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Don’t forget to vote on November 6


By Judy Reed

This week we continue our election coverage with candidates for the Village of Sand Lake, the area senate and representative seats, and Kent County Commissioner.

Village of Sand Lake

The Village of Sand Lake has several seats to fill, including Village President and three trustees. However, your ballot will look rather empty and includes a name of a person no longer running. Listed below are your candidates. Some of them you must write in.

NOTE: Nyha French is on the ballot for Village President. She is no longer a candidate since she moved out of the area.

Danielle Hardenburg is a write-in candidate for Village President, which is a two-year term. She currently serves on the Village Council as a trustee. Hardenburg is 33 years old, and grew up in Cedar Springs where she was raised and attended school. “For the past seven years, my family of six children and spouse have lived in Sand Lake. It is in Sand Lake where I currently hold a seat as a Village Council Member, Fire Fighter, and Medical Responder for the Sand Lake fire department over the past three years. I work in the nursing field as a Nurse Technician at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. Currently, I am seeking my Registered Nurse Degree with hopes of continuing my line of work on the Ortho Trauma floor.”

Hardenburg said she is running as a write-in for Sand Lake Village President because there is a serious need there for positive change. 

Besides serving on the Village Council, prior leadership experience includes teaching CPR, assisting on the AYSO board for a brief time, providing assistance on request for a committee where candidates were reviewed for work programs through Michigan Works, and chairing a seat in the neighborhood watch program for the Rockford area.

What strength can she bring to the Village President position? “Besides a fresh start with new ideas and an eagerness to learn, I feel that my passion for the place I raise my family provides all the strength I need. What is best for my family and our community is my driving force. While I may make mistakes its an opportunity to learn and grow.” 

What does she think is Sand Lake’s biggest challenge? “There are many challenges here in Sand Lake. I believe once our annual audit is complete we can really dig in to analyze where and what our biggest issues are that we face.”

Sand Lake Village trustee 

There are three people running for three seats. This is a four-year term. You will only see one name on the ballot, and must write in the other two.

Marcia Helton will show up on the ballot. Helton grew up in Cedar Springs and graduated from Cedar Springs High School. She has lived in Sand Lake, Nelson Township for 30 years after with her husband, Marty Helton. “We have 6 children and 9 grandchildren. Our children attended Tri-County. My husband Marty was the Sand Lake Village DPW Supervisor for 13 years. I am the Custodian for the Sand Lake Village/Nelson Municipal Hall, Library and also at Algoma Township hall.” 

Why is Helton running for a seat? “We have great people that live in Sand Lake and I want to see what I can do, along with our board to help us as Village Residents work together. We’re a small town, but I believe we have big hearts!”

What other leadership has she had? “I served on the Sand Lake Chamber for many years of helping out in many areas, along with being the Secretary after awhile. Linda Misner and myself co-directed, bringing an Easter Egg Hunt to the Village for many years. Also, did the Santa Claus arrival for a few years. Sand Lake is a community that enjoys their children.”

What strength can she bring to the board? “I have been going to the Village meetings for awhile and see there is a need for help in different areas that if I can help, I would like to. We all have opinions, which is good and we need to respect each other’s opinions then work out a compromise. The Village of Sand Lake and Nelson Township can work together to help each other out and accomplish more. 

“I will do the best I can to help out as a Village Trustee to help the residents.”

Rachel Gokey is running as a write-in for Village trustee. She is currently serving as an appointee to the board. “I was born and raised in Lakeview, Michigan before heading to GVSU to obtain my BBA in Management and Marketing. I have lived in the Village of Sand Lake since July 2005. I am married with 3 children. Currently I am a stay at home mom that also substitute teaches in my spare time.”

What is her reason for running? I decided to run because our Village needs some TLC. There is quite a bit of moving forward and working together as a team that needs to be done to get everything accomplished. I do not plan on leaving Sand Lake any time soon. I plan on raising my kids in the community and would love to help our Village anyway I can.

What prior leadership experience does she have? I am currently the President of our Preschool board for Resurrection Lutheran Church in Sand Lake. I spent over 16 years in customer service and management and was happy to serve on various committees through the years from event planning, education planning and more. I enjoy problem solving and brainstorming to help create forward movement and well thought out decisions.

What is the main strength she can bring to the board? The main strength I feel I am bringing to the Village of Sand Lake Council is my determination. I firmly believe that where there is a will there is a way. I love to make things happen! There is nothing better than setting goals and accomplishing them.”

What is the major challenge Sand Lake faces? “I feel like the major challenge our Village is facing is unity. The last few years have been bumpy. My hope is that I can help open positive lines of communication between all Village councils and boards, as well as Nelson Township boards and councils. If we all work together we can head in the right direction of positive change for our entire community.”

Thomas Gore is also a write-in for Village trustee. He is currently serving as an appointee. He did not respond to emails or messages from the Post requesting information.

 

Kent County Commissioner 3rd District

Roger Morgan, of Courtland Township, is running for another term as County Commissioner of the 3rd District. He is running unopposed. It will be his 9th two-year term representing the residents of the City of Cedar Springs; the Villages of Casnovia, Kent City, and Sand Lake; and the townships of Courtland, Nelson, Solon, Spencer, and Tyrone. He is a member of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Board, and was chair of that board from 2013-2018; is CEO of Rockford Ambulance; is a member of the Kent County Fire Commission and the Kent County 911 board; and a past member of several others. 

