Stop Using Trans Youth For Conservative Culture Wars, Suicide Rates Mount

When it comes to teenagers attempting suicide there can be no waffling or obfuscation or looking for one’s partisan spin team to crank out a statement.  While we hear of the plight of police officers who commit suicide in too high of numbers and know the same is true for farmers in rural areas there is, needless to say, a tougher punch landing within when learning of transgender teenagers who seem so empty of hope they opt to end their lives.

What grabbed my attention this week was a report from the National Institutes of Health showing nearly 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves, and a jarring 40% have attempted suicide. I need to note that in each of those data surveys we are talking about the bulk of those questioned being youths. It’s unclear how many lost their lives since death certificates don’t record gender identity.

This past week it came to my attention, too, that conservatives on Fox ‘News’ landed on Legos as a new culture war topic to stir the easily led who tune into the network for endless hours of fact-free viewing. This week the network had so little news to cover—you know the week that included President Biden taking a 10-hour train trip to Kyiv and a presidential address overseas that rivaled words from Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan when tackling Russian aggression. Still, Fox found the time and worse yet, the need, to ridicule Lego for “going woke” because they decided to add figures with physical and mental disabilities in its new product line.

The reason I use this point in this post is the same level of partisan scraping and built-in resentments about a child’s toy are how they also treat the Republican effort to use transgender teenagers for their partisan purposes.  All over our nation anti-transgender legislation is being crafted and pushed by the same types who would argue Legos are tricky toys designed to infect children with ideas about tolerance and acceptance of others who may not look like the white kid playing at home.

What the nation has been watching and reading concerning the GOP and transgender teens is truly dispiriting.  The people they rebuke, revile, and demean for partisan purposes with fund-raising letters and in their campaign events have now turned into a bevy of legislative attacks in state capitals around the country. They’ve introduced more than 340 bills across the country that are designed to run counter to the needs and best interests regarding the health and well-being of the LGBTQ community. But at least they can claim they are committed to following their campaign rhetoric, no matter how wretched on the topic. Pertinent to this post are the bills aimed to stop trans youth from being able to access the health care they need. More than two dozen bills seeking to restrict transgender healthcare access have been introduced across 11 states — Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia — for the legislative sessions beginning in early 2023.

I follow Arkansas politics more than any other Southern state as one-half of my family tree originated from there about 75 years ago. As such, I just have an interest in their political leaders.  That state, sad as it is, underscores the madness that is afoot nationwide. The Arkansas legislature prohibited doctors from providing gender-confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers, or surgery to anyone under the age of 18. Add in the insulting prohibition of a state doctor making a referral to a doctor in another state. That would not be, I gather, an over-reach of governmental power—you know, the stuff they kvetch about on Fox News. It is clear why it took a federal judge to shut down the bigotry. Oh, yes, I should note the state is appealing that federal court ruling. But that is not a waste of taxpayer money, should you be wondering such silly questions about conservatives using the courts for frivolous suits.

Additionally obnoxious are the bills and attempts to force transgender people from using the bathrooms that align with their identity or banning trans kids from participating in sports.  The Republicans pushing these matters, (and let us make clear not all members of the party are so engaged but too many will not step up and speak against the cruelty of the base) have decided that the best way to attack transgender youth is to deny them access to gender-affirming care. In other words, let’s prolong their suffering, and perhaps with enough mean-spirited rhetoric or rancid political scheming more can just commit suicide. If that seems a tough sentence, then it landed exactly as intended.

The report from NIH that nearly 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves, and a jarring 40% have attempted suicide should not be just another news report that is forgotten when we turn the page to the local weather report in the newspaper.   It is unacceptable for the crass and deplorable behavior against trans youth to continue when we know there is such a dire threat to the lives of teenagers.

We live in the 21st century and are most aware that not everybody is born with the anatomy of a particular gender, or feeling as though they are the gender their anatomical parts might indicate. The outcome of such discoveries as a young person can be daunting and ways to address it can range broadly, from name changes to ways of dressing and, of course, seeking professional medical sources for further possible outcomes from hormone therapy to surgery. I cannot fathom how the struggle over such a situation could be handled without lots of support from a range of people. Too often, however, rather than support at schools and in their neighborhoods, data shows transgender youth face bullying and physical harm.  What furthers such awful behavior is how the Republican Party uses transgenders as a partisan prop with the same cheapness they have shamelessly offered up with Lego toys. And Mr. Potatoe Head, and M and M candies.  

