Tag Archives: North Carolina

You might live in a swing state if…

…you’re more likely to run into a candidate for the White House than a Mormon missionary when you get a knock at the door.

I ran into an interesting set of data today: voter turnout nationally has never really been that high, and while it may be falling, it’s never really changed in Presidential years.

Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections from 1948-2008

Why is it that voter turnout seems stuck somewhere between 55 and 65%? What would it take to boost participation? Continue reading

Amazon wins one for the 1st Amendment

For those out there who trust government too much, I present to you a case of government bureaucracy gone too far, as well as the lawsuit that said “no.”

A few months back, I took note of a case wherein North Carolina was trying to force Amazon to give up records in order to collect sales tax:

North Carolina is demanding that the online retailer provide records on what was purchased by consumers in the state since 2003.  That amounts to over 50 million purchases, no small number. While North Carolina law requires consumers to pay taxes for online purchases  if buying the same item in a store would result in a sales tax, out-of-state retailers–like Amazon–can’t be forced to collect North Carolina’s tax if it has no physical presence in the state. Hence, the demand for all information on purchases since 2003.

The case was in federal court, and yesterday the United States District Court, Western District of Washington at Seattle ruled against North Carolina.

Amazon pursues summary judgment as to its First Amendment claim that the DOR’s request for all information related to Amazon’s sales to North Carolina residents violates the First Amendment. The Court agrees and GRANTS the motion.

The First Amendment protects a buyer from having the expressive content of her purchase of books, music, and audiovisual materials disclosed to the government. Citizens are entitled to receive information and ideas through books, films, and other expressive materials anonymously. In the context of distribution of handbills, the Supreme Court held that anonymity “exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995); Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960) (protecting anonymity in handing out campaign literature). The fear of government tracking and censoring one’s reading, listening, and viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights. In a concurring opinion, Justice Douglas highlighted the deleterious effect of governmental meddling in the reading habits of its citizens: “Some will fear to read what is unpopular what the powers-that-be dislike. When the light of publicity may reach any student, any teacher, inquiry will be discouraged.” United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41, 57–58 (1953) (Douglas, J., concurring).

In other words, the First Amendment protects a buyer’s right to express herself in what they purchase, and that right includes the right to anonymity. Later in the opinion, the justice notes that disclosure of purchasing habits could result in a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to make purchases online. Ironically, the North Carolina Department of Revenue, the actual party seeking the records, admitted that they “no legitimate need or use for having details as to North Carolina Amazon customers’ literary, music, and film purchases[,]” yet still would not give up the request for that information. Therefore,

With no compelling need for both sets of information, the DOR’s request runs afoul of the First Amendment. It bears noting, too, that the DOR’s requests for information were made solely in the context of calculating Amazon’s potential tax liability. Amazon has provided all of the data necessary to determine its tax liability, except any potential tax exemptions. The DOR has failed to articulate the compelling need to calculate these possible exemptions, particularly where it has admitted that it can and will assess Amazon at the highest rate and it would permit Amazon to “challenge the assessment and … establish that exemptions or lower tax rates applied to some products.” Even assuming there is a compelling need to calculate Amazon’s tax liability inclusive of exemptions, the DOR’s requests are not the least restrictive means to obtain the information. The request is overbroad. The Court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment.

With no real need for the information, why the broad request? Why require information that is clearly personal and expressive and has no bearing on the ability to collect taxes? If there were ever a case that demonstrates the insensitivity of government bureaucrats, this is it. Ironically, it took a large corporation–Amazon–to stand up to them and tell North Carolina “no, we won’t divulge that information.” What if it had been a smaller company, one that could not afford the costs of litigation? Would North Carolina have succeeded? Or have they already before in the past?

Amazon takes on Big Brother and wins one for the First Amendment.

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Getting educated on immigration

The United States

Image via Wikipedia

Immigration has become a hot topic.  A hot topic at dinner, a hot topic on the news and in the opinion pages, a hot topic at the water cooler, and a hot topic for the voting public.  Bloggers and talking heads are having a hay-day with it, and there’s no shortage of opinions out there, nor is there any shortage of the variety of opinions.

As this tumult of words grows, and I have no doubt that it will increase, at least up until the November elections if not beyond then, I have begun to wonder how much information is rooted in the opinions.  A good friend of mine is fond of pointing out that we live in a republic precisely because there just isn’t enough time for all of us to get all the information necessary for a functioning democracy.  Perhaps immigration has become an example of that shortage of information, or at least shortage of informed voters, a shortage that makes informed and effective decision-making difficult.  Elected officials, the policy makers, are caught between pandering to their electorates and creating good policy.  Electorates are manipulated by talk show demagogues or a complete gap in information altogether.  And in the middle are the immigrants and their employers–here because they want a better life.

This point was driven home to me last night when a speaker at an event I was attending–ostensibly, a lobbyist for a company that never ceases to raise the ire of the press in the town where I live–stated that the best way to win an argument, or a policy discussion, is with education. When people have accurate facts, they tend to make better choices.

With this in mind, I’ve started to gather some of the relevant facts about immigration so that I can make an informed decision, or at least so that I can inform policy makers with accurate information. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned in recent days:

  • although immigration will not substantially arrest the aging of the American population, openness to immigration means that the United States will face fewer of the economic and social pressures that will mount as a growing number of Americans retire and are supported by a smaller working-age population
  • over the years, immigration has brought the United States an inordinate level of the world’s talent and education as a higher standard of living and economic opportunity has brought skilled individuals here
  • targeted and focused border and immigration measures can make the US less vulnerable to another major terrorist attack; however, if these same measures disrupt the flow of talented immigrants to the US or significantly disrupt legitimate cross-border travel or commerce, America’s economic and military strength will be weakened.
  • immigrants provide a valuable language and cultural recruiting pool important to 21st century conflicts and in short supply among Americans.
  • one of the most successful forms of US public diplomacy to project a positive image abroad has been to allow non-Americans to travel to the United States
  • how we handle immigration policy speaks to America’s core values.  We have a right to determine who will live here and to enforce those rules, but those who violate them must be treated with respect and decency and fairness
  • Serious criminals, even if here legally but not a citizen, can and should be deported.  This should include for felony level crimes, and should discriminate from more minor offenses and allow for flexibility for extenuating circumstance
  • economic development in developing countries is the best way to discourage immigration, and one of the best ways to encourage development is through open immigration policies in the US
  • there is little evidence that immigrants come to America to go on welfare, rather than to work, flee persecution or join family members in the United States. [CATO]
  • With the exception of refugees, eligibility for programs usually requires immigrants to have been in the United States for 5 years or more in a lawful immigrant status. [CATO]
  • If immigrants have been seeking states with lenient benefit eligibility, then they’re not doing a good job. Author and Wall Street Journaleditorial writer Jason Riley notes many states with recent large increases in their immigrant populations, such as Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Georgia, are primarily states with low and below average social spending. [CATO]
  • Congress enacted a complete ban on supplemental security income for non-citizens who enter the United States after August 22, 1996.
  • Immigrant men, ages 18 to 64, are more likely to work than native-born Americans. According to 2004 Census data analyzed by the Pew Hispanic Center, the labor force participation rate for legal immigrant males in that age group is 86 percent, compared to 83 percent for native-born males. The rate is even higher-92 percent-for illegal immigrant males. Immigrant women are more likely to be married and have children, according to Census data, and this leads to a lower labor force participation rate-64 percent for legal immigrant women vs. 73 percent for native-born women.

And that’s just a few.  Are there any others you would like to add to it?  I’m sure I will add more in the coming weeks and months.