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.
Clear It With Sidney
Pepper spray has been in the news since police officers were caught on tape spraying non-violent UC Davis protesters at point blank range, Friday, as the students huddled on their own quad to protest tuition hikes:
- Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly tried to downplay the incident by claiming that pepper spray is "a food product, essentially."
- In fact "pepper spray" is a deceptively benign-sounding nickname for an excruciating and potentially lethal weapon, according to Pulitzer prize winning-science writer Deborah Blum, who reviews the medical research on the product properly known as Oleoresin Capsicum- or OC Spray.
In other law enforcement/media news:
- Organizations representing journalists in New York have formed a watchdog group to monitor relations between the NYPD and the press. The Coalition for the First Amendment was founded in response to last week's media blackout and police violence against journalists during the raid that evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park.
[Image credit: JoeinSouthCA, Creative Commons.]
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has a modest proposal: Put poor children to work cleaning their own schools and fire the unionized janitors who currently clean them.
"This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," Gingrich said. "Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.
"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising." [POLITICO]
On Friday, Gingrich described child labor laws as "truly stupid," which seems to imply that he wants to change them. Yet he later told Amy Gardner of the Washington Post that he doesn't want to repeal child labor laws, he just wants to put poor kids to work as cut-rate janitors for 20 hours a week. There's no indication that Gardner challenged Gingrich on this apparent reversal.
Newt also wants to abolish food stamps and public housing. His solution for changing the "culture of poverty" is to enlist poor kids as scullery maids while their more prosperous classmates enjoy free time. Newt predicts that enforced servitude will make the poor kids proud of themselves and their schools.
Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post describes Gingrich's idea to replace janitors with poor kids as "unconventional," which is an awfully generous way of putting it. She notes that, while other Republicans have flirted with relaxing wage and hour laws for teenagers, "Gingrich’s suggestion that children start working as early as age nine goes far beyond what most other Republicans are proposing." Indeed.
Newt Gingrich is not a serious candidate. He is a buffoon and a meanspirited crank. He currently commands a bare plurality of support in the crowded race for the GOP nomination. He's not the first fringe candidate to hog the spotlight while the Republicans work through their issues and crown Mitt Romney.
If Newt's medieval policy proposals weren't enough to discredit him, his checkered ethics record should count him out. His entire campaign staff already quit once. He's just clawing his way back into the public eye to capitalize briefly on Hermain Cain's slide in the polls.
As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow famously explained, Gingrich has been flirting with running for president for decades. His "presidential ambitions" are just a marketing ploy to keep him relevant in the eyes of his lobbying clients and direct mail donors. After all, Newt can't dine out on being the disgraced former Speaker of the House forever.
Why do the media insist on treating Gingrich's campaign more seriously than he does?
[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons.]
Lobbyists for online education companies took the American public school system by storm last year, according to Lee Fang in a special report in The Nation. Education technology companies are playing hardball against teachers' unions in a bid to cash in on voucher funding for computer-based instruction, especially in Florida:
If [adivsor to former Gov. Jeb Bush, Patricia] Levesque’s blunt advice sounds like that of a veteran lobbyist, that’s because she is one. Levesque runs a Tallahassee-based firm called Meridian Strategies LLC, which lobbies on behalf of a number of education-technology companies. She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.
But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”
Across the country, education entrepreneurs are seeking to replace public school teachers with computer programs, despite the research that shows that virtual education is inferior to traditional teaching. They are getting lots of help from Tea Party politicians on a mission to privatize schools and bust unions.
This eye-opening story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
[Photo credit: nebarnix, Creative Commons.]
- A terrorism expert, an ex-CIA agent, a Republican operative, and a Kansas City lawyer tried to land a >$10 million consulting gig with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi during the waning days of his rule, according to documents discovered after Qaddafi's fall and published online, Scott Shane and Penn Bullock report in the New York Times.
- Peter Aldhous of the New Scientist compares the twitter networks of Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.
- 99 Portraits for the 99%, photos by Steven Greaves in GOOD.
- Senators grilling the FTC commissioner on proposed childhood obesity prevention guidelines took big bucks from the Big Food, writes Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
While Mayor Bloomberg was clearing Zuccotti Park with tear gas and riot police, Congress was sabotaging financial reform by slashing the budget of a key regulator, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Sidney Award-winner Mary Bottari of PR Watch reports:
On Capitol Hill, a similar rout was taking place in the dead of night. In a fast move that deals a serious blow to a key regulator in charge of Wall Street derivatives trading, Obama’s budget request for CFTC was cut by more than a third by GOP legislators eager to kill any oversight of Wall Street.
