Christmas Is For The Rich 

Things for Michigan’s children are bad and getting worse.

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Well, I hope by the time you are reading this I will be snuggled under the tree, “… playing war games with that new Play Station 4 that I REALLY WANT, Mommy — I really do.

“After all, you can get one on Amazon for only $797.96, plus shipping; and the games are barely $59.99 each. Might as well buy two of them while you are at it, Mom, so we don’t have to pack it when we to go to Florida.”

Believe it or not, I actually heard a conversation like that while shopping last week.

It wasn’t me; I wouldn’t know how to turn a PlayStation on — my video game experience ended with PacMan. But there’s been a fair amount said about the new PlayStation in the media and I am sure some kiddies are getting one today.

However, there was also another story last week, one that saw a lot less coverage. For a shocking number of kids in Michigan, Christmas will be a kind of reality game.

You might call it … So you want to eat a meal?

The fact is, things for our state’s children are bad and getting worse. Last week, the Michigan League for Public Policy released the annual Kids Count in Michigan report.

The number of young children who qualify for federal food assistance rose by more than 50 percent — just between 2005 and 2012, the most recent year for which they have statistics.

Nearly two out of every five kids qualify for nutritional help because their families are so poor. More than likely, some of those children are in families that have used up their 48 months of cash welfare benefits and have now been kicked off the rolls forever by our compassionate conservative leaders.

When poverty grows, statistics have long shown that family tensions and domestic violence soar. Accordingly, more than 200,000 children are living in families that have been investigated for abuse and neglect in recent years.

No, not all of those families may have been guilty. But this was a huge increase over a year ago and the state is certainly not paying for lots of new investigators.

Some may be tempted to think this is primarily a “Detroit problem.”  It is anything but. Oh, conditions are terrible for kids in Detroit, no question about it. Most kids grow up in families that are actually and officially poverty-stricken.

Nearly all qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Forty-one percent of babies and their mothers didn’t get adequate prenatal care before they were born. And try this one on for size: 12 percent of Detroit children tested positive for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning — in the 21st century!

Very bad indeed, but child poverty and domestic problems are growing faster in rural areas than anywhere else. Even in Washtenaw County, home to smug Ann Arbor and the even more smug University of Michigan, one out of every six kids lives in poverty, twice the rate of just a decade ago.

Nothing in this report should surprise anyone, except perhaps for one thing: The number of births to teenage mothers actually fell. This isn’t a case of wild indulgence by the poor.

This is our government slowly and systematically cutting off resources to the poor and vulnerable. 

Couple that with the effects of a lingering recession that punished most those who were least able to afford it.

Add to that a nation that, since 1981, has been steadily transferring wealth from the poorest half of our population to the richest five percent or so. Here’s what is most insane about all this: These children are our future, comrades.

We could easily make things better for them. Gilda Jacobs, who now heads the Michigan League for Human Services, was in the state senate for eight years.

She and her staff know perfectly well what could be done, easily and fairly painlessly, to improve these children’s lives: Reinstate the full, 20 percent, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that was cut to six percent by the Snyderites. Increase the childcare subsidy care amount, so poor parents can work — and work to help them sign up for medical coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Raise the minimum wage and invest even further in early childhood development.

These children, again, are our future; we are stunting and starving our future, and betraying our state and nation.

You might think that ought to be obvious. But none of that seems to register on the blank moon face of Jase Bolger, Speaker of the House and water boy for the special interests.

The same day the Kids Count report was released in all its damning detail, Old Jase noted that the state was going to finish the budget year with a several hundred million dollar surplus.

Did he suggest using that money to help children and the working poor? Maybe immediately enact the EITC and make it retroactive?  Find some other way to improve their Christmas.

That’s funny. You have to know, of course, that it clearly never crossed Bolger’s mind. Not for a nanosecond. 

You see, our Speaker is just as creative as his fellow Republicans in Lansing. They all know exactly what to do with the people’s money when people are in need: Give the rich a tax cut, naturally. 

The poorest among us will thank ’em for it. 

Scrap Metal Scumbags

 

You’ve got to hand it to the Republicans running the Michigan Senate. They struck a blow for crime this month; not against crime — for it.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Detroit, knows how scrap metal thieves can devastate a neighborhood. There’s a reason so many Detroit homes look like they are ready for the wrecking ball: Thieves tear them apart to get out metal they can sell for instant cash. For three years, Tlaib worked with her Republican colleagues to come up with a bipartisan bill.

Finally, she did it. Earlier this year, the House almost unanimously passed a bill that would have required a three-day payment delay for the three most commonly stolen items – catalytic converters, window air conditioners and copper wire.

Plus, dealers would have had to keep the license plate numbers of anyone selling scrap metal and then pay them only by check. Fifteen states have done something similar and all have seen scrap metal thefts plummet, Tlaib told me. This was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, too many Republicans in the state have nothing but corrupt brains. Led by Mike Kowall of White Lake Township, they stripped those provisions out of the bill. Instead, they said it would be good enough if the industry just kept its own database of sales.

That made Rashida angry as hell — and for good reason. She denounced her own bill, and that was the end of that.

So, thanks to the GOP, the world is still safe for scrap metal thieves. Why are Republicans taking an action that will clearly help promote more crime and blight in Detroit?

Frankly, it’s not clear. But that’s exactly what they did. My guess is that the semi-sleazy scrap metal dealers didn’t want to change the way they do business or cut their profits.

Let’s hope that for once, the voters remember. 

More by Jack Lessenberry

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