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California Taxing Companies Outside California?

Sunday, 21. February 2010 9:35

Well, with California’s record levels of debt, it looks like state lawmakers are now considering requiring all online companies that ship goods to California to collect sales tax. From the LA Times: Lawmakers want to tax Amazon sales in California.

This is problematic, in many ways. As the article states, Amazon.com (and many other ‘etailers’) don’t actually have any presence in California (no personnel, no property, no warehouses, no etc), so going after Amazon.com in California courts should this law (a law on the state-level) pass will be difficult, if not impossible. California’s sales and use tax regulations already require its residences to report their online purchases and then send sales tax amounts in to the state each year when doing their annual taxes, but in practice few do (who, after all, wants to pay more taxes? In any case, I have questions about the legality and enforcement of the proposed tax, and for the most part those questions are covered in the article from the LA Times.

However, if such a law would pass (somewhat doubtful, but possible) were deemed by the courts to be legal (even more doubtful),* and actually had some working mechanism for enforcement (next to impossible!), I still don’t think this would accomplish much except to diminish California consumers choices of where to shop. If I am operating an online sales business in Idaho, and suddenly I am required to collect and remit state sales taxes (for which there are different regulations for each state) for every state to which I sell products, the list of states in which I’ll be willing to send orders is going to be significantly diminished. Maybe I’ll keep sending to California, because it’s a big market. But what about a smaller state (say, Wisconsin)? Is it worth it to my business to deal with 50 different sets of byzantine tax laws to sell my product online? I doubt it. This is a law that would limit consumer choice, and in the end it might well end up hurting California more than it would help California.

*My doubt here is based on the argument for legality the article presented – California based entities refer customers to Amazon through referal links, and they then get a cut of sales at Amazon. First, Amazon has scaled WAY back on their referal program, so the amount of traffic steered to Amazon this way may be questionable. But second, if I, living in California, place a referal link to Amazon (a business entity located entirely outside of California’s jurisdiction) on my website (which is hosted on a server farm that too is located outside of California), it seems tenous to then determine that Amazon is thereby legally constrained by California law. 

But once you get to this point, where I am deciding not to sell goods to certain states due to their state regulations, I would think that it is clear that we would be dealing with a law that is impacting interstate commerce, at which the Feds would (should?) be obliged to step in. If/once that happens, who knows what would be to come? Not me.

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Pictures of Protest (or perhaps partying)

Saturday, 6. May 2006 7:51

Well, so much for Monday being a ‘Day without an Immigrant;’ it was far more like ‘Day with a Quarter-Million Immigrants all Partying Really Loudly Right Outside my Office.’ The protestors started out with angry chants and screams, but then some of them got some speakers set up, and a Mariachi band started playing. After that it was mainly songs followed by applause. Though one person did yell out ‘Viva Mexico!’ very loudly (possibly over the sound system), and that struck me as incredibly stupid for someone protesting to become a US citizen to do. So many Mexicans are trying to get into the US (legally or otherwise) precisely because the US is not Mexico. Mexico’s government is in so many ways dysfunctional that, at least according to immigration boosters, it becomes nececessary for Mexicans to work in the US and send their earnings back. Shouting ‘Viva Mexico!’ – especially in such a situation – is a stupid thing to do, and almost implies a tacit conscent for the way things are now (Mexico is screwed up, so come work in the US), which is fine, but if you’re conscenting to how things are now, then why on Earth are you protesting? *le sigh*

Anyways, I got a few pictures of the masses of people. The protest didn’t really affect my day too much, except that when I was leaving to go home, I was only allowed to leave out of one entrance (the entrance on Main Street) and then had to talk to the lines of police in riot gear standing and patrolling the streets around City Hall to find out which route I could take without getting in their way (the police were actually very polite, though – judging by the looks on the faces of some other people walking around – I may have been in the minority in that opinion).

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The Problem of Conservativism

Friday, 31. March 2006 18:05

What is there left to say when those that came before have already gotten all of it right?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.

