March 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

March 2012

Are Student Loans the Next Big "Debt Bomb"?

Student debt is one of the major rallying points of the Occupy Movement. Now, bankruptcy lawyers are lending credence to that message, Eric Pianen reports for the Washington Post

Bankruptcy lawyers have a frightening message for America: They’re seeing the telltale signs of a student loan debt bubble that is placing increased financial pressure on families struggling with their children’s mounting debt. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, more than 80 percent of bankruptcy lawyers have seen a substantial increase in the number of clients seeking relief from student loans in recent years.

In most cases, those clients could not meet the federal hardship standards that are necessary to discharge a student loan through bankruptcy proceedings. Instead, many of these parents or guardians who co-signed the student loans face the prospect of losing their life savings, cars or homes to collection agencies for aggressive private lenders.

The head of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACABA) told Pianen that, while he doesn’t expect student debt to have the same crushing short-term economic impact as the mortgage crisis, the long-term impact on the economy could be severe. If students aren’t willing to take on debt to get the education and training they need, the U.S. will ultimately become less competitive compared to countries where students can get affordable post secondary education.

[Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein, all rights reserved.]

#Sidney's Picks: A Great Escape; Protecting Homecare Workers; Errol Morris

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Limbaugh's "Choice of Words"

Right wing radio host Rush Limbaugh grudgingly apologized for his “choice of words” regarding Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who testified in support of the birth control mandate. The problem words were “slut” and “prostitute.” By implication, Limbaugh is not sorry at all about his choice of thoughts about uppity women and birth control.

Likewise, Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has no problem with the general idea that Congressional testimony and bodily autonomy turn women into filthy whores, but he doesn’t think Rush hit on le mot juste. “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used,” Romney said.

Given that the GOP has decided to refight the election of 1910–birth control and the gold standard!–we know that this delicate subject is going to come up again. So, what’s the classy way to impugn a lady’s virtue when you don’t like her politics? Hillman judge Rick Hertzberg helpfully suggests some more decorous synonyms: “ ‘Strumpet’ has a jolly, Falstaffian feel, consistent with Limbaugh’s purportedly “humorous” rotundity.”

[Photo credit: Boston Bill, Creative Commons.]


Save the Date: Remember the Triangle Fire, Mar 23

101st Triangle Factory Fire Commemoration
Workers United/SEIU (ILGWU)
Friday, March 23, 2012
12 noon – 1 pm
Washington Place and Greene Street, NYC

NYC Carwash Workers Plan Union Drive

Hoping to replicate the success of their brothers and sisters in Los Angeles, carwash workers in New York City are launching a unionization drive in a bid to clean up labor practices in their troubled industry. Kirk Semple reports for the New York Times:

At a carwash in an industrial patch of Astoria, Queens, Adan Nicolas, a Mexican immigrant, is preparing to open the newest front in New York City’s labor battles.

His bosses have often paid him and the other carwash workers less than minimum wage and have cheated them on overtime pay, Mr. Nicolas said. The workers, he said, are not provided with protective gear but are forced to use caustic cleaners that burn their eyes and noses.

Community organizers say these kinds of violations are rampant among local carwashes.

So for the past several weeks, under the tutelage of immigrants’ advocates, Mr. Nicolas, 31, has been briefing his colleagues in rudimentary labor law and the language of organizing. Out of the sight of bosses, similar conversations have been unfolding at other carwashes around New York City.

We’re all ready to fight for our rights and have a dignified place to work, and not to be abused like we are today,” Mr. Nicolas said.

On Tuesday, a coalition of community and labor organizations plans to introduce a citywide campaign to reform the carwash industry. The union advocates, in turn, hope to use the campaign to unionize carwash workers across the city, most of whom are immigrants.

Similar campaigns in Los Angeles have so far yielded collective bargaining agreements at three car washes.

[Photo credit: Nyer82, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Women to Watch; Taibbi on Breitbart

  • Public colleges have raised tuitions and slashed enrollments in the wake of state funding cuts, depriving the economy of qualified applicants for critical jobs, Catherine Rampell reports in the New York Times.
  • A tough job market and gender discrimination are fueling a cosmetic surgery craze in China, reports Jin Zhao at Things You Don’t Know About China. China’s $47.7 billion cosmetic surgery industry is the third-largest in the world, after the U.S. and Brazil; but South Korea still leads the world in cosmetic surgery per capita thanks in part to surgical tourists from China.
  • Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress suggests 10 Women Major Magazines Should be Commissioning.
  • Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone on the late right wing media baron Andrew Breitbart, a con man who debased journalism.
  • Los Angeles woman was deported after getting arrested protesting the foreclosure of her home, Colorlines reports.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

"The Fifth Estate" Wins Canadian Hillman Prize for "Scout's Honour"

We at the Sidney Hillman Foundation are very pleased to announce that The Fifth Estate has won the 2012 Canadian Hillman Prize for “Scout’s Honour,” a groundbreaking documentary about how the Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada failed to stop known pedophiles preying on boys in their care. For more than 50 years, Scouts Canada kept what they called “the confidential list” of accused pedophiles who were kicked out of the movement. But the police weren’t always notified and some offenders were able to travel from troop to troop, abusing boys. Scouts Canada claims that all allegations have been reported to the police, but victims say this isn’t true.

The fifth estate combed court records to find men who had been involved in scouting and who were eventually convicted of child abuse. After the story aired last fall, Scouts Canada publicly apologized for failing to protect boys.

The fifth estate’s “Scout’s Honour” is a triumph of investigative journalism,” said Canadian Hillman judge Jim Stanford. “The reporters undertook an investigation that was complex, detailed, international, and expensive - far superior, in fact, to most police criminal investigations of the same sort of crimes. Their findings have made a concrete difference in the lives of hundreds of people, and helped make Canada a safer place for children. All Canadians owe the CBC, and this program, a huge debt.”