What You Do Not Do for One of These Least…

What You Do Not Do for One of These Least...
Editorial Cartoon — Michigan Radio

I’m sure you are well aware of the terrible things happening in the world recently — mass shootings, violent protests, family separations, economic slowdowns — the list (unfortunately) goes on. It can be difficult to get through a day carrying all these around with you. I try to be aware of what’s going on, but keep some healthy distance so I’m not wrecked.

But the one story that did get to me was the deportation and subsequent death of Jimmy Al-Daoud. Michigan Radio and the Detroit Free Press have full stories, but to summarize briefly: 

In the 1970s Mr. Al-Daoud came to the United States as a baby with his Iraqi Chaldean family to escape religious persecution. He grew up in Michigan. Mr. Al-Daoud suffered from mental illness and eventually diabetes. He had a criminal record, mostly petty theft, but with some more serious charges, which involved disputes with his father. Because of these criminal convictions he was deported on June 2nd by ICE to Iraq. Mr. Al-Daoud was scared, alone, and sick. He received some help from other deportees but was soon found dead, likely a consequence of his diabetes but no one knows for sure. The Chaldean Community Foundation is covering the cost of returning his body to the United States for a proper burial next to his mother.

How can you know that happened and not be wrecked?


Patterson and Young Together Again…Forever?

It’s a classic editorial cartooning trope — drawing a recently deceased famous person at heaven’s gate. It’s been overdone and often mishandled. For instance, when Steve Jobs died a few years ago there were all sorts of cartoons of him at heaven’s gate making witty remarks to St. Peter about having an app for getting in. The thing is, Jobs was a Buddhist, which involves neither St. Peter nor heaven. And for those who knew Jobs personally, heaven was not his likely destination.

So my unique angle on this: L Brooks Patterson is not quite to heaven’s gate but in purgatory. For non-Catholics out there, purgatory is the concept that after death a soul not pure enough to enter heaven needs to be cleansed first. And this place or state of being is where that happens. Going further into description here only invites a theological debate I have no intentions of participating in. Suffice to say, the purpose of purgatory (if it in fact exists) is atonement.

This all seems like a plausible eventuality for Patterson. His obit was a laundry list of good and bad. The additional Twilight-Zone twist is him having to be there with his arch-nemesis in life, Coleman Young. Like Brooks, supporters and detractors have very specific feelings about Young. But I think it’s fair to say that their battles of Oakland County vs. Detroit may have served their specific interests well, but did more harm than good to the region as a whole.

Still, I’m not trying to be too judgmental here. Because another good Twilight-Zone twist would be for my soul to end up in purgatory with all the other cartoonists who relied too heavily on heaven’s gate cartoons. (Or maybe just straight to hell.)


It’s Not a Lie If You Believe It

It's Not a Lie If You Believe It

I hesitated to draw this one because not everybody may know the George Costanza character from the 1990s sitcom Seinfeld. But the odds against that are pretty good — Seinfeld was one of the last TV shows that everybody watched, it has been in constant reruns since, and of course its catch-phrases live on forever in memes (“No soup for you!”).

All you really need to know is that the Jerry Seinfeld character comes to his friend George — who has “the gift” of being able to lie without conscience — to find out how to beat a polygraph test. At first George demurs, “I can’t help you. It’s like saying to Pavaratti, ‘Teach me to sing like you.'” But as Jerry gets up to leave, George offers him the advice I drew in the cartoon.

I take no pleasure in equating the President of the United States with a congenital liar. There is no fun here at all. With George, his lies eventually unravel and in spectacular fashion, and that is funny. The same unraveling will eventually happen with Trump, but there is a whole country, a whole world, that will pay the consequences. That’s not funny.

Yes, all politicians lie, just as all people do (except for the very young and the very pure). But the difference with Trump is twofold:

A matter of scale: By April this year the Fact Checker at the Washington Post had tallied 10,000 false or misleading claims by Trump during his presidency. And the man had a well-established pattern before being elected.

And a matter of audacity: After his rally in North Carolina where his supporters chanted, “Send her back!” there were some negative reviews, what with the racism and all. So the next day Trump unabashedly claimed he was “not happy” with it and had tried to stop it by “starting speaking very quickly.” No. No he didn’t. He absolutely didn’t. He stood there for 13 seconds and basked. Millions saw it live. Many more saw the recording.

