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Archive | Voices and Views

For those eligible, voting should be easy

 

V-Lee-Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

The elections process is not usually grist for inflammatory rhetoric. But this year has been different. Republican Donald Trump labeled the GOP primary process “crooked.” Democrat Bernie Sanders suggested his party’s use of super-delegates made its nominating process a “rigged system.” For many voters, the intricacies of voting rules quickly became a topic of overriding interest.

Now that the primaries are over, I hope Americans remain just as intrigued by the laws governing general-election voting in their states. Because at the moment, this country is engaged in an experiment with the democratic process that should rivet everyone who cares about representative government.

We’ve seen two diverging trends in the states in recent years. One approach has sought to make voting more difficult. Since the 2010 elections, 22 states have put laws in place narrowing voters’ ability to go to the polls. They have decreased the time allotted for voting; added tough ID requirements; reduced options for voting prior to Election Day; added proof-of-citizenship requirements; and made it necessary for voters to register well before election day. These steps, their backers contend, are necessary to guard against voter fraud and assure the integrity of the ballot.

Other states have moved in the opposite direction. They’ve made it easier to register to vote; have added longer hours for voting on election day; have moved to mail-in ballots; and encourage early voting. They’ve done all they can to make the process of voting simple and convenient.

On the whole, Republicans at the state level have favored greater restrictiveness and Democrats greater ease, but you don’t have to be a partisan of one side or the other to recognize that politicians believe a great deal is at stake. Whatever they give as their reasons for pushing a particular approach, you can be sure they are also calculating the effect of rules changes on the outcome of elections, and they’ll do all they can to tilt the rules in their favor.

Which is why the question of how to approach the right to vote isn’t going to be settled any time soon. There are a lot of court cases pending in the various states, and it’s likely there will be conflicting judicial opinions.

If we’re going to debate the electoral process as a nation, let’s keep in mind the core issue: it should be easy to vote—and hard to cheat. Casting your ballot is a fundamental constitutional right, and ensuring that every eligible voter can do so is basic to our system. Every American should be able to exercise his or her right to vote without feeling cowed—which is why I worry that efforts to limit voting will have a pernicious effect on our system of representative government.

The evidence on this is mixed. A recent paper by political scientists at UC San Diego analyzing turnout between 2008 and 2012 in states with strict voter ID laws found that they depressed voting overall—more among Democratic constituencies, but among Republicans, too. Yet recent research also suggests that the opposite is not true: easing voting rules in states that never tightened them does not necessarily boost turnout.

One certainty in all this is that a lot of people who are eligible to vote for various reasons do not choose to do so. Of the 219 million Americans eligible to vote in 2014, the Census Bureau reported last year, roughly 41 million were not registered; and turnout in actual elections is even lower. Voting behavior may be more related to motivation than it is to statutory activity.

A more pressing certainty is that our entire voting system needs attention. All too many jurisdictions try to run elections on the cheap, with machinery and processes that are inadequate to the task. Even now, 16 years after the 2000 presidential election revealed deep flaws in the patchwork of ways we record and tally votes, the system remains rickety.

“The vigor of American democracy rests on the vote of each citizen,” a national commission on voting once wrote. Keep that in mind this election year — and pay attention to how your state approaches its obligation to safeguard that vigor.

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. For information about our educational resources and programs, visit our website at www.centeroncongress.org. “Like” us on Facebook at “Indiana University Center on Representative Government.”

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Social Security questions and answers

Question: Will my son be eligible to receive benefits on his retired father’s record while going to college?

Answer: No. At one time, Social Security did pay benefits to eligible college students. But the law changed in 1981. We now pay benefits only to students taking courses at grade 12 or below. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if children are still full-time students at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits generally can continue until they graduate or until two months after they reach age 19, whichever is first. If your child is still going to be in school at age 19, you’ll want to visit www.socialsecurity.gov/schools.

