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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.


The Long Term Plan for Michigan Roads

The Long Term Plan for Michigan Roads

If you’ve been following along with the ongoing battle between Governor Whitmer and the state legislature over road funding, you may forgive me for taking the easy way out for this week’s cartoon. The whole process has just been so volatile! It’s gone from “critical to resolve now” to “it’s fine to talk about it later.” From “we’re very close to a workable resolution” to “we are not even in the same time zone on this.” From “they are all a bunch of stupid stupid-heads!” to “I know you are, but what am I?”

I really had no idea what the status will be when this is published, so I defaulted to a generic politician who accidentally tells the truth (he doesn’t really care) — it may be an unfair exaggeration, but at least it’s stable.

But to be honest, my biggest issue isn’t with the politicians themselves but with their handlers. The advisors, the managers, the consultants, the pollsters, the party apparatchiks. I have this sense that maybe, maybe if the governor and the legislative leaders could meet without their handlers, they could actually come up with a compromise solution. And that solution could be communicated directly without being filtered, packaged, sanitized, and spun.

I know. I know. If I believe that could happen, I might as well believe that our roads will magically fix themselves.


Mixed Feelings About Banning E-Cigarette Candy Flavors

Mixed Feelings About Banning E-Cigarette Candy Flavors

One of my favorite bits from the musical Hamilton has Alexander Hamilton entering George Washington’s office:

Hamilton: Mr. President, you asked to see me?

Washington: I know you’re busy.

Hamilton: What do you need, sir? Sir?

Washington: I wanna give you a word of warning.

Hamilton: Sir, I don’t know what you heard. But whatever it is, Jefferson started it.

Perfect. His first instinct is to be petty and partisan. Just like us modern day Americans! But while we tend to over-idealize the Founding Fathers, I do think there are instances where they would be rightfully disappointed in us.

The sorry state of our legislative branches, for example. Both at the state and federal levels, the legislative branch was designed to be the deliberative body where elected representatives hashed out the tough issues of the day — the place where decision were made. Now legislative branches have become the place where ideas go to die and discussions are avoided. So they are increasingly bypassed.

This week Governor Whitmer made a sideways maneuver to ban certain e-cigarette flavors in an effort to prevent children from becoming hooked on nicotine through vaping. It’s an honorable goal, but ideally it would have been handled through the standard legislative process. The excuse: That would be too difficult. That is not a good excuse. But it is, unfortunately, plausible.

It gets worse because the dysfunction of the modern day congress leads not only to what gets done by these end-arounds, but to what does not get done — such as laws, programs, and public health initiatives to deal with our gun violence epidemic.

The quiet, contemplative time provided by active shooter drills should not be where decisions are made.


Voter/Legislator Dysfunction

Voter/Legislator Dysfunction

Several years ago I was working for a software company that got bought by a larger software company. They wanted me to relocate. My wife and I didn’t and so they bought me out of the rest of my contract — about half a year’s pay. It was a lot of money as a lump sum in a single check!

However, when it comes in one check, the tax system assumes you get paid that kind of crazy money all the time, so it withholds a bunch of it in a higher tax bracket. It’s kind of an emotional shocker, even if you do intellectually know a lot of it will come back after you file your tax return for that year. Still, staring there at a number that was nearly half of what was actually paid to me, I was crestfallen. I said to my wife, “I’ve never felt so Republican in all my life.”

For months now Governor Whitmer and the state legislature have been doing this awkward dance around setting the state budget for the next fiscal year. Promises have been made to improve our roads, our schools, our water, but now comes the hard part of how to pay for it. And I think we voters must accept part of the blame for why it is so hard. Because at some point taxes will come due and whether we are rich, working class, or poor, if the number on our paycheck is smaller than before, we’re gonna have an emotional reaction. And there is nothing a legislator is more fearful of than getting the blame for that reaction.

Not that I’m in any way letting politicians of any stripe off the hook. They ran for the job, they get paid for the job, they should do the job right. I’m just noting that the voter/legislator relationship is, well, often dysfunctional. What’s the old joke? Our form government has to be the worst form of government…except for all the other forms of government.


