- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Star Tribune, Feb. 16

Both Obama, Senate must do their duty in filling Scalia’s seat

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has put the U.S. Supreme Court at the center of the 2016 election maelstrom and only the Senate can stop the vortex before real damage is done.

The sad state of polarization in this nation reached a new low when, about an hour after news of Scalia’s death was out, Senate leader Mitch McConnell marked the occasion not by mourning a leader of conservative thought and the nation’s longest-serving justice, not by offering condolences to his spouse of 55 years or his nine children, but by stating flatly that President Obama should refrain from even naming a nominee despite having nearly a full year left in his term.

That McConnell would attempt to block any Obama nominee should surprise no one. Last June, when Obama had a year and a half left in his term, the majority leader served notice that the Senate would not confirm any more of the president’s circuit court nominees. But stating that the president should refrain from filling out his duties in the last year of his term is not reasonable and is a precedent the Senate should be wary of setting.

The Senate already has the means of dispensing with any presidential nominee: Hold hearings, take a vote and reject. But McConnell knows there is risk there. Hearings that drag out over months, turning down nominee after nominee, would cast Republicans as obstructionists, while the most controversial cases before the court could now split 4-4 between the conservative and liberal blocs of justices.

Obama has already made a serious overture to the Senate. He has publicly forgone the option of a recess appointment, saying instead that he will name a nominee only after the Senate returns from recess later this month.

If Obama chose to make a recess appointment, he would be well within his rights. Article 2 of the Constitution gives the president the power to make such appointments. With Congress out until Feb. 22, Obama could easily appoint a nominee who could serve until Jan. 2017. The tactic was a favorite of Dwight Eisenhower, who employed it three times to get his nominees on the high court. No president has resorted to such a tactic since.

In a jab at the constitutionalists who make up a core of Senate Republicans, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said that once Obama does name a nominee, “we expect the Senate to consider that nominee, consistent with their responsibilities laid out in the United States Constitution.”

McConnell knows well that presidents can and do make appointments in their final year. He voted for one in 1988, when he joined with a Democratic Senate to confirm Anthony Kennedy in President Reagan’s last year in office.

One can only wonder what Scalia would make of this free-for-all. An intellectual force in his three decades on the court, Scalia believed passionately in upholding what he saw as the original intent of the Constitution.

The Senate’s constitutional duty is clear. It is to be hoped that the Senate Judiciary Committee upholds that duty. And Minnesotans should expect that Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken - both members of that committee - will make a loud and persistent case for conducting prompt hearings on whomever the president nominates.

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St. Paul Pioneer Press, Feb. 14

We can’t lose MSP-Tokyo route

Airport-access negotiations between the U.S. and Japanese governments are on again this week.

In play in the talks about access to one of Tokyo’s airports is a threat to the Delta Air Lines route that provides the only daily nonstop flight to Asia from the Twin Cities.

The route is a competitive advantage for Minnesota businesses - and the state’s economy.

To their credit, the region’s business community and its lawmakers in the nation’s capital have mobilized to make a compelling case about fair competition. It deserves to be heard.

“We are strongly pushing the administration” and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx “to be tough in these negotiations,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar told us.

The MSP-Tokyo route has been ferrying passengers across the Pacific Ocean since 1947 via then-Northwest Orient Airlines. A plan to add flights to a better-located Tokyo airport than the one used by Delta has predictable outcomes, company representatives told the editorial board. Such action would favor competitors, siphoning customers and making the route unsustainable.

The route “allows Minnesota companies to grow and expand here,” Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, told us. Connection to a developing world market “helps grow Minnesota’s economy.”

That’s a good reason the average Minnesotan should care how the matter plays out. The route, Weaver said, is “good for all Minnesotans, not just those who may work for General Mills or 3M.”

The average Minnesotan should care, too, about this aspect of the negotiations: They put government in the untenable business of picking winners and losers.

“That’s really what’s happening here,” explains Weaver, whose organization represents the CEOs of the state’s largest businesses. If the U.S. government continues down the path it has been on, it “would intentionally be picking winners and losers among the airlines.”

It’s been reported that United and American airlines stand to benefit and that other cities, including Detroit, Atlanta and Portland, also may lose direct flights.

