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Country over Party

Justin Amash is the U.S. House Representative from Michigan’s 3rd district. When President Gerald Ford was a member of the U.S. House, he represented the 5th district. District boundaries evolve over time, but both the 5th then and the 3rd now have Grand Rapids as their population center, so it’s fair to say Amash is a Ford successor.

Last week Amash published a series of policy positions on social media regarding President Trump and the Mueller Report. First, he admonished fellow members of Congress who obviously have not taken the time to actually read the report. Then he went on to make several legal points, the most notable one being that Trump has indeed committed impeachable offenses. Summarizing does not do it justice. Go ahead and find Justin Amash on Twitter and read them yourself. (It won’t take anywhere near as long as the Mueller Report. And, bonus, nothing is redacted!)

What’s remarkable about this is not what Amash said (Mueller made his position on obstruction clear — it’s for Congress to decide). Nor that Amash would be the one to say it — his signature move is to thoroughly research decisions and explain them in detail.

What is remarkable is that it is remarkable. It was big news that a Republican supposedly broke ranks to say something perceived as negative about a member of his own political party. Good heavens! The audacity! (Or is it, the integrity?!)

As it happens, “acting with integrity” is a pretty good way to describe Gerald Ford’s signature move. The two men are very different in a lot of ways, but at least in this instance Amash definitely is Ford’s successor.


The One Thing That Brings Us Together

The One Thing That Brings Us Together

Sports is often the last refuge for civil conversation. Politics, race, religion are practically no-go zones these days. But even seemingly benign topics like health or even the weather are pocked with landmines:

“It’s a bit chilly today.”

“Yes, it is — so much for your dumb global warming theories!”

And now we have one less good thing to talk about. John Beilein announced this week that he’s leaving his position as coach of the University of Michigan Men’s Basketball team to become head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

Beilein is universally recognized as a great coach and a standup person (a distressingly rare combination in Division 1 sports). So there’s a certain sadness to seeing him go — he’s the type of person that every Michigander could feel good about, not just Wolverines fans.

But I don’t begrudge Beilein for taking advantage of this new career opportunity. He has certainly earned it. It’s just that…Cleveland! Frickin’ Ohio! C’MON!!! The stupidest team in the stupidest state in the stupidest…sorry. Gotta try to keep it civil for Coach Beilein.


Public School Teacher Pep Talk

Public School Teacher Pep Talk

What goes on in Betsy DeVos’s head? Why would somebody who clearly disdains public servants want to be a public servant by leading an enormous agency of public servants? I don’t know, but let’s conjecture:

I don’t think her decision-making is directly related to being hyper-rich. There are plenty of hyper-rich people who have demonstrated human empathy and have made excellent public servants. Some point to her Calvinist Christianity roots (I have grace, you don’t — I’m going to heaven, you…are not.). But true Calvinists tend to be insular and generally avoid having to spend time with the riffraff.

No, if I had to guess I’d say it’s her zealous ideology, which may be the one thing that humanizes her. We all can get caught up in wanting our vision to be right so badly that we willingly ignore anything that proves it otherwise — facts, actual data, real-world consequences.

DeVos clearly believes that vouchers and charters and her vision of marketplace competition will bring education excellence to our United States. And I don’t disagree that some of these principles have merit. What scares me about DeVos is her unwillingness (or inability) to celebrate the successes of public education. Yes, there have been abject failures, but they have been vastly outnumbered by systems that work extremely well and are cornerstones of communities. We should build on that, not steal from it.


A Modest PFAS Foam Proposal

A big hat tip this week goes to my boy Jonathan Swift who in 1729 wrote and published an essay titled A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick (or A Modest Proposal for short). It was a brilliant piece of satire that at first appears to be a very sober assessment of the challenges presented by overpopulation, specifically too many poor people, more specifically too many Irish people. It then goes on in an equally academic way to suggest eating Irish babies may be the best solution. A quote:

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.”

Something to consider the next time when you think a modern-day episode of, say, BoJack Horseman seems to have stepped over the line of good taste.

Another acknowledgement must go to Upton Sinclair, muck-raking journalist from the early 1900s and his most famous quote:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


A Simple Debate

A Simple Debate

The most difficult thing about drawing this cartoon was deciding what the two people should look like. I ended up with two vaguely middle-aged white guys. But it took me a long time to get there.

