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Archive | Voices and Views

A very tough job 

 

V-Lee-Hamilton-webBy Lee H. Hamilton

You know who I feel sorry for? Today’s politicians.

You’ll laugh at this, but hear me out. This is a very tough time to be a politician, whether running for office or trying to lead while holding office. The women and men who’ve undertaken to represent us face circumstances that make campaigning and governing unusually challenging right now.

Not that they’ve ever been easy, at least in my lifetime. Our size, diversity, and multi-layered government structure; the number and complexity of the problems our political leaders face daily; and the divided politics of our time, which make settling on coherent policies especially challenging—all these combine to make being a politician in a representative democracy one of the most demanding jobs around. Several features of the current political landscape, however, give politics a sharper edge and make it far more difficult to navigate.

For starters, our political discourse, from city councils to state legislatures to Congress, is less forgiving than it was a generation ago. Political opponents are no longer just people with whom we happen to disagree; they’re people who need to be shamed into silence. They can’t be trusted, they can’t be negotiated with, they’re self-serving and unpatriotic, and when they’re not incompetent, they’re scheming, ill-informed and ill-intentioned. This rhetoric is not just calculated demonization. The extent to which politicians today genuinely distrust the other side is something new in our politics. It makes progress on the issues of the day extremely complicated.

This is exacerbated by politicians’ awareness that voters have lost confidence in our traditional political leadership and are searching hard for alternatives. You see this in the rise of candidates like Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left, who speak to voters who are looking for someone to express their anger and frustration.

Why are Americans upset, and more willing than usual to rally to outlying candidates? I don’t think there’s any great mystery. For starters, we have a society that is deeply concerned about economic insecurity; as the Pew Research Center reported recently, the American middle class—for decades the stable anchor of economy and society—is in trouble and no longer in the majority. People are moving up, but most are not, and some are moving down. Small wonder that immigration causes so much concern.

You can add to this the fear of terrorism and a deeply unsettled view of the major changes taking place in American society: the rise of big data and its attendant loss of privacy; the migration flows that whittle away at some communities, while causing others to change unrecognizably from month to month; the tensions that diversity, arguments over gender, and racial conflict all produce; the fluid and ever-changing patterns of religious belief and identity that have shaken many communities loose from the institutions that once moored them; the decline of the traditional, objective media. America today is an uneasy place, and we see this reflected in voters’ frustration and pessimism.

With next year’s elections still almost a year away, voters are mostly just looking around. They like candidates who express their anger and resentment, but that’s in part because they’re not measuring candidates by whether they seem fit for the presidency or Congress or the governor’s mansion. Voters are just now starting to hold candidates up to the standards of the offices they seek; as they do, the unsettled political environment in which we find ourselves will grow a bit less uncertain.

But the long-term issues—the fears and uncertainty and the forces driving them–won’t have gone away. Which is why I feel great sympathy for politicians at the moment. The skills we need in our political leaders, like the ability to approach those with whom they disagree with a measure of good will and an openness to negotiation and compromise, are not held in high esteem by the voters or by the loudest voices in their own parties. It’s easy for a politician to pander to anger and frustration. It’s much harder to face a roomful of disparate opinions and forge a consensus behind a solution. Yet that is precisely what many politicians recognize our country needs.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University 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 educational resources and programs, visit 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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Many happy returns to Social Security

 

By: Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Everyone enjoys presents, but loved ones don’t always know exactly what you want. That sweater your relative gave you might be a little too festive for your taste. That’s when those happy returns begin. With gift receipt in hand, you go to the store or online to exchange that item for one you really want.

Now that the holidays are winding down, you’re also probably happy to return to your calmer routine. And part of that routine is planning for retirement.

Your secure my Social Security account allows you to do a number of important things throughout the year, at your convenience:

• Keep track of your earnings and verify them every year;

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

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

• Manage your benefits:

  • Change your address;
  • Start or change your direct deposit;
  • Get a replacement Medicare card; and
  • Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season.

Signing up for my Social Security at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount is quick, easy, and secure.

