Some Favs… Looking Back at 2021

Published on January 3, 2022 in RINewsToday

As an ‘age beat’ journalist for over 40 years, I have penned more than 813 articles covering aging, health care and medical issues. These authored and coauthored pieces have appeared in national, state, and local trade and association publications, dailies, weeklies, and in this weekly column in RINewsToday.com. Some were even republished in my two books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly (2016) and Taking Charge: Volume 2  More Stories on Aging Boldly (2021).

I provide you with a few of my favorite publish weekly commentaries published in 2021 that you may have enjoyed reading. Many of these articles in their entirety and others can be viewed on my author archive  page at rinewstoday.com/herb-weiss/.

“Study Takes Look at Decision Making /in Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine,” published on Jan.  25, 2021 in RINewsToday.com. 

With colder weather keeping people indoors and holiday events drawing families together, Rhode Island like other states continue to see a growing transmission of the COVID-19 Delta, and now Omicron variants. The debate of mandating vaccines has expanded into requiring a booster, too. 

This article reported on research findings that suggested ways as to how to increase a person’s likelihood to get vaccinated. Even though researchers didn’t touch on requiring booster shots, the findings should still be relevant in the current debate, as science is showing the waning of the vaccine after many months.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project Survey, a group whose mission is to increase public dialogue on vaccine education, released survey findings that showed the preferred locations to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and which leading information sources are two influences over a person’s decision to get vaccinated.

The study, commissioned by the Washington, DC based Alliance for Aging Research, one of the three nonprofit organizations leading the project, found the majority (51 percent) of respondents ranked their healthcare provider or pharmacist as one of the sources most likely to influence their decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in their healthcare provider’s office.

After healthcare providers and pharmacists, when asked to provide the top two additional sources of information about COVID-19 vaccines that would most influence their decision to get vaccinated, 32 percent of respondents cited nationally recognized health experts, and 30 percent named family and friends. However, older respondents were increasingly more likely (75 percent ages 65 and older) to trust their healthcare provider or pharmacist, followed by 43 percent (ages 65 and older) trusting nationally recognized health experts.

The majority (64 percent) of respondents indicated they would prefer COVID-19 vaccination in their healthcare provider’s office, while 29 percent prefer a pharmacy, 20 percent a drive-thru vaccine clinic, and only 13 percent would like to receive the vaccine at a grocery store or pharmacy.

Additional factors driving the location where respondents would like to receive the vaccine included the ability to get the vaccine quickly or not have to wait in line (45 percent) and a location close to home (41 percent), the study found.

“A Call for House Dems to Bring Back House Aging Committee,” published on Aug. 16, 2021 in RINewsToday.com.

Last Aug, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, along with fellow lawmakers, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Doris Matsui (D-CA), who serve as co-chairs of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families, introduced H. Res. 583 to amend the rules of the House to establish a House Permanent Select Committee on Aging. This is the Rhode Island lawmaker’s fourth attempt, and in the upcoming months he must push for passage by the House Rules Committee.  

H. Res. 583 would reestablish the House Aging Committee without having legislative jurisdiction; this being no different than when the permanent committee previously existed. It would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues, such as protecting the Social Security and Medicare programs, income maintenance, poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment, education, recreation, and long-term care. These efforts impacted legislation taken up by standing committees. It has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

“America’s seniors have spent a lifetime working hard and moving our country forward and they deserve the best in their retirement,” says Cicilline, in this article. “The pandemic has disproportionately impacted seniors and now with growing concerns about inflation, seniors on fixed incomes will bear the burden of the rising cost of prescription drugs, food, housing, and other essentials,” he says, noting there has never been a more urgent time for Congress to reauthorize the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging than right now,” he says. 

At press time, there are just 40 cosponsors of H. Res. 583. Bob Weiner, the former staff director of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging under Chairman Claude Pepper (D-FL), warns that to get  the attention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and leadership of the caucus, there should be 100 cosponsors – an obtainable number.

“When Congress gets back from recess, the Rhode Island Congressman must now push for more cosponsors and meetings to get this resolution endorsed by the House Democratic Leadership and the House Rules Committee and then passed on the House Floor”, says Weiner, noting that a GOP takeover of the House after mid-term elections could ensure that this effort will be legislatively blocked unless it has overwhelming support to show a constituent price.  

