Blogs

Internet Sales Taxes: Just in Time for Christmas?

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 1:45 PM EST

A U.S. House committee today is hearing the pros and cons of a bill that would finally allow states to collect sales taxes on stuff bought online. The states desperately need the money. Sales taxes account for a third of all state revenue, and the bulk of it goes towards public education, but that tax base is eroding thanks to a proliferation of online sales outlets. One study estimates that by 2008, the states will be losing $33 billion in revenue on "remote" sales, $18 billion of which comes from virtual stores.

Internet retailers have successfully batted down such proposals in the past, arguing that they would infringe on interstate commerce. But the states have gotten smarter and in recent years many have banded together to create uniform tax codes and a voluntary agreement to tax these companies, hoping to get around the constitutional issues. The bill, introduced by Massachusetts congressman William Delahunt, would let those states bound by the agreement tax remote companies.

At the hearing today, the bill got support from retailer J.C. Penny, which has to collect sales taxes on its Internet business because it also has bricks-and-mortar stores in many states. It wants to level the playing field to make it easier to compete with companies that are solely online. Opposing the bill, though, is the Direct Marketing Association, once known as the junk-mail lobby but which now represents catalog sales companies and electronic merchants. Not surprisingly, the DMA is opposed to the legislation, and DMA rep George Isaacson insisted that state legislators have vastly overestimated how much money they're losing in sales tax revenue. He says the figure is more in the range of $145 million as opposed to the many billions claimed by the state legislators. Still, that's a nice chunk of change that could put a few new teachers in the classroom without causing too much pain to the general public. No word yet on the bill's prospects, but no doubt it will create a nice fundraising vehicle for legislators on both sides of the aisle.

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The 'Mo with the MoJo: Yet Another Reason Why I love Dan Savage

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 1:28 PM EST

A while back, I got myself into deep doodoo trying to send a love letter to Dan Savage. Came out all kinds of wrong. Dan forgave me so I won't go there again; just believe me when I say that I love that little faggot. He's my main gay and here's why; he has a BS detector that could pinpoint nonsense in outer space and believes, as do I, that not only are there such things as stupid questions but that those who ask them should be summarily informed of same.

I never miss his column and often am plain old flabbergasted by his wit, wisdom, ill temper, arcane sexual knowledge and, most of all, his fearlessness. Homey can be mean though and, when I first began reading him, I thought he was one of those dinosaur fags who had to hate women to love men. But, read him regularly and you realize that he doesn't hate women. He hates hypocrites, BS artists, double standards and cowards. Which brings me to his sneaky side. He's just pulled one of the most dastardly tricks ever witnessed in the blogosphere.

I won't give it away; I enjoyed it too much! You simply must read this week's column.

As a militant feminist, I spend lots of time reading, and dismissing, 'critiques' of feminism and the crap that women pull. Gotta say, though, nothing brought home women's BS better than what Dastadly Dan pulled off this week. Once again, my hat is off to you, Dan Savage. You de man.

Mitt Romney's Big Speech: Love all Religions (Except Islam)

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 12:34 PM EST

mitt_romney_speaking.jpg Mitt Romney had an almost impossible task before him today in College Station, Texas: he had to emphasize America's proud tradition of religious freedom while winning voters in what has essentially become a Christian party.

"A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith," said Romney, echoing John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on his Catholic faith. "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

That was essentially the message Kennedy delivered when he went before an organization of Baptist ministers and said that he would rather resign than let the Vatican dictate the decisions of the American government. "I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair," Kennedy said then. "I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none."

But Kennedy and Romney gave their speeches in drastically different environments. Kennedy was trying to reassure Democratic voters, who were and are less fervently religious than Republican voters and who are more comfortable with, as Kennedy urged, an "absolute" separation of Church and State. Moreover, there were 35 to 40 million Catholics in America at the time. Most every Protestant knew one. Many had a family member married to one.

Red Storm Rising: Russian Fleet Resumes Regular Patrols

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 10:18 AM EST

Dust off your old Tom Clancy novels. The Red menace has returned. Well, not really, but it's certainly giving it the old college try. Earlier this year, apparently emboldened by oil and gas profits, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the resumption of long-range flights by Russia's mothballed fleet of strategic bombers. The news today is that the Russian Navy has dispatched an 11-ship aircraft carrier group to the Mediterranean. According to Russian Defense Minister Anatoly E. Serdyukov, the move is part of an effort to restore regular Russian naval patrols to the high seas, which had fallen off after the end of the Cold War. The fleet currently in the Mediterranean includes an aircraft carrier, two anti-submarine ships, a guided missile cruiser, and refueling ships.