Senator – 29th District

There are three candidates running for State Senator in the 29th District: incumbent Peter MacGregor (R), Craig Beach (D), and Nathan Hewer (Lib).

Peter MacGregor is running as a Republican and is seeking another four-year term as our state senator in the 29th district. He and his wife, Christine, have been married for 27 years. They have three sons, Patrick (24), John (22) and Matthew (20). “Our family attends Blythefield Hills Baptist Church in Rockford. I have lived in Kent County Since 1991 and in the senate district for 21 years. I grew up in SE Michigan. Prior to serving as your current State Senator, I owned a small business for 14 years, employing 12-14 employees.” 

Why is he running for office? “My children are why I ran for office. In 2010 when I first decided to run for the legislature, and as a parent of three school-aged children, we were terrified there would not be opportunities in Michigan when they graduated from school. In 2010, our state was the worst state in the country. I wanted to help create an economic environment so that all Michigan residents can thrive. Our state has made an amazing turnaround with unemployment rate at its lowest level since 2000, and personal income rates are up. Michigan is out of the crisis mode and today, because revenues are up, we are investing more in early childhood, career tech education, K-12 education is funded higher than ever before, the roads are being fixed, and our State’s debt has been reduced by $20 Billion. The investment has begun to pay for itself through a stronger, healthier economy. We still have much more to do and I want to continue this amazing transformation of our state over the next 4 years.”

What other experience does he bring to the position? “Prior to joining the State Senate, I served 4-years in the Michigan House of Representatives. From 1997 through 2010, I also served as a Cannon Township Planning Commissioner, Township Trustee and Township Supervisor.  I’m a member of the Rockford Lions Club – serving as the club’s President from 2007-2008. I volunteer as a board member with “Finish the Mission” Veterans Relief Fund, helping veterans and their spouses during critical times in their lives. For the last 2-years I have been pinning Vietnam Veterans with a 50-year commemorative lapel pin – thanking them for their service and properly welcoming these veterans’ home. I am also one of the founding chairmen of “Volley for Mitchell” – a charity volleyball tournament to raise funds for Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy.”

What strength does he bring to the position? “My past experiences in both the private sector, running a successful business with 12-14 employees, and in the public sector as a local township official, are where my core strengths come from. I believe we should apply business ‘best practices’ to local and state government, attempting to find efficiencies, cut red tape and demand more accountability. I have the practical experience that helps me lead. When times were tough, early in my legislative serve, I cut my own pay and increased my healthcare co-pays. I have led by example. My commitment is to fight for working taxpayers, so that you will have the secure future that you deserve. I respect that you work hard for your paycheck, and that’s why I want to make sure you keep more of what you earn.” 

What does he feel are the major challenges facing our district? The three major challenges facing our district are 1) Continuing the investment in our infrastructure—not only for roads and bridges, but also water, sewer, storm water, and broadband. 2) Developing a sustainable plan for school mental health and school safety initiatives. 3) Creating a working environment for public/private partnerships for skilled trades training and talent initiatives. 

Craig Beach is the Democratic challenger for state senator in the 29th District. “I have lived in the Rockford area for 20 years. I have been married to my wife Laura, for 29 years and together we have been blessed with three children, each working their way through college. Our family has also welcomed numerous refugee foster children into our home, helping us to experience the world from a larger perspective. These young people are now in college, college graduates, and even business owners. I have taught in public schools for 32 years, 30 years at Rockford High School, teaching Economics, History of World Religions and Advanced Placement European History. My wife, Laura has taught at the elementary level at Rockford Public Schools for 31 years.  

What is his primary reason to run for office? “My main platform issues include: Restoring funding and the respect for education in Lansing. The current political structure has done everything it can to discourage and denigrate the teaching profession, which has scared off our best and brightest young people from pursuing a career in the classroom. This is an ominous issue for the future of our children and grandchildren.

Restoring Michigan’s middle class. The Michigan Association of United Way estimates that close to 50% of Michigan families have an income stream that does not allow them to cover all necessities, plan for retirement and help their children fund post-secondary training. Through my educational plan we will develop in our young people the talent to capture not just a job, but a lifelong career that provides a level of income that creates a stable and sustainable middle class.

Protect our water and natural resources

PFAS, Line 5, and the Nestle water withdrawal are symptoms of a state government that fails our citizens. Michigan receives 10% of the material that flows through Line 5.  Our tourism industry generates $27 billion in economic benefit.  The risk of Line 5 dwarfs our benefit.  The health of our citizens and our economy have been threatened by the failure of the current administrations leveraging of our natural resources to corporate interests. Together we can put people above profits and return government to the citizens who elect it.

Restore governmental accountability and transparency

Unfortunately, our state government is rated last (50th) in the United States and given a “F” grade in terms of governmental accountability and transparency.  This shows a troubling disregard for the citizens who elect our legislators. I will restore governmental transparency so that citizens have confidence that their voices carry as much weight as “dark money” donors.

