This week, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the U.N. body overseeing the work of the better-known World Health Organization (WHO), voted on yet another resolution targeting Israel. Let the complete absurdity of the situation sink in: Israel, a leader in the medical field, which provides medical aid throughout the world, likely including in countries that shamefully voted in favor of the resolution, was singled out for scrutiny.
No other state was on the agenda; there were also no other WHO reports on a specific conflict situation. Not even Syria received this kind of attention—and the Assad regime has been bombing hospitals this year as part of its ongoing military campaign/humanitarian catastrophe.
At last year’s WHA, the European Union states voted en masse for the anti-Israel resolution saying it was technical in nature. Even if this were true—and it was laughably false—the very nature of having only one country-specific resolution, and having that resolution attack the sole democracy and medical leader in the Middle East region, is inherently political. More to the point, it is a symptom of the dangerous selectivity and special standards that apply only to the Jewish state at the U.N.
This year’s resolution is more bare boned than resolutions from past years, but the main problem persists, and is a grave threat to the credibility of the WHO. After this year’s vote, in which most of the EU states again voted in favor (with the notable exception of the United Kingdom voting against and abstentions by Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary), the German delegate made a statement on behalf of some of the European states that voted in favor urging the Israelis and Palestinians to work together on a text that could reach consensus. That request is bizarre and insulting—asking Israel to participate in a process where the designated end goal is a resolution that again perpetuates the singling out of the Jewish state.
The question that those that care about world health must ask is: Does the WHO/WHA want to go down the road of other politicized agencies at the U.N.?
We have seen this before, most notably at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), two agencies so well-known for being mired in obsession with Israel (UNHRC) and/or denying the history of the Jewish people (UNESCO), that the work of the entire organization is under threat of becoming delegitimized.
And, while human rights and preservation of history and culture are a vital part of our human existence, these two agencies have been problematic for a while now. The UNHRC, which has always had a special agenda item solely dedicated to attacks on Israel, was a politicized body from its birth over a decade ago. UNESCO has also had its own share of issues before. The United States stopped paying dues after UNESCO allowed a still-not-existent Palestinian state to join as a full-fledged member state, and the U.S. also refused to be a member of the organization for a long stretch of time due to what was a notoriously anti-American orientation at UNESCO in the 1980s.
The WHO, though, should be different. It must be above petty political attacks because millions of lives are at risk. We all need the WHO to improve lives and to stop the spread of communicable diseases before they become epidemics or global pandemics. Instead, the WHA stopped everything to engage in an hours-long session of speaker after speaker (mostly from dictatorships with appalling human rights records and health situations) bashing Israel. Does anyone aside from the Palestinian representatives and their allies in states hostile to Israel believe that this is the best use of the time of an expert health body?
After the vote at the WHA, the representative of the United Kingdom put it best by saying, “If we politicize the WHO, we do so at our peril.” Sadly, only six other member states had the fortitude to stand up to this politicization by voting against the resolution: Australia, Canada Guatemala, Israel, Togo and the United States.
Can Millennials Assume Responsibility for the Social Isolation Experienced by Older Adults by Creating Age-Friendly Communities?
The Senate Aging Committee recently held a two part series of hearings highlighting the issue of social isolation experienced by many people as they age. It was made apparent that there are serious physical health consequences to prolonged isolation—some experts say its equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. The reality is this growing epidemic of isolation will only increase in the coming years as the number of older adults continues to surge. Considering all the technological, infrastructural, social and cultural responses required to properly address this need, I’m left dwelling on the role young people, and particularly millennials like myself, can have preventing the social isolation of our older neighbors.
