Category Archives: Newspaper Opinion Columns

Opinion Columns originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hate and the cost of silence – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Many quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. were posted on line this week. A fellow Chattanooga colleague got my attention with, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  Then I got an email from a synagogue buddy asking me why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) was being silenced and suggested that I write about this for my TFP column. Interesting coincidence! But I was busy mailing a DEI book that I’d written. Holding the book in one hand, I picked up an unmarked envelope mailer only to find that there was something already in it. And that’s when coincidence became weirdness. 

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Let’s bag the ultra-processed food industry – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

If you’re like me and get what seems like 7 million reminders to do things better, you know that this is a self-improvement month .My inbox is full of suggestions for getting in shape, losing weight, eating better …you name it.  Watch the news and you’ll see reporters give tips on what diets to follow to help you live longer and healthier. Ironically, those reports are interspersed with ads for the Ultra-processed food” (UPF) you’re being told to avoid. The processed food industry is spending big bucks to promote their UPF yummies containing high levels of saturated fat, salt and sugar. Having learned long ago that UPFs contributes to my chronic inflammation, I’m determined to counteract the 14 billions of dollars spent annually marketing this crap.

Did you know that about 73% of our country’s food supply is ultra-processed and are about 52% cheaper than less processed alternatives. Further, of all the advertisements related to food or drink, almost 80 % were junk food ads. We’re being played!

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Combining Reason and Empathy in 2024 – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Whether you resolve to get more exercise, learn new skills, or avoid doing stupid stuff, January has us thinking about the future. I began 2024 with good works, donating piles of clothing at Goodwill in Eastgate Mall. Driving there, I realized that the process begins with gratitude and humanity. That means being grateful for those who have come before us, who gave us life. We remember that we’re not only their beneficiaries, but also their legacy of how they made a difference.

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Finally, diversity programming is beginning to include faith – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

I could barely contain my excitement a few days ago when the Chattanooga Times Free Press published this article, “Businesses face calls to include faith in diversity program”. Do you know how many years I’ve been promoting the idea of competence in religious diversity? It began over 30 years ago when I created the DuPage/Chicago Interfaith Resource Network and got a call from the county’s police chief. DuPage County had acquired an amazingly diverse population as it developed into Chicago’s technology corridor. And law enforcement officers were struggling, especially when there was a death, like someone run over on the highway. Apparently they were asking all the loved ones if they should call a priest and were offending everyone who was not Catholic. Would I please wear a pager 24/7 so that they could call on me to help them with the correct language?   

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History and Art in Bluff View and beyond – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Current debates about preserving history can be toxic, but our Bluff View Art District illustrates an important dimension to that debate: Art. One of Bluff View’s treasures is its oldest building, the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts. The museum’s collection of antique glass, porcelain and pottery is one of the finest in the world. And the story behind the collection is as fascinating as the artifacts themselves. 

Visiting the museum, I heard about Anna Safley Houston who was supposedly born in 1876. I say “supposedly” because written records were iffy back in the year that Alexander Bell invented the telephone and the art of glassworks was emerging. Born in a small rural town, Anna was an unlikely collector of that art which she stored in an East Ridge barn.

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Local vision for arts, culture and economics – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Creating community is a mission that takes passion, persistence and personal commitment. I did not expect to experience all that when I dropped by the Local Coffee of East Ridge (ER) on Ringgold Road. I’d heard about meetings there from friends and thought I’d check out their local book signing event. I soon discovered that it’s also the center for the East Ridge Creative Arts nonprofit (ERCA). Memories came rushing back to me of how I designed my masters degree in Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago to focus on the economic impact of Arts and Culture on a community. 

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Stranger Politics Shopping at Walmart – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

As I was leaving my neighborhood Walmart yesterday morning a total stranger stopped in front of me and announced, “The Biden family is living off millions while the rest of us are poor!”  He just stood there waiting for my response. I smiled sweetly and said “ You mean poor Trump – forced to live at that Mar-a-Lago place and living off all those contributions folks send him because he’s such a nice man.” I continued my sweet smile and the gentleman, confused, finally walked away and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was disturbing to have a perfect stranger approach me like this. I worry that given the wild ride of this 2024 presidential election, I need to prepare myself for a tidal wave of such strangeness.   

