Even in this era of anonymous online commenting, Star Tribune readers continue to offer their opinions in signed letters to the editor. In recognition of their commitment to debating the issues of the day, here's a sampling of letters on topics that drew the greatest response in 2012:
1. MARRIAGE AMENDMENT
In the recent election, voters rejected the Minnesota marriage amendment, and proposals to legally recognize same-sex marriage passed in three states. Attitudes are changing.
So I was surprised to learn some hard statistics regarding teenage gays. On a typical night in Minnesota, 2,500 unaccompanied youths are homeless.
Studies report that 20 percent to 40 percent of homeless youths in the United States are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning. Usually they've been kicked out of the house or made to feel so uncomfortable that they've left.
With today's greater awareness of LGBT issues, young people are coming out at earlier ages, when they're not yet on their own and making a living.
Gay teens are at much higher risk for suicide. For those rejected by their families, the rate is eight times higher. On the street, they become prey to muggers and sexual predators.
Parents: If you have a gay teen, please accept and love that child, even if you don't approve, even if your religion calls homosexual behavior a sin, even if it just seems weird and unexpected. Advice columnist Dan Savage asks parents to be involved. "Meddle. Just like we do in our straight teens' lives."
Meet your son's boyfriend, just as you would want to meet your daughter's boyfriend. If you're a parent struggling with this issue, you'll get lots of help from PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Here's the website for the Twin Cities chapter.
BARBARA TUTTLE, ST. LOUIS PARK
• • •
Until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, I sat in front of my laptop. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Slowly, each precinct reported the results. I nervously switched between the websites of Minnesota Public Radio, the Star Tribune and the Minnesota secretary of state. I was surprised to see Minnesota had voted no on the photo ID and marriage amendments.
In a state where divisive politics has led to multiple government shutdowns and election recounts, we have shown the country one important thing: When put in the hands of our people, the work gets done; we treat each other with respect, and we show that Minnesota is a state that puts justice, freedom and liberty above all else.
Thank you, Minnesotans, for breaking my cynicism. Thank you, Minnesotans, for showing the rest of the country to not be afraid. Thank you, Minnesotans, for not letting partisan politics define our fundamental values. Thank you, Minnesotans, for reserving our Constitution to giving freedoms, not restricting them. Thank you.
CODY CHAMBERLAIN, ST. LOUIS PARK
• • •
Once enacted, amendments in Minnesota are difficult to modify or remove; in the history of our state, it's happened only a couple of times. Repeal would follow the same process as the proposed marriage amendment, requiring a majority vote in both the state House and Senate, and a majority vote in a general election.
To those who are voting in favor of the amendment or are considering voting "yes": When you're at the polls, consider how hard this amendment could be to repeal. You may think that your life will be unaffected if it passes, but might you someday have a child, grandchild, niece or nephew who is gay? If the amendment passes, how will you explain to them why you voted the way you did?
This won't be easy to undo, and it has the potential to negatively influence an untold number of lives, including those of people you may know and love. So ask yourself: Down the road, will you wish you had voted differently?
EMILY SQUIRES, MINNEAPOLIS
• • •
The Oct. 22 editorial recommending a "no" vote on the marriage amendment was really a poorly made case. It stated that the amendment is "ill-conceived," but noted that the courts are trying to overturn the federal ban. We have a problem with activist judges who want to rule us.
The editorial also suggested that society is changing on this issue, but in every state where the people have voted on similar amendments, they have been passed. It admitted that marriage is good for children, but missed the point that each parent brings something unique to the childrearing. It went on to say that some restrictions on marriage are for good and obvious reasons.
Who decides what is "good?" I don't think anyone wants to see people treated unjustly, but there is nothing being taken away when it wasn't there to begin with. The editorial concluded by saying that we are basically fair people who believe in human rights. To that I would ask: Where is the outcry against the killing of unborn children?
The truth is that this is an issue of religious liberty and freedom of speech. If we consider what is truly good and moral, it should lead to a "yes" vote on the marriage amendment.
SHARI SWANSON, BUHL, MINN.
