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.

Never forgetting will help us keep the promise of “never again.”

Published in RINewsToday.com on February 1, 2021

During a Pro-Trump rally, as thousands of rioters swarmed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, Robert Keith Packer, sporting an unkempt beard, came wearing a black hoodie sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase “Camp Auschwitz,” in white letters, the name of the most infamous of the many Nazi concentration camps where 1.1 million people were murdered during World War II.  Under a skull and bones at the bottom of his shirt was the phrase, “Work brings Freedom,” a loose translation of the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” that was inscribed above the main entrance gate at Auschwitz and other concentration camps’ gates. 

Packer’s image, 56, a former welder and pipefitter, was circulated widely on social media and by newspapers, evoking shock and disbelief.

Packer, a resident of Newport News, Virginia, was not the only anti-Semitic rioter that day, according to a report released by the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the Network Contagion Research Institute. The report identified at least half a dozen neo-Nazi or white supremacist groups involved in the failed Capitol Insurrection who had also attended President Trump’s “Save America” rally speech. 

In recent years, anti-Semitic incidents have become more common in the Ocean State.

In 2017, the Providence Journal reported that the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League recorded 13 incidents of anti-Semitism in Rhode Island. Nazi swastikas were painted on a Providence building, at Broad Rock Middle School in North Kingstown, and even at a Pawtucket synagogue.

Anti-Semitism is Nothing New

But, anti-Semitism, exhibited at the “Save America” rally, has been in our country since its founding, and in fact, has been around western societies for centuries.  Over three years ago, torch marchers, some wearing Nazi-style helmets, carrying clubs, sticks and round makeshift shields emblazoned with swastikas and other Fascist symbols, and others entered the one-block square in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, to protect a controversial Confederate monument, chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi rallying cry).  

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 2014 Global Index of Anti-Semitism documented world-wide anti-Semitism. The survey found that more than 1 billion people – nearly one in eight – around the world harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. Carried out by First International Resources and commissioned by the ADL, this landmark survey included 53,100 adults in 102 countries representing 88 percent of the world’s adult population.

Over 30 percent of those surveyed said it was ‘probably true’ that Jews have too much control over financial markets, that Jews think they are better than other people, that Jews are disloyal to their country, and that people hate Jews because of the way that Jews behave. 

Most troubling, the ADL study found a large gap between seniors who know and lived through the horrendous events of World War II, and younger adults who, some 75 years after the Holocaust, are more likely to have heard of or learned that six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” Nearly half of those surveyed claim to have never heard of the Holocaust and only a third believe historical accounts are accurate.

Gearing Up to Fight Antisemitism

On Jan. 14, the American Jewish Congress (AJC), a global Jewish advocacy organization, briefed the FBI on the continuing threats of anti-Semitism to the nation. 

“Antisemitism fundamentally is not only a Jewish problem; it is a societal one. It is a reflection on the declining health of our society,” Holly Huffnagle, AJC’s U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism, told the FBI officials on a video conference briefing. “Education is essential, to clarify what constitutes antisemitism, the various sources of this hatred, and what effective tools are available for law enforcement to fight antisemitism,” she said.

The presentation of AJC’s second annual report on antisemitism in the U.S. took place in the wake of the January 6 assault on Capitol Hill, where anti-Semitic images and threats were openly conveyed by some of the rioters.

AJC’s 2020 report, based on parallel surveys of the American Jewish and general populations, revealed that 88 percent of Jews considered antisemitism a problem today in the U.S., 37 percent had personally been victims of antisemitism over the past five years and 31 percent had taken measures to conceal their Jewishness in public.

In the first-ever survey of the general U.S. population on antisemitism, AJC found a stunning lack of awareness of antisemitism. Nearly half of all Americans said they had either never heard the term “antisemitism” (21 percent) or are familiar with the word but not sure what it means (25 percent).

The AJC experts praised the FBI for its annual Hate Crimes Statistics report, which provides vital data on antisemitism. The latest report found 60.2 percent of religious bias hate crimes targeted Jews in 2019. But the report historically has not provided a full picture of the extent of hate crimes, since reporting by local law enforcement agencies is not mandatory.

