Dear Michigan…

Dear Michigan...

This is our wake-up call, Michigan — Florida is nothing any state should aspire to!

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Obfuscate!

Obfuscate!

It’s more than a little pretentious to create a very wordy cartoon around a word I have a difficult time pronouncing, but obfuscate is the perfect fit here. It means to render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible, and it is a tactic used more and more at all levels of political discourse.

In the cases of Flint water and Detroit schools, it is our moral and fiscal responsibility to avoid letting side issues steal our attention away from the actual problem at hand: finding a long-term solution for real people suffering real harm. We need to stay focused!

And, yes, that is Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof. I’m pretty sure his middle name is Obfuscate.

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Rick Snyder. Man of the People.

Rick Snyder. Man of the People.

News came out this week that Governor Snyder has hired a Public Relations firm to help him navigate through this messy, messy Flint water crisis. Nobody should be surprised. It was a by-the-numbers, top-down, corporate CEO type of decision, and that has consistently been Governor Snyder’s jam. What is hard to take, however, is that the PR firm is now obviously coaching him to be an empathetic, I-feel-your-pain, point-fingers-of-blame-at-others, I’m-with-you-guys, man of the people. This abrupt shift has been nothing but awkward (and kinda nauseating). NOT your jam, Governor Snyder. Not your jam.

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Intense Corrosiveness

Intense Corrosiveness

Which isn’t to say there has not been caustic rhetoric pouring out of other campaigns. And as the pressure builds up to and into Iowa and the primary season, expect it to get worse. But to this point, Donald Trump and Senator Cruz have distinguished themselves (if that’s the right term) with their ability to leach out the latent fears and prejudices of the American voter.

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I Sure Am Gonna Miss Drawing You Guys for MLive….

I Sure Am Gonna Miss Drawing You Guys for MLive...

Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
January 3, 2016

Also posted online at MLive.com, January 3, 2016

This week I received an email from the Vice President of Content at MLive Media Group notifying me that they would no longer contract for my services under our existing freelance agreement. It was not a surprise. This past May, MLive cut the number of cartoons they paid me for from weekly to monthly. During the summer, I continued provide a weekly cartoon along with commentary for posting on MLive.com. (Up to that point my cartoons were exclusive to the print editions.) I had hoped to demonstrate the value of Michigan-focused editorial cartoons in an online format. While it is clear now my efforts did not close the sale, I did very much enjoy sharing and engaging online, and I’m happy to have had the experience.

I would like to thank those at MLive I had the pleasure to work with, particularly my editors: Ed Golder, Paul Keep and Dan Hawkins — each consummate professionals. They challenged me by allowing me space to run while when necessary reminding me of the bounds of common sense and good grammar. The benefits of working with people you respect cannot be overstated.

Despite my disappointment with their decision, I would also like thank MLive and predecessor, the Grand Rapids Press. Editorial cartoons in newspapers — especially local editorial cartoons — are a truly American institution, and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to be a participant.

And I would like to thank you, the readers for taking the time to be readers. For a cartoonist, that’s really all that’s needed. But I also appreciated when you shared your reactions — from kind encouragements to the angry dissents. (Okay, sure, I found the occasional unibomber-like manifesto a bit unsettling, but otherwise the feedback was all good.)

I hope to find other venues because I think editorial cartoons are valuable. They somehow roll up a chaotic mix of satire, exaggeration and unfairness into tidy packages that (when done well) provoke thought and reveal truth. Anyway, that’s what I aim for.

All the best,
John

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Snyder Not a Standup Guy

Snyder Not a Standup Guy

Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
December 6, 2015

Also posted online at MLive.com, December 5, 2015

In the movie “Silver Linings Playbook,” the character Pat (Bradley Cooper) seemingly reneges on a promise to compete in a dance competition with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany is upset and repeatedly screams after Pat as he walks away and out the front door, “You are not a standup guy!” (Spoiler alert: In the end, Pat does in fact prove himself to be a standup guy.)

I have a much lesser emotional attachment to our governor, but based on his recent actions I still have the urge to yell after him, “You are not a standup guy!” Repeatedly.

As with John Engler in his first term, Rick Snyder originally had a platform, he got elected on that platform and his actions as governor were consistent with that platform. You might not have liked what he did (cut business taxes, increased powers for emergency managers, pushed through the Gordie Howe bridge, etc.), but he did what he said he wanted to do. Regardless of your opinion about the actual policies, he seemed to be a standup guy.

I think that Gov. Snyder jumped the shark, so to speak, was when he signed off on the right-to-work legislation. Of course he never promised not to. He was purposely, willfully vague. Kept his options open. Said “I have no opinion” pretty much up until it sped through a lame-duck session. Again, agree or disagree with the actual policy, it remains decidedly not a standup move.

And now with his pause button on Syrian refugees. As the second panel of the cartoon says, I find it hard to believe Gov. Snyder was unaware of the details of our current vetting process. Encouraging immigration, especially as a means to bring new energy to some of our cities, was one of his core beliefs, a differentiator. Why go so quickly from advocate to obstacle? Why give up credibility for fleeting, short-term political gain?

If it’s me reading the signs, I see a politician who has lost his way.

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Snyder Relentless Positivity (and Wrongness)

Snyder Relentless Positivity (and Wrongness)

Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
November 1, 2015

It’s easy to write off Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent shenanigans that I’ve documented here as simply a politician being a politician, and that’s not right. First, the whole business of relentlessly staying on message with contrived positivity until reality forces you to admit that “mistakes were made” is not unique to politics — think CEOs, military brass, head coaches of major sport teams. But second, and more importantly, blaming it all on politics is dangerous. That just feeds the pervasive hopelessness of “all politicians are bad, government never works,” and that can lead to really, really bad choices like, say, Donald Trump.

