The article “Back-yard fire pits don’t have to be money pits” (Aug. 13) was a sales pitch that failed to tell the facts about back-yard fires. First, wood smoke is not green; it produces harmful particle pollution, which is more carcinogenic than cigarettes and stays in the air longer. Second, wood smoke is considered combustion pollution, which is one of the causes of climate change. Third, summer wood smoke produces ozone, which is harmful to public health. Fourth, it harms neighbors with asthma and COPD as well as babies who are just developing their respiratory systems. Fifth, back-yard fires create great division among neighbors.

How can city officials possibly ignore the effects on public health as ozone levels climb, and meanwhile wood-burning pizza ovens and restaurants located near residential areas and back-yard fires, according to the Minneapolis Fire Department, have increased by 80 percent in the last four years. One in 12 children suffers from asthma in Minneapolis, and wood smoke can be a huge trigger. Rather than selling the idea of more back-yard fires, public officials should be banning outdoor fires in residential urban areas to protect public health.

Carol Dines, Minneapolis


We can keep more heads above water

Thank you for the intelligent article by Dave Ash (“What I learned when I didn’t avert my gaze,” Aug. 14), which made clear the poverty crisis in the United States.

A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty in this country. More than one in five American children fall below a poverty line. The United States ranks 34th of the 35 countries surveyed, above only Romania and well below virtually all of Europe plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

We tend to demonize the poor, assuming their status is their own fault. But those of us who are better off often had parents who supported us in ways including education, and perhaps we had a little luck along the way. Ours is a sink-or-swim society. We can do a lot to keep more heads above water, including a strong preschool program for all.

Rolf Westgard, St. Paul

• • •

Amen, and may God bless Ash for his soul-inspiring article. The least among us are here among us, in rural areas as well as urban. His telling observation about how we fear “we will have to directly confront pain and suffering that we are implicitly allowing by not doing more to prevent it” was on the mark. We all observe it when beggars are present. I wonder if there is such a thing as compassionate capitalism — it exists among some individuals, certainly, but in the system? I hope all of our leaders in government, business and industry read this most poignant article.

Tim Hunt, Fergus Falls, MN

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The final paragraph of the article “Minorities the new majority” (Aug. 11) said it all for me. The paragraph, a partial quote, read, “Focusing on teacher preparation and stronger curriculum is ‘not going to get us anywhere unless we pay attention to the really basic needs of these children, things like nutrition and health and safety, and the instability of the homes.’ ”

Nonacademic barriers to learning are the low-hanging fruit. If we really want to close the achievement gap, we must begin with hunger. This fall, every kindergartner in Minnesota will have a free, nutritious breakfast because of legislation I proudly authored. I believe this is a good start and hope to make breakfast available for any student who wants or needs it. It’s difficult to learn when your stomach is growling.

Vision problems are another nonacademic barrier to learning. Data show that nearly 25 percent of children are affected by this problem, a major obstacle, especially in learning to read.

I thank Gov. Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius for their willingness to support simple solutions (pick the low-hanging fruit) as a means to close the achievement gap.

Our kids are the future!

Alice Johnson, Spring Lake Park


The writer, a DFLer, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.



A time-honored tradition, but wait …

Ahmed Tharwat (“Traveling warriors, treated inconsistently,” Aug. 13) did a disservice to the hardworking and patriotic members of the Minnesota Somali community with his recent commentary. He created a moral equivalence between the U.S.-friendly sovereign State of Israel and U.S.-declared terrorist organizations such as Al-Shabab, ISIL and Hamas. The United States does support Israel’s right to exist.

U.S. foreign fighters have fought on behalf of many foreign governments without repercussions. These are conflicts that we are neutral about or directly support. These include people like Errol Flynn and many others who fought for the Republican government of Spain during the Spanish civil war. Other examples include the French Foreign Legion and volunteers for our allies before the United States entered World Wars I and II.

Jerry Hinderman, North Oaks

• • •

In response to the outrage of two Aug. 14 letter writers over the suggestion that we investigate Americans who choose to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, I would like to make two simple points: (1) the IDF has proved itself callously willing and capable of killing more than 1,000 civilians (many of them have been women and children) in a month, and (2) because the IDF clearly doesn’t distinguish between combatants and noncombatants, returning Americans who were members of the IDF ought to be handled with utmost caution. Welcoming soldiers whose primary targets are women and children into America is a foolish move, regardless of whether they serve Al-Shabab or the IDF.

Dan Burnett, Minneapolis

• • •

As the American Jewish volunteer fighters return from Israel after the latest conflict, I hope that they feel disillusioned by the experience. It can’t feel very heroic to be a part of the massacre of a civilian population living under siege in a barb-wire cage.

Gregg Moder, Roseville



It’s really not like you taking tax deductions

The commenters who try to parallel a person using tax deductions with corporate inversions are engaging in false equivalency (Readers Write, Aug. 13) — the biggest difference being that average people don’t have lobbyists writing the language of bills that affect the way they are taxed. Medtronic is paying hundreds of thousands to try to keep tax law swayed in a favorable direction. The notion that a company is doing right by playing by rules it has helped to formulate is another example of the disparity between the moneyed and the average citizen.

Robert Heise, Richfield