Archive for Michigan Press Association

Not a Conspiracy Theorist (Definitely a Conspiracy Theorist)

Not a Conspiracy Theorist (Definitely  a Conspiracy Theorist)

Americans have always been prone to conspiracy theories — from the McCarthyism and the John Birch Society to pizzagate and anti-vaxxers. But it certainly seems to hit a higher gear lately, hasn’t it? Of course it doesn’t help having a president who gins up outrage as a matter of course and doesn’t feel confined by details (or truth).

Still, our willingness to enthusiastically believe what should be unbelievable is astonishing. Take the United States Postal Service as an example. It’s an institution older that the country itself with offices in biggest cities and smallest towns that have severed as keystones to our communities. How did it become a bad guy?

We can’t trust them as an integral part of our voting system? Because why? Because it has perpetuated massive voter fraud in the past? (It hasn’t.) Because it will in the future? (It won’t.) Because it’s government run, and therefore part of the deep state? (It isn’t.)

As a cartoonist, it’s can be exhausting trying to keep ahead of the conspiracy theories — to come up with satire so outlandish that it will it will make people pause to think or laugh (hopefully both). But, honestly, drawing a character that blame the historically terrible floods in Midland this week on the post office — is that over-the-top exaggeration or real life?

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Justin Amash Running for President

Justin Amash Running for President

Justin Amash is the current U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 3rd congressional district. He was part of the tea party wave of Republicans elected in 2010. (I used to draw him as Sarah Palin back then.) He turned out to be a bit more substantive, earning a reputation for being thoughtful and deliberative, holding firm to his beliefs. Some would say (including many of his colleagues) too firm.

By 2019 he finally had enough of Trumpism and left the Republican Party, declaring himself independent. Recently, he aligned himself with the Libertarian Party and announced “the formation of an exploratory committee to seek its presidential nomination,” which means he’s now running for president.

Rep. Amash was one of the first national politicians to embrace social media as a means of communicating with his constituents, and he’s about as transparent as you could hope for a lawmaker to be. Whether or not you like his politics, I think you have to respect him. Case in point, Amash recently had a series of tweets defining his position on state-level “stay-in-place” orders. For example:

Government can’t know what is essential. Every human has the right to earn a living. We can live safely without edicts from the governor.

This aligns with Amash’s libertarian views, so points for clarity and consistency. And points off for blind adherence to ideology in the face of a pandemic reality. But that all can be a discussion for another time. The things that really struck me about what Amash said is that (1) he makes a coherent point and (2) he manages to do it being a functional adult (no narcism, no threats, actual words, the whole shabang). Such a low, low bar, and yet it’s thrilling to see somebody make it over!

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Have We Learned Nothing?

Lee Chatfield Interpreter

The current quarantine binge watch of choice in my house is the comedy series Veep. My wife and I had seen a few episodes here and there over its run this past decade, but the dearth of live sports events to watch has afforded us the opportunity.

The show is hilarious. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s the account of Salina Meyer, a fictional Vice President of the United States played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It starts in 2012 and tracks in current time, but the politicians (from Congress to governors to world leaders) are all fictional. Even better, there is never any mention of political party, no left or right, no conservative or liberal. So without the distraction of sides or tribes, the satire can stay focused on the people — the deeply, deeply flawed unrelentingly terrible people. Their awfulness is such an exaggeration that they are almost, well, cartoonish. And that’s what makes it entertaining. 

I realize now that I am attempting very much the same thing with the cartoon this week. I play up House Speaker, Lee Chatfield, and his recent actions related to the coronavirus crisis to reveal a point and (hopefully) entertain. I don’t necessarily believe Chatfield is as awful as a character from Veep. I would like to believe that he has the best interests of Michigan in mind and those interests supersede his political ambitions. 

He and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey seem quite intent on getting Michiganders back to work, which is great. But they also seem to be willfully missing hard lessons from our recent past (if, in fact, you can call the Flint Water Crisis “past”). So I hope what they are doing is not primarily political grandstanding because in the real world that’s just not funny.