Fair competition is the focus of a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a Minnesota native, from Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum. The letter, signed by members of the Minnesota delegation from both political parties, makes the case that Minnesota’s global businesses depend on service from MSP to Asian markets. It notes that in 2015, the Top 25 Minnesota businesses alone accounted for more than 10,000 flights from here to Tokyo.

All Delta is asking for “is a level playing field,” Weaver said. “We think that is a fundamental premise of capitalism.”

The matter has “been a uniting issue for all the Minnesota businesses who use this route, and others, too, who say this isn’t fair and it ultimately will hurt Minnesota’s economy,” he said.

Weaver credits engagement from Minnesota’s congressional delegation, and the willingness of the state’s business community to get “involved with Congress and the White House on this.”

We can’t lose sight of the importance of strong businesses, including the 17 Fortune 500 companies that are a distinctive advantage for the Twin Cities region.

Weaver reminds us about what they need when it comes to expansion and growth: first, a reliable talent pipeline, and second, infrastructure. “That means an airport,” he said. “That means an airport with direct connections to the places they need to go.”

To compete in a global economy, Minnesota needs this daily nonstop connection on a direct route to a key destination.

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St. Cloud Times, Feb. 13

NFL’s denial risks football’s future

In the bigger picture, the post-football life of Sartell’s Craig Sauer likely barely registers on the radar of the all-powerful NFL.

As Times columnist Dave DeLand’s Feb. 6 piece “Family helps Sauer battle his pain” showed, at only age 43, Sauer is struggling with brain injuries (not to mention physical scars) after five years in the NFL, a collegiate career at the University of Minnesota and playing for Sartell while in high school. Since retiring from football after the 2000 NFL season, his life has been anything but easy. And he’s only 43!

Yet his situation looks very good amid the ever-increasing number of former NFL players who suffer from brain disorders and even die from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. Witness a Time magazine report about Boston University researchers who have diagnosed CTE in 90 of 94 brains of deceased NFL players they’ve have examined.

But here’s the worst part: The NFL, under the leadership of Commissioner Roger Goodell, remains the “league of denial” - a phrase made popular by the 2013 PBS documentary exposing how the league for years hid what it knew about concussions.

Look no farther than Super Bowl week. News reports revealed funding the league puts toward brain research often goes to doctors tied to the league. Goodell answered a question Feb. 5 about the safety of the game by saying “there’s risks in life, there’s risks to sitting on a couch.” A day earlier, Dr. Mitchel Berger, a member of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee, repeated the league’s long-held claim that science does not support a clear link between football and CTE.

Right. And smoking has nothing to do with cancer.

Honestly, those attitudes add to the plausible conclusion that the NFL, which just marked a half-century of Super Bowls, could be just a memory long before Super Bowl 100.

Think about it. The NFL already is losing in court to former players suing for about $1 billion in damages. In January, a federal judge initially approved a $70 million settlement between the NCAA and athletes who sued it over head injuries suffered in college sports. And just last week a judge consolidated hundreds of lawsuits filed against Riddell, the NFL’s official helmet maker from 1989 until 2014.

Direct scientific proof or not, the perception is football - especially played at the highest levels - comes with grave risks of head and brain injuries that might not manifest themselves until long after players leave the field for good.

Instead of leading the sport in denial, the NFL should be leading nationwide efforts on every aspect of this important issue. From objectively researching causes and potential cures of brain injuries to finding ways to make the game safer, the long-term future of the entire sport rests largely in the hands of its most powerful force - the NFL.

And if there is any good news here, it’s that there are opportunities for the NFL to be a viable agent of change.

For example, as USA Today reported, the Berger denial during Super Bowl week erupted when the leader of the Concussion Legacy Foundation challenged NFL officials giving the league’s annual health and safety update.

Chris Nowinski called the league’s decision not to fund a Boston University study - meant to identify ways to diagnose CTE in living people and find a treatment - a “slap-in the face to families suffering through CTE.” Nowinski works with the university’s CTE Center.

The NFL has denied pulling funding for the study. Even if it did not, the NFL should tap some of its $12 billion annual revenue stream (yes, $12 billion) and supplement that study.

In addition, the NFL must adopt measures that reduce the use of helmets and pads as weapons. Simultaneously, it must reach down all the way to youth football programs nationwide and lead efforts to teach techniques and implement rules that reduce the risk of head injuries.

Sure, all these efforts will change the way the game is played. But guess what? That’s the humane thing to do. And if the NFL does not lead such efforts, there will be no game to play sooner than later.

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