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Hmm - Tax

5/24/2007

The era of tax-free e-mail, Internet shopping and broadband connections could end this fall, if recent proposals in the U.S. Congress prove successful.

State and local governments this week resumed a push to lobby Congress for far-reaching changes on two different fronts: gaining the ability to impose sales taxes on Net shopping, and being able to levy new monthly taxes on DSL and other connections. One senator is even predicting taxes on e-mail.

At the moment, states and municipalities are frequently barred by federal law from collecting both access and sales taxes. But they're hoping that their new lobbying effort, coordinated by groups including the National Governors Association, will pay off by permitting them to collect billions of dollars in new revenue by next year.

If that doesn't happen, other taxes may zoom upward instead, warned Sen. Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. "Are we implicitly blessing a situation where states are forced to raise other taxes, such as income or property taxes, to offset the growing loss of sales tax revenue?" Enzi said. "I want to avoid that."

A flurry of proposals that pro-tax advocates advanced this week push in that direction. On Tuesday, Enzi introduced a bill that would usher in mandatory sales tax collection for Internet purchases. Second, during a House of Representatives hearing the same day, politicians weighed whether to let a temporary ban on Net access taxes lapse when it expires on November 1. A House backer of another pro-sales tax bill said this week to expect a final version by July.

"The independent and sovereign authority of states to develop their own revenue systems is a basic tenet of self government and our federal system," said David Quam, director of federal relations at the National Governors Association, during a Senate Commerce committee hearing on Wednesday.

Internet sales taxes
At the moment, for instance, Seattle-based Amazon.com is not required to collect sales taxes on shipments to millions of its customers in states like California, where Amazon has no offices. (Californians are supposed to voluntarily pay the tax owed when filing annual state tax returns, but few do.)

Ideas to alter this situation hardly represent a new debate: officials from the governors' association have been pressing Congress to enact such a law for at least six years. They invoke arguments--unsuccessful so far--like saying that reduced sales tax revenue threatens budgets for schools and police.

But with Democrats now in control of both chambers of Congress, the political dynamic appears to have shifted in favor of the pro-tax advocates and their allies on Capitol Hill. The NetChoice coalition, which counts as members eBay, Yahoo and the Electronic Retailing Association and opposes the sales tax plan, fears that the partisan shift will spell trouble.

One long-standing objection to mandatory sales tax collection, which the Supreme Court in a 1992 case left up to Congress to decide, is the complexity of more than 7,500 different tax agencies that each have their own (and frequently bizarre) rules. Some legal definitions (PDF) tax Milky Way Midnight candy bars as candy and treat the original Milky Way bar as food. Peanut butter Girl Scout cookies are candy, but Thin Mints or Caramel deLites are classified as food.

The pro-tax forces say that a concept called the Streamlined Sales Tax Agreement will straighten out some of the notorious convolutions of state tax laws. Enzi's bill, introduced this week, relies on the agreement when providing "federal authorization" to require out-of-state retailers "to collect and remit the sales and use taxes" due on the purchase. (Small businesses with less than $5 million in out-of-state sales are exempted.)

It's "important to level the playing field for all retailers," Enzi said during Wednesday's hearing.

While it's too early to know how much support Enzi's bill will receive, foes of higher taxation are marshaling their allies. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said Wednesday that he'd like "to see an impregnable ban on taxes on the Internet."

A taxing question

Pro-tax and antitax forces are jockeying for position before a Net access tax moratorium expires in November. Also on the table: a proposal to usher in mandatory online sales taxes.

Enzi bill: Ushers in mandatory sales taxes on Internet purchases.

S. 156: Renews expiring access tax moratorium permanently.

H.R. 1077: Renews expiring access tax moratorium permanently and eliminates grandfather provision permitting nine states to collect taxes.

H.R. 763: Renews expiring access tax moratorium permanently.

Jeff Dircksen, the director of congressional analysis at the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Va., said in written testimony prepared for the hearing: "If such a system of extraterritorial collection is allowed, Congress will have opened the door to any number of potential tax cartels that will eventually harm rather than help taxpayers."

Internet access taxes
A second category of higher Net taxes is technically unrelated, but is increasingly likely to be linked when legislation is debated in Congress later this year. That category involves access taxes, meaning taxes that local and state governments levy to single out broadband or dial-up connections. (See CNET News.com's Tech Politics podcast this week with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey on this point.)

If the temporary federal moratorium is allowed to expire in November, states and municipalities will be allowed to levy a dizzying array of Net access taxes--meaning a monthly Internet connection bill could begin to resemble a telephone bill or airline ticket with innumerable and confusing fees tacked on at the end. In some states, telephone fees, taxes and surcharges run as high as 20 percent of the bill.

These fees that states levy on mobile phones, cable TV and landlines run far higher than state sales taxes at an average of 13.3 percent, cost the average household $264 a year, and total $41 billion annually, according to a report published by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute this month. Landlines are taxed at the highest rate, 17.23 percent, with Internet access being virtually tax free, with the exception of a few states that were grandfathered in a decade ago.

