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Archive | Voices and Views

All the veil reveals: A choice without compromise


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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Legislators need to represent the people

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,

Since our legislators don’t seem to consider our roads a priority, I suggest that instead of worrying about drawing new voting districts lines, the legislators should pass a new law that all Michigan residents be represented by the first letter of their last name. Alphabetically—imagine that. We, as Michigan residents, would be represented instead of money and politics being represented.



Betty Towns, City of Cedar Springs

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We just want our stuff back


To the Grave Robbers:  Elmwood Cemetary- Cedar Springs

How dare you take our shepherds hook and lantern that had about $8.00 worth of coins in it. We put those items on his final resting place and you had the nerve to go there and take them off his grave. Do you know that he served 20 years in the Navy just so you could have your freedom. So how do you show your respect? You steal items his family and friends had placed there in remembrance of him. We just want our stuff back. We know you have probably already spent the money and are enjoying the other items at your house. We just hope you know that the coins were from his Navy buddies, who put them there to show their respect and honor to him. This will haunt you for the rest of your life.

From the family of Terrance A Gage II

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Replacing your Social Security Card? Know before you go


By: Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Keeping your Social Security number card in a safe place is vital to protecting you against identity theft. Never keep it in your purse or wallet—this is the most common way people lose their card.

Getting a replacement Social Security number card is free, but you will have to provide the proper documents to get a new one. When replacing your card, you will need original or certified copies of documents, which include:

Proof of citizenship:
If you have not already established your U.S. citizenship with us, we need to see proof of U.S. citizenship. We can accept only certain documents as proof of U.S. citizenship, like your U.S. birth certificate or U.S. passport.


We can accept only certain documents as proof of identity. An acceptable document must be current (not expired) and show your name, identifying information (date of birth or age), and preferably, a recent photograph. For example, as proof of identity, we must see your:

  • U.S. driver’s license;
  • State-issued non-driver identification card; or
  • U.S. passport.

If you do not have one of these documents, or you cannot get a replacement for one of them within ten days, we will ask to see other documents, including a(n):

  • Employee identification card;
  • School identification card;
  • Health insurance card (not Medicare card); or
  • U.S. military identification card.

What’s more important than having your card is knowing your Social Security number. This is how we identify you, tally your wages correctly, and how we eventually issue you accurate retirement benefits. You might not even need your card for identification purposes if you know and consistently use your correct number.

For more information about replacing a lost or stolen Social Security number card, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.

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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We need both insiders and outsiders in Congress 


By Lee H. Hamilton

Members of Congress get categorized in all sorts of ways. They’re liberal or conservative; Republican or Democrat; interested in domestic affairs or specialists in foreign policy.

There’s one important category, though, that I never hear discussed: whether a member wants to be an inside player or an outside player. Yet where members fall on the continuum helps to shape the institution of Congress.

Insiders focus on making the institution work. They give fewer speeches on the floor, issue fewer press releases, and spend less time considering how to play the public relations game or how to raise money. Instead, they put in long, tedious hours on developing legislation, attending hearings, listening to experts, exploring policy options, and working on building consensus. They’re the ones who do the necessary work of legislating.

Outsiders pass through the institution of Congress, but many of them are using Congress — and especially the House of Representatives — as a stepping-stone to another office: the Senate, a governorship, the presidency.

On Capitol Hill, these people behave very differently from insiders. They raise money aggressively, put a lot of effort into developing a public persona, and are consumed with public relations. They travel a lot. They churn out press releases and speak on the floor on every topic they can find something to deliver an opinion about. They miss votes more frequently than insiders, and often do not attend committee hearings. They’re often impatient with House and Senate traditions, and are impatient with the democratic process.

I want to be clear that I’m not judging which kind of member is more valuable. I may prefer to spend my time with insiders, but both are needed to make the system work. You have to have members reaching out to the broader public, talking about the big issues and engaging Americans in the issues of the day. And you need people on the inside who are dedicated to resolving those issues by attending to the legislation that will make this possible.

The truth is, Congress wouldn’t work if everyone were an outside player. The process is tedious, and outsiders have little patience for it. Yet if everyone were an insider, the country would be deprived of the dialogue, debate, and sheer spectacle that give Americans a sense of stake and participation in the policy-making process.

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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Who Belongs Behind Bars? 


Report Looks At Safely Reducing MI Prison Population

By Mona Shand, Michigan News Connection

Reviewing the policies surrounding who belongs in prison and for how long could help the state save hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a new report from the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending.

