The UN needs a broader definition of 'refugee'

Regarding your Sept. 13 opinion piece, "Kofi Annan's next challenge," most people displaced by war or famine have not crossed an international frontier and are therefore ineligible for assistance and protection guaranteed to refugees under international humanitarian law.

Regardless of who the secretary-general appoints as the next high commissioner for refugees, the UN needs to do a better job advocating for victims of armed conflict wherever they are.

The high commissioner is constrained by the need to negotiate access to life-saving supplies and to ensure the safety of aid workers who are increasingly targeted by combatants.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is ideally suited as an unabashed and forceful humanitarian advocate. Persons driven from their homes do not care if they have crossed an international boarder.

David L. Phillips New York International Conflict Resolution Program Columbia University

The benefits of estate taxes

Your Sept. 7 article "Newly rich escalate estate-tax fight," lacked the balanced perspective which you normally bring to controversial stories. In a paragraph, you could have noted that myriad laws provide relief for those with estate-tax exposure.

Congressmen, for their own benefit as much as for ours, have created a variety of trusts, tax shelters, and gift schemes that allow substantial amounts of money to be passed on to future heirs, significantly reducing those dreaded inheritance tax bites.

As a trustee of a library foundation, I heartily recommend tax incentives to support nonprofit, charitable, and educational institutions. It is clear that nonprofit groups would fare badly with the abolition of inheritance taxes, which currently provide an incentive for the 2 percent subject to inheritance taxes to be generous before or at death.

It is ironic that Republicans are railing against "class warfare" while trying to eliminate a modest way to reduce the gap between the rich and those of us who won't have to worry about estate taxes.

David Giltrow Santa Fe, N.M.

Genetics, the good outweighs the bad

I was disappointed in both the content and lack of balance in your Sept. 5 article "The unwitting labs of genetic modification." Contrary to your article, the principal motivation of most scientists I know involved in developing crops such as corn, soybean, and cotton is to reduce the negative impact of agriculture on the environment and improve the lot of the poor, especially in developing countries.

While it is difficult to predict what will happen when a new crop is grown over large areas, it is incorrect to suggest that there have been no efforts to try to understand what may happen.

Those who believe that this technology, judiciously applied, offers tremendous promise to mankind were scarcely heard.

Finally, it was disappointing to see you give credence to the extreme statement that we are undertaking "the largest unplanned ecological experiment in agricultural history."

I submit that the domestication of crops and animals, the adoption of tillage, the application of plant breeding, and soil fertility management were all far greater "experiments" than the minor genetic manipulations we apply to a few species today. And we are far better off for them.

Robert S. Zeigler Manhattan, Kan. Director, Plant Biotechnology Center Kansas State University

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