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“For GOP, ‘Obamacare’ Is Inherently Bad, Even When It’s Good”: Focusing On Guns And Mental Health Means Talking About The ACA

In the wake of every mass-shooting – events that occur with heartbreaking regularity in the United States, but no other industrialized democracy – political rhetoric tends to follow a predictable trajectory. Democratic officials, in general, raise the prospect of new policies to curtail gun violence.

And Republican officials, in general, decry such efforts as anti-freedom, preferring to focus on practically anything else. For some on the right, mass shootings serve as an excuse to renew conversations about violent entertainment (though plenty of other countries enjoy similar cultural fare without violent consequences). For others, gun massacres are reason to start merging religion and public schools (as if the Second Amendment is inviolate, but the First Amendment is malleable).

But in recent months, a focus on mental health – which must have tested well with focus groups – has become one of the GOP’s principal talking points. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the day of the mass-shooting in Oregon last week, urged President Obama to back Cornyn’s bill “to address mental health factor in mass violence incidents.”

In the Washington Post over the weekend, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack described some provisions of Cornyn’s proposal as “helpful and constructive,” but highlighted a missing piece of the puzzle.

Cornyn’s proposal does not address the most glaring issue in American mental health policy: the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion was always the public health cornerstone of ACA. It remains the single most important measure to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment, serving severely vulnerable populations such as the homeless, addressing the complicated medical and psychiatric difficulties of many young men cycling through our jails and prisons.

I suspect that for many Republicans, the idea of “Obamacare” playing a meaningful role in preventing mass-shootings must sound ridiculous. After all, “Obamacare” is inherently bad, even when it’s good, and all of its provisions must be rejected because, well, just because.

But Pollack is entirely correct, and if GOP officials are going to ignore gun-safety measures to focus on mental health, they should probably grow up and reconcile their mental-health rhetoric with their mindless, knee-jerk hostility towards Medicaid expansion through the ACA.

Indeed, Pollack’s Washington Post piece added:

In 2013, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a report endorsing Medicaid expansion. The report argued that “States that decline to expand Medicaid will miss as good an opportunity as they may ever have to address this shameful void in access to mental health treatment.” Addressing the connection between mental illness and violence, NAMI concluded:

 “In the aftermath of Newtown, many politicians and policy makers have promised to take steps to fix America’s broken mental health system. Expanding Medicaid in all states would represent a significant step towards keeping those promises.”

My suspicion, based on years of conservative apoplexy about expanding Americans’ access to affordable health security, is that when Republicans talk about mental health as a substitute for a debate about gun policy, they’re creating a smoke screen. Many of these partisans aren’t serious about expanding mental-health services, so much as they’re pushing a talking point to circumvent an even less pleasant conversation about the frequency of gun deaths in the United States.

They can, however, prove these suspicions wrong fairly easily. Pollack concluded, “If any other politician suggests that mental health rather than gun policy is central to reducing mass homicides, ask where they stand on Medicaid expansion. Their answer will be clarifying.”

Let’s start with Senator Cornyn, who fought tooth and nail to block Medicaid expansion in Texas, despite the fact that Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the entire country. Any chance he’ll consider a new, more constructive posture on the issue as part of his renewed interest on the issue of mental health?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 5, 2015

October 5, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Gun Violence, Mental Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Our Current Investments In Justice System Are Unwise”: Criminal Justice Reform Ignores Victims Of Crime. That Makes No Sense

When policymakers think of the people who comprise the victims’ rights movement, young people of color from low-income communities may not be the first group that leaps to mind. But the facts suggest these survivors should be.

My organization conducted two years of research and found that one in five Californians experience crime – but its impact is concentrated and unequal. The majority of crime victims live in lower-income communities and repeat victimization is even more concentrated (echoing research on victimization in the entire US). When it comes to violent crime, those most likely to be repeatedly victimized are young people of color, especially African-American and Latino males.

Two out of three crime survivors reported being victimized more than once in the last five years. Many repeat victims have long histories of suffering multiple types of crimes, such as sexual exploitation, abuse or community violence. Worse still, only a small number of survivors receive any help, despite often experiencing severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of crime.

