Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is state sales tax on interstate commerce allowed?

Did you know that individual States cannot tax interstate commerce, as a general rule? There are some very specific exceptions, and California (and other States) have been trying to exploit extremely loose interpretations of those exceptions. Interstate commerce is any transaction, transit or business that is conducted across State borders. This includes mail order, Internet, and physically going to another State to purchase an item to bring back to your home State. Many States have taxes on their books that attempt to circumvent this law. Recently, States have been trying to exploit what they think is a loophole in the Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (91-0194), 504 U.S. 298 (1992) (backup link) Supreme Court ruling that solidified the limitations on taxation by States. In this ruling, the Supreme Court declares that States may only attempt to levy an interstate commerce tax against businesses that have a presence within their State, known as a substantial nexus. Leave it to judges to come up with a term like that. It basically means a business must have a physical presence within the State in order for its transactions to be taxed by that State. California is now ready to pass a law that will try to specifically impose the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers, even when the retailer has no physical presence within the State. They are trying to expand on a similar law passed by New York recently. The idea behind the bill is that marketing itself counts as some sort of physical presence. If that doesn’t scare everyone, I don’t know what will. It basically means that anyone with a website that is accessible within California’s territory (i.e., any website on the Internet) is subject to California taxes and law, even if they’ve never set foot in the State. This substantially contradicts the body of Quill v ND, but hey, it’s a taxation party right now! Now, the common mistake is to assume “oh, the States are just strapped for cash and are trying to find ways to soak us dry.” That might be true if politicians actual wrote the bills that become laws. As a general rule, they do not (backup link). You know who does, as a general rule? Corporate lawyers of companies that lobby our legislative bodies. Hmmm, what corporate lawyers would be in favor of raising taxes on businesses? The corporate lawyers that work for companies who would not be substantially hurt by those taxes, but whose competitors would be. Let this excerpt from a recent letter from tell the story.
For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of California residents. Unfortunately, a potential new law that may be signed by Governor Brown compels us to terminate this program for California-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers – including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you – even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state. We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue.
Big-box retailers are companies like Target and Walmart. According to, companies like these seek to protect their businesses by fooling State governments into thinking the State will increase revenue with expanded scope on their sales taxes. Instead, this new tax (like any other tax) has a negative impact on the economy. I’m not against all taxation, but I am against any laws (taxes or otherwise) where one industry attempts to screw over another without providing any new benefit to the consumer. My website is just like any other. It does generate an extremely small amount of income from referrals (upon which I already pay income tax) via affiliate links with Amazon (please see the FTC 16 CRF Part 255 notice in the right column). Now, this law wouldn’t require me to pay any more taxes direclty, but as a customer of Amazon and other online sites, I would be forced to pay sales tax from a law that is probably unconstitutional. Laws that see to “tax the Internet” erode everyone’s rights, and threaten to hold anyone with a website accountable to the individual laws of over six thousand different taxing jurisdictions in America, according the Quill v ND ruling (linked above). Oddly enough, I no longer live in California. But, how long will it be before more States try to pass similar laws? Congress needs to act on this issue soon to prevent this economic nighmare from growing any further. I’m not making this a call to action because each person much act on their own. As such, I am going to be contacting my *new* Congress representitives about this issue very shortly. For additional reading, please see The Problems of State Taxation of Interstate Commerce and Why Congress Should Act (backup link)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

States I have visited (USA, Canada, Mexico)

As of today, the maps above represent the states and provinces that which I have visited. On the world map (not shown here), I also add Bahamas and Hong Kong to my list. My ultimate goal is to set foot on all seven continents. As of right now, I don't really have a goal about any specific number of states or countries. I do eventually want to visit particular places that would naturally add states, provinces and countries to my list of visited areas.

Not counted in my list are places where I had never left the airport in between legs of multiple flights. However, it wouldn't change the maps all that much if I had.

Monday, June 13, 2011

4th Annual Taste of Downtown Marlborough (and 1st Annual Brewfest)

I was driving to a Diary Queen near downtown Marlborough yesternight when I saw a rather small and unimposing sign that advertized something called 4th Annual Taste of Downtown Marlborough. Yesterday was Sunday, so I thought I had just missed an interesting event. No so. This event was held this evening (Monday). It seems a little unusual to have an event like this on a Monday night (and bad timing to have it the same night as game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in which the Bruins must win or lose completely), but it didn't seem to deter the crowds from coming.

I'm very new to the area, so this was the perfect event to see tons of restaurants in the Marlborough Olde Town area at one time, all for only $20. Overall, I think I was able to sample tastes from a couple dozen places. Some places I might come back to later this year. Other places I might not consider again. To each their own.

