Sick and Tired Of Senator Ted Cruz? This Drinking Game is For You!

Published: mic (October 25, 2013)

Apple, Nokia, and Microsoft Unveil Tablets: Can Humans Keep Their Humanity In the Techno Age?

Published: mic (October 21, 2013)

The headline of the new Huffington Post article says it all:

“Young People Say Technology Is Often Dehumanizing But Makes Life Easier”

As Apple, Nokia, and Microsoft all prepare to unveil new tablets on Tuesday, this succinctly summarizes the root of our generation’s dilemma. While we naturally lap up the benefits and conveniences that come with technological progress, are we prepared for the more intangible costs?

The irony of posing this question as I write for PolicyMic, one of the fastest-growing online news sites in America, is not lost on me. Indeed, I feel it makes me (as well as any other regular pundit for this site) something of an expert on the pros and cons of the digital revolution. That is why I’ve composed this helpful list on the four ways you can keep touch with your human side even as you dive into the cyber world of the future:

1. Remember that you’re talking to other people.

The one complaint I hear most often from other pundits on this site — to say nothing of users of Facebook, LinkedIn, the plethora of dating websites, and other internet forums that foster interaction — is that the anonymity of online interaction brings out the worst in people. It’s all too easy to forget that the collection of pictures and words in front of you at any given time represent an actual flesh-and-blood person, with thoughts and feelings and a life story of his or her own. Instead we tend to treat these individuals as ancillary characters in stories where we feature as the protagonists, with occasionally less-than-flattering consequences. As a rule of thumb, remember: If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, don’t write it online.

2. What the internet bringeth, the internet can taketh away.

For every advantage wrought by the internet revolution, an accompanying disadvantage can always be found. Do you love the speed with which you can develop genuine name recognition for producing high quality online content? Be careful, because any dumbass product you produce here — a sub-part editorial, an embarrassing Facebook picture, a particularly heinous message board comment, an unflattering YouTube video — can just as easily be used to destroy your reputation for all time. Enjoy the ease with which you can link up with like-minded individuals? Be careful, because ignoramuses are just as good at navigating cyberspace as thoughtful individuals, and the same connectivity that facilitates networking can be used to fact-check to humiliation those ideas that don’t hold up to scrutiny.

3. The internet must be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

To see where this applies, just look at some of the online nomenclature that has arisen over the past few years. Trolls, or people who make deliberately incendiary or obnoxious comments on websites in order to draw attention to themselves and provoke controversy, clearly prefer to stir up melodrama on the internet as a substitute for the lack of meaningful substance in their own lives. Catfish, or people who draw strangers they meet online into so-called “relationships” that they insist on never taking into the real world, are obviously using cyberspace as a substitute for actual sex and/or romance. Paulbots, or people who inject Ron Paul and/or libertarian talking points into political and social conversations even where they aren’t relevant, are using the internet in the same way that the wild-eyed quasi-articulate zealots with bullhorns would use soap box oratory on street corners until relatively recently. All appear more credible online than they would in the outside world (one of the perks of anonymity) and, whether they consciously intend to or not, rely on the idea that what happens here can have genuine meaning in its own little world. In truth, anything that would not hold up in regular life should be ignored when encounter here. If you found a troll, a catfish, or a Paulbot in a bar, you wouldn’t give that person the time of day. Why do so here?

4. Maintain a healthy dose of skepticism.

As a history grad student, this Whitest Kids U Know skit about a student trying to get away with quoting Wikipedia in a school report pretty much sums it up. While there is certainly no dearth of “information” in the information revolution of the past 20 years, the same can’t necessarily be said of “reliable information.” Although PolicyMic takes pride in the care with which it vets the stories it publishes for factual accuracy and thoroughness of research (and yes, I am hawking my own site here — self-promotion is another boon of the internet), the same cannot be said of every source. If a story seems too incredible to be true, spend the 10 seconds necessary to conduct a Google search on it before passing it on too others. If a political or cultural news item seems to validate every preconceived notion you have about an issue or personality you love or despise, do some fact-checking from those who espouse the other point-of-view before citing it in your own arguments, just in case you’re falling prey to confirmation bias. In short, use the same approach when sifting through online material that students were once urged to employ at libraries: Question everything you read (except for this article, of course).