“It’s now time to stamp out Antisemitism,’ published on Oct. 18, 2021 in RINewstoday.com.  

Throughout 2021, three of my weekly commentaries warned that Antisemitism is alive and well in the United States, Germany, and throughout the world, and called for Rhode Island lawmakers to condemn all acts of hate within Rhode Island’s borders.

The article reported on the alleged charges of Gil Ofarim, a popular German-Israeli singer who lives in Germany, about an alleged anti-Semitic remark made by an employee at the Westin Hotel in Leipzig.

Director of AJC Berlin said, “Marriott should take all necessary steps to ensure that something like this will never happen again. AJC stands ready to help with our expertise and knowledge.”

The article reported that the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) report, revealed that 2020 saw a six percent increase in reported hate crimes from the previous year and represented the highest total in 12 years. The latest FBI’s report, released Aug. 30th, is based on voluntary local law.

This article also reported on the top school administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also provide students with a book from an “opposing” viewpoint, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” quipped one teacher in response to the school administrator, with the school district later apologizing. Last month, the School District approved a change to district policy that prohibits employees from secretly recording video of meetings or work sessions.

The survivors who witnessed the horrors of the Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continue to dwindle in numbers and will soon no longer be here to share their tragic stories. Rhode Island’s Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission, recently created by the General Assembly, is organizing and gears up to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, Gen Z, and other generations. 

“It’s Time to End Suicide by Bridge in Rhode Island,” published on July 26, 2021, in RINewsToday.com.

Last legislative session, Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr.’s (D-Dist. 22), legislative proposal, H-5053, to require safety barriers or netting on the three bridges that connect Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands to the mainland of Rhode Island, never came out of the House Corporations committee.

“Too many people have committed suicide on those bridges in the last decade,” said Rep. Solomon in a statement released when the bill was introduced last January. “Due to technological advances, there are various types of barriers and netting available to increase safety without hindering access for routine inspection and maintenance of the bridges,” he said.

“It’s not only a serious problem, but an alarmingly frequent one,” said Solomon explaining why he introduced his bill, as reported in this article. “Last year alone, the Portsmouth Police responded to the Mount Hope Bridge 36 times. And the cost of suicide goes far beyond the individual. It affects friends, families, first responders, and health care professionals. Those who survive the fall all say the same thing: “they feel instant regret the moment their feet leave the railing,” he said.

This weekly commentary detailed the efforts of forty-year Samaritan volunteer Bryan Ganley and East Bay resident Melissa Cotta, who initiated a petition for safety/suicide prevention barriers to increase awareness of this issue and to show that residents of Rhode Island, as well as the surrounding areas that use our bridges all the time are in support of these barriers.

Ganley and Cotta have submitted a request for funding to the General Assembly’s American Rescue Plan Act State Fiscal Recovery Fund Recommendation Portal. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority also has submitted a request to this portal requesting funding for an engineering study.

Six months ago, 2,630 people signed Cotta and Ganley’s petition. At press time, over 4,062 signatures have been collected calling for new barriers to Rhode Island’s unprotected bridges. To view and sign this petition, go to tinyurl.com/ribridgingthegap.

It’s now time to stamp out Antisemitism

Published October 18, 2021 in RINewsToday

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the oldest nation’s Jewish advocacy groups fighting racism and antisemitism, calls on the Marriott Hotel company to apologize directly to Gil Ofarim, a popular German-Israeli singer who lives in Germany, for an anti-Semitic remark made by an employee.  He was told by the check-in manager to remove his Star of David necklace while waiting to check in at the Westin Hotel in Leipzig. Marriott is the parent company of Westin.  He was a guest at the hotel for a recording of a new MDR TV show in Leipzig.

According to Ofarim’s Instagram video released after the incident and news reports, the 39-year-old musician was left standing for 50 minutes while other guests were brought forward to be checked in.  When he questioned the lengthy check-in wait, an employee referred to the Star of David on his necklace, which he always wears, saying that  only when he took it off would he be allowed to check in.     