For cartoons where the appearance of age/sex/race/weight has nothing to do with the point I’m trying to make, I try vary the character types for diversity sake. I am in fact a middle-aged white guy, so I fight defaulting to my own biases. But this can be problematic, depending on what the characters are actually doing or how they are behaving.

Say I have somebody in the background eating watermelon. It shouldn’t matter the race of that person. But it very much does. There are all sorts of deeply racists connotations associated with black people and watermelon. And with me as a white person drawing it — did I intend to offend? Was I unaware of the offense? Which would be worse? (Even writing about doing this in the hypothetical makes me squeamish.)

So after much due diligence, I drew what I drew to limit attention to the characters themselves. (The first guy is roughly a self-caricature because the rant is definitely my rant.) But in the end, I’m sure some could be distracted by the two white guys and question my motives. I know this because people make a point of telling me what offends them and often it’s nothing I intended.

That’s fine. In fact, it’s great. I think it’s better to have discussions (however awkward) than it is to avoid having them at all.


When Death Begins

In his scifi/satire book series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams tells a story about the planet Golgafrigcham. The leaders of Golgafrigcham hatched a plan to rid themselves of what they considered the basically useless citizens. They announced that Golgafrigcham was doomed, and so three arks were to be built and all inhabitants sorted into three categories: Ark A would contain the leaders, scientists, and other high achievers. Ark C would carry all the people who made things and did things. And Ark B would carry everyone else, such as telephone sanitizers, public relations executives, and management consultants.

When the time came, Ark B was sent off with a mission to find another planet to colonize and with the promise that the other two arks would follow. Of course everybody else simply stayed and enjoyed happy lives — for a very brief time till a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone wiped them all out.

This is the story that came to mind when I read about the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners meeting this week and their decision to terminate the lease for the Planned Parenthood clinic in their county building. Right. The mere mention of Planned Parenthood can make things go sideways quickly, so I’m gonna state only my specific reaction: The beginning of a significant measles outbreak may not be the best time to be cutting back on public health resources. And perhaps digging deeper into our ideology may not yield the best results.

Feel free to discuss the details of all this among yourselves. I’m gonna go wipe down my iPhone with alcohol.

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Thinking Line 5 All the Way Through

Thinking Line 5 All the Way Through

There were at least two big lessons to be learned from the Flint Water Crisis, and we have the opportunity to apply them both in deciding the best course of action for Line 5, the pipeline that carries petroleum products along the floor of the Straights of Mackinac.

Lesson #1: Listen to the local residents. Line 5 currently carries a significant amount of the energy, particularly propane, that heats the homes of Upper Peninsula residents. Simply shutting down the line may seem a fine idea to us warm and toasty lower Michigan folks — and it may in fact be workable. But if you’ve lived in the UP, you know that winter (to paraphrase Garrison Keillor talking about Minnesota winters) is actively trying to kill you. Particularly January and February. So if there is a plan, it needs to be specified and discussed in detail before it is implemented and with contingency plans for after it is implemented.

Lesson #2: Don’t fall in love with the idea. A simple consideration: If kids are being poisoned, switching to that new system may not have been the best decision. It’s crazy to think how long the poisoning went on before enough political will was formed to begin to stop it. But you see a similar storm brewing here. The plan to dig a tunnel was made at the end of last year. It’s a done deal! Chiseled in stone! Can’t change it! We must stay with it no matter what! SCIENCE IS ON OUR SIDE! (Pul-eeze! If it were truly about science, we wouldn’t be talking about expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure. Line 5 would have been decommissioned years ago because of the plentiful and inexpensive alternative energy sources we invested in when we got serious about climate change.)

Perhaps as reminder a field trip to Flint could be arranged for the governor and state legislators. That’s something as a taxpayer I’d be more than willing to cover.


Go Green! Go White! …Go Teal!

Go Green! Go White! ...Go Teal!

