August 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

August 2012

#Sidney's Picks: Morello Rages Against Ryan; Hospital Infections; Used Cars

  • Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan named Rage Against the Machine as his favorite band, eliciting this blistering op/ed by RATM guitarist and Hillman Award-winner Tom Morello. It begins, “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.”
  • Hospitals and nursing homes aren’t doing enough to stop the spread of the bacterium C. difficile, a deadly intestinal infection, reports Peter Eisler of USA Today.
  • That used car may be even more used than you think. Ken Bensinger and Elizabeth Frank of the LA Times investigate “churn” in the used car market, where dealers sell, repossess, and resell the same vehicle over and over.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Tom Morello Reacts to Paul Ryan Naming RATM As His Favorite Band

Hillman Award-winner Tom Morello is not impressed by Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan’s claim that Rage Against the Machine is his favorite band.

Click to view full-sized image.

Ralph Lauren--America's Designer?

Bruce Raynor is president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation and president Emeritus of Workers United, the garment/textile workers union

Probably the most successful clothing lifestyle designer in American history is Ralph Lauren, or Ralph Lipshitz before he felt his name was too Jewish-sounding for the preppy style he created. In the early years of his remarkable success, Lauren created ties for men that were manufactured in a New York City factory that employed members of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. When he expanded to mens’ suits in the 1970’s and 1980’s he opened a unionized factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts employing several hundred men and women. Ralph became wealthy and created an array of products for men and women. His women’s products were mostly made in New York by members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU).

Lauren became so successful that in the 1990’s he expanded to a complete lifestyle collection that included dressy and casual clothing and accessories for men, women, and children, home furnishings, and many other products. However, as he grew wealthier he began to move his production out of unionized factories in the United States to third world countries where he could employ low paid workers, mostly women, in Latin America and Asia. Ralph’s tie workers, who launched his career, were the first to lose their jobs in the mid 1990’s. Soon he closed his suit factory in Massachusetts and moved those jobs to sweatshops in underdeveloped countries. Finally he opened a non-union distribution center in North Carolina and fired his warehouse workers.

Today Ralph is one of the wealthiest men in the industry with a fortune estimated at 7.5 billion dollars. This year he won the right to design and supply the uniforms for the United States Olympic Team competing in London. Who else but our country’s greatest designer with his red, white, and blue themed brand should outfit the best athletes our country has to offer? Who better than Ralph Lipshitz, a DeWitt Clinton High School graduate from the Bronx?

However, even when it came to the U.S. Olympic uniforms, Lauren had them designed in New York and manufactured in China. Most every country entered the Olympic Stadium dressed in apparel made in their country with pride. Did you see the South Africans, Chinese, and Italians with beautiful clothing made by their fellow countrymen and women? Only the United States marched to the tune of low wages and exploited workers.

This controversy spurred a backlash including an online petition with thousands of people calling for the uniforms to be replaced with ones made in American factories by workers treated fairly. Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader of the Unites States Senate, called for the uniforms to be burned in a bonfire. Seven Senators have introduced legislation to require that Olympic uniforms for the U.S. team be produced domestically.

The fact is that there are U.S. factories that make the same products with better quality and by union-represented workers in Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and several other states. Ralph Lauren made a choice to turn his nose up at the men and women in these communities in order to enrich himself. Americans should do the same to Ralph and refuse to buy his products until he remembers who took him from the Bronx to the top of the world.

Baseball in America

In contrast, the current season of baseball holds up a different example. Those hundreds of professional athletes who are playing Major League Baseball in stadiums across North America are wearing uniforms produced in Bangor, Pennsylvania in factories employing more than 500 workers who are represented by the clothing workers union, Workers United. These workers are paid decent wages, have family health insurance, and defined benefit pensions. In fact, every official baseball uniform worn by players or sold in stores is made in Bangor.

This didn’t happen by accident. The clothing workers union teamed up with the Major League Baseball Players Association (the baseball players union) and Major League Baseball to require that the company producing uniforms did so with U.S. workers under decent working conditions. As baseball has prospered, the number of workers has grown and a modern factory was constructed in Bangor.

During this recession and its prolonged unemployment involving millions of American workers, the issue of U.S. manufacturing jobs has risen to prominence. Manufacturing jobs have always paid wages above the national average. These jobs are essential to a successful economy because they add real value. A sensible national policy that is being advanced by President Obama to encourage domestic manufacturing is essential to putting Americans back to work. The Olympic fiasco can achieve some good if it reminds business leaders like Ralph Lauren and the rest of us that a country has to create policies that create jobs for its citizens. Patriotism and national pride require more than waving flags and wearing the national colors.

Two Dark Money Groups Outspend All SuperPACs Combined

Some disturbing campaign finance news from Kim Barker of ProPublica:

Two conservative nonprofits, Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, have poured almost $60 million into TV ads to influence the presidential race so far, outgunning all super PACs put together, new spending estimates show.

These nonprofits, also known as 501(c)(4)s or c4s for their section of the tax code, don’t have to disclose their donors to the public.

The two nonprofits had outspent each of the other types of outside spending groups in this election cycle, including political parties, unions, trade associations and political action committees, a ProPublica analysis of data provided by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG, found.

SuperPACS, which do have to disclose their donors, have spent a combined total of $55.7 million on TV ads that mention a presidential candidate.

[Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons.]

What Voter Fraud?


