Category Archives: Newspaper Opinion Columns

Opinion Columns originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Fraud, Politics and Old Folks – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

I paid close attention when an old friend jokingly asked on Twitter: “Can anyone tell me why I’m so Angry all the time?” But it’s not so funny that rage is the new normal. We’ve gotten louder and more contentious, as we’ve suddenly been catapulted into a new Middle Ages with a politics and economics that mirror medieval lords and serfs with castles, indebted servants, and a dying middle class. Each age group is struggling in its own way and there are super-angry people in every generation. Tweets that aren’t crude and rude are often cries for help, for someone to listen, respond, and care. Both sides of the COVID coin are expressed online: anger and despair.

Many of the despairing are young and I’ve written previous columns about their skyrocketing suicide rates. But many of them are elderly and their desperation makes them more vulnerable than ever.

COVID has fueled a raging Black Market: scammers, fraudsters and con artists. Charlatans surface in tough economic times with a vengeance. Be afraid, especially if you’re older. It’s true that scams like “Free Solar Panels” target homeowners of all ages, but many fraudsters are focusing their stimulus check scams and community donation scams on senior citizens. Playing on understandable fears, fraudsters offer opportunities to skip the line and get quicker access for outlandish fees.

We’ve just completed National Consumer Protection Week and Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon said: “Fraudsters are making a fortune by targeting Americans, particularly older Americans… The scammers tell elaborate lies, often become demanding and threatening, and take advantage of the physical isolation that many seniors have experienced during the pandemic.”

Who would disagree that this is a shameful development towards the most vulnerable in our society? But what are we doing about it? Too often we consider the elderly faceless and expendable, like serfs who owe us or can easily be replaced. So we’ve seen a nonchalance towards the elderly who  were going to die soon anyway. Arguments against wearing masks to protect the elderly by wearing masks have been responsible for surges in infections and death. But the biggest COVID fraud towards the elderly has taken place from governors’ offices.

New York Governor Cuomo used emergency pandemic powers to tell nursing homes that they couldn’t deny admission to patients discharged from hospitals solely based on a confirmed or suspected COVID diagnosis. Supposedly freeing up hospital space, Cuomo should have anticipated that nursing homes would become the state’s lethal epicenter.

Instead, Cuomo made even more of a mess by covering up and delaying death toll reports. With multiple excuses, mostly nonsense, the governor finally acknowledged that he’d made a mistake. His apology, almost a year later, brings the term “obfuscate” to mind. With recent news of official reports being doctored to show only about 50% of the total nursing home deaths, the term “criminal” comes to mind.

Another ‘obfuscation” veering towards “criminal” comes from Governor DeSantis of Florida where vaccine sites targeted wealthy communities of political donors. DeSantis’ denial seemed sincere, “I’m not worried about your income bracket, I’m worried about your age bracket.”  Yet he blocked death toll reports on eldercare facilities and his new data analyst is an anti-masker sports blogger with no credentials.

Nix the medieval mix of lies and cons by lords of the manor. Let’s be honest and truly honor lives lost and elderly still at risk. And don’t bow down to the lords’ anti-masking propaganda. The lives that masks protect may be some old folks you love.

Pandemic futurists wanted – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

 “Yellow Terror” arrived in the mail out of the blue. I opened to the first page and I’m sure my face turned pale as I read, “Poor Shreveport! Woe-stricken Memphis! How afflicted, how lamentable you are… Friends, dearly beloved have been laid low, and the very air is ripe with lamentation.” Those words were written in an 1873 opinion column  by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. The language sounds old-fashioned, but as noted by the booklet’s writer, American Jewish Archives director Gary Zola, they are echoed today.

Infectious diseases have haunted us historically, and I take their misery and devastation personally.  When I first came to America from Bermuda as a young girl, I came down with chicken pox, measles, German measles, pneumonia, and scarlet fever all in my first year here. Antibiotics saved me and I’ll be forever thankful to the scientists who invented medications and vaccines. But I’ll never underestimate the power of transmissible diseases.
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Art of Healing – by Deborah Levine

originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

Of all the inauguration speakers, the one that truly hypnotized me was Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate. The tiny young powerhouse joins the roster of famous inaugural poets like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. Reading “The Hill We Climb”, she had us all climbing with her. It was a joy to see her energy, hear her inspiring verses, and be reminded that poetry heals the soul.

The words bring optimism about the future. A colleague messaged, “The seed of hope has been planted. It is up to each of us to build upon that hope in order to cultivate and strengthen the ties that bind us together as a People —one Nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all!”

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The mind-numbing siege – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

I should write about the siege of our Capitol but my brain has oozed out of my ears. I’m rendered speechless at the gallows and chants calling to hang Vice President Pence who refused to illegally overturn the election. My loved ones hid under the covers seeing the nooses, Viking-like horned helmets, Confederate flags, Auschwitz T-shirts with skull and crossbones and 6MWE (6 Million Weren’t Enough) signs referring to Jews killed during the Holocaust. Not surprising that people wondered if America, not just Trump, lost its mind.

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COVID is real. Are we?

originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

We’re on the cusp of receiving a vaccine for COVID but we’re also at an all time high for cases and deaths. It’s time to get real. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Texas State University noted that, “If poorly designed and executed, a COVID vaccination campaign in the U.S. could undermine the increasingly tenuous belief in vaccines and the public health authorities that recommend them.”

