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Michigan’s New Education Award

Michigan's New Education Award

My household received a mailer this week that was jammed with praise for Lt. Governor Brian Calley and his boss, Governor Snyder. It exhorted me to “take the Comeback to the next level,” which included the specific goal of “making Michigan’s pre K–12 system the best in America.”

This was either outrageously ambitious or incredibly ill-timed because I had just heard a report on Michigan Radio that Michigan has recently become the only state failing to meet special education requirements and now requires federal intervention. Huh. That doesn’t make any sense. How is Calley going to make us the best, when he proudly aligns himself with the leadership that has made us the worst?

It’s a direct contradiction, and yet I have all been so thoroughly gaslit these days, I start to question myself. Technically, the mailer wasn’t from Calley or Calley for Governor, but from “The Fund for Michigan Jobs.” Did Calley even know about this? Can he be held fully accountable? Aren’t there other players who have contributed to this? And I have heard on more than one occasion that Calley is an advocate for those with special needs and a fine Christian man. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people….” Calley knows all about that, right?

Thoughts can become muddled quickly, which is why it’s especially important to seek fresh air and breathe the truth whenever possible. A women named Marcie Lipsitt seems to have a handle on this particular situation. As a special education advocate for 20 years, Lipsitt is able to provide a full assessment of how the Michigan special education system has reached this low point and a clear-eyed vision (that is without political agenda) for improving it. I encourage you to listen to the full story.

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Winning a Modern Argument

Winning a Modern Argument

Michigan Radio had a story this week about the Michigan State Employees Association union petitioning to allow state park rangers to carry guns. Some rangers do not feel safe, citing a perceived uptick in illegal activity and are suggesting guns and bulletproof vests as a solution.

Phew! How was that? It took me quite a while to write that paragraph. It was really difficult to figure out how to tell you what happened as impartially as possible. Still, some of the words are inevitably tripwires (guns, state, union) — they instantly take us off the actual topic and into a race to tell those with a differing view how stupid they are.

That’s pretty much the reason why the cartoon stopped being about the park rangers and guns in the first panel. I just couldn’t figure out a way to wedge something witty and insightful ahead of the inevitable breakdown.

As a editorial cartoonist, I’m the last person in the world that should be judgmental about this. In most cases, we are the ones actively laying the tripwire. And we know how to do it because something has already set us off.

So to be clear: I most definitely believe some people and the opinions they hold on certain topics are in fact stupid. But if the goal is to persuade them to change their minds, then leading with “you’re stupid” is perhaps not the most effective strategy.

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Summer of Relaxation

Summer of Relaxation

Whether you prepare for the looming trade war with a cold beverage by the pool or panicked online shopping (may I suggest the Michigan Radio Store if you intend to throw money?), I will not take any more of your time this week. No matter what happens, the constant remains that summer in Michigan is too short.

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Michigan Marshall Plan

Michigan Marshall Plan

This week Governor Snyder signed legislation that he has championed as a “Marshall Plan for Talent.” It’s not a precise metaphor — the original Marshall Plan was the post-World War II effort by the United States to fund the economic redevelopment of the war-torn Western Europe to help rebuild an entire society. For our version the State of Michigan will spend $100 million in education initiatives, training, and scholarships to help rebuild our pool of skilled trades talent. So, different scale and stakes, but similar concept.

At its core, the plan is really about education reform. It’s an attempt to help correct a bias to nudge all students toward four-year college degrees when a two-year degree or trade school training would better serve those who prefer hands-on work. The hope is to allow students to prepare themselves for careers that match their interests and talents. Former “Dirty Jobs” host and trades advocate Mike Rowe refers to this as “Work Hard AND Smart” (as opposed to the advice of “Work Smart, not Hard” that he received when he was in high school).

But mostly the plan was approved for its potential economic return on value. Michigan identifies as a place where stuff is made. To support that notion, we need people with the skills and talent to actually make stuff. So if we encourage and assist the people who enjoy working with their hands to pursue a career doing just that, they will fill the open positions and grow our manufacturing sector. Assuming, of course, a trade war doesn’t kill it off.

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Remember When Michigan Was Great?

Remember When Michigan Was Great

I have something of a Wikipedia problem. In idle moments in between tasks, I tend to wander over to the website for a quick nip — the plotline of a half watched movie here, the defining geographic features of an obscure African country there. I’m in, I’m out, and I’m back to the task at hand. No big deal. I can quit at any time. Really.