News21 undertook a sweeping investigation to determine whether voter fraud is really the threat to democracy that some Republican legislators claim in order to justify voter ID laws that will make it harder for many registered voters to exercise their franchise. Eight months later, the investigators documented just 10 cases of voter impersonation at the polls, the only kind of voter fraud preventable by Voter ID laws:

The specter of widespread election fraud has been the professed reason that 37 state legislatures have passed or considered voter identification laws since 2010. Those claiming that illegal votes threaten free and fair elections generally have cited only anecdotes and individual reports of alleged voter fraud.

As part of the News21 national investigation into voting rights in America, a team of reporters took on the unprecedented task of gathering, organizing and analyzing all reported cases of election fraud in the United States since 2000.

How Big Was the Effort?

Over the course of this seven-month investigation, the News21 team sent out more than 2,000 public-records requests and spent nearly $1,800 on fees for records searches and copies of documents. The team also reviewed nearly 5,000 court documents, official records and media reports. The result is the most extensive collection of U.S. election fraud cases ever compiled.

Check out News21’s extensive “Who Can Vote?” project online.

#Sidney's Picks: Get the Lead Out; Paid Sick Days; Bad Medicine

  • Millions of Americans are drinking water laced with dangerous levels of lead, Sheila Kaplan and Corbin Hiar report for the Investigative Workshop/
  • A for-profit hospital chain performed lucrative but potentially life-threatening cardiac procedures on patients who didn’t even need them, Reed Abelson and Julie Creswell report in the New York Times.
  • Changes are afoot at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the breast cancer behemoth that fired an early salvo in the War on Women by cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening programs. Komen restored the grants, but the damage was done. Amanda Marcotte of Slate explains why the demotion of Komen’s CEO and the departure of its president are unlikely to restore the organization’s reputation.
  • Over 1 million workers in New York City have no paid sick leave, Erica Eichelberger reports for Mother Jones. That could change under a proposed law that would give most New Yorkers at least 5 days of paid leave. See how the U.S. stacks up against 160 other nations in terms of paid sick leave.

[Photo credit: WanderMule, Creative Commons.]

ICIJ Wins August Sidney Award for Sweeping Human Tissue Trade Investigation

A 13-journalist team led by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Director Gerard Ryle and ICIJ reporter Kate Willson has won the August Sidney Award for “Skin and Bone,” a sweeping investigation of the largely unregulated global trade in human tissues. A single healthy body can be worth $80,000-$200,000 when stripped for reusable parts like skin, bone, and heart valves. Greedy tissue harvesters sometimes steal tissue outright, ICIJ found. One prominent ex-dental surgeon was convicted of lifting tissues from over 1000 corpses at funeral homes in New York and Pennsylvania. A tissue firm in Ukraine is accused of stealing tissue from corpses, including that of a 19-year-old suicide victim.

The investigation, which lasted 8 months, and spanned 11 countries, sheds light on a lucrative but little-understood part of the biomedical industry. Unlike organs, human tissues are sold for profit. Organs and blood products are electronically traceable from donor to recipients, but tissues are not. This is a problem because tissues can spread infections. ICIJ found over a thousand cases of infections from contaminated tissue in the U.S. since 2002, 40 of them lethal. Those are just the cases we know of. U.S. and international authorities are only dimly aware of where tissue comes from, or where it goes. The investigation also found cases where greedy tissue dealers falsified paperwork to hide potentially lethal infections in donor bodies.

Recylced tissues have the power to heal; but the underregulated, for-profit marketplace threatens human rights, patient safety, and public health. The ICIJ investigation tackles this multifacted issue with great rigor and great compassion.

Click here to read my Back Story interview with team leader Gerard Ryle.

Trayvon Martin's Family Sued by Insurance Company

Trayvon Martin’s family is being sued by an insurance company, Trymaine Lee reports for the Huffington Post:

Trayvon Martin’s mother is being sued by an insurance company trying to absolve itself from any liability in the teen’s death, according to an attorney for Martin’s family.

Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America has sued Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, and The Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowner’s Association, the gated community where Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February.

Travelers claims that it is not responsible to defend the homeowners association because of various clauses in the association’s policy, specifically a “wrongful act” exclusion.

On March 30, just over a month after Martin was killed, the homeowners association took out a liability policy with Travelers, and shortly thereafter Fulton made a claim for monetary damages in her son’s death.

Lee won a Sidney Award for his coverage of the Martin shooting.

#Sidney's Picks: Mexicans Turf Illegal Loggers; Election Woes; and More

  • A 38-year-old grandmother is leading a civilian insurgency against machine-gun-toting illegal loggers in the Mexican town of Cherán, the New York Times reports.
  • An agency created to ensure the integrity of federal elections is currently leaderless and adrift, Dan Froomkin reports for Huffington Post. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is supposed to have four commissioners, but right now it has none, and the Republicans are trying to defund it.
  • A surprising new study found that sedentary U.S. office workers burn about as many calories per day as hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Technically, the U.S. office workers burned more calories than the hunter-gatherers, but they also weighed more. Once you correct for body weight, it’s a wash.
  • Raising less corn and more hell: A Vermont farmer is awaits trial for flattening seven police cars with his tractor.

Warping Informed Consent

Maia Manian of the University of San Francisco School of Law explains why the South Dakota law that forces women seeking abortions to hear a false disclaimer about abortion increasing the risk of suicide makes a mockery of the principle of informed consent:

[The informed consent requirement] ensures that patients receive sufficient information to make their own decisions about whether to consent to medical treatment. Informed consent law’s long-established principles have been perverted in the context of abortion legislation. Anti-choice laws claiming to ensure well-informed decisions for women in fact misuse informed consent terminology to further goals antithetical to the imperatives animating informed consent law.

Read the rest at RH Reality Check.