Archive for Michigan Press Association

Governor Snyder Is Turning Into…

Governor Snyder Is Turning Into...

I’ve been observing this game of Michigan politics long enough now that I can definitely detect patterns. This is quite useful for editorial cartooning, but makes me insufferable at cocktail parties:

“…and so those are just a few of my many observations regarding governmental paradigm shifts in post-industrial Midwestern states. Wait, where are you going? I have more keen insights to share! You shouldn’t gulp your drink like that!! Why are you running?!!!”

Fortunately for other people, I don’t go to cocktail parties.

One pattern is that governors from Blanchard to Engler to Granholm and now Snyder end up trying to land the big fish. Despite whatever good intentions they might have had at first for growing the economy (investment in education and infrastructure for Democrats, reducing barriers and fostering small-business growth for Republicans), they all fall for the seduction of the mega-deals that promise thousands and thousands of jobs. I’m guessing it feels like an opportunity for a legacy.

Often, however, the legacy is not a good legacy — especially for the mega-deals because they take a lot of tax money (credits, abatements, packages) to make them happen. It’s really difficult to tell whether they are worthwhile. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is trying to pull off a deal with Foxconn to build an LCD screen factory by offering $3 billion in incentives. The payback (assuming all goes well) would be in (wait for it) 25 years!

Okay, maybe the deals Governor Snyder wants to cut will turn out fine. But the language he’s using is very similar to the language Governor Granholm was using a decade ago. And didn’t Snyder originally run on a platform to get state government out of “picking winners and losers”? I guess it’s hard to remember that stuff when you’re concentrating on landing that big fish.

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Former Army Medic and Vietnam War Hero James McCloughan

Former Army Medic and Vietnam War Hero James McCloughan

On Monday, July 31 former Army medic and Vietnam War vet, Jim McCloughan, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by the President at a White House ceremony.

His story is breathtaking. In 1969 during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill, McCloughan’s company came under heavy fire and was in full retreat. As his fellow soldiers ran for cover, McCloughan was consistently moving the opposite direction and into harm’s way to collect the wounded and bring them to safety. Even when he himself was wounded, McCloughan refused to quit. In the end, he is credited with saving 10 soldiers over three days of fighting. Reflecting back on this, McCloughan said:

“I’d rather die on the battlefield than have heard later on that one of my men didn’t make it because their medic was not there.”

A more detailed (and better told) account of this can be found on NPR.org.

Editorial cartoonists often get accused of “politicizing” things that some people feel should not be politicized. I can see how some may feel this way about today’s cartoon. But for me, it’s not at all about politics; it’s about character and the stark, stark difference between the two men at the ceremony.

Mr. McCloughan is the quintessential American hero. After Vietnam, Mr. McCloughan returned to Michigan and spent 40 years teaching geography, sociology, and psychology at South Haven High School. In addition, he coached football, wrestling, and baseball. Humble. Brave. Selfless. A thoroughly decent human being.

I’ll leave it at that.

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What’s a Good Reason to Restrict Access to Health Care?

What's a Good Reason to Restrict Access to Health Care?

This week’s cartoon is an open question to my fellow Christians. It’s not intended to exclude non-Christians — you’re certainly welcome to ponder it, too. It’s just that I’ve never committed myself to a non-Christian faith or philosophy, so I wouldn’t presume to have the qualifications. Whereas I’ve been an active, practicing Roman Catholic all my life.

“Practicing” being the key word here. I’ve been at it a long time, but can’t say that I’ve got it right. The best evaluation I could hope for at any given performance review would be “does not meet expectations.” So I ask not from a position of “holier than thou,” but from a genuine confusion in trying to reconcile the teachings of Jesus Christ with American health care policy.

Obviously my question is easily traced to the ongoing chaos playing out in Washington DC. Watching the Congress grapple with health care these past few months feels like a live theater production of the Book of Revelations (except Revelations is more whimsical and easier to understand).

But what really tripped it off was State Senator Rick Jones submitting a bill to eliminate health insurance benefits for domestic partners for state employees.