Young people of color from low-income communities bear an unconscionably disproportionate burden of violence and crime – and are victimized at staggering rates while also the least likely to get help to recover from trauma. Most frequently victimized, least often supported. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

Beyond lacking access to recovery support, most crime victims also disagree with the direction criminal justice policymaking has taken over the last few decades of prison expansion. While the traditional approach to victims’ rights has focused on toughening punishments for people convicted of crime and strengthening the rights of victims during criminal proceedings, our research shows that most survivors of crime think that our current investments in justice system are unwise. Two out of three California victims surveyed believe bloated prisons either make inmates better at committing crimes or have no impact on crime at all. Most survivors want greater investments into rehabilitation, mental health treatment and prevention over bigger prisons and jails.

Listening to crime victims can tell us a lot how we should reform our safety and justice systems. We must embrace survivors as unexpected advocates for justice reform. It’s time to stop pretending that building more prisons protects survivors – it doesn’t.

Procedural rights for victims are critical, and accountability for people who commit crime is an essential component of an effective criminal justice system. Yet, many victims never even get to a courtroom. National statistics reveal that over half of violent crime goes unreported, eliminating any possibility of a prosecution. And even when violent crimes are reported, less than half result in an arrest. So focusing only on criminal proceedings leaves out the experiences and needs of the majority of crime survivors.

Packed prisons and extreme sentencing for the fraction of crimes that result in a conviction also depletes the very resources needed to improve victim protection and community safety. We need to rethink what investments can serve and protect as many victims as possible, including the communities most impacted by crime. We should pay special attention to the needs of those at greatest risk of being repeatedly victimized, such as youth of color.

When victims go without trauma recovery support, they risk being victimized again and falling through the cracks in life: dropping out of school, suffering health problems, self-medicating to the point of addiction and even turning to crime themselves.

David Guizar knows this well: growing up in South Central Los Angeles, his older brother – and father figure – was shot and killed when David was 10. He never learned what happened, nor did his family learn about or access any services that exist for survivors of violent crime.

David felt lost after his was family broken, and he filled the void with alcohol and drugs for decades, finally getting sober in 2006. Then, in 2012, another one of David’s brothers was killed when a stranger tried to enter a family wedding.

“After our family’s losses, we never heard about existing supports for survivors of crime, which would have made a big difference in our ability to recover,” said Guizar. “California clearly has the money – the state spends $10 billion per year on a prison system to respond to crime – but I and other survivors want lawmakers to know that we can invest these resources in smarter ways to help survivors both recover from and prevent crime.”

Instead of continuing to create harsh penalties that, in turn, create more prisons as our response to crime, we should invest in mental health care and trauma-informed services for anyone traumatized by violence, as well as safe places to go when crisis erupts, family support programs and economic recovery assistance for victims. We also need to improve the relationship between police, prosecutors and the communities they serve, so that victims trust – and can safely cooperate with – law enforcement to solve more crimes.

Despite the prevalence of pro-victim rhetoric during the prison-building era, few policymakers have asked themselves who experiences crime, who is most vulnerable to repeat crime or what survivors need to recover and avoid future harm. Most crime victims have never been at the center of attention of criminal justice policies, nor have their experiences and needs been considered as penal codes and prison populations mushroomed over the past three decades.

But the evidence suggests that when you ask the people most affected, survivors are less interested in spending tax dollars to fill more prisons and instead want to prioritize investments that will actually prevent crime in the first place. It is time for policymakers to finally listen – and put the perspectives of those most vulnerable to harm at the center of policies.

 

By: Lenore Anderson, The Guardian, May 21, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Crime Victims, Criminal Justice System, Mental Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Habitual Cruelty To Others”: Ranting On Robin Williams, Limbaugh Exposed A Hole In His Own Soul

Having infuriated millions of Robin Williams fans with insensitive remarks on the late actor’s suicide, Rush Limbaugh now blames the “liberal media” and “despicable leftists” for distorting his innocent message.

This is an old dodge for Limbaugh. Yet however he parses his language, there can be no doubt that he sought to exploit a tragic event for what he likes to call “political education.”  His attempt to brand Williams’ suicide with “the leftist worldview” was perfectly plain. And as usual, his alibi is plainly false.

