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Miss American Vampire, 1970

[ 46 ] May 31, 2014 |

After a vigorous day of book submission and navel-gazing, I think we could all use a serious topic for this Saturday night. Like this:

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Reflections

[ 33 ] May 31, 2014 |

So I am supposed to write something for this 10th anniversary deal. Not really sure what to say. It’s certainly nice to have an audience after blogging for eons in obscurity and I am very glad to help provide coverage of the labor movement and working class issues. When I started writing here in 2011, the blogosphere was pretty lacking in coverage of labor and poverty. Then Occupy happened and a lot more interest developed in these issues, which continues today. That’s great and I hope I am a useful part of that conversation. There are other issues too–climate change, historical films of cats boxing, chronicling the diabolical nature of the coal industry, Americans’ unfortunate tolerance of ketchup, dead horses in American history–that I like to think I add something to. But nothing as much as labor issues, both in the past and present, where I try to use this space not only to complain or think about how this will affect the next election cycle (although both of those things have value) but to begin to figure out ways out of the New Gilded Age. Not everyone thinks my ideas are good or practical (and in the short term, I’d agree on the latter), but you have to articulate this stuff to put together the intellectual and social movement framework that will eventually tame the capitalist beast.

Hopefully, my book does some of that work too, as I turn the completed manuscript draft in today (in about 1 hour actually–OMG!). It comes out of my work here so at least someone thinks this stuff is useful. Like SEK and others, writing here has directly advanced my career in amazing ways (even if it has threatened it at times as well) and I certainly never expected concrete gains to come out of my ranting and raving.

Now if there was just a way to clean up my Google search from the attacks from gun nuts and the Greenwald/DeBoer/various internet anarchists group over the 2012 election.

It’s also worth noting that on the 10th anniversary of LGM, we have again broken our monthly record for the most page views and with a good day could hit 1 million for May. In a period where liberal blogs have complained about declining readership numbers, I guess it means that we are doing something right around here. I’m glad you all like it enough to keep coming back.

So here’s to another 10 years of talking and working toward economic and social justice. And here’s something far more interesting than my navel-gazing. A man who, as I age, I model myself increasingly after: W.C. Fields.

Donations to this site will be used for me to get a prosthetic nose so I can look like W.C.

More Kristof

[ 63 ] May 30, 2014 |

It seems that Nic Kristof was more than a dupe of Somaly Mam’s lies. Sounds like he was complicit to a significant degree:

Many of her accolades, in turn, can be traced back to her friendship with New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. As of press time he still lists the Somaly Mam Foundation as a “partner” in Half the Sky Movement, his blatant attempt (along with wife Sheryl WuDunn) to brand and therefore profit from economic and physical violence against women and girls in the Global South. He also has yet to account for his inclusion of discredited statements by a Mam foundation “rescuee” in either the 2009 book or 2012 “documentary” “Half the Sky.” And Kristof’s live-tweeting of their brothel raid appears to violate the U.N. Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and his purchase of two “sex slaves” for media purposes is not condoned by Cambodian Human Trafficking Law.

Kristof may, eventually, claim to have been duped. I believe he’ll be lying (again), although other folks who are not Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters may be more sincere. The alleged falsehoods in Mam’s biography, debunked by eyewitnesses but upheld by her organization — which Marks deserves kudos for tracking, and which the mainstream press should be shamed for failing to pick up on earlier — are troubling: Her own childhood exploitation, accounts of her daughter’s kidnapping by pro-trafficking thugs, and young women’s stories of rape and abuse often go unverified or unchallenged in Cambodia, yet are so oft repeated abroad as to give the semblance of truth. Unfortunately, these are lies many have profited from, including right-wing Christian fundamentalist NGOs, which have used the mantle of human trafficking to promote agendas that are clearly unrelated, like abstinence education in U.S. schools and religious instruction in Buddhist or Muslim areas abroad.

He has a lot of explaining to do.

Sex Work

[ 147 ] May 30, 2014 |

Huh, it’s almost like criminalizing sex work just drives it underground instead of gets rid of it. Who knew.

