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Liberal Outrage

Sales tax for the internet

I got an email from "eBay Government Relations" today reminding me that i wanted to blog about this bill currently making its way through the Senate that would force internet companies to collect and pay sales taxes to the applicable local governments.

Somewhat surprisingly, Amazon is in favor of this bill. It's because they are big enough to be a target for local governments already and at this point they've got distribution centers in every state so they already don't qualify for the exemption (that goes back to mail-order catalog days) that said you have to have a physical location in the state to be taxed, so why not make sure your competitors also have to pay taxes?

eBay, on the other hand, is looking at this from the point of view of the millions of "small businesses" (including random dudes selling off their old He-Man figures) that operate through them. The process of understanding what taxes you are supposed to charge and how to get them to the appropriate governments (this isn't just state level; there are some 9,600 tax jurisdictions in the US) is more the average eBay seller is going to be able to cope with. eBay isn't opposing the bill outright, though. They're looking for an exemption for businesses that do less than $10 million in annual out-of-state sales (which, per the eBay email, is what Amazon does in 90 minutes, but what the email doesn't tell you is that the current bill being considered already exempts companies with out-of-state revenues of less than $1 million, and that's a lot of He-Man figures).

Personally, i'm always a little nervous that we check the "I'm sorry, i couldn't hear you." box on our TurboTax form when they ask us if we bought anything over the internet in the past year, so i wouldn't mind if companies started collecting taxes, and clearly local governments could use the funds. Sales taxes are regressive, but as the article i linked to points out, "poorer Americans are less likely to shop online". So i guess i'm in favor of the bill, but i'd prefer maybe a national internet sales tax that funnels the money back to the state & local governments so that the onerous task of keeping track of all the local jurisdictions isn't put on businesses. But i am a big government liberal so that's what you'd expect me to say.

The bill seems to have a good chance of passing. Grover Norquist is opposed, but the bill was proposed by a Republican and it's supported by the National Retail Federation lobbyist group, which represents Wal-Mart and other brick & mortar stores.

By fnord12 | April 26, 2013, 9:21 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Unemployed at the wrong time

There has been a lot of talk lately confirming that the longer you are unemployed, the harder it becomes to find a job. Matthew Yglesias takes a look at that and says that it makes sense from the point of view as the hiring manager.

Suppose you had to hire one of two candidates for a job, and you had to base the decision solely on a resume. No interview allowed. The resumes are identical, but one person lost her job in a mass layoff event last week, while the other lost her job in a mass layoff event a year ago. Who are you going to hire? If you're smart, you hire the woman who lost her job last week. You're being asked to make a decision based on very little information. By discriminating against the long-term unemployed candidate, you can in effect "outsource" your decision-making. Most likely [the woman that's been unemployed longer] has interviewed for several jobs since being laid off. If she's still unemployed, there's probably something wrong with her. What? You don't know. You don't have any evidence. But faced with the need to decide under conditions of severe uncertainty it's a sound heuristic.

The real world is more complicated than that, but not all that complicated. Your time as a manager is finite and valuable. You don't want to call back every resume that comes in over the transom. You set yourself a target quantity of "good" resumes you want to identify to call. Then you start your search by assuming that every single person who's been jobless for over a year doesn't withstand scrutiny upon interviewing, and just search for good resumes among the short-term jobless. If you hit your target, then you call those people. It's only if you don't hit your target that you start looking at the resumes of the long-term unemployed.

That's understandable, but i think it misses the main point. I know that there were some local governments considering weird laws banning the practice of discrimination based on time unemployed, and if Yglesias is pushing back on that, fine. But the reason Felix Salmon, Paul Krugman, and Megan McArdle (Yglesias refers to them) are discussing this issue isn't because of that. It's a debate about whether or not we need more stimulus to get the economy strong enough that even these long-term unemployed will be considered again. The point is that the economy is in a very slow recovery, and because it's so slow, it is leaving a lot of people behind. The debate is entirely academic at this point, unfortunately; i don't expect anyone in power to be proposing a new stimulus.

