They must be slapping high-fives at the Heritage Foundation right now. Just two years after that right-wing think tank, heavily funded by the oil lobby, dedicated itself to undermining support for green jobs they scored the ultimate coup: getting Jon Stewart to repeat their deceptions in an attack on Seattle’s energy efficiency program. It was something of a master stroke for the Right’s communications machine—and worth studying for it’s diabolical effectiveness.
I’m related to someone close to Seattle’s program, so I’ve been biting my tongue since the attacks first flared up in August. But now that The Daily Show has been taken in, it’s time to get the facts straight.
Here’s what happened. In 2009, then-Mayor Nickels applied for a federal energy efficiency grant as part of Obama’s new stimulus program. That money was awarded to Seattle in 2010, after Mayor McGinn had taken office, to fund a program called Community Power Works. It funds or finances energy retrofits in six building sectors: single-family residences, hospitals, large commercial buildings, city buildings, small businesses, and multifamily buildings. The residential program launched in April 2011 and quickly became a target for right-wing attacks.
Just four months after the residential program began, seattlepi.com reporter Vanessa Ho published a mediocre article with an egregiously inflammatory headline (“Seattle ‘green jobs’ program a bust“) that seemed to entirely misunderstand the program. (Ho does good reporting on a range of issues, but this one was a dud.) That article sparked a burst of sniping locally and then gave rise to highly distorted coverage on national Fox News, as well as Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing outlets. Then, earlier this week, The Daily Show ran a segment beating up on federal green jobs efforts, including the grant to Seattle. Stewart’s sole source for the bit? Fox News.
Nice going, Heritage. Cue the high-fives. I’ll even give you a slow clap.
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It would be one thing if the critiques were accurate, but they’re not. The facts are all a matter of public record (updated online monthly). Leaving aside the other five building sectors in the program—hugely important sectors, I might add—here are the basics about the 6-month-old residential program:
- As of yesterday, 486 homeowners had applied to participate. 181 homeowners are in the bidding process, 29 are in the process of receiving energy upgrades or have already completed an upgrade of their home. (It typically takes a homeowner 2-4 months to complete the program.)
- 168 people have logged 20,000 hours of paid work for the program. All the contractors working on energy upgrades are local, including 18 percent that are minority-owned businesses; 18 percent that are veteran-owned businesses; and 10 percent that are woman-owned businesses. All the upgrades are performed by contractors paying living wages.
So far, Community Power Works has barely touched the federal grant funding, which lasts through June 2013, so it’s reasonable to expect more retrofits to come.
Will all of the program’s original promises come to fruition? I have no idea. In fact, no one knows yet because it’s much too early to tell.
Van Jones, no stranger to the Right’s hit men, got this point exactly right in his ringing defense on Sightline’s blog, “Community Power Works Is Just Getting Started.” Yet maybe the most intelligent way to think about green jobs is by way of the smart visual depiction that Alan Durning provided to illustrate the cycle that these things go through: inflated expectations, disillusionment, and ultimately productivity. It feels like we’re in the so-called “trough of disillusionment” now, but the worst mistake we can make is letting fossil fuel-funded hacks convince us that this is the end of the story.
Whether or not green jobs can deliver everything we hope—and I do think there’s some reason for caution—we’re dupes if we let Heritage and Fox News write the obituary now.
Eric de Place
I should add: I’m a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. They do great work and it’s a bummer to see them slip up like this.
Thank you! so tired of the narrative on both sides. like the real story. great post.
Maybe Jon Stewart was just hangry?
Anyway, his last 3 words regarding the in-efficiency of the energy-efficiency program, do seem to contain a grain of truth:
“Get it done!!!”
This sounds like a wonderful opportunity for Sightline to answer back with it’s own entertaining video, containing The Whole Truth. (Paging Yoram Bauman…) 🙂
I’m also a BIG fan of Jon Stewart. I learn a lot from his show and laugh my butt off. But I recall one other time when he jumped the shark, when he interviewed Sen. Dick Durbin, who was saying that Republicans LIKE TO START WARS. It was amazing, and probably the most important thing to understand about Republicans, but Stewart interrupted him and changed the subject.
