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Cleanup continues at the scene of the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, runaway oil train derailment and explosion, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Investigators looking for the cause of the fiery oil train derailment are zeroing in on whether an earlier blaze on the same train may have set off a chain of events that led to the explosions that killed at least 13 people.

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz,

Readers Write: (July 10): Oil transport, state budget, hiring ex-felons, antibiotics in food chain

  • July 9, 2013 - 7:27 PM

OIL TRANSPORT

Keep rail accident, risk in relative perspective

A July 9 headline (“Risk of shipping crude oil by rail cars exposed by blast”) suggests that this is the most dangerous way to do that. Fact is, it’s the safest. Pipelines, when they finally get built, are not only inflexible, they are subject to corrosion. It takes three big trucks to move a single tank car of material; how many of them would you like to see on our highways?

Since crude oil is not particularly volatile, a better investigative report would be about why the tank cars in that little Quebec town exploded.

CRAIG M. WIESTER, Minneapolis

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Railroads are safe. But accidents happen. Just like they do with any other mode of transportation of goods or of people. No one questions the safety of air travel after the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport, or after any other crash. Yet, a train derails in Quebec and it calls into question the safety of shipping oil by train now that the railroad’s great capacity and efficiency is being called upon to move oil.

As long as we use oil, we need to understand that it’s a hazardous substance. It’s dangerous to explore for, to extract (remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?) and to transport (remember the Torrey Canyon and the Exxon Valdez?). If anyone thinks that pipelines are a fail-safe method to move oil, try doing an Internet search of oil pipeline spills. Ask questions. But please don’t call into question the professionalism and safety of America’s railroads.

LOUIS HOFFMAN, Minneapolis

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STATE BUDGET

How to compete? It’s elementary: Cut taxes

Way back in 1964, when I first started studying economics at Ripon College, my professor uttered this economic wisdom. On Tuesday morning, I spent two hours reading and rereading Jay Kiedrowski’s tortured defense of the level of state spending and taxation in Minnesota, concluding with the argument that we should avoid cuts in state taxes and state spending and instead concentrate on how state spending can be more “productive,” whatever that means (“How to make Minnesota competitive,” July 9).

State spending and taxation crowds the private sector out of spending and investment decisions and transfers (some) of these spending and investment decisions to bureaucrats. If we learn anything from economics, it is that bureaucrats can’t make these decisions more efficiently. They face different incentives.

The simple fact is that if you examine differences in state growth rates, you find that the lower the tax rates are, the higher the rate of state growth is. Some of these taxes even influence where people choose to live.

On Gull Lake, where I live, I would not be able to discuss this issue with my wealthiest neighbors. They move back to their adopted states in the winter and count the days they have to stay there before they can “return home,” all to avoid Minnesota state income taxes. Need more evidence? The beauty of economics is the empirical evidence, rather than the emotional argument.

RYAN CUSTER AMACHER, Lake Shore, Minn.

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HIRING EX-FELONS

Why employers need applicants’ records

As a 28-year veteran policeman and detective of a major metropolitan police department, I would like to offer the other side of coin when it comes to concealing that a job applicant is an ex-felon. Prospective employers must make informed decisions about whom they bring into their workplaces. Hopefully an ex-felon will have made an effort, especially through education, to be employable and will have earned a shot. However, contrary to examples used in the July 8 article “Both parties unite to give ex-felons a chance,” in my experience most felons have committed numerous crimes prior to a first arrest, let alone a felony conviction.

Most ex-felons have numerous arrests, with extensive rap sheets. Many have plea-bargained to lesser crimes. Many are career criminals who have terrorized their neighborhoods with drug dealing, drive-by shootings, murders, rapes, robberies and other antisocial deeds. Despite all the social programs offered to them, most have made little effort to improve their standing in society.

Sorry, but an employer must know more about an ex-felon job applicant, not less.

JAMES M. BECKER, Lakeville

• • •

INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Antibiotics overused in the food chain

A June 28 editorial (“Mad as hell about food safety reform”) cited CDC statistics indicating that each year about 48 million Americans become ill, about 128,000 are hospitalized and about 3,000 die from foodborne diseases. This greatly underestimates the true foodborne disease burden by addressing only diarrheal disease. Many urinary tract infections and other nondiarrheal infections also are caused by foodborne E. coli. Such strains often are antibiotic-resistant, thanks to excessive antibiotic use in food-animal production, including for growth promotion and to prevent infections caused by unhealthy farming practices.

Food-animal antibiotic use occurs largely invisibly and without veterinary oversight, due to 1) current FDA regulations, and 2) pharmaceutical and agricultural industry reluctance to disclose food-animal antibiotic sales and use.

CDC authorities acknowledge the large burden of foodborne extraintestinal infections and are seeking ways to measure and reduce them. Meanwhile, citizens can act. They can urge lawmakers to ban antibiotics as food-animal growth promoters, to require veterinarian oversight of all food-animal antibiotic use (analogous to physician oversight of human antibiotic use) and to require industry to disclose more fully food-animal antibiotic use. Consumers also can patronize producers and retailers that have adopted antibiotic-free or reduced-antibiotics meat production, which clearly can be done without endangering animal health, meat quality or producer profits.

Dr. JAMES R. JOHNSON, St. Paul

The writer is a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

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