Thursday, September 29, 2016

The hidden disease: Addictive gambling

Addiction and Recovery
The hidden disease: Addictive gambling

By Bob Gaydos
It is estimated that about 9 million adults
 in the U.S. have a serious gambling problem.
Mary (not her real name) discovered gambling about 40 years ago when she started going to casinos with her husband. Last January, now a widow, she self-excluded herself from the Monticello Casino and Raceway (also known as the racino), near where she lives. She can be arrested if she tries to get in. She did this because, despite her Social Security check, her pension and half of her deceased husband’s pension, “I had no more money to write a check.”
Mary is a compulsive gambler.
Her story is not unique. Seniors, especially senior women, are major players at racinos. “It’s a social outlet,” she says. And a convenient way to gamble. Of course, her gambling addiction didn’t just materialize overnight after 40 years. There was bingo in addition to the casinos. And lots of lottery tickets. It finally became obvious. When her husband was alive, she explained, “He controlled the money.” Lonely, and without any restrictions, her gambling progressed.
“What really killed me,” she says, “is that I lost more than I won and still had to pay income tax.”
Joyce, who doesn’t mind using her real name, has been addicted to drugs for 35 years. “I didn’t realize I had a gambling problem,” she says. “I kept buying Lottery scratch-offs, hoping to get enough money to get more drugs. I stopped using drugs January 15. I realized in talking to Carol that I had a gambling problem, too.”
Carol Ingrassia is coordinator of the Bettor Choice program at the Catholic Charities Monticello Campus (formerly the Recovery Center). She is the only counselor with Catholic Charities, at all its campuses, currently credentialed to deal with addictive grambling.
Jeff Skaar, director of operations at the Monticello campus, says five staff members are enrolled in credentialing classes at SUNY Orange, with five more to follow, so there will be trained gambling counselors at each Catholic Charities location. The state requires credentials as an Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) to add a G for gambling to the title.
This effort to add trained gambling counselors to the staff is a response to the much-anticipated opening of a casino in Sullivan County. But the Bettor Choice program, which Mary and Joyce utilize, has been around for 10 years. In that time, the state has added more Lottery games (the number one problem with problem gamblers), Quickdraw has become a staple in bars and diners and sports gambling has become increasingly popular. OTB has had its heyday.
With all that enticement to gamble, one might think there would already be a good supply of gambling counselors, but Skaar says, “Gambling counseling didn’t take off like the state anticipated, so it cut the funding.” But it kept adding Lottery games and now has approved five new casinos. “We’re hoping,” Skaar says, “that the state will recognize its role in providing local services near local gambling sites,” That’s key, he said, because, while people will travel to casinos from everywhere, services for problem gamblers won’t be available everywhere.
The Bettor Choice program currently has 10 clients. They have weekly individual meetings and one group meeting, as well as lectures. Mary heard about the program in a talk at a local health fair, part of Catholic Charities’ public outreach to let people know what help is available. She said the program worked for a while, then she went on vacation and gambled again. That prompted her to ban herself from the Racino and reacquaint herself with Bettor Choice.
Joyce, 55, is from Newburgh. She is in residential treatment in Monticello for her drug addiction, a three-to-six-month program. “Gambling is a trigger for my drug addiction,” she says. Such co-existing addictions are not uncommon. In addition to learning the triggers for their gambling, participants learn tools to help them adjust their behavior. For example, Joyce says, “Don’t carry money. Or, walk with friends to go past stores selling lottery tickets.” These are especially key at the beginning of recovery. Mary has had to find other activities with friends and at church to fill her time.
Catholic Charities gives a gambling screening test to all persons who come to its residential treatment center. “Lots of people who come to rehab are reluctant to admit to a gambling addiction,” Ingrassia says. “There’s a hierarchy of addictions. The legal ones -- alcohol and gambling -- are at the bottom. Addicts are less likely to admit to them.”
In fact, gambling is referred to as the “hidden addiction.” It’s legal. People like it. No one wants to admit he or she can’t handle their money. Compulsive gamblers tend to look down on people with other addictions, even though the damage they cause can be catastrophic to those close to them.
“It’s an immediate rush,” Skaar says. Even when they lose, “they feel there is one thing that will save them and the one thing is money. In gambling, there’s the belief that I’m going to get even and my troubles will be gone.”
The reality is that, too often, money doesn’t save them and, instead of their problems being gone, their family and their family’s money are.
Unfortunately, the “hidden addiction” also has a not-so-easy-to-find solution. Skaar says he has met with the people who run the Racino to let them know the Bettor Choice program exists. The state has a hotline that appears on every lottery ticket (Look hard; you’ll find it) and is included in every Lottery commercial. It’s also on every machine at the Racino. Still, Skaar hopes the state will do more, notably make facilities available statewide to help problem gamblers.
“People suffer in silence,” Ingrassia says. “Their bottom is lack of money.” She adds, “There’s a very high suicide rate among problem gamblers.”

