The Department of the Interior released an unexpected legal opinion last week — right before Christmas — putting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in even greater danger. The department now says that it doesn’t have the authority to terminate Twin Metals’ two mining leases near the Boundary Waters, contradicting the agency’s own decision just last year. This is a clear move to fast-track the project and flies in the face of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s promise to let sound environmental science guide federal decisions on mining near the BWCA.

Zinke likes to invoke President Teddy Roosevelt and the famous Republican’s legacy of conservationism, but there is no trace of Roosevelt’s spirit in this decision. Twin Metals’ proposed sulfide-ore mining operation would be directly adjacent to the BWCA, one of the few pristine natural places left in the country. The proposed mine would create thousands of tons of poisonous, acidic tailings, creating a constant threat to the BWCA.

Supporters of the proposal claim that a few permits will make Twin Metals safe, but no sulfide-ore mine has ever operated without incident. Twin Metals doesn’t even have the financial assurance to cover the mine’s estimated $1 billion liability. Consequently, Twin Metals’ proposal remains reckless, irresponsible and economically unnecessary. Northern Minnesota’s economy depends on tourism and outdoorsmanship, industries that stayed healthy throughout the 2008 recession but may not survive the destruction of the BWCA.

Zinke has caved to mining special interests and broken his promise to let environmental science guide the Department of the Interior.

Tim Schaefer, Minneapolis

The writer is director of Environment Minnesota.


After pay hike, a restoration of proper process is in order

As a Democrat and a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, I cheered when U.S. Sen. John McCain gestured “thumbs down” and called for the restoration of “regular order” as he voted no on repeal.

Alas, the citizens of Minneapolis must demand that regular order return to the City Council. The unanimous approval of the strategically “walked on” extraordinary salary increase on Dec. 15 is only the latest example of a council process run amok (“Council quietly hikes pay,” Dec. 23). From streetcars to stadiums, the Commons Park to the $30 million parks and streets agreement outside of any budget process, the council has systematically discarded its charter and budget rules. Public hearings and debate have been circumvented, and unanimous council votes appear to serve the purpose of justifying decisions that have already been made after private discussions among council members.

This must end. Democracy at any level can only thrive when there is a healthy and open exchange of ideas. Responsible budgeting can take place only if the significant trade-offs among priorities are openly discussed, not hidden in a shroud of financial maneuvers or off-budget decisions. There will be no more important task for the newly installed mayor and City Council than the restoration of the basic rules of governance, or in McCain’s words, “regular order.”

Paul Ostrow, Minneapolis

The writer was a member of the Minneapolis City Council from 1998 to 2009.


Civics education starts with the funding we provide to schools

I, like Christopher Dale (“What we don’t know about civics can (and will) hurt us,” Dec. 23), feel the lack of civics education is harming our country. However, the fault shouldn’t fall only on the school districts. Our government officials have forced the schools to cut back on many programs in order to fund math, science and English. Fewer social-studies classes are now required for graduation, and class sizes have been increased, so math, science and English classes could be smaller in order to improve test scores. Our schools can’t solve this problem until society and our politicians recognize and place the same emphasis on the importance of civics, history, geography and economic education.

Marsha Gille, Minneapolis

• • •

In reading Dale’s commentary, I was reminded of a conversation I had in 2003. I had been invited by the Russian governmental educational establishment to visit the educational leaders of Russia as part of my being the National Superintendent of the Year in 2003. The purpose was to share ideas and conversation about educational practices in each country.

Among many enlightening discussions, the most memorable took place in the St. Petersburg offices of the head of the Russian education system in western Russia. This woman, who had survived multiple political changes in her government over her years, met me in her vast office with an entourage, and before I could say anything, said to me:

“Dr. Dragseth, I want to share with you something very important. You may think that [President Ronald] Reagan was the cause of Russia coming apart and splitting up. You are wrong. We failed because the government for many years did not teach our students about our government and how it works. They didn’t want the public to know what the government did, and they actually condoned this apathy. The result is that we have a populace that was not educated about our government and thus does not care about the government or what it does.

“This lack of interest and knowledge led to the imploding within of our political system. We lost because people did not feel connected to us. I am afraid for your country because it could happen to you. Your democracy is not guaranteed, you are a young nation. You must educate and train your people everyday to understand and support your political way of life otherwise you will be like us, a nation torn apart by ignorance.”


I was stunned by the passion of her comments, and I will never forget her prophecy and her warning from the top leader of education in a powerful country. Can it happen here? Yes, but not if we ensure that all students know our political history, our Constitution and our laws and that they engage in this great democratic experiment called the United States of America. Ignorance is never the answer.

Ken Dragseth, Edina


(By white men, primarily)

The list of 39 essential works of fiction that was compiled by Profs. Robert Delahunty and John Radsan (“The 40 greatest books we all should read,” Dec. 23) is, unsurprisingly, reflective of a limited perspective and experience of literature. By “objectively” selecting their 39 greatest books, they somehow wind up with a list that is about 60 percent Anglophone, 90 percent male and overwhelmingly white. One might view their project more charitably if they made it clear that their intention was to establish a Western canon of fiction, but nowhere do they make this explicit, hand-wringing over the demise of Western Civ courses notwithstanding. Indeed, they praise the universality and indispensability of Achebe, Lady Murasaki, Rumi and Proust, and then, bizarrely, omit all of these authors from their list — except Proust, a white, male European.

I am not disputing the fact that the books they chose are great works of literature, but durability and influence are measured within a specific society or culture, and so trying to establish a single, universal canon is an irrelevant exercise. But in any case, Delahunty and Radsan have already rejected my “predictably banal” objections.

Eleanor Glewwe, Edina