Thursday, June 21, 2018

Supreme Court Upholds Internet Sales Tax

Brace yourself. Prices are about to go up for many online transactions after today’s Supreme Court ruling that states can tax internet businesses even if the retailer does not have a physical presence in the state.

The 5-4 ruling came in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair, which challenged South Dakota’s application of its sales tax law to retailers without a physical location or employees in the state. The ruling overturned a 1992 ruling in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota which held that it was unconstitutional for states to tax companies that had no physical presence in the state.

Quill Court did not have before it the present realities of the interstate marketplace, where the Internet’s prevalence and power have changed the dynamics of the national economy,” Kennedy wrote in the decision. “The expansion of e-commerce has also increased the revenue shortfall faced by States seeking to collect their sales and use taxes, leading the South Dakota Legislature to declare an emergency.”

The Court did not issue states a carte blanche for internet taxation. Kennedy noted that the South Dakota law excluded companies that only did limited business in the state and had a single, state-level tax. It also provided software for retailers that granted immunity from audits. The South Dakota law was not applied retroactively.

The decision was authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy and the other justices seemed to unanimously agree that the Quill ruling was wrong, but disagreed on whether the Court or Congress should fix the problem. The ideologically-mixed group that joined Kennedy’s decision included Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Neil Gorsuch. Chief Justice John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented, arguing that the Court’s Quill ruling was wrong, but that Congress should pass a law to change the taxing authority for the states.

Brick-and-mortar retailers sided with South Dakota, arguing that the tax-free status of internet sales created an unfair advantage for companies. The Trump Administration and 35 states also backed South Dakota’s tax law.

“In light of Internet retailers’ pervasive and continuous virtual presence in the states where their websites are accessible, the states have ample authority to require those retailers to collect state sales taxes owed by their customers,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a court brief submitted by the government.

The stocks of internet retailers fell on news of the ruling. Wayfair, the company named in the case, was down more than six percent as of this writing. Amazon, one of the nation’s largest companies, was down 1.3 percent.

Amazon was singled out by President Trump earlier this year for escaping tax liability. The company, which has a physical presence in many states, was not directly involved in the ruling and will be minimally affected since it already collects sales taxes on its direct sales. Third-party retailers hosted by Amazon’s site are responsible for collecting their own sales taxes and not all do.

The internet tax battle will now move to the states where legislatures will decide their own tax policy.  Only five states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Delaware) do not have a statewide sales tax, but not all currently collect taxes on internet sales. With today’s ruling, that number is certain to increase and taxes will be going up.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

BREAKING: President Trump Signs Order To End Family Separations

Less than 24 hours after saying that only Congress could change the immigration law that requires authorities to separate the children of illegal immigrants from their parents, President Trump has reversed himself. The president announced today that he will sign an Executive Order “to keep families together.”

“We are going to sign an Executive Order in a little while to keep families together, but we have to maintain toughness,” President Trump said.

Trump signed the order in the Oval Office on Wednesday, telling reporters, “We're signing an executive order. I consider it to be a very important executive order. It's about keeping families together, while at the same time being sure we have a very powerful, very strong border.”

The Executive Order declares that the policy of the Trump Administration is “to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.” Trump instructs the Department of Homeland Security “to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members,” rather than transferring the children to the Department of Health and Human Services, unless keeping the family together would “pose a risk to the child’s welfare.” The order does not end the zero-tolerance policy of prosecuting all illegal immigrants.

It is not clear how the Executive Order will withstand the Flores Agreement. The 1997 court settlement requires the government to place illegal immigrant children with family members “without unnecessary delay” or hold the children in the “least restrictive setting appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs” otherwise.

As recently as yesterday, the president claimed that there was no legal way to avoid the separations. “Under current law, we have only two policy options to respond to this massive crisis,” Trump told the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “We can either release all illegal immigrant families [of] minors who show up at the border from Central America or we can arrest the adults for the federal crime of illegal entry. Those are the only two options, totally open borders for criminal prosecution for lawbreaking.”

“So, what I’m asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year — the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit,” Trump continued. “This is the only solution to the border crisis.”

President Trump had claimed that the law mandated that children be separated from their parents, who were being arrested on immigration charges. Current law and the Flores Agreement also applied to previous administrations, but neither the Obama nor Bush Administration chose to systematically break up families. The Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy of prosecuting all illegal border crossers led to the systematic separation of families where previous administrations referred illegal immigrants to civil deportation hearings where the families could remain together. The Dallas News reports that approximately 2,000 children were separated from their parents between late April and the end of May under the new policy.