Political theory has a long history, and a long history of relatively consistent change. Certainly there were long, long periods of stagnation during which one particular ideology dominated others and was accepted as the most accurate or useful or applicable ideology. And there were times (as recently as the 1990s) when political theory was considered fixed or dead (see the general consensus among academics that political theory had essentially died as an arena of new thought before the publication of Rawls’ Theory of Justice, and the both older and more recent concept of the ‘end of history’ as detailed by Marx and Fukuyama. And yet the publication of Rawls’ Theory of Justice proved political theory to be alive and well, and the end of history prescribed by Marx and Fukuyama respectively failed to materialize with the failure of Marxism and the escalation of problems in the Middle East. Indeed, if history reveals to us anything, it is that the end state prescribed by so many theories and theorists and academics is never really the End. The problem that plagues Conservative political theorists is the belief that one of those previously described end states indeed should be the end state. Someone has already gotten it right.

But if someone in the past got it right, or at least got the big picture right, where does that leave the modern Conservative political theorist? He can, and very often does, become a defender of an ideology – some times pursuing the stability of the status quo, other times seeking changes to a currently predominant ideology that is not the got it right. But because of the conservatism that the Conservative political theorist holds, he is almost automatically impeded from developing any theory of his own. The new, creative, original vision of politics (regardless of what that vision actually is) that youth and academia are drawn to will not be generated by the Conservative theorist. He is put at something of a disadvantage at the outset: ‘it is wonderful that John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty!’ will say the libertarian, but what else is there for the libertarian to do but to praise and proselytize? How can you develop a new and original theory that is right, when the theory that is right already exists?

The short answer is that you can’t. Perhaps changes can be made to particular details of a theory or ideology, but if that theory or ideology is sufficiently right, there is little room for originality. This is the dilemma that the Conservative political theorist faces. The new and exciting work that so many gravitate towards exists in other, newer, and more original sets of ideas. The Conservative doctoral candidate expected to produce original research and ideas in his thesis is unable to present a new and original ideology; he must instead focus on that which already exists, which has already been examined and analyzed and researched. Perhaps some new approach or perspective or interpretation can be found for this material, but the material itself is already there. The Grand New Unified Theory isn’t new at all to a Conservative; it’s already there, and often it’s been there for a long time indeed. All that remains is to explain it, to affirm it, to promote it. But ‘it’ is not new.

How dreadfully boring to those looking for new and exciting ideas! Academia is fascinated by a new idea. Its very newness makes it fascinating – it is untested, not fully understood, full of possibilities not yet reached and implications not yet found. So much more interesting than that old idea that people have been talking about for so many years. That idea was new and glamorous and exciting a hundred years ago or so, but now? It’s been around; we understand it; we’ve known about it and its implications for years and years, and there is no real potential to find any ‘newness’ in it. The Conservative theorist sees these new ideologies and concepts, and finds flaws, problems, and vagaries. ‘We already have this theory here, and it works, and it is right,’ says the Conservative; ‘we should be focusing on implementing this ideology that we already know about; it works, and it is right.’ But this case is far more difficult to make than that of his opponent. The new, shiny, virgin idea – teeming with undiscovered and untapped potential – sings a far sweeter siren’s song than the old.

This problem, of course, is not isolated to the realm of political theory. A similar situation can be seen in many fields. Film critic Duncan Shepherd, rather conservative – if not curmudgeonly – when it comes to film, describes his admiration of Clint Eastwood: “…from my perspective, no American filmmaker since Griffith, before his decline in the mid-Twenties… has so towered above his compatriots… Griffith and Eastwood, a distant tandem, are of course very different cases. For the former, film was in its infancy and competition was thin; for the latter, film has slid into a state of decrepitude – affluent decrepitude, but decrepitude all the same – and competition is once again thin. Griffith was inventing an art form; Eastwood is conserving it.” (http://www.sdreader.com/published/2005-01-27/shepherd.html) But it is neither Griffith nor Eastwood that is taught in film schools and venerated by youth. It is instead that “affluent decrepitude” – either the big pictures full of special effects or the avant-garde films of directors like David Lynch and Todd Solontz – that draw so many. Well-made, competent, and powerful as Eastwood’s films may be, they are not new; they lack the innate curiosity of the unseen. They’ve been done before, if not as artfully or skillfully.