Question: When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, are benefits payable on that person’s record?
Answer: Social Security survivor’s benefits can be paid to:

• A widow or widower — unreduced benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60;

• A disabled widow or widower — as early as age 50;

• A widow or widower at any age if he or she takes care of the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled, and receiving Social Security benefits;

• Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children;

• Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled; and

• Dependent parents age 62 or older.

Even if you are divorced, you still may qualify for survivor’s benefits. For more information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov.

Question: I want to make sure I have enough credits to receive Social Security retirement benefits when I need them. How can I get a record of my Social Security earnings?

Answer: The best way for you to check whether you have earned enough credits (40 total, equaling 10 years of work) is to open a free my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to review your Social Security Statement.

Once you create an account, you can:Keep track of your earnings to make sure your benefit is calculated correctly. The amount of your payment is based on your lifetime earnings;

*Get an estimate of your future benefits if you are still working;

*Get a replacement 1099 or 1042S.

*Get a letter with proof of your benefits if you currently receive them; and

*Manage your benefits:

*Change your address; and

*Start or change your direct deposit.

Accessing my Social Security is quick, convenient, and secure, and you can do it from the comfort of your home.

In some states, you can even request a replacement Social Security card online using my Social Security. Currently available in some areas in the United States, it’s an easy, convenient, and secure way to request a replacement card online. To find out where we offer this service, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.

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Dealing with unexpected grief and loss

 

By Bob Cahill, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hospice of Michigan

The evening news has recently been dominated by stories of unexpected loss and these tragedies continue to make headlines every day. The tragedy in Orlando is the most recent national event that has thrust our communities into grieving. For those of us who work with patients and families facing death every day, adding the national grief of an unanticipated tragedy is all the more unsettling. We all share a common thread with the victims in Orlando and their loved ones; when someone loses a life unexpectedly, their family and friends are left to cope with the loss of someone whom they loved dearly.

Experiencing the loss of a loved one is always challenging, but a sudden loss can be shocking and even unimaginable. In the back of our minds, we understand that no one lives forever. When someone we love has a terminal illness or has reached the end-stages of their life, we have time to make preparations and say our goodbyes. However, an untimely death can leave us feeling lost, out-of-control and overwhelmed with pain.

Those who experience unexpected loss may feel angry by the sudden death, cheated of a last goodbye, or sad that they didn’t perform some final act of kindness before their loved one died. Missing out on saying goodbye can leave us feeling distressed, adrift and angry, which only adds to our grief, pain and sadness during an already difficult time.

Although it may be hard to imagine during the months and even years after a sudden death, it’s important to remember that surviving through grief and loss is possible. While everyone grieves differently, ultimately we each work through the pain to begin the healing process.

As we go through a grief journey, it’s important to also focus on our health and emotions. After a loss, we may find ourselves eating or sleeping less; but both are key to healing. We should also be honest with ourselves and deal with our emotions; repressing feelings only delays the grieving process. Crying doesn’t mean we are weak or that we’re being selfish, it means that we are human.

Support groups and counselors are a valuable resource for those who have experienced a loss. They can be found through faith-based organizations such as churches or synagogues; community centers; or non-profit community-based support and grief programs. Many programs are tailored to specific needs such as dealing with an unexpected loss, and are often low-cost or free. The comprehensive grief support services provided through Hospice of Michigan across the state of Michigan are always provided to the community at no cost, whether or not the person has had a loved one use its hospice or palliative care services for adults or children.

Ultimately, it’s important to keep that loved one close to your heart and honor them by living a fulfilling life. During the difficult times following an unexpected loss, we can find comfort by trusting that the person we loved would want us to live our lives to the fullest. 

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Thief stole flowers from Vet’s grave

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.


 

Thief stole flowers from Vet’s grave

To the person who took the planter from my husband’s grave at the Elmwood Cemetery, I hope you enjoy them. If you liked the flowers, all you had to do is leave me a note, I would’ve told you where I got them. Didn’t you see the flag? You took flowers from a Vet’s grave. Enjoy them!

Linda Gardell

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Old trophies

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.

