ALMOST A CENTURY ago, Henry Louis Mencken blazed a trail as American journalism’s first great irreverent, wisecracking iconoclast. He was also a cheerfully flamboyant atheist.
For a writer to be openly against God back then was as brave as denouncing the psychotic nuts of the National Rifle Association would be for your average senator today.
Once, someone angrily asked Mencken what he would do if, having died, he found himself at St. Peter’s Gate. Mencken said, “Gentlemen, I was wrong.”
I remembered that last week when I was contemplating the latest trumpet blasts from the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder, the man so many moderates had hopes for.
Three years ago, many independents — and even Democrats — crossed over to vote for Snyder in that year’s Republican primary. He was seen as basically a technological type from Ann Arbor, who might be pro-business, but likely socially liberal.
It was clear that the Democrats had no chance to retain the governor’s seat in 2010. The only two running in their primary were Andy Dillon, correctly suspected of being mostly a Republican, and the eventual nominee, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, clearly a Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Player.
The other potential GOP nominees — Pete Hoekstra, Mike Cox and Mike Bouchard — all seemed potentially far worse than Gateway Rick. So, lots of us voted for Snyder in the primary.
We hoped he might be somewhat like William Milliken, the Republican governor who, back in the 1970s, turned out to be the best friend the environment — and Detroit — ever had.
Well, gentlemen, we were wrong.
Very wrong. Last Monday, I got a press release from the governor’s office with this headline: “State layoffs avoided as sequestration cuts now set to take effect.”
The governor bragged “We took a much more thoughtful approach here in Michigan in putting the budget in balance,” than those nincompoops in Washington.
Well, good for us, thought I. Then, I read a little further. Well, there is some little impact, the governor acknowledged “… within the Department of Human Services, where the annual allowance for children’s clothing will be eliminated. The clothing allowance of $137 per child is currently provided each August to 21,000 children.”
How matter-of-fact! Well, of course the greedy little bastards don’t need clothing. Are there no rags in the Dumpsters? Next thing you know, they’ll want formal wear, and after that, a second bowl of gruel like that horrid Oliver Twist.
Presumably, these aren’t the 29,000 kids this administration cut off cash welfare assistance earlier; those moochers have hopefully starved to death or become successful entrepreneurs by now.
The sequester is costing the state $59 million, however, and according to my calculator, cutting out clothes to kiddies doesn’t completely make up the difference. Not to worry; our bean counters are on the job.
The governor’s announcement continues: “The Department of Community Health will implement reductions to programs aimed at serving seniors as well as other grant program areas such as nutrition services, and injury and disease prevention.”
That makes me feel a lot better about Michigan as a community. After warning that the schools will be next to feel the sequester ax, presuming it continues next year, the release goes on to quote Nixon — the new Nixon — John, the state budget director Snyder hired away from Utah.
“The good news here is that we have our fiscal house in order,” Nixon chirped. “Michigan is in a good position to manage these cuts because we already made the tough decisions to get our budget in structural balance for the long term.”
Yessiree. Destroy that village, and you no longer have to worry about saving it. When I sent the governor’s release to Mark Dobias, an attorney who works with Native Americans in the Upper Peninsula, he thought it was satire.
“This is from The Onion, right?” he said. Alas, no.
TWO DAYS LATER, we learned —
according to The Detroit News — that the governor has a secret work group that has been meeting to find a way of further slashing aid to elementary and high school education by, according to the newspaper, “a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.”
Earlier in the week, I talked with state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) who has been fighting — without much success — to get more information about the Educational Achievement Authority that Snyder established to try to fix our lowest-performing schools.
Lipton, an attorney who has two children in the Berkley public schools, is deeply suspicious of the motives of those behind the EAA in particular — and education reform in general.
Michigan currently spends something like $13 billion a year on education, and she thinks there are a lot of people who would love to get their hands on that money. A lot of those talking to the governor about “education reform” are “largely the same people who were behind the voucher plan John Engler and Dick DeVos were pushing” back in 2000, Cogen Lipton explained.
Michigan voters overwhelmingly said no, then, but the far right — and their greedy corporate allies — just keep coming.
Lipton is anything but naïve; she was a chemistry teacher who changed gears and got admitted to Harvard Law School, and became a patent attorney. She fears another darker purpose behind the governor’s reforms, saying: “What I am worried about is that we may be heading to a place where kids are educated for the needs of a typical employer or corporation,” not for their own sakes.
“For example, they may be taught that it is perfectly all right to be someplace where workers are locked in the building,” she suggested, or that being a poorly paid Walmart associate is a patriotic duty. Sound too far-fetched to be true?
A year ago, so did making Michigan a right-to-work state. Lipton has been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for information about the EAA. So far, she has met with nothing but delay. Today, the EAA is operating in 15 of Detroit’s city schools, but the governor wants to expand it statewide.
Lipton showed me a letter from Brooke Harris, a courageous teacher at Mumford High, one of the EAA schools, who said flatly that the EAA isn’t working.
“Student, parent and staff concerns are routinely ignored, or treated with extreme condescension,” Harris said. The teacher also contends that there is “a complete lack of data and evidence to support it or prove that it is effective.”
Lipton agrees. But the House passed the statewide expansion narrowly, and the state Senate is almost certain to follow. Well, there may be still some hope for our kids.
Some of them may be sent to Costco training schools and not to Walmart university. Costco, at least, offers benefits.
At least, for now.
14th District Follies
YOU MAY REMEMBER Michigan’s bizarrely shaped 14th Congressional District, which stretches from Sylvan Lake and Keego Harbor to the Grosse Pointes, taking in Southfield, West Bloomfield, and large chunks of not necessarily related neighborhoods in Detroit.
Last year, two incumbent congressmen, Gary Peters of Oakland County and Hansen Clarke of Detroit, battled it out for the Democratic nomination there. (The district has been drawn in a way that virtually assures no Republican can possibly win.)
Peters beat Clarke fairly easily, in part because Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence was a spoiler who split the black vote. Now, however, Peters is leaving after a single term; he is the all-but-certain Democratic nominee for retiring U.S. Senator Carl Levin’s seat next year. Which means the question is:
Who will run next time? Hansen Clarke sometimes seems zany, but he was more effective than some realize in his single term in office. He may well try a comeback.
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]