For me, the issue is about the stark headlines of our trans youth not being able to access needed healthcare, or laws aimed to deprive their parents assisting without breaking some asinine law. We know that in a nation where statistics and data are used to make laws (well, in Blue legislative-controlled states, anyway) we must be heeding the reports that show the suicide rates for trans youth are growing.  There is no room for equivocating on this matter. Simply put, stop the conservative rants that are harming our youth.

Republicans Must Face Facts

There are many topics Republicans much enjoy blustering about, or as the nation witnessed on Tuesday night, acting out with childlike behavior when confronted with data that goes against their rhetoric and fund-raising efforts. While it goes without saying a large majority of the GOP base is wedded to partisan and misleading reporting (and I am being mighty generous with my wording) and even duped by conspiracy theories that are pure lunacy on steroids, there is no getting around the bottom line. Facts matter. Complied data showing trends and outcomes matter. As such, I want to post a number of charts (thanks to Steve Rattner) that underscore some of the topics which have made news of late, and which created such inner turmoil for some conservative House members they presented their true colors to a national television audience. (I tried to size these somewhat equally, but given how each was detailed in varying ways, it did not come out as visually desired.)

A few days ago the nation was reminded, with data from Republican states, how popular the Affordable Care Act is with conservatives. In spite of the zeal and energy from conservative elected pols in those states, the data does not lie. Overall, more Americans (16.3 million) signed up for healthcare through ACA exchanges last year than ever before. The numbers show a 36% increase since 2020.

For better or worse, U.S. crude oil production is set to break records this year. For all the sputtering and pretending the evidence supports that this industry is not being hemmed in and still not doing all it can to reap profits.

Though the national debt has increased under both parties when in power, the national debt grew faster under Trump than any other president in recent history. Just a fact. The gnashing of teeth and the all-but throwing of feces from the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene at the SOTU can not refute the data.

History, a topic this blogger warms to, shows that when it comes to bipartisan work to pass the debt ceiling increase, Democrats work more often with the other side of the aisle than do Republicans.

This blog has noted for years (since 2006) that raising the debt ceiling is not an option and one that is just part and parcel of being an elected official with an understanding of what must be done. As history proves, it has happened many times and the pressure to undertake, again, what is the only logically adult path, will force the pols to do the same this year.

The gun deaths in our nation are staggering and unacceptable.

The Child-Care Tax Credit is an issue that strikes many Americans, this home included, as just a wise and prudent policy that should not be burdened with needless partisanship. Data shows this policy kept 2.9 million children out of poverty in 2021.

One more chart that lands on a topic that concerns me as a customer of goods, and for the sake of this paragraph, cars. The chip shortage, apart from the supply chain issues, dealt a harsh blow to the auto industry with my local Mini car salesman lamenting (before Congress acted), the folly of how our nation has dropped the ball on the production of this much-needed technology. From a defense production and national security perspective, this has long been a ripe topic for discussion. The wave of the future will be electric cars and investing as a nation in this goal is vital to our economy and the environment.

Congress Must Deal With Marijuana’s Health Concerns, Data Shows Smoking Consequences

It would seem, in 2023, there would not be a reason to alert the public that smoking has a number of negative health consequences.  We readily accept the facts when it comes to the logical reasons to have banned indoor cigarette smoking. No one will ever again hunt through a haze of blue-gray in a diner as they look out to see what pies are in the enclosed glass case. But when it comes to marijuana smoking there has been a higher degree of reluctance to admit that there are health pitfalls associated with this drug. Now, in light of more data to show that smoking pot has perils, is time to ask what Congress might do to address this issue.

Though smoking pot is being put forth as simply a ‘right’ that can not be denied, growing medical evidence underscores why our legislative process must fully understand there is far more smoke than substance to the idea that one should be able to smoke a reefer anytime the mood strikes.  There is a massive difference between polling questions of the general populace, real politics, and then the crafting of thoughtful health policy.