We also have another invaluable tool that you can use over and over. The Retirement Estimator allows you to calculate your potential future Social Security benefits by changing variables such as retirement dates and future earnings. You may discover that you’d rather wait another year or two before you retire to earn a higher benefit. Or, you might learn that you are ready to retire now — which you also can do online and often-in less than 15 minutes. To get instant, personalized estimates of your future benefits, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

It’s exciting to see the happy returns you’ll be getting when you retire, and returning to my Social Security on a regular basis will ensure you get the right amount at the right time. Give yourself the gift of a secure future at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

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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Sadly, Congress seems okay with being weak 

 

V-Lee-Hamilton-webBy Lee H. Hamilton

Not many people outside of Capitol Hill paid attention last month when the congressional leadership released next year’s legislative schedule. Its headline feature is a strikingly long summer recess: half of July and all of August, along with a few spotty weeks of work before the November election. There are plenty of other breaks as well; in all, the House will be in session for less than one-third of the year, and the Senate only a bit longer.

I suppose we could take Congress to task for not working hard enough, and I’m sure plenty of people will do so. But the schedule reveals an even more serious issue: it suggests that Congress, or at least its leadership, is unconcerned about how ineffective and even irrelevant the institution has become when it comes to policy making.

This has been a long-term trend, with plenty of responsibility to be laid at the feet of political leaders in both parties. Even some recent signs of progress, like the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aren’t enough. Many people, within Washington and beyond, now take Congress’s weakened state for granted, almost as if it’s the natural order of things.

That is because wherever you turn, Congress has lost ground as an institution. The contrast with the presidency is especially stark. Every President in recent memory has expanded the power of his office, and for good reason. The modern world demands quick, decisive action, and Americans like presidents who act forcefully. Yet the result is that the balance of power has shifted dangerously toward the President.

This is especially apparent on two fronts where Congress ought to be resolute. One is the budget — the basic blueprint for the government — which is now largely the President’s responsibility. Congress cannot even produce a real budget any more; every year, it kicks the serious fiscal questions down the road — from hard decisions on tax reform to even harder decisions on spending. Its deference to the President is even more striking when it comes to committing U.S. forces overseas. Members of Congress happily criticize the President on issue after issue, lamenting that they cannot trust him and cannot work with him. Yet on some of the most important questions the government faces — whether, how, where, and when to intervene using military force — they defer utterly to the White House.

They do the same with the regulatory agencies. Members love to criticize the EPA, for instance, but rarely put their words into legislative action, and they fail repeatedly to do the kind of routine, painstaking oversight of federal agencies that would help eliminate wasted resources and bureaucratic overreach.

At the same time, they’ve handed economic power to the Federal Reserve. Fifty years ago, the ordinary American who could name the chair of the Fed was rare. Today, it’s hard to pick up a newspaper without reading about Janet Yellen and the Fed’s board of governors. Because Congress has essentially given up on trying to shape fiscal policy, it has put the Fed in charge of keeping the economy growing.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has become the principal way our country deals with a host of tough issues like abortion and affirmative action. These are matters that, ideally, would be wrestled through the legislative process. Instead, they’re up to the Court.

Congress these days is failing to assert its responsibilities under the Constitution — it is far from being the co-equal branch our Founders envisioned. And many of its members agree. They don’t believe the institution they serve is doing its job — they’d point, for instance, to immigration reform, which Speaker Paul Ryan recently announced the House would not even touch next year, despite the pressing need. Here is an issue practically begging for rolled-up sleeves on Capitol Hill. Yet instead of action, they get a congressional schedule that sends members back to their districts for most of the year.

Which may be the most distressing part of it all. Instead of being concerned enough about Congress’s weakness and inactivity to take action, its leaders, at least, appear to believe that many of the toughest issues on the national agenda are beyond their capability to resolve.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University 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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Members of Congress need to spend more Time on Capitol Hill 

 

V-Lee-Hamilton-webBy Lee H. Hamilton

When Paul Ryan became House Speaker a few weeks ago, he made it clear that he has no intention of spending too much time in Washington. His wife and children are in Wisconsin, he pointed out, and he plans to commute, as he’s done since he got elected to Congress. “I just work here,” he told CNN, “I don’t live here.”