5. Have fun.

Hopefully the digital revolution has not dehumanized us to such an extent that I need to elaborate on this one.

While I wouldn’t support the transcendentalist naturalism of Henry David Thoreau’s Waldenthe New England philosopher did aptly sum up the fears of millennials today when he reflected, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” Although there is a large extent to which we have reached the state against which he warned more than a century-and-a-half ago, we can at least somewhat offset this phenomenon by keeping our wits about us through the common sense rules listed above.

Halloween 2013: Top 10 Horror Movies For Every Political Junkie

Published: mic (October 28, 2013)

Inside the Newest Front Lines Of the Gay Marriage Revolution

Published: mic (October 19, 2013)

You may not have realized it, but October has been a portentous month in the fight for gay marriage rights. Let’s go through the list:

-Most pressingly, the Supreme Court of New Jersey rejected Governor Chris Christie’s effort to block same-sex marriages, thereby affirming a ruling by a state Superior Court judge last month that declared a civil-union law to be an unconstitutional infringement of the rights of the state’s gay couples.

-In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett and Secretary of Health Michael Wolf filed a motion to dismiss the case against them in Whitewood v. Corbett, which holds that their state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages violates the constitutional rights of LGBT residents. The couples who filed the suit are preparing opposition briefs to the commonwealth’s motion, while the governor did not help matters with bigoted comments that compared gay marriage to incest.

-In Michigan, a federal district court judge set a February 2014 trial date in DeBoer v. Snyder, which challenges that state’s bans on same-sex marriage and adoption. As in Pennsylvania, the plaintiffs in the Michigan case argue that the prohibitions infringe on residents’ constitutional rights.

-In Nevada, a civil union law is being challenged by couples either denied marriage licenses while residing in the state or who had marriage licenses voided when they moved there from states that allowed same-sex marriages (such as California and Colorado). After losing in a district court, the plaintiffs have moved to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

-In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on same-sex marriage. As New Mexico is the only state in the country that does not have laws either allowing or prohibiting LGBT unions, it is in a unique position on this issue. While Gary King, the state’s attorney general, has stated that he believes New Mexican statutes only permit opposite-sex marriage, he has made it clear that he believes those laws to be unconstitutionally discriminatory, and as such refuses to defend them in court. Now that various county clerks have started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the courts will need to determine their validity.

This is just the short list, by the way. All told, there are presently 35 lawsuits in 19 states addressing same-sex marriage bans.

Each of these cases entails a thicket of complex issues, ranging from the precise definition of “marriage” and its status as a constitutional right to the nuances of property law and the delicate balance between federal and state juridical powers. Although the feat of wading through the morass of legal minutiae cannot be adequately achieved in a single op-ed, one point is clear: This is a matter for the United States Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, when the Supreme Court bench issued its ruling in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry (which voided Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and upheld a federal court’s actions to overturn California’s Proposition 8, respectively), supporters of LGBT rights correctly hailed those decisions as significant steps forward in their cause. At the same time, the court pointedly neglected to address one of the key points pertaining to this issue — namely, whether the right to define marriage is limited to the states or can fall under the domain of the federal government. Indeed, the court’s majority decisions didn’t even mention Baker v. Nelson, the 1972 case which dismissed an appeal in a Minnesota same-sex marriage ban “for want of a substantial federal question.” Without further clarification on the matter, this precedent remains the default position of the federal legal system.