Except, not really. Sometimes I get caught up in one of those link rabbit holes. Like when the first article links to a second one, which links to a third, and so on. I’m particularly susceptible to the “On This Day” area, which lists articles about events that happened on that day. On June 20th, there was this one: “1943 – The Detroit race riot breaks out and continues for three more days.”

I was aware of the event, but knew little about it. It had some similarities to the 1967 uprising (competition for jobs and housing), but was really unique to itself. The most fascinating thing to me was the timing: Here we were in the throes of World War II, patriotism arguably running at an all-time high, a concerted focus on defeating the enemy, and we still managed to let our greed and prejudice and tribalism get the best of us. So the first takeaway is: “The good ol’ days are not always the good ol’ days.”

The second is: “We should be able to learn from history, but we don’t.” There we were in 2016, living an economic expansion after having survived the Great Recession. Sure, it wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but times were relatively good. But again, we now seem to be letting our greed and prejudice and tribalism get the best of us. You all just experienced the same week I did, so no need to relive it here. Let’s just maybe resolve to remember the positives of the past without repeating the mistakes.

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The Colbeck Curriculum

The Colbeck Curriculum

Michigan state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Patrick Colbeck has been involved in recent efforts to update the social studies curriculum for K–12 public schools. Colbeck’s stated goals are to “remove partisanship from the classroom” and move students towards a more “politically neutral” dialogue that offers a balanced view of historical issues. Perhaps he is sincere, but few promulgate a more politically non-neutral agenda than Patrick Colbeck.

Bridge Magazine has a very thorough article about this and one of its authors, Lindsay VanHulle, discussed it on Michigan Radio’s Stateside earlier this week. One of the more revealing examples of Colbeck’s ambitions is his assertion that the term “democratic” implies partisan leanings. As a result, 13 references to “core democratic values” have been deleted or changed to “core values.” Politicians defining word usage for all has “dystopian” written all over it. More chilling, Colbeck confided that he only got about a 10th of what he wanted.

Colbeck reminds me of Frank Burns, the character played by Larry Linville in the 1970s sitcom, M*A*S*H. Specifically, the episode in which the 4077 is preparing for a visit from General Douglas MacArthur. The scene opens with Frank merrily tossing items into a fire as fellow doctors, Trapper and Hawkeye, approach:

Trapper: Frank! What are you doing?
Frank Burns: Burning books.
Hawkeye: Oh. Any special reason, Dr. Hitler?
Frank Burns: One of the greatest living Americans is coming and I’m not going to let him see some of the trash that’s read around here.
Trapper: Plato’s Republic? The Life of Red Grange?
Hawkeye: Revolutionaries.
Frank Burns: Right!
Trapper: Robinson Crusoe?
Hawkeye: Everybody runs around half naked.
Trapper: Norman Mailer.
Frank Burns: It’s got *that word* in it.
Hawkeye: Frank, you burn one more book, I’m gonna give you a dancing lesson in the mine field.

Can we at least agree that the last person we want our next governor to emulate is Frank Burns?

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Strange Customs and Rituals

Strange Customs and Rituals

It happens more or less on a regular basis. Somebody with too much time on their hands will point to the large Middle Eastern and Muslim communities in Southeast Michigan and declare their suspicions of nefarious activity. They typically have no real understanding of the nuances — some are Muslim and some are not, some are Arab and some are not, some have been citizens for generations and some have not. But the numbers get lumped together to make the fear more plausible.

It’s bad enough when it’s a low level political operative or a barfly at your local watering hole, but in this case it was Fred Fleitz, the recently appointed Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary for the National Security Council and also Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump. The Detroit Free Press reported this week that Fleitz had given an interview last year to Breitbart News where he shared this little chestnut of wisdom:

“…there are some communities in the United States that have not assimilated. I’m not concerned about Amish or Jewish communities, but I will tell you that there are enclaves of Muslim communities in Michigan and Minnesota that concern me. The problem with these Muslim communities is that it is making them susceptible to this radical worldview that wants to destroy modern society, create a global caliphate, and impose sharia law on everyone on Earth.”