Which is the problem faced by Conservatives generally, and it is magnified in fields that demand or venerate new and original ideas and creativity. In describing the art of teaching and the qualities that a good teacher must have, the late University of Chicago professor and novelist Norman Maclean wrote, “[the teacher] must have another gene that gives him the power to lead students to making discoveries – ultimately, he hopes, to the power of self discovery… However, many of these stirring discoveries may have been made, indeed should have been made, before by other men and women, and hence are not publishable in a scholarly journal.” (from “‘This Quarter I Am Taking McKeon’: A Few Remarks on the Art of Teaching”) Many of these stirring discoveries may have been made, indeed should have been made, before by other men and women, and hence are not publishable in a scholarly journal. Whereas once those discoveries represented pinnacles of thought and new ideas and concepts, now they have been done before; they are to many now things, once understood, to be filed away before the search for the next new thing. The dilemma of the Conservative is to make an old idea a beautiful and captivating one – without changing it into something that it isn’t – and then to make that captivating beauty last, unblemished by the passage of time and the creation of the new. This is a hard path. The potential of the road untaken is powerful and it calls out to many; it is so powerful, however, that roads less taken may indeed be taken more than the one road that is most traveled by.

This is the puzzle of the Conservative, and it is indeed a difficult one. But in its difficulty, at least, there may lie solace, though that solace has not been best expressed in the words of a Conservative. That which is worth doing is indeed worth doing well, despite hardship; we do things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and they –
they were the same.

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North Korea Pledges to Give Up Nuclear Weapons Program

Sunday, 18. September 2005 22:49

From the AP:

BEIJING (AP) — North Korea pledged to drop its nuclear weapons development and rejoin international arms treaties in a unanimous agreement Monday with other countries at six-party arms talks. The joint statement was the first ever after more than two years of negotiations.

The North ”promised to drop all nuclear weapons and current nuclear programs and to get back to the (Nuclear) Nonproliferation Treaty as soon as possible and to accept inspections” by the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to the agreement by the six countries at the talks.

”All six parties emphasized that to realize the inspectable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the target of the six-party talks,” the statement said.

The North and United States also pledged in the agreement to respect each other’s sovereignty and right to peaceful coexistence, and also to take steps to normalize relations.

”The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade (North Korea) with nuclear or conventional weapons,” according to the statement, assurances echoed by South Korea.

Negotiators agreed to hold more talks in November, where they were expected to move on to concrete discussions about implementing the broad principles outlined in Monday’s agreement. The main U.S. envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, has warned that could still be a long process.

The negotiations had been deadlocked over Pyongyang’s demands that it retain the right to civilian nuclear programs after it disarms, and the statement acknowledges the North has made such an assertion but doesn’t go beyond that.

North Korean officials had also demanded the country be given a light-water nuclear reactor at the latest talks — a type believed to be less easily diverted for weapons use — but Washington had said it and other countries at the talks wouldn’t meet that request.

Putting aside the question for now, the joint statement said: ”The other parties expressed their respect and agreed to discuss at an appropriate time the subject of the provision of light-water reactor” to North Korea.

Pyongyang has also refused to totally disarm without getting concessions along the way, while Washington has said it wants to see the weapons programs totally dismantled before granting rewards. The statement, however, says the sides agree to take steps to implement the agreement ”in a phased manner in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action.”’

The other countries at the talks said they were willing give energy assistance to the North, including a South Korean plan to deliver electricity across the heavily armed border dividing the peninsula.

”This is the most important result since the six-party talks started more than two years ago,” said Wu Dawei, China’s vice foreign minister.

The talks, which began in August 2003, include China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas.

This is big news. For the past 4 years I’ve been hearing how the United States has been doing nothing about North Korea, and that either neglect or a hardline stance has been moving the US closer to conflict with North Korea, while allowing North Korea to continue the development of nuclear weapons. An enormous ammount of criticism has been directed towards the Bush administration for ‘ignoring’ North Korea while taking action in Afghanistan and Iraq. A nuclear North Korea (or the possibility of one) has been, according to most press and US (and international) media, an enormously pressing problem.

And now we have this – a major coup in international relations with extraordinarilly promising results, and during Bush’s administration. One would think that major media outlets (CNN, MSNBC, etc) would be reporting this widely, especially given the criticism that has been directed towards the US approach. But, of course, it’s not – CNN is having news reports on Hurrican Katrina, and their website has a frontpage reporting of “Everybody Loves Raymond” winning big at the Emmy’s. MSNBC’s main webpage at present is reporting on another hurricane, and it’s ‘top stories’ (at present) don’t include this.