Reckless, Irresponsible, and Dangerous

Look, I understand the draw of the “slippery slope” argument. It is both sneaky and effective. Which is why as a parent I used it all the time when my kids were younger.

“Dad, can we have a snack?”

“No, you may not have a snack.”


“First it’s a few peanut butter crackers, next it’s cake, then it’s deep fried Snickers bars. Soon your only focus is your next snack, you drop out of school, your friends do too, and it all eventually leads right up to the decline and fall of Western civilization.”

See how it works? You blow right past the immediate request (which may in fact have some merit) and bury it with speculation and hyperbole, pointing the debate to the worst possible (and not very likely) outcome. You avoid having to mention any real reason, which in the case of snacks was generally that I wasn’t hungry, so why should they be hungry? (Similar logic to why your Mom would make you put on a jacket when she was cold.)

Recently Gov. Whitmer indicated her willingness to consider providing undocumented immigrants with special drivers licenses. The idea would be to would help Michigan’s economy by making it easier for them work and pay taxes. I don’t know. I’m certainly not sold on the idea. But then I was put off by some Republican legislators who went right to the slippery slope argument: “Provide special drivers licenses today and soon they will all be citizens and making us eat strange food and and it all eventually leads right up to the decline and fall of Western civilization.”

There are real reasons to oppose it. Let’s hear ’em. We all know how the slippery slope argument has been used time and time again to bypass sensible gun safety measures, and that’s worked out just super terrific.


What You Do Not Do for One of These Least…

What You Do Not Do for One of These Least...
Editorial Cartoon — Michigan Radio

I’m sure you are well aware of the terrible things happening in the world recently — mass shootings, violent protests, family separations, economic slowdowns — the list (unfortunately) goes on. It can be difficult to get through a day carrying all these around with you. I try to be aware of what’s going on, but keep some healthy distance so I’m not wrecked.

But the one story that did get to me was the deportation and subsequent death of Jimmy Al-Daoud. Michigan Radio and the Detroit Free Press have full stories, but to summarize briefly: 

In the 1970s Mr. Al-Daoud came to the United States as a baby with his Iraqi Chaldean family to escape religious persecution. He grew up in Michigan. Mr. Al-Daoud suffered from mental illness and eventually diabetes. He had a criminal record, mostly petty theft, but with some more serious charges, which involved disputes with his father. Because of these criminal convictions he was deported on June 2nd by ICE to Iraq. Mr. Al-Daoud was scared, alone, and sick. He received some help from other deportees but was soon found dead, likely a consequence of his diabetes but no one knows for sure. The Chaldean Community Foundation is covering the cost of returning his body to the United States for a proper burial next to his mother.

How can you know that happened and not be wrecked?


Patterson and Young Together Again…Forever?

It’s a classic editorial cartooning trope — drawing a recently deceased famous person at heaven’s gate. It’s been overdone and often mishandled. For instance, when Steve Jobs died a few years ago there were all sorts of cartoons of him at heaven’s gate making witty remarks to St. Peter about having an app for getting in. The thing is, Jobs was a Buddhist, which involves neither St. Peter nor heaven. And for those who knew Jobs personally, heaven was not his likely destination.

So my unique angle on this: L Brooks Patterson is not quite to heaven’s gate but in purgatory. For non-Catholics out there, purgatory is the concept that after death a soul not pure enough to enter heaven needs to be cleansed first. And this place or state of being is where that happens. Going further into description here only invites a theological debate I have no intentions of participating in. Suffice to say, the purpose of purgatory (if it in fact exists) is atonement.

This all seems like a plausible eventuality for Patterson. His obit was a laundry list of good and bad. The additional Twilight-Zone twist is him having to be there with his arch-nemesis in life, Coleman Young. Like Brooks, supporters and detractors have very specific feelings about Young. But I think it’s fair to say that their battles of Oakland County vs. Detroit may have served their specific interests well, but did more harm than good to the region as a whole.

Still, I’m not trying to be too judgmental here. Because another good Twilight-Zone twist would be for my soul to end up in purgatory with all the other cartoonists who relied too heavily on heaven’s gate cartoons. (Or maybe just straight to hell.)


