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04-16-2020 Letters and Commentary

THE HOARSE WHISPERER… for the past two years or so I’ve had problems with my voice, most notably raspy and weak by afternoon.

While I was happy to blame the trouble on my diabetes, there was that nagging suspicion that it could be something worse. Perhaps the culprit was my tonsils, long overdue for removal. Or the big C., or perish the thought, 2/3 of a lifetime smoking, cigarettes, pipes and cigars, in that order. Who knows the smoking issue might have been pushed off the national stage by the Coronavirus-19?

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any idiots vaping with their kids in the backseat either. Without the school buses making their daily rounds and social isolation keeping them off the streets, kids are somewhat of a rarity. I hope they are all safe from COVID-19 and their parents’ foibles.

Back to the original thought… I never surveyed the smokers I’ve known. “Excuse me, when did you start smoking. When did you quit? How many times have you quit?” It’s just as well I’ve never tried… surveying former smokers would be tricky. While asking a current smoker could be downright dangerous.

Current smokers are frequently found in hideaways 15 feet from a door, solitarily sucking the gaseous poison into their lungs and looking about for the non-existent tobacco police to haul them off. Sadly, there is no tobacco police or mandatory rehab such as for their cousins, drug addicts.

I’ve been there. I recall sneaking into my sisters’ bedroom and stealing a KOOL … a mentholated filter tip targeting the ladies’ tastes. Its pack was stashed in the closet; the ash tray was nestled between the window glass and the screen. I must have had a puff or two in the past, because I knew to be careful not to inhale too deeply and suffer a coughing fit. I wanted to be cool smoking a Kool.

I recall forcing myself to inhale the smoke, still harsh, barely tolerable even though it was mentholated. I was determined to conquer the task at hand and my efforts were rewarded with dizziness and an urge to toss up my lunch. By suppertime, my feeling “green” had passed. Maybe my younger siblings noticed something different. I no longer smelled like a kid, I smelled like the adults at the table – siblings and parents too, they also smoked and had that “damp ashtray smell”.

Such was the beginning of a nasty habit that lasted, more on than off, 60 plus years. I’m no stranger to quitting. I’ve quit cigarettes a couple times, a pipe once and cigars once. I recall lighting up my pipe as a reporter at a village council meeting in the mid-seventies, emboldened by the fact that just about everyone at the meeting was smoking a cigarette including the school nurse. “Oh” the village clerk beamed, “I just love the smell of your pipe tobacco.”

I’m now recalling that since my sixteenth birthday, I was smoking publicly. In fact, my dad gave me a carton for my birthday. “From now on you buy your own” said he. Letting me know he knew I had been pilfering his Pall Malls under the right conditions.

When I arrived at boot camp three years later, we “boots’ were instructed to turn in all “contraband” as we were assigned bunks in the squadron barracks. Contraband included guns and knives, gambling equipment, pornography, cigarettes and lighters. If the sergeant mentioned pot, I don’t recall. I might have been a Detroiter, but I was a babe in the woods compared to some of the others, including a cocky Texan named George Bush.

If I had any inkling of giving up my new bad habit in Air Force blue, I was soon dissuaded. One of the first things we did was to be marched to the “patio”, a convenience store of sorts that catered to homesick boys, who wanted to call home and needed a coke and a smoke.

Our first couple days were mainly of learning to march and field strip our smokes (dismember the butt, shred the leftover tobacco, and filter, then toss them to the wind. The paper could be balled up and dropped into a pocket or swallowed). We would be marching along and the Sergeant would call out, “Flight, halt” and we’d stop marching. The next command was “fallout”. And before we could break ranks, the next call was “smokem if you gottem”. And the next breath was “those without, start policing the area”.

In no time those sent picking up trash while the smokers lolled about, got the message and begged, borrowed or stole cigarettes until the next visit to the patio. For the next few days there was a lot of gasping and choking and puking going on.

By the time we got out of basic, nearly everyone in the squadron was smoking… we even smoked on the plane going home.

