Over 65 group could decide who wins this year’s presidential election


Many millions of dollars are being spent in both current presidential campaigns emphasizing personal qualities over clarifying the candidates’ stands on the issues. Now seniors take their politics seriously: While the 65-and-older demographic comprises only 12 percent of the nation’s population, in the last presidential election 73 percent of seniors reported that they voted—the largest percentage of any age group, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey.

But neither candidate on the campaign trail has spoken often on issues that matter to seniors, and when they have, it’s been underreported by much of the media. So at the end of the day, how different are the candidates—and their respective political parties—from each other when it comes to issues of great importance to seniors, such as long-term care, Social Security, medical insurance and taxes?

Simply put, “the real fault lines between the two candidates’ positions are over how to treat people in the highest tax brackets. It gets to the heart of their economic philosophies,” said Leonard E. Burman, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington-based tax reform group.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), specifically through his campaign Web site and implicitly through the official platform of the Democratic Party, would shore up the needs of seniors at the lower end of the economic spectrum. He has proposed to eliminate income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 a year.

“This will provide an immediate tax cut averaging $1,400 to 7 million seniors and relieve millions from the burden of filing tax returns,” the official Obama literature asserts.

Additionally, Obama would rescind the Bush administration’s income tax cut (that Democrats claim has benefited only the nation’s wealthiest citizens) and apply the windfall to his social programs, together with revenues from a slight tax rate increase for those earning more than $250,000. The increase would secure Social Security—without cuts and raising the retirement age—and finance his ambitious national health care proposal.

Although seniors already enjoy universal health care through Medicare, Obama argues that the program requires some tweaking because “catastrophic expenses” were “routine” and that, as currently applied, Medicare benefits do not cover expenses for most long-term care. His goal, he told the AARP, was to ensure that the program “protect seniors and families from impoverishment and debt.”

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) and Obama’s positions are similar regarding the estate tax—sometimes referred to by the Bush administration as the “death tax.” Both candidates would retain a reduced version of the estate tax, although McCain would reduce it more than Obama, according to Factcheck.org and Snopes.com.

The Democratic candidate has proposed to apply the tax only to estates valued at more than $3.5 million ($7 million for couples), holding the maximum rate at 45 percent. McCain would apply it to estates worth more than $5 million ($10 million for couples), with a maximum rate of 15 percent.

Unlike Obama, McCain would renew the Bush income tax cut when it expires, which the Republicans believe will give citizens more cash to choose their own health care coverage options, should they use their rebate to pay for it.

The McCain attitude shaping policy—and that of the Republican Party, generally—is that seniors can manage their own lives without the intervention of government and that they should be free to choose their own way to solve many of these concerns. The Republican Party would not offer income-tax relief to seniors with incomes less than $50,000. The GOP believes that seniors already get federal help through Social Security and Medicare and often have economic advantages over other demographic groups.

It should be noted that McCain is a major proponent of privatizing Social Security, a program he termed “disgraceful” this summer, touching off protests by seniors at his campaign appearances in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

For seniors requiring expensive long-term care, McCain would privatize services and leave choices to individuals. He is a proponent of recent state-based experiments such as Cash and Counseling or the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, through which seniors are granted a monthly stipend from which they can choose to pay home-care workers and purchase care-related services and goods.

McCain told AARP that eldercare matters should be decided within families and that “any way we can help caregivers” offset costs through tax credits or other financial incentives should be considered as “part of an overall policy regarding health care.”

How the senior vote will affect the presidential race in November is still a matter of debate. In 2004, voters ages 65 and older went Republican for the first time in years, backing President Bush more heavily than the rest of the electorate. Many of today’s seniors were influenced by Reagan conservatism, according to analysts in both parties, and they’re better off financially than the Roosevelt-era seniors, a fact that may favor the current Republican candidate.

Both campaigns are comin’ a courtin’ the senior vote. Obama has appointed a national seniors constituency director and the McCain campaign has launched an effort to encourage seniors to talk to their peers. States with the largest proportion of seniors based on total population—Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa—are considered “swing states,” meaning that pensioners could very well influence the outcome of the national election.

How well informed senior voters will be is perhaps the most important issue of all.

Stanley Mieses is a writer, editor and broadcast commentator based in New York.

Saluting Milo, AARP and Waxman, Delshad for Sderot


JVS Dishes Out Scholarships

More than 180 outstanding Jewish students received $375,000 worth of need-based scholarships from the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) during a ceremony at UCLA Hillel on July 16. The JVS Scholarship Fund has dispensed nearly $4 million to more than 3,000 students over the years helping them on their way to academic independence and curbing those cumbersome student loans.

Sderot Goes to Camp

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(From left) Lonnie and Jimmy Delshad join kids from Sderot and their counselors, David Lewis, Lily Steiner and Ari Bussel at Munchies kosher candy store. Photo by Moshe Barzilay

What would young Israelis from Sderot do during an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles? See Adam Sandler in “Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” of course.
On a Chabad invitation to spend one month in the United States, 20 children from Sderot headed to Camp Gan Israel of Los Angeles. The local community embraced the visitors by inviting them for lunches, dinners and cultural activities. On the day pictured, the group decorated pottery at Color Me Mine followed by a trip to the movies, because, as the film indicates, Israelis cannot venture too far from hummus. The Los Angeles group was part of 120 Sderot youth who were invited to visit the United States.

