Don't lose sight of the reason we're there

The Nov. 22 Star Tribune editorial, "Reject surge answer for Afghanistan," does not address the main goal for our troops being there or what could be achieved by a surge of 40,000 additional troops.

Our troops were sent into Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban, which provided a safe haven for Al-Qaida from which to launch attacks on the United States. Our main goal was not to install a corruption-free government. Although a corruption-free government is desirable and would better contribute to the war effort, the fact that the present government doesn't meet our expectations shouldn't become the determining factor in how we conduct the war.

The option of sending additional troops should be examined with our main goal in mind. Allowing a stalemate to become the status quo would likely result in more casualties and greater cost in the long run than making a concerted effort to defeat the Taliban.

An example of a successful surge was achieved in Iraq. The Iraqi government is far from perfect.



Health care ranking should act as a warning

As a physician, I was concerned to see that Minnesota has lost its bragging rights as healthiest state in the nation, according to the recent America's Health Rankings report, published by the UnitedHealth Foundation (Star Tribune, Nov. 18).

After seeing Minnesota drop to the No. 2 position for several years, I thought perhaps it was temporary and that we would be back in the No. 1 spot soon enough. But this year's drop to sixth place is latest in a three-year slide and, I fear, could mark the leading edge of an ominous trend.

Although the report found that Minnesota is still a top performer in terms of health outcomes, it also indicated that Minnesota is starting to lag behind in some important areas that predict the future health of a community.

Significant changes that lowered Minnesota's health care status included lower immunization rates, higher rates of childhood poverty and lower rates of prenatal care. The state's rates of binge drinking and obesity are also causes for concern.

These factors have a direct impact on the health status of our communities and portend real increases in the cost of health care in the future. Health care costs are already high, but if we collectively fail to prevent communicable diseases, ensure healthy pregnancies and deliveries, or create the environments in which people can lead active, healthy lives, costs are certain to explode.

Physicians care about the health of their patients and the health of our communities. I am hopeful that all of us will see this report as a wake-up call to work to improve our individual health and to work within our communities to support investments in our collective health. If we don't, we will pay for it with more illness, higher health care costs and lower health rankings.




Throughout the health care debate, I've been appalled at the reluctance of lawmakers to acknowledge the elephant in the room: Most Americans have utterly failed to maintain good health.

It is a colossal injustice when the federal government forces me -- a taxpayer -- to pick up the tab for health care reform, but doesn't ask anything in return from folks who continue to ruin their health with poor choices.

Washington expects CEOs to make sacrifices when receiving taxpayer bailouts for their companies. Similarly, why aren't citizens with pathetic health habits expected to make sacrifices when they receive their own government health care bailout?

Taxpayer-funded bailouts should come with strings attached. I'll be glad to pay for quality health care for Americans, but only when I see Washington hold citizens personally accountable for maintaining better health.



We have to decide what is important to our state

Gov. Tim Pawlenty seems to have a guiding principle and he stands firm: The protection of Minnesota's poorest, neediest people -- those whose special dietary needs can no longer be met, and those who will be turned away from hospital clinics except in an emergency -- is not as important as avoiding income tax increases for the rich ("Cuts take away dietary program for state's poor," Nov. 22).

Surely, there has to be a way to help "those people" without raising taxes on the rich. The rich are going through rough times; while their 401(k) has tanked, the kid's Yale fund has dwindled, the country club dues have gone up, the lake home needs a new dock and the Lexus needs new tires.

Let's not focus on those without access to health care, governor -- let's overlook them.



Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson was incorrect when he said the decision to spend $14 million extra on a bridge to make it look cool was "a little crazy" (Letter of the Day, Nov. 21). The decision to spend $14 million extra for a bridge to make it look pretty is absolutely insane.

In the Nov. 22 Star Tribune, there was a story about poor people getting meal programs cut. I have a question for the six county commissioners who voted to waste $14 million on a pretty bridge: How many meals could $14 million buy?



Commentary was unfair to U's O'Brien

The Nov. 18 commentary by Adam Platt ("When it comes to LRT: It's not all about U"), was nothing more than a blatant personal attack on University of Minnesota Vice President for University Services Kathleen O'Brien. In her approximately 30-year career in public service, she has been shown to be a fiscally responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. If anyone knows the issues of the Minneapolis campus of the university, it is the former Second Ward Minneapolis City Council member and former Minneapolis city coordinator. Moreover, O'Brien has been a proponent of light-rail transit since the initial planning stages.

Platt is correct in one aspect: The U of M belongs to the citizens of the state of Minnesota, who have invested millions of dollars toward buildings and equipment and who help fund research. So why is it arrogant for the U of M to try to protect the taxpayers' investment?

In our rush to get dollars to fund LRT, let's not forget the dollars we have already spent. If there is any damage, we can fix it later? At what cost to the taxpayers of Minnesota? Who is being arrogant: those who discount the possible damage to the U of M infrastructure (money already spent) or those who do not care how much the taxpayers will have to spend to repair the damage (damage which could have been prevented)?