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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County GOP Official Depicts Obamas as Apes

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 6:06 AM EDT

Last week, Southern California's Orange County showed why it's a haven for people who don't find the Old South racist enough. Tea party activist Marilyn Davenport, a member of the central committee of the Orange County Republican Party, sent her fellow conservatives an email that read, "Now you know why no birth certificate." Attached was an image (at left) depicting the Obama family as apes.

"Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist," Davenport told the OC Weekly when questioned about the email. "It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people—mostly people I didn't think would be upset by it."

Orange County already sports considerable expertise in birtherism and racist Photoshopping. Its residents include birther queen Orly Taitz and a mayor who gained national infamy in 2009 for sending out a photo showing a watermelon patch in front of the White House. Scott Baugh, the chairman of the OC Republican Party, called Davenport's email "despicable," but added that Davenport would not be ousted from her post. The party's bylaws prevent a vote to force her to resign.

 

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First Tar Sands Mine Approved In US

| Mon Apr. 11, 2011 2:36 PM EDT

The Canadian tar sands industry is invading the United States. Alberta-based Earth Energy Resources has won all necessary permits to excavate tar sands oil from a 62-acre site in Uintah County, Utah. And that's just the start. Earth Energy has 7,800 acres of Utah state land under lease and plans to acquire more. The company estimates that its holdings contain more than 250 million barrels of recoverable oil.

Over the past decade, Canada has become the world's largest exploiter of tar sands, paying a high environmental cost to extract and convert its heavy oil, known as bitumen, into usable forms. Canada's tar sands boom has made it into the United States' largest source of foreign oil—as well as a major target of environmentalists, who strongly oppose a pipeline that would carry tar sands crude to US refinieries.

It's unlikely that Utah will ever rival Alberta's bitumen mines in terms of numbers or size. The state is thought to contain 12 to 19 billion barrels of tar sands oil, compared to Alberta's 174 billion. Still, thousands of acres of pristine wilderness are at risk, as is the environmental taboo that has so far kept one of the world's dirtiest forms of energy production off of US soil.

Tennessee House Passes Creationism Bill

| Fri Apr. 8, 2011 6:14 AM EDT

The state that infamously hosted the Scopes Monkey Trial more than 85 years ago is at it again. Yesterday Tennessee's General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that would make it easier for public schools to teach creationism. The bill would require educators to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies." It lists four "controversies" ripe for pedagogical tinkering: biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

"This is part of a long held creationist strategy," says Steven Newton, policy director for the National Center for Science Education. "By doing everything except mention the Bible, they are attacking evolution without the theology."

Yesterday's floor debate on the bill, though not quite as dramatic as Inherit the Wind, was nonetheless a tour de force in creative polemics. For example, Republican state Rep. Frank Niceley implied that Albert Einstein, who was more or less an agnostic Jew, was actually a Christian and ergo creationism should be taught in schools:

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And then there was state Rep. Sheila Butt's Aqua Net theory:

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Did Butt really learn this in high school? Or is she confusing global warming with ozone layer depletion? Has she seen this piece in Science? Just a few "critical-thought questions" for Butt's colleagues in the state Senate, who'll decide the ultimate fate of the bill in the coming months.

For Texas Lawmakers, ALL Family Planning = Abortion

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 3:00 PM EDT

Texas already has a law that bans state funding for any group that provides or promotes abortion. But that hasn't stopped conservative lawmakers from attempting to end state-funded reproductive health counseling in the name of saving unborn fetuses. State Rep. Bill Zedler has won an amendment to the Texas budget that would reduce funding for "family planning services," a move that he says is intended to defund "the abortion industry."

Family planning services, offered in Texas by groups such as Planned Parenthood, include gynecological exams, birth control counseling, HIV and cancer screening, and pregnancy testing. Supported by generous matching funds from the federal government, the services are believed to save $4 in government costs for every dollar spent. Under Texas law, no clinic that participates in state family planning services may offer or promote abortions.

Republicans in Texas (and in Washington) are going after family planning as way to defund Planned Parenthood, which, separately, also happens to operate abortion clinics. But that's a strange way to defund "the abortion industry." It might actually accomplish the opposite. If funding goes down for birth control and pregnancy counseling, abortion providers could find themselves in higher demand.

H/T Texas Tribune

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