Amazon, Colorado, sales tax and greed

Posted by & filed under Politics, Technology.

Oh greed, you rule all.
Politicians are especially susceptible to it, because usually when the budget falls through, they prefer to rip more money from someone else, rather than reduce expenses. I suppose it’s normal for people to get used to new life, and then look back in horror on how they lived 5-10 years ago on half the budget (and, surprisingly, seemed to enjoy the life). Plus, cutting the expenses involves a new round of flurry from lobbyists, calling the important person with tradicional “why don’t you like us any more” question, making redistribution of money a bit more difficult.

So, usually politicians seem to go the traditional “tax the sin!” or “let’s find new way to tax regular people” routes. This whole story of Amazon and Colorado is a perfect example of the latter one.

Amazon has no real presence there, so, there’s no sales tax charged on online purchases from that store. Customers supposed to voluntarily bring their money afterwards to local government in form of a “use tax” which exactly matches the sales tax. But people are not idiots. They found the way to save money by buying online, and they are not willing to give it back.
So… Colorado politicians decided to force Amazon to help them.

I suppose the question is not really in technical aspects of collecting the tax (though it certainly is no small feat — sales taxes are horribly and unnecessarily complicated from county to county for historical and lobbying reasons, and just a zip code is not enough to figure out if donuts are ready to eat food or grocery for tax purposes) but a question of principle. Why is it that Amazon needs to “voluntarily” collect money for Colorado (or any other state where it’s not really incorporated) or spy on its clients for the sake of Colorado’s taxation?

Well, the Supreme Court up to the point was quite clear — businesses outside of the taxation nexus shouldn’t be bothered with dealing with local weirdo-taxes, wasting money and time complying with demands of authorities, services of which they do not use. Those who live in the area at least get something from the sales tax.

Why not demand that, say, foreign satellite channels send payments to local tax agency for ads sales — after all, that satellite channel could be watched in Colorado, thus providing valuable eyeballs!
Why not demand that Amazon charges tips on food items they sellAfter all, those sales will rob poor local restaurants from potential profits, and local municipalities from taxes?

Arguments of Amazon being a big and wealthy company also don’t fly. Compared to citizens of poor countries Americans are quite wealthy. Should everyone be required to donate some amount to those in need?

Claiming that it’s just Amazon doesn’t want to share its wealth is extra hypocritical — politicians know perfectly well, if something costs on Amazon $20, and they manage to force sales tax on it somehow, then the item will simply cost $20+tax amount for people in Colorado. Have they ever seen a company absorb a charge/tax/surcharge? Look at the cell phone providers, taxes and fees (real and not) are up to a quarter of total! So by pushing so hard, Colorado politicians simply want help with prying out more money from their own citizens.

Claim of “fairness” also doesn’t fly. Amazon doesn’t use local roads — delivery company does (for which they are charged by the state, which is then passed on to Amazon in service charges). Amazon doesn’t need local water, or school or police. So how would that be fair, that remote company has to deal with local taxes while not getting anything back?

Right now lawmakers are complaining that they are “explicitly excluded affiliates from the bill” so that Amazon wouldn’t drop the affiliates, but I bet that in case of legal challenge, those affiliates would be immediately used to demonstrate “company ties to local community” and justify forcing Amazon to collect sales tax.

Here’s the link to the actual text of the bill: HB10-1193
Specifically, read the (II)(A) on page 4:

EACH RETAILER THAT DOES NOT COLLECT COLORADO SALES
TAX SHALL FILE AN ANNUAL STATEMENT FOR EACH PURCHASER TO THE
DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE ON SUCH FORMS AS ARE PROVIDED OR APPROVED
BY THE DEPARTMENT SHOWING THE TOTAL AMOUNT PAID FOR COLORADO
PURCHASES OF SUCH PURCHASERS DURING THE PRECEDING CALENDAR YEAR
OR ANY PORTION THEREOF, AND SUCH ANNUAL STATEMENT SHALL BE FILED
ON OR BEFORE MARCH 1 OF EACH YEAR.

So, either Amazon collects sales tax, or they are required to send a dossier on all purchases to the Colorado IRS, or get fined for every customer and have a threat of contempt of court when local tax authority gets no satisfaction. Lovely, isn’t it? Given such language, I am not surprised that Amazon dropped all affiliates in Colorado. I am surprised they didn’t just ban all customers from Colorado on the spot, because politicians continue to claim that even though there’s no presence, Amazon is “liable” to comply with such nonsense.

Wall Street Journal wrote that there were 4,200 Amazon affiliates in Colorado in 2008, that earned about $37.5 million in commission fees. Those were real money, spent in state, helping Colorado citizens. Now those money are gone. Perhaps that will send a message, about what happens when you dream up a new way to offload your financial trouble onto someone else.

Good luck, Amazon. Hope you will win this legal battle.

p.s. there’s already an attempt to “boycott Amazon” in CO — go right ahead. Don’t buy anything from them. Other people will.

AT&T behaves like old self, cripples first Android phone

Posted by & filed under Misc.

Why am I not surprised? AT&T Mobility behaves like, well, AT&T. Which means this first new Android based phone gets cripled beyond belief, crapware programs added, everything gets covered with Cingular/ATT security sertificates, so that users would have no ability to install something “unapproved” “for your convenience”.
Or worse, like old problem with Java programs where each attempt to connect to the network would be greeted with “Would you like to allow” message with no option to allow the access for the session.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice when your phone asks you if you really want to go online (especially if you’re roaming somewhere outside of the US), but a single question instead of 5-year old-like behaviour is usually more than enough.

