Tag Archives: opinion column

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!

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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.

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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.
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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.”

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.

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Fraud, Politics and Old Folks – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

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

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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