Just Deport Him

[ 55 ] May 30, 2014 |

I don’t understand why China would force this guy to serve seven months in one of its prisons making Christmas lights for the American market. This is technically illegal since the U.S. has banned the import of prison labor-made goods ever since the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, but neither the American government or corporations have no real interest in enforcing this law and therefore the Chinese easily get around it by selling the goods to third-parties and the American stores don’t ask any questions.

But why not just deport the guy? Obviously if you make an American sociologist serve time in one of your prison, he’s going to write about the conditions upon release. Why bring the bad publicity on yourself?

Coal Company Lies

[ 61 ] May 30, 2014 |

Coal companies are openly cheating the system that monitor for coal dust that leads to black lung, misleading Mine Safety and Health Administration monitoring programs. There are so few good jobs in West Virginia and rural Kentucky that they can easily intimidate most employees into complaining since what else are you going to do that makes you $50,000 without a college degree. But the cost of this is workers dying in a truly horrible manner.

Dirty Energy’s War on Louisiana

[ 23 ] May 30, 2014 |

The energy industry continues its war upon the people and ecology of Louisiana:

Last summer, an independent government authority responsible for flood protection for the New Orleans area sued more than 90 oil and gas companies for damaging coastal marshes that protect the city.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East didn’t specify the damages it sought. But the cost of rebuilding and protecting the state’s coastal marshlands has been estimated at roughly $50 billion.

Now those industries and their political allies here in the state capital are trying to kill this legal challenge by passing a law that would restrict the authority’s power to sue over violations of state coastal permits. Proponents have said it would provide defendants with grounds to seek the lawsuit’s dismissal.

This isn’t the first effort to kill this lawsuit. More than a dozen bills have been introduced in the State Legislature since March to effectively do so. All but one has stalled. A final effort to restrict the authority’s power to sue these industries is expected to come Thursday before the State House of Representatives, where it has the support of the Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and legislative allies of oil and gas. The bill has already passed the Senate. The House needs to defeat the bill.

Unfortunately, the Louisiana House did exactly what you’d expect, voting for the bill 59-39.

The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903)

[ 25 ] May 29, 2014 |

I turn my book into my editor in 36 hours. I am delirious. The only thing keeping me going is The Gay Shoe Clerk.

Ankle. Hot.

Nic Kristof: A Man Impossible to Fool

[ 133 ] May 29, 2014 |

Simon Marks has a long expose demonstrating that Cambodian anti-sex trafficking activist Somaly Mam lied about her own life story and trained children to make up stories about their supposed experiences of sexual abuse in order to get rich westerners to give large donations.

In 2009, Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times about a girl named Long Pross, who had finally summoned the strength to tell her stunning story of sexual slavery. He reported that a woman had kidnapped Pross and sold her to a brothel, where she was beaten, tortured with electric wires, forced to endure two crude abortions and had an eye gouged out with a piece of metal by an angry pimp. Pross, Kristof said, was rescued by Mam and became part of her valiant group of former trafficking victims fighting for a world free of sexual slavery.

Pross also told her disturbing story on Oprah and appeared in the PBS documentary Half the Sky. “Believe it or not, when I returned home, my mother and father didn’t want me around. I wasn’t considered a good person,” she says in the documentary.

Equally hard to believe is the fact that Pross’s family, neighbors and medical records all tell a different story. Dr. Pok Thorn says he performed surgery on Pross when she was 13, after her parents brought her to a hospital with a nonmalignant tumor covering her right eye. Photographs in her medical records clearly show the young girl’s eye before and after the surgery.

So how did she come to be one of Somaly Mam’s girls? Te Sereybonn, director of Cambodia’s Takeo Eye Hospital back then, says his staff contacted AFESIP to see if they could admit Pross to one of their vocational training programs.

Another of Mam’s biggest “stars” was Meas Ratha, who as a teenager gave a chilling performance on French television in 1998, describing how she had been sold to a brothel and held against her will as a sex slave.

