Thursday, December 1

Readers Write: Mondale memorial, volcanic politics, rail service and college selection, catalytic converters, bitcoin


Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes letters from readers online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.

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I’m writing to extend my deep thanks to everyone at Dorsey & Whitney and the University of Minnesota who volunteered their time to make the May 1 memorial service for former Vice President Walter Mondale such a wonderful event (front page, May 2).

Maps were sent indicating road closures and best places to park — or not park. E-mails with questions on some details were answered promptly and courteously, even as late as 8 p.m. the night before the service. Rides in golf carts from two sites to and from Northrop Auditorium were offered by cheerful drivers. Ushers at Northrop were helpful. (A special shout-out to the fellow who secured two copies of the Carter/Mondale letter for me as I was leaving.)

Arranging all of this must have taken a small army and many hours of planning. Your efforts made this special day even more memorable.

Katie McCurry, St. Paul

VOLCANIC POLITICS

There is no doubt we are deeply divided politically, not just left and right, but also in the way politicians choose to campaign and use their office. Some go at it with what I am calling a baking soda approach, while others use the vinegar strategy. When it is time to vote this November, I am going to seek out and vote for as many baking soda candidates as I can. Let me explain what I mean.

Like so many young science scholars before and after him, my son made the typical model volcano out of clay, poured baking soda down its spout, then injected red food-colored vinegar in from the side. We all know what happens. A sensational combusting ooze erupts out of the volcano, a wow factor that momentarily impresses. Then there is a mess to clean up.

There are too many politicians these days who inject vinegar. They go for making a scene rather than offering policies or improvements to their constituents. One good example, although there are many to choose from, is GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen. At a recent convention, Jensen threw vinegar on Minnesota’s secretary of state, saying, “Steve Simon, you maybe better check out to see if you look good in stripes because you’ve gotten away with too much for too long under [Attorney General Keith] Ellison” (“Jensen suggests jail for Steve Simon,” May 1).

Unfortunately, such vinegar-spewing hype, no matter how outlandish, makes headlines. Yet, in the end, voters are left with the mess of what is wrong or who is bad, but no offerings of how to clean up and fix the situation, which sometimes has been totally fabricated.

Thankfully, current Gov. Tim Walz has proven to be a doer rather than a spewer, navigating us through the pandemic and proposing a budget that offers equity to all Minnesotans. There are so many ways to improve climate, education, health care, etc., if given a candidate who will pursue policies to raise up everyone in our state. That is what I will be looking for when I vote in November.

Peg Ludtke, Stillwater

COLLEGE CHOICE INCENTIVES

I read with interest the May 1 front-page article about colleges and universities offering incentives to attract more students amid declining enrollment. An enticement not mentioned was a train.

Two studies done by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission and the Minnesota Department of Transportation show that a majority of graduating high school seniors favor attending institutions of higher education that have convenient passenger-rail service.

Further, the studies showed that current college and university students want more trains more often. Sixty-seven percent of students surveyed at Minnesota State College Southeast, St. Mary’s University and Winona State University indicated that Amtrak service is an important benefit in attending those schools.

These results were important to implementing the second Amtrak train between St. Paul and Chicago, with stops in Red Wing and Winona.

Using this information, Minnesota has an opportunity to help increase enrollment at universities and colleges in the Twin Ports, Cambridge and Pine City by building the Northern Lights Express, a passenger train connecting Minneapolis with Duluth/Superior.

The Minnesota Legislature is currently considering funding the local match for federal funds that are now available to build the Northern Lights Express. College-bound students and current enrollees, veterans, families, tourists and senior citizens all would benefit from a train that would change everything. Now is the time to build!

Ken Buehler, Duluth

The writer is chair of the NLX Technical Advisory Committee.

CATALYTIC CONVERTERS

With so many of us driving dirty fossil-fueled cars and trucks, it’s no wonder that the most-read StarTribune.com article May 1 involved skyrocketing catalytic converter thefts. Future generations will marvel that our cars and trucks required such a device, one that was meant to remove “the worst of a vehicle’s toxic pollutants” but still fouled our air so badly that thousands died each year.

A recent MIT study estimated that tailpipe emissions cause 53,000 premature U.S. deaths each year. One in five Americans is in danger from air pollution, with the greatest hazard related to proximity to roadways. In 2020, the American Lung Association determined that eliminating automobile emissions would eliminate 1,350 premature Minnesotan deaths while saving the state $14.9 billion in public health expense due to 36,000 asthma attacks, 171,000 lost workdays, premature births, and other effects. I’m an avid Twin Cities cyclist who was forced to check the air quality last summer before every ride. I have never seen the air so dangerous for so much of the year.

There is a solution for both the theft and health costs: Buy an electric vehicle. We can provide training for the out-of-work auto service mechanics with the savings — with far fewer parts, including no catalytic converter, EVs require very few visits to a service center.

Mark Andersen, Wayzata

BITCOIN

I would like to add some perspective to the May 1 article “Crypto mining is gold for utilities.” First of all, the University of Cambridge estimates that bitcoin’s annual energy consumption at about 140 terrawatt-hours per year, compared with the world usage at 170,000. So that is less than 0.1% for a monetary network of over 100 million users, roughly the number of internet users in 1997. Yes, it’s true that bitcoin uses more energy than some countries, but so do industries like household dryers and Christmas lights.

Second, it’s important to recognize what bitcoin is doing: It is providing a provably scarce digital asset (only 21 million bitcoins will ever be mined or produced) on a peer-to-peer monetary network designed to protect citizens whose currencies are depreciating due to excessive money printing by central banks all over the world. Just ask the people of Lebanon, Turkey, Venezuela, Sudan, Argentina and Zimbabwe, where annual inflation is running between 60 and 900%. In addition, bitcoin’s Lightning network can account for hundreds of thousands of transactions per second and allows its users to send remittance payments back to their families in these countries for pennies rather than paying fees to Western Union or MoneyGram that can run as high as 20%.

Finally, because bitcoin is a digital asset secured by private keys (usually a 24-word password), it can be stored offline on a flash drive and cannot easily be seized by authoritarian regimes. The per capita usage rates are highest in Africa and South America for these reasons. In America, where our property rights are guaranteed, we often forget how fragile they are in underdeveloped and developing countries. According to the Human Rights Foundation, 4.2 billion people in the world live under authoritarian regimes, and 1.2 billion live with double- or triple-digit inflation. We should remember this the next time someone complains about bitcoin’s energy usage.

Nat Robbins, Minneapolis



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