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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Meltdown in the Texas House

| Sun May 27, 2007 1:50 PM EDT

"Good thing we've still got politics in Texas--finest form of free entertainment ever invented," the late Molly Ivins once wrote. Where's Molly when we need her? I smile wondering what she'd make of the latest dustup in the Texas House, where politics has never ceased to be a full-contact sport. Although the last physical scuffle in the U.S. Congress dates (I think) to 1902, when South Carolinian Senator John McLaurin punched a colleague in the jaw, the most recent one in Texas dates to Saturday, when booing and hissing Texas congressmen launched an insurrection against House Speaker Tom Craddick that ended with Craddick bolting from the chamber and Democrats, who stormed the speaker's podium, being restrained by the House sergeants-at-arms. Call in ESPN and set up the bleachers!

Craddick's iron-fisted rule over his fellow Republicans has made him increasingly unpopular among moderates in his party, who complain that his insistence on party discipline has put them at odds with the interests of their districts. As I reported in October, close followers of Texas politics have predicted that Craddick's strategy could backfire. Houston Republican Martha Wong appeared particularly vulnerable at the time, having kowtowed to Craddick on abortion and environmental issues. In November, her socially moderate constituents ousted her.

Wong's unsuccessful reelection slogan was "Be Right, Vote Wong." Add an "R" in there, and it could also be a perfect slogan for Craddick.

Jailing Toddlers in Texas

| Tue May 15, 2007 3:32 PM EDT

Close readers of MotherJones.com know that a year ago the government began incarcerating small children for months at a time in a converted Texas prison. The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, near Austin, holds roughly 200 kids and their families on immigration charges. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun jailing increasing numbers of kids since August, when it ended its controversial "catch and release" program for families with children who are apprehended on immigration charges.

After the story appeared in the Austin Chronicle and Mother Jones, it hit the New York Times and other major newspapers, and continues to garner headlines. A United Nations human rights official had been scheduled to tour T. Don Hutto last week, but ICE canceled the visit at the last minute because of a pending lawsuit over conditions there by the American Civil Liberties Union, a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a resolution introduced in the Texas legislature would call on the federal government to seek alternatives to family detention. A coalition of activists, Free the Children, has been holding rallies in support of the bill.

Since our story was published, conditions at the prison have somewhat improved--kids no longer have to wear prison scrubs, and they now receive something akin to school lessons. Still, you'd think ICE would have gotten wise to the root of its ongoing PR crisis. Locking out journalists and human rights inspectors only feeds our worst fears: that this issue really is as black and white as what's implied by "free the children."

Obama's MySpace Meltdown

| Thu May 3, 2007 11:17 PM EDT

The blogosphere is abuzz with news of a falling out between the campaign of Senator Barack Obama and Joe Anthony, an unpaid volunteer who created and maintained an unofficial fan page that has evolved into the candidate's most popular site on MySpace, with more than 160,000 friends.

The conflict has been brewing for some time now, but ended messily on Tuesday when MySpace agreed to transfer the URL to Obama.

Micah Sifry of Techpresident writes:

How all this happened is a complicated tale that is still unfolding, and none of the parties involved--Anthony, the Obama online team, and the MySpace political operation--emerge from this story unscathed. Speaking on background, Obama campaign staffers are spreading word that Anthony just wanted a "big payday." Anthony in turn has posted a missive on his blog (that was originally sent to me as an email) accusing the Obama team of "bullying...[and] rotten and dishonest" behavior. However one parses those accusations (more below), the Obama campaign's reputation as the most net-savvy of 2008 has taken a big hit.

Something like this was bound to happen this year as top-down campaign structures have begun to collide with the new bottom-up energy of social networking and content sharing on the Web. Obama's campaign strove for a hybrid model -- Anthony retained control of the MySpace page, but Obama's campaign also had access, and promoted the site. The advantages were obvious: free labor, a sense from the grassroots that they matter, and a populist PR spin. Then the campaign lost faith in Anthony and turned everything on its head. Yesterday, the campaign finally addressed the incident on Obama's blog, but from the looks of the comments, he still has a long way to go to win back the trust of many would-be "friends."

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