web analytics

Archive | Voices and Views

The Summer of Our Discontent

V-pull-quote

By Lee H. Hamilton

Despite these last few months of hot and lazy days, it’s been hard not to notice a cold political wind blowing through the country. The magazine Foreign Affairs captured it with its latest cover, a mockup of a travel poster featuring a crumbling U.S. Capitol with the tagline, “See America: Land of Decay and Dysfunction.”

Americans are clearly uneasy. In early August, an NBC-Wall St. Journal poll reported that three-quarters of those surveyed lacked confidence that the next generation would be better off—the most pessimistic results in the history of the poll.

This is a ground-shaking turnabout. Since well before I began my political career in the early 1960s, the keystone of our politics was an unflagging optimism that as Americans we could face head-on the task of improving our own and others’ lives and deliver on our responsibility to future generations. Now, that’s no longer the case.

Why not? Partly, it’s the economy: growth has been sluggish, we’re not generating enough good jobs, and the benefits of the recovery have flowed more to some than to the many. The growing awareness of a lopsided society—one in which a rising tide fails to lift all boats—has put many people in a surly mood. That problem of income inequality is joined to a host of others—from climate change to crumbling infrastructure to a world in which the forces of chaos and turmoil appear to be expanding.

Yet I think Foreign Affairs has nailed the biggest factor: the perceived dysfunction of our political system. Americans don’t expect miracles, but they do expect political leaders to make progress, and they haven’t been seeing much.

I can understand why so many people would be pessimistic, yet I don’t find myself sharing their fatalism. That’s because political moments are just that: moments. Over the long reach of our history, we’ve learned time and again that when our political leaders do focus on our challenges, speak to one another directly, and are determined to find a solution to our problems, they can overcome their differences and make progress.

There is no shortage of challenges facing the system. But I am convinced that they are no match for an aroused and determined public that recognizes we are all in this together, that we can adapt to changing circumstances, and that we should not give up on the system.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Posted in Lee Hamilton ColumnComments Off

Rep. VerHeulen to hold September office hours

 

 

State Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, invites constituents to meet for office hours in Sparta and Walker during September.

Office hours will take place:

•In Sparta on Saturday, Sept. 13 at Maxine’s Family Restaurant located at 370 N. State St., from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

•In Walker on Saturday, Sept. 27 at Pop’s Restaurant located at 1339 Walker Village Dr. NW, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

“Meeting with residents during office hours is a great opportunity to be able to bring local thoughts and opinions with me to Lansing,” said VerHeulen. “Being able to talk one on one with residents gives me insight on what residents would like to see for the future of our state.”

If residents are unable to attend Rep. VerHeulen’s office hours, feel free to contact his Lansing office at (517) 373-8900 or email RobVerHeulen@house.mi.gov.   

 

Posted in Voices and ViewsComments Off

Someday is closer than you think

Vonda VanTil

Vonda VanTil

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

For many people, Someday is an elusive day on the far-off horizon—always close enough to see, but too distant to touch.

Perhaps Someday you plan to go skydiving or enter a hot dog-eating contest. Maybe Someday you plan to ride a mechanical bull or travel around the world or visit all of America’s national parks.

Someday, you may want to retire. If you are mid-career, Someday, you may need to start planning for retirement. Even if you are just now starting your career, Someday, you’re going to want to see what your future benefits will be and check your earnings for accuracy.

Well, get ready, because Someday has arrived. Open a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, and you’ll see what we mean.

Millions of people have already opened an account, taking advantage of the benefits of my Social Security. Why are so many Americans opening accounts? Because my Social Security is fast, easy, and secure. It’s a convenient way to check your earnings record, get up-to-date, personalized estimates of retirement, disability, and survivors benefits, and access your Social Security Statement. With a my Social Security account, you can plan for your retirement and get help figuring out how to save for your future. If you already receive benefits, you can manage them online by starting or stopping your direct deposit, changing your address, and getting an instant proof-of-benefits letter.

Someone opens a new account just about every six seconds. Considering there is only one skydive every 16 seconds, opening a my Social Security is even more popular!

That elusive Someday that you thought might never come is here now. You’ll find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

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

 

Posted in Social Security NewsComments Off

Vote Yes on Solon Township Fire Millage

I am writing to encourage my fellow residents of Solon township to vote yes in support of the fire millage on August 5. As the former township clerk from 2004 until 2012 and currently one of your township trustees I have witnessed firsthand the changes that have occurred within Solon Township fire department.

In recent years our staffing levels have changed. As a result of fewer fire fighters being available during the week days some calls for medical help have gone unanswered, only to be picked up by neighboring community fire departments. In an effort to better serve the community the Board recently authorized a paid part time firefighter to be available 20 hours per week on a trial basis. While there may be support for a full time fire fighter (40 hours per week) this probably can only happen if this millage is approved. I believe we owe it to our residents to insure that adequate first responder protection is available for those with medical emergencies.