I believe being candid at the start of this post is required, as I oppose the legalization of pot, other than for those who can benefit from it for strictly regulated medical purposes. That places me, obviously, in a minority on this topic. People can make all sorts of arguments about how some places have legalized marijuana and how pot smoking is so widespread there is no more shame about it, or reason not to do it in public.  To counter the argument that we should just open the gates further to pot smoking is growing evidence to support why young minds still forming should not have drugs curtailing a full and normal growing period. There is evidence to show that pot smoking makes users less attentive, slows learning, alters decision-making, and decreases memory.  But we also know that heavy marijuana use in a teenage body or even early adulthood has been associated with poor school performance, higher dropout rates, increased welfare dependency, and greater unemployment.

The health consequences of smoking pot are being expressed by a growing number of health professionals. One of those doctors, Andrew Salner, is the medical director of the Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute.

“Smoking marijuana definitely increases the risk of lung disease,” says Dr. Salner. “We know it can cause emphysema and chronic bronchitis.” That’s because when you burn marijuana it creates many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke. Of course, those chemicals can wreak havoc on delicate lung tissue.   

In fact, a 2022 Canadian study showed that smoking marijuana causes similar, if not more, damage to the lungs as smoking conventional cigarettes.

Politico reported this week on both growing health concerns related to pot smoking and the realization from the pro-Cannabis Caucus that congressional action is needed.

The researchers found that from 2011 to 2019, teenagers in states that legalized recreational cannabis saw a “slight” uptick in asthma rates in kids ages 12 to 17 compared with states in which cannabis remained illegal. The team, from the City University of New York, Columbia University, the University of California San Diego and others, also found an increase in asthma among children in some racial and ethnic groups.

Renee Goodwin, an adjunct associate professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, said it could be a sign of the downstream effects of legalization. Parents could be smoking more in the home, exposing kids to second-hand smoke, she said.

Even some of those most supportive of legalization, such as the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), are calling for more regulation and better oversight.

“One of the reasons I have fought so hard to be able to legalize, regulate and tax is because I want to keep this out of the hands of young people. It has proven negative consequences for the developing mind,” said Blumenauer, Capitol Hill’s unofficial cannabis czar.

Last year, he and Joyce teamed on legislation, since enacted, to ease federal restrictions on researching cannabis for medical purposes and on growing marijuana for research. That could significantly improve understanding of the drug. They’re now talking about standards on dosing, mandates for childproof containers for edibles, and advertising restrictions aimed at protecting children. They’re also concerned about high potency cannabis and its effects.

The article connected with something I witness repeatedly, from early spring to late fall, as I drive my little convertible around Madison. The prevalence of smoking pot while driving is simply stunning.  At stop lights, the smell of pot drifting from cars alerts me to how many impaired drivers are on the streets.   

Marijuana legalization also coincides with an increase in driving-while-high.The percentage of driving deaths involving cannabis has more than doubled from 2000 to 2018, according to a 2021 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

I recall the accurate and pithy statement former California Governor Jerry Brown made in 2014 about the rush to allow pot smoking in the nation. His words still echo today. “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.” I well understand the societal winds that blow and the ease of being carried along with the prevailing gusts. The growing medical evidence encourages us, however, to hold onto common sense and reason. Congress must heed that evidence.

Walmart Correctly Stops Selling Cigarettes In Several States

One does not often find Caffeinated Politics saying anything positive about Walmart. But even here, it needs to be noted when that company promotes a positive policy.

I was delighted to learn that Walmart is no longer selling cigarettes, or soon to be no longer selling these cancer sticks, at select stores in Arkansas, California, Florida and New Mexico. As I write it could not be confirmed the number of stores to be impacted by this healthy move or the time frame in which it will occur. But this is a sign of where they are heading nationally.

I firmly believe retailers need to stop selling tobacco products, so this news from Walmart is a good sign of progress being made due to public pressure.

When I first read about this story it was noted in the newspaper that Walmart had decided to use the space more efficiently at stores no longer selling cigarettes. (I await the perfect line to place here as a suggestion.)

I come from the perspective that the nation’s largest (regrettably) retailer simply needs to set higher standards as it interacts with those who shop their stores. It is not credible to sell known cancer-causing items while on the other end the giant stores also offer pharmacy services. I get it that some of their customers would never pick up on the hypocrisy of such sales, but it is not lost on those across the nation who weighs in with a judgment call.

And those social voices are making an impact.