We know that a whole range of societal changes contribute to isolation in aging. Changes in our birth rates, family structures and our proximity to relatives are all shifts that have been well documented. Additionally, there are common occurrences late in life that can create isolating circumstances: a late career job change, retiring, moving into different housing or a change in cultural surroundings. But, I think there is much more to this. As a result of the pervasive ageism in America, isolation as one ages is exacerbated. Throughout our society, we either stereotype older people or exclude them from critical planning efforts—or both. By excluding, whether purposefully or inadvertently, the contributions and perspectives of older adults from spaces where major decisions are made, we create a society where it is increasingly more difficult for them to thrive.
Our communities, whether rural or urban, should be safe and age-friendly from walkability to bus routes to housing design. Our workplaces should allow people to work as long as they are able to perform the duties of their job and recognize that older adults have a lot to offer, especially to young people who are newer to the workforce. Housing should be both affordable and available to everyone, and especially those that reach retirement age. We should design and build housing that will work for any resident, whether they are old, young or disabled. Technology should be accessible to those who did not learn how to operate personal devices at a very young age.
However, in order for these things to exist in our society, we must address the underlying causes of systemic ageism. Without doing so, we will continue to exclude a great portion of our population. We, inevitably, will continue to tell our future, older selves, “At some point, your opinion and needs are no longer important to greater society.” We must recognize that the risk factors of isolation are only more pronounced as a person ages because of their inability to have a “seat at the table.” In every industry, and particularly in technology, it is imperative that we stop expecting older people to create their own solutions without ever giving them the tools to do so.
Millennials have a unique role in addressing the ageism that has fostered a culture of leaving seniors out of the equation. Now the largest generation in the workforce, millennials are represented in every industry. Instead of being yet another generation that expects older people to adapt and integrate themselves in a society built around the young and able-bodied, what if we strived for deliberate inclusion? And, what does taking responsibility look like?
First, the thoughts, solutions and perspectives of those experiencing isolation should be at the forefront of every initiative around social isolation and age-friendly communities. This can look as simple as reconciling the gap in communication used by different generations. It may also involve urban planning that includes realistic walk times at intersections, or smart phones that do not operate on intuition that only a young app developer may possess. Including all people in our society is not just an idealistic, fuzzy feeling, it’s good for business! Imagine having a community where transportation was not a barrier to carrying out daily errands, or relying on technology to purchase home goods was not a frustrating, humiliating experience.
What if, from the beginning, we were cognizant of the difficulties that can result from a society increasing its dependency upon technological advances? What if—by simply asking—we were to realize that seniors are more than capable of providing solutions to the barriers one experiences as they age?
Until we make the conscious, purposeful decision that older members of our community not only should, but have to be a part of planning the society we want to live in, we will find ourselves trying to fix the mistakes we’ve made or, worse, assume that the opinions and lives of seniors are not important. We must be aware that the built environment and social environment are interdependent. The culture shift necessary for such consideration would require the empathy to understand that most all of us, if we are so lucky, will experience the changes presented through aging. When we talk about the “special needs of seniors,” we should remember that these are considerations that we all deserve throughout our lifetime.
As a young, able-bodied person, accessibility and inclusion should be tenets I lift up out of empathy for others and, at the very least, out of self-interest! I know that a society in which there are barriers to participation and socialization for some of us will, inevitably, hurt us all.
(Photo via Flickr)
It is somewhat bittersweet that I have been asked to share my thoughts on our ongoing seniors’ program. While I’ve written for the magazine in the past, I’ve now been asked to focus on aging policy and offer insights from my perspective, as a baby boomer and a B’nai B’rith staff member for 33 years.
Rachel Goldberg, who served as our director of aging policy and authored this column for many years, has moved on to the AARP, or the “big” house, as we playfully refer to the country’s largest advocacy group for seniors. For more than 13 years, Rachel was my right hand in analyzing, reporting and generally trying to make sense of the myriad changing policies and programs that affect our aging population. We are grateful for the many years she spent with us. She will be missed.
But we’re not the only ones experiencing changes. As you are no doubt aware, the entire country is in the midst of a sea change, affecting the role of the federal government in our lives. For B’nai B’rith, this presents an enormous challenge, as a new administration with an announced intention of cutting back on federal programs takes office. Not the least of these is providing low-cost housing to seniors.
