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Tag Archive | "Hamilton"

Trust … but definitely verify


V-Lee-HamiltonBy Lee H. Hamilton

 

Of all the numbers thrown at us over the course of last year, one stands out for me. I fervently hope we can avoid repeating it this year. That number is 12. It’s the percentage of Americans in a December Quinnipiac poll who said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right most or all of the time. It’s a depressingly small number, especially compared to the 41 percent who say they “hardly ever” trust the government. On top of that, a few months ago an AP poll found that fewer than a third of Americans trust one another. The poll’s message is clear: our society is in the midst of a crisis in trust.

Trust is essential to our political system and our way of life. The belief that people and institutions will do what they say they will do is the coin of the realm in our society. It is what allows people to work together—in their daily interactions with others and in their communities, legislatures and Congress. Negotiation, compromise, collegiality, and the mechanisms our complex and diverse society depends upon are impossible without trust.

You could argue that we see all around us the results of our trust deficit. Government dysfunction, an economy performing below its potential, public officials’ scandals and misdeeds, trusted institutions’ willingness to skirt the law and standards of good conduct, our social safety net under attack because people mistrust recipients—all of these speak to a society struggling as trust weakens.

Yet here’s the question. Do the polls match your experience? In my case, they do not. Trust is still a big part of my dealings with institutions and individuals, most of whom are good people trying to live a decent life and to be helpful to others. Trust may have weakened, but most of us do not see or experience a corrupt America. A sense of community remains crucially important to make this country safe and secure for ourselves and our children. Events in recent years have given us plenty of reason to be distrustful. Clearly, healthy skepticism is warranted in the wake of the NSA revelations and other evidence of government and corporate misbehavior. In the end, however, “trust but verify” is still the golden standard. Our ability to function and move forward as a society rests on trust. Think about 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.

 

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Teens charged in vehicle theft after high-speed chase


 

Three teens, including two from Cedar Springs, led Mackinac County Sheriff deputies on a high speed chase last Friday, reaching speeds of over 100 miles an hour before crashing.

According Mackinac County Sheriff Scott Strait, deputies were called to a larceny of gas at a Naubinway service station at 8:05 a.m. on Friday, October 11. Deputies found the vehicle westbound on US2 near Gould City at 8:15 a.m. The driver of the  vehicle, Levi Hamilton, 18, of Fremont, initially stopped for the deputy, but then sped away with his two passengers, Vance Demorest, 17, of Cedar Springs, and a 16-year-old female, also of Cedar Springs.

The vehicle fled at speeds of over 100 mph before failing to negotiate a “T” intersection and crashing. The deputy immediately arrested the driver, but his two passengers fled into the woods. Additional deputies were called in, along with K-9 units from the Michigan State Police and motor carrier officers, Michigan Conservation Law Officers, and Luce County deputies. Demorest and the female were apprehended a short time later by the MSP K9 teams and deputies. No one was injured.

Hamilton, the driver, was arraigned on several charges in 92nd District Court in Mackinac County. The charges include attempting to flee or elude police and possession of a stolen vehicle, both 5-year felonies, and four misdemeanors, including contributing to the delinquency of a minor, larceny of gas, reckless driving and a license plate violation.

Demorest was also arraigned on charges of attempting to flee or elude police and possession of a stolen vehicle, and two misdemeanors, including contributing to the delinquency of a minor and larceny of gas.

Both are being held on $20,000 bonds.

The female juvenile was turned over to juvenile authorities.

The car reportedly belonged to the mother of the juvenile.

