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Archive | Voices and Views

Social Security tips

 

By Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Labor Day isn’t your only reward for hard work

On Labor Day, many Americans enjoy a long weekend to commemorate the hard work they do the rest of the year, as well as those who support working people. With barbecues and ballgames, beach trips and fireworks, this annual holiday often marks the unofficial end of summer. Established in 1882, Labor Day has become a timeless American tradition that many look forward to all summer.

Labor Day also reminds us that all our hard work is paying off in more ways than one. If you work 10 years, and receive four credits each year for a total of 40 credits, you’ll enjoy the security of Social Security retirement benefits. Remember, those years don’t have to be consecutive. You can check your Social Security Statement and make sure you have enough credits by opening a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

The best way to see what those benefits might be is to visit Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. The Retirement Estimator is an easy way to get an instant, personalized estimate of future retirement benefits. The Estimator uses your actual earnings history to compute a benefit estimate.

In the past, applying for benefits could be laborious, requiring you to drive to a Social Security office, wait, and fill out paperwork. Now, you can visit www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline to apply online for retirement benefits.

In most cases, after you submit your online application electronically, that’s it. There are no additional forms to sign or paperwork to complete. In rare cases, we’ll need additional information, and a representative will contact you.

Labor Day might mean something a little different once you’re retired. Spend a few moments considering what your hard work has earned in the form of Social Security protection for you, your family, and working people everywhere.

Stephanie Holland is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 455 Bond St, Benton Harbor MI 49022 or via email at stephanie.holland@ssa.gov

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Library votes for city to own new library

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.


 

 

I recently attended a special meeting of the Cedar Springs Library Board where they voted unanimously to request that the City own the new library after it is built. I am grateful for the board’s diligence, vision, and faith that not only would our community recognize the value of a new library but actively embrace it. I am also grateful for the considerable supports the CBDT has provided both financially and in creative problem solving. As a member of the City Council, I am looking forward to partnering with both the Library Board and the CBDT as we move toward construction. This process has been a testimony to the countless people who have patiently and tenaciously strived to realize a dream for this community that now spans decades. I am confident that our new library will be an asset to this community for generations to come. I truly believe the most important gift we can give our children is access to knowledge. This library exemplifies that gift. I want to thank all those involved for putting in the hard work to make this happen.

Sincerely,

Pam Conley, City of Cedar Springs

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On Voting … and not 

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By Lee H. Hamilton

The campaigning for next year’s elections is starting to draw more attention, and with it comes a focus on voters and their mood. Which is all well and good, but it leaves out of the equation one large bloc of citizens: people who are eligible to vote, but don’t.

They give a multitude of reasons: they’re too busy, or voting takes too much time, or they’re turned off by politics and the money game. Sometimes they’re ill or disabled. Sometimes they ran into ID requirements that stymied them.

Although there are plenty of policy-makers whose chief concern is to protect the integrity of the ballot and reduce fraud, others are deeply worried about falling rates of voter participation. They’re concerned because voting doesn’t just put office-holders in place and push policy in one direction or another. It also affirms the electoral system. The vigor of our system depends on the vote of each citizen.

So what do we do about it?

Generally speaking, Democrats have emphasized making ballot access easier; Republicans have focused on ballot integrity. Both need to be addressed. The vigor of our system depends on the vote of each citizen. We have to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.

We also need to modernize the system. Ours is fragile and uneven. We’ve already had one presidential election decided by courts on a question of failed infrastructure. More embarrassing cases will certainly occur.

And the days are long past when it was okay to place election administration in the hands of partisan state or local politicians. It’s time for election management across the country to be in non-partisan hands.

The aim of reforming the system is to make voting convenient, efficient, and pleasant, to make sure the mechanics work as they ought, and to ensure that disputes are handled fairly. State governments, not localities, should be responsible for the accuracy and quality of voter lists.

Finally, there’s the question of voter ID. It’s legitimate to ensure that a person presenting himself or herself at the voting site is the same one named on the voting list. But requiring an ID needs to be accompanied by aggressive efforts to find voters and provide free access to the voting booth. Instead, a lot of states that have instituted ID requirements have dismissed the idea that this imposes a responsibility to reach out to voters and make IDs available to those who can’t afford it. They’re subverting representative democracy.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He writes regularly about Congress and what individuals can do to make our representative democracy work better. His columns are part of the educational mission of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, where he is director. www.centeroncongress.org

 

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“In-kind services”

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.

