- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

Internet taxation misrepresented

The Aug. 29 Commentary column "No more free ride for the Internet?" is full of common misconceptions on the topic of Internet taxation. First, the author makes it appear as if e-commerce merchants receive some kind of special tax exemption. This is completely false. In fact, states cannot tax certain mail order and e-commerce transactions based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Heitkamp vs. Quill. This means that if a consumer purchases a product from a company in another state that has no personnel, inventory, or showrooms in his own home state, he does not pay sales taxes to that state.

The states have been lobbying hard in recent years to get around the court's decision by getting Congress to pass the "Streamlined Sales Tax." This sounds simple, but unfortunately, the details of this plan reveal complexities that prove the wisdom of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision. The court specifically allowed states to only tax retailers that have a physical presence in the state and required action by the Congress in order for the states to coordinate their sales tax policies. In doing so, the Supreme Court acted to protect interstate tax competition, preserve interstate commerce and pre-empt a nationwide sales tax imposed by a state-run sales tax cartel.

Although $525 million in uncollected taxes may sound like a lot of money, it amounts to less than .06 percent of all 1999 state and local tax receipts. It is not as if products bought over the Internet are tax-free anyway. With every company paying various property, payroll, income and a multitude other taxes, e-commerce still generates its share of taxes. States looking to pump up their budgets in these economically trying times should look elsewhere.


PAUL GESSING

Policy Associate

National Taxpayers Union

Alexandria

Condit, Clinton not comparable to Packwood, Thomas

Michelle Easton, in her Aug. 28 Op-Ed article "The silence of the feminists," compares the cases of Monica Lewinsky and Chandra Levy to those of Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas. The four cases are not quite the same. Any one of the congressional feminists cited in the article will respond that the first two "chose" either to pursue or respond favorably to the advances of Bill Clinton and Rep. Gary Condit, thereby lessening the culpability of the two men; on the other hand, the latter two were accused of pressing their affections where they were not wanted.

I do not remotely excuse Messrs. Clinton and Condit, two men habitually dragged around willy-nilly by their hubris and libidos. And it is indeed abysmally clear that feminists hold Republican men to much higher moral and ethical standards than they do their trained Democratic dogs. Arguments against the errors of the feminists are out there. Conservatives need to find them and use them.


JEFFREY S. ERICKSON

Davidson, N.C.

Smoke, not nicotine, cause of cigarette risk

Jacob Sullum describes alternative nicotine delivery systems for smokers in his Aug. 30 Commentary column "Quest for nicotine fixes." Our research group at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has studied the differential risks of smoking and other sources of nicotine, and the following comparisons can be made.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 million Americans smoke, and about 419,000 die from smoking-related illnesses each year. Our research documents that alternative nicotine sources (nicotine gum and patch, smokeless tobacco and the proposed new products) are at least 98 percent safer than smoking. Thus, it would take at least 50 times as many users of these products (2.3 billion people, or more than eight times the current population of the United States) to produce the same number of deaths currently caused by smoking.

Tens of millions of Americans service another strong addiction in a safe and effective manner. The drug is caffeine, and the delivery systems are coffee, tea and soft drinks. For American smokers, many of whom are irreversibly addicted to nicotine, the solution is simple. Eliminate the smoke, and you eliminate essentially all of the risk.


BRAD RODU

Professor, Department of Pathology

Senior Scientist, Comprehensive Cancer Center

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Birmingham, Ala.

DEA goals mutually exclusive

According to your Aug. 21 article "Hutchinson takes over DEA, backs Bush goals," former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, recently sworn in as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, fully supports President Bush's balanced goals of aggressive law enforcement, increased treatment and reduced demand. The approach is anything but balanced. Aggressive law enforcement and increased drug treatment are mutually exclusive.

America's punitive approach to consensual vices compounds the drug problem. Would alcoholics seek treatment for their illness if doing so were tantamount to confessing to criminal activity? Politicians are going to have to tone down the tough-on-drugs rhetoric. An arrest and criminal record should not be a necessary prerequisite for drug treatment.

The United States recently earned the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world, with drug offenses accounting for the majority of federal incarcerations. This is big government at its worst. At an average cost of $25,071 per inmate annually, maintaining the world's largest prison system can hardly be considered fiscally conservative.

The threat of prison that coerced treatment relies upon can backfire when it's actually put to use. Prisons transmit violent habits and values rather than reduce them. Most drug offenders are eventually released, with dismal job prospects due to criminal records. Turning nonviolent drug offenders into hardened criminals is a senseless waste of tax dollars.

As for demand reduction, there is a glaring double standard in place. Alcohol and tobacco are by far the two deadliest recreational drugs, yet politicians do not make it their business to actively destroy the lives of drinkers and smokers. It's time to declare peace in the failed drug war and begin pursuing harm-reduction policies that acknowledge the negative consequences of both drug use and drug prohibition.


ROBERT SHARPE

Program Officer

The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation

Washington

Bad medicine

Tom Mauser, father of the slain Columbine student who has been picketing the National Rifle Association's Fairfax headquarters, might want to consider giving equal time to demonstrating at the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medication used by one of the killers ("The vigil at the NRA," Editorials, Aug. 25). There is ample evidence these SSRI medications cause violent behavior.


MARIE A. SCHUMACHER

Falls Church


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