I began at B’nai B’rith as the director of our Senior Citizens Housing Program. Some years earlier, a group of dedicated B’nai B’rith volunteers, all experts in the building trades, petitioned the organization to allow them, under B’nai B’rith auspices, to sponsor affordable housing for low-income seniors in their communities.
Using a remarkable program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that made grants available to nonprofit sponsors, this group provided the “sweat equity” and opened the first B’nai B’rith-sponsored senior community in 1971 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Since then, the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network has grown to be the largest national Jewish sponsor of HUD-assisted housing in the country. It is currently available in 28 communities nationwide, and we’re proud to say that nightly 8,000-10,000 seniors call a B’nai B’rith sponsored property home.
Obviously, we take this commitment to these communities and to our residents seriously. That’s why we work throughout the year to provide resources, training and information to the dedicated people who manage, lead and staff these properties.
Our program exists for the benefit of the residents and their extended families. That’s why we do what we do. But, we cannot do it alone. We need the government’s help because housing costs money. And we are committed to working with the federal, state and local governments to provide the resources to make affordable housing a reality.
For 30-some years, I have led the organization’s efforts to advocate for the federal housing finance program that has allowed us to build such excellent communities, and to continue to provide them to low-income residents at a fraction of market rate rents. As an advocate, I champion not only the current residents, but the tens of thousands of people currently on waiting lists for low-income housing like those we sponsor. I speak on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of boomers who will find themselves, very shortly, in retirement, and in similar need.
The “graying of America” is not something in the far-off future. It is here now and will only grow larger. Every day, more people turn 65. B’nai B’rith, along with other nonprofit groups, had been instrumental in shaping, expanding and improving HUD’s housing program for the elderly. But, the program is no longer being funded. This has put the future in jeopardy for residents, both present and future. And that is unacceptable.
The program is fiscally troubled. Affordable housing is scarce, and we need to build more for moderate and low-income people. Affordable housing appropriate for the needs of older adults, and where services can be brought to them in a more cost-efficient way, is essential. But building housing—something we absolutely must do if we want to address the long-term affordable housing crisis in this country—is more expensive than simply subsidizing rents in existing apartments.
On average, nationwide, there are more than 10 people waiting for every low-income rental unit available. In other words, we must build, but we don’t have sufficient federal resources to do it.
The key may be a combination of vigilant advocacy and a new strategy supported by recent housing research. One thing the government is very good at is counting things: From missiles bought, to meals served, to millions taxed, the government keeps a tally. But it is not as good at counting how spending in one area can save money in another.
We often say Washington works in silos: lots of communication (and counting) up and down a federal department but very little communication between them. This poses many problems, especially when people’s needs don’t fit into one of those silos. In the 1980s, the federal government established a task force across departments, including housing and health, to work on homelessness. It turned out that many of the homeless were mentally ill, had substance abuse problems, were veterans and, in some cases, all three. So, solving the problem of homelessness really meant tackling a variety of issues.
With elderly housing, we know there is a similar crossover because supportive housing for older adults, with appropriate services, is an alternative to unnecessary nursing home placements and other pricier options. Many of our residents are able to live independently with support, but without those services, many would be unable to do so; and, with no financial resources, a nursing home placement through Medicaid would be their only alternative. A month in a nursing home costs Medicaid about $8,000. A year in a nursing home costs just under $100,000. For one person! So yes, housing is expensive, but so is health care. Combining the two, taking advantage of economies of scale, work to the long-term benefit of the resident and, at the same time, saves money on health care. So, if new research on the health care savings generated by affordable housing is taken into account, building new housing doesn’t seem so expensive. And, that’s just one way in which subsidized housing can reduce health care spending.