I have great sympathy for Ryan’s urge to strike a balance between family and work. It is very, very tough for every member, let alone the Speaker, to live and work far from home, and to weigh constantly whether to be in Washington or back in the district. I remember that when I served in Congress, I felt I was in the wrong place wherever I happened to be. If I was home in Indiana, I missed important meetings on Capitol Hill. When I was in Washington, the calendar in Indiana was filled with events I should have been attending.

Yet while we should sympathize with the compromises members of Congress have to make between their duties in Washington and their responsibilities back home, there’s no question where they must be to discharge their public responsibilities. If we want a well-functioning Congress, they need to be in Washington more.

When I first got elected to Congress in 1964, members didn’t have to split time between their colleagues on Capitol Hill and their families back in the district, because most of us moved our families to Washington. But over the years, the politics of the country have grown strongly anti-Washington. Members of Congress do not want to be associated with the city. They want to show they haven’t been seduced by the lifestyle of the Nation’s Capital or adopted an “inside-the-beltway” mindset. They take pride in rejecting the elitism of Washington. Today’s politics make it hard to argue that members should be spending more time on Capitol Hill.

Yet as Washington Post writer Dana Milbank noted recently in an insightful column on the topic, “It’s no mere coincidence that in the time this trend has taken hold, much of what had previously existed in Washington disappeared: civility, budget discipline, big bipartisan legislation and just general competence. In place of this have come bickering, showdowns, shutdowns and the endless targeting of each other for defeat in the next election.”

Expanding the Capitol Hill workweek, in other words, isn’t just a symbolic gesture. It’s one of the keys to reversing congressional dysfunction.

For starters, you have to get to know your colleagues in order to do business with them. The amenities are crucial in politics, even more than in most spheres of working life. In any legislature, whether it’s on Capitol Hill or in a state capital or in City Hall, the very nature of the job is going to involve disagreement. Yet everyone there is there to solve problems together; they have no choice but to work together. It’s hard to attack a person you know well, but even more important, getting to know one another—and one another’s families—is an essential lubricant for resolving the issues you confront together.

Second, drafting legislation is highly demanding, because the core of it involves building consensus. This takes time. It can’t be forced. Members have to have the time and room to consider the options, look for common ground, and think through alternatives. Politicians, in other words, need sufficient time to be good politicians and good legislators. The array of tough issues that face Congress can’t be dealt with by part-time legislators,

which is what they are right now. Members of Congress work hard, but they do not work hard at legislating. They work hard at constituent relations and raising money and campaigning. Legislating, whether we like it or not, takes a five-day week, not the three they put in at the moment.

What I’m arguing for here will not be popular with members of Congress, and it certainly won’t get a warm reception from their families. But they are elected to do the job of legislating. For the good of the institution they serve, and the work product they owe the nation, members need to spend more time in Washington.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University 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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Washington’s latest deal: little cause for celebration

 

By Lee H. Hamilton

You can understand why President Obama and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle sought to cast their end-of-October budget deal in the best possible light. They avoided a potentially catastrophic national default. They reduced the possibility of a government shutdown. And they raised the debt ceiling until March 2017, taking that bargaining chip off the table until the next president is in the White House.

Still, for all their hard work, our political leaders indulged in two bad habits that they really need to kick, because they wreak havoc with effective and efficient government and cost taxpayers a pile of money.

First, while they gave themselves some breathing room before the next time the debt ceiling has to be raised, they will nonetheless have to raise the debt ceiling eventually. They should have abolished it, or at least suspended it.

The debt ceiling has become a political pawn, used repeatedly as leverage by opposition parties to make demands of the President. It has driven the persistent national game of “chicken” that has so tarnished Congress’s image in recent decades. The legislative maneuvering surrounding each debt ceiling bill consumes huge amounts of legislative time that is better spent on other matters.

The second bad habit is equally pernicious: the budget deal did little to shift Congress from its reliance on continuing resolutions. The CR, as it’s known, was designed to keep government operating for a few days or weeks while congressional negotiators worked out the budget. In recent decades, though, it has become the way we fund the government.

Continuing resolutions bypass the appropriations bills written by specialized committees and provide a favored few interests a bonanza. They also keep the federal government—and hence state and local agencies that rely on federal commitments—in “handcuffs,” as a recent article in Politico put it. The CR puts the government on automatic pilot, avoids hundreds of difficult funding and policy decisions, and has become a substitute for working hard to pass a budget by the regular process. It lacks transparency, sidesteps good budgeting, puts all the power in the hands of a few congressional leaders, and invites Congress to act in a crisis mode.

