Online Commerce and Sales Taxes

Recently I needed a new pair of running shoes. I talked to someone who knows way more about the topic than I do and scribbled down her instructions of what to buy.

I have a few choices. There is a big sports supply store down the street, and there are various running stores within a couple of miles of my house.

Since it was crappy outside (it still is, but we have high hopes for this weekend here in Chicago) I did something else – went online to Zappos. Zappos is the famous online shoe store that is supposed to have great prices, service, etc…

I was able to pick out pretty much any type of shoe – they had the specific model I was looking for, along with online reviews of the shoe comparing it to its predecessors (and successors). I have wide feet and wanted a certain size, width and color, and no problem finding it.

The price was good and there was free shipping and no sales taxes. In Chicago, the retail sales tax rate is 10.25%, so that is a relatively big deal, it was about $12 savings relative to purchasing it in a store.

What stunned me, however, was the fact that the shoes arrived THE NEXT DAY. I don’t know if they have some sort of warehouse here in Chicago or how it happened, but I was totally amazed to find the box at the front desk of my condominium the very next morning. FOR FREE.

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Obama’s War Crimes Hypocrisy

So, Obama is thinking about prosecuting lawyers for war crimes. [h/t Instapundit]

Frankly, I doubt that Obama will actually go through with it. Leftists like to talk big about how horrible and murderous America’s military and intelligence services are, but history has shown that they are just hypocritical cowards when it comes to acting on their hysterical rhetoric. John Kerry started his political career with this statement made under oath before congress in 1971:

I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command….
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

A shocking allegation but absolutely standard for the pro-communist-victory leftist of the day. It’s important to remember that for Kerry and the rest of the 25% most leftward part of the American political spectrum, America’s fight against communism in Indochina wasn’t just foolhardy or doomed but actively evil. America was engaged in an evil imperialistic war to prevent the people of Indochina from embracing the enlightened communist future they desired. Since America was a Nazi-like country that would attack and oppress innocent people, it followed that American soldiers would use Nazi-like tactics. 

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Obama’s New Nuremberg Defense

The Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg trials must be down in Hell kicking themselves for not thinking of this [h/t Instapundit]:

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said over the weekend the administration did not support prosecutions for “those who devised policy.” Aides later said he was referring to CIA superiors who ordered the interrogations, not the Justice Department officials who wrote the legal memos allowing them.Then came Obama’s comments Tuesday when a reporter asked him if he backed prosecution for those who devised the interrogation policy. He had already shot down the idea of prosecuting any of the CIA agents who carried out the interrogations on grounds they were following the law at the time.

Wow, so the standard now is that you’re off the hook for crimes against humanity if the lawyers told you it was okay? Sweet! Does that work for other crimes as well?

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Correction and Clarification

I edited someone’s comment to note that it originated from the same IP address as did other comments that had been posted under a different name. The commenter, SeanF, emailed to tell me that his girlfriend posted the comment in question.

Texas Just Builds

From a Max Schulz article on California’s failing environmental and energy polices:

And Texas, of all places, has outpaced California as America’s leader in wind-power generation. High costs, excessive regulation, and litigation from environmental groups on how to limit bird deaths have all hampered California’s effort; Texas has just built lots of wind turbines.

We just build things in Texas. Wind turbines, solar power plants, off-shore turbines, coal-powered plants, transmission lines, pipelines of all sorts, you name it and we just build it with apparently only a tenth as much gnashing of teeth as places like California. 

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The Last of the Chippewa Mail Runners

Some time ago I stumbled upon this fascinating story about one Antoine Dennis. The article is from the Wisconsin Magazine of History, and is from the issue years of 1938-1939.

The correspondent, Arthur Tenney Holbrook, recounts a tale of a tale.

Mr. Holbrook laments the fact that his son had to trek nine miles on foot to get back to his residence one night. Mr. Dennis, now 84, says – is that it?

Next time you drive to work, take a look at your odometer and measure out 9 miles. No short distance, that.

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Recently I was flying back from Europe and we passed over the southern tip of Greenland. This is the area with some amount of rock as well as the deep glaciated fields of ice. This photo I took in black and white.

The sky was amazingly blue and the colors were vivid. It looked very good out the airplane window and I managed to get none of the window frame in the shot and the glass didn’t seem to interfere with it too much.

Since I figured that it is unlikely that I’ll ever physically touch down in Greenland this would likely be as close as I’d get.

Quote of the Day

Cut to the chase. We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can’t even make any durable dent in global emissions—because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we’re foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.
We don’t control the global supply of carbon.
Ten countries ruled by nasty people control 80 percent of the planet’s oil reserves—about 1 trillion barrels, currently worth about $40 trillion. If $40 trillion worth of gold were located where most of the oil is, one could only scoff at any suggestion that we might somehow persuade the nasty people to leave the wealth buried. They can lift most of their oil at a cost well under $10 a barrel. They will drill. They will pump. And they will find buyers. Oil is all they’ve got.
Poor countries all around the planet are sitting on a second, even bigger source of carbon—almost a trillion tons of cheap, easily accessible coal. They also control most of the planet’s third great carbon reservoir—the rain forests and soil. They will keep squeezing the carbon out of cheap coal, and cheap forest, and cheap soil, because that’s all they’ve got. Unless they can find something even cheaper. But they won’t—not any time in the foreseeable future.

