Thursday, June 21, 2018

Supreme Court ruling on sales taxes could complicate things for small retailers

The Supreme Court ruled today that states can compel online retailers to pay sales taxes on purchases from states in which they don’t have a physical presence. 

The case is South Dakota v. Wayfair.  

This reverses its own 1992 ruling.  Wayfair is a home-goods retailer located in Massachusetts.

The ruling could cause a problem for book authors who sell their products online through their own websites (self-publishing companies try to push them to do that) and musicians who offer “legal” downloads for sale.

Right now, I would pay sales tax to Virginia (where I can apply for a license) on anything I sell that way.  Conceivably, if the customer was in South Dakota, I would have to pay a second tax, but there is more mechanism to do that (no sales tax license with the consumer's state).
States generally set up reciprocity agreements on who gets the tax (like commuter taxes among NY-NJ-CT and MD-VA-DC).  A company would need to set up a service to properly process the payments and send (through secured transactions) the taxes to the right states, and to keep track of individual sales tax licenses with each state.  That doesn’t exist yet. Paypal might be the best company to do this. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tipped workers are not your proles; Initiative 77 passes in DC

 Alexia Campbell explains the controversy over restaurants and bars paying servers full minimum wage for tipped workers, here.
But DC voters approved Initiative 77 today, 55% for, here.

Businesses have to make up the difference to bring workers up to minimum wage, which often comes up shorthanded.

But in states and cities with a mandatory minimum wage, restaurants and bars to have to charge consumers higher prices.  You really wonder about excessive concession prices in theaters and especially stadiums.
In Washington, as I recall, Town DC has joined in the opposition to the bill, which I hope means it really intends to reopen as soon as possible, as it closes July 1 because the landlord would not renew a lease.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Family separation at the border and the Flores Consent Decree

I wanted to point out a detailed article in National Review on the family separation issue at the border, by Rich Lowry, link
The article discusses the Flores Consent Decree of 1997, which limits the time children can be heard.  Oddly, I haven’t heard this mentioned on mainstream media yet.

Lowry seems to suggest an affirmative asylum process, which sounds questionable when looking at other sources (like the Asylumist site).

There has been a tremendous shift from individual migrants to families seeking refuge from drug cartel violence, but Sessions’s recent change in rules for asylum seek to limit the asylum option.

The GOP immigration bill would not end family separation, according to an NBC/MSNBC story here

Trump appears to want to use both children and DACA young adults as bargaining chips to please his base in building the wall.
I did make a quick visit to the border town of Pharr, TX (near McAllen) on my trip to Texas in late May, early June.

Here's some more analysis on the Flores litigation, from Human Rights First. . 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Die In" for gun violence turns into a small event about voting rights (at Capitol)

After attending the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup parade on Constitution Avenue Tuesday, I went over to the west lawn of the Capitol and caught the end of the “National Die In Day”, followed by a speech (Eleanor) asking everyone to vote in November.

There were placards supporting the 2nd Amendment, and even one saying that gay people in places like Pulse should be able to defend themselves (“Pink Pistols”). Indeed, I know of someone, a grad student in Texas, quite proud of his concealed carry permit.  But that’s Texas (where I was recently).

I met a young man named Sam (himself white and well educated) who was quite into the activism of getting minorities registered to vote, probably extending David Hogg’s ideas (I didn’t see David there; maybe he was in NYC’s event). He was quite passionate about the ruling from the Supreme Court Monday purging inactive voters in Ohio – the centrist USA Today story here

The case was Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute, slip opinion 

Friday, June 08, 2018

Trump props up coal, nuclear at the expense of consumers; viewed by some as "socialist" as well as protectionistic

The Washington Post is now calling president Donald Trump a “socialist” after he ordered energy secretary Rick Perry to “prop up” nuclear and coal-fired plants, which would cost consumers more in order to subsidize coal jobs in his narrow base.  The editorial link from Thursday is here
The Post says this measure is justifiable only in a real national emergency (which could have happened with North Korea).  It also maintains that conventional nuclear power is defendable but not coal.

On Monday, I actually spotted the Commanche Peak nuclear plant near Glen Rose, TX while on a trip, from a distance;  could not get my own picture.  But I had visited the plant on a Sierra Club trip in 1982, when we also visited a private wildlife refuge (Fossil Rim) there.

Flying back from Dallas Tuesday, I spotted many mountaintop removal mines from the air in southern West Virginia, possibly the Kayford mine. Strip mines do not employ as many workers as underground mines.

Trump had already canceled Obama-era regulations on coal.  Luke Andraka (Jack’s brother) had done a major science fair project on mine waste before going to Virginia Tech, which is overshadowed only by his brother’s fame (at Stanford). 

