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
- How SuperMax prisons drive inmates insane, by Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic.
- "Who's afraid of secular government," Sarah Posner asks in The Nation.
- A gripping true crime story about a 23-year-old cold case by Mark Bowden in Vanity Fair.
- Modern-day slavery in the Thai fishing industry: How one man was held captive for three years, the first of a two-part report on NPR.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Great news from Kit Rachlis, editor of the American Prospect, a distinguished but cash-strapped journal of liberal ideas:
We made it!
(As someone once said, woo-freaking-hoo!!)
At the eleventh and a half hour on Monday, the Prospect received news of two big gifts that put us over the top of that once unreachable-sounding fundraising goal. Since word of our financial situation first became public—just seven weeks ago—the campaign to “Save the Prospect” has raised just under $1.3 million dollars. We are stunned, pleased, and enormously grateful. [TAP]
For several weeks, the fate of the Prospect hung in the balance. Thanks to the generosity of its donors, and the tenacity of its fundraisers, the liberal magazine will continue to produce the high quality reporting and policy analysis that its admirers have come to expect.
The Prospect, co-founded in 1990 by Hillman judge Harold Meyerson, has been an incubator for liberal talent. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nick Confessore got his start there before moving on to the New York Times. Hillman Prize-winners Ezra Klein and Jon Cohn are also Prospect alums. The magazine currently serves as a platform for such talented young writers as Amanda Marcotte, Scott Lemieux, and Monica Potts.
[Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein, all rights reserved.]
The American Prospect's special poverty issue features a deeply reported and well-written profile of Sue Christian and her family. Monica Potts reports on the Christians' struggles to achieve self-sufficiency and financial stability in Owsley County, Kentucky--one of the poorest in the nation.
A federal judge has ordered a Kentucky coal company to reinstate an outspoken miner who blew the whistle on safety violations, Dave Jamieson reports:
Kentucky miner Charles Scott Howard lost his job at Cumberland River Coal Co. last May, after years of butting heads with management over safety issues at the mine. Now, more than 13 months later, Howard may suit up and head back into the mine, whether his employer likes it or not.
A federal judge ordered Friday that Howard's company immediately reinstate him at the mine and pay a $30,000 fine for discriminating against a whistleblower. The sharply worded decision said managers at Cumberland River, as well as its parent company, coal giant Arch Coal, went to great lengths to find a reason to fire Howard after he brought his mine to the attention of federal safety officials. [HuffPo]
Howard is famous in coal country for his willingness to challenge unsafe working conditions. His exploits have even inspired a folk song.
[Photo credit: Tiggy, Creative Commons.]
Sara Ganim speaking at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference in Boston. Ganim won the October 2011 Sidney Award for exposing the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State. She went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Sandusky scandal.
IRE is the nation's premiere professional association for investigative journalists. The Sidney Hillman Foundation salutes all of our past winners who presented at IRE 2012.
Freelance journalist Susan Greene speaking about her Sidney Award-winning story and video, "The Gray Box: An Investigative Look at Solitary Confinement," at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference (IRE) in Boston. The Gray Box appeared in the Dart Society Reports, the journal of the Dart Center, a non-profit that provides training and support for journalists covering trauma and violence.
IRE is the nation's premiere professional organization for investigative journalists. The Sidney Hillman Foundation is proud to see so many of our past winners speaking at this prestigious event.
[Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein.]
Cindy Chang, winner of the June Sidney Award for "Louisiana INCarcerated," speaking on a panel about covering abuse in prisons at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Boston. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Chang and her colleagues at the Times-Picayune set out to understand why.
They found that Louisiana's unique system of private prisons run by local sheriffs creates systemic pressures to keep incarceration rates sky-high. The sheriffs depend on the profits to finance law enforcement in their parishes and provide jobs for their constituents, but the prisons must be kept near 100% occupancy in order to make a profit. So, the sheriffs team up with "law and order" prosecutors to lobby for harsh sentencing guidlines and against prison reforms.
Investigative Reporters and Editors is the premiere professional conference for investigative journalists. We at Hillman were delighted to see so many Sidney winners speaking on panels.
