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Happy Tax Day to The Richest One Percent!

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 11:20 AM EDT

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As many of you scramble to get your taxes done before tomorrow's deadline, Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington-based advocacy group, has released a new report showing just how much love the Bush administration has shown to the richest one percent of Americans... literally at the expense of the rest of us. Not that we didn't already know this, of course, but somehow seeing it all laid out in black and white brings it home all the more clearly.

According to the report, in 2010, when all of the Bush tax cuts will finally have taken effect, the richest one percent of American families—those earning $1.6 million annually—will receive, on average, a $92,000 tax cut. As a share of the population, these families will account for an estimated 53 percent of all tax relief, while the poorest 60 percent will be on the receiving end of just 12-15 percent of tax cuts.

Just what does it take to belong to the richest one percent? Money, of course, and lots of it. According to the report:

In 2008 the best-off one percent will have an estimated average income of almost $1.5 million each. Just to get into this elite group requires an income greater than $462,000. If all of that came from wages, then for single people it would take an average wage of $224 an hour to make it into the top one percent, and $722 an hour to become an average member.
For two-earner couples with both spouses working full time, it would take an average wage for each spouse of $112 an hour to get into the top one percent and $361 an hour each to be an average member of the top one percent.

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IRS Scrutiny of Major Corporations at 20-Year Low

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 10:12 AM EDT

According to a new report of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the I.R.S. has seen "a historic collapse in audits," particularly of major corporations, which are being examined less frequently now than at any point in the last 20 years.

In my 2006 interview with tax reporter and author David Cay Johnston, we discussed the I.R.S.'s decreasing ability to bust up the tax dodges of corporations and the superrich. (We also discussed how the tax code is rigged to favor the wealthy and bilk the poor.)

An excerpt, after the jump.

An Explosion in Shiraz

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 9:31 AM EDT

While Iranian officials were quick to portray an explosion at a Shiraz mosque Saturday that killed 12 people as an accident, analysts aren't so sure.

As the AFP reports:

Iran was on Monday investigating an explosion in a mosque in the southern city of Shiraz that killed 12 people and wounded more than 200, amid continued questions about what caused the blast.
Several Iranian officials have insisted the blast late on Saturday was the result of an accident, and not a bomb, but other sources raised the possibility the explosion was an attack by unidentified militants. [...]

On the "Bitter" Controversy, Obama Has Surprising Critics

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 9:08 AM EDT

You may have heard about the latest flare-up in the presidential campaign, which basically involves Hillary Clinton and John McCain slamming Barack Obama for comments he made at a fundraiser in San Francisco:

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive Administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

First, Obama was slammed for the word "bitter" — the suggestion being that the word is condescending and pessimistic. After Obama argued back that, actually, people are pretty freakin' bitter because jobs are disappearing, housing is a mess, and the government doesn't seem to be helping everyday folks, Obama's critics changed their focus to the phrase "they cling to guns or religion."

Hillary Clinton trotted out former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, himself a former mayor of small town in the Midwest, who told the press:

Part of the Problem: Sen. Max Baucus

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 8:54 AM EDT

max-baucus.jpg Montana Senator Max Baucus, head of the Senate Finance Committee, has rightfully been called "one of corporate America's favorite Democrats." It's no surprise, then, that he's all lobbied up.

Since 1996, one-fifth of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus' highest-paid staff members have left their jobs to become lobbyists, usually for industries regulated by the powerful committee that Baucus heads, a Missoulian State Bureau analysis shows.
Take Jeff Forbes, for example. In 2003, Forbes was Baucus' lead staffer on the Senate Finance Committee working extensively on the Medicare prescription drug bill. Baucus, then the top-ranking Democrat on the panel, was one of the bill's central architects.
In late November, just five days before the Senate took the final, key vote on the bill, Forbes quit. Six weeks later, he was registered to lobby for two drug companies and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobby representing the nation's biggest prescription drug companies.
Those same companies got a multimillion-dollar windfall in the Medicare drug program, critics of the program contend, because the law forbids the government from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper prices.

The Nation reported in 2007 that Baucus once asked 50 lobbyists to raise $100,000 each for his upcoming re-election campaign. If Barack Obama becomes the standard-bearer of his party, he's going to have to decide if, in his quest to cleanse the system in Washington, he wants to demand change from powerful members of his own party.

Ex-Bushie Still Pounding the Pavement

| Sat Apr. 12, 2008 11:27 PM EDT

Loyalty took no one so far in the Bush administration as Alberto Gonzales. But eight months after he resigned amid allegations of possible perjury and enabling arguably unconstitutional activity, the former Bush administration attorney general still cannot find a job, the New York Times reports:

Alberto R. Gonzales, like many others recently unemployed, has discovered how difficult it can be to find a new job. Mr. Gonzales, the former attorney general, who was forced to resign last year, has been unable to interest law firms in adding his name to their roster, Washington lawyers and his associates said in recent interviews.

