2009 - %3, October

Death is Public, So Why Not Taxes?

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 2:46 PM EDT

Via Alex Tabarrok, this AP dispatch on egalitarianism gone wild is pretty interesting:

In a move that would be unthinkable elsewhere, tax authorities in Norway have issued the "skatteliste," or "tax list," for 2008 to the media under a law designed to uphold the country's tradition of transparency.

....To non-Scandinavians, it would seem to be a gross violation of privacy.  The tax list stirs up a media frenzy, with splashy headlines revealing oil-rich Norway's wealthiest man, woman and celebrity couple.

....The information had been available to media until 2004, when a more conservative government banned the publication of tax records. Three years later, a new, more liberal government reversed the legislation and also made it possible for media to obtain tax information digitally and disseminate it online. Norway's 2007 law emphasized that ''first and foremost, it's the press that can contribute to a critical debate'' on wealth and the elaborate tax scheme that, along with the country's oil wealth, keeps Norway's extensive — and expensive — welfare system afloat.

Apparently the Norwegian data includes total wealth, not just income, which is a little surprising.  Does Norway have a wealth tax?

UPDATE: Turns out the United States tried this experiment for a couple of years back in the 1920s.  However, "popular discomfort with the 1924 experiment prompted lawmakers to repeal the publicity provision two years later."  Thanks to Philip Klinkner for the pointer.

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Ride350 Dispatch: Fueling a Movement

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

[Guest bloggers Lily Abood, Ben Jervey, Adam Taylor and friends are writing from the road while biking 350 miles to raise awareness of climate change issues. This post is the sixth in the Mother Jones Ride350 Dispatch series.]

Our second to last day on the journey went something like this:

Wake up in Salt Point State Park, consume an inordinate amount of breakfast foods while simultaneously packing lunch foods. Morning mist gives way to coastal sunshine. Pedal out of the park and follow Highway 1 through its many sweeps and curves south toward Jenner. South not being the same as downhill, climb out of a couple memorable river canyons, eyes stinging with sweat. Extensive downhill to the coastal hamlet of Jenner. Apply sunscreen, drink chai. Eat a muffin, or three. Pedal inland along the the Russian River to Monte Rio, "Vacation Wonderland". Eat a local sausage. Continue south up a considerable rise, questioning the logic of said sausage consumption. Arrive in Occidental. Drink a liter of electrolyte water and wash it down with a few handfuls of trail mix. Visit the local "Arts and Ecology" center, relax in the shade of an apple tree. Ride on.

Lunch (lunch?) in the quaint valley enclave of Freestone. Eat a tuna fish sandwich, two dill pickle spears, and a small mountain of Maui sweet onion potato chips. Swill a Tecate.

Time to ride on! Back in the saddle for approximately 1/4 of a mile. Stop at the phenomenal Freestone Bakery. There's no room for more food, but manage to put down some freshly baked warm goat cheese and rosemary bread and a swig of coffee for the last haul of our 74 miles. The team rolls out as a mass, sun pouring down through the green hills onto the breathtaking Tomales Bay.

We make a short stop at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall to pick up two bags of oysters to enjoy over the campfire. Ride on. A quick 9 miles of rolling hills brings us to Point Reyes Station where we're welcomed by banners and flyers announcing 350.org climate day actions taking place October 24. After ice cream is consumed we set up camp in Olema, 2 miles down the road.

Over beers and oysters, we spend our last evening reflecting on our incredible journey together. Knowing that 350.org was started with just five friends in Vermont one Sunday night and now, four years later, has inspired over 4,000 climate action events around the world reminds us all that we are a part of something much larger. No matter your background or where you live, this is all our cause. One group of dedicated friends at a time, we will fight for it together.—Julie Dery

Adam Taylor is a green building consultant in San Francisco. While a bicycle enthusiast, he has never done anything like Ride350 before in his life—you can tell by looking at his legs. Ben Jervey is a journalist, activist, world traveler, great wedding dancer, and looks great in spandex. Lily Abood has worked with nonprofits in the Bay Area for 10 years (including her current role as Mother Jones' Major Gifts Officer). She plans to hug a lot of CA redwoods while she's on this adventure. For more information about the entire Ride350 team, check out the rider profiles here.

Fox Update

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 11:43 AM EDT

Did the Treasury Department try to exclude Fox from conducting a pool interview with pay czar Kenneth Feinberg on Thursday?  That was yesterday's story, but today it's all being chalked up to a big misunderstanding:

Feinberg did a pen and pad with reporters to brief them on cutting executive compensation. TV correspondents, as they do with everything, asked to get the comments on camera. Treasury officials agreed and made a list of the networks who asked (Fox was not among them).

But logistically, all of the cameras could not get set up in time or with ease for the Feinberg interview, so they opted for a round robin where the networks use one pool camera. Treasury called the White House pool crew and gave them the list of the networks who'd asked for the interview.

The network pool crew noticed Fox wasn't on the list, was told that they hadn't asked and the crew said they needed to be included. Treasury called the White House and asked top Obama adviser Anita Dunn. Dunn said yes and Fox's Major Garrett was among the correspondents to interview Feinberg last night.

