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The media’s responsibility to our democracy 

 

By Lee Hamilton

Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

Politicians spend a good bit of their time complaining about the media. But why should they have all the fun?

I’m going to join in, though I tend to get upset about different things than most sitting politicians do. You see, I don’t actually mind when journalists—whether in print, on television or online—treat what politicians say with skepticism. That means they’re doing their jobs.

But this doesn’t happen nearly as much these days as it should. The media today is less objective, more ideological, and much showier than it once was. What you see can be eye-catching—both the graphics and the personalities—but it is also brash and relentlessly self-promoting. A lot of journalists don’t just want to report the news, they want to be players and affect policy. They see politics as a blood sport, often exaggerating the differences among players.

As one observer said, the media is drawn to “superficiality, sensationalism, scandal, and sleaze.” They’re all too happy to seize on small points of contention and fan them into major points of discord. They make building a consensus—the key task of the democratic process—much harder.

The field has been moving in this direction over decades, and there’s a reason for it: all these changes have been well received by the public. They draw viewers, readers and clicks. And they’ve encouraged consumers to pay attention only to the sources that reflect and broadcast their own viewpoint.

I don’t want to be a fogey here. Yes, I grew up in the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and I still think they were solid journalists, but what I miss is not the voice-of-authority-from-on-high that’s so often associated with them. Instead, what I too often find lacking now is the spirit that drove the profession in those days. I think the news media had a sense of responsibility to make representative democracy function. Journalists imbued their work with a palpable sense that they were involved in a public service.

There are still really excellent journalists out there who are doing their best to serve both their profession and the country. Every day they struggle to make sense of enormously complex events. What they understand, and what I wish more of their colleagues believed, is that democracy demands journalism that improves its workings. Properly done, journalism can bridge differences, help consensus emerge, improve the knowledge and judgment of voters, and sharpen the performance of public officials and government as a whole.

In the end, the democratic process is about overcoming disagreement. This is virtually impossible without a solid base of information and analysis.

Governing well is immensely difficult, and good journalism can keep government open and honest, which serves not just the voters, but politicians who are trying to resolve the problems facing the country. Journalists can and should be watchdogs, keeping a watchful eye on politicians, what they do, what they say…and what they don’t do or say. They should serve not just the elites, but the underdogs and have-nots in society.

The independence of our press was hard to win, and it’s vital that we sustain it. People must have sources they can rely on in order to make our system work. Our democracy needs well-informed citizens making decisions based on facts about both policies and politicians.

This means that the model of the journalist that seems to be going out of fashion—reporters who were reasonably objective, independent of outside groups, and even independent of their company’s owners—is actually crucial to representative government. Curious, skeptical journalists who point out inconsistencies, draw attention to mistakes, call out misleading statements, and identify outright lies serve a larger purpose: they provide citizens what they need to know in order to be a good citizen, and public officials what they need in order to do their work well.

This is quite an ideal, especially in this age of economic turmoil within the media universe. But I don’t think it’s too much to hope that as the profession sorts out its future, it takes seriously its leadership role in advancing the public good, and doesn’t sacrifice its part in making representative democracy work properly.

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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Focus on retirement planning–it’s your future

 

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

When most people begin their career, retirement is the farthest thing from their mind. Instead, they focus on trying to purchase a home, start a family, or perhaps save money for travel. Retirement seems so far away for many younger people that they delay putting aside money. However, it’s very important to save for the future — if you want to enjoy it.

An employer-sponsored retirement plan or 401(k) can be a useful way to set aside funds for retirement, especially if your employer offers matching funds on what you invest. If you don’t work for an employer that offers this type of plan, there are many other plans designed to help you save for retirement.

From solo 401(k)s to traditional and Roth IRAs, there are programs designed to fit a multitude of budgets. The earlier you start to save, the more funds you’ll have ready for retirement.

In addition to traditional programs, the U.S. Department of the Treasury now offers a retirement savings option called myRA. There’s no minimum to open the account, you can contribute what you can afford, and you can withdraw funds with ease. To learn more about myRA, visit www.myra.gov.

And, as always, there is Social Security, which is funded by taxes you pay while you work. To get estimates of future benefits and check your earnings record for accuracy, you can create a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Prepare for your future and start saving and planning—today!

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov  

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Proposed condos for rural area in Nelson Township raises concerns

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.