-Peter Huber, “Bound to Burn

Helpless Felon

Federal law expressly bans people convicted of felonies, or who have been the subject of a Dishonorable Discharge from the military, from owning, possessing, or seeking to gain possession of firearms. If they are found guilty of any of the listed offenses, then it is another felony.

It can get even worse, though. I have heard of cases where a convicted felon has been charged with possession even though they are simply living with someone who legally owns a firearm. I’ve never bothered to look up any specific cases, so take this assertion with a grain of salt, but it does point up the very real concern that exists when felons have access to guns.

This desire to keep weapons out of the hands of felons in many states extends to less lethal defense tools as well. Felons are often banned from possessing stun guns and defensive sprays. Eugene Volokh thinks this is something that needs to be changed.

“Yet felons need self-defense tools, too. They may need self-defense tools more than the average nonfelon does: Being a felon dramatically hurts your career prospects, which means you’ll likely have to live in a poorer and therefore on average more crime-ridden part of town. And the legal bar on felons’ possessing firearms makes stun guns even more valuable to them.”

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A Retirement Home for Old Businesses

I started this post as a response to a comment on Mitch Townsend’s post on the abandoned textile mills of Massachusetts, but I thought the idea warranted its own space. Arthur Kelley said:

Textiles left Mass and went to the third world. Which, at the time, was the south. The south is no longer third world. Now, and for the same reasons, textiles are leaving the south and going to yet another third world. Textiles will always be a third world industry.

That seems true at first, but looking back to founding of the mills, it obvious that textiles were not a 3rd-world industry in the early 1800s. Back in the early 1800s, textile mills were the high-tech, cutting edge business of their day. Massachusetts was not the 3rd world in the 1800s but instead had one of the highest standards of living in the world. People built textile mills in Massachusetts for the same reason they built computers in California in the 1980s: It was the place to put a high-tech, cutting edge, highly profitable business. 

Industries don’t stay cutting edge and high profit forever. They have a life cycle in which they have high margins and big profits in the industry’s infancy but then decreasing margins and profits as the industry ages. Regions that have have infant industries can support a high tax rate, high wages and a high standard of living. Regions that have mature industries have to make do with low taxes, low wages and a lower standard of living. 

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When Any Excuse Will Do

There are a few innocent reasons why someone would think that banks should not repay TARP loans. [h/t Instapundit] Unfortunately, there is one big, sinister reason for opposing repayment: Banks that repay TARP money can refuse government controls such as forced investment and compensation caps. 

One doesn’t like to infer malice where mere incompetence will suffice, but the federal government is now completely controlled by people who hold an ideology that says that more political control of private enterprise is a good thing. Why shouldn’t we work from the assumption that they will use any excuse to maintain such political control?  

Suppressing Solar Power, on Environmental Grounds

We’ve frequently discussed energy issues at this blog, so I thought people might be interested in this item.

Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has demanded that the Department of the Interior suppress plans to lease government land for solar plants in the Mohave Desert.

Also, a regional director of the Bureau of Land Management has objected to any plans for “water-cooled” solar energy projects in “the arid basins of Southern Nevada.” (He is clearly referring to solar-thermal plants: these use water to cool and condense the steam and also for cleaning the mirrors.)

There are also environmental objections to the transmission lines that need to be built in order to connect solar plants to population centers.

I expect to see a lot more of this kind of thing. As I’ve remarked before, “progressives” love alternative energy technologies as long as they remain purely theoretical. Once they become practical and ready for deployment, it becomes obvious that these technologies–like all human activities–have certain downsides. And the love is gone.

So the search for a perfect and non-existent form of energy production will continue, while our economy is seriously crippled due to electricity shortages and skyrocketing costs.

(link via Glenn)

New! – Your Chicagoboyz Monday Morning Haiku Slam

Urgent! Must search Web
But IE has other plans:
Windows Update, stat!


Stockpiling ammo
Thousands of rounds in basement
Dems in power now


Eating vegan food
With your new lefty girlfriend
Is she worth the gas?


Wow, great idea
But with no bank financing
You’re driving a cab


Britney concert’s out!
Now, in the crowded subway
I feel twice my age

UPDATE: Edited because I just realized that ‘idea’ has three syllables. How embarrassing.

Failure, Part 2

It was a vital national industry, employing many thousands. The plants, although state of the art when built, were outdated. Years of poor management and outright hostile labor relations had not helped. Foreign competitors were taking market share, and US companies were belatedly moving production facilities south or offshore. Would you like to contribute your tax dollars reviving this industry?

