if this is the climate change future, it’s a grim one indeed. There will be cool years and the rain and snows will come again. But if this is the new norm for the Northwest more years than not, the cherished forests and streams and snows and rains of the region will be radically transformed in awful ways.

Is the Supposed STEM Shortage a Myth Used to Serve Tech Companies Labor Policies?

[ 121 ] August 2, 2015 |

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Michael Hiltzik strongly suggests yes.

Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.

“Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially,” Tornquist said, “our immigration system has failed to keep pace.” The nation’s outdated limits and “convoluted green-card process,” she said, had left firms like hers “hampered in hiring the talent that they need.”

What Tornquist didn’t mention was that Qualcomm may then have had more engineers than it needed: Only a few weeks after her June 2 talk, the San Diego company announced that it would cut its workforce, of whom two-thirds are engineers, by 15%, or nearly 5,000 people.

The mismatch between Qualcomm’s plea to import more high-tech workers and its efforts to downsize its existing payroll hints at the phoniness of the high-tech sector’s persistent claim of a “shortage” of U.S. graduates in the “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

As millions of students prepare this summer to begin their university studies, they’re being pressed to choose STEM fields, if only to keep America in the lead among its global rivals. “In the race for the future, America is in danger of falling behind,” President Obama stated in 2010. He labeled the crisis “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

The high-tech industry contends that U.S. universities simply aren’t producing enough graduates to meet demand, leading to a “skills gap” that must be filled from overseas if the U.S. is to maintain its global dominance. Low unemployment rates among computer workers imply that “demand has outpaced supply,” Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution told me by email. “Companies struggle to fill job vacancies for skilled programmers and other STEM fields.”

Yet many studies suggest that the STEM shortage is a myth. In computer science and engineering, says Hal Salzman, an expert on technology education at Rutgers, “the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.” Qualcomm is not the only high-tech company to be aggressively downsizing. The computer industry, led by Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, cut nearly 60,000 jobs last year, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The electronics industry pared an additional 20,000 positions.

The high-tech industry then lobbies for more H-1B visas, allowing for immigration of high tech workers from nations like India. Is the reason a shortage? No, it’s to flood the market and lower wages for all. And it’s a great strategy–wrap your labor strategy up in a nice passage of national security and Sinophobia, convince Congress, the president, and the entire world of higher education that universities are not serving the needs of important American industries, and *presto*, you can start driving down wages for highly skilled labor by flooding market at both ends, creating a massive oversupply of labor.

As a historian in one of the disdained departments by university administration, watching the chickens come home to roost on this when all the STEM graduates can’t get good jobs is going to be interesting.

Today in Outsourcing

[ 77 ] August 2, 2015 |

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The Chicago factory that makes Oreos is closing and moving to Mexico. 600 people thrown out of work. The company’s CEO makes a cool $21 million a year.

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