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Michigan should end civil asset forfeiture

 

Require a criminal conviction before taking people’s property

By Jarrett Skorup, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Lansing began 2017 on the right foot by enacting a law to make it easier for people to try to recover property seized through civil asset forfeiture, but the state should end the practice altogether.

Last week, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the ACLU of Michigan issued a joint press release applauding the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder for passing and signing into law House Bill 4629. The new law removes the requirement that a person pay a bond equivalent to 10 percent of the value of their property seized through civil asset forfeiture if they want to try to get it back.

“This new law will further protect the constitutional rights of citizens,” said Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst at the Mackinac Center. “But Michigan needs to do more. Twelve states require law enforcement to get a criminal conviction before forfeiting property and two – New Mexico and Nebraska – have banned civil forfeiture altogether.”

Skorup spoke with ABC 12 this week about the case of a Genesee County man whose property was seized by a Saginaw County detective in 2014.

“All we know is the police never pressed charges against him, never convicted him, yet they ended up with over $20,000 in cash and some of his property, and that should raise a lot of eyebrows for people,” Skorup said.

Now, a Saginaw County deputy is suing over the matter, saying the sheriff’s department retaliated against him after reporting the seized money was used for confidential informant drug buys.

Since 2015, the State of Michigan has passed several reforms to limit how police may seize property. The standard of evidence required to take property is now higher, and the process is more transparent.

“Previously, if they wanted to forfeit someone’s stuff, it was based on a very low standard of evidence, and they’ve raised that a little bit higher,” Skorup told WSJM. “However, they still aren’t requiring that someone be convicted of a crime in order to take their stuff and forfeit it over to the state.”

Skorup added that a number of incoming legislators are interested in further reforming Michigan’s civil forfeiture laws.

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Our system comes with no guarantees

V-Lee-Hamilton
By Lee H. Hamilton

There are a lot of dire predictions about our representative democracy out there. We’re just past a presidential election campaign in which candidates complained about a rigged political system. Now, commentators worry about the imminent failure of the American experiment.

I don’t agree with these predictions of calamity. Our representative democracy is not on the verge of collapse. But I do see stresses and tensions that should concern anyone who cares about our system of self-government.

Our representative democracy has been remarkably stable and successful for over two hundred years, but that is no guarantee it will survive and prosper.

The mere fact that this nation is filled with so many citizens who have lost confidence in key institutions is worrisome. The Gallup organization’s ongoing polling has found declines in public confidence over the past few decades in everything from the Supreme Court and Congress to the police and even the military. It shows a pervasive drop in public regard for the institutions that undergird American life.

The reasons stem in part from a declining willingness among the people who inhabit those institutions to observe the norms of behavior that evoke public confidence. This is notable especially on Capitol Hill and in political life, where the parties seem to have abandoned fair play and taken to using institutions to maximize partisan advantage.

In the Senate, the recent refusal even to hold hearings on the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court brought the lack of comity between branches to a new low.

Politicians engage in a degree of partisanship that a few decades ago would have disqualified them in the eyes of the voting public. They attack opposing politicians’ patriotism, impugn their loyalty, accuse them of criminal activity, question the fairness of the election process itself — with virtually no evidence — and seek to undermine their effectiveness in office. Small wonder that elected officials’ legitimacy is increasingly called into question among the public at large.

If we had a media that prized both the vigilance and impartiality it displayed during its heyday, these tendencies might not run so rampant. Similarly, if politicians were willing to negotiate, compromise, and search for remedies to the nation’s challenges, then our current dysfunctional inability to get things done would be less of a hallmark of these times.

Yet too many politicians seem fine with dysfunction.

They appear more interested in holding power than in using it to solve problems. They reject the norms of behavior in a civil society — for example, the New York politician who wished President Obama dead of Mad Cow Disease. They sidestep accountability and transparency: tweeting their stances rather than facing hard questions, avoiding press conferences that would give reporters a chance to hold them to account, preferring public rallies to the give and take that allows the public to examine and scrutinize their stances.

All of this poses real challenges to the system. So what might be done to restore public faith in its fairness, justness and decency?

Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, recently came out with a paper, “What Americans Want from Government Reform,” that reinforces the proposals many reformers have been pushing in recent years. His list of fixes that would enjoy support among ordinary Americans in both parties includes reducing the role of money in elections, boosting ethical constraints on elected officials, reducing waste and inefficiency, finding ways to increase the voices of ordinary citizens, and ensuring that civil servants and political appointees are qualified and competent.

Americans don’t expect miracles. They just want the basic features of government to work. But here’s the thing: making this happen is up to us. Politicians may be directly responsible for the problems above, but you and I as voters allow them to get away with it. We voted them into office, kept them there, and paid little attention to their shenanigans.

The problem is not just the politicians. It’s us, too. The first words of the Constitution read, “We the People,” not “We the Government.” It’s up to us to strive for a more perfect union, and to be vigilant about these adverse tendencies that threaten to undermine our representative democracy.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Want to govern effectively, Mr. Trump?

 

Lee Hamilton

Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

As Mario Cuomo said, politicians campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose. Now we have a president-elect who campaigned in tweets…but still will have to govern in prose.

So, like a few thousand other Americans, I’d like to give him some advice. Not on the substance of policy itself — that he’ll handle himself — but on how to be effective at achieving what he’d like to achieve.

First, he has to set priorities. During the course of the campaign, according to The Washington Post, Donald Trump made 282 promises. He is not going to be able to deliver on them all. So he’ll need to set out his priorities with clarity and force. He cannot afford to sow confusion.

Though this president-elect prides himself on unpredictability, conducting policy in an unpredictable way is the mark of a rogue state.

Second, the president-elect must fix his conflict-of-interest challenge. Because of the extraordinary extent of his business interests, he has an unprecedented number of potential conflicts for a U.S. president. He will be negotiating policy with many people, agencies and countries where he or his business partners have a bottom-line stake in what happens.

If he does not fix this before he takes office, conflict-of-interest charges will dog him throughout his presidency and weaken, if not cripple, his effectiveness.

Third, President Trump will need to keep his majorities united. Given Republican dominance of Capitol Hill, he’s in a strong position to get things done. But he’ll have to keep his fellow Republicans on his side. Showing respect for, and reaching out to, GOP lawmakers will matter. So will considering a variety of different views and treating them with respect — which is how a pluralist democracy works.

It’s not enough simply to say “I want this.” He has to take seriously the role of facts in the deliberative process. Members of Congress and others need to be able to defend their support for politically difficult proposals — and they cannot do this without factually based arguments.

For a president to succeed, he needs to interact in a measured, sensible, reassuring way, and supply his allies with solid analysis and information, not guesses, instincts, opinions, and debunk-able theories.

A president who sets clear priorities, removes all doubt about potential conflicts of interest, and works responsibly with his allies on fact-driven policies can make good progress and achieve his goals.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Why fake news is dangerous

By Lee Hamilton

By Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.” He was talking about why education matters in a representative democracy, but it’s a safe bet that had he known about fake internet news, he’d have said the same thing—except maybe with more pointed words.

Our representative democracy depends on ordinary people making sound judgments about politicians and policy. This is hard to do at the best of times. To fold into that mix deliberately false news makes the citizen’s task much more difficult, maybe even impossible. Yet astoundingly, that’s where we find ourselves now. These days, purveyors of fake news get paid to mislead the public. Outside of criminal activities like bribery, it’s hard for me to imagine a greater disservice to our country.

Responsible media outlets are increasingly aware of the problem and are seeking ways to counteract it — as well as to call out politicians who blatantly traffic in misrepresentation. In coming years, real journalists’ ability to identify bogus stories, rebut ignorant claims that go viral, and stymie efforts at misinformation will be a vital part of their responsibilities.

Similarly, the platforms that have given an outlet to fake news—Facebook and other social media—are recognizing their obligation to fight it without compromising users’ access to the real stuff.