President Trump’s reversal is similar President Obama’s reversal on the so-called “Dreamers.” In 2010, when asked about the DREAM Act, Obama said, “I am not king. I can't do these things just by myself.” In 2011, he said, “[With] respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that's just not the case.” The same year, he reiterated that he could not “just bypass Congress and change the (immigration) law myself. ... That's not how a democracy works.” In spite of all that, in 2012, Obama unilaterally implement the DACA program that suspended deportations and provided work authorizations for people who entered the country illegally as children.

The president’s reversal may be related to a new CNN poll that showed that Americans opposed the zero-tolerance policy by more than two-to-one. Prominent Republicans criticized the Administration on the issue and Republican congressmen were preparing plans to overturn the policy.

Even with the end to the separation policy, immigration will not disappear as a hot-button issue. There has still been no resolution to the DACA problem, many industries are experiencing a shortage of immigrant workers and there is still no funding for the “big, beautiful wall.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ted Cruz Unveils Plan To End Immigrant Family Separation

Ted Cruz is riding to the rescue of the President Trump and the Republican Party with a plan to extricate the GOP from the public relations bloodbath that it is experiencing from Trump Administration policies that result in immigrant children being separated from their parents.

Sen. Cruz (R-Texas) plans to introduce “emergency legislation” to resolve what he calls a situation that has “horrified” Americans. The senator plans to introduce the Protect Kids and Parents Act this week.

 “All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Crus said on his website. “This must stop. Now. We can end this crisis by passing the legislation I am introducing this week.”

The Cruz plan contains four main points:
·         Double the number of immigration judges from 375 to 750
·         Authorize new family shelters
·         Mandate that families be kept together unless there is “aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children”
·         Expedite asylum cases so that a decision will be made within 14 days

“Repeatedly, I have visited detention facilities tragically housing young children,” Cruz said.  “For far too long, children have been the greatest victims of our broken immigration system, with tens of thousands of children who were detained under the Obama Administration and continuing through today, and with far too many of those children facing horrific physical or sexual assault from criminal human traffickers.”

Cruz continued, “The answer is not what congressional Democrats are proposing: simply releasing illegal aliens and returning to the failed policy of ‘catch and release.’ Rather, we should fix the backlog in immigration cases, remove the legal barriers to swift processing, and resolve asylum cases on an expedited basis.”

In a speech before the National Federation of Independent Businesses, President Trump appeared to fire back at Cruz’s proposal saying, “Ultimately, we have to have a real border, not judges.”

On Twitter, Trump doubled down on the zero-tolerance policy of arresting all illegal border crossers. “We must always arrest people coming into our Country illegally. Of the 12,000 children, 10,000 are being sent by their parents on a very dangerous trip, and only 2000 are with their parents, many of whom have tried to enter our Country illegally on numerous occasions,” the president tweeted.

As with many of the president’s policies, the separation of immigrant families is very unpopular except among Republicans. Overall, two-thirds of Americans oppose the policy in a new CNN poll while only 28 percent approve. Numbers are reversed for Republicans, the only group to approve, with 58 percent in favor and 35 percent against. Ominously for the midterms, independents oppose the president’s policy by more than two-to-one.

Among congressional Republicans, there seems to be widespread support for ending the separation of families. Several other congressmen are also working on proposals to fix the problem.

“We can fix this,” Cruz said. “If my Democratic colleagues will join me, not play politics but work to solve the problem, we can start to end family separation this week. And, we can honor the rule of law.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

GOP Gears Up For Another Go At Obamacare

Long thought to be dead, the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act may have just gotten a new breath of life. A group of Republicans has introduced a new bill to repeal the law, commonly referred to as Obamacare, and replace it with a new structure that returns regulatory power to the states.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the bill is the work of a coalition of groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. The plan contains some elements of last year’s ill-fated reform plan authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Sen. Graham is reportedly working separately on another health reform bill.

The plan reportedly centers on the use of block grants to states rather than itemized funding. Half of the grants would support the purchase of private health insurance for individuals and the other half would help cover low-income individuals. The bill would ban states from using the grant money to fund abortion. The new law would repeal the Medicaid expansion and allow Medicaid recipients to buy private health insurance.

The bill is expected to garner support from conservative Republicans such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), who has expressed interest in another attempt at reform, but will face hurdles from moderates. Republican congressmen engaging in tough reelection battles may resist tackling the controversial topic immediately prior to the midterm elections.

While a repeal bill would be welcomed by the Republican base, last year’s attempt at repeal was not popular with voters. Although Obamacare was historically unpopular, the law received a boost from the Republican reform effort. Current polling from the Kaiser Foundation shows that voters are split on the ACA, but the law has a net positive approval rating.

