Too afraid to speak

Thumbs Down: America – a nation where people can speak freely without intimidation or fear. Not so much. A new national survey from the Cato Institute shows that self-censorship is on the rise in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of Americans – 62% – say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. The percentage of Americans who self-censor their opinions has risen several points since 2017 when 58% of Americans agreed with the statement. These fears, according to the survey, cross partisan lines. Majorities of Democrats (52%), independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share. Let’s change that by actually listening to each other, being respectful of another’s opinion, skip the name-calling and political labels (the first time anyone calls someone a “libtard” or a “Trumpkin,” they lose) and be civil. In short, people need to open their ears more, not their mouths.

Vaping risks linger

Thumbs Down: More evidence is coming to light about the dangers of vaping. Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health sent an alert to health care providers in response to reports of 11 suspected cases in Minnesota of severe lung injuries associated with vaping. The vaping cases in Minnesotans affected those from age 14 to 46 and occurred in June and July, with a median age of 18 years. Diagnosis was made more difficult because the symptoms of the disease can be similar to those of COVID-19. All 11 cases resulted in hospitalizations with some requiring intensive care, including being placed on ventilators. “This public health threat got a lot of attention last year, and unfortunately it has not gone away,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “We want providers and the public to be aware of the continued dangers of vaping products, and the possibility of lung injuries presenting as COVID-19. As we continue to investigate the causes of the lung injuries, we encourage people to take advantage of our free Quit Partner resources to help with quitting vaping.” For more information about Quit Partner, go to www.quitpartnermn.com.

Help for farmers

Thumbs Up: The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is offering two new ways for farmers and others involved in agriculture to reach the Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline – text and email. “We want to make it as easy as possible for our farmers to get the help they need when they need it,” said Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen. “COVID-19 has come on top of several years of high costs, low prices, and bad weather for farmers. We know chronic stress takes a toll on people and can really affect the way they cope with challenging situations.” The confidential service, available 24/7, connects Minnesota farmers and others in the agricultural community to counselors who can serve as a sounding board, provide emotional support, link callers with a rural mental health specialist, or help them find information about financial and legal resources. Users are welcome to remain anonymous. Contact options now include: 1.) Phone (toll free) – 833-600-2670, 2.) Text – FARMSTRESS to 898211, 3.) Email – farmstress@state.mn.us.

Power company scam

Thumbs Down: The Otter Tail Power Company is reporting an uptick in scam activity in its service area. Scammers have been taking advantage of heightened anxieties of COVID-19 by pretending to be from the power company or debt collection service and are pressuring people to make immediate electricity payments over the phone, online or through MoneyPak, MoneyGram or prepaid credit cards. Don’t call back the number the scammer provided. If you have any questions about your account or want to set up payment arrangements, contact your power company directly. Also, report illegal activity to local law enforcement and to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP.

Helping child care workers

Thumbs Up: The Alexandria Evening Lions club deserves a "thumbs up" for helping essential workers at child care facilities. The club purchased 50 $15 gift certificates from Brass Lantern, Restaurant and Pizza Ranch. They were distributed to Little Learners Academy LLC, All-Pro Child Care Center and YMCA Child Care Centers.

If you have a suggestion for a Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down, email it to aedenloff@echopress.com or mail it to Echo Press, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308.