Dircksen, from the National Taxpayers Union, urged the Senate on Wednesday to "encourage economic growth and innovation in the telecommunications sector--in contrast to higher taxes, fees and additional regulation" by at least renewing the expiring moratorium, and preferably making it permanent. Broadband providers like Verizon Communications also want to make the ban permanent.

But state tax collectors are steadfastly opposed to any effort to renew the ban, let alone impose a permanent extension. Harley Duncan, the executive director of the Federation of Tax Administrators, said Wednesday that higher taxes will not discourage broadband adoption and his group "urges Congress not to extend the Act because it is disruptive of and poses long-term dangers for state and local fiscal systems."

Sen. Daniel Inouye, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, said: "Listening to the testimony, I would opt for a temporary extension, if at all."

If the moratorium expires, one ardent tax foe is predicting taxes on e-mail. A United Nations agency proposed in 1999 the idea of a 1-cent-per-100-message tax, but retreated after criticism. (A similar proposal, called bill "602P," is, however, actually an urban legend.)

"They might say, 'We have no interest in having taxes on e-mail,' but if we allow the prohibition on Internet taxes to expire, then you open the door on cities and towns and states to tax e-mail or other aspects of Internet access," said Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican. "We need to be honest about what we're endorsing and what we're opposing."


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tnn


What we should think about...

5/17/2007

This perhaps?
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tnn


Repeat...

I will not be motivated by greed, envy or material wealth.

I will instead focus on living a healthier, happier life where I positively contribute to those around me.

Dosage: Repeat ten times each day
Result: You tell me!

(apart from feeling a bit sheepish, cultish, and a bit, well, tree huggery. am sure you'll be better off. positive)
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gnn


Separation?

5/13/2007

Should you separate Church/Temple/Mosque/Synagogue from the State in a modern Cosmopolitan Civilisation?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2vf_nijscc


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tnn


Yoda Blair

5/12/2007

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.



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tnn


How we are dictating the future, today...

5/07/2007

Have you ever stopped to think about how decisions today determine tomorrow?

We are so conditioned to enjoy today to its fullest (how many books have you seen or read that emphasise that?) that we make decisions that provide immediate or short term results at the cost of long term benefit. Some might say this is a result of a shareholder-type mentality where everything is an investment.

Lets look at something that I find dumb. House building in the UK. I should correct this and say 'property development', as the things being built fall far short of being Houses, let alone Homes!

So, how is the current property development boom detrimental to future of society? Well, what exactly is being built right now? A quick survey of new developments illustrates: Luxury 1 and 2 bedroom appartments - Luxury flats - Stylish 1 and 2 bedroom appartments. Great 2 bedroom houses. Luxury 3 bedroom homes.

Whats wrong with such luxurious, stylish and great developments? Well, lets remember these things: ASBO, teenage delinquents, lack of father figures, Impoliteness, Gun crime. Have you noticed how politicians are blaming these things on the family unit? Its somewhat a kop-out, but think about it. How on earth can a family unit survive in this era in a Luxury 1 or 2 bedroom appartment?

What I see happening is that the future is going to be populated with single serving units, where a family is basically a small thing. Now is this due to property development? Probably not, but tell me, when young families want to evolve, what can they do concerning their homes? I know, buy TWO luxury 1 and 2 bedroom appartments side by side and pretend its a home. Ah, THATS what they had in mind...

Q: Is the current property development strategy flawed in this aspect?
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tnn


