Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

#Sidney's Picks: Court Shutters 1/3 of Texas Abortion Clinics

The Best of the Week’s News

A Halloween Nightmare in Juarez

A massive explosion shook the Dulces Blueberry factory in Ciudad Juarez last week, and a fire ripped through the plant, killing at least four workers and injuring dozens of others. Dulces Blueberry specializes in candy corn, sugar pumpkins, and other cheap Halloween candy for the U.S. market. The families of the injured workers say that poor safety conditions contributed to the blast. The factory is associated with Sunrise Confections, a division of the El Paso-based Mount Franklin Foods. This week, Mount Franklin declined to answer questions from In These Times labor reporter Michelle Chen. Prior to Chen’s investigation, the blast had received little or no coverage in the English-language press, even though Juarez is the twin city of El Paso. 


[Photo credit: Deb T, Creative Commons.]

Reports of U.S. "Krokodil" Epidemic Exaggerated

Breathless media claims about the stateside spread of a cut-rate heroin substitute known as “krokodil” may have been overblown, according to the Chicago Tribune. The drug is notorious for causing leathery skin lesions that can degenerate into gangrene. The lesions are caused by toxic byproducts of the synthesis of krokodil (desomorphine) from coedine, and maybe by residual traces of gasoline or other solvents used in the synthesis. 

Despite a handful of highly publicized case reports, there is little firm evidence that krokodil is being widely sold in the United States. The drug got its name from the skin lesions that heavy users develop around their injection sites. However, skin lesions are a perennial risk for all kinds of injection drug users, and some U.S. reports of “krokodil” lesions in heroin addicts turn out to be ordinary infections mistaken for krokodil toxicity. 

Krokodil caught on in Russia a decade ago because impoverished addicts were unable to afford heroin. Krokodil seems unlikely to catch on in the U.S. market because heroin is cheap and widely available. 


[Photo credit: Melissa, Creative Commons.]

Banished By High-Stakes Testing

When standardized test scores make of break a school, there’s a huge incentive to kick out the low-scoring kids. The illegal shunting of poor performers from public school to GED programs has become so common that it has earned the nickname “pushout.” Debbie Nathan follows three Texas teenagers who were pushed out and examines the toll this exclusion has taken on their lives.  


[Photo credit: Biologycorner, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: RIP, Major Owens; Bangladeshi Workers; CPCs Being CPCs

The best of the week’s news: 

  • Major Owens, retired Democratic Congressman and anti-poverty crusader, has died at the age of 77.

Latino & Immigrant Construction Workers More Likely to Die on the Job in NY

Latinos account for 41% of New York City’s construction workforce, but an astonishing 74% of construction workers who fell to their deaths between 2003 and 2011 were classified as “Latino and/or immigrant” by investigators, Erica Pearson reports for the New York Daily News. Why is this work disproportionately deadly for Latinos? Experts believe that Latino construction workers, particularly recent immigrants, are more likely to work for non-union companies, including day labor firms, which are more likely to skimp on safety equipment and training. Unscrupulous employers profit from the knowledge that undocumented workers are less likely to complain about all kinds of abuses, from lax safety procedures to wage theft. 

[Photo credit: Vonderauvisuals, Creative Commons.]

Poverty Wages Cost Taxpayers $7 Billion in Public Benefits

American industry’s steadfast refusal to pay its workers a living wage is costing taxpayers $7 billion a year in public benefits, a new study shows. We tend to associate public assistance with unemployment, but according to the new report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, an astonishing three quarters of beneficiaries are working. Their jobs just don’t pay them enough to cover basic necessities like food and medicine. 

These programs are a vital safety net for working poor families, but it would be nice to see highly profitable industries like fast food pulling their own weight and paying their employees a living wage instead of passing the buck to the taxpayers. The fast food industry is one of the worst offenders: 52% of the families of front-line fast food workers received some form of public assistance. 

No doubt, these employers see themselves as free market capitalists who abhor government subsidies. Yet, their business model is predicated on silent government subsidies because their workforce can’t make ends meet otherwise. 

From the taxpayer’s perspective, that dollar menu doesn’t seem like such a bargain anymore. 

Shark's Fin Soup Consumption Plummets, Sharks Relieved

Thanks to an ecclectic public awareness campaign, shark’s fin soup consumption in China has gone from a status symbol to a faux pas, and endangered shark species are getting a new lease on life: 

Thanks to a former NBA star, a coalition of Chinese business leaders, celebrities and students, and some unlikely investigative journalism, eating shark fin soup is no longer fashionable here. But what really tipped the balance was a government campaign against extravagance that has seen the soup banned from official banquets.

“People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50 to 70 percent in the last two years,” said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, a San Francisco-based group that has promoted awareness about the shark trade. The drop is also reflected in government and industry statistics. [WaPo]

Before the public awareness campaign, the average shark fin consumer didn’t even know that the unctuous broth known as “fish wing soup” was made from shark, let alone that shark fishermen routinely butchered their prey alive and tossed the mutilated animals back into the sea to die. When he learned the truth, Jim Zhang, became an anti-shark’s fin activist, and eventually changed careers to become a full-time environmentalist.

Once the word got out, the anti-shark’s fin backlash was swift and severe. Shark’s fin’s image was further tarnished by its association with official corruption. Lavish banquets featuring shark’s fin soup because a symbol of rampant expense account abuse by bureaucrats. The price of shark’s fin is dropping and some restaurants that specialize in the dish have closed du to lack of demand. 


[Photo Credit: SimonQ, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Casino Royale, Nursing Home Larceny, and Dirty Birds

The Best of the Week’s News

  • Daisy Coleman, the teenager at the center of the Maryville rape scandal, recounts how she was mercilessly bullied after speaking out against the boys who assaulted her and her friend.

Inmate Posthumously Reunited With Tribe After Death in Solitary

Sidney-winner Susan Greene reports on Robert Knott a Native America inmate who was posthumously reunited with his tribe after committing suicide in supermax prison. Knott had been struggling for years with untreated mental illness, a condition that was surely exacerbated by years of solitary confinment. 

[Photo credit: Detail of a pow wow dancer from the Ho-Chunk Nation, Robert Knott’s tribe of origin.]