Late last year, Ratha finally confessed that her story was fabricated and carefully rehearsed for the cameras under Mam’s instruction, and only after she was chosen from a group of girls who had been put through an audition. Now in her early 30s and living a modest life on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Ratha says she reluctantly allowed herself to be depicted as a child prostitute: “Somaly said that…if I want to help another woman I have to do [the interview] very well.”

She, like Pross, was never a victim of sex trafficking; she and a sister were sent to AFESIP in 1997 because their parents were unable to care for all seven of their children.

Wait, Nic Kristof? No! You mean, Mr. Helicopter Rich White Man Rescuer was ready to buy lurid, falsified stories hook, line, and sinker? Who could have guessed! Here’s a 2011 Kristof article lauding Mam and her story, in what has to be the most prototypical Kristof column. Here’s another, on Pross, entitled, “If This Isn’t Slavery, What Is?” Oh, I don’t know. Maybe something that actually happened.

Amanda Marcotte:

Sex trafficking of minors is absolutely a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. But that’s not exactly why it’s an issue that attracts so much attention and funding and glitzy celebrity hobnobbing. It’s because it’s one of those issues that is easy to moralize about without much fear of stepping into a major controversy. No one is for selling underage girls into prostitution. Even the pimps interviewed by the Urban Institute went out of their way to denounce sex slavery and trafficking of underage girls. Standing up for reproductive rights or pushing back against economic injustice means running the risk of powerful people, such as religious leaders or other wealthy people, fighting back.

For this reason, the focus on underage sex trafficking is all too often used as a feel-good feminism, eclipsing larger issues. Take, for instance, the campaign of male celebrities taking pictures of themselves holding up signs that say, “Real men don’t buy girls.” It’s hard not to wonder if the bar is being set awfully low here. It’s easy to take a stand against underage sex slavery. It’s harder to take a stand against the widespread objectification and marginalization of women in the entertainment community, forces that help shape a culture where men feel entitled to have sex and act indifferently to the humanity of women. Many of these men make a lot of money off marginalizing and objectifying women, and holding up a sign denouncing enslavement of underage girls is an easy way to establish themselves as good guys without changing any other behavior.

The history of prostitution reform in Progressive Era America tells a similar story. There were Kristof’s then too, freaking out about the white slavery traffic. They wanted to hear the most lurid stories possible and then publicize them to make points about the evils of prostitution. They didn’t bother fact-checking either. And time and time again, these stories about young women didn’t pan out. The impact of this movement was to make sex work illegal, making it far more dangerous, as it largely remains today.

The actions of women like Mam and useful idiots like Kristof just obscure the real problems of a lack of opportunity for women to have decent work and respectable lives in Cambodia and elsewhere, not to mention discrediting attempts to help solve real sex slavery. But then Kristof has never been interested in people helping themselves anyway. He prefers saving brown people from themselves.

Mam has now resigned from her foundation.

I, for one, look forward to Kristof’s response to Marks’ report.

….Read also Melissa Gira Grant.

The Broken Temp Worker System

[ 33 ] May 29, 2014 |

The explosion in temp work has happened because employers see it as a profitable way to exploit labor, getting rid of troublemakers, avoiding legal responsibility, and keeping wages and benefits to a minimum. This is an excellent story on temp workers in California lettuce fields–some of which having worked there for a mere 10 years:

Thanks to this arrangement the two-thirds of Taylor Farms’ 900 Tracy workers who work for subcontractors are considered temporary workers – even though some have worked at Taylor plants for 10 years. They can be fired at the drop of a foreman’s hat for questioning an instruction or calling in sick.

Taylor Farms’ reliance on temporary, low-wage workers is part of a management revolution that has radically changed the fundamental expectation that hard work will be rewarded with fair compensation. Whether this outsourcing trend continues will determine how unstable the national workplace becomes — and how difficult entry into the middle class will be for American workers.

