Archive for Michigan Press Association

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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Memorial Day Visit

Memorial Day Visit

Freedom is essential for a happy life and true success. I don’t think most would argue with that. But like most good things, freedom can be appropriated for self-serving purposes.

Fifty years ago, this sort of appropriation was something that tended to be associated with the left. Freedom to have sex without any responsibility, freedom to take drugs without personal or social consequence, freedom to market and sell to youth without ever providing anything of real value. Creates a certain picture, right? Dirty, filthy, commie, godless, hippie, scumbag. (The specific character that pops to my mind is Wesley, Jenny’s abusive boyfriend in Forrest Gump.)

Today, however, the appropriation of freedom for self-serving purposes seems much more associated with the right. Freedom to remove environmental safeguards without any real thought to the consequences. Freedom to finance tax breaks for the very rich by denying healthcare access to the working poor. Freedom to propagate unapologetic lies as long as they create a political advantage. (A whole host of non-fictional characters pop to mind for this.)

In both cases, the selfish march under the banner of “freedom” — and freedom becomes merely a means to an end.

Is that a reasonable parallel to make? I hope so. Because on Memorial Day weekend I not only appreciate the freedom to express my opinions, I also try to be mindful of the responsibilities that come with it.

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Good Jobs for Michigan

Good Jobs for Michigan

My inner dialogue for this week’s cartoon —

Rational Me (RE): Let’s please do something without Donald Trump in it. There’s just so much going on with him right now, our cartoon might just get lost in the news swirl.

Emotional Me (EM): Absolutely. I’m on overload with that and besides drawing him kinda make us queasy.

RM: Right. So what’s been going on in Michigan this week?

EM: THE ROADS! FIX THE ROADS! I HATE DRIVING ON OUR BROKEN, LOUSY, POTHOLE-RIDDLED ROADS!!!

RM: That’s all you ever want to talk about. How about cars, though? It looks like vehicle sales are leveling off in North America. The automakers are looking to cut back.

EM: Which means some dedicated Michiganders are going to lose their jobs to protect profit margins and stock prices.

RM: Well, yeah, but the companies need to protect themselves. Competition is fierce. Pruning some workers now might just just save more jobs later.

EM: Sure, sure. Absolutely. At least there will be plenty of good paying jobs with incredible benefits once the coal mines open.

RM: Um… there aren’t any coal mines in Michigan. There isn’t even any coal.

EM: Exactly.

RM: Oh, I see where you’re going with this. Not bad. But I thought we agreed to avoid Trump this week.

EM: Yeah… you’re right. Let’s check the news and see what else we got.

RM: Right. Okay, this just popped up: “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.” Guess who?

EM: Are you kidding me? That’s what he has to say to future leaders at a commencement address?!

RM: I mean, I understand that he talks in hyperbole, but I think he honestly means it! Does he have no real understanding of history? Geez louise, how thin-skinned can you get?!

EM: So, what do you want to draw?

RM: Oh, it’s on.

EM: Yep, let’s do this.

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Benefits Race to the Bottom

Benefits Race to the Bottom

Ugh! This again! So earlier this week the story broke that Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Meekhof, and Speaker of the House, Tom Leonard, were making cuts to teacher retirement benefits a top priority in the state budget. Specifically, they want to transfer what is now a state-backed pension into a 401k plan.

The underlying reason is pragmatic enough — the state would pay much less money for public school employee retirement costs.There might be some token matching funds thrown in and a happy, shiny roll-out gleefully touting the empowering opportunities of personal investment. (Oh, boy! I know I love it!) But the real aim is to save the state money through cuts (and not investment).

This, of course, has been the unrelenting game plan for 21st century Michigan — cut our way to prosperity. Now within the context of the recessions we’ve been through (including that Great one), many cuts made sense. Because of revenue drops, they were necessary to meet the requirement of balancing the budget. And in some cases, they were a means to realigning our priorities as we went from a manufacturing state to …whatever it is that we’re becoming.

But now? Really? At some point it would seem reasonable to try to attract talent to professional positions. Instead, the Republican leadership in particular appears to be in a race to the benefits bottom for the average citizen.