Banning Harry Potter Is Just SO 20th Century

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 11:15 PM EST

Now that the Harry Potter books, films, water globes, watches and tote bags are an established part of western culture, banning The Golden Compass is about to be all the rage. The film, which stars Nicole Kidman, is based on the novel, Northern Lights, the first of British author Phillip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials . It tells the story of an orphaned girl who lives in a parallel universe that is threatened by a rigid dictatorship called the Magisterium.

Calling the film "atheism for kids," the Catholic League has strongly suggested that Northern Lights and the rest of the trilogy be removed from schools and libraries. Most descriptions of the film indicate that the author's stance against organized religion, and the Catholic church in particular, has been significantly diluted in the film version, but the banning has already begun. Catholic League William A. Donohue say he is aware that the film is tame by the book's standards, but he is afraid that children who see the film will want to read the novel.

Pullman, for his part, disagrees that The Golden Compass is anti-Catholic, though he acknowledges that atheism is a theme in the film. The American Library Association has issued a statement that calls on parents, teachers and librarians to resist any attempts to censor library collections.

And in a parallel universe where children are discouraged from reading books, several schools have already removed Pullman's works from the shelves.

The Golden Compass opens in theaters this Friday.

Iraqi View of Surge's "Success"

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 8:27 PM EST

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In a recent post on Last of Iraqis, one of the few Iraqi English-language blogs still up and running, blogger Mohammed offers a new perspective on what the U.S. has called success in Iraq. After a November 25th bombing near the ministry of health left his good friend's mom in critical condition, the 25-year-old dentist said he suspected the relative calm of the last couple of weeks didn't mean the insurgents were gone—just that they were pausing to regroup. He wrote, "It seems that the terrorists from all sides were just planning what to do next, they were planning how to overcome the current changes."

With another deadly blast hitting Baghdad today, Mohammed's view of recent developments seems far more accurate than the mainstream American media's. The violence has always been cyclical, and there's no reason to believe things are any different this time around.

Throughout the war, undiluted blogging from Iraqis on the ground has kept American news outlets in check. The BBC has done a roundup of these posts from civilians inside the country every couple of months since January of this year.

—Andre Sternberg

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Supersize Coup - Morgan Spurlock Finds Osama?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:55 PM EST

No one can say for sure, but rumor has it that director Morgan Spurlock, of McMadness fame, has located the elusive al Qaeda leader. Read more over at The Riff.

—Casey Miner

Supersize Coup - Morgan Spurlock Finds Osama?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:50 PM EST

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It's still only a rumor, but word is that the payoff of Morgan Spurlock's new documentary, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, is, well, Osama Bin Laden. Alt-film blog SlashFilm reports that in February, the Weinstein Co. bought the film after seeing only 15 minutes of footage, quoting the film's director of photography as saying that Spurlock "definitely got the holy grail."

While I find it hard to believe that the irreverent Spurlock actually located, spoke with, or filmed Bin Laden, I'm a little worried about his fate if he did. Our government doesn't take kindly to embarrassment, and if he got anywhere near Bin Laden, Spurlock's contact list alone is probably enough to earn him a visit from Homeland Security. Hopefully, though, when it premieres next year at Sundance this film will do what Sicko did for the healthcare debate and help us shift our energies towards where they're really needed.

—Casey Miner


Mitt Romney, You're No Jack Kennedy

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:32 PM EST

George Packer on why Mitt Romney's upcoming "Mormon speech" should not be compared to JFK's famous 1960 "Catholic speech":

Romney's intention is the exact opposite of Kennedy's. He's caught in a trap of his own and his party's making. Romney can't raise the shield of secularism, as Kennedy did, because he is seeking the nomination of a sectarian party that's built on a religious test. He can't stand on any principle at all, secular or religious; instead, he has to win over the Christianists, who make up a large part of the Republican base, even though he belongs to a faith that most of them consider un-Christian. His eternal truth will be: "Hey, we're not that different." He parades his large and perfect family, he reminds us of his spotless personal life, he is dismissive of the possibility of appointing a Muslim Cabinet member, all to immunize himself against the religious bigotry of the voters he's wooing. He's going to do the same thing on Thursday. So no more comparisons with Kennedy, please.

Read the rest here.

Government Can't Get Its Story Straight On Iran NIE

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:23 PM EST

George Bush, yesterday:

DAVID GREGORY: When it came to Iran, you said in October, on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat? And don't you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?

THE PRESIDENT: ...I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze...it wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley claimed much the same thing on Monday:

[W]hen the President was told that we had some additional information, he was basically told: stand down; needs to be evaluated; we'll come to you and tell you what we think it means. So this was basically -- as we said, this is information that came in the last few months, and the intelligence community spent a lot time to get on top of it.

As implausible as this seems, the Los Angeles Times reports that, according to "U.S. intelligence officials," Bush was telling the truth: