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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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.

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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

CEO Pay Shoots Up At Expense of Workers

| Tue Apr. 5, 2011 6:00 PM EDT

Here's the latest on how much richer the rich have gotten: Last year, according to a USA Today analysis of corporate filings, median CEO pay jumped 27 percent. Compare this to the paltry 2.1 percent pay raise earned by the typical American worker.

Stock options have rewarded CEOs for layoffs instead of growth.

In general, CEOs did so much better than everyone else due to their generous stock options, which surged in concert with last year's bull market. Wall Street argues that there's nothing wrong with such incentive-based pay; it alignes the interests of corporate execs with their companies' shareholders.  But is that all that matters? UMass economics professor William Lazonick notes that a huge chunk of corporate profits last year came not from legitimate gains, but from downsizing:

The fact that CEOs’ pay is rising along with stock prices underscores the disconnect between pay and companies’ true underlying performance, Lazonick says. While companies in the S&P 500 boosted profit 47% last year, much of that was due to cost-cutting and layoffs, not from the creation of businesses and growth, Lazonick says. Revenue, a gauge of the money flowing into businesses for selling goods and services, grew at a much slower pace than profit — and ended the year up just 7%.

So in other words, a 7 percent pay hike for CEOs might have been fair; a 27 percent raise looks a lot more like profiting off the misery of the people who once worked for you.

The Religious Right's Anti-Union Crusade

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 6:17 AM EDT

Wisconsin's ongoing labor battle has officially become a holy war. The Family Research Council, the evangelical advocacy organization founded by James Dobson, has been dipping into its war chest to defend Republican Governor Scott Walker's efforts to curtail collective bargaining for public-sector unions. FRC president Tony Perkins interviewed backers of Walker's anti-union bill on his weekly radio program and has tweeted his support for the bill, directly linking social conservatism with an anti-union, pro-business agenda: "Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda."

The FRC's new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who's running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg would alter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. "Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people," say the ads. "A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court."

The FRC's anti-labor campaign in Wisconsin is part of its larger agenda to meld fiscal conservatism with its family-values message. Its recent priorities have included fighting health care reform, new taxes on the wealthy, and President Obama's budget proposals. In recent weeks, Perkins has used his radio show to hash through small-government talking points with House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Tea Party caucus head Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who told him, "The bigger government gets, the smaller God gets." After exploring the value of union busting with Republican state Representative Robin Vos of Wisconsin last month, Perkins expressed "our thanks to you, as conservatives across the country."

Texas Bill Would Ban TSA From Touching Your Junk

| Thu Mar. 31, 2011 6:35 AM EDT

Texas state Rep. David Simpson, a Republican from Longview, has introduced a bill that would make it a Class A misdemeanor for TSA agents to touch your junk. The bill applies to anyone in Texas who, "as part of a search performed to grant access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation, intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

(A) searches another person without probable cause to believe the person committed an offense; and

(B) touches the anus, sexual organ, or breasts of the other person, including touching through clothing, or touches the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person.

The Don't Touch My Junk Act of 2011, as it really should be called, does not mince words. The terms "penetration," "anus," and "sexual organ" appear four, eight, and nine times, respectively. Of course, this hasn't stopped the bill from attracting dozens of cosponsors. The governing philosophy (and anti-littering campaign) known as "Don't Mess With Texas" easily finds its analogue in "Don't Touch My Junk."

And what's wrong with banning airport junk touching? Submitting to blatant penile groping surely isn't an indispensable part of getting from Houston to Amarillo. And yet. One libertarian tells the Texas Tribune that messing with the TSA might not be worth it:

Federal employees currently hold immunity for acts they carry out while on duty, he said, and state officials are likely to face criminal charges from impeding TSA agents from doing their job. "And then who pays?" he asked. "Ultimately taxpayers pay."

 In other words, don't touch my wallet.

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