Worst part?
I bet general public doesn’t care that much. People are used to having a bunch of crappy software on the phone, constant prodding to subscribe to this and pay for that, so they will muddle through. So regular public probably wouldn’t just get excited — just another phone, with a funny word in the title.
Of course this would also calm down any potential enthusiasm, which would be good for Android’s primary competition — Apple.
And given latest attempt of Apple to sue Android via HTC’s proxy, I wonder if there’s any underlying nefarious plot going on. So that provider bows down to mass media/geek pressure, releases Android phone, but does everything possible to cripple the experience, dumb it down, make it unbearable, and then public will run toward Apple’s 4th generation of the mobile experience, which, incidentally, commands premium-priced data access plan…
It’s like if one of the major PC manufacturers would agree to release machines with Linux, but dumbed down the desktop environment, installed adware/popup-providers, locked user out of console and disabled installing anything that they haven’t approved yet.

Sheesh…

Review: Dante’s Inferno (5 stars)

Posted by & filed under Reviews.

Dante’s Inferno

I love this game. Action and graphics is great. Given that I swiftly moved from the high class literature to pretty much pulp fiction, I am not bothered by the “interpretation” aspects of the Dante’s Divine Comedy. Heck, if this game gives some people gentle push towards actually reading it, that’s even better.

Not quite sure why when game starts it wants to scan the store for purchasable content though. I guess marketoids demanded each game start to be tracked, and gamer should never forget that for mere few bucks a bucket of souls can be bought at PSN store.

Anyways. The controls are pretty good — easy and convenient, with plenty of combos. Additional modifiers-amulets make things even more fun.
Pre-rendered videos are just gorgeous. I think they can pretty much do a full-scale move on that engine and it’ll look way better than old Final Fantasy cartoon.
In-game graphics is also quite pretty, though walls with sinners in them fairly quickly start looking flat.

Gameplay may be predictable, but it’s still fun.
Bad: “absolve” mini-game is only fun for first couple times. In a few places (saving one lost soul in Greed circle) I regret there’s no way to move camera. And jumping is sometimes quite awkward because you can’t see where you’re jumping to.

Now playing through for the second time, while trying to collect all the bonus objects. Yay.

My cat thinks he’s a dog

Posted by & filed under Oddities.

My cat, Reaper, thinks he’s a dog. I guess those first 6 months of his life did leave a mark. He loves ping-pong ball, speaks when you talk to him and likes to fetch the stick.
Well… it’s a chopstick. But he is much smaller than an average dog too…

Disadvantages of cat thinking he’s a dog, is he’s a bit too vocal. As soon as he hears a stir or any noise in the morning, he decides that nap time is over and starts howling and meowing and demanding attention.
*sigh*

And yes, calling cat “he” is wrong grammatically, but it’s a habit…

“Free” credit reports are rip-offs

Posted by & filed under Misc.

Credit is a bane (and savior) of American existence. Almost everyone (including some pets) has a file in credit reporting agency. And more and more aspects of everyday life depend on how “credit-worthy” you are.
I’m not sure how exactly someone managed to convince, say, car insurance companies, that people who are not deeply in debt and haven’t declared bankruptcy in last 7 years, are less of a risk while driving their car. Because that’s what the auto insurance should be concerned about — how good of a driver you are, how many accidents and speeding tickets you have had in the past.
But no, your credit score means better or worse rate of auto insurance. Along with the APY of your credit card, how good of a home loan you can get etc etc.
Of course in ideal world the information collected by the credit reporting agencies should be easily viewable by you, the subject of this report. As well as easily correctable in case of some error.
In real world, I bet credit reporting agencies would love to never show any information at all. But by some miracle, consumers do have a FACT Act, that requires credit file report disclosure from three major reporting agencies. You can do it once a year, and then see if any of your banks were too lazy to report accurate information.
So far so good.
Except the central site to request these really free credit reports, for some reason was not placed under .gov domain. Instead, it’s https://www.annualcreditreport.com. And a number of other “credit-report” sites is enormous. Almost all of them offer in one or other form a subscription. Usually it’s a “credit monitoring service” and usually it costs pretty penny, every month.
Funniest thing is that the credit reporting agencies themselves run these types of sites (for example heavily advertised freecreditreport.com is owned by Experian). And for someone who isn’t very good at reading several pages of a fine print, difference between “not really free” and really free report site is not obvious.
Given a number of complaints from customers, new guidelines were issued for fake-free credit report sites, that they must show clearly a note:

Free credit reports are available under Federal law at: AnnualCreditReport.com.

But here comes “marketing BS” moment: hey’re so greedy, they don’t even want to provide a link to the AnnualCreditReport.com. No doubt, because it costs them money — some silly customer may click and not inadvertently sign up for expensive service. Shame on them.

Oh yeah, and they are paid when companies request your credit report. It’s just that ripping someone off by selling to them the same information for a higher prices than business would pay, is one of those irresistible business opportunities nobody wants to pass up.
Bonus BS factor: in most cases where credit report companies advertise a chance of ordering your “credit score”, it’s not really the same credit score, that bank or other company would get when they check your credit. It’s a “similar” score. Because the worst fear of credit agencies is that customers will actually figure out exactly, what factors have what weight, and play the system.

So… get the report once a year from the AnnualCreditReport.com and run from any site that has at the top the disclaimer listed above.