Apologies to those who don’t understand the “teal” reference. I’ll explain that shortly. But I especially apologize to those who might perceive the cartoon as some sort of partisan dig in the great MSU/UofM rivalry. It’s not. Michigan Radio is a licensee of the University of Michigan, but I take no side. (I’m a Michigan Tech grad, so as far as the rivalry goes, I’m an agnostic. Which is to say, I acknowledge the existence of MSU and UofM, but I worship neither.)

This editorial cartoon actually happens to be an expression of pride — for Michiganders in general and the Spartan Nation in particular. Obviously their men’s basketball team has had (and hopefully will continue to have) a spectacular season. It’s not hard to support that. What may be less obvious is a recent decision by the school that is also highly supportable.

Teal is the ribbon color commonly worn to support victims sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar, who perpetrated many of his crimes while an employee of MSU. Last summer, the school was prepared to publish a “teal” issue of its alumni magazine, which included stories addressing and owning responsibility as well as lessons learned. Campus officials spiked it. Instead, an issue was published that included a lot of “everything is fine here” featuring interim president, John Engler.

But now the “teal” issue has been published. So again, we can all be proud of the success of the men’s basketball team. (I mean, when Duke loses, we all win, right?) But let’s be proud that the school has taken a very positive step toward healing the victims of sexual assault and preventing further sexual violence. As Paula Davenport, the current editor of the Spartan magazine said, “It is never too late to do the right thing.”


How the Trump Scale Works

How the Trump Scale Works

Ugh. I know. This guy again. But with his campaign rally in my backyard this week, it kind of forced my hand. So… what exactly is my problem with Donald Trump? Let’s peel that onion.

It starts with him objectively not being a good person. Let’s not pretend to argue this. His life is one big, prolific dossier of evidence that proves it out. Of course, this is part of his appeal — it’s entertaining. Or supporters see him as “just the type of guy we need to get things done.” Perhaps. But I would remind those supporters — and especially my fellow Christians — “the end justifies the means” was the moral code of Niccolò Machiavelli, not Jesus Christ. (Those guys really aren’t compatible.)

Also objectively, Trump is a demagogue. A demagogue is a leader who gains popularity in a democracy by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among people, whipping up the passions of the crowd, and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues overturn established norms of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so. Again, I can see why this would appeal to his supporters — attracting supporters is what demagogues do. At the same time, they can destroy nations. (Attracting and destroying are compatible.)

Ultimately though, I think my base issue with Donald Trump is his complete absence of humility. Never, ever asking for forgiveness is one of Trump’s core competencies and is often celebrated. I just cannot accept this.

But, who knows? My deadline for the cartoon and this essay was before Trump’s speech in Grand Rapids Thursday night. He may have redeemed himself. He may have stepped up to that podium and said, “Look, the time has come for me to apologize. In my quest to do what I believe is best for our great country, I have made some mistakes, I have hurt people, and I have behaved badly. I am truly sorry and I’m asking for your forgiveness. I will make amends and promise to be a more principled person and leader in the future.”

I’m confident he didn’t.


It’s Finally Here!

It's Finally Here!

One of the big challenges of modern editorial cartooning is finding common reference points. In the cartoon this week, I’m banking on most of you being familiar with the musical Hamilton, what a phenomenon it’s been, and that a production just opened in Michigan for the first time — at the Fischer Theatre in Detroit. That’s a stretch, and I apologize to those who may be feeling left out. (Next week, back to the pothole jokes!)

But in the meantime, if you have the opportunity (and the means), I would highly recommend seeing Hamilton. This week I have been at a global sales convention for my day job and meeting colleagues from around the world. Hamilton has been on my mind and I have suggested to a few international friends that if they are interested in understanding Americans better, seeing the play (or at least listening to the music) is a good place to start.

It’s a quintessentially American story: an ambitious young immigrant makes his way here to start a new life. He works hard, finds opportunity, achieves success, overreaches, fails, rebuilds, repeats. And the play itself is uniquely American, too. Diverse, charming, quickly accessible but sometimes hard to understand. It moves in an almost constant churn, appeals to your pride, and breaks your heart. Mistakes are made with the best of intentions and the consequences are sometimes terrible, but the intoxicating idea of creating something new carries everything forward.

Anyway, I think experiencing the show is highly worthwhile. And I can’t promise that I won’t make a Hamilton reference again in the future, so it would help me out if I could count on you guys being in on the joke.


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