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Vaccine Campaigns

Vaccine Campaigns

When I was a kid I remember seeing a “man on the street” segment on TV interviewing people about the value of seat belts. One guy in particular had a very low opinion of them and made this case: “If my car ever plunges off a bridge and into a body a water, the time it would take to undo my seat belt might be the difference between surviving and drowning.” I had to think about that for a sec, but I imagined he was right — in that nightmarish scenario it would be awful to be trapped in a car rapidly filling with water.

At some point I mentioned this to my Dad as justification for not wanting to wear a seat belt. He put things into perspective for me. I don’t know if it was the straightforward, “Well that’s a pretty stupid reason not to wear a seat belt” that he started with, or the more nuanced explanation with words such as “likelihood” and “logical” that came after. But afterwards I was firmly pro-seat belt.

The medical community has realized that they need to have a “Dad Talk” with the citizens of Michigan regarding vaccinations. This from an MLive story this week:

“According to the 2015 National Immunization Survey, Michigan ranks 43rd in the U.S. for children ages 19 to 35 months, and data from the Michigan Care Improvement Registry shows 54 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months and 29 percent of teens aged 13 to 18 are fully up to date on vaccinations.”

It is creating a health risk where cases of preventable diseases such as whooping cough are now making a comeback. Accordingly, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced this week a new campaign called “I Vaccinate.” to increase awareness and provide validated information.

Hopefully this measured, sensible approach will work. And if it doesn’t, there’s always irrational fearmongering….

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Invasive Species of the Great Lakes

Invasive Species of the Great Lakes

The one clear positive from President Trump’s proposed budget: It’s bringing Michiganders closer together. Specifically, in the budget proposal the White House sent to Congress last week, the Trump administration is suggesting to cut the budget of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) from $300 million per year to $10 million per year.

Well, that’s not so much a “cut” as a “gut.” And not so much an art-of-the-deal low-ball opener as a kick in the crotch.

Whatever you call it, the result has been bipartisan condemnation from politicians and voters in Michigan and other Great Lakes states. The focus of the GLRI is to clean up polluted areas, prevent and control invasive species, reduce nutrient runoff that cause algal blooms, and restore habitat to protect native species. In other words, the GLRI helps us take proper care of our most vital environmental and economic resource.

Why then would President Trump want to mess with that? Especially when we are the very same states that tipped the electoral college to his favor? It seems counterintuitive.

Ah, but this is just Trump being Trump. He’s doing what he said he’d do — shaking up the establishment by not being a typical politician. A typical politician would provide at least some quid pro quo for votes. Not Trump, so this is no surprise.

What might be a wake-up call, however, is that this is a good example of another part of Trump’s nature. His 40+ year public record pretty clearly demonstrates that he acts first in his own self interest. Always. It’s fine when your goals align with his. But when they don’t, he wins, you lose.

So if you’re thinking he could maybe cut back on those Mar-a-Lago golf weekends to free up money for the GLRI, you’re going to be disappointed.

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Town Hall Excuses

Town Hall Excuses

Probably the easiest way for editorial cartoonists to get readers on their side is to make a general target of politicians. You know, not really saying anything, but instead depending on people’s recognition of the stereotype to do all the work — kind of like a hack standup comedian, “And hey, what’s up with those politicians? Have you seen these guys? They’re killing me with their this and their that. Who’s with me? Am I right?!”

I do my best to avoid that. Although on those days when the deadline is looming and that one really good idea has yet to make its appearance, it can be awfully tempting.

The thing is, I have no doubt that being a US representative or senator is a very, very difficult job. I mean, if you’re doing it right, you are beholden to your constituents, who are (as it turns out) real live people. And anytime there are more than a handful of people, there is going to be disagreement. I imagine it is an enormous challenge to navigate that for an entire district or a state.

But this is exactly why I have such disdain for those politicians who are weaseling out of having live, in-person town hall meetings (and in venues large enough to accommodate all those who are interested). It just feeds that negative politician stereotype.