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer and editor.

-- Definition. Those who study and classify such behavior use the terms: Problem gambling; Compulsive gambling; Pathological gambling; Gambling disorder; and Gambling addiction. It’s all a matter of degree and whom you ask.
-- The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 2 to 3 percent of adults in the United States (about 9 million people) have serious problems with gambling. Another 3 million meet the criteria for “pathological” or “compulsive” gambling.
-- 48 states have some form of legalized gambling; 43 states have lotteries.
-- Catholic Charities (Recovery Center): 845-794-8080.
-- Gamblers Anonymous: Ingrassia says the 12-Step group has had difficulty keeping a meeting going in Sullivan County. The only meeting in the immediate area is at Vails Gate 4 Corners (next to the Firehouse). Mondays, from 7 to 9 p.m.
-- Gamblers Anonymous info:;
or (855) 222-5542
-- New York State Hopeline: 1-877-8-HOPENY; for help with gambling and substance abuse problems. Under the auspices of the State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services:
-- New York Council on Problem Gambling:

Gamblers Anonymous 20 questions

Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, loneliness, grief or loss?
Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

According to GA, most compulsive gamblers will answer 'yes' to at least 7 of these questions.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A false argument on 'false balance'

By Bob Gaydos
Donald Trump ... king of the birthers
Hallelujah! Praise the lord and pass the ammunition! The cavalry has arrived. Less than a week after its public editor offered a bass-ackwards interpretation of the “false balance” issue (“Here’s the Truth About ‘False Balance,’’’ Sept. 11), The New York Times ran an article at the top of its front page that perfectly demonstrated the proper way to avoid false balance in covering a political campaign: Tell the actual truth.
Saturday’s (Sept. 17) Times led with a story headlined: “Trump Gives Up a Lie But Refuses to Repent.’’ It carried a subhead: “No Apology After 5 Years of Nurturing ‘Birther’ Issue to Undermine Obama.” What followed was a carefully detailed accounting of Donald Trump’s “birther” lie, which was nothing more than a racially coded effort to delegitimize the nation’s first black president.
The piece, by Michael Barbaro, was actually a news analysis and was labeled as such, but the Times still led the paper with it, rather than the straightforward (presumably unbiased) story reporting on the big announcement by Trump. That’s because Barbaro’s piece put the whole sordid truth out there, in perspective, for readers to digest. There was no worry about whether the story was “too liberal’ (another worry of the new public editor) or too harsh. It was true. Every bit of it. What Trump said and continues to say (he claims Hillary Clinton started the birther rumors) is not.
The news analysis was, in effect, a front-page editorial leading the paper. The Times also ran an editorial inside the paper that echoed the truth that Trump has lied repeatedly about this and other issues. In my humble opinion, this is called good, aggressive, community-minded journalism that holds public figures accountable for their words and actions without worrying whether it will offend the public figure and/or his supporters. It belongs on the front page, especially when the liar wants to be president and lots of people want to believe his lies.
The public editor, Liz Spayd, might call this approach “preaching to the choir.” She’s apparently also concerned that a lot of people consider the newpaper to be “liberal.’’ Gambling? Here? I’m shocked, shocked!
She wrote a piece headlined “Why Readers See The Times as Liberal” (July 24), as if that’s a bad thing and as if it’s a new thing. In that article she suggested keeping editorials off the front page after a lot of people who said they were conservative objected to a front-page editorial on gun control. So the newspaper, which has argued unabashedly for gun control for decades, should timidly limit its views to the opinion page because they might offend some people whose political views probably revolve around guns and not much else, because those people might not read the paper if they think its reporting is skewed to the left.
