the state level, with unemployment in some states well into the double digits and a public conversation now emerging about allowing states to declare bankruptcy. The state casualties are high: layoffs and furloughs, sharp cuts in services, and budgets that are often impossible to balance without curtailing or eliminating things that voters take for granted as essential.
One of the most publicly volatile of these is the current slashing of mental health services in some states, which reverberates with this month's awful events in Arizona. In some ways Arizona is a nightmarish microcosm of the national problem: Governor Jan Brewer, who has a schizophrenic son, has overseen major mental health care cuts even while acknowledging the crucial importance of these services.
But in truth, the nation's mental health crisis got rolling decades ago, when Reaganomics-inspired disinvestment in government turned huge numbers of mentally-ill people out onto the streets. They became, and still are, a significant portion of America's homeless population. And, from Susan Smith's 1994 murder of her two young children to Jared Loughner's arrest for this month's Arizona shootings, lack of mental health counseling has figured prominently in a slew of spectacular tragedies.
It's true that we often can't anticipate what an unbalanced person will do. And we cannot force everyone who needs mental health care to get it. But if we as Americans don't care enough to make mental health services affordably available to everyone, we are in no position to comfortably shift blame to "loose-cannon lunatics" when they do crazy, violent things.
Meanwhile, the House and the Senate fiddle and quibble about spending. And the states burn.