Capital & Main learned that in addition to procuring workers for Taylor Farms, Mendoza, which also supplies temp field labor, sells its own $7 boxed lunches to its field hands and even rents cash-only apartments to its mostly undocumented workers. Teamster representatives say that Mendoza even supplied hecklers who tried to crash Roger Hernandez’s meeting with Taylor Farms workers.

“I would rate Abel Mendoza, SlingShot and Taylor Farms as the most abusive employers I’ve encountered in my 20 years of doing this work,” says Doug Bloch, the political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which has been leading an organizing effort in Tracy. “There’s always a need for temporary labor in any agricultural industry, but at Taylor Farms you have people who have been working five years or 10 years or longer as a ‘temp.’ There is nothing temporary about their employment whatsoever.”

A 2012 University of California, Berkeley Labor Center study concluded that temporary workers in California are twice as likely as non-temps to live in poverty, face lower wages and less job security. They are also twice as likely to receive food stamps and be on Medi-Cal as other employees. For temporary workers employed in manual occupations, particularly, it may also mean being subject to unsafe working conditions and other abuses as host companies and temp agencies each blame the other for health and safety violations.

“When somebody files a workers comp claim, nobody wants to take responsibility for it,” says the Teamsters’ Bloch. “The insurer gets bounced back and forth like a pinball between Taylor Farms and Abel Mendoza. The same thing happens when workers file claims with the Labor Commissioner. Everybody’s pointing their finger and saying, ‘I’m not the employer, it’s the other guy.’”

California Assemblyman Roger Hernandez has introduced a bill making companies responsible for what happens to workers when they use labor contractors. Such an idea needs to become central to labor activism worldwide and should be applied through the entirety of supply chains, making Wal-Mart legally responsible for what happens to workers in the sweatshop where they toil because the company demands huge shipments of product for very low prices.

This Day in Labor History: May 29, 1943

[ 82 ] May 29, 2014 |

On May 29, 1943, Norman Rockwell published a cover in the Saturday Evening Post of a woman working an industrial job. This cover represented the millions of women entering the workforce during World War II to build the material needed to defeat the Axis. This image was part of a larger cultural phenomena referring to these women workers as Rosie the Riveter. Rosie the Riveter may not have been a real woman, but she does open an entry way to talk about a key point in American labor history: women and work in World War II.

RosieTheRiveter

Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter cover

When the United States entered World War II in late 1941, it created an instant labor shortage. With immigration not a possibility except from Mexico, it opened up unprecedented economic opportunities for both women and minorities. The number of women working increased from 12 to 20 million. Before the war, most working women labored in poorly paid service jobs, clerical work, or sales positions. When they did work in manufacturing, it was in the ever exploitative apparel industry, mostly in the South and still a bit in New England. During the war, their labor became much more valuable. The number of women in manufacturing grew by 141 percent and in industries making material for war skyrocketed by 463 percent. Women working in domestic service declined by 20 percent.

Just because women were needed of course didn’t mean that employers had any intention of paying them the same as men, a policy which unfortunately was acceptable to too many unions as well. Men working in a defense production factory averaged $54.65 per week with women receiving an average of only $31.50. While women did join the big industrial unions to work in these factories, because of seniority provisions, they were at the bottom, setting them up to be the first fired after the war. Some contracts for women even stipulated that women would only hold the job until the war’s conclusion. Still, the wages were vastly higher than before the war and women were able to partake of greater economic benefits than any time in U.S. history.

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Women welders, Landers, Frary, and Clark Plant, New Britain, Connecticut

The majority of women entering the workforce were older. 60 percent of the women were over the age of 35 and most of them did not have young children. Generally, younger women with small children did not work although of course there were lots of exceptions. Few employers provided childcare and the government did not recruit these women. One exception to this was at the Kaiser shipyards on the west coast, which had 24-hour child care and therefore employed a lot more young women.