We can all talk about the wonderful things we would like to see happen in Solon Township however, I for one place knowing that my loved ones are protected in case of a medical emergency at the top of that list.

The Solon Township Fire Department is staffed by a dedicated group of men and women and they deserve our support.

Vote YES on the Solon Township Fire Millage

 

John W. Rideout

Solon Township Trustee

Posted in Post ScriptsComments Off

Why Incumbents Keep Getting Reelected

V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

It’s no news that Congress is unpopular. In fact, at times it seems like the only real novelty on Capitol Hill would be a jump in its approval rating.

So here’s the interesting thing: nearly three-quarters of Americans want to throw out most members of Congress, including their own representative, yet the vast majority of incumbents will be returning to Capitol Hill in January. In other words, Americans scorn Congress but keep re-electing its members. How could this be?

The first thing to remember is that members of Congress didn’t get there by being lousy politicians. They know as well as you and I that Congress is unpopular, and they’re masters at running against it — appearing to be outsiders trying to get in, rather than insiders who produce the Congress they pretend to disdain.

Just as important, incumbents enjoy an overwhelming advantage in elections. They have a large staff whose jobs focus on helping constituents. They’re paid a good salary, so they don’t have to worry about supporting their families while they campaign. They get to spend their terms effectively campaigning year-round, not just at election time, and they are able to saturate their state or district with mass mailings.

Incumbents get the honored place in the parade, the prime speaking position, the upper hand when it comes to raising money; challengers have to fight for visibility and money. In fact, challengers are at a disadvantage at almost every point in a campaign. From building name recognition to arranging meetings to building credibility with editorial boards, donors, and opinion leaders, they’re trudging uphill.

But there’s another reason incumbents keep getting re-elected that’s also worth considering: voters — that’s you and me. Most Americans don’t vote, and those who do often cast their ballots for narrow or unusual reasons. They like the way they got treated by the incumbent’s staff, or they shook his or her hand at a county fair, or they like his or her stand on a particular social or economic issue. Whatever the case, they don’t look at an incumbent’s entire record: votes on a cross-section of vital issues; willingness to work with members of different ideologies and backgrounds; ability to explain Washington back home and represent home in Washington; skill at forging consensus on tough policy challenges.

It’s really no mystery that incumbent members get re-elected. Their advantages are baked into the system.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Posted in Lee Hamilton ColumnComments Off

Save money by going with Sheriff department

POST SRIPTS: 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. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

I am typically that person that doesn’t go to steps like writing a letter to my local newspaper but enough is enough. I recently attended a public meeting regarding the City entertaining the idea of contracting our police services to the Kent County Sherriff’s Department vs. maintaining a local police department.

I must admit that I agree with councilman Jerry Hall that it was a disappointing turnout, who I know is angered by the amount of tax dollars we pay, with barely over 30 residents attending.

In a July 13 Grand Rapids Press article it stated Walker has the lowest city tax in Kent, Ottawa Counties that was shared by a private citizen. It listed property tax based on a $150,000.00 house (summer tax bills).

 Walker – $666.20

Kentwood – $786.50

Ferrysburg – $802.98

Zeeland – $835.16

Grandville – $838.50

Hudsonville – $842.27

Rockford – $883.50

Wyoming – $959.05

Coopersville – $1,057.30

Grand Haven – $1,077.00

East GR – $1,137.68

Cedar Springs – $1,224.10

Holland – $1,253.80

Lowell – $1,261.29

Grand Rapids – $1,436.39

*Walker and Grand Rapids levy property and income tax.

Something is seriously wrong with the City of Cedar Springs having these high taxes!

I have been a Cedar Springs resident for over 30 years. We have three teenage daughters and purchased a home in the city limits in 2013. I received my summer tax bill and almost needed our community rescue squad to come and save me. We purchased our home, which was built in 1969, for $99,900.00 and my summer tax bill exceeded $1,800.00.

The downtowns of Rockford, Grandville, East Grand Rapids compared to ours? We pay more taxes than those communities and my question remains, for what? Our roads are full of potholes, roads not plowed well in the winter, sidewalks are in terrible condition and overall our downtown looks shabby at best, especially considering the large amount of tax dollars that are pouring into city hall.

I attended a city council meeting a while back where Councilmember Patty Troost stated that there were over 80 foreclosures in the City of Cedar Springs. No kidding Patty, who can afford to live here?

Patty Troost also tried to calculate savings at the informational meeting, stating it was roughly only $5.35 savings per person. This was proven incorrect by the City Treasurer.

Kent County Sheriff and his team did a great presentation. The City can design the program as they see fit. Any savings to a town that is only 2 square miles and has a tax bill like ours, let me say emphatically, City Council it’s time to partner with the Sheriff’s department and save money!

