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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Watch: Occupiers Set Up Living Room in Bank of America

| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 3:55 PM EDT

Occupiers have tried to squat in bank lobbies before, but never with as much style as this crew from Occupy Wall Street: 

Notice how the occupiers look like they are having fun, instead of foaming with anger? "That was completely conscious," says Nelini Stamp, an organizer with Occupy Wall Street whose mother lost her home to Bank of America in 2006. "This is not a shutdown. We want to make light of the situation but also carry the message that this is a serious thing."

The creators of the video are members of Occupy Wall Street's Fight BAC group (BAC stands for "Bank of America), which formed two months ago to highlight the bank's foreclosure practices and too-big-to-fail business model. They're coordinating March 15th protests against the BofA in Manhattan; Phoenix; Danbury, CT; and Sarasota, FL. Many of them come from the anti-foreclosure group Occupy Homes, which is holding a national week of action starting today. The #M15 events are online at FTheBanks.org ("F" stands for "Foreclose"—or "a different thing if you use your imagination," Stamp says).

And yeah, in case you were wondering, $230 billion is how much taxpayers spent bailing out Bank of America.

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Pot Legalization Foe Getting Rich off the Drug War

| Thu Mar. 8, 2012 4:01 AM EST

The lobbyist who helped kill California's Proposition 19, the 2010 ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana, has constructed an entire business model around keeping pot illegal. While fighting against the proposed law, lobbyist John Lovell accepted nearly $400,000 from a wide array of police unions, some of which he also represented in attempting to steer millions of federal dollars toward California's marijuana suppression programs.

The revelation, reported yesterday by the Republic Report's Lee Fang, illustrates how Prop. 19 threatened the paychecks of some of its biggest foes. Police departments stood to lose lucrative federal grants like a $550,000 payment in 2010 to police departments in three Northern California counties that covered 666 hours of police overtime spent eradicating marijuana. And Lovell would have presumably lost a job as a guy who helped land those kinds of grants. Here's a copy of a notice sent to a police department in Lassen County, California:

Police unions and their lobbyists weren't the only economic interests with a stake in Prop. 19. The alcohol industry and prison guards also contributed money to fight the measure. And on the other side, the passage of Prop. 19 would have given thousands of "hempreneurs" behind the state's $1.3 billion medical marijuana industry a stimulus stronger than a vaporized bowl of Hindu Kush. The likely side effects—a decline in budget-busting law-enforcement costs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state of California—don't seem all that bad compared to what we got stuck with: A war on drugs that makes people like John Lovell even richer.

Also read: Tony D'Souza's "The New Dealers," a tale of recession-strapped Americans who turned to dope dealing to make ends meet.

Student Protests Seek to Breathe New Life Into Occupy

| Thu Mar. 1, 2012 5:49 PM EST

march1strikeucsc.orgmarch1strikeucsc.orgIn the past three years, California has slashed funding for public education by $20 billion and laid off 40,000 teachers. Once known for its stellar public school system, the state now has the lowest staff-to-student ratio in the country. Even its crown jewel, the University of California, is losing luster. Tuition has gone up by 300 percent since 2000. Other states' public and university systems are in similarly dire straits.

In the era of offshoring, digitization, and corporate downsizing, public education remains one of the few hopes for sustaining the middle class. While a generation ago, high-school graduates (or even dropouts) could reasonably expect to earn enough working a factory floor to buy a house and put their kids through college, those jobs have mostly been replaced by an "innovation economy" that demands even factory workers to have years of specialized training. As Adam Davidson ably explores in "Making It In America," his article in the current Atlantic, we live in a world in which "the opportunities for being skilled grow and the opportunities for unskilled Americans diminish."

Nobody understands the importance of reinvesting in education better than the students who now depend on it for their futures. As tuitions skyrocket, some of them are being priced out of a college education. Others are entering an uncertain job market saddled with mountains of student debt, which now totals more than a trillion dollars nationally.

Today, many students are joining protests organized by Occupy Education, a coalition of 80 occupy, labor, and community groups, to launch a week of action around the idea that "education is a human right." Rallies using the Twitter hashtags #OccupyEducation and #M1 are taking place in seven cities. Students will stage walkouts in Boston and Philadelphia. In Oakland, organizers will embark on a 99-mile march from Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza (the old home of Occupy Oakland) to Sacramento, where they plan to occupy the state capitol on Monday. Their demands: Killing a proposed 24 percent tuition increase at UC Berkeley and getting the university to support a tax on millionaires that would raise $6 billion annually for public education.

"I think this is the beginning of an uprising of the 99 percent on campuses this spring," says Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley PhD student in sociology. He believes "the stakes are huge" but the students' demands aren't: All they want is to "get an education without taking on a huge amount of debt and have an opportunity to get a job when we finish."

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