In the context of our current system, it seems sensible enough. Jones wants to save the state some money. Why don’t these people just get married? Well, here are a couple of things:

There are rules in place to limit if not eliminate gaming the system — couples must prove they are in fact domestic partners. And the money saved (a million annual dollars) is relatively minor, especially if you consider that it is going to provide health care for real, actual people.

But it’s his awkward attempt at being hip with the kids (“put a ring on it”) that exposes the undercurrent. Two years ago Jones floated the same bill in the hopes of eliminating health care benefits to same-sex couples. This isn’t about saving money; this is about enforcing moral superiority.

The idea of meting out basic human health care based on a person’s wealth, intelligence, or morality is simply not Christ-like. I mean, what’s next? Kicking transgender people out of the military because of their supposed potential for health care expense?

Wait…

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After Seven Years, the Repeal and Replace Puzzle…

After Seven Years, the Repeal and Replace Puzzle...

If you need some perspective for this health care madness, reporter and author T.R. Reid is a pretty good place to start. Reid is an American but has lived overseas (Japan and the UK) and also has firsthand experience with seeking medical services in multiple countries as part of his work. Research for his 2009 book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care, predates the ACA, so it is an excellent resource if you have trouble remembering why Obamacare came to be.

One of Reid’s main observations is that a country’s health care system is reflective of its nature and values. So for example Germany has an extremely complicated public/private (yet strictly non-profit) system, but Germans are rule-followers, so it works. Canada has a single-payer system that sometimes causes ridiculously long waits for certain procedures, but Canadians are all about fairness and the system treats everybody (rich and poor) the same, so it works.

The United States, well, we all want to be winners. We want the best health care, but don’t want to pay for it. This has resulted in a convoluted mix of systems — your particular flavor depends on your age, employment status, geographic location, and so on.

But beyond its burdensome expense and gross inefficiency, it’s primary flaws are these:

  • The United States does not provide guaranteed health services to all its citizens (which is a problem for the poor and middle class).
  • The United States is the only major developed country where its citizens can be bankrupted by medical expenses (which is a problem for everybody except the hyper-rich).

The ACA was an attempt to solve these flaws. Repeal and (maybe) Replace is an attempt to double-down on them.

To be clear, I don’t believe a Medicare-for-all type system is without its own flaws. It would serve us well to acknowledge and plan for the challenges.

But can you imagine a health care system where all individuals would be free to move jobs and start businesses without fear of medical consequences? Where small and large businesses would be unburdened from the expensive diversion of administrating insurance plans? Where the State of Michigan could free its budget from the medical world and concentrate on education and infrastructure?

It’s really a matter of deciding whether we want to reflect the best or worst part of our nature.

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Playing “Simon Says” with the State of Michigan

Michigan UIA Simon Says

We’ve all been caught in the grinder — whether it’s government (the IRS saying you owe money for a property you never owned), business (the cable company charging you for a box you returned in 1997), or even a well meaning non-profit (you accidentally getting signed up with Pups That Poop — a canine rescue for large dogs with bowel control issues — who now contact you every day to insist a Great Dane named Balthazar would be perfect for you and your studio apartment). Through no obvious fault of your own, you managed to get slightly outside of the lines, and now you are in database hell. It is really one of the few common experiences these days that cuts across our political and socio-economic divides.

So it shouldn’t be difficult to sympathize with the plight of an absurdly large number Michiganders and their experience with unemployment benefits. If you are unaware of this issue, here’s a link to a Michigan Radio story from last week: http://michiganradio.org/post/harsh-result-state-says-some-wrongful-unemployment-fraud-claims-waited-too-long-appeal

I’ll summarize if you prefer to stay here:

In 2013, after Michigan began using an automated system to identify cases of unemployment insurance fraud, more than 20,000 people were wrongfully accused, with an error rate of 93%. Not only did these people not get their benefits, they were charged penalties in interest and fees and aggressively pursued for collections. Many of those without the time and financial resources to fight back got pulled into the grinder and spit out bankrupt. Some of those falsely accused filed a class action lawsuit in 2015 against the state. The lawsuit is currently in Michigan Court of Claims and the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Which brings us to last week Friday at a hearing for the case. Deputy Attorney General Debbie Taylor, in arguing for the state, asked the case be dismissed because, well, basically because the victims had not followed the proper protocol to correct the situation. In other words, she seems to be treating this like a high stakes game of Simon Says (although she did allow that their destroyed finances were “unfortunate” — a super big help for paying bills).

