John Phelan’s Dec. 24 commentary “We live in the luckiest era in history, and here’s why” requires a response.

Yes, the early capitalists did make their own lives better, but the vast majority of people suffered greatly and were barely able to eke out a subsistence living. Keep in mind that unfettered capitalism meant working at least 12 hours a day, six days a week for the vast majority of men, women and children. Conditions in mines, factories and other workhouses were brutally dangerous. There’s a reason why “in 1860, the share of the global population that died in the first five years of life was 41%,” as Phelan says, a number that didn’t drastically improve until well into the 20th century.

It was the courageous workers who risked their jobs, frequently fought their own government and often lost their lives who eventually won the struggle for a better life. This struggle continues to this day in many parts of the world. Contrary to Phelan’s assertion, the “vast increase in wealth” was not widely shared until the capitalists were forced to relinquish some of that wealth.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of capitalism. However, it wasn’t the capitalists’ drive for ever-increasing profits that improved the lives of Earth’s average citizens. I encourage readers to watch PBS’ American Experience 2018 documentary “The Gilded Age” for examples of how life was and, more important, how it compares to the present day.

Ken Thielman, Woodbury

CLIMATE

Let’s put our wealth to work

Our commonwealth is the richest nation on the planet, which is handy since we face the largest climate challenge ever faced by our 300,000-year-old species. This could be a good situation, if leadership were informed and collaborative. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has elected to pretend that our home is not on fire. And the president continues to demonstrate his arrogant ignorance about how our national economy depends on hundreds of free services provided to our communities by the supporting ecosystem. He has appointed fossil fuel industry leaders to lead our environmental protection. Given our wealth, education and faith traditions, this is a sad direction our kids will regret.

The irony is that the stock market is breaking records due to the Federal Reserve’s cheap money offered to banks and businesses. This has caused our carbon emissions to keep breaking records, which cannot be good when we have little time to change climate direction. There must be some faithful oath takers in the Senate who will render impeachment justice for our economy and species. Losing a job is one thing. Losing a living planet is another.

Bill Mittlefehldt, Duluth, Minn.

JUSTICE SYSTEM

Prosecutors aren’t neutral. Good.

The Ramsey County Deputy Sheriff’s Union president raises several valid points in “Circumventing grand juries in police cases is fraught,” (Dec. 28). It’s a thought-provoking essay about the role of citizens in making indictment decisions about cases involving public officials, particularly cops. However, she lost me with the rhetoric about prosecutors supposedly being “true ministers of justice” who are “neutral and objective.” There is no single official in our criminal justice system who plays this role. If there is, isn’t it the role of the judge and jury, not the prosecutor?

Getting at this issue of officer-involved shootings in the metro area is very complex. To influence police discipline matters, the public has to go to their mayor or council member — an indirect route at best. And judges are elected officials, but they don’t tend to lose very often, do they? Prosecutors are the best leverage point that citizens have with respect to the charging of cops in officer-involved shootings. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman played the role of elected advocates for justice when they charged officers Jeronimo Yanez and Mohamed Noor in those respective cases. Before that, not a single cop in Twin Cities history had been charged despite hundreds of officer-involved shootings. Clearly, there is a flaw in the grand jury process — we have yet to see any white officers indicted. Both Yanez and Noor were officers of color. The prosecutors in these cases were responding to the public’s outcry for justice.

Michael Darger, Minneapolis

DRIVE-THROUGHS

They help me navigate the city

The discussion about whether to ban new drive-up businesses in Minneapolis always catches my attention (“Mpls. may get 1 more drive-up business,” Jan. 1). As a person with impaired walking ability who often uses a wheelchair, I have to think carefully before I venture out to grab a bite to eat or pick up a prescription. Winter weather plays into that decision. If I visit a business that doesn’t have a drive-up option, my choices are either to walk across an icy parking lot or sidewalk, hoping that I don’t fall due to my cane slipping on the ice, or to take my wheelchair out of my trunk, roll myself to the door, and attempt to enter a building that may not have an automatic entrance. In light of those choices, I usually settle for finding a business that has a drive-up option. I realize that many factors come into play as local governments make decisions, but let’s not lose sight of the additional challenges that the lack of a drive-up option can pose for people with disabilities.

Ethan Wood, Woodbury

SCHOOL CHOICE

Charter schools are not the problem

I was disappointed to see the commentary by St. Paul school board member Steve Marchese (“We must examine effects of school choice,” Jan. 2). As a parent of a St. Paul charter school student, I could not disagree more.

Our school meets the needs of our child far more effectively than the public school she attended before. Charter schools offer wider choice and are better able to respond should the need arise.

As for racial disparity, it is ironic that Mr. Marchese’ commentary comes so close to the passing of Bill Wilson, a civil rights icon in St. Paul who himself started an extremely successful charter school called Higher Ground Academy. His intent was to help students of color.

The problem is not charter schools. The problem is public schools that have become bloated, inefficient (just look at the debacle this past year in building cost overruns), overcrowded and too expensive to run.

Jim Piga, St. Paul

MINNESOTA PRIMARY

What if I don’t want to share that?

In the past I’ve been proud of Minnesota’s primary election process as we never had to declare a political party. Although you could only vote in one party’s contest, no one needed to know which party you chose (“What you need to know before the presidential primary,” Jan. 3).

This year, you will have to announce a party affiliation and election officials will record it and share that information with the chairs of each political party.

I see no reason to share my political leanings with the election judges, the state, the neighbors in line with me, my spouse (who may disagree with me) or the political parties. Don’t bother to tell me that this data will remain confidential, as any such list is subject to hacking or misuse. Surely this data will be used by the political parties to flood my mailbox with fundraising requests, but it could also be used by elected officials to pay more attention to some constituents than others. It could be maliciously used in redistricting, purging the rolls, locating polling places, etc.

What happened to privacy? My political leanings should not have to be shared.

Greg Blakely, Savage

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