 

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What you need to know about Congress right now


V-Lee-HamiltonBy Lee H. Hamilton

Deeply unpopular and flagrantly unproductive, Congress is on its August recess right now. It won’t return until Sept. 9, after a five-week recess, leaving itself just a few days to settle issues like raising the debt ceiling and passing a federal budget. Here are some things you should know about where it stands at this stage of the game:

— Few, if any, Congresses can match this one for futility. It managed to help out some communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and to reach a deal on presidential nominations, but mostly it can’t get things done — whatever your politics. The repeal of Obamacare, action on climate change, a “grand bargain” on our fiscal problems, education and tax reform, creating jobs, strengthening gun laws… the list of dropped balls is long, although there is still hope for immigration reform, if just barely. A few weeks ago Speaker John Boehner told Americans not to judge Congress by how many laws it passes, but by how many it repeals. It hasn’t succeeded on either count.

— The budget process is a mess. It’s been years since Congress put together a budget according to its regular order, but even by its recent low standards this year has been chaotic. None of the appropriations bills needed for the government to continue running after Sept. 30 has been enacted. “It is common for Congress to leave big budget fights until the last minute,” the Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook wrote as Congress left town, “but the budgeting process now seems so adrift that even congressional veterans find it hard to see a resolution.” Passing a budget is the most basic function of government, and Congress can’t manage it.

— Members of Congress do not like to compromise. The parties are more divided ideologically than they’ve been for many decades, with one side fiercely hostile to government and the other convinced that government can accomplish good things. Neither side can get things done on its own. That’s pretty much the definition of when responsible lawmakers step forward to build a consensus. Yet in this Congress, either they don’t know how or they’re not interested. A glimmer of hope does exist, as more members respond to polls showing Americans believe it’s more important for the parties to compromise than to stick to their positions. They may not be able to come to agreement, but some of them are talking about how willing they are to reach across the aisle.

— Even so, it’s worth noticing that one of the congressional parties is extraordinarily difficult to lead at the moment. The Republicans are fractured and squabbling over their future direction. This makes me sympathize with the formidable task the Republican leadership confronts.

— Hardly anyone out there thinks Congress is doing a good job — it’s consistently below 20 percent approval ratings — and most people think it’s too partisan. Yet members aren’t very concerned. They’ve become quite skilled at running against Washington, even though they are Washington. And they count on the fact that few voters hold their own member of Congress responsible for its shortcomings, however unpopular Congress as a whole has become.

— As lobbyists descend in swarms on Capitol Hill, they hold more power than ever. They rain cash, twist arms, and even draft bills — all the things that powerful congressional leaders used to do. The NRA’s defeat of legislation strengthening background checks for gun purchases, in the face of overwhelming public sentiment after Newtown, was nothing less than an impressive display of political clout and an example of how influential lobbyists and special interests have become. Perhaps this is why a good number of my former colleagues have made a tidy living for themselves by becoming lobbyists.

— Finally, all of this contributes to the emerging themes for the 2014 congressional campaign. Candidates will clearly run against the mess in Washington, and a good number of them, though not all, will talk regularly about the need to be bipartisan. The big question for 2015 will be whether the successful ones can translate their talk into legislation to help move the country forward.

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. Now on Facebook you can find information about our educational resources and programs, and you can share your thoughts about Congress, civic education, and the citizen’s role in representative democracy. “Like” us on Facebook at “Center on Congress at Indiana University.”

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Drowned diver at dam a false alarm


Dozens of first responders help in search

Algoma Township rescue dive team officers search the waters of the Rogue River for a diver suspected of drowning after failing to surface for more than an hour. A visitor to the dam called 911 after suspecting the diver had run into trouble. Photo by B. Altena.

Algoma Township rescue dive team officers search the waters of the Rogue River for a diver suspected of drowning after failing to surface for more than an hour. A visitor to the dam called 911 after suspecting the diver had run into trouble. Photo by B. Altena.

By Beth Altena

 

Rockford Police and fire, Algoma Fire and Rescue with their inflatable rescue boat, the Kent County Sheriff Dive team, the Kent County Sheriff motorized emergency rescue boat and Rockford Ambulance were all on the scene Tuesday, July 9 for a possible drowning at the Rockford dam.

