How to improve the tax system

Regarding the April 15 article "The American scheme: pushing the tax envelope:" An unduly complex tax code makes it possible for the wealthy to find loopholes while confusing and keeping many low- and moderate-income households from figuring out how to take legitimate deductions. The best solution is a simple progressive tax on all income with credits only for dependents.

Alternatively, the standard deduction could be set at a flat percentage of income. That would allow many middle- and upper-middle-income taxpayers to take the standard deduction. The latter would reduce the number of returns with itemized deductions to those with very large deductions, which could more closely be scrutinized by the IRS.

Either solution would reduce the enforcement burden, making enforcement more effective. It would also reduce the incentive to divert income to avoid taxes.
Michael Bradley
Professor of economics University of Maryland

In "The American scheme: pushing the tax envelope" a tax analyst says that in the past five years, Americans have begun taking taxes less seriously. This change is attributed to "a widespread perception that the government isn't paying attention." As a tax attorney myself, I say that is a false premise. The reason more Americans want to avoid and even evade taxes is that political leaders look only at cost and not at value. Worse, they demonize taxes to get elected by appealing to emotion, not reason. Americans don't know IRS audit statistics. They feel justified in hating taxes because they are taught to hate them.
Raymond Myers

Control of humanitarian aid

Regarding Sarah Kenyon Lischer's April 15 opinion piece "Humanitarian aid is not a military business": The article opens "The installation of a retired general to head postwar operations in Iraq demonstrates the Pentagon's ability to wrest control of humanitarian reconstruction from the United Nations and the Department of State." Can this be true? Surely we must believe that the president who ordered the Pentagon to start the war is the man who has guided the Pentagon on how to end the war.
Robert Lufburrow
Tumwater, Wash.

It is interesting to note that Sarah Kenyon Lischer complains that a retired US general, and not the State Department, will oversee the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. She seems to equate a military background with lack of qualification to oversee this type of work. But Secretary of State Colin Powell is himself a retired Army general. As to the moral legitimacy Ms. Lischer claims this operation needs, she should look to the UN's failures in Kosovo and Rwanda, and its years of failed resolutions in Iraq before assigning it such virtues.
Graham Storey
Nome, Ala.

Compromising on Civil War imagery

Regarding the dispute over the Lincoln statue in Richmond, Va. described in the April 4 article "In South, a statue dispute larger than life": My hometown, Louisville, Ky., has a Confederate memorial near the University of Louisville campus and a statue of Lincoln in front of the main public library - appropriate for a border state where loyalties were divided within families.

I dislike Lincoln for getting us into the worst war this country has ever seen. People look the other way in a bad situation, and then later madly rush to rectify it. The result can be a disaster with ongoing repercussions, like the dispute in Richmond. As in the present Iraq conflict, war solves some problems but leads to others.
Jean Baker
Wheaton, Ill.

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