Category Archives: Newspaper Opinion Columns

Opinion Columns originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Denial doesn’t make it rain – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press 

DEBORAH LEVINE
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

DEBORAH LEVINE
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

DEBORAH LEVINE
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.

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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

Red Flag at Half-Staff – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

The White House lowered its flag in mourning for victims at the FedEx facility. It’s hardly the first time this year that this flag has been flown at half-staff. There have been 147 mass shootings, defined as killing four or more people not including the shooter, since January. There have been 45 in just the past month. That comes to more than one mass shooting per day. It’s an increase of almost 73% over the same time period last year and they’re deadlier with almost twice as many fatalities. Maybe the White House should leave the flag in mourning mode permanently.

It’s unlikely that we’ve seen the last of these massacres. Gun violence researchers describe the situation as a contagion effect with each incident spawning copy cats. This deadly disease is particularly contagious to revenge-seeking males who make up 98% of these shooters.

Continue reading Red Flag at Half-Staff – by Deborah Levine

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!”

Continue reading Art of Healing – by Deborah Levine