The politics of mental health (5X8 – 2/7/13)

The risk and the reward, Minnesota’s same-sex marriage debate, the false memories we hold dear, a hero loses his medal in Duluth, and why do people link weather and climate change?


The push for greater gun control and help for those with mental illness have been joined at the hip in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut. Is that changing America’s view of people with mental illness? It’s an unanswerable question at the moment, just one to think about. But it provides a glimpse into the reality of politics: You can’t always get what you want.

It’s undeniable that millions of Americans suffer from a mental illness, almost none of them are threats of undertaking a mass shooting, and few politicians were particularly concerned enough to consider the situation urgent. Case in point? As the Star Tribune reported, the Obama administration has dragged its feet on implementing the mental health parity law, which passed five years ago.

But check the headlines this week. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has announced plans to spend $29 million more on mental health services. “We recognize that the current system for treating those with mental illness simply isn’t getting the job done,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.

How did Walker and his Assembly colleagues come to recognize that? Connecticut.

In Virginia this week, 15 Fairfax County employees began a course in mental health first aid because local government workers are more likely to encounter people in need of mental health services, according to the Washington Post. What prompted the program? The shooting of Gabby Giffords.

In Minnesota Sen. Kevin Dahle has submitted legislation to identify the early warning signs of mental illness in children and adolescents, and requires schools to be smarter about understanding mental illness among students. He noted — correctly, of course — that the recent attention to the issue — that is: Connecticut — should lead to a long-term solution.

Mental health advocates have been calling for many of these things for years; their calls usually fell on deaf ears until nearly two dozen school children were slaughtered. Those advocates are in a difficult situation. The atmosphere is right for their proposals to advance. But doing so has been linked to a fear of the mentally ill, possibly reversing decades of efforts at understanding.

Four more gun bills are up for discussion in a committee at the Capitol today.

Related: Smoking, once encouraged for people with mental illness, now may be banned in some hospitals. (NY Times)


Though most of last night’s State of the State address revolved around the economy, it was Gov. Dayton’s call for the legalization of same-sex marriage last night that might have set the tone for the rest of the legislative session.

Supporters are buoyed by last year’s rejection of an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. A new poll, however, suggests that not everyone voting against the measure was voting for same-sex marriage.

In the KSTP poll, 54% said the law defining marriage as between one man and one woman should be left as it is, while 42% said it should be changed.

But a year ago this week, a KSTP poll on the marriage amendment showed a 47-to-39 percent split in favor of banning same-sex marriage. In the election, however, 51% voted against the amendment.

Related: The Boy Scouts have delayed a decision on whether to lift a ban on gay members. The Scouts are closely aligned with many churches, churches that disagree with the idea of homosexuality.

When last many of us saw Zach Wahls of Iowa, he was giving this speech to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in 2011 as it debated same-sex marriage.

It turns out he’s an Eagle Scout and last night debated a church leader in an unusually spirited debate for public broadcasting.

Related: A legally married same-sex couple in Fargo has been denied a family golf pass. (Fargo Forum)


It is startlingly easy to create false memories, especially in politics, Freakonomics Radio’s Stephen J. Dubner says.


A Duluth man, who received a medal for saving victims of a plane crash in Duluth years ago, received a medal for his heroism. It contained this description:

“Observing that the victim did not respond to a ring buoy thrown in her direction and appeared lifeless as she sank beneath the surface of the water, Mr. Halverson immediately secured a line and dived 40 feet into the turbulent water to assist the victim. Although hampered by difficulty in breathing, he courageously swam through the debris-filled and chilly 52-degree water to the survivor, reaching her just as she was submerging again. Feeling the debilitating effect of his immersion in the cold water and unable to speak, Mr. Halverson supported the victim, swam with her to a buoy thrown from his ship, and clung there until arrival of a Coast Guard boat to assist in the rescue.”

The medal has been stolen, the Duluth News Tribune reports, and the man wonders why the store at which it was pawned — The Gold Guys — didn’t adequately question where it came from.


A big storm is heading for the northeast and may leave up to three feet of snow. Will this change people’s opinion on a warming planet? Weather and climate are two different things, but new research shows that people aren’t accepting that.

The BBC says fewer people now believe the planet is warming and they’re basing that on the weather.

And, one researcher says, those who support the idea of climate change are quick to ignore the distinction between climate and weather when it’s convenient to do so.

“We go on offense during a heat wave and then we lie low the rest of the time and don’t talk about it,” he says. “During a cold spell, the only time you hear from climate scientists in the newspapers is when we are refuting things – we need to be consistent and talk about this regardless of the weather.”

Related: What part of “don’t drive on Lake Minnetonka’s ice” don’t people get?” All of it, apparently.

291 car in Tonka.jpg

Image: Steve Erdahl

This happened on Tuesday, MPR’s Paul Huttner says. And he says 15 vehicles have gone through the ice on his lake in the last few weeks.

Bonus I: Today, the crew of the space station will be holding a conversation with William Shatner. It’s a follow-up to the greatest Twitter conversation in the history of the galaxy.

Bonus II: How serious is the competition between media in Fargo? Photoshop serious, apparently. (Fargo Forum)

Bonus III: The poor farmers. It’s not their fault the marketers in the city used them to sell trucks.

Bonus IV: How many books can you read in a year? Twin Citian Kevin Hendricks read 137.


The Minnesota Idea Open and the St. Paul Foundation are sponsoring a competition to find the best idea for revitalizing St. Paul, and they will award $1 million toward implementing it. Today’s Question: If you could have $1 million to improve your community, what would you do with it?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Rabbi Harold Kushner on a question he’s been pondering for more than thirty years: What kind of God permits bad things to happen to good people? (Rebroadcast)

Second hour: Local faith leaders Bishop Peter Rogness, Imam Makram El-Amin, and Rabbi Staci Offner. (Rebroadcast)

Third hour: Religion scholar Chris Stedman talks about his new book, Faitheist, which draws on his own unique religious experiences and academic studies to explain why it’s necessary to bridge the growing divide between atheists and religious adherents. (Rebroadcast)

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): A live Westminster Town Hall Forum with former VP Al Gore.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – As President Obama’s pick to lead the CIA heads up to Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing, a Justice Department memo leaked that justifies the extrajudicial execution of American citizens if they’re terrorists. NPR considers drones, waterboarding, and the CIA.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – In a new movie about teenage romance, the leading man has trouble being himself and talking to girls. He’s a zombie. NPR will “report” on the striking similarities between zombies and love-struck teens.