 

Proposed condos for rural area in Nelson Township raises concerns

Letter to the Editor of The Cedar Springs Post:

Residents of Nelson Township and of the City of Cedar Springs should be aware that a development company is asking Nelson Township to rezone 39 acres located on 18 Mile Road and Shaner Ave. The change in zoning that the Company is asking for would be from SFR-L to a OSPUD (Open-space planned unit district).

If the Township grants the request for the rezoning the developers plan to start building their Condominium project in September. Thirteen-nineteen sites will be built on to begin with. Six, or more of these building sites will be on the East side of Shaner Ave. The developer hasn’t presented plans to the Planning Commission that will fit into the existing community; that will maintain the rural residential character of the Township. Their plans, as proposed, will bring about inappropriate overcrowding of land and congestion of population and roadways to the area here. The White Pine Ridge development if built as planned under the State Act 59 (The Condominium Act) will be similar to inner City projects.

Eventually, the so-called “open-space” may also be sited for more condos. This proposed project has raised many concerns already. A few: many septic tanks closely put in on a WellHead Protection Area, a source of drinking water for Township residents and for the City’s residents too.

The plans for the projects drainage (water runoff) is simply to hook into the current natural system. And to run water under Shaner Ave. from east to west; where the runoff water will reach Cedar Creek here in Nelson Township and flow with the creek towards town. Not only will the safeness of our water be at risk but our supply may be as well.

The Nelson Township Board meets on August 9, 2016, at 7:00 p.m., at No. 2 Maple Street, Sand Lake. Anyone can attend.

Mary L. Stidham, 

Nelson Township resident

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What does Congress need? Your attention!

 

By Lee Hamilton

Now that the conventions are over, I know that all eyes are on the fall presidential campaign. But I’m going to ask you to shift your focus a bit, to Congress. Don’t do it as a favor to me. Do it as a favor to the country.

Congress is in the midst of a seven-week break. Its members left Washington in mid-July; they’ll be back after Labor Day. They did manage to do a few things, like pass legislation providing resources for combating the heroin and opioid crisis. But what they left undone is astonishing. They departed without dealing with a $1.1 billion measure to combat the Zika virus. They didn’t take up immigration or tax reform or gun legislation. They left behind a pile of spending bills, which means they’ll have about four weeks once they return to figure out how to keep the government operating. Yet again.

We’re all tired of this. I don’t think a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me, “What can we do about it?” So let me tell you.

First, the system can work. What we’ve seen in recent years on Capitol Hill does not need to be the future. But it takes skill to forge consensus, make tradeoffs, assuage egos, and accommodate the vastly different points of view that are inevitable in a diverse nation. And it takes determination to overcome the inevitable setbacks and stumbling blocks in order to govern.

The problem is, Congress has shown virtually no interest in this. Its members are very good at attacking political opponents, and not so adept at governing.

So what kind of qualities would produce a more productive body? Simply put, members who have a sense of responsibility to the country and to the institution envisioned by our Founders; who understand their special role in making Congress an effective institution; who cooperate across the aisle—not merely in rhetoric, or when they’re standing in front of the cameras, but also when they’re drafting legislation; who can construct a bill and get it passed; who know how to legislate in order to affect change, not merely score political points; who want to safeguard Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government, not pass power to the President, the Fed, or the bureaucracy.

Many current members of Congress have never seen these qualities in action, but the committee rooms and chambers they inhabit certainly have. Sam Rayburn of Texas brought rural electrification into being and transformed the lives of millions. George Fallon of Maryland shaped the interstate highway system, which in one way or another has affected every American life. Democrat Emanuel Celler and Republican William McCullough brought civil rights legislation to the country. Edith Green of Oregon was the mother of Title IX. Talented legislators—Carl Albert, Mike Mansfield, Barber Conable, Louis Stokes, and Lindy Boggs—were skilled at helping their colleagues see their way to compromise; they took pleasure in making Congress work. And it wasn’t just leaders. The success of Congress over the years has depended upon members who were not well known but who took their responsibilities seriously and believed the institution simply had to work.

My point is, we’ve had a functional Congress before. That means we can produce one again.

But I choose those words “we” and “produce” carefully. Making it happen depends on you. As a voter, you have to go beyond asking about the candidates’ positions on substantive issues. In addition, you have to judge whether a candidate has the will and the capability to reassert the role of Congress, to get legislation passed, and to work with colleagues who don’t necessarily agree with them.

My fear is that, just as many contemporary members of Congress have never seen an effective Congress and show few signs of knowing how to make it work, perhaps voters have simply stopped expecting it. Voters have legitimate reasons to be discouraged about Congress. But they should remember the recent past, which shows that with the right kind of legislators, Congress can get things done—and they should begin to reject politicians who have proven again and again that they can’t get anything done.

