Learning Lessons

Learning Lessons

My daughter is going back to school with the intention of becoming a counselor/therapist, specifically for teens and young women. She is smart, perceptive, and deeply empathetic, so I have no doubt she will be wonderful at it. I also have no doubt that she will be needed. (Actually, my only concern is that it will be overwhelming.)

The pandemic by itself has heaped an immense amount of pain and trauma on children. The behavior of many adults continues to compound it. From everyday rude treatment of service and healthcare workers to going ballistic at a school board meeting, children are watching and learning all of the time.

Some of this cannot be helped. Stressed people act out, and as it turns out, an ongoing worldwide viral infection generates a tremendous amount of stress. We’ve had two years to understand this. So now would be a good time for adults to consider what we can do to take care of our own mental health — both for our own good and for my daughter’s future workload.

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We Must Protect the Institutions That Sustain Our Great Nation

We Must Protect the Institutions That Sustain Our Great Nation

I’ve been reading a book called “Bad Days in History” by Michael Farquhar. It’s sort of a devotional with “a gleefully grim chronicle of misfortune, mayhem, and misery for every day of the year.” It was published in 2015, so it obviously doesn’t include January 6, 2021, but it definitely should if there ever is a next edition.

I did, however, find an entry with rough parallels. January 6th was not the first time our country has had to deal with that sort of extreme nationalistic behavior. Perhaps we can find some solace in that:

The magnificent stone obelisk that is the Washington Monument today was still just a stump in 1854. And thanks to the actions of a group of anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant political agitators called the American party, or “Know-Nothings,” it remained that way for more than two decades.

The trouble began when Pope Pius IX donated a black marble stone for the memorial, one taken from the ruins of the temple of Concord in the Roman Forum. Though many other states and organizations had also given inscribed slabs to the construction effort, the Know-Nothings saw the papal gift as a loathsome declaration of the Vatican’s intent to control the United States through the mass influx of Catholic immigrants.

Outraged by the Holy Father’s supposed insult, a band of Know-Nothing Party thugs appeared at the construction site during the late hours of March 5, 1854, overpowered the guard, and snatched away the Vatican stone. Not content with this brazen act of thievery, the Know-Nothings next seized control of the Washington National Monument Society through a rigged election and took over construction. They didn’t get very far, though — installing only a few layers of inferior marble (which later had to be replaced) before an appalled Congress stopped funding the project altogether.

It was not until 1877, with the Know-Nothings having long since dissipated, that the work on the Washington Monument resumed. It was finally completed in 1884, and stands as the tallest freestanding stone structure in the world. Evidence of the Know-Nothings legacy is still clearly visible, however: The exterior of the obelisk is of two distinct shades of marble. The stone used in the first stage of construction was unavailable when the job was resumed so many years later.

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Advice for 2022

Advice for 2022

I wish all you readers a happy holiday season and a blessed new year. (What do you say we give this common good thing a try in 2022?)

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The Redistricting Commission Understands…or Do They?

The Redistricting Commission Understands...or Do They?

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” contains so many all-time best comedic scenes — the Black Knight (“Just a flesh wound.”), the Coconut Debate (“An African or European swallow?”), the Killer Rabbit (“And we’d better not risk another frontal assault — that rabbit’s dynamite!”). One of the most overlooked (and under appreciated, in my opinion) is the Guarding the Room scene.

If you don’t remember, here it is:

It wasn’t until I had completed this week’s cartoon that I realized how closely it tracks with that scene. It seems the one consistent thing that Michigan citizens asked of the newly formed commission to determine Michigan congressional districts was transparency. And yet, here we are with several news organizations suing the commission because of their secret memos and closed-door meetings. The Michigan Supreme Court could possibly make a ruling on this by the time this is published.

Of course, if you look closer, there are reasons for this — relatively standard “we are in a position of power and our lawyers advise us to not tell you everything” sorts of reasons. So, I’m not feeling all high and mighty for calling them out. (And neither should Governor Whitmer and the state legislature, considering their own issues with similar shenanigans, such as stonewalling freedom of information requests.) But it is ridiculous. Not as funny as Monty Python, but nearly as ridiculous.

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I’ll Ask the Guy in Charge

I'll Ask the Guy in Charge

Let’s be honest, it wasn’t easy or comfortable or even appealing (as strange as that may sound now) when laws were passed and enforced to prevent people from smoking in public areas. The pushback was enormous — can you imagine a bar where people weren’t allowed smoke? Are you kidding me?! Or on airplanes when smokers are super-stressed and need a cigarette to calm their nerves? It’ll never happen.

And yet, it did. There was overwhelming evidence that these measures would save lives and reduce injuries. It was a national health concern. So it was the responsible thing to do to pass laws and enforce the laws even though it was difficult.

Now I am absolutely not saying that it is the exact same situation with guns and gun violence in America. But in the context of health and safety, it is quite similar. There are deaths and burdensome costs that we as a country endure year after year because of the inertia of the status quo. And seemingly there is nothing we can do about it.

But there is. We can enforce existing laws to remove firearms from homes with reports of domestic violence. We can augment existing laws to ensure that all legal guns are registered. And we can certainly pass new laws to ensure that adults are held responsible when guns they own find their way into the hands of minors. And we’ll look back in a few years and say, yep, that wasn’t easy, but it was sure worth it.

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Michigan 2022 Election Flowchart

Michigan 2022 Election Flowchart

We ignore at our own peril the continuing efforts of former President Trump to undermine laws and norms to claw his way back into power. He’s a demagogue in full-bullying mode, and a brief glance at history reveals the devastating consequences of letting somebody like that get their way.

