Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

Banks Turn Troops Into Cash Cows With Overdraft Charges

Unscrupulous lenders have always preyed on military families, who are apt to be some combination of young, preoccupied, and broke. Payday lenders dot the neighborhoods around military bases. Real banks are cashing in, too. Fort Hood National Bank regularly allows account-holders to overdraft their accounts by several hundred dollars, charging a $35 fee per overdraft. A Wall Street Journal investigation found that 3 out of 10 of the banks that collected the most overdraft fees had branches on military bases.

[Photo credit: bradipo, Creative Commons]

Sidney's Picks: Walmart Breakthrough?; Forced "Life Support"; Drinking Water Crisis in WV

The Best of the Week’s News

  • Walmart  joins the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Rolling Stone Investigates the Stealth War on Abortion Rights

Janet Reitman, an investigative journalist well-known for her expose of Scientology and her profile of the Boston bombing suspect, tackles the stealth war on abortion. Reitman explains how right wing groups have stopped trying to criminalize abortion outright and refocused their energies on regulating abortion out of existence.  This is the first time in years that Rolling Stone has devoted so much space to a reprouctive rights story. Kudos to the publication and the reporter for putting out this important piece of journalism.

What's at Stake in the Clinic Buffer Zone Case?

Sidney-winner Irin Carmon on the big abortion rights case before the Supreme Court. The court will decide whether states can create buffer zones around abortion clinics to protect patients and providers from confrontational anti-choice protesters, if the state can show that existing criminal law is not enough to protect the clinics.

[Photo credit: Infowidget, Creative Commons.]

Poverty is Expensive

On the 50th Anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, Barbara Ehrenreich argues that researchers went off track decades ago when they decided that fixing poverty was a matter of diagnosing and remediating the supposedly dysfunctional culture and flawed characters of poor people. These researchers assumed that the poor stayed poor because they choose immediate gratification over long-term planning, or addiction over sobriety, or promiscuity over lawful marriage, and therefore needed moral uplift in the form of “chastity training” and other behavior modification programs. Not surprisingly, the only people who improved their economic status were the consultants who charged taxpayers big bucks for ineffective and degrading programs. 

Ehrenreich thinks it’s a lot simpler than that: The working poor don’t rise out poverty because wages are low and being poor is insidiously but ruinously expensive. As Ehrenreich discovered while researching her book Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, if you don’t have first and last month’s rent to put down on a new apartment, you can find yourself stuck in an overpriced residential motel that costs far more per month than you would have paid in rent if only you’d had the cash to put down the deposit. Ehrenreich found poverty “surcharges” on everything from convenience store groceries to high-interest payday loans. Between the hidden high costs of making do on minimum wage and stagnant wages, it’s no wonder that so many poor people find themselves unable to get ahead.


[Photo credit: kersy83, Creative Commons.]


West Virginia Chemical Spill Reveals Regulatory Weaknesses

A chemical spill in the Elk River left 300,000 West Virginians without water last week. Experts say the spill reveals systematic weaknesses in the state’s system for managing toxic chemicals:

“We can’t just point a single finger at this company,” said Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.”

She said lawmakers have yet to explain why the storage facility was allowed to sit on the river and so close to a water treatment plant that is the largest in the state.

Ms. Rosser and others noted that the site of the spill has not been subject to a state or federal inspection since 1991. West Virginia law does not require inspections for chemical storage facilities — only for production facilities. [NYT]

Critics say that the state government of West Virginia has long been hostile to environmental regulation because of the outsize influence of coal and chemical companies. 


[Photo credit: “Elk River Falls,” for illustration only, dmott9, Creative Commons.]

Sidney's Picks: Urban asthma epidemic; Self-Abortions in Texas; Reddit-Brand Assault Rifles

The Best of the Week’s News

  • An asthma epidemic in American cities is robbing children of their health and peace of mind, Dateline NBC investigates why so many kids are struggling to breathe.



[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Pregnant Body Sustained on Life Support, Against Woman's Advance Directive and Family's Wishes

Marlize Munoz and her husband Erick were paramedics, raising a young son and anticipating the birth of their second child. On Nov. 26, Erick found Marlize collapsed on the floor of their North Texas home. Her heart was stopped and she wasn’t breathing. Her doctors believe she was stricken by a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung. Her brain was completely destroyed by oxygen deprivation. 

Marlize is dead according to medical science and Texas law. Yet a ventilator is forcing air into her body against her wishes and the wishes of her family because she is pregnant. Texas is one of several states that invalidates the advance health directives of pregnant women. 

Marlize told her family she never wanted to be hooked up to a ventilator under these circumstances. Yet, thanks to the hospital’s dubious interpretation of a Texas law, Marlize’s body is being ventilated for the benefit of the 14-week-old fetus inside of it. The law applies to patients living patients, not to dead bodies. But the hospital is holding firm. 



Gabriel Thompson Wins January Sidney for Profile of Latino Immigrant Course Workers

Approximately two-thirds of the workers who maintain golf courses in the United States are Latino immigrants. Some are documented and others are undocumented. The work is gruelling, but invisible by design: They rise before dawn to trim the grass, level the sand traps, and chisel weeds out of the turf. They earn about $10 an hour. Gabriel Thompson wins the January Sidney Award for “The Caretakers,” which tells the stories of the men who make golf possible as a sport and an industry. Golf Digest took the unusual step of commissioning the piece because they wanted their readers to understand the huge contributions of Latino workers to the golf industry. Read my interview with Thompson in The Backstory

A New Civil Rights Issue: Women's Freedom Online

Social media presence and online branding are said to be critical to success in journalism today. Important questions are debated online and professional reputations are established in this arena. So, where does that leave female journalists whose work generates huge volumionus threats and abuse over twitter and other social media? Amanda Hess’s thought-provoking Pacific Standard essay on the online harrassment of female journalists should be read by everyone who cares about the future of journalism.

The web was supposed to disrupt established media power structures and give traditionally under-represented groups more ability to shape public opinion. To some extent, this promise has come true. However, women and other vulnerable groups (including young writers and writers of color) are disproportionately targeted for threats and abuse over social media. The very tools that enabled a broader reach also enable abusers to shame and harrass with terrifying precision.