Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

When Forest Whitaker Gets Frisked at the Deli

Judging by the traffic, you guys just can’t get enough of Ta-Nehisi Coates. We aim to please at Clear it With Sidney, so here’s your next dose of Coates: Ta-Nehisi’s op/ed on the insidious, ingrained racism that leads an otherwise “nice” person to frisk Forest Whitaker in an upscale neighborhood deli.

The Observer Profiles Hillman Prize-Winner Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the winner of a 2012 Hillman Prize for analysis and opinion journalism, is profiled in the New York Observer, and the Hillman Foundation gets a shout out:

At 37, Mr. Coates is the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States. His Atlantic essays, guest columns for The New York Times and blog posts are defined by a distinct blend of eloquence, authenticity and nuance. And he has been picking up fans in very high places.

Fans like Rachel Maddow, who tweeted: “Don’t know, if in US commentary, there is a more beautiful writer than Ta-Nehisi Coates.” The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg described him as “one of the most elegant and sharp observers of race in America,” when announcing that Mr. Coates had won the 2012 prize for commentary from The Sidney Hillman Foundation. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who recently hosted a book reading at MIT with Mr. Coates, a visiting professor at the school, said that “he is as fine a nonfiction writer as anyone working today.”

You might be surprised to learn that Coates turned down the New York Times’ offer of a regular column:

“I won’t go so far as to say I’d fail,” he wrote. “But I strongly suspect that the same people who were convinced this would be a perfect marriage, would—inside of a year—be tweeting, ‘Remember when that dude could actually write?’” Of course, that humility is exactly what makes readers want to see Mr. Coates on the op-ed page twice a week. The fact is, wherever he writes next, the man has arrived.

Coates has indeed arrived, and we at Hillman look forward to seeing him go from strength to strength.

Herbalife Pays Big Bucks to Docs at UCLA Med School

Proponents of alternative medicine often complain, justifiably, about Big Pharma’s propensity to secure the good will of influential doctors with cash and perks. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, Big Placebo can play that game, too. Herbalife, a billion-dollar natural products firm often accused of being a pyramid scheme, has effectively annexed large swathes of UCLA’s medical school for a relative pittance:

One of Ackman’s accusations against [Herbalife] is that it exaggerates the scientific research behind its powders and pills. That’s where UCLA comes in, because Herbalife has exploited its “strong affiliation” with the medical school to give its products scientific credibility.

Those words were uttered by Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson during a 2007 conference call. In fact, Johnson seldom lets an investor event pass without mentioning UCLA, specifically the Mark Hughes Cellular and Molecular Nutrition Lab at the medical school’s Center for Human Nutrition. Herbalife says it has contributed $1.5 million in cash, equipment and software to the lab since 2002. (The lab is named after Herbalife’s founder, who died in 2000 after a four-day drinking binge — not the greatest advertisement for healthful, active living.) [LAT]

One UCLA professor collects an astonishing $300,000 a year from Herbalife according to company disclosures.

[Photo credit: Mint chip and kale protein smoothie by elana’s pantry.]

NYC Screening, Mar 20: "Brothers on the Line"

Brothers on the Line, and award-winning documentary about the rise of Walter Reuther and his brothers from shop-floor organizers to transformative leaders of the United Auto Workers will be screened on March 20 at 9:30pm at The Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave, in Manhattan. General admission is $10. Click here for more details.

Directed by Victor Reuther’s grandson Sasha and narrated by Martin Sheen, Brothers features powerful archival footage and interviews with key historical figures in the rise of the United Auto Workers.

#Sidney's Picks: Signature Strikes, Domestic Violence, and a Canine Murder Mystery

The best of the week’s news:

  • “Signature strikes” sounds like a brand of cigarettes, but it’s actually a little-known facet of the U.S.’s drone war, the part that involves killing unidentified people who seem to be up to no good.
  • While profiling an ex-convict, photojournalist Sara Naomi Lewkowicz captured harrowing images of her subject beating his girlfriend. Her photo essay is a terrifying depiction of an all-too-common problem, one that is rarely glimpsed and only dimly understood by outsiders.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Remembering Alan F. Westin: Privacy Pioneer, Hillman Prize-winner

Alan F. Westin, the father of modern privacy law, died this week in New Jersey at the age of 83:

Through his work — notably his book “Privacy and Freedom,” published in 1967 and still a canonical text — Mr. Westin was considered to have created, almost single-handedly, the modern field of privacy law. He testified frequently on the subject before Congress, spoke about it on television and radio and wrote about it for newspapers and magazines.