• • •
I am a farm-raised, gun-loving, football-watching, church-attending, prolife-supporting, higher-ed-teaching, family-raising, limited-government-wanting, personal-responsibility-believing, fiscally conservative, red-white-and-blue-bleeding U.S. Army officer, and the Republican-endorsed candidate for Minnesota House of Representatives in District 19B (Mankato).
I will be voting "no" on the marriage amendment that limits the rights of Minnesota citizens.
I'm fully aware that this position will cost me both support and votes. While I can live without those votes, I cannot live with the idea that I might have to look my friends and neighbors in the eye and deny them the rights that I enjoy based on who they love.
We have some serious challenges facing our country and state government. Denying rights to our friends and neighbors isn't on my list. On Nov. 6, don't forget the allegiance we have all pledged to "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It's time to come together for all of us who call the great state of Minnesota home --because united we will stand, but divided we will fall.
THAD SHUNKWILER, MANKATO, MINN.
2. VOTER ID
Wouldn't it be great if those supporting voter ID, especially Republican lawmakers, were as concerned about who has the right to firearms as they are about who has the right to vote? That's scrutiny I could get behind, and an ID solution that would solve a real problem.
JIM WHITEHURST, ST. PAUL
• • •
The only time to guarantee there is no voter fraud is before the ballots go into the box. Once a vote is cast, no one knows, nor should they know, who voted for whom. The recounts in Minnesota over the last several cycles have proved nothing about whether the votes were legally cast, only that the tallies of the actual ballots were accurate.
Two states, Indiana and Georgia, have held elections under new picture ID laws. In both cases they have seen a boost in voter participation overall and particularly among minorities. The conclusion seems to be the more the confidence in the system, the better the turnout.
DAVID BOONE, HOUSTON, MINN.
• • •
Proponents of the voter ID amendment say it's just "common sense" to vote yes. I believe "common sense" asks us not to think much, to go from the gut. But what we really need is hard thinking and uncommonly good sense. If the amendment is such a no-brainer, why does a recent poll suggest that nearly half of the people are against it?
Second, why is there no bipartisan support? Third, where is the evidence that voter fraud is significant enough to threaten our elections?
We hear instead that "integrity" -- or honesty -- is at stake. I'm not convinced, and would remind people that integrity also means wholeness, completeness. We want elections to reflect the wishes of the majority of citizens.
So, shouldn't we focus our efforts on maximizing voter turnout instead of impeding legal voters from exercising this right?
In 2010, about 1.68 million Minnesotans did not cast their vote, even though legally entitled (United States Election Project) -- about 45 percent of eligible voters stayed home. Now that's a real threat to election integrity.
I agree with Reinhold Niebuhr: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
The antidote to governmental abuse is democracy, and we need democracy at maximum strength. I don't see any "common sense" in surrendering a smidge of voting rights to a government that may be friendly now, but not so much in the future.
ANDY VAALER, MINNEAPOLIS
3. VIKINGS STADIUM
The Star Tribune's headline "Antistadium crowd silent" (May 29) captured exactly why the protesters gave up. We were never "anti-stadium" -- period. We were always antiwelfare for a private, established, megaprofitable business perfectly capable of financing its own building without taking money from taxpayers -- especially in these difficult times.
Moreover, we objected to being treated like second-class investors (dupes) forced to invest millions -- without getting an ownership interest in the business. The Star Tribune, and most other media, allowed the Wilfs, the NFL and others to manipulate the language to make team loyalty and the stadium the issue.
It never was. We were anti-bullying and anti-extortion. But we were always pro-Vikings and pro-stadium.
NAOMI WILLIAMSON, FRIDLEY
• • •
Perhaps it's just me, but does it seem that the way both houses of the Legislature reviewed and debated the actual issues related to the stadium decision was almost, dare I say, "democratic"?
To be sure, there was a fair amount of the typical posturing, but I also heard a lot of discussion about the role of government in aiding business; the potential of jobs in facilitating the construction; whether or not gambling is a behavior to bet on, and whether that is regressive or not; whether the will of the voters in Minneapolis is thwarted by sidestepping previous referendums, and whether resistance is futile in light of the way such decisions are made in the state-to-state, city-vs.-city competitive environment.