To improve the monitoring and reporting of hate crimes, AJC continues to advocate for passage of the Jabara-Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assaults, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act. This measure will incentivize state and local law enforcement authorities to improve hate crime reporting by making grants available and managed through the Department of Justice.

In addition, AJC is asking the FBI to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism as an educational tool. The definition offers a clear and comprehensive description of antisemitism in its various forms, including hatred and discrimination against Jews, and Holocaust denial. 

FBI officials in the Bureau’s Civil Rights Unit, Intelligence Division, and Community Outreach Program, among others, participated in the AJC briefing.

Keeping the memory alive about the Holocaust is key to fighting antisemitism, says Andy Hollinger, Director of Communications, for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). “”We are seeing a disturbing trend in the rise of antisemitism and the open display of neo-Nazi symbols, most recently at the attack on the U.S. Capitol. This is a long-time problem requiring a long-time solution. We must remember. Education is key. We must learn from this history-learn about the dangers of unchecked hatred and antisemitism. And we must not be silent,” he says.

Adds Bill Benson, who has interviewed Holocaust Survivors before live audiences at the USHMM’s First Person program for more than 2 decades, observes that the majority of those visiting the museum are not Jewish and many of have little familiarity with the Holocaust, and as a result of their visit are profoundly affected by their experience. “The USHMM provides an extraordinary avenue for educating the general public about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism for those millions who visit it, but it is essential that many millions more learn the truth about anti-Semitism and that must done through our educational systems,” he notes.

“The USHMM does an incredible job of educating and assisting teachers who want to teach about the Holocaust, but far too many school systems do not teach about the Holocaust, without which the gulf in knowledge and awareness may only grow as we lose those first-hand knowledge of the Holocaust,” says Benson.

A 2009 report, “Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust Residing in the United States Estimates & Projections: 2010 – 2030,” prepared by the Berman Institute-North American Jewish Data Bank, for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, estimated that 36,800 Holocaust survivors would still be living by 2025. As the number of survivors who witnessed the horrors of Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continues to dwindle, a growing number of states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas, and have established Commissions to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, GenZ and  younger generations through educational programming and raise awareness through public education and community events to provide appropriate memorialization of the Holocaust on a regular basis throughout the state.

If the Rhode Island General Assembly legislates the establishment of a Rhode Island Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission, its motto might just be, “Never forgetting” will help us keep the promise of “Never Again.”

COVID-19 Key Issue for Older Voters

Pubished in the Pawtucket Times on November 2, 2020

With Tuesday’s presidential election, hopefully most voters will have reviewed the policy and political positions of President Donald J. Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.  Throughout the months of this heated political campaign, especially during the two debates and at the town meetings each candidate held on the same evening, their positions diverged sharply on major issues, specifically the economy, immigration, foreign policy, global warming, abortion and COVID-19. In the final stretch of the presidential campaign, winning the war against COVID-19 has quickly become the top issue of voters. 

Over the months, Trump, 74, has barnstormed throughout the country, especially in battleground states, hoping to capture enough electoral votes to win a second term on Nov. 3.  While states reduce the size of gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19, throughout the campaign Trump’s rallies have continued to bring thousands of supporters together, with many flaunting local and state coronavirus-related crowd restrictions by not wearing masks or social distancing.  

However, Biden, 77, is always seen wearing a mask, urging his supporters at online and drive-in events to support his candidacy.  At those events, the former vice president called Trump rallies “super-spreader events,” and he stressed the importance of following the advice of public health and medical experts as to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Differing Views on COVID-19

The 2020 presidential campaign has been overshadowed by the COVID 19 pandemic, with 9 million confirmed cases, 227,000 Americans dying from the coronavirus and an economic downturn forcing more than 31 million people to file for unemployment. During his rallies, Trump claimed “the nation has turned the corner,” calling for the country to “return to normalcy” even as COVID 19 hot spots were popping up across the nation.  Trump also promised the development of a vaccine and distribution after the election and treatment regimens.  Lately, he has suggested that physicians and hospitals are just inflating the number of COVID-19 deaths for profit, drawing the ire of the American Medical Association.

