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May 15, 2009

Limiting Deduction For Rich Will Hurt Poor

In his May 1 opinion article “When Charity Isn’t Charitable,” Peter Singer highlights an important fact of which most of us who work in the philanthropic sector are well aware: Much charitable giving and much foundation giving do not really benefit the needy. He is correct that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The bottom line, however, to which Singer gives short shrift, is that the current proposal to limit the charitable tax deduction for the highest earners will take money away from countless charitable organizations that are charitable and that at present constitute an essential part of the social safety net of the United States. The use to which the additional tax revenues would be put, whether an undefined health plan or any other purpose, does not change the fact that the current proposal will hurt the most vulnerable members of our society.

Koppel Levine
Chicago, Ill.

Peter Singer writes eloquently that the tax system benefits the wealthy by allowing tax-deductible contributions to museums, art galleries, theaters and performing arts organizations. “Let’s face it,” he writes, “most of the patrons of these cultural institutions earn more than the median American income.” But the professor from Princeton would have been much more credible had he started by looking at his own house. Don’t most Princeton students’ families earn more than the median American income? Is Princeton, with a multi-billion-dollar endowment, more deserving of tax-deductible contributions than cultural institutions?

In addition, Singer’s proposed solution to the problem is wholly unworkable. He wants to allow tax-deductibility “only where there is a broad consensus that an organization is serving a valuable public purpose.” How is such a “broad consensus” to be determined? By whom? Using what standards? At what moment?

Even if it were possible to discover a broad consensus, I’ll bet Singer would be unhappy with the results. Some 90% of Americans make under $100,000 a year, and 60% of their contributions go to religious institutions. A lot of Americans are voting with their pocketbooks that religion is a “valuable public purpose.” Would Singer, who opposes the deductibility of contributions to religious organizations, be happy relying on that broad consensus?

Something should be done to rationalize the system of itemized deductions, including those relating to contributions. But Singer’s approach is not the way.

Ira Kaminow
Tzedakah, Inc.
Potomac, Md.

What’s so Wrong About Protecting Workers?

I never saw it coming.

After reading your excellent article about Jews in the upper echelons of today’s labor movement (“New Labor Leaders Take a Page From History”), I read the next-to-last paragraph of the otherwise great editorial “Jews and Labor” (May 1).

I felt like I was sucker punched.

What were you referring to when you wrote that “there’s plenty to criticize in the tactics employed by Big Labor and real concern that outdated attitudes are hampering American industry from growing and changing to meet tomorrow’s global demands”?

Was it labor’s so-called protectionism, which is little more than the demand that workers in foreign lands receive decent pay and good working conditions to help them, while leveling the playing field?

Was it the members of the United Auto Workers who won salaries of roughly $60,000 a year, decent benefits and a poverty-free retirement? At least up until now. Is it labor’s attempt to make it easier to form unions by giving workers the choice of either majority sign-up or a secret-ballot election?

Considering the mess that those on the “other side of the picket line” have made of the world economy, I cannot imagine what it is to which you were referring.

Carl Goldman
Executive Director
AFSCME Council 26
Washington, D.C.

Yes to Hebrew School, No to Charter Schools

As a Hebrew teacher, I could not agree more with Reuven Kalifon’s assertion that we, as Jews, are losing one of our most basic connections to our history and culture by neglecting Hebrew (“Making Hebrew a Priority,” April 17). Language expresses the values and the very soul of a people.

Hebrew-language charter schools, however, are not the answer. They subvert the public school system and private schools alike. Hebrew instruction should be the bailiwick of synagogue religious schools and Jewish day schools, not bound up with government-sponsored institutions. We must not sell our souls for a charter school system that, in any case, will benefit very few.

Kim Phillips
Kingston Springs, Tenn.

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