An Ounce Of Prevention 

An Ounce Of Prevention

Understandably, the horrific events of September 11th have produced demands for giving law-enforcement authorities additional power and responsibilities. Among the proposals made by Attorney General John Ashcroft, several -- like a call for stricter supervisory authority over money-laundering activities -- are relatively uncontroversial. Others, that would give the Justice Department more access to private e-mail records and allow unlimited detention of suspects in security cases, are more problematic.

We yield to no one in our belief that the public safety requires stricter restraints. One clear example is the call for federal air marshals and stouter buffers in domestic aircraft between the pilots' cabin and passengers. We are open-minded as well about a proposal to arm the pilots themselves.

But in the aforementioned cases in which long-established civil liberties are at stake, we advocate caution and at least a modicum of legislative debate, to be followed, in case the changes are instituted, by prompt judicial review. Better an ounce of careful consideration now than a pound of cure later on.

Also troubling, and somewhat overshadowed by other events this week, was the administration's lifting of sanctions against Pakistan and India, sanctions that had been put in place to deter those countries from developing nuclear weapons. The easing of sanctions was done in order to facilitate cooperation from India and Pakistan in our efforts to build a coalition to fight terrorism. Recent history, however, shows us that often those countries and individuals to whom we have supplied arms and training later may turn those very tools against us.

Let's hope that such tacit encouragement of the production of nuclear weapons doesn't turn out to be another such instance. The consequences could be staggering.

Under Fire

Significant recent events at both the state and national levels have obscured the fact that Tennessee, already strapped for operating money, finds itself under an imminent deadline of losing federal funds. And the proximate cause of that is right here in Memphis, where -- in a little-noticed situation two weeks ago -- a man with mental disabilities died while in protective police custody.

This was the second time in the last three months thata mentally disabled resident of a Memphis group home died while supposedly under medical supervision. As a result federal health officials are now looking askance at the state's current practice of moving mental-health patients from state care into private treatment centers under TennCare auspices. There is already a moratorium in effect on the use of federal funds to move patients from developmental centers to the community after a formal finding that the state had failed to adequately protect their "health and welfare.'' The state has until October 15th to produce a plan for doing just that. If it fails, it is in danger of forfeiting roughly $160 million in federal funding -- some two-thirds of its community services budget.

"Outsourcing" has become something of a watchword for governments having to operate under more straitened fiscal conditions. But the bottom line is that state-run development centers have a far better record of providing safe and effective care for mental-health patients. Community-based services may constitute an idea whose time has come, but that idea will have to go unless the state, in conjunction with the private providers, comes up with appropriate safeguards.

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