In the end, each house arrived at different solutions, with a mixed bag of Democrats and Republicans making up the majorities. But the solutions were not so far apart as to make a compromise bill impossible.
It won't make everyone happy, but it seems that most of the issues were aired and weighed, and a decision was reached. Isn't that the way this is supposed to work?
RICHARD URBAN, MINNETONKA
• • •
I have lived in the county of Cornwall, England, all my life. My father was born near Rochester, Minn. Some of my earliest memories are of my father retuning the TV to get a grainy picture of the "American" football. It was a bond for me and my dad and continues to be to this day. Minnesota to me was a place so far away it was incomprehensible, but the Vikings gave me that first connection to our great state.
My point is that the Vikings are much more than a football team, and not just to the lovely but rather strange people who paint themselves purple and wear horned hats every Sunday. To me, they are a link to my ancestry, a way of connecting every Sunday in the fall with the place my dad calls home. When they play, I cheer with you, I shout with you, and no matter where I am in the world, I am Minnesotan.
I know I am not a taxpayer and that I will not foot the bill for this stadium, but I just wanted to say that what the Vikings do for Minnesota is priceless to me. My son is 7 months old. When I am trying to get him to sleep, I tell stories of how we will stay up until 2 a.m. and watch Minnesota win the Super Bowl. I hope that is more than just a dream.
PHIL JONES, HAYLE, ENGLAND
4. GUN VIOLENCE
The bitter irony of the recent history of opposition to gun control in America is that those who have fought so hard to hold off such legislation have taken away from the rest of us the freedom to assemble without fear.
Maybe some will take comfort in the statistics being quoted in the media that mass-shooting incidents per year are not actually on the rise. But, in fact, it takes a lot of psychological denial to go to a public place without fearing that gunfire will open up at any moment.
We have a serious public health problem in the United States. I define it as too many bullet holes in people. I'd like to see the National Rifle Association, along with its supporters in Congress and on the Supreme Court, tell us what will be done about this public-health threat besides deflecting the issue with slogans.
But I doubt I will live long enough to see such an effort. So we have come to this: Those of you who support the maximum liberty to possess and carry firearms need to stand down. You are in the minority, and the rest of us want our country back.
WILLIAM MYERS, ST. PAUL
• • •
Mass killings provoke thought and comment, but when honest emotions cool enough for rational thinking, several points are clear. Among them are answers to questions such as: "What is a sustainable social environment in the midst of mass killers?" and "What does history tell us about prohibition?"
Clearly, our well-intended fiction of establishing "gun-free zones" is not sustainable. For rational burglars, the gun-free zones of banks and businesses represent easy pickings. For the mentally unhinged, these signs placed at public places such as schools factor into their last rational thought.
They're not completely insane, you see. They're almost always rational enough to select a gun-free zone for their lasting stain on humanity. And, how does the social science of human behavior school us on the use of contraband?
Simply put, legally banned products are always available. If it were not the case, Prohibition would have succeeded and the "war on drugs" would have been won long ago. We must face the immutable fact that guns will always be available, long after the strictest ban.
The worst mass killing in world history recently took place in Norway, home of some of the most restrictive gun ownership laws in the world. Self-defense is practically never permitted as a reason for gun ownership there, yet Anders Breivik was able to kill 77 people without difficulty.
Why? Because, in Norway, no one he encountered that day was permitted the personal freedom of self-protection.
MIKE HEYMER, SAVAGE
• • •
Our hearts are broken by the horrific and senseless killings of innocents in Connecticut. Where but to God do we turn for healing and consolation during such events?
While we certainly need to continue our dialogue around gun control, we should be so much more engaged in discussion and debate about a more likely root cause related to this and other tragedies in our country and around the world -- that is, our unending tolerance and support of a violent culture in entertainment, which is increasingly influencing how we behave in society.
It is naive at best to deny that there is no such connection. Look at the evolution of video games, television, movies and such "sports" as ultimate fighting. How ironic that we are eager to defend Free Speech and hold up as icons such "artists" as Quentin Tarantino, whose films promote revenge and violence, as solutions to our angst. Where is our outrage here?
