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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Vaccine Campaigns

Vaccine Campaigns

When I was a kid I remember seeing a “man on the street” segment on TV interviewing people about the value of seat belts. One guy in particular had a very low opinion of them and made this case: “If my car ever plunges off a bridge and into a body a water, the time it would take to undo my seat belt might be the difference between surviving and drowning.” I had to think about that for a sec, but I imagined he was right — in that nightmarish scenario it would be awful to be trapped in a car rapidly filling with water.

At some point I mentioned this to my Dad as justification for not wanting to wear a seat belt. He put things into perspective for me. I don’t know if it was the straightforward, “Well that’s a pretty stupid reason not to wear a seat belt” that he started with, or the more nuanced explanation with words such as “likelihood” and “logical” that came after. But afterwards I was firmly pro-seat belt.

The medical community has realized that they need to have a “Dad Talk” with the citizens of Michigan regarding vaccinations. This from an MLive story this week:

“According to the 2015 National Immunization Survey, Michigan ranks 43rd in the U.S. for children ages 19 to 35 months, and data from the Michigan Care Improvement Registry shows 54 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months and 29 percent of teens aged 13 to 18 are fully up to date on vaccinations.”

It is creating a health risk where cases of preventable diseases such as whooping cough are now making a comeback. Accordingly, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced this week a new campaign called “I Vaccinate.” to increase awareness and provide validated information.

Hopefully this measured, sensible approach will work. And if it doesn’t, there’s always irrational fearmongering….

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Mr Snyder Goes to Washington

Mr Snyder Goes to Washington

Have you ever had to endure an interview for a job you knew that you were not going to get? Or an audition for a part in a show that you were certain was going to go to somebody else? You had absolutely no chance but you were obligated somehow to go through the motions anyway.

That’s how I imagine it was for Governor Snyder when he was in Washington DC recently trying to convince his Republican colleagues to keep the Medicaid expansion of the ACA (Obamacare). In Michigan, that expansion is known as Healthy Michigan, and there are approximately 650,000 Michiganders who depend on it for insurance. The current Republican plan, the ACHA (Trumpcare), would be the end of Healthy Michigan, and Snyder was trying to point out the social, economic, and political costs of doing that. It’s pretty clear nobody had any intention of listening to him.

But points to Governor Snyder. I mean, I’m not letting him off the hook for the Flint Water Crisis (that’s obvious from the cartoon), but I appreciate the effort. It was good to see him sticking up for Michigan citizens, especially some of the more vulnerable. And even if it was all about money, it was still good to see him playing what used to be a traditional Republican role — defending the option that makes the best economic sense.

It may have been all an exercise in futility, but there are worse fates. I’d much rather be Rick Snyder as a voice nobody is hearing than Paul Ryan as a voice nobody is believing.

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Invasive Species of the Great Lakes

Invasive Species of the Great Lakes

The one clear positive from President Trump’s proposed budget: It’s bringing Michiganders closer together. Specifically, in the budget proposal the White House sent to Congress last week, the Trump administration is suggesting to cut the budget of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) from $300 million per year to $10 million per year.

Well, that’s not so much a “cut” as a “gut.” And not so much an art-of-the-deal low-ball opener as a kick in the crotch.

Whatever you call it, the result has been bipartisan condemnation from politicians and voters in Michigan and other Great Lakes states. The focus of the GLRI is to clean up polluted areas, prevent and control invasive species, reduce nutrient runoff that cause algal blooms, and restore habitat to protect native species. In other words, the GLRI helps us take proper care of our most vital environmental and economic resource.

Why then would President Trump want to mess with that? Especially when we are the very same states that tipped the electoral college to his favor? It seems counterintuitive.

Ah, but this is just Trump being Trump. He’s doing what he said he’d do — shaking up the establishment by not being a typical politician. A typical politician would provide at least some quid pro quo for votes. Not Trump, so this is no surprise.

What might be a wake-up call, however, is that this is a good example of another part of Trump’s nature. His 40+ year public record pretty clearly demonstrates that he acts first in his own self interest. Always. It’s fine when your goals align with his. But when they don’t, he wins, you lose.

So if you’re thinking he could maybe cut back on those Mar-a-Lago golf weekends to free up money for the GLRI, you’re going to be disappointed.

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Town Hall Excuses

Town Hall Excuses

Probably the easiest way for editorial cartoonists to get readers on their side is to make a general target of politicians. You know, not really saying anything, but instead depending on people’s recognition of the stereotype to do all the work — kind of like a hack standup comedian, “And hey, what’s up with those politicians? Have you seen these guys? They’re killing me with their this and their that. Who’s with me? Am I right?!”

I do my best to avoid that. Although on those days when the deadline is looming and that one really good idea has yet to make its appearance, it can be awfully tempting.

The thing is, I have no doubt that being a US representative or senator is a very, very difficult job. I mean, if you’re doing it right, you are beholden to your constituents, who are (as it turns out) real live people. And anytime there are more than a handful of people, there is going to be disagreement. I imagine it is an enormous challenge to navigate that for an entire district or a state.

But this is exactly why I have such disdain for those politicians who are weaseling out of having live, in-person town hall meetings (and in venues large enough to accommodate all those who are interested). It just feeds that negative politician stereotype.

Of course these town hall meetings are likely to be uncomfortable. The politicians will face difficult questions. They will face difficult people. Get over it! Voters literally gave them their jobs with those sweet, sweet healthcare benefits. They will never have to worry about the quality of medical care for themselves or their family. They will never have to imagine financial ruin from an unfortunate illness. The very least they can do is explain to us why all Americans can’t have that, too.

C’mon now! Politicians! Am I right?

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