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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Ohio visitors impressed with Cedar Springs family’s hospitality

 

My wife and I, along with my daughter and family, recently vacationed in the Silver Lake region of Michigan. We have heard from others over the years that it was a great place to visit and enjoy. We had no major expectations other than relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery and just go with the flow. Little did we know that we would have an experience that we would all remember for a lifetime.

We had the great fortune to rent a home that was right next door to a family from your area, Kurt and Kathy Gillespie and their children. In one week we were introduced to the dunes in a way that we could never have imagined as Kurt and son Kevin took all of us for rides that we will not ever forget. Their dedication to the sport is apparent and for them to openly share their knowledge and experience, as well as machines, was just incredible. After long days on the dunes, then to invite us to share dinners and campfires at night, just made my family feel so comfortable and at home. Just thought that someone should let you know that you have some wonderful ambassadors for Cedar Springs, Michigan, and Silver Lake dunes, in your midst. And one more thing—we also proved that Wolverines and Buckeyes really do have much more in common than football. Our families together are what it really is all about.

Randy Flowers

Delaware, Ohio

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Where are the volunteers?

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.


 

What has happened to good old volunteerism? It is an opportunity to help and improve our community. Volunteering allows you to explore career choices, learn new skills, or get that positive boost that you might not be getting elsewhere. Some schools and employers urge their students and employees to volunteer in their community. Rewards for volunteering differ for each organization but it always involves a sense of pride in a job well done. And volunteerism looks great on your resume.

Volunteering can breathe new life into an organization. It is working as a team to pull off an event or complete a project. You meet interesting people and you never know which person might be the one who inspires you and gives you a new sense of your skills, talents, and self. You may discover skills or talents you never knew you had. You can practice time management, priority setting, increased creativity, improved interpersonal and leadership skills, and customer service. You have the opportunity for intergenerational interaction and fun!

Here is a short list of organizations and/or service groups in need of volunteers: The Kent Theatre; C.S. Library; Howard Christensen Nature Center; Red Flannel Committee; Lions Club; Rotary; Women’s Club; and the Cedar Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. Please contact these groups to find out how you can help. I would like to thank all of you who have been volunteering in so many ways. You have made a difference and I appreciate all the hours you have donated to make our community a better place.

Mary K. Balon

Kent Theatre Volunteer Coordinator

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Praise for Chief Davis

 

This month Chief Mickey Davis of the Courtland Township Fire Department announced his retirement from a long and impressive career in fire service. For two decades Chief Davis served both Oakfield Township and Courtland Township as fire chief simultaneously. For the past six years he has dedicated his services to Courtland Township Fire Department full-time.

It has been nearly 20 years since Mickey asked me to consider becoming the first chaplain for the two departments he led.  Due to his own personal losses, Chief Davis understood that the harm done by fires and accidents goes beyond wounded bodies and damaged property.  Often times the greatest injury is to the human heart.  In beginning a chaplaincy program, Mickey demonstrated that his concern for the townships he served went beyond putting out fires and securing the emergency scene.

=During his tenure, Chief Davis also showed his care for the residents of Courtland Township by delivering toys to children from disadvantaged homes, visiting foster care homes, and directing social services to families in need. He cared deeply for the personal well-being of the people he served.

The residents of Courtland Township owe a debt of gratitude to Davis for his unselfish and professional service.  He provided leadership in expanding the quality and resources of the township fire service, faithfully protected lives and property, and made the township a better place to live and work.

Personally, I wish to express my thanks to the chief for inviting me into a world few know anything about.  I have seen the danger and the trauma that firefighters endure as they assist others in crisis.  It has been one of my life’s greatest honors to be able to assist Chief Davis and the other members of the fire department in their noble work.  I am a better man because of my association with Mickey Davis and the men and women of Courtland Township Fire Department.

Thank you, Chief, and congratulations on a meaningful career of faithful service!

Dr. David A. Oliver

Chaplain, Courtland Twp. Fire Dept. 

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Where the election stands 

 

V-Lee-Hamilton-colorBy Lee H. Hamilton

The next few weeks in politics are a little like the All-Star break in baseball. With the Republican and Democratic national conventions upon us, it’s a good time to step back and assess this year’s election. Which carries bad news for both parties.

