July 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

July 2012

Stewart: Romney Got a Tax Break to Send His Horse to the Prom

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
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Last night’s Daily Show was classic. Jon Stewart took Mitt Romney to task for the candidate’s inability to grasp why voters might be upset that he gets so much “free stuff” from the tax system–like a $77,000 tax deduction “to send his horse to the prom.” Stewart was needling Romney for accepting lavish tax cuts, like a business tax credit for horse dressage expenses, while lecturing less fortunate people who look to the government for food stamps or health care.


Why Unions Aren't Like SuperPacs

Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon takes a critical look at the claim that labor is an effective counterweight to conservative super PACs:

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reignited a battle over money in politics when it reported that labor unions have been spending about four times more on political activity than was previously understood. Using public disclosure forms unions filed with the Labor Department, the Journal concluded that unions have spent over $4 billion on political advocacy at all levels of government since 2005.

The result,” the Journal explains, “is that labor could be a stronger counterweight than commonly realized to ‘super PACs’ that today raise millions from wealthy donors, in many cases to support Republican candidates and causes.”

Four billion in seven years sounds like a lot of money, but lets put it in perspective. Seitz-Wald points out that if you stack organized labor up against all sources of corporate money in politics, business outspends labor by a margin of about 15-1. 

The WSJ claim is disingenuous for another reason. Conservative groups are already doing everything they can to undercut unions’ abilities to spend dues on political activity. So, regardless of what they may have done in the past, their future as a counterweight to the Republican cash machine is far from certain.

[Photo credit: Blue Robot, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Liposuction Treatment Sucks; Voter Suppression; Subprime Crisis Haunts Black America

The best of the week’s news:

Tweet your Sidney’s picks to @sidneyhillman, hashtag #sidney

The Republican War on Voting

Let’s dispense with the polite fiction that the Republican’s obsession with voter fraud is about the security of the vote. It’s pure voter suppression. An exhaustive search by the Department of Justice unearthed no evidence of large scale voter fraud. A 5-year probe came up with 86 cases of voter fraud in the entire country, none of which were of the type that could have been prevented by voter ID. The system isn’t broken.

Eugene Robinson reports for TruthDig: 

Recent developments in Pennsylvania—one of more than a dozen states where voting rights are under siege—should be enough to erase any lingering doubt: The GOP is trying to pull off an unconscionable crime.

Late last month, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, was addressing a meeting of the Republican State Committee. He must have felt at ease among friends because he spoke a bit too frankly.

Ticking off a list of recent accomplishments by the GOP-controlled Legislature, he mentioned the new law forcing voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Said Turzai, with more than a hint of triumph: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania—done.”

Voter ID laws help GOP because people without driver’s licenses, the most common form of photo ID, are more likely to be poor, African American, and/or city-dwellers. All of these constituencies tend to vote Democratic. In the swing state of Pennsylvania, 9.2% of the registered electorate lacks a driver’s license, and a quarter of these voters live in the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia. Coincidence? No.

[Photo credit: Secretlondon, Creative Commons. I know, it’s probably a UK polling place, but I liked the picture.]

He's Baaaack: The Ressurection of Ralph Reed

Jack Abramoff’s Bible-thumping, Indian tribe-bilking crony Ralph Reed is back on the national political scene, fresh from a voter mobilization triumph in Wisconsin’s recall election, Adele Stan reports for AlterNet. Reed’s next target? Defeating president Obama in November.

[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons.]

Monica Potts of American Prospect Wins July 2012 Sidney for Portrait of Poverty in Appalachia

The July Sidney goes to Monica Potts of the American Prospect!

Potts spent two-and-a-half months reporting in Owsley County, Kentucky. Her story, “Pressing on the Upward Way,” chronicles the trials and triumphs of the Christian family as they struggle to get ahead financially through education, opening a small business, and playing live music. The story was the centerpiece of the Prospect’s special issue on poverty.

