In answer to the Dec. 18 commentary by Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post (“Competing forces on immigration gather strength”), I can only say that Tharoor is extremely naive with regard to both Hungary and the Hungarian language.

I married a Hungarian immigrant to the U.S. and have tried for years to learn his very difficult language. I should also say that I have learned and have taught two other foreign languages, so I’m not exactly a novice learner.

Add to the difficulty of learning the language the fact that many immigrants to Europe are without skills and functionally illiterate in their own languages, so to suggest that they would be able to remedy the lack of manpower in Hungary is both naive and foolish. As Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said, Hungary is a small, poor country and does not have the means to support migrants while they try to learn the language and fit into a new culture.

I grant that the government in Hungary does things that we would not find acceptable in the U.S., but the majority of Hungarians are happy with and supportive of their government, which is why the Fidesz Party and the current prime minister have been elected three times with a definitive majority. In talking about Hungary, we Americans need to remember that Hungary is not the U.S. and Orban is not Trump.

Jane C. Simon, Minneapolis

HOG LOT PERMIT DENIED

Thank you, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, for hearing us

I’d like to thank Minnesota Polluation Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine for listening to the hundreds of us in Newburg Township, Fillmore County, and in all of southeastern Minnesota. He listened as we expressed in hundreds of letters and many impassioned speeches our concerns about the environmental risks posed by an enormous hog farrowing operation proposed by the Catalpa project in a region with especially vulnerable surface and groundwater by virtue of the underlying karst geology. I am impressed that science, and the health of natural systems and families in the community, were given their due importance against deep pockets and economic gain for the few — and that he denied the permit request (Minnesota section, Dec. 19). I applaud his leadership in expressing the need to further study the causes for the already compromised groundwater in the area and, hopefully, possibilities for remediation. I invite others to thank him, too, by writing him at the MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN 55155-4194; or by e-mail at john.stine@state.mn.us.

Sue Wiegrefe, Mabel, Minn.

The writer is a farmer.

BUDGET DEFICITS

Yes, spending is the problem. How we budget affects this.

The opinions shared recently on federal budget deficits and debt (“Kasich is half-right,” Readers Write, Dec. 19, responding to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Dec. 16 commentary about deficits) continue to show the ignorance of the average voter on the budget process.

The Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Trump (marginally at present) tax cuts all produced an increase in federal revenue. Yes, an increase; look it up. Some would argue that revenue would have been higher without the cuts; others will state when the Trump cuts fully take effect, especially with corporations repatriating international holdings, revenue will increase further. Both points are mute, as they involve pure conjecture.

Spending is the overwhelming problem.

The issue is baseline budgeting. Federal social programs take up 67 percent of the federal budget. (Military spending is roughly 19 percent and is not subject to baseline budgeting.) Most of these social programs were pegged by law to grow automatically each year and cannot be changed in the standard budget process. (For the uninformed, Social Security has no impact on the federal deficit.) These programs compound exponentially each year until we have the fiscal mess we are in now. The federal government simply spends more than it takes in regardless of the increase in revenue from any source. This is unsustainable and leads us to the $21 trillion in debt our country now carries.

The answer on the expenditure side is to simply get rid of baseline budgeting. Zero-base budgeting will allow the entire budget process to be debated annually. If we go to zero-base budgeting, we can choose annually to simply spend what we did on a program the prior year. People can’t emotionally scream about cuts, as we did not spend the required increase.

The answer on the revenue side is that 49 percent of all U.S. citizens pay no federal income tax (hard for the a tax cut to help this segment, as you can’t cut from zero). The top 20 percent pay more than 80 percent of all tax revenue. This can be offset by a national sales tax used exclusively to eliminate debt.

Why does the government play this game? If you take from Peter and give to Paul, you always get Paul’s vote.

The government has done a great job of keeping the average citizen uninformed on the complicated fiscal process. This is at the expense of the future generations who will have to shoulder our great debt burden. I would encourage all citizens to become fully versed before voting.

Gary Selberg, Minnetonka

MINNESOTA’s PRISON SYSTEM

The state should re-establish an ombudsman for corrections

Congratulations to Paul Schnell for being selected by Gov.-elect Tim Walz to be the next Department of Corrections commissioner (Minnesota section, Dec. 21). The new commissioner will be asked to seek additional resources to hire over 300 correctional officers. But neither 300 nor 500 additional correctional officers will make our prisons any safer. Safety in our prisons is not determined by the ratio of correctional officers to prisoners. It’s related more to whether prisoners believe they can get satisfactory resolutions to their grievances.

Resolution of such grievances may avoid a prisoner believing that he or she must take self-measures to exact satisfaction. The security of the staff is directly connected with the safety and security of the prisoners. There are too many prisoners in any of our institutions to believe that safety and security can be maintained simply by increasing the size of the staff. There is a direct correlation between prison safety and security and the satisfactory resolution of prisoners’ grievances. Currently, the Department of Corrections has an internal grievance system to address prisoners’ complaints. Few if any of the prisoners trust that the internal system fairly resolves their grievances. An external grievance system is needed.

For 30 years (1972 to 2003), Minnesota had an external system for processing prisoners’ complaints. The system was that of the Minnesota ombudsman for corrections. It processed, investigated and satisfactorily resolved thousands of complaints during the position’s existence. During those 30 years, a prisoner never seriously assaulted a correctional officer. I know during my more than 10-years tenure as Minnesota’s first ombudsman for corrections, there were no reported incidents of prisoners attacking and seriously injuring a correctional officer. In my capacity as ombudsman, I felt free to raise the question with the administration if I believed staff or prisoners were being overly exposed to unsafe conditions.

I believe it would be in the best interest of the prisoners and correctional staff if the new commissioner would work with the governor and the Legislature to re-establish the Office of Minnesota Ombudsman for Corrections.

Theartrice Williams, Minneapolis

The writer was the Minnesota ombudsman for corrections from 1972 to 1983.