 

Dear Editor,

In answer to Kathy Bremmer’s letter regarding to Cedar Springs’ “in-kind services” contributed to the Red Flannel Festival. To keep it short and sweet: a few years before the Red Flannel Festival/Cedar Springs blow-up took place, all the Festival policing and cleanup was furnished, free of charge, by the Village/City. It was the municipality’s part in the production of the celebration.

The Festival benefits the City and the City benefits the Festival. The Red Flannel history includes them BOTH and because the city is a beneficiary of the event it is appropriate that they should make a contribution to the celebration.

Dorothy Bishop, 

Past Director of the Red Flannel Festival and 

68-year resident of Cedar Springs and environs.  

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Is Council putting RFF needs before the community’s needs?

 

Dear Editor,

Councilor Powell’s remarks at a recent council meeting made it glaringly obvious that she believes the recent election has given this council license to put the Red Flannel Festival’s needs before those of our community as a whole.

Being a festival supporter in one’s private life should not translate into giving lobbyist-like preference to them as a member of council.  A recent FOIA of councilors’ messages regarding the festival revealed that:

Councilors have insisted on a timeline for business that fits the festival’s needs over the direction of our Manager.

Councilor Clark assured the festival president that members of the committee—Clark, Nixon, and Conley—were willing to do whatever was necessary to fulfill their demands over the good of the taxpayers: “From our meeting last  week we are prepared to cover work and expenses with a  broad brush.  We  need to determine the best ‘’in-kind –service”, historical/cultural  authorization (state) or other state authorized means (DDA, Brownfield, etc.) to meet the spending for a ‘public purpose’ requirement.  We will do  it.” 

Charges for police coverage have historically been paid by the RFF until this year, after Councilor Conley’s request to waive those costs for 2014. The original charges were $2,531.78, of which $869.95 was refunded on 12/15/2014. That not being satisfactory, the council voted, in April, to refund the full amount—leaving taxpayers footing the bill.

Sheriff Department’s cost estimates alone for this year are upwards to $6000.00. These estimates could go higher depending on the needs of the festival. Estimated future costs to taxpayers for the entire event could end up being $11,000.00 or more because of the “agreement” approved by the council that fundamentally gave away the store. The city is now required to do most of the work that volunteers did last year and we are paying for it.

A few years ago taxpayers had an opportunity to support festivals through a millage. The answer was a resounding NO. It seems this council has usurped taxpayers’ wishes and are using methods bordering on misfeasance to back their own personal interests.

Added to the facts above, when a council member, attending a business seminar with surrounding area officials, shows up wearing a Red Flannel sweatshirt and handing out the Festival’s advertising items, Cedar Springs has a serious problem with its representation.

Kathryn Bremmer, City of Cedar Springs

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This time was supposed to be different 

 

By Lee H. Hamilton

The most important function Congress serves is to debate and pass the federal budget. I know—it also levies taxes, imposes or relaxes regulations, and, once in awhile, nudges our social, economic or political order in a meaningful way. But the budget tells the government what to do and makes it possible to do it. Everything else follows from that.

Even at the best of times, passing a budget is a test of Congress’s abilities. And these aren’t the best of times. It’s two houses are controlled by Republicans who don’t see eye to eye. The White House is in the hands of a Democratic president who really doesn’t agree with them.

So to get a budget enacted into law, everyone involved has to negotiate seriously. They have to make realistic political judgments about what’s possible. They have to compromise. Given our divided government, you’d think that everyone would step up to these challenges.

They’re not. Last week, Congress gave up on securing a new round of transportation funding for the states. And it now seems inevitable that once again Congress will resort to the travesty known as a continuing resolution, which relinquishes Congress’s power of the purse by basically extending fiscal policy as it was the year before. There are no serious negotiations going on in Washington at this point.

