By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
July 16, 2021
COVID-19 CASES SPIKE AGAIN IN TENNESSEE WHILE THE STATE SEEMS TO RETREAT FROM VACCINATION EFFORTS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE; THE MANY ADJUSTMENTS TO THE NEW NORMAL; BACK IN THE COURTS; JOHN LEWIS WAY ON INSIDE POLITICS
COVID-19 CASES SPIKE AGAIN IN TENNESSEE WHILE THE STATE SEEMS TO RETREAT FROM VACCINATION EFFORTS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
We’ve seen this happen before.
Health officials warn that unless more of us take action, COVID-19 will return with a vengeance.
It is a preventable tragedy they say. It will sicken, hospitalize, and kill even more Americans, adding to the more than 600,000 who have already died.
That is exactly what is happening in America… again. This time the virus, including its much more contagious delta variant, continues to spread, and is now the dominant cause of most new cases in this country.
The new rising number of virus cases has led the Surgeon General to issue a public advisory blaming the increase on “misinformation” on social media, which he sees as an “immediate and insidious threat to public health.”
The areas hardest hit by the spike are those states with the lowest vaccination rates. These are many of the same areas that exercised “their right” to not wear a mask when that was the best way to avoid infection. Now they are again exercising their right to say “no” to getting vaccinated, which is clearly the best way to be protected.
Therefore, almost all of those being infected, hospitalized and dying have not sought the protection of vaccine shots. It appears there is a hard core of 30% of Americans who remain reluctant or opposed to being vaccinated.
The continued politicization and polarization of America seems to continue to grow and divide us.
All this is true in Tennessee, where COVID-19 cases have more than tripled in the last three weeks, and the state’s 14-day infection rate is now the largest in the nation.
Almost inexplicably, the response by the administration of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and the Republican Super Majority in the Tennessee General Assembly has been to fire Dr. Michele Fiscus, the state’s top doctor in charge of our immunization efforts. The end result of all this finds the state now walking away from ALL vaccination efforts for young people, even though they are a group still among those most at risk. The pull back is, again inexplicably, not just for COVID-19 shots, but for all youth vaccination efforts!
If this is true, it is not nothing less than shameful, and a dereliction of the duties of these elected officials are sworn to uphold, to protect public health. But unfortunately., what is happening is completely predictable, as many of the lawmakers involved are the same ones threatening to abolish the entire Tennessee Department of Health unless it toes the line of what these misguided lawmakers want.
Someone seems to have a rather twisted sense of humor about this. The doctor fired by the state this week was sent a dog muzzle. Despite the intimidation efforts, Dr. Fiscus is courageously speaking out and telling the truth when she says her dismissal is a triumph of politics over science and public health. She also quips the muzzle sent to her is for a beagle, but she is a pit bull.
Late in the week on Thursday, the Lee administration staged a counterattack releasing documents that allege Dr. Fiscus is not a team player and has not exerted leadership in her position. But THE TENNESSEAN has a story that seems to refute that, claiming other personnel documents show Tennessee’s top vaccine doctor received glowing reviews for years before she was fired.
Dr. Ficus has now released an eight document defending her activities, refuting the state’s claims for why she was fired, and detailing the inter-department efforts that led to her dismissal.
The Tennessee Department of Health also now claims it is not ending to all vaccination outreach efforts to young people. It says the agency just wants to be sure that the efforts are done appropriately, keeping parental rights in mind. Therefore, the marketing materials being used are under review.
The national reaction to Tennessee’s action has been largely one of scorn and ridicule. Except for some conservative political analysts who say Tennessee is defending parental rights, our state has become the butt of numerous jokes from the late-night comedians and talk show hosts, along with implied criticism from the White House and other political realms. There is also criticism coming from the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director.
There are those in Tennessee calling for investigations or a reversal of the new youth vaccination role-back, but all that is likely to be as ineffective as hollering down a rain barrel. Tennessee lawmakers, overall, are split along party lines and Democrats are completely outnumbered. However in Washington, there are some Republicans leaders speaking out in favor of increased vaccinations.
Tennessee, historically, has not met its goals for childhood vaccinations. The pandemic has made it worst. It seems likely these actions by the Lee administration and state Republican lawmakers will only make matters even more dire.
Governor Lee spent last weekend visiting, and thanking, Tennessee National Guard troops now on our southern border. He says what is happening there, with the massive influx of migrants seeking asylum, is “a threat to our national security.” How he doesn’t see the same threat to our security caused by his administration’s vaccination policies, is all but impossible to understand.
THE MANY ADJUSTMENTS TO THE NEW NORMAL
As Nashville continues to try and adjust to a “new normal” in this “not quite yet’” post-pandemic world, issues caused by the reopening of the economy continue to emerge.
In fact, the surge of tourist-related activity has even some of those who helped create the city’s tourism economy, built in part on bachelorette and other celebrations, as now going too far, and in need of more regulation. The problem is the state Republican Super Majority has again preempted what Metro government can do, and lawmakers will not be back to deal with the issue, until at least January 2022.
Another issue Nashville, the state and the nation continues to deal with, and it continues to get worse even as the virus subsides, are drug overdoses. Things are on track to set even more records in 2021.
