Category Archives: Newspaper Opinion Columns

Opinion Columns originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Armageddon gets personal – by Deborah Levine

 Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

These days, everyone I talk to sounds anxious, scared and miserable. My first reaction is sympathy and empathy, the way my mother taught me. My second reaction is relief, since misery loves company.  And when I feeling a bit guilty for that, I say to myself, “How can we not be?” Every time, I turn on the news, there’s another calamity. It feels like our world is  imploding and none of us will escape unscathed.

First there’s a sense of world disintegration with the mess in Afghanistan. Seeing thousands of folks trying to cram into the airport to leave – scary. Watching people clinging to planes to get out – horrifying. Hearing the fears of women for the future – words escape me.

And how about our ailing planet and the UN Intergovernmental Panel’s recent report that climate change is intensifying and accelerating? This former island girl broke out into a sweat over the first rainfall ever at Greenland’s frozen ice sheet, shedding water and raising sea levels. According to the report, these changes to our oceans are already “irreversible for centuries to millennia.”

Our mood doesn’t improve watching the mammoth destruction of Haiti’s earthquake and hearing reports of almost two thousand deaths. There’s a growing nervousness about our physical world. If you follow the wild fires in California that make the state look like a smokey Hell, you know what I mean. That’s especially true when you saw the smoke drift into Tennessee and hover over Signal Mountain. Not to mention the coughing and wheezing when you breathed it in.

We sometimes get relief by turning off the news, but the anxiety is embedded deep within is, especially over Covid and its Delta variant. Maybe that’s why folks are driving like nerve-wracked nut jobs. They speed, swerve and cut you off. And forget the Yield signs, because impatience, annoyance, and anger are the new normal for some drivers. Others just don’t see the signs. Their minds are elsewhere, trying to solve the unsolvable.

I think of myself as a calm, rational human being, but I’m fearful like everyone else. It really got to me when our mayor tested positive for Covid. He was vaccinated, but concerned about allergy-like symptoms, so he got tested. If you suffer from hay fever like me, you know that this time of year begins ’allergy alley’. Go outside and you sneeze. Stay outside and you wheeze. So I panicked.

The hubby called around for a Covid self-test kit only to find that most places were out of stock. When he finally did find a pharmacy with the test kits, the item got more expensive from when he picked it off the shelf, to when he got to the cashier a few minutes later.

The test shows that I’m fine. But I still adhere to the “better safe than sorry” philosophy.  Apparently, Abbott Laboratories which manufactures rapid self-tests, doesn’t have the same philosophy. Abbott figured it’s better to save a buck than plan for a surge. They threw out their stock, ceased manufacturing, laid off workers and made a mess. I pray for a dose of reality at Abbott, and all organizations hesitating over Covid.

Maybe Hamilton County’s Health Department heard my plea, because the next day it announced free self testing. Too late for me, but it’s a community saver. The takeaway? Be pro-active and make realistic plans, sooner rather later. Planning is life-saving, whether for Covid, Afghanistan, or the environment. And it’s a nerve calmer, too, a big plus in our road-rage world.

Schools, Masks and Politics  – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

Our kids are in the COVID crosshairs. In July, 38,654 pediatric Covid cases were reported. Just a week later, that number increased 85 %. When today’s youth look back on this Covid era, I wonder what they’ll say. They might say that the delta variant might have been deterred if vaccinations had been embraced immediately. They may ask why it took so long to authorize a Covid vaccine for children.

Continue reading Schools, Masks and Politics  – by Deborah Levine

Offshore billionaires launch into space – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press 

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

If you’re the richest person on Earth, your next step might be to launch yourself into space. That’s what Jeff Bezos has done. I guess this planet is just too boring to invest in. Maybe that’s why his company, Amazon, paid an effective federal income tax rate of only 4.3 % on U.S. income, even when Trump’s administration dropped the rate to 21%. Continue reading Offshore billionaires launch into space – by Deborah Levine

Words shape us for better or worse – by Deborah Levine

 (Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press) 

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

Attempts to bring our diverse society together is nothing new. Controversies and road blocks surrounding the attempts aren’t new either. It may seem that way to some folks with furious debate over “structural racism”, but it’s the terminology that’s new, not the reality.

Our language has struggled over decades to find ways to express the mission of inclusion without creating a nasty backlash. Back in the day, Multiculturalism was supposed to heal disparities. It did not. Then it was Diversity. That didn’t resolve much and Diversity & Inclusion became popular. Not a major game changer, so we went to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to address structural disparities. Has DEI had the desired results in the community, workplace, university, or any place? I’m not convinced.
Continue reading Words shape us for better or worse – by Deborah Levine

Denial doesn’t make it rain – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press 

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

There hasn’t been much noise from the climate change deniers this week despite data showing that there are 109 congressional representatives and 30 senators, who refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change. That’s 25% of our federal elected officials including Tennessee’s Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Chuck Fleischmann.