By fnord12 | April 23, 2013, 12:11 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link


Brian McFadden's latest comic.

By fnord12 | April 19, 2013, 3:09 PM | Comics & Liberal Outrage | Link

If it walks like a duck, etc.

The Daily Howler wonders, or pretends to wonder, why a bill that had 54 votes in the Senate failed to pass. More to the point, he wonders why none of the articles covering the failure use the word filibuster. Kevin Drum explains:

Here's the answer: over the past few years, as the use of the filibuster has become routine, it's become common to speed things up a bit by adopting unanimous consent agreements under which both sides agree that a piece of legislation will require 60 votes to pass but won't require all the usual procedural hurdles of an actual filibuster. This is often convenient for both parties.

That's what happened in this case. The party leaders negotiated a unanimous consent agreement which specified that 60 votes were required to proceed to debate on Manchin-Toomey. It didn't get those 60 votes, so it failed. [UPDATE: This agreement also applied to all the other amendments to the gun bill, both Democratic and Republican. That's why they all failed.]

This puts reporters in a bind. Here are their options:

  1. Explain the whole thing: a UC was negotiated; it required 60 votes on a motion to proceed; the motion failed because it got only 54 votes. Unfortunately, this will leave readers confused unless you also explain why Harry Reid agreed to such terms in the first place. The answer is that if Reid didn't, then Republicans would formally filibuster the bill. 60 votes would still be required and a bunch of other procedural hurdles would be put in place. Reid was better off negotiating the UC.
  2. Chalk it up to "Senate procedures" or something like that and move on. This is short and sweet, but it risks leaving a lot of readers scratching their heads and wondering what really happened.
  3. Just call it a filibuster. For all intents and purposes, that's what it is, and it's the threat of a filibuster that prompted the UC in the first place. Technically, however, it's not a filibuster, so reporting it as one isn't precisely correct.

You can see the problem: none of these is really satisfactory. #1 is out of the question. It's simply too long. #2 is unsatisfying. It doesn't really explain what happened. #3 gets the guts of the explanation right, but it's technically inaccurate.

Nonsense. It's a filibuster. Filibusters have become so commonplace they are taken for granted and easy to do, but that doesn't change what they are. The arcane technical details are irrelevant here.

By fnord12 | April 19, 2013, 3:02 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Doesn't anyone care about raw political power any more?

It's pretty clear at this point that immigration reform is a thing whose time has come. It's going to happen. The only question is how long Republican opponents can delay it and, more to the point of this post, how much centrist Democrats can screw up the details. That's how it is with these Gangs of 8 or whatever where a group of more moderate Republicans - the only ones who would ever vote for this kind of thing - and a group of moderate Democarts - who really serve no useful purpose at all since all Democrats except for a few conservative hold-outs will vote for it - get together and come up with these nutty compromises. The current one being floated includes an idea that undocumented workers will get "amnesty" now and then have to go through a 10+ year process to actually become citizens. Why? Because Republicans don't want to create a whole bunch of new Democratic voters. But why would any Democrats help enable that delay? The pressure is on to pass a bill. And if a bill isn't passed, people will know who to blame. There's no need to be compromising now.

There are plenty of legitimate arguments to be made against this dumb split between amnesty and citizenship. We shouldn't be creating a practically permanent underclass. And these people will deserve to be represented in the government (you might not agree with these points but then you are opposed to the idea behind the bill altogether). The whole thing smacks of the "civil unions" idea that people tried to use to deflect gay marriage with until recently. Separate and not quite equal.

But more practically, you'd think the Democrats would be interested in increasing their voting base now. And there's nothing wrong with that; the system is designed so that politicians are responsive to their citizens because they want to be re-elected. They should be like, yep, we want these people to get representation, and yes, we want their votes.

Now, maybe this will backfire for Democrats. Rand Paul will happily tell you that black people used to vote for Republicans until the passage of the Civil Right Act. And maybe these new citizens will start responding to the Republicans' lower tax and anti-abortion message once this whole citizenship thing is out of the way. But there's nothing wrong with Democrats explicitly thinking this will be a good move for them in terms of increasing their vote count.