Do you want the Congress to work better? If so, ask your favorite member to think big and not lock into a failing system. A good start would be to kick these two bad habits.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University 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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City manager was run out town

 

Thursday night’s council meeting was our City Manager, Thad Taylor’s, last. Mr. Taylor came here three years ago as a very experienced, well-qualified manager who has since received high praise from many citizens, professionals, businesses and developers. He did all he could to move our city forward and was successful in bringing several new businesses to town.

Regrettably, Thad Taylor has been run out of Cedar Springs! He was blindsided by a group of people who made his job unendurable. These people now sit on our Council advancing their own personal agendas over the interests of the community as a whole. They are catering to special interest groups, spending thousands of dollars that should be spent on our crumbling sidewalks and roads under the guise of “the good of the community.” I found Councilor Powell’s sudden concern for finances, in searching for a new manager, seemingly hypocritical given the fact that she freely encourages council to write blank checks for unbudgeted items benefiting groups she supports and is affiliated with.

Ignoring Thad’s MML recommendation Council Conley urged Council to get opinions from stakeholders on what qualities they wanted in a manager. After some debate, the decision was made to allow the public to have a say. Aren’t we, the taxpayers, the biggest stakeholders after all? On November 19, at 7:00 p.m. there will be a special meeting for the public to express their opinions on what qualities a city manager should possess. I’m hoping integrity and transparency are among those at the top of the list. I also hope this council strives to acquire the same characteristics because, to date, I have sensed a great deal of ignorance of the law along with a failure to listen to those who do understand the gravity of making decisions contrary to it, that being the manager and city attorney.

I support libraries and community buildings but the council’s first responsibility is the health, safety and welfare of its citizens; running the fund balance down is not in our best interest. When Council passes a resolution giving special advantages to groups determined to get their ideas advanced regardless of the consequences and when, as a member of the Planning Commission, I am asked to make a decision “in the spirit of the law,” basically ignoring the law, there is something seriously wrong with the governing unit of this city. If citizens attended meetings or watched council meetings on youtube.com they would better understand the critical nature of business that is going on behind the scenes.

I wish Thad Taylor God’s speed and a professional group of people to work with in Manistee, something he so desperately deserves.  He will be missed.

Kathryn Bremmer, Cedar Springs

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Here’s what’s going on in Sand Lake

 

As a trustee for the Village of Sand Lake, I support our Police Chief and officers. Although I cannot express each trustee’s feelings here, I can say that, as a council, we support our police. Their job is difficult, and with so much public scrutiny of law enforcement nationally, it seems like every action a police officer takes is questioned. We believe we have good police officers who enforce the law.

The Village’s Zoning Administrator has told the Police Chief that he needs to leave, which is an overreach of his authority. The Village President and Council have the authority over the Police Department. The Zoning Administrator has made an issue of the Police Chief’s “theology,” making a mistaken assumption about which religious denomination the Chief belonged to, and that eventually led to a question about whether the Chief was “a sinner.” These are civil rights issues.

To be told to ignore the law and walk away, as our Zoning Administrator directed our Police Chief, betrays the public’s trust that police are here to protect people by enforcing the law. The police are sworn to uphold the law, and so is the Village Council and other Village officials, including the Zoning Administrator. By ignoring laws and putting “blinders on,” as the Zoning Administrator says, the police and Village officials would be no better than the people who break the laws.

The Zoning Administrator’s attack on the Police Chief, his officers, and the Village Council, in his letter to the Post (11/12/15—What is going on in Sand Lake?) is unjustified. As a Council, we cannot terminate the Chief’s employment, ask him to resign or retire because he is guilty of enforcing laws, nor can we make an issue of his “theology,” which was never a consideration for his employment or a condition of his job.

The Zoning Administrator said in the Post Scripts that rumors and personal conflicts are the strength of the community. I think that cooperation and collaboration make a stronger community. When police, residents, and businesses cooperate and collaborate, everyone wins. When laws are not enforced, we all lose.