I can only imagine his excuse. “Should I have not done that? Was that wrong? Because if anybody had said anything to me when I first started…” Seinfeld fans know how that bit ended.


Fiscal Responsibility

Fiscal Responsibility

What a difference a decade makes! Remember in 2009 when Republicans were absolutely apocalyptic about the size of the national deficit? “We must have a balanced budget amendment! We must have fiscal responsibility! What about our children?! What about our grandchildren?!” Deficit hawks birthing kittens on the House and Senate floor. Strange days indeed.

But the days are no less strange today. Because suddenly none of that seems to matter anymore. After years of steady progress in slowing the size of our national debt, the Trump administration has succeeded in kicking it into overdrive again. And not for sound reasons, like helping to pull a distressed economy out of a recession. No, times are good, so I’m not exactly sure what their thought process was. Well, other than a money grab.

In any case, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) opined this week that the federal minimum wage should be $20/hour, not the $15 targeted in a bill passed by the House this week. This got way more traction than one would expect from a first-term congressperson at an obscure event in Detroit on a Sunday. But then Tlaib is one of the young, women-of-color representatives whom the President has decided to bully. This then qualifies as news. Even though there isn’t the remotest chance the federal minimum wage is going up at all anytime soon.

But let’s say it were a possibility. There are several very good reasons to argue against a swift rise to $20/hour. But can you see why a young, low-wage worker would be loathe to accept them from an older “fiscal conservative”?


A Brief History of Drinking Water Reassurances

A Brief History of Drinking Water Reassurances

It’s easier to draw an editorial cartoon when there’s a bad guy. A singular, easily identifiable, no question about it bad guy. And I must confess, this week I was looking for an easy way out. It’s summer! And as much as I love to draw cartoons, that’s an indoor game. I want to be outside — shooting hoops, catching fireflies, puttering about the yard — it doesn’t matter. The last few days in particular have been perfect for not doing actual work.

Alas, this is not a singular bad guy kind of topic. First of all, on the whole, the wide availability of safe drinking water throughout the United States has been a great success, and those responsible should be applauded. Of course for those who have been made sick, poisoned, or killed over the years, that doesn’t provide much solace.

But the second (and bigger) reason is that it’s quite a complicated topic. Conditions that introduced sewage, industrial waste, lead, and PFAS into drinking water over the years weren’t generally the work of pathological villains. It was more likely the result of ignorance or greed, but made worse (much worse) by denial and CYA. So despite my lazy aspirations, the cartoon isn’t about blaming a bad guy — it’s about recognizing the pattern that causes most of the damage.

Anyway, that’s enough analysis. I want to go outside.


Teaching Justin Amash a Lesson

Teaching Justin Amash a Lesson

Show of hands — who has seen the Frank Capra movie from 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Jimmy Stewart is Jefferson Smith, an idealistic young man who gets appointed as a United States Senator by a corrupt political machine and ends up fighting against it. Can you tell me who the hero was? Was it the weak governor who appointed Smith? Was it the crooked senior senator who leads Smith astray? Was it the rotten political boss who tries to ruin Smith?

Okay, whether you’ve seen it or not, the answer is obviously Smith. (The title kinda gives it away.) But if you live in West Michigan like I do, you might think it was the other guys. Justin Amash, the US House Representative from Grand Rapids declared his independence from the Republican party. On Independence Day. In Republican-dominated West Michigan, that was not, um, received well.

Now Mr. Amash’s story may not be the same as Mr. Smith’s (starting with the fact that one is literally only a story), but there are parallels: the plucky individual staring down the political machine, standing up for his beliefs, actually reading stuff like the Constitution and the Mueller Report to know what’s in them.

The big difference, though, is that Mr. Amash’s story isn’t over. It’s just beginning. So whether he ends up the hero depends on what he does next.


