Archive for AndrewHeller.com

If We Can Make Libraries More Accessible, Why Not Healthcare?

If We Can Make Libraries More Accessible, Why Not Healthcare?

There was an article in the Detroit Free Press this week, “Some Michigan libraries join nationwide trend: Eliminating late fees on overdue books.” Here’s an excerpt:

Libraries in metro Detroit, Michigan and across the U.S. have, or are considering, joining the nationwide trend of eliminating fines for overdue materials.

Larger library systems, including the Detroit Public Library, Kent District Library, and Grand Rapids Public Library, and smaller ones, such as the Ferndale Area District Library, Grosse Pointe Public Library and Chesterfield Township Library, either have eliminated overdue fines for all patrons or have gotten rid of late fines for certain patrons, such as children and teens.

The main reasons for this trend are that (1) the threat of fines have proven to be largely ineffective, (2) the money collected from fines tends to be less than the money it takes to collect them, and (3) people who can’t afford the fines often avoid checking out materials altogether.

So what I came away with is this bit of hopefulness: It is still possible in America to change a system to make it better. If data suggests an adjustment or elimination, we can go ahead and make that adjustment or elimination. If something is onerous, inefficient, and ineffective, suffering through it is not the only option.

Why does this not seem to apply to healthcare?

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A Drunk Uncle and a Mom

A Drunk Uncle and a Mom

Can I be honest with you? I didn’t actually watch much of the State of the Union speech. I opted for college basketball. But that turned out to be pretty painful, too, as both Michigan and Michigan State lost their games in the waning seconds. Punishment for not being a good citizen, I suppose.

What I did see of President Trump I watched through squinted eyes — I find it difficult look directly at him when he’s doing his campaign-rally shtick, but especially in front of front of my full government and in my capital building. It struck me very much like a drunk uncle going off at a captive family gathering. Reading the transcript and fact checks the next day, I stand by that assessment.

Governor Whitmer’s Democrat response was quite a contrast. Clear, personal, without much embellishment…and much shorter. It felt like the sort of good, practical instruction you’d expect from your mother. With a dash of passive-aggressiveness to hasten compliance. Also, like a mom-talk, it took me till the next days to realize there were some holes — like, aren’t you the same governor who is currently trying to end-around the legislature for your roads package?

But that’s only what I thought. Others may be entertained by the theatrics or put off by a lecture. (The President himself famously cannot stand to have experts tell him things he does not know. Who needs knowledge when you got ego?) Hopefully next year we will have a President I can watch so I don’t jinx our basketball teams.

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More Than a Little Uncomfortable

More Than a Little Uncomfortable

Story #1: A couple of weeks ago, Michigan State Senator Peter Lucido made an inappropriate comment to Allison Donahue, a reporter for the Michigan Advance. Donahue confronted Lucido and then reported it. Subsequently, two more women reported experiencing inappropriate actions by Lucido.

Story #2: This past week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down for an interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly. Pompeo became upset when Kelly pursued a line of questioning regarding Ukraine and his particular role with the events that have led to the President’s impeachment. After ending the interview, Pompeo had an aide invite her into his office where he berated her and tried to belittle her.

I personally see a Venn of unacceptable behavior where these two stories intersect: mistreating a professional journalist, leveraging position power to bully, obvious and open misogyny. Some would argue against this. Some would argue that this is only the start of a very long list. I didn’t draw this cartoon to get pulled into those discussions.

I drew it to say: This is not how people should treat people. This is especially not how people who represent us in our government (elected or appointed) should treat the people they work for. The very base of what Lucido and Pompeo did wrong was not treating these women as they would expect to be treated. They blatantly broke the golden rule. Guys, can we please start with the fundamentals and then go from there?

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Tell Me Again About the Exciting Benefits or Working the Gig Economy

Tell Me Again About the Exciting Benefits or Working the Gig Economy

To be sure, there are some people who are perfectly happy working in the gig economy. Lyft drivers who appreciate the flexible hours and social engagement. Shipt pickers who enjoy the challenge of filling grocery orders for other people. 

But, after seeing an article in the Detroit Free Press, “Delta Air Lines, UAW workers to get big bonuses in February,” I could imagine some level of envy. And not just about the money, but the steadiness, the predictability, and the benefits that come with those jobs. I mean, at some point it seems a side-hustle needs be a side-hustle and a life-sustaining job needs to be a life-sustaining job.

