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Toll Roads? Seriously?

So you’re vacationing with a large group, and you’re hungry. You’ve rolled up to, through, and now well past dinner time. Several plans have been suggested and (you thought) agreed to, but never quite executed for reasons that run the gamut from passive-aggressiveness (“Oh, I guess seafood is fine. I usually break out in hives and my throat closes, but that’s okay.”) to over-the-top rejections (“NO! Absolutely not! Applebees is dead to me! They know what they did!”)

It is at this point that somebody suggests that perhaps it’d be a good idea to consider Somali food, even though nobody has ever had it or knows where a restaurant might be. Know that hangry feeling?

That’s kinda what I felt like when I read that the Michigan Senate is proposing a study to look into whether toll roads make sense for Michigan. Seriously? You’ve been supposedly working on a long-term plan for our infrastructure, and you’re just now floating this idea? I mean, I’ve got nothing against considering tolls (or Somali food), but isn’t it a bit late in the game? Good heavens, what else don’t you have figured out? 

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I Elected You to Do Your Job!

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Who knows? By the time this cartoon is published, maybe Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Governor Gretchen Whitmer will have worked out the state budget for 2020. But I doubt it. For the very reasons why the budget was not really done on the October 1st due date: Political posturing has priority over actual work. The pollsters, the advisors, the party insiders are making the decisions.

Let’s not be naive — these folks have always been part of the process. It’s politics, after all, right? And it’s not necessarily dirty politics. Partisans gonna partisan. They are going to advocate hard for their sides and they won’t have any problem stepping over (or even slowing down for) lines that divide civility from zealotry. It’s just that, ideally, the shouldn’t be in charge.

And over the past decade, they have not only been put in charge, they’ve been supercharged. It’s been a deeply cynical, highly orchestrated national phenomenon, and Michigan is taking cues. Party over country. Bias over law. Campaigning over legislating. Control over constitution. Special interests over general good. And without exception, the end justifying the means.

I don’t think there is a term for this. But my suggestion is that henceforth we refer to it as McConnellism. What do you think? Credit where credit is due.


Compensating Student Athletes

Compensating Student Athletes

I was at a training conference this week for my day job. It was about the future of communications (specifically public relations and marketing communication), and while I would say that it was definitely worthwhile and I learned a lot, the best conversations I had weren’t about the conference topics. That seems often to be the case with me — what I find most enjoyable is not what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

But let’s leave my flaws there for now and move on to why I bring this up. One of the people I met was a former Michigan Wolverine football player. He is a relatively recent graduate, so in the course of conversation I asked about the new California law aimed at compensating college athletes, particularly those in high-profile, high-revenue sports like football. (This week two Michigan lawmakers introduced a similar law for our state.)

He had a number of very interesting insights and was able to speak with firsthand experience about the intensity of playing on a Division 1 team. He had concerns about how exactly athletes would be compensated and when. One method he pitched was to award a lump sum of money at the end of a collegiate career based on the amount of time spent in the system. Sort of a profit-sharing thing. It would include counseling on what to do with the money (with an emphasis on saving some for future health issues).

Interesting. I’m not sure whether that’s the best way to go, but my opinion really doesn’t matter. What mattered was to listen. Maybe I did learn something at the communication conference.


What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

I know this is a fairly obscure reference but hang with me — there is a point to it: Thirty-ish years ago the  late great Phil Hartman had a reoccurring character on Saturday Night Live called The Anal Retentive Guy. A sketch would have him as an instructor demonstrating how to do something. For example, a chef showing you how to create a certain dish. The humorous conceit was that he was so overly meticulous that he would never get around to doing what he was actually supposed to do. In the end, he’d pleasantly acknowledge that he’d run out of time as he continued to be sidetracked.

You kind of have to see it to understand. Unfortunately NBC has those sketches locked down, so it’s not just a simple trip to YouTube.

But anyway, the point: If the continuum goes from Totally Spontaneous Guy on one end to Anal Retentive Guy on the other, I’m more on the latter. And that can be really frustrating to people who just want to get stuff done. Especially if it’s something that seems way past due. Like, say, legalizing marijuana for recreational use. I can understand that. But I also understand that there are consequences for moving ahead too fast.

If I’ve lost you either with the cartoon or what I’ve written here, please let me be clear about one thing: I’m NOT saying that marijuana is the same as opioids and vaping. I’m saying that there are lessons to be learned from experiences with legal use of opioids and vaping mistakes should be considered and avoided. That may slow the process, but I think we’ll be better off for it.


Bill Milliken

Bill Milliken

A few years ago when Trump was elected, I made a joke that Grand Rapids should be very grateful because they’ll be able to power the city with electricity generated by Gerald Ford spinning in his grave. (Well, along with Betty Ford spinning there right beside him.) A bit of an inside joke. First, you have to know that the Fords are buried here in GR (right next to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum). You also have to understand how very different Ford was as a Republican (and, frankly, as a human being).

Ford was a moderate Republican. And you can easily forgive anybody younger than 30 (let alone a child like in the cartoon) for not having any idea of what that is. “Moderate Republican” was never an official club, and I won’t attempt my own definition. Better to offer (in addition to Ford) an example: the recently deceased Gov William Milliken.

Milliken was many things but most significantly for Michiganders he was the governor from 1969 to 1983. If you don’t know much about him, I encourage you to read one of his obits or at least visit his Wikipedia page.

Now, whether you liked or disliked his politics as a moderate Republican, that’s really not the point. What’s remarkable is their extinction. It truly feels like Bill Milliken may have been the last one.