The 1st Annual Brewfest portion of this event cost an extra $5. There were a couple dozen beer vendors giving out 1oz samples of their offerings. Some of the beers just aren't suited to my taste. I had one that tasted like I was sucking on a 10 week old lemon, and not in a good way (if a good way could even be imagined). Other beers were good. I enjoyed some of the beers from Brooklyn Brewery. It was impressive that a New York company would show its face at a Massachusetts event.

There were lots of long lines to sample the various restaurants. Later in the evening, it was a little easier to get samples, but some places had run out by then.

There was also various live acts, ranging from the classic to the drum beat based. One rock group played Turning Japanese and then She Bop right after. I couldn't help but grin when I saw parents dancing with their kids to those particular songs. Sometimes you have to wonder if people know what those songs are supposedly about.

There are also some interesting old buildings.

It was interesting to see what this town of Marlborough has to offer. I have some ideas of which places to visit in the near future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ran over a bird (dang!)

Many birds have flown into the path of my car over the years, yet always seem to get out of the way. Many others have been in my path already (chillin out on the road or something), and have also flown out of my way. They generally respond quickly enough that I've rarely have to react as I drive at them. Well, that all changed on my recent cross-country trip. Easily, hundreds of birds flew into and out of the path of my car on this trip, with no incident.

One bird in Missouri, this stupid Red Winged Blackbird, did not. In fact, it flew right into my path so quickly that I could not respond in time to avoid it. Although I quickly applied my brakes, I heard it bump against some portion from under my car. I don't think I actually ran over it, per se, because I didn't see any remnant left on my car. It likely just bumped into my car, and got knocked about. I didn't see it on the road behind, so I'm guessing it was able to fly off.

Still, it was very annoying. It's bad enough having all these birds rush in front of you all the time, but actually hitting them just sucks.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cross-country trip photo (Flickr)

Rest stop in UtahMe in front of Utah desertUtah desertMy G8 in front of LDS conference building Capitol of UtahChurch of Later Day SaintsOne of many construction zonesRoadside landform Wind power in WYIMG_0859My G8 at a rest stop in WYDriving in WYThe hills have full moonsKansas from the road IIA small old town gardenApproaching the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Cross-country trip, a set on Flickr.

I've uploaded all of the photos (many shown here) from my recent cross-country trip to a Flickr set. There's a few of my car, and many others taken from my car. I didn't get a chance to stop at many interesting places (for various reasons discussed in earlier articles), but there are still some interesting shots. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Hot hot hot

There's a heat wave that covers half of the US right now. I arrived in New England just in time to catch this nice weather. Let's see if I'm still saying that tomorrow after it hits 100deg here, with high humidity. OK, enough about the weather. I think I just broke one of my unwritten rules about not talking about the weather on Its Trouble.... :)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 6

Day 6 of my cross-country trip was marked by yet another viciously beautiful day as I drove into Massachusetts. Eastern New York is beautiful, save for a few cities here and there (which have their own charm). There are more rustic farms that might as well be from the late 19th Century, and more lush forested hills. This day was the first time on my trip where I had to pay two separate road tolls in the same day. I guess $5 (total) isn't bad for travelling a couple of hundred miles. It's certainly a better price than paying $5 to cross a 1 mile bridge over the Delta in Northern California.

I made it to my appointment in Massachusetts with 10 minutes to spare. My time estimate for the overall trip was nearly perfect. I didn't get to enjoy some of the cities as much as I had wished. Besides that, this 5 1/2 day road trip turned out to be a good experience that I'll remember very well.

Would I do a similar trip across the USA again? If I had to, yes. Next time, I may take more time to enjoy many more stops along the way.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 5 (part 2)

Western New York state is beautiful, gorgeous and simply stunning. The forests are lush and rich in color. The lakes are serene. The farms are stereotypically and wonderfully idyllic. This was entirely unexpected by me.

The drive to Binghamton, NY was long. Getting across New York state takes as much time as any other larger state, such as Kansas (though is much more interesting than Kansas). There happened to be a festival in Binghamton on the day of my arrival, called First Friday Art Walk. The event was fairly lively with a lot of friendly people. I got a hotel (that I picked myself without the help of Expedia or that Hotwire unpublished rate thing) that was right in the middle of the downtown area action, so I was able to walk around freely without having to drive anywhere. There are a few attractions that are prolly better seen during the day, but here's a couple of late evening photos anyway (to the right).

I was at one bar where there were a bunch of locals rooting for the Braves to beat the Mets. Everyone was happy when the Braves won. Huh? Even if you are a Yankees fan, I would consider it disgraceful to pull for an Atlanta team over a local team! Oh well, I wasn't going to argue the point with anyone, especially after the Bruins lost to Vancouver a few minutes later in the Hockey finals; too even greater celebration by the locals.