Louisiana locks up more people than any other state, nearly twice the national average. If it were a country, it would have the highest incarceration rate in the world. One in 86 Louisianans is behind bars, and one in every 14 black men from New Orleans is serving time.
Cindy Chang, Jan Moller, Jonathan Tilove, and John Simerman of the New Orleans Times-Picayune set out to explain why their state locks up so many people. Their Sidney-Award-winning series, Louisiana INCarcerated, explores the powerful institutional forces that interact to keep incarceration levels sky high. Louisiana is the only state where local sheriffs build and run prisons for profit.
The state pays the sheriffs a per diem of $24.39 per prisoner, a fraction of what it spends to house prisoners in state facilities. The prisons provide jobs for the sheriffs' constituents and their revenues fund local law enforcement. Not surprisingly, the sheriffs lobby fiercely for longer sentences. Without a steady influx of prisoners, their prisons will lose money.
This series paints an unflinching portrait of a justice system corrupted by the pursuit of profit.
Louisiana INCarcerated may be a swan song for The Times-Picayune, which announced yesterday that it wll be laying off a third of its workforce. The paper will soon cut back to three print editions a week, making New Orleans the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper.
"The prison series was only possible because the newspaper invested tremendous time and resources," special projects reporter Cindy Chang said, "Of course, we're concerned that with major staff cuts and an emphasis on constant blogging, this may be our last project."
[Photo credit: Editor B, Creative Commons.]
x-posted from In These Times
Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist credited with popularizing the term "virutal reality," spoke at Personal Democracy Forum on Monday about how to avoid a cyberplutocracy. These are some ideas from his talk.
Democracy requires openness, fluidity, and freedom of speech but these are not enough. Democracy also needs a strong middle class. Without a bell-curve-like distribution of clout, the nominal right to petition our government is of limited use.
So, where does middle class clout come from? The pre-high-tech economy was marked by Gilded Ages and races to the bottom. There were huge social struggles in which middle class people fought to achieve some measure of material stability. In each case, they created some small barrier to the flow of money: academic tenure, taxi medallions, unions, and copyright. Lanier calls these barries "levees."
These levees are concessions to biological realism--aging, illness, the need for time off to raise a family, and so on. In order to have dignity we have to have some constancy. These levees provided a modicum of weath as opposed to income for middle class people. "So you don't have to earn every single day anew, you don't have to gig live every day," Lanier, a former professional musician, explained.
The wealthy build wealth easily in our system through capital gains, dividends, interest, and so on.
Levees used to maintain the balance of power. In the modern, high-tech, networked economy, the wealth side suddenly got more fluid. Companies could suddenly network all this information from all over the world to put themselves in a much better information position relative to everyone else. The concentration of wealth accelerated. The 1% used their increased power to dismantle as many levees as possible.
Some people think we can use the power of petition, which is enhanced by networking, to restore the balance of power in the networked age. The problem, according to Lanier, is that you can't fight wealth concentration with petition alone.
Lanier sketched an alternative vision for building up middle class wealth, based on the work of Ted Nelson. Nelson envisioned a system for mashups and remixes that would keep track of all the source material and deliver micropayments to the creators. Lanier envisions this system as a way to create robust long-term middle class without levees. Google translator stated with examples of good translation by translators. Under a Nelsonian system, all original provders of good translation would get micropayments. Any internet user who is living a good life, or skilled at something (mixing drinks, curing diseases, making hotel reservations) is being watched online by many cloud algorithms that use her behavior as an example. We are being studied, but we aren't getting compensated for our creative efforts. Lanier is arguing, in effect, that we should all get royalties.
It was a fascinating talk, even though Lanier didn't explain how a Nelsonian royalty system could come about in a world ruled by the 1%. He's working on a book about these ideas. I look forward to reading it.
Today and tomorrow, I will be blogging from the ninth annual Personal Democracy Forum in New York City. The event bills itself as the world's premiere forum on the nexus of democracy, politics, social advocay and public life. The theme of this year's forum is "The Internet's New Political Power." Panels will grapple with issues ranging from internet freedom in China to online consumer organizing to political fundraising in the digital age. Stay tuned.