Maybe the silence is due to the unprecedented heatwave in the West and Southwest. The photos of livestock roaming brown fields with no grass might encourage the deniers to lay low. Not to mention the pictures of Lake Mead. If you’ve ever toured Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam you know that this symbol of American scientific innovation built during The Depression was a stunning tourist destination well as providing drinking water and farming irrigation. Today’s situation leaves the water level at its lowest since the 1930s. You can now see the stone walls of the lake and we’ll see even more in the coming months.

Maybe the silence of the climate deniers is a matter of timing. With epic winters like the one that froze Texas, deniers declare it proof that there’s no global warming. But climate change isn’t just a matter of heat and drought, but of multiple weather extremes.

Some say that the water level will come back as it has in the past 22 years of drought.  Maybe. But not before the entire region is affected. The lack of water will impact millions and its electricity production is at risk. How much pain must be inflicted before we stop electing deniers who refuse to take steps to remedy climate crises?

Utah’s Governor Spencer Cox called for Utahns to participate in a weekend of prayer for rain. He’d already asked them to avoid long showers and water-needy landscaping. But with Utah’s soil moisture at the lowest level since it’s been monitored, Cox declared the need for divine intervention.

Why do we have to debate climate change? Younger voters in the 2020 presidential election ranked climate action a top priority. Cuts to carbon dioxide emissions coupled with major investment in a clean economy is supported by 70% of the American public according to a Fox News poll.  According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of adults think that the government is doing too little to address the climate crisis. Those percentages are likely to increase as summer heat burns farms, reservoirs shrink to historic lows, forest fires spread to thousands of acres, and weather patterns get weirder, like the tornado hitting Naperville, Illinois.

Unfortunately, the old saying, “Follow the Money” never gets old. These 139 climate science deniers have accepted more than $61 million in lifetime direct contributions from oil, gas and coal industries. Tennessee has its share of the election pie. Together, Blackburn and Fleischman accepted more than 1 million dollars in lifetime fossil fuel donations.

And there’s more money involved than just election contributions. Oil companies Chevron and ConocoPhillips contributed 1 million dollars each to the conservative Senate Leadership Fund towards keeping climate denier Mitch McConnell in control ensuring that denial remains a major political strategy. There are 82 members of the House of Representatives and six senators denying both climate change and the certified results of the 2020 presidential election. Many of these folks also deny the reality of the COVID pandemic.

Divine intervention can’t fix this. Human failure must be addressed by human actions like voting, speaking out, resisting being bought. We can pray to God for rain, but as my dad used to say, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Our Mental State is Depressing – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

It was a newsworthy moment when tennis star Naomi Osaka announced that she wouldn’t participate in media interviews because of her battle with depression and anxiety. The fact that the World Tennis Association fined her $15,000 got even more press. But her withdrawal from the French Open has put the issue of mental health front and center.  It’s not as if she’s the first athlete to suffer from depression and anxiety. NBA All-Star Kevin Love, gymnast Aly Raisman, and baseball’s Zack Greinke have talked about their struggles, as has Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who called Osaka’s coming forward a “game-changer… I hope this is the breaking point of really being able to open up and save more lives”.

While the support for Osaka has been strong and vocal, let’s not overlook the nasty responses to her withdrawal. “Diva behavior” was one sportswriter’s response. The most annoying comment came from Piers Morgan who took time out from harassing Meghan Markle to focus on another woman of color by calling Osaka,“World sport’s most petulant little madam”.  No wonder women are 2-3 times more likely to develop depression than men.

It’s time to get real about mental health.  It isn’t just an issue for famous people under a mountain of stress.  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. There are 40 million adults affected every year. every year. About 25% of our young people ages 13-18 years old are affected.  And almost one-half of people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression. Major Depressive Disorders (MDD) has been the major cause of disability in ages 15 to 44 years old. And COVID has skyrocketed the numbers. A survey in 2020 by Southern Cross University reported a whopping 98 percent of respondents saying that COVID had affected their mental health.

We’re now seeing legislation that funds mental health more substantially. As part of the $3 billion allocation included in the American Rescue Plan, the federal government is sending the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) more than $27 million for mental health services over the next four years.  We need it! If ever there was a situation to address anxiety and depression, this is it.

