St. Cloud Times, Nov. 26

Cracks arise in anti-tax pledge; 'fiscal cliff' means adherence must end

Amid those platefuls of turkey, crowded stores and tree-topped cars this weekend, perhaps you missed a couple of subtle-but-important developments regarding America's "fiscal cliff."

Between Wednesday and Sunday a couple more Republican U.S. senators announced they are willing to break the vaunted "no new taxes" pledge started 20 years ago by Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform. Signing and sticking to the pledge has become a GOP mandate for holding federal office.

The announcements by Georgia's Saxby Chambliss on Wednesday and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham on Sunday are important both numerically and politically. Kudos to these elected officials.

Numerically, The Christian Science Monitor reports their statements bring to six the number of Republican senators willing to dump the pledge. Translated to the Senate floor, that may mean Republicans no longer have the votes to sustain a filibuster of any deal that includes tax hikes. In other words, legislation on tax hikes could come to a Senate vote. And because Democrats control the Senate, such a measure could very well pass.

Politically, their voices add to a small-but-growing chorus of Republican House and Senate members who publicly state they know that getting the federal government out of its budgetary mess means crafting a solution involving spending and revenues. (Read taxes.)

Other key Republicans include Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. On the House side, New York Republican Rep. Peter King also said Sunday he is willing to break his pledge.

Among Minnesota's congressional delegation, Reps. Michele Bachmann, Chip Craavack, John Kline and Erik Paulsen have signed the pledge. Craavack lost his re-election but is part of the lame-duck congressional class that must chart America's course around or over the fiscal cliff — $536 billion in long-standing federal tax cuts for families and businesses that disappear and an automatic $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that begin on Jan. 1.

Let's be clear. Promises and pledges to special-interest groups, especially those made upward of 20 years ago, are among the core causes of political polarization in Washington, D.C. They also have been a huge factor in creating this budget mess. Continue adherence to them will mean more dysfunction while further delaying the painful choices federal lawmakers have to make to do what's best for America.

Ultimately, Graham of South Carolina said it best Sunday on "This Week" on ABC: "I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform."


Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Nov. 26

It's time to bury stigma that goes with mental illness

Remember Demetrius Underwood?

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings certainly do. He was the team's first-round draft pick in 1999, a defensive end blessed with incredible physical ability — but also afflicted with mental illness. He walked away from training camp one day after signing a $5.3 million contract and never came back. He eventually caught on with the Dallas Cowboys and even recorded four quarterback sacks, but the team cut ties with him after his second suicide attempt in 2001.

Now we're watching as Royce White, another star athlete with Minnesota ties, loses ground in his battle with mental illness. He was Minnesota's Mr. Basketball in 2009 as a high school player and played on two high school championship teams (from two different high schools), but behavioral problems kept him on the move and ultimately led him to leave the University of Minnesota before playing a single game for the Gophers.

He enjoyed one wonderful year after transferring and playing for the Iowa State Cyclones, but after being drafted in the first round by the NBA's Houston Rockets, his anxiety disorder — which includes a phobia of flying — is on the verge of nixing his professional career. He has yet to play a minute in a Rockets uniform, and appears unlikely to do so anytime soon.

Finally, on Friday we learned that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., once a rising star in the Democratic Party, has resigned his seat in Congress after repeatedly being hospitalized in Mayo Clinic. Yes, he's facing several federal investigations, including the possibility that he misused campaign funds, but if you're looking for the "smoking gun" that ended his 16-year run in Washington, look no further than his bipolar disorder.

Three men, all with incredible talents, all felled by a condition that is still misunderstood by the vast majority of people. Unless you or a member of your family has experienced depression, bipolar disorder or another form of mental illness, it's difficult to grasp the magnitude of these conditions' impact on daily life.

You can't "tough it out." You can't "pick yourself up and do what you have to do." Even with treatment, both through medication and therapy, mental illness can take a heavy toll on a person's ability to keep a job, maintain friendships and support a family.

And the numbers are frightening. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 2.6 percent of U.S. adults have bipolar disorder, and 6.7 percent have major depressive disorder — with nearly half of those cases being "severe."

But the more alarming statistic is that of those who suffer these illnesses, only half are receiving any treatment at all. Some lack insurance. Others are in denial. And others simply fear the still-lingering stigma that's associated with mental illness.

It's time to bury that stigma. Families who suspect that a loved one is suffering from mental illness should gently but firmly insist that they seek help, and then support them in the journey that lies ahead.

As is true with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illness doesn't go away if it's ignored. And as is true with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illness can be overcome — or at least managed — with the combination of good medical care and strong family support.


The Minnesota Daily, Nov. 27

The end of conditional admission

The Department of Homeland Security recently signaled it would be enforcing a regulation that would make it harder for universities to allow enrollment of degree-seeking international students who lack English proficiency.

Many universities, including the University of Minnesota, currently offer conditional admission; these schools typically issue a single I-20 form for all international students seeking admission, regardless of whether they meet the English language proficiency standards set by the institution. While these standards are usually met prior to enrollment in degree courses, some students are accepted on the condition that they take English as a Second Language courses concurrently with their degree requirements.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a specialized branch of the Department of Homeland Security, warned that colleges will no longer be able to issue a single I-20 form for international students seeking admission who don't meet required English language proficiency levels, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Nov. 19. Separate forms must now be filled out for students who meet all the academic eligibility requirements and those who may meet academic standards but lack language proficiency. As a result of this new regulation, students in the latter would only be able to take ESL courses focusing on improving language skills and may not enroll in college classes until they are proficient, at which time another I-20 form must be issued.

Meeting arbitrary language requirements shouldn't be the only gateway to begin a degree. If a university believes a student can improve English skills while enrolling in major classes, it should be allowed to grant conditional admission. The Department of Homeland Security should not be the one determining the academic ability of international students.