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On the road to what? – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

I was surprised to see the photos of Ron DeSantis’ motorcade multi-car pile up on I-75 near Brainerd Road. Frankly I’m skeptical about the rumors saying that a dog had caused the accident. In the more than 20 years Ive traveled that road, Ive never seen a dog cross that road. I wonder if his cars got entangled in some of the orange traffic cones along the way. Or maybe they got caught in heavy traffic on that section of the highway when folks careen across lanes.

It wouldn’t have been surprising if either had happened. Whatever the cause, we may never know. DeSantis was using state government vehicles and a new law was just passed shielding his travel records from public view. But we do know about our challenging roads and we’re learning more.

First lesson: Note this quote from Patrick Rothfuss, Safe roads are the bones of civilization.” Key for keeping those bones safe is how people drive on them. Alas, what were once civilized and polite driving has given way to the equivalent of the pushing and shoving by kids in school hallways. I am forever grateful for those drivers who let you onto the highway in front of them. And for those who don’t speed up to cut you off as they cross lanes. They have a slightly saintly aura.

Second lesson: Construction is the new normal. I wonder if DeSantis’ team had driven around East Ridge and the Brainerd area. The drive can be mind-numbing. Ringgold road is continually under construction with orange traffic cones everywhere. Digging equipment have decorated various sides of the road for longer than I can remember. Main roads are blocked. Some ramps on and off to the highway are gone. My favorite mess is the circular path now made by metal shafts that lead cars on Terrace in a circle around closed I-24 ramps. A driver unused to the area had gotten on the circle by mistake and just sat there in his car, mystified at the traffic coming coming at him. Yeah, buddy…I feel your pain.

We all know that Chattanooga is growing by leaps and bounds. You only have to look at the number of grey and white apartment buildings going up all over town, transforming once distinctive areas into lookalikes. Water mains and sewer systems are being updated, often leaving raised planks and covers that click loudly driven over into the night.

As we grow and roads get more congested, the modernization process that widens and adds highway lanes can be confusing. For example, if you don’t know that the extra lanes on the highway will quickly merge and disappear, being mystified is the least of your worries.

Governor Bill Lee has responded with a statewide campaign to promote his $3 billion Transportation Modernization Act.  He recently gave a speech at Alison Pike site that’s part of a larger project to widen Apison Pike from Interstate 75 to East Brainerd Road and more safely connect Ooltewah, Collegedale and Apison to Chattanooga’s urban core. An admirable goal…except for one thing. The Act explores public-private partnerships for “Choice Lanes”. That’s a divert-and-deflect euphemism for toll roads. Supposedly this will decrease congestion, save taxpayer dollars and make road projects more efficient.

The urban planner in me wants to know exactly how toll booths would be a plus for transportation. And who would own these Choice Lanes, and could sell them to whom. I hear echoes of that old saying, The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. If you hear that, too, ask questions. Lots of pointed questions. And don’t settle for divert-and-deflect answers.

Time is well spent at the library – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

As I enter our downtown library I’m reminded of a famous quote by science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, Libraries raised me.” Growing up in Bermuda, the one small public library was a treasure and my grandmother donated the Encyclopedia Britannica to it. When we came to America as a kid, we lived in several different communities before settling in Long Island, New York. Lacking any sense of direction I often got ridiculously lost, but agree with Albert Einstein who said, The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”

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Douse Fireworks; Embrace Laser Light Shows – by Deborah Levine

Originally published by the Chattanooga Times Free Press

The July 4th fireworks wonderful! We drove around the neighborhood to check out what’s happening. Folks down the street have been doing a family light-up every night over the weekend. And then was there’s Camp Winnie, one of my all-time favorites. Best of all, was watching the sky explode over the Tennessee River. Of course, we’re sad for everyone living near Canada where smoke from across the border forced some cities to cancel July 4 fireworks. I was grateful not to have their pollution levels – until I coughed and wheezed driving by a house surrounding us all in smoke from fireworks lit up in the driveway. Mother Earth whispered that our gratitude should come with a grain of salt, or saltpeter.

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