One sometimes wonders what to think.

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Howard’s Comments

Thursday, 21. July 2005 19:45

Tony Blair and John Howard

After spending an hour or so looking for a transcript of Aulstralia PM John Howard’s comments, I thought to myself, “why not look for the Aulstralian PM Office’s webpage?” So I did, and found his comments very soon after. I was very impressed that these were ‘off the cuff’ comments, given unprepared and unwritten.

At any rate, here’s the part to which I refered in my earlier post, with sentiments that I thought particularly cogent italicized and/or made bold for emphasis (the unemphasized parts are also quite good and worth reading too, and the entire thing is not that long):

————

JOURNALIST:

Do you feel in any sense that you have put people in this position, do you feel that in a sense your policies may have put people in this position?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR:

Well I think I have said to you before, that I feel that people who are responsible for doing these things are the people who do them.

JOURNALIST (Paul Bongiorno Ch. 10):

To both Prime Ministers, what was your immediate reaction on hearing that some incidents had occurred, was it here we go again? And do incidents like this, coming just 14 days after the horrific attacks, suggest that the war against terror is being lost on the streets? And yesterday an Australian bomb victim of July 7 linked the bombings to Iraq. Does that suggest that the propaganda war against terrorists is also being lost?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Could I start by saying the Prime Minister and I were having a discussion when we heard about it, and my first reaction was to get some more information, and I really don’t want to add to what the Prime Minister has said. It is a matter for the police and a matter for the British authorities to talk in detail about what has happened here. Could I just say very directly, Paul, on the issue of the policies of my government, and indeed the policies of the British and American government on Iraq, that the first point of reference is that once a country allows its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it has given the game away, to use the vernacular. And no Australian government that I lead will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats, and no self-respecting government of any political stripe in Australia would allow that to happen. Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq; and could I remind you that the 11 September occurred before the operation in Iraq; can I also remind you that the very first occasion that Bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia’s involvement in liberating the people of East Timor. Are people, by implication, suggesting that we shouldn’t have done that? When a group claimed responsibility on the website for the attacks on 7 July, they talked about British policy, not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. Are people suggesting we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan? When Sergio de Melo was murdered in Iraq, a brave man, a distinguished international diplomat, immensely respected for his work in the United Nations, when al Queda gloated about that they referred specifically to the role that de Melo had carried out in East Timor because he was the United Nations administrator in East Timor. Now I don’t know the mind of the terrorist, by definition you can’t put yourself in the mind of a successful suicide bomber, I can only look at objective facts, and the objective facts are as I have cited. The objective evidence is that Australia was a terrorist target long before the operation in Iraq, and indeed all the evidence, as distinct from the suppositions, suggest to me that this is about hatred of a way of life, this is about the perverted use of the principles of a great world religion that at its root preaches peace and cooperation, and I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances, rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder.

————

John Howard ‘gets it,’ so to speak. If only more people did.

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On the Attempted London Bombings

Thursday, 21. July 2005 10:26

London Skyline

Today there were more attempted bombings in London. Thankfully they were unsucessful, but they were unnerving nonetheless (especially since Lauren is currently in London), and they did manage to bring down a good portion of London’s transportation system regardless. In my opinion, those evil persons who attempt such things should be round up and shot. Those that would kill hundreds or thousands of innocent people, with the express aim of killing hundreds or thousands of innocent people, for whatever reason, are not human. And we should not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.

An interesting thing happened in the conference given by Tony Blair and Aulstralia’s PM John Howard. A reporter attempted to insinuate that Britain’s global policies, and particularly its aid of US operations in Iraq, were to blame for the bombings of the 7th and the attempted bombings today. Tony Blair rightly said that those responsible for this are nobody but the terrorists who committed these crimes. He is certainly right. John Howard, however, made an extraordinary response. Terrorist acts have been occuring in western nations long before Iraq, and long before Afghanistan. That they occur now does not mean that the West’s ‘war on terror’ is responsible. And what has been done, and what is being done, is the right thing to do. I will post a transcript of his response as soon as I have one available to post.

In the mean time, my thoughts will be with people of and in London, and I sincerely hope that London beefs up its security enough that the only reason terrorist attacks fail is luck and terrorist incompetence. Because as we have seen today, security there is in dire need of improvement.

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