Which, of course, is what makes what to do about false news so devilishly difficult. When misinformation has spread in the past, we’ve always been able to depend on the truth catching up and eventually prevailing. Now, however, the circuits are being overloaded — not just by the proliferation of platforms and sources of information, but by people who are using the tools of democracy to undermine it. We must strive for an environment in which truth wins the day in the war over information.

I can’t pretend to know how we will ultimately help Americans sort through what’s truth and untruth, what’s serious argument and what’s propaganda, but I do know that this is one of the key battles of our time. Fake news is a threat to our system, a land mine that can cripple representative democracy by making a mockery of its most basic tenet: that the people will make the right decisions.

This is a challenge we need to address head on and without delay. The future of our representative democracy is at stake.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Trump’s challenges are just beginning

 

V-Lee-HamiltonBy Lee H. Hamilton

As hard as the campaign might have been and the transition is proving to be, Donald Trump’s challenges are really just beginning. Governing after a toxic election in which the results awarded him an ambiguous national mandate—his opponent, after all, got more votes—will require finesse, a clear-eyed view of his role in the world, and no small amount of luck.

He will soon find that the commitments and promises made during the campaign are going to be very hard to carry out. The new President’s number one priority almost certainly is going to be rebuilding U.S. economic power. A great many of the people who voted for him did so because they expect him to produce more good jobs, better incomes, and better economic opportunity.

But he faces great difficulties on this front, from persistent poverty and a decaying infrastructure to rapid technological and global changes that make it harder for people without a college education to find work. Plus, of course, a slow-moving Congress and an entrenched bureaucracy.

Other domestic issues he addressed in the campaign will prove no easier to pursue. Donald Trump campaigned on replacing Obamacare, a position that President-Elect Trump began to moderate within days of winning the election. He has not set out a comprehensive alternative — simply keeping the popular parts and jettisoning the rest, which he suggested he might do, is not an acceptable or workable option.

He has made clear that he wants to enact large tax cuts, especially on businesses, while at the same time spending billions on infrastructure improvements. Most evaluations of his policy proposals suggest that deficits will explode under his program. We’ll see how much stomach Congress and the country have for sending deficits spiraling upward.

Others of the President-elect’s programs—slashing regulations on financial institutions, on worker protections, and on environmental impacts–would create major changes in American policy at home. These, too, will arouse much opposition.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump effectively captured the discontent and anger of many Americans. With his proposals, he has upended the political order with a new brand of politics and policies. My guess is that he is on a steep learning curve, having under-estimated the difficulties and over-estimated his capabilities to deal with them. We should all extend the President-elect the benefit of the doubt, be vigilant, and see how his presidency unfolds before becoming judgmental.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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An issue we should no longer ignore 

 

By Lee Hamilton

By Lee Hamilton

Americans understand that our nation’s strength and security depend on its fiscal health. But we face an ongoing, long-term mismatch between our spending and revenues, and year after year, administration after administration, the debt grows larger.

A lot of ordinary people worry about this. They believe that a healthy fiscal situation is essential to our success as a nation. And they want policies in place that allow us to address the debt without interfering with the economic wellbeing of the country.

The presidential candidates aren’t giving serious attention to deficit reduction, and neither, for the most part, are members of Congress. Yet with a rising proportion of older people and spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare growing dramatically, we’re not far away from facing dangerous levels of debt. A fix is becoming increasingly urgent, and the longer we delay the more difficult it will be.

So what do we do? The solutions flow along three broad lines: spending cuts, tax increases, and economic growth. There are advocates for each, but it is hard to imagine that salvation lies in one approach alone. We need them all: a combination of tax increases, spending cuts in both defense and non-defense areas, and economic growth that will stabilize debt at a manageable level.

Each is difficult. Capitol Hill’s preferred tactic when it comes to taxes is to cut them, not increase them. On the spending side, the rhetoric coming from Washington—and out on the campaign trail—raises unrealistic expectations about the savings that can be achieved through budget cuts. Most proposals fall far short of what is needed, and the demands we face on entitlement programs, the country’s evident need for public investment, and higher interest rates on the debt are all powerful forces pushing in the opposite direction.