Of course these town hall meetings are likely to be uncomfortable. The politicians will face difficult questions. They will face difficult people. Get over it! Voters literally gave them their jobs with those sweet, sweet healthcare benefits. They will never have to worry about the quality of medical care for themselves or their family. They will never have to imagine financial ruin from an unfortunate illness. The very least they can do is explain to us why all Americans can’t have that, too.

C’mon now! Politicians! Am I right?

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Totally Missed Spring

Totally Missed Spring

Are you guys exhausted? I know I am. I don’t know that I can continue to maintain this level of political outrage. I mean, I draw editorial cartoons, so political outraged is something of a default mode. But lately — especially this past month — it’s been like drinking from a fire hose. There is just so much to be relentlessly outraged about.

I’ve read that the process for effecting political change is more of a marathon than a sprint. I think that’s true. The prudent plan is to pick key battles and set an even pace. But it is difficult to think long term when it feels like the house is on fire.

That’s actually where the idea for this week’s comic started. I recently bought a t-shirt featuring a very popular meme taken from KC Green and his webcomic, “Gunshow.” It’s an image of a placid little doggie with a bowler hat sitting in a house that is engulfed in flames saying, “This is fine.”

It got me to thinking — what’s the inverse of that? If it’s bad to be completely numb to the danger that surrounds you, what’s the consequence of perpetual reaction and losing sight of the beauty that surrounds you? What is the right level of vigilance?

One of the benefits of living in Michigan is the harsh lessons the weather can teach us. It was nice this week. Incredibly nice for February, and a gift that should be appreciated. A typical Michigan spring lasts all of 20 minutes, and this may have been the only one we’re gonna get. I hope you were able to take a moment away from the fire hose to enjoy it!

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Billionaire Types

Billionaire Types

After last week’s multi-panel, text-filled cartoon, I wanted to do something simple and quick (for your sake and for mine). And while I like it, and I think it makes its point, I will cop to the fact that it is not necessarily 100% accurate.

Mike Ilitch died this past week. He was a Michigan icon, born in Detroit to working-class immigrant parents. He and his wife Marian founded Little Caesars Pizza and grew it into a business empire. He was longtime owner and fierce supporter of our beloved Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. His charitable life ran the gamut from youth sports programs and education to community economic assistance and veteran affairs.

But the truth is, Mr. Ilitch was not all “give.” He was a businessperson who created a great deal of wealth by looking after his own interests. The new Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit is a pretty good example of that. It was certainly within Mr. Ilitch’s ability to pay for the entire facility himself, but instead he managed to get $350 million in taxpayer money to share the cost.

Some people resent this and hold it against Ilitch . I tend to take a broader view. First, billionaires get to be billionaires by taking money people are willing to give them. Second, Detroit could have done a whole lot worse with a sports franchise owner. (Donald Trump famously not only sunk his New Jersey Generals football team in the 1980s but pretty much drove the whole United States Football League out of business.)

Nevertheless, the truth may also be that Trump is not all “take.” (If he’d just release his tax returns, we’d be better able to qualify that. And whether he is in fact a billionaire.) But the point is that cartoons (and memes) exaggerate to be funny or provoke a response, but real life is much more nuanced. Ideally, simple and quick start conversations, not end them.

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Let me, Gerry Mander, Work for You!

Let me, Gerry Mander, Work for You!

All of our money (as in United States of America legal tender) has the motto, “In God We Trust.” Our coins also have “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) and “Liberty.” They are there, I believe, as reminders of who we are and would like to be as Americans. It may get a little crowded (especially on the dime), but I humbly submit that we should add one more: “We are a country of action; lies do not become us.”

That is, of course, comes from the great William Goldman and his book and screenplay for “The Princess Bride.” I hope you have read the book and seen the movie. (If Betsy DeVos wants to begin to win me over, she can start by making this a national education requirement.)