“He was the most important scholar of privacy since Louis Brandeis,” Jeffrey Rosen, a professor of law at George Washington University and the legal affairs editor of The New Republic, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “He transformed the privacy debate by defining privacy as the ability to control how much about ourselves we reveal to others.” [NYT]

“Privacy and Freedom” won a Hillman Prize in 1967.

Sex Assaults in the Shadow of a North Dakota Oil Boom

Thanks to a 1978 Supreme Court decision, non-Indians who rape on Indian reservations operate with near impunity, Sierra Crane-Murdoch reports:

In 1978, the Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish stripped tribes of the right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian land. If both victim and perpetrator are non-Indian, a county or state officer must make the arrest. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim an enrolled member, only a federally certified agent has that right. If the opposite is true, a tribal officer can make the arrest, but the case still goes to federal court.

Even if both parties are tribal members, a U.S. attorney often assumes the case, since tribal courts lack the authority to sentence defendants to more than three years in prison. The harshest enforcement tool a tribal officer can legally wield over a non-Indian is a traffic ticket.

The result has been a jurisdictional tangle that often makes prosecuting crimes committed in Indian Country prohibitively difficult. In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department did not prosecute 65 percent of rape cases reported on reservations. According to department records, one in three Native American women are raped during their lifetimes—two-and-a-half times the likelihood for an average American woman—and in 86 percent of these cases, the assailant is non-Indian.

Indian tribes have their police forces who could be making arrests, were it not for the legal shackles imposed upon them by the court’s decision. The Senate inserted language into the Violence Against Women Act that would have allowed tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on reservations, but the House Republicans opposed the measure.

Sine 2008, outsiders have been streaming to rural North Dakota to get a piece of the Bakken Shale Oil Boom, and the Fort Berthold reservation is at its epicenter. Federal prosecutors have received additional resources to deal with criminal complaints on the reservation. Case filings on North Dakota reservations rose 70% between 2009 and 2011. The rise crime reporting tracks the influx of non-Indians to the oil patch. The reservation’s population has more than doubled, and the tribal police have little legal control over the new residents. For local women, the newfound prosperity represents an ongoing threat to their safety.

[Photo credit: Hansen.Berlin, Creative Commons.]

Canadian Hillman Prize Finalists Announced

Suspense mounts as the field for the 2013 Canadian Hillman Prize narrows to just three finalists:

  • Katie DeRosa of the Times Colonist for her multi-part investigation of Canada’s refugee policy.
  • Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher of the Ottawa Citizen for their two-part probe of robo-calls and voter suppression during Canada’s 2011 federal election.
  • Elise Stolte of the Edmonton Journal for her two-part feature on high truancy and drop-out rates among First Nations children.

The final decision rests with our distinguished panel of judges: economist Jim Stanford, writer and broadcaster Bronwyn Drainie, and political strategist Brian Topp.

The winner will be announced on March 18.


[Photo credit: Gord McKenna, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: The Wage Theft Epidemic, "Behind the Kitchen Door," and How Charter Schools Stack the Deck

  • In These Times explores the wage-theft epidemic gripping America.
  • Behind the Kitchen Door, a new book by Saru Jayaraman, chronicles the lives of low-wage restaurant workers and exposes the dirty kitchens, unsafe working conditions, and exploited workers behind the so-called sustainable food movement.
  • Charter schools are privately-run public schools that promise to serve all students, but these institutions often impose such onerous application requirements that only elite students can hope to be admitted.
  • Why did the BBC spike an expose of Jimmy Saville, a beloved TV presenter with a penchant for pedophilia?

 [Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Rembember the Battle for Wisconsin: 3-11-13

The makers of the new documentary, We Are Wisconsin, have declared March 11, 2013 as a national day of recommitment to the struggle for workers’ rights. The date, aka 3-11-13, marks the second anniversary of Gov. Scott Walker signing into law the union-busting Act 10, stripping public employees of their right to bargain collectively.

The filmmakers will mark the occasion with public screenings of the documentary, a town hall meeting in Madison to be broadcast live, and a social media campaign under the hashtag #31113. Watch the We Are Wisconsin trailer, above. If you would like to host a private screening of the film on 31113, click here to sign up for your free DVD.