It's the same thing with statehood for Washington D.C. or Puerto Rico. Democrats should be pushing for that like it's the number one priority in the country. That would probably end the gridlock in the Senate for a long while. And legitimately. The people in those "territories" deserve representation. But again, whenever discussion about that sounds like it might be going anywhere, people start coming up with weird compromises like also adding eastern Oregon as a new state. No! These types of things should not be voter-count neutral. Or it defeats the purpose of giving people their representation.

By contrast, when the Republicans won all the statehouses back in 2010, they wasted no time in redrawing the House districts to their advantage. They didn't say, ok, let's redraw these districts but let it take effect 10 years out when who knows who will be living where. They did it and it took effect immediately. And it was a legitimate, legal thing for them to do. There's no reason for Democrats to not use the same reasoning here.

By fnord12 | April 17, 2013, 2:14 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

It's Just the Russians

An Alaska-based military police officer has been sentenced to 16 years in prison and will receive a dishonourable discharge for selling military secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian spy, a military panel has decided.

A panel of eight military members from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage recommended a 19-year sentence for Spec William Colton Millay, which was dropped to 16 years because of a pretrial agreement.


Military prosecutors said Millay was a white supremacist who was fed up with the army and the US, and was willing to sell secrets to an enemy agent even if that would cost his fellow soldiers their lives.


So, let me get this straight. If you intentionally try to betray your country by attempting to sell secrets to a foreign government, you get 16 years and your attorney promises to continue to seek clemency because of the "circumstances".

But if you think that your government is participating in something immoral, and you want to make the public aware of things they are doing that might be wrong, with the possible unintentional consequence that "enemies of the state" will also find out, you get caged for 2 years and tried for treason where the best outcome you could hope for is life in prison.

I think that's a pretty clear message. It's not good to sell secrets to foreign governments (who happen to have friendly relationships with countries on our "enemy" list) with full knowledge that it will compromise your fellow officers, but it's much much better than releasing information to the media about the bad things your government is doing.

By min | April 16, 2013, 11:28 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

The Apologist can be found in the comments of any TPM post

Tom Tomorrow's latest cartoon is particularly good.

By fnord12 | April 15, 2013, 11:27 AM | Comics & Liberal Outrage | Link

We'll Have No Gay Sex in Comics on Apple's Watch

Issue #12 of Brian K. Vaughan's Saga contains 2 images of a reflection of a male giving another male a blowjob. Apple decided it wasn't going to peddle this smut through its iOS apps.

Having just read the first trade for this series in which very early on there is a scene with two naked adults having sex, with the female on her hands and knees, it's hard to believe that it was the sexual content that caused Apple to decide to ban issue #12 from their stores.

By min | April 10, 2013, 3:30 PM | Comics & Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link

Grand Bargains are not set in stone

It's important to keep in mind that the idea that a Grand Bargain addressing our deficit would somehow put all the current arguments behind us is nonsense. Provably so. We had a "Grand Bargain" during the Clinton administration. The deficit was eliminated. Programs were cut (Welfare Reform?) and taxes were raised. And yet here we are again. The surpluses were used to justify a tax cut during the Bush administration.

The point isn't that Republicans will squander any surpluses on tax cuts, although it's worth asking why it's always Democrats who seem to try to solve this "problem" and Republicans never seem to worry about it when they are in charge. The point is that any future government can enact changes that will render any current bargain meaningless, so there is no value in agreeing to "minor concessions" now to prevent major changes later. Especially when those "minor concessions" mean cuts to programs that people's lives depend upon.

The Obama administration should spend its time in office trying to push forward a positive agenda, not pre-emptively blocking what a Ryan administration might do.

By fnord12 | April 10, 2013, 12:44 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Oh, that'll go over well

The Democratic party has a plan to take back the House from the impassioned Tea Party Republicans. WaPo:

Democratic Party officials believe that Kevin Strouse is exactly the kind of candidate who can help them retake the House next year.

