10-06-2016 Letters and Commentary

 August 1, 2016, marked the 60th anniversary of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Originally, the program was limited to individuals who were age 50 or older. It also had a six-month waiting period, and there were no benefits payable to spouses or children.  The disability program has undergone many changes to become the program it is today. Now, people who receive Social Security disability benefits can also receive Medicare coverage after 24 months, and their dependents may be eligible to receive benefits on their earnings records. There are also work incentives in place to help people with disabilities go back to work.  As of June 2016, there are more than 10 million disabled workers and dependents receiving a portion of the more than $11 billion that is sent each month in Social Security disability payments. It can happen to anyone: studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching their full retirement age.  To meet the challenges of providing benefits to so many, the agency has evolved, using technology to operate more efficiently.  Access to online applications for disability benefits, reconsiderations, and hearings have given applicants more service options when applying for benefits. Our health IT initiative allows Social Security to access electronic medical records, including those from the US Department of Defense, which reduces administrative costs, streamlines operations, and speeds up service to veterans.  Social Security is committed to securing today and tomorrow for our millions of disabled workers. For more information about the disability program, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityssi.

Not alone

 Discipleship Journal asked readers to identify and rank issues that tempted them spiritually. The ranking ended up like this: 1. Materialism, 2. Pride, 3. Self-centeredness, 4. Laziness, 5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness and Sexual lust, 7. Envy, 8. Gluttony and 9. Lying.  The order might be a little different today, but the issues might be the same. The survey results also provided information about when these challenges are most difficult to resist. Two notable culprits were when time with God had been neglected (81%) and when physically tired (57%). Help in resisting temptation was found in prayer (84%), staying clear of compromising or bad situations (76%), Bible study (66%) and having personal accountability networks (52%). (Discipleship Journal, November /December, 1992.)  What can we learn from this? First, we learn that we are evidently not alone in the battles we face. Second, others have found prayer and time with God to be good defenses. That could work for us too!  Nowhere in the Bible does it say that to be tempted is sin. Instead, we are given this promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.” (HCSB)  That’s a great promise. God makes a way out, but we have to choose the path He’s provided. That is up to us, and that is where integrity comes in.  Integrity proves its presence only if it is challenged. Temptation then is an entrusting with a test. As we make the right decisions when we are tempted a habit of victory develops; our tested spiritual lives are strengthened, and we win.

PLEASE TALK ABOUT YOUR TAXES… it’s the American thing to do. I just do not understand why Donald Trump does not want to release his income tax forms. Next to the weather and politics, taxes are the next most popular topic. Most everyone has a tax story to tell. Donald needs to tell his and let the voters decide.   He nearly has half the voters in the country on his side… whether he inflated his net worth or business successes while campaigning for President will not cost him any votes.   If his tax returns show he took advantage of the same laws that every hedge fund accountant did or a foreign potentate with real estate holding in the US, most Americans might understand. They might feel he was a “good businessman” as long as they did not feel he cheated them. Many more folks would like to vote for him if they felt he was more honest than Mrs. Bill (Hillary) Clinton.   Sadly, our election of President is not to choose the best candidates, but to choose the least dishonest.

NO SULTAN OF SWAT… so what is one to do when the wasps take it on themselves to move in one’s castle?   I am thinking it might be better if they would show up in a massed attack and just start to set up shop in the family room. No, these outdoor predators prefer to send out scouts to seek out a likely spot for a winter vacation (have they not heard of Florida?).   Evidently the most likely spot in our castle, that has a dark and warm habitat, is somewhere at the back of the television. Once the lethal insect magically appears in a far corner, it commences to buzz the room until it senses the warm TV set (maybe they are attracted to Andy Taylor and Barney Fife). Then it disappears behind the set.   Of course, all this scouting and buzzing goes unnoticed. By the time Scout discovers the Garden of Eden, Anne (keeper of the swatter) has already alerted me to the interloper and armed me with the aforementioned weapon and a piece of paper towel.   On the prowl, swatter in hand, I poke around the TV until I drive Scout to the door wall window. By now, Scout is frantic to return to the great outdoors and the bright flowers just on the other side of the great barrier.   Scout is banging its head and poking its stinger on the glass in an instinctual attack mode to escape at any cost. Meanwhile I am slapping the swatter at it in a vain attempt to kill it outright, wrap it snuggly in paper towel and flush it.   The best I could do was knocking it to the floor with a glancing blow and then pound it into the carpet. Triumphant, I dropped the swatter and moved in with the paper towel shroud.    That is when the wasp rose from the dead and herded me back against the glass, keeping between me and my dropped swatter. That is when human intelligence surpassed instinct. While I knew the paper towel could be a decoy, the wasp did not.   When the wasp was distracted by the decoy, I sidestepped it and retrieved the swatter from the floor. By then it was man vs. insect in the middle of the room.  The wasp was flying around my head and I was flailing the air with the swatter.   When the wasp noticed Anne was offering me encouragement and directions it swooped around me and went for her. Big mistake… obviously winded, the bug lighted on her knee.   With no hesitation or aim, I took a mighty swing with the swatter and smashed into Anne’s knee (strong enough to kill the wasp had it been there).   Anne started laughing and soon I was too. The wasp, happy as well, was hugging the glass. Not for long, I dispatched it with one slap and flushed it.   Later that day, I got a call from Anne… “I killed eight more wasps,” she said.   “Good for you” I replied.