News flash: They probably don’t read the paper anyway because: 1) It’s always been fashionable to bash the most-prestigious paper in the world, especially when its editorial views -- not necessarily its reporting -- don’t reflect yours; and 2) it costs too much.
In Spayd’s view, Times reporters must resist the arguments about false balance -- in this case, giving political candidates’ statements, opinions and actions equal treatment (“fair” treatment) in reporting and writing, even though the truth argues otherwise -- because, in their distaste for Trump the reporters might be tempted to go easy on Clinton.
Go ahead, finish laughing.
The Times, like the rest of the media, has been beating up on Clinton for years, searching for scandal and coming up short. This obviously can be frustrating when the editors and reporters also know she pretty much despises most of them, doesn’t hide it and, as a result, brings much of the negative reporting on herself.
But … if it’s only Clinton supporters now who are complaining about “false balance” in Times reporting on the campaign, that’s because virtually the entire mainstream media was guilty of this for months by treating Trump as a qualified candidate for president because the Republican Party didn’t know how to stop him. It’s also because much of The Times’ reporting on Clinton -- presumably tough-minded and fair-- has also been shoddy, not nearly up to the paper’s reputation. If you’re going to be fair on holding candidates’ feet to the fire, be accurate. If anything, that is what has built the newspaper’s reputation.
Besides, the Clinton supporters had no gripe with The Times during the primary campaign when Sen. Bernie Sanders was often an asterisk in the paper’s coverage of the Clinton coronation as Democratic Party nominee.
In her closing argument on “false balance,” Spayd writes, “Fear of false balance is a creeping threat to the role of the media because it encourages journalists to pull back from their responsibility to hold power accountable. All power, not just selected individuals, however vile they might seem.”
That’s a perfect example of false balance. Reporters, in other words, should not hold back on trying to find something bad to write about Hillary Clinton (again, an absurd premise to start with) just because Donald Trump has proven himself over and over to be (not “seem”) vile, deceitful, bigoted, narcissistic, misogynistic, uninformed, racist, unpredictable, volatile, immature.
And dangerous.
After his major announcement that he had been lying about President Obama’s citizenship for years, Trump said to an audience in Miami that Clinton wants to “destroy your Second Amendment.’’ As a response to that, he suggested: “She goes around with armed bodyguards like you have never seen before. I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. They should disarm. Right? Right? I think they should disarm immediately. What do you think? Yes? Yes. Yeah. Take their guns away. She doesn't want guns. ... Let's see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay? It would be very dangerous.”
The audience, as always at Trump rallies, applauded this threat.
Go ahead, by all means, New York Times, be “fair and balanced” and don’t stop investigating the Clinton Foundation. But also, do continue to ignore your public editor and keep telling the truth about this vile man on the front page every day. Other media follow your lead. The chorus may be convinced, but others may be ready to join.
If your public editor regards that as “taking sides,” so be it. This is not a high school debate; this is about the future of our country. A major responsibility of newspapers is to inform, educate and help mold public opinion. Unlike some other media (Fox News), The Times does this without lying. At least that’s the reputation. Live up to it.

(Full disclosure: The author was editorial page editor of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. for 23 years.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The truth shall make us free ... and angry

By Bob Gaydos

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Donald Trump ... a language barrier?

I wrote a column recently in which I said that the media’s decision to give Donald Trump’s core supporters the dignity of a legitimate-sounding political movement name was, essentially, a bunch of hooey. A lazy, cowardly way of saying that the folks most passionate about Trump’s candidacy are bigots.

