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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

Tue, Nov 13, 2012

 

Walmart workers and their allies are making history with their highly assymetrical fight for justice and dignity at work. A nationwide strike planned for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, may be their most audacious action yet. Kathleen Miles of Huffington Post reports on this highly unorthodox, totally 21st Century campaign:

Labor organizers are working with social action nonprofit Engage Network as well as corporate watchdog nonprofit Corporate Action Network to pull off what they are calling a "viral" -- meaning national and spreading online -- strike.

Walmart workers interested in joining the day of action are directed to this website, either to find a store near them with an organized strike or to "adopt an event" at a store near them.

Brian Young, cofounder of the Corporate Action Network, said on a conference call coordinated by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Thursday, that organizers cannot cover the roughly 4,000 Walmarts across the country, but enabling self-appointed leaders online has widened and decentralized the campaign. 

The organizers have even set up a web page where supporters can pledge to "sponsor" striking workers. They've already raised over $20,000 to offset the lost wages of Black Friday strikers with grocery gift cards. 

[Photo credit: Black Friday 2009 at Walmart; laurieofindy, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Nov 9, 2012

  • The casinos of Atlantic City were shielded from Hurricane Sandy by artificial dunes, erected at taxpayers' expense, while poor residents next door were left unprotected. 
  • Monozygotic murder? One identical twin is accused of killing another. So much for DNA evidence...
  • Shocker: "No one on either side of the NHL labor fight stormed out of the room, broke off negotiations, or made inflammatory remarks as they left the building," the AP reports. 

 

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Thu, Nov 8, 2012

On election night, unions won key ballot measure battles, Matthew Cunningham-Cook reports for the Nation:

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On election night, unions won key ballot measure battles, Matthew Cunningham-Cook reports for the Nation:

  • California voters approved Prop 30, a measure to raise $6 billion for education. The passage of Prop 30 is a repudiation of Prop 13, the notorious 1978 ballot measure that starved the California school system for decades.
  • Californians rejected Prop 32, which would have limited the ability of unions to participate in politics.
  • Idaho voters rejected a series of ballot measures that would have eliminated teacher tenure, established "merit pay," and required all Idaho secondary students to take two for-profit online courses in order to graduate.
  • In Oregon, unions mobilized to help defeat a ballot measure that would have eliminated the inheritance tax.
  • Alabamians defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that could have eliminated the state's guarantee of a free public education for all students.

[Photo credit: quinn.anya, Creative Commons.

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Tue, Nov 6, 2012

"512 Paths to the White House" is a groundbreaking New York Times infographic that shows which states each presidential candidate must win in order to win the electoral college.

For example, if Obama wins Ohio and Florida he wins the electoral college. Or, if Obama wins Florida and North Carolina, but not Ohio, he will also win. If Romney wins Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin, he wins the race. 

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"512 Paths to the White House" is a groundbreaking New York Times infographic that shows which states each presidential candidate must win in order to win the electoral college.

For example, if Obama wins Ohio and Florida he wins the electoral college. Or, if Obama wins Florida and North Carolina, but not Ohio, he will also win. If Romney wins Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin, he wins the race. 

There are 431 ways for Obama to win and only 76 ways that Romney could win. 

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Mon, Nov 5, 2012

Mitt Romney reduced his tax bill using a loophole called the Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT), Jesse Drucker of Bloomberg revealed last week. Congress cracked down on the CRUT in 1997, but those who had already created these structures were allowed to keep using them. Romney set his up in 1996 and used the shady trust to defer taxes for over 15 years:

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Mitt Romney reduced his tax bill using a loophole called the Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT), Jesse Drucker of Bloomberg revealed last week. Congress cracked down on the CRUT in 1997, but those who had already created these structures were allowed to keep using them. Romney set his up in 1996 and used the shady trust to defer taxes for over 15 years:

“The main benefit from a charitable remainder trust is the renting from your favorite charity of its exemption from taxation,” Blattmachr said. Despite the name, giving a gift or getting a charitable deduction “is just a throwaway,” he said. “I used to structure them so the value dedicated to charity was as close to zero as possible without being zero.”

When individuals fund a charitable remainder unitrust, or “CRUT,” they defer capital gains taxes on any profit from the sale of the assets, and receive a small upfront charitable deduction and a stream of yearly cash payments. Like an individual retirement account, the trust allows money to grow tax deferred, while like an annuity it also pays Romney a steady income. After the funder’s death, the trust’s remaining assets go to a designated charity. 

As Drucker explains, the tax-free payouts from the trust account for only a small percentage of Romney's $250 million net worth. 

The Mormon Church benefits little from this arrangement. As money from the trust has been paid out to the Romneys, the amount available for donation upon their deaths has already declined from $750,000 in 2001 to $421,203 at the end of 2011. Usually, there isn't much left over by the time the trust holder spends his last tax-sheltered buck. 

[Photo credit: Austen Hufford, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Nov 2, 2012

 

  • Let's get one thing straight. Global warming causes hurricanes the way smoking causes lung cancer: systemically. You can't say for sure that any particular tumor is caused by any particular cigarette, and some cases of lung cancer aren't caused by smoking at all. Still, in the population at large, we know that higher rates of smoking cause higher rates of cancer. By the same token, hurricanes are--by definition--powered by warm sea water. By raising water temperatures, global warming systemically causes more and more powerful storms. 
  • Occupy Wall Street has teamed up with other non-profits to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.
  • As of Wednesday, residents of the Red Hook Homes, one of New York's largest public housing projects, were still without water and power. Many residents feel abandoned by the city; some say they feel like they can't even ask for help because the police are so dismissive. 
  • Without electricity, New Yorkers on food stamps can't pay for food.
  • Why do hospital generators keep failing? ProPublica investigates.
  • The storm has cut economic activity in New York City to just 20% of normal, the comptroller's office estimates.
  • Gothamist readers submit chilling photos of hurricane damage in the Rockaways.
  • Staten Island is reeling from a direct hit by Sandy.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Thu, Nov 1, 2012

My prediction for the final half-season of Breaking Bad: Walter White becomes a Republican operative. Scary, right? Plus this one is ripped from the headlines:

The boxes landed in the office of Montana investigators in March 2011.