That needs to change. Even if one opposes gay marriage, it stands to reason that a decisive federal ruling on the matter is preferable to the existing legal chaos surrounding this issue. On a deeper level, however, it is unconscionable for LGBT Americans to continue to suffer from second-class citizenship. If one concedes the premise that the state should have the authority to designate couplings between consenting adults as marriages (a point on which some well-intentioned libertarians differ from the mainstream position), then denying that title to same-sex partners is deeming their relationship inferior to those of their heterosexual counterparts, regardless of whether this is the explicit intention. The same is true for policies that refuse gay couples the privileges that opposite-sex spouses can take for granted, from hospital visitation and adoption rights to the ability to file joint tax benefits.

It is painful to be reminded of how, as a recent Upworthy article pointed out, 29 states still permit businesses to fire employees simply for being homosexual (when the so-called offense is being transgender, that number rises to 34). As a society, a great deal of progress remains to be made on this issue. If conservatives need to be reminded of where their values should lie on this issue, they need look no further than the man whose presidential candidacy nearly half a century ago gave rise to the New Right, Barry Goldwater:

“The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that’s what brings me into it.”

Budget, Farm Bill, Immigration Reform: How Republicans Can Save Themselves Post-Shutdown

Published: mic (October 18, 2013)

Right now congressional Democrats have an abysmal approval rating of 31%. Not surprisingly, however, their Republican counterparts are doing even worse, polling at only 20%. By comparison, President Obama’s approval rating remains in the low 40s, suggesting that if anything, legislative Democrats are being damaged more by their institutional association with Republicans than anything else. Is there anything the congressional GOP can do to improve its image?

One suggestion: They could try doing their jobs.

During the first two years of Obama’s administration, when both houses of Congress were controlled by Democrats, he had one of the most productive runs of any president in recent history, passing 383 bills addressing everything from economic stimulus, relief for the poor, and (of course) health care reform to LGBT rights, women’s rights, Wall Street regulation, and consumer protection. Once Republicans won the House in 2010, however, their refusal to work with a Democratic president on any social programs has ground our legislative machinery to a screeching halt. While it’s trendy to claim that both sides are equally responsible for this aversion to bipartisanship, the raw data of recent history doesn’t bear out that assumption: Although George W. Bush’s signature domestic measures (such as his tax cuts, education reform initiatives, and environmental regulatory revisions) usually received at least some Democratic support, Republicans have refused to work with Obama on his own major social programs (such as economic stimulus, health care reform, and Wall Street regulation). Instead the M.O. has been to vilify the president and his progressive supporters as statists placing America on a slippery slope toward socialism (one that misunderstands both the inherent fallaciousness of slippery slope theories and the history of our constitutional republic), demand complete acquiescence to radical right goals as a prerequisite to collaboration, and then blame Democrats for the failure of bipartisanship after the latter insists on having both sides meet in the middle instead of one conceding wholesale to the other.

If progress is going to be made, this has to change. It can start with the three policy proposals that President Obama has made clear are at the top of his agenda: a new budget, a farm bill, and immigration reform.

As part of the deal that reopened the government and lifted the debt ceiling earlier this week, congressional leaders from both parties are going to be required to appoint negotiators to hammer out a budget deal by mid-December. The chief challenge here will rest in the conflicting priorities of both parties.

While the national debt certainly grew in the years before Ronald Reagan’s presidency, it didn’t take off until Reagan’s “starve the beast” agenda was put into place, one that implemented massive tax cuts for the wealthy to not only stimulate the economy (a la “trickle down” theory), but to force matching spending cuts in entitlement programs. Since those programs have only grown in subsequent years, the ongoing clash between left and right has generally revolved around the former wishing to restore tax rates to pre-Reagan levels (or something comparable thereof) and the latter wanting to downsize, if not entirely eliminate, economic programs like Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, and the like. At face value, this does not seem like a front in which compromise is possible.

While that may be true in the long term, Howard Gleckman of the Christian Science Monitor has proposed a somewhat elegant immediate solution. In his own words:

First, Congress would agree to retain the 2013 sequester spending level of $986 billion for 2014 discretionary programs. This is about $20 billion more than the scheduled $967 billion sequester level for 2014.