Which is a problem. Because to prepare a budget thoughtfully—especially when it requires negotiation with the other party—demands working through literally thousands of details. Yet, we’re approaching adjournment without talks to make mutually acceptable headway on the budget—though somehow Congress has found the time to take a recess, shutting down for the remainder of the summer.

This delay means that Congress won’t actually be able to resolve the issues it faces. Congressional leaders seem fine with this. They rejected early negotiations, preferring a last-minute confrontation, which will lead to another fiscal impasse.

In other words, they’re punting. I can’t predict how long they’ll make their continuing resolution last, but with presidential elections looming, it may be longer rather than shorter. Instead of turning over a new leaf, as Congress promised it would do just seven months ago, it’s once again consigning us to fiscal chaos.

You should be angry. It’s a lousy way to do business.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University; Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and 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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Coverage of recently adopted service agreement left out a few vital details

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.


 

Dear Editor,

If it’s true that “any town’s history is only as good as its local newspaper,” then that newspaper has the responsibility to be totally neutral, complete and factual in its reporting. Coverage of a recently adopted service agreement between the City and the Red Flannel Festival left out a few vital details that could negatively impact taxpayers.

Potential legal ramifications to the City:

1. References to a prior agreement in the document have not being properly identified,

2. City services that will be provided have not been clearly specified,

3. No cost containment provisions for what the city could be required to spend for future festivals are included, 

4. The terms of nullifying the agreement are nearly impossible to meet and possibly unenforceable,

5. The Council ignored legal council’s concerns about these issues,

6. The Council ignored the Manager’s recommendations to follow legal council’s advice.

Additionally:

1. The City was forced to remove all Red Flannel logos by the Festival Board,

2. The cost to taxpayers for this dispute has been thousands of dollars,

3. The former Council had no choice but to create an individual and unique logo for the city to use on its vehicles, letterhead, etc.

4. Use of the Red Flannel Festival’s logo benefits and promotes one nonprofit over other local nonprofits,

5. It is not the city’s job to provide “long term sustainability” for festivals, rather, it is the Chamber of Commerce’s job to promote the city and all of its businesses.

The last local election vividly demonstrated the electorate’s lack of awareness of the true story surrounding the logo, the ousting of good public servants and the personal agenda mindset of the current council. Cedar Springs is more than a logo and with several new businesses coming to town we are moving forward. Just because a person challenges the actions of the RFF doesn’t mean they hate our red flannel history but that is the divisive message that has been promoted the last few years; it needs to stop!  Congratulations to Councilor Perry Hopkins for voting against the service agreement.  It takes a strong person to do the right thing in the face of such irresponsible behavior.

Kathryn A. Bremmer, City of Cedar Springs

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All the veil reveals: A choice without compromise

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By Katrina Marks, Stone Town, Zanzibar

Katrina Marks, of Kent City wrote this account of her time in Zanzibar teaching Muslim children, as a volunteer for America’s Unofficial Ambassadors program. She is a 2012 graduate of West Catholic High School, and a current student at Villanova University.

“It’s not your culture.”

“Oh, girls, you look beautiful!”

“It’s too hot for that, there’s no need.”

“Are you fasting?”

“You’ve become a regular Arab woman!”

“Don’t do that.”

I leave the apartment in the early morning, my computer bag slung over my shoulder, lifting my skirt to avoid the puddles on the pavement. My hijab shifts in the breeze blowing down the alley. I rearrange it clumsily, self conscious of the shopkeepers watching me. It’s the first day I’ve worn the scarf. The canons on the harbor fired three hours earlier, signaling to all of Stone Town that the holy month of Ramadan has officially begun.

Having never visited a Muslim culture before, I am extremely aware of all I do not know—and that’s pretty much everything. Of course, I prepared before I came, researching the rules and recommendations, talking to friends with previous experiences, looking up hijab instructions on Youtube. They all say that wearing the hijab during Ramadan is a gesture of respect for the culture. It’s not something all or even most of the tourists do, but for foreign female residents who are diving into a lifestyle inscribed by Muslim practices, it’s a way of communicating that connection. So I hear.

For more info on America’s Unofficial Ambassador’s program, visit http://unofficialambassadors.com,

But the complexities of Islam and the culture centered on it are not things you can Google. And, as I have discovered, the experiences of one American abroad are rarely if ever consistent with general advice.