According to Rockford Police Chief Dave Jones, a visitor to the dam called 911 after observing that a scuba diver had been under the water without coming up for over an hour. They had seen the diver drop a snorkel on to the dam and then go back underwater.

With over a dozen first responders and more than half a dozen rescue vehicles on the scene, the Algoma Township dive team, attached to shore by ropes, searched the water without success. Kent County Sheriff Deputy and rescue diver Don Hamilton prepared his scuba gear and rescue equipment with the assistance of other officers.

Hamilton had begun a search of the water under the dam when the diver returned to the surface near where he had placed his snorkel over an hour before. Chief Jones said that he believed the man was not following safety practices for diving. Hamilton called the man’s behavior “very unsafe.”
A group of residents had gathered at the dam watching rescue efforts. The diver, upon coming out of the water, seemed unaware of the efforts made on his behalf. He stayed in the water for awhile, telling rescue officers he needed some time to “get his land legs back.”

Hamilton said the individual broke many safety rules of scuba diving and that he had personally seen the man in the water at 2 p.m. when Hamilton was driving downtown.

Hamilton said divers are required to dive within 100 feet of a flag so boaters are aware of their presence. “If you drag a flag above you, it makes it really easy for us to find you if we suspect a problem,” he explained. Hamilton said rescuers and observers at the dam noticed no air bubbles indicating a diver’s breathing. “That’s what really made me believe this was a very bad situation,” he stated. However, after talking with the diver, he explained that the diver had been coming up for air, but under the dam spillway where he couldn’t be seen. He also was diving under the spillway while he was in the water so air bubbles were not visible. He noted that it is also very unsafe to dive alone and not an accepted practice.

Hamilton said the diver was not issued a ticket but received a severe talking to by authorities. He said the man seemed to think he had done nothing wrong. “This goes to the bill State Representative Pete MacGregor is trying to get passed where departments can recoup the cost of rescues when people are being stupid,” he said.

“Stupid is the best way to describe it, like kayaking in the river when there are record high levels of water.” Hamilton said he made several rescues during this spring’s flood, where people believed they were good enough kayakers to take on the flooded Grand River.

“You just never know what’s in the river in that kind of a situation,” Hamilton said. He also noted the Tuesday rescue is not the first where the outcome was lucky. In March 13, 1991 a boy fell into the Rogue River at the dam and was underwater for 37 minutes. The water was cold enough that it slowed his body function and when he was revived he suffered no permanent damage. “I just ran into that guy fishing in the river the other day,” Hamilton said.

 

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60th Anniversary


Chuck and Fran Hamilton

 

Chuck and Frances Hamilton of Cedar Springs, Michigan, are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary on May 12, 2012. A family gathering is planned for the weekend. They are celebrating with their four children and their families; Deb and Terry Avery, Kim and Malcom Davies, Marg and Cliff Sadler, Chuck II and Sue Hamilton. The couple have been blessed with six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Congratulation Mom and Dad, Grandpa & Grandma, and Great Grandpa & Grandma

We love you!


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A more rounded way to gauge Congress


