Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

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

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Beck's Next Scalp: NEA's Yosi Sergant

Glenn Beck has another scalp. Yosi Sergant, communications director for the National Endowment for the Arts, stepped down today after Beck and the conservative Washington Times accused him of improperly encouraging artists to support the political goals of the Obama administration.

Yosi SergantYosi SergantOn August 10th, Sargent joined a conference call with the White House Office of Public Engagement and roughly 75 artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and other creatives, according to Patrick Courrielche, an Los-Angeles based art consultant who blogged about the call late last month before appearing on Beck's show. He described the call as "an attempt to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm of the campaign," and use artists as "tools of the state" to support the administration's positions. 

Sergant is uniquely vulnerable to those claims. Before joining the endowment, he led the media effort for Shepard Fairey, the street artist who created the "Hope" portrait that helped turn the president into a pop icon.

The call's official purpose was to discuss United We Serve, the White House's (heretofore) uncontroversial push to promote volunteerism and civic engagement.  Discussing how the artists could help support the effort, Sargent said, "I would encourage you to pick something, whether it's healthcare, education, the environment." Courrielche, a self-described "a skeptic of BIG government," saw in that statement an effort to create artistic support for Obama's policy goals. But those are also areas of volunteerism that are promoted by the government's Corporation for National and Community Service, which participated in the call.

Still, Courrielche claims that the context of the conversation was highly political. On his blog, he says that the "Hope" poster and musician Will.i.am's "Yes We Can" song were presented during the call "as shining examples of our group's clear role in the election." Yet the recordings he has produced so far don't back up that claim (A side note: recording calls in California without the knowlege of those being taped is technically illegal).

Even so, the recordings portray Sargent speaking in a way that is clearly ill-advised for the director of the NEA, an organization that has been a Republican punching bag for decades. Sargent's main problem seems to be an overabundance of enthusiasm:

This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government, what that looks like legally. We're still trying to figure out the laws of putting government websites on Facebook. And the use of Twitter. This is all being sorted out. We are participating in history as it's being made. So bear with us as we learn the language so that we can speak with each other safely. And we can really work together to move the needle to get stuff done.

He added:

Get the word out. Like I said, this is a community that knows how to make a stink.

And, according to Beck, an unnamed person on the call says:

Through this group we can create stronger community amonst ourselves to get involved in things that we are passionate about, as we did in the campaign. . .We can continue to get involved to do things we care about, but also to push the President and push his administration.

Clearly, Sargent may have crossed the line, especially if the last quote is from him. And yet there are many unanswered questions: Does "making a stink" mean whacking the conservative beehive? Do the "legal issues" Sargent mentions have anything to do with promoting Obama's policies? Possibly, but it would be nice to have more context.  Not that the ambiguity made any difference to Beck, who claims the NEA is engaging in Nazi-like propaganda.

The NEA declined to comment to Mother Jones beyond a prepared statement. "This call was not a means to promote any legislative agenda," acting communications director Victoria Hutter wrote in an email, "and any suggestions to that end are simply false."

 Though it may be frustrating to many of Sargent's friends and supporters, his demotion (he's still with the NEA, Hutter added) is not surprising. Few other government programs have been as closely watched and viciously attacked by conservative Republicans in the past 30 years. In Mike Huckabee's race against Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, he famously called the veteran Senator a pornographer because he was an NEA backer. And who could forget Jesse Helms' campaign against the Piss Christ? Sargent was foolish not to realize that the artistic-Democrat conspiracy is a powerful meme in the GOP toolbox. It's sad, but someone in his position has to be almost pathologically careful not to fuel it. And that's got to be especially hard for someone so attached to political art. Yesterday night Sargent simply Tweeted, "it's go time."

What's Really Behind the Van Jones Attack

The political smear campaign against Van Jones didn't begin in the paranoid brain of Glenn Beck. The wildly distorted attacks that ultimately brought down President Obama's green jobs czar on Saturday were fed to Beck by Phil Kerpen, the little-known policy director for the polluter front group Americans for Prosperity. Taking credit for the effort in jubilant, surprisingly frank blogs and tweets, Kerpen describes Jones' resignation as the first blow in a new fight to derail the climate bill.

This post continues at Mojo Blog.

What's Really Behind the Van Jones Attack

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Kerpen continued his effort to associate green jobs with progressive radicalism and cronyism, in this New York Post op-ed alleging a link between the Apollo Alliance and the Weathermen.

The political smear campaign against Van Jones didn't begin in the paranoid brain of Glenn Beck. The wildly distorted attacks that ultimately brought down President Obama's green jobs czar on Saturday were fed to Beck by Phil Kerpen, the little-known policy director for the polluter front group Americans for Prosperity. Taking credit for the effort in jubilant, surprisingly frank blogs and tweets, Kerpen describes Jones' resignation as the first blow in a new fight to derail the climate bill.

"The Van Jones affair could be an important turning point in the Obama administration," Kerpen gushed on the Fox website this Sunday. "It's also one of the most significant things I've had the honor of being involved in."

Kerpen goes on to recount sending Fox an article on Jones from the East Bay Express, an Oakland alt-weekly that covers Jones' hometown. "Please share with Glenn this article about green jobs czar Van Jones, a self-described communist who was radicalized in jail," Kerpen wrote in a note to Beck's producer, adding: "Confirms 'watermelon' hypothesis." (Kerpen claims this wasn't a reference to Jones' black skin, but rather a hypothesis that the climate bill is "Green on the outside but communist red to the core.")

