Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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The Real Lesson From The Flaming Tesla Video

| Thu Oct. 3, 2013 12:30 PM EDT

Yesterday afternoon, a Tesla Model S burst into flames on Washington State Route 167 outside Seattle. The auto blog Jalopnik quickly posted a video of the luxury electric car engulfed in a ball of fire and smoke. Tesla later noted that the fire hadn't been spontaneous; the car had been hit by a metal object that damaged the battery pack. The car's alert system detected a failure and told the driver to pull over, the driver wasn't injured, and the fire never spread to the passenger compartment. Even so, at the close of the stock market yesterday, Tesla's share price had fallen more than 6 percent (UPDATE: It dropped another 5 percent this morning).

The sell-off may have resulted from the video, from a ratings downgrade released the same day by an R.W. Baird stock analyst, or both. Either way, the experience shows how hard it can be for companies to stake their success on radical innovation. Behind investors' (unfounded) hand-wringing over electrical fires or production hiccups is their unease over the basic fact that nobody has ever built anything like a Tesla before.

That Tesla has come this far—the value of its stock has increased six-fold since the Model S was named Motor Trend's Car Of The Year—partly reflects the savvy of its co-founder and CEO Elon Musk. But it's also a classic illustration of the value of federal subsidies, such as the $465 million loan that Tesla received from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010. When you're trying something really awesome and new, sometimes you need a little help from taxpayers. Just look up the early history of Google and Apple. Yet Musk, a self-described libertarian, has loudly criticized federal subsidies. I take a closer look at this sort of disconnect, which is pretty common in Silicon Valley circles, in my story in the September/October print issue, now online.

 

Government to Furlough Food Inspectors but Not Military Recruiters

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 9:03 PM EDT

Now that Uncle Sam is about to run out of money, federal agencies will need to use their last pennies simply to keep America from falling apart. Food inspectors and pesticide regulators will stay home under the furlough plan, but fear not: Military recruiters will show up to work no matter what. Sure, your kids might die from eating tainted spinach, but they will have died in order to show that America does not give in to terrorists. Or whatever it is you call those ideologues and hostage-takers that the military fights. The point is, just remember that the military will be there for you during the budget apocalypse if you need a job, or want to watch some inspiring videos about jumping out of helicopters and hunting people with spear guns.

UPDATE: Below, readers point out a variety of reasons why furloughing military personnel is not as easy as furloughing civilian workers, which may help explain why Army recruiters are still working while food inspectors are not.

Tue Aug. 22, 2006 6:03 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 21, 2006 1:25 PM EDT