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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, Aug 8, 2012

A 13-journalist team led by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Director Gerard Ryle and ICIJ reporter Kate Willson has won the August Sidney Award for "Skin and Bone," a sweeping investigation of the largely unregulated global trade in human tissues. A single healthy body can be worth $80,000-$200,000 when stripped for reusable parts like skin, bone, and heart valves. Greedy tissue harvesters sometimes steal tissue outright, ICIJ found. One prominent ex-dental surgeon was convicted of lifting tissues from over 1000 corpses at funeral homes in New York and Pennsylvania. A tissue firm in Ukraine is accused of stealing tissue from corpses, including that of a 19-year-old suicide victim.

The investigation, which lasted 8 months, and spanned 11 countries, sheds light on a lucrative but little-understood part of the biomedical industry. Unlike organs, human tissues are sold for profit. Organs and blood products are electronically traceable from donor to recipients, but tissues are not. This is a problem because tissues can spread infections. ICIJ found over a thousand cases of infections from contaminated tissue in the U.S. since 2002, 40 of them lethal. Those are just the cases we know of. U.S. and international authorities are only dimly aware of where tissue comes from, or where it goes. The investigation also found cases where greedy tissue dealers falsified paperwork to hide potentially lethal infections in donor bodies.

Recylced tissues have the power to heal; but the underregulated, for-profit marketplace threatens human rights, patient safety, and public health. The ICIJ investigation tackles this multifacted issue with great rigor and great compassion.

Click here to read my Back Story interview with team leader Gerard Ryle.

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Mon, Aug 6, 2012

Trayvon Martin's family is being sued by an insurance company, Trymaine Lee reports for the Huffington Post:

Trayvon Martin’s mother is being sued by an insurance company trying to absolve itself from any liability in the teen’s death, according to an attorney for Martin’s family.

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Trayvon Martin's family is being sued by an insurance company, Trymaine Lee reports for the Huffington Post:

Trayvon Martin’s mother is being sued by an insurance company trying to absolve itself from any liability in the teen’s death, according to an attorney for Martin’s family.

Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America has sued Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, and The Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowner’s Association, the gated community where Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February.

Travelers claims that it is not responsible to defend the homeowners association because of various clauses in the association’s policy, specifically a "wrongful act" exclusion.

On March 30, just over a month after Martin was killed, the homeowners association took out a liability policy with Travelers, and shortly thereafter Fulton made a claim for monetary damages in her son’s death.

Lee won a Sidney Award for his coverage of the Martin shooting.

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Fri, Aug 3, 2012

  • A 38-year-old grandmother is leading a civilian insurgency against machine-gun-toting illegal loggers in the Mexican town of Cherán, the New York Times reports.
  • An agency created to ensure the integrity of federal elections is currently leaderless and adrift, Dan Froomkin reports for Huffington Post. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is supposed to have four commissioners, but right now it has none, and the Republicans are trying to defund it.
  • A surprising new study found that sedentary U.S. office workers burn about as many calories per day as hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Technically, the U.S. office workers burned more calories than the hunter-gatherers, but they also weighed more. Once you correct for body weight, it's a wash.
  • Raising less corn and more hell: A Vermont farmer is awaits trial for flattening seven police cars with his tractor.
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Thu, Aug 2, 2012

Maia Manian of the University of San Francisco School of Law explains why the South Dakota law that forces women seeking abortions to hear a false disclaimer about abortion increasing the risk of suicide makes a mockery of the principle of informed consent:

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Maia Manian of the University of San Francisco School of Law explains why the South Dakota law that forces women seeking abortions to hear a false disclaimer about abortion increasing the risk of suicide makes a mockery of the principle of informed consent:

[The informed consent requirement] ensures that patients receive sufficient information to make their own decisions about whether to consent to medical treatment. Informed consent law’s long-established principles have been perverted in the context of abortion legislation. Anti-choice laws claiming to ensure well-informed decisions for women in fact misuse informed consent terminology to further goals antithetical to the imperatives animating informed consent law.

Read the rest at RH Reality Check.

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Tue, Jul 31, 2012

So-called "stand your ground laws," which allow people to shoot in self-defense without first attempting to flee, appear to increase the homicide rate. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, many have wondered whether whites who claim to have been standing their ground against black assailants are more likely to be excused under "stand your ground" than blacks who claim to have killed whites for the same reason. PBS/Frontline investigates with the help of an analyst from the Urban Institute.

[Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein, All Rights Reserved.]

