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 Duke Cunningham of Iraq

| Tue Feb. 6, 2007 9:01 PM EST

Well, maybe slightly worse than Duke Cunningham. He bombed a U.S. embassy, and a French embassy, and maybe killed a Kuwaiti police officer and is maybe spying for Iran. And yep, Jamal Jafaar Mohammed is an elected member of Iraq's parliment. Let's hear it for Iraqi Democracy. Makin' us proud!

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For the First Time Ever, a U.S. Court Halts a GMO Field Trial

| Tue Feb. 6, 2007 8:26 PM EST

In a ruling that could make it more difficult for the USDA to speed through permits for the testing of genetically engineered crops, a federal judge halted field trials of several controversial GMOs yesterday pending a more detailed review of their potential environmental hazards. It was the first time a field trial of a GE crop has been stopped by a U.S. court. Judge Harold Kennedy found the USDA should have required environmental impact statements before approving field trials of pesticide-resistant creeping bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass in Oregon. Last year, pollen from the grasses escaped from the test area and fertilized plants several miles away in a national grassland.

The ruling was a rebuke to a common practice at the USDA of approving GMO field trials under a "categorical exclusion"--basically, an argument that field trials are too environmentally insignificant to merit detailed oversight. Although the judicial pounding has by no means driven a nail in the coffin of GMOs, it's certainly a sign that the USDA is starting to face rebukes for years of lax policies on a very poorly understood area of science.


Farewell to Ryszard Kapuscinski

| Thu Jan. 25, 2007 6:10 PM EST

Ryszard Kapuscinksi, the Polish foreign correspondent, astute observer of the Third World and fixture of most college courses on literary nonfiction for the last 25 years, passed away today. He was best known in the United States for the translations of his books on wars and revolutions, told through the eye of a nation that had itself been victim to conquest and subjugation. He was criticized in his later years for being somewhat essentialist on the matter of race and culture, and for being more literary than literal in his use of facts, but he remains one of the great chroniclers of post-colonial tumult in Africa and the Middle East, a journalist of exemplary courage and a writer of great empathy.

While riding the bus this week, it just so happens I've been rereading Kapuscinski. His Shah of Shahs, published in 1982, chronicles the events leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in which Ayatollah Khomeini deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the corrupt, US-backed autocrat. As I'd hoped, Kapuscinski shed some light on what we'd be getting into if the Bush Administration made good on its brinksmanship. Bush might want to consider this before invading:

[Iranians] have a particular talent for preserving their independence under conditions of subjugation. For hundreds of years the Iranians have been the victims of conquest, aggression, and partition. They have been ruled for centuries on end by foreigners or local regimes dependent of foreign powers, and yet they have preserved their culture and language, their impressive personality and so much spiritual fortitude that in propitious circumstances they can arise reborn from the ashes. During the twenty-five centuries of their recorded history the Iranians have always, sooner or later, managed to outwit anyone with the impudence to try ruling them. Sometimes they have to resort to the weapons of uprising and revolution to obtain their goal, and then they pay the tragic levy of blood. Sometimes they use the tactic of passive resistance, which they apply in a particularly consistent and radical way. When they get fed up with an authority that has become unbearable, the whole country freezes, the whole nation does a disappearing act. Authority gives orders but no one is listening, it frowns but no one is looking, it raises its voice but that voice is as one crying in the wilderness. Then authority falls apart like a house of cards. The most common Iranian technique, however, is absorption, active assimilation, in a way that turns the foreign sword into the Iranians' own weapon."

Ridin' Dirty in Alabama

| Thu Jan. 25, 2007 2:55 PM EST

I'm not really sure whether this is really cool or really, well, dirty. Police in Mobile, Alabama are pulling over suspected drug dealers in their pimped-out rides, and, if they find the trunks loaded with cocaine and C-notes and the like, they seize the drug money and use it to buy the car off the impoundment lot. Officers then take the slab to the hood—scraping tail, flashing rims, thumping Mike Jones, or whatever—as if to say, "This is what happens when you cross the law, suckers!" Their current ride is a canary yellow 2006 Dodge Charger with a 5.7 liter 8-cylinder HEMI. The cops are known as the Ridin' Dirty team, a slangism popularized by the rapper Chamillionaire meaning driving with contraband. Here's the best quote from today's Moblie Press-Register story:

"We wanted to send a message that police have nice things, too," Battiste said, "Sometimes courtesy of the drug dealers."

Fair enough, I guess. But the money they seize is actually the property of taxpayers, so the question is really whether it's worth it to the public to be setting them up to be pimpin'.

A Showdown at the GSA

| Fri Jan. 19, 2007 8:11 PM EST

Back in December, the Washington Post reported that GSA Chief Lurita Alexis Doan had compared her agency's Investigator General, Brian Miller, to a "terrorist." His audting work had "gone too far," she'd said in August at a staff meeting, and was "eroding the health of the organization."

Today we learn that "going too far" might have meant investigating Doan.

Citing internal documents, WaPo reveals Doan attempted to give a no-bid contract that summer to a company founded and operated by a friend, which would have violated federal law. A former government contractor appointed by Bush, Doan "personally signed the deal to pay a division of her friend's public relations firm $20,000 for a 24-page report promoting the GSA's use of minority- and woman-owned businesses, the documents show."

Not surprisingly, continues the Post:

The GSA's Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into the episode and briefed Justice Department lawyers, according to sources who said they were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation. Officials at the inspector general's office and the Justice Department declined to comment.

If Miller is a terrorist, then I wonder what Doan would call the FBI.

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