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A Bad Situation for Far Too Long

A Bad Situation for Far Too Long

For those of you who despair over the coarsening of political discussion and wring your hands over what social media hath wrought, I offer you … no disagreement. But maybe a little perspective. All that nasty, angry, divisive public hyperventilating has actually existed for a very long time. It’s called: Sports Talk Radio. And as far as I can tell, it has not brought with it the end of times.

If you are not familiar, go ahead and sample a call-in show sometime. Although with the same warning that comes with Googling, say, mating rituals: Be careful — you may experience things that you will not be able to un-experience.

If you’d rather not take the chance, I can tell you that it features many of the same characters you’d find on any comments page:

  • The Self-Proclaimed World’s Most Renowned Authority: “If the Tigers had only accepted my advice on altering space and time, they’d have the best bullpen in the Majors!”
  • The Fairness Expert: “I cannot believe that you keep accepting caller after caller to talk about relief pitching when you completely censor other important topics. Give hitting, fielding, and the effects of fluoridated water equal time!”
  • The Axe Grinder: “If you ask me, the problem with the Tigers’ relief pitching can all be traced back to the designated hitter rule. Get rid of the designated hitter, and everything gets better. I will now list the 573 reasons I have for hating the designated hitter rule. One,…”

I exaggerate to make a point: In truth, I find nothing fundamentally wrong with Sport Talk Radio. Sure, it can get weird sometimes and definitely over-amped. But it’s a decent venue for people to be passionate about a subject they care about.

I see much more harm in a lack of passion — specifically, for really important things like educating our children. It’s more than a little unsettling to see Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority come to such an ignoble end, especially when it was rolled out with such promise and fanfare just a few short years ago. You know, the same sort of promise and fanfare we see now in those proposals to unleash charter schools.

If the citizens and leaders of our state do not have the passion to develop and stick with real solutions, they will fail when the going gets tough. (And with education, the going always gets tough.)

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How (Not) to Develop Public Health Policy

How (not) to Develop Public Health Policy

Ideas for cartoons can come from the oddest places.

This past Sunday, I was working on setting up our hammock in the backyard for the summer season and went down to the basement to collect the pieces.

Of course, instead of doing the sensible thing and taking multiple trips, I gathered as much as I could hold and made my way up the steps.

As I emerged by banging through the basement door — burdened by metal weight and clanging chains — my startled wife turned to look at me. All I could say was, “I feel like Jacob Marley.” (I know. A semi-obscure literary reference to A Christmas Carol on Father’s Day weekend — is there no end to the uproarious mirth at the Auchter household?)

But that triggered the idea. As I trudged out to the yard, I was literally thinking, “If Ebenezer Scrooge is the poster boy for a life (almost) lost to miserly greed, Mitch McConnell is surely the poster boy for a life lost to partisan politics. What could save him?”

I didn’t think a Christmas-themed cartoon in June would work, so I substituted the citizens of Flint for the “Ghost of Christmas” role — past, present, and (unfortunately) future.

By the time you read this, McConnell is scheduled to have rolled out his Senate health care plan (Trumpcare 2.0, the Son of ACHA, the “Tax Cut for My Wealthiest Friends” Plan — whatever they are calling it). And the focus will of course turn to its contents.

But let’s not forget about how it was created: with limited input and almost no visibility. Clearly, when this method was used for managing the water supply (and the lead poisoning and Legionnaire disease crises that followed), it ended in disaster for the citizens of Flint.

What are the chances of McConnell coming to his senses and repenting before it’s too late?

God bless us, every one.

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Lansing Puppet Show

Lansing Gun Legislation Puppetry

Last week the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to allow most gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training. The legislation is being pitched by proponents as an efficiency effort to align with constitutional rights. But it is widely opposed by law enforcement as a potential danger to communities.

I will leave it to the discretion of readers to jump into the viper pit of that debate. The very specific point I wanted to highlight is this: Gun manufacturers and NRA leadership have a disproportionate influence over our state legislators and the consequence of their brilliant but incredibly dangerous marketing effort is weapon sales to many Americans who are either not willing or not capable of being responsible gun owners.

