News

Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 16

Too many Americans die while waiting for 'gift of life'

Innovation, oversight is needed to make more organs available for critically ill patients.

It wasn't all that long ago that organ transplants were considered such pioneering medical marvels that the surgeries generated headlines in newspapers like this one. Today, they're a far more established part of medicine, with patients able to seek care close to home vs. traveling to the University of Minnesota, home of one of the world's earliest and most respected organ transplant centers.

Technology, surgical advances and better drugs have improved survival rates from those early days and enhanced the quality of life after the procedures. Unfortunately, innovation hasn't kept pace in a critical, related area: organ procurement. Demand still tragically outstrips supply.

"Each year, some 23,000 Americans receive a lifesaving heart, liver, lung or kidney transplant from a deceased donor," according to a recent, important report from the Bridgespan Group, a Boston-based nonprofit. Yet, the waiting list for these gifts of life tops 115,000. Between 6,000 and 8,000 people die each year waiting for the call that an organ is available. That's about 22 a day on average.

The persistence of this tragic gap is frustrating given the relative ease with which people can sign up to become organ donors should the unthinkable happen. Those who get a driver's license have a chance to make their wishes known. Another alternative: signing up online at organdonor.gov .

But adding to donors' ranks is only part of the solution, as the Bridgespan report makes clear. The report, issued earlier this year, put an overdue spotlight on the 58 nonprofit organ procurement organizations (OPOs) that the nation relies on to get organs from recently deceased donors to the critically ill patients who need them.

What the report found is that performance varies disturbingly between regional OPOs, with "many persistent underperformers failing to improve over the last decade." One key problem: an OPO evaluation system that "does not actually reward pursuing every organ, every time." A University of Pennsylvania analysis cited in the report has a grim conclusion: Up to 28,000 organs available for donation do not make their way to the surgical suite each year because some OPOs are not aggressive enough.

In addition to increasing the number of organs available for transplant, changes could also save billions in taxpayer dollars. Those who are waiting for a transplant require intense and expensive medical care. Many of these patients rely on public medical programs for coverage. In 2014, the cost of dialysis for those waiting for kidney transplant came to $26 billion.

Bipartisan calls for reform have commendably come after the report's release. In July, President Donald Trump ordered U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to improve OPO oversight. Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats, also urged Azar's agency to make reforms a priority.

The latest push for reform came this month from California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter. The House freshman has become a social media star for her take-no-prisoners questioning of bank executives and others.

Like Warren and Blumenthal, she's urging federal officials to improve oversight and accountability, and her well-researched letter to them is even more damning than the Bridgespan report. Among its highlights: that the OPO serving Porter's district improperly spent money on Rose Bowl tickets, hotel rooms and limousines — diverting dollars from those it serves.

Porter's involvement put a fresh spotlight on the OPO issue, and her media savvy makes her involvement especially welcome. Congressional leadership is needed to enact strong agency-level reforms and, if necessary, follow up with legislation.

"We can't sit idly by as Americans lose their lives because of financial mismanagement at organ procurement organizations," Porter said in a statement provided on Tuesday. "The time for accountability is now. Our patients and our community members who have chosen to give the gift of an organ donation deserve no less."

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The Free Press of Mankato, Oct. 17

NBA and China: Profits aren't principles

Why it matters: The NBA is willing to embrace China's police state as the price of entry to its market. It is not alone.

Google's famous self-admonition — "don't be evil" — has, as it figured to be, easier to say than to accomplish.

Nowhere is that rule more difficult to follow than in China, whose regime is based on repression and cruelty and yet offers such rich rewards.

The NBA has in the past two weeks provided a high-profile object lesson for those companies chasing the Chinese market. The "wokest pro league" — outspoken on social issues at home — has emphatically bowed to the Beijing regime after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the Hong Kong protesters.

China immediately cut or suspended partnerships with the NBA. Rockets merchandise vanished from stores and e-commerce sites— notable because the Rockets, the team for which Yeo Ming played, has long been one of the favorite NBA teams in Ming's homeland.

The money talked. Commissioner Adam Silver rebuked Morey. So did the Rockets owner. Morey deleted his tweet. The league blocked reporters accompanying the Lakers and Nets on a preseason tour of China. League icon LeBron James — with heavy financial interests in the Chinese market through his Nike sponsorship — called Morey "not really educated on the situation."

On this issue, Morey is right. Silver is wrong. And James is the uneducated one.

The NBA's eagerness to overlook China's police state, its repression, its defiance of the principles that underlie western democracy is unseemly. It also raises the question of how much responsibility U.S. corporations hold for Beijing's brutalism.

There is an argument that economic engagement with totalitarian regimes can serve to loosen the repression. That does not apply to China, where the regime sets repression as a non-negotiable standard, the price of entry to that market.

It's a devil's bargain, one that American businesses — including the NBA — should be more wary of than they have been.

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St. Cloud Times, Oct. 11

It's time to stop having taxpayers fund political rallies

Arguing red and blue politics is a polarizing task these days. Witness President Donald Trump's rally and its aftermath Thursday at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Yet even those on the farthest ends of the political spectrum should agree on one aspect of such an event: When its purpose is primarily political, the candidate (or their party) should pay the bills resulting from their use of public resources, especially public safety.

It's not the responsibility of local taxpayers to pay for campaign rallies, nor the public costs they create for public safety, street cleanup, sanitation, traffic control and other measures.

Rallies like Trump's here Thursday have turned a much brighter spotlight on this longstanding — and bipartisan — problem.

Whether people vote bright red or deep blue, everyone should agree on where the green must come from when the event is less statesmanship and more salesmanship: The pockets of presidential campaigns, many of which are raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars for just that purpose — campaigning.

Minneapolis isn't the only city that wants to be repaid such costs. According to the Star Tribune, a Trump rally in Rochester last year cost the city's taxpayers about $93,000 in various costs (it was not reimbursed). A rally in Duluth last year cost the city more than $69,000. A Duluth city spokeswoman told the newspaper that they did not send a bill because, regardless of political party, "we just don't hear back historically."

El Paso, Texas; Spokane, Washington; Mesa, Arizona; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Lebanon, Ohio; and Burlington, Vermont, all have outstanding costs for Trump rallies since January 2018.

A Center for Public Integrity report noted Democrat Bernie Sanders, in his 2016 campaign, initially did not pay almost two dozen local governments about $450,000 in public-safety bills tied to his rallies. Only when Sanders began considering a 2020 run did his team start paying those tabs.

Meanwhile, many of the other Democratic hopefuls told the center they would pay public-safety bills if cities sent them to their campaigns.

Technically, that's probably legal because in almost all these cases the host community had no signed contract. Rather, their resources often were requested by the U.S. Secret Service, or city leaders believed resources must be used to maintain safety.

What to do?

Politicians probably are like a lot of people in this way: Why pay a bill unless you're legally bound to do so, especially when they can be for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Cities, though, can easily address that challenge. Have contracts ready to go and require candidates or their political parties to sign them before campaign events are held. And, of course, apply those contracts equally to all rallies, no matter the political stances. The language could even require payment ahead of time.

If candidates or parties object, let them find another city.

Another potential solution is amending federal election laws to make it extremely clear candidates must pay these bills.

While laws require candidates to disclose disputed debts to the Federal Election Commission, the lack of legal clarity about what must happen after such disclosure appears to give candidates plenty of room to wiggle out of paying up.

And that ultimately means taxpayers of all political viewpoints must spend their hard-earned money essentially subsidizing candidate campaigns that are anything but short on cash.

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