Category Archives: Newspaper Opinion Columns

Opinion Columns originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Giving thanks, and respect – by Deborah Levine

Originally published  in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for families to gather together and eat their heads off. Many are unaware that November is Native American Month or they commemorate it with the usual “pilgrims and Indians” stories that celebrate the generosity of the Wampanoag people to the first settlers. They bypass the genocide of the Wampanoag that followed, and the removal of Native Americans from their lands. The invisibility has allowed ignorance of their history and land for many folks.

Continue reading Giving thanks, and respect – by Deborah Levine

Our climate crisis is now – by Deborah Levine

originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press 

Looking to the Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland, Britains Queen Elizabeth was overheard referring to the global all-talk and no-action as irritating”. I grew up with British understatements so I knew that meant total disgust mixed with a few expletives. The Queen was irritated by folks who dont walk-the-talk and was probably left speechless by how many American leaders gloss over our growing climate crisis.
Continue reading Our climate crisis is now – by Deborah Levine

Second thoughts on banning books – by Deborah Levine

 (originally published as an opinion column for The  Chattanooga Times Free Press) 

The banning of books has been around for centuries and America is no exception. We have banned books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We banned 273 books in 2020 with more to come. But don’t the recent controversies over school library books seem a bit irrelevant to you? After all, we’re online 24/7 and the influence of books seems pitifully modest. Unless authors have a huge following on Tik Tok and Twitter, students are unlikely to storm classroom libraries. So why the brouhaha?

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Facebook’s nasty smell – by Deborah Levine

originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

 Some folks cried Death to Facebook while others turned to Twitter during the FB Blackout. Entertaining tweets welcomed newcomers and entertained us longtime Twitter-ists. “Is that (outage) before or after injecting bleach into the CPUs and shining a UV light in all the network ports?”  Others referred to ads aimed at young women, “… if Instagram is down, who’s gonna constantly try to convince me that my life would be better with lip injections?” I laughed at the tweet suggesting we rename it “social NOTwork” but sighed at hopes that we’d return to a pre-2000 culture. Not gonna happen!

Continue reading Facebook’s nasty smell – by Deborah Levine

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.