Second, budget negotiators would allocate this funding level to the appropriations committees. The committees would then write 2014 spending bills that fit within those levels, work out differences between the House and Senate versions, and pass a real budget. No more mindless across-the-board spending cuts.

Third, Congress would make up the $20 billion of extra agency spending with cuts in mandatory programs such as Medicare and farm subsidies. Of course, lawmakers could always cut a bit more from discretionary or a bit less from mandatory. The numbers are not as important as the process.

The issue with the farm bill is with a provision that has been linked to agricultural policy — food stamps. After the Senate passed a measure that would save $4.5 billion by closing egregious loopholes in the existing program, the House refused to move forward unless they could cut an estimated 3.8 million people from food stamps by shortening the time able-bodied adults could receive benefits and lowering the asset restrictions for eligibility, saving $39 billion in the process. Even though recent studies have found that there are still three times as many unemployed Americans as there are jobs available for them, and that more than 20 million of the nearly 48 million Americans on food stamps enrolled as a result of the 2008 economic crash, the far right remains adamant that severe SNAP cuts be implemented as a precursor to work on a farm bill.

While no concrete compromise proposals have been offered yet, the opportunity for negotiation does exist. In conjunction with ending the government shutdown, the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees met on Wednesday to discuss meeting in the middle between the two existing bills. Even more promising (seemingly, anyway), another meeting among the 41 House and Senate members responsible for shaping the final law has been tentatively slated for the end of the month. While it isn’t much, a first step is better than the gridlock we’ve seen so far.

With immigration reform, the chief challenge rests in getting the Republican-run House to do much of anything. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform package that would provide a pathway to citizenship for as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants, allocate billions of dollars to strengthen the U.S.-Mexico border, revamp the family immigration system, impose stricter enforcement and deportation measures, and require employers to use an electronic employment eligibility verification system to crack down on the hiring of illegal workers. Instead of offering substantive counter-proposals of its own, the House far right has instead bandied about myths on immigration reform (which were brilliantly debunked in an article by fellow PolicyMic pundit Paul Stern) and refused to come to the table. Of course, as Huffington Post columnist David Leopold recently pointed out, it is strongly in the Republican Party’s self-interest to work with the president on this issue. From polls showing that majorities in key Republican districts support reform bills like the Senate measure and that Hispanics have a poor image of the GOP to the simple fact that, thanks to the shifting demographics of modern America, it will become increasingly difficult for Republicans to win future elections without major Latino support, there is a straightforward pragmatic logic to working with Democrats on this issue. If Republicans are to have any hope of shaking their image as a lily white organization, it can start by actually extending a hand to the Latino community … one that is already being extended to them.

As the dust settles from the government shutdown fiasco, the proverbial ball is in the Republican Party’s court. If they wish to salvage their partisan brand, they must begin by not only avoiding a repeat of their most recent mess, but realizing that the far right-wing’s ideological intransigence is what got them there in the first place. This can begin by doing the job that Americans expect from their politicians – that is, working with each other in order to solve the important problems of the day. By collaborating with Obama and Congressional Democrats on the three issues recently mentioned by the president, Republicans will render an immeasurably beneficial service not only to their party, but their country.

Obama’s Greatness Demonstrated As He Defused the Republican Nuclear Bomb

Published:  mic (October 17, 2013)

America, it is time to doff your proverbial hat to President Barack Obama. This is what a leader looks like.

It isn’t simply that he managed to protect his signature legislative legacy, the Affordable Care Act, from being mutilated and/or defunded by congressional Republicans. While that is quite the accomplishment in its own right (one that will be appreciated more with the passage of time, as its major provisions begin to change lives for the better), it is far less important than the precedent Obama has set through his conduct during the shutdown fiasco. If he had faltered, the threat of national default and state instability would have been established for a generation as a potentially effective tool for wielding power and shaping policy. By standing firm and humiliating his right-wing adversaries, Obama has at the very least poured water on that incendiary threat, if indeed he hasn’t extinguished it altogether.