Fresh, new vision for Watervliet festivals

Dear Editor,

To all that call Watervliet, “Home”, all future partners and volunteers, and the esteemed taxpayers I represent: Yes, there is a fresh, new vision for the future of our town’s festivals!  It is true that I “was a volunteer for the defunct Venetian Festival”; I had the most excellent opportunity to serve as Bluff Entertainment Director for festivals ’98 through ’03, the last year of the Big Beach Stage.  A floating stage (LECO barge) tied up in the Arboretum and the featured Lighted Boat Parade were the rudiments of a small event which grew into the large, regional event we remember across the span of over 30 years. Miraculous, year-round planning for excellence, community sponsorship and patronage, and the shared passion for success of volunteers fed this roaring event.  The concept is to assemble area professionals and residents alike that could share a common vision for an organization tasked as an inner hub of talent, expertise and relationships, to serve the needs of multiple, individual festival events. In simpler terms, to do the hard parts very well while allowing the efforts of festival organizers and volunteers to focus on the really important part: Having fun serving the community!  Imagine each festival having the organization of a Venetian Festival behind it. Coupled with the sponsorship relationships with our local businesses, I believe this to be a winning recipe for helping to make Watervliet a genuine destination of excellence.  This new, year-round festival committee will have no intention of intruding upon existing festival events, but rather supporting thereof. In fact the members of the WBA are invited and welcomed to participate.  I wish to further convey that this concept was warmly received and unanimously so by the entire Watervliet Commission, especially the self-funding part. As an initial facilitator thereof, I will begin recruitment for this proposed festival committee very soon. So get excited and stay tuned!

Dan Hummel

Watervliet City Commissioner

Trump is a charlatan

Dear Editor,

What would be the result of a Trump win this November?  Some outcomes depend on the Congressional elections, but one thing is certain – a whole bunch of the domestic issues Trump has promised to fix, such as creating 25 million jobs, repairing our infrastructure, building the wall between the US and Mexico and deporting all of the much maligned illegal immigrants would not happen.  Why? Because Trump has not developed plans and policies to actually accomplish any of these things, and even if he had they would be too expensive, given the tax cuts he has proposed. Many economists, Republicans as well as Democrats, have been very clear that if Trump’s grandiose ideas were implemented; the federal deficit and debt would skyrocket.  So what would happen if Trump were elected?  Well, if the Republicans held both houses of Congress, you can bet that the Affordable Care Act would be repealed, Social Security would be privatized and Medicare would be pulled back to private providers using a premium support program.  Net effect: low and middle income households and seniors would see diminished healthcare and diminished retirement income.  Many of the problems with the Trump campaign are caused by the conflict between the pseudo-populist theme of his message and the contents of the Republican platform.  Recent Republican platforms, including this one, have been focused on increasing the incomes of the wealthiest among us, and hoping that “Trickle Down Economics” (otherwise known as “Voodoo Economics”) would provide growth in jobs and low income wages.  It has not worked in the past and it will not work this time.  If he were to win the election, Trump will have energized a large group of voters who expect some results.  These folks are not from Wall Street, they are middle and lower income people.  Who knows what will happen when they realize they have been bamboozled, but the generated disappointment will be aimed solely at the Republican Party because it created and fed this charlatan’s candidacy.