What other leadership experience does he bring? “I have served on the Otisco Township as a township board trustee and on the zoning board.”

What is the main strength he brings to the position? “I believe an effective education is the key to the success of our state. As someone who has taught for 32 years I believe I bring practical knowledge to this foundational issue. If we can develop our young people’s talent, talent will provide them the tools to capture a career, not just a job and a career will create a sustainable, thriving middle class. I will end our divisive political culture by working with all stakeholders.  Our state will become more prosperous and vibrant when we put people above politics.

What does he see as the major challenge facing our district? Creating an educational system that ensures our young people will have the talent to have a sustainable standard of living; one that covers family necessities, health care, retirement and post-secondary training for their children.

Protecting the health of our citizens through greater governmental oversight of our water and natural resources. We need to put people first and preserve the beauty of our wonderful state.

Addressing our dismal governmental transparency and accountability issues.

Nathan Hewer is the Libertarian candidate for state senator in the 29th District. Hewer grew up in Reed City, a small town about an hour north of Grand Rapids, but has lived in Cannonsburg Township for the last five years. “I went to college at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Construction management and 2 associates degrees, one in Business and one in Building Trades Management. While at college, my wife Amanda and I started our family very early, when I was 18 years old, with my son Ayden (now 14 years old), followed by Charlie (13), Emma (11) and Ella (6). I paid my way through college by working 2-3 jobs until I started a small contracting business and was able to support my family through that job alone. After college graduation I worked across the country as a superintendent and project manager for large industrial and mining construction projects. In 2013 I was able to move back to Michigan. I now work for Meijer in the corporate office managing construction.” 

Why is he for running for office? “I have a deeply held conviction that people should be allowed to run their own lives without government interference. I believe in the liberty of the individual to make their own choices. I believe in true free markets without corporate welfare and government kickbacks. I believe people should have the right to keep the money they earn. I believe individuals should be allowed to chase their dreams without the government protecting big businesses though unnecessary licensing, red tape and bureaucracy. And I believe that individuals have a second amendment right to protect themselves and those rights in the manner they see fit. It became apparent to me at the end of the 2016 election cycle that without a third party both parties will continue to erode our freedoms campaigning as the lesser of two evils. I decided I could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch both Democrats and Republicans trample these rights. We need a strong third party to force politicians to campaign on their convictions and not just demonize the opposition. Libertarians are the best voice for freedom and liberty. As your state senator I can help keep the government out of your wallet, bedroom, health care system, and your markets.”

What other leadership experience does he have? “I was involved with the Republican party for many years. I was a Precinct Delegate and a poll watcher in 2004 and 2008 involved in campaigning for them in Northern Michigan. Most recently I was a Precinct Delegate in the 2016 election. This experience showed me that as long as we only have 2 choices no one will campaign on any principles. They will simply find a demographic to cater to and offer to use their power to their advantage at the expense of others. I joined the Libertarian Party in 2016 and have worked in various committees within the party since.” 

What is the main strength he would bring to the position? “Tenacity, independence and conviction. My wife and I had three kids by the age of 21. I was able to finance my own education while supporting my family and I was an MMA fighter for 10 years. I know how to stretch a dollar and I have the tenacity and grit to fight for a cause. People don’t want to be taxed more; they want their existing taxes to be used for their intended purpose. If you want someone to defend your personal freedoms, make better use of existing funding and protect your paycheck, elect the fighter to take the politicians, lobbyists and special interests to the mat for your liberty.”

What does he see as the major challenge facing our district? 

“The challenges that face my district are largely the same as those facing the state and the country. Democrats are attacking half of the constituent’s freedoms and Republicans are attacking the other half. Both take your money and spend it on their pet projects. They both have marketed for years that you only have two choices. They know they can steam roll half of their constituents as long as they can claim they are better than the other guy. We need an independent voice for the people in Lansing that says it is the people’s individual right to make their own choices to pursue life liberty and happiness, and they must be allowed to keep the money they earn to spend as they see fit.” 

73rd District Representative

There are two candidates running for state representative of the 73rd District: Lynn Afendoulis (R) and Bill Saxton (D).

Lynn Afendoulis is running as a Republican and is seeking a two-year term as state representative. “I was born in 1958 in Grand Rapids, Mich. My mother was an elementary school teacher; my father owned a restaurant. I am part of a large, extended family that includes my second cousin and the current state representative for the 73rd District, Chris Afendoulis. I started my career as a newspaper reporter. For 25 years, I have worked in various capacities for Universal Forest Products; for last 15 years I have been director of corporate communications. I have lived in the area most of my life. Today, am a resident of Grand Rapids Township. Most importantly, I am the mother of two– a daughter who is a junior in college and a son who is a senior in high school.”

What is the main reason she is running for office? “I love this state and I have been pleased with many of the accomplishments of the current legislature. I want to continue the Michigan Comeback and improve upon it to make sure it is meaningful to all. Importantly, I believe holding office is an honorable vocation and want to demonstrate that to my children and their friends so they might see it as a worthy opportunity for people of integrity, and so that they might understand the work and commitment behind a healthy, successful republic.”