Full disclosure: The cartoon is actually a variation on a similar theme I did several years ago — that one was specifically about medical benefits: “We can only be truly happy when we all have lousy medical benefits.” *Sigh*. I just want to let you guys know that my intention has always been to be a satirist, not a prophet.

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Great Lakes Funding Plan

Great Lakes Funding Plan

None of what Donald Trump does should surprise anybody. His behavior is erratic, certainly, but highly predictable. He has spent a lifetime demonstrating in a very public way that acting in his own self-interest is his default mode, his plan B, his alternate route, his “upon further consideration,” and so on. Look it up — it’s right there in his books, his shows, and his copious media coverage.

And yet, how can it be so disappointing when he goes ahead and does something that you know was entirely probable? Pick your example over the past 100 days (or, indeed, over his lifespan), but what recently kicked me in the mouth was his unprompted embrace of two brutal strongmen, Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

After “winning” a recent referendum that will allow Erdoğan to further consolidate his dictatorial powers in Turkey, President Trump made a point of calling him to congratulate him on his victory. This while Erdoğan has been busy jailing journalists, including editorial cartoonist, Musa Kart, for doing what journalists do. If you’re interested in knowing more about Mr. Kart, go to the Cartoonist Rights Network International website: http://cartoonistsrights.org/

Duterte also has been ruthless with journalists. But he is perhaps best known for a brand of supposed law and order where he has encouraged summary execution as a preferred method of achieving justice. Heck, he’s even bragged of murdering people himself. President Trump has reached out to Duterte with kind praise and an invitation to visit at the White House.

Another common thread with these two? There are Trump Towers in Istanbul and Manila.

So… not surprising, but deeply disappointing.

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Dear Flint…

Dear Flint...

After three years of the Flint water crisis, fatigue may have set in — first and foremost, for the citizens of Flint who have had to live with the daily grind and persistent worries. But also for Michiganders living outside and looking in. The fatigue for us is different — it’s trying to stay engaged with a story that may not seem to affect us, at least not directly. Three years is a long time to hold somebody’s attention.

This week Michigan Radio presented several stories from a number of angles to mark the anniversary. In fact, the reporters and staff have done yeoman’s work from the start to keep this very real and worthy story relevant to those outside of Flint. They have done such a wonderful job that I found myself hard pressed to come up with something new to say in a cartoon.

I finally got the idea of writing a thank you note because, well, my mom taught me the importance of writing thank you notes. When somebody has done something for you, it’s important to acknowledge the gift. And having grown up in the Flint area and lived in Michigan since, Flint has taught me (and continues to teach me) plenty.

Sometimes the lesson has been what to do, for example, witnessing the grace and resolve with which many of its citizens have handled this ongoing crisis. Sometimes the lesson has been what not to do, for example, building an amusement park without roller coasters or electing a self-serving, egotistical businessman named Don as your leader. (Sorry, those are inside jokes for Flintoids.)

But what may ultimately be the best reason to be thankful is this: If we can work with Flint to help it prosper, we can certainly handle any problem Michigan faces.

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Make Isle Royale Great Again

Make Isle Royale Great Again

Back in high school, one of my friends had an older sister who spent a summer on Isle Royale doing research work. She made the mistake of trying to have a conversation about this with a bunch of 16 year-old boys.

Because we were from Flint, we all had a difficult time with the concept of gainful employment outside the context of a General Motors factory or a Halo Burger grill. (“You get paid money to walk around the woods?!”) Also, testosterone poisoning rendered us without any real social skills for conversation with an older girl.

But where she really lost us was when she mentioned her work involved counting wolf and moose droppings to assess the size and health of the herds. It was pretty much an endless series of poop jokes from that point.

I found out from a Michigan Radio story earlier this week that counting the wolf herd on Isle Royale is much more straightforward these day. There are only two left.

It was interesting to hear from experts why this might be important. We are often a country of 16 year-old boys when in comes to science. Experts don’t always have the answers and often they can be wrong. But considering the thoughts of those who have actually studied the issue is a great way start a conversation.

(And a belated apology to Linda Hasselbach wherever you are.)