In the first few weeks of my stay, before Ramadan, I saw the various tourists wandering through town. Some wear shorts and tank tops, others loose pants and t-shirts. The majority of them make an effort, covering knees and shoulders. Only a few wear veils, and when they do they wear them loosely draped over the back of the head. Passing these few, although I’ve done the reading and understand the purpose, I can’t help but think they look out of place. As far as I can tell, locals are used to the variety. They understand that tourists are largely clueless, new to the place and there for only a short while. They don’t expect veiling of mzungus. And for the life of me I can’t tell what they think of those that do.

As my Youtube tutorials have demonstrated, there is a fashionable component to the hijab. There are thousands of styles to choose from, millions of patterns and shapes and colors of scarves. Like other pieces of clothing, the veil can express the personality of the person. But it is not a fashion statement. You do not put on a headscarf like you put on a headband or a bandana. The choice is complicated, specific to each culture in each place, and it weaves through many facets of life: religion, social structures, gender roles, culture, safety—the list goes on. Too often, I think, travelers see it as exotic, a new trend to try out. That thinking trivializes the gravity of the choice, and comes off as insensitive to those who wear it intentionally.

However, I am not here as only a tourist. I am, at least temporarily, a resident getting to know the local life. And so I am expected to respect the culture of that life. I want to respect the culture of that life. I’m just not sure what the best way is to do that.

I am caught in a place with no clear answer and no neutral ground. If I wear the hijab, people may find me respectful, may tell me that I look beautiful and they are happy I have come to Zanzibar during Ramadan. But they may also find me insensitive, disrespectful of the religious nature of the choice. They may even assume that I have converted to Islam, and take even deeper offence when they learn that is not true. At the same time, if I do not wear the hijab, I resign myself to being seen as a tourist only.

People may accept me for what I am—a clueless foreigner—and act as friendly toward me as always. Or they may recognize me as a resident, and question why I deliberately do not change. Whatever choice I make, I offend half the population.

So, I try to find a balance.

I wear the scarf to work, where my coworkers are all Muslim women. They compliment me, clearly happy with my choice. They say I am beautiful and wish me Ramadan kareem. I feel accepted here, and no longer fear offending these people. But on the walk home I get mixed reactions. Some people look twice, squint their eyes and remain silent. Others greet me with larger smiles than usual. Another woman, a stranger, tells me I look beautiful. In the evening, when I wear it to dinner, I get more odd looks from both locals and foreigners. There are fewer smiles in the places where people expect tourists, where people probably assume I am a tourist.

So I split my day, wearing it in the morning and removing it in the evening. The change itself risks being disrespectful, as people who see me at both times probably find me more insincere than ever. But it is a balance I can keep.

My local friends, most Christians, offer me the most criticism. They explain that people don’t expect it of me, that they know it’s not my religion, not my culture.

I know it’s not my culture. But it’s the culture I’m in.

It’s the culture I want to know better.

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Where the Presidency is headed 

 

V-Lee-Hamilton-webV-pullquoteBy Lee H. Hamilton

Before the ins and outs of the 2016 presidential contest become a preoccupation for many of us, it seems a good time to step back and look at the office of the presidency for which so many candidates are vying. The presidency inherited by whoever wins next November will be substantially changed from the position his or her predecessors occupied a few decades ago.

The President is now the chief—and sometimes the sole—actor in American government. He far outweighs the other so-called “co-equal” branches. The media covers the White House extensively, and the other branches much less so. People don’t expect Congress or the Supreme Court to solve the country’s problems. Instead, they look to the President for initiatives, for remedies, and increasingly—and sadly—to serve as a de facto pastor to the nation when we confront a tragedy.

The branch that came first in our founders’ minds, Congress, is now of secondary importance. This has been a long, slow development, the result not so much of court cases, legislation, or even deliberate planning, but of countless decisions by congressional leaders that have handed power to the President so as to avoid tough decisions on Capitol Hill. There may be limitations imposed by the courts or public opinion, but the system of checks and balances our system was supposed to operate under has been severely weakened.

