December 2013 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

December 2013

The Emperor Has Clothes, But They're From Sweatshops

The Obama administration has called on clothing buyers to use their purchasing power to improve working conditions in the global apparel industry, but the contractors who supply uniforms for the federal workforce are still sourcing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of clothing from sweatshops, Ian Urbina reports:

Labor Department officials say that federal agencies have “zero tolerance” for using overseas plants that break local laws, but American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories. Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.

The U.S. Marine Corps buys shirts from a Bangladeshi factory where children make up a third of the workforce. 


[Photo credit: for illustration, NYC Marines.]

Women Wrote 9 out of 10 of Dissent's Top Stories of 2013

Nine out of ten of Dissent’s most popular stories of 2013 were written by women. Lots of great writing and reporting here. Congratulations to all who made the list. 

[Photo credit: Hades2K, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Temp Workers, Workers' Comp, and "Life Hacking"

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Former Prosecutor Gets Himself Arrested to Investigate the Justice System

Why does a white guy in a suit have to do to get arrested around here? Former prosecutor Bobby Constantino was determined to find out. When multiple police officers declined to arrest him for openly carrying graffiti tools–a misdemeanor that young men of color get stopped for routinely–Constantino tagged City Hall in full view of the police and they still wouldn’t arrest him. He had to turn himself in. 

[Photo credit: larrylorca, Creative Commons.]

EPA Official Pretended to Be a CIA Agent to Avoid Work

I’m not even sure what to say about this revelation from Michael Isikoff of NBC: A senior federal bureaucrat pretended to be working under cover for the CIA in order to avoid work.

The EPA’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change deserves to go to prison for at least 30 months for lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan so he could avoid doing his real job, say federal prosecutors.

John C. Beale, who pled guilty in September to bilking the government out of nearly $1 million in salary and other benefits over a decade, will be sentenced in a Washington, D.C., federal court on Wednesday. In a newly filed sentencing memo, prosecutors said that his “historic” lies are “offensive” to those who actually do dangerous work for the CIA.

Beale’s ruse was finally discovered after he very publicly “retired,” but continued to collect his salary. 

#Sidney's Picks: Lobotomies; Big Tobacco; Justin Timberlake's Union Tour

The Best of the Week’s News

  • A judge gave a drunk-driving teen a reduced sentence for killing four people because he supposedly suffered from “affluenza,” meaning that he was too privileged to know right from wrong.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

The Untold Story of America's Mass Killings

A chilling report by USA Today finds that there’s a mass killing in the U.S. about once every two weeks:

Since 2006, there have been more than 200 mass killings in the United States. Well-known images from Newtown, Aurora and Virginia Tech capture the nation’s attention, but similar bloody scenes happen with alarming frequency and much less scrutiny. USA TODAY examined FBI data – which defines a mass killing as four or more victims – as well as local police records and media reports to understand mass killings in America. They happen far more often than the government reports, and the circumstances of those killings – the people who commit them, the weapons they use and the forces that motivate them – are far more predictable than many might think.

[Photo credit:, Creative Commons.]

"This American Life" wins December Sidney Award for Exposing Racial Profiling in Housing

Nancy Updike and Nikole Hannah-Jones have won the December Sidney Award for House Rules a radio documentary by This American Life based on the Hannah-Jones’ reporting on the Fair Housing Act for ProPublica. The program explains how, starting in the 1930s, the federal government created profound racial segregation in the Northeast with discriminatory housing policies that made residents of black and integrated neighborhoods ineligible for federally-subsidized mortgages. While the federal government was nuturing the white middle class with subsidized homeownership, non-white families were left out in the cold, a legacy that is still reflected in inequality today. Read my interview with the winners for The Backstory

New York's Homeless Children

From Andrea Elliott’s stunning multi-part profile of Dasani, a preteen girl raising her seven siblings in Fort Greene. Dasani is one of New York’s 22,000 homeless children:

Adults who are homeless often speak of feeling “stuck.” For children, the experience is more like a free-fall. With each passing month, they slip further back in every category known to predict long-term well-being. They are less likely to graduate from the schools that anchor them, and more likely to end up like their parents, their lives circumscribed by teenage pregnancy or shortened by crime and illness.

[Photo credit: spotreporting, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Nelson Mandela, Fast Food Strikes, Donor Advised Funds

  • Thousands of fast food workers walked off the job yesterday to demand a living wage. $45 billion earmarked for charity is sitting in so-called “donor advised funds” run by big banks, and legally, it could sit there forever.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]