August 2013 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

August 2013

Kocieniewski wins the August Sidney for Exposing the Goldman Sachs' Great Aluminum Shuffle

Why does a chain of Detroit-area warehouses shuffle millions of tons of aluminum in an endless circle while customers wait impatiently? This month’s Sidney Award-winner David Kocieniewski penetrated the veil of secrecy around these Goldman Sachs-owned facilities to reveal that the company is dragging its feet on delivery to collect more rent to store the mental, and driving up aluminum prices in the process. Goldman’s greed has added an estimated $5 billion to the price of aluminum since 2010, which works out to an extra two cents for every pop or beer can sold in the United States. Learn more in The Backstory.

Bloomberg's "Stop & Frisk" is Unconstitutional

A judge has struck down New York’s notorious “Stop and Frisk” regime. Scott Lemieux explains the reasoning behind the decision in The American Prospect:

In a major victory for civil rights and civil liberties, a United States District Court Judge has held that the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk policies are unconstitutional. Judge Shira Scheindlin’s opinion justifying the ruling is a tour de force. Carefully assessing both systematic evidence and the cases of individual litigants, Judge Scheindlin leaves no serious doubt that the NYPD’s policies are inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The judge’s drew heavily on research in making up her mind. Stop-and-frisks are justified based on an officier’s reasonable suspicion that the target is up to no good, but statistics show that nearly 90% of stop-and-frisks come up empty. If cops guess wrong nearly 90% of the time, how well-founded could their suspicions possibly be? Not strong enough to justify impinging on the rights of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the judge decided. 

Sidney's Picks: Mitch McConnell & the Minimum Wage; Questionable Behavior in California; Debtor's Prisons

The best of the week’s news:


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Fast Food Forward: Why Now?

cheeseburger with onion



For the first time in the history of the fast food industry the movement for a living wage is gaining real traction. There have been efforts to raise fast food worker pay in the past, but none have achieved the impact of the current campaigns. James Surowiecki of the New Yorker explains why the fast food industry is ripe for rebellion, and why the rebels have such a tough fight ahead of them.

[Photo credit: Roboppy, Creative Commons.]

Civil Forfeiture or Legalized Extortion?

Police Tape

An eye-opening account of the uses and abuses of civil asset forfeiture by 2012 Hillman Prize-winner Sarah Stillman of the New Yorker. Stillman tells the story of one couple from Texas who lost their cash and their car after the police pulled them over and found nothing illegal in the vehicle but threatened to charge them with money laundering and seize their children if they didn’t sign over their assets:

The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services. [NY]

Unlike with criminal forfeiture, the police needn’t obtain a conviction, or even press charges, to confiscate property. Not only that, police departments get to keep whatever they seize, a glaring conflict of interest. When citizens complain, they can be threatened with criminal charges, which they signed away their stuff to avoid in the first place.

But as Stillman reports, some victims are fighting back against overwhelming odds.


[Photo credit: Ian Britton, Creative Commons.]

Sidney's Picks: Religious Corporations, Drugstore Cowboys, & More

  • As pharmacy robberies surge, Big Pharma is running its own private war on drugstore cowboys
  • How failed Florida banks lent millions to mobsters, drug dealers, convicted felons, and developers with prior bankruptcies.
  • Inside XKeyscore, a secret NSA collection tool to capture internet activity.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Fast Food Forward: Strike Wave Spreads

Bigger Big Mac

Sidney-winner Stephen Greenhouse on the wave of fast food strikes sweeping the nation:

From New York to several Midwestern cities, thousands of fast-food workers have been holding one-day strikes during peak mealtimes, quickly drawing national attention to their demands for much higher wages.

What began in Manhattan eight months ago first spread to Chicago and Washington and this week has hit St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit and Flint, Mich. On Wednesday alone, workers picketed McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s and Long John Silver’s restaurants in those cities with an ambitious agenda: pay of $15 an hour, twice what many now earn. [NYT]

Some fast food workers in St. Louis were inspired by demonstrations in New York and Chicago that they organized an action of their own. 

[Photo credit: Simon Miller, Creative Commons.]