By Greg Stohr - Dec 2, 2013
The U.S. Supreme Court stayed out of the multibillion-dollar fight over Internet sales taxes, leaving intact a New York law that forces Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) to collect money from customers in that state.
The justices today rejected appeals by Amazon and another Internet retailer, Overstock.com Inc. (OSTK), which said New York is violating the Constitution by demanding tax collection from companies that dont have facilities in the state. New Yorks top court upheld the state law.
States lose an estimated $23 billion a year in uncollected sales taxes from web retailers. Although Amazon has agreed to collect taxes in some states as it sets up distribution centers around the country, it has resisted efforts by others to impose sales taxes unilaterally. New Yorks measure is among a handful that have been dubbed Amazon laws because they affect only the largest online sellers.
The New York law subjects Internet retailers to significant burdens on pain of serious civil and criminal penalties, Seattle-based Amazon argued in its appeal. The worlds biggest online retailer now collects taxes in 16 states.
Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-02/amazon-rejected-by-u-s-high-court-on-new-york-sales-tax.html
By Amos Harel | Dec. 1, 2013 | 9:43 PM
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aggressive quarrel with the Obama administration over the agreement with Iran signed in Geneva endangers Israel, and panned Netanyahu for "losing his head."
Olmert accused the prime minister of "declaring war on the United States" and of attempting to incite the Congress against U.S. President Barack Obama.
Olmert spoke Sunday at a closed panel discussion on "the strategic implications of the interim agreement between the P5 + 1 and Iran," held at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Olmert said both his government and that of his predecessor Ariel Sharon wished to avoid public confrontation with the American administration over Iran. "At no stage did we want to do battle with Israel's number one ally and to incite the Congress against the president," he said.
Olmert called Netanyahu's acts and statements unprecedented. "The danger and the potential damage from it are incomparably larger" than the value of the public debate with the United States, he said.
On the surface, it is hard to see any direct link between the recently concluded deal by Iran and the P5+1 group and the Palstinian-Israeli peace talks. If, as the world community believes, this deal makes the world safer, then it should speed up, rather than slowdown, the resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But the reality is different.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the Iran issue such a big part of his foreign policy rhetoric that losing it will potentially be felt on other fronts.
The effect of the Iran deal on the peace process is bound to be more psychological than any other. The Israelis claim that they were backstabbed by their American allies and therefore the trust factor between Tel Aviv and Washington is at an all-time low. Israeli leaders did not try to publicly water down their anger at the White House who they say has approved a "historic mistake".
The irony is that the Israeli anger with the US should normally lead to an equal reaction from America, which would potentially make Israel lose its strongest ally in the region.
A neutral US vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestine conflict would be a huge bonanza for Palestinians.
However, the problem is that when Israel gets angry with the US, America starts looking for ways to please its spoiled child rather than simply ignore it. Israel will clearly not pay a political price for its public criticism of the US, nor will the Americans lessen their total, unflinching support for Israel.
BEIJING--In hopes of ensuring that the next man on the moon is Chinese, Beijing launched a rocket carrying a buggy-like vehicle that is expected to roam and explore the moon's surface for three months.
The Long March rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province at 1:30 a.m. Monday, Beijing time (9:30 a.m. PST Sunday), the official Xinhua news agency reported.
If all goes as planned, a landing vehicle and the roving vehicle will touch down on the moons surface in about two weeks. It will be the first time that anybody has done a soft landing (one in which the vehicle remains intact) on the moon since 1976, when the Soviet Union landed the Luna 24 probe.
The unmanned rover is a gold-colored vehicle that looks like a dune buggy. It is expected to conduct various scientific experiments such as planting a telescope on the moons surface and exploring under the surface of the moon, as well as transmitting photographs back to Earth.
The real purpose, aerospace experts believe, is to practice the techniques to eventually put a man on the moon.
Source: Guardian UK
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Sunday 1 December 2013 11.59 EST
Several thousand people worldwide have taken part in protests at the Israeli government's plans to forcibly remove Bedouin Arabs from their villages in the Negev desert.
In Israeli towns and cities mounted police used teargas, stun grenades and water cannon against demonstrators, in what the Association of Civil Rights in Israel described as a "disproportionate" response to stone-throwing. More than 40 people were arrested at protests across the country, and 15 police officers were injured.
In what was billed as an international "day of rage", demonstrations were also held in London, Berlin, Rome, Istanbul, Cairo and in the United States.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, criticised the protests. "We will not tolerate such disturbances," he said in a statement. "Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave. We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev," he said.
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/01/israel-negev-bedouins-day-of-rage
(Reuters) - Americans back a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran by a 2-to-1 margin and are very wary of the United States resorting to military action against Tehran even if the historic diplomatic effort falls through, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.
The findings were rare good news in the polls for President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have dropped in recent weeks because of the botched rollout of his signature healthcare reform law.
According to the Reuters/Ipsos survey, 44 percent of Americans support the interim deal reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva last weekend, and 22 percent oppose it.
While indicating little trust among Americans toward Iranian intentions, the survey also underscored a strong desire to avoid new U.S. military entanglements after long, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even if the Iran deal fails, 49 percent want the United States to then increase sanctions and 31 percent think it should launch further diplomacy. But only 20 percent want U.S. military force to be used against Iran.
