Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman: Poetry from the Calderon Indictment
Sunday, February 23 2014
Friday, February 21 2014
For a while, it was looking like there would be no Republicans running to challenge Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. The man who has announced for this peculiar office is Ron Nehring, who was chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 until 2011.
In his announcement, Nehring essentially created a fairly strong case for ending the office entirely, which is a curious early campaign decision. He noted that the office served as a “taxpayer-funded gubernatorial campaign committee.”
This isn’t a fun little dig at Gavin Newsom, or how, precisely, he occupies his time. Because it is pretty clear by now how he occupies his time. He’s just kind of going on television, radio, writing books about social networks and government, punching a few clocks at various state boards he’s constitutionally entitled to attend, and generally waiting around for someone his senior to retire from the job immediately above him.
Friday, February 14 2014
Even after the substantial rainfall recently, California is still looking at a drought. If droughts were biblical, like downpours, this would be a biblical drought. More importantly, the drought has become political. Even President Barack Obama visited the Central Valley to extend federal assistance.
Gov. Jerry Brown has been correctly noting for weeks that he can’t make it rain. But on Thursday, he went a little further than his usual protestations.
“You’ve got to have rain. Aside from the rain, you’ve got to use the water efficiently. You’ve got to have storage, and we have to balance the interests because we have no other choice.” Then came the bombshell:
“If anyone can get it done, I can get it done.” And, like his “Little Engine That Could,” I think he can, with the help of the new session of the Legislature. All he needs is:
Tuesday, February 11 2014
The news that lobbyist Kevin Sloat is being fined $133,500 by the Fair Political Practices Commission is not surprising. What is surprising is that probably no one will really care.
Oh, maybe a little. And maybe someone will do something, somehow. But it won’t be much, and it won’t be enough.
Sloat will, I am quite certain, keep his clients, and operate more or less as he and his K Street denizens do. Except Sloat got some unwanted publicity and established a record.
Thursday, February 6 2014
As if we didn’t need more bad news from CalPERS, it turns out that, on average, CalPERS retirees are going to be living longer than we thought: by, 2028, men will live 1.6 years longer, and women will tack on another 2.2 years.
Under other circumstances, this is always good news, right? We’re living longer! And, even better, we’re on CalPERS! But while medical technology has conquered death, temporarily, it has handed us another fiscal problem.
I would have loved to have been in that PowerPoint presentation with Gov. Jerry Brown and his advisers:
“Um, governor, we seem to have an actuarial problem. CalPERS retirees are living longer. All those anti-smoking programs and cancer-warning signage worked. Now what?”
Thursday, February 6 2014
Pvt. Earl W. Gustafson, 18, stares out of a sepia photograph I have in a family album. The photo was taken in 1918. Handsome and square-jawed in his Army uniform, Pvt. Gustafson looks ready to save the world for democracy during World War I, and come back home to Marquette, Mich.
Except he never got to do that.
He died stateside in an Army camp of the influenza epidemic that swept the world that year.
His sisters, my second cousins, many of whom lived into the late 1990s, still remembered Earl. He was a funny, athletic boy who loved to fish and hunt in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But they never got the chance to see him grow into a father and husband, or a craftsman, a teacher or a community leader.
Wednesday, February 5 2014
Once again, a celebrity has died before his time because of his excesses. And once again, the usual finger-wagging has been played out in the media. There’s a predictable, sad trajectory in all these stories:
The news of the death. The shock among the fans and media. The discovery of the drug or drugs of choice. The narrative of the final hours and moments. The tsk tsks. The He Had It All And Blew It Commentary.
Then the funeral.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was someone who was an obvious genius, not some public relations machine Hollywood cut-out. This makes it harder to comprehend. NYU acting school, Broadway, an Oscar in 2006 for perhaps the most amazing portrayal I’ve ever seen, and his brilliant self-analyses of what he does and who he is.
Wednesday, February 5 2014
Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman: Mad Mentality
Saturday, February 1 2014
Morrie Turner, creator of the “Wee Pals” comic strip and West Sacramento resident, died last Saturday. He had a showing at The Red Dot in midtown a few weeks ago, and I went to see it. I had never met him.
