Archive for Michigan Press Association

Snyder Endorses Calley. Calley May Wish He Didn’t

Snyder Endorses Calley. Calley May Wish He Didn't

I don’t blame politicians for avoiding the “politician” label. Politician, after all, is a dirty word. They are all rotten, lying, cheating, crummy, crooked politicians, right? Well… maybe not all. In this representative form of government we all profess to love so much, good politicians are critical to its success. Good politicians are advocates of the people. They listen, they understand, they form consensus, and then they lead.

Last week the Snyder administration announced that the state would no longer supply bottled water to the people of Flint. Governor Snyder can reasonably argue that tests have shown Flint water meeting safety levels. He can tell us the state has spent a lot of money on providing bottled water over the past few years. He can talk in glowing terms of moving forward. So he tried to do the “leading” bit, but not so much with the listening, understanding, and forming a consensus with the affected community — a community he represents.

Politicians often make the “right” decision, but fail in how they implement it. Yes, of course, at some point the bottled water program for Flint needed to be phased out. But shouldn’t that wait till more than 1/3 of pipes and service lines have been replaced? Till safety is assured and a real trust is built?

So despite what he might say, Rick Snyder is a politician. Sure, he’s a former CEO and successful businessperson and all that. But he has also been a two term governor of Michigan, so by definition he is a politician. Just not a very good one.

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Hail to the Victor

Hail to the Victor

I saw an interview with John Beilein after the Michigan loss to Villanova in the men’s NCAA championship game on Monday. It was a fairly standard “what went wrong, what would you do differently, how do you feel about it?” sort of exercise, which Coach Beilein handled graciously. But when the interviewer asked Beilein about his team, he visibly brightened.

He talked about what a tremendous group they are. How they were a team of growth, of “no nonsense,” meaning they took it upon themselves to make the right decisions on and off the court. He acknowledged how fortunate they were in avoiding injuries but their success was do primarily to the players practicing hard and being smart.

I’ve always liked Coach Beilein, but after watching this I thought to myself, “Wow, what a thoroughly decent human being. …I’ll never draw an editorial cartoon about him.”

Well, I was half right. Obviously I did draw him (no, seriously, that’s supposed to be Beilein), but I wouldn’t necessarily call it an editorial cartoon. Typically editorial cartoons challenge power and call out hypocrisy. Current leadership in politics and business seem to provide plenty of that — from fear-mongering to gaslighting to unabashed lying.

So I quickly changed my mind about drawing Coach Beilein to demonstrate the contrast. Recently I did a cartoon about a member of the Trump cabinet and opined in the commentary that at a certain point competency should have a higher value. I would like to add that decency should count for something, too.

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Trying Not to Be Killed

Trying Not to Be Killed

Among the many things to admire about the youth who led the March for Our Lives events this past week is their patriotism. That may sound a little off because their detractors have gone to some lengths to question that very thing. But the reality is, they were acting on the very lessons taught to us all about what it is to be Americans: stand up for what’s right, encourage participation in our democratic system, communicate with your representatives, strive to make your country a better place.

But what struck me as maybe most patriotic was the emphasis on inclusion. Before the march, several of the Parkland students visited an inner-city public school in Washington DC to let those students tell their story of gun violence. Inclusion, making sure all voices are heard. What is more American than that?

And what awful and compelling stories they had to tell about gun violence — the same stories kids from places like Flint have been telling for too long. That definitely needs to be part of the bigger conversation.

Look, I don’t want to make these kids out to be perfect. They are people after all, and they are bound to become distracted, get off message, maybe make some political misjudgements. Just like, you know, former Supreme Court members do. (Old people these days! Amiright?)

But so far I’d say they have been impressively on task. Fifty years ago the message from youth to adults could be summarized as, “Get out of the way, your time is over!” Today their message is really more of a practical challenge: “Do your job!”

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The First Sign of Spring in Michigan

The First Sign of Spring in Michigan

The songwriting credit for the majority of Beatles songs is listed as “Lennon-McCartney,” but in truth most of the songs were composed individually by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. One of the more famous examples of actual collaboration in the later years of the band is the song “Getting Better.” In the refrain, the more optimistic and positive McCartney wrote the lyric, “It’s getting better all the time,” and the more pessimistic and negative Lennon contributes the next line, “Can’t get no worse.”

This week Governor Snyder signed a new bill to add $175 million to the current year’s budget for road repair. In the signing ceremony he was, well, Rick Snyder: a corporate coffee mug of bubbling, artificially sweetened enthusiasm. A paraphrase of his speech, “The pothole situation in Michigan is just getting better all the time.” To which I say, “Well, it couldn’t get much worse.”