By Lee H. Hamilton

I suspect that most members of Congress will want to forget the year that just ended.
The institution that symbolizes our democracy finished 2011 plumbing depths of unpopularity it has never experienced before. The poor jobs picture, the lurching from one brink-of-disaster deadline to the next, the polarization that keeps the parties from working together, the widespread sense that Congress is so dysfunctional it cannot meet the nation’s challenges—all played a role.
These are valid ways of judging Congress, but they are not the only way. Every year, the Center on Congress at Indiana University polls a group of congressional scholars on how they think the institution is doing, and one of the challenges we face is devising a set of questions that meaningfully probe Congress’s performance. It’s not as easy as you’d think. You have to look deeply at how Congress is operating in order to get a well-rounded picture.
The first of Congress’s responsibilities is to protect its constitutional role as a strong, coequal branch of government. It must stand apart from and serve as a check upon the excesses of presidential power. So how well does it oversee the executive branch, and is it generating meaningful, politically sustainable policy alternatives, or just sitting back and letting the White House take all the political risks?
Its second great role is to represent the American people. This means making sure that all voices get a fair hearing and that diverse viewpoints play a part in crafting initiatives—all while safeguarding institutional practices that allow legislation to move forward in a timely manner.
Third, in a country as politically and demographically varied as ours, sound process, negotiation and compromise are key to crafting legislation that can enjoy broad political support. Are its leaders capable of working hard to forge a consensus? If they can’t, do conflicts over legislation represent substantive differences, or mere political game-playing? Does it balance careful deliberation with making decisions? Does it protect the rights of the minority and allow all points to be heard?
Fourth, does Congress set sufficiently high standards for its individual members? Do they keep partisanship in check and behave ethically?
And finally, do they maintain strong connections to their constituents back home? Do they make themselves accessible in a variety of settings, listen well, and speak out for their communities and constituents at times of need?
All of these questions add up to how well Congress represents the interests of the American people, and as always, it does better on some than on others. Despite its obvious troubles, the picture is not entirely bleak. And I can’t help but believe that the more well-rounded our understanding of where Congress falls short and where it performs well, the better we can hold it to account.
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.

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Let’s add civility and civic skills to our goals for the year


By Lee H. Hamilton

This is a season of giving, good cheer, and forbearance. Too bad that, with the turn of the year, all those fine sentiments will become just a memory as election season begins in earnest.
Too often in recent decades our politics have been strident, polarized, coarse, even mean.
Incivility directly affects both the quality and the quantity of the hard work of governance. Along with the outright rudeness that often marks our public discourse, it makes it virtually impossible to reconcile opposing views and, therefore, to meet our civic challenges.
So I’d like to suggest that we all, ordinary voter and politician alike, resolve this year to be more civil. Because everyone in this country has a responsibility to foster a civic dialogue that respects the people with whom we disagree, and that advances the interests of the nation.
Knowing how to disagree without obstructing progress is a basic civic skill. The more that ordinary citizens state their case and their principles cogently, in a manner that is substantive, factual, and does not attack the motivation or patriotism of those with whom they disagree, the better our political system will work and the stronger our nation will be. If we know how to do this ourselves and to accept no less from our leaders, then we can change our politics.
In a democracy, it is not enough just to let politicians set the rules of engagement. We all need to know the values that underlie productive civic dialogue: mutual respect and tolerance; the humility to know that sometimes we’re wrong; the honesty to keep deliberations open and straightforward; the resolve to surmount challenges whatever the obstacles; and, of course, the civility that allows us to find common ground despite our disagreements. If we come to value all this, then the politicians who spring from our midst will have to, as well.
It seems a small thing, resolving to be more civil. But it’s not small if we put it into practice — if we get off the sidelines, engage with the issues in front of us both large and small, and learn firsthand a basic appreciation for the hard work of democracy: how to understand many different points of view and forge a consensus behind a course of action that leads towards a solution. It is the actions of many ordinary people rolling up their sleeves and digging into the issues they confront in their neighborhoods and communities that keep this great democratic experiment of ours vital.
This is because every one of us who hones the civic skills needed to renew our politics makes it that much more likely that our nation will thrive. That’s not a bad goal, as we finish out one year and turn toward the future.

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.

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How to fix distrust in government