Oh yeah, back to my hoarseness…I went to an ENT doctor and got the skinny on my hoarseness, it was caused by old vocal cords, too stiff to close tightly and caused in part by six decades of misuse. After a few weeks of voice therapy, I now can sing some scales and speak a few nonsense phrases without losing volume. And I do notice a big difference when I do my exercises on the ride into work.

When I forget the morning regimen, my pipes stay stiff and by lunchtime my voice is a squeak. At least I don’t smell like an ashtray (I hope).

Michigan needs a plan to navigate out of emergency

Throughout this coronavirus crisis, Southwest Michigan residents have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the unknown. They have exuded patience, discipline and trust in following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders that, while helping prevent the spread of the virus, have also severely damaged the economy and restricted individual liberty. More people have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks than in the last two years combined, and the financial impact of the governor’s shutdown will be felt for years to come. The effects of these orders are far-reaching and have impacted our communities deeply, and the people’s trust in the governor is eroding because there doesn’t appear to be any real plan to get our state out of this mess. That the governor’s most recent stay home order placed even further restrictions on people’s freedoms and business operations underscores their growing resentment, and perhaps reveals how little trust the governor has in the people she works for. My office has been inundated with messages from constituents who have shared their frustrations and concerns with the ongoing shutdown of our state. One person was harassed at a local big-box retailer when attempting to purchase shoes for their children, because the shoes weren’t an essential item. An exasperated resident wondered how it could be justified that people may go canoeing, but they are not permitted to take a motorized boat to go fishing alone. Another person said they live alone and work alone, and that their mental and physical health is suffering because of the stay home order. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of the shutdown. These are just a few of the many such messages that my colleagues from across the state and I receive on a daily basis. One constituent summed things up quite well: “Defining essential businesses and, now, our own personal purchasing is insulting and infuriating.” The response to COVID-19 is killing more than just people; it is wrecking the economy and is demoralizing people who are effectively being punished for doing nothing wrong. Yes, the disease is serious — one life lost is one too many. And, while the disease may not be going away anytime soon, we simply cannot go on living like this in perpetuity. Michigan needs a real plan to navigate its way out of this emergency, to smartly and safely reopen the economy and to restore our constitutional freedom of assembly and right of self-determination. If you agree, contact Gov. Whitmer and let her know your thoughts. Her constituent services line is 517-335-7858. As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by calling (517) 373-6960 or emailing

The unsung heroes among us

As the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold, our nation’s health care professionals, grocery workers, mail carriers, delivery drivers, and many more are on the front lines selflessly serving their fellow Americans. While many of us can stay home, these folks cannot, and they are making enormous sacrifices to help all of us overcome this terrible illness. So, if you have the chance, make sure to thank them for all that they are doing for our communities. A simple act of kindness like saying ‘thank you’ or writing a brief card can go a long way, that’s for certain. It’s no secret that these folks are real heroes, and they deserve our utmost gratitude and appreciation. We can also thank them by doing our part to defeat this virus – limiting person to person contact and staying home. Here in Southwest Michigan and across the country, health care professionals and critical workers are answering the call to serve. With their commitment and support, I know that we will overcome this crisis as one team and one nation. To learn more about important legislative issues, follow me on Twitter at @RepFredUpton or by visiting my website: 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).

I want to hear your story

Last week, Governor Whitmer ordered stores to no longer sell what she considers non-essential items and block off those areas so customers cannot access them. The governor went on to say she will not follow the guidelines issued by the federal government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency that would allow more Michiganders to safely return to work while following social distancing guidelines. It is imperative that we continue to practice social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19, but rather than issuing more restrictions the governor should focus on making common-sense adjustments to allow workers who can safely do their jobs to support their families. The governor remains tone deaf to the plight of Southwest Michigan families affected by her decision making. Rather than address the ambiguity in her prior stay-at-home order that has left hundreds of thousands of Michiganders without paychecks, the governor has decided to double-down on her approach by issuing even greater restrictions that will add to the frustration that families across our state are feeling. It is paramount for Michigan families to stay healthy and safe throughout the duration of this public health emergency. However, we need to approach COVID-19 differently if we are going to give Southwest Michigan families a fighting chance to keep food on their tables. In response to the governor’s executive action, I’m asking you to send me your story or a video talking about the impact that COVID-19 has had on your families and businesses. To submit a story or video, you can email it to or send it to my official Facebook page, State Representative Beth Griffin. I look forward to seeing your videos and urge everyone to stay safe during this crisis.

