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
"May you be reunited in the world to come with your ancestors, who were all socialist garment workers."
From Yiddish curses for Republican Jews. Get more curses.
[Photo credit: ILGWU Local 415 picket in Miami, FL, Kheel Center, Cornell University, Creative Commons.]
Welcome to our weekly recap of the best of the week's news. Submit your story by tweeting @SidneyHillman, #Sidney.
- Much of the tin solder that binds the components of the world's tablets and smart phones originates in open pit mines in Indonesia where it is extracted at enormous human cost, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.
- About a third of women impregnated by their rapists choose to keep their babies and, horrifyingly, some rapists come back to assert their paternal rights. Shauna Prewitt is a lawyer from Chicago who survived rape and her rapist's attempt to get custody of her daughter, she is campaigning for legal reform to protect women in similar circumstances.
- Who watches the watchers? Republican-allied groups are training thousands of citizen "poll watchers" to document alleged voting irregularities in November, Brentin Mock reports for Colorlines. Is it civic engagement, or voter suppression?
- Here's some good news: 80% of New York voters want the minimum wage raised from $7.25 to $8.50, according to a recent poll by Siena College. That's an increase of 3 percentage points since June.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Bruce Vail of In These Times reports on the latest developments in the standoff between Hostess Brands, the makers of Twinkies, and the Teamsters. Rank-and-file members are set to vote next week on a brutal last, best, and final offer from the company:
The vote is the latest development in a seven-month standoff between the Teamsters and Hostess, which filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in January and demanded sweeping concessions from its unionized workforce. Failure by the Teamsters and several other unions to agree to the concessions will mean the final collapse of Hostess and the loss of all 17,000 jobs at the company, Hostess officials have said.
That the cuts will be painful is clear, although the Teamsters are withholding the full details pending the vote. Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn sent out a letter to employees August 20 estimating that--for all workers, including management--wages would be cut by 8 percent next year and givebacks in health care insurance would further reduce overall income. The proposal would also erase millions in pensions owed to workers and relieve the company of any requirement to make pension fund contributions for the next three years.
[Photo credit: Jenn Durfey, Creative Commons.]
Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) opined that women don't get pregnant from "legitimate rape" because the female body has mysterious ways of shutting down rape-induced pregnancies. This claim is so far-fetched that most people assumed it was Akin's pet theory, but it turns out other anti-choicers believe it too. It's a surprisingly common myth used to explain why rape exceptions to abortion laws are unnecessary: If "legitimate rapes" don't cause pregnancies, then a woman who says she was impregnanted by rape must be lying. The leading exponent of this view, Dr. John Willke, endorsed Mitt Romney in 2007.
Pam Belluck of the New York Times applies her science journalism chops to sort fact from fiction on rape and reproduction:
“There are no words for this — it is just nuts,” said Dr. Michael Greene, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, said, that “to suggest that there’s some biological reason why women couldn’t get pregnant during a rape is absurd.”
Laura Helmuth, the science editor for Slate, points out that the term "legitimate rape" is coded language used to separate supposedly deserving rape victims from other victims of sexual violence. She adds that Akin's mythmaking betrays a stunning rejection of science in the service of misogynist ideology:
The sexism is outrageous, but it’s the stupidity that really burns. It takes a lot of work for a member of the House science committee to cultivate an ignorance of science as profound as Todd Akin’s. It’s not accidental and it’s not incidental to his worldview—his belief system requires a rejection of science.
The thing about science, as Neil DeGrasse-Tyson says, is that it’s true whether you believe it or not. And the truth is that biology does not give a goddamn how sperm meets egg, whether it’s within the bounds of a sanctified marriage, in a test tube, or after a rape.
Amazingly, Akin sits on the House science committee.
[Photo credit: Todd Akin, by DonkeyHote, Creative Commons.]
Peter J. Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, describes how diseases normally associated with developing countries are afflicting increasing numbers of poor people in the United States:
Poverty takes many tolls, but in the United States, one of the most tragic has been its tight link with a group of infections known as the neglected tropical diseases, which we ordinarily think of as confined to developing countries.
Outbreaks of dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted viral infection that is endemic to Mexico and Central America, have been reported in South Texas. Then there is cysticercosis, a parasitic infection caused by a larval pork tapeworm that leads to seizures and epilepsy; toxocariasis, another parasitic infection that causes asthma and neurological problems; cutaneous leishmaniasis, a disfiguring skin infection transmitted by sand flies; and murine typhus, a bacterial infection transmitted by fleas and often linked to rodent infestations. [NYT]
Hotez shares some startling statistics: Some 300,000 Americans have Chagas disease, an insect-borne pathogen, which is already a leading cause of heart failure and sudden death in Latin America. Up to 2.8 million African Americans may be infected with toxocariasis. Accurate statistics are hard to come by because the people at the greatest risk are the least likely to seek treatment.
Tropical infections contribute to intergenerational poverty by stunting the cognitive development of children and sapping the health and vitality of adults.
We can beat tropical disease in the U.S., Hotez believes, but only with increased epidemiological monitoring and stepped up development of vaccines and drugs. Now is not the time to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and other public health agencies, as some politicians have urged. It may seem like a money-saver in the short term, but the savings pale beside the long term economic and human cost of neglecting public health.
[Photo credit: The "kissing bug" that spreads Chagas disease, AJC1, Creative Commons.]
- Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan named Rage Against the Machine as his favorite band, eliciting this blistering op/ed by RATM guitarist and Hillman Award-winner Tom Morello. It begins, "Paul Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades."
- Hospitals and nursing homes aren't doing enough to stop the spread of the bacterium C. difficile, a deadly intestinal infection, reports Peter Eisler of USA Today.
