Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson


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 Fast-Food Workers Just Scored a Big Win In Their Fight For a Living Wage

| Wed Jul. 22, 2015 3:20 PM EDT

In a widely expected move, a panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended today that the state's minimum wage for employees of fast-food chain restaurants be raised to $15 an hour.

The recommendation comes three years after strikes by New York City fast-food workers set off a national labor movement that has led to the passage of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. But unlike those cities, New York doesn't have the power to set its own minimum wage—it's up to legislators in Albany.

When New York lawmakers balked at raising the minimum wage last year, Gov. Cuomo convened a board to examine wages in the fast food industry, which employs 180,000 people in the state. The state's labor commissioner, a Cuomo appointee, has the power to issue an order putting the proposal into effect. If he approves the wage hike, fast-food workers currently earning the state's minimum wage of $8.75 will get a 70 percent raise, effective by 2018 in New York City and 2021 in the rest of the state.

"It's hard to explain to my children why they can't do things other kids do," Barbara Kelley, a Buffalo mother who works at Dunkin' Donuts and takes home an average of $150 a week, said in a statement released by labor organizers. "With $15 an hour, I will be able to get by and maybe reward my kids in little ways, like ice cream after a long day, and in big ways like being able to save for the future." Labor organizers are optimistic that the $15 wage will be adopted and will spur raises in other industries.

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How the US Chamber of Commerce Is Helping Big Tobacco Poison the Rest of the World

| Tue Jul. 21, 2015 5:05 AM EDT

The US Chamber of Commerce hasn't just worked to thwart climate change legislation, obstruct health care reform, and pooh-pooh Wall Street regulations. The nation's most powerful business lobby recently turned its attention to promoting cigarettes overseas, apparently using a rationale that corporations are, well, people:

"The Chamber regularly reaches out to governments around the world to urge them to avoid measures that discriminate against particular companies or industries," the Chamber said in a short statement responding to a recent New York Times piece on its tobacco lobbying. Since 2011, according to the Times, the US Chamber intervened in at least nine countries and the European Union—either directly or through one of its many foreign affiliates—to oppose regulations designed to prevent smoking.

Moreover, according to a report released last week by anti-smoking groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Action on Smoking and Health, tobacco companies have joined US Chamber affiliates in 56 countries. Those companies also sit on Chamber affiliates' boards or advisory councils in 14 countries—most of which happen to be places where people smoke a lot: Albania, Armenia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, Poland, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, and Taiwan.

The report also highlighted previously unreported cases in which the US Chamber has gone to bat for its tobacco company members:

  • Burkina Faso: In January 2014, the US Chamber sent a letter to Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao warning that the country's plan to implement graphic warning labels on cigarette packages violated international property rights and trade agreements. The threat of costly trade litigation delayed implementation of the law, according to government officials.
  • Philippines: In 2012, the US Chamber and its local affiliate fought an effort to raise taxes on cigarettes, claiming it would create a black market. The commissioner of the Filipino Bureau of Internal Revenue recently told the local press that those fears have proved unfounded.
  • United Kingdom: In 2014, the US Chamber released a joint statement with business groups and sent letters opposing a bill that would create standardized packaging for tobacco products. The bill "sends a negative message to the United Kingdom's trading partners," one letter said, "and undermines its reputation for the rule of law." The bill passed in March 2015.

US Chamber CEO Tom Donohue's most striking innovation has been to allow controversial industries to use the Chamber as a means of anonymously pursuing their political ends. The same politicians who might ignore a complaint from a tobacco company may listen when that complaint comes from a group that claims (albeit disingenuously) to represent 3 million businesses.

But the strategy comes with a risk in terms of its corporate clientele. Apple and Nike quit the Chamber over its stance on climate change, and CVS just parted ways with the group over its tobacco lobbying.