Simple mathematics shows the potential savings by going with the Sherriff’s department is at a minimum $120,000.00. Over the next 10 years that is over $1 million dollars in savings!

So I ask again, where is the question?

Laurie Nozal, 

Cedar Springs

 

Posted in Post ScriptsComments (1)

Exercise your right to vote

POST SCRIPTS: 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. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

 

Dear Editor,

Election season is upon us, with phone calls, door to door campaigning, and more mailers than anyone wants. While I share the inevitable eye rolling at some of the claims, I want to point something out to my fellow citizens of Cedar Springs. When you choose not to vote, you are allowing others, who were not elected by you and may not share your views, to make decisions for you. We are a city of approximately 3,500 residents. There have been times when less than 200 people have voted. Did these people represent your interests? Have they shared your concerns and struggles?

Many people feel that their votes do not count, but I would counter that statement with the question: “then why do politicians spend so much money on advertising?” Some pay more money than people like us will ever see in a lifetime. The answer is because your vote is priceless. It is one of the few things that cannot be bought; it can only be given.

I have heard still others say that they leave that to people who may be smarter than they are. Intelligence is not measured in diplomas. No amount of education can compete with life experience. Your experience is unique and cannot be duplicated or replaced. It is valuable and necessary for the community to hear from many points of view to come to the decision that is best.

Perhaps there are time constraints that prevent people from voting. Citizens are within walking distance and can register to vote at Cedar Springs City Hall, or at any branch of the Secretary of State. We all manage to renew our license plates and driver’s licenses; it is less than an additional 60 seconds to register to vote as well. I have frequently brought my young daughter with me to vote. The team that runs elections at City Hall has never taken long enough for her to get restless.

This last week we celebrated the Fourth of July. I challenge each and every one of you to do the truly patriotic thing and vote.

Thank you for your time,

Molly Nixon, Cedar Springs

Posted in Post ScriptsComments Off

Are we doomed to polarization? 

V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

We Americans are trapped in a political dilemma. We all like representative democracy, but we don’t much like the way it’s performing.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is clear. Polls in recent years detail a polarized nation, divided both ideologically and politically. In the public’s eye, Washington gets most of the blame for this.

Yet Congress and the political world around it reflect the rest of the country more than we’d like to believe. Our nation is divided ideologically. And though we deplore negative politics, we respond to it and even encourage our favorite partisans to engage in it. Anyone who becomes President today does so with nearly half the country opposed to him the day he takes office. Moreover, we face a long list of issues where decisive action may be impossible, from abortion, to gun control, to immigration. These issues divide the nation, with no clear path forward.

Our admired political system, in other words, is not working well. So how do we resolve our dilemma?

Several procedural steps could ease the gridlock on Capitol Hill. Among them, the House and Senate could begin by scheduling themselves so that they’re in session at the same time. Congressional leaders and the President ought to meet at least once a month. Open primaries would help moderate the nation’s politics, as would bipartisan redistricting commissions capable of doing away with gerrymandered districts. Increasing voter participation and improving the integrity of our elections would also help. Limiting the Senate filibuster would open up debate and forestall endless stalemates.

It’s worth remembering that American politics is dynamic, not static. Change occurs, sometimes quickly, but more often slowly. We won’t forever be this evenly divided, because public opinion will eventually evolve and the system will respond.

Which raises my final point. Even when our frustration with division and discord spills over into impatience with the system itself, our obligations as American citizens remain the same. We face complex problems that demand a willingness to exercise the values of representative democracy: tolerance, mutual respect, accepting ideological differences, working to build consensus. Our core values accept that the differences in opinions among us will continue, but also compel us to find a way through them so the country can move forward. In the end, we created our political dilemma and are responsible for working our way through it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Posted in Lee Hamilton ColumnComments Off

Stop the childish actions

To the Editor:

First, let me thank all you good friends for the wonderful support you gave Bob during the past few months. It is truly appreciated.

Bob is a man with honesty and integrity that is beyond question. He loves his city and only wants to see us progress to be a more friendly, transparent City Government, moving forward with plans for the new library, community building, gym, a beautiful green space with the flowing well, and perhaps, even a new fire barn! Not five years from now, but in the very near future.

With one more verbal attack on Bob, at the June council meeting, I felt it was time for me to write my first letter to the editor.

The attack came after Bob stated that he would like to see the City quit spending money on attorney fees regarding the closed session and the recall effort, as he had forgiven the actions of the council in 2013.  A council member then said she wanted the lies to stop, because his wife (meaning me) had collected signatures on the recall issue. I did collect signatures—but as a private citizen of Cedar Springs and without Bob’s support.

