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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New York City Mayor Bitten by Groundhog

| Mon Feb. 2, 2009 3:47 PM EST

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Today Staten Island's famous groundhog emerged from his hole and bit New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the hand, drawing blood. How to divine the meaning? Three more months of winter, or imminent spring? My guess is that the groundhog, like the rest of us, has been more preoccupied with the long economic winter. Perhaps he didn't receive a fat bonus this year. Or maybe biting the hand of a New York billionaire was his way of saying that spring won't come until someone smacks down the plutocrats on Wall Street. Too bad this isn't Bill Murray's Groundhog Day. If it was, Bloomberg could relive the pain each day until he saves the world.

UPDATE: In response to David Corn's post, I'd like to clarify that I don't equate Bloomberg with the average "TARP-sucking plutocrat." He has been a good mayor overall, and is responding to the meltdown in brave ways, like calling for higher taxes. But as the founder of the Bloomberg news service, he created a corps of financial reporters who blew the biggest story on their beat. If they'd all been more like the rebellious groundhog and done some digging, or some Wall Street hand-biting (would Bloomberg have let them?), we might not be in this mess.

Image used with a Creative Commons license from israellycool.com

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Upshot of Boy Scouts' Anti-Gay Policy: Logging Their Forests

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 1:57 PM EST

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From the San Francisco Chronicle:

"The Boy Scouts had to suffer the consequences for sticking by their moral values," said Eugene Grant, president of the Portland, Ore., Cascade Pacific Council's board of directors. "There's no question" that the Scouts' anti-gay, anti-atheist stance has cost the organization money, he said. As a result, he said, "every council has looked at ways to generate funds. . .and logging is one of them."

According to an investigation by the Chronicle and four other Hearst papers:

  • Scout councils have ordered the logging of more than 34,000 acres of forests--perhaps far more as forestry records nationwide are incomplete.
  • More than 100 scout groups--one third of all Boy Scouts councils nationwide--have conducted timber harvests.
  • Councils logged in or near protected wildlife habitat at least 53 times.
  • Councils have authorized at least 60 clear-cutting operations and 35 salvage harvests, logging practices that some experts say harm the environment but maximize profits.

I was a Scout as a kid, and this is not the Boy Scouts that I used to know. It's sad that an obsession with what should be an irrelevant social issue has sabotaged their core principles. We've seen the same thing happen with other organs of the Religious Right as churches that should be doing good works have become obsessed with gay marriage and abortion. But while many evangelicals have begun moving back toward the center--look at Creation Care--the Boy Scouts are inexplicably going the other way. Let's just hope their vast land holdings aren't destroyed as they they slowly implode.

Reversing Itself, GM Will Source Volt Engines Abroad

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 1:37 PM EST

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So much for GM's Green Revolution. Reuters reports that General Motors has suspended work on its $370 million Chevy Volt engine plant in Flint, Michigan and will source the engines from abroad until it figures out how to cut costs and restructure. Given that the Volt's batteries will come from Korea, it's unclear at this point what part of GM's electric car is actually going to be American. Before the automaker was pledged $13.4 billion in government loans, we heard a lot about how it would reinvent itself through clean tech. Could that just be more hot carbon dioxide?

The FDA's Poison Lunch Box

| Wed Jan. 28, 2009 6:20 PM EST

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If I didn't know better, I'd say the FDA was engaged in a plot to kill schoolkids by poisoning them with peanut butter and honey sandwiches and a side of Yoplait. This popular lunchbox meal's virulent mix of salmonella, illegal antibiotics, and mercury is made possible, respectively, by the FDA's lax oversight of a peanut butter factory in Georgia and honey imports from China combined with its failure to care that a common method of creating high fructose corn syrup produces mercury (a fact it appears to have known since 2005). The only upside to this food pyramid of death is that it might scare parents into feeding their kids healthier foods. Spinach anyone?

Photo used under a creative commons license from Faces of Death

Mining Reform

| Tue Jan. 27, 2009 2:11 PM EST

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Today, Nick Rahall (D-WVA), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is expected to introduce a bill to end the last big giveaway of the West's public property: the General Mining Law of 1872. Passed during the Grant Administration, the law allows mining companies to remove gold, copper and other hard-rock minerals from public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties. Rahall's bill will be at least the 15th time that Congress has tried to add a leasing or royalty provision to the law, but the search for government revenue in the midst of the financial crisis, combined with strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, gives the effort a fighting chance of passing this year.

So how much money is at stake? The Pew Campaign for Responsible mining today released a report estimating that outdated mining rules will cost the treasury $1.6 billion over the next decade. But I've looked at the numbers myself, and that figure seems like a gross underestimate. Past studies have shown that royalties on hard-rock minerals would be worth $100 to $200 million a year. Then there's the depletion allowance, a tax loophole that allows mining companies to deduct up to a fifth of their gross revenues. In 2001 the Clinton Administration valued the depletion allowance at $265 million on public lands alone, and in 1980 the government valued it on all mining lands at $1.75 billion. None of these figures are adjusted for inflation. So conservatively, the 10-year loss to the Treasury from outdated mining policies is more like $7 billion. Though that still might not seem like much in the bailout era, it adds up. The total losses due to the depletion allowance and the 137-year-old mining law are probably on the order of $100 billion--easily worth a bank bailout or two.

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