Another article, this one from Time magazine, sparked related thoughts. It’s titled “It’s Time to Redefine GDP to Help Save the Planet,” which sounds rather aggressive, but actually is not so radical. The idea is that measuring the success of our economy in terms of growth, which is what Gross Domestic Product does, is archaic. As the article says:

“Since the 1930s that is how we have measured the output of our national economies. GDP came into being in the manufacturing age, and more than anything it is a measure of physical production. It is poor at counting more ethereal things like services, from insurance and train journeys to music streaming and restaurant food, where value is more related to quality than quantity. This is quite a flaw in advanced economies like the U.S.’s, in which services make up roughly 80% of economic activity.”

So if economic success is redefined to include quality of life measurements (more leisure time, cleaner air, lower crime, healthier lives) instead of just growth for growth’s sake, it’s plausible that quality of life would become a higher priority. Of course that leaves lots of questions to be answered, but at the very least it sounds way more cordial than grinding endlessly toward unsustainable growth or a Marxist revolution, right?

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How Are We Gonna Top THAT?!

How Are We Gonna Top THAT?!

Perhaps as Michiganders we are a bit more sensitive to drinking water issues than most Americans. What with our 11,000 lakes (Great and otherwise) we are constantly reminder our this precious natural resource. Add to this the recent disasters of the Flint water crisis and discoveries of PFAS contamination, and, well, you could say there is ample reason for our heightened interest.

So I was naturally drawn to the recent news of the US House passing a bill to require the EPA to set limits for PFAS content in drinking water. The EPA has been to a certain extent already in the process of doing this, but the bill is intended to expedite the process. All good and seemingly straightforward. But this was swiftly followed by a threat from the White House that the president would veto the bill (assuming it passes the Senate). I paraphrased in the cartoon, but the actual quote was this:

“The regulatory process works best when EPA and other agencies are free to devise regulations based on the best available science and careful consideration of all the relevant facts.”

This struck me as quite an audacious statement. For several reasons. First, the endorsement of the regulatory process. Up to this point, the current administration has made it pretty clear their position on regulation in general (against). But to suddenly align themselves with “the best available science” and “careful consideration of facts”? Oh my gosh, who wrote this?!

I can’t tell whether the statement is actually earnest or if it was written to mess with us. But if it’s the latter, it reminded me of a lyric from a recent Ben Folds song:

They say it [truth] dies in the dark
Right now, they’re trying to kill it in broad daylight

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Accepting the Reality of Climate Change

Accepting the Reality of Climate Change

I certainly don’t agree with those who deny the existence of climate change, but I can relate to the mindset. I’m a natural born contrarian, so I get the impulse to resist consensus, especially if people are telling me I have to accept it.

When I was nine year-old my family moved to Michigan. It was made clear to me soon after that the University of Michigan had the best college football team, Bob Seger was the best rock singer, and Vernors was the best ginger ale. I immediately began to root for Ohio State, actively shun Bob Seger, and insist that Vernors wasn’t even real ginger ale. (I know, what a jerk.)

I eventually came around on some of it. I gave up on Ohio State after Woody Hayes demonstrated what a terrible person he could be by punching an opposing player during a bowl game. I still don’t care much for Seger, but I will acknowledge his talent and skill. (Ted Nugent remains, as always, objectively awful.) And, yeah, Vernors is more ginger ale than most sodas with “ginger ale” in their names.

So c’mon now fellow contrarians, it’s well past time for you to come around on climate change. And it’s not just the massive erosion of the Lake Michigan shoreline that has caused houses to start falling into the water. Or even the disastrous scale of those horrible Australian bushfires. It’s the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community.

Why? Because they are the biggest bunch of contrarians around. There is nothing more coveted in the scientific community than being able to disprove the findings of another scientist. But they have to do it with facts, not feelings. It’s time for us to give up on our feelings and go with the facts.

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How About Immigrants?

How About Immigrants?

Do me a favor. Open up Google Earth and go to Hamtramck, Michigan. (Go ahead — if you’re working, it’s still basically the holidays, so your boss won’t mind a quick diversion.) Notice the tightly packed rows of homes. Now go south past the GM plant (Poletown). Notice the immense space, the only occasional batch of houses, the vast emptiness. Zooming in to both places tells even more of the story: Hamtramck is a viable community, Poletown is not.