The attacks began with the closed session that was held on July 11, 2013. The members of City Council decided among themselves to call for the closed session. The contents of the meeting are secret, but let me quote from an article in the Cedar Springs Post dated July 18, 2013. “While council members, including the mayor, cannot talk about what is discussed in closed session, the news on the street is that council members have not been happy with recent editorials that Mayor Bob Truesdale has put in the Post, especially one where he talked about the problem of brush in the city right of ways, and the fact that there was no money in the budget to pick it up until the next pick up in the fall.” Not one of the council  members came to Bob and asked him to refrain from writing editorials. They chose to use, what I call, the mafia approach, and collectively beat on him.

And then in November, he wrote a very private e-mail to one of the council members.  Rather than come to Bob and discuss it privately, it was taken to the new mayor, who orchestrated a meeting at City Hall, which was to be just him and Bob. It turned out to be many more than that, and so Bob refused to walk into another hostile situation. The mayor then called for a special meeting, where this private e-mail was made public to the standing room only crowd who attended. Bob’s response to the harassment was, I should not have written the e-mail, but contacted the council member personally. He had also written an apology, which was not read at the special meeting.

Bob’s desire is that the citizens of Cedar Springs be informed of the happenings at City Hall. I have personally heard the new mayor say on several occasions, “What happens in the council chambers, should stay in the council chambers.” What ever happened to the First amendment to the constitution? One of the reasons our founding fathers wrote the First amendment was to make sure, that in our present day, tax paying citizens of our municipalities were made aware of what is going on in local government.

I would personally like to see some of our council members be more professional. When name-calling and harassment are practiced, rolling of eyes and smirking are evident, it is very unprofessional.  Let’s put personal likes and dislikes aside and work for the good of the community.

As one lady wrote in a letter to the editor. “Cedar Springs needs a leader with plain old common sense. I’m not a common sense type of person, but have enough wisdom to realize that to run a successful city, business, or anything, common sense is a requisite of great value. Mr. Truesdale would have made a very, very good Mayor. He is honest and blessed with common sense.” That is why our City Charter needs to be changed, so we the people decide who we want for Mayor.

The letter writer added: “There was a comment as a reason for not voting for Mr. Truesdale. The reason came from a piece of gossip:  ‘Mr. Truesdale didn’t believe women should be on the council.’ It does give one pause. That’s a good reason?”

And again, the person accusing Bob of not wanting women on the council, did not contact him, but chose to believe a bit of gossip, which is not true. Let me remind that person, it was Bob who nominated a woman to be the mayor of our fair city. He does not, nor has he ever, put women in a lesser position of authority then men.

So why am I writing my very first letter to the editor? Because I have had enough of the childish actions of some of our City Council members. Let’s put our minds to making our city a better place to live.

Respectfully submitted,

Betty L. Truesdale, Cedar Springs

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. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

Posted in Post Scripts, Voices and ViewsComments (1)

The Lesson Congress should learn from the VA scandal

By Lee H. Hamilton

V-Lee-Hamilton-webLike other federal scandals before it, the mess involving VA hospitals has followed a well-trod path. First comes the revelation of misdoing. Then comes the reaction: a shocked public, an administration on the defensive, and grandstanding members of Congress. Finally, major reform bills get introduced, debated, and then put aside when the heat dies down, or the target agency gets more money thrown at the problem.

With the VA, we’re at the reform part of the cycle. In its rush to address public outrage, Congress is proposing dramatic changes that could have benefited from more thorough consideration.

The irony is that this need not have happened—not with the VA, nor with the IRS, or FEMA, or any of the other cases in recent years where the federal bureaucracy proved to be dysfunctional and Congress rushed in with a half-baked fix. Mostly what is needed is for Congress to do its job properly in the first place.

This means exercising its oversight responsibilities and catching problems before they mushroom. Diligent oversight can repair unresponsive bureaucracies, expose misconduct, and help agencies and departments become more effective.

To do this, Congress first needs to know what’s happening. Performance, budget, personnel, management challenges, major and minor problems: members of Congress ought to be experts on all of this. Understanding the facts, working cooperatively with the federal agency, and anticipating problems is a far more useful approach than Congress’s usual pattern of throwing up its hands at a scandal and blaming everyone else for the problem.

Congress must also get serious about reforming the federal bureaucracy. Federal employees deserve to feel they’re being listened to, respected, and treated fairly, but management also must have flexibility to hire and fire, and to handle personnel problems constructively.

If Congress wants federal agencies to work better, it has to work tirelessly to understand problems and help repair them. It cannot eliminate politics from this oversight process, but politics should not drive the whole oversight enterprise.

The point is that many failures of the federal bureaucracy can be avoided with robust congressional oversight. It’s a crucial part of improving the performance of government, and Congress has a duty to get ahead of problems, not lag constantly behind. Unless it’s willing to accept its responsibility for diligent oversight, the next scandal is only a matter of time.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

 

 

Posted in Lee Hamilton Column, Voices and ViewsComments Off