Still, the three-pronged solution I’ve outlined is privately acknowledged by almost everyone I’ve encountered, whatever their public position, to be the only realistic approach. The longer we delay, the more painful the adjustment will be.

Our system has met greater challenges in the past. We’ve been through a civil war, two world wars, waves of immigration unseen by any other nation, and we’ve managed them all. It took strong political leadership, bipartisanship, negotiation, and compromise to thread our way through. That’s what getting our debt under control will require. We’d better get started.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Post Scripts NOTICE

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

* We only print positive letters about candidates one week prior to the election.

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Our positive change is a hot mess

 

When our new administration began nearly three years ago, I was open to change and trusted our board of education to choose a new leader for our kids, teachers and staff of Cedar Springs Public Schools. Initially, I felt this change in leadership could take our district to a new level. Shortly after, however, I began to notice changes in how our staff members interacted with and presented themselves to others. Previously confident and comfortable, our educators were now apprehensive and spoke with reservation. Programs intended to better prepare our kids for their futures (such as 6th grade advanced math) have been discontinued and no one seems to have any answers about why that occurred. Field trips which served to spark curiosity and critical thinking skills have been eliminated in favor of more technology. Instead of learning being on the incline, it has been on the decline.

Parent communication about the aforementioned changes has only come after inquiring, and in the administration’s efforts to “make it right” we are inundated with multiple emails from multiple sources all speaking about the same thing. Proactive communication has become reactive, and the staff I have spoken to feel they have been left to figure things out on their own with no support from administration.

The positive change I was excited to see nearly three years ago is better described as a hot mess. In order to fix the communication problem and drive academics forward, collaboration is imperative. Last week 97 educators made an impassioned plea in favor of unity and showed us that collectively they feel Ted Sabinas and Mistie Bowser will help reunite and move this district forward. This expression of unity, unlike any we’ve seen in recent years, should serve as a wakeup call for anyone still undecided. I urge you to vote Ted and Mistie into the two open seats on our board of education, and let the healing begin.

Fran and Drew Brandimore, Solon Township

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Vote for a person of high integrity

 

I am writing to endorse Heidi Reed as a member of the Cedar Springs school board. I have had many business transactions with Heidi Reed over the past several years and always found her to be a person of high integrity. Heidi never makes a decision without researching all the pertinent facts.

Anything that Heidi Reed has an interest in becomes a passion with her.

Heidi understands the need for a well-educated population and would work tirelessly to improve the graduation rates in the district.

Heidi Reed would be an excellent addition to the school board and would be totally committed to serving the district.

Karen A. Carbonelli, Spencer Township

Associate Broker, Greenridge Realty

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Preserve work being done on behalf of all students

 

There are 2 people who’ve been advocates for students with no other agenda: Joe Marckini and Heidi Reed. Vote for them on November 8 to preserve the work being done on behalf of all students in our district.

Joe Marckini has seen his two daughters graduate from Cedar Springs Public Schools and go on to be successful in college and beyond. Joe knows what a wonderful staff and community it takes to provide for a successful education for our students. As a sheet metal construction worker, Joe understands that all students need to be prepared for their future, whatever their interests may be. He’s a school board member who asks staff and students for their opinions and wants them to be a part of the educational process. Marckini is a school board member who wants to ensure that there is equality for all students. Incumbent Joe Marckini loves this district and this community. He is positive about the all the advancements of the district. He keeps a close eye on finances, policy and opportunities for students. For these reasons and more, I am voting for Joe Marckini, a man with integrity, passion and courage to lead the way.

Heidi (Zank) Reed is a Cedar Springs native who has advocated on behalf of all students, including special needs students. She has taken the time to cheer on and personally thank the excellent teachers and support staff of this great district. She is a believer in Cedar Springs Public Schools and has seen her own children and others thrive as students. As a long-time businesswoman in Cedar Springs, she has proven her service to others in this community. Heidi Reed has been actively engaged in school board meetings and advocacy for staff and students alike. She understands the role of the school board and how it will serve to lead the district forward. Please join me and so many others in voting for Heidi Reed, a community-centered, collaborative leader focused on kids first.

Grayson Claiborne, Solon Township

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