Ofarim left the Westin lobby after the incident and posted a two-minute video on Instagram Tuesday evening, Oct. 5, titled “Antisemitism in Germany 2021” in all capital letters, that has gone viral and shared widely on the internet. A very emotional Ofarim stated, “I am speechless. I don’t know how to say this,” in describing his encounter with antisemitism.

After the video’s release, Marriott International issued a statement saying the hotel chain would take this matter very seriously and supports the police measures and condemns antisemitism and all forms of discrimination. According to police, the hotel employed has filed a complaint of defamation, portraying the alleged antisemitic incident differently than Ofarim.

In a Facebook posting, Ofarim states that he has filed a criminal complaint against the employee at the Westin Hotel.  “… there should be no place for hate, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia or discrimination of any kind in this world,” he says. He says that after reporting the incident he is getting open threats and hate messages via social media.

‘This blatantly antisemitic incident is sickening and unacceptable everywhere, but especially in Germany. It reminds us that antisemitism is a problem in all parts of society, not only in the extreme fringes,” said Remko Leemhuis, Director of AJC Berlin. “Marriott should take all necessary steps to ensure that something like this will never happen again. AJC stands ready to help with our expertise and knowledge.”

While hotel staff involved in the incident with Ofarim reportedly have been placed on leave, AJC has launched an online petition calling on Marriott to not only apologize to Ofarim, but to commit to training its employees in Germany and around the world about antisemitism.  

Leemhuis says that AJC has the staff expertise and resources, especially its Translate Hate publication, to engage staff at all Marriott brands in understanding what is antisemitism, what should obviously be offensive words and actions.

Antisemitism alive and well in the United States   

Like Germany, antisemitism is alive and well in the United States. Just months ago, the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) expressed deep alarm in response to the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) report, that revealed that 2020 saw a six percent increase in reported hate crimes from the previous year and represented the highest total in 12 years. 

The latest FBI’s report, released Aug. 30th, is based on voluntary local law enforcement reporting to the Bureau.

In 2020, the FBI reported 7,759 hate crime incidents, a six percent increase from 7,314 in 2019 and the most since 2008, when 7,783 hate crime incidents were reported. Reported hate crimes targeting Black people rose to 2,755 from 1,930 the prior year – representing a 43 percent increase, and the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose from 158 to 274.

According to the FBI’s HCSA report, hate crimes targeting the Jewish community made up nearly 60 percent of all religion-based hate crimes. Overall, religion-based hate crime incidents decreased from 1,521 in 2019 to 1,174 in 2020; this includes incidents targeting the Jewish community, which decreased from 953 to 676.

The increase in reported hate crimes comes, despite the fact that, for the third straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the FBI has declined.

According to the FBI, only 15,136 agencies participated, which is 452 less than in 2019. The majority of agencies who did participate reported zero hate crimes.

“As ADL has said time and time again, when just one individual is targeted by a hate crime, it negatively impacts the entire community, resulting in marginalized groups rightfully feeling vulnerable and under siege,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt. 

“While these numbers are disturbing on their own, the fact that so many law enforcement agencies did not participate is inexcusable, and the fact that over 60 jurisdictions with populations over 100,000 affirmatively reported zero hate crimes is simply not credible. Data drives policy and without having a complete picture of the problem, we cannot even begin to resolve the issues driving this surge in hate and violence,” says Greenblatt.

Meanwhile in Texas…

A top school administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also provide students with a book from an “opposing” viewpoint, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

Gina Peddy, the Carroll school district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, made the controversial comment, captured by a leaked audio recording, during a training session on which books teachers can have in classroom libraries.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said in the leaked recording released by NBC News, referring to a newly enacted Texas law that requires teachers to present multiple views when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” she says, suggesting “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” quipped one teacher said in response. 

After the online article and news story was released detailing the leaked audio recording,  Lane Ledbetter, Superintendent of Schools, quickly released an apology on Face Book. “During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust. As we continue to work through implementation of HB3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.” 

The survivors who witnessed the horrors of Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continue to dwindle in numbers and will soon no longer be here to share their stories. Rhode Island’s Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission is now gearing up to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, Gen Z and other generations. 

