Detroit Free Press. Jan. 9.
Make it easier for Michigan to vote absentee
Voter turnout in Michigan's last presidential election was 63 percent, better than the national average of about 57 percent, but far below turnout in Georgia, at 72 percent, or Maryland, 74 percent.
The difference between the states? Georgia and Maryland are among the 28 states that allow something called "no-reason absentee voting."
In Michigan and in 21 other states, voters who would like to vote absentee must present a reason to be allowed to do so. To receive an absentee ballot a voter must be 60 or older, unable to vote at a poll without assistance, plan to be out of town, in jail awaiting arraignment or trail, working as an election inspector or unable to vote at a poll for religious reasons. And because Michigan is also one of a small number of states that don't offer early voting, folks who can't make the wait have few options.
It's an antiquated system that doesn't take into account the reality of Michiganders' lives. Americans should prioritize voting — it's a privilege and a right — and move heaven and earth to get to the polls on Election Day. But in a good turnout year, voters can wait an hour or more to cast a ballot. So what if you have a demanding job, can't get time off or are at home with small children who won't tolerate a lengthy wait to vote? In Michigan, you're out of luck.
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has proposed instituting no-reason absentee voting (and it's supported by Gov. Rick Snyder), but Johnson's proposal would require voters to present the absentee ballot in person, with government-issued ID. Most states that have no-reason absentee voting allow voters to mail in the ballot. Johnson has said that the in-person visit is required to ensure that the ballot was cast by a legitimate voter. She has also expressed concerns that Michigan's voter file is too compromised for expanded absentee voting, saying that about 100,000 of the 7.4 million names on Michigan's voter rolls are questionable.
It's laudable that Johnson wants to make it easier for Michiganders to vote, and that she is concerned about voter fraud, a serious matter. But let's be clear — there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Michigan, and there are no reports that voter fraud, or allegations of voter fraud, have increased in states with no-reason absentee voting. Focusing on this nonexistent threat at the expense of access to the franchise is the wrong decision.
Bills to expand absentee voting have been introduced by state lawmakers in previous years, but have languished, even after Snyder backed the change in his State of the State speech last year. There's no reason a bill expanding absentee voting shouldn't pass this year — this is low-hanging fruit that could improve the lives of Michigan voters and increase the number of residents who have a say in state, local and national politics.
Times Herald (Port Huron). Jan. 6.
Working poor need attention
Any discussion about raising the minimum wage is certain to touch on the standard arguments.
Opponents will say it would unfairly burden employers — especially small businesses. A higher minimum wage would prevent employers from hiring more entry-level workers.
Proponents will counter that increasing the minimum wage would help workers earn enough to live, not simply exist. A growing portion of the ground-floor jobs meant for teens to enter the working world are held by adults with families to support
The campaign to raise fast-food workers' starting pay to $15 might be unrealistic. Like the push to raise the minimum wage, however, it speaks to an indisputable fact: The gap between rich and poor is expanding, and the latter is feeling the pain.
The think tank Pew Research Center reports the top 7 percent of all U.S. households own 63 percent of America's wealth. In 2012, the incomes of the top 1 percent grew nearly 20 percent compared with a 1 percent increase for the remaining 99 percent.
The ranks of America's poor reached 49.7 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census. Released in November, the report used a revised formula. The previous number the Census Bureau announced in September was a record 46.5 million, or 15 percent of the nation's population. The new numbers comprise 16 percent.
More working-age adults are taking low-wage jobs. Seniors 65 and older saw the largest increases in poverty in the revised formula — from 9.1 percent to 14.8 percent. Medical expenses — Medicare premiums, deductibles and other costs accounted for the higher poverty rate.
Higher minimum wages alone won't reduce the wealth gap. They might not even reduce the increasing numbers of the working poor.
But they constitute a response to America's deepening economic inequality. If they aren't remedies, at least they attempt to lessen the pain.
With the start of 2014, 13 states increased their minimum wage standards. It is doubtful advocates of the wage increase thought the working poor would be made whole, but they apparently thought something had to be done.