UCLA Jewish Center Promotes Bakhos

The UCLA Center for Jewish Studies has a rising star on the block. Professor Carol Bakhos, who teaches late antique Judaism, was recently promoted to associate director at the center. The Jewish studies scholar holds a doctorate from Jewish Theological Seminary in Talmud and rabbinics, and her first book, “Ishmael on the Border: Rabbinic Portrayals of the First Arab,” traces the representation of Ishmael in Jewish texts and how it shifted before and after the birth of Islam.

Bakhos said her plans for the position include “enhancing the already-established networks of scholarly resources among various disciplines, programs and centers at UCLA, such as the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Center for the Study of Religion and the Israel Studies program.” Ah, the openness of academia. 

StandWithUs Says Goodbye to Millo

To salute the work of Gilad Millo, counsel for media and public affairs of the L.A. Consulate General of Israel, StandWithUs hosted a luncheon in his honor at Shanghai Diamond Gardens restaurant in Pico-Robertson. The private event brought together 30 people from the consulate, SWU staff, board members and friends and also recognized Tabby Davoodi, director of academic affairs for the Consulate, for her work in education.

Waxman Waxes Poetic on Health, Finance

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Attendees at the Divided We Fail town hall meeting speak with Rep. Henry Waxman

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and 275 concerned residents, retirees and community leaders from his district packed the Westside JCC on Aug. 6 to confront the harsh reality of the current economy. With pensions disappearing as gas, food and healthcare costs rise, voters are rightly concerned about retirement security.
Waxman met with voters as part of the Divided We Fail series, a nationwide forum co-sponsored by AARP, Business Roundtable, Service Employees Union and National Federation of Independent Business designed to stimulate discussion and action plans for health and financial security.

Who Will Care for the Caregivers?


About five years ago, Nina Dayan noticed that her husband’s moods began alternating between anger and depression. Then her husband started doing strange things: He would hide her keys, steal money from her purse and share his social security number with strangers on the phone.

Eventually, his Alzheimer’s disease was confirmed. The diagnosis explained her husband’s strange behavior, but it didn’t make things any easier for Dayan. She remained on constant guard to ensure he didn’t answer the phone, open the mail or touch the checkbook.

“I had to sleep with one eye open,” said Dayan, 77. “It was making me a nervous wreck.”

Although she was suffering from her own ailments, including back and knee problems, Dayan’s caregiving prevented her from seeking medical attention for her own ailments. Dayan’s actions illustrate the approach taken by most caregivers: Ironically, those who devote themselves to caring for others tend to neglect their own well-being.

“Caregivers take themselves out of the circle of care in order to focus on their loved one,” said Gary Barg, founder and editor-in-chief of Today’s Caregiver magazine. “We want to make sure our loved ones are getting the rest they need, but we never sleep. We want to make sure our loved ones get the care they need, but when’s the last time a caregiver ever went to a doctor?”

This topic and others will be explored at The Los Angeles Fearless Family Caregiver Conference in Carson on June 28, sponsored by Today’s Caregiver magazine along with the City of L.A. Department of Aging and the L.A. County Area Agency on Aging. Keynote speaker Barg said the conference will not only provide practical information for attendees, but help them overcome the sense of isolation so typical of caregivers.

Given the sheer number of caregivers in the United States, the issue of caregiver well-being presents a serious challenge. According to AARP, more than 44 million Americans provide unpaid care to friends and family. That number will continue to rise as the population ages. Currently, family caregivers provide about 80 percent of the assistance required by those who need help with daily activities such as bathing and dressing, taking medications and paying bills.

Caregivers span all ages, although statistically the average caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who is married and employed outside the home. Caregivers may tend to someone older, like a parent; close in age, such as a spouse; or younger, like a child. Sometimes, as in the case of the sandwich generation, they provide care to multiple generations simultaneously.

Whatever their particular situation, caregivers face a host of common challenges, including financial and legal issues, need for respite and lack of information about existing community resources such as counseling services, adult day care centers and home-health care agencies. In addition, they experience depression at twice the rate of the general population. (The rate jumps to six times for caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other brain-related impairments.)

Barg said the gathering shows caregivers that “there are other people in the community going through what you’re going through. It’s important to be around others.”

Barg also urges caregivers to see their role as a job, even if it is a labor of love. This entails learning as much as possible, attending conferences and support groups and communicating with members of the patient’s health care team.

“The more you treat yourself as a professional and the more you care for yourself, the better job you can do for your loved one,” he said.

As for Nina Dayan, she found help at the Eichenbaum Health Center at the Freda Mohr Senior Service Center on Fairfax Boulevard. In addition to exercising there three times a week, Dayan attends lectures and programs and participates in a support group for people whose spouses have Alzheimer’s.

Eight months ago, Dayan placed her 85-year-old husband in an assisted living facility in Santa Monica.

“I took care of him until I couldn’t anymore, and had to take care of myself,” she said. She has since undergone cataract surgery on both eyes, and will have knee replacement surgery this month.

Dayan said her husband has adjusted to his new living arrangement and has made many friends. Now, he spends his day socializing instead of bickering with her. She still worries about his health and her own, as well as how long her finances will hold out. But her relief at finding an interim solution is apparent. As Dayan puts it, “I’m breathing again.”

The L.A. Fearless Family Caregiver Conference will take place on Tuesday, June 28, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The Carson Center. 801 East Carson St., Carson. For more information or to register, call (800) 829-2734 or visit www.caregiver.com.

Caregiver Resources:

California Caregiver Resource Centers: www.cacrc.org/californiacrc

AARP: www.aarp.org

Family Caregiver Alliance: www.caregiver.org

Jewish Family Service: www.jfsla.org