It’s Not a Lie If You Believe It

It's Not a Lie If You Believe It

I hesitated to draw this one because not everybody may know the George Costanza character from the 1990s sitcom Seinfeld. But the odds against that are pretty good — Seinfeld was one of the last TV shows that everybody watched, it has been in constant reruns since, and of course its catch-phrases live on forever in memes (“No soup for you!”).

All you really need to know is that the Jerry Seinfeld character comes to his friend George — who has “the gift” of being able to lie without conscience — to find out how to beat a polygraph test. At first George demurs, “I can’t help you. It’s like saying to Pavaratti, ‘Teach me to sing like you.'” But as Jerry gets up to leave, George offers him the advice I drew in the cartoon.

I take no pleasure in equating the President of the United States with a congenital liar. There is no fun here at all. With George, his lies eventually unravel and in spectacular fashion, and that is funny. The same unraveling will eventually happen with Trump, but there is a whole country, a whole world, that will pay the consequences. That’s not funny.

Yes, all politicians lie, just as all people do (except for the very young and the very pure). But the difference with Trump is twofold:

A matter of scale: By April this year the Fact Checker at the Washington Post had tallied 10,000 false or misleading claims by Trump during his presidency. And the man had a well-established pattern before being elected.

And a matter of audacity: After his rally in North Carolina where his supporters chanted, “Send her back!” there were some negative reviews, what with the racism and all. So the next day Trump unabashedly claimed he was “not happy” with it and had tried to stop it by “starting speaking very quickly.” No. No he didn’t. He absolutely didn’t. He stood there for 13 seconds and basked. Millions saw it live. Many more saw the recording.

I can only imagine his excuse. “Should I have not done that? Was that wrong? Because if anybody had said anything to me when I first started…” Seinfeld fans know how that bit ended.

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Fiscal Responsibility

Fiscal Responsibility

What a difference a decade makes! Remember in 2009 when Republicans were absolutely apocalyptic about the size of the national deficit? “We must have a balanced budget amendment! We must have fiscal responsibility! What about our children?! What about our grandchildren?!” Deficit hawks birthing kittens on the House and Senate floor. Strange days indeed.

But the days are no less strange today. Because suddenly none of that seems to matter anymore. After years of steady progress in slowing the size of our national debt, the Trump administration has succeeded in kicking it into overdrive again. And not for sound reasons, like helping to pull a distressed economy out of a recession. No, times are good, so I’m not exactly sure what their thought process was. Well, other than a money grab.

In any case, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) opined this week that the federal minimum wage should be $20/hour, not the $15 targeted in a bill passed by the House this week. This got way more traction than one would expect from a first-term congressperson at an obscure event in Detroit on a Sunday. But then Tlaib is one of the young, women-of-color representatives whom the President has decided to bully. This then qualifies as news. Even though there isn’t the remotest chance the federal minimum wage is going up at all anytime soon.

But let’s say it were a possibility. There are several very good reasons to argue against a swift rise to $20/hour. But can you see why a young, low-wage worker would be loathe to accept them from an older “fiscal conservative”?


A Brief History of Drinking Water Reassurances

A Brief History of Drinking Water Reassurances

It’s easier to draw an editorial cartoon when there’s a bad guy. A singular, easily identifiable, no question about it bad guy. And I must confess, this week I was looking for an easy way out. It’s summer! And as much as I love to draw cartoons, that’s an indoor game. I want to be outside — shooting hoops, catching fireflies, puttering about the yard — it doesn’t matter. The last few days in particular have been perfect for not doing actual work.

Alas, this is not a singular bad guy kind of topic. First of all, on the whole, the wide availability of safe drinking water throughout the United States has been a great success, and those responsible should be applauded. Of course for those who have been made sick, poisoned, or killed over the years, that doesn’t provide much solace.

But the second (and bigger) reason is that it’s quite a complicated topic. Conditions that introduced sewage, industrial waste, lead, and PFAS into drinking water over the years weren’t generally the work of pathological villains. It was more likely the result of ignorance or greed, but made worse (much worse) by denial and CYA. So despite my lazy aspirations, the cartoon isn’t about blaming a bad guy — it’s about recognizing the pattern that causes most of the damage.

Anyway, that’s enough analysis. I want to go outside.


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