web posted April 15, 2002
Book sales protected, court says
The Colorado Supreme Court refused to order a bookstore on April 8 to tell police who bought two how-to books on making illegal drugs, saying the First Amendment and state Constitution protect the right to purchase books anonymously.
The unanimous 6-0 decision overturns a ruling by a Denver judge who said Tattered Cover Book Store owner Joyce Meskis must give records of the sale to a Denver-area drug task force.
Police and prosecutors had argued that the buyer's identity was critical to their investigation of a methamphetamine lab and that they had no other way to prove who owned the books.
The high court declared that the First Amendment and the Colorado Constitution "protect an individual's fundamental right to purchase books anonymously, free from governmental interference."
Police sought the records after finding a mailer envelope from the bookstore outside a mobile home they had raided. Inside the home were a methamphetamine lab and the how-to books.
Police obtained a search warrant to find out who ordered them. The court said that the search warrant should never have been issued.
So far, no arrests have been made in the drug case.
Armstrong, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the ruling does not prohibit police from getting records but sets the bar higher for obtaining a search warrant.
"The court has showed its best face in protecting the rights of privacy for those of us who visit bookstores," Armstrong said.
Politicians roasted over pet pork
The spendthrifts in Congress are sending PCs to Armenia, flying Russian politicos to Colorado's Coors Brewery, and paying for "pony trekking centers" in Ireland.
Advanced "asparagus technology" in Washington state gets $260,000,
while a fat $3 million goes to promote "private sector technology
start-ups" in Georgia -- not the state, but the ex-Soviet republic.
Technology programs of dubious necessity have larded up the most recent round of federal spending, the group says, with politicians vying to route dollars to their home states by pitching them as ways to launch Internet firms or to bridge the so-called digital divide.
"The problem is that you put 'technology' on something and people are mesmerized by it," says CAGW vice president David Williams. "That's one of the things they do with pork: Give it a really cool name, so how can you be against it?"
The fattest porkers in Congress are, as you might expect, the top Democrats and Republicans on the appropriations committees. Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) are particularly skilled at -- and notorious for -- bringing home about ten times as much bacon as the Senate average.
Last year, Byrd labeled CAGW a "bunch of peckerwoods" during an NPR interview. CAGW gleefully replied in a press release: "For Byrd the term peckerwood probably rolls off the tongue much easier than any combination of 'against,' 'government,' and 'waste.'"
CAGW's "Pig Book" tries to carve out and identify unnecessary federal spending from the 13 appropriations bills that Congress enacted last year. What's unnecessary is defined as spending that's requested by only one chamber of Congress, not requested by the president, not the subject of congressional hearings, or "serves only a local or special interest."
For the 2002 fiscal year, 8,341 projects won the moniker of pork, totaling $20.1 billion, up 9 percent from last year.
Among the projects for this fiscal year that CAGW identified as pork:
Stevens, the top Republican member of the relevant Senate panel, has called CAGW "a bunch of psychopaths that go around and raise money from the extreme right. They are idiots."
CAGW says that it raises 80 percent of its budget from individuals, and claims 1 million members and supporters. Of those, 600,000 have given the group a donation, with the average being 25 dollars.
Tax burden falling on wealthier Americans
Another way the rich are different: They pay the lion's share of the nation's income tax bill. The wealthiest 5 percent pay more than half the taxes, while people in the bottom half pay just 4 percent.
The annual federal tax deadline for most of America is today.
Two-income households are increasing, putting more families in the top slice of taxpayers. Millions of small businesses and partnerships are up there, too, paying personal instead of corporate income taxes. Many other people were boosted by the 1990s stock market boom.
resident Bush's big tax cut will prevent the wealthy from paying an even greater share in coming years. But key provisions, such as the gradual doubling of the child tax credit, will reduce or eliminate income taxes for many middle-income people while the rich won't qualify.
"This trend is not going to reverse," said Scott Hodge, executive director of the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax education and research group. "This will be the demographic for the 21st-century taxpayer."
For 1999, the most recent year for which complete Internal Revenue Service statistics are available, 6.3 million taxpayers whose incomes were in the top 5 percent paid more than 55 percent of all income taxes. They had incomes of more than $120,846 a year -- meaning two spouses could each earn a bit more than $60,000 and be considered among the nation's richest.
"It's very easy to move into the top echelon of taxpayers," Hodge said.
The wealthiest 1 percent -- those earning $293,415 and up -- paid more than a third of the taxes, while their share of the nation's taxable income was 19 percent. They pay income taxes at the top rate, now 38.6 percent, compared with a maximum rate of 15 percent for the majority of lower-earning taxpayers.
Taxpayers in the bottom half paid only 4 percent of the income taxes in 1999, according to the IRS. These 63 million taxpayers earned, on average, less than $26,415 a year.
Going back to 1989, the top 5 percent income group paid about 44 percent of income taxes, the bottom almost 6 percent. At that time, the top tax rate paid by high earners was 31 percent.