Perhaps Stewart realized that Democrats are pretty good at starting wars as well. For instance, we got into WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam under Democratic presidents.
By the way, I am a Democrat.
I love Jon Stewart, but i think people get in this mindset where they think of him as some kind of left wing booster, an activist on our side. He is an entertainer, a court jester of sorts.
On the CPW issue, while some of the criticism the program has received is unwarranted, and there have been statements made that suggest that the $20million has been spent and no results have been achieved (which is obviously inaccurate), the criticism about HOW SLOW the process has been is pretty legit. The city was given $20million as part of stimulus funding, and it took well over a year to spend dollar one on actual retrofits. There is still time to spend the money for the intended purpose of retrofitting homes, let’s hope that CPW can ramp up and get more homeowners and business owners into the pipeline and out the other end!
While I agree with so much of this — especially the pointing out that green jobs bashing seems to be an industry and that Jon Stewart can sometimes, and this is not the first-time, be irresponsible in his supposedly a-political comedy. (Reminder to all: It is comedy and not journalism.) However, we could talk more about more about the success of residential energy conservation and green jobs in King County and we won’t learn about that by looking to Community Power Works.
Many programs including some in our public and private utilities, other municipal programs and non-profit and for profit companies, have been retrofitting our buildings, particularly those that house people with the least income, for a decade. And, in doing this employing people in green jobs before they were called that and using the best technology to deliver buildings with greatly reduced energy consumption. Look at the numbers of units of housing and single family homes with substantial energy-saving improvements completed in Seattle just this year,the jobs maintained or created in aggregate, and the energy that will not be consumed just this winter — all accomplished by public/private partnerships. (Often public dollars and private jobs.)
It seems like some measure of hubris went into Community Power Works when it set itself up as different, even better and starting from scratch. Using public dollars well is especially critical in these government-bashing times and with funds that were always defined for quick results. There is no room for error and somehow big errors were made. Maybe that is why there hasn’t been a cavalcade of defense for CPW and against the ridiculous exaggeration. Maybe Community Power Works bears some responsibility for bringing a black eye to the work already accomplished by others. Maybe the productivity of these others in the same business, in Seattle, needs to be brought to this argument to help settle up the balance being tallied comparing money spent and energy needs reduced, or money spent and sustained family-wage green jobs generated and continued. Seattle really doesn’t deserve this black eye. (In an effort to be transparent, like Eric I too am close to someone who has had a green job retrofitting multi-family and single family homes in King County for years — and continues, with colleagues, to do this work with high productivity.)
As a regular reader of Sightline and particularly Eric de Place I do want to add how much I appreciate all of your work and real journalism. Crazy-making times we live in. Maybe they have us too much on the defensive and not seeing the big picture.
Stewart is doing his job of being the court jester: the sole voice of reason in a ridiculously small and corrupt court. The jester was the only one who could speak the truth without fear of death… and as someone of a generation that grew up watching TV news (40s), Stewart is where I and most of my friends get our news these days… so it is important he got the facts straight. Because that is what sets him apart.
Yeah! Becuz he and Fox News are ALWAYS trust-worthy!
Any chance we can get Eric or Alan on Jon’s show to set the record straight? I’m totally serious…and suspect someone is already working on it.
Trick or treating on The Daily Show, Sightline Daily style!… Complete with spooky graphics (sometimes you gotta scare ’em to wake ’em up); and wacky jack-o-lanterns sporting bike helmets; and Eric H’s soon-to-be-famous organic chocolate covered apples (With peanut sprinkles. And candycorn faces. And shredded coconut… One can dream, right?…)
Oooh, somebody else had that dream too! And turned it into a recipe! 🙂
It’s reasonable to expect more retrofits to come.The jester was the only one who could speak the truth without fear of death
“Jumping the shark” is a reference to an episode of Happy Days. The idiom is used when a television show begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. I don’t think that Jon Stewart’s comedic dismissal of the program will be the beginning of the end of the Daily Show…