Commanche Peak picture from Wikipedia CCSA 4.0:
By Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Swatting can be deadly (David Hogg's family home was involved in an incident)

This incident of “swatting” David Hogg’s family wasn’t funny.  An op-ed (Matthew Fleischer)   from the Los Angeles Times explains why it could be perceived as attempted murder.
I wasn’t aware that the police would have burst the door down.  No one was home at the time.

The kooks on the far alt-right really act scared of this teen, as if he were an alien who could conquer the world .  There is the site “Hoggwatch . (Mark Zuckerberg has been called an “alien” giving us a “close encounter of the fourth kind”.)  I hav to admit, it’s all too easy to envision Hogg playing himself in a Marvel superhero movie, and piling up the box office numbers.  It is all too easy for the talented and quick-witted to get rich on disasters.  But that’s just capitalism, which has benefited me tremendously, without being that quick.

Picture above: downtown Miami, my trip, late 2011 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Boehner: "There is no Republican party"

John Boehner (who caused so much ruckus during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, as “The Cigarette Smoking Man”, even from X-Files): “There is no Republican party.”

Trump has engineered a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

Trump has walked away from the traditional values of trade and the deficit, and is the most unusual president ever.  They are more in sync in law enforcement and fighting terror.  But even the mainstream GOP would be more nuanced on immigration and DACA.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Former Illinois governor: Practice politics, go to jail

An op-ed by former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich (2003-2009) on p A19 of the Wall Street Journal, should get our attention.  That is, “I’m in prison for practicing politics”.
Apparently the US prosecutors can view any fundraising gifts by those in office (for the opposing party) as bribes.  “For most people in the political arena, the fundraising part of the job is no fun. I liken it to exercise. It hurts but makes you healthy and strong.”
Trump is reportedly considering pardoning both Blagojevich, and Martha Stewart (“Domestic Diva”), prosecuted for “insider trading” at the end of 2001.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Bring back the military draft for men, New York Post op-ed argues; debated on Fox News Sunday morning

This Sunday morning, Memorial Day weekend, Fox News reported and debated an op-ed by F. H. Buckley in the New York Post, urging resuming the draft, as a pullback from the “libertarian” measure (in 1973 with Nixon!) that has allowed young people to take the world for granted.  Of course, a libertarian would call the draft as involuntary servitude aka slavery.
That seems to be partly an answer to the public die-ins by “privileged” high school students that it is not fair for them to have to be exposed personally to gun violence that comes from “other people’s problems”.
He makes no bones about the idea that it should still be a male-only draft.  Gender confers obligations??  What would he do with Trump’s transgender ban attempt?  What would he think of the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”?  Trunp, of course, got out of it.  This is a "skin in the game" problem. 
He also refers to a Feb. 2017 op-ed by Debbie Truong in the Washington Post, “School boards increasingly embrace the ABC’s of social activism”, link .

Todd South had made arguments for resuming the draft in the Military Times in July 2017 .  He talks about egalitarian service as an obligation, and about the civilian-military gap. It’s likely he would want to include women (as does Israel).   There have been proposals to force women to register for Selective Service.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ordinary gun control measures probably can't stop major incidents, because so many weapons are around and because our culture prods unstable people

German Lopez of Vox has a detailed article explaining why assault weapons bans and similar laws won’t do much to make schools safer.  The bans may help prevent mass events like in Las Vegas or maybe Orlando.

Lopez also examines stricter procedural requirements in buying weapons, which he says may be helpful, but are hard to pass politically.  He says an Australian-style buyback is very unlikely.

Indeed, the Washington Post over the weekend had run a story to the effect that the Santa Fe school system had done everything right (Tim Craig and others).

This leaves everyone wondering about other cultural influences (especially Internet and media) that seem to prod otherwise vulnerable people into military-style hostility.

And FEE (Kerry McDonald) even says that more parents will consider home schooling.
WJLA7 in Washington has even done a report on “building your own guns” from parts. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Could previous surgery lead to problems with TSA screening?

If someone has orthopedic surgery that resulted in the placement of metal in his/her body, could that person expect disruption when going through security with the TSA?

I had a plate placed on the left side of my pelvis after an acetabular fracture from a convenience store fall in Minneapolis in January 1998.  I was told that the plate was titanium and a new device. The surgery was successful and I recovered fully and relatively quickly, able to discharge crutches in late March.  I did not have an actual hip replacement.