 


 

To (former) Athletic Director Mattson and School Superintendent VanDuyn,

I remember as a freshman seeing all the old trophies on display at the trophy case at the south end of Mr. Welch’s classroom, plus also the trophy case at the front entranceway. Looking at all the old trophies told me Cedar had a past of accomplishments. It was a thrill to look at these trophies, even if the team photos were faded.

I wrote you and talked to you about the whereabouts of the 1970 and 1971 men’s tennis team trophies so a new team photo could be put in to replace the faded photos. Today’s young people should know that Cedar Springs sports had a past of accomplishments. You had 14 years to find trophies and display them so the young people may know.

Passing along the two 8×10 color team photos (to replace the ones in 1970 and 1971) and not having them replace the faded ones was a disappointment for me. But also to: Mr. Harold Maxson (tennis coach), John Venman, Randy Maxson (three-time state champ), Steve Maxson, Randy Swanson, Mike Clouse, Tim Welch, Brad Slaight, Todd Denton, Mark Clark, Tom Venman, Steve Pike, Dan Laszlo, Mike Welch, Scott French, the Class of 1970 and 1971, plus the young people who want to know about Cedar Springs sports and its accomplishments.

A good Captain of a Navy ship knows what is under his command and what he is responsible for. Same goes for an Athletic Director and Superintendent.

You let a lot of people down. I rest my case. Have a good day.

Sincerely,

Mr. Lenn Perry, Cedar Springs

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The Case for limited government 

 

By Lee H. Hamilton

It has been 35 years since Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural speech as President — the one in which he said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Over that time, hostility toward government seems only to have grown, led by politicians and embraced by millions of Americans.

I find this troubling. Not because those agencies—or the government as a whole—are faultless, but because I don’t see how a democratic society and market economy can function without an effective government.

In fact, I’d argue that limited government is more often part of the solution than it is a problem. It funds core functions—such as infrastructure, the court system, and national security—that allow the private sector to flourish. It sustains national parks, interstate highways, the air traffic control system and other services that make this a vibrant society. It strives to protect Americans from hazardous food and drugs, unsafe workplaces, and toxic polluters. It has played a key role in asserting fairness for minorities, women and the most vulnerable people in our society.

This is not to say that government does not overreach, or that it always performs as it should. On occasion, its leaders make poor and misguided decisions; its legislators, however well intentioned, create wasteful and unneeded programs.

But we’re not going to do away with government. Instead, we have to make the sometimes comfortable, sometimes uneasy co-existence of the market and the government work.

So it’s crucial for our political leaders to find the right balance. To establish in clear terms where government should and should not be active. To test what works and what does not and then pursue the former and shut down the latter. To wring duplication out of the bureaucracy and rigorously pursue efficient, effective, and accountable government. To ensure tough, fair enforcement of the law. And to recognize that their focus on policy needs to be balanced by a focus on effective management and implementation of programs.

As a politician, you can always get applause for quoting the old line, “That government is best which governs least.” But list what government does that affects people’s everyday lives, and you’ll see members of that same audience nod their heads in agreement. It’s the balance between limited government and the private sector that it’s our job constantly to assess, debate, and get right.

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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Those who know Congress best are shaking their heads 

Lee Hamilton

Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

I had the good fortune last week to spend some time in Washington, D.C. with about a dozen former members of Congress. As you’d expect, we got to talking about the current Congress. Very quickly it turned out that the same question was troubling all of us: Why is it held in such low public esteem?

We represented both parties and a variety of eras, and had a range of experience under our belts. But we all found ourselves chagrined by what we’ve been witnessing. You have to understand that most former members of Congress believe deeply in the value of the institution for American representative government. We might take opposite sides of particular policy debates, but on one point we all agree: we want the institution itself to succeed and thrive. These days, it’s doing neither.

For starters, we were hard-pressed to come up with any real accomplishments for this Congress. It did pass a revision to No Child Left Behind, and a controversial expansion of cyber-surveillance capabilities — which it slipped into a must-pass budget bill. It also took the entirely uncontroversial step of broadening sanctions on North Korea. But that’s pretty much it.