And make no mistake about it: Whether they admit it or not, the right-wing has been humiliated in this debacle. Most immediately, they have suffered a complete tactical failure — the Affordable Care Act is as firmly in place as ever, far more Americans blame Republicans than Obama and the Democrats for getting into this mess, and their once-ironclad grip on the spines of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders has been severely weakened.

On a much deeper level, however, they have been exposed to the world as a faction of fatuous fools. Never again can they preach the importance of financial rectitude without being reminded that they willingly drove America to the brink of economic disaster because of their opposition to a single social welfare program they disliked (and for all their talk of how Obamacare will hurt our national ledgers and business life, the quickest way to lose credibility in the academic or financial communities is to deny that intentional national default would be far, far worse).

Almost as significantly, they can no longer claim to represent the cutting edge of America’s political future. For such a promise to be taken seriously, after all, it isn’t enough to simply be the shrillest band of voices in the room. One must also offer a logically sound strategy for convincing America’s moderate majority to rally behind your banner. As this incident has at last decisively revealed, all the far right has in its dialectical arsenal is a threat tantamount to Abraham Lincoln’s description of Southern secessionists during his first presidential election: “A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'”

Indeed, the serious danger posed by what the far right attempted to do cannot be overstated. While Mark Levine did an excellent job of breaking down the details in an earlier PolicyMic op-ed, the best concise summary was offered by Warren Buffett, who accurately observed that the debt ceiling is the “nuclear bomb” of American fiscal politics.

Because of the immeasurable havoc default would wreak on America’s business community, and as such on the economy as a whole, it is very much akin to a financial weapon of mass destruction, one that can be used to bully opposing sides into acquiescence by simple virtue of the massive suffering that would be unleashed should they fail to comply. This is why, just as the use of atomic bombs has been taken off the table (at least ostensibly) so that responsible nations can maintain a modicum of civil order in their statecraft, so too have both sides in American politics avoided the political weaponization of debt default. Consequently, even though progressive Democrats were just as passionately opposed to Bush administration programs as the far right is to Obama’s agenda (see the Bush tax cuts, the war in Iraq, the efforts to transform Medicare and Social Security), they never intimated that they would consider forcing debt default to thwart him. Once that bridge is crossed, devastation would almost inevitably follow.

Yet not only has the potential catastrophe been averted, but by refusing to capitulate to the far right’s attempt at national economic blackmail, Obama has severely discredited any future efforts to attempt this in the future. Even if the Tea Party and its various radical libertarian and conservative supporters try a similar stunt early next year (which is entirely possible), the defeat they suffered this time will hobble them right from the get-go. Moreover, while they can take comfort in knowing that Americans will probably have forgotten about the October 2013 crisis by the time the 2014 midterm elections roll around, a repeat of this brouhaha next year would almost certainly redound to Obama’s favor and, as such, to that of the Democrats. In short, by standing up to this nuclear threat, Obama has not only prevented mass destruction, but significantly reduced the appeal of the weapon itself.

Practically from the moment he was first elected, President Obama’s critics have jumped at every opportunity to denounce and dismiss him. From Rush Limbaugh’s infamously ungracious transition era declaration “I hope Obama fails” to Mitch McConnell’s candid admission that Republicans foremost priority was for “Obama to be a one-term president,” it has been fashionable among the right to not only denigrate Obama’s ideology, but his skills as a leader. Even the left has frequently expressed disappointment with their so-called champion’s ideological dithering, be it keeping Guantanamo Bay open and sanctioning NSA civil liberties abuses or watering down his stimulus package and abandoning a single-payer health care system. While many of these criticisms have been valid, they overlook the impressive litany of lasting achievements Obama has accrued during his tenure (for a comprehensive analysis, see my op-ed from last year here).