At an Oct. 18 Nevada rally, Trump charged that if Biden is elected there will be more coronavirus pandemic lockdowns because “he’ll listen to the scientists.” The president charged that will result “in a massive depression.”

In stark contrast, Biden countered Trump’s call for normalcy and his rosy assessment of a COVID-19 vaccine release by stating, “We’re about to go into a dark winter…He [has no clear plan, and there’s no prospect that a vaccine is going to be available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”

 Oftentimes, Trump’s messaging of the importance of wearing a mask has not been clear, often times contradicting the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention and the White House COVID-19 Task Force.  “I was okay with the masks.  I was good with it, but I’ve heard very different stories on masks,” he said during his town hall on NBC on Oct. 15.   The president opposes a mandate requiring the wearing of masks and favors leaving this decision to state governors and local leaders.

Turning a Deaf Ear to Public Health Experts

As COVID-19 spreads like wildfire across the nation, Trump and many of his supporters at his large campaign gatherings and even some GOP lawmakers continue to not wear masks or practice social distancing to stop the spread of the disease, their actions ignoring the warnings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House COVID-19 Task Force.

According to an Oct. 12 CNN tweet, “Dr. Fauci says Pres. Trump resuming in-person rallies is “asking for trouble” and “now is… a worse time to do that because when you look at what’s going on in the United States it’s really very troublesome. A number of states, right now, are having increase in test positivity.”

During an interview with CNBC on Oct. 28, Reuters reported, that Dr. Fauci stated, “We are in a very different trajectory.  We’re going in the wrong direction,” noting the COVID-19 cases are increasing in 47 states and hospitals are being overwhelmed by these patients.”

“If things do not change,” Dr. Fauci warned, “If they continue on the course we’re on, there’s gonna be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations and deaths.”

Now researchers are beginning to shed light on Trump’s large rally gatherings and the spread of the COVID-19 among the supporters who attended the events.

Zach Nayer, a resident at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, and a colleague reviewed the number of new COVID-19 cases for the 14 days before and after each Trump rally from late June to a Sept. 25 Newport News event, and published their findings on Oct. 16 on the health news site STAT.

According to the researchers, the spikes in COVID-19 cases occurred in seven of the 14 cities and townships where rallies were held: Tulsa, Oklahoma; Phoenix; Old Forge, Pa.; Bemidji and Mankato in Minnesota; and Oshkosh and Weston, Wis.

Meanwhile on Oct. 30, Stanford researchers, studying 18 Trump rallies (between June 20 and Sept. 22) concluded that those large events resulted in more than 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and likely caused more than 700 deaths among attendees and their close contacts.

No End in Sight

Don’t expect the COVID-19 pandemic to end soon as the number of those infected and deaths continue to spiral out of control.  

According to the COVID Tracking Project, COVID-19 cases increased by 97,080 on Oct. 31, by far the largest one-day jump since the beginning of the pandemic last March, with Midwestern states leading a wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths across the nation just before the Tuesday’s presidential election.  Experts say that those statistics refutes Trumps charges that the number of COVID 19 cases is growing due to increased testing. 

America’s oldest seniors have lived through the 1918 flu pandemic, the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression and World War II. Now they, along with aging Baby Boomers, face the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.  Among adults, the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age. According to AARP, 95 percent of the people across the nation that have died of COVID-19 were 50 and older even though most of the coronavirus cases have been reported in younger than 50.

Before older voters cast their ballots they must consider which presidential candidate’s leadership style can marshal the nation’s resources and devise the best strategy to combat COVID-19 and stop its spread. 

Do we reopen the nation, opening schools and businesses or do we consider lockdowns if recommended by the nation’s public health and medical experts?  Do we consider a “national mask mandate” or do we just leave it up to state governors to decide whether to implement an order requiring people to wear them in public? 

Your vote matters. For you older voters, it just might save your life.

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