JIM FOSTER, EDINA
• • •
After my second cousin was killed at Virginia Tech, I truly believed that change would come. My hope has been diminished greatly since 2007.
Gun-rights advocates are unwilling to acknowledge that we have become a country of gun rights over every right. Guns win. They won in Virginia Tech and Columbine, and they won in Connecticut on Friday.
When we can no longer send our children to school and believe they will come to no harm from gun violence, we have lost. We have lost our children and our future.I am sad and angry that this is my country today.
Having grown up in a family that hunted, I do understand reasons for possessing guns. If you want to protect your family, I have no issues.
I would wish for the true hunters and those who carry for protection to please support legislative changes to decrease the level of gun violence in our country. Only the names and location of Friday's tragedy are different. The victims are still your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children -- just not yours, yet ...
ELLEN ELAVSKY, MINNEAPOLIS
5. HEALTH CARE
President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 23, 2010. Since that day, it has been the law of the land -- really! For all who have been whining about its passage, you should have been demanding implementation planning instead of hoping for repeal. The panic was apparent in the Nov. 12 story, "Health Care: No time to spare."
The story reveals that Gov. Mark Dayton was on top of things despite the GOP-controlled Legislature's refusal to approve the bill authorizing the important health insurance exchange. He was also able to secure $70 million in implementation grants. Everyone needs to move on from the denial stage to acceptance. Demand that your government officials and others who are responsible for implementation get on with it and get it right for Minnesota.
JOHN F. CARLSTED, ST. CLOUD
• • •
The Star Tribune reported ("Senators fight planned tax on medical devices," Dec. 11) that U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are working to repeal or delay a tax on medical devices, which the industry has said would be "a job killer that would hurt innovation." However, revenue from this source and others supporting the Affordable Care Act are aimed at improving health care cost and coverage problems.
The medical-device business is important to Minnesota, but in three visits to Minnesota hospitals for surgery in the past 10 years, I noticed that just about all of the equipment and accessories used were imported from China or Europe. Where have Klobuchar and Franken been on this development? It seems logical that they should work for a tariff tax on imported devices to replace the revenue from the ACA device tax, rather than to simply eliminate or delay that tax.
RICHARD PATTEN, MINNEAPOLIS
• • •
As I crept along at a glacial pace recently in the security line at a U.S. airport, I had plenty of time to observe and analyze the screening process. The body scan took about three seconds. The concurrent baggage scan took about five seconds. Yet it took more than two minutes per person, resulting in a half-hour wait to get 15 people through. The amazing thing was that for two lines, there were 21 TSA agents.
If this had been a private-sector operation with competition, where efficiency was key to survival, I have no doubt this process could have been optimized to take one-fourth the time with one-fourth the people. So tell me again: How is the government going to do a better job on health care than the private sector?
DON LACKNER, FRIDLEY
6. ORCHESTRA WOES
I consider myself a life-long student of the art and skill of leadership, and I've focused much of my professional life on writing books and columns and speaking on the topic. I've served on the Minnesota Orchestra board for more than 35 years and am still on the board.
My assessment of the orchestra's current situation: strong and wise leadership is necessary to preserve this cultural gem. Leaders need the courage to make tough calls at pivotal moments.
Our orchestra leaders faced this kind of crossroads recently when they grappled with how to manage a broken business model. They could have chosen the path of least resistance: bandaging the broken parts together, ignoring the most challenging problems and saddling future board members with the real issues.
Instead, they opted to address these difficult issues, demonstrating bold leadership. With tremendous courage, they put forward a strategic plan that contains ambitious revenue-raising actions (including renovating Orchestra Hall) as well as a contract proposal that is in the long-term best interest of the orchestra and the community it serves. These folks are volunteers who love the orchestra.
They knew their solution wouldn't win popularity contests. But sometimes leadership involves swimming against the tide in order to do what you know is right and necessary. In time, our community will appreciate the actions of these true leaders. I know I already do.
HARVEY MACKAY, MINNEAPOLIS
• • •
The Minnesota Orchestra board has crossed the credibility line with its ticket-buying public, exhibiting deception of its true financial condition (" Orchestra walked thin line on finances," Nov. 26).
