Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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Music Monday: Coltrane and Marsalis Have Nothing on These Guys

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 4:30 AM PST

Here's an experiment: Ask someone of my generation (I'm 23) to name a few jazz artists they like. If they're not fans, ask them to name any jazz artist at all—good or bad, older or more recent, doesn't matter the instrument. Expect to hear responses like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, possibly Wynton Marsalis, maybe Louis Armstrong or Thelonious Monk, and—well, that's about it.

Mention the names Art Farmer or Jimmy Smith or Art Blakey, or any of the other stars on the latest installment in the Jazz Icons DVD series, and you'll cue up shrugs and blank stares. But rather than bemoan the fact, let's instead stress the importance of the latest Jazz Icons set—fourth in this series—which preserves a collection of timeless, masterful 1960s concerts featuring some of the best damn playing (on drums, piano, hollow-body guitar, flugelhorn, you name it) audiences had ever heard.

Long Live the Pranksters!

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 5:01 AM PST

The US Chamber of Commerce, the massive business organization that's taken a shellacking in the media lately for its climate-change stance (among other things), apparently can't take a joke. Last month, prompted in part by Mother Jones' coverage of the Chamber's shenanigans, the Yes Men held a phony press conference purporting to be the Chamber and announcing the group's about-face on climate matters; now, the Yes Men-turned-PR-flacks said, the Chamber would be eagerly supporting climate legislation on Capitol Hill. The real Chamber, however, was far from pleased—so much that they're suing the Yes Men for the stunt.

While the ensuing legal action may be novel, the spectacle of political prankery has a rich history. From Joey Skaggs' infamous New York "Cathouse for Dogs" to the phony pundit Martin Eisenstadt of the 2008 election, there's no shortage of memorable pranks in this country, as Dave Gilson describes in his new story "Jumping the Snark" in Mother Jones' November/December print issue. But more importantly, Gilson asks, are these kinds of clever hoaxes a dying art?

Gone are the days of Skaggs and cultural icon Abbie Hoffman; now we have the CollegeHumor "prank war" and Bruno and Borat—funny, but lacking the weight of the hoaxes of yore. Pranks, Gilson writes, "have morphed from an outlet for political and artistic outsiders into another form of popular amusement," where everyone can try to be a prankster and the better organized gags are used to peddle Taco Bell.

Which isn't to say the prank is dead; it's just evolving, Gilson says. "Just as Sacha Baron Cohen's first three personas have gotten stale and the Yes Men are searching for a new gig," he writes, "so will the current crop of predictable pranksters be pushed aside by a new batch of jokers who've concluded that it’s better to light a stink bomb than curse the darkness."

Find Mother Jones' ongoing coverage of the Chamber of Commerce here.

Read about how climate activist prankster Tim DeChristopher put one over on the Bureau of Land Management here.

Sen. David Vitter (R-Formaldehyde)

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 4:59 AM PST

In May, President Obama nominated a renowned scientist known as the "father of green chemistry" to head the EPA's Office of Research and Development. For an administration that supports ambitious climate change legislation and stresses the importance of sustainability, the nomination of Paul Anastas, director of Yale's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering and a former White House environment director, was very much in keeping with its broader agenda. Anastas' nomination was unanimously approved in committee in July, and his confirmation seemed all but assured. Yet six months later Anastas still isn't confirmed. Standing in his way is Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), whose block on Anastas' nomination raises questions about Vitter's close ties to the formaldehyde industry.

Today, the future of the formaldehyde industry is very much in jeopardy. A few years back, the International Agency for Research on Cancer definitively announced that the chemical, used in building materials and household products, causes cancer in humans. The EPA, which has studied formaldehyde's risks for more than a decade, doesn't go quite so far, saying it's a "probable human carcinogen." But that could soon change. The EPA has recently signaled that it plans to definitively assess formaldehyde's health effects. "This is not the time for more delay," an EPA spokeswoman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in September. As the agency's research director, Anastas would surely have a role in this assessment. Given that one of Anastas' specialties is researching "the design of safer chemicals and chemical processes to replace hazardous substances," the formaldehyde industry is predictably concerned about his nomination.

Your DNA = $$$

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 4:40 AM PST

It's been a great couple years for the personal genomics company 23andMe: an Oprah appearance, a Invention of the Year accolade from Time magazine. But despite all the good press, last month the news turned sour: it was confirmed that 23andMe had laid off employees due to the economic downturn. "This was a very difficult decision," a company statement read, "but one that we felt was necessary to achieve 23andMe's long-term business development goals and maintain our strength in the industry."

Which begs the question: What exactly are those "long-term business development goals" for 23andMe, and indeed for the nascent personal genomics industry as a whole?

The genomics companies claim their goal to help us live longer, better lives; to understand what diseases we're predisposed to; and to better prepare for the future. But as Shannon Brownlee, author of the award-winning book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, writes in the November/December print issue of Mother Jones, this selling point isn't what these companies are actually after. What they really want is your genetic data for large-scale research; in their hands, that data can be sold to researchers and Big Pharma to develop new medications—and for much more than peddling personal tests. "We are the broker," 23andMe cofounder Linda Avey tells Brownlee. "We make the connection between [the drug firms] and the individuals."

Consumers can plunk down as much as $68,500 on one of these tests. But as Brownlee points out, in many instances the data they get back isn't even all that useful—or accurate. The personal genomics field is still in its infancy; even 23andMe mentions in its genetic reports that its findings shouldn't be used by doctors for prescriptions. Actual, useful data is years, even decades away, she writes, though that won't stop these services from cashing in on your DNA in the meantime.

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