June 23, 2018

Saturday Learning Series addendum on Iraq (Kurdistan)

In today's Saturday Learning Series on Iraq, there's a few mentions of the Kurds.  The Geography Now channel on YouTube did a separate video on the Kurds, and it's worth a post.

Saturday Learning Series - Geography (Iraq)

The geography and flag of Iraq.


Charles Krauthammer: an icon passes

Charles Krauthammer passed away on Thursday. My prayers are with his family.  I didn't always agree with him but he was a great thinker and he will be missed.


June 21, 2018

Amazon dinged by SCOTUS

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has handed down a ruling that helps everyone but Amazon and their ilk, as well as their consumers. 

Via AP:
The Supreme Court says states can force online shoppers to pay sales tax.

The 5-4 ruling Thursday is a win for states, who said they were losing out on billions of dollars annually under two decades-old Supreme Court decisions that impacted online sales tax collection.

The high court ruled Thursday to overturn those decisions. They had resulted in some companies not collecting sales tax on every online purchase. The cases the court overturned said that if a business was shipping a product to a state where it didn’t have a physical presence such as a warehouse or office, the business didn’t have to collect the state’s sales tax. Customers were generally supposed to pay the tax to the state themselves if they don’t get charged it, but the vast majority didn’t.
This makes brick and mortar stores like Walmart more competitive with president-Trump-unfriendly Jeff Bezos' Amazon because the non-sale-tax-paying discount effectively disappears. That may help rejuvenate brick and mortar retailers in the marketplace, but don't count on it; the trend is going to continue to be towards online shopping.  But Amazon's unfair competitive advantage is effectively gone. Customers in states where sales taxes are high are hurt as well, if they were previously not self-paying the tax.

The most interesting fallout is actually the impact on state sales taxes. A state with a high sales tax, more often than not is going to be a liberal state.  This ruling might in the short term generate more sales tax revenue and/or lower online shopping relative to store visit shopping. But ultimately online sales should normalize; there is a large disincentive to shop online relative to before as a result of newly enforced sales taxes. In a no state sales tax scenario, the impact will be non-existent.  That just a superficial first look, but if states end up with more sales tax, then that could help the federal government potentially offload governmental services to the state level and thereby lower the annual deficit.  

Even at first glance this is not an inconsequential ruling.  More to come for sure.

June 20, 2018

Trump getting snookered on illegal immigrant children detention

Forget the fact that these detentions predate president Trump.  Forget the fact that Republican lawmakers didn't act on the president's wall when they had the opportunity.  Forget the fact that Democrats manufactured this sudden 'crisis'. The president is being played and he's getting snookered and by signing an executive order he's choosing a bad path.  He's snookered because by not signing an executive order on the issues was also a bad path.

The fact that the president is facing a real crisis in public relations on the issue means the president has to sign an executive order to mollify the critics.  Not signing it meant a lot of political fallout come the November midterm elections.  It means a potential re-emergence of a blue wave election.  It probably wouldn't have happened but it was a possible outcome.  The White House did not effectively communicate that the problem predates him, and that Congress needs to change the law.  Having been more effective the president would not be facing this crisis. But not doing something about children of illegal immigrants being separated from their parents is no longer feasible at this point.

On the other hand, signing it allows a rule deviation that the president's supporters would rather not have seen.  That's political fallout.  Furthermore, it creates a logistical problem for housing these families together - how are they going to shelter these people?  And if it is able to do so, it's taking away from Americans in need of shelters, which has its own bad optics.

But maybe the president still gets the Trump card on this.  If groups like the ACLU sue to block the president's executive order, then they look like they are the anti-humanitarian politically driven ones in this case.  And maybe this ramps up Republicans to do something about the law, and sooner rather than later.
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