The Republicans face a steep electoral challenge. If Hillary Clinton carries Florida (where polling shows a very close race) plus the District of Columbia and the 19 states that have voted Democratic in each of the last six presidential elections, she wins.

Yet victory for Donald Trump is hardly out of the question. He floated through the Republican primaries by tackling the anger and discontent that course through this year’s electorate. His talk about a broken system and his emphatic, brash style, appeals to a lot of people. His ability to dominate news coverage without spending much on advertising has been extraordinary. And even though he’s passed through a difficult period for his campaign, the polls have grown quite close.

On the other hand, the Republican Party is splintered and off its game. Its leaders are having a difficult time with a Trump candidacy. A sizable number of GOP stars are finding excuses not to attend the convention, which is remarkable.

Yet the Democrats should take no comfort from this state of affairs. For starters, below the presidential level the party is struggling. Since 2008, Democrats have lost 69 seats in the U.S. House, 13 Senate seats, 12 governorships, and over 900 seats in state legislatures.

And while Clinton’s path to the presidency may be wider than Trump’s, that doesn’t mean she’s a strong candidate — at least, not this year. At a moment when voters clearly want change, she appears to favor incrementalism as the way to get things done in Washington. And despite the FBI’s decision that it wouldn’t bring criminal charges on her handling of emails when she was Secretary of State, the issue is clearly dogging her.

The British vote on Brexit is a reminder that resentments and anger can fly under the radar. Washington, where there’s money everywhere you turn, is a ripe target for “take-our-country-back” populism. The anti-establishment, anti-Washington mood should make both parties uneasy.

But then, so should the course of this election, which has put a premium on sound and fury at the cost of true engagement with the issues confronting the country. On that score, we all lose.

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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What they’re fighting over 

V-Lee-Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

Barring a surprise at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland later this month, the race for the presidency is set. So this seems a good time to step back and consider just what it is that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are fighting about.

I don’t mean where they stand on the issues, or whose vision is more compelling. I mean the office itself. The modern presidency is unique — and pretty far removed from what our Founders envisioned. It’s worth understanding what’s at stake as you watch these two people campaign for it.

As Americans we have an odd attitude toward the presidency. On the one hand, we’re leery of executive power, and often of the government the President symbolizes. Yet we’re also fascinated by the person who holds the office. When I was in Congress, if I had contact with the President, swarms of reporters would want to know every word he’d said. And people back home had an insatiable curiosity—about the President, his family, what they wore, where they traveled, how they treated people. Americans invest a lot of energy and attention in the President, whether they like or abhor him.

And it’s not just Americans. The President is not just the central player in our own government, but also in world affairs. Anywhere you travel, you’ll find people who are curious about the most visible American on the planet.

All of this is with good reason. Presidents control the political agenda in this country. They formulate the budget, set defense and foreign policy, develop the initiatives that drive domestic affairs, and create the contours of public debate. Congress, by contrast, reacts. In recent decades, it’s been rare to find Congress seizing the initiative on much of anything. So the President stands at the center of the government, not just in moments of crisis—when you’d expect it to be the case—but when it comes to the everyday running of the country.

Presidents have been opportunistic about this, doing what they must to succeed in the system they’ve been given. If they’ve been unable to get congressional approval, they’ve tried to work around it with executive orders; Democrat or Republican, they’ve worked hard to expand their power.

The job has always carried with it great responsibility, but the weight of the modern presidency is overwhelming. There is no job training for the position, and no President emerges unscathed from the office. Harry Truman’s comment about where the buck stops was absolutely correct. In a representative democracy, the ultimate power may lie with the voters, but every tough problem this nation faces percolates up to the President; if it were easily solvable, someone else would have taken care of it. I’ve found almost all the presidents I’ve met to be serious, intelligent, anxious to do the right thing, likeable—and always over-burdened.

The story used to be told about Franklin Roosevelt that when he gave a fireside chat, you could walk down a street and never miss a word, because every house would have the radio on. The presidency today is less of a bully pulpit, yet in policy, the President’s remains the strongest single voice in this country and the world.

Which is worth pondering. No President ever lives up to the expectations people have for him—presidents make mistakes both large and small, and their power is not limitless. But the balance of it in this country is unquestionably tilted in the direction of the White House, and that is not going to change.

So the question about the presidency that concerns me is how to hold the President accountable. He or she needs to be scrutinized, challenged, and held answerable to Congress and the public for his or her policies. There are today only rare opportunities for the vigorous give and take and close examination of a President that our system once provided. But how long can that continue before we cease to be a true 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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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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