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.

Get my RSS |

Why Texas is the China of the West

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 7:21 AM EDT

As Americans lose ever more jobs and economic clout to China, the pressure's mounting for us to become more Chinese. Enter Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose 2012 presidential campaign slogan might as well be, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." In many ways, Texas is the China in our own backyard, a big, brash upstart that's created thousands of jobs by playing economic hardball. Admirers of the Lone Star State have dubbed its economy the "Texas Miracle," but maybe a better name would be the "Texas Tiger." 

 

Jobs for the taking:
China: Since joining the WTO, it has taken or caused the loss of more than 2.4 million US jobs.
Texas: Home to half of all US jobs created since 2009. Perry travels to other states to poach major employers.

Red states:
China: Deflates the value of its currency by 40 percent to subsidize exports and job creation.
Texas: Since 2003, has doled out $732 million in tax credits and subsidies to companies that relocated to the Lone Star State.

Labor on the cheap:
China: About 10 percent of the population still earns less than a dollar a day (pdf).
Texas: Tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of workers that earn the minimum wage or less.

Eco-impunity:
China: World's top carbon emitter would rather burn cheap coal than sign a climate treaty.
Texas: Nation's top carbon emitter was only state to refuse to comply with new federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Tea party:
China: Effective corporate tax rate of 16.6 percent is less than half the US rate.
Texas: Top corporate tax rate of 1% is fourth lowest among US states. Bonus: No personal income tax.

Toxic torts:
China: Tainted milk, poisonous toys, glow-in-the-dark pork: Product scandals are common. Court convictions, not so much.
Texas: "Hurt? Injured? Need a lawyer? Too bad!" writes Texas Monthly, pointing out that the state's tort reforms force everyone from the hospitalized to homebuyers to fend for themselves.

Of rice and men:
China: Suffers from "a lack of adequate (even basic) social protection for a large portion of its 1.3 billion population," according to the International Social Security Association.
Texas: Ranks 46th out of 50 states in per-capita spending; new budget slashes another $15 billion from social services such as Medicaid, mental health centers, and legal aid for the poor.

Free-market cronyism:
China: "Princelings" such as vice-president Xi Jinping and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai have gotten rich by trading on their connections.
Texas: "Good ol' boys" such as corporate raider Harold Simmons and real estate mogul Harlan Crow have gotten rich by trading on their political donations.

Pray for rain:
China: Encroaching desert consumes a million acres of land a year.
Texas: The worst drought in history has turned large parts of the state into a moonscape.

40-gallon hats:
China:                                               Texas:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

PBS Frontline Investigates the "Pot Republic"

| Wed Jul. 27, 2011 10:50 AM EDT

Last night, PBS Frontline and the Center for Investigative Reporting aired "Pot Republic," a great documentary on the marijuana business in California. It kicked off with a scene from a party at WeGrow, the so-called Walmart of Weed, and a screen shot of my cover story, "Weedmart." True to Frontline's form, the segment turned up some dirt on how medical marijuana is providing a cover for drug smugglers who resell California pot for three times its local value in places like Dallas, Texas. The Mexican cartels are also getting in on the game. At 2:30 EST today Frontline will host an online chat with "Pot Republic" correspondent Michael Montgomery, WeGrow co-founder Derek Peterson, and law enforcement officials. You can watch the Frontline segment here:

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

The Real Problem With Corporate Jets

| Tue Jul. 26, 2011 1:31 PM EDT

Last year, executives for Mylan, the Pittsburgh-based generic drug maker, took the company's two corporate jets on hundreds of flights to vacation hotspots such as Las Vegas, Miami, and the California wine country. The worst offender was CEO Bob Coury, who racked up $535,590 in personal jet flights on the company dime. Of course, Coury's air travel perk pales in comparison to his overall pay package of $23 million, which included a big raise pegged to a 15 percent bump in the company's share price. As long as Mylan rakes in profits, should shareholders care that its execs expense a few fun-filled weekend getaways?