My wife and I are longtime small-dollar donors and orchestra ticket buyers. Had we been on the board, we would have opposed the public relations approach to managing deficits. It was not only unwise, but dishonest. The orchestra's president and board should resign immediately. We need common-sense board members from out of state.
BRUCE POHLIG, ALEXANDRIA, MINN.
7. THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
When President Obama was running for office in 2008, his theme was hope and change. We had no detail about how he planned to "fundamentally transform" the American government. In fact, after his election, the details of his health care plan were unknown by anyone even after it was passed.
Now, however, Democrats are insisting that Mitt Romney cross every "t" and dot every "i" with every plan he suggests. Where were these detail oriented people when Barack Obama was running for president?
BOB HAGEMAN, CHASKA
• • •
The battle line of the election is drawn. I agree that the two different visions for America are the essence of the 2012 election ("Romney shifts to 'redistribution,'" Sept. 20). I also believe that redistribution is anti-American and is leading to an America that would not be recognized by our founding fathers.
The philosophic root behind redistribution is egalitarianism -- that equality is the standard of good and evil. It is a belief that our intelligence and results are based on luck and that to be fair we need to redistribute wealth.
It means not better health care, but equal health care. It means equal rights to housing whether one can afford it or not. It means that all countries and their values are equal and that America is not exceptional.
The tactic of egalitarianism is to pit one group against another in class warfare. The goal is not individual success and happiness, but fairness -- even if we all have a much lower standard of living.
The alternative view of equality I think was best expressed by Republican congressional candidate Mia Love during the party's national convention.
She said: "We have an equal opportunity to be as unequal as you choose" -- meaning that in America you can be as rich or as poor as you choose and as happy or helpless as you choose; all it takes is determination, hard work and moving forward one step at a time.
These two views frame the 2012 election, and the winner will define the country's direction for a long time, maybe forever. I vote for the original American version of America.
CRAIG SCHWARTZ, WOODBURY
• • •
If I'm not mistaken, candidate Romney's recent "47 percent" video commentary raises the spectre of "class warfare" in much the same manner as the Republicans assert the Democrats are doing when the issue of high-income earners and taxation disparity is surfaced. How can it be an inappropriate campaign issue in one instance, but not the other?
TOM EBERHART, MAPLE GROVE
• • •
On Sept. 5, the Star Tribune informed us, in the short item "Food stamp use climbs to a record," that 46.7 million Americans used food stamps in June. Turning the page, I saw a large photo from the Democratic National Convention -- dozens of folks holding signs reading "FORWARD" and "NOT BACK." On the next page was the headline "National debt tops $16 trillion." Forward? Forward to where? Over the cliff and into the abyss?
Not back? I ceased believing in hope and change when in December 2010 the president's own blue-ribbon commission (often called Simpson-Bowles), submitted a bipartisan and feasible solution to improve the sustainability of entitlement programs (Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security), to get federal spending under control, to move toward a more balanced budget and to provide economic stimulus.
The president did urge Congress to stop shooting down deficit proposals, but he didn't fight for the ideas his commission proposed. A figure not in the paper that day, but one we all should know, is the U6 unemployment number. U6 is rarely written about. It represents total unemployed as a percent of the civilian work force. As of July, it was 15 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since 2009, it has not dropped below 14 percent, and it was nearly 18 percent the last quarter of that year.
GEORGE MINNS, STILLWATER, MINN.
• • •
Thanks for asking, Mr. Romney ... yes, my family is better off than we were four years ago. We are a middle-class family who worked in the health care field for 35 years. We planned to retire in early 2008 but had to delay because of the falling stock market, banking and mortgage deregulation, increasing retail prices fueled by two wars, concern about job security based on corporate downsizing, and other cyclical influences to the national economy.
My wife and I were able to retire in 2010 for the following reasons: Our 401(k) savings, which had lost 35 percent of its value by 2009, was back to its high-water mark by 2010, and we were approved for a line of credit because our bank was part of the national stimulus program. I think millions of Americans have had a similar experience to that of my family over the past four years.
