Archive for November, 2017

Where Have All the Bad Guys Gone?

Where Have All the Bad Guys Gone?

My wife and I were channel surfing recently and came upon the Blues Brothers movie. It was at the scene where Jake and Elwood are stuck in traffic because of a demonstration. A cop walks by:

Jake: Hey, what’s going on?

Policeman: Those bums won their court case, so they’re marching today.

Jake: What bums?

Policeman: The <deleted> Nazi party.

Elwood: Illinois Nazis.

Jake: I hate Illinois Nazis!

My wife said, “Remember when that was funny? When Nazis were universally reviled and there was no ‘other side’?” Ah, the good ol’ days, back when the bad guys in comedies were obvious: The Illinois Nazis, the sadistic leader of the rival frat house, the rich tycoon brothers with no sense of morality. Sure, the heroes were flawed (and almost always terribly misogynistic), but at least it was unambiguous who you were supposed to hate.

Thus was my inspiration for this week’s cartoon. After reading story after story about the tax bill the US House passed (and then actually reading parts of the bill itself), it just seems obvious who the bad guys are. It’s not the poor and middle class scraping to get by and provide their children with a decent education. It’s not the grad students seeking to earn advanced degrees by teaching and researching in fields that will return value manyfold to the American economy. It’s not anybody that the trickle-down economics are supposed to trickle down to.

I’m not going to tell you who it is. If you can’t figure it out for yourselves, go watch the 1983 film Trading Places and then get back with me.

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Jeff Sessions Then and Now

Jeff Sessions Then and Now

Remember nine years ago, when the auto industry was teetering on the brink of disaster? The housing bubble had burst, credit evaporated, and nobody was buying cars. Years of poor decision-making made the American automakers particularly vulnerable, so their execs headed to Washington to seek a bailout.

Part of that process was to appear before congressional panels so representatives and senators could ask appropriate questions like: “Why should we trust you?”

Our current attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was a senator from Alabama at that time, and he was among those who grilled the execs. I remember Sessions being particularly aggressive. I didn’t feel bad for the execs (after all, they were responsible).

But Sessions was so … vengeful — as if he had bought a Cadillac Cimarron back in the day and was still bitter about it. He seemed not to care that without a bailout the entire American auto industry would very likely collapse (and a good chunk of our manufacturing capabilities with it).

Cut to this week: Sessions appeared again before a congressional panel as attorney general and was exactly the sort of hostile testifier he would have eviscerated when he was the senator asking the questions. Not remembering, mis-remembering, truthful remembering but not actually how it happened. Which is it, Jeff?

At best, it’s just hypocritical behavior on Sessions’ part. At worst, he’s being a bully — abusing power when he has the opportunity and hiding behind it when he feels threatened.

No, wait, I can think of one thing worse: He’s the dang attorney general of the United States! If there is one position that Americans need as an honest advocate, it’s attorney general. And Sessions is acting with all the integrity of a 1978 Dodge Aspen.


Veterans Day

Veterans Day

The vast majority of us Americans have no direct ties to our military. Most of us have not served in the armed services. There are lots of reasons for this, but it’s mostly because service is voluntary and has been for over 40 years.

It’s something of a symbiotic relationship: Sometimes beneficial — generally citizens in the military are those who want to be in the military, and those who don’t want to be are free to pursue other goals. But other times it feels as if those in the military are doing all the sacrificing.

Veterans Day is November 11 and annually brings this awkwardness into relief. Honoring our soldiers, supporting our troops is often just lip service. We genuflect out of habit. It is marketed to us. It gives politicians and grandstanders a guaranteed ovation line.

Perhaps a better way for us civilians to honor the sacrifices of those who serve is to take better care of what the troops are protecting. If they are the defenders, then shouldn’t the rest of us, at the very least, be proper caretakers?

This past week there were a couple of cautionary stories. From Flint and the ongoing water disaster, there have been court hearings concerning the spike in deaths from Legionnaires’ disease and potential mishandling by state officials. In Rockford near Grand Rapids, residents are grappling with water contamination from industrial sludge dumps.

This isn’t right. Freedom is of no use to you if you’re poisoned to death. We need to be better stewards of our freedom.


Fake News Flu

Fake News Flu

There was a story from the Detroit Free Press this week about an Oakland Country judge getting death threats over recent rulings.

The cases involved divorced parents and their disagreements over whether to vaccinate their children. Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald ordered a 9-year-old boy to be vaccinated in one case and questioned the qualifications of an anti-vaccination witness in another.

A couple things about this caught my attention.

First, it seemed a pretty good example of how the dangers of fake news transcends politics. As Google, Twitter and Facebook testified before Congress this week on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the issue of deliberately misleading stories on social media may seem to have only right vs. left implications. But misinformation can also lead to ugly family issues and death threats (not to mention a potential public health crisis).

Second, the truth matters more than opinion. My wife and I had our kids at home — natural births with a midwife instead of in a hospital — so we are a bit predisposed to be skeptical of traditional medical conventions. And earlier in the decade when stories questioning vaccination safety broke, we were definitely drawn to them. But science and accurate reporting has proven the overwhelming advantages of vaccinations.

In that spirit, I feel the need to acknowledge the technical inaccuracy in the cartoon. A vaccine is generally something that’s given to prevent illness, not treat it. Of course I noticed this approximately three seconds after I finished the drawing. But then I should also make clear that I’m an editorial cartoonist, which is not the same thing as a reporting journalist. My job is occasionally helpful; a fact-based journalist is absolutely vital.