“Stay safe”

New parting words have replaced “See you later”. They are “Stay safe”. Referring of course to COVID-19 issues, it means “Don’t forget to maintain good social distancing, wear a mask in public, wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds, don’t leave home more than absolutely necessary, and don’t go out at all if you feel sick”. That’s all in “Stay safe”, and it’s a good idea. We’ve heard a lot about fear recently. When there is such a huge disruption of what we call “normal”, a sense of disorientation is not surprising. Fear of the unknown, fear of contracting the virus, fear of those who may be sick, fear of job loss and financial ruin – they all contribute to a consuming feeling of worry and fear. We feel vulnerable and unsafe, and afraid. Fear is not always a bad thing. When we tell our young children to not cross the street without holding our hand, we want them to be safe, but also to be afraid of crossing the street without us (at least for now). Fear of prescription side effects is healthy. We therefore carefully consider the warnings. We should be afraid of driving on the wrong side of the road, and if someone approaches us on the wrong side, we need to fear enough to steer clear to avert an accident. Fear forces us to address issues that we didn’t anticipate, but which we can’t now ignore. A child that fears enough to obey their parents has the promise of longer life (Exodus 20:12 in the Bible). We can find adult encouragement in the Bible as well – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”. (Proverbs 3:5,6) He has us and our future in His hands. Fear God. We’re safe there.

Take charge of your sexual health

There’s no avoiding the statistics: The number of reported sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases are at an all-time high, and if you are sexually active, you are at risk of infection. So what can you do? Arm yourself with the facts about STDs and talk with your healthcare provider—that’s always an important place to start. When it comes to protecting your sexual health, the best offense is a good defense. A relationship between patient and healthcare provider emphasizing teamwork and communication is key. When the relationship works better, sexual health works better. The Berrien County Health Department’s Sexual Health Clinic is here to help you plan for a healthy future. The clinic offers accessible, non-judgmental, and supportive services to women, men, and teens regardless of income, insurance status, background, or sexuality. Services are low/no-cost, are 100% confidential, and include birth control, STD testing, and annual wellness exams and testing for men and women. Services available: Recommended annual wellness exams (pap smears, pelvic exams, breast exams, and testicular exams); STD testing and treatment; rapid HIV testing and counseling; pregnancy testing; birth control methods including the pill, the patch, Depo-provera shot, and emergency contraception; free condoms; immunizations, including the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for men and women; education and support to help you plan for a healthy future and take control of your sexual health. Sexual Health clinical services are provided at little-to-no cost. Most major insurance plans are accepted, including most Medicaid plans. Costs are based on a sliding-fee scale determined according to your income and no one is turned away for inability to pay. Sexual Health Clinic services are available at all Berrien County Health Department locations (Benton Harbor, Niles, and Three Oaks) by appointment only. To make an appointment for any location or for more information, please call (269) 926-7121. More information about the Sexual Health Clinic can be found at

Beware of calls claiming there’s a problem with your Social Security number or account

Social Security and its Office of the Inspector General continue to receive reports about fraudulent phone calls from people claiming to be Social Security employees. These scammers try to trick people into providing personal information or money, and often threaten their victims with arrest. Don’t be fooled. Our employees will never threaten you for information or promise a benefit in exchange for personal information or money. Real Social Security employees also will not: Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended; contact you to demand an immediate payment; ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash; demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe; promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money. If you receive a suspicious call or are unsure of the identity of someone who claims to be from Social Security: Hang up; do not give money or personal information; report the scam to our Office of the Inspector General at Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at


V.B. Youth Fair moving forward

To our Fair family and friends,

Over the years we have been presented with many challenges and have always pulled together to overcome each obstacle and celebrate each success. This year may present our biggest challenge yet. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all our lives. Each day brings a new situation with new questions and very few answers.