My first reaction to that was to deny we’d have a problem. Isn’t the United States the most advanced country on the planet scientifically and technology-wise. Surely folks will listen to the scientists and epidemiologists and make a logical judgement. But then I was reminded that we have increasingly fallen under the conspiracy syndrome. Just a few days ago, A Wyoming Department of Health official insisted that the “so-called pandemic” is a plot by Russia and China to spread communism worldwide. And he told the audience that the vaccine was a biological weapon.

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The 60 second smile – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

I’m addicted to watching TV news shows, especially “This Morning’s Eye Opener: Your World in 60 seconds”. It’s everything I need to know in just one minute.  We ran out of names for hurricanes predicted to decimate coastal lives and Trump’s EPA prevents legal suits against polluters and allows drilling for oil in Alaska. The CDC warns us not to travel on Thanksgiving and the White House encourages rebellion against state-mandated masks. Trump plans to pull down troops from Afghanistan and maybe bombing Iran. Defense experts freak out.

Now for the fun part. Sometimes the 60 seconds ends in a comedy shtick. It’s no accident that the popularity of political satire goes back to the ancient Greeks. Scholars describe the power of satire as a way to express truths in ways that are blunt, digestible and even enjoyable. George Bernard Shaw said it more succinctly, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

But some scholars say that TV satirists alienate folks from any political involvement:  Letterman, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Sarah Cooper, Dave Chapelle, and the list goes on. They echo the general disgust that Mark Twain voiced, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

Yet given the record-breaking vote counts of the 2020 election, we’re more political than ever. And everyone’s a comedian, too. Go on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. Better yet, go see Pinterest and check out how satire and cartoons have blended into a hypnotic flow of irony, puns, goofy images, and a bit of fantasy. One of the cartoons that combines all of the above got stuck in my mind. A mermaid, unicorn, and a leprechaun was into a bar and sit down in a circle. The mermaid points to an empty chair and says, “I’d like everyone to welcome out newest member to the group, Ethical Capitalism.”

Some are over the top like, “Breaking: Dr. Fauci discusses new life-saving face mask.” The cartoon pictures Dr. Fauci and behind him is President Trump with masking tape over his mouth. Then there’s the meme caption, “FBI uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot to just sit back and enjoy collapse of United States. They’re funny, horrible, and mind-blowing all at once.

For better or worse, research shows that while satire may educate and entertain us, it doesn’t change how people vote. The politics remain nerve-racking. But it does give us comic relief and disrupts the anxiety of our COVID-19 era. We can sure use some relief these days.

So let’s give a shout out to all the comics out there. Thank you for your satire and periodic goofiness. The laughter that you generate is healing and inspiring.

Now I gotta try some humor myself. A liberal politician, a conservative politician, and a turkey walk into the bar. The bartender says, “What’ll you have?” The liberal votes for a turkey sandwich and seltzer water. The conservative votes for a turkey sandwich and a beer. When it’s the turkey’s turn, he gives them the stink-eye and says, “I want a recount.” The politicians stare at him as he gobbles out the door. They nod to each other and call over the bartender, “Make that whisky instead. We’re gonna get basted.”

OK, so I’m a lousy comic, but I had to at least try to make you smile. Now it’s your turn. Go out and make someone smile. Bring on that comic relief and knock the stuffing out of us!

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Serving up rage and revenge – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press 

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

Biden continues with a presidential transition while an enraged Trump plants land mines and trip wires. Tump’s niece predicted the situation saying, Hes not going to engage in the normal activities that guarantee a peaceful transition. All hes got now is breaking stuff, and hes going to do that with a vengeance.” I’ll be even blunter. Trump has declared war on democracy.

Trump is fracturing our country by charging Attorney General Barr to seek out fraud even though most court cases have ruled that there’s little evidence to back up his claims. He’s breaking traditions by refusing to authorize access to government officials, office space in agencies and national security tools provided to transition teams of President-Elects.

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Come together over health care – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Deborah Levine
ADR Editor-in-Chief Deborah Levine

COVID-19 cases are on the rise and it’s upsetting to see the rising number of hospitalizations in so many states. It’s even more upsetting that the White House told Governor Lee to mandate the wearing of masks to head off a likely surge in Tennessee. But it’s downright horrifying that the governor didn’t discuss this publicly. The White House message was only discovered through a records request. Did Governor Lee hope that by hiding it, no one would find out?  But we’re at a tell-all moment as the Supreme Court prepares to debate the Affordable Care Act. And there’s no hiding how the rush to affirm Trump’s Court nominee comes just in time to vote the ACA out of existence.

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Eat that pizza now – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DEBORAH LEVINE
Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

In this week of chaos, I looked online for occasional moments of relief. I found fascinating videos of animals looking for food in all the wrong places: an escaped ostrich-like emu stopping highway traffic and of a herd of elephants crossing a street into a village. But my favorite was a bear cub eating a delivery pizza on a doorstep in Colorado. I chuckled as he devoured the entire pizza.

But I felt guilty for laughing because bears on our doorstep are like canaries in the coal mine.  They signify the new COVID-19 reality, and it isn’t funny.

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Ginsberg’s Daring Legacy – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

The announcement of the passing of Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg came during the online services celebrating the Jewish New Year. I could see an old friend on Zoom just put her head in her hands and stay there. I’d seen the announcement a few minutes before services started at sunset so I’d had a brief moment to digest the news. I immediately texted my cousin. We both identify with the description of Ginsberg as “Elder Badass”, having fought our own life-long battles for women. She texted back, “Nooooo!”. Our grief was immediate and we could already hear rumblings of imminent battle.

Jewish tradition holds that someone who dies as the New Year begins is among the most righteous. The Divine holds death back for these souls until the year’s last moment because they’re so needed, driven by the biblical obligation, “Justice, Justice, shall you pursue”.

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