Looking ahead, the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut enacted last year reduces income taxes in three steps, with the final step coming in 2006. In that year, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, taxpayers earning more than $100,000 a year will pay almost 59 percent of all income taxes.
Those with annual incomes of less than $30,000 a year will pay about 4.4 percent in 2006, roughly the same as they do today.
In Congress, this disparity in the tax burden causes perennial political trouble for Republican tax-cutters because any across- the-board reduction meets with Democratic criticism that it would mainly benefit the wealthy while siphoning away money for government programs.
For that reason, many tax breaks contain income cutoff points that leave out the top income earners.
A prime example is the child tax credit, which is $600 for the tax returns due April 15 and will gradually rise to $1,000. This year, that credit begins to phase out for married couples filing jointly who earn more than $110,000 a year.
The IRS says the rising child credit, which is $100 higher than last year, is a major factor in the 12 percent increase in average tax refunds this year. Many lower-earning taxpayers who claim the credit get a refund even if it effectively eliminates their entire tax liability.
Another program for lower- income Americans is the earned income tax credit, which is intended to offset the burden of Social Security payroll taxes. In 1999, about 13 million taxpayers claimed about $21 billion in credits, which also can trigger a refund even for those with no tax liability.
At the higher end of the income spectrum, the IRS now receives more than 24 million individual income tax returns from certain kinds of corporations and partnerships that don't pay corporate income taxes. Those are frequently paying at the highest tax rate.
Perhaps the biggest reason the rich are paying a higher share is that
they continue to get richer, said Joel Slemrod, economics professor at
the University of Michigan. Between 1980 and 1999, the share of total
taxable U.S. income earned by the top 5 percent rose from 21 percent to
Ohio concealed weapons law ruled unconstitutional
A state appeals court on April 10 declared Ohio's decades-old ban on carrying concealed weapons unconstitutional because it violates the right to self defense.
The framers of the Ohio constitution "put the citizens' rights up front," said Mark Painter, presiding judge of the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals. "We believe they meant what they said."
Ohio's attorney general asked the state Supreme Court for an immediate delay of the ruling to hear an appeal, said spokesman Joe Case.
Lawyers for Cincinnati, Hamilton County and the state had argued that government has the right to regulate the manner in which weapons are carried.
The appeals court upheld Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman's January 10 ruling that the state ban was unenforceable in the county. The ban includes both carrying a concealed weapon and having a loaded weapon in a vehicle.
The court also said the ban is confusing to citizens and police, making it likely that various agencies would enforce the law differently.
"I feel like a burden's been lifted off my shoulders," said Pat Feely, 31, a food delivery truck and one of five people who challenged the law. "I feel like I don't risk arrest."
Feely was arrested in 1999 because he kept a gun in his waistband while delivering pizzas.
Ohio allows only law enforcement officials and state and federal government officers to carry concealed weapons.
The plaintiffs, who include a private investigator, say their jobs take them into areas where they need self defense. Their attorneys also argued that conflicting enforcement by different police agencies makes it difficult for people to know how to exercise their constitutional right to self defense.
They said Cincinnati police have arrested people for carrying concealed weapons, and city officers have testified they probably would arrest someone who tried to openly carry a weapon.
A State Highway Patrol officer testified that the patrol has caught motorists carrying loaded guns and let them go.
Forty-three states allow concealed weapons in some form.
Hawaii halts use of traffic cameras
Gov. Ben Cayetano on April 10 ordered a halt to the use of cameras to catch speeders, a safety measure many Hawaii motorists considered so underhanded they tried to subvert the system.
Cayetano said the Legislature was about to repeal the program anyway. "The traffic van cam law is the creation of the Legislature, and if they want to now cancel the program it will be canceled," he said in a statement.
The van-mounted cameras, introduced on Oahu two months ago and operated by a private company, were coupled with radar and automatically photographed a speeder's license plate. A ticket was then issued by mail to the car's owner.
Some drivers mockingly called them the "talivans."
The House late April 9 tentatively decided to abandon the system, and Cayetano said he would allow the repeal bill to become law without his signature. He maintained, though, that the program's aims were good.
"Driving at faster speeds has become a habit for many drivers and explains, at least in part, why there was so much opposition to the traffic van cam," he said.
The devices were supposed to catch violators the way red-light cameras have been doing for years, without the danger of a police chase. Proponents said the system would slow traffic and save lives.
Pulling the plug on the project might prove costly to taxpayers. Affiliated Computer Services, which operated the system, estimates it could charge the state up to $8 million for the early termination of the contract.
"This is all subject to negotiations," said State Transportation Director Brian Minaai. "We need to see their valid claims for that amount before we will approve anything."
Drivers and civil liberties lawyers complained the system unfairly assumed the owner of the car was the person behind the wheel. They also said the cameras were an invasion of privacy.
Judges threw out the first batch of citations on a technicality that was later fixed. But lawyers then successfully argued that tickets issued to drivers going less than 10 mph over the speed limit should be dismissed because it conflicted with Honolulu Police Department practice.