Just as they did when pushing Walmart–repeatedly–to stop selling tobacco products to customers under the age of 21.  Walmart correctly made the call to end those sales several years ago. The drift of young males in certain socio-economic groups to chewing tobacco has also been a growing concern. But here, too, Walmart did the right thing by no longer carrying smokeless tobacco.

Such positive news for better health and lower medical costs for those who would be likely impacted by a wide array of ailments from tobacco can not be overstated. The steps Walmart is taking–though slow and stodgy–still is a positive move in the only direction we can head.

And so it goes.

Woman Driving Virus Fight: Dr. Rochelle Walensky

One of the new and refreshing voices to lead the nation over the past weeks has been Dr. Rochelle Walensky. If for no other reason she is to be applauded for echoing the majority reflection of sentiments expressed across the nation about science.

She cries as she gets the vaccine. “It’s amazing, it’s amazing,” Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., murmurs as a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital pierces her deltoid with a needle. “Usually it takes 10 to 15 years. The fact that we have it in one.…” Walensky shakes her head in wonder.

Yay for science,” the nurse says.

“Yay for science,” Walensky agrees.

Walensky had been chief of infectious diseases at Mass General but now is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the nation continues to find the resolve to continue the medically prescribed protocols for safety during the pandemic, and also look for the light at the end of the tunnel with mass vaccinations, we are guided by someone who is not only steeped in medical data and expertise but says the things so long neglected in the past four years from Washington.

“Yay for science”.

There were many reasons to applaud the intellects and serious-minded professionals from all points of the compass who have come together to form the administration of President Biden. With Walensky the nation is watching daily as a gifted infectious diseases physician and a proven leader in helping shape the needs of public health provides information and does so in an evidence-based manner.

During the “the other guy’s” term at the White House the tossing aside of science and facts was done so often and in such bizarre ways that it was best to just look away. Now there is no need to hide facts, or spin them so as not to upset a man-child in the Oval Office. Leaders and experts can again do their job in Washington.

The March edition of Vogue features an article about Walensky. The reason she struck me at the time of her appointment was due to what I had read about her ability to help shape opinions concerning health issues as evidenced by her work with HIV/AIDS. Now those same assets will be required in allowing certain people to understand the value of getting the vaccine.

One of the challenges she will face at the CDC is persuading vaccine-reluctant people to get the shot. Does this hesitancy frustrate you? I ask. “I don’t think it matters if it frustrates me,” she answers. “We need to understand the ‘why’ behind the hesitancy. In medical school we were taught to stay quiet after giving someone a new HIV diagnosis. It’s a painful, awful pause, but you need it so you can learn what they’re thinking. That diagnosis means different things to different people. Maybe they’re wondering, ‘Am I going to die?’ or ‘Is my kid infected?’ ‘Will I lose my job?’ Until you know what the diagnosis means for that person, you can’t address the next question. I think it’s similar with vaccine hesitancy. Are you worried about the side effects? Is it because you have no place to leave your kid while you get vaccinated? Are you worried about the science? We can’t address the noes until we understand them.”

During the past four years we were embarrassed by Donald Trump’s picks of people (such as Scott Atlas) who denigrated science, went out of their way to promote anti-scientific ideas, and inserted themselves into the policy apparatus for the sole purpose of undermining and interfering with science. Now that has been reversed with many bright and energized professionals who are worthy of our attention. Leading the COVID team is this woman who I am confident will not only fight COVID successfully, but also help restore faith in governing. That offshoot of Walensky’s fight to reverse COVID is also one needing to be fought.

I am strongly suspecting she wins on both points in the months to come.

ACA Faces Conservative’s Wrath On Supreme Court

If the 2020 presidential election is the titanic storm politically, there can be no doubt the upcoming legal fight at the Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act can be rightful termed the same for the health care needs of the nation. With no health care plan to replace the broad-based ACA, which assists millions with pre-existing conditions, the potential catastrophe caused by conservative’s antipathy towards health care for all is soon coming to a home near you.

The case which the court will hear (Texas v. California, No. 19-1019) comes from the far-right wing of the nation. Republican attorneys general, led by Texas, continue to make their claim that the legislation’s individual mandate provision was made unconstitutional when its penalty was set to $0 under Donald Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul. Their argument stems from the court’s 2012 ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act, and which found that the law was an appropriate use of Congress’s power to tax.  But it the conservatives can swing their partisan ax from the high bench and have the individual mandate provision declared unconstitutional then the wet-dream of the right-wing is closer at hand. Namely, the entire ACA being flushed by the court.

