Thursday, June 21, 2018

Last Call For A Taxing Problem

Buying items online could significantly more expense as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has authored a decision overturning the ban on states forcing internet retailers to collect sales taxes.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned a longstanding precedent on Thursday that had barred states from requiring online companies to collect and pay sales taxes, delivering a victory for cash-strapped states and brick-and-mortar retailers. 
Online retailers have long enjoyed an advantage over brick-and-mortar stores because of a 1992 Supreme Court ruling in Quill v. North Dakota, which forbade states from interfering with interstate commerce by taxing companies that don’t have a physical presence within their boundaries. 
In the new case, South Dakota v. Wayfair, South Dakota had attempted to overturn that precedent, arguing that Quill was decided before the existence of internet commerce. (It dealt primarily with catalog sales.) The state, which argued it lost $50 million a year in sales tax, was supported by independent retailers such as bookstores that are forced to compete with online companies but whose products end up being more expensive because they must charge sales taxes. Even President Donald Trump has railed against the unfairness of online companies’ sales tax exemption.

Congress has wrestled with the issue for years, but fierce lobbying by online retail giants has prevented a legislative fix. A bipartisan group of senators filed a brief in the case supporting South Dakota’s effort to overturn the online sales tax ban, essentially acknowledging that the legislative body was too dysfunctional to fix the problem. 
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had seemed sympathetic to the states’ plight, and he essentially invited the South Dakota case in 2015 in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl. That case involved Colorado’s attempt to collect taxes from online retailers indirectly by making them report sales to the state. Online retailers sued over the scheme, and the Supreme Court allowed the case to proceed. But in a concurrence, Kennedy acknowledged the “startling revenue shortfall” suffered by the states because of the court’s Quill decision and invited them to try to find a better case in which to present the issue to the high court. South Dakota took him up on the suggestion.

I'm going to say that Kennedy is right here, and that internet retailers were getting away with not collecting sales taxes for decades, and that means we're going to see a lot of state battles over this, but I'm not sure that things are going to change too much.

Of course, this could be the kick in the pants that Congress needs to actually put together legislation on this, and I'm sure both sides of the argument are going to be spending a lot of money lobbying Congress to take their side.

But frankly, not every state is going to want to suddenly force new state taxes on people who buy things online, which is going to be more affluent folks, who tend to vote more.  Kennedy may have made the correct call here, but companies were already collecting sales taxes just to get state lawmakers off their backs, especially the big online retailers like Amazon.

On the other hand, there certainly are states that are going to want to make this happen as quickly as possible, so we'll see.  Besides, more money collected for state services is a good thing, not collecting taxes was basically a tax cut for the rich.

Israeli Serious Problem, Con't

Meanwhile in Israel, the fraud and corruption investigation into PM Benjamin Netanyahu has now expanded to include fraud charges filed against his wife Sara.

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was indicted on Thursday for alleged "systematic fraud" involving hundreds of thousands of shekels in connection with meal expenses incurred at the Prime Minister's Residence. 
Sara Netanyahu was charged along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister's Office. The two are charged in an indictment filed at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court with aggravated fraudulent receiving of an item or items, fraud and breach of trust. Saidoff was also charged with falsification by a public servant. 
According to the indictment, the prime minister's wife instructed staff at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem to order meals consumed at the residence worth a total of 350,000 shekels ($96,000) from gourmet restaurants between 2010 and 2013 in violation of rules barring the residence from ordering meals from the outside during periods when there was a cook on its staff. 
Investigators in the case gathered evidence that purportedly shows that the prime minister's wife ordered that the employment of the cook be concealed and also showed that she was aware that ordering meals from the outside for the residence when it employed a cook was a violation of the rules.

According to the indictment, Sara Netanyahu directed staff at the residence, including the chief maintenance superintendent at the time, Meni Naftali, and another employee, Meir Cohen, to hide the fact that cooks were employed in the residence "so that this won't be found out by the treasury and the office manager.
" The indictment states that in accordance with her order, Naftali passed the message on to other residence staff. The prosecution alleges that the prime minister's wife ordered that the cook be listed at the residence as a maintenance staff person. 
In July 2015, a probe was initiated after the State Comptroller's Office issued a report on the Netanyahu family households. Its findings were turned over for criminal investigation by the national fraud squad at the Israel Police.

Part of the case against Benjamin Netanyahu is that he allegedly asked his Justice Minister to spike this case against his wife, and oh yes both Netanyahus are still being investigated in Case 3000, the major corruption investigation into the Prime Minister and his wife allegedly taking bribes.  That case is still in the investigatory stage, and indictments are expected in that in the coming months.

Of course, this is basically a fraction of the graft Donald Trump and his kids are currently getting away with on a daily basis, so there's that.

Trump Losing The Battle To Win The War

The headlines this morning are blaring that Donald Trump lost, caved, and gave in on his Dickensian child separation policy as he was "forced" to scramble to come up with an executive order that stopped the policy.  Politico has Trump caving in a "24-hour about-face".

In the face of protests at airports across the country opposing his restrictive travel ban last year, President Donald Trump defended the executive order as a necessary protection from terrorists.

When he was confronted with bipartisan outrage and criticism from his own aides after condemning violence on “both sides” of a white nationalist rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, the president dug in his heels.

