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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

Thu, Apr 12, 2012

The Sidney Hillman Foundation invites you to a special event on Friday, April 20: Distinguished panelists Ruy Teixiara, Thomas Edsall, and Ana Avendano, and moderator Dorian Warren will discuss the pressing question: Is a multi-racial working-class coalition still possible for the 2012 elections? 

Click here to view the full-sized flier.

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The Sidney Hillman Foundation invites you to a special event on Friday, April 20: Distinguished panelists Ruy Teixiara, Thomas Edsall, and Ana Avendano, and moderator Dorian Warren will discuss the pressing question: Is a multi-racial working-class coalition still possible for the 2012 elections? 

Click here to view the full-sized flier.

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Wed, Apr 11, 2012

Trymaine Lee has won the April Sidney Award for his coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Lee, a senior reporter at the Huffington Post, spearheaded his site's reporting effort, which helped turn the killing of Martin into a national cause.

On Feb. 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who claims he shot the unarmed black youth in self-defense.

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Trymaine Lee has won the April Sidney Award for his coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Lee, a senior reporter at the Huffington Post, spearheaded his site's reporting effort, which helped turn the killing of Martin into a national cause.

On Feb. 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who claims he shot the unarmed black youth in self-defense.

Lee's March 8th story drew national attention to the killing which, until then, was only being covered by local media. As the story garnered ever greater attention, he persuaded his editors to send him on assignment to Florida.

Lee unearthed facts about George Zimmerman's history of violence. In Florida, he obtained an interview with the youngest witness to the shooting, a 13-year-old black youth who told the reporter, "If I was like two years older, that could have happened to me."

Lee's work on this story demonstrates the power of a single, enterprising journalist to shape the national conversation.

Click here to read my interview with Lee.

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Tue, Apr 10, 2012

A labor organizer who helped ABC News expose brutal working conditions in Bangladeshi clothing factories was tortured and killed last week, according to authorities:

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A labor organizer who helped ABC News expose brutal working conditions in Bangladeshi clothing factories was tortured and killed last week, according to authorities:

"All indications are that Aminul Islam was murdered because of his labor rights work," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, an American group working to improve conditions at factories abroad that make clothes for U.S. companies. "This depraved act signals the deterioration of an already grim labor rights situation in Bangladesh, which is now the fourth largest exporter of apparel to the U.S." [ABC]

Islam, a senior organizer with the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), had been working to organize the Shanta Group, which makes clothes for such well-known American brands as Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Ralph Lauren.

When ABC News reported on a deadly factory fire, Islam helped to arrange interviews with survivors of the blaze. Death by fire remains a common occupational hazard in Bangladesh's clothing industry. Nearly 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires over the last five years.

[Photo credit: Workers in an unnamed garment factory in Bangladesh, jankie, Creative Commons.]

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Sun, Apr 8, 2012

Welfare reporm was hailed as a triumph of "tough love" during the boom years of the Clinton administration. What looked like a smashing success during good times turned out to be a bust when the economy soured, Jason DeParle reports for the New York Times. The goal was to give welfare recipients an incentive to look for work, on the assumption that they could find jobs if they wanted them. That made sense in an economy where there were jobs available, but welfare expenditures stayed low throughout the recession as unemployment soared to record levels:

Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession — in its case, by half. Even as it turned away the needy, Arizona spent most of its federal welfare dollars on other programs, using permissive rules to plug state budget gaps.

The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow.

Esmeralda Murillo, a 21-year-old mother of two, lost her welfare check, landed in a shelter and then returned to a boyfriend whose violent temper had driven her away. “You don’t know who to turn to,” she said. [NYT]

Currently, many as one in four low-income single mothers, 1.5 million women, has neither a job nor cash benefits. The number of households with children living on less than $2 per person, per day has doubled since 1996. One in 50 children in the U.S. lives in such a household, even if you count foodstamps as cash.

Jason DeParle won the 1995 Hillman prize for his book, American Dream: Three Women, 10 Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare.