Now, after a year spent mired in the second-term curse that afflicts most presidents (as most soberingly demonstrated by his failure to pass any of the jobs, immigration, education, or gun control items he included in his State of the Union Address earlier this year), Obama has at last managed to walk away with an unequivocal triumph that not only burnishes his political brand, but benefits the nation. When future historians write about the ways Obama’s presidency bettered this country, his conduct over the past month will be prominent among them.

How the Conservative Way Of Thinking Got America Into a Really Big Mess

Published: mic (October 16, 2013)

The Senate has presented its bipartisan bill to end the government shutdown and avert a debt default. With the fate of America’s financial future now resting in the hands of right-wing firebrands, it is perhaps appropriate to remember the words of Edmund Burke, the 18th century British statesman widely regarded as one of the great paladins of conservative thought:

“It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.”

Let us remember that this whole mess began because the Tea Party — a small fraction of the great pluralistic organism that is the American body politic — has been obsessed with defunding (or at least significantly altering) the Affordable Care Act. If they had managed to propel the Republicans to recapture Congress and the White House, they would have likely been successful in repealing the bill. Unfortunately for them, their only success was in taking the House of Representatives back in 2010, with national voters choosing to keep the Senate in Democratic hands after two election cycles and returning Barack Obama to the White House in 2012. Even worse, there are enough moderate Republicans in the House that they can’t use traditional parliamentary processes through that body to browbeat the Senate and White House into doing their bidding.

If America was dealing with a mature political movement, they would handle their frustration by either (a) accepting the verdict of a people who, though certainly not altogether pleased with Obamacare, do not support completely defunding it or using other radical means to eliminate it or (b) biding their time until the next election cycle and preparing a scathing anti-Affordable Care Act case against Obama and the Democratic Party at that time.

If America was dealing with a mature political movement, they would handle their frustration by either (a) accepting the verdict of a people who, though certainly not altogether pleased with Obamacare, do not support completely defunding it or using other radical means to eliminate it or (b) biding their time until the next election cycle and preparing a scathing anti-Affordable Care Act case against Obama and the Democratic Party at that time.

While there is little question that the rightist zealots in their base would never accept Option A, it won’t be as easy for them to push Option B as one might think. Sure, there is little doubt that they will focus on Obamacare at least during their primaries, when the Tea Party can make or break even the most firmly entrenched GOP incumbent. The general election, however, will be much trickier. Now that many of Obamacare’s key provisions are slated to take effect over the next 12 months (including the establishment of health insurance exchanges, expansion of Medicaid eligibility in participating states, the application of the individual mandate, prohibitions on discriminating against individuals based on gender or pre-existing medical conditions, and prohibitions on applying annual spending caps for essential health benefits), there is the possibility that the Affordable Care Act will be too popular — dare I say successful? — to be the lodestone around Democrats’ necks that they want it to be. While there have been early hiccups in Obamacare’s implementation (albeit nothing worse than has accompanied other major social welfare programs in their early stages), experts tend to feel that the Affordable Care Act is likely to succeed. If they are wrong, of course, the Tea Party and its libertarian and conservative enablers will be able to crow about their vindication all the way to the ballot box. On the other hand, if Americans have warmed up to the Affordable Care Act by November 2014, they will never have another opportunity to repeal it. The egg won’t merely be splattered on their face; it will be branded there.

Within this context, the causes of the government shutdown and potential debt default become crystal clear:

– Because they can’t pass an Obamacare repeal through Congress and with a Republican president’s signature (or at least over Obama’s veto), and they can’t afford to wait until the 2014 elections for another shot, they need to hold the economy hostage now as a last-ditch effort.

– Because there are enough moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives who would support a government funding bill that didn’t eviscerate Obamacare, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has used the so-called “Hastert Rule” to refuse to call a vote (the Hastert Rule, named after Boehner’s Republican predecessor, calls on GOP speakers to refuse to put bills to a vote unless a clear majority of Republicans will support them, as opposed to a majority of the House itself).

