July 2014 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

July 2014

Greek Court Acquits Farmers Who Shot 28 Striking Bangladeshi Strawberry Pickers

 A court in Greece has acquitted two farmers accused of shooting 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers after they demanded 6 months of upaid wages:

Scores of migrants, many sobbing in disbelief, protested outside the court house after magistrates allowed two of the men, including the owner of the farm who had been accused of human trafficking, to walk free.

Two others, accused of aggravated assault and illegal firearms possession, were handed prison sentences of 14 years and seven months and eight years and seven months but were also freed pending appeal.

The Bangladeshis were shot at in April last year when they demanded to be remunerated for six months of unpaid work at a farm in Manolada in the southern Peloponnese. Four of the strawberry pickers were badly injured in the attack. [Guardian]

The decision has sparked outrage in Greece, Bangladesh, and around the world. Greek trade unionists, anti-ractist activists, and politicians are condemning the verdict. 

[Photo credit: Shannon Kline, Creative Commons.]

Priorities: Red Wings vs. Pensions in Detroit

This week current and retired public employees in Detroit agreed to a 4.5% cut in their pensions to help the cash-strapped city make ends meet, while the city agreed to subsidize a stadium for the Detroit Red Wings. David Sirota reports:

As U.S. states and cities grapple with budget and pension shortfalls, many are betting big on an unproven formula: Slash public employee pension benefits and public services while diverting the savings into lucrative subsidies for professional sports teams.

Detroit on Monday made itself the most prominent example of this trend. Officials in the financially devastated city announced that current and future municipal retirees had blessed a plan that will slash their pension benefits. On the same day, the billionaire owners of the Detroit Red Wings, the Ilitch family, unveiled details of an already approved taxpayer-financed stadium for the professional hockey team. [IHT]

The city claims that a new stadium will spur economic development, but stadiums have historically offered lousy returns on taxpayer investment. 


[Photo credit: Jeff Powers, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: The Koch Brothers, AFSCME, & Daycare Dilemmas

The Best of the Week’s News

  • AFSCME broke with the United Negro College Fund after the charity accepted $25 million from the Koch Brothers, the nation’s best-known funders of Black voter suppression.
  • Courtney E. Martin, Editor Emerita of the Hillman Prize-winning blog Feministing, explores options to improve our decrepit daycare system.
  • The UAW is establishing a toehold at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, and the Volkswagen is fine with that.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]


NY Prosecutors Snoop on Inmates' Attorney/Client Emails

Federal prosecutors in New York are using a legal loophole to read jailhouse emails between defendants and their lawyers, Stephanie Clifford revealed in the New York Times, yesterday. Inmates have the right to send confidential snail-mail to their lawyers under the ancient principle of attorney-client privilege, but all electronic communications from jail are monitored. In order to use the email system, the inmate must consent to monitoring. Those messages sometimes show up in court as evidence against the defendent. 

The Editorial Board of the New York Times assailed this email monitoring as an affront to attorney-client privilege, “one of the oldest, broadest, and most important privileges” in the American legal system.

Subprime Bubble for Used Cars Swells

Subprime bubbles aren’t just for housing. Financiers are lining up to make questionable car loans, too:

Rodney Durham stopped working in 1991, declared bankruptcy and lives on Social Security. Nonetheless, Wells Fargo lent him $15,197 to buy a used Mitsubishi sedan.

“I am not sure how I got the loan,” Mr. Durham, age 60, said.

Mr. Durham’s application said that he made $35,000 as a technician at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, N.Y., according to a copy of the loan document. But he says he told the dealer he hadn’t give car loans that he hadn’t worked at the hospital for more than three decades. Now, after months of Wells Fargo pressing him over missed payments, the bank has repossessed his car. [NYT]

The number of subprime car loans has risen an astonishing 130% in the five years since the financial crisis. The New York Times combed through bankruptcy filings to learn about the dubious dealings of lenders. Interest rates ran as high as 23% and the average loan was for double the value of the used car. Sellers often hid mechanical defects from buyers. 

Many people need a car to hold a job, and unscrupulous lenders know that people with damaged credit are a desperate and readily-exploited clientele. 

Sidney's Picks: Class War for Democrats & Why Jose Antonio Vargas Won't Be Deported

The Best of the Week’s News


  • Eight reasons why immigrant rights activist and 2011 Sidney Award-winner Jose Antonio Vargas will not be deported. 
  • The demise of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 proves the Russia/Ukraine conflict “out of control,” says Julia Ioffe.
  • An investigative journalist teaches you how to eat seafood without destroying wild fish stocks. 


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Jose Antonio Vargas Released from Custody

Immigration rights activist, and 2011 Sidney Award-winner, Jose Antonio Vargas has been released from the custody of the U.S. Border Batrol. Vargas was detained on Tuesday at the airport in McCallen, Texas, when he tried to use his Philippines passport to board a flight for Los Angeles. 

Immigration Activist Jose Antonio Vargas in Border Patrol Custody

Immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas is in Border Patrol custody in Texas. Vargas, who won a Sidney Award in 2011 for his autobiographical New York Times story, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” recently travelled to McAllen, Texas to gather information on unaccompanied children in federal immigration detention. Huffington Post reports that Vargas was detained when he tried to pass through security at the McAllen airport, Tuesday morning

Vargas has been living openly as an undocumented person in the United States since 2011. He has no official U.S. ID, but he has been able to fly domestically using his Philippines passport. However, security is unusually tight in the border city of McAllen. Last week, Vargas published a report in POLITICO entitled, “Trapped on the Border,” explaining his situation.

Border Patrol is active at the McAllen Airport, looking for visa stamps that signal that passport holders are in the United States legally. Vargas doesn’t have a visa. He was brought to the U.S. as a child and only learned of his undocumented status as a teenager. 

Vargas was unable to drive north out of Texas because all roads from McAllen pass through the Falfurrias border station, in internal checkpoint where all crossers are grilled about their immigration status.

This incident does not necessarily mean that Vargas will be deported. Vox.com reports that the government still has the power to let Vargas stay in the United States. 

Are OSHA Standards Tough Enough to Protect Workers from Solvents?

Workers at a foam plant in Selma, Alabama that makes headrests for Hyundais suffer from a high incidence of respiratory disease. Are OSHA standards tough enough to protect them from chemicals like toluene diisocyanate? Hillman Prize-winner Seth Freed Wessler investigates for NBC.


[Photo credit: aidenjewell, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Monsanto Linked to Mystery Disease

The Best of the Week’s News


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]