And yet, the paradox is that attention — any attention — is exactly what a demagogue desires. He will use any and all attention to skew, manipulate, and outright lie in order to create legitimacy for furthering his singular, self-serving agenda.

A simple flowchart seemed like the best compromise to sound the alarm without feeding the monster.

I realize, of course, that the most obvious topic for a Michigan editorial cartoonist this week would have been the mass shooting in Oxford. Please don’t construe me not addressing it as “now is not the time.” Now and every moment from now is exactly the time to discuss and find solutions for gun violence. We’ve been conditioned to believe that it is an intractable problem, and it’s not. I’m just too sad at the moment to come up with anything to say.

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It’s Our Right to Be Ruined by Personal Bankruptcy

It's Our Right to Be Ruined by Personal Bankruptcy

Thursday is normally deadline day for submitting my cartoon, but with Thanksgiving this week, the deadline was moved up a day or two. That always presents a challenge to pick a topic that I have some confidence will remain relevant.

Well for years now (decades, actually) I’ve drawn cartoons about the United States being the only developed nation in the world where medical debt is the primary cause of personal bankruptcy. So when I came across the story about Singapore threatening punishment for those refusing the COVID-19 vaccine with medial debt, I thought, “Perfect — this is a topic I know isn’t going to change any time soon.”

And it seemed especially on-point with so many Michigan hospitals now at full capacity with unvaccinated patients. Yes, there is boatloads of federal money that supposedly will cover all covid-related costs, but it won’t. You know it, I know it. And if it did cover initial treatment costs, there are going to be so, so many with additional costs from the lingering effects. No way that’s gonna be covered. That’s just how messed up and needlessly expensive our healthcare system is.

If you want a good summary, you can check out the Medical Debt article in Wikipedia. I know, it’s Wikipedia, but you can follow the many reputable citations from the Pew Research center, Kaiser Family Foundation, and others if you want to get to the details.

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Endangered Species

Endangered Species

I used the term “Moderate Republican” in the cartoon because it is the simplest and most widely recognized term for folks like Michigan Representatives Peter Meijer and Fred Upton. But in truth, it’s archaic at best.

It really has nothing to do with “moderate.” In what other universe would somebody with a voting record like Liz Cheney be described as moderate? It arguably also has nothing to do with “Republican.” Were they not until recently the party of free-trade? Fiscal responsibility? Anti-authoritarian? Ally to our allies?

So really what is meant by “Moderate Republican” is “Those Who Used to Be Known as Republican Willing to Put Country Before Party.” (That’s quite a word jumble for a cartoon.) Functionally, it’s Republicans who have fallen out of step (if only for a moment) with Dear Leader.

Among Meijer’s transgressions is his voting in favor of congressional investigations into the causes of the January 6th insurrection. This has earned him death threats and a Trumpian candidate to run against him in the primary next year. Upton’s most recent no-no was voting in favor of the infrastructure legislation, which has earned him party condemnation and also death threats.

So you can see how these so-called Moderate Republicans are being purposely hunted to extinction — literally and figuratively.

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The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter

I was 9 years-old when my family moved to Michigan. There were some mysteries I needed to figure out. Like, why did November 15th seem to be a holiday? It was explained to me that it was opening day…for firearm season…for hunting deer…in the woods…for fun…for food…also for interior design.

It took me a while, but eventually I did catch on. (Well, not so much about why somebody would want to mount deer heads on wall.) I lacked context because I didn’t come from a hunting family and there weren’t any deer in my suburban neighborhood. Seeing a deer was something of an exotic experience. It required either going to that UpNorth place where everybody seemed to disappear to, or driving slowly down Saginaw Street in front of the GM plant in Grand Blanc and squinting into the wooded, fenced-in park where deer (for some reason) were stocked. 

Times have changed. Now I can see deer whenever I want by walking out in my city yard at dusk or dawn. There are always herds of varying sizes, and from early spring till mid-fall, my wife and I have to make sure to spray repellant on our landscaping. Otherwise, the hostas and other perennials become a salad bar. (We gave up on food gardening a long time ago.)

Anyway, I thought deer and managing deer populations would be a topic all Michiganders might enjoy and provide something of a break from pandemic news. Then, just after I finished the drawing, I saw an NPR story, “How SARS-CoV-2 in American deer could alter the course of the global pandemic.” 

There seems to be no escaping it.

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Thank You for Your Sacrifice

Thank You for Your Sacrifice

It’s Veterans Day next week. And for those of us who have not served in the United States Armed Forces, it’s sometimes difficult to know what to say to those who have. “Thank you for your service” has become something of a default. Like saying “I’m sorry for your loss” at a funeral, it’s safe and well-intentioned, but can sometimes feel short of the mark.

Yes, veterans have served. But it has been a long time since the draft, so it was their choice. I’m not at all trying to be glib. I realize that for many the choice to join the military really wasn’t much of a choice — mostly for economic reasons. What definitely wasn’t a choice for an awfully large percentage is what they sacrificed as part of their service. Too often, it was their health — mental and physical.

As a non-veteran, this is what I (gratefully) can’t imagine but feel the most compelled to acknowledge. And this is where we as country do fall short of the mark. Healthcare for veterans isn’t free. With the VA and VA facilities, they are availed to some additional services. But vets can be bankrupted just like the rest of us. Can that be fixed? Well, sure. We would just need to make some sacrifices.

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