During last year’s General Assembly session, legislation was enacted to create this Commission to raise the awareness of the horrific Holocaust and other genocides that have taken place and continue even today through public education and community events to provide appropriate memorialization of the genocides throughout the state.

“The Rhode Island community has a responsibility to address all forms of hate and bullying. Educating our students about The Holocaust and other genocides is a step in the right direction,” says Marty Cooper, chair of the former Rhode Island Holocaust and Genocide Coalition. “The issue in Texas, unfortunately, is the tip of the iceberg. While the vast majority of Rhode Islanders support education as a means to recognize a history of hate and bigotry in our world, there is a minority that do not want to address this issue,” he says.

Antisemitism is alive and well in the United States, Germany, and throughout the world. We must be vigilant to continue to condemn all acts of hate within Rhode Island’s borders.

Editor’s Note: In 2021, the Associated Press changed their style guide to no longer have the word “antisemitism” hyphenated or capitalized.

“First They Came for the Jews…”

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 29, 2018

On April 26, 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Senate Resolution No. 2696, urging law enforcement officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. The Senate Resolution would enable law enforcement to pursue such groups’ activities and whereabouts with the resources and attention devoted to domestic terrorist groups. It would be tragic for the Senate panel to not pass this resolution introduced by Senators Goldin, Miller, Nesselbush, Quezada, and Crowley. Representative J. Aaron Regunberg introduced the House companion measure (H.B. 8131).

In response to last year’s racially-charged violence in Charlottesville, state legislatures across the nation have considered similar legislation. Roger Williams, founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was a staunch advocate for religious freedom and tolerance. With that commitment, it is important for Rhode Island lawmakers to not send Senate Resolution No. 2696 to legislative purgatory but to pass it to strongly denounce the white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideologies of racial, social and religious intolerance that terrorize the state’s racial, ethnic and religious minority communities.

Anti-Semitic Incidents Increasing in Rhode Island

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the Ocean State have nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, with the number of reports jumping from 7 to 13. Let’s put a face on these incidents. According to the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, it was reported by media that just one day after an anti-Semitic act of vandalism in the City of Pawtucket, on May 23, 2016, Stebbins Stadium in Cranston was spray painted with graffiti, including swastika symbols as well as hate messages directed to Muslim and African American communities. Among the incidents reported in 2017 by the media: a swastika burned into a sign located on a bike path in Barrington, anti- Semitic graffiti spray painted on Warwick Vets High School and a swastika made from human waste found in RISD dorm bathroom.

But, white nationalists and neo-Nazi hate ideology is also increasing throughout the nation. The increase is reflected nationally with the ADL reporting a nearly 60 percent increase.

The jarring historical imagery of the torchlight procession of supporters of Adolf Hitler moving through the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin on the evening of January 30, 1933 came to life to Rhode Islanders and to millions of Americans last year when hundreds of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, KKK, militia members and other right-wing groups gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. Carrying tiki torches, flags with swastikas and confederate flags, they came to the City’s Emancipation Park, chanting “Jews will not replace us”, “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi rallying cry), “White Lives Matter,” along with homophobic, racists and misogynistic slurs.

It’s Time for Rhode Island to Speak Out

While both GOP and Democrat Congressional lawmakers lambasted President Donald J. Trump’s choice of words for laying the blame of violence at the Charlottesville rally at the feet of both the far-right demonstrators and counter protestors, there were some who remained silent or defended his comments, saying his words were adequate.

With the increased public visibility of the neo-Nazis, white supremacist and other hate groups, and with President Trump failing to use his position and moral authority to strongly condemn the ideology of hate groups, the Rhode Island General Assembly is now positioned to take on this responsibility.

In response to the violent weekend in Charlottesville, Va., the Illinois Senate adopted a similar resolution, sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, urging law officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. As a state founded on the principle of religious freedom, Rhode Island can follow.

It is an appropriate time to remember the speech given by Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran minister who opposed the Nazis and was sent to several concentration camps. He survived the war and explained:

“First, they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.”

For Rhode Island lawmakers, it is time for you to speak out.