What other leadership experience does she have? “I sit on the boards of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. I resigned a few seats to run for office: my church’s parish council and the Michigan Transportation Commission, to which I was appointed in 2013 by Gov. Snyder. I have had the honor of serving on many other boards, including the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation (which serves Grand Rapids Public Schools and which I chaired for a number of years), Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth (now the Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids), Opera Grand Rapids, Circle Theatre and others.”

What is the main strength she would bring to the position? “I bring to the table conservative principles, 35 years of business experience and communication expertise, a history of public service and a passion for respect, accountability and results. From that combination of experience springs an ability to make thoughtful, sound decisions based in facts and not emotion, a commitment to working with integrity and toward results, and a perspective of someone who hasn’t worked in politics, but understand what it takes to get a job done.” 

What does she see as the major challenge facing our district?  “The 73rd district, like all others, needs improvements in education and training for today’s jobs, better roads and infrastructure, and a more efficient and understandable government, but at the top of the list of issues is the quality of our water. This is a basic human need for which the government is responsible. I was heartened by the legislature’s current allocation for addressing PFAS, but how and when that money is spent is critical. It must reach communities and people in the form of solid solutions. As your legislator, I will stay on top of the entities and individuals responsible; I will listen to and learn from local officials to make sure they are satisfied with the response. I will listen to residents and I won’t rest until they feel that the water they use for their families, pets, crops, homes and recreation is safe. We must make sure that water in our state is protected from PFAS and other threats; this abundant Michigan resource is our treasure and our responsibility.  

One other issue critical to making sure anything in politics gets done in Michigan—and everywhere—is practicing respect, even for those with whom we disagree. I will do that. Those who call for incivility harm the republic and model dangerous behavior for our next generations. We must show that we are bigger than our differences through thoughtful, respectful communication and action and by doing what we are sent to Lansing to do: listen to the taxpayers and work together to get things done for them as responsible public servants.” 

Bill Saxton is running as the Democratic candidate for state representative in the 73rd District. “I’m Bill Saxton and I’m 40 years-old, currently residing in East Grand Rapids. I’m a small-business owner, an engineer, and married with 3 young children. My wife and I are raising our kids in the Grand Rapids area because of the great schools, the tight-knit communities, and shared Midwest values. We are members of Central Reformed Church and our oldest attends preschool at Grand Rapids Christian.”

What is the main reason he is running for office? “Every family should have access to safe, clean drinking water, every child deserves a high-quality education, and everyone, regardless of age, deserves affordable healthcare and prescription drugs.  Over the last 8 years, our government has prioritized polluting industries over the environment, has left our public-school system severely underfunded, and has done nothing to rein in the costs of health insurance and the price-gouging of pharmaceutical companies. I’m running because we need someone new representing us in Lansing who will work to solve these problems, for us and our children. As an engineer, I have the problem-solving abilities we need to think creatively and get real solutions.”  

What other leadership experience does he have? “I’ve been focused on providing for my 3 young children and coaching their t-ball teams. But, when I saw how under-funded our schools were and the multiple crises our environment was facing, my family and I felt compelled to act. This is not the time to elect a typical politician.”

What is the main strength he would bring to the position? “As an engineer and small business owner, our district could use a problem-solver with my real-world experience, rather than another partisan politician. I will also work across the aisle to find solutions to our State’s issues.  In business, you don’t ask your employees or customers what their political affiliation is—you establish relationships based upon mutual respect and trust. My family has both Democrats and Republicans and most of us work to find common ground with one another.”

What does he see as the major challenge facing our district? “Although the government is, belatedly, dealing with the groundwater contamination issues across the district, many of the people I’m talking to are still not drinking their tap-water even if their water considered safe—people simply do not trust the government, particularly after the Flint water crisis. We need to work on getting that credibility back or we’re simply wasting millions of dollars on these cleanup efforts. I think more transparency in the process and more community involvement will go a long way.”

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Can we have a regular congress? 


V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

You probably didn’t notice, but the Senate passed a milestone a couple of weeks back. Before 2015 was a month old, senators had already had a chance to vote up-or-down on more amendments than they did in all of 2014.

This is a promising sign that new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might have meant it when he declared last year that he wants the Senate to return to the “regular order” of debate and amendments. For the last few weeks, a favorite inside-the-Beltway guessing game has been whether he’d be willing to stick with it in the face of demands, sure to come, to reduce debate and amendments and expedite approval of bills.

I know you’re thinking this is just inside baseball. Let me explain why it matters. In Washington, the line between process and policy is blurred. The policies Congress produces are forged by the process it uses, and the leaders of the two houses have great power over that process and hence over the results. Talking about how Congress makes laws is the same as talking about what it does in those laws.

So a return to the “regular order,” on either or both sides of the Capitol, has enormous implications. There is no single solution to Congress’s problems, but it’s hard to imagine Congress can get past its dysfunction without adopting the regular order.

If you’re uncertain what I mean, you’re not alone. There are a lot of lawmakers who have very little idea what it entails either because they were elected after Congress abandoned it in the 1990s.