The Van Buren Youth Fair Board is moving forward with plans for the 2020 Van Buren Youth Fair. We look to our leaders on the federal and state levels for guidance and direction. Currently, there are many restrictions on our normal lives at work, home and socially. We will make decisions concerning activities and functions at the Van Buren Fairgrounds based on the most current information available. Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 (COVID-19) is in effect until April 30, 2020. The following activities have been postponed:

Winter Storage Takeout (April 4, 2020) – We will reschedule this activity as soon as the State Executive Order has been lifted. The tentative date is Saturday, May 2, 2020.

Rate of Gain – Weigh-in for feeder calves, sheep and swine scheduled for April 25 and 26. We are discussing a new date and will announce the date as soon as possible.

The May 1, project tagging and forms deadline has been extended to Monday, May 11, 2020 at 5 p.m. We will be accepting forms as follows: At the Fairgrounds – a drop box will be provided at the “Main Gate Ticket Booth”; by mail – must be received by May 11, 2020. Address for mailing is Van Buren Youth Fair, P.O. Box 271, Hartford, MI 49057; by email – email address is (

Please be patient as we continue to plan the 2020 Fair and to navigate these very difficult and challenging times.

Everyone please continue working hard on your projects. We are looking forward to a wonderful 2020 Fair.


Van Buren Youth Fair

Board of Directors

What’s wrong with these people?

Dear Editor,

Bill O’Reilly: “Many people, who are dying both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway.”

Rush Limbaugh: “…the number of coronavirus cases and their impact on hospitals was inflated.”

Brit Hume: New York’s “fatality numbers are inflated” because they “don’t distinguish between those who die with the disease and those who die from it.” Per Hume’s source, it would appear people with underlying conditions who died after being infected by coronavirus should not count in the overall fatality numbers.

Rochelle Richardson: “In a matter of two weeks, over 1,000 people supposedly died from the coronavirus,” said Richardson, implying that the uptick was devised to counter Trump’s calls for “America to be back up and running” by April 12.

What’s wrong with these people? Money is not more important than the lives of Americans.

Bennet Leedy, Coloma

Do your part

Dear Editor,

We are experiencing challenging times. If you are experiencing isolation or depression, here are some suggestions. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health.

Call a friend you haven’t talked to for awhile, check on your neighbors, especially the elderly, keep a routine as much as possible, thank a doctor, nurse, restaurant and grocery workers, garbage workers, police and EMT personnel. Take a nature walk, read more and watch a church service by streaming and most of all pray for the necessary masks, gowns and ventilators needed by our medical personnel. Limit yourself to watching TV news. Stay positive and practice social distancing to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

We are all in this together. America is resilient.

Stay informed and practice social distancing. Do your part and we will win this war together!

Dawn Consolino, Coloma

1918-1919 flu pandemic

Dear Editor,

The 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic killed 675,000 people in the USA! At that time the population of the United States was 100 million; so the death rate was about .7 percent.

Today’s COVID-19 (aka Chinese flu) pandemic has caused about 24,000 deaths currently in the USA. The current population of the U.S. is 330 million; so our 24,000 deaths is 28 times less than the 1918-1919 total of 675,000!

Don Oderkirk, Watervliet Twp.

Senator Gary Peters is an exceptional leader


Senator Gary Peters is a conscientious, honest, and highly competent leader. During the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, he has repeatedly taken decisive action to combat the spread of this dangerous disease and to counter the economic damage it has created.

On March 12, Senator Peters, who is the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to expand access to free COVID-19 testing. He also pressed the Trump administration to ensure that health care facilities across the country were equipped to handle the large number of Americans who were likely to need to be tested as the virus spreads. In explaining the need for this legislation, Senator Peters said: “Widely available testing is the most effective way to identify and contain COVID-19 cases before they spread further, and our nation’s inadequate testing program is simply unacceptable.”