[Photo credit: bartmaguire, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Apr 6, 2012

 

  • The police officer who shot and killed 68-year-old retired Marine Kenneth Chamberlain in his White Plains home has been identified. Officer Anthony Carelli is due to face unrelated police brutality charges in court next month. He is accused of beating two arrestees of Jordanian descent and calling them "ragheads." [Democracy Now! exclusive.]
  • Big banks are showering Congress with cash, hoping to water down financial reform. [Bill Moyers.com/AlterNet]
  • Corporations are trying to hijack publicly-funded job training programs to provide quick fixes that are immediately profitable for industry, instead of skills that will provide long-term employability for graduates.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

 

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Thu, Apr 5, 2012

 

Amazon.com is gaming the system to hide workplace injuries from federal regulators, Hal Bernton and Susan Kelleher report in the Seattle Times:

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Amazon.com is gaming the system to hide workplace injuries from federal regulators, Hal Bernton and Susan Kelleher report in the Seattle Times:

Three former workers at Amazon's warehouse in Campbellsville told The Seattle Times there was pressure to manage injuries so they would not have to be reported to OSHA, such as attributing workplace injuries to pre-existing conditions or treating wounds in a way that did not trigger federal reports.

Pam Wethington, a former Campbellsville employee, took several months off work in 2002 because of stress fractures in both feet. She says her doctor attributed the injury to walking miles on the concrete floors of the warehouse, but Amazon disputed that the fractures were work-related.

A former warehouse safety official said in-house medical staff were asked to treat wounds, when possible, with bandages rather than refer workers to a doctor for stitches that could trigger federal reports. And warehouse officials tried to advise doctors on how to treat injured workers.

Dr. Jerome Dixon, a Campellsville physician who treated injured Amazon workers, told the Times that Amazon managers didn't like it when he gave injured workers anti-inflammatory shots because a shot turns an injury into a reportable incident:

"If you give a shot of an anti-inflammatory, it makes the patient get better faster," Dixon said. "Sometimes I did give that shot, and maybe they didn't like that. I would say, 'Sorry, I know it's a recordable and makes you do paperwork.' "

Bernton and Kelleher's reporting on Amazon's operations in Kentucky and Washington state builds on the work of Spencer Soper of the Morning Call, who won a Sidney Award for his expose of brutal working conditions at an Amazon warehouse complex in Pennsylvania.

Amazon is a non-union company that strategically positions its warehouses in economically depressed areas with low union density.

[Photo credit: Double-M, Creative Commons.]

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Wed, Apr 4, 2012

Dave Weigel of Slate interviews some residents of Sanford, Florida about how the Trayvon Martin shooting has affected their town of 53,000:

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Dave Weigel of Slate interviews some residents of Sanford, Florida about how the Trayvon Martin shooting has affected their town of 53,000:

SANFORD, Fla.—McRobert’s Auto Center, a 54-year-old shop on the outskirts of downtown, has one of those movie-theater-style marquees with bold letters, perfect for slogans. On one side, the sign advertises tire-balancing service. On the other side—the side you see driving in from the suburbs—it reads SANFORD IS STILL A GOOD LITTLE TOWN.

It means what you think it means. Mark Carli, who’s worked here for four years, is sick of media frenzies, sick of marches, sick of race-baiting.

“I’m sympathetic that there was a life taken,” he says. “Central Florida’s just gotten over the—what was it, the Susan B. Anthony thing?” He’s trying to remember the murder case that gripped Orlando last year. “Sorry, no, Casey Anthony. My understanding of the problem there was that they jumped to conclusions and it hurt the prosecution.”

It's a good piece of reporting, understated and darkly funny. Weigel lets his subjects speak for themselves and challenges us to draw our own conclusions.

Still, I would have liked to see Weigel challenge his subjects on their reflexive belief that Sanford is being unfairly blamed. After all, nobody remembers what town Casey Anthony came from. We remember the crime, but not the town. Caylee Anthony's death had no effect on the town's reputation because we understand that dangerous people can crop up anywhere.

Sanford is under a cloud because the police department is suspected of mishandling the shooting. The original chief of police stepped down. The Justice Department stepped in because the local authorities didn't seem willing or able to pursue justice.