If the knuckle-draggers on the right have their way every home in the nation will feel the negative impact. The most dire consequence of a court that seeks a partisan ruling would harm nearly 100 million people with pre-existing conditions.

2018 analysis by Avalere, a health care consulting firm, estimated that 102 million Americans have preexisting conditions. A 2019 analysis by the Center for American Progress suggested 135 million people.

But there would be other harmful outcomes if conservatives should prevail. Gone would be subsidies to make individual health insurance more affordable, expanded eligibility for Medicaid, coverage of young adults up to age 26 under their parents’ insurance policies, coverage of preventive care with no patient cost-sharing, closing of the doughnut hole under Medicare’s drug benefit, and a series of tax increases to fund these initiatives.

Republicans have long cared more about tax rates for corporations, and some mythical notion of ‘limited government’ than the quality of life for the citizens of the nation. Being anti-egalitarian is their calling and denying accessible health care for all has been one of their fervent undertakings for decades. They are lined up now to have a real chance of succeeding.

Just one more very stark example of what separates the nation, the political parties, and those with a social conscience and those without.

And so it goes.

Donald Trump Gives Huge Election Present To Democrats!


So….in the midst of a growing pandemic—at a time when new daily national highs for infections occur–and at a time of high unemployment with jobs lost and health care too–comes this following absurdity.

Trump gave the Democrats a huge gift!

The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health care law that enabled millions of Americans to get insurance coverage and that remains in effect despite the pending legal challenge.

In the filing, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that once the law’s individual coverage mandate and two key provisions are invalidated, “the remainder of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect.”

The justices will hear arguments in the case sometime next term, although it is unclear if they will occur before the November election.

There is no way a decent society rations out who gets health care by whether one is employed, or insured, or financially able.  In the end the right to health care comes from the bonds of shared humanity. We either are all in this together, or we are reduced to the level of the animal kingdom where the strongest survive, and the herd leaves the weak to die alone in the tall grass to be devoured by scavengers.

As some rant and rave about the cost and politics of health care might it not be best to get back to the basics of what our guiding moral principles should be regarding the health treatment of our fellow citizens?   Trump and his fellow Republicans are going to take a dreadful beating at the polls over this issue.

And so it goes.

Why We Need To Be Wary ‘Out And About’ During Pandemic


Not for the first time do I write about the necessity of being cautious during this pandemic, and mindful regarding the requirements that allow for the slowing of its spread. I have been championing the wearing of masks and social distancing. Having pulled back from much of the social world over the past months there still are times when  I need to engage with others.  Such as medical appointments.  But one would think that of all the places we might go with optimism it would be a medical facility.


Well, no.

At an appointment today (but not with my personal doctor or nursing staff) I encountered a situation that left me feeling that the data-driven and medically-advised behavior has not yet taken hold in this nation, even with some in the medical profession.

It is my nature to strike up conversations and talk about issues of the day with people so to better understand how others are thinking,  So I asked open-ended questions about how this medical technician’s friends were dealing with COVID-19. For instance, did they take the virus seriously?   The response was not what I expected.

I was told the friends did not wear masks and that she herself only wore masks at the clinic. She did not believe that self-distancing was really necessary as she did not think the virus spread as dramatically as some claimed. She felt that the shuttering of storefronts was not required and since I didn’t have the desire to give my feedback while she held the needle I just remained silent.  Anyone who knows me understands why a homemade chocolate shake after the procedure was required.

I read a poll this weekend where it was reported a large majority of the nation is not ready to go back into public crowds, restaurants, or places where people congregate. Conservatives will argue there’s no reason not to head back to stores, that there’s no reason not to juice up our economic engine. But when I can go to a medical facility and have a one-to-one conversation with one who admits to not adhering to medically advised criteria for being safe from this pandemic, and then work with patients it gives me great pause.

After today why, exactly, would I trust somebody who throws a pizza together in the back room of a restaurant?  Until I can determine that a larger percentage of the people who want my service is being as mindful about the virus as I am there’s no way I am going to open my wallet and engage in commerce.

And I would encourage others to refrain from putting the needs of the cash registers ahead of their own well-being. Are the ones serving your food or interacting with you as serious about health safety as you are?

And so it goes.