Former Reddit Leader Explains Why Trolls Will Soon Regret Taking Down Ellen Pao

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 1:55 PM EDT
Former Reddit CEOs Yishan Wong and Ellen Pao

Reddit's latest CEO Steve Huffman might be about to do what former CEO Ellen Pao never dared: Purge the site's notoriously freewheeling discussion boards of hate speech. Posting to the site Tuesday night, former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong argued that Pao was actually the last best hope for radical free speech on Reddit—a claim that, if true, is deeply ironic given that the denizens of Reddit's most racist and sexist discussion boards were some of the loudest voices calling for her ouster. "I don't think there's a place for such [hate speech] on reddit," Wong says Huffman once told him. Huffman, who on Friday replaced Pao, is expected to announce a new content policy for the site tomorrow.

Wong, who ran Reddit between 2012 and 2014, has been defending Pao in recent days. Earlier this week he blamed the decision to fire popular Reddit employee Victoria Taylor—the event that precipitated Pao's resignation—on the site's other cofounder, Alexis Ohanian.

Here are the key parts of Wong's post from last night, which is worth reading in its entirety:

[T]he most delicious part of this is that on at least two separate occasions, the board pressed /u/ekjp [Ellen Pao] to outright ban ALL the hate subreddits in a sweeping purge. She resisted, knowing the community, claiming it would be a shitshow. Ellen isn't some "evil, manipulative, out-of-touch incompetent she-devil" as was often depicted. She was approved by the board and recommended by me because when I left, she was the only technology executive anywhere who had the chops and experience to manage a startup of this size, AND who understood what reddit was all about. As we can see from her post-resignation activity, she knows perfectly well how to fit in with the reddit community and is a normal, funny person - just like in real life - she simply didn't sit on reddit all day because she was busy with her day job.

Ellen was more or less inclined to continue upholding my free-speech policies. /r/fatpeoplehate was banned for inciting off-site harassment, not discussing fat-shaming. What all the white-power racist-sexist neckbeards don't understand is that with her at the head of the company, the company would be immune to accusations of promoting sexism and racism: she is literally Silicon Valley's #1 Feminist Hero, so any "SJWs" [social justice warriors] would have a hard time attacking the company for intentionally creating a bastion (heh) of sexist/racist content. She probably would have tolerated your existence so long as you didn't cause any problems - I know that her long-term strategies were to find ways to surface and publicize reddit's good parts - allowing the bad parts to exist but keeping them out of the spotlight. It would have been very principled - the CEO of reddit, who once sued her previous employer for sexual discrimination, upholds free speech and tolerates the ugly side of humanity because it is so important to maintaining a platform for open discourse. It would have been unassailable.

Well, now she's gone (you did it reddit!), and /u/spez [CEO Steve Huffman] has the moral authority as a co-founder to move ahead with the purge. We tried to let you govern yourselves and you failed, so now The Man is going to set some Rules. Admittedly, I can't say I'm terribly upset.

Elizabeth Warren Wants the Federal Government to Encourage Research on Pot's Medical Benefits

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 7:29 PM EDT

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter to top federal drug enforcement and health officials requesting that they do more to conduct and facilitate research on the health benefits of marijuana. Among other things, she urged the government to end its monopoly on the supply of pot for research purposes, coordinate large-scale epidemiological studies on marijuana use, and assure scientists that their work on pot won't jeopardize their other federal research funding.

"While the federal government has emphasized research on the potential harms associated with the use of marijuana," says the letter, which was signed by Warren and seven other Democratic senators, "there is still very limited research on the potential health benefits of marijuana—despite the fact that millions of Americans are now eligible by state law to use the drug for medical purposes."

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services made a widely publicized move to streamline the approval of medical-marijuana studies, but Warren argues that this should be just the start of a broader effort to legitimize and institutionalize research into the benefits of pot. Her letter urges HHS to conduct its own clinical trials and facilitate communication among the 23 states that have legalized pot as medicine "in order to derive a more accurate picture of marijuana use and treatments across the country."

The senators also appear eager to see the government reevaluate marijuana's listing under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs, including heroin and LSD, that have "no currently accepted medical use." They ask for a timeline for analyzing existing pot research and making a recommendation for re-scheduling the drug. Their letter also asks whether the analysis will include comparisons with tobacco and alcohol.

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