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Al Kaline

Al Kaline

My editorial cartoons are published on MichiganRadio.org, but they are also syndicated to newspapers throughout the state via the Michigan Press Association. So the same cartoon that appears on the Michigan Radio website on a Friday is published in newspapers the following week. This is how it’s worked these past couple of years. Except for this week. 

Why? Well, the first thing to understand is that editors who have to take the most direct flak from readers. Oh, I get my share of communications questioning my intelligence, challenging the legitimacy of my birth, suggesting I preform physically impossible sex acts on myself, etc. — along with the occasional uni-bomber style screed. But by volume, editors suffer the most. 

Recently, readers inclined to share their thoughts have had ample time to stew in cable news and social media, and they have been rather active. Editors don’t have time for this in any circumstance, but especially now when a pandemic is cratering ad revenue and they are desperately working to keep their newspapers in business. 

I recognized that my cartoon last week contained a trigger word (Whitmer) likely to cause unnecessary grief. So I drew up this Al Kaline tribute and sent it out as an alternative — something all Michigan newspaper readers should be able to enjoy. (Hopefully angry Roberto Clemente fans will just keep to themselves any opinions they have about the greatest right fielder of all-time.)

And while I have you here, I will ask you to please consider subscribing to your local newspaper. If you have the means and you care about quality journalism, now is the time to support an actual news source. Thank you.

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Thank You for Your Sacrifice

Thank You for Your Sacrifice

Show of hands — who wants to talk more about coronavirus? Hmmm, not many, huh? Yeah, I’m fatigued myself. Unfortunately, it is destined to be a trending topic for quite some time. As German Chancellor, Angela Merkel said this week, “This is not the end phase but still just the beginning.” It was a timely reality check from an experienced leader. Merkel recognizes the danger in all the buzz about Germany “getting back to normal.” Sure, her country has been able to take some positive steps now due to effective social distancing and a robust national testing program. But they are still a long way from “normal” (whether new normal or old normal). 

What can we do? Well, listen to health experts, follow scientific methods, put people before party — all those should be obvious. But beyond that, I do have a suggestion:

Let’s try to acknowledge the sacrifices we all are making (large and small) in this generational challenge. It’s relatively straightforward to conceptualize the difficulties of a nurse working day after day in a COVID-19 ward of a hospital or a lab technician pulling double-shifts processing test kits. But there are also those who are stuck at home and are simply lost with the daily routines they’ve known all their lives now changed. That can be soul-crushing and yet the vast majority of us are still minimizing contact with others for the greater good.

If we can see and appreciate each other’s sacrifices, we have a much better chance of steeling ourselves to the reality that it’s going to be a long haul.

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It’s All Whitmer’s Fault!

It's All Whitmer's Fault!

When our son was three years-old, and my wife or I needed to take him away from something he was enjoying (typically a computer game) and move him on to something else (typically anything but a computer game), he would get very frustrated with us and say, “No! I want to do what I want to do.” And as we forged ahead, he would slow it down for us, “I want to do. What. I want. To do!” It was so sublimely simple — how could his stupid parents possibly not get it?! He would be totally exasperated with us.

Today, many Michiganders are exasperated. The quarantine necessitated by the coronavirus crisis has been difficult and there are legitimate reasons to be upset — not being able to go to work, home life turned upside down, economic insecurity. But there is also an awful lot of “I want to do what I want to do” going on. And this has led to some outlandish conspiracy theories and truly childish (and dangerous) behavior.

Look, I draw editorial cartoons, so I’m the last person to say that you shouldn’t vent. We all need on occasion to let go and tell the world what we think is not fair and what we want fixed. But when you do that in the midst of a pandemic, it’s critically important to differentiate between what you want to be true and what is actually true.