At its simplest, the regular order is what you learned in school. A member introduces a bill, which is referred to committee. The committee hears from experts, looks at its options, considers amendments, and then reports the bill to the floor, where there’s more debate and deliberation. The other body goes through the same process, and the separate bills they produce get reconciled in a conference committee, where the members also talk to the President’s representatives about what he’ll want to see in order to approve the measure. Finally, the President approves or rejects the bill. The process, though never perfect, is relatively open, fair to all members, and promotes accountability.

Over the last few decades, however, Congress has adopted an alternative approach: the mega-bill. These bills usually run to hundreds if not thousands of pages. They bypass the committees and get drafted in the offices of the leadership. They limit amendments to a few, if any. They limit debate. They constrict — if not eliminate — thoughtful consideration and largely dispense with votes except for an up or down vote on the entire mega-bill. They invite all kinds of last-minute and under-the-table deals. They shut ordinary members out of the process, undermine participation, shield Congress from public scrutiny, and are, in short, an outrage to democracy. Yet they’ve become a habit on Capitol Hill.

Why? They’re convenient and concentrate power in the hands of the leadership.

At a very basic level I’ve never understood why they’ve had such staying power. The regular order holds clear advantages for the majority of legislators. It’s more open, produces more accountability, and gives ordinary members a sense they’ve had a fair shot at influencing the course of national policy. This is no minor consideration. When the process works well, it produces better-quality legislation and pride in the institution, because members know they’re taking part in fair procedures. When members take pride in the work being done around them, they communicate that sense to their constituents.

But reliance on mega-bills has imposed a great cost on Washington. Federal agencies cannot plan ahead. Government operations get disrupted. Uncertainty abounds. Backroom deals flourish. Secrecy pervades the process from beginning to end. Public confidence in government erodes. Members themselves feel shunted to the sidelines.

It is hard to get voters focused on congressional process when they’re so focused on particular issues — how a candidate feels about climate change or abortion. But the plain truth is that the regular order enhances the chance that legislation that truly represents what’s best for Americans will emerge from Capitol Hill. Maybe one day Congress will come to believe this, too.

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.

For information about our educational resources and programs, visit our website at www.centeroncongress.org. Go to Facebook to express your views 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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Report shows need to rein in Wall Street


_V-LevinBy Sen. Carl Levin

 

Recently my Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held the final hearing I will hold as its chairman and one of the most important. Our hearing, and a 396-page report we issued, examined the involvement of three Wall Street banks in the market for commodities like metal, coal, uranium and energy.

These are not activities that banks typically take on. For decades, our laws restricted banks to traditional banking businesses like taking deposits and making loans, and they were generally barred from commercial businesses like mining coal, warehousing uranium or running power plants. That changed in 1999, when Congress passed a law that weakened that traditional separation of banking and commerce. Our subcommittee spent more than two years examining the impact of those changes, and what we found was worrisome.

While Wall Street’s growing role in physical commodities has been discussed and debated, the scope of this involvement and the potential for abuse have not been widely known.

One problem is that operating things like oil tankers and coal mines exposes banks to immense risks in the event of a natural disaster or a catastrophic accident. A Federal Reserve study we reviewed showed that banks involved in these activities lacked the capital reserves and insurance coverage to cover potential losses. Should catastrophe strike, it could undermine a bank or spark fears that it might fail, which would bring turmoil to the U.S. economy. My colleague on the committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, noted the enormous expense of the BP Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and asked, “What if BP had been a bank?”

Bank involvement with physical commodities also raises concerns about unfair trading, and in some cases, outright market manipulation. JPMorgan recently paid $410 million to settle charges by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it used manipulative bidding schemes at its power plants to elicit $124 million in excessive electricity prices in Michigan and California.

One case study from our report highlights the risks to manufacturers, consumers and markets. In 2010, Goldman Sachs bought a Detroit-area company called Metro International Trade Services LLC, which owns a global network of warehouses certified by the London Metal Exchange, or LME, the world’s largest market for trading metals. Under Goldman’s ownership, Metro mounted an unprecedented effort to dominate the North American market for storing aluminum.

Under the LME’s warehouse rules, no matter how many customers want to remove their metal, the warehouse is only required to ship out a limited amount each day. If customers ask to withdraw more metal than the daily minimum, a line or queue forms, and customers have to wait to take delivery. When Goldman bought the warehouses in 2010, the queue in Detroit was just a few days long. But by this year, it had grown to more than 600 days.

We found that Goldman’s warehouse company made a series of complex agreements with some warehouse customers that made it longer. Goldman would pay the owners of aluminum to put their metal in the queue for withdrawal. When that aluminum reached the head of the queue, it was loaded on trucks, but instead of going to a manufacturer, it was shipped a short distance – sometimes just a few hundred yards – to another Goldman-owned warehouse, and placed back in storage. The effect of these deals was that the queue got longer and longer without actually removing any aluminum from the warehouse system.

The lengthening queue boosted revenue at Goldman’s warehouses – the more metal stored in the warehouses, the more rent and fees. But this merry-go-round also affected aluminum prices by increasing the so-called “premium” that customers must pay to cover logistical costs such as storage. Our report found, and expert witnesses confirmed at our hearing, that Goldman’s warehouse, by making the queue longer and pushing the premium higher, was hurting manufacturers and consumers by making aluminum more expensive.