Celebrating Fourth of July

Celebrating Fourth of July

Is it un-American to draw an Independence Day cartoon highlighting flaws about America? That’s for readers to decide. But I will defer to USA soccer player Megan Rapinoe who was asked this week about what she would say to those who consider her actions un-American:

“I think I stand for honesty and for truth and for wanting to have the conversation. Looking at the country honestly and saying, ‘Yes, we are a great country, and there are many things that are so amazing, and I feel very fortunate to be in this country.’ I would never be able to do this in a lot of other places. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get better. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always thrive to be better.”

World Cup Finals Sunday at 11:00AM. Go team USA!


We Can All Get Behind a Winning Team

We Can All Get Behind a Winning Team

The University of Michigan baseball team didn’t win the College World Series, but they got closer than any Michigan teams have in a while. It’s nice to have a Michigan baseball team (professional or otherwise) that does well enough to play in a championship.

If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, I don’t blame you. I’m a fairly big sports fan, but college baseball has never been in my wheelhouse (which is a baseball thing sportsy people say roughly meaning “it’s not my cup of tea”). The season starts in the spring in places where there is a spring (the south and west, not Michigan), and then finishes during the longest days of summer when we can comfortably be outside in Michigan.

Also, I don’t get the end-of-season format. For me, how the College World Series works is like how annuities function or how cribbage is played: I have the capacity to understand, and they have been explained to me several times, but I have the complete inability to retain any of it.

What is in my wheelhouse is the Women’s World Cup and the United States team. I can explain ad nauseam the nuances of group stage, knockout stage, goal differentials, shootouts, and so on. (Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.) Alas, the next game for the U.S. team after my deadline — a quarterfinal game against host France.

I’m hoping they win because I am a big fan and an American. But, honestly, also because there are some much richer editorial cartoon prospects to mine from women’s soccer — the equal pay for women issue, the pre-emptive rejection of a White House visit, LGBTQ rights. I’ll get it started here and maybe follow up in the coming weeks: Megan Rapinoe is the Muhammed Ali of our generation. Discuss.


Who’s to Blame?

Who's to Blame?

Credit where credit is due — this is a variation of the classic Walt Kelly cartoon where his character Pogo observes the swamp that he and his friends live in (and trashed), declaring, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sometimes we can be the worst. But let me be absolutely clear here: I am not in any way saying that politicians are never the source of road, environment, and health care issues. They can be and they have been. What I am saying is that it’s not a binary thing — it doesn’t have to be either them or us. It can be both.

I know. It’s June in Michigan — I should have sunnier thoughts, but you know how it’s been. I think it’s a combination of the weather and the massive amount of road construction everywhere. I should be grateful, and I will be grateful, but…

I think my son put it best in a recent tweet: “Hey Grand Rapids, so first of all thank you for fixing the roads but do you think you could maybe leave just one or two of them open?”


Michigan Social Studies Curriculum

Michigan Social Studies Curriculum

To be clear: I’m proud of our nation, our history, and especially our ideals. I am proud to be an American. But some of the things we do just mystify me.

This past week the Michigan Board of Education approved an update to the curriculum for social science studies in Michigan. There was some controversy. Initially, some standards proposed by conservatives hewed too closely to their unique views of the world. Those were cut back, but the standards approved by the Board have been assailed as inaccurate and anti-Christian. It all seems like an excellent prompt for a classroom of young minds to learn civil discourse and critical thinking. But unfortunately it’s mostly a crude game for political points.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be reacting (overreacting?) to all this in a normal week. But this is the week that The New York Times decided it would no longer run political cartoons. A brief backstory: In April, a Times editor decided to run a syndicated cartoon in its international edition depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog wearing a Star of David collar tag and leading a blind, yarmulke-wearing President Trump. It was widely seen as anti-Semitic. Because it was.

The Times appropriately apologized and promised corrective action. First, they over-corrected by announcing they would no longer use syndicated cartoons. Then this week they WAY over-corrected sacking their staff cartoonists, the brilliant Patrick Chappatte and Heng Kim Song, to bring the international edition “…into line with the domestic paper by ending daily political cartoons.” (The flagship Times paper famously and inexplicably has not had a daily cartoonist for decades.)

There are much deeper weeds for me to get into here, but I don’t want to drag you all down into the specifics of my obvious self-interest. Let me just say this: When political points or job safety become more important than thoughtful discussion, we become less American (or at least the kind of American we ought to be).


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