Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Mass Killings in Baghdad at Sites of Alleged Sex Work

Morgue workers in Baghdad told independent journalist Rania Abouzeid that, this year, religious militias have repeatedly massacred people at sites allegedly linked to the sex trade. The largest of these killings occured last month. On July 13, thirty-two people were murdered in two apartment buildings in the Zayouna district of Baghdad:

Early on the morning of July 13th, the shot-up bodies of twenty-eight women and five men were retrieved from two apartments in a building complex Zayouna, a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. Both apartments were said to be sites of prostitution. By 10 A.M., the police had delivered the bodies to a city morgue, where they were strewn over the dirty, blood-streaked floor, one woman’s outstretched arms abutting another woman’s head, someone’s splayed legs near someone else’s torso. This is the third time this year that a group of women suspected of being prostitutes has been killed; this group was the largest to date, according to morgue workers. [New Yorker]

A shopkeeper told NBC that the shootings happened after a group of suspected militiamen in uniform entered Zayouna. The Baghdad Police say the killers left notes saying that the killings were “punishment.” 

Sidney's Picks: Greenmarket Farm Workers; Renisha McBride Verdict


The best of the week’s news:

  • Organic but not sustainable: The farm workers who pick produce for New York’s greenmarkets work 14-hour days with no overtime, a legal holdover from the Jim Crow era.
  • The man who shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride when she knocked on his door after a late night car wreck has been found guilty of her second-degree murder.
  • Carla Murphy reports on young, black men growing up in the shadow of Chicago’s gun crisis.
  • The abortion ministry of Dr. Willie Parker, the last abortion provider in Mississippi


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

McDonald's to Franchisee: "Just Pay Your Workers Less"

Why is Kathryn Slater-Carter, the owner of a McDonald’s franchise in California, joining forces with SEIU to advocate for the rights for franchisees in California? The short answer is that McDonald’s is forcing franchisees to practically give food away and demanding that they take the difference out of their workers’ wages, and franchisees can’t refuse because McDonald’s has all the legal power. SEIU and some small franchisees are backing a bill before the state legislature that could help small business owners stand up to the corporate behemoth. 


[Photo: Allen, Creative Commons.]

Sidney's Picks: McDonald's Organizers Cheer NLRB Ruling

  • In a major victory for fast food organizers, the National Labor Relations Board has determined that the McDonald’s corporation is a joint employer of the workers at its franchises.
  • A year after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the worst industrial disaster in history, Sidney-winner Josh Eidelson looks back and asks what has changed.
  • Forensic scientists work to identify the bodies of migrants who died attempting to cross the Mexico/U.S. border.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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.]