Expert witnesses also told us that if Goldman could use its warehouse to manipulate the queue, and therefore affect aluminum prices, it could profit by employing trading strategies to take advantage of that power. And in fact, Goldman rapidly increased its own aluminum trading after it bought the warehouse company.

Our report offers a number of ways to address these issues. The Federal Reserve is considering rules that could limit banks’ activities in commodities, and it should do so. We also need stronger rules against improper use of insider information and market manipulation. Until such protections are in place, our manufacturers, our markets and our economy are at risk.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan and the chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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Student loan bill a difficult but necessary step


By Sen. Carl Levin

 

The Senate recently faced a very difficult choice. When a July 1 deadline passed, the interest rate on federal student loans was set to double. American students and parents who worry every single day about whether they can afford college cannot be burdened with such an enormous rate hike. The Senate approved legislation to temporarily resolve this crisis, but left the door open to future rate increases. I voted in favor of this legislation, but I also favor action to avert future rate increases.

The cost of tuition at public four-year colleges is up more than 15 percent since 2009. Student loan debt has reached historic proportions. And yet we allowed the rate on new federally subsidized student loans to double, to 6.8 percent, as of July 1. If we had allowed this rate increase to continue, we would have subtracted thousands of dollars from the wallets of American students and their families or, worse, pushed college beyond the financial means of some families who already wonder whether they can afford to give their kids the education they need and deserve.

The bipartisan legislation we passed in late July will provide relief. But it is far from perfect. It switches these interest rates for these critical student loans from fixed rates to floating rates with caps that are far too high. This opens the door to rising interest in the future that students and their families simply cannot afford.

The student debt problem, which for many families is a student debt crisis, requires a carefully considered long-term solution. I am hopeful that such a solution will eventually emerge. But this legislation is not it.

That is why I supported an amendment offered by my colleagues, Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and another amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, that would have mitigated some of the long-term damage of this legislation. Even though we did not adopt those amendments, I supported this bill for the simple reason that it removes the immediate burden facing America’s students and their families.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Sen. Tom Harkin, has pledged to try to fix the likely spiking interest rates facing students when a higher education bill comes up next year. I will strongly support that effort.

We in the Senate had a choice. But America’s college students do not – they have no choice but to pay the ever-rising cost of a college education, not if they want the skills and knowledge that hold the promise of a better life. They have no choice but to live with the decisions we make in the Senate, and that’s why I supported this legislation to avoid a doubling of student loan interest rates that our families simply can’t afford.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

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Review shows need for reform of overseas basing costs


By Sen. Carl Levin
Recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which I chair, completed a year-long investigation into the costs of maintaining our nation’s overseas military presence.  The investigation produced a bipartisan report that reaches some troubling conclusions.
I directed the review of our costs in Japan, South Korea and Germany. Together, those countries account for 70 percent of the roughly $10 billion we spend each year on overseas bases – a figure that doesn’t include personnel costs to pay and take care of our troops and their families.  All three countries are also key U.S. allies. In order to better sustain our presence in these important locations, we need to understand and control our costs.
Our review found that contributions from our allies are failing to keep up with rapidly rising costs, increasing the burden on U.S. taxpayers. At the same time, allied payments are increasingly coming as in-kind , rather than cash payments.
This shift to in-kind payments makes it harder to monitor how funds are used.  In fact, our review found that, in many cases, in-kind payments are spent without proper oversight, congressional notification or approval.   In some cases, in-kind payments are being used for projects that simply aren’t necessary.
Cost increases and the use of funds on projects that aren’t mission critical are unacceptable at a time when there is incredible pressure on the defense budget and the federal budget as a whole, and when cutbacks to bases in the U.S. are under debate.
Our review found that South Korean contributions are not keeping pace with the growth in U.S. costs. While South Korea’s estimated contribution grew by about $42 million between 2008 and 2012, U.S. costs increased by more than $500 million.
Japan’s contributions also have not kept pace with U.S. costs.  For example, at its peak in 1992, Japan’s contribution to funding for infrastructure and facilities amounted to more than $1 billion. That figure has fallen by 80 percent.
Our use of in-kind payments from South Korea and Germany is especially worrisome.
South Korea’s contributions to a program that supports the construction of U.S. military facilities amounted to about $339 million in 2012 alone – all of it in-kind. But projects built using these in-kind contributions are not reviewed at all by the Department of the Army and only undergo limited review at higher headquarters or at the Pentagon. Congress isn’t even notified, let alone given a chance to review and approve these projects. That lack of oversight increases the chance that funds will go to non-essential projects. In fact, our review found that plans for using in-kind contributions include a $10.4 million museum.
In Germany, we receive in-kind payments as compensation for facilities that we turn over to the German government as we reduce our military presence there. We found millions of dollars of in-kind payments from Germany earmarked for projects that simply don’t make sense. For example, $200,000 was spent on sunroom additions for senior officer homes.
We also have to take a hard look at the cost of our future commitments.
In South Korea, the Army has proposed a public-private venture to build housing for military families that, if approved, would add hundreds of millions of dollars to our costs. Setting aside questions about the wisdom of bringing additional families in the region while North Korea continues its belligerence, the plan is simply not affordable.
The Defense Department is also planning a series of troop movements in the Asia-Pacific region. We found that rough estimates provided for some items in the plan are highly speculative and do not account for potentially significant additional costs. Congress already has barred most spending on these projects until the Pentagon produces more detailed and useful estimates, and our review found no reason to set aside those conditions.
The military should always be careful with taxpayer dollars. There is never a good time for large construction projects to go forward with little or no oversight. But at a time when the military, and the entire federal government, are facing significant budget cuts, cuts that will damage our national security and important domestic programs, the current situation is simply not acceptable. I’m working with my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to develop reforms that will increase oversight and help ensure that we only spend money on projects we really need.
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