Since 9/11, I have made at least twelve round trips by air (probably more) and this has never come up. My most recent air travel was by Southwest from Reagan to Florida in November, 2017.
Nevertheless, there is some literature on the issue. 

In 2008, the TSA wrote a posting saying that doctors’ notes didn’t do any good because a determined terrorist could fake one.  It admitted that extra pat downs were possible, although that has never happened with me.  The TSA said it was testing new equipment that could identify internal medical devices more accurately. 

Since then, there have been a couple of other posts(spinemd and Livestrong) that suggest that a note might help, and also say that screening is supposed to stop at the skin level.  (Theoretically, I guess a determined suicidal terrorist could swallow a device (as with drug mules), however, or even have one clandestinely surgically implanted, although this gets into Hollywood screenplay plots that we hope don’t ever happen – yet security experts say that writers and spy fiction authors are good for the industry by helping it keep up with “imagination”.)  

Recent articles say that medical identification cards are never required.  The recent TSA Bulletin (2017) confirms this. TSA does offer an optional blue notification card to carry. 
More interesting, there are comments that titanium doesn’t give out the same signature as steel, and that most surgical devices (like hip or knee replacements) have started using more titanium and plastic in the past decade.
I don’t personally have a problem with the idea of pat downs.  But in August, 2002, well after my layoff, I actually went to a job fair in Bloomington MN for TSA screener trainees.  I was concerned at that the time that, by analogy to “privacy” arguments that had been used to justify the now repealed “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military, persons in my circumstances with self-publicized sexual orientation should not be allowed to take these jobs.  I withdrew from the job fair for other reasons, however (a miscommunication of the pay to be offered).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Meghan Markle's volunteerism may outflank her gender equality activism

Many media sources are reporting on Prince Harry’s fiancĂ©e Meghan Markle’s activism back in 1993 when she wrote to Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati for a Nickelodeon ad emphasizing that women do household cleaning (for their husbands), as well developed by an NBC Today Show report here
More subtle (not always mentioned) is her long term volunteering on skid row, as in Los Angeles, as reported here.  She even said that the welfare of others was more important than he own safety.

In more recent years (2016), I have refused to go into some areas by car in Washington DC for volunteering because of fear of carjacking.  I don’t have the social capital to deal with an incident like that.
Wikipedia attribution for picture of Proctor and Gamble HQ in Cincinnati. I passed by it in a rental car in 1992. 
CC BY 2.0, Link

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ninth Circuit hears oral arguments on DACA, seems concerned about political appeals to base

The 3-judge panel Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments today on the Trump administration’s order to phase out DACA protection unless Congress intervenes, Los Angeles Times story here
The points raised were that the removal of people would be enforced more against some groups than others, and that Trump seemed to be trying to use DACA people as bargaining chips to get his Wall built to please his base.

This would be a good place to share Dave Bier's (Cato) analysis showing that Central American immigrants do assimilate well into the US.  

Update: May 17

Many in the House want to use a discharge petition to bring a vote on DACA, a vote opposed by Paul Ryan.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Individual "racial profiling" can undermine "see something say something" when it means something

I hadn’t really heard about this until the media reported it a lot this weekend.  But there have been sporadic incidents of white people calling police because POC are in the neighborhood “for no reason”.

It’s pretty obvious that this can undermine “see something say something” when it really is something.

Vox covers this in an article by P.T. Lockhart  .
Brandon Griggs at CNN has a detailed story on the incident at Yale, and here is the affected student’s Facebook video.

Yet there are times when decisive police and law enforcement action are essential, and this is getting undermined, for example today in southern Maryland. 

Monday, May 07, 2018

Breaking up California; Repeal the 17th Amendment? ; Keep the Electoral College?

Billionaire Tim Draper may very well get an initiative to split California into three states on the ballot in November.

The “New California” state would be centered around Los Angeles. “South California” would have San Diego as its largest city, and “North California” would include the Bay Area, and probably most of Silicon Valley.  (I think San Jose would be in it.)

Congress could conceivable approve it but it sounds like a long shot politically, especially if Democrats make gains in 2018.

Texas has the right to split into five states by budding or "asexual reproduction" (like that of jellyfish). 

There is some talk in conservative circles of repealing the 17tj Amendment, the direct election of senators.  That would make (local politics) and state elections more interesting to voters.

Rick Sincere carried on a debate about the 17th Amendment repeal on his own blog here
And, despite Trump’s election, George Will has called the Electoral College an “excellent system”. 

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Clean energy may be tainted with the bad karma of child labor

Clean energy could have a moral albatross that will attract Donald Trump’s attacks – child labor.