He's a smart, young former Army Ranger - good qualities for any aspiring politician. But what party leaders really like is that Strouse doesn't have particularly strong views on the country's hottest issues.

Immigration? Tax policy? "Certainly I have a lot of research to do," Strouse acknowledged in an interview Thursday as he announced his candidacy in a suburban Philadelphia House district.

Strouse's candidacy reflects an emerging Democratic strategy for taking back the House from Republicans after the tea party takeover of 2010.

I hope someone covers the debates. Every response could be "I don't really have an opinion on that. But i'm smart, i'm young, and i'm a former Army Ranger, so i'm sure i could think of something, if i needed to." That'll get Democrats to the polls.

By fnord12 | April 8, 2013, 1:17 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link

I merged two semi-related topics into one post to reduce the number of retaliatory GG posts

I told min she needs to stop depressing us with Glenn Greenwald posts and she responded by saying that i need to stop depressing us with economic posts. So expect a lot more Glenn Greenwald posts, is what i'm telling you.

Because there is much more to say copy & paste about the latest job numbers and Obama's proposal.

Here's Drum on jobs:

The American economy added 88,000 new jobs last month, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth was actually slightly negative at -2,000 jobs. That's terrible. It's yet another spring swoon, but even earlier than usual. Ever since the end of the Great Recession we've been stuck in an odd pattern where employment growth looks promising in winter and then falls off a cliff in spring, but usually the dropoff doesn't happen until April or May. We're early this year.
Some of this bad news may have been due to the fiscal cliff deal in January, and the end of the payroll tax holiday, but it's probably too early for any of it to be due to the sequester. However, we can expect that to start biting in April and May. Nice work, Congress.

And here's Yglesias on the budget proposal:

The core issue is that this is a compromise the GOP has already rejected. They've rejected it in its details, and they've also rejected it as a general concept. So if this budget is meant to underscore Obama's eagerness for a deal and willingness to compromise it doesn't really achieve that... If you need further evidence you can look at the GOP's negotiating strategy during the 2011 debt ceiling battle, during the fiscal cliff in the 2012 lame duck session, and all throughout the sequestration controversy... There's a lot that's murky in American politics, but it's incredibly clear that the reason we don't have a grand bargain on the budget is that Republicans don't want one... The White House is frustrated by the fact that lots of folks in the media don't seem to see it the way I do and this budget is, among other things, part of a strategy to turn that around. But that's a doomed strategy. The ways of bipartisanthink are mysterious and won't be unraveled by any new proposals. To many people, the fact that a deal hasn't been made is all the proof they need that both sides are equally at fault.

The risk here now is twofold. Inside the Beltway, Republicans can say "well, look, we disagree about taxes but why don't we just do these entitlement reforms that even the president thinks we should do." Meanwhile, outside the Beltway Republican candidates can run ads castigating Democrats for bankrupting the country so badly that they want to add Social Security cuts to the dastardly Medicare cuts they already implemented. Part of the point of the Senate Democrats' budget was to stake out a position of easily defensible high ground. This seems like the White House wading into a much more exposed piece of territory.

"The White House is frustrated by the fact that lots of folks in the media don't seem to see it the way I do" is the same as Krugman's "The answer, I fear, is that Obama is still trying to win over the Serious People, by showing that he's willing to do what they consider Serious", but the question is why Obama still feels the need to do it at this point.

By fnord12 | April 5, 2013, 11:20 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link


More on the proposed social security cuts from Krugman.

The truth - although you'll never hear this in Serious circles - is that we really should be increasing SS benefits. Why? Because the shift from defined-benefit pensions to defined contribution, the rise of the 401(k), has been a bust, and many older Americans will soon find themselves in dire straits. SS is the last defined-benefit pension still standing - thank you, Nancy Pelosi, for standing up to Bush - and should be strengthened, not weakened.