The term Rosie the Riveter first appeared in a 1942 song that became a hit for Kay Kyser. A woman named Rosalind Walter was the inspiration for the song. Walter was an elite woman who took a job in an aircraft factory before entering philanthropy after the war. The always-influential Rockwell popularized the image even more with his cover. Rockwell based his woman on a phone operator he knew in Arlington, Vermont named Mary Doyle Keefe, who he then apologized to for making her look so burly. The image then toured the country as a fundraising drive for war bonds.

The popular image of Rosie the Riveter at the time was associated with a Kentucky woman named Rose Will Monroe who moved to Michigan during World War II and worked as a riveter building bombers in a Ypislanti factory. Monroe was asked to be in a promotional film about the women workers and received some short-lived fame that way.

The most famous Rosie image, the “We Can Do It” poster in fact was not designed for the campaign at all. Westinghouse hired a Pittsburgh graphic designer named J. Howard Miller to design an image of a woman worker for its War Production Coordinating Committee. It is believed Miller based his image on a photo of a woman named Geraldine Hoff, who worked as a metal-stamping machine operator in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was only shown to Westinghouse workers as part of a good morale, corporate-values drive (read, anti-union drive) for 2 weeks in February 1943 and was then forgotten. In fact, the poster did not become widely associated with Rosie the Riveter until the 1980s.

So to repeat, the image you think of when you think of Rosie the Riveter was an image intended to discourage women from joining unions. The “We” in “We Can Do It” is Westinghouse workers following the leadership of Westinghouse management. Of course, there’s certainly nothing wrong with co-opting right-wing materials for our purposes; certainly conservatives do this all time to images and ideas of the left.

We_Can_Do_It!

Westinghouse-commissioned corporate propaganda, later erroneously associated with Rosie the Riveter

The war meant a lot of hard work. But wartime work could mean a lot of fun too, perhaps too much for some. Senator Prentiss Brown (D-MI), member of the Army Ordinance Committee, spoke out about fun getting in the way of war production:

The pumps were found to be in perfect condition and no reason could found for their failure until a pair of ladies panties were taken from the suction pipe. These were undoubtedly discarded during the construction of the vessel in a moment of thoughtlessness and left lying in the tank, later finding their way into the pipeline…In order that all may cooperate one hundred percent in the war effort and the total destruction the Axis Powers, it is respectfully requested that lady workers keep their pants on during working hours for the duration.

Many women wanted to continue working after the war (one poll put the number at about 75%), but the postwar economy would be nothing if not patriarchal. Nearly all the women working in factories lost their jobs by the end of 1946. Yet despite overwhelming popular support for women staying at home at letting men working in a single-family economy during the 1950s, women soon entered the workforce at rates surpassing that of World War II. In one poll, 86% of Americans said that married women should not work if jobs were scarce and a husband could support her. Yet by 1952, 2 million more women were working than in 1945. But instead of well-paying industrial jobs, they were effectively filling service positions in the booming postwar economy, going back into sales, office work, flight attendants, and domestic service. The fight for women to become an accepted part of the industrial workforce would not be fully engaged again until the 1970s.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton created the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park at the site of a former Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California, giving the National Park Service a site to interpret this history. I haven’t visited unfortunately.

The original Rockwell painting was sold in 2002 for $4.9 million and now resides in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Today, the image of Rosie the Riveter has become a feminist icon, despite the facts of its origins which are almost totally unknown.

This is the 108th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Why Nothing Will Be Done About Climate Change

[ 89 ] May 28, 2014 |

I had meant to write about the unwillingness of foreign governments to step up to Ecuador’s offer to not drill for oil in its rainforest if the international community would pay the country half its value. Of course the U.S., UK, China, etc., were not interested. George Monbiot on this and other issues that suggest the complete failure of capitalism to manage the problem of climate change:

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable, the Ecuadorean government decided that oil drilling would go ahead in the heart of the Yasuni national park. It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as blackmail or you could see it as fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich: why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills, will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America.

The UK oil company Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east, the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people. These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

Of course even questioning the idea that this is “progress” makes people call you a lunatic, as happens in comments here every time I dare even question the technological utopianism that makes dealing with these problems impossible:

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st Century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.

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