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My prediction for the final half-season of Breaking Bad: Walter White becomes a Republican operative. Scary, right? Plus this one is ripped from the headlines:

The boxes landed in the office of Montana investigators in March 2011.

Found in a meth house in Colorado, they were somewhat of a mystery, holding files on 23 conservative candidates in state races in Montana. They were filled with candidate surveys and mailers that said they were paid for by campaigns, and fliers and bank records from outside spending groups. One folder was labeled "Montana $ Bomb." 

The documents pointed to one outside group pulling the candidates' strings: a social welfare nonprofit called Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP [Frontline/ProPublica]

"Montana $ Bomb" takes on a whole new meaning on premises that could literally explode at any minute. 

The documents suggest that the Western Tradition Partnership (now the American Tradition Partnership), a tax-exempt non-profit, may have illegally coordinated with political campaigns in 2008 and 2010. WTP is also famous for mounting a successful lawsuit to abolish Montana's ban on corporate political spending and extend the provisions of Citizens United to state politics. 

[Photo credit: bjhale, Creative Commons.]

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Wed, Oct 31, 2012

Is organized labor beginning its resurgence after years in decline? Blogger Street Heat of Talking Union thinks so:

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Is organized labor beginning its resurgence after years in decline? Blogger Street Heat of Talking Union thinks so:

Since my last post, we have witnessed a series of events that can only be seen as vindication of those of us who have rejected the notion that the death of the labor movement is a foregone conclusion. Also vindicated is the perspective that labor must begin strategically targeting and organizing in such a way that can shift the balance of power in whole markets in order to win.

SH argues that the Chicago teachers strike, Unite Here's bid to organize the Station Casinos empire in Las Vegas, and OurWalMart's game-changing strikes in California are examples of labor's renewed energy, creativity, and transformative power. 

[Photo Credit: Hillman Prize-winner Tom Morello performs at a rally for Walmart workers, OurWalmart.]

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Fri, Oct 26, 2012

  • Walmart is being sued by temporary workers who say the retailer forced them to arrive for work early, stay late, and work through lunch in violation of wage and hour laws.
  • Housekeepers at Hyatt hotels have filed a complaint with the NLRB about the digital tracking system their employer uses to monitor their productivity. Each cleaner carries an iPod touch that tells her which room to clean. To add insult to injury, the software's signature graphic is a tail-wagging pooch. "We do run around like dogs, but still, we're not dogs,” said cleaner Cathy Youngblood.
  • The FDA tried to investigate compounding pharmacies before tainted steroids infected hundreds of people with meningitis, but lobbyists for the compounding pharmacy industry stonewalled FDA investigators. 
  • Past Sidney winner Duff Wilson and reporting partner Adam Kerlin continue Reuters' coverage of the obesity crisis, exposing how the food and beverage industry pays for seats at the global health policy table.

[Photo credit: Wandermule, Creative Commons.]

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Thu, Oct 25, 2012

Queens restaurant workers Rocio Loyola and Celina Alvarez each log more than 70 hours a week, prepping food. They work in sickness and in health, because, like many New Yorkers, have no paid sick days:

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Queens restaurant workers Rocio Loyola and Celina Alvarez each log more than 70 hours a week, prepping food. They work in sickness and in health, because, like many New Yorkers, have no paid sick days:

Now and then Ms. Loyola, 35, wears down and the chill of flu runs through her body, and she vomits in the employees’ bathroom. And, she says, her boss shakes his head and warns: You go home, you’re fired.

As for Ms. Alvarez, 48, some months ago her heart throbbed, her arms and chest heavy with ache.

On her single day off she walked into a clinic, and a doctor listened through his stethoscope and told her: Your heart is in bad shape. He checked her into the hospital.

A few days later, she was discharged and walked 15 blocks to beg her employer for her job back. She said he was disgusted: You’re old and you’re sick. With that, she said, he sent her back to chop in a basement filled with two inches of gray water. [NYT]

Between 700,000 and 1.2 million New Yorkers have no paid time off for illness. City Council has discussed proposals to mandate sick leave for all businesses with more than five employees, but so far, no laws have been passed. That's partly because City Hall has been fighting dirty:

Compromise is no option. When the leaders of Chambers of Commerce in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn sounded dangerously amenable to a deal, the mayor’s top aides set straight these weak-kneed sorts.

When more than 100 owners of small businesses signed a petition urging the City Council to pass sick-days legislation, some sharp-eyed fellow working against the bill happened to notice that a few of these owners had city tax liens.

Voilà! The New York Post published an article proclaiming: “They want more government mandates but can’t even pay their taxes.” [NYT]

Mayor Bloomberg was so concerned about the heart health of New Yorkers that he banned toxic transfats. Yet, he's not willing to take action to protect workers like Ms. Alvarez and Ms. Loyola, or the customers who eat the food they prepare. 

[Photo credit: Jpellgen, Creative Commons.]

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