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Mental illness isn't such a crime issue

Published February 03. 2013 4:00AM

More treatment for mental illness is the most pious appeal resulting from the Newtown school massacre. But as with the appeals for more restrictions on guns - outlawing scary-looking rifles and large-capacity magazines, prohibitively taxing ammunition, requiring background checks for gun purchasers - there is little relevance to what actually happened in Newtown. The massacre is just being adapted to longstanding political agendas.

Even as more treatment for mental illness is being sought because the massacre's perpetrator appears to have been a severely withdrawn young man, the mentally ill and their caregivers are warning against stigmatizing them, since few mentally ill people are dangerous, perhaps proportionately no more dangerous than the general population, most murders being committed by people who qualify as sane.

Further, the many sad testimonies about mental illness given since the massacre have established that even when treatment is readily provided it fails as often as it succeeds. Ordinary decency demands greater availability of treatment for troubled young people as well as for the alcoholic, drug-addicted, and generally crazy people who live without homes. But none of this will make society any safer than it would be made by, say, life sentences for chronic criminals. After all, with about 70 percent of parolees committing serious crimes within two years of their release, how is mental illness suddenly ranking first among criminal-justice issues?

The rage and grief arising from the slaughter of so many children are blinding people to relevance and making them more vulnerable to political exploitation.

Give her a break

State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, is the latest state legislator to be accused of paying more attention to her laptop computer than to the proceedings taking place in front of her - a hearing held the other night at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford by the committee considering gun violence.

Bye admits working on her Facebook page during the hearing but says she was posting observations to keep constituents informed. In any case Bye is not a member of the committee and was not obliged to attend the hearing at all, though she stuck with it long into the night. In fact she was rebuked not because of any inattentiveness but because she would pretty much outlaw guns and the gun-rights people were eager to embarrass her.

While the gun issue may be angry enough, it would have been nice if Bye had dared to reply more relevantly - dared to note that at a hearing on a single issue with dozens of people taking turns speaking for hours, all the worthwhile arguments are covered fully in the first hour or so. The remainder of the hearing is only tedious repetition as the competing interests try to intimidate legislators with their numbers. Any legislator who does nothing but sit through this repetition and intimidation is wasting his time and risks losing his mind.

No default threat

Opponents of raising the federal debt ceiling are being accused of risking default on the government's debt and even the government's incapacitation. This is nonsense. Even without raising the debt ceiling the government's revenues will remain adequate to cover the interest on the debt and basic government operations.

The real objection to enforcing the debt ceiling is that it would require the government to start making choices - to question, for example, the war in Afghanistan and the American empire generally, corporate welfare and welfare for anti-social behavior, and the political pork that people sneer at in general but forgive when their congressmen bring it home.

Repealing the debt ceiling, as now seems likely, means unlimited debt, and unlimited debt means unlimited government - which may explain why most people in government are so hot on the idea.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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