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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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Clear It With Sidney

Mon, Jun 9, 2014

Grocery workers in California are twice as likely as the average Californian to be unable to afford to buy food: 

One out of three grocery workers in California is receiving some type of public assistance while one in five rations the food he or she helps sell, according to a new report that laments the industry's diminishing standing as a source of stable, middle-class jobs.

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Grocery workers in California are twice as likely as the average Californian to be unable to afford to buy food: 

One out of three grocery workers in California is receiving some type of public assistance while one in five rations the food he or she helps sell, according to a new report that laments the industry's diminishing standing as a source of stable, middle-class jobs.

For a study set to be published Monday, University of California researchers interviewed 925 people who work for supermarket chains, smaller ethnic markets or in the grocery sections of big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, making it one of the largest surveys ever done of the state's grocery industry workforce of 383,900, The San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/SFs6AU).

The study was commissioned by a labor union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council. It found that the median wage at unionized stores fell from $19.38 in 2000 to $15.17 an hour in 2012, with workers at non-union shops earning less than $10 an hour. [AP]

This message has been brought to you buy irony and the casual cruelty of capitalism. 

 

[Photo credit: Bailey S., Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Jun 6, 2014

The Best of the Week's News

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The Best of the Week's News

  • Lives Worth Less? The Houston Police Department barely lifted a finger to solve some two dozen homicides.
  • Congressional Black Caucus divided over Wall Street.

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Mon, Jun 2, 2014

There are 870,000 inmates in the United States' prison workforce. These inmates have virtually no rights at work. Prisoners typically earn less than a dollar an hour, and most of them work at keeping their own prisons running. If all the work of running prisons were paid at minimum wage, prison wouldn't be nearly as profitable as it currently is. 

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There are 870,000 inmates in the United States' prison workforce. These inmates have virtually no rights at work. Prisoners typically earn less than a dollar an hour, and most of them work at keeping their own prisons running. If all the work of running prisons were paid at minimum wage, prison wouldn't be nearly as profitable as it currently is. 

Beth Schwartzapfel investigates the demi-monde of the nation's incarcerated workforce for the American Prospect:

Despite decades’ worth of talk about reform—of giving prisoners the skills and resources they need to build a life after prison—the vast majority of these workers, almost 700,000, still do “institutional maintenance” work like Hazen’s. They mop cellblock floors, prepare and serve food in the dining hall, mow the lawns, file papers in the warden’s office, and launder millions of tons of uniforms and bed linens. Compensation varies from state to state and facility to facility, but the median wage in state and federal prisons is 20 and 31 cents an hour, respectively.

It might appear that the public is saving money by making prisoners earn their keep at very low wages, but this analysis neglects the fact many prisoners have dependents on the outside who are forced onto public assistance because their former breadwinner's full-time wages are scarcely enough to keep her in sanitary pads from the prison commissary. That's not even counting the indirect costs of prisoners being released with no savings, or even large debts from all the fees they racked up in the court system. When prisoners are let out with no resources to reestablish themselves in society, they may be tempted to reoffend. 

 

[Photo credit: Valery, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, May 30, 2014

The Best of the Week's News

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The Best of the Week's News

  • A historian of abortion recalls Dr. George Tiller on the fifth anniversary of his assassination.

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Thu, May 29, 2014

Investigative reporter Anne Elizabeth Moore explains that NGOs that puport to "rescue" women from prostitution in Cambodia actually channel them into garment industry sweatshops, under the smiling approval factory owners and international observers: 

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Investigative reporter Anne Elizabeth Moore explains that NGOs that puport to "rescue" women from prostitution in Cambodia actually channel them into garment industry sweatshops, under the smiling approval factory owners and international observers: 

Listen: I spent seven years researching and doing work in Cambodia, made concerted efforts to learn the language, developed a strong stomach and reliable sources, and honed my skills in investigative reporting before I could even understand what, really, anti-human trafficking NGOs do. What they do is normalize existent labor opportunities for women, however low the pay, dangerous the conditions, or abusive an environment they may be. And they shame women who reject such jobs. [Salon]

It's debateable whether these new jobs constitute rescue at all, and the tactics that some NGOs use to move workers from one sector to another can be coercive. 

 

[Photo credit: Garment workers in Cambodia on their way to work. World Bank, Creative Commons.]

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Wed, May 28, 2014

The Sultan of Brunei is phasing in Shariah Law in his Southeast Asian kingdom, prompting boycotts of his U.S. hotels by American consumers hoping to change his mind. 

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The Sultan of Brunei is phasing in Shariah Law in his Southeast Asian kingdom, prompting boycotts of his U.S. hotels by American consumers hoping to change his mind. 

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Tue, May 27, 2014

For nearly a decade, Candice Anderson assumed she was to blame for the 2004 crash that killed her boyfriend. She was driving when the accident occurred and, because she had a trace of Xanax in her bloodstream, she even faced a manslaughter charge in connection with the accident.

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For nearly a decade, Candice Anderson assumed she was to blame for the 2004 crash that killed her boyfriend. She was driving when the accident occurred and, because she had a trace of Xanax in her bloodstream, she even faced a manslaughter charge in connection with the accident.

Last week, Ms. Anderson learned that the crash had nothing to do with her driving. She lost control of her car because the vehicle had a defective ignition, a defect that the manufacturer, General Motors, did not disclose. Ms. Anderson's boyfriend was one of 13 people who were killed because of this defect, the New York Times reports.

 

[Image Credit: Vintage GM ad, Alden Jewell, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, May 23, 2014

The Best of the Week's News:

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The Best of the Week's News:

  • A powerful essay by David Cay Johnston on the need to make the minimum wage a living wage.

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Thu, May 22, 2014

Hillman Judge Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations in a cover story at the Atlantic. The piece begins: "Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole."

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Hillman Judge Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations in a cover story at the Atlantic. The piece begins: "Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole."

It's an important conversation and one that's long overdue. We at Hillman are biased, but we can't think of a better person to put forward the moral and historical case for reparations than Mr. Coates. 

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Wed, May 21, 2014

We at the Hillman Foundation are very proud to announce that Chris Hayes has won the May Sidney Award for “The New Abolitionism,” a provocative feature in The Nation in which he argues that fossil fuel companies must forfeit $10 trillion in unburned oil and gas reserves in order to avert civilization-destroying climate change, a demand he says is no less urgent, and no less radical than the abolitionist ultimatum that slaveholders give up the vast wealth they held in human bondage.

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We at the Hillman Foundation are very proud to announce that Chris Hayes has won the May Sidney Award for “The New Abolitionism,” a provocative feature in The Nation in which he argues that fossil fuel companies must forfeit $10 trillion in unburned oil and gas reserves in order to avert civilization-destroying climate change, a demand he says is no less urgent, and no less radical than the abolitionist ultimatum that slaveholders give up the vast wealth they held in human bondage.

Read Lindsay Beyerstein's Backstory interview with Hayes to learn more about the stakes of this debate and the innovative tactics that could bring the likes of Exxon Mobil to heel. 

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