Unemployment is not as low as everyone would like, but since we are still coming out of the Great Recession, the progress is encouraging. It took seven years for unemployment to get back to pre-Great Depression levels in that era -- and at that time job creators had not moved millions of jobs overseas.
As an independent, I think it is political folly to praise a president for everything good that happens or to assign blame for everything that goes wrong in our country. But since we are in an election cycle and that is the game that is played -- again, thanks for asking.
MIKE HUGHES, SOUTH ST. PAUL
8. THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The Electoral College did not serve us well, as the Nov. 11 column by D.J. Tice would have us believe ("The good ol' Electoral College comes through for us again"). It only serves to divide the country and delegitimize elections. What do all the TV networks and other news media show on election eve?
A big map with the country divided into red and blue states. The states that neither side can claim yet are of course called battlegrounds. If we were to abolish the Electoral College, we would create a new paradigm. We would have no reason to show red and blue states on a map and no reason to fight over battlegrounds. Why pit the coasts and the Upper Midwest against the South and the West? Why keep the divisions of the Civil War on our TV screens every four years?
Tice writes that "this narrow victory [of about 2 percentage points] was transformed into a clear, decisive and unassailable majority in the Electoral College." Really? We shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that 2 percent is a clear, decisive majority anymore than Mitt Romney should have fooled himself into believing right-wing pundits who predicted a landslide for him.
The right will not respect this victory any more than they respected President Obama's election in 2008. We live in a rigidly divided country, and the Electoral College is part of the problem.
CHRIS ZERBY, NEW BRIGHTON
• • •
I voted for Romney because he was qualified to lead our country. It's sad that he wasn't given a chance to guide our nation. The most difficult part was seeing the brutal treatment he received during the campaign. Now that the race is over, he remains one of the most distinguished, honest, motivated, caring, gentlemanly and family-oriented presidential candidate ever.
VEDA SIREK, NEW PRAGUE, MINN.
• • •
Republicans opposed Obama relentlessly, even in regard to initiatives and bills that they previously supported. Their intent was to make him look like an incompetent and ineffective president. Thankfully, the American public saw through this maneuver. Obama is now re-elected, and it's time for the Republicans in all levels of government to work with the president and Democrats for the good of the country. The GOP owes us four years of solid, nonpartisan collaboration to make up for the last four years of extreme partisanship and negativity.
RICHARD SETHRE, MINNEAPOLIS
• • •
There are many reasons I am happy Obama was re-elected, but I think what makes me happiest is the prospect of his appointing one, and maybe up to three, new Supreme Court justices in his next term.
CHRIS GEGAX, MINNEAPOLIS
• • •
It's time to move forward. If your side won, now the work begins. Your ideas received the most votes, so behave like a majority. Also, that one of those ideas was a willingness to compromise does not mean capitulation for the sake of agreement. Work so that two years from now you will merit the appreciative votes of those who voted for you yesterday, and attract at least the admiration of those who did not.
If you lost, please try to resist the impulse to obstruct and demonize your opponents. The politics of "no" lost, and do nothing to benefit our country, our state or our people. The fact that in many instances you will have the power to obstruct does not necessitate that you do so. Recognize that the world, our country and our state have changed and will continue to do so.
Challenge yourselves more than you challenge those who have bested you. If the explanation of your defeat lies outside yourselves, there is nothing you can do. If you accept that you must change in response to what has happened, then success may someday be yours again. Thank you to everyone who got out and voted.
MATTHEW CLARK, ST. PAUL
8. THE OLYMPICS
When Gabby Douglas won her gold medal, I looked at my husband and said, "The Star Tribune will find a way to diminish her achievement" -- and the newspaper didn't disappoint.
With its label of "average" ("'Average' gymnast now pure gold"), the Star Tribune implied that she really didn't deserve to win. Or that sinister forces of affirmative action helped her keep her balance on the beam.
Of course, anyone who saw her knows she did deserve to win -- her poise, mental toughness, grace and strength were marvelous to watch. What the newspaper neglects to mention, of course, is that all of these athletes were "average" when they were just starting.
BEVERLY WIESNER, MINNEAPOLIS
The letters were selected by editorial page editor Scott Gillespie, with assistance from News Research staff members Sandy Date and John Wareham.