January 5th, 2008

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Good Morning!!

I am in Steve's office which has power.  Hooray!!

Yesterday was quite a day. I was up at four and at five watched the power go out on the hill across the way.  I sat there enjoying the dark, and then, at six, our power went out.   Candles lit and a fire made, all seemed okay.

I watched the wind, rain, and fire, while trying to read Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth.  It was perfect as myth is rarely quiet and is not serene.

I spent a couple of hours with a shovel trying to divert the river pouring down our driveway back to the road.  I was successful.

Steve came home from work.  There was no power in downtown Mill Valley, and Miller Avenue was flooded, so he tried a few ways and finally got home by going up and over the mountain.   Around 1:00, we headed down to Starbucks, land of laptops and our neighbors.  There was no place to sit, let alone plug in, so we returned for more water control and reading, which meant mainly looking at all the action outside.  We came through this storm pretty well, but our neighbors have fences down, and branches and trees have creaked and crashed.

We shared the evening with our neighbors, who have a gas stove, and we consumed a fair amount of wine, both mulled and cold.  The mulled wine went pretty fast, so there we were opening bottles.  Oddly, I don't think anyone felt anything.  There is something about huddling together in candlelight by a fire.  

What I see is that there is an energy to a day like yesterday that is fascinating.  It is something to live thinking that at any moment a tree might fall on your house, and, of course, at any moment, it might, but we rarely feel it that way.   Though at times I thought I was not focused, because I was so excited that I would switch from looking at the fire, the candle flame, the rain, I was actually extremely present for every minute.  There was so much stimulation, so much to experience and enjoy.  I felt exhilarated, alive. 

We snuggled into bed last night under about ten blankets, and rose and enjoyed hot showers.  We have a gas water heater, so that is a joy, and it is fun to  navigate by candlelight.  I love it.

When we drove into downtown Mill Valley for breakfast, there were lights on all over the place.  How garish it seems, and wasteful.  Our phones don't work without power and our cell phones don't work at the house, so there is a wonderful sense of isolation there.   It felt odd to return to the world of lights.  

We are last priority for fixing with PG&E and with a new storm coming, they probably won't bother, so I am not expecting power until Monday or Tuesday.  That would be typical of the area.  Maybe though I'll be surprised.   The longest it has been out is five days.  Meanwhile, in the moment, Steve's office has power and our tummies are full with breakfast at Toast.

Enjoy!  It is quite an amazing world!!
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Hooray for Bill Leonard!!

I emailed the members of the Board of Equalization on the editorial in the Book Passage newsletter.  I received this very generous reply from Bill Leonard.   It is well-considered and important to read.   People are paying attention.   Hooray!!

Dear Ms. Edgett:
Thank you for writing me about the Book Passages article about the state’s policy regarding Amazon’s tax liability.  One commendable aspect of the article is in pointing out that the sales tax is a regressive tax, and in my opinion, it is a tax that no longer works in today’s economy.
First, I am sorry to disagree with the Book Passages conclusion regarding current law.  Our legal staff has determined that having affiliate advertisers does not create a nexus for the purpose of sales tax liability.  Moreover, it is widely understood that the Quill Supreme Court decision cited in the article forbids states to tax out of state retailers that do not have nexus because such activity is interstate commerce that the United States Constitution explicitly leaves to Congress to regulate.  The size and scope of the business is not a relevant legal factor.  
The Board of Equalization has authority to tax only to the extent that statute allows.  When we depart from our statutory obligations and tax entities based on criteria other than what the law is, we often get sued, and we lose.  We lost a similar case involving Barnes and Noble.com in December.  I agreed with the majority of my colleagues on the Board that Barnes and Noble.com had established California nexus because Barnes and Noble stores in California honored coupons that customers had downloaded from Barnes and Noble.com.  The court did not agree.  We voted at the December meeting to appeal the case.  The facts surrounding Amazon’s situation are a far less compelling for nexus than that in the Barnes and Noble.com case.
The Book Passages article did identify one area where we could improve collections.  That is with those California booksellers that ship to California addresses but Amazon directly charges the customer and then remits the money back to the retailer.   I queried the Board’s chief of sales tax collection and he reported back that the Board is and has been doing outreach to these booksellers to make sure they understand that they must have valid seller permits, and that if they are shipping to California residents it is their obligation to remit sales tax to the state, not Amazon’s.  Amazon has informed these retailers of their obligation and suggested to them that they simply include the tax in the listed price of the product.  While compliance can be strengthened, to suggest that all these transactions are currently not being taxed is simply not true.   
One form of relief for retailers, and one that I am actively talking to legislators about, is to reduce the state sales tax rate.   We have long known that the Internet would change how products are delivered to consumers and the obvious challenge traditional retailer would face.  The state sales tax once reflected the state’s desire to tax consumption.  We have since evolved into more of a service-oriented economy but only retailers now bear the brunt of our policy to tax consumption.  The number of retailers operating in California has remained stagnant for decades even while the population has swelled enormously.  One factor in this failure to provide an amenable business climate for retailers is our unfair, regressive sales tax policy. 
When I was in the legislature, I proposed a gradual sales tax phase-out in Assembly Bill 2367 (2000) that would have led to the elimination of the state sales tax rate over time, leaving only the local component of the sales tax – about 2%.   This would have the effect of eliminating the competitive advantage Internet sellers have while maintaining a revenue stream for local public safety funds.  It would also make clear on the local level the connection between taxes that are paid and the services that are provided so that voters have a better idea how their taxes are connected to the services provided to them.
In short, the article is not correct that the BoE can, via fiat, make a change in tax policy as suggested.  I am sympathetic to the plight of retailers and I am working to create a better environment in California so they can flourish and spread the benefits of their success to the broader community.
Thank you again for writing me and please continue contacting me on matters of State.
Bill Leonard