Not even the press can hold the President to account any more, except under extraordinary circumstances. For one thing, it’s very hard to grill the President these days. The tradition of regular presidential news conferences has all but disappeared—and when the press corps does get a chance to ask questions, the White House carefully manages the event.

This makes it very hard to find a forum or a place where people outside the White House bubble can ask the President probing questions and press for thorough explanations of a policy or problem. I’ve long favored a regular question-and-answer period in Congress that would be publicly televised—a chance for the President’s supporters and opponents to probe his or her thinking. At a minimum, we should get regular and extensive press conferences. Instead, the only media-related event that happens regularly is the morning meeting among White House staff to figure out how to get the President on the evening news in the most favorable light. It’s a form of manipulation that greatly reduces accountability.

This is a shame not just for the obvious reasons, but also because the federal government cries out for more accountability these days. Whoever is President next, he or she would do well to pay more attention to effective management of the vast executive establishment than has been the practice until now. Otherwise, the breakdowns in the operation of government to which we’ve grown accustomed will continue.

That’s because government today is strained at every level: The population is getting older, health care costs are high, our fiscal problems never end, challenges such as threats to our security, environmental degradation, and poverty abound. Highly complex problems pile up with great rapidity, and government needs highly skilled people to deal with them.

Every President comes into office insisting he’ll spend a lot of time on making the government work better, but invariably he is distracted by the rush of events. The last serious effort to do so was Al Gore’s, when he was Bill Clinton’s vice president. Some progress might get made, but for the most part presidents don’t deal with the issue in a sustained, comprehensive, coherent way.

This is not entirely the President’s fault. The Congressional Research Service estimates that 1,200 to 1,400 positions are subject to confirmation by the Senate, and Presidents often have a hard time getting the people they want into position. That needs to change, perhaps by requiring an up-or-down vote on a nominee within 90 days.

To sum it up, while the President’s accumulation of power is a serious problem in the big picture, it nonetheless is a fact. We ought to make it easier for him to get the people he needs in a position to make government work more effectively.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University; Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and 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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They’re off and running

 

By Lee H. Hamilton

The presidential election is 16 months away, but already we’re smack in the middle of the usual media scrum of campaign coverage, prognostication, and strategizing by many of us who have nothing much to do with the real campaigns. I’ve been following the rhetoric of both parties, and there are a few points that stand out enough to tell us something about what we have to look forward to.

To begin, the country is not in a sunny mood. There is a sense that America is adrift, that we don’t quite know how to deal with the forces of globalization, technological change, economic uncertainty, or terrorism. Americans are looking for a leader who can restore confidence.

The economy in particular weighs on ordinary Americans’ minds. There’s widespread agreement that the growing economy has done very little to help people of ordinary income—not just in recent years, but really for the past generation.

Still, the improving economy may be responsible for one interesting aspect of the campaign: Republicans thus far have made national security a centerpiece issue, though this could change with world events. They are also focusing on the budget deficit, cutting taxes, and, as always, pulling back on the reach of government. They want to eliminate Obamacare as well as cut Medicaid, move Medicare to a voucher system, repeal the estate tax, cut domestic programs, roll back financial reform and efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminate further consumer protections.

For the Democrats, meanwhile, addressing income inequality, maintaining social security and other entitlements, improving the country’s decaying infrastructure, job creation, college costs, immigration and energy reform, and climate change all loom large. They want to preserve Obamacare, move forward on climate change, retain taxes on high-income earners, and preserve the financial reforms of the last decade.

The stark differences in priorities between Republicans and Democrats will probably be exacerbated by the primaries. Despite agreement on the general sense of unease among the population at large, just reciting the parties’ rhetorical positions suggests there will be a huge gulf between the parties, with no agreement on how to bridge it. The campaign will be characterized by heavy emphasis on the impact of money on the process, and by record-breaking spending by the candidates.

With no incumbent president, many candidates, no clear favorite, and major differences in outlook on which issues to address and how to address them, this will be in the grand American political tradition a lively, contentious, long, expensive, maybe even pivotal election. Who gets to answer the biggest questions we face—the appropriate U.S. role in the world, what the reach and purpose of government should be, which path will best secure Americans’ prosperity and world peace—is up for grabs. We’ve got an interesting election ahead as a nation. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are, too.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University; Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and 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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