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On Joss Whedon, Male Feminist

| Sat Apr. 12, 2008 10:15 PM EDT

How I wish I'd remembered to link to this when I wrote earlier this week about the misogyny of the Horton Hears A Who movie.

It's Joss Whedon, the man who gave us Buffy the Vampire Slayer (go ahead and laugh—LOVED it), Angel, Firefly, and much more. Here's a guy who builds killer vehicles around strong, female protagonists and gets rich.

It's his acceptance speech for an award from Equality Now and is one of the best indictments I've encountered of media pack mentality, intellectual laziness, and the near impossibility of having a national conversation around sexism.

Problem is: people think merely asking a seemingly feminist question, while tuning out on the answer, will suffice. Also, the speech is hilarious. Whedon is riffing about all the poseur 'journalists' who interview him and ask the same question, one to which they clearly never do more than type up the answer: How come you write about such strong women?

Enjoy, with my compliments.

Oil Trumps Whales

| Sat Apr. 12, 2008 2:18 PM EDT

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Northern right whale with calf,
Eubalaena glacialis. Photo: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

The Bush administration wants to open 5.6 million acres in the Bering Sea off Alaska to oil and gas leasing, including an area north of the Aleutian Islands near Bristol Bay designated critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale. The proposal was published in Tuesday's Federal Register by the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS), as reported by the Center for Biological Diversity. North Pacific right whales once ranged from California to Alaska and across the North Pacific to Russia and Japan. They were decimated by commercial whaling and remain the most endangered large whale in the world. Fewer than 50 individuals remain in the Bering Sea population.

"Drilling in Bristol Bay would be drilling through the heart of the most important habitat of the most endangered whale on the planet," said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. "If the North Pacific right whale is to have any chance of survival, we must protect its critical habitat, not auction it off to oil companies." The CBD reports the leasing proposal was made the same day the National Marine Fisheries Service, another federal agency, published a final rule in the Federal Register naming portions of the lease area as critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale. Ooops.

"Unfortunately, for the right whale it's one step forward, two steps back," said Cummings. "One branch of the federal government is acting to protect the critical habitat of the North Pacific right whale, while another branch is simultaneously proposing to destroy it." It's also reminiscent of the recent MMS decision to lease important polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea at the same time the US Fish and Wildlife Service was considering offering the bears protection under the Endangered Species Act. Both agencies are part of Dirk Kempthorne's Department of the Oilterior, uhm, Interior.

The latest leasing proposal would sell the North Aleutian Basin lease in 2011… One more reason we need the Right President to protect the Right Whales. Not to mention the right one to wean us off the oil economy rather than enable it.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Gavin Newsom's San Francisco: The New Windy City?

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 8:51 PM EDT

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It is the greenest home in the city of San Francisco, and one of the greenest in the world. Nestled in the city's Mission district amidst old and colorful Victorians, La Casa Verde is built entirely from sustainable and recycled materials, has a green roof and solar panels, and draws 40% of its energy from a single wind turbine (.pdf), which rises 45 feet in the air.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom loves it—unsurprising, considering the many green initiatives he's supported in the city. He couldn't stop talking about how "great" and "fantastic" he thought La Casa was as he toured the building this morning, and listened attentively as homeowner Robin Wilson described the building's many green features: the countertops made from discarded rice hulls, the recycled flooring, the chandelier whose shimmering LED lights will last for over 15 years. "This is not a modest or symbolic effort," he commented. "This is real. This is not fanciful."

And for San Francisco residents, "real" green housing is about to be a lot more attainable. Speaking to reporters after the tour, Newsom announced that he is creating a residential wind working group, tasked with figuring out how to revamp the city's zoning and building codes to allow wind turbines on private lots. If implemented, it would be the first urban program of its kind.

TV: "Greatest Comedy Sketches" Inspire Deadly Serious Writing

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

mojo-photo-50greatest.jpgOkay, I'll bite: Nerve.com (the sexy website) and IFC.com (the, er, indie film channel's website) have combined forces for some reason to bring us a list of the Top 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time. Sure, we've all got three hours to watch a bunch of YouTube videos of sketches we've all seen 100 times already. And I can ignore the fact that this joint venture requires one to jump back and forth between the two websites (opening a new browser window each time), and the fact that The State scored more entries than the Kids in the Hall. But it's the writing that does my head in: leaden descriptions of each sketch that are so brutally unfunny, they seem to siphon off the comedic energy of the sketches themselves. Check out this neutered portrait of Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch (#33):