Beleaguered Seniors

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 13 2005 7:33 AM

Beleaguered Seniors

All three papers lead with features. The Washington Post leads with a profile of the Justice Department's civil rights division. The Bush administration's political appointees have pushed many veteran career lawyers out the door, the paper says, and the division's lawyers increasingly find themselves defending deportations rather than prosecuting traditional discrimination cases. The Los Angeles Times leads with a lengthy, and frightening, examination of professional conservators. In California, for-profit agencies can quickly obtain a power equivalent to guardianship over an elderly person without that person's consent. In many cases these conservators isolate their charges from their relatives and pay themselves lavishly from their assets. The New York Times leads with widespread confusion among seniors as they try to decipher the new Medicare drug plan.

The Justice Department's prosecution of traditional race-and-gender discrimination has declined 40 percent over the last five years, the Post reports. (The piece consists largely of quotes from named and newly retired division employees.) In its place, the civil rights division has focused on immigration and human-trafficking. Attorney General John Ashcroft ended a long tradition of career-lawyer input into hiring decisions in order to encourage the hiring of lawyers skeptical of traditional civil-rights orthodoxy. The Justice Department defends its actions, arguing that 1) attrition in the division is not much higher than during the Clinton years, and 2) the party that wins the White House is obligated to alter the division's enforcement philosophy in accordance with voter wishes.

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The LAT's investigation, the first of four parts, shows how conservatorship is virtually unregulated in California. Most conservators are friends or family members of the elderly charge, but the 15 percent who are professionals typically take control with startling swiftness. About half the time, an elderly person loses control of his life and assets in emergency court hearings lasting just a few hours. In 90 percent of these hearings, the court never bothers to interview the elderly person. The professionals who become conservators have the power of attorneys and accountants, yet never have to pass licensing exams. Anyone with a college degree and $385 for a state registration fee can get in the business. When the elderly charge fights his conservator in court, he must pay both his own legal fees and those of his conservator.

According to a recent poll, 65 percent of people over age 64 do not understand the new Medicare drug benefit, reports the Times. The feature goes on to quote frustrated senior citizens at local informational meetings around the country. TP is sure that this confusion is real, but it's worth asking: Is the new drug plan needlessly complicated, or just complicated in the manner of all large programs? A septuagenarian in Kansas complained to the Times that "for the average person, [it's] almost impossible" to figure out which new plans cover specific drugs. To test this assertion, TP went to www.medicare.gov. He clicked on the "Prescription Drug Coverage" link, then the "Formulary (Drug List) Finder" link, entered his state and the name of a moderately popular antipsychotic (Seroquel), and was immediately given a hot-linked list of five plans that cover this drug in Washington state. Granted, TP is probably a little more tech-savvy than the average senior (who probably has trouble just programming his VCR), but at first glance the law may not be quite as needlessly bureaucratic as the Times piece implies.

U.S. intelligence officials have been secretly showing other nations data from a stolen Iranian laptop, the NYT reports, in an effort to convince them of the country's nuclear-weapons ambitions. The laptop, which contains bomb diagrams and test results, was given to the U.S. by an informant. Independent analysts consider the evidence to be convincing, but many countries, remembering the U.S.'s role in erroneous Iraq WMD intelligence, think the U.S. is just crying wolf. The LAT runs a wire piece relating that Iran has refused a compromise proposed by the U.N.'s atomic energy agency, which called for Iranian reactor fuel to be enriched in Russia.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made an unannounced visit to Baghdad yesterday, one day after Condoleezza Rice made a similar trip. The NYT fronts a picture of Annan surrounded by bodyguards; he stayed only a few hours. (The Post runs a piece inside.) The NYT also reports the death of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the last close adviser to Saddam Hussein still at large. The death was announced on a Baathist Web site; he was known to have had leukemia.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said that Iraqi troops could replace British ones by the end of 2006, reports the BBC.

Afghanistan announced the final results from its National Assembly elections in September. Who won? Depends which paper you read. Under the headline "Conservatives to Dominate in Afghanistan," a piece inside the NYT reports that the assembly will "be dominated by religious conservatives and jihadist figures. They may form a strong base of opposition" to President Hamid Karzai. The LAT and WP both run AP stories that conclude the exact opposite. The headlines: "Karzai Supporters May Dominate Afghanistan's New Parliament" ( LAT) and "Karzai Loyalists Appear to Win Afghanistan Vote" ( WP).

Violence in France has declined, but continues in 163 cities and towns, mostly in provincial regions. Police clashed with rioters yesterday in the central square of Lyon, France's second-largest city. On the LAT front, critics blame the riots partly on the federalized, paramilitary nature of French policing. The country's police excel at things like intelligence, investigation, and crowd control, but they put little emphasis on local beats and report to regional prefects rather than mayors. Moreover, the beat cops that do exist are usually not locals; typically, Paris bureaucrats rotate police officers from town to town. As a result, neighborhood residents see the police not as members of the community but as faceless representatives of a distant state. (One surprising stat: Even before the riots, an average of 3,500 cars a month were burned across the nation.)

The LAT off-leads a feature in which a reporter strolls down a single street in New Orleans. He concludes that "New Orleans, when it is a city again, will be smaller, wealthier and whiter, none of which is welcome news to many of those who loved it."

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