And yet, with the news this week of Ford Motor Company looking to purchase the Michigan Central Station building and property in Detroit, I find myself at an “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” level of McCartney sunshine (which is to say, sort of sickening). The Michigan Central Station is an architectural marvel. But where once it was a majestic point of entry to a thriving Motor City, it now has sat derelict for 30 years as an albatross and an eyesore.

Ford, which was founded in Detroit, is looking to return and invest. It is already committed to moving a couple hundred workers to a Corktown neighborhood location nearby. Buying, renovating, and then using Michigan Central Station would be an enormous boost for Detroit.

Now I hear all you Lennons out there, “Ford is only doing it for the PR.” “It’s all about profit.” “It’s just further gentrification that doesn’t help the people of Detroit.” I get that. But you know, sometimes the two sides can coexist. Sometimes Lennon and McCartney work together to make a pretty good song.

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Having to Explain Betsy DeVos

Having to Explain Betsy DeVos

When I was in college, I played broomball. Broomball is basically ice hockey but instead of skates, sticks, and a puck you use tennis shoes, brooms, and a semi-deflated volleyball. It was a way for Michigan Tech students without winter sports skills to play a winter sport. Because there is a LOT of winter in Houghton.

Each section (or “house”) of the dormitory had a team. So other than my roommate (who was friend from high school), my teammates were basically randomly selected by the universe. This was fine except for one guy — he was one of our better players and nice enough to everybody on our team, but he would go out of his way to hurt players on other teams.

During games I would, of course, support and defend him when the other team got angry at him. That’s what teammates do. And outside of games when somebody from another team would see me on campus and say, “Hey, what’s the deal with that guy?,” I’d make excuses, “Well, he’s good player, he’s just a little intense.” But after awhile, that wore thin. The truth was, he was not a good person. Probably a sadist. I still feel bad that I defended him.

So here we find ourselves with Betsy DeVos, randomly selected by the universe to be on our state of Michigan team. You saw her performance earlier this week on 60 Minutes. You saw her performance at her confirmation hearings. You’ve seen her performance as Secretary of Education. I cannot explain or excuse any of that.

Being a “member of our team” by geography or even “on our side” politically makes some sense, but it really should be a secondary consideration. At some point a lack of competence has to be the more important consideration. At some point the indefensible must actually, you know, not be defended.

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Scott Walker Teaches Us About…

Scott Walker Teaches Us About...

Next week, March 11–17, is Sunshine Week. For us Michiganders, the timing may seem a little off. It is squarely in the hopeless stage of our long, gray winter — what’s this talk of “sunshine”? That’s just mean.

Nevertheless, the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press use this week each year to promote the importance of access to public information. Sunshine is a symbol for our communities to have transparent access to what’s going on in our government. The tag line is: “It’s Your Right to Know.”

And certainly, when another state makes a play to draw a significant amount of Great Lakes water to outside of the Great Lakes basin, we have the right to know. Thank goodness we do know because the Scott Walkers of the world have proven over and over they are not inclined toward full disclosure. It’s not in their best interest (and their best interest is typically their only interest).

To be fair, Wisconsin is not the only state challenged by balancing economic development with environmental protection. We in Michigan are always grappling with how best to take care of our most valuable natural resource — fresh water: Should we let Nestle expand its bottled water operation? Should we allow a new potash mine to draw millions of gallons of groundwater?

Plus, it’s not like Michigan hasn’t gone down the dicey tax break path with solar panel manufacturing and batteries for electric cars. Truth be told, our own free market capitalist GOP governor made a “government picks the winners and losers” bid at Foxconn. But Walker and Wisconsin way outbid us. Way outbid. One could even say absurdly outbid.

So let ’em have it. We’ll see how viable LED screen manufacturing is in 25 years when their investment is scheduled to begin paying off. But let’s be suspicious about diverting water outside the Great Lakes basin to do it. Let the sun shine so we know what’s going on.

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Drinking Bleach

Drinking Bleach

There was a punk rock band called “The Dead Milkmen” that had a fun little run of popularity in the late 1980s. They were goofy and sardonic and unapologetically without polish. One of their songs was called “Bleach Boys” in which the singer extols the supposed virtues of his buddies all drinking bleach (as apposed to indulging in alcohol or other drugs). It’s hilarious. A sample lyric:

Bleach keeps you young so I’ve been told
’cause no one who drinks it lives to be old

Ridiculous, right? But it reveals just how ridiculous it is to enthusiastically abuse anything. And how ridiculous it is to put a positive spin on something that is killing you.

So what’s the connection to the cartoon? Well, it’s that particular lyric that inspired me to think: The United States as a country continues to suffer death and injury at an unacceptable level from gun violence and opioid abuse. Why? Why if both are clearly killing people have we in the recent past allowed the doubling-down on their use?

