- Associated Press - Monday, June 19, 2017

The Free Press of Mankato, June 15

Virginia shooting: Change the causes of hate and violence

It’s become an all too familiar story. A group is gathered in a public place. Shots are fired. Panic ensues. A number of people are left dead or seriously wounded.

On Wednesday, the victims were Republican congressmen and their staffs just outside our nation’s capital. We’d like to think that this is an isolated incident, but in our current state of hyper-partisanship, we fear there will be more to come.

Name calling. Vitriolic hyperbole. Manufactured false stories. These are all contributing to an atmosphere of divisiveness and downright hate.

Read the comment sections of various news and media outlets on both sides and you’ll see anonymous calls for uprising and action. In a Thursday, June 15, story in The Washington Post about the shooting you could find comments that included; “Jefferson’s words ring true, and the blood of patriots will be shed to restore Democracy.”

The comments get worse from there. It doesn’t matter what site you are on, what story you are reading, you’ll inevitably find a commenter calling for the deaths of people they don’t agree with.

How did we get here and how do we fix it?

In the hours after the shooting, which left Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana in serious but stable condition, most politicians called for unity and prayers for the victims. But not everyone. Some politicians pointed fingers. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said after the shooting: “America has been divided, and the center of America is disappearing and the violence is appearing in the streets and it’s coming from the left.”

When Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona, was shot in 2011, many on the left pointed fingers at the right for fomenting hate.

We’d like to see a new era of civility and compromise in politics. Until we can stop the name-calling, anonymous threats, partisan rhetoric, secretive decision making and labeling of entire groups of people, nothing will change.

There was a glimmer of hope in the aftermath of this horrific event. Members of both parties in Congress got together, held hands and prayed for the victims. They contemplated how each can do their part to be less partisan, more civil and treat each other with kindness and respect. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another tragedy to keep them focused on those thoughts.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 16

Minnesota-made health solutions needed as federal government creates leadership vacuum

Minnesota lawmakers took a welcome step this year with a “reinsurance” program to help consumers struggling to afford individual health insurance policies. The Legislature’s work, however, is far from done.

If the state is to remain a nationally respected health care pioneer, it’s imperative that lawmakers keep moving forward during their time away from the Capitol. Even with the session-end legal wrangling, collaboration on other improvements is critical to ensure that consumers here have affordable coverage and access to desirable medical providers.

Minnesota is already at risk of being a laggard. Other states, such as Nevada and New York, have weighed or are making bold moves to provide consumers more insurance choices. The reason is that the signals coming from Washington, D.C., are clear. The era of federal health care leadership that resulted in President Barack Obama’s health reforms is over.

One Republican bill, the American Health Care Act or AHCA, has already cleared the U.S. House. The Senate version of it is shrouded in detestable secrecy, but it is said to be similar to the AHCA. If enacted, the AHCA would substantially reduce consumers’ tax credit assistance and cut $834 billion from funding for Medicaid, which covers the poor. It’s up to states to fill that vacuum - a daunting task that includes filling the inevitable large funding gaps.

Minnesota has an admirable tradition of “interim study commissions.” For decades, these bipartisan groups of bright legislators put their down time to good use by vetting solutions. Minnesota needs such a commission. Fortunately, state Senate Republicans are putting in motion a “select committee” that could act as one. That Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, is expected to play a pivotal role also inspires confidence. Jensen is a physician who merits praise for his enthusiasm and desire to have another Senate doctor - Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights - join the committee.

Having two doctors at the helm should help the group prioritize patient needs over politics. They’ll also bring the expertise needed to evaluate health care delivery reforms necessary to provide affordable, quality care. Hopefully, they also know that accomplishing this will take resources, which is why continuing the state provider tax, which funds the state’s health care access fund, beyond its 2019 sunset should be under consideration.

It’s worth noting that Nevada garnered national attention for a proposal similar to one championed this year by Gov. Mark Dayton - allowing the public to buy into that state’s Medicaid program. Nevada’s governor vetoed the proposal on Friday, but the select committee here should give Dayton’s MinnesotaCare buy-in plan, which did not clear the Legislature, another look, especially if rates for 2018 rise unacceptably.

The buy-in could offer an affordable insurance option to Minnesotans in areas private insurers do not wish to serve and broaden provider access. Jensen admirably crossed party lines earlier this year to support the buy-in when the Senate considered it.

The committee has a daunting assignment before it. The sooner it gets to work, the better.

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Post Bulletin, June 17

NAFTA renegotiation should be about partnership, not “winning”

As President Trump talks about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement - or killing it outright if those negotiations don’t go his way - we hope that his objective is bigger than simply checking off another campaign promise.

Put another way, our nation’s trade deals with Canada and Mexico shouldn’t lead to tweets in which our president gloats about “winning” the negotiations with our neighbors to the north and south.

Geographically speaking, this is not a complex equation. America’s farmers and manufacturers need international markets for their products, and the closer those markets are, the lower the logistical costs. When man-made obstacles such as tariffs are reduced or eliminated, so much the better.

It turns out Minnesota could be considered the poster child for the now 23-year-old trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development indicates Canada and Mexico now account for one-third of our state’s $19 billion in annual exports. Minnesota currently enjoys a trade surplus with Mexico, and our trade deficit with Canada has shrunk by two-thirds in the past eight years.

Companies including General Mills and Hormel are on the record in support of NAFTA, as is the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association. Exports of medical technology and heavy transport equipment from Minnesota to Mexico have soared in the past eight years, so a long list of Minnesota-based companies and trade associations will wait with bated breath if and when Trump sits down with leaders from Mexico and Canada.

We won’t say NAFTA is perfect, nor will we deny our trading partners have taken some actions that invite some backlash. For example, in recent weeks the PB has published numerous articles about how recent changes in Canada’s duties on dairy imports threatened to leave several area farms with no nearby processors to buy their milk.

Trump has responded by slapping a new 20 percent tariff on lumber imported from Canada. This new tax, along with Trump’s accompanying flurry of tweets, have made it clear helping America’s dairy farmers - Wisconsin was a huge factor in his Electoral College win - will be a top priority of any new NAFTA deal.

We won’t say the president is wrong, at least not in principle. Any trade deal that’s been in place for 23 years will contain elements that should be re-examined and possibly revised. Ideally, we’d love to see Minnesota enjoy a trade surplus with both Canada and Mexico.

But the spirit in which these negotiations take place will telling. Canada and Mexico are our trade partners, not our adversaries. The U.S. should seek to improve NAFTA, to make it more beneficial to all parties, rather than seeking “an edge” that will lead to retaliation down the road.

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