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More progress in the fight against tax abuses


By Sen. Carl Levin

 

In March, the Senate passed a budget resolution. This blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in October represents an important step forward on an issue of great significance to American taxpayers: the need for balanced deficit reduction.

An important part of balanced deficit reduction is reducing the deficit without severely damaging important protections for and investments in American families. One way to do that is by ending unjustified tax loopholes and ending the damage they have inflicted on our budget. The budget summary released by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, decried “the sheer magnitude of the revenue lost to off-shore tax abuse, wasteful and inefficient loopholes, and other business tax breaks.”

For many years as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations I have focused on the maze of offshore schemes and complex gimmicks that are concocted to allow a privileged few to avoid paying the taxes that they owe. Our subcommittee has, on a bipartisan basis, filled volume after volume with damning detail on how these schemes work and the damage they cause.

Now we are at a moment in history when we can remove this blight. The pressures on the federal budget and the threat to economic growth and prosperity that they represent require action. We must close these loopholes. The relentless arithmetic of our budget situation compels it; fairness and justice demand it.

During the budget debate, a number of senators joined me on the Senate floor to speak about the need to close tax loopholes. We outlined the preposterous contortions that too many corporations and wealthy individuals employ to avoid paying taxes, and how those contortions contribute to a shift in the tax burden from corporations and the wealthy to middle-class families and small businesses.

The case for additional revenue and for closing tax loopholes as a source of that revenue is overwhelming. Serious deficit reduction requires more revenue, as everyone from the Simpson-Bowles Commission to the Domenici-Rivlin task force to the Concord Coalition to Fix the Debt, has recognized. Federal revenue remains significantly below its historic average as a percentage of the gross domestic product of our economy, and that revenue is, and under current trends will continue to be, below the levels we have needed in the recent past to balance the budget.

In particular, the loss of corporate tax revenues is an ongoing cause of deficits.  In 2006, corporate tax revenue made up about 15 percent of all federal revenue. In 2012, it had fallen to 10 percent. Somebody has to pick up the slack. In this case it has been average American families.

Why is corporate revenue a shrinking share of our Treasury even though the U.S. corporate tax rate, at 35 percent, is one of the highest in the developed world? It is because the top tax rate doesn’t tell the story. While our tax rate at the upper limit is 35 percent on corporations, the average U.S. corporate taxpayer’s effective tax rate was just 12 percent in 2011, which is the lowest in generations.

A recent study by two think tanks found that 30 of our largest corporations with combined profits of more $160 billion paid no income tax, zero, from 2008 to 2010.

The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations outlined in a report last year how three U.S. companies—Apple, Google, and Microsoft—used offshore gimmicks to avoid taxes on almost $80 billion in profits.

But momentum is building to stop these abuses. Earlier this year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island joined me in introducing the Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act. Our bill would help address some of these tax schemes and others as well. It is a powerful weapon in our deficit-reduction arsenal if we will use it.

During the budget debate, Sen. Whitehouse and I were joined by Sen. John McCain of Arizona in introducing a bipartisan amendment recognizing the need to close corporate tax loopholes. The Senate approved our amendment, putting the Senate on the record on the need to end offshore tax abuses by large corporations.

We can’t afford these loopholes. We can’t afford the budget deficits they help cause, and we can’t afford the damage they do to ordinary families and small businesses. I’ll keep working to strengthen the momentum for reforms that end these abuses.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

 

 

 

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After a year of challenges, more work to do in 2013


_V-LevinBy Sen. Carl Levin

The Senate returned to the Capitol this month after a turbulent 2012. In the areas our citizens look to us to address—boosting economic growth and job creation, building a foundation for long-term competitiveness, protecting our environment and our national security—we overcame some major challenges and made some progress in 2012, but delayed many of the tough decisions until 2013.

We ended the year with a debate over the “fiscal cliff,” and while we avoided the potential economic catastrophe of going over the cliff on Dec. 31, we only temporarily delayed draconian automatic spending cuts that will kick in early this year if we can’t reach another agreement to avoid them.

One way we can bring down the deficit while avoiding those damaging cuts is to close some egregious corporate tax loopholes.

Over the last year, I’ve fought for changes to bring down the deficit and make the tax code fairer. For example, we should end the tax loopholes and accounting gimmicks that allow companies to give lucrative stock options to executives and stick Uncle Sam with the tab; that allow companies to avoid taxes by shifting U.S. income to offshore shell corporations; that subsidize companies for moving U.S. jobs offshore; and that allow hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than their staff.