It seems so obviously counterintuitive. Especially when other countries have found better methods. Yes, all countries are unique, but Canada is very, very similar to the United States. Why is their gun violence rate so much lower? Why is their level of opioid abuse (while still unhealthy) significantly less?

Until we get truly serious — which means sensible solutions to reduce availability and use — we’re kinda drinking bleach.

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Most Easy Job I Have Ever

Most Easy Job I Have Ever

Three inspirations for this week’s cartoon:

  • A recent This American Life episode titled “Words You Can’t Say.” There are two stories, and both are really good. But if you only have a half-hour, definitely listen to Act 2. It is a textbook (and real) example of how strict adherence to ideology can absolutely obliterate common sense and common good.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller bringing indictment changes to Russian nationals for interfering with U.S. elections and political processes. It’s becoming more and more apparent just how easy it was for outside agitators to hijack political dialogue. American voters in 2016 weren’t so much tricked as we were manipulated and amplified. Instead of questioning sources, we enthusiastically became accomplices. How is that not a top threat to our nation?
  • The most recent flurry of memes that followed the Parkland, Florida massacre. I applaud those who are off of social media for Lent. Good timing, I’d say. But because I draw this political cartoons, I didn’t feel right totally cutting myself off, so instead I’m making a special effort to avoid anger triggers. And that’s exactly what most memes are, anger triggers. Anyway, the small sample I’ve let my eye wander across, oy! If they weren’t authored by Russian trolls, then they were authored by Olympic Trolls from Russia.

Oh, wait, there was a fourth: All the new freeze/thaw potholes, which are destined to ruin my cars and shake the fillings from my teeth. Oh how I hate potholes.

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Funny How the Federal Deficit Doesn’t Seem to Matter Anymore…

Funny How the Federal Deficit Doesn't Seem to Matter Anymore...

Last year, the Trump administration budget proposed eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program to clean the lakes and protect them against invasive species. It was fairly up front about it, spinning it as the fiscally responsible thing to do. “We must make cuts, can’t just keep growing the national deficit, think of our children and grandchildren, etc.” That used to be standard dogma for Republicans and a President who sold himself as an expert on debt, assuring us he would eliminate the federal deficit in eight years.

This year, the Trump Administration is proposing not total elimination of the GLRI, just a 90% reduction. What’s the other difference between this year and last? Oh, yeah: THE FEDERAL DEFICIT NO LONGER MATTERS!

Enormous tax cuts followed by a giant leap in spending is going to balloon the deficit, and this is suddenly OK with the very same people who just an administration ago preached this as our financial Armageddon.

You gotta laugh. Except it’s not really all that funny.

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Defying Authority to Protest Injustice

Defying Authority to Protest Injustice

Back when I was a senior at Powers Central Catholic High School in Flint, I went on a weekend religious retreat with a few of my classmates. Retreats vary in form and length, but this was fairly standard — two days away from the world to reflect and pray and to share the experience with peers. It took place on the grounds of a monastery that was also a working farm, so there were some rules. Mostly we needed to stay in or around the building that was dedicated for retreats.

It was a great retreat, and I took it seriously. At least up until the end when they had us fill out an evaluation form. For the amusement of my friends (and some girls from another school), I wrote down and then shared my less-than-serious answers. For example:

Q: What did you wish there were more of?
A: Definitely the cow rides. I really liked going out at night and riding the cows around the pastures.

Q: Are there some things you enjoyed more than others?
A: I preferred the bathrooms in the monastery to the ones in the retreat house.

The following Monday at school I was called into Mr. Reynolds office, the counselor who had coordinated the retreat. It seemed some folks at the monastery were quite upset about my evaluation, taking it at face value. Luckily Mr. Reynolds had enough insight into teenage behavior (and knew me well enough) to understand the situation and work with me to fix it. It ended up being a pretty good life lesson — just because my friends (and even Mr. Reynolds) think something is funny, doesn’t make it a good idea.

I tell you this story to contrast my goofing off with the earnest and thoughtful behavior of four Lansing Catholic High School football players who took a knee during the national anthem at football games. By all accounts these boys were serious in their protesting racial injustice (both locally and nationally) and about starting a conversation. The response it seems has been more about telling the boys and their peers what to do than about listening to what they have to say.

It’s been many years since high school, but I’ve been an adult leader on several retreats, and I can tell you that teenage boys still do dumb things to amuse their friends and impress girls. But they can also be quite thoughtful and deeply honest. And if you spend all your time trying to correct their behavior instead of working with them to understand it, it’s not going to be a positive experience for anybody.

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