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Remove the thorn of government from the side of suffering children
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I nearly fell for it.

A press release from a group called Children Now sent out a piece recently titled, "California 41st in the Nation on Children's Well-Being, According To New Report" seemed altruistic enough until you start peeling back the layers.

If there's anything I know at age 50 and having been in the newspaper business for nearly 30 years, there are political agendas everywhere. A skeptic, I view most groups with a wary eye and wonder about motive. Usually it's about grabbing more money.

The report, issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2012 Kids Count Data Book, recites a myriad of facts and figures of how bad California children have it. It suggests that California ranks 41st of 50 states in children's overall well-being.

Let's touch on some of their conclusions:

• Twenty-two percent of California's children live in poverty (30th ranking out of 50 states) and 36 percent of the state's children (3.3 million) living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment - a 20 percent increase since 2008.

• Approximately one in four California children lives in a family where the head of household lacks a high school diploma, placing the state last in the nation.

• Exactly one third of California children live in single parent households (23rd).

• A total of 11 percent of California children live in high-poverty areas (33rd) despite California being one of nine states that reduced the number of children living in poverty from 2000 to 2010.

• Over half of California's children live in households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing (50th), an indication that basic necessities like food, clothing and health care are being unfunded.

• Eight percent of those 16 to 19 years of age, are neither employed nor attending school (16th ranking).

• California ranks 24th in teen births.

• 75 percent of the state's fourth-graders score below proficient in reading (46th ranking), and 75 percent of eighth-graders score below proficient in math (44th ranking), indicating too many California students risk failing to graduate from high school. California ranks 42nd in the percentage of 12th-graders who graduate on time.

• California ranks 25th in the percentage of teens abusing alcohol and drugs (8%).

• Nearly one in 10 children lacks health insurance.

I don't question their findings. I question the agenda.

After reciting all the negative statistics comes the clues of the group's agenda in quotes from Ted Lempert, president of Children Now: "The last couple of years have seen California children bearing the brunt of the state's budget cuts. We must hold the state's policymakers more accountable for failing to invest in children, because their poor decisions will certainly have a lasting effect on the economic and civic fabric of our state."

Finally we are getting to the meat and potatoes of his group's quest: more money from Sacramento at a time when there is little to go around and a public which cannot afford to dig any deeper.

I used to know Lempert back in high school. He helped me set up a California Junior Statesman chapter at Oakdale High School in 1978. He was later elected as a member of the California State Assembly representing the Bay area from 1988 to 1992 and 1996 to 2000.

Lempert is a smart fellow. If you had to give Lempert - now a Berkeley professor - a political label, it would be "big city liberal." In a Youtube video Lempert suggests that "we can't get the needs of children met with the dysfunctional governmental system that we essentially have in Sacramento."

Most of us agree that Sacramento is the epitome of dysfunction. But I have a hunch that what Lempert calls dysfunction are Republicans who hold to the principle of keeping spending in check.

I don't fault Lempert for trying to improve the lives of children. I differ on solutions. Lempert is typical of those with the "nanny state" mindset who thinks it is public policy that is required to rescue children. Let me give you an example: he has pushed for government controls of free internet video games that advertise products like Skittles, Chips Ahoy or Spongebob Square Pants. Any parent could - and should - police their kids' on-line activity but he wants the government to do it for them.

I tend to think simpler. Let parents be parents and get government as far away as rearing children as possible.

One might legitimately ask if it's precisely the policies implemented by those on the left are what has have created the problems for California children. Here's what I mean:

If teens and adults don't have jobs, might it be that high state corporate taxes and excessive regulation have driven industries to business-friendly states like Utah, Colorado and Texas? California is seemed the third unfriendliest state to small business, according to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council's "Small Business Survival Index." The most business friendliest states are: South Dakota, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming and Washington.

If parents don't have enough to supply needs to their kids, might it be because government has taken too much of their hard-earned income in the way of taxes? Californians work 104 days out of 365 just to satisfy their tax debt. In Utah just 15. It's no wonder why Utah has a 72.5 percent homeownership rate compared to California's 56 percent.

If kids aren't learning - despite California being 10th out of 50 states for per capita elementary education spending - could it be that there is more attention paid to social engineering and entertaining in class rather than bearing down on spelling, math, reading and science?

As Meg Whitman pointed out during the gubernatorial campaign, California is a welfare magnet. It leads the country for welfare recipients as a percentage of the population - 3.8 percent as opposed to 0.46 percent in Texas or 0.67 percent in Utah. Maybe California's welfare culture - which pays individuals to do nothing and robs them of their dignity - is creating a culture of laziness that fosters parents to neglect their children of the support they need.

And doesn't that idleness created by government assistance programs cause a great number to feel so worthless and unfulfilled about themselves that they seek solace in chemical relief?

Finally, how much of California's poverty is traced directly to a weak federal border protection policy that has allowed an influx of illegal unskilled immigrants who cannot even speak English, a language necessary to get ahead in the United States?

No, the Kids Count Data Book report underscores how children are suffering precisely because of the way Sacramento does business and the policies they set, combined with a lack of sufficient immigration control.

The wise former governor of our state, Ronald Reagan, captured the essence of my feelings about things in California: "In this present crisis, government is not a solution to our problem; government is the problem."

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at