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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

Mon, Aug 13, 2012

 

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:

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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.

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Fri, Aug 10, 2012

  • Millions of Americans are drinking water laced with dangerous levels of lead, Sheila Kaplan and Corbin Hiar report for the Investigative Workshop/nbcnews.com.
  • A for-profit hospital chain performed lucrative but potentially life-threatening cardiac procedures on patients who didn't even need them, Reed Abelson and Julie Creswell report in the New York Times.
  • Changes are afoot at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the breast cancer behemoth that fired an early salvo in the War on Women by cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screening programs. Komen restored the grants, but the damage was done. Amanda Marcotte of Slate explains why the demotion of Komen's CEO and the departure of its president are unlikely to restore the organization's reputation.
  • Over 1 million workers in New York City have no paid sick leave, Erica Eichelberger reports for Mother Jones. That could change under a proposed law that would give most New Yorkers at least 5 days of paid leave. See how the U.S. stacks up against 160 other nations in terms of paid sick leave.

[Photo credit: WanderMule, Creative Commons.]

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Wed, Aug 8, 2012

A 13-journalist team led by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Director Gerard Ryle and ICIJ reporter Kate Willson has won the August Sidney Award for "Skin and Bone," a sweeping investigation of the largely unregulated global trade in human tissues. A single healthy body can be worth $80,000-$200,000 when stripped for reusable parts like skin, bone, and heart valves. Greedy tissue harvesters sometimes steal tissue outright, ICIJ found. One prominent ex-dental surgeon was convicted of lifting tissues from over 1000 corpses at funeral homes in New York and Pennsylvania. A tissue firm in Ukraine is accused of stealing tissue from corpses, including that of a 19-year-old suicide victim.

The investigation, which lasted 8 months, and spanned 11 countries, sheds light on a lucrative but little-understood part of the biomedical industry. Unlike organs, human tissues are sold for profit. Organs and blood products are electronically traceable from donor to recipients, but tissues are not. This is a problem because tissues can spread infections. ICIJ found over a thousand cases of infections from contaminated tissue in the U.S. since 2002, 40 of them lethal. Those are just the cases we know of. U.S. and international authorities are only dimly aware of where tissue comes from, or where it goes. The investigation also found cases where greedy tissue dealers falsified paperwork to hide potentially lethal infections in donor bodies.

Recylced tissues have the power to heal; but the underregulated, for-profit marketplace threatens human rights, patient safety, and public health. The ICIJ investigation tackles this multifacted issue with great rigor and great compassion.

Click here to read my Back Story interview with team leader Gerard Ryle.

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Mon, Aug 6, 2012

Trayvon Martin's family is being sued by an insurance company, Trymaine Lee reports for the Huffington Post:

Trayvon Martin’s mother is being sued by an insurance company trying to absolve itself from any liability in the teen’s death, according to an attorney for Martin’s family.

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Trayvon Martin's family is being sued by an insurance company, Trymaine Lee reports for the Huffington Post:

Trayvon Martin’s mother is being sued by an insurance company trying to absolve itself from any liability in the teen’s death, according to an attorney for Martin’s family.

Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America has sued Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, and The Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowner’s Association, the gated community where Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February.

Travelers claims that it is not responsible to defend the homeowners association because of various clauses in the association’s policy, specifically a "wrongful act" exclusion.

On March 30, just over a month after Martin was killed, the homeowners association took out a liability policy with Travelers, and shortly thereafter Fulton made a claim for monetary damages in her son’s death.

Lee won a Sidney Award for his coverage of the Martin shooting.

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Fri, Aug 3, 2012

  • A 38-year-old grandmother is leading a civilian insurgency against machine-gun-toting illegal loggers in the Mexican town of Cherán, the New York Times reports.
  • An agency created to ensure the integrity of federal elections is currently leaderless and adrift, Dan Froomkin reports for Huffington Post. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is supposed to have four commissioners, but right now it has none, and the Republicans are trying to defund it.
  • A surprising new study found that sedentary U.S. office workers burn about as many calories per day as hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Technically, the U.S. office workers burned more calories than the hunter-gatherers, but they also weighed more. Once you correct for body weight, it's a wash.
  • Raising less corn and more hell: A Vermont farmer is awaits trial for flattening seven police cars with his tractor.
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Thu, Aug 2, 2012

Maia Manian of the University of San Francisco School of Law explains why the South Dakota law that forces women seeking abortions to hear a false disclaimer about abortion increasing the risk of suicide makes a mockery of the principle of informed consent:

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Maia Manian of the University of San Francisco School of Law explains why the South Dakota law that forces women seeking abortions to hear a false disclaimer about abortion increasing the risk of suicide makes a mockery of the principle of informed consent:

[The informed consent requirement] ensures that patients receive sufficient information to make their own decisions about whether to consent to medical treatment. Informed consent law’s long-established principles have been perverted in the context of abortion legislation. Anti-choice laws claiming to ensure well-informed decisions for women in fact misuse informed consent terminology to further goals antithetical to the imperatives animating informed consent law.

Read the rest at RH Reality Check.

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Tue, Jul 31, 2012

So-called "stand your ground laws," which allow people to shoot in self-defense without first attempting to flee, appear to increase the homicide rate. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, many have wondered whether whites who claim to have been standing their ground against black assailants are more likely to be excused under "stand your ground" than blacks who claim to have killed whites for the same reason. PBS/Frontline investigates with the help of an analyst from the Urban Institute.

[Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein, All Rights Reserved.]

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Mon, Jul 30, 2012

Jim Morris of Mother Jones reports on the safety crisis facing the university chem labs:

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Jim Morris of Mother Jones reports on the safety crisis facing the university chem labs:

Sheri Sangji was on fire instantly. The 23-year-old research associate had accidentally pulled the plunger out of a syringe while conducting an experiment in a UCLA laboratory. In the syringe was a solution that would combust upon contact with air. It spilled onto Sangji's hands and body. 

She wasn't wearing a lab coat; no one had told her to. The fire burned through her gloves, then her hands. She inhaled toxic, superheated gases given off by her burning polyester sweater, a process that accelerated as she ran and screamed.

Sangji's supervisor is facing criminal charges in connection with her death. This is the first time a university professor has been charged for endangering a lab worker.

[Photo credit: tk-link, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Jul 27, 2012

  • The latest threat to the ozone layer? Freaky summer storms
  • When "informed consent" is anything but. RH Reality Check reports on a federal court ruling to uphold a South Dakota law that requires doctors to mislead women about the risks of abortion

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Jul 27, 2012

Pam Belluck, the talented New York Times health reporter who exposed the truth behind Plan B labels, talks about her new book, "Island Practice":

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Pam Belluck, the talented New York Times health reporter who exposed the truth behind Plan B labels, talks about her new book, "Island Practice":

In her new book, “Island Practice,” the New York Times reporter Pam Belluck tells the story of Dr. Timothy Lepore, a quirky 67-year-old physician who for the past 30 years has been the only surgeon working on the island of Nantucket. But Dr. Lepore (rhymes with peppery) is no ordinary surgeon. Life on an island, even one that has become a summer playground to the rich and famous, requires a certain amount of resourcefulness and flexibility. [NYT]

Dr. Lepore's ecclectic practice as been full of memorable incidents, like the time he reached into a stab wound to massage a patient's stopped heart because there was no time to get him off the island.

"Island Practice" has already been optioned for TV by the creators of "24" and "Friday Night Lights."

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