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Mon, Jul 30, 2012

Jim Morris of Mother Jones reports on the safety crisis facing the university chem labs:

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Jim Morris of Mother Jones reports on the safety crisis facing the university chem labs:

Sheri Sangji was on fire instantly. The 23-year-old research associate had accidentally pulled the plunger out of a syringe while conducting an experiment in a UCLA laboratory. In the syringe was a solution that would combust upon contact with air. It spilled onto Sangji's hands and body. 

She wasn't wearing a lab coat; no one had told her to. The fire burned through her gloves, then her hands. She inhaled toxic, superheated gases given off by her burning polyester sweater, a process that accelerated as she ran and screamed.

Sangji's supervisor is facing criminal charges in connection with her death. This is the first time a university professor has been charged for endangering a lab worker.

[Photo credit: tk-link, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Jul 27, 2012

  • The latest threat to the ozone layer? Freaky summer storms
  • When "informed consent" is anything but. RH Reality Check reports on a federal court ruling to uphold a South Dakota law that requires doctors to mislead women about the risks of abortion

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Jul 27, 2012

Pam Belluck, the talented New York Times health reporter who exposed the truth behind Plan B labels, talks about her new book, "Island Practice":

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Pam Belluck, the talented New York Times health reporter who exposed the truth behind Plan B labels, talks about her new book, "Island Practice":

In her new book, “Island Practice,” the New York Times reporter Pam Belluck tells the story of Dr. Timothy Lepore, a quirky 67-year-old physician who for the past 30 years has been the only surgeon working on the island of Nantucket. But Dr. Lepore (rhymes with peppery) is no ordinary surgeon. Life on an island, even one that has become a summer playground to the rich and famous, requires a certain amount of resourcefulness and flexibility. [NYT]

Dr. Lepore's ecclectic practice as been full of memorable incidents, like the time he reached into a stab wound to massage a patient's stopped heart because there was no time to get him off the island.

"Island Practice" has already been optioned for TV by the creators of "24" and "Friday Night Lights."

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Wed, Jul 25, 2012

Taser bills its less-lethal weapons as tools to reduce police shootings. According to the marketing pitch, officers will be less likely to shoot suspects if they can disable them with electric shocks. That promise has not come true in Chicago, Dan Hinkel and Alex Richards report for the Chicago Tribune:

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Taser bills its less-lethal weapons as tools to reduce police shootings. According to the marketing pitch, officers will be less likely to shoot suspects if they can disable them with electric shocks. That promise has not come true in Chicago, Dan Hinkel and Alex Richards report for the Chicago Tribune:

In 2010, the city armed hundreds more officers with the weapon, fueling a 329 percent jump in Taser use, from 195 incidents in 2009 to 836 in 2011. Yet shootings by police didn't drop significantly during that period, according to figures from the city's Independent Police Review Authority.

The numbers raise questions about how often police use the weapons to defuse confrontations that might otherwise escalate to use of deadly force. Civil lawyers and department critics have alleged that, rather than deploying Tasers to subdue dangerous criminals, officers have sometimes drawn them on mildly obstinate suspects.

The best line in the story goes to a Florida policing consultant:

"The big investment in Taser is meant to preserve lives," said Roy Bedard, a Florida-based consultant on policing and use of force. "If you're Tasing more people and you're still shooting more people, well, something's wrong."

Despite the lackluster outcomes, the Chicago Police Department is replacing its 600-Taser arsenal with the $1300 X2 model, for even more firepower.

[Photo credit: hradcanska, Creative Commons.]

 

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Tue, Jul 24, 2012

NYT metro reporter Gina Bellafante critiques Mayor Bloomberg's claims of job creation in New York City:

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NYT metro reporter Gina Bellafante critiques Mayor Bloomberg's claims of job creation in New York City:

Despite job growth in certain knowledge-class and service sectors, unemployment has been rising. On Thursday, the State Labor Department reported that the city’s unemployment rate climbed to 10 percent in June, exceeding the national figure by close to two percentage points. The unemployment rate in the city is now nearly twice what it was five years ago and has been running higher than the figures for Atlanta, Boston, Houston and Chicago.

While it is indeed a very good time to be moving to New York with a Stanford M.B.A. and a business plan to create the Twitter of 2014 (as suggested by the barely post-adolescent tech entrepreneur Josh Miller when he stood next to the mayor at a press event in May), it is a far less auspicious moment to be someone who already lives here and is looking for cleaning work, say, in the offices of the Twitter of 2012.

Bellafante reports that low-wage workers in New York are battling high unemployment and dwindling purchasing power. In the 1960s and '70s a full time job at minimum wage was enough to lift a family above the poverty line, but that is no longer the case, according to a recent by a local social justice organization. Today's full-time minimum wage worker supporting a family of three makes just 82% of the federal poverty threshold.

[Photo credit: Shawn Hoke, Creative Commons.]

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