According to Politico, the administration had sought $308 million for the new fiscal year, but the amount is expected to come in closer to $205 million. [Truthout]
With a smaller budget, the CFTC will be hard pressed to reign in the super-banks that control most of the $600 billion derivatives market, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs. The agency will struggle to keep up with Wall Street, let alone to prevent another financial crisis.
[Photo credit: Leo Reynolds, Creative Commons.]
The NYPD cleared Zuccotti Park in a surprise raid early Tuesday morning on the orders of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Subway stations near the occupation site were closed prior to the raid in an apparent attempt to prevent protesters from mobilizing their allies to defend the occupation, as they did last month.
The authorities did their best to ensure that the raid took place in a news blackout. The city even closed the air space over Lower Manhattan to keep news helicopters away. Journalists from AP and the Daily News were arrested as they tried to cover the eviction.
James Downie of the Washington Post writes:
Bloomberg’s brazenness has only increased during the morning. At 6:30 a.m., Judge Lucy Billings issued an injunction “requiring the protesters to be readmitted to Zuccotti Park with their tents,” but Bloomberg has ignored the court order and kept the park closed. Protesters have marched to Zucotti Park, but are being barred from entrance despite displaying that court order to the police on site. At this time, the mayor’s office has not explained why it is ignoring the court order.
Most disturbingly, the NYPD sought to block any and all press from covering this eviction. On the ground, reporters were stopped at the barricades and refused entrance. Numerous journalists reported that cops refused to let them in, even pushing reporters away; reporters even Tweeted about getting arrested. In the air, NYPD helicopters refused to allow CBS News helicopters to film the eviction from above. As for the camera already in the park-OWS’s livestream-the police simply blocked it with a pile of torn-up tents.
Later in his post, Downie zeros in on the seemingly contradictory rationales for this morning's action. Did Bloomberg decide to clear the park because the owner, Brookfield Properties, asked him to? Or was it because the occupation was a health hazard? Or, because some protesters were breaking the law? The mayor's scattershot statement touched on all of these themes without making a convincing case for any of them.
Zuccotti Park is open to the public 24 hours a day, but Brookfield rules forbid camping or sleeping there.
As Downie notes, the occupiers have been cleaning the park throughout their stay. The mayor cited no evidence of any health or safety hazard posed by the tents themselves. Note that Zuccotti Park is a concrete plaza, so the fire hazard seems minimal.
Bloomberg did not explain why the press were kept away from Zuccotti Park this time. Nor did he attempt to justify the NYPD's decision to discard Zuccotti Park's >5500-volume People's Library.
Update: At least some of the books are safe in City custody on 57th Street.
[Photo credit: Amanda Farrah, Creative Commons.]
The categories for the 2012 Hillman Prizes have been revised and updated to fit our rapidly changing media landscape. We have reorganized the categories to recognize new and emerging media.
The Hillman Prizes honor outstanding journalism in service of the common good, as they have done since 1950.
This year's categories are as follows:
1. Book (bound volumes and ebooks)
2. Newspaper Journalism (story or series/in print or online)
3. Magazine Journalism (story or series/in print or online)
4. Broadcast Journalism (story or series/at least 40 minutes in total length) Open to television, web TV, radio, podcast, and documentary film.
5. Web Journalism (publication/story or series/multimedia media project) Open to blogs, computer-assisted reporting, new investigative tools, mapping, crowd sourcing, and other multimedia media projects. Entries should feature a substantial text component.
6. Photojournalism (for a series of still photos, no single images) Entries in this category must include still photos, either alone, or as part of a multimedia package. For example, the winning entry of the 2011 Hillman Prize for Photojournalism featured still photos and web video.
7. Opinion Journalism (any medium) Includes all types of advocacy, opinion, and analysis, normally short-form and/or frequent, regardless of medium. Open to newspaper and magazine columnists, TV and radio presenters, podcasters, blogs, and bloggers.
Click here for more detailed submission guidelines and our online nomination form
If you have any questions about the new categories or the submission proccess, please contact me at the email address on the sidebar. Postmark deadline is January 31, 2012. Winners will be announced in April.
