Renewed attention, yet still not serious

President Obama’s plan is not serious. How can it be the framework for anything? There are no reforms — a tiny, nearly immeasurable slowdown in the growth of spending far in the future, additions to an incomprehensible tax code and a budget that never balances. If this is serious, what’s ridiculous?

Why is it only the Republicans who are responsible for balancing the budget? The president should have put forth his plan (a real one) so we could compare it to something. He submits his plan for losing America, and Republicans are supposed to compromise with that? It is like playing Russian roulette and compromising on the number of bullets.

The Star Tribune could dramatically simplify the discussion by routinely providing two baseline numbers: the percentages of debt and spending to GDP. Former Comptroller David Walker suggests that 60 percent is a sustainable rate for our debt. Total government spending (federal, state and local) has touched 40 percent of GDP in the past couple of years and hovers there today.

These two numbers could take much of the noise out of the discussion. Today, only policy and budget wonks have any idea of these numbers, and most of them are confused as well.

Ben Riechers, Coon Rapids

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Obama thinks that a small tweak in the inflation protection of Social Security benefits is a political way to get a compromise with Republicans. The duplicitous Republicans are already calling it an attack on seniors. You can see where the political posturing is going for the midterm elections.

Of course, this all could be solved with a hefty carbon tax that would spare benefits and reduce the deficit at the same time it reduces global warming. I just don’t see a reason for what Obama is doing, except to inflict the pain of austerity on seniors.

Bruce Fisher, St. Louis Park

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Saddam’s evils did not justify U.S. actions

Jeffrey Goldberg (“What of Iraq war? Ask an Iraqi,” April 11) raises good questions but neglects a most important one: What did the Iraq war do to the United States?

We should never have initiated that war, not just because it cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, and not just because it cost Iraq even more. A claim that Saddam Hussein was killing a million people in no way justifies the United States killing thousands of people.

We have not removed Mugabe from Zimbabwe or the Kims from North Korea; we have not replaced the leadership in Myanmar or Iran. But we singled out Iraq for our wrath — because of its leader, some say.

The Iraq war made the United States into a global ogre; it used the world’s most awesome power without provocation and without invitation from the people of the country. That is why it will always be seen as unjust, no matter how bad Saddam may have been.

Andrew Larkin, St. Cloud

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The law spells out a thing or two

A recent letter writer put forth a misconception rampant in the biking community when he wrote that “bicyclists have every right to use busy streets.”

Actually, they don’t. To wit: Minnesota Statute 169.222 states that “every person operating a bicycle shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by this chapter … except in respect to those provisions in this chapter relating expressly to bicycles.” Here’s the part (other than stoplights/signs) the biking community likes to conveniently ignore: bikes “shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

It’s hard to imagine a scenario on busy, narrow Lake Street or countless other roads that bikes lay claim to, where this wouldn’t be an issue. Lack of enforcement does not negate the statute. From my perspective, bikes want all of the “rights” but none of the rules.

John G. Morgan, Burnsville

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If I have to choose, here’s how it breaks

We’ve heard from the Minnesota Business Partnership (“Minnesota shouldn’t ease up on basic skills test,” March 31) and the state’s education commissioner (“It’s time for a new testing regimen,” April 5).

The Business Partnership says lots of testing is the cure for all the low achievers. The commissioner says that lots of testing is making kids cry and feel bad about themselves. Who is right?

I would rather the low achievers felt good about themselves.

Steve Watson, Minneapolis

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The story behind an important ad campaign

A recent letter writer questioned the aesthetic and communications value of a billboard that is part of the new campaign by the Minnesota Department of Health to encourage screening tests for colon cancer.

The “cover your butt” billboard is not intended to be offensive. Our goal is to promote the important message that getting a colonoscopy will help you “cover” yourself by ensuring that if you do have colon cancer you will find it early, when it is more treatable. The billboard is one of several being evaluated in a three-month campaign that is edgier than typical health messaging, and for good reason — colon cancer is no laughing matter.

The American Cancer Society estimates 2,220 Minnesotans will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year and that 770 will die from the disease. Most of these deaths could be prevented with regular screening. Sadly, about one third of Minnesotans between ages 50 and 75 are not up to date with colon cancer screening.

We are using various tactics — including some that rely on humor — to deliver this vital message, and we are pleased that many people have told us the billboards encouraged them to have discussions about colon cancer screening.

Incidentally, the model in the “cover your butt” photo was not paid. His grandfather died from colon cancer, and he volunteered to participate with the hope of preventing more unnecessary deaths.

Shelly Madigan, St. Paul

The writer works for the Minnesota Department of Health.