Housing is necessary and more affordable than other options, and it meets the needs and wants of older adults. People do not want to be in a nursing home if they have more independence with some regular service support. The bottom line is that spending money on bricks and mortar can save money by reducing the amount spent on health care. Hopefully, this will help the number crunchers in Washington to see the light.
Over the years, I haven’t had many opportunities to be on the front lines of these policy debates, but I guess it’s time to get back into the game and step up to the plate.
By touring the property, Congressman Raskin received a firsthand look at how important Section 202 affordable housing is for low-income seniors. He was introduced to members of the staff, and shown a resident’s apartment and the various amenities in the building such as the dinning and arts and crafts rooms. Walking through the property showed Congressman Raskin that Homecrest House is more than bricks and mortar; but a senior community that allows older Americans to “age in place.”
After the tour, the congressman dazzled everyone in attendance by sitting behind the piano and demonstrating his musical talent. Then, during the town hall, Congressman Raskin took questions from the residents on a variety of topics ranging from basic senior issues to affordable housing to foreign policy. After the Q and A, he took time to meet personally with all those in attendance.
In the months ahead, we will be working hard to encourage additional representatives and senators to visit B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings across the country. As demonstrated by the congressman’s onsite visit, inviting your member of Congress to visit affordable housing properties is a great way to advertise how integral these buildings are to low-income seniors being able to “age in place.”
Public opinion states that it is very difficult to understand why indifferent and evil interests have made the heinous killing of civilians in Syria possible.
There are harsh claims from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media and some sensitive political leaders blaming the United Nations Security Council and specifically those countries with veto power. These claims were the center of debate some weeks ago during a Security Council session, which discussed sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons, yet again, on its civilians.
There was an agreement to punish the Assad regime, but Russia vetoed that resolution. Latin American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba have repeatedly backed Assad, and Latin America as a whole has not been clear in its stand before the Syrian tragedy.
This time, Uruguay reacted slightly differently from other Latin American countries. Permanent Representative of Uruguay Ambassador Elbio Rosselli started his speech saying “keep calm and carry on,” an English motto from World War II.
Rosselli continued to say, “We have to keep calm in order to be able to keep doing our job as Security Council, because the Syrian war must be kept in a multilateral frame and the main responsibility for it lies in this Council.”
Immediately, Rosselli criticized the Russian veto by saying: “the members of this Council should understand the damage of the use of the veto when we face such horrible situations. Veto in these times means lack of efficiency of the Council and makes our job unbalanced.”
But on the other hand, Rosselli said that unilateral use of force is considered by Uruguay as “illegitimate.” This was a clear criticism of the United States bombing of Syria after Assad’s chemical attack on his own people.
And here we have the main point: the use of the word “balance.”
The use of chemical weapons by Assad is a war crime and must be judged as such. To veto any sanction of those who engage in acts of barbarity, shows the lack of any efficiency of the Security Council and the U.N. itself.
The U.S. bombing was not as unilateral as it was mentioned in the Security Council. The U.S. previously reported that China and other countries, which also have veto power, knew that the bombing would take place.
Is it necessary to criticize just for the record or to show impartiality? Absolutely not. All members of the Security Council were fully aware that the United States had spoken with China, United Kingdom and France before attacking Syria. So, the so called “impartiality” was out of the queston.
But this political way to use “balance” is unfortunately used all the time in U.N. agencies and in the Security Council as well.
And Israel is one of those issues. What is the “balance” of devoting one full Security Council session a month speaking against Israel, and doing nothing to find a path to peace, but instead, spread rhetoric full of lies and hatred?
Well, there is no balance whatsoever. And Latin American countries instead of helping to end dubious and useless “balances” which go nowhere should be instrumental to open the eyes to African, European countries in order to help altogether to do a serious work at the U.N.
Another question without a possible serious answer: Why introduce a motion to sanction Syria when everybody in the whole world knew that Russia would veto and the genocide would continue endlessly?
History remembers and honors those who put an end to evil and barbarism. However, history also remembers indifference and silence.
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