He was in a wheelchair, frail but quippy at 90 and still drawing his comic strip for 40 newspapers. He signed books for all comers, and there were lots of comers. Morrie was a good friend of the late Rex Babin, my friend and predecessor. Rex often mentioned how much he enjoyed hanging out and talking with him. They were both ill. But they managed to comfort each other with arcane cartooning shop-talk.
Morrie had a fascinating and historic career. He started drawing cartoons during World War II for the 477th Bombardment Group newspaper, and created illustrations for Stars and Stripes. After the war, he drew the predecessor of “Wee Pals,” “Dinky Fellas” for the Chicago Defender. That’s intrinsically interesting, but Morrie did something that no one had done in 1965: Taking the advice of his mentor, Charles Schulz, he created “Wee Pals,” the first integrated comic strip.
Morrie only had five clients for “Wee Pals” when it launched in 1965. The theme of the strip was not just some black kids, but kids of every race and ethnicity. Morrie preached not black power but everybody power; he was a civil rights activist with a pen and ink. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Morrie’s client list jumped to more than 100 newspapers, including The Sacramento Bee. You could just hear feature editors waking up: Oh. We need something other than Blondie and talking animals in our newspaper. Morrie woke them up.
Monday, January 27 2014
Last week, two of California’s most powerful political leaders, Gov. Jerry Brown and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, discussed their father’s influence in public forums.
In Brown’s case, he recalled the time when he accompanied his father, Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, to the elder Brown’s State of the State Address in 1959, garbed in his Jesuitical collar and black suit. Last week after announcing his retirement, Miller mused about his fly-on-the-wall meetings between his father, a powerful California state senator, and then-Gov. Pat Brown. Both of these fathers exerted huge gravitational pull on the sons, both of whom went into California politics, and arguably became even more prominent leaders than their fathers.
Sometimes it works out that way, and, for better or worse, sometimes it doesn’t.
History is filled with these father/son and daughter acts. At the presidential level, we’ve had John Adams and John Quincy Adams, as well as George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. George H.W. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut. Hey, dad: I beat you. And W. was re-elected: Hey, dad: I beat you.
Friday, January 24 2014
Gov. Jerry Brown’s terse speech at the State of the State got me to thinking about his rhetorical style. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I was fascinated by Brown when he was running for president in 1976. He would say the most refreshing things in an interesting manner. Limits, conserve, explore, create, new thinking: he was kind of a New Age JFK. He didn’t get the nomination, but it was easy to see how he could have.
He still expresses himself in an intriguing way, but the speech Wednesday left me feeling like the 1976 Jerry Brown was told by the 2014 Jerry Brown to get the hell off of his lawn.
When Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 30 years younger than Jerry Brown, gave his own Pocket-Sized State of the State address while introducing the governor, Brown made sure that he was brushed back from the plate:
“Lieutenant Governor, I appreciate change but I also value continuity.”
Thursday, January 16 2014
Technically, I’m a baby boomer. I don’t really have much in common with them, since I was born in 1960 and they were more a just-after World War II demographic. So I got tacked onto their show.
They’re running all the TV networks, newspapers and magazines now, so they’re completely controlling the media narrative, which is fine. I am not sure I can stand to pay attention to the news when, in 2034, they start rolling out the 50th anniversary shows about how great Reagan was or the magic of big hair and shoulder pads. But for now, my guys are doing the 50th anniversary of everything.
It started with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, and, of course, well worth observing. But I’ve noticed that in the past few weeks, the media machine is cranking up the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and the 50th anniversary of the appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Again, these are subjects that are worthy of attention, certainly. But I can see it getting out of hand. Are we going to see the 50th anniversary of the Monkees, or the 50th anniversary of the flight of Gemini 6?
Tuesday, January 14 2014
Now that we know that the 49ers are going to face the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC Championship, the trash talk machine has gotten cranked up already in preparation for Sunday’s game.
I usually don’t comment on football games. First, I am lightly acquainted with the sport, but not so much so that anything I say has any commentary weight. That’s why I’m a cartoonist. Second, this rivalry is nothing compared to, say, the Washington Racist Team Name versus the Dallas Cowboys. However, it got me to thinking about city reputations and aspirations.
