Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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‘Nothing  for People That Age’

Heroin took a ‘good kid’ in Benzie County

Patrick Sullivan - August 5th, 2013  

Fifteen dollars. That was what it cost to buy the heroin that took Justin Smith’s life, said his father, Eugene Smith.

Smith said he learned that from Traverse Narcotics Team detectives, who helped bring a case against a 33-year-old Detroitarea man who allegedly sold Justin Smith the dose of heroin that led to his death on May 15. Charges that bring life in prison are pending against that man.

“He was a good kid,” Eugene Smith said of his 23-year-old son during an emotional interview. He said he didn’t want his son remembered as a heroin user who died of an overdose. He wants Justin remembered for his love of the outdoors and for all of the friends he made in his short life.


Eugene Smith did many of the things parents are supposed to do to keep a kid off drugs. He spent time with his son and was involved in his life, he said.

Despite the fact that Justin’s parents got divorced when he was just a boy and Justin lived with his mother in Benzonia while his father lived in Frankfort, Eugene had a close relationship with his son.

In 2005, Eugene bought two new snowmobiles, one for him, and one for his son. It was something they could do together. They would travel to Newberry in the U.P. on winter weekends to hit the trails.

Around the same time, the Smiths got into drag racing and Eugene purchased a ’77 short-box Dodge D-100 pickup truck.

“Him and I built the truck and took it to Kaleva and raced it for three years in a row,” Smith said. “He did really well, but he’d always choke at the end because he knew it was between him and two other people. He would ‘red light,’ because he would get too excited.”


Towards the end, however, those good times came along with bad times. Smith said he knew his son got mixed up with drugs.

He came to believe he knew which friends spelled trouble for Justin and which ones were good influences. He attempted to steer his son toward a straight-and-narrow life.

Justin spent time in and out of rehab, on and off of heroin.

“I told him several times I don’t want to be the one to go to the hospital,” Smith said.

At one point, Smith told his son (who was living with him at the time) that he needed to find his own place to live. Smith believed that if Justin had to pay rent it would keep him out of trouble.

For a while it did. Justin found a job at Flood Fighters and things looked good. Justin didn’t have a car, but a coworker who lived just down the street gave him rides to work.

“It did work, he moved in with another friend of his that was definitely not doing that (heroin),” Eugene said.

But Justin’s abstinence from heroin didn’t last.


Within a couple of years, heroin became part of the social scene for young people struggling to get by in Benzie County.

“All these kids were friends -- this is all connected,” said a woman who knew Justin and other overdose victims in the county. She did not want to be identified because she is afraid of the heroin dealers.

“There’s like some big drug ring up here that nobody’s getting to the bottom of,” she said he woman, who works as a waitress, hopes the arrest of the alleged dealer in Smith’s case means an end to the flow of heroin in Benzie County.

“That’s kind of what I want to know: Is it over now?” she said. “Was he the kingpin?” Despite having a job, the woman says she can’t afford rent and is currently homeless. She lives in the woods. Her lifestyle is not unusual among young adults struggling to get by in Northern Michigan.

Many work two or three jobs and still struggle. Good, affordable housing is hard to find. Wholesome entertainment is pricy. It costs money to go fishing or hunting or canoeing. It costs money to ride snowmobiles or go skiing.

“I think that’s definitely part of the problem; kids in this area having to work two jobs and then they say, ‘screw it,’ and they don’t want to work anymore,” she said.


The woman said Justin -- who she knew as Smitty -- underwent a vast personality change prior to his death. The normally responsible, intelligent young man who sometimes liked to party started to behave like someone else.

“He was an absolute space cadet in the last couple of months. All of a sudden, everything was funny. There was nothing between his ears, I guess,” she said.

She said Smith was just like any other young adult in Benzie County, but just happened to try heroin.

At the same parties that in the past would have included booze and pot, prescription pills and cocaine began appearing in the later years of high school. Then came heroin.

It wasn’t like Justin suddenly changed friends, she said. What happened was some of his friends changed.

“I think it probably occurred through hanging out with the same group of friends that he’s hung out with his entire life,” she said, adding that she has not tried heroin.


Smith was in contact with his son until the end. Even after his son returned to heroin, they kept in touch.

The two celebrated Justin’s birthday at Buffalo Wild Wings in Traverse City on a Saturday, five days before he died.

“I heard from him on Sunday again and then I didn’t hear from him again… I heard from the people that he lived with that he died,” Eugene said.

Smith believes his son had both good and bad friends. He talked to one after his son’s death and demanded the young man return a snowboard that belonged to his son.

Smith believes that Justin’s friend introduced his son to heroin. He said the conversation with the young man, who had moved downstate, did not go well and that he denied even using heroin.

He later learned that this person died of a heroin overdose downstate just five days after his son’s death.

“Had my son never met him, you can’t predict the future, but my son would probably be alive today,” Smith said.


Justin’s funeral at Eden Bible Church was packed. The procession afterward to Gilmore Township stretched for hundreds of vehicles.

Justin had played football at Benzie Central and he had made a lot of friends in his short life.

“He was a nice kid in a small town that has nothing for people that age,” Eugene said.

Justin Smith is one of at least four young people killed by opiate overdose since 2011 in Benzie County.

Jackie McLaughlin, who for years was one of the Benzie County court watchers (a group created to keep track of the local criminal justice system), said she believes there is a heroin epidemic in the county.

“We didn’t see drugs like this two or three years ago,” she said.

She didn’t attend Justin’s funeral, but heard of young people who spoke during the service and asked for help in the face of widespread heroin addiction.

McLaughlin and others are organizing a public information meeting about the county’s heroin problem which they hope to hold this fall.

“I was overwhelmed, initially, that there wasn’t more outrage from the community about what’s happening,” she said.

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