- Sidney's a 124-year-old guy who knows better than to take sides in the breast-vs.-bottle battle royale, but he's dismayed to see formula companies marketing like drug dealers. Four words you don't want to hear around babies: "The first hit's free." Formula companies offer their product to the WIC program for low-income women and children at a deep discount. The U.S. taxpayer pays about $627 million a year for formula that would retail for $2 billion. According to a new report by Molly M. Ginty of Women's eNews, reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, this is a shrewd marketing ploy for the formula makers. WIC formula vouchers don't last the entire month. So, the vouchers establish brand loyalty, and then low-income moms have to make up the difference with retail-priced formula.
- The Department of Justice has abandoned its proposal to allow federal agencies to lie and say that FOIA'd records don't exist, when they do. Kudos to Jennifer LaFleur of ProPublica for sounding the alarm and spearheading the opposition.
- The War on Drugs is getting more warlike than ever, James Poulos notes in Foreign Policy. He points to an article from last week's New York Times about DEA paramilitary squads exchanging fire with drug traffickers in Latin America. These squads are known as Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Teams (FAST), the fruit of a George W. Bush-era program to "investigate" drug traffickers linked to the Taliban. The Obama administration has since deployed these teams well beyond Afghanistan.
- Three NYPD officers will be disciplined for violently and baselessly arresting two black officials--City Councilman Jumaane Williams and Kirsten John Foy of the Public Advocates Office--at the West Indian Day Parade, John Del Signore reports in Gothamist.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
William K. Rashbaum reports in the New York Times:
The men came in one by one, sat down in the chair in front of the shop’s newest barber, and got their hair cut. They looked like customers at pretty much any other barber shop around the city. They paid, and went on their way.
But they were not like other customers. They were all undercover police officers.
And so was the man cutting their hair.
They were all in the shop, Who’s First Barber Shop II, on East 149th Street in the Hub section of the Bronx, trying to collect evidence during the early stages of what would become a sweeping ticket-fixing investigation, according to court documents, police records and people briefed on the case. The owner, a police officer named Jose Ramos, was believed to be aiding drug dealers.
But few of the undercover officers, it turns out, came back after their haircuts, according to one person with knowledge of the matter, and ended up contributing little to the eventual success of the investigation.
The reason they did not return had nothing to do with crime or criminals. It was simply because they did not like the way their colleague, the undercover barber, cut their hair, according to the person briefed on the case. And that is despite the fact that the Police Department was picking up the tab.
The NYPD paid for an officer to recertify himself as a barber and rent a chair in a barber owned by a fellow officer who was suspected of aiding drug dealers. Fellow officers from the Department of Internal Affairs were supposed to come in for haircuts and buy drugs. No drugs were purchased.
Part of the problem, according to anonymous sources, was that few of the undercover officers were willing to come back for a second haircut. “The consensus was just that he gave bad haircuts,” one of the people briefed on the matter told the Times, “They just didn’t like his haircuts.”
Somewhere, Frank Serpico is shaking his head in disgust. You'd think undercover officers would be resigned to bad hair in the line of duty, mullets, even.
Or, maybe this is NYPD face-saving and nobody was dealing drugs out of the barber shop. According to the story, the undercover barber didn't witness any significant criminal activity in the few days he worked in the shop during the summer of 2009.
[Photo credit: Diamondduste, Creative Commons.]
Last night, Mississippi voters decisively rejected a ballot initiative to redefine fertilized eggs as people. As of Wednesday morning, the measure stood defeated by a margin of 58% to 42% with nearly all precincts reporting. This is a surprising result. On the eve of the vote, most observers expected the measure to pass.
November Sidney Award winner Irin Carmon takes a closer look at how Mississippi beat Initiative 26 in Salon. Grassroots activists, including rape survivors, doctors, parents by in vitro fertilization, and members of the clergy joined forces with national organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. It probably helped that a PersonhoodUSA spokesman predicted on national radio that Initiative 26 would ban the birth control pill.
As underwhelming as their performance was last night, this is a high water mark for the egg-as-person movement. If you can't declare a fertilized ovum a full-fledged human being in Mississippi, you can't do it anywhere in America. Similar proposals were defeated by 40-point margins in Colorado in 2008 and 2010. Undeterred by the overwhelming evidence, PersonhoodUSA has vowed to introduce similar measures in Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and California in 2012.