The next day, as I was leaving the hotel, the bellhop thought he recognized me from a late party from the last night. Of course, I was at no such party. Though I was aware of it, I didn't crash the party. ...might've been nice to be invited to the party! Where are all these dopplegangers having my fun instead of me?!

On my way out of town, I ran across this interesting place of business (photo below). I was immediately thinking that such a place would be useful to Napoleon Dynamite.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 5 (part 1)

I learned along time ago that good planning for a trip is critical. That includes planning for flexibility. On this road trip, I learned that it is very easy to forget the day of the week or even what city I was in on the previous day. There is a new understanding as to why rock stars often gaffe by shouting out the wrong city when they are on long tours.

Due to poor success with picking a hotel using Hotwire's unpublished rates via Expedia (yet again), I ended up with nice hotel that was not close enough to the area I wanted. I was stuck at the hotel (since I didn't want to drive anywhere). However, complimentary services weren't denied to me at this place. Though hotel rates can be as much as 50% less, I would still think twice before using Hotwire's unpublished rates again.

The drive from Indianapolis, IN to Binghamton, NY was the second longest of this road trip. Ohio wins the award for the most welcoming entry sign! Most states just put up a road sign that says something like, "Hey, you are entering our state". Ohio has a welcoming arch that extends over the freeway and declares "Welcome to Ohio" using three different fonts! I felt very welcomed, indeed. There's a lot of blue and white paint on bridges and other freeway structures in Ohio. When you are here, there's not doubt about the fact that you are in Ohio!

The weather turned from gray to very sunny somewhere in Ohio. I decided to stop off in Erie, PA for a very early dinner. The weather was gorgeous! The lake was beautiful. I had a great swordfish sandwich at Rumrunner's Cove. It's nearly impossible to find swordfish on the West Coast these days due to mercury contamination. Even though I had my swordfish steak in a sandwich, it was cooked a 100 times better than what I got at The Chart House in Boston the month before. My early dinner was very relaxing, though very short, since I needed to get back on the road. I'll have to come back to Erie, PA again.

OK, I was stunned by what I found in western New York state. More on this later.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 4

My drive out of Kansas City was uneventful, with a brief lament about the fact that I didn't get to spend more quality time there. On the way to St. Louis, I stopped off at this one Mayberry type town (which shall remain nameless here). There were several official brown highway signs pointing out the existence of this quaint town. Even that modest highway advertising was a bit overstated. The photo to the right shows the full extent of the "historic old town". To me, it seemed like a glorified yard sale, with its four or five antique shops. The windmill was interesting.

Crossing the middle of America went well. I was able to hit St. Louis about mid-day to see the Gateway Arch. It's big and very stainless (as in stainless steel). If you don't intend on staying at the monument for longer than 30 minutes, parking is fairly easy to find (in the 30-minute park zones). However, spending more time there will likely cost a few bucks on garage parking.

There was no time to go on a tour inside the monument, but there was enough time to have lunch at Pappy's Smokehouse (of Man V Food fame). The food was great and the service was quick, polite and friendly. When I got back on my way, I crossed over the mighty Mississippi without giving it much more than a passing glance. The only reason for such disregard was that I forget to look at it as I drove over the bridge.

View Larger Map

The drive into Indiana consisted of an abrupt speed change down to 65MPH. As far as I could tell, there was no reason for this. Even worse, within Indianapolis, the speed limit was 55MPH on the freeways. These freeways are very wide and very modern. In my opinion, one would be safer driving at 85MPH on the Indianapolis freeways than they would be driving 75 on a rural freeway in Wyoming. The 55MPH speed limit just doesn't seem logical. It almost seems like people from Indiana let their grandma's pick the speed limit.

Oh, did I mention I drove through Illinois (and avoided Chicago)? Yeah, I did that too. I was on a mission to break my old, personal record for the most miles on one tank of gas. In my old 2003 Acura TL-S, I was once able to go 360 miles without refueling. With my 2009 Pontiac G8 GT (with its 6.0L 8 cylinder engine), I easily passed 400 miles, with about 24MPG. (I love the engine technology that shuts down 4 of the cylinders when they aren't needed). City driving is much worse, with about 15MPG. So, I either get really good mileage (for a V8) or really bad mileage, depending on the type of driving.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 3

Wow, what a boring day. Kansas is flat, flat and more flat. I drove clear through the state without stopping for more than a few minutes. That's Denver, CO to Kansas City, MO. I might've stopped for more time, but there was just nothing to stop for. I'm not in Kansas any more. It's prolly a great place, but there's just not much to entice a traveller, at least along I70. It is a stark contrast to the changing landscapes of the previous days. The more I drove, the more flatness presented itself. To make matters worst, their was tons of construction work being done to the freeway.

