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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

Wed, Apr 25, 2012

 

"Embedded" debt collectors prowl the corridors of hospitals, shaking down patients, and even discouraging perceived deadbeats from seeking emergency care, Jessica Silver-Greenberg reports for the New York Times:

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"Embedded" debt collectors prowl the corridors of hospitals, shaking down patients, and even discouraging perceived deadbeats from seeking emergency care, Jessica Silver-Greenberg reports for the New York Times:

Hospital patients waiting in an emergency room or convalescing after surgery are being confronted by an unexpected visitor: a debt collector at bedside.

This and other aggressive tactics by one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debts, Accretive Health, were revealed on Tuesday by the Minnesota attorney general, raising concerns that such practices have become common at hospitals across the country.

The tactics, like embedding debt collectors as employees in emergency rooms and demanding that patients pay before receiving treatment, were outlined in hundreds of company documents released by the attorney general. And they cast a spotlight on the increasingly desperate strategies among hospitals to recoup payments as their unpaid debts mount.

To patients, the debt collectors may look indistinguishable from hospital employees, may demand they pay outstanding bills and may discourage them from seeking emergency care at all, even using scripts like those in collection boiler rooms, according to the documents and employees interviewed by The New York Times.

By law, hospitals must provide emergency care, even to the destitute. If a hospital "embeds" a debt collector to deter a patient from seeking care and that patient dies because she went untreated, are the hospital and the debt collector liable? 

Silver-Greenberg notes that the Accretive Health's aggressive tactics are part of a larger trend of hospitals signing over core functions to debt collection agencies in an attempt to recoup more money. Critics worry that giving debt collectors this kind of access could compromise patient safety and privacy. Hospitals claim they have no choice because they are hemorrhaging billions of dollars a year in uncompensated care.

If you need an argument for universal health insurance, Silver-Greenberg has supplied one. 

[Photo credit: Which one is the debt collector? For illustration only. By Agência de Notícias do Acre, Creative Commons.]

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Tue, Apr 24, 2012

Your feelgood story of the day: Michael Berens and Ken Armstrong shared a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The two journos have donated their $10,000 prize to Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) to train their colleagues in investigative reporting.

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Your feelgood story of the day: Michael Berens and Ken Armstrong shared a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The two journos have donated their $10,000 prize to Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) to train their colleagues in investigative reporting.

Berens and Armstrong are longtime members of IRE, the leading professional association for investigative journalists in North America. They are both scheduled to speak at IRE's annual convention in Boston in June. 

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Mon, Apr 23, 2012

Selena Ross digs deep to expose the sordid subculture of Montreal snow removal for Maisonneuve magazine. A handful of established snow removal companies divide the borough contracts between them. Bid-rigging is the norm and upstart competitors are kept in check by sabotage and even violence:

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Selena Ross digs deep to expose the sordid subculture of Montreal snow removal for Maisonneuve magazine. A handful of established snow removal companies divide the borough contracts between them. Bid-rigging is the norm and upstart competitors are kept in check by sabotage and even violence:

Over the course of a year-long investigation, Maisonneuve analyzed about 250 snow-removal contracts and interviewed more than a dozen private contractors, their employees and the municipal bureaucrats who administer their work. (All sources requested anonymity for their own safety; identifying details have also been omitted.) These sources described bid-rigging as a fact of life in the industry. More crucially, they said, Montrealers don’t understand how fiercely the system is maintained through violence and coercion. Those who obey are rewarded with extra, ill-gotten profits. Those who don’t play along are punished. A former employee of one of Montreal’s snowplow giants put it succinctly. “Snow removal,” he said, “is one of the biggest rackets there is.”

[Photo credit: Robbie1, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Apr 20, 2012

  • Need to Know and the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute have obtained explosive video that casts doubt on the U.S. Border Patrol's claims about the death of a 42-year-old migrant at the hands of Border Patrol agents. According to the official story, the father of five was Tased while he combative and out of control, but the video shows that he was tased after he was already handcuffed and immobilized on the ground. The preview segment, above, has already racked up nearly 80,000 hits on YouTube. The full program will air on PBS tonight. [HT: Talking Points Memo]
  • Be sure to check out USA Today's sweeping investigation of lead poisoning in children whose homes were built near long-shuttered lead smelters, which contaminate the soil to this day. The EPA knew the risks, but largely failed to act, or even to warn the residents. 
  • The Pineapple and The Hare: Bizarre questions from the New York State English exam.
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Fri, Apr 20, 2012

Friday's labor breakfast panel asked: Is a multi-racial working class coalition still possible? Moderator Dorian Warren, a professor of political science at Columbia, framed the discussion in terms of America's enduring racial divide; the Baby Boomers vs. the Milennials; the role of money in politics; and the electoral wildcard of the Occupy Movement.

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Friday's labor breakfast panel asked: Is a multi-racial working class coalition still possible? Moderator Dorian Warren, a professor of political science at Columbia, framed the discussion in terms of America's enduring racial divide; the Baby Boomers vs. the Milennials; the role of money in politics; and the electoral wildcard of the Occupy Movement.

Political scientist Ruy Teixeira explained that Obama won 80% of the non-white vote in 2008, but lost the white working class by 21 points. Journalist Thomas Edsall argued that the current Democratic coalition is strong enough to put the Democrats back into office, but that the Dems need to win more white working class votes in order to credibly claim to represent the average working person.

