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.
Clear It With Sidney
Sasha Abramsky of The Nation asks why President Obama has pardoned so few people:
While in the White House, Bill Clinton pardoned well over 100 people. So did President Bush. To date, Obama has pardoned less than two dozen and commuted even fewer sentences. His first commutation wasn’t until late November 2011, when, according to CBS News, he ordered the release of a woman who had served ten years of a twenty-two-year sentence for cocaine distribution. CBS reported that “the latest numbers from the US Pardon Attorney show that since taking office Obama has denied 872 applications for pardons and 3,104 for commutations of sentence.” A year later, ThinkProgress reported that the only presidential pardon granted in 2012 was for the lucky turkey, as part of the Thanksgiving tradition.
A president who talks the talk about more sensible, nuanced drug policy, and whose oratory frequently invokes what is best in the American political imagination, has shown himself remarkably reluctant to use one of the most important of presidential prerogatives—the power to right judicial wrongs. “This president,” says Anderson, “has been unbelievably timid and disinclined to do justice in cases that scream out for commutation. There’s not a lot of moral or political fortitude in play.”
[Photo credit: Scott Beale, Creative Commons.]
- Investigative Reporters and Editors has announced the winners of the Philip Meyer Awards for investigative journalism: Payments, Pain Pills, and Pardons.
- As public health officials brace for a brutal flu season, a Minnesota state legislator is championing a paid sick days bill.
- At times during his long career, one private contractor was performing up to 80% of the autopsies in Mississippi--the trouble is, he may have been completely unqualified, if not an outright fraud.
- For the last 655 years, a group of farmers has been forced to pay the equivalent of $76 a year to the Catholic Church to atone for an ancient crime, but a Swiss court has ruled they don't have to keep paying.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau was suffering from the concussion-linked brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he took his own life last spring, according to the National Institutes of Health:
In July the N.I.H. began its study and invited several nationally recognized neuropathologists to consult in the analysis of Seau’s brain tissue. They found “abnormal, small clusters called neurofibrillary tangles of a protein known as tau within multiple regions of Mr. Seau’s brain,” according to the statement. Tau has been found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive neurological disorders.
“I think it’s important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from C.T.E.,” Seau’s ex-wife, Gina, said in an interview with ABC News and ESPN. “It’s important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don’t want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.”
These findings are an important step towards scientific consensus on the reality of CTE in professional sports. Football is notorious for medical and legal concussion controversies, but CTE isn't just a problem for football.
John Branch of the New York Times won a January 2012 Sidney Award for his profile of Derek Boogaard, an NHL player with a history of concussions who showed many of the symptoms of CTE during the two years before he died of an accidental drug overdose.
[Photo credit: patriotworld, Creative Commons.]
Leslie Patton of Bloomberg News has won the January Sidney Award for her eye-opening joint profile of a McDonald's fry cook and the CEO of the company. The fry cook, Tyree Johnson, would have to work over 1 million hours a year in order to earn as much as the former CEO of McDonald's, but in fact, he's lucky to get 40 hours a week because neither of the two McDonald's restaurants he works for will give him full-time hours.
Patton shows how the fast food industry is typical of our increasingly unequal economy that generates historic profits for executives and investors while leaving ordinary workers behind.
In 1979, Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green beret doctor, was convicted of the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters. MacDonald has steadfastly maintained his innocence, claiming that a band of intruders wandered into his house and slaughtered his family. In his new book, Wilderness of Error, filmmaker Errol Morris argues that MacDonald was wronged by the criminal justice system and might even be an innocent man. In his a new e-book, Joe McGinnis, author of the bestselling book on the MacDonald case, Fatal Vision, recaps MacDonald's post-conviction history and argues that justice was served in 1979 and MacDonald has been grasping at straws ever since. I review both books for the Columbia Journalism Review. Side-by-side, these two volumes amount to a journalistic sumo match where two heavyweights square off for control of the MacDonald narrative.