Also on the national scene, the reopening economy is continuing to expose supply chain and other issues that have economic indicators continuing to show inflation is surging at its highest rate in years.
There are indications that, in some areas, such as the price of lumber and used cars, are showing signs of a decrease. But with the 2022 mid-term election just ahead, inflation looms more and more as a major campaign issue. It also looms as another possible impediment to passage of the two “infrastructure” bills pending in Congress.
This week there appeared to be some consensus building around the Democrats budget reconciliation bill (which will need only 51 votes to pass the Senate). The positive news for Democratic bill is that it will be “only” $3.5 trillion in size. That is still a monumental number, but it is well less than what some progressives were advocating at $6 trillion! The problem remains, the exact details of the bill are still being drafted along with how the measure will be funded. That leaves some key Democratic moderates in the Senate and the House taking an “open” but “wait and see” stance on the bill.
On the other bi-partisan infrastructure bill (more aimed at traditional roads, bridges, etc.) there is increasing mummering among Republicans about the deal, especially trying to pass both infrastructure measures at about the same time. There are also concerns among Republicans about one of the key funding items for the infrastructure bill…increased IRS enforcement and collection of federal taxes.
A key test vote on the bi-partisan bill is set for this coming Wednesday in the Senate where unanimous Democratic support (50) and least 10 Republicans are needed for the upper chamber to take up the bill. Ironically, the bipartisan bill is also not yet fully drafted.
Some Senate Republicans feel like they are being put in a box by the Wednesday vote.
The future success of the Biden administration’s legislative package through 2022 hangs in the balance on all this. That is why you have seen, and will see, the President, on the Hill, and out front trying to get these measures approved.
In the meantime, billions of dollars are being pumped into Tennessee schools with the hope of opening them successfully to in-person instruction next month. That includes a final installment of $830 million sent out from Washington this week.
Here in Nashville, local school officials say they are making wearing masks “highly encouraged,” but optional for students this coming term. Of course, this change in policy is likely, the virus willing.
Tennessee schools are also bracing to deal with a new state law banning the teaching of critical race theory. Perhaps not surprisingly ,the early reaction to the law is breaking down along partisan lines, There are parents in GOP dominant Williamson County filing a complaint about what is being taught in the county schools.
Meanwhile in politically blue Nashville, parents and school board members are giving the same Wit & Wisdom curriculum some support.
In another area related to young people, this week (Thursday) Washington began to send out enhanced child tax payments to Tennessee families and others across the nation. Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper says an estimated 48,300 households, covering 89.5% of all children, in Nashville’s 5th Congressional district, could get up to $300 per month per child July-December and even more after filing their taxes next year.
The plan is based on income. Those parents making between $75,000 (single tax filer) and $150,000 (joint filers) will see their payments reduced and ended above the $150,000 income mark.
“The Child Tax Credit (part of the American Rescue Plan) is unprecedented,” Rep. Jim Cooper said. “This will cut childhood poverty in HALF and lift nearly 12,000 children in Tennessee out of poverty.” The federal effort is seen as the largest poverty program effort by Washington in over a generation.
Cooper adds nearly all eligible families should get their monthly payments automatically beginning July 15th with no further action required. Those families who did not file a tax return for 2019 or 2020 and who did not use the IRS Non-filers tool last year to sign up for the Economic Impact Payments, should go online and use the IRS Child Tax Credit Non-filer Sign-up Tool to sign up today.
For more information or for frequently asked questions:
By the way, the Child Tax credit is a 2021 program, set to end in December. But it is expected to be included, and continued in future years, in the Democrats’ reconciliation infrastructure bill.
BACK IN THE COURTS
This week on the court docket of lawsuits we are following:
The Tennessee Supreme Court has decided it will not take up the Metro tax referendum law suit before it is heard and ruled on by the State of Appeals.
The decision is the latest setback by the Davidson County Election Commission and supporters of the referendum, who earlier had seen a Nashville judge throw out a referendum vote because the citizens petition to call it was poorly drawn, and in parts was unconstitutional and illegal under state law.
Despite the setbacks, it is expected the Republican majority on Election Commission will continue to pursue the appeal even though their new date for a referendum this fall looks increasingly unlikely to happen. In fact, a Nashville group has filed yet another court challenge saying the Election Commission is not following its own rules.
Meanwhile, another controversial new state law impacting transgendered citizens, has been put on hold by a federal judge. If you read some of the language used by Judge Aleta Trauger, you might think she was overturning the new law, not just issuing a temporary stay.
JOHN LEWIS WAY ON INSIDE POLITICS
This weekend Nashville honors one of its most historically significant adopted sons.
A large portion of 5th Avenue downtown will become John Lewis Way named in honor of late Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights icon, John Lewis. The official dedication of the new street name comes on the one year anniversary of his death.
Who was John Lewis and what did he have to do with Nashville’s and our nation’s history?
To bring some answers to those questions and some insights into why it is most appropriate for our city to honor John Lewis, we welcome to INSIDE POLITICS Nashville State Senator Brenda Gilmore and Nashville historian David Ewing.
We thank them both for joining us on the program.
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