AFL-CIO official Julie Greene described the AFL-CIO's strategy going into 2012: Building infrastructure to mobilize voters and protect the electorate from voter disenfranchisement. Minority voters are most likely to be disenfranchised by voter ID laws and other Republican-backed initiatives to make voting more difficult. Massive minority turnout helped put Obama over the top in 2008 and that surge did not go unnoticed by the other side, Greene said. Voter ID laws were introduced in all but three states. She estimated that 5 million people were disenfranchised across the 6 states that enacted voter ID laws.

The panel was sponsored by the Murphy Institute, CUNY, and the Sidney Hillman Foundation.

[Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein, all rights reserved.]

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Thu, Apr 19, 2012

A 14-month USA Today investigation has found dozens of long-shuttered lead smelters that continue to contaminate the surrounding soil and endanger public health:

Ken Shefton is furious about what the government knew eight years ago and never told him — that the neighborhood where his five sons have been playing is contaminated with lead.

Their Cleveland home is a few blocks from a long-forgotten factory that spewed toxic lead dust for about 30 years.

The Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators clearly knew of the danger. They tested soil throughout the neighborhood and documented hazardous levels of contamination. They never did a cleanup. They didn't warn people living nearby that the tainted soil endangers their children. [USA Today]

An environmental researcher compiled a list of over 400 suspected lead-contaminated sites and turned it over to the Environmental Protection Agency, but the agency largely failed to act on the information.

Most residents in lead-contaminated areas were shocked to learn that they were living near, or in some cases on top of, an old smelter site. Medical records supplied to USA Today show that some of their children had dangerously high lead levels. Lead is a potent neurotoxin, especially in young children.

This is a deeply researched, hard-hitting piece of old school investigative journalism. Read the whole thing.

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Wed, Apr 18, 2012

Join us Friday April 20th for a breakfast forum titled: The 2012 Elections: Is a multi-racial working-class coalition still possible?  With Tom Edsall, Ruy Teixeira and Ana Avendano, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Murphy Institute, CUNY, 25 W. 43 rd St. 18th Floor, New York 10036.

View full-sized flyer.

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Join us Friday April 20th for a breakfast forum titled: The 2012 Elections: Is a multi-racial working-class coalition still possible?  With Tom Edsall, Ruy Teixeira and Ana Avendano, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Murphy Institute, CUNY, 25 W. 43 rd St. 18th Floor, New York 10036.

View full-sized flyer.

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Tue, Apr 17, 2012

Tonight on FRONTLINE, correspondent Lowell Bergman casts a critical eye on crime scene investigation techniques. Is bad science sending innocent people to jail and keeping murderers on the street? Watch the preview.

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Tonight on FRONTLINE, correspondent Lowell Bergman casts a critical eye on crime scene investigation techniques. Is bad science sending innocent people to jail and keeping murderers on the street? Watch the preview.

Here's another recent FRONTLINE clip about the threat of cognitive bias in fingerprint analysis. A neuroscientist describes how he was able to make half of the fingerprint examiners he studied change their verdict on whether two prints matched by changing his description of the case. Examiners who declared two prints to be a match under one case description sometimes deemed the same two prints a non-match when they were presented with a different description.

(Aside: I'm amused by the ad for Goldman Sachs that runs before the fingerprint segment. Goldman is now calling itself "The Game-Changing Yes Network.")

[Photo credit: Flick, Creative Commons.]

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Mon, Apr 16, 2012

Congratulations to Sara Ganim and the Patriot-News on winning the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting; and to David Kocieniewski of the New York Times on his win for Explanatory Reporting.

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Congratulations to Sara Ganim and the Patriot-News on winning the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting; and to David Kocieniewski of the New York Times on his win for Explanatory Reporting.

Ganim won the Pulitzer and the December Sidney Award for her expose of the Penn State sex abuse scandal. David Kocieniewski won his Pulitzer for explaining how the richest people and businesses get out of paying taxes. He won the March 2011 Sidney Award for a story on how General Electric minimizes its tax bill.

Congratulations also to Danny Hakim and Russ Buettner whose investigation of abuse and neglect in New York group homes made the New York Times a Pulitzer finalist for Public Service. That investigation also garnered an honorable mention for the 2012 Hillman Prize.

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Mon, Apr 16, 2012

NEW YORK - Musician and activist Tom Morello will receive a special public service award at the annual 2012 Hillman Prizes ceremony on May 1 at The TimesCenter. The Board of Directors of the Sidney Hillman Foundation is honoring Morello with the Officers' Award for his advocacy for and support of working people across the world.

Morello will receive the award at the ceremony and reception to honor this year's Hillman Prize-winners for excellence in journalism in service of the common good. Previous Officers' awards have gone to such figures as Eleanor Roosevelt, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Belafonte, and others.

Morello will be performing at this year's ceremony.

In 2011, Tom Morello sang on the capitol steps in Madison, Wisconsin to support the public employees in their fight to protect collective bargaining. He visited and performed at Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. He donated the proceeds from his Justice Tour concerts in Madison WI, Flint MI, and Cleveland OH to the Nation Institute.

"Tom Morello's work in pursuing social and economic justice - and in telling the stories of working men and women - is exemplary and inspiring," said Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation. "Tom's music, energy and leadership brings attention to causes that matter and inspires others to become more active on the public commons. In the words of another American songwriter, there's a battle outside and it's ragin' - and almost any time we look, there's Tom Morello right out in front."

The awards ceremony will take place at 6pm Tuesday, May 1, 212, at The TimesCenter, in New York City.

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