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How spoiled I am -

Steve and I are back at the office.  Okay, we are wimps.  We spent a beautiful afternoon by the fire, enjoying the flames, reading great books,  sharing scintillating conversation, and we are cold.  I don't know if we got chilled in the rain, or what, but we can't seem to get warm, despite proper layering of clothes,  blankets, a fire, and numerous candles, so we have returned to the office where there is heat and light and an internet connection.   We figured it was too early to go to bed, and we should wait until at least 9, though I think last night we might have climbed in under all our covers at 8.  As Steve said, it is a wonder we didn't emerge looking like Gumby, I had piled so many blankets and so much down on the bed.

We are wondering why, since there was little rain today, and no wind, PGE could not have restored our power, but, no....  

It has not been 48 hours and it is not a problem until it is, so tomorrow at 6 AM, I expect great things to happen.   Actually we were camping happily until I looked out and saw lights on the hill.  We went outside and heard a great deal of noise, generators.  We have lived in this house for thirty years and when the power is out, the power is out, but now, the houses which have sold and been torn down and rebuilt at many times the size, well,  now the sound of generators reverberates in the newest homes on our streets.  

Hmmmm!   So, we cheat, too, and come down to Steve's office where it is warm and someone sent me a hilarious piece on Jack Webb from Dragnet and a young Johnny Carson, and I admit it.  I am addicted to the internet!!

Now, I hear something funny from Steve's computer.   I feel like I have one foot in the world of my youth and the other in the modern one, and the middle of me is filled with laughter and love.  This world is hilarious.

Actually, I must admit that though my childhood was spent in Iowa, I do not remember the power going out.

My first experience that I recall of a power outage was in this house that is ten minutes from San Francisco, a modern metropolis or so I sometimes think.  I live in the best of all worlds.

I am supposed to go to Wildwood tomorrow with Frieda, my son's fiancee, and her mother and grandmother and all the bridesmaids.  I think there are five.   I tried to point out that if it is raining and the tide is high, I may be stuck. at my home  They think I'm nuts.   It looks like the weather is cooperating though and we have checked the tide table and so tomorrow I journey to Guerneville and then 1200 feet above to the site of their wedding in July.

Again, I can only laugh.  I have a very funny, fun-filled life, and I am spoiled as spoiled can be, and maybe, just maybe, that is okay with me. 
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The Hippocratic Oath!!

My son Jeff's wife Jan is a doctor.  She entered the field of medicine with certain desires, such as helping people, and has not done the best things for her own health in enduring the book camp mentality and absolute cruelty of the residency program.  

She sends me this article. 


A good friend works for Kaiser.  So as not to jeopardize her job, I will not share her name, only say that I struggle with hearing the advertising game when it involves the field of medicine and health.

When Jan graduated from her residency program, we went to the graduation and tears filled our eyes as we listened to the speeches of each graduate and the dedication exhibited.

Doctors care for patients.  They take and honor an oath of care, responsibility and no harm.   Let's honor them in the same way and give them tools and support to do their job.