The short answer is yes, according to a new report from GorvernanceMetrics International, a corporate oversight consultancy. Lavish spending on corporate jets rarely theatens to break a company on its own, but "if you're looking for a red flag to provoke a wider look at a company's governance and accounting practices, unusually high corporate jet perks is usually a pretty good one," the report says. Among the Fortune 500 companies that doled out CEO jet perks last year, the top 10 percent of spenders, or 18 companies, all ranked worse than average on one or more measures of shareholder risk or excessive corporate pay.

Mylan, which also makes the EpiPen cure for severe allergic reactions, earned a "very high concern" rating from the Corporate Library executive pay consultancy and an "agressive" rating from Audit Integrity, which flags risks such as SEC violations. Mylan spent six times more on personal flights for its CEO than did larger drugmakers such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Only two other companies, Abercrombie & Fitch and the Wynn Resorts, shelled out more than Mylan on corporate jets last year.

"If a board can't say "no" to a CEO's request that the company pay for his or her vacation, or taxes, or tax advice (to list just a few examples), that board may not be exercising very strong oversight of CEO performance," the report concludes. In other words, corporate directors who can't keep their execs out of the honey pot are liable to get stung. And in Mylan's case, an EpiPen probably won't save them.

Corporate compensation and shareholder risk ratings for the biggest spenders on corporate jet perks:

Source: GovernanceMetrics InternationalSource: GovernanceMetrics International

 

What Rick Perry Learned From Ron Paul

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 1:25 PM EDT

Libertarian-leaning Texas Congressman Ron Paul has called his state's governor "very much the status quo," but don't tell that to Rick Perry, who has been talking as of late like he's a bona fide Ron Paul Revolutionary. On Friday, Perry earned national headlines (and condemnation from some Republicans) when he said that allowing same-sex marriages in the Empire State "is New York's perogative." And in his new book, "Fed Up!," Perry writes that legalizing marijuana "ought to be California's decision."

While conventional view of Perry as a Bible-thumping arch-conservative holds true, his willingness to condone some liberal-friendly policies outside of Texas puts him in close company with Paul, who has never overtly supported gay marriage or drug use but argued that regulating them should be left up to the states. Perry's position allows him to say that he agrees with conservative voters without pissing off progressive ones too much.  It's smart politics, says conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.  "At some point, you have to trust the voters," she writes, "and if you can't persuade them, then learn to live with the results of policies that you don't favor."

Perry has also taken a libertarian stance on a major national security issue, urging the Texas legislature to pass a bill that would ban the Transportation Security Administration from conducting invasive airport searches. The bill had no chance of passing—the feds had threatened to shut down Texas airports if it did—but it was straight from Paul's playbook. Last year, Paul introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act, an anti-TSA bill nearly identical to the one later introduced in Texas.

Though Perry is still far from a libertarian on many issues, he may see in Paul a model for courting the GOP's small-government and social conservative bases simultaneously. In Texas, a tea party stronghold where both Perry and Paul are better known than in the rest of the country, a major poll last month found that Perry would lose a 2012 presidential race in the state to President Barack Obama but that Paul would beat Obama by 5 percentage points. Texans may be fed up with the feds, or they may just be fed up with Perry, but either way, the Governor clearly has much to gain by becoming Paul's apostle.

Fri Nov. 7, 2014 5:12 PM EST
Wed Jan. 22, 2014 7:38 PM EST
Thu Oct. 3, 2013 11:30 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 19, 2013 11:47 AM EDT
Thu Jun. 27, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 10, 2013 2:45 PM EDT
Tue May. 21, 2013 8:56 AM EDT
Mon May. 20, 2013 10:38 AM EDT
Mon May. 6, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Sat Apr. 20, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Apr. 8, 2013 4:00 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 4, 2013 9:56 AM EST
Fri Mar. 1, 2013 6:06 AM EST