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Clear it with SidneyHow our blog got its name >

Notes on journalism for the common good
by Lindsay Beyerstein

How our blog got its name

Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”

Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.

It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.

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Winners & Sinners: From Jacobs to Kroft


Sinners: Pulitzer jurors in the investigative reporting and commentary categories.  Sheri Fink’s Pulitzer-winning piece about “urgent life-and-death decisions” made by a New Orleans doctor after Memorial Medical Center was cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina was miserably edited, and replete with implications of guilt that were wholly unsupported by Fink’s sprawling reporting.  This collaboration between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine did not deserve this prize, despite its fancy provenance.

Kathleen Parker, who won for commentary, is another third-rate neo-con who has charmed Fred Hiatt and the rest of the journalistic establishment; her selection is just slightly less embarrassing than the prize given long ago to Charles Krauthammer.  In any case, the persistent failure to award a Pulitzer to Frank Rich, who writes a prize-worthy column almost every week of the year, actually rendered this category quite meaningless a long time ago.

Pulitzer Board members Jim VandeHei of Politico, whose lobbyist wife is an alumna of Tom Delay’s Congressional office, and Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, must have been especially pleased by Parker’s selection.

Winner: Supreme Court expert and budding Obama-biographer Dave Garrow, who has the best dark-horse pick for Justice John Paul Stevens’s seat on the Supreme Court: Attorney General Eric Holder.  This would be a graceful exit indeed for Rahm Emanuel’s nemesis at Justice.

Sunday’s New York Times had its usual mixture of hits and misses...

Winner: The always thorough, sophisticated and nuanced Andrew Jacobs, who used the hacking of his own e-mail account as the jump-off point for a splendid history of harassment of foreign correspondents in China, in the lead position of the front page of the Times's Week in Review.   Once, correspondents were tailed in the street; now they are trailed on the net.

Winner: Nobel-Prize-winner Paul Krugman performed the nearly impossible feat of making cap-and-trade genuinely understandable to the layman, in “Building a Green Economy,” his cover story in the Sunday Times magazine. Krugman’s bottom lines:

* There is widespread agreement among environmental economists that a market-based program to deal with the threat of climate change — one that limits carbon emissions by putting a price on them — can achieve large results at modest, though not trivial, cost.

* Despite those heavy snows this winter which convinced Fox News global warming had ended, the upward trend is unmistakable: each successive decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the one before.

* The supposed “climate-gate” scandals, in which scientists were accused of suppressing data that undermine the theory of global warming, actually “evaporate on closer examination”

* The “tremendous uncertainty” in long-term forecasts “makes the case for action stronger, not weaker.”

* While opponents of a climate-change policy assert that any attempt to limit emissions would be economically devastating, the truth is a strong climate-change policy would leave the American economy only something between 1.1 percent and 3.4 percent smaller by 2050 than it would be without any new policy measures.

* “Utter catastrophe” is “a realistic possibility,” even if it is not the most likely outcome, and Krugman agrees with Harvard’s Martin Weitzman “that this risk of catastrophe, rather than the details of cost-benefit calculations, makes the most powerful case for strong climate policy.”

Krugman’s final bottom line:

* “We know how to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. We have a good sense of the costs — and they’re manageable. All we need now is the political will.”

Unfortunately, since the United States Senate is even greedier and more shortsighted than the typical American, FCP believes that finding that political will quickly enough to avert catastrophe is almost inconceivable.

* Sinner: On the front page of the Times Book Review, distinguished author and historian Garry Wills wrote a balanced, interesting and intelligent review of The Bridge, David Remnick’s new biography of Barack Obama–until the final paragraph, where Wills declared that Obama had “wasted the first year of his term.”  

You can abhor the president’s decision to expand the war in Afghanistan (as Wills did at the New York Review of Books Website last fall), and you can be repelled by Obama’s continuation of many of his predecessor’s anti-terrorism policies, including rendition–but no reasonable person can call his first year a “waste.”

Obama prevented a severe recession from becoming a depression by passing an essential stimulus bill, he got a highly qualified woman confirmed as the newest associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, he saved Chrysler and GM from insolvency, and he laid the groundwork for two spectacular achievements: the passage of health care reform and a very significant arms reduction agreement with Russia.

Whatever that record is, it cannot be called a “waste.”

Winner: As usual, in his opening Comment in this week’s New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg provides exactly the right historical context for Popegate by taking us back to Martin Luther’s complaints about the sale of indulgences, just five centuries ago. 

Winner: Steve Croft, who provided the comic relief we needed by the end of the weekend, with his double-segment interview with retired(?) mobster John Gotti Jr. on last night’s 60 Minutes.



"no reasonable person can call his first year a “waste.”" I guess that makes me an unreasonable person. I won't sink to your level and call you crazy out of hand, because your points on this issue are well-taken. However, the banks, right-wing, and conservative ideas in general were reeling in January of 2009. For a short time, it would be possible to gain the support of a country disillusioned by the conservative failures of the last 30 years. Instead, we got a better-than-nothing stimulus package which has totally blown its wad with the result of still 10% unemployment (which kind of discredits stimulus packages in the eyes of many ordinary people, doesn't it?) Someone who is probably not a conservative to replace one of the most liberal members of the USSC (yay!)*, I'll give you the auto companies, maybe because I don't understand that particular issue very well, a nuclear deal that only lets us blow the world up 87 times instead of 100 ("I reduce the sentence of the condemned from 700 years in prison to 550. Observe my magnanimity!"), and a health care bill that does a lot of good things and a lot of horrible things (I'm on the fence with this bill, but I don't think I'll lose a lot of money betting this puts us even worse off that before). And those are just the "good" parts you could think of. We had a window, and it's gone. We have never faced such large problems, and we didn't fix them when we could. That, Mr. Kaiser, is a waste. But you can ignore me because I'm unreasonable. *I'll spare you by not getting into Ms. Kagan.

great post, Hendrik Hertzberg column was interesting on the church and it was very interesting reading about the makeup of the Pulitzer's jurors.

Maureen Dowd's Sunday piece on the Catholic resemblence to funda mental Islamic cultures regarding women should also be noted.


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