Even if you have and don’t remember, there is a scene where the evil Prince Humperdinck and his soldiers capture our heroes Westley and Princess Buttercup. In exchange for agreeing to go with Humperdinck, Buttercup makes him promise to return Westley safely to his ship. He lies to Buttercup, giving his word that it will be done. After Humperdinck and Buttercup ride off, the prince’s henchman, Rugen, sneers down at Westley, “Come, sir, we must get you to your ship.” Westley, knowing full well he intends to torture and kill him, replies, “We are men of action; lies do not become us.”

To my mind, that fits perfect with our other mottoes. It explicitly demonstrates the ideals we Americans aspire to: Honor. Courage. Fortitude. No BS.

Gerrymandering is contrary to those ideals. It lies about who we are. It skews what we represent. It nurtures the self-preservation of those in power. It tips the balance to favor a privileged few over liberty for all. It limits discourse. It protects scoundrels.

We are a country of action; lies do not become us.

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Time Traveler from 1975

Time Traveler from 1975

The topic for this week’s cartoon started with news of Michigan Republican legislators pushing for tax cuts ahead of Governor Snyder presenting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. It seemed fairly irresponsible, given the challenges Michigan faces and the fact that they cannot ever seem to be bothered with identifying the budgets that would require corresponding cutting. The governor, to his credit, pointed this out:
http://michiganradio.org/post/governor-snyder-pushes-back-against-tax-cut-fever-legislature

But the inspiration came from a good friend of mine, Jim, who earlier this week shared an old Detroit News article about his great uncle, Jerry terHorst. Mr. terHorst was the press secretary for Gerald Ford who famously resigned his position when Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. From the article:

…tenHorst was “stunned” to learn the President was going to pardon Richard Nixon, before indictment and before trial. TenHorst recalls: “I wondered very briefly that afternoon whether there wasn’t some way I could serve my conscience and still stay on at the White House. But that period of consideration was very short. I knew I couldn’t.”

So even though President Ford was an old and dear friend, tenHorst felt he could not be a mouthpiece for something his values absolutely could not support.

But here’s the kicker: To find a new press secretary, Ford had head-hunters contact terHorst. Ford so respected terHorst he did not hesitate to go to him for advice.

Wow. Where have these people gone?

The thing is, I know principled, conservative, Christian Republicans still exist. My friend Jim is one, and he shares those very traits with his uncle. If I happen to run into him, I expect we’ll talk about the cartoon, and he’ll share his view, which will likely run counter to mine. (Note that I wrote “view” and not “side.” I’m positive we are on the same side: the importance of fiscal responsibility.)

But where the heck are the principled, conservative, Christian people in Republican leadership?

I was outed long ago as a Gerald Ford fanboy, so forgive me yet another indulgence, but consider:

  • President Gerald Ford and press secretary Jerry terHorst
  • President Donald Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer

Could there possibly be a more stark contrast in personal integrity?

Wow.

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Free Market Capitalism Charade

Free Market Capitalism Charade

See? See?! This is exactly why I think it’s ridiculous to declare allegiance to any particular political party. Who they are and what they represent is a fluid thing — they change over time. Sometimes very, very quickly.

It was just eight years ago when automaker CEOs were also schlepping to Washington DC. Back then it really was to secure a future for the American manufacturing industry. They were harangued by all flavors of lawmakers. And rightfully so. The automakers had not created the crisis (a bursting housing bubble had done that), but they had left themselves highly vulnerable with years and years of bad decision-making.

But what was particularly hard to take were Republican senators like Jeff Sessions of Alabama riding around on their high horses extolling the purity and sanctity of unfettered capitalism. (Never mind that they basically bought their assembly plants with massive tax breaks.)

So what happened to the Republican party whose supposed rock-bed tenet is free and open markets? Because now it seems that same party is leading the way to closing markets, applying tariffs, inserting itself at every opportunity, and attempting to pick the winners and losers.