No, the base issue is poor leadership. Consider Lincoln and Churchill, both consummate politicians who had to rally their constituents under difficult circumstances — sometimes not being entirely truthful, sometimes failing miserably. But after failures, a big reason why they were able to maintain and rebuild support was because they didn’t try to sell false optimism. They didn’t cling to mistakes with a big ol’ smile.

I understand that the big ol’ smile is part of Gov. Snyder’s shtick. And when he was a first-term governor I found it sometimes cloying but also practical. In leading a state out of a 12-year recession, he needed to swing the pendulum back over to the optimism side. But as a second-term governor, not so much. When, for example, decisions you made have resulted in poisoned water, you really need to assess and identify what is important about that. (Hint: HOLY CRAP! YOU POISONED THE WATER!) Then you need to own the mistake, move forward with seriousness and determination, and lose the big ol’ smile.

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Tales from the Future Flint, Michigan!

Tales from the Future Flint, Michigan!

Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
October 4, 2015

Also posted online at MLive.com, October 3, 2015

When my family moved to Michigan in 1973, it felt quite literally like we were moving to the future. Gaffney, South Carolina, wasn’t like a total backwoods, but Flint — Flint was shiny and prosperous! There were the huge factories and a downtown with one-way streets and a cultural center with a freakin’ planetarium! Not that I had the slightest idea what a planetarium was, but it sure looked space-age. The clincher for me, though, was Safetyville. I had seen a story about Safetyville in a school magazine and marveled at the miniature town with electric cars built to teach elementary kids the basics of driving. Actually getting to go there was a dream come true. (Some still have the licenses they were issued upon successful completion, which even today fills me with envy.)

Little did I know that we had arrived at Flint’s peak. At the time, it would have been difficult to imagine the eventual and deep decline. But if somebody from the future had come back to describe it, I think it would have been at least somewhat believable: the intense pressures of globalization, the gross mismanagement by GM and the UAW, the parade of inept and/or corrupt city leaders. Yeah, that might have all seemed possible, I suppose.

However, if you had told me even a few years ago that the water would be poisoned, I would have said, “Hold on. We’re still talking about Michigan here, not some heartless futuristic dystopia. We may not guarantee our citizens safe roads or affordable education, but we’re all about clean, fresh water.”

And yet, here we are. So I’d like to propose a new Safetyville, one in which students are taught how to properly test a water treatment system to ensure high levels of lead cannot leach into the drinking water. And how, if you can’t guarantee that, then you don’t take the chance. Nobody would be able to hold a public office till they earned that Safetyville license.

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Auchter Editorial Cartoons on MLive: Update and Next Steps

Readers/Friends/Family,
As you may recall back in May, budget cuts at MLive reduced my cartoons from every Sunday paper to one Sunday per month. It was both disappointing and shortsighted — you’d think that newspaper owners would want more uniquely popular, original content, not less. Alas for me, budgets tend only to consider numbers, and the numbers say print revenue is not growing. But they do say that online revenue is growing.

So to create a measurable sample to prove the value of online cartoons, I continued to provide one cartoon per week (along with a supporting article) for free. These were posted every Saturday morning on MLive.com (as you know from the links I’ve been sending all summer). As far as my editors and I can tell, the experiment has been a success. (Again, alas for me, my editors are not the ones making budget decisions.)

Next Steps
The online metrics data are now available to those MLive folks who set the budgets. I have met with my managing editor, Todd Fettig, and loaded him up with compelling, financially sound reasons for paying me to provide weekly editorial cartoons both online and in print. I have also strongly encouraged him to include the thoughtful, persuasive emails many of you sent him back in May.

Todd is advocating my case. There is no specific deadline for results; I am hopeful for a spark of reason soon from within the corporate machinery. My only leverage:

  • I am only drawing what I’m paid to draw. (No more free stuff)
  • I am using my “not drawing” time to seek other cartooning opportunities.
  • Any additional support you guys can provide. You can feel free to write Todd (tfettig1@mlive.com), but it might be more helpful to go up the chain and contact MLive President, Dan Gaydou:DGaydou@mlive.com. Or contact your local MLive newspaper:http://blog.mlive.com/mlive_contacts/newsrooms.html.

Bottom Line
I continue to deeply appreciate your interest and support. Thank you!

Sincerely and respectfully,
John

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Fortunately for Colleges and Universities

Fortunately for Colleges and Universities

 

Also posted online at MLive.com, September 12, 2015

 

MLive had an interesting article this week about rising college costs, along with a slideshow of the biggest increases in room and board in Michigan. As a parent of college-age students, I felt it hit a chord. And by “hit a chord,” I mean “made me draw a cranky editorial cartoon.” Which I did.

The truth is, my feelings are much more nuanced on the subject. Take my alma mater, Michigan Tech, for instance: I graduated with manageable debt and a degree that has returned value over and over in my career. Not this career — the cartooning gig has always been freelance and is largely self-taught. I have the artistic prowess you might expect from somebody with a bachelor’s degree in Scientific and Technical Communications with a minor in Metallurgical Engineering. (Although I did draw for the school newspaper.)

But would a Michigan Tech degree be worth the price if I were getting that degree now —especially at those room and board prices? Maybe. Could I afford it? I don’t know.

Actually, the cartoon is more a crack about what K-12 education has been forced to become than it is about higher education. A few years ago I did a cartoon that was a variation on the same theme.

Not quite as mean, but just as cranky.

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