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“Lives Hang In The Balance”: Americans Must Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness

Of all the outrages to decency and common sense during National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre press conference following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the most offensive may have been his depiction of America as a dark hell haunted by homicidal maniacs.

“The truth,” LaPierre insisted, “is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”

Monsters, evil, possessed. Demons, for the love of God.

Is this the 21st century, or the 17th? In LaPierre’s mind, like many adepts of the gun cult, it follows that every grown man and woman must equip themselves with an AR-15 semi-automatic killing machine with a 30-round banana clip to keep monsters out of elementary schools. Die Hard: With a Blackboard.

To be fair, polls show that most gun owners support reasonable reforms like closing the “gun show” loophole allowing no-questions-asked sales that evade FBI background checks. It may be politically possible to ban high-capacity magazines and to reinstate something like the assault weapons ban allowed to expire in yet another of President George W. Bush’s many gifts to the nation.

That these actions would have limited short-term effect is no reason not to act. Nobody’s Second Amendment rights would be compromised either. America can’t achieve sensible gun laws without first politically isolating extremists.

But there’s another way that LaPierre’s appalling rhetoric helps make a bad situation worse. Loose talk about possession and demons serves only to deepen the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and contributes to society’s refusal to deal seriously with its effects.

Newtown mass shooter Adam Lanza hasn’t been, and probably can’t be, diagnosed with any certainty. But all the signs point to paranoid schizophrenia, a devastating brain disease whose victims are no more possessed by demons than are cancer patients or heart attack survivors.

Psychiatrist Paul Steinberg writes that early signs of the disease “may include being a quirky loner—often mistaken for Asperger’s syndrome,” the less-stigmatizing diagnosis Nancy Lanza reportedly told friends accounted for her son’s peculiarities.

Schizophrenia is a physiological disorder of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, resulting in disordered and obsessive thinking, auditory hallucinations and other forms of psychosis. Sufferers often imagine themselves to have a special connection with God or some other powerful figure. It’s when they start hearing command voices telling them to avenge themselves upon imagined enemies that terrible things can happen.

Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. suffers from schizophrenia; also John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman. More to the point, rampage shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech in 2007, had been in and out of treatment for paranoid schizophrenia, but never hospitalized for long enough to bring him back to reality.

Nobody knew what to do about Jared L. Loughner, who killed six people while attempting to murder Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson. Same disease. After James Holmes began showing signs of advancing psychosis, University of Colorado officials more or less, well, “washed their hands of him” would be a judgmental way to put it. Then he killed 24 strangers attending a Batman movie in Aurora, CO. He reportedly mailed a notebook describing his mad plans to a university psychiatrist, which she received only after the fact.

With the possible exception of Lanza, all of these killers had exhibited overt symptoms of psychosis previous to their explosive criminal acts. They belonged in locked-down psychiatric hospitals under medical treatment — whether voluntarily or not. Nobody in Seung-Hui Cho’s or James Holmes’ state of mind can meaningfully decide these things for themselves.

Properly speaking, psychosis has no rights.

Yet the biggest reason people don’t act is that for practical purposes, ill-considered laws make involuntary commitment somewhere between difficult and impossible. Sources told New York Times columnist Joe Nocera that Connecticut makes it so hard to get somebody committed to a psychiatric hospital against their will that Nancy Lanza probably couldn’t have done anything had she tried. (And risked antagonizing her son in the process.)

“The state and federal rules around mental illness,” Nocera writes “are built upon a delusion: that the sickest among us should always be in control of their own treatment, and that deinstitutionalization is the more humane route.”

A liberal delusion, mainly. The good news is that anti-psychotic medications work; diseased minds can be treated. Putting somebody into a psychiatric ward for 30 days shouldn’t be as simple as a 911 call, but neither should it require the near-equivalent of a criminal trial.

