Thanks for the Star Tribune’s front-and-center coverage of the smoke that invaded our city and state (“Fires render air quality ‘unhealthy for everyone,’ ” July 7). On Monday, at my daughter’s house, I urged her to step outside to smell the smoke and see the blanket of haze that covered our city. She did and said, “Oh my gosh, it feels apocalyptic!” And indeed it did. Scary. And I think about my granddaughters, and I think about a quote I just read: “We are in the mega-fire era,” said Ken Frederick, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman and former firefighter.

We are living under too many blankets of fossil-fuel-laced air, which is causing record dry areas and record lightning strikes and forest fires that become almost impossible to put out. But I am enthusiastic about a solution — a steadily rising fee on fuels and a return of all the fees to households — and I urge my member of Congress, Keith Ellison, and all of Minnesota’s representatives to do all in their power to get Congress to pass such a bill. Fuels need to bear their fair share of their costs, and my granddaughters need this beautiful Earth with breathable air.

Barbara Draper, Minneapolis

• • •

The picture on the front page depicting the extreme pollution and smoke from Canadian fires is my backyard on most nights, and it’s not fires hundreds of miles away causing my problem; it’s from those surrounding me who insist on burning their recreational fires night after night — winter, spring, summer or fall — with smoke billowing through our windows and doors until we have to close up once again.

For those of us who are sensitive and have health issues, this smoke is a real threat, not just to health but to structures when live embers land on them. Yet our state and cities, which are so intent on pollution control and air quality, allow this recreational burning of wood and garbage to continue. Until they ban these backyard fires, I have a hard time believing they are really serious and concerned about pollution and air quality in Minnesota.

Lynn Jakubik, Richfield

 

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

If it bugs you, ask yourself: Do you know how racism feels?

What is political correctness? It’s a sensitivity to language and symbols that are hurtful or offensive to people. We are in an uproar about the Confederate flag and its meaning in the wake of the Charleston, S.C., shootings. Some are frustrated that political correctness is ruining our country. We will PC ourselves into a corner because all symbols may have the potential to be harmful? I don’t believe that this will happen.

I grew up in Albert Lea, Minn., and I cringed when I found out that the Confederate flag flew at a parade on July 3. I cringed because it was thoughtless and because I knew that the name of my hometown was going to find a nationwide audience, and that tied to it would be this awful symbol of racism.

Here is the thing about political correctness: The people who are complaining that the Confederate flag is a part of history and not harmful are undoubtedly people who are not dealing with racism on a daily basis. The trick to political correctness is to be able to see beyond our own lives to be sensitive to the experience of others. If you can’t do that, you are free to complain about political correctness all you want, but you end up being only myopic in your view of the world and the people in it.

Sheila Moriarty, Minneapolis

• • •

If you think it’s bad around here, you should have seen how politically correct historical revisionism ran amok in Eastern Europe after 1989. Everywhere you looked, place names and statues honoring important communist luminaries were changed abruptly after standing for decades. All the handsome red-and-gold flags honoring the heritage of the proletariat were pulled down and replaced. People who’d lived in Leningrad their whole lives woke up one day to find they were now in a city called St. Petersburg! Sure, Lenin and Stalin may not have had spotless records, but who does, really?

I suppose some people would argue these changes were for the good, because communism was a brutal, murderous system imposed against people’s will. But if we want to avoid following in the footsteps of PC thugs like Havel and Walesa, we’ll just have to resist the urge to make the obvious comparison to slavery and the expulsion of Native Americans.

Paul Chillman, Richfield

 

IMMIGRATION

What does it take to provoke calls for law and order?

Since the Star Tribune is so law and order on the recent refusal by state and local officials to abide by the Supreme Court blessing of gay marriage (“Defying SCOTUS is not a legal option,” July 2), I’m waiting for the same level of passion in calling for San Francisco and other “sanctuary cities” to adhere to federal immigration law or face fines and/or prison. We have a five-time-deported illegal immigrant criminal accused of killing an innocent bystander in San Francisco. Turns out the mayor and city officials wouldn’t keep him in custody so the federal immigration officials could pick him up. Arguably, they are culpable in this death. I look forward to the Star Tribune’s law-and-order editorial calling for the fining or arrest of these local government officials refusing to enforce federal law.

Frantz Korfhage, Austin, Minn.

• • •

The outcry over the San Francisco killing is all over the major news channels. The main reason is to criticize the immigration policies of the government. Local and state leaders, as well as Senate and congressional leaders, are taking aim at this horrible killing. However, the aim is at immigration laws, about which they are demanding action.

Here is my question. In December 2012 in Newtown, Conn., 20 children were shot and killed at their elementary school. In July 2012 in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, 12 were shot dead and 70 were injured. On July 4 of this year in Chicago, dozens of people were shot, several fatally. I did not see any action after these horrific acts. I did not see the outcry from our leaders to change gun laws. Families went to Washington and shed tears — with no results. Could it be that these lives just did not carry enough political capital for our leaders?

Tom Abbott, Minnetonka

 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Solutions are ineffective if they ignore the problem at its core

In a July 3 commentary (“The latest news favors integration”), Will Stancil promotes a Band-Aid solution to racial isolation and poverty that is popular among academics but a distraction from understanding and addressing this real and damaging problem. A recent Harvard study concluded that poor children who move to a higher-income and whiter neighborhood do better financially in the long run. Do we really need Harvard to tell us this? The conclusion is that racial and economic integration is better than racial isolation and concentration of poverty.

The hard part of this problem is figuring out what to do about it. Stencil seems to be saying that programs that move people into more prosperous areas are a solution to the problem. But this is just another lifeboat strategy similar to the charter-school model, and it has a giant flaw: If we go for the lifeboats, we are abandoning ship and it will certainly go down. And there are far more kids than lifeboats.

In addition, the lifeboat itself has some serious holes. The prosperous suburban areas that are the destinations lack affordable public transportation and are often unwelcoming to the people in the boats.

If we are going to address racial isolation and poverty, we have to recognize the limited value of lifeboats and address the urban policies that created it in the first place. It will cost more than the lifeboats but less than the disaster of a sinking ship.

Tim Mungavan, Minneapolis