Dec 1, 12:51 PM (ET)
By PHILIP ELLIOTT
WASHINGTON (AP) - The worst of the online glitches, crashes and delays may be over for the problem-plagued government health care website, the Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday.
But that doesn't mean HealthCare.gov is ready for a clean bill of health.
Officials acknowledged more work remains on the website that included hundreds of software bugs, inadequate equipment and inefficient management for its national debut two months ago. Federal workers and private contractors have undertaken an intense reworking of the system, but the White House's chief troubleshooter cautioned some users could still encounter trouble.
"The bottom line - HealthCare.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st," Jeff Zients told reporters.
More than 50,000 people can log on to the website at one time and more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day, the government estimated in a report released Sunday. If true, it's a dramatic improvement from the system's first weeks, when frustrated buyers watched their computer screen freeze, the website crash and error messages multiply.
House Republican leaders are under pressure to allow a vote on legislation that would curb the National Security Agency (NSA).
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has defended the NSA's spying programs, but a growing bloc of his conference is signing on to a bill that would end the NSA's practice of collecting records on virtually all U.S. phone calls, which was revealed in leaks by Edward Snowden.
One House Democratic aide argued that the Republican leaders are boxed in. If they don't allow a vote on standalone NSA reform legislation, the aide said, members will demand NSA-related amendments to must-pass legislation like the defense and intelligence authorization bills.
"They're stuck. They would deal with this in the way they deal with a lot of things by just not moving the legislation," the Democratic aide said. "Except how are they going to get other important pieces of legislation that they want to move unless they move this first?"
A GOP leadership aide acknowledged that there is "significant member interest in this issue as well as multiple committees with jurisdiction."
Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 1 December 2013 12.56 EST
The terrorism threat against the United States is increasing and Americans are not as safe as they were a year or two ago, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees said on Sunday.
Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers appeared together on CNN's State of the Union, on the day that al-Qaida's US spokesperson called for attacks on US interests around the world. Rogers said al-Qaida groups had changed their means of communication as a result of leaks about US surveillance programs, making it harder to detect potential plots in the early planning stages.
"We're fighting amongst ourselves here in this country about the role of our intelligence community that it is having an impact on our ability to stop what is a growing number of threats," he said. "And so we've got to shake ourselves out of this pretty soon and understand that our intelligence services are not the bad guys."
Feinstein, a California Democrat, said there were more terrorist groups than ever, with more sophisticated and hard-to-detect bombs. She said: "There is huge malevolence out there."
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/01/feinstein-rogers-terrorism-threat-intelligence-committees
By Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian
Friday, November 29, 2013 12:58 EST
Im not exactly sure what it is about the hit British TV series, Downton Abbey, that has enthralled so many of us. The scenery is great, Lady Marys wardrobe is just fabulous, but there are plot holes so huge one could drive Lady Ediths car through them. I suspect the fascination it provokes has something to do with nostalgia a hankering for a simpler time, when everyone knew their place and where the classes, though separate and unequal, were at least able to be polite to one other. Whatever it is that we find so charming about the series, however, we should try to keep in mind that the rampant inequality it celebrates is not something we should be hankering after.
America has its own real-life upstairs/downstairs thing going on at the moment, best embodied by the Walton clan, who own the lions share of Walmart Stores, Inc. Walmart is the single largest private employer in America with a work force of some 1.3 million. Each of the four Waltons who have an interest in the stores increased their net worth by $7bn last year alone. Meanwhile, the companys sales associates, who make up the bulk of the work-force, earn an average of $8.81 per hour less than the federal poverty level for a family of four.
So its a bit like Downton Abbey on a bigger budget, most of which is allocated to the above the line players. While the Waltons, with their occasional charitable doings and their apparent detachment from reality, seem to feel very comfortable in their role as modern day Lord and Lady Granthams, their poverty-wage workers seem less inclined to imitate the subservient behavior of their below-stairs counterparts. And thats a good thing.
Today, Black Friday as its known among shopaholics, a slew of protests are being planned outside some 1500 Walmart stores across the country to demand better pay and work conditions. I can only imagine what Downtons dowager countess (she, of What is a weekend? fame) would have to say if the workers at Downton Abbey dropped their pitchforks (or raised them perhaps) on one of the estates busiest days of the year. Im sure she would be shocked at the ingratitude of the Walmart employees, particularly since at least one Walmart store was recently kind enough to organize a food drive for its impoverished workers so they could enjoy a decent Thanksgiving meal. Its unlikely that the dowager would ever have come around to thinking that it might be better for everyone if the serving classes were given a chance to rise up the social ladder. But the Walmart bosses may someday learn that their disinclination to share the wealth may not be entirely in their best interests.
Although the Walton family made out like bandits last year and the outgoing CEO of Walmart Stores, Inc, Michael T Duke, took home nearly $20m in compensation, the company is not actually doing very well. The US stores have reported shrinking sales for three straight quarters. In a rare moment of clarity, the president and CEO of Walmart US, William Simon, attributed the drop in sales to the over stretched incomes of the low wage consumer the store typically attracts. He explained:
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