While many states use cameras to catch people running red lights, Hawaii was the first state to pass a law allowing photo-enforced radar along state roads.
State Rep. Charles Djou said he was pleased "this very much hated system is finally going to get yanked."
Traditional foes agree to fight campaign law
Two dozen individuals and groups representing both liberal and conservative interests are joining Sen. Mitch McConnell in his legal crusade against campaign finance revision.
The Louisville Republican announced April 10 that the coalition, which includes two congressmen, will become co-plaintiffs in the suit he filed to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
''The plaintiffs in this suit have differing views on many political, social and ideological subjects and sometimes even on certain legal theories articulated in this complaint,'' he said.
When it comes to protecting the Constitution, though, ''there is no ideological divide,'' he said. ''There is only one interest: freedom.''
The co-plaintiffs will include Reps. Bob Barr, R-Ga., and Mike Pence, R-Ind., as well as two teen-agers who want to contribute money to a particular political party or candidate.
Organizations that have agreed to join the suit include the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Right to Life Committee, the Center for Individual Freedom, the Christian Coalition of America and the Libertarian National Committee.
Privacy concerns cloud ID upgrade
While a national identity card has been widely discussed following the terrorist attacks, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences says any such system must carefully balance security needs with privacy concerns.
A well-run national system would make it more difficult for a person to have multiple identities and would help in finding people such as potential terrorists, the committee concluded.
Serious questions must be addressed about how to protect privacy, who would use the system, whether participation would be mandatory, the type of information to be collected, and how to deal with any failure or misuse of the system.
''The technical challenges, the expense and the strong potential for infringement on the civil liberties of ordinary citizens demand that any proposed identity system undergo strict public scrutiny and a thorough engineering review,'' said Stephen Kent, chairman of the committee that wrote the report: ''IDs - Not That Easy.''
Kent is chief scientist for information security at BBN Technologies, a research firm based in Cambridge.
National identity cards are used in some other countries but there is no common system, the report noted.
The committee was organized by the National Research Council, an arm of the academy.
The National Academy of Science is an independent organization chartered to provide advice for the government on scientific matters.
Gore comes out swinging at GOP
In an impassioned speech critical of the man who beat him in 2000's presidential election, Al Gore on April 13 blasted Republicans on a variety of topics and tried to rally Florida Democrats.
In his first major political speech since conceding the 2000 election, Gore mocked GOP policies on Social Security, the budget, taxes and the environment. Speaking in the state where his 2000 presidential bid derailed, the former vice president called on state Democrats to focus not only on November's gubernatorial election but on the 2004 presidential race.
"I'm tired of this right-wing side sidewind. I've had it," Gore told supporters at the Florida Democratic Party Convention in Orlando. "America's economy is suffering unnecessarily. Important American values are being trampled. Special interests are calling the shots, and it sometimes seems as if, in the words of the poet, 'The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.' If you agree with me, then stand up with conviction for what we believe in and fight for it."
Gore did not betray whether he plans to make another run for public office. Instead, he focused on the economy and the environment -- issues he championed during his ill-fated presidential campaign -- and "America's values."
"This is not about what might have been, this is about what we can accomplish together for America in the future," Gore said. "Regardless of our nominee, we're going to elect a Democratic president in 2004, with Florida making the difference."
Gore is just one of several potential Democratic contenders in 2004 who are scheduled to address the Florida state convention. Others include Gore's former running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman; Massacusetts Sen. John Kerry; and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
Gore repeated his support for President Bush's actions after the September 11 terror attacks, saying, "We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our president and our brave servicemen and women in defending America from terrorism."
But he took a swipe at the administration's handling of homeland security, referring to a Bush administration proposal to allow the transport of nuclear waste cross-country.
"Waste will be trucked through 45 states," he said, adding that's "some domestic security."
On the economy, Gore made his sole reference to his former boss. "I think Bill Clinton and I did a damn good job" by leading the country to its longest economic expansion in history and building up a budget surplus. But "in just 15 months under President Bush, that surplus has all but evaporated."
Gore also accused the White House of being "intent on raiding the Social Security trust fund" and questioned why Bush has paid little attention in recent months -- since the market has cooled -- to his proposal to allow workers to invest Social Security funds in the stock market.
Bush's victory over Gore in 2000 hinged on the 537-vote margin from a recount in the state where his younger brother, Jeb, is governor. Florida Democrats have made Jeb Bush their top target in this year's elections.
On the issue of values, Gore -- accompanied by his wife Tipper -- cited the Enron scandal and secrecy on the part of the Bush administration. He referred to Vice President Cheney's private energy task force meetings last year and a willingness on the part of the administration to "defy the General Accounting Office and the courts of this land to keep official files secret from Congress and from the American people."
Taking a populist stance in the hometown of Disney World, Gore called the Democratic party "the party of Main Street USA" as opposed to the GOP, "the party of the pirates of Enron."
The Pirates of the Caribbean and the Main Street USA are Disney attractions.
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