03-05-2020 Letters and Commentary

Did we gain anything?

Dear Editor, During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as “the worst trade deal ever” and promised a vastly better agreement. After three years of negotiations, a slightly revised deal – the U.S., Mexico and Canada Agreement (USMCA) – was agreed to. The Democratic-controlled House refused to approve the USMCA until stronger protections were added for labor rights and a giveaway was removed for the pharmaceutical industry which would have allowed them a 10-year protection from less expensive generic biologic drugs. The final USMCA has a few advantages: Autos sold here require 75% of components manufactured in North America, up from NAFTA’s 62.5% requirement; U.S. farmers gain more access to the Canadian dairy market; 40% of vehicles sold here must originate where workers earn at least $16/hr.; Mexico must allow workers to form unions which in the long run makes U.S. jobs more competitive by increasing wages in Mexico. These advantages are real, but overall, we didn’t gain much from the USMCA. Why? The International Trade Commission calculated the USMCA would add only 176,000 jobs over six years, a small number within the U.S. $22 Trillion economy supporting 152 million nonfarm jobs; auto makers have continued to downsize and move jobs to Mexico even after the law was signed so hundreds of thousands of jobs will not return here as Trump has touted; USMCA allows food imports that don’t meet U.S. safety standards; USMCA doesn’t establish liability standards for counterfeit products; USMCA will probably increase car prices for the average U.S. consumer. Three years of Trump threatening Canada and Mexico doesn’t give us much more than we had with NAFTA. It’s time the administration starts negotiating trade deals that actually benefit U.S. workers and consumers, rather than attempting to give Trump a political advantage. Ken Peterson, Buchanan

Postal inspectors warn consumers of impostor scams;

offers tips to combat them

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is urging consumers to remain alert to scammers posing as representatives from various federal government agencies, including the Postal Service, Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. Usually, these scammers will call or email unsuspecting people; use misrepresentations and threats; and demand immediate payment to resolve an issue specific to the scam. The scammers will then direct victims to remit payment via a variety of methods, including cash or check in the U.S. Mail, FedEx or UPS. Victims may also be instructed to pay via gift cards, virtual currency or wire transfer. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2019, impostor scams were the number one fraud reported, with people losing more than $667 million in that year alone. Social Security impostors were the top government impostor scam reported. Already in 2020, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has seen an increase in scammers who impersonate the Postal Service; often through email scams. How can these impostors be combated? The U.S. Postal Inspection Service reminds consumers: Don’t be pressured into making immediate financial decisions; talk with your family and friends before any scammers strike and come up with an action plan on how to handle any suspected scams; consult with a trusted friend or family member before making a payment; don’t give your financial or personal information to anyone you don’t know and don’t trust; reduce unwanted telemarketing calls by taking advantage of call blocking services—some of which are free. Contact your telephone carrier for more information. The Postal Service, Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration and other government agencies will never call you and ask for payment over the phone or ask for your personal information. Always ask for the billing information in writing before paying. Never make payments via gift cards, wire transfers, virtual currency, or other non-traditional payment methods. Report scams to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at www.uspis.gov. For more information about fraud prevention and consumer protection tips, consumers should visit www.uspis.gov. MDARD announces Value-Added Grant opportunity (Press Release) The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is now accepting applications for its latest round of value-added grants. The Value-Added Grant Program is designed to help retain, expand, attract or develop agricultural processing in Michigan through targeted investments in technology and equipment, feasibility studies, healthy food access, regional food systems, and urban agriculture. Grant proposals must be received by 3:00 p.m. (EST) on April 2, 2020. The maximum grant award eligible is $125,000 per proposal. Each project will require a minimum 30 percent match. The value-added proposals will be evaluated through a competitive selection process. Applicants for grant funds will be asked to describe how the project will impact and produce measurable outcomes for Michigan’s food and agriculture industry. MDARD is accepting proposals intended to help expand value-added agricultural processing and food hub development in the state, as well as access to fresh nutritional Michigan grown foods. Those interested in applying should visit www.michigan.gov/mdardgrants to view the application and grant guidelines. Any additional communications concerning this Request for Proposal should be sent to mda-grants@michigan.gov. Additionally, proposals must be received via email at mda-grants@michigan.gov no later than 3:00 p.m. (EST) on April 2, 2020. Proposals received after 3:00 p.m. will not be considered.

