- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

Star Tribune, July 16

Bring home military dogs after battle

About 2,000 members of the American military have four legs, not two. These dogs, often used for sniffing out roadside bombs, serve with courage on the battlefield and have saved countless human lives.

When their tour of duty is done, they deserve a chance to find a family and fetch a Frisbee on the soil of the nation they helped defend. Fortunately, legislation that will ensure that this happens has been introduced in Congress, with Minnesotans leading the charge for passage.

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a four-term Republican from the Twin Cities’ western suburbs, has teamed up with Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, to introduce the Military Working Dog Retirement Act of 2015. Three of Paulsen’s Minnesota Democratic colleagues - Reps. Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson - are early co-sponsors. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

This conscientious legislation would ensure that no canine comrade is left behind when these animals cannot serve due to injury or because their skills are no longer needed. The military would transport the dogs home, where they would be offered for adoption. The bill also would help smooth the dogs’ military handlers’ path to adopting them.

Currently, these dogs are offered for adoption overseas, despite a long list of families stateside who want to give them a home. These dogs’ handlers also sometimes personally pay to bring dogs home, which may be cost-prohibitive on a service member’s pay.

An unofficial estimate puts the annual cost of this transport at about $175,000 - a minuscule sum in the military’s vast budget. Congress should include language from the bills in the finalized 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to expedite the measure’s path to passage.

Honoring these dogs’ service reflects positively on American values. The animals’ presence may also help their handlers adjust to civilian life and combat post-traumatic stress disorder. The measure is sensible, conscientious and compassionate, and it will benefit both humans and canines. It merits lawmakers’ and the public’s swift support.

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St. Cloud Times, July 15

Tragic death shouldn’t deter using lakes, rivers

Central Minnesota is in for a hot, humid weekend so it’s a safe bet countless residents, along with countless tourists, will cool off by jumping in a nearby lake or river. Similarly, it’s an extremely safe bet all those folks will emerge no worse for wear - and much refreshed.

That point is worth making in the wake of state and national media coverage of the recent death of a Pope County teen Hunter Boutain.

Don’t recognize his name? Add the words “brain-eating amoeba.”

Remember now? He is the 14-year-old who died last week. Doctors were treating him for a suspected case of amebic meningoencephalitis, an extremely rare condition caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri. It is believed he contracted the infection after swimming in Lake Minnewaska, about an hour’s drive west of St. Cloud.

Boutain’s death is unspeakably tragic and - again - extremely rare. Unfortunately, the rare aspect has gotten lost amid the media’s rush to use words like “brain-eating amoeba” followed by “in a Minnesota lake.”

That should concern you if you value Minnesota’s 10,000-plus lakes and its many miles of navigable (and swimmable) rivers.

Swimming in Minnesota’s natural waters always has come with risks. But contrary to what too many news reports have left unsaid in reporting Boutain’s death, they are not unsafe. And they most certainly are not prone to the deadly situation Boutain may have encountered.

According to federal and state health authorities, there have been 35 cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, reported in the United States in the last 10 years. If Boutain did suffer PAM, he will be the third person to die of it in Minnesota since 2010.

Just for context, think of the long odds faced to win the Powerball. Know that in the 10-year span of those 35 cases there have been 137 winning Powerball tickets sold. Again, extremely rare.

That said, Minnesotans, especially those concerned about its waters and tourism business, should cite Boutain’s death as reason to do more research into PAM. Three cases have happened in Minnesota since 2010; prior to then, the closest cases were hundreds of mile south.

Couple that with the knowledge that Naegleria fowleri is found worldwide in water and in soil. What might have changed in Minnesota to spur these cases? Or is it simply horribly unfortunate circumstances - the kind that spur media to play up the sensationalism while ignoring the rarity?

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The Free Press of Mankato, July 13

A worrisome tale of haves, have nots

It’s a sad irony that has always hung over Mankato and other rural communities.

On the one hand, the region is by many measures a thriving, booming, educated place with a high quality of life.

But there is also a high rate of poverty and stagnant incomes for many.

As a story in The Free Press pointed out, poverty and income inequality in rural Minnesota, including this region is on the rise.

Inequality in the Mankato region and the rural areas of the state generally increased from 1999 to 2012, according to a report from Growth and Justice, a St. Paul research and advocacy group. In short, median income is going down and poverty is steady or increasing.

Blue Earth County’s poverty rate was 13 percent, tied for No. 2 of all counties in the state. And median income has fallen from $64,819 in 1999 to $61,795 in 2012.

There has always been a debate about how bad the poverty really is locally. Some note that with some 20,000 plus college students in the region, income statistics will be skewed. Students often only work part-time and aren’t making the kind of money an adult in the full-time workforce is.

But others note that when looking at the number of K-12 students who are homeless and/or qualifying for reduced-cost lunches, the numbers keep trending upward.

The news isn’t all bad. Minnesota generally does much better than many other states.

We also have the benefit of strong agriculture and food industry sector which, overall, brings a lot of economic growth to the area.

And the Mankato area has a relatively low cost of living compared to other Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the state. One caveat to that fact is that rents in Mankato have always been relatively high, due in part to the large college student population and the growth of the area. For those struggling, rent is often their major expense.

And some of the trends hurting rural Minnesota are inevitable. The rural population is aging more than in the Twin Cities metro, which attracts and keeps more young workers and families.

Still, the recent local trends seem to point to a growing income inequality. That obviously causes myriad problems for those struggling, but it also harms the business community that has seen steady growth, needs good employees, needs customers with money in their pocket, and needs potential employees who want to locate in the area.

There is no easy or quick fix. Obviously, whether it’s higher minimum wages or upward pressure on salaries because of a lack of potential employees, many businesses can’t easily pay significantly higher wages without the potential to threaten their future.

Minnesotans have always prided themselves on being from a state that takes care of the frail and down on their luck.

The state needs to renew some of the past efforts that have made Minnesota a place people want to be.

Putting state resources into social safety net systems, education, environmental protection, health care, transportation and broadband Internet development should be considered as methods leading to more equality.

This is a good time to do just that. The state had a $2 billion surplus in the last legislative session, yet lawmakers and the governor failed to invest hardly any of it into the kinds of programs we know work.

The state is now running an even larger surplus. The next legislative session will happen just before the 2016 elections. There will be pressure from many to use that surplus for major tax cuts. Looking at tax reform is necessary. But Minnesotans should also be pressuring lawmakers to make the investments in people and targeting money to programs that have proven to lower income inequality and improve the entire state.

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