But on Wednesday, facing what has grown into the biggest moral and political crisis of his administration, the president whose default position is to double down, simply caved in.

Sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and embattled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump signed an executive order temporarily halting his policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

“The border’s just as tough,” Trump told reporters. “But we do want to keep families together.”

But it took only hours for them to figure out that the "cave" wasn't the reality of what happened Wednesday.  At all.

President Donald Trump’s new executive order to keep migrant families together leaves his administration plenty of wiggle room to keep them apart.

The most urgent question is what will happen to thousands of children already separated from their parents under the administration’s “zero tolerance” border enforcement strategy.

Under that policy — fully implemented in early May — all suspected border crossers are referred for federal prosecution, with no exceptions for parents and asylum seekers. During a nearly five-week period in May and June, federal authorities separated more than 2,300 children from their parents at the southwest border.

“They’ve got to go find the parents and reunite the kids with the parents,” said one former Obama and George W. Bush administration official. “No aspect of this is easy, but they created this mess and they have to go back and fix it.”

But the executive order contains no language addressing how these children will be reunited with their parents, and Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, said Wednesday no changes are in store to the agency’s normal procedures.

“For the minors currently in the unaccompanied alien children program," Wolfe told POLITICO, "the sponsorship process will proceed as usual

But Trump got the headlines he wanted: that he "ended" child separation and that America can go back to watching Netflix.  And now Trump has gotten what he wanted all along: an indefinite detention system for undocumented immigrants crossing the border.

For weeks, President Donald Trump and his administration claimed that they would prefer to keep families together in immigration detention — but had no choice but to separate them at the US-Mexico border so parents could be prosecuted for illegal entry.

Now, Trump’s executive order — which some in the press are reporting as a “reversal” or “relenting” on family separation — simply directs the administration to do the thing they said they couldn’t do: keep children along with their parents in immigration detention while the parents are prosecuted, and while the family’s immigration case is resolved. The Trump administration is hoping this will result in their speedy deportation, but if not, it’s now willing to detain the family indefinitely.

The executive order is titled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” and that’s not just wishful thinking. The Trump administration will need Congress to act quickly to validate the decision to keep families detained indefinitely. If Congress fails to act, it’s unlikely that the federal judiciary is going to allow this order to stand in its current form — because it appears to violate the 1997 Flores settlement that the administration cited as the reason it couldn’t detain families indefinitely to begin with.

The order doesn’t require Trump to stop separating families at the border — but it probably will end wide-scale family separation.

The Trump administration always said it wouldn’t waste the money and time to separate families if it could only detain them together. Now it’s going ahead and doing that, and waiting for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.

This is what Trump wanted all along: a bill he could sign that funded both his wall and these detention facilities, and he's presented the fact that he's willing to go back to the alternative of child separation.  He's going to soon start saying that if Congress doesn't give him the money to "keep these families together" then he'll have no choice but to separate them again.

Now the plan will be for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to put an immigration bill up that gives Trump the money to build these facilities, and then put the pressure on Democrats to go along, otherwise Dems will be "responsible" for child separation.

That's hogwash, of course.  Trump is 100% responsible for it.  But he's now taking families hostage as well as children in order to get what he wants on immigration.  And now he can say that the policy he wanted all along, indefinite detention of migrants, is more humane than child separation.  See, he's the "good guy" now!

No, the real issue here is Trump and Jeff Sessions and their zero-tolerance policy at the border, announced back in April.  This is the real outrage we should be fighting, it's immoral, inhumane, and illegal.  People are being detained at the border before they can even seek to apply for asylum.  Instead, Trump has shifted the argument and the outrage to child separation after families are detained, and yesterday shifted back to mass zero-tolerance detainment as seemingly more humane by comparison.

Trump lost this battle, but he lost it on purpose and in such a way that it gives him the opportunity to win the war.  It's a classic abuser tactic, and I'm afraid that the rest of us are the ones who will really end up caving as zero-tolerance at the border becomes zero-tolerance inside the United States for undocumented immigrants.

I've long said that only logistical reasons are keeping Trump from rounding up and detaining millions, and that infrastructure is now being built with Trump holding migrants hostage in order to get more resources from Congress.  This is proceeding as planned, and Trump's "cave" yesterday is an integral part of it.

This is still a humanitarian crisis of Trump's creation.

Immigrant children as young as 14 housed at a juvenile detention center in Virginia say they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells
The abuse claims against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center near Staunton, Virginia, are detailed in federal court filings that include a half-dozen sworn statements from Latino teens jailed there for months or years. Multiple detainees say the guards stripped them of their clothes and strapped them to chairs with bags placed over their heads. 
“Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me,” said a Honduran immigrant who was sent to the facility when he was 15 years old. “Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move. ... They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.” 
In addition to the children’s first-hand, translated accounts in court filings, a former child-development specialist who worked inside the facility independently told The Associated Press this week that she saw kids there with bruises and broken bones they blamed on guards. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to publicly discuss the children’s cases. 
In court filings, lawyers for the detention facility have denied all allegations of physical abuse. 
Many of the children were sent there after U.S. immigration authorities accused them of belonging to violent gangs, including MS-13. President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited gang activity as justification for his crackdown on illegal immigration.

We have got to take Congress back in November.


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