I made it to my hotel in Kansas City, MO a bit later than I hoped. The hotel was nice, but not quite what I expected. See my previous article for the reason. As such, I didn't get to enjoy Kansas City as I had originally planned. Oh well. At least I slept very well for the first time on my journey.

Cross-country trip - day 2

Day two of my journey across America was met with viciously perfect weather in Salt Lake City, UT. I didn't have time to do any real sightseeing, so I did Japanese tourist-style sightseeing (I drove by a couple of important sites, and took a picture). I did go to a little hole-in-the-wall place called Bruges Waffles & Frites (of Man V Food fame). They serve waffles Belgian-style, and have double-fried fries called frites. My waffle was good, though for the price, it didn't seem like enough food.

The drive eastward from Salt Lake City into the mountains is beautiful. The mountains are as green as I can imagine. They are offset with gorgeous white caps of remaining snow. The drive was windy and fun. There was barely any traffic.

Wyoming was a pleasant drive as well, for awhile. The mountains gave way to rocky hills. One hill looks as though it's a bunch of mountain trolls mooning the freeway (see the picture). Eventually, the Great Planes appeared. Let me tell you, the Great Planes are boring! This fact becomes even more important on the next day of my trip.

I stopped briefly in Cheyenne, WY before continuing on to Denver. Driving in the rural states is different from the urban states. The left lane on the freeway is really only for passing in the rural states. Don't hang out there. I travelled fairly close to speed limit for most of my drive through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and even Colorado. I almost never got passed by anyone.

I didn't have enough time to do any sightseeing in Denver. That will have to wait for another time.

Be wary of the Hotwire unpublished rates service

You get what you pay for. This is a poorly grammarred sentence that gets to the point. It is true with Hotwire's unpublished hotel rates service. I recently used this service (via Expedia) for a trip to Kansas City, MO. I thought I was getting a 3 or 4 star hotel that was centrally located near a popular area of town. The hotel offered a good rate through Hotwire's unpublished rates service. I didn't get to pick the hotel using this service, but was able to select the general area in town.

The hotel is very nice, and is likely 3 stars, but not for me. Here's the drawbacks. Though the hotel was in the general area I picked, it was not nearly as close as it should've been. I wanted a hotel within walking distance of the central area. I got a hotel that was within a 5 minute drive. Annoying. The hotel offers a complimentary breakfast, but not for me. The hotel offers free wi-fi, again not for me. The hotel did offer me an upgrade to receive those normally complimentary services ($15). Wanna guess on their published rate for the room? I'm guessing it's very close to the Hotwire's unpublished rate plus the $15 upgrade fee. Funny how that works.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 1

Given the fact that I'm still in my thirties (very late thirties), my bucket list is still fairly long and under developed. One item on the list is to drive across the USA. It seems this item would only be fulfilled if I ever had a reason to do this, otherwise I'd just fly and get to where I want to be much faster. Well, I now have a reason. That reason will not be discussed right now; maybe it will be at a later date. Bottom line, I'm driving across the great country of America!

My first day started off right on schedule at 7:00AM from Silicon Valley in the South San Francisco Bay Area. The time was important because the destination was Salt Lake City before sundown. The drive took me through Reno, NV. I've been there before, so I decided to just eat an early lunch (or Second Breakfast, as the Hobbits might call it) and refuel my car. No stopping for sightseeing.

The landscape drastically changed as I drove. As I travelled through California, the landscape slowly morphed from the tan colored hills and flat agricultural land to the forested mountains of the Tahoe area. In Nevada, that all gave way to the bush covered desert. The color of the earth changed from brown to an ever changing mix of red and light tan. The vegetation changed from greenish to mauvish and a mix of many other colors. I briefly stopped in Elko, NV for another fast-food meal and refueling.

I didn't really stop for sightseeing until I crossed the Utah border. There was a rest area in the middle of nowhere (where most rest areas can be found). By this time, the land was very flat and bare. The rest stop had an observation deck. The ramp up to the deck appeared to be handicap accessible, but any person in a wheelchair would be hard pressed to make it up the ramp. Anyway, I took a picture of myself in front on the vast empty landscape. The mountains in the distance offered an interesting contrast to the flat land of the desert. Later on, the land next to the freeway was under water, in what appears to be semi-permenant shallow lakes. Some of the lakes appeared on my TomTom map, and some did not. One funny item was that many of the lakes had miles of fence posts embedded within the water of the lake. Seriouly, what's the point of that?

Wow, I travelled across three Western states in one day! I arrived in Salt Lake City in time to relax in the hotel. I saved the sightseeing for the next day.