What lasts forever? There’s a story about a conversation at a funeral about the person who had died. One person asked another, “I wonder how much he left behind?” The reply was short: “All of it.” The sobering truth is that no matter how well we plan, how many counselors we engage for advice, or how much we have accumulated, it all gets left behind when we meet our Maker. In one sense that might indicate that accumulating wealth is useless. Yet we are wise to try to prepare for the future both for ourselves and for those for whom we want to provide. So where’s the balance? In a parable about wealth, Jesus spoke about someone who had evidently invested wisely during his lifetime. As a result, he had a nice surplus. He decided that in order to store his vast wealth he would have to tear down his smaller barns and build bigger ones. That in itself was not a problem. Yet Jesus labeled him a “fool”. Why? Because he was going to die that night, and he hadn’t thought beyond his nose about more important things. The story is in Luke 12: “…But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” A little further down in the account we hear Jesus direct: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34, NASB) Jesus encourages His sheep not to worry. Trust the Great Shepherd. He knows what we need. Focus instead on what lasts forever, and be at peace.

Health and safety must be our top priorities Folks across America are echoing the same concerns: What is being done about coronavirus? American lives are at stake and the nation expects solutions. The health, safety, and well-being of the American people are far too important to let politics get in the way of solutions. I have said it all along – this is a serious matter, and we can’t let hyper-partisanship lead to inaction. Over the past few days, my office has reached out to leading health officials in southwest Michigan to assure them we will do all we can at the federal level to protect our communities. This week in Congress, the members of Problem Solvers Caucus and I will work with both sides of the aisle to secure the necessary funding needed to combat this virus. Moving forward, we need to speed up the readiness of a vaccine, ensure that it is affordable, ready timely testing, and continue to seek out bipartisan ideas to keep this country safe. We cannot let politics divide us. We need solutions. This is a moment in time for all of us to step up for the safety of our families, our communities, and our nation. This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue – this is an American issue. To learn more about important legislative issues, follow me on Twitter at @RepFredUpton or sign up for my weekly newsletter by visiting my website: upton.house.gov. You can also call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

The importance of adult literacy

Much of the focus in educational discussions centers on childhood literacy, and rightly so. We track children’s third grade reading aptitude because that is the age that students are expected to have reached a certain level of mastery. This is a key benchmark that plays a significant role in determining a person’s future success, both academically and professionally. But, while so much of our focus on literacy is placed on children, adult literacy does not receive as much attention, often to the peril of not only the adults themselves, but to their children as well. Literate adults succeed at a higher rate across the board than those who are illiterate. From health, to employment, to other social determinants of success, literacy is perhaps the most important factor of them all. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics indicates that an average of 18% of U.S. adults aged 16 to 65 performed at the lowest level of the literacy scale in a Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies survey — higher than the international average. Beyond individual outcomes, however, an adult’s literacy also has significant impact on their children. According to the organization Pro Literacy, the children of parents with poor literacy skills have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading level. This, in turn, means they are more likely to get bad grades, have behavioral issues, be absent more often, get held back, and drop out of school. That is why such an emphasis is placed on literacy from an early age, and why we as a state offer programs and support for adults to improve their literacy skills. These programs are offered to help adults improve basic reading, writing, and math skills, including one-on-one literacy coaching; to help earn a high school equivalency credential; and to assist nonnative English speakers to improve language skills and learn how to integrate into society with civics education. If you know of an adult who is in need of help or is looking to improve their literacy skills, visit Michigan.gov/AdultEducation or call 517-335-5858 for assistance. There are numerous offerings available throughout Berrien, Cass, and St. Joseph counties. As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by calling (517) 373-6960 or emailing senklasata@senate.michigan.gov.