When you say Alt-Right, read it to mean the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, previously closeted fascists, anti-gays, and a bunch of woman-haters. The kind of people who, in previous eras stole land from Native Americans and slaughtered thousands of them. Who started a war to preserve slavery. Who had whites-only schools and bathrooms. Who herded fellow Americans of foreign descent into internment camps.

I thought it was a fair, truthful representation of what Americans have been subjected to for nearly a year now. Would that the major media had done the same for the past year. One reader suggested there must have been spittle on my laptop when I got through writing. Quite possible. I’ve been known to get a little messy when I’m angry. To me, one of the most disappointing aspects of this presidential campaign is that not nearly enough people are angry and downright embarrassed that one of our two major political parties has handed its presidential nomination to a congenital liar. A bigot. A misogynist. A narcissist. … There I go again.

Another reader noted a lot of “name-calling” in the piece. I don’t know. It seems to me when I use words to describe the reality of what is going on, it’s not name-calling, it’s doing what Trump says he does. You know, telling it like it is; calling a spade a spade, a bigot a bigot. I think Trump’s own words and actions legitimize every label I affixed to him. You can deny this if you want, but that merely puts you in line with the Republican National Committee, which is in bed with Trump, against its will but for its own selfish purposes. There are names for that, too.

Last week, Trump took his ego to Mexico to meet with that country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto. After the meeting, Trump said they discussed the infamous wall he has repeatedly vowed to build on the U.S. border with Mexico, but he said the two men did not discuss his demand that Mexico pay for it. Pena Nieto disagreed. He said he “made it clear” at the beginning of the conversation that Mexico would not pay for any wall.

If somebody is lying here, I’m going with Trump. Just hours after his cordial photo op/meeting in Mexico, the candidate was in Phoenix giving as extreme an anti-immigrant speech one could imagine. A wall. Mass deportations of migrant criminals. “Extreme-vetting.” “Ideological certification.” David Duke, former Klan leader, called it “excellent.”

Back in Washington, D.C., Priebus and his RNC crew were once again left trying to figure out how to put a positive spin on Trump’s latest hateful broadside. Their decision was to say nothing because, really, what was there to say. The RNC has made its bed. Now it has to lie in it and about it. Week after week, it has been waiting for Trump to become more … presidential? No, that hope disappeared long ago. Perhaps simply more sane, more rational, more compassionate. Compassion would help. If Trump had any.

Cliche after cliche after cliche comes to mind. What you see is what you get. He is what he is. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Anything beyond that is merely ignoring the loud elephant in the room.

When this campaign is over and Hillary Clinton has become the first woman president in U.S. history -- by default, if you wish -- Priebus and his fellow GOP travelers will have a major decision to make.

Many Republicans who finally summed up the courage to say they cannot support a candidate with no redeeming social values to be the leader of this country are already trying to figure out where their party goes from here. Or where they go from here, if not with the GOP. For votes and power, they surrendered their party to the likes of the Koch brothers, Fox News and the fearful demands of the Tea Party fringe. Rich bigots lying to not-so-rich bigots.

Trump told them what they wanted to hear. Then he changed his mind. Then he said he never said that. Then he said, the greatest insult of all -- that he was going to make America great again.

Listen, great isn’t all it’s trumped-up to be. When this election is over, I would rather be proud of my country again.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Alt-Right: A trumped-up name for bigots

By Bob Gaydos

Trump supporters

It's not enough that I've had to suffer through the most frightening, embarrassing presidential campaign in my lifetime and, perhaps, in the lifetime of this country, but now I'm being asked to grant legitimacy to the very ugliness that has marred this chapter in American history.

“Alt-right”? “Alt-right”? Are you kidding me? How about ugly, racist, bigoted, anti-semitic, hateful, ignorant, white people who want to blame all their perceived grievances on those who are different from them.

These are the people who never wanted the Civil War to end. Who didn't want schools integrated or teaching evolution. Who would welcome a return to segregated lunch counters. Who hate the day when Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. Who brandish the swastika. Now they want to start another civil war, led by the biggest con artist ever to claim leadership of a major political party, Donald Trump.