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The NRA’s Principled Stance on Mental Health

The NRA's Principled Stance on Mental Health

Legislation was recently introduced in the State House to make our Michigan a “constitutional carry” state. House Bills 4416-4419 would relax gun laws to allow some Michiganders to conceal firearms without having to get a concealed pistol license. It’s kind of a melding of concealed carry with less restrictive open carry rules.

It made me wonder where exactly the National Rifle Association (NRA) position was on this. They had advocated at some length in the past (especially after mass murder incidents) about the need for better mental health care in the United States and keeping firearms out of the hands of the unstable. These proposed Michigan laws seemed counter to that.

So I went looking for evidence, especially for anything related to the recent healthcare repeal and replace debacle. One of the guarantees under the ACA is that all insurance plans must provide for mental health services. There were several proposals to weaken or remove that protection in the frenzied bartering stage between the White House and Freedom Caucus.

I didn’t find anything on the NRA website — nothing like a press release or position paper. What I did find was a lot of videos, including a speech that NRA President Wayne LaPierre recently gave at Hillsdale College here in Michigan. It was titled, “Why the Media Is Failing.”

Wow. If ever you need a lesson on how to demonize those who oppose you while sanctifying those who support you, this is your primer. (Tip-of-the-day: Start sentences with “The truth is…” so everybody knows you are the sole arbiter of truth.) It really was a tour de force of partisanship, which is what it was intended to be and what the audience wanted.

It’s just disappointing that guns seem to be one of those topics that can only be discussed in a binary way — either you are for them or against them. That’s it. It’s too bad because there are opportunities for, if not common ground, then common goals. The truth is (see what I did there?), the truth is the NRA using its considerable resources to safeguard and promote universal access to mental health services would be a tremendous opportunity.

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Ask a Michigan Representative How Insurance Works

Ask a Michigan Representative How Insurance Works

We’re nearing the end of the season of Lent, and for Catholics (and others who participate in Lenten practice of “giving up stuff”) this is around the time we tend to lose focus and start to obsess about the beer or chocolate or whatever we pledged to eschew for 40 days. We begin to miss the point of why we did it — to demonstrate that habits and pleasures do not have power over us. We exercise our self-control muscles to show that even something like beer and chocolate together, like, say, a Founders Breakfast Stout with its creamy, dark goodness that… that even though it is a perfectly blended cacophony of sublime flavors augmented by fresh-roasted java notes that dance across the palette like… like…

Look, we’re human. Sometimes we can want something so badly, we get sidetracked.

I think this is where Republicans are with healthcare reform. Their collective tunnel-vision on repeal and replace has rendered them unable to remember how insurance works or why voters desire functional health insurance in the first place.

As a reminder, insurance is when many people contribute to a pool of money, so there is money available when those people need it. And we desire this for both health and financial security. Winning or adhering to an ideology or trying to reconcile ill-conceived campaign promises — all that is secondary to the health and financial well-being of Americans, all Americans.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s Mike Bishop, Tim Walberg, Bill Huizenga, and a little Paul Mitchell at the bottom of the drawing. But truly the cartoon is intended for all Michigan public office holders who have lost focus on this issue. There is still enough Lent left for them to work on it.

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Back to Reality for Red Wings Fans

Extra Time on the Hands of Wings Fans

As I’m sure Red Wings fans are keenly aware, there will be no Detroit hockey club in the NHL playoffs this year. After 25 straight years of qualifying (and winning The Cup four times), the Wings were eliminated. It’s a shame, but it was a really good run.

When I was six and living in South Carolina, I was geographically predisposed to be a fan of the Atlanta Falcons. But ever the contrarian, I arbitrarily picked the San Francisco 49ers as my first-ever favorite team. Every year they made the playoffs. Every year the Dallas Cowboys beat them in the playoffs. Every year I cried. My brother and I shared a bedroom and each night before I fell asleep I would say “Forty-Niners” out loud so that if I died in my sleep, my brother would be able to tell the world what my last word was.

All that to say, I understand the passions of the Wings faithful. I don’t have a grander point to make — the thought of being entirely unprepared for life without the post-season seemed amusing in an empathetic sort of way. (And suddenly realizing just who had become President during the hockey season also seemed amusing, but more in a nighmarish sort of way.)

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