David R. Dewey, Sand Lake Village trustee

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What is going on in Sand Lake?

 

“What is going on with the Village?” A question that I’ve fielded more frequently of late.  The divide between residents of the Village of Sand Lake and the administration has risen to the surface recently with the ordeal surrounding the proposed CMC Tavern.  I’ve heard many stories and versions of the same story; one thing for sure, many residents are fed up, and the administration seems reluctant to listen to their concerns.

At the center of the controversy, which has been brewing for years, is the Chief of Police.  The Chief serves at the pleasure of the Village Council; hence, they are brought into the fray when they condone Police actions that are at least controversial, and at worst divisive.  The fact is this: many residents have the perception that the police are less than professional and have no confidence in their performance.  The opposing perception is; the Chief is right and just in all his actions, and that holders of the opposing perception are rumor-mongers, liars and less than honest citizens (have an ax to grind).

So far, a statement of current conditions. Evaluating past history, understanding both sides of the controversy, and searching for the root cause of this mendacity, one finds the central figure to be the Chief of Police. Be it fact or perception, he is the catalyst for this current divisive state of the community.

It is my opinion that an early retirement is in order, which will allow the Chief to depart with dignity.  The Village can then begin the healing process and strive to become the small town it can be. We have had our controversies in the past, there will always be rumors and personal conflicts; that, in fact, is the strength of any real community. However, when those controversies and personal conflicts prove damaging to the domestic tranquility of the community as a whole, action must be taken to clean and heal the wound.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Dan Hula

Resident, Village of Sand Lake

 


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.

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What is a leader?

 

A leader is:

Accountable – they take responsibility.

Honest – honorable in principles, intentions and actions.

Focused – know where they are going.

Passion – live, breathe, eat, and sleep their mission.

Respect – treat people the same, no playing favorites.

Confident – believes in one’s self and what they are doing.

Clarity – saying yes to the right things and no to the others.

Integrity – have strong moral principles.

Inspire – encourage those to be the best they can be.

Compassionate – show concern for others.

Collaborative – takes input and feedback from those around.

Communicative – share their vision to those around.

Fearless – not afraid to take a risk or make a mistake.

Genuine – clear on what your values are and have courage to hold true to them.

Thank you, Superintendent VanDuyn, for being our leader. Thank you for your vision of what Cedar Springs can become and for your dedicated service to moving us forward. I have been employed here for over 13 years and have never felt more a part of this team. To you, no job is too big or too small. We all matter; we all play an important part  in this school system. Decisions you make are not always easy but you do what is in the best interest of the students and this school. I thank you for your courage to stand for what is right.

Becca Fisk, Ensley Center


 

Post Script 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.

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Concerned parent speaks out

 

I am concerned about what is happening in our school district and concerned that only one side of the story is being voiced. There is a group of school staff who seem to be unhappy with some of the changes happening in the district.  This is the voice that was heard at the school board meeting last week (10/26) and in last week’s Post (10/29). There is another voice in this situation, but I feel these voices are probably afraid to speak. I almost didn’t. Why? Because this small group of staff touch my children’s lives every day. If I speak up, how is it going to trickle down to my children? Will they be treated different by this group of staff?

Ultimately, where our district goes from here is what’s important for my children.  Our children are what are important.

The new superintendent was hired to improve the district, make it a better place for our children. That’s what she’s doing. Our district was in need of change and restructure.

It’s important for the parents of Cedar Springs to realize all the positive things that have been accomplished in the last year. To name a few: lower classroom sizes, new district website, new math curriculum (6-12), new health care clinic, new buses, academic interventionists and full time GATOR reading interventionists, upgraded/new technology added. And then, look ahead to what’s planned for the coming year; more new buses, research/selection of new math curriculum (K-5), growth of Campus Kids , fencing around Beach Elementary, responsive classroom training, an interactive Rotary Club for high school students, new board policies and operation procedures, and increased safety/security at our school entrances. These are just a few of the things that have and will be done last year and this. I would encourage community members to visit www.csredhawks.org for a full list.

My hope is that parents and community members will look at the facts and see that Superintendent VanDuyn is working very hard to ensure the best for our students, and is working to move our district forward to bigger and better things.

Jennifer Skelonc, Nelson Township


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.

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