Police surveillance video of George Zimmerman being taken into custody conflicts with the police report. The police report claims that Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head at the scene and that his back was covered in dew and grass. In the video, Zimmerman appears clean, dry, and completely unscathed, just half an hour after the shooting. A digitally sharpened version of the video may show some lumps on the back of Zimmerman's shaved head, but it's not clear that those are injuries. They may just be bumps. If all human skulls were perfectly smooth and regularly-shaped, phrenology never would have gotten off the ground. Whatever they are, they don't look like fresh trauma. The discrepancy between the video and the police report is key because Zimmerman claims he shot in self-defense after Martin began slamming his head into the pavement.

The official municipal line is that it's unfair to blame Sanford for what is strictly an isolated incident between two people:

Spokespeople for the city have taken up a sort of mantra, the first sentence in every media conversation: This is about the actions of two individuals in a city of 53,000 people. The victim, Trayvon Martin, was in town visiting his father’s fiancée at the Retreat at Twin Lakes. Taking this, making it about the sins of Sanford—it’s not fair.

If George Zimmerman had been charged with the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the story never would have spread beyond the local news. The criminal justice system could have heard all the evidence, weighed his claim of self-defense, and meted out punishment accordingly. Instead, the police put him back out on the street after an investigation so flawed and cursory as to raise questions about a coverup.

By insisting that the conduct of the Sanford police has no bearing on the reputation of Sanford, the city fathers are reinforcing the suspicion that the city has problems that run much deeper than a single shooting in a gated community. Of course it's unfair to blame the average citizen of Sanford, who didn't pick the bureaucrats or the police. But it's outrageous for a city to preemptively exonerate itself for a scandal involving its own police department.

The residents of Sanford should be embarassed, and frightened, to live in a system with so little accountability.

[Photo credit: Dave Weigel.]

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Mon, Apr 2, 2012

For Immediate Release:

The Sidney Hillman Foundation Announces 2012 Hillman Prizes for Excellence in Reporting in Service of the Common Good

Awards Ceremony Tuesday May 1 in New York City

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For Immediate Release:

The Sidney Hillman Foundation Announces 2012 Hillman Prizes for Excellence in Reporting in Service of the Common Good

Awards Ceremony Tuesday May 1 in New York City

The Sidney Hillman Foundation announced today the winners of the 2012 Hillman Prizes, given to journalists whose work identifies important social and economic issues and helps bring about change for the better.

This year, the Foundation recognized stories about the struggles of families during the recession, fairness in immigration policy, flaws in education reform, contract workers on military bases, farm workers and battered women in prison.

The Hillman Foundation will present its distinguished annual journalism prizes, awarded every year since 1950, at a ceremony and reception at The TimesCenter in Manhattan on May 1st.

This year's winners are:

Hillman Prize in Book Journalism
Frank Bardacke
Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers, Verso Books

Hillman Prize in Opinion & Analysis Journalism

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Hillman Prize in Newspaper Journalism

Heather Vogell, Alan Judd, John Perry
"The Atlanta Schools Cheating Scandal," The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Honorable Mention: Danny Hakim and Russell Buettner, "Abused and Used: At State
Run Homes Abuse and Impunity," The New York Times

Hillman Prize in Magazine Journalism
Sarah Stillman
"The Invisible Army," The New Yorker

Hillman Prize in Broadcast Journalism
Yoav Potash
"Crime After Crime," The Oprah Winfrey Network

Honorable Mention: Anderson Cooper, "Sissy Boy Experiments," CNN

Hillman Prize in Photojournalism
Katie Falkenberg
"A Lasting Toll," Los Angeles Times

Honorable mention: Lara Solt, "Unending Battle," The Dallas Morning News

Hillman Prize in Web Journalism
Seth Freed Wessler
"Thousands of Kids Lost From Parents In U.S. Deportation System," Colorlines.com

Sol Stetin Award for Labor History
Nelson Lichtenstein
MacArthur Foundation Chair in History
Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy
University of California, Santa Barbara
Central and influential in the field of labor history. Books include: Walter Reuther: the Most Dangerous Man in Detroit (1996) and State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (2002).

The Foundation also announced a special Officers' Award given to activist, songwriter, and musician Tom Morello for his commitment to workers' rights.

Since 1950, the Sidney Hillman Foundation has celebrated the legacy and vision of union pioneer and New Deal architect Sidney Hillman. As founder and president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a predecessor union to Workers United, SEIU, and a founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Hillman is considered one of America's greatest labor leaders. His tireless efforts to bring dignity and respect to working people left a lasting legacy for the American public.