It is, of course, in their best interest to do so.The decline in outdoors activities means falling sales of traditional hunting equipment. And the unfortunate durability of their product doesn’t help either. Unlike, say, modern household appliances, guns don’t have a planned obsolescence. With even rudimentary care, they last a long time. To sell more, they need new markets. To open new markets, they need to streamline the process. But is that necessarily a good idea for our state and nation as a whole?

I am asking the question, not trying to provide the answer. Obviously the topic is divisive. I actually got the idea last week when the House passed the bill — well before the awful incidents in Alexandria and San Francisco — and decided it would be needlessly contentious. (Ironically, I chose instead to draw a cartoon that touched on abortion issues.)

So, anticipating reactions, I don’t think my timing here is either “spot on and proves the point” or “a disgusting display of opportunism.” I’m hoping it’s more “seriously now, how can we reduce gun violence?”

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Choose Life …on Michigan Roads

Choose Life ...on Michigan Roads

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan is an organization that serves as a go-to resource for mental health awareness and education. A special area of focus is teen suicide prevention, which it addresses through an anti-bullying initiative called “be nice.”

For a number of years, my wife and I have played on a volleyball team that uses “be nice” apparel as our uniform. Endorsing such a wonderful cause has been a satisfying experience. Mostly. Only mostly, because there are times when my competitive nature kicks in, when our team may not be playing well, when a call goes against us, when the other team celebrates one of my unforced errors just a little too enthusiastically. And then I think, “Why the heck am I wearing a freakin’ shirt that says ‘be nice’?!”

The answer, of course, is: That’s exactly the reason to wear the freakin’ shirt. At a time when my inclination is not to be so nice, the shirt and its messaging is a nudge in the right direction — a positive reminder (remember, this is how we become a better person) and a negative reminder (you don’t want to be a total hypocrite, do you?). Both are pretty effective.

In a similar way, I thought that if Governor Snyder ends up signing the bill on his desk that allows Choose Life Michigan to be a state license plate option, it could certainly be a helpful reminder on the roads. June 7th marked the one year anniversary of the Kalamazoo County biking tragedy in which five riders were killed and four were seriously injured. And as Michigan Radio has noted in its recent Sharing the Road series, a total of 38 bicyclists died in Michigan in 2016, a ten year high.

At the deadline for this cartoon, it was still in question whether Snyder was going to sign the bill. I have some misgivings, mostly with the consequences of reducing divisive, complex issues to slogans on state license plates. But I can certainly relate to the passion for the cause.

So if this opens the door for me being able to eventually get an official Michigan “be nice” license plate with proceeds going to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, well, I guess I could be fine with it. The extra reminder to be nice would also help the cause for safer roads.

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GOP Go To: Slashing Budgets

GOP Go To: Slashing Budgets

My wife and I have a Japanese maple we planted several years ago as part of our house landscaping. It’s been a nice little tree — generally healthy, somewhat sturdy (our cats like to climb to the top and pretend they’re vultures), but it’s never really grown. It’s in good soil, it gets plenty of water, we even treat it to some Miracle-Gro on a semi-regular basis. We considered transplanting it, but from what we knew, it’s current sun/shade location was well suited for the breed.

So last fall, my wife decided to prune it back some and hope for the best. This spring, holy cow!, the tree is thriving. New shoots, new leaves, new branches. We plan to continue the care and feeding and hopefully it will grow taller and stronger to help it withstand our cat vultures.

All that to say, I do understand that sometimes pruning is the best solution. I just don’t think it is the only solution. (Indeed, we have killed other plants by cutting them back too much.)

But pruning seems to be Plans A, B, C, D, and so on for the GOP these days. Brian Calley announced a “high-tech” ballot initiative to cut the Michigan legislature back to part-time status. Michigan’s Betsy DeVos defended before Congress her plan to slash funding for public education. Arlan Meekhof continued with his crusade to eliminate benefits for the working class of Michigan. And then there is President Trump’s proposed budget, which seems not so much to trim as to exterminate (the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, for example).

Somewhere under a thick layer of ideology I imagine there to be the more sensible solutions — a mixture of caring, feeding, watering, and pruning.

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