John A. Gallagher, PhD

New Buffalo

Upton is avoiding debates

Dear Editor,

When a candidate representing tens of thousands of people refuses to debate the issues for the public, that candidate should automatically lose the debate, and the election. Without debates, “We the People” lose out on making informed decisions.  Congressman Fred Upton avoided all debates with his opponent, Paul Clements, in the 2014 election, and he’s trying to get away with it again this year. Recently, he finally agreed to only one debate, at 9 a.m., behind closed doors.  Why does Upton refuse to publicly defend his highly controversial voting history in Congress?  Fred Upton’s top campaign contributors are the fossil fuel industry, health insurance companies, and Washington lobbyists. Upton rakes in their donations and spends the money on name-recognition photo-ops. He pays for expensive, professional writers and camera crews to produce infomercials, while avoiding public debates. Our elected representatives should be able to answer questions without assistance; if they’re proud of the work they’re doing, then they shouldn’t be afraid to face relevant questions.  One glaring possibility for why Fred Upton is shying away from the spotlight is because he doesn’t want to be asked about his support for every single trade deal going back to the 90s; especially for his recent support of the TPP, which both presidential candidates denounce as a major job-killer.  Public figures should be required to participate in public debates. We should be able to watch, and record, their responses to relevant questions. If they want our vote they need to let us see and hear them answering questions, not being actors in an infomercial. As a result of refusing legitimate debates, Upton is denying his constituents a chance for proper inquiry about his congressional performance, including his unwavering support for the very industries that are the financial backbones of his candidacy.  Upton should admit that his lack of transparency and his unwillingness to take fair questions from the public and his opponent demonstrate dishonesty – that would be the honest thing to do.

Virginia Washburn

Grand Beach, MI

Hillary Clinton is right choice to become Commander in Chief

Dear Editor,

My 20 years in the U.S. Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, gave me an ever-widening view of the world and what it means to be an American.  Being an American includes exercising our Constitutional right to vote.   Throughout our history, the American people have defeated demagogues like Donald Trump.  But, in order to do that we all need to stand up and vote thoughtfully for our next Commander in Chief.  Trump’s history includes disparaging prisoners of war such as Senator John McCain; lying about his support for veterans, including false claims about giving money to veterans’ charities; scamming veterans out of their money through Trump “University”; and unconscionably criticizing the Muslim family of a slain U.S. soldier.  At the recent Commander in Chief forum, Trump criticized American military officers, saying that America’s generals have been “reduced to rubble.” Trump also suggested that it’s OK to send our military around the globe to plunder enemies’ natural resources, like oil. He spoke glowingly of privatizing veterans’ health care, and he made a priority of lavishing praise on Vladimir Putin, Russia’s dictatorial leader.  According to the non-partisan Research and Policy Institute, Trump’s plan to cut taxes for the richest among us would necessitate cuts to a number of vital services, including veterans’ medical care.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has spent decades fighting for veterans, members of the military, and their families. As a US Senator on the Armed Services Committee, she helped to expand military benefits to cover reservists and the National Guard.  Currently, she has proposed a comprehensive plan to help support active military and veterans, including: 1) Expanding family leave and access to child care for families juggling the demands of military service and parenthood; 2) Engaging the private sector to boost training and job opportunities for the husbands and wives of our military members; 3) Taking family circumstances into account during military reassignments around the world; and 4) Championing the care and needs of service members by establishing a standing council for service members, veterans, and military families to ensure government agencies are meeting their needs.   Hillary Clinton is committed to supporting our soldiers and our veterans. She is clearly the right choice to become our next Commander in Chief.

Kenneth R. Peterson

MAJ USA (Ret.)


Clinton Foundation vs. Trump foundation

Dear Editor,

Charitable foundations are in place involving both major candidates for president.  The Clinton Foundation was founded in 2001 by former President Bill Clinton. Per the website: “The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation builds partnerships between businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals everywhere to work faster, better, and leaner; to find solutions that last; and to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be tomorrow”. Through the actions of the Clinton foundation, almost a half billion people around the globe have benefited through improved health and lives saved.  The Trump Foundation was established in 1988. Its original purpose was reportedly to give away proceeds from the book “Trump: The Art of the Deal” by Trump and Tony Schwartz. As a private foundation, the Trump Foundation gives money to others; it runs no programs of its own. The Foundation’s tax returns show that it has given to groups associated with conservative politics, as well as to healthcare and sports-related charities.  During the campaign Hillary Clinton has been accused of using her position as Secretary of State to give special favors to Clinton Foundation donors. Those accusations have been thoroughly debunked.  Donald Trump and his use of his foundation is another story. Recent disclosures document at least four instances in which foundation funds, totaling $258,000, appear to have been used in ways that violated “self-dealing” laws prohibiting non-profit leaders from using charity monies to benefit themselves or their businesses. In addition, funds were used for political donations. For instance, in 2013, the foundation gave $25,000 to a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). That gift was made around the same time that Bondi’s office was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. After the donation her office stopped considering that investigation. Tax laws say nonprofits such as the Trump Foundation may not make political gifts.  Bottom line, Trump demonstrates his self-centered (and perhaps illegal) approach to charity, while Hillary has been part of a high impact effort that has succeeded in improving lives on a worldwide basis.


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