For the next two months my cartoons and commentary will be posted on MichiganRadio.org every Friday at 9:00AM EST. It’s a whole new venue for editorial cartoons, and I’m really excited at the possibilities. I could use your help to make it a success. Please visit and share and do that social networking thing. You can send heaps of praise directly to the editor at email@example.com. I deeply appreciate it!
Now, many of you may be thinking: Cartoons on the, um, radio? Well, as they say in badly written action movies, “It’s just crazy enough to work!”
Actually it does make sense if you consider who is doing the best journalism work these days: Michigan Radio has done a fantastic job not only in filling the journalism void left by the decline of Michigan’s major newspapers, but also in creating and growing new ways to be a go-to media resource, which includes their website. I have noted this trend for some time, and I definitely would like to be a part of it.
How much do I like beer? Well, I can tell you this: My wife and I recently traded a large and well-maintained trampoline for a single 12 ounce bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Those who know me would likely say that was out of character. (Not the trading things for alcohol — that actually is in my wheelhouse.) No, I’m talking about the deep appreciation for something like Founders KBS — a high-end, critically praised consumable. I’m really more of a eat-because-I’m-hungry, water-from-the-faucet, breakfast-cereal-for-dinner kind of guy.
But something has happened to me with beer. I’ve become discriminating, an aficionado (a snob). Living in Michigan, it’s hard not to be. There is just so much good stuff around. West Michigan in particular. When I moved here it was Bland Rapids. Now it’s Beer City USA. Founders Brewing alone now takes up a whole city block! It’s really quite amazing.
The subtext here is that things aren’t so bad. Don’t despair, even though it seems to be the popular thing to do. Despair can lead to questionable decision-making (like, say, making a Benito Mussolini impersonator the Republican candidate for president).
If we can go from the blah mediocrity of Goebels and Black Label and (dare I say it) Strohs to the paradise of choices we produce today, there is hope. We can do extraordinary and successful things here in Michigan. And if we can get our roads, schools, and infrastructure on the path to real recovery, we will have plenty of fantastic options to toast our success.
Back in the 1970s, Powers Catholic High School in Flint experimented with a new educational concept called Student-Teacher Assessment periods or STAs. The idea was to treat teenagers as adults and let them have one or two “open” periods per class every week where they could meet with the teacher or go to the library on their own to explore educational opportunities.
Right. Of course it had the best of intentions and no doubt there must have been some successes, but without structure and oversight STAs mostly devolved into non-educational goofing off at best and decidedly non-Catholic shenanigans at worst. By the time I was a freshman, STAs were largely scrapped. We did have one STA per week for Religion class (where I learned how to play Spades and drink grape soda, and Paul Harchick taught me some dirty words in Polish), but by the next year they were gone.
I did, however, learn two very valuable lessons: First, don’t be surprised when baby boomers ruin things for the rest of us. Second, even the best ideas need some sort of oversight.
In case you don’t know the backstory on the cartoon, here’s a brief summary: Detroit Public Schools are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The state can either step in and invest to make things better or let it go bankrupt then have to step in and invest a whole lot more. Governor Snyder and the Senate have agreed to a plan that has some hope of working. The House has come up with a plan that is much more convoluted, including removing any real oversight of charter schools. Part of the reason for that is the massive amounts of money Dick and Betsy DeVos (big time advocates of for-profit charters) have “donated” to many Representatives.
Charter schools can certainly be part of the solution for bringing real, effective educational opportunity to the children of Detroit. But they are not a magic cure-all. State House Republicans need to stop chugging the charter school serum directly from the bottle, accept that charters — especially for-profit charters — need to be accountable for taking public money, and get back to some serious work. (It’s like they still have STAs!)
Okay, so this one is personal. October 2014 I found myself unemployed and subjected to the automated machinery of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). Not that it matters, but it wasn’t my fault. The fruitful and profitable automotive electronics company I was working for was sold off to another company. (I don’t want to name any names but it starts with a “V” and rhymes with “Pissteon.”) And despite the boom times, they managed in a year’s time to strangle their newly acquired division and scatter 90% of its employees, including me. (I have come to accept this as my destiny for having grown up in Flint — one day I would be spit out by the automotive industry. It was just a matter of time.)
Fortunately, I had severance pay and found new employment fairly quickly. But not without being punished by the UIA automated system. There were a few false accusations, but the main one had to do with the severance. You must report all income to the UIA system, so a couple weeks after being laid off the check arrived and I reported it. Soon afterward I started getting the “Why You Lie?” letters from the UIA. They basically went like this:
“Why you lie? You no get monies. You pay us many many many monies. You awful person. …and if we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us!”
Eventually I discovered that “Pissteon” had reported my severance to the UIA as two separate checks issued on two separate weeks. Why? I don’t know. I’m guessing for tax avoiding purposes. But in any case, it took me quite a long time to get it (mostly) fixed. I received my unemployment money after I was again employed. I was still cheated out of a couple of weeks, but I didn’t have to pay any fines. I was lucky to have had the time, the ability, and the stubbornness to get it resolved. (Also I should mention that when I was able to get UIA service agents on the phone, most were patient and helpful.)
I was also very lucky that my family was not dependent on the unemployment money. Not everybody is so fortunate, and this is what has brought on a lawsuit. I understand there are cheats who want to game the system, and there should be barriers that block them. But subjecting those who stray slightly outside the lines to an automated “guilty until proven innocent” system needs to stop. It’s onerous and un-American.
On a lighter note, the punchline in the cartoon was inspired by a bit from one of my all-time favorite (and semi-obscure) Disney animated films, The Emperor’s New Groove:
This week Wednesday President Obama paid a short visit to Flint at the invitation of an eight year-old and to keep attention on the water crisis. This brought out the expected chorus of grumbles: He should have been here sooner, he should have never come, he is wasting our tax money, etc. One comment I saw said, “He’s only doing this because it’s an election year.” Um… Obama is not running for… oh, never mind. I get it. You just plain hate the guy.
There is a scene in the movie Forrest Gump where after the anti-war demonstration in Washington DC, Jenny is preparing to get on a bus. The previous night, Forrest had defended Jenny after her hippie-radical boyfriend, Wesley, hit her. Wesley attempts to apologize to Jenny but ends up blaming his actions on being upset over “that lying son-of-a-bitch Johnson.” (I had remembered Wesley blaming Nixon, but the video proves otherwise: Wesley’s Lame Apology)
The point is, the character is so controlled by his negativity toward the president, he can’t find the words to apologize for physically assaulting his own girlfriend. He has become an awful person. It doesn’t matter that he’s a hippie radical or tea party radical, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat — his hate fixation is his undoing.
The undoing of the Republican Party may be its unhealthy obsession with finding wrong in every action of President Obama. Not to say that Obama hasn’t done plenty of wrong; he most certainly has. But I think eight years of unrelentingly seeking to find nothing but wrong has a big role in its current implosion. It should be a cautionary tale for all to avoid unrelentingly hate for next president — whoever it is.
P.S.: If you need more context for that Forrest Gump scene, check this link: Forest Gump in DC
It also happens to contain my favorite line: “Sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther Party.”