Readers Write: (June 8): 'The Yard,' the 'two Santas,' driverless cars, Sen. Al Franken

  • Updated: June 6, 2014 - 6:31 PM

We can learn both what to do and what not to do.

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Millennium Park in Chicago.

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Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has steered the discussion of planning for “The Yard” in the right direction (“Can we render this into reality,” June 1). Anyone involved in financing and designing our new high-profile park would be advised to study the 10-year-old Millennium Park (MP) in Chicago. While much larger in scale, it offers lessons.

A diverse group of government agencies, citizen volunteers and arts organizations collaborated to build MP. The park was funded by a combination of public money and corporate/private philanthropy (nearly half the cost) plus corporate naming rights for high-profile park features. The area around MP saw a building boom and soaring property values; thus, a special taxing district helps to finance maintenance costs.

Essential features at MP that can be scaled to the Yard are gardens, an outdoor pavilion to host concerts and movies, a water feature or fountain, signature large-scale art installation, restaurant space, a bicycle commuter facility and an ice skating area. To draw visitors from one area of the park to another, high profile, artist-designed bridges could span Portland and Park avenues.

Cost overruns, construction delays and infighting among the groups planning MP should also be studied and avoided.

Steve Millikan, Minneapolis

THE ‘TWO SANTAS’

Why capital gains taxes should be low

The main point of Lori Sturdevant’s June 8 column (“The future, sans Santas: Will anyone try to map it?”) is that politicians need to deal with the expenses of Social Security and Medicare and revenue reductions due to tax deductions and the low capital gains tax rate. I agree that entitlement expenses and tax deductions are big problems that need to be addressed. I would take issue with the “low” capital gains tax rate.

Most people think that it is unfair that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than income. I would point out that there are two differences. Capital gains are made on investments that benefit society but have risks. The lower tax rate helps encourage investors to take those risks. Additionally, capital gains are made on investments that have a longer time frame than does income. As such, they are affected by inflation. In order to be fair, capital gains taxes need to account for this.

Separately, thanks to D.J. Tice for his excellent column “The battle lines of judicial activism, from our very own court” (June 8). The job of a judge is to issue rulings based on the law and the Constitution. The alternative is rulings based on opinion. Those in favor of judicial activism should ask themselves whether they would be happy with that approach if the judge had a different opinion than theirs.

James Brandt, New Brighton

• • •

Sturdevant’s “Santas” article and her comments about Social Security being a third rail of American politics would lead one to believe that Social Security is not self-funded. Social Security is totally funded by a payroll tax on employees and employers, and benefits paid are not the result of congressional appropriations. The only weakness in funding the system is that the cap on what payroll amount is taxed is set artificially low, which benefits only the rich and allows them to make false claims that Social Security funding is unsustainable. Normally, Lori is one of my favorite columnists, but she took a big swing and a miss on this one.

Doug Ellingson, Richfield

 

DRIVERLESS CARS

Doesn’t solve problem of too many road users

The problem with driverless cars (“Google’s self-driving car should terrify Detroit,” June 1) is that the cars themselves are as inefficient as any single-occupant vehicle. Sure, there might be some marginal efficiencies with reduced parking demand, but the taxpayer-funded roads will continue to be clogged; the taxpayer-funded health care system will continue to treat disease caused by emissions, and the taxpayer-funded police will have no way to hold accountable the operators of vehicles involved in accidents. (Think drone operators in bunkers halfway around the world.) No doubt this technology will have an impact, but under the selfish, “go anywhere at anytime on public roads” mentality, it will simply be another way to avoid addressing an unsustainable, low-density lifestyle.

George Hutchinson, Minneapolis

• • •

If a self-driving car is in an accident, who is at fault? The maker of the car, the programmer of the computer or the person who chose to use the vehicle? Can the computer recognize all road traffic and weather conditions? Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. When is the last time your computer crashed, and did it take your car along?

David Newville, Coon Rapids

 

ALCOHOL ABUSE

Let us not speak gently about a large problem

In a June 1 commentary “Bring back Prohibition (in a sense) with discentives,” Reihan Satam says that “alcohol is crazily dangerous,” and elsewhere in the Opinion Exchange section, D.J. Tice calls drunken driving a “social scourge.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta states that approximately 88,000 deaths a year are attributable to excessive alcohol use, and MADD reports that 10,000 deaths a year are caused by drunken drivers. The words “dangerous” and “scourge” are both euphemistic.

Salam recommends taxing alcohol to just under the level that would generate illegal bathtub moonshine. That would be a good start, since rising costs tend to reduce sales. But in addition to that, what is really required is a good public education program to emphasize the health costs that result from alcohol abuse. There seems to be plenty of statistical evidence and emotional information available to make a worthwhile series of articles.

Dave Swanson, Minneapolis

 

SEN. AL FRANKEN

Support for profile, and an anecdote

Finally, an article about U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s focus on unsexy but terribly important issues (“Franken says he’s still about ‘getting it done,’ ” June 1). He’s not a drama queen nor a microphone hogger, but a smart, dogged senator. In addition to the bills described in the article, if you got a refund from your HMO, thank Franken; he authored the provision limiting HMO administrative expenses to 20 percent. That’s huge. He also tried to ensure the Dodd-Frank bill dealt with the inherent bias of stock rating companies, but lobbyists and Republicans killed it.

Franken also is a compassionate, genuinely nice guy. When he first ran, he called to ask for a donation for the primary. I said, “I am not giving to Democrats to do battle with each other, but call me after you get the nomination, and I’ll give.” He said, graciously, “I can’t argue with that.” Then he did, and I did.

Mary McLeod, St. Paul

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