Just as with gun control, lives hang in the balance.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, January 2, 2012

January 3, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Health Care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A House Divided Against Itself”: The GOP Will Either Become All One Thing, Or All The Other

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced his opposition to the bipartisan fiscal agreement, it caused quite a stir. Cantor is not only a very influential GOP figure, but his comments came before House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had even taken a position on the bill, and certainly gave the impression that the two were sharply at odds.

As speculation intensified — was this a precursor to Cantor challenging Boehner for the Speaker’s gavel? — the Majority Leader’s office tried to lower the temperature. Cantor’s chief spokesperson insisted that the Virginia Republican “stands with” Boehner, and rumors to the contrary were “silly, non-productive and untrue.”

But Cantor really didn’t stand with the Speaker, and speculation wasn’t — and isn’t — silly at all.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy broke with Speaker John Boehner Monday night, voting against a multi-trillion tax package designed to avert the fiscal cliff.

The decision to abandon Boehner — which came after Boehner’s leadership team whipped not only rank and file members but even other lower ranking members of leadership — will almost certainly set off a furious round of speculation about the future of his speakership, less than 48 hours before members are scheduled to vote on it.

It’s worth emphasizing, as John Stanton reported, that both Cantor and McCarthy waited to register a vote until the bill had 218 supporters, paying Boehner “the courtesy” of registering a preference without actively trying to bring down the entire bill.

But that doesn’t make up for the fact that when it came time for the biggest House vote in the last year, the Speaker was on one side and his top two lieutenants were on the other. Boehner is regularly ignored by his rank-and-file members, but it’s one thing when backbenchers go their own way on key pieces of legislation; it’s something else when the GOP leadership is split down the middle.

The next question, of course, is the short-term consideration: what happens tomorrow when House Republicans elect their Speaker for the next Congress?

The working assumption, which I’ve generally accepted, was that Boehner was in deep trouble if he passed the fiscal agreement by relying overwhelmingly on Democratic votes. There was no magic number, per se, but if the Speaker relied on 25 to 30 House Republicans to pass the bill, it would amount to a practical vote of no confidence.

But when the dust settled overnight, it was hard to miss the fact that 85 House Republicans voted with Boehner in support of the measure. Sure, the Speaker had to forgo the “Hastert Rule” and rely on a majority of the minority, and 151 House GOP members went the other way, but it’s tough to see 85 votes as a career-ender for Boehner.

Over the weekend, Politico reported, “It’s a truth that fire-breathing conservatives will have to handle: John Boehner isn’t going anywhere as speaker of the House.” To be sure, that was before the Senate agreement was reached and three days before last night’s vote, but it nevertheless seems accurate, barring 11th-hour drama.

The vote, after all, is tomorrow, and as of this minute, Boehner has no opposition. This has been an ugly couple of weeks for the Speaker, but he appears to have survived — weakened, but still standing. This, like the intra-party divisions, won’t help Boehner govern in the next Congress, but it should be enough to help him keep his gavel.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 2, 2012

January 3, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Illogical Republican Accusations”: Hillary Clinton’s Blood Clot Isn’t A Benghazi Conspiracy

Hillary Clinton’s impressive career should, on paper, be a sign of women’s advancement in public policy and in society as a whole. That was until her detractors accused her of a higher-level version of the feigned “I have a headache” dodge.

Clinton is recovering from a blood clot in her brain. It’s a scary development, but her doctors say she is making a good recovery. But the chronology of her illness has spurred an absurd series of conspiracy theories, largely centered on the insulting idea that she was lying about being sick so she could avoid testifying before Congress about the Benghazi attacks.

It started with a fall, which Clinton’s staff attributed to dehydration from the flu. The fall led to a concussion. Treatment and testing after the concussion revealed a blood clot in Clinton’s brain, a condition for which she is being given blood thinners. The snide and illogical accusations when Clinton fell—that she was faking so she didn’t have to go to the grown-up version of a high school trigonometry test—look even more ridiculous now. And they follow the same politically-driven theories about the State Department’s handling of the Benghazi episode itself.

