Big money and big campaigns; taxing death; healthcare reform

Neutralize elections

Re “Wealth often isn’t the key to an office,” Dec. 20

Implied in your headline is that money often is key to an office. When that is the case, democracy is not served.

Meg Whitman talks of having a $150-million campaign. That means I am going to be assaulted with Whitman commercials, direct mail and robotic phone calls. I already do not like her, and I have no idea what she stands for.

We want spirited debate and clear ideals to propel a candidate into office, and that will only happen if we neutralize big-money elections. The California Fair Elections Act on the ballot for June 2010 would do that for the office of Secretary of State. It would be a start, and hopefully would spread to the governor’s race.

Nick Gleiter

On death and taxes

Re “The taxation of death,” Editorial, Dec. 18

Your editorial is (justifiably) outraged by Republican obstructionism regarding estate/capital gains taxes and the harm that that obstructionism will cause a great many Americans, and it calls for the Republicans to explain why they are raising taxes on the middle class while lowering them for the rich.

Haven’t you been paying attention? Knock, knock -- hello. That’s what Republicans always do. They are the party of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Regarding everything.

Their intent is that there be no middle class. Just the rich, and the working poor to service the needs of the rich.

Richard Vidan

When you refer to the “minority party’s continual intransigence” on the estate tax extension, one could assume that you are spreading the blame to both parties. While Republicans were in control of Congress, the minority Democrats threatened filibusters when estate tax changes were broached. That this issue needs to be addressed has been known for years, and until now little has been done.

Your editorial blaming this solely on the Senate Republicans, rather than blaming Congress as a whole for the inaction, shows this newspaper’s political orientation.

Martin Melnick
Newport Coast

I think the estate tax is good public policy and should not be eliminated. The estates of average taxpayers should not be the real issue, however.

It is the estates of those such as Bill Gates, Ted Turner and the Walton family that should be of concern. The bulk of their estates consist of unrealized (and therefore untaxed) capital gains, and were they to escape the estate tax would not be taxed at all. What’s more, through a little financial planning, the heirs of such wealth could easily continue to build their estates unless pestilence, war, revolution or some other calamity knocked them down to size. The tax protects against the unhealthy concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

As an aside, I am fed up with both major parties and changed my registration to independent. The parties’ primary aim seems to be the opposition of all proposals of the other party, often to the detriment of the people.

Jefferson C. Romney
Westlake Village

Considering the ever-present debate on same-sex marriage in your pages, I couldn’t help thinking . . . why has nobody talked about the estate tax and long-term same-sex couples?

My partner and I, who have been in a committed same-sex relationship for 25 years, have accrued a large shared estate. Regardless of what Congress votes to do on estate taxes, we’re subject to our estate being taxed when only one of us dies. It’s a foregone conclusion. If this were the case for the majority of Americans, Congress would have addressed the estate tax by now.

It’s time to widen the debate to include all Americans. Until there is parity, I have little pity for the rest of America’s qualms with the estate tax.

Morgan McBain

Health reform

Re “Savings -- the key to healthcare,” Opinion, Dec. 18

While legislated reform can provide incentives in healthcare for efficiency, productivity can also be improved by the same methods that worked in manufacturing and other industries.

My engineering students and I have been working with many California hospitals, applying principles developed at Toyota and elsewhere. After working with San Francisco General, Valley Presbyterian and many others, we have found the results are usually dramatic, meaning more patients can be seen for the same or often lower cost.

In the past there has been little incentive for hospitals to become more efficient -- hopefully, reform will change that.

David Belson
Los Angeles
The writer is a professor at the USC School of Engineering.

Blood in cellphones

Re “Curbing ‘conflict minerals,’ ” editorial, Dec. 15

Congratulations to The Times for this editorial. Those of us working in the Democratic Republic of Congo know from firsthand reports just how dire the situation is for the Congolese people.

To be sure, there is no single solution that will bring about peace and justice for millions of innocent people. Reining in the illicit trade in these valuable conflict minerals, as pending bills in Congress aim to do, would be a huge step. It would help deprive the lawless armed groups of a major source of income and eliminate a main driver of the conflict.

Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, along with Congolese bishops, have lobbied in support of the bill. One of the bishops from Congo who traveled to Washington once said, “There are a few drops of Congolese blood in every cellphone.” Let us wash our hands and our cellphones of this blood.

Ken Hackett
The writer is president of Catholic Relief Services.

Affording the death penalty

Re “State defies national trend of death-sentence decline,” Dec. 19

We are furloughing court employees, considering closing courthouses and facing the biggest economic problems of most of our lifetimes. Accordingly, the high cost of prosecuting capital cases should be more than “only one factor” that is considered when deciding to seek the death penalty.

Whether this year is simply an anomaly, as the district attorney believes, or a trend, someone needs to look at these costs and decide whether Los Angeles can afford to prosecute the number of capital murder cases prosecuted this year -- a number that exceeds the 13 mentioned in the article (there was no statistic offered regarding cases where the death penalty was sought and not imposed).

Jennifer Friedman
Los Angeles

Priest is thinking outside the box

Re “Is parish priest a saint or a sinner?,” Column One, Dec. 21

My husband and I shook our heads as we read the article on Father Raymundo Figueroa. Our reaction was not toward the popular priest, but rather toward the dioceses who have complained about his practices, which, church officials say, include crossing into the United States and charging money for confirmations, first Communions and baptisms.

Obviously they want to squelch him, transfer him out of Rosarito and otherwise prevent him from doing God’s work.

The Times reports that U.S. churches don’t normally charge for sacraments. Yeah, right, but “donations” are accepted -- as when our son was baptized in the Catholic Church.

The Church shouldn’t care where sacraments are given as long as there continue to be more followers added to God’s flock.

Why go after a priest who thinks outside the box, gets the job done and has a loyal following? Or is it just that these dioceses are upset that Father Ray is getting the money instead of their own churches?

Roxanna Ring
Redondo Beach