Last week the Michigan League for Human Services released its yearly report on the status of children in this state.
Not surprisingly, the report, called the Kids Count Data Book, was depressing as hell. Most of what attention the study received in the media focused on the news that child abuse in the state jumped by 34 percent as the recession deepened and worsened.
That, and the fact that nearly half the kids in the state now qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. To poverty experts, both things were about as surprising as learning that people in primitive areas tend to die of thirst when there is a major drought.
Naturally, we've taken precautions in this country to assure a steady water supply, at least enough to keep people alive. But making sure our kids are well-fed and protected — well, that would be socialism! Only commies would want to go that far.
The thing that haunted me most about this report, however, was neither of those two statistics, but the finding that "too many children suffer from dental decay and pain that cause difficulty chewing, concentrating, sleeping and swallowing."
Worse, "more than one in four third-graders in Michigan have untreated dental disease." Call me a commie all you want, but when I read that I would gleefully have given an abscessed tooth to — and withheld painkillers from — every right-wing moron who voted to take away support from 29,000 poor children last year.
There wasn't too much anyone could say to challenge the truth of the Kids Count Data Book findings. The Michigan League for Human Services is a rigorously nonpartisan, nonprofit agency that has been around for almost a century.
This particular study was financed by a prestigious group of foundations that range from Annie E. Casey to the Skillman and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Had the Kids Count findings received widespread attention in the media, it could conceivably have made a difference.
Even some who would spit on poor adults might have a problem with third graders, poor and hungry through no fault of their own, crying because of infected teeth. But not to worry.
The Kids Count report actually got little press, because there was far bigger and more significant news that day: The Detroit Tigers announced they were signing a 27-year-old baseball player named Prince Fielder to a nine-year contract for $214 million.
Yes, you read that right. Almost a quarter of a billion dollars for a heavy-set player who cannot run or field especially well, but who hits a lot of home runs. Wait a minute; forget that.
Can you really imagine, in any sane universe, paying that much money to a single baseball player, even if he sold all the tickets himself, batted .750, and painted the stadium at night?
Consider this: If you made $214,000 a year, which is more than the vast majority of us, it would take 1,000 years for you to make as much money as Prince will make over nine years.
Looked at another way, he will make about $65,000 a day, seven days a week, that whole time. Far as I can tell, thousands and thousands of us think that is wonderful. Think that is wonderful, in a world where we are cutting little kids off any cash assistance, and where they are being abused by desperate and unemployed parents.
We seem to think that is appropriate in a state where little kids can't learn because their teeth hurt too much; where two out of every five children depend on Medicaid for medical care, and where our politicians are doing their best to cut that too.
We think it appropriate to pay a ballplayer approximately 50 times the salary of the president of the United States in a place where almost 1 million normal jobs have disappeared over the last decade.
We think it is fine for Fielder to be paid several times what the state will save this year by eliminating the last shards of the safety net keeping tens of thousands of kids from hunger.
Fielder's salary, by the way, is almost twice the amount the Legislature and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm saved by breaking their promise to kids who had been assured by the state they would receive a Michigan Promise college scholarship.
Now I can just see the little basement righties rushing to their blogs to say how outrageous my comments are. Why, how can that horrible socialist compare public money to private riches!
Mike Ilitch earned those hundreds of millions by selling cheap pizza to the masses. Nobody has the right to tell him how to spend it.
Some may even suggest that I am attempting to stir up — gasp — class warfare! Well, I won't bother to deny it. Every time our supercautious president dares to suggest that a billionaire ought to pay as high a percentage of his income in taxes as, say, his secretary, the little acolytes of bloated fools like Rush Limbaugh bleat "class warfare."
Well, guess what. I am an enormous baseball fan, and think many players in the old days, like Al Kaline, were badly underpaid.
But I know that a society that cheers paying Prince Fielder hundreds of millions of dollars and lets little kids go hungry is a society run by really sick fucks. And if that's class warfare, let's make the most of it.
Republicans against the rule of law: As has been noted many times in this column and elsewhere, a large number of mostly Republican legislators have been bought by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. He has donated lavishly to their campaigns, and for many months they have prevented a desperately needed new bridge from being built across the Detroit River.
This is a bridge that would cost taxpayers nothing, create thousands of new jobs, and bring us billions in federal highway money. Creatures like state Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw) couldn't care less about that, of course. But thankfully, not everybody is like him.
Earlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards, by all accounts a fair and uncorrupted man, threw Moroun in jail for contempt of court. This really seemed to anger his legislative lackey, whose comments then shocked even callous me.
Kahn wasn't alone. Cheerful chucklehead state Sen. John Pappageorge of Troy, a former soldier now too dumb for the peacetime army, indicated that he knew Moroun hadn't lived up to his agreement with the state to build the Gateway project in a way specified in a legal contract, signed by Moroun's firm.
But that didn't matter to Pappageorge, because, as he said, "Now kind of from photographs and so forth, I have looked at both versions. I think the Moroun version is better."
Yeah, Beetle Bailey. Did you forget that people are supposed to live up to signed contracts and obey the law? That was low humor, however; what Kahn said was evil: "This is strikingly similar in vindictive spirit to the practice of communist governments sending the bills for the execution of 'counter-revolutionaries' to their families after the firing squads did their bloody work."
Kahn sounded mostly like some demented member of the Weather Underground.
Except those anarchists weren't paid off by a billionaire. State Sen. Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) summed up Kahn brilliantly, right on the Senate floor. "To color your nose brown is inappropriate and unworthy of this chamber," he said. What he should realize, of course, is that since Matty came into Roger's life, he hasn't seen daylight.