A good step by Obama -- if he stands firm


Good for President Obama. We absolutely have to raise taxes in order to improve the economy by providing publicly funded jobs and wages ("Obama: Taxes must rise," Sept. 19).

 Republicans are claiming "class warfare," but they've been fighting for the well-to-do at the expense of the working and middle classes for years. The widening income gap is evidence that they've been winning.

Labeling the wealthy, including big businesses, as "job creators" won't wash: Studies and reports show that businesses are not hiring but are sitting on their record profits bleating about economic uncertainty.

When small businesses are defined as those making less than $5 million a year, we aren't talking about the local mom-and-pop store, either.

Suggesting that Warren Buffett write a check to the government in lieu of higher taxes won't wash, either; the problem is the large number of other millionaires who prefer to build up their estates and take advantage of every loophole available.

We can only hope Obama doesn't back down on this issue in the face of right-wing Republican bullying, as he has on so many others.


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Debating equal rights and natural law


A Sept. 19 letter complained that the exchange of opinions about an Opinion article written by the Rev. James Livingston ("Some people can make the gay go away," Sept. 12) lacks a common ethical foundation and "shared axioms."

The situation is really quite simple: The Catholic Church occupies a political position on marriage that is at variance with the concept of basic human rights.

Members of the church may support this position as expressed by the letter writer, but it is incumbent on the state to remain neutral so that followers of other faith traditions have the the same access to the legal rights associated with marriage as do Catholics, Lutherans and those in other well-known denominations.

"Equal rights" is a radical concept. It means that no matter whom you are or what your gender identity, sexual preference or religious faith may be, you can participate fully in public life. Nothing metaphysical about this.

Faith communities are free to set their own standards for members, including rules for marriage within their system of beliefs. Writing these rules into a secular document such as a state constitution is oppression.


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The Sept. 19 letter writer states that there has been no concise and substantial argument against what he and Livingston refer to as "natural law," which apparently militates against same-sex relationships in their minds. Setting aside whether or not such a thing as "natural law" exists, let's start with the assumption that it does exist, and on their terms.

The most relevant definitions of "natural" include "existing or formed by nature" (as opposed to artificial) and "based on the state of things in nature."

Unless I'm missing something, both heterosexual and homosexual relationships both have existed and have been the state of things in nature since our ancestors began recording history.

That homosexual relationships are not "normal" -- as in "conforming to the standard or common type" -- cannot be easily debated. But it seems obvious that "natural law" has by definition made room for both the homosexual and the heterosexual in our species.

And if it does so, on what basis is a minority denied the rights granted to the majority?

I understand that many heterosexual people are uncomfortable with homosexual behavior. But please recognize that this discomfort is based on a bias, albeit a culturally conditioned bias. But that does in no way make the bias "natural" nor justify the denial of rights.


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The key takeaway is that reform is needed


Social Security has been a hot topic recently for letters and commentary on the Star Tribune's opinion pages. Rick Perry's "Ponzi scheme" accusation got it started.

According to Wikipedia, a Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent plan to take money from one group and give it to another. Social Security is not fraudulent; there is full disclosure of exactly where your FICA taxes wind up (see the report of the actuary at

A fraudulent scheme typically has no transparency, and contributors don't know where their money goes, and that is why there is a fraud. Social Security is not a Ponzi sheme -- but it is a plan to take money from one group (wage earners) and give it to another (retirees, underage survivors, surviving spouses and the disabled.

In actuarial terms, Social Security is an (intergenerational) transfer payment. It is not "just like an insurance policy," as one recent writer asserted.

There is no current asset of U.S. Treasury bonds representing your past taxes, or sitting there for the future benefits you or your beneficiaries may receive, as there is in a life insurance contract. No bank would give you a loan based on your Social Security benefits as collateral.

The key point is not the label we use to identify the current problem, it is our accepting that the Social Security program needs to be modified, as it has been many times in the past, in order to successfully continue to serve the needs it was designed to meet.


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A time for the forest, a time for the trees


I witnessed firsthand the Ham Lake Fire on the Gunflint Trail in 2007. I saw neighbors and visitors pulling together to help protect people's lives, homes, businesses and property. Now is the time for all of us to support those impacted by the fire and those managing it.

Fires bring confusion and fear. At this point, with the Pagami Creek Fire still uncontained, stakeholders and our officials ought to be asking these people what they need.

This is also a time to learn about the fire-dependent ecosystem of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the risk of fire suppression and the increased dangers of climate change to uncontrollable fires. A good place to start would be Myron Heinselman's seminal book "The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem."

Fire is good for the regeneration of our Minnesota forests and generally bad for people. Here lies the juxtaposition, and here lies our challenge. There will be opportunities after the fire is out and everyone is out of harm's way to learn and adapt our policies.

But, right now, the fire is still unpredictable, still a threat and still demanding split-second decisions made with incomplete information, uncertainty of success and serious consequences. Now is the time for all of us to support those affected by the fire and those working to control it.