Read my interview with Monica at The Backstory. We talk about how she reported the piece, what Sue Christian’s can teach us about the role of women in overcoming poverty, and much more.

Black Lung Stalks Miners

Black lung, that historical scourge of coal miners, is a horrifying disease that gradually suffocates the victim from the inside out. The good news is the disease is completely preventable. If coal dust levels in mines were kept in check, black lung would disappear. Congress ordered mining companies to make that happen in 1969, but they never followed through. Now, black lung is making a comeback. An joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity found that the incidence of black lung has doubled in the past decade.

Ken Ward, Jr. writes about an 83-year-old retired miner with black lung who is watching his middle-aged sons succumb to the disease:

Marcum doesn’t have to look far to see that hasn’t happened. There’s his middle son, Donald, who, at 51, has had eight pieces of his lungs removed. He sometimes has trouble making it through a prayer when he’s filling in as a preacher at Solid Rock Baptist Church.

There’s James, the youngest.  At 50, his breathing is becoming more labored, and his doctor has already discussed hooking him up to an oxygen tank part-time.

Both began working in the late 1970s - years after dust rules took effect - and both began displaying symptoms in their 30s. Donald now has the most severe, fastest-progressing form of the disease, known as complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.  James and the oldest Marcum son, Thomas, 59, have a simpler form, but James has reached the worst stage and is deteriorating. [Charelston Gazette]

In a companion piece, Ward explains how federal black lung control programs have faltered under pressure from industry and labor.

Erik Loomis of Lawyers Guns and Money isn’t convinced that labor deserves an equal share of blame for the lack of progress on black lung:

Ward also makes a big deal about labor rejection of black lung testing from Democratic administrations for being too weak, but I don’t see this as a big deal. Given how little Democrats listen to labor on every other issue, I don’t see much evidence that labor anger over lax testing systems would cause Democrats to abandon them. While Ward is usually quite good, his piece has a Both Sides Do It theme that is unwarranted here. The problem with black lung codes is not that the union cares about its members too much.

Regardless of who’s at fault, a black lung resurgence is a national disgrace.

[Photo credit: At the Atlas Coal Mine, by miss604, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Illegal Foreclosures, Scientology, CPCs, and Mistaken Identity

Highlights from the week’s news:

  • Paul Kiel of ProPublica on restitution for illegal foreclosures
  • Tony Ortega of the Village Voice on the death of the son of a high-ranking Scientologist
  • Robin Marty of RH RealityCheck on unlicensed “crisis pregnancy centers” in Virginia
  • Rhonda Cook of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on a woman who spend 53 days in jail in a case of mistaken identity 

Send us your favorite stories. Tweet @sidneyhillman, hashtag: #Sidney

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]


Ann Romney's "Blind Trust" Invested $10 Million in Tagg Romney's Hedge Fund

Ann Romney’s “blind trust” invested $10 million in Tagg Romney’s fledgling hedge fund, Nicholas Shaxson reports in Vanity Fair:

All the assets on Mitt’s financial disclosures are in blind trusts or retirement accounts held by him and Ann. Blind trusts are designed to avoid conflicts of interest for those in public office by having politicians’ assets managed by independent trustees. The Romneys’ blind trust was created when Mitt was elected governor of Massachusetts. Curiously, the Romneys appointed Bradford Malt as their trustee. It’s certainly true that under Malt the trusts don’t appear to be as blind as they might be: for instance, in 2010 the Romneys invested $10 million in the start-up of the Solamere Founders Fund, co-founded by their eldest son, Tagg, and Spencer Zwick, Romney’s onetime top campaign fund-raiser; Solamere is now in the Ann Romney blind trust. Malt has said he invested in Solamere without consulting Mitt or Ann and explained he liked Solamere because of its diversified approach and because he knew the founders and had confidence in them.

Maybe that’s what Mitt had in mind when he told college students to borrow money from their parents to start a business.

[Photo credit: Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Creative Commons.]