Senator Peters also pressed the administration to take immediate action to ensure that all health care providers were supplied with the personal protective equipment they need to safeguard themselves and their patients from exposure to the virus.

On the same day that he introduced the COVID-19 Free Testing Bill, Senator Peters led the introduction of the bipartisan Coronavirus Worker Relief Act. This legislation provided disaster unemployment assistance to all individuals who were unable to work due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Both the COVID-19 Free Testing Bill and the Coronavirus Worker Relief Act were incorporated into the bills passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

Michigan is blessed to have Gary Peters as one of our two excellent Senators. Our state and our country need his knowledge, his experience, his voice, and his determination to do what is right. We need to re-elect Senator Peters this November.

Dr. Larry Feldman, Lakeside

New guidance about COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries from Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul

(Press Release) “The Treasury Department launched a new web tool allowing quick registration for Economic Impact Payments for eligible individuals who do not normally file a tax return, and also announced that it would begin making automatic payments. However, for some people receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration – specifically those who have dependent children under the age of 17 – it is to their advantage to go to this portal to ensure they also get the $500 per dependent Economic Impact Payment. I encourage them to do this as soon as possible, and want to provide the following details:

“People who receive Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability insurance benefits and who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and who have qualifying children under age 17 should now go to the IRS’s webpage at to enter their information instead of waiting for their automatic $1,200 Economic Impact Payment. By taking proactive steps to enter information on the IRS website about them and their qualifying children, they will also receive the $500 per dependent child payment in addition to their $1,200 individual payment. If Social Security beneficiaries in this group do not provide their information to the IRS soon, they will have to wait to receive their $500 per qualifying child.

“The same new guidance also applies to SSI recipients, especially those who have qualifying children under age 17. To receive the full amount of the Economic Impact Payments you and your family are eligible for, go to the IRS’s Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info page at and provide information about yourself and your qualifying children.

“Additionally, any new beneficiaries since January 1, 2020, of either Social Security or SSI benefits, who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019, will also need to go to the IRS’s Non-Filers website to enter their information.

“Lastly, for Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability beneficiaries who do not have qualifying children under age 17, you do not need to take any action with the IRS. You will automatically receive your $1,200 economic impact payment directly from the IRS as long as you received an SSA-1099 for 2019.

“For SSI recipients who do not have qualifying children under age 17, we continue to work closely with Treasury in our efforts to make these payments automatically. Please note that we will not consider Economic Impact Payments as income for SSI recipients, and the payments are excluded from resources for 12 months.

“The eligibility requirements and other information about the Economic Impact Payments can be found here: In addition, please continue to visit the IRS at for the latest information.

“We will continue to update Social Security’s COVID-19 web page at as further details become available.”

InterCare receives $50,000 for telehealth services

InterCare Community Health Network, a network of health centers providing services to underserved individuals throughout southwest Michigan, was recently awarded funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to help support its fight against COVID-19. InterCare was notified last week that it had received a one-time grant of $50,000, which it will use to expand its ability to provide “virtual” visits – either by telephone or video conferencing – as well as buy new texting software to help keep in touch with patients who are staying safe at home.

InterCare was one of 61 health care providers in Michigan who has received expedited funding support from the Health Fund to launch immediate local initiatives in the battle to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the pandemic.

A major aim in InterCare’s battle against COVID-19 is to help support the Governor’s Stay at Home requirements, and to provide a means for patients with non-urgent or non-emergency health problems to receive services without violating social distancing requirements or jeopardizing their own or others’ health in face-to-face contact. Previously, most telemedicine services have not been covered by health insurance companies; however, many of those restrictions have been lifted so that InterCare’s doctors and other clinicians can serve their patient populations remotely without putting them at risk.

InterCare’s five fixed facilities have remained open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, but its on-site staff and providers are mostly focusing on patients with acute health problems, pregnant women, patients struggling with substance use disorder, patients recently discharged from the hospital, and immunizations for infants and young children.

For more information about their current services and hours of operation, visit InterCare’s website at or find them on Facebook.


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