This brings us back to that Edmund Burke quote. Anyone who has attempted to contribute to America’s ever-evolving political discourse has noticed that the voices of the Tea Party, as well as their libertarian and far right-wing fellow travelers, have been among the loudest and most vehement in our public discussion. To the self-proclaimed patriots in those movements, they are no doubt responding to Samuel Adams’s legendary call for “irate, tireless minorities” who are “keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

Indeed, it is valuable to recall James Madison’s warning that “in Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.”

The purpose of this op-ed is not to dismiss the Tea Party/libertarian/far-rightist view simply because it is a minority position (there are far better reasons for dismissal). Instead it is to point out that, even though the minority which supports wrecking our economy in the name of destroying Obamacare is very passionate, that passion doesn’t make them any wiser, more patriotic, or more perceptive than the centrists, progressives, and other ideological groups which choose less melodramatic rhetoric and courses of action.

Indeed, unless they pass the Senate bill just proposed, they may very well be less so.

The Disturbing Trend in America We’re Not Talking About — Elder Abuse

Published: mic (October 15, 2013)
Co-authored by Ariel Gordon

Elder abuse may not be making national headlines, but it ought to be.

In Mercer County, Penn., a woman was dropped off starving and emaciated because her grandson spent $86,000 of her money on drugs and personal amenities. Across the country in Oregon, four elderly plaintiffs are in the process of suing a retirement community for financially abusing them by tricking them into signing misleading rental documents. Meanwhile, a Georgia woman has been charged with running an unlicensed retirement home in order to financially gouge its elderly residents while neglecting to meet their needs.

The issue goes beyond scamming and shady senior citizen facilities; even legitimate retirement centers often mistreat their elderly patients. One of the writers of this piece witnessed an occurrence involving a gentleman in his 50s, who will be referred to as Moe. Born in Syria and raised in Lebanon, he retained his accent and many of his customary habits even though he has been living in America for over 30 years. Despite having been diagnosed with PTSD and some anger issues, Moe was a great conversationalist and maintained a healthy level of identity, reality, and morality at all times. Nevertheless, he was subjected to cruel mistreatment at the center. One worker in particular liked to tease him by referring to Moe as his “wife” and poking fun at Moe’s Muslim heritage, such as offering him pig-based food items and ridiculing how Moe (who wasn’t especially devout) would still eat them.

On another occasion, this co-author saw one of the employees rub the stomach of a client after he had finished a meal. After the client made his displeasure apparent and said “don’t touch me,” the worker simply chuckled it off as a joke while none of his colleagues confronted him about his behavior. In an equally upsetting case, there was another client in his 80s who had a reputation for falling asleep at the center due to his habitual insomnia. There were no rules against this act and for the sake of the man’s health and well-being, his naps should have been permitted. However, workers would repeatedly awaken the man and scold him for resting rather than taking part in activities. Of course, there were very few activities available for the gentleman to join, and so he would fall back asleep and the harassment from the workers would continue. This interruption of his sleep would lead to the man’s further exhaustion and inability to join in other groups that would be beneficial to him.

Indeed, there weren’t many days when there was no evidence of poor treatment. Sometimes it was as low-key as a quip putting down a client that was blown off, but even those acts could not be ignored. After a lifetime of these individuals being told they were crazy, stupid, lazy, ugly … they deserved to be placed somewhere that did not harbor these thoughts and this treatment.

In a recent national study of Adult Protective Services (APS), there were 253,421 reports of abuse of adults age 60+ or 832.6 reports for every 100,000 people over the age of 60. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) is doing its part to prevent abuse of those in late life, such as a committee devoted to contributing research and practice examples to a literature review; and a forum to deepen understanding of the findings and an interdisciplinary training curriculum. They also have training videos and a website, webinars, and presentations. There is still much to be done to deal with the daily abuse of elderly persons. The solution comes from the individual as well — those who witness abuse and are willing to speak up, those who will risk their title and professional reputation to protect the innocent and defenseless. Recognizing abuse is the first step, then confronting it, and finally, reporting it.