In his original commentary on Williams, Limbaugh quoted Fox News – hardly a “liberal media” source even by his elastic definition – about the great comic’s possible motivations for taking his own life:

I mean, right here there’s a story on the Fox News website.  Do you know, it says right here, that the real reasons that Robin Williams killed himself are he was embarrassed at having to take television roles after a sterling movie career….He’d had some divorces that ripped up his net worth, and he had a big ranch in Napa that he couldn’t afford any longer and had to put up for sale, and a house in Tiburon that he couldn’t afford anymore.  This is all what’s in the Fox News story.

He had it all, but he had nothing.  He made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside.  I mean, it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the left has.

Pursuing this tendentious theme, Limbaugh went on to mention the “survivor’s guilt” that Williams reportedly suffered over the early deaths of three close show-business friends, Christopher Reeve, John Belushi, and Andy Kaufman. “He could never get over the guilt that they died and he didn’t. Well, that is a constant measurement that is made by political leftists in judging the country,” he harrumphed, concluding with a few incomprehensible sentences about “outcome-based education.” (Even more oddly, Limbaugh promoted a wonderful appreciation of Williams in the Guardian by Russell Brand — an actor with very strong left-wing opinions.)

Still, his point was unmistakable: If you’re concerned about life’s unfairness – as Robin Williams, a dedicated lifelong liberal, certainly was – then you probably suffer from a dark and pessimistic worldview that may very well lead you to kill yourself.

Insofar as Limbaugh pretends to be educating the public, let’s school him by turning around his exploitative blather and putting him in the place of his rhetorical victim. A decade ago, when the radio talker’s addictive dependency on prescription painkillers was first exposed, it would have been easy enough to lampoon his behavior as an expression of his right-wing worldview.

Popping mouthfuls of oxycontin? He thought he could get away with it because of his wealth and status, like so many other millionaire crooks. Violating the narcotics code? He hates government and thinks he can ignore laws that inconvenience him, just like the Bundy Ranch gang. Publicly urging criminal prosecution of drug addicts while indulging the same weakness? He is just another moral hypocrite, like so many of his cronies on the right, from William Bennett to Newt Gingrich to… Rush Limbaugh.

As America watched Limbaugh struggle with his own personal issues, nobody tried to claim that he became a junkie because of his political attitudes. Indeed, most liberal commentators wished him a full recovery, even while noting his frequent failures of empathy. A few even suggested that he seize the opportunity to contemplate his habitual cruelty to others — and try to change.

Sadly, that never happened. If it had, then Limbaugh might have come to understand depression and substance abuse, which evidently killed Robin Williams, as illnesses rather than political or moral failing – exactly like the addiction that harmed Rush’s hearing and could have claimed his life. He might even have experienced an emotion so often mocked as “liberal” and too often absent from conservative moralizing:

Compassion.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, August 15, 2014

August 16, 2014 Posted by | Mental Health, Rush Limbaugh | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s A Whole Different Issue”: John Boehner, Willfull Ignorance Or Willful Lying?

The day after this week’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Army Secretary John McHugh said the gunman lived off post and was therefore not required to register his weapon with the military.

McHugh told senators yesterday, “We try to do everything we can to encourage soldiers to register their personal weapons, even when they live off post. We are not legally able to compel them to register weapons when they reside off post.”

Soon after, during House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) press conference, a reporter noted McHugh’s comments and asked the House leader whether this is an issue Congress should address. Boehner replied:

“Well, there’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons. In the so-called ‘doc fix’ that passed here, there was funding for a pilot project dealing with mental health issues and weapons from both the Senate side and the House side. There are two programs that are being funded in there. The bill went to the president yesterday. This issue we need to continue to look at to find a way to keep weapons out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The “doc fix” bill related to Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians, but it’s always a pretty big bill with plenty of unrelated provisions. This year, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding how the bill passed – House GOP leaders played a fast one on their own members and conservatives were right to be annoyed – but I never heard a word about funding for a pilot project dealing with mental health issues and firearms.

And that’s surprising. Usually, any federal measure related in any way to gun ownership is the subject of considerable scrutiny. But there was the House Speaker yesterday, assuring the public in the wake of another mass shooting that lawmakers just acted on a policy related to gun violence and mental health.

It’s enough to make one wonder: does the provision Boehner referenced actually exist?

