Thanks to Lori Sturdevant for sharing state Rep. Sheldon Johnson’s heartbreaking experience with Lyme disease (“Retiring legislator continues to serve by telling his story,” July 22). This is something we can begin to address at home with the elimination and banning of the sale of Japanese barberry.

“The sharp-spine-covered shrub … is a prime housing location for deer ticks, according to researchers in Connecticut,” reports The Farmer ( “They found higher densities of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease in barberry … than in other habitats. Why? Because Japanese barberry infestations offer an ideal, humid environment for the bloodsucking pests.”

Japanese barberry like Monrovia’s Concord Barberry and Bailey Nurseries Limoncello are currently being sold at Bachman’s, Gertens and other garden stores. While some new varieties are sterile, limiting the invasiveness, the habitat issues remain, making a nice, safe home near yours for the mice that carry Lyme disease. We should remove these plants from our yards and ask growers and distributors to stop promoting them. If they won’t, we should follow Ohio and West Virginia and ban the sale of these plants. We should do what we can to limit the chance of our kids or us suffering as Rep. Johnson has done.

Becky Erdahl, Minneapolis


Child marriage is a related example of entrenched injustice

Thank you for the excellent coverage on the failure of justice in rape cases (“Denied Justice” special report, July 22 and 26). Until women receive the dignity and equality that we deserve in all areas of life, including the law, we will continue to be blamed for causing our own rapes and these crimes of opportunity will continue with impunity.

A related issue is that of child marriage. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 250,000 children in the U.S. under age 18 were married, including some as young as 13. Most of these children were girls; most of the people to whom they were married were much older men. The definition of their subsequent sexual activity would be statutory rape were it not for the cover of marriage.

Throughout the U.S., children can get married with permission of a judge or a parent/guardian. Data show that most of these marriages have tragic consequences for girls on all levels: economic, psychological, physical, sexual. The girls endure poverty, abuse, untreated health crises including those arising from giving birth before their own physical maturation, and the near-certainty of passing on lives of poverty to their children.

Two states, Delaware and New York, passed laws this year outlawing marriage for anyone under 18. It is anticipated that many other states, including Minnesota, will follow suit, as the scope and terrible outcome of child marriage become more widely known.

Ellen J. Kennedy, Edina

The writer is executive director of World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.


Let’s keep this clear: Public policy is destiny

This was not the focus of Steve Berg’s July 22 commentary on density, but I was struck by his argument that automation is mostly to blame for increasing income inequality and stagnating wages.

The continued use of this argument makes inequality and low wages sound like the inevitable consequence of economic law, not the fault of poor public-policy choices that have weakened unions, permitted the monopolization of our economy and expanded the reach of Wall Street.

Since the 1950s, workers’ rights have been chipped away at with the expansion of right-to-work policies and the failure to modernize labor law. Four decades of lax antitrust enforcement have allowed large corporations to corner nearly every sector of the economy, giving workers fewer choices and less leverage. Finally, decades of loosening regulations on Wall Street allowed finance to grow its influence and force businesses to shift investment away from workers to share buybacks and executive compensation packages.

Just as the cotton gin wasn’t the reason workers in textile mills toiled in dangerous conditions for poverty wages generations ago, robots are not the reason home health aides, retail workers and warehouse employees cannot earn fair wages and good benefits. The problem is and was politicians working on behalf of tycoons and financiers. Fortunately, as history shows, we can solve this problem, but we must demand it from our elected officials first.

Justin Stofferahn, White Bear Township

• • •

I was learning about the density issues from Berg when I was stopped short by “they [liberals] have erred by trying to inject social justice into the zoning code.” As if the zoning code, as used by the real estate establishment, has not been greatly responsible for the “social engineering” of segregated housing that underlies our current lack of justice in race relations. ”Social justice” is just justice.

Berg suggests that we solve this problem (poverty, code for racial disparity) by “education, job training and social skills.” Hmm, I thought we were trying that. But the underlying problem is that we’ve all become afraid of people that we think are different from us, and we use visual markers — color — as our easy cue to identify them. Decades of segregated housing have kept us, blacks and whites, from seeing and knowing each other in the everyday, neighborly ways that can melt those rigidities into shared simplicities, like kids and dandelions and prices all going up too fast — the stuff people talk about as neighbors.

After World War II, black veterans had equal rights to benefits through the GI Bill, including subsidies to buy housing. But because of real estate practices (tacitly accepted and supported), they could only buy in segregated neighborhoods, setting us all up for today’s perpetuation of racial divisions. What a missed opportunity!

Imagine if, instead, all vets could have bought a house anywhere, and young 1950s families had grown up as just neighbors. They would have seen each other often and gotten to know each other as neighbors do, talking casually about jobs and kids and cars and schools and recipes, sharing the kinds of know-how and connections that we all use to make our way. As kids of any color living on such a block, you might not learn to like everyone, but you wouldn’t learn so easily to be afraid of a whole “block” of people just because of the way they look.

An occasional fourplex here and there in any neighborhood might be a start to remedying this absolutely damaging and untenable — and unjust — historical mess. Let’s drop “There goes the neighborhood” for “Here comes a chance at real neighborhood.” Let’s trade fear grounded in not-knowing for openness to finding out.

Helen Gilbert, Minneapolis

• • •

In the end, I am surprised that Berg did not mention the one reason we should not worry about Minneapolis 2040: It is likely to be as irrelevant as current zoning code. After all, the City Council seems to happily issue a zoning variance for any 20- to 40-story tower that is proposed, no matter where it is to be located. Why should a new city plan be treated any differently?

Daniel Pinkerton, Minneapolis