- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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June 25

The Gadsden Times on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says states can collect sales taxes from online retailers:

Let’s juxtapose some Eugene O’Neill and George Harrison - “The Taxman Cometh,” and we’re not talking about April 15.



A decision last week by the U.S. Supreme Court has a lot of online shoppers grumbling unprintable things under their collective breaths; online retailers clutching their worry beads; and conventional brick-and-mortar stores and state governments waving pom-poms and cheering.

The court in a 5-4 ruling said states can collect sales taxes from online retailers - and many have been revving their engines waiting for this decision, with laws in place just waiting for the go-ahead.

South Dakota, the plaintiff in the case, wanted to collect taxes from online retailers who had posted more than $100,000 in annual sales or recorded at least 200 transactions in the state.

The problem was a Supreme Court decision in 1992 that barred states from requiring online sellers to collect sales taxes unless they had a physical presence there.

Last week’s ruling overturned that precedent, calling it “unsound and incorrect” given how ubiquitous online shopping is today compared to a generation ago.

So what’s going to happen moving forward?

. As noted, cash-strapped states whose residents view new taxes in about the same light as a raging case of bubonic plague have long been eyeing this existing revenue source that could total billions of dollars. (Alabamians have long been required to pay sales taxes when shopping online; 99 percent of them just take the Bart Simpson approach - “I didn’t do it, no one saw me do it, you can’t prove anything” - and lie on their tax returns.)

. Other than confirming South Dakota’s law, the court left it up to states to set their individual tax policies on online sales. That’s fully in line with federalism, but could be a recipe for chaos in the real world. (The decision noted that Congress and lower courts might have to intervene if discrepancies got out of hand.)

. Specifically, it could burden online retailers who potentially could have to set up a system, without much notice, to distribute the tax money it collects to 45 different states (five states don’t have sales taxes) in 45 different ways. It won’t impact the monoliths like Amazon and Wal-Mart an iota; it could be a massive change and disruption for folks on eBay or Etsy. States should show some consideration and offer some help as those sellers try to make this work, instead of sticking their hands out and screeching “gimme.”

. Brick-and-mortar stores who have been pleading for an even playing field could benefit somewhat, but this won’t be a complete cure for their issues. For every cheapskate focused completely on the bottom line, there’s another shopper who likes going online because of the product selection most local places can’t match, paired with cheap (if not free) and quick shipping.

. We also question just how massive an impact this will have on consumers. According to USA Today, most of the top 20 online vendors already collect sales taxes on purchases, and the top 100 sellers have been submitting close to 90 percent of the taxes owed. If you’ve been shopping online, most likely you’ve already been paying up. The Supreme Court’s decision just means everyone else will, too.

About 10 percent of shopping in the U.S. is done online, according to USA Today, to the tune of $500 billion annually. Closing this loophole won’t dent that.

People may grumble, may falsely call this a new tax - but the lure of the shopping app is just too strong.

Online: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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June 24

The Decatur Daily says rights groups should stay on message:

In a time when people on both left and right are eager to shout “fake news” at any story or report they don’t like, credibility is more important than ever. It is frustrating then to see an organization that has done much good work and has long been a go-to source for the news media damage its credibility for no good reason.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, agreed Monday to a $3.375 million settlement with Maajid Nawaz’s Quilliam Foundation after admitting to falsely labeling his group “extremist.” Nawaz, a former British politician, and his group work to battle militant extremism in the Muslim community, and while it is certainly possible to disagree with them on particular matters, they are not extremists.

“After getting a deeper understanding of their views and after hearing from others for whom we have great respect, we realize that we were simply wrong to have included Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam in the Field Guide in the first place,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said in announcing the settlement.

The “Field Guide” is a SPLC report titled “Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” part of the SPLC’s long history of identifying and tracking what it deems extremists or hate groups. There is no arguing the fact most of the extremists and hate groups that end up on the SPLC’s lists are guilty as charged, but ever since the SPLC sued the Klu Klux Klan into bankruptcy and irrelevancy, it has expanded its definitions of “extremists” and “hate groups” to take in organizations that don’t really fit the bill.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalia-born author who fled her native country to escape a forced marriage, was also listed in the SPLC’s Field Guide. While Ali, who rose to promise with her 2006 autobiography “Infidel,” has some controversial opinions - who doesn’t? - the idea she is an extremist strains credulity.

Another case is the Family Research Council, which may be conservative, even “far right” as far as the mainstream American political spectrum is concerned, but isn’t a hate group in the sense most people think when they hear the term “hate group.”

Such labels shouldn’t be tossed around lightly, especially by groups like the SPLC. In 2012, a shooter opened fire at the Family Research Council’s national office after seeing the FRC listed as a “hate group” on the SPLC’s website.

The SPLC still does valuable and important work, including in the areas of bail reform and civil asset forfeiture, where strong, credible voices are desperately needed. But it does these causes no favors when it inflates the threat of extremism to include people like Nawaz and Ali, who are themselves fighting extremism, or going after groups like the Family Research Council, which seems more like partisan posturing than useful activism.

Unfortunately, the SPLC isn’t the only group recently that seems to have lost the plot.

Love them or hate them, the American Civil Liberties Union used to have one thing going for it: consistency. It defended the civil liberties of everyone, no matter how controversial, unpopular or offensive.

In a now landmark 1977 case, the ACLU defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois. After last year’s white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, however, the ACLU is rethinking its traditional position.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal and citing a leaked internal ACLU memo, former ACLU board member Wendy Kaminer says, “traditional free-speech values do not appeal to the ACLU’s increasingly partisan progressive constituency,” and as a result, “faced with perceived conflicts between freedom of speech and ‘progress toward equality,’ the ACLU is likely to choose equality. If the Supreme Court adopted the ACLU’s balancing test, it would greatly expand government power to restrict speech.”

The correct response to bad speech is good speech. The correct response to “fake news” is news. With free speech rights and the credibility of American institutions under constant attack and all levels, groups such as the SPLC and ACLU should do everything possible to safeguard their legacies, not sacrifice them for perceived political expediency.

Online: http://www.decaturdaily.com/

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June 27

The TimesDaily says poverty is everyone’s problem:

The 2018 Alabama Poverty Data Sheet offers a stark reminder that not a day goes by that you don’t encounter the impoverished in our communities, and throughout the state.

Alabama ranks as the sixth poorest state in the U.S. with 17 percent of its residents living below the federal poverty line, which is $24,257 for a family of four. That’s 800,000 Alabamians struggling daily to make ends meet.

It’s easy for those falling outside the circle of poverty to think that those who are impoverished are there because of poor life choices. Doing so lays all the blame of poverty at the feet of the victims without factoring in societal forces that also can play a part.

Poverty is an economic disease that slowly wears people down. It hinders physical, mental and social growth. People living in poverty are more likely to commit crimes, suffer more health problems, drop out of school early, and miss out on advancement opportunities in careers and employment.

Simply put: Poverty is a vicious cycle that affects every aspect of a person’s life. Yes, the impoverished may have made some poor choices in life, but the cycle of poverty keeps entire families trapped in its grip.

Here’s a reality we often overlook: poverty is a burden for all of us.

It touches our hearts when we read stories or see signs of those in need, but it also impacts our pocketbooks. We all pay the costs of the negative consequences of poverty - poor people tend to be users of public resources and programs, rather than contributors.

The solutions to poverty are not simple, and the battle has many fronts - employment, child and youth care, health care, housing, transportation and education. It’s a costly fight we must continue to wage on both the local and state level, because these are the tools that people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Online: http://www.timesdaily.com/

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