Repeal of Obamacare has long been a Republican goal and was a main campaign promise of President Trump, but there are long odds against the effort. The Republicans’ slim 51-seat majority means that a repeal attempt would face a certain Democrat filibuster. A bill that would be supported by Democrats and Republican moderates would likely not be supported by GOP conservatives.

The midterm elections may seal the fate of the repeal effort. If Republicans lose their majority in either the House or the Senate, any serious effort to repeal the ACA would be doomed. At that point, the best that Republicans could hope for would be a bipartisan effort to fix the worst problems of the law.

Originally published on The Resurgent

How To Solve The Immigration Problem

With the revelations about the Trump Administration policy of separating children of illegal immigrants from their parents, federal immigration policy is back in the headlines. After the failure of the DACA deal earlier this year, the controversy gives Congress another chance to finally fix our broken immigration system.

The first step in the immigration fix is to realize that it requires a bipartisan compromise. Some of my conservative friends have fought immigration reform for years on the grounds that border security should come first. This stance has resulted in the status quo on the border being preserved for a decade. Republicans need to realize that unless they get enough Senate votes to end a filibuster, a standalone border security bill is never going to pass.

There is no indication that the GOP is going to get a supermajority any time soon. With prospects in the midterm elections looking gloomy, it will be a struggle for Republicans to maintain control of the House, let alone seize a filibuster-proof lock on the Senate.

If the border is going to be secured, it must be as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Unfortunately, President Trump has poisoned the well with his demands for a “big beautiful wall” and Democrats have become so crazed in their anti-Trump stance that they were unable to accept a generous compromise on DACA in February.

In the wake of that failure and with job creation booming, immigration policy should be ripe for reform. Public opinion has favored reform for years. Democrats apparently believed that any failure to pass a bill would be blamed on Republicans, but their resistance backfired as DACA protesters rallied against the DNC. Further foot-dragging could erode their base.

For their part, Republicans usually favor changing laws that don’t work, but immigration law has become a sacred cow. Taking a closer look at current law shows that it is unworkable. The border is not sealed and penalties for illegal immigration amount to a slap on the wrist. To make matters worse, legal immigration is so restrictive and difficult that it encourages people to break the law and cross illegally or overstay visas.

The status quo also risks alienating the traditional Republican support from businesses. Under President Trump, temporary work visas have been reduced. I described last month how the shortage of visas is wreaking havoc in the Maryland crab processing industry and with other employers around the country who depend on immigrant workers. Recent reports that the US now has more job openings than workers to fill them underscore the need for more legal immigration. Conservatives should realize the effect of the Law of Unintended Consequences on shutting off the flow of immigrant labor.

Some conservatives argue that employers should simply pay higher wages to attract American workers. This is akin to the liberal argument that employers should simply pay more to provide health insurance benefits for their workers. Both arguments ignore the economic reality that businesses must be profitable to exist. If companies pay higher labor costs, they must raise prices. If prices are too high, consumers stop buying their product. Companies can either go out of business because they have no workers or because they have no customers.

The basic idea of an immigration compromise is a simple one. First, tie other reforms to border security with established triggers. Other permanent reforms do not go into effect unless the border is secure.

Other aspects of the compromise would include a pathway to legalization (not necessarily citizenship) for current illegals. It is unrealistic to expect the deportation of the millions of illegals currently in the US, especially considering that doing so would leave many of their children, American citizens, without parents to provide for them and entitle them to benefits from an already-strained welfare system. Mass deportations would require an expensive expansion of the police state that should alarm conservatives and libertarians. Let’s acknowledge that many illegals are integrated into society and are contributing to the economy.

That doesn’t mean that there should be an amnesty for illegal immigrants. As immigration hawks point out, they did break the law and should be punished. Punishment does not have to involve deportation however. Punishment could also be in the form of delayed or denied citizenship, paying fines and back taxes, community service, probation and background checks.

To help businesses and farmers, a guest worker program should be implemented. Many American jobs, like those of Maryland’s crab fishermen, depend on a symbiotic relationship with immigrant labor. It is estimated that each visa job creates 2.5 jobs for American citizens. American crops should not be rotting in the fields because there is no one to pick them.

Priorities for immigrants should be changed to accept more immigrants who can contribute to the American economy. Our current system allows foreign students to be trained at American universities, but then denies them the ability to work for American companies. Instead, American-educated engineers and scientists are sent abroad to work for companies that compete against us. Immigrants with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math should be at the top of the list to immigrate.

