Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

West Virginia Chemical Spill Reveals Regulatory Weaknesses

A chemical spill in the Elk River left 300,000 West Virginians without water last week. Experts say the spill reveals systematic weaknesses in the state’s system for managing toxic chemicals:

“We can’t just point a single finger at this company,” said Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.”

She said lawmakers have yet to explain why the storage facility was allowed to sit on the river and so close to a water treatment plant that is the largest in the state.

Ms. Rosser and others noted that the site of the spill has not been subject to a state or federal inspection since 1991. West Virginia law does not require inspections for chemical storage facilities — only for production facilities. [NYT]

Critics say that the state government of West Virginia has long been hostile to environmental regulation because of the outsize influence of coal and chemical companies. 


[Photo credit: “Elk River Falls,” for illustration only, dmott9, Creative Commons.]

Sidney's Picks: Urban asthma epidemic; Self-Abortions in Texas; Reddit-Brand Assault Rifles

The Best of the Week’s News

  • An asthma epidemic in American cities is robbing children of their health and peace of mind, Dateline NBC investigates why so many kids are struggling to breathe.



[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Pregnant Body Sustained on Life Support, Against Woman's Advance Directive and Family's Wishes

Marlize Munoz and her husband Erick were paramedics, raising a young son and anticipating the birth of their second child. On Nov. 26, Erick found Marlize collapsed on the floor of their North Texas home. Her heart was stopped and she wasn’t breathing. Her doctors believe she was stricken by a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung. Her brain was completely destroyed by oxygen deprivation. 

Marlize is dead according to medical science and Texas law. Yet a ventilator is forcing air into her body against her wishes and the wishes of her family because she is pregnant. Texas is one of several states that invalidates the advance health directives of pregnant women. 

Marlize told her family she never wanted to be hooked up to a ventilator under these circumstances. Yet, thanks to the hospital’s dubious interpretation of a Texas law, Marlize’s body is being ventilated for the benefit of the 14-week-old fetus inside of it. The law applies to patients living patients, not to dead bodies. But the hospital is holding firm. 



Gabriel Thompson Wins January Sidney for Profile of Latino Immigrant Course Workers

Approximately two-thirds of the workers who maintain golf courses in the United States are Latino immigrants. Some are documented and others are undocumented. The work is gruelling, but invisible by design: They rise before dawn to trim the grass, level the sand traps, and chisel weeds out of the turf. They earn about $10 an hour. Gabriel Thompson wins the January Sidney Award for “The Caretakers,” which tells the stories of the men who make golf possible as a sport and an industry. Golf Digest took the unusual step of commissioning the piece because they wanted their readers to understand the huge contributions of Latino workers to the golf industry. Read my interview with Thompson in The Backstory

A New Civil Rights Issue: Women's Freedom Online

Social media presence and online branding are said to be critical to success in journalism today. Important questions are debated online and professional reputations are established in this arena. So, where does that leave female journalists whose work generates huge volumionus threats and abuse over twitter and other social media? Amanda Hess’s thought-provoking Pacific Standard essay on the online harrassment of female journalists should be read by everyone who cares about the future of journalism.

The web was supposed to disrupt established media power structures and give traditionally under-represented groups more ability to shape public opinion. To some extent, this promise has come true. However, women and other vulnerable groups (including young writers and writers of color) are disproportionately targeted for threats and abuse over social media. The very tools that enabled a broader reach also enable abusers to shame and harrass with terrifying precision. 


Dispatches from the Permatemp Economy

Temporary work used to mean exactly that, but today’s economy, “temps” have become a disposable second-class of permanent workers who can do the same work as employees for years at a time, but with lower wages, and no job security. Sarah Jaffe reports on the tempification of the American workforce for In These Times. Bosses have used temporary labor as a tool to divide their workers and forestall unionization, but Jaffe reports on encouraging signs of temp/perm solidarity at a Nissan plant in the deep south. 


[Photo credit: Haughygrandeur, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Student Loan Sharks; Brain Death; Sex Work in China

  • North Korea’s weird but Kim Jong Un probably didn’t feed his uncle to 120 ravening hounds. 


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

The Emperor Has Clothes, But They're From Sweatshops

The Obama administration has called on clothing buyers to use their purchasing power to improve working conditions in the global apparel industry, but the contractors who supply uniforms for the federal workforce are still sourcing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of clothing from sweatshops, Ian Urbina reports:

Labor Department officials say that federal agencies have “zero tolerance” for using overseas plants that break local laws, but American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories. Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.

The U.S. Marine Corps buys shirts from a Bangladeshi factory where children make up a third of the workforce. 


[Photo credit: for illustration, NYC Marines.]

Women Wrote 9 out of 10 of Dissent's Top Stories of 2013

Nine out of ten of Dissent’s most popular stories of 2013 were written by women. Lots of great writing and reporting here. Congratulations to all who made the list. 

[Photo credit: Hades2K, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Temp Workers, Workers' Comp, and "Life Hacking"

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]