[Photo credit: Public.resource.org, Creative Commons.]
They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. Reporters at Southern Weekend, a relatively liberal paper in Guangzhou, are on strike against excessive censorship by their provincial government.
On Monday, hundreds of people turned out to support the strikers at the newspaper's headquarters and celebrities are championing the journalists' cause online:
“Hoping for a spring in this harsh winter,” Li Bingbing, an actress, said to her 19 million followers on a microblog account. Yao Chen, an actress with more than 31 million followers, cited a quotation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel laureate and dissident: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”
Many of the people who showed up Monday at the newspaper offices in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, carried banners with slogans and white and yellow chrysanthemums, a flower that symbolizes mourning. One banner read: “Get rid of censorship. The Chinese people want freedom.” Police officers watched the protesters without immediately taking any harsh actions. [NYT]
Some political analysts see the strike as a test of the Chinese central government's commitment to press freedom. If the new party cheif, Xi Jinping, sides with the reporters, that could be a sign that he's prepared to loosen state controls on media.
[Photo credit: White and yellow chrysanthemums, like the blossoms carried by the strike supporters to symbolize mourning for press freedom. NTLam, Creative Commons.]
- In These Times recaps the Top Labor Stories of 2012.
- Check out the Daily Beast's Best Longreads of 2012, including an expose of child abuse at an evangelical school and the story of a rust belt teen's climb from poverty.
- A California court ruled that a man who admitted to impersonating a sleeping woman's boyfriend in order to trick her into sex is not guilty of rape because he didn't pretend to be her husband.
- Did unleaded paint and gasoline cause a historic drop in violent crime?
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
The latest from September Sidney-winner Erich Schwartzel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the worsening plight of the Woodlands, a small Pennsylvania community forced to live without running water after its wells were mysteriously befouled:
CONNOQUENESSING TOWNSHIP -- With each passing week, more and more residents in the Woodlands start to live in a waterless world.
The backwoods neighborhood of 200 homes and trailers about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh has exhausted nearly every option for official help since private well water began running orange or drying up altogether in early 2011.
In just the past four months, the number of homes collecting gallon jugs of donated fresh water has more than doubled to 25. The community set up a water bank at a local church to accommodate the growing demand -- the latest step in a two-year saga that started when neighbors called each other with the same complaint: The well water was getting very bad, very fast.
Many suspect that nearby fracking operations have tainted the well water, but so far, government tests have found little difference between pre- and post-fracking levels of contaminants. However, a professor from Duquesne University professor is digging deeper and he says his unpublished results show a host of anomalies in the Woodlands' tap water:
"We're finding a multitude of problems, but the common theme is essentially the water table for the community has changed," [Prof. John Stolz] said.
"Something is pushing the water around."
Each week, more residents report that their tap water has become undrinkable, and in some cases even irritating to the touch.
Electronics manufacturer Foxconn, China's largest employer, became a byword for dismal working conditions and rock bottom morale. After a spate of suicides and strikes, Foxconn has pledged to clean up its act. According to Keith Bradsher and Charles Duhigg of the New York Times, the company is making good on at least some of those promises.
Maple syrup might be the world's least liquid liquid asset, but somebody came up with an intricate plan to steal $18 million worth of the precious golden fluid beloved of Canadians. The bounty was taken from the industry's Fort Knox: A Quebec warehouse controlled by the Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, the cartel that determines how much Canadian maple syrup flows onto the world market.
The heist sparked months of fevered speculation among Canadians, Canadian expats, and hypoglycemics everywhere. Who stole the syrup? Was it a band of hoser ninjas? The RCMP? Jealous Vermonters? After an extended investigation, police finally think they know the answer, but they're still not naming names. They say the suspects set themselves up as maple syrup dealers in the freewheeling province of New Brunswick and sold it to unsuspecting Americans at full price.
[Photo credit: Jemasmith, Creative Commons.]