Roll Call reports this morning that according to the lawmaker who wrote the measure, no, it doesn’t.

Speaker John A. Boehner Thursday morning said that Congress had recently passed a provision to address whether people with mental health issues have access to weapons, but the measure’s Republican author said his bill actually does nothing of the sort.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., told CQ-Roll Call that despite Boehner’s assertion, his measure to incentivize outpatient treatment for mental health issues has nothing to do with keeping guns out of the hands of the severely mentally ill.

“Not our bill, no. It’s a whole different issue,” Murphy told Roll Call. “I think he confused that. When he said that it dealt with it, I think he confused that.”

I checked the text of the legislation itself and it includes no references to gun, weapons, or firearms.

Murphy went on to say, “What this provision that I had in there allows in states is an outpatient treatment for patients who have a risk of past incarceration or past multiple hospitalizations where they were a safety risk, to work to say, ‘We need to get you back in treatment, get your life back together.’ That does not necessarily preclude or affect anything about a person’s ability to own a gun, unless they also have a history of being put in against their will.”

When Boehner says Congress just approved a project “dealing with mental health issues and weapons,” he appears to be wrong.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 3, 2014

April 5, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, John Boehner, Mental Health | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No One Cares About Crazy People”: Documents Reveal Scott Walker’s Racist, Offensive Staff

A day before Republican Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin, law enforcement authorities served search warrants at his office in Milwaukee (where he served as county executive), his campaign office and the houses of his top aides.

After assuming office in 2011, Walker pushed through his conservative platform, which included limiting public sector unions and implementing broad tax cuts. As Walker’s policies gained him national attention from the Republican Party, questions about his campaign were pushed to the back burner.

Until now.

On Wednesday, the first documents giving context to the investigation into Governor Walker were made public. They haven’t explicitly linked Walker to illegal activities, but they have provided a behind-the-scenes look at the offensive conduct of the governor’s staff.

Perhaps most shockingly, the documents show that Walker staffers traded emails making fun of horrific conditions at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Facility. News reports at the time showed workers there filed false claims to hide mistakes, and let a patient with a history of violence and sexual assault move around the facility unsupervised. Staffers weren’t worried this would hurt Walker in the polls, however. “[N]o one cares about crazy people,” one staffer wrote to another.

The mentally ill weren’t the only minority group used as a punchline by Walker’s aides.

Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, received an email that compared welfare recipients to dogs. The paradoxically ungrammatical email explained that dogs should be allowed to receive welfare because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who the r [sic] Daddys [sic] are.” Rindfleisch responded: “That’s so hilarious and so true.”

Other top aides to Walker also shared their offensive sentiments.

Thomas Nardelli, Walker’s former chief of staff, forwarded a chain email that makes light of a “nightmare.” In the nightmare, someone wakes up to discover he is “black, Jewish, disabled, HIV positive, and gay.” The joke ends when the person in the nightmare realizes he is a Democrat — the worst affliction of those described in the email.

Ironically, Scott Walker was concerned about county employees with a “varied lifestyle.”  A doctor who was previously an underwear model received scrutiny from Walker’s administration, for example.

The doctor, who worked at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, had her past career as a thong model discovered after Nardelli “MySpaced” her. Nardelli wrote to Walker that it was recently discovered the doctor “has a checkered past and has done some modeling work.” Nardelli continued: “It isn’t pornographic, but it is quite suggestive (I’m told — I don’t know her name). He [sic] apparently models thongs and wasn’t forthright in sharing that with staff prior to her hire as an hourly paid MD.”

“Get rid of the MD asap,” Walker wrote back.

And finally, the emails suggest that Walker knew his staff was breaking the law during his gubernatorial campaign. An investigator for the Milwaukee County district attorney testified before a secret hearing that email evidence proves Walker knew staff members were using personal computers and a secret WiFi network, while being paid by the county.

They set up the secret network so they could work on their personal laptops to plan his campaign for governor — all while being paid by taxpayers as staffers to the county executive.

Cynthia Archer, Walker’s administration director, said in an email that she uses her “private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW [Scott Walker] and Nardelli.”

 

By: Ben Feuerherd, The National Memo, February 21, 2014

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Mental Health, Racism, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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