In the country at large, people are fretting about control of our borders, stagnant wages, college expenses, the cost of health care, the opioid addiction crisis, the spread of ISIS, the strengthening effects of climate change. The administration is trying to keep the Zika virus from gaining a foothold in this country, and congressional inaction has already caused Puerto Rico to default on one set of obligations, with a much bigger default looming – and doomed airline passengers to longer and longer waits as the TSA struggles. Yet on Capitol Hill, no one seems particularly concerned. Instead, its members left town to campaign.

This may be unfair, but I can’t help but think about my first year in Congress. We enacted 810 bills, including the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Water Quality Act, and setting up the Departments of Transportation and of Housing and Urban Development. Not every year was like that, but the contrast is inescapable. Among the group of people I was with last week — people who watch Congress closely — there was unanimity: this will go out as one of the least productive years in congressional history.

Worse, members show little interest in making Congress more productive. Our little group all remembered times when we or our colleagues pushed reform efforts to make the institution work better—and were struck that current members aren’t doing so. Most Americans belong to some group or another that’s trying to accomplish change for the better and improve itself at the same time. Why would Congress be an outlier? But it is.

Some of the observations we shared last week are old hat. Congress is excessively partisan, with too many of its members highly distrustful of the other party and inclined to blame it for Capitol Hill’s ailments. As an institution, it seems incapable of ridding itself of the bad habits it’s gotten into: the reliance on omnibus bills and continuing resolutions; timidity in the face of presidential power; a marked reluctance to use the levers of congressional authority — especially control of the federal budget—to prod or check executive action.

Yet none of us believe this is irreversible. We are all convinced that strong leadership in Congress could make an immense difference. In the past, effective legislators on both sides of the aisle—as committee chairs and as caucus leaders—have left behind them a legacy of great accomplishment. Democrat Emanuel Celler of New York and Republican William McCullough of Ohio joined forces to craft the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Democrat Wilbur Mills of Arkansas and Republican John Byrnes of Wisconsin together helped shape Medicare.

I won’t waste your time with a list of consummate legislators who were able to get things done. The point is simple: it may be a different time and legislative environment from 50 years ago, but strong leadership can make Congress work. On that, my former colleagues and I, Republicans and Democrats, found ourselves in full agreement.

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. For information about our educational resources and programs, visit our website at www.centeroncongress.org. “Like” us on Facebook at “Indiana University Center on Representative Government,” and share our postings with your friends.

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It’s getting harder to govern, and it’s not just politicians’ fault

Lee Hamilton

Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

We may not know who our next President is going to be, but here’s one thing that’s almost certain: he or she will take office with roughly half of the electorate unhappy and mistrustful. The notion that the President speaks for a broad coalition of Americans who are willing to set aside their differences on behalf of a compelling new vision for the country? It’s vanished.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering where it went, and though I still haven’t found an answer, I do know this: it’s not only Washington’s—or even the political class’s—fault.

Let’s start with a lament I hear frequently about this year’s crop of presidential candidates: “Is this the best we can do?” I used to believe that the popular argument that the best among us do not seek political office was wrong—that there were plenty of standout Americans who went into politics. And there are. But there are also a lot of talented people—the kind who could lead us beyond our tired political discourse—who take a look at politics and turn the other way these days.

I’ve known a lot of very good people in politics, who were motivated by a true interest in improving the country and saw politics as a competition of ideas, not a mean-spirited clash of ideologies. I see less of this today. Many politicians seem genuinely not to like one another. They see a victory by the other party as a threat to the well-being of the nation.

This is a departure from the past, and it’s not a healthy one. There was a time when the parties and other organizations that brought disparate voters together—charitable institutions, unions—helped build a unity of effort in the government. But groups like that are weaker now.

Which is a shame in a year like this, when voters are angry and distrustful and worried by economic insecurity. They don’t have much appetite for the substance and complexity of policy, seem to relish the clashes that this year’s campaigning has produced, and are uninterested in talk of finding common ground.

