Photo of the day

So, one of my current students sent me to the link to this USA Today story about Afghanistan and the accompanying photo gallery.  Crazy to think that he’s taking my class while here (the power of distance education):

The sun rises over the Tora Bora mountains in Khogyani district. In the foreground is Forward Operating Base Connolly. Caves in Tora Bora provided a hiding place for Osama bin Laden shortly after the U.S. invasion in October 2001.

The sun rises over the Tora Bora mountains in Khogyani district. In the foreground is Forward Operating Base Connolly. Caves in Tora Bora provided a hiding place for Osama bin Laden shortly after the U.S. invasion in October 2001.  Carmen Gentile for USA TODAY

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Save money– treat mental illness

Given that those with mental illness are not the most sympathetic group nor are the rich and powerful with a lot of lobbying influence, it’s no surprise that treatment for mental illness is quick to get the ax whenever budget cuts are on the table.  We wouldn’t think of just denying treatment for someone with a serious liver disease (well, some of us would), but for someone with a serious brain disorder, all too often they are just out of luck.

Of course, the problem is that not just the individual suffers, society bears important costs as well (including the opportunity cost of not having that individual function as a productive citizen). Thus, it should not really be all that surprising that there’s a good cost/benefit case to be made for expanding treatment of the mentally ill (via research at NCSU!):

June 10, 2013 — Research from North Carolina State University, the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and the University of South Florida shows that outpatient treatment of mental illness significantly reduces arrest rates for people with mental health problems and saves taxpayers money.

“This study shows that providing mental health care is not only in the best interest of people with mental illness, but in the best interests of society,” says Dr. Sarah Desmarais, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research.

“Our research shows that people receiving medication were significantly less likely to be arrested,” Desmarais says. “Outpatient services also resulted in a decreased likelihood of arrest.”

The researchers also compared criminal justice costs with mental health treatment costs. Individuals who were arrested received less treatment and each cost the government approximately $95,000 during the study period. Individuals who were not arrested received more treatment and each cost the government approximately $68,000 during the study period.

“It costs about $10 less per day to provide treatment and prevent crime. That’s a good investment,” Desmarais says.

I’m sure the legislature will react to this finding and divert funds from locking up non-violent drug users to treating mental illness right away :-).  If only we lived in a sensible world.

Fracking

With all the craziness coming out the NC legislature (here’s a nice recent summary on the internal divisions within the Republicans), it’s easy to let important stuff slip by, but this from a couple weeks ago, should not go unmentioned:

 A state Senate committee voted Tuesday to allow shale gas drilling companies to engage in fracking in North Carolina without disclosing all the toxic chemicals they plan to inject into the ground.

The unexpected move could sideline the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission – which had vowed to write the nation’s strictest chemical disclosure rule – from developing safety standards for one of the most important and controversial aspects of shale gas exploration.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources overwhelmingly approved the bill. It would allow energy companies to keep secret the chemicals they use in fracking if they deem them to be competitive trade secrets. [emphasis mine] The data would have to be revealed in the event of a fracking accident that became a public emergency.

Seriously?!  One thing virtually all sane people (i.e., not Tea Party Republicans) can agree upon is that if we are going to engage in fracking we are going to do it in as safe a manner as possible.  But, here the NC GOP gives the potential polluters to simply claim any toxic chemicals are “trade secrets” and just have at it.  It’s like allowing food companies to put poison in your food without telling you, but if you can sick you can sue them and find out.  Yes, this is insane.

Somehow, I’m pretty sure all the frackers can get along just fine and profitably if other frackers know what chemicals they are using.  Anyway, this is also a great example of just how much political control of the bureaucracy matters.  You might think that the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) might oppose such legislation.  But not when you’ve appointed political foxes to guard the henhouse:

“There is no rule the public cares about more than public disclosure, what is being put in their water,” said Molly Diggins, director of the state office of the Sierra Club. “The path has been toward maximum disclosure. This legislation is a pre-emptive strike to prevent the development of such a rule.”

James Womack, the chairman of the Mining & Energy Commission, said he wasn’t given advance notice on the legislation, which was negotiated without his knowledge.

“I feel, No. 1, a little bit disappointed, and No. 2, blindsided,” Womack said. “We were headed on a full-disclosure path. We can’t knee-jerk a rule into existence and just pass on reviewing trade secrets.”

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources requested the disclosure rule in the bill that senators overwhelmingly approved Tuesday. Assistant DENR Secretary Mitch Gillespie said the agency’s motive was that it didn’t want to be a repository for corporate trade secrets that could be subject to endless litigation.

I mean seriously, you don’t have to be a “tree hugger” to think that corporations should be able to pump toxic chemicals underground with impunity simply by declaring the matter trade secrets.  Ugh.

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