Hmmm.  This doesn't quite feel like it's the entire story, but for now I guess the ball is back in Fox's court.  Did they initially ask for an interview with Feinberg or not?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Podcast: Trigger Options, Obama Conspiracy Games, and Climate Cover Models

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 1:32 AM EDT

On this week's podcast with David Corn and Kevin Drum:

Which health care reform gun is attached to the trigger option? Who's behind the new World-of-Warcraft-like Obama conspiracy online game? And what will Inkblot and Domino be doing for Saturday's International Day of Climate Action, other than posing naked on the cover of Mother Jones?

Listen to the latest Week-In-Review podcast here, then put your family pic on a Mother Jones magazine cover through MoJo's cool new planet-saving Facebook app and consider online holiday cards done this year.

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is a writer, editor, and sometime geek for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

Today's Mystery Guest Cat: Deacon

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 1:19 AM EDT

It's Laura, all Tamiflued up to bring you Kevin and David's Friday Week-in-Review podcast, the latest mystery guest cat pic, and a fun way to turn your cat into a world-saving MoJo cover model.

First, the podcast: Which health care reform gun is attached to the trigger option? Who's behind the new World-of-Warcraft-like Obama conspiracy online game? And what will Inkblot and Domino be doing for Saturday's International Day of Climate Action, other than posing naked on the cover of Mother Jones? Listen to the latest Week-In-Review here.

I can haz climate treaty? Check out Inkblot and Domino on the cover of MoJo's new Facebook app, then make your own family version and consider online holiday cards done this year.

Last, congrats to Guest Cat #4, appearing completely unruffled by Fox minions in Kevin's Drum Beat newsletter today and below. [For Kevin's newsletter-exclusive weekly bonus post and mystery cat news, sign up here.]

Reader Mynda McGuire: Deacon was a hungry stray who entered church services one Sunday every time the doors opened. Ushers took him out only to find him right back in. Hence his name.

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is a writer, editor, and sometime geek for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

Ride350 Dispatch: A Day on the Road

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 9:32 PM EDT

[Guest bloggers Lily Abood, Ben Jervey, and Adam Taylor are writing from the road while biking 350 miles to raise awareness of climate change issues. This post is the fifth in the Mother Jones Ride350 Dispatch series.]

Day 4: Jug Handle Creek Farm in Caspar to Salt Point State Park in Plantation

The day began with owl calls, 3-5-0 chants, and a room full of youth with hands raised to the sky—anxious to share their understanding of climate change and what they can do to help. There could not have been a more inspiring start to the day. We're in good hands with these kids as our future.

9:30: Team 350 enjoys a delicious breakfast at the Mendocino Bakery and Café. Riders make tough decisions between breakfast burritos and cream cheese-filled pastries before hopping on our welcoming saddles for a 70 miler. And we're off.

10:30: One by one, riders follow a sweeping left on Hwy 1. Off to the right, two cypress trees frame a misty picture of the Mendocino Coast line and waves crash playfully on gum drop rock formations. It's breathtaking. Riders hoot and holler—we are fast, we are flying, we are alive.

11:00: Our biggest hill of the day. Short in length, but so steep that it takes four sweeping switch backs to make the climb. Out of our saddles, eyeing each curve, riders breathe heavily and send encouraging forecasts down the line—"almost there, keep it up." Keep in mind these legs have three days on them.

1:00: Curious cows graze to our right, forested hillsides rise up to our left, hawks fly effortlessly along overhead. With dreamy tailwinds blowing us down the coast line, Ride 350 effortlessly overshoots its lunch destination at Manchester State Beach. On to Point Arena to check out the swells.

1:30: Ride 350 arrives at Point Arena to an abundant lunch spread, thanks to Lily and Toby, and an entertaining view of 10-12 ft overhead surf. The local kids run to the end of the pier to see who is catching rides and who is getting pummeled—our team is not far behind. And then the short board emerges from our very own van, along with a wetsuit. It's a double sport day for Zach and our team couldn’t be more proud as we watch him paddle out. Sweaty and salty, we're all a little jealous of this makeshift shower.

3:00: We eat up miles in the afternoon. 500-person town after 500-person town whizzes by so quickly that one rider takes a moment to explore a beach just south of Sea Ranch. This meditative moment is followed by comfort food at a local convenience store—a great way to connect with the locals. The rest of the team rides on, pastoral landscape turning to pine forests. You can smell the needles, and it takes me back home. We ride together, we ride solo. One pedal at a time, we're quickly approaching the 70 miler marker.

4:00: Adam was right, Gualala is awesome. It's beautiful to see the connection that he, his dad, and Zach have to this place. What an amazing experience to share. We all feel blessed to be part of this team.