Da U.P Leaving Us for Wisconsin

Da U.P Leaving Us for Wisconsin

So after the University of Wisconsin’s football team crushed Michigan State last week (after also crushing both University of Michigan and Central Michigan this season), the Twitter handle for the Upper Peninsula tweeted, “It’s official, I belong to Wisconsin now.” And then as if to drive the point home, the Packers (and arguably the officiating crew) beat the Lions Monday night.

Upper Peninsula of Wisconsin

All this after the same U.P. handle got quite a bit of attention when the U.P. was in fact included as part of Wisconsin on a map used in a Mountain Dew promotion. This is not an unusual occurrence. Less usual but not uncommon is the U.P. being left off a United States map entirely, as it was on the Weekend Update portion of the most recent Saturday Night Live.

I went to school at Michigan Tech (or now, apparently, Wisconsin Tech), and I can say firsthand that Yoopers take all this stuff in stride. If you’ve never been there (and not may people have), you don’t know how special it is. But as good-natured as Yoopers are, I gotta believe they have a breaking point. And having to be associated with a country that carelessly sells out its allies and cozies up to tyrants just may be it.


Eventually He’ll Realize He Did the Same Thing to You

Eventually He'll Realize He Did the Same Thing to You

This week the US Supreme Court heard cases involving the firing of gay and transgender people from their jobs. The defendants claimed they lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identification and that this constitutes sexual discrimination. The prosecution argued that sex means strictly whether you’re a male or female, not whether you’re gay or straight. 

The transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, is from Michigan — she worked for six years as a funeral home director, but was let go two weeks after telling her boss she was transgender and would be dressing as a woman.

NPR had excellent coverage of the trial, and I would encourage you to read it if you want to know details. But the particular part that struck me was the focus on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its Title VII, which addresses employment discrimination based on sex: Justice Samuel Alito noted that Congress in 1964 didn’t have gay and transgender employees in mind at all. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg chimed in that sexual harassment was not even a legal concept in 1964, and yet the court decades ago found it to be prohibited conduct under the 1964 law.

It’s both fascinating and agonizing to see the legal gymnastics performed in the decision-making process. It may seem very obvious to us what the right thing to do is. But there has to be justification. The case has to be built and tested if that “right thing” will eventually stand. 

And that’s just to get it right legally. Putting it into practice is even more difficult. Remember the lyric for the Bruce Hornsby song?

Well, they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don’t change another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar, no
That’s just the way it is


Blatant Executive Overreach

Blatant Executive Overreach

This is a good example of an editorial cartoon that many will see as unfair. When Governor Whitmer used an extraordinary number of line-item vetoes to attempt to force the Republican-dominated legislation back into negotiations on the budget, there were hypocrisies all around. Democrat leadership has been madly spinning stories one way and Republicans the other. I could have picked on either party. But for the purposes of making the most pointed cartoon, only one party has a member who is the President actively undermining his oath of office, and the other party does not. At least for now.

But you should really never expect even-handedness from any editorial cartoonist. That is not our job and, frankly, being impartial can only lead to milquetoast cartoons. I only draw one cartoon a week, and even though I declare no allegiance to any particular side, readers have their own thoughts about that (as well they should.)

The solution? You should be reading more editorial cartoons! Get a variety from several cartoonists. There are plenty of places to find more, but if you’re looking for convenience, there is a new email newsletter called Counterpoint. You can sign up to get several of the very best sent to your inbox a couple times a week. And it purposely designed to provide a mix of political leanings and ideologies.


The GM Strike? Is That Still a Thing?

The GM Strike? Is That Still a Thing?
Editorial Cartoon — Michigan Radio

I can think of no better example that demonstrates the acceleration of our world than the current UAW strike of GM. If you could time travel back 20, 30, 40 years and tell a fellow Michigander, “Yeah, the UAW is striking GM, and it’s barely in the top ten of things that people are talking about,” they’d just look at you and say, “Well you ain’t talking about Michigan.” 

Yes, of course, those pre-Great Recession times were very different. The auto industry was much more dominant. The roles of labor and management were much more defined. It was truly central to our midwest industrial lives. But mostly there was arguably just much less going on. We are so filled up now, constantly, that there is no time to pause and consider. There is barely enough time to catch the next bit of news that flashes across our individual screens. 

It’s a shame, too, because there is a lot to consider with this strike. Do we value a living wage? Do we desire fair working conditions? Do we care about the viability of the auto industry? And what’s the best way to work it out? Unfortunately the sheer volume of information coming at us through the firehose dilutes it all.

I’m going the annual convention for the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists this weekend and expect 68% of the kvetching will be about exactly this: How can we possibly keep up? (The remaining balance will be about how stupid newspapers are and the price of beer in the current bar we are in.) 


Ruining a Perfectly Good Late Summer Weekend

Ruining a Perfectly Good Late Summer Weekend

Oftentimes, yes, the cartoon idea that wins and gets drawn is the one that is the most fun to draw. And that partially explains why I decided on the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference as a topic over a looming state government shutdown and the GM/UAW strike. (C’mon now. Sanders, Pence, DeVos. These are faces made for caricature!)

But the other part is why the mere sight of these three would ruin my perfect Michigan fall day. As Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders took the job from “White House messaging advocate” to “propaganda minister” by steadfastly standing behind demonstrable lies and attacking those who questioned them. As Vice President, Mike Pence continues to be the very definition of sycophant and a self-styled moral leader for a decidedly immoral administration. And Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is not only actively hostile toward public education, but seems incurious about her job and education as a whole.

That all said, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that these three are certainly not the only disdainful people in politics, and maybe you’re happy with them because they are getting you what you want. Still, make all the “what-about” comparisons and “the-end-justifies-the-means” arguments you want — what remains are three terrible public servants.


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