- Associated Press - Monday, December 10, 2018

Post Bulletin, Dec. 6

U.S. life expectancy not keeping up with peer countries

The United States and Cuba don’t have much in common, except this: People living in both countries have about the same life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization.

That’s right: While most of the advanced western nations in the world continue to enjoy steady or increasing life expectancies, the U.S. has dropped further down the list. The US was already tied with Cuba, a Third World country by many measurements, in the WHO rankings.

At the top of the WHO list is Japan, with a life expectancy of 83.7, followed by Switzerland and Singapore. Also ranking higher than the U.S. are Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and our northern neighbor, Canada.

Against this background, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported last week that an American born in 2017 can expect to live 78.6 years. That’s 1.2 fewer months than a baby born in 2016, and continues a general downward trend for Americans that began in 2014. It would be different if the U.S. were in the mix with the countries mentioned above, and had slipped a bit. But we’re not even in the same ballpark.

The chief culprits, according to the CDC, were another increase in deaths from drug overdoses and a continuing rise in suicides. A good portion of these deaths are in younger age groups, particularly middle-aged people. In other words, while the American population is aging, it is actually the death of more Americans at younger ages that is driving down the life expectancy numbers.

So what’s going on? Or rather, what’s going wrong? Why is American life expectancy falling behind that of countries that would seem to be our peers -Canada, the UK, Australia?

Obviously, the hit-or-miss nature of our health care system is one factor. Our inability to get an early handle on the opioid epidemic has been devastating. Suicides, for whatever reason and by whatever method, continue to increase (from 45,000 in 2016 to 47,000 in 2017). Pregnancy-associated mortality has more than doubled in the past decade. Even the rate of death from heart disease, which had been falling, has leveled off. The CDC did not address gun deaths in its report.

In any case, all of these numbers should give us pause. It’s not good enough to say, “Oh, well.” After all, these statistics represent lives cut short or not lived to their fullest, and in many cases due to causes that are preventable.

By any standard, the United States is a wealthy, advanced country. Our citizens should be able to enjoy the same life expectancy as our peer countries.


St. Cloud Times, Nov. 30

Elected but not in office yet? Use time to find the middle

Election Day is about a month behind us; new terms of office are about a month away.

This small window - even crammed full of holidays - is a valuable asset, if those in public service choose to capitalize on it. It’s a rare chance to pause, reflect and make some personal decisions about how far they will go, where they will draw the line, what’s non-negotiable, what kind of public servant they will really be.

While every voter has their own wish list for action from City Halls to Capitol Hill (and we heartily encourage them to share those lists with the people they elected), ours is simple:

Find the middle.

We ask that our public servants to consider, when proposing new initiatives, start near the middle ground rather than staking out a position at an extreme. When going to the negotiating table, be prepared to step toward the moderate. Whenever the opportunity to influence party platforms or factional paradigms arises, be a voice for the majority of the electorate - those in the middle.

Why? Many reasons, among them:

Because it makes for as good as or better public policy than governing from the extremes. It is more civil than the take-no-prisoners, the-losers-be-damned style of modern politics. It sets a good example for kids. It better reflects life everywhere else in society, outside of politics. It saves time, for criminey’s sake.

There is a place for the stalwart in governance: issues of literal life and death, true moral quandaries and the like. But those instances are far rarer than some politicians and pundits would have you believe.

The time is overdue for our leaders (and ourselves) to see growing political tribalism as the serious threat it has become. We fear political extremism in our nation’s enemies, after all. Why not in ourselves?

The time is now for each elected official, especially those newly elected to their roles, to think about their personal limits on issues they’re likely to face. How far will they go to stay in their party’s or their faction’s good graces at the expense of reasonableness?

They can use these four short weeks before taking oaths of office sketch out some space near the middle - before the maelstrom’s well-established currents and prevailing winds sweep them along into the disappointing status quo.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec. 7

Taking stock of sole finalist for University of Minnesota’s top job

A weeklong job interview is in store for Joan Gabel.

Welcome to Minnesota, Joan Gabel. Today and for the next four days, the sole finalist for the presidency of the University of Minnesota will be put through her paces by scores of that institution’s stakeholders, as the Board of Regents prepares to select a successor to retiring President Eric Kaler as soon as Friday.

Gabel, 50, a University of South Carolina provost with a business law background, has already won over the 23-member search advisory committee that screened a pool of 67 applicants, interviewing 10 of them. Gabel was the committee’s favorite among three semifinalists recommended to the Board of Regents.

Regents and the search committee reportedly were impressed with her background in both law and the academy, her familiarity with business, her experience in strategic planning and fundraising, and her grasp of the University of Minnesota’s leadership needs. Many would also welcome the chance to install the first woman in the U’s presidency.

Gabel was also the only candidate willing to publicly contend with other candidates for the post. The other two semifinalists agreed to go public only as the sole finalist.

That’s disappointing to some Minnesotans, who wanted to judge for themselves among several candidates. But it’s also the reality of high-level hiring in higher education. Someone who is already a university president or provost (the chief academic officer) is understandably unwilling to put that institution on notice that he or she is considering a departure unless chances are good that the departure is imminent.

Had the regents insisted on three publicly named finalists, a second search likely would have been required, and the size and quality of the candidate pool likely would have diminished. That would not have been in this state’s interests. The Legislature should review state statutes to ensure that the law’s disclosure requirements don’t impede Minnesota’s higher education institutions as they compete for top executive talent.

Though the U is down to one finalist, the public hasn’t been shut out of the screening process. In September, the search committee conducted more than a dozen listening sessions among university constituencies and invited public input about the leadership qualities they should seek. (We provided ours in a Sept. 30 editorial.) Gabel’s schedule this week includes several forums that are open to the public; a schedule can be found at president-search.umn.edu/finalist . The regents plan to collect feedback from forum participants before a final interview with Gabel on Friday.

Gabel comes to Minnesota as a sole finalist, not as president-elect. Minnesotans can still begin to judge her ability to articulate a compelling vision for a complex institution, and to assemble and implement a comprehensive strategic plan to make that vision a reality.

Welcome, Provost Gabel. Have a great week.

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