In return, illegal immigration should be made a felony with a punishment severe enough to deter illegally being in the US. A better system of tracking visitors who come to the US on visas is needed to prevent overstays. The carrot-and-stick approach would make immigration easier for legitimate workers while punishing illegal immigrants more severely.

Aside from the boost to the economy, another big advantage to solving the problem of illegal migrant workers would be in a more efficient border security system. If there is a viable path for workers to enter the country, law enforcement can focus on the smugglers, violent criminals and terrorists who would still be using the back door. There would be fewer sheep to hide the wolves.

There is broad agreement from both sides on most of these details. The difficulty in reforming our broken immigration system is in having the will to buck the extremists on both sides who prefer to keep the current broken system rather than compromise to solve the problem.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, June 14, 2018

IG Report Says Comey Was Wrong, But Not Politically Biased

The report by the Department of Justice's inspector general is out and Republicans are not going to be happy with the findings. The report faults former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the Clinton email investigation, but did not attribute his actions to political bias.
Per Bloomberg, the report, which will be made public later today, says that Comey did not follow FBI protocol when he held a press conference to announce the FBI findings in July 2016 and then reopened the investigation with a memo to Congress in October. Comey was also criticized for not keeping DOJ superiors, including then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, informed about the investigation.
"While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the report’s conclusions.
The Washington Post reports that the report will also contain previously unseen text messages between FBI Agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Page wrote to Strzok.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.
The inspector general condemned the texts, but said that there was no evidence that they affected the FBI's work.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” Horowitz said in the report . “The conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.”

The full report will be released to the public on Thursday afternoon.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Russian Lawmaker Warns Against World Cup Sex

As soccer fans head to Russia for this year’s World Cup, a member of parliament is warning Russians against engaging in that other recreational activity that is popular when throngs of strangers congregate in a city far from home for an exciting and (dare we say?) intoxicating event. To be precise, Russian women were warned against engaging in casual sex with foreigners. While Russian women should welcome World Cup visitors with open arms, a Russian legislator says that they shouldn’t be as welcoming with other parts of their bodies.

Tamara Pletnyova, head of the family, women and children's affairs committee in the Russian parliament, said that Russian women should not have “intimate relations” with World Cup visitors per a report in The Telegraph. Pletnyova said that she is concerned that children of foreigners would ultimately be taken abroad.

“Even if they get married, they'll take them away, then she doesn't know how to get back,” Ms Pletnyova said on Moscow radio. “Then they come to me in the committee, girls crying that their baby was taken away, was taken, and so on.”

“I'd like people in our country to marry for love, no matter what nationality as long as they are Russian citizens who will build a family, live peacefully, have children and raise them,” Pletnyova continued.

The MP also warned against biracial sex, saying, “It's good if it's one race, but if it's another race, then they really did. We should have our own babies.”

Making babies is not something that Russians are doing well these days. In 2017, Russia’s birth rate dropped by a staggering 10.7 percent over one year. The Russian birth rate is below replacement level. The country’s population peaked in 1992, the year the Soviet Union broke up, and has been declining ever since per Radio Free Europe. The problem is exacerbated by Russia’s long history of legal abortion and the fact that terminating a pregnancy is five times as common as in the United States. The crisis spurred President Putin to create a government initiative to increase births earlier this year.

Despite the low birth rate, ethnic Russian nationalism means that biracial children are welcome. After the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and international festivals that hosted large contingents from Africa, the Middle East and South America, biracial children were often referred to as “children of the Olympics” or “festival children.” Less than one percent of Russia’s population is black and biracial people often face harsh discrimination.

Fraternization between the races or exhibitions of homosexuality could be dangerous in Russia. During the World Cup, cities will be patrolled by Cossacks, right-wing vigilantes sometimes put on the government payroll to help crack down on opposition protests, illegal immigrants and other undesirables. The Cossacks have been known to whip crowds and brawl with protesters.

Leaving aside the racial component to Pletynova’s comments, not engaging in casual sex and becoming a single parent is good advice. Raising children is difficult with two parents. Providing both adequate supervision and financial security is difficult or impossible for many single parents. Even in households that are not poor, as Slate acknowledges, children raised by single mothers are at increased risk for a variety of bad outcomes ranging from increased juvenile delinquency to a greater chance of teen pregnancy.

Given the vodka-infused Russian culture, it isn’t clear how many Russians will take Ms. Pletynova’s comments to heart. Decisions made in the moments of passion, especially when fueled by copious amounts of adult beverages, often lead to problems later. At least the World Cup baby boom may help increase Russia’s birth rate.

Originally published on The Resurgent