Traverse City Record-Eagle. Aug. 14.
Resistance to vaccines difficult to understand
It's hard to know why, but Michigan has long been a national leader in a medical category that puts kids at risk — the number of parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated.
It's a puzzling problem that medical experts seem unable to crack — convincing parents that immunizing their children against diseases that we thought were long gone a couple generations ago.
There has long been a cottage industry of sorts of vaccine doubters, which has grown exponentially with the widespread advent of the Internet.
Believers can cite chapter and verse of statistics that show how dangerous vaccines are and how parents are putting their kids at risk by allowing them to be inoculated against diseases like whooping cough (pertussis), measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, chickenpox and meningitis.
Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, before vaccines for a host of childhood diseases were commonly available, parents would have given almost anything to protect their children from polio, diphtheria and whooping cough.
But today, with effective and safe vaccines widely available — and in fact required by law — thousands of parents every year are refusing to get their children the shots that can protect them from those childhood diseases.
Some of the diseases on the list are relatively benign, except when a family is going through them, of course.
Baby boomers can likely recall when chicken pox or measles ran through their family or a family down the street; some may even have old photos of a couple kids with their faces pumped up by the mumps.
But every one of those diseases has its own risks such as a high fever or complications that can make them deadly, or at least a serious health risk. And who wants their child to suffer at all?
Michigan is one of 20 states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children on religious or philosophical waivers; 30 states don't allow any.
To attend a public or private school, a child must be vaccinated against all the diseases listed above. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 7,300, or 5.5 percent, of the state's roughly 125,000 kindergartners had medical, religious or philosophical waivers on file last school year.
That's up from about 6,900 the year before and 5,700 in 2010-11.
And 75 percent of those waivers are philosophical, not religious, which means parents have decided on their own that vaccines aren't safe — or, to put it another way, more of a danger than the diseases they are created to prevent. That's hard to understand.
There are plenty of websites out there filled with horror stories about vaccinations, and there is a substantial subculture of vaccine deniers and those who make wild — and largely unsubstantiated — claims that vaccines can cause autism or other horrifying conditions.
The fact that there is no plague of vaccine-related maladies sweeping the nation doesn't seem to matter.
Claims from a couple websites or self-described experts seem to carry more weight than the worldwide medical community.
If you have doubts, talk to your doctor and look up information from credible sources. Look around you at friends and family to see what their experiences have been.
Then, make an informed choice you believe is best for your child.
Petoskey News-Review. Aug. 9.
Education should trump a couple days of tourism
It's time for those three dreaded words — "back to school." A signal our summer is coming to an end and we'll soon be taxed with buying all those back to school supplies.
Now imagine hearing those words a little earlier next year. It could happen under a bill in the Michigan House. And while many of us dread the end of our summer, it's a plan we believe should get a passing grade.
Currently, since the 2006-07 school year, law has prohibited public schools from holding classes before Labor Day. But HB 4844 would change that, allowing schools to start their academic year before the Labor Day holiday if they chose to do so. If districts opted for the pre-Labor Day start, they would be required to be closed for the Friday before Labor Day, giving families a four-day weekend.
Michigan is one of just three states that have a law prohibiting a pre-Labor Day start. The law, signed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2005, was intended to help extend the state's summer tourism season a couple extra days. And we get it, we live and breathe on our tourism industry. But we have to wonder, is a couple days going to make or break tourism-tied businesses? Or will it help our schools and students, thus ultimately helping to grow our economy?
That's the idea behind State Rep. Andy Schor's bill. Schor said he believes supporting education and giving students the skills to be successful is one of the most important steps we can take toward moving Michigan forward in both education and economy.
"My bill will give our school administrators greater flexibility to decide what start date best serves the educational needs of their students. Local educators know best what works for their students, and if being in school prior to Labor Day is a better option in some schools then they should have that option. I believe that my bill strikes a good balance that will let kids be in school yet also lets families fully enjoy the Labor Day holiday by not holding classes on the Friday before," Schor said.
Parents will tell you, the older the children get, the harder it is to take a late summer vacation. Usually by the first or second week of August, high school students are immersed in athletics, band and other school activities which prohibit families from getting away. And college students often start classes before Labor Day, or if not, they are often moving into dorms and apartments and having orientations before the holiday.
Also, if schools start their academic year prior to Labor Day, it could allow districts to schedule the beginning of their second semester to start when students return from Christmas break instead of mid-January. That would provide a more logical transition for students and staff, and also give schools more leeway when it comes to making up potential snow days.
There's also the angle of testing. While the bill wouldn't necessarily add more days to the school calendars, it would give teachers a little extra time in getting students caught up after summer learning setbacks, thus helping students when it comes time to take those pesky Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) and Michigan Merit Exam (MME) tests in the fall.