Michigan is likely to see a bigger push to raise its $7.40-an-hour minimum wage — and that shouldn't be a surprise. Working people — especially the working poor — have sacrificed in recent years. There is reason to see to their needs.
Grand Haven Tribune. Jan. 7.
Evaluate seeds of concern
In an effort to get more grain out of the Bread Basket of America, we have turned to science.
Genetically altered seeds, and massive herbicide and pesticide application on acres of soybeans, wheat and corn are now the norm.
Agriculture giants such as Monsanto, Bayer CropScience and Dow AgroSciences have developed seeds resistant to things like pesticides and herbicides. When these seeds are planted and grow, farmers can then spray them with all the pesticides and herbicides they like without killing the plant. In return, farmers get a more bountiful crop of corn, beans or wheat.
This is what happens when farming becomes big, BIG business.
What also happens is weeds become resistant to the herbicides, and the crops are so very altered that they have little resemblance to the nutrient-rich, pesticide-free grains of our past.
In fact, many farmers have talked about how deer, squirrels and other wildlife won't even touch the grain. While that's good in terms of crop yield, they are wondering how if the animals won't eat it, why should humans?
And what does the slight overspray of the chemicals do to nearby waterways and neighborhoods?
Now the USDA has opened the door to yet another genetically-altered seed that is of great concern. This one will resist 2,4-D, a chemical that was included in Agent Orange of the Vietnam era. Yes, the same Agent Orange that cleared swaths of vegetation in Vietnam, and caused cancer in veterans and deformities in children.
Keep in mind that the USDA doesn't approve the use of the pesticide 2,4-D, just the use of the seeds. The EPA is charged with considering the mass application of 2,4-D on farm fields. This is a two-step, two-agency process.
If these seeds are deregulated, and the EPA clears the use of this particular herbicide, Dow stands to make a whole lot of money. Big money.
But at what cost?
Perhaps that cost will never be tallied. But that doesn't mean we should blindly accept that our government knows best. Clearly it does not, as evidenced by many other debacles — DDT, anyone? Agent Orange, anyone?
The USDA has a public commenting period of 45 days before it could deregulate this most recent set of seeds. We the People could potentially put a halt to this most recent science experiment if we speak up. We urge you to do so.
Check out this website — aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/fr_notices.shtml — for a list of all genetically altered, pesticide- and herbicide-resistant seeds that are working their way toward our fields via the USDA. These are all open for public comment, and there's a link to submit a public comment on each item. The 2,4-D proposal will be included on the list soon.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). Jan. 8.
Flu season means taking precautions, care of oneself
Although the holiday season is over, flu season just getting started
Flu season is here and we'd like to remind everyone of a few things to remember as the illness peaks.
Typically the flu season peaks in January or February, but with the winter starting as early as it did this year, it's not too soon to to think about the flu.
Though the start, duration and severity of the season is hard to gage from year to year, it seems the sickness has already begun to spread in the U.P. But it's easy for anyone to take steps to prevent getting the flu in the first place.
The first step is to get a flu shot — anyone 6-years-old and older, that is. The vaccine, which lasts one season, comes in two forms: A shot and a nasal spray for children.
Doctor's offices, health departments and stores like Walgreens and Walmart offer flu vaccinations and the shots are covered by many insurance companies.
Another important step to staying healthy is to avoid sick people. Those with the flu should not go to work to avoid spreading the sickness to others. Cover your mouth when coughing or use a tissue.
Washing your hands with soap regularly can help you avoid spreading the germs and help prevent you from getting flu. The illness is passed through a virus via contact: You can't get the flu from just going outside when it's cold. You have to touch an infected door handle or other surface, or come in close proximity with someone who's already sick.
If you do get sick with the flu — symptoms include a high fever, cough, head and body aches, fatigue and a sore throat — some anti-viral drugs are available that can shorten the duration and ease the symptoms.
See a doctor as soon as any of these symptoms start. Not only can they make you feel better but they can also prevent flu-related complications like pneumonia.
We implore you to take these steps to help avoid the flu this season.