Your Plate is Bigger Than Your Stomach

5/02/2007

Late last year, a little book called “Mindless Eating” started appearing in bookstores. It was written by Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor who has spent his career doing brilliantly mischievous experiments about the psychology of eating.
In one of my favorites, Mr. Wansink gave away five-day-old popcorn — “stale enough to squeak when it was eaten,” he wrote — to moviegoers one day at a theater in the Chicago suburbs. The crux of the experiment lay in the size of the buckets that held the popcorn. Some people got merely big buckets, while others received truly enormous ones. Both sizes held more popcorn than a typical person could finish.
Yet when the Wansink research team weighed the buckets after the movie, there was a huge difference in the amounts the two groups ate. Those with the bigger buckets inhaled 53 percent more on average, suggesting that a lot of stale popcorn is somehow more appealing than a little stale popcorn.
Over the years, Mr. Wansink has done similar experiments with everything from different-size dinner plates to bottomless bowls of tomato soup that are secretly connected to a tube underneath a restaurant table. His overarching conclusion is that our decisions about eating often have little to do with how hungry we are. Instead, we rely on cues like the size of a popcorn bucket — or the way we organize our refrigerator — to tell us how much to eat. These cues can add 200 calories a day to our diet, but the only way we’ll notice we are overeating is that our pants will eventually get too tight.
The scariest part is that most of us think we are immune to these hidden persuaders. When the moviegoers were told about the popcorn experiment afterward, most of them scoffed at the idea that their bucket size had any effect on them. “Things like that don’t trick me,” one of the gorgers said.
After reading the first few chapters of “Mindless Eating,” I called Mr. Wansink, an energetic 46-year-old Iowan, to talk about his research. As luck would have it, he said that he was coming to New York a few days later to give a speech. In a flash of masochism, I then asked if he would be willing to stop by my apartment and tell me everything that was wrong with my kitchen.
“That’d be so cool!” he replied.
Toward the end of “Mindless Eating,” there is a short passage making it clear that
Mr. Wansink’s work is about far more than just food. “The 19th century has been called the Century of Hygiene,” he writes. “The 20th century was the Century of Medicine.”
This century, he continues, will be the Century of Behavior Change. “Medicine is still making fundamental discoveries that can fight disease, but changing everyday, long-term behavior is the key to adding years and quality to our lives. This will involve reducing risky behavior and making changes in exercise and nutrition. There isn’t a simple prescription that can be written for such behavior change.”
Over the last couple of decades, a new field of economics, behavioral economics, has emerged to explain why people so often act in ways that are contrary to their own interests. They overeat, smoke, forget to take their medicine and don’t save enough for retirement, saying all the while that they wish they could change. Figuring out how to turn these wishes into action could put a dent in some big social problems.
Last year, President Bush signed a new pension law that was based in part on this idea. It gave companies an incentive to sign up workers automatically for 401(k) plans. The workers can still opt out; in fact, they have the same range of choices they have always had. But if they do nothing, a small part of their salary is set aside for retirement.
The pension bill sprang directly from academic research showing that automatic plans vastly increased the amount of money that people saved. “It’s the success of behavioral economics, by far,” Daniel Kahneman, the
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist who helped found the field, recently told me.
Whether it’s 401(k)’s or food, the way choices are presented to people — what the economist Richard Thaler calls “choice architecture” — has a huge effect on the decisions they make. As Mr. Wansink and I stood in front of my pantry, he was making the exact same point.
He started off with some praise, which I was perfectly willing to accept. “What all this cues up is food preparation,” he said, pointing to bottles of olive oil and vinegar, sacks of rice and various baking ingredients. “The default when you open a pantry like this isn’t convenience — it’s ‘what are we going to make tonight?’ ”
The worst thing for a pantry, he said, are a lot of snack packages in plain sight that require almost no work to open. Every time you glance at one, it essentially asks you a question: “In the mood for a Dorito right now?” The more often you’re asked the question, the more Doritos you will eat.
Mr. Wansink knows that he runs the risk of sounding like a scold, and he goes out of his way to avoid it. (The book jacket for “Mindless Eating” notes that he “enjoys both French food and French fries each week.”) That’s probably why he began by saying some nice things about my pantry. It went downhill from there.
For one thing, the food in the pantry sits behind glass doors. So every time someone in my family walks into the kitchen, we hear a version of that Doritos question in our minds: “Hungry?” Our inedible plates, on the other hand, are hidden behind wooden cabinet doors.
But those plates have their own problems. Like most American dinner plates, ours are big — almost 12 inches in diameter. “Pretty ample,” as Mr. Wansink said. Fifty years ago, when Americans were a lot skinnier, plates were a lot smaller. Large plates and bowls lead to more eating for the same reason giant popcorn buckets do: they make portions look smaller. Short, wide drinking glasses have a similar effect.
Mr. Wansink and his team were so taken aback by the results of their experiments on the shape of glasses that some of them went home and replaced the squat glasses they owned with tall, skinny ones. Mr. Wansink also uses dinner plates from the 1940s, which have the double advantage of being smaller and being more interesting than your typical Crate and Barrel fare.
Not every one of his ideas, of course, is worth the trade-off. My wife and I are not going to hide all our food. We like looking at our olive oil. But we get no particular joy out of eating off 12-inch plates. So we have started looking at inexpensive antiques as replacements.
The broader point, I think, is that there is no way to avoid the sort of cues that Mr. Wansink describes. We just have to decide which cues we are going to choose — the ones that lead to us eat more or the ones that lead us to eat less. The same goes for retirement savings, among many other things. Once we understand that, we can start using our mindlessness to our advantage.


http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/02/business/02leonhardt.html?ei=5088&en=92ebde74ad5066a0&ex=1335758400&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=all


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tnn


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Weekly musings from a confused mind. This blog, and all posts within it, are just ramblings. They are in no way affiliated with any past, current or future employers. Neither do they represent my deep felt views, or those of my friends or family. Really, its just a blog, which is a new thing, and has new dimensions. So please, dont take anything seriously. If you do, contact me via a comment, and I will get back to you to resolve the situation. Seriously, enjoy life, ignore this blog, and views within it.

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