Look, I do understand the possibility of danger — every group of people has potentially bad elements. (As a middle-aged white guy from Michigan, I bear the burden of never knowing what stupid thing Ted Nugent is going to do next.) But I also understand the greater harm of disparaging an entire community. Or more to the point, the overwhelming benefits the people of these communities provide Michigan.

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The Michigan Death Penalty Scale

The Michigan Death Penalty Scale

We can get so caught up with on on-going issues here in Michigan (roads, water, schools, etc.) that it’s easy to forget some of the reasons we have for taking pride in our state. Recently we marked the 172nd anniversary of Michigan becoming the first English-speaking government to abolish the death penalty. Even more impressive, we have not changed our minds about this since.

Sure, there have been periodic efforts to legalize capital punishment in some shape or form. But to our credit, Michigan has resisted the emotional appeal and stayed the course. As the cartoon illustrates, there are many practical and moral reasons to be against capital punishment. While reasons to be for it are largely emotional.

That said, I can totally understand — even empathize with — how weighty those emotional feelings can be. The Larry Nassar case provides a perfect example. After reading about and listening to the testimony of his victims (and considering their ages and sheer numbers), I have to admit the death penalty crossed my mind. (That’s a caricature of me, by the way, jumping up and down on the FOR side.)

But it comes down to this: How can we write the laws so they are air-tight? How can we apply them evenly? How exactly would the convicted be executed? How much would it all cost? And how can we be absolutely sure?

It says something positive about our state and ourselves that we have decided to go with reason over emotions. Because at any given moment we all can feel very pro-capital punishment for, say, slow drivers in the passing lane.

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E Pluribus Unum

E Pluribus Unum

It may seem a little odd, but this started out as a Memorial Day cartoon. Late last year, a former neighbor passed away. He was in his mid-90s and a well-decorated World War II vet. He never talked about the medals and rarely about the experience, except to explain the significant scar on his left bicep from a sniper’s bullet.

(He told me once that he felt obligated to explain his arm if somebody’s eyes got stuck on it — he didn’t want people to worry about him.)

On Memorial Day mornings, we would walk out to the city cemetery behind our houses to gather with the entire community to honor our soldiers, sing with the marching band, and listen to the presentations. It always made me feel connected (especially with him there) to our country. All sorts of people have come together to make America what it is. Some who fought, some who died, some who lived on and made it a better place. Out of many, one. E pluribus unum.

The cartoon made a pivot last week when the Michigan Civil Rights Commission approved a statement to legally interpret an existing law (the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act) that bans discrimination based on sex to also mean sexual orientation and gender identity. There was immediate pushback from state Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake. He says the commission is “outside their rails on what they’re authorized to do,” and he’s not wrong. But that’s kind of the point.

The statement will allow the Department of Civil Rights to accept discrimination complaints from the LGBT community and move the process along so laws can be amended and courts can make rulings. It’s an audacious move, but not out of line for a country based on audacious moves to fight injustices. Some will have to fight, some will fail, and some will move our country forward to make it a better place. E pluribus unum.

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Not Learning Any Lessons

Not Learning Any Lessons

“You’re an editorial cartoonist? Wow, you must really be loving the current political climate! So much to draw about!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this in the past two years. And while, yes, there is plenty of material, it often comes out like a fire hose — too much, too quickly (and in many cases already beyond satire).

Patton Oswalt has the best take on this. In his comedy special Annihilation, he explains this feeling of helpless exasperation using a brilliant analogy involving defecation and traditional Mexican headwear. I won’t tell you any more for two reasons: He uses words I cannot, and he is infinitely funnier.

This was that kind of week for me. Just when I thought I had a story I could grab hold of, another rushed in and pushed it out of the queue. Finally I settled on the ongoing catastrophe that is the current head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt. Again, so much to choose from, but what caught my eye was a story first reported by Politico:

Earlier this year the EPA helped to bury a federal study that would have increased warnings about toxic chemicals found in hundreds of water supplies across the country. That report showed Pruitt’s senior aides intervened in the release of the Health and Human Services Department assessment into PFOA and PFOS after the White House warned of a “public relations nightmare.”

So here we are again dealing with poisons in our drinking water — this time chemicals that have either been dumped as waste (as is the case in West Michigan near Grand Rapids) or actively spread as an ingredient in products such as fabric protectors and fire-fighting foams. And the officials in charge see this first as a public relations issue, not a public health issue? Have we learned nothing from the Flint water crisis? Apparently not.

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