- That used car may be even more used than you think. Ken Bensinger and Elizabeth Frank of the LA Times investigate "churn" in the used car market, where dealers sell, repossess, and resell the same vehicle over and over.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Hillman Award-winner Tom Morello is not impressed by Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan's claim that Rage Against the Machine is his favorite band.
Bruce Raynor is president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation and president Emeritus of Workers United, the garment/textile workers union
Probably the most successful clothing lifestyle designer in American history is Ralph Lauren, or Ralph Lipshitz before he felt his name was too Jewish-sounding for the preppy style he created. In the early years of his remarkable success, Lauren created ties for men that were manufactured in a New York City factory that employed members of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. When he expanded to mens’ suits in the 1970’s and 1980’s he opened a unionized factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts employing several hundred men and women. Ralph became wealthy and created an array of products for men and women. His women’s products were mostly made in New York by members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU).
Lauren became so successful that in the 1990’s he expanded to a complete lifestyle collection that included dressy and casual clothing and accessories for men, women, and children, home furnishings, and many other products. However, as he grew wealthier he began to move his production out of unionized factories in the United States to third world countries where he could employ low paid workers, mostly women, in Latin America and Asia. Ralph’s tie workers, who launched his career, were the first to lose their jobs in the mid 1990’s. Soon he closed his suit factory in Massachusetts and moved those jobs to sweatshops in underdeveloped countries. Finally he opened a non-union distribution center in North Carolina and fired his warehouse workers.
Today Ralph is one of the wealthiest men in the industry with a fortune estimated at 7.5 billion dollars. This year he won the right to design and supply the uniforms for the United States Olympic Team competing in London. Who else but our country’s greatest designer with his red, white, and blue themed brand should outfit the best athletes our country has to offer? Who better than Ralph Lipshitz, a DeWitt Clinton High School graduate from the Bronx?
However, even when it came to the U.S. Olympic uniforms, Lauren had them designed in New York and manufactured in China. Most every country entered the Olympic Stadium dressed in apparel made in their country with pride. Did you see the South Africans, Chinese, and Italians with beautiful clothing made by their fellow countrymen and women? Only the United States marched to the tune of low wages and exploited workers.
This controversy spurred a backlash including an online petition with thousands of people calling for the uniforms to be replaced with ones made in American factories by workers treated fairly. Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader of the Unites States Senate, called for the uniforms to be burned in a bonfire. Seven Senators have introduced legislation to require that Olympic uniforms for the U.S. team be produced domestically.
The fact is that there are U.S. factories that make the same products with better quality and by union-represented workers in Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and several other states. Ralph Lauren made a choice to turn his nose up at the men and women in these communities in order to enrich himself. Americans should do the same to Ralph and refuse to buy his products until he remembers who took him from the Bronx to the top of the world.
Baseball in America
In contrast, the current season of baseball holds up a different example. Those hundreds of professional athletes who are playing Major League Baseball in stadiums across North America are wearing uniforms produced in Bangor, Pennsylvania in factories employing more than 500 workers who are represented by the clothing workers union, Workers United. These workers are paid decent wages, have family health insurance, and defined benefit pensions. In fact, every official baseball uniform worn by players or sold in stores is made in Bangor.
This didn’t happen by accident. The clothing workers union teamed up with the Major League Baseball Players Association (the baseball players union) and Major League Baseball to require that the company producing uniforms did so with U.S. workers under decent working conditions. As baseball has prospered, the number of workers has grown and a modern factory was constructed in Bangor.
During this recession and its prolonged unemployment involving millions of American workers, the issue of U.S. manufacturing jobs has risen to prominence. Manufacturing jobs have always paid wages above the national average. These jobs are essential to a successful economy because they add real value. A sensible national policy that is being advanced by President Obama to encourage domestic manufacturing is essential to putting Americans back to work. The Olympic fiasco can achieve some good if it reminds business leaders like Ralph Lauren and the rest of us that a country has to create policies that create jobs for its citizens. Patriotism and national pride require more than waving flags and wearing the national colors.
Some disturbing campaign finance news from Kim Barker of ProPublica:
Two conservative nonprofits, Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, have poured almost $60 million into TV ads to influence the presidential race so far, outgunning all super PACs put together, new spending estimates show.
These nonprofits, also known as 501(c)(4)s or c4s for their section of the tax code, don't have to disclose their donors to the public.
The two nonprofits had outspent each of the other types of outside spending groups in this election cycle, including political parties, unions, trade associations and political action committees, a ProPublica analysis of data provided by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG, found.
SuperPACS, which do have to disclose their donors, have spent a combined total of $55.7 million on TV ads that mention a presidential candidate.
[Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons.]
News21 undertook a sweeping investigation to determine whether voter fraud is really the threat to democracy that some Republican legislators claim in order to justify voter ID laws that will make it harder for many registered voters to exercise their franchise. Eight months later, the investigators documented just 10 cases of voter impersonation at the polls, the only kind of voter fraud preventable by Voter ID laws:
The specter of widespread election fraud has been the professed reason that 37 state legislatures have passed or considered voter identification laws since 2010. Those claiming that illegal votes threaten free and fair elections generally have cited only anecdotes and individual reports of alleged voter fraud.
As part of the News21 national investigation into voting rights in America, a team of reporters took on the unprecedented task of gathering, organizing and analyzing all reported cases of election fraud in the United States since 2000.
How Big Was the Effort?
Over the course of this seven-month investigation, the News21 team sent out more than 2,000 public-records requests and spent nearly $1,800 on fees for records searches and copies of documents. The team also reviewed nearly 5,000 court documents, official records and media reports. The result is the most extensive collection of U.S. election fraud cases ever compiled.
Check out News21's extensive "Who Can Vote?" project online.