Initial intelligence from the attacks was that the episode stemmed from outrage in the Middle East over an Internet video of a film—actually, a “film,”—that denigrated Muslims. Later, intelligence showed that it was a planned attack. Those two assessments are not necessarily mutually exclusive; it could have been a planned attack accelerated by spontaneous anger over the film. But detractors of the Obama administration, hoping to turn a tragedy into a scandal that would fell President Obama’s re-election campaign, made it into a conspiracy by the State Department to trick the American people. They did manage to end the potential nomination of United Nations ambassador Susan Rice to replace Clinton at State, saying Rice misled the American public. Yet Rice was merely doing what public officials do in cases like this—delivering the information the administration had received from the intelligence community (and it borders on delusional to think that the Benghazi episode would make the difference for Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign).

In fact, it’s not surprising that early intelligence from any tumultuous event would be wrong or incomplete. That’s the nature of early assessments. People report what they know at the time, and it’s not always a full picture. It doesn’t make it a lie.

The same is true for Clinton’s illness. First, it’s laughable that Clinton—who has faced relentless scrutiny as a public figure on everything from her health care proposals to her marriage to her hair—is scared of a bunch of congressmen. And those who now question whether we were all given the full story on Clinton’s illness when it first surfaced are guilty of the same conspiracy mindset as those who think the Obama administration deliberately lied in the early hours after the Benghazi attack.

Serious illnesses aren’t always identified at the first symptom, which may not look like the symptom of something dangerous at all. Fainting could mean you have low blood pressure or are dehydrated. Or, it could be something more—there’s simply no way to know until a patient is tested. The only question here is whether Clinton’s initial fall was caused by the blood clot or her flu, but that doesn’t suggest a misinformation campaign. The woman has traveled nearly a million miles in her four years as Secretary of State. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that she didn’t pass out a long time ago from sheer exhaustion.

The technology exists for instant communication, and that has given people the impression that facts will be clear at the same pace. Stories take longer to unfold than that—whether it’s an attack on a U.S. mission or an illness.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, January 2, 2013

January 3, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lessons Not Learned”: Republicans Who Put Principle Above Country

A lot of the time, politics is about picking the least worst option. Well, the “fiscal cliff” deal jointly crafted by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was the least worst option, and those who voted against it should not hide behind any phony commitment to principle. This deal or nothing were the two options left after weeks of failed negotiations. Nothing else was possible last night. And while nothing about the deal makes America stronger, the absence of an agreement would make us weaker.

The GOP needs to be the party of low taxes and smaller government. This deal produces the opposite of that. It does nothing to slow spending, reduce the debt or diminish dependency. All it did was avoid a financial shot to the head for millions of U.S. taxpayers.

Of course it is easy to oppose the deal when you don’t consider context, the alternatives and the consequences of doing nothing. It is convenient to believe that, if the GOP had let us go over the cliff, it would have been so bad for so many taxpayers and for the economy that the president and the Democrats in Congress would have agreed to a better deal, including spending reform. In other words, taxpayers were being held hostage and if we would have let them endure a little torture, we could have gotten Obama and the Democrats to cave in to our will.

What a bunch of baloney. The Republicans who voted “no” hid behind the courage of those who recognized that the McConnell-Biden deal was better — at this time — than the consequences of doing nothing.

Obviously, America’s future depends on our ability to rein in spending. Fights over our spending, including the debt-ceiling debate, will be critical. But no Republicans should boast of their opposition to the McConnell-Biden deal and consider themselves more philosophically pure or more courageous than their colleagues who had to vote for the bill. They are the opposite.I hope party leaders will band together and punish any Republican or Republican organization that tries to use this vote against those who voted for it. Nobody should be vulnerable in a future primary because they voted “yes” last night. If anything, the lesson learned for Republicans should be how hard it’s going to be to get our financial house in order and slow the quickening decline of America.


By: Ed Rogers, The Insiders, The Washington Post, January 2, 2012

January 3, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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