Reviewing the policies surrounding who belongs in prison and for how long could help the state save hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a new report from the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending.

More people in prison doesn’t mean more crime, but it does mean the state needs to rethink its policies, according to a new report which looks at ways to reduce the state’s $2 billion annual prison spending.

Barbara Levine, associate director for research and policy for the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, which put out the report, said crime rates have been falling steadily for several years, and yet the state’s incarceration rate keeps rising, with 44,000 Michiganders now in state prisons.

“Decades of longer sentences, lower parole rates and the elimination of any form of sentence-reduction credits for good conduct or program participation has put Michigan out of sync with the rest of the country,” Levine said.

While some critics believe adjusting sentencing guidelines would compromise public safety, Levine said research has shown that longer sentences do not have an impact on a convict’s likelihood to reoffend. She said the strategies outlined in the report would save the state $250 million per year and cut the number of prisoners by 10,000 over five years.

Levine said the money saved would allow the state to address some of the issues that prevent crime and improve the quality of life for all Michiganders.

“More re-entry support for parolees,” she said. “More access to treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. More access to jobs, education, transportation, and decent housing in high incarceration communities.”

The full report is online at SmartJusticeforMI.org.

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Why run for office? 


V-Lee-HamiltonBy Lee H. Hamilton

I spend a fair amount of time talking to students and other young people about Congress and politics in general, and I’ve noticed something. It used to be that I’d regularly get asked how one runs for office. Nowadays, I rarely do.

A lot of young people are repelled by politics; they’ve lost faith in the system just as many other Americans have. But look. If you don’t have people who are willing to run for office, you don’t have a representative democracy. As the leading edge of the Millennial generation reaches the age where running for office is a realistic possibility, I hope they’ll consider a few things.

First, it’s hard to find a more challenging job. The number, complexity, and diversity of the problems we face are astounding. As a politician, your work is never done; your to-do list is always full. It’s intellectually as challenging an occupation as anything I can imagine.

Second, I don’t know of another profession that puts you in touch with more people of more different types, ages, and views. You meet—and, if you’re serious, really engage with—liberals and conservatives, voters rich and poor, religious believers and secular humanists alike. This is one of the great attractions of the job: the splendid array of individuals and convictions that you encounter in politics.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the work can be immensely satisfying. Whatever level you’re running at, whether it’s for the school board or for President, you’re doing it to try to make things work.

My first year in Congress, in 1965, I voted for Medicare. I’d had no role in drafting it. I played no substantive part in its passage. Yet, I still remember that vote, and I still derive deep satisfaction from it. Because I know that I voted for legislation that has helped millions of people, and will continue to do so into the future. That’s the thing about holding public office: you have a chance to contribute to the direction and success of a free society. In the scheme of things, this chance isn’t given to all that many people.

There is no America without democracy, no democracy without politics, and no politics without elected politicians. There are a lot of exciting, challenging and satisfying professions out there, but here’s what I tell young people: I consider politics chief among them.

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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Congress says, “War Powers? What War Powers?” 


By Lee H. Hamilton

A few weeks ago, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia made a small splash in the press when he took Congress to task for failing to authorize our nation’s ongoing war against Islamic militants. “The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful,” he said. “[T]his Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power… allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.”

It has been three months since President Obama sent his proposal for an “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” focused on ISIS to Capitol Hill. It has gone nowhere.

This is mind-boggling. On the most important question government faces—military intervention overseas—Congress seems unable to stir itself to hammer out an agreement with the President. You can blame the President for this or you can blame Congress—each side comes in for its fair share—but inaction only expands the power of the President, leaving him to make hugely consequential decisions by himself. It’s a shocking dereliction of duty on Capitol Hill.

This is going to be a long and difficult conflict. It raises tough questions about the scope of the President’s powers, the duration of those powers, the definition and identity of the enemy, the extent of the field of battle, and America’s fundamental role in the world. The decision to apply American lives and resources to such a war is momentous, and, as a country, we need to know how far we’re willing to commit ourselves.

If we are going to send U.S. forces into dangerous places, they need to go in with the public backing that comes from a formal authorization hammered out in Congress. Both the President and Congress are dragging their feet on this, but that only helps the President, not the country. It leaves him—and most likely his successor—with dangerously broad authority to use military force without restriction, in perpetuity. This is not how a democracy like ours should operate.

The American people are beginning to understand all this. They overwhelmingly believe that Congress needs to weigh in on the government’s war-making powers. Yet, that seems to mean nothing to Washington. “Cowardly and shameful,” Sen. Kaine said. That pretty much sums it up.

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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