By the way, our son now works as a Certified Nursing Assistant at the Vet Home in Grand Rapids. He takes care of the basic needs of military veterans, elderly and not so elderly with compromised health conditions. They are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Our son has been vigilant in following the rules created by scientists and medical professionals to keep himself virus-free and is relying on the rest of us to do the same. Lives depend on it. If you need motivation, just think of him (the three year-old version or the current version, depending on what motivates you).

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Social Media Distancing

A stranger comes to your front door, introduces himself as LibTriggerPatriot69, and immediately engages you in conversation about politics. Well, not really a conversation — more like a one-sided rant that you’re expected to agree with and share with everybody you know. Would this be acceptable to you?

How about if there was this guy — just his chest, shoulders, and head — and he floated around talking in your ear all the time. All. The. Time. Mostly he would just be telling you about things that you need to be afraid of: women, immigrants, people of color, the idea that somebody else might be getting something that you’re not. You know, the standard stuff. But all of the sudden he wants to give you health advice, especially about what drugs to take to fight a deadly virus. Do you figure, “well, he seems to know an awful lot about home catheters (even though I’ve never seen his bottom half), I should definitely listen to him.”?

Of course not. And yet somehow we accept just this from social media and cable news hosts. (We could add talk radio and sketchy podcasts to the mix, but you get the point.)

To be clear, I’m not saying that you need to avoid any of these all together. Social media in particular can provide a lot of entertainment and personal connection value in these quarantined times. But as with a necessary trip to the grocery store, please, prepare yourself properly.

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Coronavirus Crisis Contradictions

Coronavirus Crisis Contradictions

I hope and pray you are all dealing with your coronavirus contradictions as best you can.

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GOP Senators Now and Then

GOP Senators Now and Then

Admittedly, comparing the financial crisis that precipitated the Great Recession to the one we’re currently experiencing is kinda apples-to-oranges. Different economics, different timelines, different triggers. Still, am I the only one feeling disorientated by stunning contrast of the GOP and the bailout money?

Go back with me a dozen years to a time when Senators from southern states pontificated at great length about budget deficits and fiscal restraint. Remember how they knitted their collective brows in grave concern about prudent spending of taxpayer money. In particular how Senator Richard Shelby threatened filibuster over bailing out automakers calling the money a “bridge loan to nowhere.”

As we now know, those loans turned out to be a pretty good deal — for Michigan and the country. Our manufacturing base was saved, the loans were paid back, and we enjoyed a decade of tremendous prosperity. I hope we will be able to say the same about the current bailout to the travel and lodging industry. It’s just more than a little galling the way those same senators are selling this bailout to us.

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Blaming “The Media”

Blaming "The Media"

Let me be clear: Opinion pieces are not all inherently bad. Good ones can provide context for the complex concepts and hard to understand situations. The late, great Jeff MacNelly once said this about editorial cartoonists:

“We violate all the rules of journalism. We misquote and slander and distort. [But] the interesting thing is, the political cartoonist usually, if he’s any good, gets a hell of a lot closer to the truth than a responsible reporter.”

Opinion pieces can take short-cuts. Actual journalists have rules and standards and ethics, which I’m told can really slow a person down! And they can be annoying. Do reporters have to keep asking that politician I support those stupid questions? Do they have to keep digging? It’s not their business. Oh, but it is. It’s vital that journalists do the hard work because who else is going to vet the truth? You certainly can’t count on the opinion people.

You may have noticed the absence of my cartoon last week on MichiganRadio.org. It was actually a pretty good example of where opinion and real news tangle. In the cartoon I suggested that our country was strong enough to survive this current disaster (not just the coronavirus pandemic but also the Trump Administration). It’s one thing to write it, it’s another to put it in a cartoon where humor is implied. With events moving at light speed these days, there was no way of knowing how the context might shift, so my editor thought it best not to run it (and I agreed). I certainly didn’t want something seen as a glib opinion distract from the actual news.

And context has changed quite a bit. Looking at the cartoon a week later, the most objectionable thing about it may be that I drew the two characters too close together — definitely not at a proper social distance.

Please be safe and take care of each other.

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