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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Protest the Olympics? The Conundrum for San Francisco Liberals

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

On the surface, San Franciscans seem poised to approach Wednesday's Olympics torch relay much as thousands of progressive activists did on Monday in France: Paris City Hall unfurled its banner supporting human rights "everywhere in the world;" San Francisco Democrat Chris Daly passed his resolution in the city's Board of Supervisors to accept China's torch "with alarm and protest." Nous sommes toutes gauchistes. Or maybe not. Unfortunately, the similarity between Paris and the "Paris of the West" might have less do with politics right now than the prevalence of decent croissants.

Last week, Daly told me he'd begun to detect intimations of a leftist backlash against the Olympics protests. San Francisco activists wondered if challenging China's human rights record made sense when America was occupying Iraq and stuffing bean holes in Gitmo. As mainstream politicians (and some pundits on the Right) have embraced the the idea of protest, the backlash has grown even louder in the comments sections of progressive blogs, on liberal sites such as OpEdNews, and in the conspicuous silence of typical agitators. While the leftist Paris daily Liberation proclaims, "Liberate the Olympic Games," the homepage of the leftist weekly Bay Guardian currently offers no mention of the protests at all (a top headline: "Metal Mania!").

Tomorrow night in San Francisco, the ANSWER Coalition, a national anti-war group, will hold a meeting aimed at convincing activists to stay home during the torch relay. Organizer Nathalie Hrizi sees in the global outrage over China's human rights record the shadowy hand of Bush, Pelosi, and the CIA. In her view, the Dalai Lama is a "member of a feudal aristocracy that had slaves until 1959" and not worth defending. "There is sort of a hysteria being generated about the torch and China," she said. "And it's similar--very similar--to demonization campaigns that the U.S. government has used as a preface to war--for instance, Iraq."

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Hillary Calls for a Boycott of Olympics Opening Ceremony

| Mon Apr. 7, 2008 6:26 PM EDT

In what might be perceived as a duck for political cover after the Mark Penn controversy, Hillary Clinton today called for Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics. She cited China's crackdown on Tibetans and failure to speak out against genocide in Darfur. "These events underscore why I believe the Bush Administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China," she said.

Though her qualms with Bush are valid, why didn't Clinton say the same thing about her husband ten years ago? In 1997, Sen. Russ Feingold (but not Hillary) criticized Bill Clinton for failing to press China to end the repression in Tibet. Soon afterwards, the Clintons, with the support of Republicans, pushed to end the policy of reviewing China's human rights record when making decisions about trade relations.

Given that the Penn fiasco also involves an international trade deal, Clinton's new position on the Olympics--however well-justified--looks like an effort to reassure her blue collar base. Will she go so far as to say liberalizing trade relations with China without any major human rights conditions was a mistake? It's certainly a more important question than whether to boycott a sporting event.

Prescription Drugs Are in our Drinking Water: What to do Now?

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 8:26 PM EDT

The biggest sex story of the day, besides the expensive sex life of the New York Governor, is the revelation that prescription drugs (including sex hormones) are in the drinking water of 41 million Americans. Forget Room 871's minibar. Maybe Spitzer got horny on tap water.

That drugs are in our water isn't new news, but the AP's five-month investigation will be sure to prompt a rush on Brittas and bottled snowmelt from the Alps. It will also probably lead to a reexamination of our wastewater treatment systems, including the policy of spreading sewage sludge on farmland--sort of the stealth turd in the swimming pool of water politics. Sludge, the black goop that comes out of sewage plants, contains drug residues that have the potential to be absorbed into plants and animals and run off into streams. So does the "purified" water that comes out of the same plants, but the sludge has gotten less attention as of late. Now almost forgotten is the high-ranking EPA scientist, David Lewis, who raised a stink over sludge a few years ago. The EPA fired him, though not before he exposed shortfalls in the EPA's science on sludge and some shady ties between government and industry.

For now, consumers will have to sort out how to deal with the drug-laced water problem on their own. In case you're wondering, one sure-fire water filtration method for removing pharmaceuticals from your tap is reverse osmosis. In arid Southern California, Orange County began operating a reverse osmosis system late last year that extracts drinking water from sewage (they call it "toilet to tap'). The superior cleanliness of this source relative to drinking water from lakes and rivers might have struck me as ironic--before Spitzer exploded my brain's irony synapse.

Bank Drops Wikileaks Case

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 8:22 PM EST

Julius Baer Bank and Trust dropped its case against Wikileaks today, days after a San Francisco judge reversed an injunction against the iconoclastic document-leaking site. Judge Jeffrey White had ordered Wikileaks shut down in response to arguments that it had published stolen bank documents that contained sensitive proprietary information. But Wikileaks argued that the documents exposed fraud, and the injunction prompted a firestorm in the press over concerns that White had abridged constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and freedom of the press. "There are serious questions of prior restraint, possible violations of the First Amendment," he said on Friday before reversing the order. Even during the time that Wikileaks went dark, shadow sites hosted in other countries continued to make the same information available, underscoring the futility of censorship in the Internet era. The bank's filing today didn't say why it was withdrawing the suit and reserved the right to refile the case later.

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