Tonight, CNN aired a short report on AC360 on how electric car makers have had to step up audits overseas, especially the Congo, to try to keep child labor out of the chain for making batteries for electric cars.  

We’re sort of back to “Blood Diamonds”.

This invocation of the Periodic Table could give us more ideas as to where we could have problems with rare elements.
Remember, Neptune has ice storms of diamonds, and there are whole planets made of diamond-grade carbon.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Climate Change activists warn of draconian measures against consumers in the future, sooner rather than later; "The Matrix"

David Roberts of Vox has published (April 28) a draconian paper on climate change, “It’s time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels”, link
Roberts goes into a discussion of “Restrictive Supply Side” (“RSS”) policies, and comes to the support of activists who have used vigorous demonstrations and the use of force or sitdowns to obstruct energy projects like the oil pipelines.
There is not enough attention in the essay, however, to the problem of what this should mean to individual Americans.  I still haven’t bought a hybrid car, although I could have in 2015 when another car was totaled in an accident (caused by the other party).  Moreover, I’ve insisted that any car I buy have long distance range because my own “business model” has always required some long trips alone.  Is there something wrong with this?
We saw previews of the implication of this kind of debate in the 1970s with gasoline rationing, prompted at the time by oil supply crises.
Roberts has a 2x2 matrix describing the four quadrants of climate policy:  Restrictive  and supportive (of substitutes) as rows, supply-side and demand-side as columns.
Roberts has a more recent paper, May 1, “The world’s bleak climate situation, in 3 Parts”, here .  Right now, we’re headed to 3 degrees C (5 F) by 2100, but it could be as bad as 5 C (8 degrees).  Instead of “climate science denial”, you could have a debate on how to live with it, from a policy perspective, if it happens. But you would have tremendous displacement of coastal populations, and much stronger storms, floods and droughts. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

One-third of American households have essentially zero liquid wealth

Market Watch reports a Consumer Financial Protection Board paper maintaining that one third of American households can’t afford food, shelter and medical care and are essentially in the hole. 

The median family net worth in 2017 was about $81000, and that presumes an average household size slightly larger than 2.5 people. So the per person average net worth would be about $35000, including minor children.

The report expands to a full dashboard, “The State of the American Wallet”.

But the tendency of the past three or four decades, with the increase in technology and the reduction in family size, has been a “winner take all” economy.
This was shared by conservatives on Facebook, and one person commented that “charity begins in the home.”

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Bill Gates warns about global avian influenza pandemics likely to happen

Bill Gates has raised the issue of global pandemics, and of the Trump administration’s lackadaisical approach to filling positions in the CDC, as in this story Saturday by Lena H. Sun, link

The biggest threat would be avian influenza, especially H7N9, which could kill 33 million people around the world in six months.  In China, it has killed 40% of the people it in infects.  The main danger is that it become possible to spread directly person to person rather than animal to person.

Gates wants the US to accelerate the development of a global universal flu vaccine, which has a different strategy block chemical processes in all influenzas.   A universal vaccine could have lessened the impact of H3N2 this past winter. 
Gates also believes that bioterror is one of the more likely forms of global terrorism.
The rapid increase in antibiotic resistant super bacteria could upend hospital and surgical sanitation protocols. Expect CNN’s Sanjay Gupta to say more about this soon.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Mainstream business news sites are getting more concerned about enemy EMP strike possibilities

While Trump and Moon keep working toward talks with Kim Jong Un, and given the appearance of conciliation by North Korea over the nuclear issue, a mainstream (only mildly conservative) site Bloomberg has picked up on the grave public safety threat (to say the least) were an enemy actually able to detonate a nuclear weapon at high altitude over the US.

The story by James Stavridle is titled “North Korea’sSecret Weapon: Electromagnetic Storm”. The byline is “A couple of nukes detonated at high altitude could be like thousands of lightning strikes hitting every home and business in the U.S.”
The article explains the difference between E1 and E3.  The former fries electronics;  the later can overload the power grid.  E3 would normally require a thermonuclear device, but is simulated by a severe solar storm with coronal mass ejection. The article is appropriately skeptical of scenarios like the novel “One Second After” (books July 20, 2012). 

The article encourages strengthening defenses of the power grid and of data centers (which I think is happening as some server farms seem to be installing shield around their buldings) and of strengthening NORAD and missile defense, which Vladimir Putin tried to belittle recently with his announcement of a super missile that can evade everything.
Friends actually asked me yesterday what I knew about data center defenses.  Tech may well be properly concerned.  This problem needs systematic reporting and fact checking by the mainstream media, not just conservative and “prepper” sites.

AOL has a detailed article and picture show about missile defense in Alaska here