As the tour photographer for the Minnesota Orchestra in Cuba, I wanted to offer one more view of that incredible undertaking. Certainly the trip was historic, the music beautiful and the cultural exchange inspiring to witness. But within the orchestra's own ranks, I've never seen more camaraderie, love or dedication to greatness than was on display by the musicians and artistic staff in Cuba.

Transitioning from an orchestra that was on the brink of collapse to catapulting even further into the international limelight as one of the world's great orchestras doesn't happen by accident. Kevin Smith, the new president, interacted with the musicians with nothing less than total parity and a collaborative spirit. Music director Osmo Vänskä continued the orchestra's push toward brilliance with warmth and complete artistic command. And what more can be said about the musicians? They're warm, funny, brilliant people who drank rum, smoked cigars and were the best cultural ambassadors we could hope to send to Cuba and beyond. From the press corps all the way up to board president Warren Mack, everyone felt we were part of something special, and clearly the Cubans agreed. So to Minnesota audiences, this is the time to show some love, attend some concerts and be proud of what we have. This orchestra is to be cherished.

Travis Anderson, Minneapolis

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The lessons of the orchestra's historic tour to Cuba — so soon after the highly public labor stalemate between management and musicians — underscore the importance of consistently and constantly recognizing and acknowledging the impact of culture on all of us. We would all live in a better world if the significant role of arts and culture were captured through public discourse day-in and day-out — not just when an event hits the world stage. While local and national coverage of recent Minnesota Orchestra activities in Cuba has been wonderful, the media could help capture the multitude of ways in which culture impacts us — from the glint in the eye of a fifth-grader after playing violin at his or her first orchestra concert to the nod of recognition of an Alzheimer's patient remembering songs from childhood.

Nathan Davis, Golden Valley

There's free trade, and there's fair trade (which we support)

In "Free-trade supporters push back" (May 19), Curt Hanson, co-founder of the Edina-based Trade Acceptance Group Ltd., stated that "Congress is completely detached from reality on free trade." He also said that he was puzzled over why so many members of Congress and the public oppose foreign trade agreements.

To be clear, the public and labor unions are against "free trade" and for "fair trade." To expect the workers of the U.S. to compete with workers in Vietnam who are making between 46 and 60 cents an hour is unrealistic. To say that by joining this agreement we will be open to a larger middle-class market is a bit deceptive; the middle class of the United States has a significantly higher buying power than the middle classes of Vietnam or Brunei.

If the past trade deals have been so good for America, why is our trade deficit so out of whack? (The Korea free-trade agreement increased our trade deficit with South Korea by 104 percent in just three years.) The truth is that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will not help people in poor, Pacific Rim countries buy American-made products. What it will do is allow multinational corporations to exploit low-wage workers, bypass environmental standards and continue to erode the shrinking middle class of the United States, while generating massive wealth for their companies.

Fair trade — trade that isn't negotiated in secret — ensures fair wages, worker rights and environmental standards. It doesn't use child labor. It addresses currency manipulation, contains "buy American" provisions, and has an enforcement mechanism that actually has the authority to investigate and enforce the provisions of the agreement.

These are agreements that the public and labor are willing to endorse. Ultimately, some members of Congress got it right, and any trade deal that lacks these basic protections is something that should concern all workers, not just labor organizations.

John J. Steigauf, Bloomington

The writer is a business representative with the International Association of Machinists.


It's not what they know now; it's how they responded then

The way most Republican presidential candidates, with the notable exception of Rand Paul, fall over themselves (and one another) as they backslide on the Iraq war, stating that they would not have supported it had they "known then what we know now," misses the point ("GOP hopefuls reject Iraq war," May 18).

The focus should not be on who can disclaim the loudest, or most frequently, their past support for the misbegotten conflict, but rather holding accountable those responsible for their costly blunder. Instead of watching them try to purge their past indiscretions, the public should demand more introspection on why they were so wrong. It may be attributable to the blinders they donned after 9/11, their suspension of disbelief with regard to the veracity of the Bush administration or their thoughtless failure to question authority figures, among other deficiencies.

These shortcomings deserve exposure and explanation so that this country can avoid falling into the same trap of engaging in misguided exercises of military might.

Marshall H. Tanick, Minneapolis

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Why has no journalist posed this hypothetical question to President Obama: "If you knew then what you know now, would you still have ordered all American troops out of Iraq and allowed the brutal slaughter of Iraq to occur and the murderous philosophy of ISIL to expand?"

Bob Hageman, Chaska

We drivers are left to wonder about the rules of the road

As Minneapolis continues its efforts to be a bike-friendly city, I think it has forgotten to let those of us still driving automobiles in on the rules. What does "BIKE BLVD" mean when it is painted in the middle of a street? When there is a bicycle lane on my right, what are the rules for a car making a right turn? Am I allowed to pull all the way to the right into the bike lane as I approach the corner? Do I make the right turn from the middle of the road? Who has the right of way? Am I to assume that the bike is going straight and wait for it to pass on the right? What are the rules for cyclists? What are the rules for drivers? With more bikes on the road, I'm afraid that sharing the road has become more confusing rather than safer.

Richard Portnoy, Minneapolis

These rules are confusing, too

Has anyone followed the fishing regulations on Lake Mille Lacs? For northern pike, the possession limit is 10. But only one may be over 30 inches. However, two northerns of less than 30 inches taken the same day must be in one's immediate possession before one harvests a northern of 30 inches or greater. What? And for walleye: possession, one, in the slot allowance. No catching one tomorrow if you haven't eaten the one you caught today. No freezing one until later. What? And night fishing has been suspended. What?

Fix that beautiful lake Up North and help all of the people who depend on it for their livelihood. And, oh, to be safe, bring a lawyer fishing with you.

Susan Wilson, Savage