What happened? Well, lots of things. But the obvious difference maker is that in Hamtramck as most of its original population of Polish immigrants moved on, new immigrants moved in. In Poletown residents moved on and nobody replaced them, so it died.

Michigan Radio had a story this week about the state’s population growth in the past decade. We did grow, but only slightly and not nearly at the rate of most other states. This is a problem. As the article states:

“Population determines Michigan’s political representation in Congress (the state is virtually guaranteed to lose another U.S. House seat after the next census), the amount of federal dollars the state gets for vital services, and leaves the state with an aging workforce and a dwindling number of working-age adults to support them and drive the state’s economy.”

Now of course it’s an oversimplification to say immigration is the sole solution. But a brief look at Michigan history will tell you that immigration has paid our state exponential dividends, despite immigrants themselves often being feared and scapegoated. We have the opportunity in this first year of the new decade to reconsider the benefits of encouraging immigration.

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Amash, Stevens, and Slotkin All Vote for Impeachment

Amash, Stevens, and Slotkin All Vote for Impeachment

The President expresses himself in superlatives: The transcript was perfect, I am the chosen one, I have the best words, and so on. It’s an effective rhetorical device. The absolute certainty projects a pseudo-strength that many find very appealing. And the ridiculousness always offers a backdoor escape — if it is received as too over-the-top, supporters can always say, “it was a joke” or “he didn’t mean it literally. Duh!”

Trump has done this his whole public life, and he will continue to do so as he clings to the presidency, so it’s not a surprise. But it is upsetting — one of the things that triggers people. (Quick aside: This whole celebrating “triggering” people is like a schoolyard bully faking a punch to your face, exclaiming, “You flinched!,” and then taking two free shots to your arm as a reward. OF COURSE you’re gonna flinch! In what stupid world is pulling back to protect your face the wrong move?)

But what can you do? Well as with any bully, persevere. Persevere by continuing to hold the bully accountable and not be overwhelmed by the sheer volume. So in among the fountain of recent rants, Trump has been selling hard the idea that all (superlative) Congresspeople voting for the impeachment articles are hopeless leftists. This is simply not true, and Michigan offers three of the best examples of why: Justin Amash from the 3rd district, Elissa Slotkin from the 8th, and Haley Stevens from the 11th.

The toughest part is that there will never be tangible evidence that calling out his lies and exaggerations has done any good. Of all of Trump’s moral deficiencies, the worst (and arguably the least Christian) may be his utter lack of humility. There never is a moment of self-reflection, so he will never apologize or ask forgiveness. He will not — and seemingly cannot — admit to an error. This is especially apparent in this season of Advent when Christians prepare themselves for Christmas. (Publicly insulting the recently deceased to trigger a widow is generally not how this is done.)

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How the DeVos Stole Defrauded Student Money

How the DeVos Stole Defrauded Student Money

First, let’s acknowledge that the Dr. Seuss’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas is perfection. And his collaboration with the great Chuck Jones on the animated special somehow took the story up another level to pure genius. But the Jim Carrey movie and everything after is an abomination. We good? All right. Let’s move on then.

NPR broke a story this week on Michigan’s Betsy DeVos. From the very beginning of her tenure as U.S Education Secretary, DeVos has been in battle with her own department over what to do about the more than 200,000 students defrauded by for-profit colleges in recent years. You should read the article for details, but the short story is this:

The department’s Borrower Defense Unit recommends full loan forgiveness for defrauded students. DeVos does not recommend that. It’s hard to say exactly what she wants (probably by design), but the idea is to provide only partial relief to those who deserve it under the guise of fiscal responsibility. The NPR report demonstrates clearly that DeVos has been willing make up lies and make them up quick to get her way.

DeVos testified before the House education committee Thursday, which is after I drew the cartoon and wrote this. Perhaps she was able to explain her side to some satisfaction. But given the convoluted (and probably illegal) bureaucratic mess of a plan she’s been peddling so far, I doubt it.

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Rules Are Rules. Except…

Rules Are Rules. Except...

Every once is a while I come up with a cartoon that says all I have to say about a topic, so I don’t really have any backstory or additional commentary. I’m just truly mystified why this is the way it is.

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