4:45: Who knew that Salt Point State Park was so large. 72 miles turns to 74, and then 78. We all feel accomplished. This is the longest ride for some. Jules notes that it's rare to feel so accomplished in a typical day. Peter explains that riding this length of distance opens up his perception of biking to a whole new world of possibility. Day 4 is magical. —Amelia Spilger

Adam Taylor is a green building consultant in San Francisco. While a bicycle enthusiast, he has never done anything like Ride350 before in his life—you can tell by looking at his legs. Ben Jervey is a journalist, activist, world traveler, great wedding dancer, and looks great in spandex. Lily Abood has worked with nonprofits in the Bay Area for 10 years (including her current role as Mother Jones' Major Gifts Officer). She plans to hug a lot of CA redwoods while she's on this adventure. For more information about the entire Ride350 team, check out the rider profiles here.

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Obama: Get Ye to Copenhagen and Earn Your Nobel

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 6:03 PM EDT

The Times of London today reports it's unlikely Obama will attend Copenhagen climate talks and may use his Nobel acceptance speech to set US environmental goals instead.

I was off the grid in remote rural India when Obama won the Nobel. Didn't hear about it for a few days. When I did, my Indian hosts were scratching their heads wondering what this likeable man had done to deserve it.

Since then their own prime minister has followed the pessimistic US lead when he said that India will not sacrifice its economic development for a new climate change deal.

But imagine for a moment that Obama really did attend Copenhagen and brought all his theoretical mediator skills to bear on the proceedings.

Rather than using a Nobel he doesn't yet deserve to set US environmental goals, Obama could actually set those environmental goals in the midst of the most monumental environmental meeting ever held (read Bill McKibben on this in the latest MoJo).

It might actually change the world. And that would justify his Nobel.

Can't you try, Barack Obama?
 

Chamber Rejects Use of Term "3 Million Members"

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 5:21 PM EDT

For the first time, the US Chamber of Commerce has admitted that its membership should be reported at one tenth the size that many major media outlets have listed it for more than a decade.

In an interview on Friday, Greg Marx of the Columbia Journalism Review asked Chamber spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel to comment on two competing newspaper accounts. Presented with a Wall Street Journal article that said the Chamber claims "300,000 members," Wohlschlegel said, "That's accurate." Read an Associated Press article that said the Chamber claims "a membership of 3 million," he responded, "That's not exactly reported correctly."

The second statement appears to be a reversal for Wohlschlegel, who, in September, told the New York Times: "We have over 3 million members."

Last week, after Mother Jones first questioned the accuracy of the Chamber's claim to represent "3 million members," the group backed off the number in public statements. It then sought to distinguish between the meaning of two figures and argued that it has long used both in the proper context. Yesterday a Chamber representative acknowledged that the 3 million number often gets reported "without qualification." And yet today is the first time the Chamber has publicly characterized the reporting of the larger membership figure as inaccurate.

The Chamber's response to the controversy, which has been reported in the Washington Post, Politico, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper's, MSNBC, and numerous blogs, appears aimed at shifting blame for the inflated membership number to journalists. The Chamber's website claims that it "represents" 3 million businesses, which is not the same thing as calling them members. That the 3 million number gets reported out of context "is hardly our fault," Chamber representative Brad Peck told E&E News this week.

At the same time, the Chamber has resisted doing anything more to explain its true size on its website or press releases. Neither source cites the Chamber's true membership number or explains what the group means when it says it "represents" 3 million businesses. Maybe the Chamber thinks the media is lazy or gullible enough to continue exponentially inflating its size. And some in the media may well be, as Marx diligently reveals in a solid piece of reporting.  

Obama (Finally) Enters Climate Debate

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

Barack Obama on Friday gave a speech long-anticipated by advocates for climate legislation, calling for a bipartisan effort to pass legislation that will limit emissions and help transition to a new energy economy.

While the speech put some momentum behind the issue as the Senate committee dealing with the legislation prepares to begin hearings next week, it was scant on specific directives. It did, however, position the legislation as an economic and security imperative.

"There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy—when it's the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs," said Obama, addressing a crowd at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It seems this is going to be the first of several Obama speeches on the subject. According to a press scheduled released Friday afternoon, Obama will travel to the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Florida on Tuesday for a second speech. That speech falls on the day that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will kick off legislative hearings on the Kerry-Boxer bill, with a panel featuring a number of administration officials.

This level of attention is something that advocates have long been hoping for from the president, who has thus far focused much of his public speaking on health care. While he did make a big (and rather unimpressive) speech at the UN last month, today's speech was the first aimed at a domestic audience solely on the topic of climate and energy.

In his speech on Friday, Obama praised Senate climate bill sponsor John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the lone Republican who has signaled he is willing to cooperate on the bill. "This should not be a partisan issue," said Obama. "Everybody in America should have a stake in legislation that can transform our energy system into one that's far more efficient, far cleaner, and provide energy independence for America."

Friday Cat Blogging - 23 October 2009

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 2:48 PM EDT

The house ad running over on the right says, "Put your kid (or yourself, or your cat) on our climate cover!"  I think we can all guess how that's going to play out around here, can't we?  So here they are: October's latest cover models, urging you to turn down the thermostat this winter and just curl up under the blankets with your staff humans if you get cold.

Want to create your own cover?  Just click here.  It's fun for the whole family, feline and otherwise.