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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Does Rick Perry Want to Make Texas a No-Fly Zone?

| Wed Jun. 29, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Texas lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill Wednesday that would effectively outlaw many routine airport searches by the Transportation Security Administration. If it passes, a TSA screener who touches the "anus, sexual organs, or breasts" of a passenger without probable cause could face jail time—a prospect that has the Obama administration threatening to sue the Lone Star state and even cancel flights. A rattled state Senate seemed to have dropped the bill before Gov. Rick Perry put it back on the agenda again last week, perhaps seeing a high-stakes fight with the feds as fuel for a presidential bid. But why stop at that? Some of the bill's most enthusiastic backers view it as a key first step towards an even bigger goal: The establishment of an independent Republic of Texas.

"If the federal government follows up on its threat and suspends air travel, I honestly think we are going to gain a lot of members in a big hurry," says Dave Mundy, media director for the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), a pro-secession group that claims an active membership of 10,000. "An air embargo, which is what they are talking about, would actually be an act of war. I mean, that's what happens when you declare war on somebody. You establish a no-fly zone."

Yesterday, TNM president Daniel Miller wrote on the group's website that "Texas is not Iraq." ("Will Washington choose to engage the Texan 149th Fighter Wing and their F-16 air superiority fighters?") Miller also pointed to this "brilliant" observation from an anonymous blogger: "The state of Texas has more military capability than the United Kingdom, and so, unless Washington plans to nuke them, they might want to consider how well they might do engaging Texan F-16s while they allege the right to violate United States Code and the Constitution."

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National Review: Legalize Pot!

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 11:04 AM EDT

This month marks the 40th year of the War on Drugs, but the Republican love affair with pot prohibition certainly isn't experiencing a ruby anniversary. On Monday, the editors of the National Review called the federal drug war a "colossal failure":

It has curtailed personal freedom, created a violent black market, and filled our prisons. It has also trampled on states' rights: Sixteen states have legalized "medical marijuana"—which is, admittedly, often code for legalizing pot in general—only to clash with federal laws that ban weed throughout the land.

That last sin is not the War on Drugs’ greatest, but it is not insignificant, either. A bill introduced by Reps. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and Ron Paul (R., Texas) would remove the federal roadblock to state marijuana reform, and though the Republican House seems almost certain to reject it, the proposal deserves support from across the political spectrum.

Though the National Review has argued for legalizing marijuana off and on since the 1970s, it has a lot more friends on the Right these days. As I noted last year, pot-friendly Republicans now include everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Tancredo to Sarah Palin and Rick Perry. There's even a Tea Pot Party informally led by the Red State stoner-in-chief, Willie Nelson. His new pro-legalization video for NORML is below. . .

Rick Perry's Top Controversies

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 4:42 PM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

By all appearances, Texas Governor Rick Perry is edging closer to a presidential run. His wife wants him to jump into the race and so do the big money guys in New York. Also enthused by the idea were attendees of last weekend's Republican Leadership Conference, where the crowd chanted, "Run, Rick, Run!" But despite everything that Perry's got going for him—a strong state economy, great hair, bible-thumping bona fides, and more than a decade as a sitting governor—he also has a lengthy track record of gaffes, controversial remarks, and dubious dealings. Here are some of the most notable: 

Shady home sale: With the help of well-placed friends, Perry earned nearly $500,000 in questionable profits from a waterfront home in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, the Dallas Morning News revealed last year. Doug Jaffe, a prominent political powerbroker, sold the house in 2001 to a Perry friend and political ally who passed it on to the Governor for $300,000, two-thirds of its true market value. Six years later, Perry sold it to a friend and business associate of Jaffe for $350,000 above its market value—a cool $1.3 million. 

A builder's best friend: In June, 2003, Perry helped push through a bill creating the Texas Residential Construction Commission, a new government agency that was supposed to protect homebuyers from unethical builders. In reality, the bill was written by the housing industry with the help of John Krugh, a lobbyist for the homebuilder and GOP money man Bob Perry (no relation). That September, after getting a $100,000 check from Perry, the Governor appointed Krugh to the TRCC. Consumer groups fought back and got the agency abolished in 2009.

A road to nowhere: In 2003, Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile mega-highway that would have destroyed 500,000 acres of farmland while enriching a handful of politically-connected toll road operators. After the state spent nearly $60 million on the plan, overwhelming public opposition killed it. 