So what's this about? The answer, I fear, is that Obama is still trying to win over the Serious People, by showing that he's willing to do what they consider Serious -- which just about always means sticking it to the poor and the middle class. The idea is that they will finally drop the false equivalence, and admit that he's reasonable while the GOP is mean-spirited and crazy.

But it won't happen. Watch the Washington Post editorial page over the next few days. I hereby predict that it will damn Obama with faint praise, saying that while it's a small step in the right direction, of course it's inadequate -- and anyway, Obama is to blame for Republican intransigence, because he could make them accept a Grand Bargain that includes major revenue increases if only he would show Leadership (TM).

Oh, and wanna bet that Republicans soon start running ads saying that Obama wants to cut your Social Security?

He also looks at the latest job numbers:

When all is said and done, we are following strongly contractionary fiscal policy in an economy in which monetary policy is still ineffective because of the zero lower bound... This is really stupid; as long as we're at the zero lower bound, austerity is a huge mistake. Yet for what, the third time since 2009, all discussion in Washington has turned away from job creation to deficits...

By fnord12 | April 5, 2013, 10:08 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Social Security needs to be expanded, not cut

Cutting Social Security benefits is of course a terrible idea. More people are acknowledging the failure of 401ks and proposing that we actually need to expand Social Security.

By fnord12 | April 5, 2013, 9:46 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Maybe positioning the country as "struggling to get by" is just dumb

When you're a second term president you don't have to worry about re-election, so you're kinda freed up to do the things that you want, or that you think are the right thing to do.

So of course Obama is proposing Social Security cuts and "leaning towards" approving the Keystone pipeline.

...he acknowledged that it is difficult to sell aggressive environmental action to Americans who are still struggling in a difficult economy to pay bills, buy gas and save for retirement.

"You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it's probably not rising to your number-one concern," Mr. Obama said. "And if people think, well, that's shortsighted, that's what happens when you're struggling to get by."

Maybe explaining that the pipeline won't really add new jobs or lower energy prices would help, but i guess that's "difficult". Maybe aggressively pushing policies that would actually create jobs would be even better, but that's really crazy talk.

By fnord12 | April 5, 2013, 9:31 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Domestic Drone Use in Our Future

Glenn Greenwald has a post about the inevitable use of drones by law enforcement agencies within the U.S. Obviously, the people who are concerned over this are being poo-pooed by people whose entire argument is based on two "facts:

  1. if you didn't do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear, and

  2. our government is Good.

Feel better now?

The belief that weaponized drones won't be used on US soil is patently irrational. Of course they will be. It's not just likely but inevitable. Police departments are already speaking openly about how their drones "could be equipped to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun." The drone industry has already developed and is now aggressively marketing precisely such weaponized drones for domestic law enforcement use.
[A]nother article prominently touted on AV's website describes the tiny UAS product dubbed the "Switchblade", which, says the article, is "the leading edge of what is likely to be the broader, even wholesale, weaponization of unmanned systems." The article creepily hails the Switchblade drone as "the ultimate assassin bug". That's because, as I wrote back in 2011, "it is controlled by the operator at the scene, and it worms its way around buildings and into small areas, sending its surveillance imagery to an i-Pad held by the operator, who can then direct the Switchblade to lunge toward and kill the target (hence the name) by exploding in his face."
Multiple attributes of surveillance drones make them uniquely threatening. Because they are so cheap and getting cheaper, huge numbers of them can be deployed to create ubiquitous surveillance in a way that helicopters or satellites never could. How this works can already been seen in Afghanistan, where the US military has dubbed its drone surveillance system "the Gorgon Stare", named after the "mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them". That drone surveillance system is "able to scan an area the size of a small town" and "the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence that [can] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity". Boasted one US General: "Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything."

Boeing is one of the major manufacturers of drones. So, it's no surprise that when the Washington state legislature tried to introduce a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to get approval from the legislature for drone purchases, Boeing released the lobbyists. The Democrats killed the bill before it got to the floor.

Dystopian future, here we come!

By min | April 4, 2013, 10:33 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

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