Fight to restore grant dollars for Southwest Michigan must continue It’s been a busy year so far here at the Capitol. While my colleagues and I are optimistic about the new things we are working on, we are also still fighting to fix some of last year’s problems caused by Governor Whitmer’s budget cuts. Funding has yet to be restored for several vital programs impacted by the vetoes last fall. It is unacceptable that this money – along with hundreds of millions of other dollars the governor vetoed toward initiatives helping the state’s most vulnerable residents – was eliminated by political games. One of my top priorities as your state representative has been fighting to restore the $200,000 MEDC grant Paw Paw lost due to these vetoes. While the Legislature has worked hard for months to restore funding for many of these programs, not all funding has been restored. This money could be used to revitalize downtown areas and attract job providers bringing more opportunities to our communities. I am working with my colleagues in the House Appropriates Committee to do everything we can to restore this funding. Additionally, I hope the governor will sign a supplemental budget that includes the restoration of funds for the Going PRO program. Going PRO has proven to be a successful resource for those searching for good paying careers in Michigan with job training opportunities and apprenticeships. This program has linked thousands in Southwest Michigan with jobs and I believe the governor should restore funding for this program in which she was once a vocal advocate. I look forward to getting this vital funding back into programs that help Southwest Michigan families and it is my hope we can work together with the governor to best serve the people of Michigan. As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns. You can reach me toll free at 1-800-577-6212, via email at BethGriffin@house.mi.gov and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RepBethGriffin.

IDES OF MARCH… I’m having difficulty getting my head around that it is already March. Cripes, one would think a leap year with an extra day in February would make the advent of March a little slower to arrive. Speaking of Leap Year, why is the extra day added at the end of the month (Feb. 29) instead at the beginning … perhaps February 1A or Jan. 32? Sunday, March 8 marks the beginning of Daylight-Saving Time (DST). Make sure you set your clocks ahead one hour at bedtime Saturday, so you’re not late for church or golf. My longtime cribbage partner ignored DST entirely, leaving his watch and the clock on his truck dashboard unchanged. One June, I noticed his S-10s dashboard clock was an hour behind. At my suggestion to reset the clock he replied, “It’s optional. It’s only wrong half the year, and right the rest.” It’s optional was Silky Sullivan’s catchall phrase dating back to our high school days. When the nuns there would ask him a question such as “Would you like to go to the principal’s office?” he’d invariably reply, “It’s optional”. By the end of the second week our school principal, lovingly known as the ‘worm’, asked, “Would you like to go to some other school, Dennis?” He answered, “It’s optional” and headed for the door to the parking lot. March is a big birthday month in the Karl Bayer Klan… starting out with Gillian and Jaxon sharing March 2 and Zoe and I almost sharing the 30th. Zoe arrived a half hour before midnight, thus not having to share the 29th (so far) with anyone. Justin has March 20 all to himself arriving just as the RAF Mildenhall base barbershop finished up my shave and haircut. I got back to the hospital, refreshed, just in time to witness his squalling arrival. Next Tuesday, March 10 is the Michigan Presidential Primary Day. Many candidates’ names will be on the ballot, even though some have withdrawn from the race. I heard on the radio Tuesday that those that cast absentee ballots may revote before Saturday, March 7. And there is a plethora of Democrat candidates that have dropped out but their names are still on the ballot. Democrat candidates seeking Michigan’s Electoral votes are Joe Biden, Michael R. Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Candidates on the ballot but have dropped out of the campaign are, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Sestak, Tom Steyer, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang. Republicans on the ballot are Donald J. Trump and Bill Weld. Candidates with names on the ballot but have dropped out of the race are Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh. Our new crossword puzzle survived its February debut to mixed reviews, ranging from too easy to I love it. I have yet to do one but expect to cross that milestone by the Ides of March!

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