Past winners include prominent figures in the field, as well as young journalists or publications that have yet to receive adequate recognition. Each winner receives $5,000 and a certificate drawn by Edward Sorel and lettered by Seymour Chwast.

Our distinguished panel of judges consists of Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor, The New Yorker; Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large, The American Prospect and columnist for the Washington Post; Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine; Susan Meiselas, Magnum photographer; and Rose Marie Arce, senior producer, CNN.

The award ceremony and reception will be held Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 6-9 PM, at The TimesCenter, 242 West 41st Street, New York City.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Contact:
Julie Sedlis, ChangeCommunications
info@communicatechange.com

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Mon, Apr 2, 2012

Guest post by Jin Zhao, reprinted with permission from Things You Don't Know About China.

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Guest post by Jin Zhao, reprinted with permission from Things You Don't Know About China.

March 31, 2012. This morning, Chinese government’s cracking down on websites and arresting six netizens for spreading the rumor of a military coup in Beijing became a headlining story in many major Chinese and international media. AP and The Washington Post both reported that two microblogging websites Sina Weibo and TencentWeibo were “punished” and comments have been temporarily suspended until next Tuesday. The report by both news organization, however, is not accurate.

According to Xinjing Bao, a Beijing based newspaper, the government shut down 16 websites because of their “creating and spreading rumors and negligence in management” which have resulted in “extremely negative social impact.” However, Beijing and Guangdong Internet administrative agencies only “severely criticized” Sina Weibo (based in Beijing) and TencentWeibo (based in Guangdong) and “punished them accordingly.” However, there is no information about the specifics of the “punishment.” Xinjing Bao also reports that “the two websites have agreed to abide the relevant laws, implement corrective measures, and further strengthen management.”

I tested both microblogging websites this afternoon and it appears that users can post, comment and repost microblogs as usually. As to what measures the websites are going to implement to “strengthen” their management, I haven’t seen any signs of stricter censorship or blockage.

It is possible that the commenting and reposting functions on weibo sites were suspended and recovered shortly, for some netizens have complained the blockage of comments on these sites. A journalist posted in the group “Chinese Journalists” on Sina Weibo, criticizing the government for “fabricating a harmonious society.” “It’s fine that you (the government) are shameless,” he wrote, “but what makes you really shameless is to block weibo‘s comments.”

It is still unclear what is going to happen to these websites. It will be hard for the government to flat-out close or directly censor these websites largely because of economic reasons. Moreover, like the journalist mentioned earlier, many Chinese are no longer willing to accept whatever imposed on them, and those who see weibo a freer and more open space for information sharing and public debate, many of whom are opinion leaders in China, will not let it to be smothered without a fight.

Updates:

April 1, 1:15 PM EST – As of now, Sina Weibo disabled commenting, but still allows reposting. On Sina Weibo, a message says when one clicks on “comments”: “From March 31, 8 PM, to April 3, 8 PM, commenting is suspended temporarily. We apologize for the inconvenience.” The reason for suspension, according to Sina Weibo, is so that website can “cleanse” the website of “harmful” and “illegal” information.

On Tencent Weibo, it seems commenting and reposting are both still functioning.

[Photo credit: BWJones, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Mar 30, 2012

  • ABC News released exclusive police security camera footage of Trayvon Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman, being taken into custody on the night of the killing. The police report claimed that Zimmerman had a bloody nose and a cut on his head from an altercation with Martin and a wet jacket from lying on his back on the grass. No trace of trauma or dampness is visible in the video. The footage raises doubts about . Obtaining this footage was an investigative coup for ABC. The network also obtained cell phone records that seem to corroborate Martin's girlfriend's claim that she was on the phone with Martin when he was shot.
  • Erin Schikowski of The Nation writes about the fight to save public sector pensions in Providence, Rhode Island. 
  • The New York Times has a bracing op/ed entitled "The Cruel Budget," about how Paul Ryan's budget, which Mitt Romney has endorsed, would affect the poorest Americans. The budget would cut $3.3 trillion from programs for low-income Americans and "leave millions of struggling families desperate for food, shelter and health care." 
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