It’s great to have this funding for mental health since so many sufferers need help paying for psychiatric treatment. Even our Navy has submitted a reprogramming request to the Defense Department to allow reallocation of funds towards mental health services. But only about one-third of adults and one-fourth of children and adolescent will get psychiatric treatment. While the funding is well-intentioned, the post-COVID demand is unprecedented.  And the pool of psychiatrists is drying up. The average age of psychiatrists is in the mid-fifties and many are retiring. Others are leaving the profession as burnout takes them down. We see headlines like this  in Forbes Magazine, “Psychiatric shortage escalates as US mental health needs grow”.  And the American Psychiatric Association predicts, “The psychiatrist workforce will contract through 2024 to a projected low of 38,821, which is equal to a shortage of between 14,280 and 31,091 psychiatrists”. 

Are there more psychiatrists in the pipeline? Unfortunately, it’s iffy. It takes 12 years of college, medical school and internships to become a psychiatrist. That costs around $250,000 plus there’s a lower rate of reimbursement for psychiatry than other medical fields. So we need to incentivize potential psychiatrists. Tweet Naomi Osaka and ask her to endow med-school scholarships. And tell elected folks to vote for forgiving medical education debt.  After all, the depression needing treatment could be yours.

In Memory: The Ritchie Boys – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

I was surprised to see on 60 Minutes recently, a segment about the secret World War II military intelligence training camp at Fort Ritchie in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ritchie Boys, like 97 year-old Victor Brombert, had never been featured on prime time TV.  The secrecy of their service and mission has been given little publicity, even after 75 years. My father never spoke of being a Ritchie Boy until I became the community and media liaison for the Tulsa Jewish Federation shortly after the Oklahoma City neo-Nazi bombing.

One of the stories he told me was about being in a parking lot outside a restaurant in Paris with one of his soldier buddies. The Nazis dropped a bomb on the restaurant and killed his friend, leaving my dad still standing. I commemorate this anonymous friend every Memorial Day and know that it could easily have been my dad’s life that was taken. But he lived to excel at what he was trained to do.

Continue reading In Memory: The Ritchie Boys – by Deborah Levine

The Business of Equity – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

Our Tennessee state legislature has made it illegal for educators to say that systemic racism is an American phenomenon. Making sure to successfully intimidate teachers, they’ve threatened to withhold funds if the proper words in their estimation aren’t used.  At the same time, Chattanooga’s Chamber of Commerce took steps to promote the economic and racial equity that has been systemically limited. Its pledge for racial equity has been signed by corporate CEOs, organization directors, and diverse business leaders.

Was anyone surprised by the push-back to the Chamber’s pledge from the conservative organization, Hamilton Flourishing? Saying that the goal of Chambers of Commerce is to recruit new businesses to the area, not just help a few businesses and certainly not by radically changing our economy and culture.

Continue reading The Business of Equity – by Deborah Levine

Support those businesses that are using their voices on Georgia’s new voting law – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

The world has been fascinated by the arrival of the British culture wars on American shores with former Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  Millions of people watched Oprah Winfrey interviewed them and the show was the highest-rated entertainment special since the February 2020 Oscars ceremony. While some question Markle’s integrity, most of us are we mesmerized by the comeuppance of a former colonial empire.

Harry’s brother William denies any royal racism and the U.K. government issued a report denying any institutional racism in Britain. British Black journalists blast the report while anti-Markle press says that she’s endangering the monarchy. Markle is hijacking the British government and she’s a bully, embraced by Americans who don’t know any better. No wonder Harry and Meghan plotted their escape.

I experienced remnants of the British Empire as a kid in the colony of Bermuda. We were taught the ‘Golliwog’ dance in ballet class. Considered entertainment, Golliwog was an embarrassing stereotype of its African colonies.

Continue reading Support those businesses that are using their voices on Georgia’s new voting law – by Deborah Levine

A shadow pandemic of gender violence – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

As we come to the end of March, Women’s History Month, we need to see this time as a wake up call regarding women’s safety. The shootings at Asian spas in Atlanta, where most of the victims were women, underscore the vulnerability of these women. Yes, the Asian-American community as a whole is experiencing a rising number of hate crimes given COVID. And Asian-American women experience twice as many hate incidents as men.

An Asian American studies professor noted that women have always dealt with harassment and public safety issues, but COVID provided another excuse to target Asian women. Bullies attack the vulnerable and stereotypes of Asian women as meek and subservient make them easy targets. That’s why it was unusual that a 75-year old Asian-American fought back when attacked on a street corner, sending her attacker to the hospital. She isn’t the only woman to be fed up with harassment and violence.

Continue reading A shadow pandemic of gender violence – by Deborah Levine