By Lee H. Hamilton

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll had bad news for Congress, whose support is down to single digits. But it had even worse news for the Republic. Americans’ distrust of government, the pollsters found, is “at its highest level ever.”
When so many Americans believe that their representatives in Washington do not have their best interests in mind, something is desperately off-kilter. It means that Americans feel betrayed by how the political class operates.
So the question becomes what can be done to restore the people’s trust in government. May I suggest it involves more than changing policies. It means paying attention to the values that people would like to see embodied in government.
To start, they want fairness from Washington. I’ve always been impressed by the importance Americans place on fairness; they strive to be fair to those around them, and they expect government to do the same.
They also want government to be open. This is not a blanket pronouncement — where national security and defense are concerned, or where congressional negotiators need space to find common ground without being forced to posture for the cameras, there is a place for secrecy. But transparency ought to be the rule.
There is also a deep thirst for accountability in Washington. So many different people have their hands on promoting or blocking a given initiative, it can seem as though the entire political system is designed to shrug off responsibility. It is hard to respect institutions whose leaders refuse a forthright accounting of, or deny responsibility for, their failures.
Americans do not expect miracles or understate the difficulties of governing. They do not expect a single person to right the ship of state. Quite the contrary. They want a collective effort, a sense that people in government are working together to resolve their differences. Americans tolerate disagreement, but not to the point of gridlock — in the end they prefer cooperation, not confrontation; remedies, not filibusters and scorched-earth politicking.
Finally, they want honesty. Americans really do want to know the scope of the problems they confront and to make up their own minds about them. They resent politicians who paper over the complexity of the problems or toss off inadequate solutions.
Rebuilding trust in American government will require more than changes in rules or policy. It will rest on the manner in which our elected officials conduct the business of government, and their willingness to embrace fairness, openness, accountability, cooperation, competence and honesty.
Lack of trust in government is a far more serious problem than most politicians believe, one that cannot be resolved easily. The solution can only come from a patient, long-term effort to return to our fundamental values and instincts.
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.

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A Fix for Congress must run deep


By Lee H. Hamilton

There were plenty of reasons to be somber as we marked the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks recently. Honoring the lives lost and communities shattered on that day were foremost among them. But for many of us, there was also the worrying realization that Americans believe we are adrift, saddled with an ineffective political system.
Congress, in particular, has lost the faith of its constituents. According to a mid-August Gallup poll, its approval rate stands at an abysmal 13 percent, while public disapproval has reached a historic high of 84 percent. To borrow a term from the housing meltdown, Congress is deep underwater.
It has been years since Congress acted as if it took seriously its responsibility to make the country work. It could start by addressing the filibuster rule, which effectively requires 60 votes in the Senate in order to move most legislation, a formidable hurdle in a closely divided Senate.
The country also needs more robust congressional oversight into every nook and cranny of government, and a vigorous ethics system which enforces the basic rule that every member act in such a manner as to reflect credit on the institution. A Congress seriously interested in effectiveness would pursue procedural fixes to reduce the excessive partisanship that too often paralyzes Capitol Hill.
These “process” solutions only skirt a deeper problem, though. Our Founders envisioned Congress as a co-equal branch of government, with the elevated standing both to critique and to form a partnership with the executive in making this nation strong and effective. Congress needs to live up to that constitutional role.
The noted historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once wrote that at heart, politics is about “the search for remedy” — finding a way to fix the problems that beset us. None of our challenges — not the debt ceiling, not the economy, not our entanglements overseas or our growing inequalities back home – are insurmountable. But they do require politics at its best: an honest effort to find remedies that are fair and lasting.
This requires reconciling the manifold needs and interests of an extraordinarily diverse people. Despite all that unites us, we are also divided by differences in philosophy, background, and community. Congress is where those differences come together, which is often why debate there is — and should be — long and contentious. But diversity only explains conflict; it’s not an excuse for failing to overcome it. We need more members who reflect the diversity of this great and varied country yet work to bring it together, not tear it asunder.
Congress can live up to the faith our Constitution and our democracy place in it; but we, as Americans, have to insist that the people we elect to it make this a priority. Congress has to want to change, and we as voters have a major role to play in helping to bring that about.
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.