It’s a campaign year, of course, so a certain amount of this is to be expected. But if the voters’ surly mood and mistrust carry over after November, it’s going to be very hard for the next President—and politicians in general—to govern effectively.

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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New study: No correlation between school spending and student outcomes

Study finds spending more on Michigan schools doesn’t increase achievement

MIDLAND—There is no statistically significant correlation between how much money Michigan’s public schools spend and how well students perform academically, according to a new empirical study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

The study’s findings align with the bulk of academic research on the subject, but does so with a unique and detailed data set of Michigan’s public school spending and academic achievement. The data comes from more than 4,000 individual public schools in Michigan and covers seven years’ worth of detailed expenditures and test scores for elementary, middle and high school students. The test scores were from the years 2007 through 2013. Using school-level data, as opposed to district-level data, enabled a more precise examination of the relationship between spending and performance.

“Of the 28 measurements of academic achievement studied, we find only one category showed a statistically significant correlation between spending and achievement, and the gains were nominal at best,” said Mackinac Center Education Policy Director Ben DeGrow, who authored the study along with Edward C. Hoang, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. “Spending may matter in some cases, but given the way public schools currently spend their resources, it is highly unlikely that merely increasing funding will generate any meaningful boost to student achievement.”

The study comes as the state awaits the completion of a now-overdue school funding “adequacy” study it paid a Denver-based firm $399,000 to complete by March 31, 2016; that study is now due by May 13, 2016. School funding adequacy studies are common across the country and nearly all of them (38 of the 39 performed between 2003 and 2014) recommend funding increases.

“The state’s school spending adequacy study is sure to conclude additional tax dollars are necessary to improve student performance to adequate levels, but lawmakers, parents and the Michigan Department of Education owe it to students to examine how education dollars are spent, rather than simply throwing more money to areas that do not directly impact the classroom,” DeGrow said. “As our findings suggest, it could be that public schools generally fail to spend additional resources effectively.”

The only area that showed a statistically significant correlation between additional spending and student achievement was seventh-grade math, and the impact was small: a school would need to spend on average 10 percent more to improve the average state test score by just .0574 points.

“This study suggests that simply spending more of Michigan taxpayers’ dollars on the public school system alone is not enough to improve student achievement,” said Hoang.

Read the full study on “School Spending and Student Achievement in Michigan: What’s the Relationship?” at www.mackinac.org.

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Days of fear and intimidation are over

Dear CSPS Board of Education and Community,

Be Nice.

We embrace this anti-bullying initiative in our district. It’s on t-shirts, posters, and banners throughout our schools. The Mental Health Foundation website states that this campaign was designed to spread awareness surrounding the issue of bullying. The ‘Be Nice’ campaign strives to educate students and community members about how simply being nice is an effective way to promote a safe and civil environment within the school and community.

I’ve worn my Be Nice shirt to board meetings and the superintendent interviews. While we’ve expected our students to adopt this philosophy, some of our staff and administrators have not. Since we’ve had a change of superintendent, I have not felt the need to wear this shirt to board meetings.

Dr. Van Duyn IS nice. She is an example of what we should see in a person living out this philosophy. I feel safe, respected and valued. I do not fear unfair and unwarranted attacks any more. Any questions I have are quickly and completely answered. The days of fear, intimidation, disrespect, lies and corruption are over. That’s how it USED to be, especially at Cedar Trails.

I’ve been reading letters in the Post about a lack of leadership by the current administration, and I am confused. You could have said those things two years ago, but not any more.

The changes we’ve been experiencing are all for good. I feel listened to and supported. We have counseling back. Our professional development is relevant and helping us to better understand and meet the needs of the children that we serve in this community.

Now I am confident that this district is headed in the right direction. Our current leadership is skilled, competent and highly qualified.

Great things are happening here. Please keep up the good work!

Sincerely,

Karen Gebhardt

First Grade Teacher

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