During the 2012-13 school year, there were six Michigan school districts that received wavers from the state's current mandate to start school after Labor Day.
And statewide, there are 33 districts or charter schools that already offer year-round classes. According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Department of Education predicts that number to increase over the next two years, judging by interest expressed from districts.
Opponents of HB 4844 argue starting school before Labor Day will cost the region jobs. That we'll also see decreases in revenue from gas, sales and income taxes.
And while we won't argue about the importance of business, we see the bill as a way to allow school districts to do what they feel is right for their students, while also striking a good balance with Michigan's tourism industry.
After all, when it comes to education, shouldn't the students come first?
Detroit Free Press. Aug. 14.
Finally, an end to juvenile life without parole in Michigan
Michigan's practice of automatically sentencing some juvenile criminals to life sentences without the possibility of parole was shameful, and it didn't deserve any reprieve when the Supreme Court ruled it constitutionally cruel and unusual last year.
It was a barbaric sentencing guideline, tantamount to the gulag and other less-than-civilized practices.
Society doesn't treat kids like adults in other ways. They don't vote; they can't serve in the military, and they can't drink — all because their minds are not fully formed and their judgment hasn't reached the maturity we expect from full citizens.
Still, Attorney General Bill Schuette wrongly tried to cling to Michigan's juvenile-lifer past: He argued that most current inmates sentenced under the rule should not be granted new hearings. Only a handful of inmates who challenged their sentences, along with all future convicts, would benefit from the high court's ruling, under Schuette's plan.
On Monday, a federal district court judge in Detroit gave Schuette the right answer: no way. Judge Corbett O'Meara struck an important blow for justice, saying every Michigan inmate sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile must have a chance for parole.
That's the only way to assure equal application of the rule of law. And it's the only way to wipe the stain completely from Michigan's get-tough past, which saw it hand down 350 of the 2,200 juvenile life sentences nationwide.
Some advice for Schuette, who has said he plans to appeal the decision: Let's have that be the last word on this, huh? Don't appeal the ruling, or press the issue. It's time for Michigan to move on to a future structured by more rational thought about young minds.
New hearings for Michigan's juvenile-lifers won't mean parole for all of them. They'd still need to meet the standard for release: If they're deemed threats or haven't proved sufficiently rehabilitated, they'll stay in prison.
But the new hearings give these inmates a chance (one the high court says they have been unconstitutionally denied) to show that their crimes were mistakes they've learned from, and to make a case for a shot at a normal, productive life outside of prison.
It's amazing that this state ever looked at young people, no matter how horrid their crimes, and decided that they were lost causes who needed to be behind prison bars for an eternity. That speaks volumes about how far our culture has veered from the tenets of nurture and forgiveness, and toward intolerance and punishment. And let's be clear: About half of those incarcerated for life as juveniles didn't kill anyone; rather, these kids were aiders and abettors.
No doubt, children who kill — or serve as accomplice to murder or other crimes — must be dealt with, and justice demands incarceration. But science now tells us so much about the juvenile inability to make adult decisions, and that suggests an important redemptive quality that automatic life-without-parole sentences ignore.
The high court was right to give every state a cultural jolt by declaring that where kids are involved, automatic life sentences are unacceptable.
Michigan's attempt to balk at fully embracing that notion was unfortunate. With the federal district court ruling, it should now be over.
The Times Herald (Port Huron). Aug. 12.
Spying fixes small comfort
President Barack Obama has tried to assure the American people that the government respects their privacy. But the steps to rein in domestic spying he outlined Friday don't put the public's fears to rest.
Americans know the National Security Agency collects their phone records. They know the NSA conducts Internet surveillance. Most important, they know these things only because Eric Snowden leaked the information to the press.
It is worth noting the Obama administration devoted considerable time and effort to attacking Snowden as a traitor for exposing the government's surveillance activities. That the president now proposes ways to rein in the NSA offers some promise, but skeptics ask why they weren't already in place — and why masses of Americans must be watched.
The proposed reforms include:
Working with Congress to assign a lawyer responsible for advocating privacy rights at the secret proceedings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The creation of a panel of outsiders to assess the surveillance programs and come up with changes by the end of the year.
Strengthening the privacy protections of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision that permits the government to acquire the phone records of Americans.
With the exception of the surveillance programs' review, the proposals add modest improvements without changing domestic spying. Even the independent review of the programs doesn't guarantee they will change significantly, only that they will be examined.
Despite serious concerns about domestic surveillance programs the public knew nothing about, the president seems more interested in ensuring they remain intact with increased public support.
"It's not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs," Obama said in the White House East Room. "The American people need to have confidence in them as well."
Yes, the world is more dangerous today. If spying on millions of Americans is essential in the fight against our nation's enemies, however, we ought to have some understanding of the game plan.
Obama's proposed fixes fall short of that answer.