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On the Persistence of Witches

In the pre-scientific western world, sudden outbreaks of disease were often attributed to witches or other human agents of the supernatural. In many parts of the non-western world today, witchcraft is still feared and blamed. The need to seek human scapegoats for disease and general ill fortune seems part of our psychological makeup. Even in the contemporary West, we still seem to have the same psychology although in a different costume. 

The twin cases of the world-wide collapse of amphibian populations and the colony-collapse disorder which affected the world’s bees, show the modern world’s need to find human scapegoats for natural disasters. In both cases human actors were initially blamed for the dire effects of diseases caused by microorganisms.

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Why Snake-Oil Ideas Spread

Via Ars Technica comes a link to a paper which seeks to explain with game theory why people continue to use unscientifically proven and usually useless medical treatments such as folk remedies or “alternative” medicine. 

The researchers created a model to explain this behavior based on humans’ genetically programmed behavior to imitate. This surprisingly simple model shows that quack cures spread simply because their ineffectiveness means that people must use them more often and for longer times. This in turn means that more people see the use of quack cures than they see the use of effective cures, which creates more opportunities for imitation. In short, every person who uses a particular cure becomes an advertiser for that cure. The longer the cure takes and the more elaborate the cure, the more people accidentally advertise it. 

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An Intersection of Technologies and Infrastructures

Obama has released his plan for the expanded development of passenger rail in America.

Best practice in high-speed passenger rail is, of course, to power it electrically, from overhead wires. And these things use significant amounts of electricity. A quick search reveals that a French TGV train draws somewhere in the range of 6-12 megawatts. (For comparison, 6 MW is the amount of power consumed by 60,000 regular incandescent 100-watt bulbs.)

Most of the electricity that runs the TGV, of course, comes from France’s extensive nuclear power system. It’s unfortunate that Obama, with his admiration for things European, is not paying more attention to France’s very successful experience with nuclear power.

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Quote of the Day

Meryl Yourish:

“Never again” has a very different meaning to Jews than it does to the rest of the world. Many of you think it means that never again will we stand still for genocide. You’re partly right. It means never again will we trust our defense to anyone else, thus preventing our genocide. I don’t think that Gates, or the Obama Administration, get that. The Bush Administration used to early on.

Jonathan’s comment: I hope the Israeli govt gets it. I’m not sure they still do.

“The State of Africa” by Martin Meredith

I was recently in London walking through the exclusive Marylebone neighborhood when I came upon this building with a vaguely socialistic (hammer & sickle) flag. I walked up to the front door and noted that in fact this was the Embassy of Angola. I am not a real estate expert but my guess based on a cursory knowledge of rents in the area (the land underneath is usually owned by the Portman Estate) but I would guess that the rent for this location is probably somewhere around $75,000 USD / month. To put it in perspective it is very near to the Swiss embassy, but that is a country that can afford the rent.

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The meldown of old-media credibility continues. Here we have a CNN reporter, covering a “tea party” event, who instead of conducting a normal interview with a participant, debates him, quite rudely (IMNSHO) and in a manner that makes it very clear where her own preferences lie. Be sure to read this unbelievable interchange and, if you have time, also watch the video.

In addition to the obvious lack of objectivity, note also the primitive quality of her arguments…”you’re eligible for a $400…” [stimulus payment, I presume she means], and “did you know that the state of Lincoln gets fifty billion dollars out of these stimulus — that’s fifty billion dollars for this state, sir!” Heck, why not make it five hundred billion and then you’ll really have an unbeatable proposition!

Note also the remarks of Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who blasted the “tea party” protests as “despicable” and shameful.”

“It’s despicable that right-wing Republicans would attempt to cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt,” she added. “Not a single American household or business will be taxed at a higher rate this year. Made to look like a grassroots uprising, this is an Obama bashing party promoted by corporate interests, as well as Republican lobbyists and politicians.”

I’ve written about Rep Schakowsky before, in conjunction with the CPSIA issue and her unbelievably obnoxious letter to an individual who has been trying to point out the problems with this badly-drafted legislation and the damage that it is doing to small businesses and to consumers. Apparently, Schakowsky is as irritated by Americans expressing their opinions on economic policy and taxation as she was by a businessperson expressing a knowledgeable opinion about regulatory policy.

I note that Schakowsky’s degree is in elementary education. Nothing wrong with that, but what in her education and/or experience gives her the confidence to believe so absolutely that her ideas about economics are so entirely correct that disagreement with them is “despicable” and “shameful”?

When talking about terrorists and other national security threats, Democrats are all about “nuance” and “shades of gray.” When talking about American citizens who disagree with them on economic matters, the shades of gray go away, and everything must be portrayed in pure primary colors.

(Schakowsky link via Neptunus Lex.)