Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson


Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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Tommy Lee Jones: Texas Senator?

| Tue Mar. 15, 2011 3:46 AM PDT

In politics, as in life, scarcity is the mother of invention. Texas Democrats face a paucity of money, candidates, and votes heading into the 2012 race for US Senate. Which has inspired liberal Houston radio host Geoff Berg to hatch a brilliant idea: Draft actor Tommy Lee Jones for the job.

"If he accepted our offer," Berg says, "I don't see how he doesn't immediately become the front runner."

Jones would certainly have a lot going for him as a politico in the Lone Star State. He was raised in Dallas, lives near San Antonio, and has a cattle ranch in San Saba. Between his Hollywood connections and Al Gore, his college roommate from his Harvard days, he'd rake in plenty of campaign cash. And perhaps most importantly, he looks totally natural in a cowboy hat. He need not share the fears of the competent-yet-bald former mayor of Houston, Bill White, a Democrat who rarely doffed the state headgear in last year's race against Governor Good Hair for worry of being labeled a poser.

No doubt, battling aliens with a J2 blaster in Men in Black III would be a lot more fun and lucrative for Jones than an uphill fight against hordes of tea baggers. (Jones' publicist did not return a call). And yet. . . maybe politics is in Jones' destiny. His filmography could be so effective against Texas Republicans that he might as well have orchestrated it to pad his campaign resume. Forthwith, a map of how Jones can use his movies to win Texas (elaboration below the jump):

How Tommy Lee Jones Can Win TexasHow Tommy Lee Jones Can Win Texas

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Margaret Atwood Pwns E-Book Confab

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 12:09 PM PST

Few novelists are more respected in the tech world than Margaret Atwood, the English language's most celebrated literary sci-fi writer. So imagine the reaction last month at the Tools of Change Conference in New York, a 3-day orgy of sessions on distributing e-books, creating iPad apps, and "Planning for Tomorrow's Digital Landscape," when Atwood savaged the hype. Maybe it should have been expected, given how much of her work tends towards the dystopian. "The stupid side of electronic information includes: One big solar flare and it's gone," she said. Yet some of her best attacks were as much visual as literary: Hand-drawn PowerPoint slides of a dead moose, a blood-covered knife, and a rampaging bear. 


Massey Energy Official Busted for Lying and Destroying Evidence

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 5:01 AM PST

The chief of security at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed last year, was arrested on Monday and accused of lying to the FBI and trying to dispose of key documents—the first criminal charges stemming from the worst mining accident in 40 years. 

The security chief, Hughie Elbert Stover, instructed security guards to notify mine personnel whenever inspectors arrived at the mine, according to the federal indictment. Last month, Stover told federal agents that he would have fired any guard who tipped off workers about inspections. Stover is also charged with instructing an unnamed individual to dispose of mine security documents by placing them in a trash compactor.

It remains unclear whether Stover was acting on his own or at the behest of other managers at Massey, which has racked up more health and safety violations in the past decade than any coal outfit in America. A statement released by Massey yesterday claims that the company notified the US Attorney's office "within hours of learning that documents had been disposed of and took immediate steps to recover documents and turn them over." Still, Stover provided personal security for Don Blankenship and was in frequent contact with the recently-retired CEO, according to the Washington Post:

"He was very, very close to Blankenship," said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is continuing. "He would drive Blankenship places. He called him 'Mr. B.'"

It's likely that federal agents will offer Stover a plea deal if he testifies against Blankenship, who, along with 14 other Massey workers, including the head of safety and the foreman at the Upper Big Branch mine, have refused to cooperate with the investigation.

That so many Massey employees have kept their mouths shut in the wake of the disaster shouldn't come as a surprise. As Josh reported yesterday in his feature on the coal town of Twilight, Massey exerts a near-feudal grasp in large parts of Appalachia. Many locals are convinced that they must support Massey even as they privately worry that it's ripping their communities apart. As the wife of a deceased coal miner put it, "There ain't no way to go up against them big companies."

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