Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

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

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US Chamber of Commerce Takes A Bite out of Apple

| Wed Oct. 7, 2009 2:49 PM EDT

A day after Apple became the latest major company to quit the US Chamber of Commerce over its reactionary stance on climate change, Chamber president Tom Donohue went on the offensive, claiming Apple CEO Steve Jobs had "forfeited the opportunity to advance a 21st century approach to climate change."

Yesterday Donohue sent a pissy letter to Jobs talking up Chamber's efforts to "tackle climate change in a way that will strengthen our economy" and concluding that "it is a shame that Apple will not be part of our efforts." As he often does, Donohue emphasised that the Chamber represents "more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region." It was as if to say that Apple, and not the Chamber, was on the fringe of the climate issue.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As I reported in detail today, the Chamber has offered few ways for its members to influence its policy work, and that's especially true in the case of climate change. Interviews with current and former board members reveal that the Chamber's leadership violated its written rules by pursuing an obstructionist approach to climate legislation without getting a vote of approval from its board or committees. And even the board--made of of huge, often petro-intensive companies--scarcely resembles the overall US business community.

On Monday, Apple's vice president of worldwide government affairs had sent a letter to the Chamber exhorting Donohue to think different. "We strongly object to the Chamber's recent comments opposing the EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gases," she said. "We would prefer that the Chamber take a more productive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis."

So would many environmental groups. Sensing weakness in the nation's largest business lobby, the Natural Resources Defense Council recently launched print ads and a website asking, "Who does the Chamber represent?" Read today's investigative piece on the Chamber for some answers.

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Apple Resigns from US Chamber of Commerce Over Climate

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 7:24 PM EDT

Apple quit the US Chamber of Commerce today, and sent Chamber president Tom Donohue an exhortation to think different:

We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis. However, because the Chamber's position differs so sharply with Apple's, we have decided to resign our membership effectively immediately.

At this point, it might be time to announce a new subgenre of corporate communications literature: the trade group smackdown. Donohue has gotten so many similar letters from other large companies that it's starting to feel routine. Not that Apple isn't a major feather in the cap of climate campaigners. Now, I'm half expecting to see an ad casting Donohue as PC Guy. 

Wingnuts Unite: Ron Paul Joins Michelle Bachmann in Weirdest Town Hall Ever

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 2:18 PM EDT

Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann are supposed to be the oil and vinegar of the Republican Party. He's an anti-war, anti-Patriot Act, radically pro-civil rights libertarian. She's a Bible-thumping Bush acolyte who dreams of nuking Iran and likens gay sex to bestiality. But there they were on Friday, sharing the stage at a town hall organized by Paul backers, where Bachmann called him "one of the leading advocates for freedom in our capitol." What gives?

Bachmann's role is telling in what it says about how she and other Bush-era Republicans are trying to reposition themselves. As recently as last year's GOP presidential primary, Paul was ridiculed by the GOP mainstream for his opposition to America's costly military adventures abroad; the leading conservative website, Redstate.com, even banned his supporters from shilling for him in blog comments. Paul's votes against war funding were part of his general practice of opposing almost every government spending bill, a habit that earned him the nickname "Dr. No."

Now, of course, the once-lonely Dr. No finds himself surrounded by a Party of No. And the new GOP refuseniks want his blessing so they can obscure how their past fiscal recklessness tanked the economy and mobilize Paul's considerable grassroots machine against Obama.

That job requires some contortions. "Next year the government is going to spend more money on welfare in one year than they spent on the entire eight years of the war," Bachmann told the crowd, essentially arguing the GOP has been the party of fiscal restraint, even though Bush racked up record deficits. And now that Obama is trying to correct those excesses, she feels taxpayers' pain: "Sales tax, gas tax, every-time-you-turn-around tax," she complained. "In other words, at the rate your government has been spending, the fruits of your labor have already been spoken for."

Bachman, who has been tutored by Paul as of late during his Thursday "Liberty Luncheons," was so enamored of her new anti-tax identity that she couldn't contain herself. The "government takeover of healthcare" will literally tax away everything Americans make, she suggested, transforming the country into a communist economy: "In other words, 100 percent of your check has already been spoken for. You can't have everything that you make confiscated by the government. It doesn't work."

This and Bachman's other genuflections the the gods of the free market and small government were met with huge cheers, suggesting that Paulites are willing to forget how she and the rest of the GOP spent eight years undermining both of those things. It was almost as if the crowd was thankful to her wing of the party for royally screwing up, thereby confirming the libertarian notion that government is never the answer. Kick the dog enough, and it will lick your hand every time you whistle.

 

PG&E Quits Chamber of Commerce Over Its "Extreme Position on Climate Change"

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 6:13 PM EDT

Pacific Gas and Electric, the Northern California utility, has pulled out of the US Chamber of Commerce, citing what its chairman, Peter Darbee, called its "disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort reality" in the debate over climate change.

Darbee's often harshly worded letter to the Chamber, excerpted on the company's blog, expressed dismay that the Chamber "neglects the indisputable fact" that climate change is "a threat that cannot be ignored." 

With 3 million member businesses of all sizes, the nation's biggest business lobby has come under increasing fire for taking a hard line against this year's climate legislation. In May, a letter from Johnson & Johnson and Nike asked the Chamber to stop speaking about the issue as if it represented the entire business community. PG&E is the first business to move beyond those objections to publicly break with Chamber over its position. "[N]ot every issue is created equal," the company, a major investor in green power, said on its blog, "and sometimes companies decide they have to take a more decisive stand on really big ones."

It remains an enigma why the Chamber, which has called for a "Scopes Monkey Trial" on climate science, is working so hard to undermine climate legislation. The NRDC recently pointed out that Chamber president Tom Donohue has deep financial ties to the coal industry. The Chamber stresses that it position on global warming was hammered out by the its Environment and Energy Committee, which is chaired by Donald J. Sterhan, the owner of an affordable housing company. But a web search reveals that the Montana native is also a board member of the Billings Petroleum Club. The club's members often include people outside the oil industry, yet the club's September 2009 newsletter, the Gusher, lists numerous oil companies as sponsors, among them Devon Energy, Montana Wyoming Oil Company, and Petro-Hunt.

 

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