The answer is, the party evolves. And so the Republican party of eight years ago has the same name, but for all intents and purposes, it has become the Nationalist party. If it’s new rock-bed tenet is America first, all that free market capitalism (and everything else) by definition is going to have a lower priority.

Well, at least there are virtuous leaders within the federal government who will be there to ensure the auto industry and Michigan get a fair shake. Leaders like the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who… oh, never mind.

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State of the State: That Sinking Feeling

State of the State: That Sinking Feeling

One of the big downsides to January in Michigan is the annual State of the State address. (Of course, the main upside to January in Michigan is that it isn’t February.) We have not been blessed with governors who are accomplished orators, at least not during the time that I’ve been editorial cartooning.

John Engler was so bad it was actually part of his charm. (That may be the only published instance where you will see “charm” and “John Engler” in the same sentence.) He was an effective behind-the-scenes guy who was clearly uncomfortable speechifying. You could almost see the thought balloon above his head as he talked, “My hands. What do I do with my hands?”

Jennifer Granholm had skills but in the “smart kid hitting all her marks” sense. Technically there, but something much less than inspiring. True, as governor during Michigan’s lost decade, she had some pretty grim material to work with. But then so did Churchill, and he did okay. (Perhaps governors should be required to deliver all future speeches using a British accent.)

Before I dump on Governor Snyder, I should mention my own deficiencies in this area. When I was in high school I purposely took debate and forensics in an effort to become decent at public speaking. Thank goodness this was before ubiquitous recording devices and YouTube because I was bad. Legendarily bad. There were times when I could see in a judge’s eyes her longing for a tranquilizer gun to put me down and end everybody’s misery.

The remarkable thing about Snyder’s address wasn’t the expected not-so-great delivery, it was the content. Both Engler and Granholm pretty much gave up in their last terms, but here Rick Snyder seemed to be announcing “I’m kinda done with this” ahead of time!

Especially the infrastructure thing. I know it’s a tough gig with a Republican legislature actively working against him. (Admittedly, drawing him disappearing into a sinkhole probably isn’t helping, either.) But I think this would have been a good time to rally Michigan citizens with some sort of definitive plan! Oy.

I guess what I’m saying is, out of the two farewell addresses I heard in the last week, I preferred Obama’s.

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The Biggest North American International Auto Show Story

The Biggest North American International Auto Show Story

The Amazon TV-series “The Man in the High Castle” explores an America in which the Allies lost World War II and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan rule over our country. A 2004 mockumentary, “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America,” considers what might have happened if the South had won our Civil War. These sorts of alternate histories can be highly entertaining and also add perspective to real history through drama and satire.

I’d love to see a take on modern America, and specifically Michigan, if the automobile industry had been allowed to collapse eight years ago. I think it would be fascinating, especially if it used real economic models to extrapolate the consequences.

Of course, the reality was that the auto industry contracted hard, but first the Bush Administration and then the Obama Administration provided cover for survival. And credit where credit is due: It was Michigan autoworkers, from designers in Ann Arbor, to engineers in Detroit, to line workers in Flint (as well as suppliers and fabricators all over state) who contributed mightily to bring it back to its very healthy current state.

That good health is fairly obvious at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) presently going on in Detroit, and radically different from the NAIAS of 2009. Today we are talking about viable, mass-produced fully electric cars (the Chevy Bolt), a top-level pickup truck (Honda Ridgeline) not built by the big three, and — my goodness — the rebirth of the minivan (Chrysler Pacifica). We even have a major player (Volkswagen) openly confessing its sins and accepting the punishment. That’s progress!

In fact, one of the few similarities between now and then, is the chatter of government intervention. Back then, it was substantial and serious and critical to survival. Today it is randomly generated tweets. If you think about it, that too is progress, and I’m glad not to be in a Michigan of alternate history.

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