I lived in Portland for almost 30 years. Portland was intensely jealous of Seattle, and people from there go up to the Emerald City to experience the museums and almost surreal physical beauty it possesses. Seattle regards Portland as a train stop with inferior coffee. I recall driving into Portland after spending the weekend in Seattle a few years ago, and it seemed like a model railroad city that had been hit with anthrax in comparison. Lights off, nobody home. Yawn.
Of course, I knew Portland was just fine. I didn’t really take Seattle’s sophistication as a personal affront. It’s just not about me, sometimes. But I know this kind of intra-city hip-checking goes on, so here is a theory I have developed.
Monday, January 13 2014
Gov. Chris Christie’s news conference Thursday reminded me of the latest version of Richard Nixon’s 1952 “Checkers” speech. For those of you not immersed in political trivia, that was when the then-GOP vice presidential nominee took to the airwaves to refute charges he used a secret slush fund provided by campaign donors. “Checkers” was the name of Nixon’s dog, a gift from one of those donors.
Nixon basically said, look, I haven’t made a dime off of public service, my wife wears a “good Republican cloth coat,” and we’re keeping the dog. Then he asked for the American people to send telegrams to the Republican National Committee urging them to keep Nixon on the ticket with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The gambit worked. Eisenhower called Nixon “my boy,” and Nixon went on to a long career culminating in his landslide re-election to the presidency in 1972. Hardly anything happened to him after that.
In Christie’s case, the news that several of his aides engaged in closing the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., prompted Christie to hold what turned out to be a tour de force news conference. Christie, an accomplished thespian on the order of Ronald Reagan, managed to appear contrite and transparent. The operative word is “appear,” and it remains to be seen whether or not he’s telling the truth. My guess is that he is.
Sunday, January 5 2014
Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman peeks into the coming year.
Sunday, December 29 2013
Thursday marks the anniversary of my start date at The Sacramento Bee. Previously, I had worked at The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., (yes, I watch “Portlandia”; yes, I like it) for 29 years. That’s a long time, and I had lots of time to develop riffs and themes about Oregon. I got very good at drawing slugs, wolves, salmon, old-growth timber and hydroelectric dams. Joining The Bee, a much different and faster-paced media market, was a challenge I felt ready for. I even survived my first stretch of 160-degree weather.
The first and most important challenge was to learn just precisely who the players were. Gov. Jerry Brown was well known to me as a national political figure of 40 years. I had familiarized myself as fast as I could with the rest of the California leadership (I could identify State Sen. Mark Leno or Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway on the street now), and it helped enormously that Brown’s dog, Sutter, was an attractive foil for me. Going around town now, I still usually hear either, “You’re the new guy,” “You’re the new guy who draws Sutter” or “You have unusual hair.”
One of the things that has struck me about California politics is the mammoth influence that the lobby culture has in Sacramento. California is a high-stakes poker game, where the big money plays at the private tables. Comparatively, Oregon is a friendly game of hearts. To see how much influence money has in California is to remove any idealistic illusions you have about politics; it’s like finding out your Ozzie and Harriet parents moonlight as bouncers at a biker bar.
I am slowly learning what some of the Sacramento community memes are, which is very much akin to learning a language: you may have a 5,000-word vocabulary, but you haven’t memorized the idioms yet. Learning the names of the Sacramento Kings, knowing who Gregory Kondos and Jack Gallagher are, or what, precisely a Delta smelt smells like (cucumbers, I am told) is a process of osmosis rather than deliberate study. I now know that the 12th Avenue exit on Highway 99 south is actually the Sutterville Road exit, and Power Inn Road is named after an actual power station. No one has been able to explain the red rabbit hanging from the airport ceiling.
Wednesday, December 25 2013
For most Americans, Christmas is a generally happy holiday, if sometimes exhausting. It signifies the birth of Christ, but it’s also a moment of family reunion and reflection of Christmas days past.
For the devout, it is a restatement of faith. For children, it is a delicious moment of anticipation. For parents and relatives, it’s a time to shower unconditional love in the form of presents, dinners and catastrophically fattening food, and to brave the air-traffic-control system. Christmas, in its most perfect expression, is a time for love and forgiveness.
Christmas also can be a time of sad reverie for lost moments. Families break up, parents cannot afford the Currier and Ives-Bing Crosby-“It’s a Wonderful Life” festival because of economic instability. Relatives do not speak for whatever reason. Loved ones are no longer there to share in the precious moment Dec. 25 can be.