Hands off: In 2004, whistleblowers repeatedly informed Perry's office that the Governor's Texas Youth Commission hires and protects "known child abusers."  His office ignored the warnings. Three years later, the story broke that top officials with the TYC had learned of and done nothing to stop widespread child molestation at a juvenile detention facility in West Texas.

Texas justice?: In February, 2004, Perry refused to stay the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, a death-row inmate who was almost certainly innocent. Perry later refused to release documents related to his decision and abruptly replaced three members of a commission that was investigating the case.

Nader raider?: Perry's political associates, including top adviser Dave Carney, have been repeatedly accused of helping the Green Party qualify for the ballot in order to siphon votes away from Democratic candidates.

A shot in the arm: In 2007, Perry bypassed the state legislature and signed an executive order making Texas the only state in the nation to require 6th grade girls to receive a vaccination against a sexually-transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. At the time, Perry's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for Merck, the manufacturer of the vaccine. When conservative Christians protested, the legislature repealed his order.

The stimulus two-step: In March, 2009, Perry refused $555 million in stimulus money that would have funded unemployment benefits. The move backfired four months later when Perry asked the federal government for a $170 million loan to cover his state's dwindling unemployment funds.

If at first you don't secede: At a tea party rally in April, 2009, Perry said: "We've got a great Union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?"

Blame God, not BP: Last year, Perry called the BP oil spill an "act of God."

Crony capitalism: Perry has used the state's Emerging Technologies Fund to benefit political allies. According to the Dallas Morning News, $16 million from the fund, or nearly 10 percent, has been awarded to companies with investors or officers that are large campaign donors to Perry. 

Black Ops: Perry keeps a daily "political schedule" that he argues is separate from the "official schedule" that must be disclosed under Texas open records laws. His official schedule for the first six months of 2010 showed an average of 7 hours of work per week; he has admitted that he simply doesn't record much of his official business. His office destroys its emails weekly.

Getting Wasted: Perry has accepted $1.2 million from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who is building a nuclear waste dump in West Texas over the objections of some of the state's own environmental regulators. In January, Texas' Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission opened the door to allowing the dump to accept nuclear waste from around the country. Six of of the commission's seven members were appointed by Perry.

Juarez, Texas?: Earlier this year, Perry told reporters that "Juarez is reported to be the most dangerous city in America."

Coming Home to Texas

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
The author at the old Blasingame cabin

Greetings from Texas! I've been staying on my family's ranch in the heart of the Lone Star State for about two weeks now, and I already have about a month's worth of chigger bites—the little terrorists love the mulch on the vegetable garden, which I've been frantically laying with drip lines. As the river runs dry and wildfires rage, I'm starting to doubt Gov. Rick Perry's Prayer for Rain will seed the clouds. As for his prayers about the Republican presidential primary, who knows? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

I've dropped in from San Francisco for two months to write about Perry and other outsized characters from the state where I grew up. And the ranch—located in the Hill Country at the confluence of the Blanco River and Blasingame Creek—is the perfect staging ground, equidistant from Austin and San Antonio as well as Dallas and Houston. Downsides include the half-hour drive to find organic greens or crusty bread, and internet that's slower than the armadillo living under the rusty ranch truck. But sometimes distance gives you perspective. For instance, I've been thinking a lot recently about the decaying log cabin out past the chicken coop and the beehives. It embodies a tale that's alternately presented either as a cold-blooded crime or one of the region's most famous showdowns. How you think about it might depend on your politics.

In the 1854, the family of Woodson Blasingame, a low-income subsistence farmer, built the cabin on land purchased from James Callahan, a land speculator and captain with the original Texas Rangers. Blasingame is thought by some to have sympathized with the area's progressive German community, while Callahan, the namesake of Callahan County, was a swashbuckling good 'ol boy best known for nearly causing another war with Mexico. "It took a lot to make him angry," says Tom McDonald, Callahan's great-great-great grandson, who is writing a book about him, "but when you did, you'd better get out of his way."

In late 1855, Callahan and a posse of nearly 100 Rangers pursued a band of Lipian Apache Indians out of the Hill Country and across the Rio Grande into Mexico. The Indians joined forces with local Mexicans and ambushed him, killing four of his men. The Rangers fought their way out and occupied the nearby Mexican town of Piedras Negras, where they looted food (and gold, according to one account) before burning it down and fleeing back across the border. The raid was widely praised in the local press, where it fed into support for the "Know Nothings," a nativist antecedent to the tea party. However, one progressive German-American paper in the area opposed it as illegal.

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