Thank you, Republicans.

Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton referred to the most avid followers of Trump as the Alt-Right, a term now being used by mainstream media. With capital letters and everything. This is a collection of hate groups that have been festering quietly in the bowels of the Republican Party for years. Quietly, because even most Republicans are aware that these are not people who are interested in being part of an America that is open and welcome and full of opportunity for all people. These are Klansmen and neo-Nazis and Second-Amendment-spouting “patriots” who want the government to take care of their needs, but ignore the “freeloaders.” Hell, to punish them.

And yes, I blame Republicans for letting this happen because they knew full well the kind of people they were cynically courting for votes and the kind of people they were playing to by refusing to cooperate on any initiative proposed by President Barack Obama. Is it a coincidence that he is our country's first black president and Trump has freed the racists from the Republicans’ basement? I don't think so.

I’m glad Clinton spelled out in detail publicly what Trump and his followers represent. She should do more of it, while also spelling out her own alternatives to his fearful message. I hesitate to say that he stands for anything but himself because I think he makes it up as he goes along. He is a pathological liar, a bigot, a misogynist and has a sociopathic need to stir up fear and hatred among the “Alt-Rights” to hear their applause. He gave a scripted speech on how blacks -- whose lives in America are a never-ending hell in his view -- would be better off voting for him. He gave the speech to a group of white farmers in Iowa. Naturally, they applauded.

It is a sick relationship, enabled by cowardly leaders in the Republican Party who feared losing power and prestige by telling the “Alt-Rights”: You know what folks, in this country we don’t do things that way. We’ve come a long way from those days when skin color, gender, religion, nationality, sexual preference determined whether one was accepted as an American. And, by the way, we’re not going to sacrifice our party’s principles for the sake of a few votes based on hatred and ignorance. So, go find another place to hide.

But no Republican leader said that to them. Instead, they put Sarah Palin on a pedestal and questioned whether their commander-in-chief was really an American..

Alt-Right is not a political philosophy. Rather, it is a fear-based  agenda of white supremacy that is being spread via social media. Their memes offer a message of lies and hate and almost a proud ignorance. Facts and science are irrelevant. It is definitely not conservative, liberal, Democrat or Republican. It is fear and hate and white is right and Trump has given it a voice, thanks in large part to the shameless orchestration of Fox News and the cluelessness of all the other news media until it was almost too late.

Trump stole the Republican nomination through bullying, outrageous statements, headline-grabbing and the timidness of many of his opponents, Republican leaders and media commentators. No one had the guts to say he was nuts. Since many of them have belatedly caught on to him, Trump is unlikely to steal the election. In fact, he seems almost intent on losing because he knows he can’t handle the job. It would be a major blow to his ego if he had to demonstrate his ineptitude publicly.

But he has given the cave-dwellers and hate-mongers hope and that is the real tragedy of this insult of an election. They now think they can spread their venom in public without repercussion because, after all, they’ve got a guy running for president of the United States of America for Pete’s sake. If that’s not legit, what is? And now, the media want to give them a legit name like all those other made-up ones -- Neo-Con, Neo-Liberal, Far Right, Far Left.

Forget about Alt-Right. Call them what they are: racists and bigots. I say again, any Republican who hears what Trump and his most ardent followers say and sees how they behave and who still says he or she (really, woman?) supports his candidacy is no better than Trump. You are what you say you are. Presidents do not get to issue threats, insults and idiotic statements and change their minds every day.

Clinton has some serious issues to address, but they pale in comparison to what Trump represents. If you support Trump, know this: Your candidate is a fraud, a bigot, a callous, clueless, compassionless, misogynistic, self-aggrandizing bully who belittle veterans who died or were captured in battle and who mocks citizens with physical disabilities.

This is not all right in my America. This kind of “alternative” is unacceptable and does not deserve any special, pseudo-sounding, political movement name so that reporters, editors and columnists can have a shorthand way of saying bigots.