Revenue from closing those loopholes will help us preserve programs that support the aspirations of average families. For example, Congress acted over the summer to avoid a doubling of student-loan rates that would have put college – already a financial strain for most families – even further out of reach. We beat back attempts to reduce the budgets for education, research into groundbreaking technology and life-saving medical treatments. We must continue to fight to preserve these important investments in our people and their future.

Of course, for us in Michigan, the continuing renaissance of the domestic auto industry has been vital. Growing auto sales and employment continue to demonstrate the wisdom of the federal investments in preserving this backbone of American manufacturing. Just as important as what’s happening on factory floors today is how we’re preparing for long-term competitiveness. We need to make sure we build the cars of tomorrow as well as those of today.

The announcement in December that several of our state’s companies and educational institutions will participate in a federal research consortium developing next-generation vehicle batteries means good jobs for our people now and in the future. And the continued growth of clean energy technologies–not just as sources for energy, but as a growing business for our companies—underlines the strong steps taken by our entrepreneurs, often with federal support, to build for the future.

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I know how important a strong and innovative industrial base is to our defense. The Defense Authorization Act we passed at the end of the year draws on Michigan’s manufacturing, engineering and technological prowess in a host of ways. And in November, my wife, Barbara, and I attended the keel-laying ceremony for the USS Detroit, one of a new class of Navy vessels built to counter the security threats of the coming decades. Hundreds of Michigan workers will help build the USS Detroit and sister ships at a shipyard in Marinette, Wis., just across the state line from Menominee.

That is just the latest chapter in Michigan’s maritime heritage, a heritage inextricably linked to the Great Lakes. In 2012, Congress passed legislation I pushed for that could help improve harbor maintenance. The Senate passed a bill I authored to protect thousands of acres of wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and though the House did not pass this bill, I’m hopeful we’ll succeed in this Congress. And as co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I helped lead bipartisan efforts to ensure adequate funding for Great Lakes preservation and restoration, including programs to protect against invasive species such as Asian carp.

I just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, looking ahead to an important year for our policy in that region. Spending time with the brave men and women of our military is always inspiring. We are on schedule to hand over security responsibility for all of Afghanistan to that nation’s security forces. Serious challenges remain, most notably in helping develop Afghan government institutions that are effective and free of corruption.

We face no shortage of challenges entering 2013. I’m optimistic we can meet them. The people we serve expect and deserve it, and our nation’s future demands it.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

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Reform Bill an Important Step in Preserving Postal Service


By Sen. Carl Levin

In late April, the Senate approved an important bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service. Though the bill was not perfect, it makes important changes to help the Postal Service adapt and thrive in the 21st century. And it includes an amendment that I helped write that I believe will help protect postal facilities in Michigan and across the nation from unjustified closures.

There is little doubt that change is necessary; the Postal Service faces an extraordinary financial challenge, and it must make changes to take into account a new reality in which physical mail has in many cases been replaced by electronic communication.

But in making these necessary reforms, we must ensure that all the American people can continue to rely on the United States Postal Service to provide universal service, as it has since our nation’s founding. And we must ensure that in making changes, any reduction in facilities and personnel yields real cost savings to the Postal Service that outweigh the loss in service. Many communities in Michigan, large and small, urban and rural, are concerned that closures proposed by the Postal Service will degrade the service on which Michiganians depend.

One of the things we can do to assure that is to require that there be a real, objective way to test and challenge Postal Service proposals to close facilities. In an effort to meet those goals, I joined with Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, among others, to propose an amendment that made important changes to the bill.

Under current law, any interested party can appeal a proposed closure of a community’s main post office to the Postal Regulatory Commission. The postal reform bill extends that opportunity for appeal to branches of a post office. But it did not extend that same appeal right to postal processing facilities—the facilities where mail is sorted, routed and distributed to post offices. Our amendment established a meaningful appeal process for proposed closures of these facilities.

Recent experience showed me the need for a real appeal process. In February, I wrote to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe about the decision to close six processing facilities in Michigan. I asked questions about what savings the proposal would yield and the impact on service to Michigan customers. But when the Postal Service responded to my letter nearly eight weeks later, the response did not answer any of my questions satisfactorily. The inability to provide basic information indicates to me that a fair opportunity to appeal is crucial.

Our amendment made other important changes. It ensures that any postal facility proposed for closure will remain open during any appeal. It makes clear that the Postal Regulatory Commission, when considering an appeal, has the authority to reverse a proposed closure. It requires the Postal Service to consider whether closing a facility will result in actual cost savings and directs the Postal Regulatory Commission to reject any proposed closure that does not meet that test.

Postal reform is among the most significant issues we will consider this year. It touches every town and village, every person and every business across our nation. The Postal Service’s universal service obligation to ensure that all Americans have access to an affordable, efficient postal system in order to communicate with one another is among the most important obligations any agency or department has. It sets the Postal Service apart from private-sector firms that are under no obligation to serve all markets. The Postal Service’s first obligation is not profit. It is service.

I believe our reform bill will help the Postal Service continue to meet that obligation for decades to come. Now that the Senate has acted, I hope our colleagues in the House of Representatives can act quickly so Americans can continue to get the postal service they need and deserve.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.


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