I have experienced lovely Christmases and profoundly sad ones. I have had to find the Christmas that lives in my heart to go on.
Thursday, December 12 2013
I hate to lecture Californians about winter. I really do, but will proceed to do so, for money. When I saw the story last week on sacbee.com about Dec. 11, 1932, being the coldest day in Sacramento history, 17 degrees above zero, I had to snort. A little.
I was born in St. Paul, Minn. St. Paul is cold. Like, dark-side-of-the moon-no-molecular-motion-deep-space cold. After we lived in St. Paul, we moved to Marquette, Mich., in 1962. For those of you unfamiliar with Marquette, its on Lake Superior, which frequently isnt a lake as we know it. Its like a giant blizzard machine set on high.
Many Californians arent familiar with the phrase Alberta Clipper or Superplume, which are weather systems associated with the Lake Effect in the Upper Midwest. Marquette is frequently at the tip of the Superplume, which made regular landfall at my house at 1018 Allouez Road. Marquette often sets the U.S. annual record for snowfall. People in tropical garden spots such as Cleveland and Buffalo think of themselves as the banana belt compared to Marquette.
Growing up in Minnesota and Michigan was a meteorological challenge every single day. In the spring and summer, it was death from above by tornadoes. From Nov. 1 to April 15 or so, anything could happen in terms of blizzards. I spent about a third of every summer hiding under a picnic table in the southeast corner of our basement avoiding tornadoes, which is kind of like hiding under a picnic table in the southeast corner of your basement if the then-Soviet Union dropped a 50-megaton warhead in front of your house. Parenthetically, in Michigan, we lived right by K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, a B-52 unit.
Thursday, December 12 2013
While attending the late South African President Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, President Barack Obama shook Cuban President Raúl Castro’s hand. Normally, a handshake between world leaders wouldn’t engender much comment, but this one did.
Presidents and prime ministers of opposing philosophies often are thrown into situations and are expected to behave. Part of international leadership is being diplomatic. It’s not unlike estranged or divorced couples attending their children’s weddings: They make nice so as not to cause a scene.
In the case of Obama shaking Castro’s hand, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s shaken a political or philosophical foe’s hand. President Vladimir Putin, President Xi Jinping and dozens of others far less savory have received presidential handshakes. What’s the alternative? Spit in Castro’s face? Challenge him to a duel at dawn?
Monday, December 9 2013
Many Americans have questions about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, formerly known as “Obamacare.” I’ve noticed that because the rollout didn’t go so well, the White House, sensing danger, seems to have cut out the reference to “Obamacare.” In a news conference the other day, President Obama refered to the ACA as “Sebeliuscare.” I think. They may be cooking up other names as well.
Anyway, as a public service, let’s go right to the Q&A:
Q: How do I sign up for this socialized medicine everyone seems to be talking about on Fox News?
A: Obamacare isn’t socialized medicine. It’s a socialist insurance market that directly benefits the socialist big insurance companies. All of the GOP socialists came up with it a few years ago in order to make sure that all of the socialist executives in the insurance industry would be able to force you to buy insurance. Socialist former Gov. Mitt Romney first tried it in Massachusetts. But there’s good news! The way to get socialized medicine is to move to the socialist nation of Canada, currently being governed by the socialist Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or move to Great Britain, led by socialist Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
Saturday, December 7 2013
At 138.8 square miles, Detroit is a large city. Modeled after Paris and founded by French trappers, it has broad boulevards, is situated on a waterway connected to the Great Lakes, and was the home of the greatest industrial manufacturing engine in human history. Henry Ford paid his workers enough so they could afford his cars.
At its peak, 1.8 million people lived in Detroit; now 700,000 do. The city is an American Acropolis. A third of the city of Detroit is now essentially uninhabited. Hundreds of thousands of people left Detroit. City services are cut off for some neighborhoods now because the city has no funds to maintain them. It’s known as a “doughnut city”: the center is empty, and it’s ringed by suburbs. “Blade Runner” has come to Detroit; it is beyond tragedy, and it is in bankruptcy.
