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GUEST COLUMN

VP should keep his mouth shut

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Cartoon by Taylor Jones

Vice President Joe Biden owes me and every other retailer in the United States money. Apparently the man one heartbeat away from the most important job in the country (sorry Simon Cowell) went on national television and recommended that people pretty much stay at home because of swine flu fears.

Not a doctor, a nurse or even a politician with a significant background on health care issues, the Vice President recommended a course of action that nobody qualified to make has suggested. Basically, Biden told Americans to avoid public transportation, planes and to not congregate anyplace, like say a store, that counts as a confined place.

In the middle of a reeling economy when small businesses need every dollar they can get, Biden tells people to stay home and not go near anyone else. The White House medical staff has not made any such recommendation nor has the Centers for Disease Control or even Dr. Sanjay Gupta, but the Vice President decided to go on TV and make people afraid.

The public gets scared easily and our elected political leaders should be working to calm those fears. Biden should be saying that while we remain concerned about the Swine Flu, it's not the Black Plague and you don't need to bar your doors or burn down your neighbor's house if you see him sneeze.

Instead of acting like the second-in-command of the free world, Biden has decided to behave like those people who wrapped their house in plastic during the Anthrax scares after 9/11. I half expect to see the Vice President on TV wearing one of those surgical masks that make people feel better, but don't actually protect against getting the flu.

Naming a disease makes folks infinitely more afraid of it and Swine Flu sounds a lot scarier than saying "its another strain of the flu." People go into a panic about Swine Flu, Bird Flu or any sort of aquatic beast or flying animal flu, but the regular flu hardly scares us. Never mind that Swine Flu is just a strain of the flu not covered by last year's flu shots.

Unless you are elderly or an infant (congratulations on your ability to read to any infants reading this) you have nothing to fear from the Swine Flu other than getting the flu. Just because the media covers a story a lot does not make it a deadly menace which, I suppose, is fortunate for Angelina Jolie.

Serious national health issue or annoying illness questions aside, the Vice President should be smart enough to not incite public hysteria without having his facts straight. If the severity of the disease requires isolation and quarantines, than let's let public health officials make those announcements.

Until the time when officials with actual credentials (medical degrees would be a start) say we should avoid public places and congregating together, our Vice President needs to keep his mouth shut. That might be a challenge for Biden, who has never let not knowing what he's talking about stop him from talking, but it would be in the public interest.

- Daniel B. Kline's work appears in more than 100 papers weekly. When he is not writing, Kline serves as general manager of Time Machine Hobby, a hobby and toy store. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com

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