| Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

U.S. Vets Being Deported for Minor Crimes

Combat service in the U.S. military is one way to earn a coveted Green Card, which confers permanent residence in the United States after the soldier’s tour of duty ends. However, as Kevin Sullivan reports in the Washington Post, Green Cards earnd in combat can be revoked even for minor crimes:

As a deported veteran, Tepeyac is one of a little-known cadre of warriors who served in the U.S. military as green-card holders — permanent legal residents but not U.S. citizens — then committed a crime after returning to civilian life, were convicted and punished, then were permanently expelled from the United States.

No one knows how many there are. U.S. officials said they do not keep track, but immigration lawyers and Banished Veterans, a group formed to help the deportees, said that at least hundreds, and perhaps thousands, have been deported in recent years.

Advocates for deported veterans say that they should be treated like American citizens, rather than banished. 

Kocieniewski wins the August Sidney for Exposing the Goldman Sachs' Great Aluminum Shuffle

Why does a chain of Detroit-area warehouses shuffle millions of tons of aluminum in an endless circle while customers wait impatiently? This month’s Sidney Award-winner David Kocieniewski penetrated the veil of secrecy around these Goldman Sachs-owned facilities to reveal that the company is dragging its feet on delivery to collect more rent to store the mental, and driving up aluminum prices in the process. Goldman’s greed has added an estimated $5 billion to the price of aluminum since 2010, which works out to an extra two cents for every pop or beer can sold in the United States. Learn more in The Backstory.

Bloomberg's "Stop & Frisk" is Unconstitutional

A judge has struck down New York’s notorious “Stop and Frisk” regime. Scott Lemieux explains the reasoning behind the decision in The American Prospect:

In a major victory for civil rights and civil liberties, a United States District Court Judge has held that the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk policies are unconstitutional. Judge Shira Scheindlin’s opinion justifying the ruling is a tour de force. Carefully assessing both systematic evidence and the cases of individual litigants, Judge Scheindlin leaves no serious doubt that the NYPD’s policies are inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The judge’s drew heavily on research in making up her mind. Stop-and-frisks are justified based on an officier’s reasonable suspicion that the target is up to no good, but statistics show that nearly 90% of stop-and-frisks come up empty. If cops guess wrong nearly 90% of the time, how well-founded could their suspicions possibly be? Not strong enough to justify impinging on the rights of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the judge decided. 

Sidney's Picks: Mitch McConnell & the Minimum Wage; Questionable Behavior in California; Debtor's Prisons

The best of the week’s news:


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Fast Food Forward: Why Now?

cheeseburger with onion



For the first time in the history of the fast food industry the movement for a living wage is gaining real traction. There have been efforts to raise fast food worker pay in the past, but none have achieved the impact of the current campaigns. James Surowiecki of the New Yorker explains why the fast food industry is ripe for rebellion, and why the rebels have such a tough fight ahead of them.

[Photo credit: Roboppy, Creative Commons.]

Civil Forfeiture or Legalized Extortion?

Police Tape

An eye-opening account of the uses and abuses of civil asset forfeiture by 2012 Hillman Prize-winner Sarah Stillman of the New Yorker. Stillman tells the story of one couple from Texas who lost their cash and their car after the police pulled them over and found nothing illegal in the vehicle but threatened to charge them with money laundering and seize their children if they didn’t sign over their assets:

The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services. [NY]

Unlike with criminal forfeiture, the police needn’t obtain a conviction, or even press charges, to confiscate property. Not only that, police departments get to keep whatever they seize, a glaring conflict of interest. When citizens complain, they can be threatened with criminal charges, which they signed away their stuff to avoid in the first place.

But as Stillman reports, some victims are fighting back against overwhelming odds.


[Photo credit: Ian Britton, Creative Commons.]

Sidney's Picks: Religious Corporations, Drugstore Cowboys, & More

  • As pharmacy robberies surge, Big Pharma is running its own private war on drugstore cowboys
  • How failed Florida banks lent millions to mobsters, drug dealers, convicted felons, and developers with prior bankruptcies.
  • Inside XKeyscore, a secret NSA collection tool to capture internet activity.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Fast Food Forward: Strike Wave Spreads

Bigger Big Mac

Sidney-winner Stephen Greenhouse on the wave of fast food strikes sweeping the nation:

From New York to several Midwestern cities, thousands of fast-food workers have been holding one-day strikes during peak mealtimes, quickly drawing national attention to their demands for much higher wages.

What began in Manhattan eight months ago first spread to Chicago and Washington and this week has hit St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit and Flint, Mich. On Wednesday alone, workers picketed McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s and Long John Silver’s restaurants in those cities with an ambitious agenda: pay of $15 an hour, twice what many now earn. [NYT]

Some fast food workers in St. Louis were inspired by demonstrations in New York and Chicago that they organized an action of their own. 

[Photo credit: Simon Miller, Creative Commons.]

Palm Oil is Unhealthy, Especially if You Make It

As the world market for palm oil expands rapidly due to strong demand for cooking oil in China and India, human rights abuses proliferate in the industry, including child labor, debt peonage, and wage theft:

As it’s grown, the palm oil industry has drawn scrutiny from environmental activists in Europe and the U.S. They decry the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia to support oil palm expansion, which threatens the natural habitats of endangered species such as pygmy elephants and Sumatran tigers. The human costs of the palm oil boom, however, have been largely overlooked. A nine-month investigation of the industry, including interviews with workers at or near 12 plantations on Borneo and Sumatra—two islands that hold 96 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil operations—revealed widespread abuses of basic human rights. Among the estimated 3.7 million workers in the industry are thousands of child laborers and workers who face dangerous and abusive conditions. Debt bondage is common, and traffickers who prey on victims face few, if any, sanctions from business or government officials. [Bloomberg]

E. Benjamin Skinner of Bloomberg documents abusive labor practices at KLK, one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, which has sold its products to the likes of Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Unilever. Palm oil and its derivatives find their way not only into processed foods, but also into familiar consumer products like Crest toothpaste and Gillette shaving cream. 


[Photo credit: A truck on a palm oil plantation in Indonesia. Rainforest Action Network, Creative Commons.]

U.S. Calls on Bangladesh to Investigate the Murder of Aminul Islam

Sidney Award co-winner Steven Greenhouse continues his coverage of worker safety and labor rights in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the deadliest industrial catastrophe in history, which killed over 1000 workers. On Friday, the Obama administration laid out a set of conditions that Bangladesh will have to meet in order to get its special trade status restored:

Three weeks after announcing it would suspend Bangladesh’s trade preferences, the administration released an “action plan,” which calls on Bangladesh to significantly increase the number of labor, fire and building inspectors and to improve their training. The plan urges Bangladesh to impose stiffer penalties, including taking away export licenses, on garment factories that violate labor, fire or building safety standards.

In addition, the administration recommended that Bangladesh create a public database of all garment factories for reporting labor, fire and building inspections, including information on violations found, penalties assessed and violations corrected, with the names of the lead inspectors.

In addition to its demands for measurable progress on work safety, the administration drew attention to the widespread intimidation of Bangladeshi workers who seek to organize and bargain collectively and urged Bangladeshi leaders to safeguard the freedom of association of their workforce. Finally, the Obama administration called for a transparent investigation of the murder of union organizer Aminul Islam. Islam was an organizer with the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, he was murdered after helping Western journalists expose the terrible working conditions that have killed so many Bangladeshi garment workers in preventable fires. The Sidney Hillman Foundation presented its 2013 Officers’ Award for Public Service in Islam’s memory. We hope that mounting international pressure will help bring his killers to justice. 


[Photo credit: Rushdi13, Creative Commons.]