"The rest is history," Kerpen boasts. He spent two weeks "researching everything I could find about Jones" before appearing on Beck's program several times last month to dish.

Beck clearly didn't care that Kerpen wasn't a journalist, that his allegations against Jones were wildly exaggerated, or that he had a clear conflict of interest: Americans for Prosperity was launched and funded by foundations and family members tied to Koch Holdings LLC, which has extensive oil and chemical holdings. In February, Americans for Prosperity began airing ads that described backers of the climate bill as "wealthy eco-hypocrites." (Nevermind that AFP founder Fred Koch has a net worth of roughly $17 billion).  And it's behind this summer's Hot Air Tour, a traveling air show that is "exposing the ballooning costs of global warming hysteria." In his Fox blog post, Kerpen is completely frank about his motivation for appearing on Beck's show. ". . .I was glad to do it," he writes, "because exposing the green jobs scam is critical to fight cap-and-trade, my top legislative priority for the year."

In other words, it's no accident that Kerpen targeted Jones. Opponents of the climate bill hate the idea of "green jobs" because it undermines their central argument: that fixing the climate will wreck the economy. That's why Obama's speeches have glossed over climate science in favor of talking up energy independence and the coming clean tech boom. But if Kerpen and his ilk can reframe green jobs as "government" jobs, linking them to fears of pork, cronyism, and central planning, then they start winning again. So it helps immensely to call Jones a "self-described communist," or put forth, as Beck has, that "almost everyone who does believe in global warming is a socialist."

Kerpen makes no effort to conceal this agenda. He's even created a flow chart of progressive political groups in an effort to leverage his Jones narrative into one in which green jobs are primarily left-wing political patronage jobs. "[The] push for "green jobs" has everything to do with funding the far-left political activities that Van Jones so adamantly believed in," he writes.

Green jobs are not economic jobs but political jobs, designed to funnel vast sums of taxpayer money to left-wing labor unions, environmental groups, and social justice community organizers.

Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through with two critical policy victories.  First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these green groups trillions, and second repeal the unspent portion of the stimulus bill, which stands to give them billions.  The Van Jones affair is, as President Obama likes to say, a "teachable moment," and we need to put not just him but the whole corrupt "green jobs" concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream.

As ridiculous as this idea sounds, it's clearly working for the time being, and it's not about to go away. Kerpen notes that many of his "findings" have yet to be published, including a forthcoming paper from the Capital Research Center, a group with past ties to tobacco money that "monitors" environmental and labor groups. Expect more of the same from a fossil fuel industry that's growing increasingly desperate to reframe the debate.  Last week, Kerpen sent his 4,800 Twitter followers this call to arms: "All the Van Jones outrage in the world won't matter if we don't stop stimulus abuse and cap-and-trade." 

Alternet's Addie Stan also reported on Americans for Prosperity in a story that we have crossposted here.

States that will see the highest temperature increases due to climate change also overwhelmingly oppose a federal bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

By 2100, the biggest temperature spikes in the United States will be felt in the Midwestern states of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and Oklahoma, according to a report released this week by The Nature Conservancy. Each state will see temperatures rise at least ten degrees--up to twice the increase predicted in more liberal coastal states. The five hard-hit Midwestern states have only three Democratic senators among them; no Republicans in the region are expected to support a cap and trade bill. Climate change heat map from climatewizard.orgClimate change heat map from climatewizard.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Midwest is set to see the mercury rise because it's isolated from cooling ocean currents that will blunt the effects of a warming climate in other parts of the United States. In President Obama's home state, Hawaii, for example, temperatures will increase only 4.9 degrees. The temperature rankings come from an interactive heat map published by the Nature Conservancy this week on the website Climatewizard.org.

In a narrow sense, one could argue that the GOP is looking out for the Midwest's best interests; higher temperatures may ultimately be a boon to chilly states such as South Dakota. But adapting to a warmer climate could also prove painful. Temperature increases will likely shift farming zones, exacerbate outbreaks of pests, and tax the region's underground aquifers.

The one Midwestern state that would probably be most screwed over by warming is also the one inhabited by the Senate's leading climate change skeptic, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. He has called global warming a "hoax,"  trumpeted a fake EPA scandal involving a so-called climate whistleblower, and parroted the Chamber of Commerce's call for a "Scopes Monkey Trial" on the evidence for climate change.  And yet temperatures in Oklahoma are set to rise 9.9 degrees by the end of the century. That wouldn't be so bad, except it means that Oklahoma City will experience 103-degree summers. Inhofe may keep alive the old Texas maxim about why the Lone Star State doesn't slip into the Gulf of Mexico: Because Oklahoma sucks. 

University researchers and lab workers receive on average $33,417 per year in payments from the drug and medical device industry; researchers who lead medical trials fare even better, earning more than $110,000 per year, more than a quarter of their total funding. This is according to a survey of more than 3000 life science faculty at 50 leading universities, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Academics and medical researchers frequently claim that industry ties have no effect on their objectivity or results, but the report tells a different story: Researchers with ties to industry exhibited "a substantially greater portion of documented positive outcomes," the report notes. Other studies have made similar findings.

Basically, researchers backed by industry have little incentive to report negative results that could derail the profitable commercialization of their products. With university-corporate partnerships corrupting the ivory tower, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for the government to step in. Since the Vioxx scandal of 2005, it has pushed the Food and Drug Administration to conduct its own in-depth safety trials before drugs are approved. But that would mean creating a larger government health bureaucracy. And we all know how that's going.

H/T 60-Second Science Blog.

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