06 May

Senate passes Internet sales tax in final vote, 69-27

The US Senate passed an online sales tax in a vote this afternoon after a heated final round of debate. A small group of anti-tax Republicans, as well as Democratic Senators from states without sales tax like Montana and Oregon, argued vociferously against the bill—but to no avail.

The final vote was 69-27, not much different than the 74-20 procedural vote that took place two weeks ago. The proposal has hardly changed at all in two weeks. The Marketplace Fairness Act, S.743, would allow states and localities to make Internet retailers collect sales tax from their customers if they do more than $1 million per year in out-of-state online sales.

The bill would allow states to write laws that would force e-commerce businesses to collect sales taxes. Right now consumers are supposed to keep track of any online sales and then report them to their state government and pay sales tax on the purchase. It still has to go through the House where passage is a little more rough but don’t be too shocked if in a few months you have to start investigating adding sales tax to any e-commerce software.

10 Nov

American Civil Liberties Union – It Was Close, But We Won: Viva Net Neutrality!

Today in the Senate there was a major win for freedom of speech and the Internet. In a largely partisan vote Senate Democrats defeated a resolution introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) which would have overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) open Internet rules that are set to go into effect this month.

Though the FCC’s rules are not great, they do offer some protections for net neutrality on the wired Internet and overturning them would have been a huge setback for free speech on the web. During debate on the Senate floor yesterday supporters of the resolution railed against government regulation while opponents defended the rules saying they were necessary to maintain the openness and innovation that has allowed the Internet to thrive.

via American Civil Liberties Union – It Was Close, But We Won: Viva Net Neutrality!. Yeah for Net Neutrality, boo for my State Senator being the one who introduced this resolution.

27 Sep

Ars Technica – Three Senators condemn OnStar for tracking former customers

Three Senators have raised concerns about an announcement by GM’s OnStar’s subsidiary that it would continue collecting data from customers’ cars even after they cancelled their OnStar service. In a Wednesday letter to the company, Al Franken (D-MN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) warned that "OnStar’s actions appear to violate basic principles of privacy and fairness."

On Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) raised objections of his own. He released a letter he has written to the Federal Trade Commission seeking an investigation of OnStar’s privacy practices. Schumer described OnStar’s new policy as "one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory."

via Ars Technica – Three Senators condemn OnStar for tracking former customers. Glad I don’t own a vehicle with OnStar installed. It’s more than a little sleazy to collect and sell information from former customers.

02 Apr

Sunlight Foundation – House Violates 72 Hour Pledge Again

Two weeks ago the House of Representatives violated a pledge made by Speaker John Boehner to provide a 72 hour window for all legislation to be viewed by the public before it is brought to the floor for debate by voting on a bill to defund National Public Radio. Today, the House majority is again violating that pledge by voting on the Government Shutdown Prevention Act.

The Government Shutdown Prevention Act, a bill that deems the budget cutting bill passed by the House earlier this year to have passed Congress without the Senate’s assent, was introduced on March 30 at 1:13 pm. At the present moment, this bill has not been available for even 48 hours.

The House majority sent the bill to be approved for floor debate by the House Rules Committee under emergency rules. The NPR defunding bill was also considered by the House Rules Committee in an emergency session.

It’s worrying that the majority would repeatedly evade a pledge that they made to the American people to make the House a more transparent body. It is especially worrying that the majority would do this on two votes that are clearly not emergencies.

How was the defunding of National Public Radio an emergency requiring the circumvention of normal Rules Committee procedures and the 72 hour pledge? The current Continuing Resolution to fund the government expires on April 8. Why can’t the majority wait until Monday to vote on this bill?

The 72 hour rule is needed to give the public not only a chance to read the bills, but a chance to voice their opinion. This is especially important when bills are crafted and pushed forwards for political purposes. The public needs to be involved, but the majority is blocking that involvement for nothing other than the pursuit of quick political wins and message control. This is very disturbing.

via Sunlight Foundation – House Violates 72 Hour Pledge Again. De-funding a valuable public resource and usurping democracy, all emergencies and all in a days work for Republicans. Side note: totally in favor of the 72 hour pledge, it’s a great rule for transparency within the government.

03 Mar

Ars Technica – “No lobbying,” says senator before taking movie biz lobby job

Former Senator Chris Dodd has a new gig—head of the motion picture industry’s main lobbying group, the MPAA.

The group has been looking for a new leader for quite a while, and in Dodd they found another long-term, high-level government official (former head Dan Glickman had served in Congress and as Secretary of Agriculture). But hadn’t Dodd said something about not going to work as a lobbyist once his Senate career was through?

via Ars Technica – “No lobbying,” says senator before taking movie biz lobby job. I won’t lobby, but I’ll take the top job of a lobbying firm.

03 Jan

The New Yorker – Sorting out the Senate

In the nineteenth century, filibusters were rarer than visible comets. For most of the twentieth, they were still rare—about as frequent as solar eclipses—and reserved for special occasions, such as killing civil-rights bills. Now they and their bastard offspring, the secret “holds” that allow a single senator to pigeonhole a bill or a nomination, are as common as sunsets—and as destructive as tsunamis. It is taken for granted that without the support of sixty of the hundred senators, the number needed to invoke “cloture,” nothing emerges from the Senate alive. The minority can’t quite rule, exactly, but it can, and does, use the rules to ruin. Even when something does get through, the marginal cost of that fifty-ninth or sixtieth vote is severe. In the absence of the filibuster, the health-care law would offer a public alternative to private insurance, the financial reform would be strong enough to close off the likelihood of another meltdown, and the very rich (and their heirs) would pay something closer to their fair share of taxes. Nearly two hundred qualified nominees for executive and judicial offices would be on the job instead of in limbo. And a climate-and-energy bill, a bill to require corporations to be open about their political spending, the DREAM Act, and dozens of other worthy measures—all of which passed the House and had majority support in the Senate—would now be the law of the land.

via The New Yorker – Sorting out the Senate. In Congress it isn’t majority rule, it’s super-majority rule.

01 Aug

The New Yorker – Filibusters and arcane obstructions in the Senate

The weakened institution could no longer withstand pressures from outside its walls; as money and cameras rushed in, independent minds fell more and more in line with the partisans. Rough parity between the two parties meant that every election had the potential to make or break a majority, crushing the incentive to coöperate across the aisle. The Senate, no longer a fount of ideas, became a backwater of the U.S. government. During the Clinton years, the main action was between the White House and the Gingrich House of Representatives; during the Bush years, the Republican Senate majority abdicated the oversight role that could have placed a vital check on executive power.

via The New Yorker – Filibusters and arcane obstructions in the Senate. Lot of interesting analysis behind why the Senate out of all the bits and pieces of government is weirder and more prone to hindering government rather than actually governing.