In the neighborhood my father grew up in, around Six Mile Road and Gratiot, there are the still tidy yards maintained by GM and Ford retirees, brightly painted ornaments and well-tended lawns. Next to those homes are apocalyptically dilapidated homes, imploding from decades of neglect. Long swaths of the streets in this neighborhood are like some “Twilight Zone” of urban hell. Burned and collapsed hulls of Richardsonian Revival and Victorian showplaces host rats and squatters. Whatever you who live in the Sacramento River Valley imagine Detroit to be, it’s a thousand times worse.
On my last visit to Detroit a year ago, a friend offered to drive me to my father’s house at 1630 Glenfield St., with caveats: “We are not stopping the van, because if the police see us, they’ll think we’re trolling for drugs, and second, we could get carjacked.” My grandfather paid $6,500 for the house in 1935; it’s worth about that today.
Friday, December 6 2013
Now that we’re in what any sensible person would consider to be the Christmas Season (I bought my tree lights on Oct. 30, just in case they ran out of Philips D-5 Blue LED bulbs), the task of purchasing presents for my children comes immediately to mind, and how I don’t have any money to do it.
We’ve all been there. In my case, I have three kids in college. They’re all progressing along nicely. My daughter is getting a master’s, my oldest son is about to graduate with a marketing degree, and my youngest son is a sophomore at a state school. They have their own levels of need, ranging from Not That Much to Every Single Thing Is Provided For Them.
My daughter tends to like arts and crafts, and these do eventually run out, so I like to get her more colored pencils, blank journals, paper and stuff like that. She’s very appreciative and seems to have few material demands. My sons present a very different gifting paradigm.
I know exactly how their minds work, because I have a male mind. And the male mind says, “I need mechanical objects, new technology and other related gear.” Failing that, the male mind wants money. Lots and lots of tasty money. Who can blame them? I’ll figure something out.
Friday, November 29 2013
My editor, Stuart Leavenworth, a graduate of the prestigious Columbia University School of Journalism (c), asked me what I was thinking about drawing for Sunday, and so on Wednesday afternoon I gave him the same answer I always give him on that day, which is, “It’s Wednesday afternoon.”
Perhaps the major challenge of this job is coming up with ideas. Drawing them up is rather a breeze in comparison. It’s the difference between designing a airplane and riding in one. Many people have asked me how I get my ideas, particularly Stuart Leavenworth on Wednesday afternoon.
I have to draw at least five cartoons per week, and the Sunday cartoon takes up pretty much all day. Today, I have a small eye infection, which is making me feel less amusing than I normally would after, say, writing a large check to one of my three college-age children, who have an usual affinity for large checks.
I always tell people that political cartooning is a writing job, not a drawing job. The job is all about coming up with a small phrase, and the cartoon that appears in Friday’s newspaper is about President Obama’s ACA website. Originally, I had considered doing a cartoon about “Black Friday” itself, but then I decided to go with a (small) phrase I had thought of this morning, which was “Obamart,” a hypothetical Big Box store.
Wednesday, November 27 2013
As an opinion journalist, I am paid to have opinions, pronto. Sometimes those opinions are long-held. Other times, I have to react quickly based on facts and beliefs, that, in the aggregate, lead me to a conclusion. One conclusion I have really avoided coming to is a one-size-fits-all opinion about President Barack Obama.
On one hand (editorial people love this phrase), I like President Obama. Or, rather, I like the idea of President Obama. He’s bright, well-educated, a great writer, a thinker, and an inspirational figure for millions of disenfranchised Americans. First Lady Michelle Obama is wonderful, and his daughters are terrific. I think he can act decisively and has tried to think creatively about a lot of national problems. He’s tried to engage the GOP in Congress, and a lot of them really don’t seem terribly interested in engagement. I didn’t say he was right about everything, but he is all those things that I described.
On the other hand (the other phrase editorial people like), he can give the impression, like it or not, that he is truly aloof, and doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks or says. He shows a brittle tenor in his responses to events that has grown worse since he’s been in office. He’s not at all amusing, really, not in the JFK or Ronald Reagan manner. Like President Bill Clinton, I am hard-pressed to think of a quip he made that wasn’t scripted for the White House Correspondents Dinner. That bothers me.
Having said that, there have been two incidents in the past month or so that have led me to a re-evaluation of what he’s about.