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The Roots of Congress’s Unpopularity


By Lee Hamilton, The Center on Congress at Indiana University

I suppose it’s possible that Congress could enjoy even less popularity than it does at the moment, but it’s difficult to imagine. Recent public opinion polls show it plumbing depths that have rarely been seen before.
Certainly that’s true of a survey just conducted by the Center on Congress at Indiana University, which I direct. Every year, we measure national public opinion about Congress in an effort to gauge how relevant it is to Americans’ lives and whether they feel it’s living up to the Framers’ expectation that it serve as “the people’s branch” of the federal government. This year, a jaw-dropping 84 percent of those we surveyed said they disapprove of the job Congress is doing.
If this were all the survey had found, it would be bad enough. But Americans consistently grade Congress at a D or worse on such fundamental measures as whether it is dealing with key issues facing the country, keeping excessive partisanship in check, holding its members to high ethical standards, and controlling the influence of special interests.
Even worse, when asked, “What do you think is the main thing that influences what members of Congress do in office,” an abysmal 84 percent believe that either “personal interest” or “special interests” drive congressional action. Very few people, in other words, believe that members of Congress have the best interests of the country, or even of their constituents, at heart.
This may be why proposals like the “Congressional Reform Act of 2011,” a set of suggestions for stripping members of Congress of alleged perquisites, have enjoyed such popularity in online forums. Parts of the proposal are based on misleading or outdated information — contrary to the text circulating on the Web, members of Congress do pay Social Security taxes, for instance; and their pensions are generous but not outlandish, averaging $36,732 a year for those who pay into the federal retirement fund that has existed since 1984.
Nonetheless, the perception that members enjoy benefits unavailable to ordinary Americans is widespread, and occasionally right. For instance, while members of Congress participate in a health-insurance program similar to other federal employees mainly for their families, they also have free or very modest cost access to care in the Capitol, including annual physical exams, and to superb outpatient care and other services at military hospitals like Bethesda Naval Hospital.
So congressional reform initiatives that take aim at legitimate issues ought to have a place at the table; especially in tough times, it’s important for Congress not to appear to be getting special breaks at the taxpayer’s expense.
Still, in the end these fixes are not the most important issue.
The more fundamental questions have to do with how Congress behaves. Ordinary citizens believe that members of Congress pay close attention to special interests because, in fact, they do. There’s a widespread belief that Capitol Hill protects its own when it comes to ethical transgressions because there has been far too great a reluctance to pursue misbehavior aggressively.
People are tired of partisan gamesmanship because, quite simply, there’s been too much of it. Voters feel ignored—or at least unheard—because for all the efforts members of Congress put into communicating with their constituents, so much of their time is spent with donors, party activists, and like-minded supporters that the multitude of their constituents’ concerns can go unappreciated, and their legislative duties are neglected.
There are remedies for all of these issues, from beefing up ethics enforcement, to strengthening lobby limits and disclosure laws, to recognizing that partisanship and the narrow political bases that feed it have created a true crisis of confidence in our representative system. Congress has it within its own power to reverse its dangerous fall in the public’s estimation.
But the American people, too, have a role to play. Looking at the shifts in congressional standing over a period of decades, a trio of political scientists — the late Robert Durr of Washington University, John Gilmour of William & Mary, and Christina Wolbrecht of Notre Dame—came to a startling conclusion a number of years ago: that Congress often suffers for doing what it’s supposed to do. “As the representatives of a diverse and heterogeneous country, members seldom find themselves in agreement,” they wrote. “To the public, then, the very activities which characterize Congress and the legislative process—deliberation, debate, and decision making—cause it to appear quarrelsome, unproductive, and controversial, and thus diminish it in the public eye.”
The poll findings by the Center on Congress and others clearly ought to alarm congressional leaders and encourage them to look deeply at their institution’s behavior. But they also should serve as a spur to ordinary citizens not to write Congress off, but to seek to understand it better, take aim at the fundamental problems, and avoid deriding Congress for doing what it was set up to do: debate, deliberate, and make decisions for a diverse and often contentious nation.
Drawing upon his 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lee Hamilton writes a bi-weekly column on Congress — sometimes explaining why Congress works the way it does or explaining its impact, other times suggesting ways Congress could be improved or reformed.

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