AP President Barack Obama shakes hands
with Cuban President Raul Castro at the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela. Some conservatives have criticized the gesture.
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?
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, it’s on Lake Superior, which frequently isn’t a lake as we know it. It’s like a giant blizzard machine set on high.
Many Californians aren’t 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.
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.
Carlos Osorio, File/AP Photo
FILE - This Oct. 24, 2012 file photo shows an empty field north of Detroit's downtown. Detroit, which on Thursday, July 18, 2013, filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in American history, owes as much as $20 billion to banks, bondholders and pension funds. The city can get rid of its gargantuan debt, but a bankruptcy judge cant bring back residents or raise its dwindling revenue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An article in the December issue of Popular Science (a magazine, like The Economist, that people say they subscribe to as a status thing but I never actually see anyone reading) reports that scientists, those wacky guys, have developed a drug that can erase unwanted memories.
As someone who has lots of unwanted memories, I am in favor of this. Here are my top ten unwanted memories.
1. The thing that happened on the evening of November 22, 2004. Really, really bad.
2. The neighborhood children down the street in the green house in Marquette, Michigan from 1966. The one named “Mikey Moo Moo.” Seriously. That’s what they called him.
As President Abraham Lincoln originally envisioned Thanksgiving in that hard year of 1863, the purpose of his national holiday proclamation was to remember what was still intact in American life, to gather family and friends, and to be grateful. It still is, mostly, 150 years later.
Oh, and to watch football.
Were not sure how the 16th president would have spent his Thanksgiving, but perhaps hed be rooting for Washington over Atlanta, or enjoying a quick game of Wii with the grandkids. Were certain he would prevail over them with malice toward none, and with charity for all.
Here in California, it has become table fare to ladle woe about the states various problems like a thick gravy, complain about overstuffed spending bills, try to get lobbyists to shut their pie holes, and mutter darkly about the turkeys in the Legislature. Many of the bad things are true, but there are also some very good reasons for Sacramento to be truly grateful for a few things on this 150th anniversary of Thanksgiving.
As I’ve been looking through the coverage of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I’ve been struck by several things:
1. Seemingly responsible news outlets run absolutely baseless stories.
2. 61 percent of the American people believe there was a conspiracy.
Let’s address the first point. I have just read, in the past hour, two stories published by USA Today and NBC News.com, both major and respected news organizations.
The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination reminded me of my nascent political career in the 1970s as a young political operative (lower case). One of my jobs was an internship at the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party headquarters in Minneapolis.
I had a lot of different, small responsibilities there, mostly making copies, running errands and wearing one of several very natty blue suits. But the coolest ones were helping out when Vice President Walter Mondale came back to Minnesota to visit. One time, Mondale brought President Jimmy Carter along for the ride. And I got to drive one of the press buses.
In a presidential motorcade.
Now, imagine what that meant to a 17-year-old boy. I weighed 135 pounds. My face had not yet cleared up. I was wearing a blue polyester suit from Robert Hall.
The reader response to my piece on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy surprised me. Mostly positive, and I expected a lot more “You’re part of the conspiracy yourself” mail. Nope.
There are a few things I wanted to add to the piece here.
First, again, I have absolutely no doubt about the following things:
1. Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots, and he was the sole gunman.
Photo illustrations by Jack Ohman
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Dealey Plaza, the small Depression-era park where Elm, Main and Commerce streets converge in Dallas, is a stunningly banal venue for one of the great tragedies of American history.
Surrounded by odd peristyles and pergolas, like a New Deal version of Stonehenge, Dealey Plaza was named after George Dealey, the late publisher of The Dallas Morning News. In 1961, Dealeys son and successor, Ted, was in Washington, D.C., attending a convention of newspaper publishers. President John F. Kennedy hosted the publishers at the White House, and Ted Dealey, a conservative, stood up and lectured the new president in front of his peers.
Mr. President, Dealey said, we need a man on horseback to lead this nation, and many people in Texas and the Southwest think that you are riding Carolines tricycle.
I got quite a bit of anti-Al Gore blowback from my Editorial Notebook today, and the mail had virtually identical threads:
1. Al Gore is making money from climate change.
2. Climate change (or global warming) is a crock.
3. Al Gore has a huge carbon footprint.
Former Vice President Al Gore gave a talk Tuesday at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. It was a spirited extension of his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” the jeremiad about climate change.
Gore is now 65 years old, and it seemed like only yesterday that the nation was dragged through the 2000 Florida election recount that ultimately anointed George W. Bush as president. Gore was, oddly, far more animated than the rather stiff figure who occupies the national consciousness. I kept thinking, why wasn’t this Al Gore running in 2000?
Gore’s presentation reminded me of taking my three children and their friend to a showing of “An Inconvenient Truth” in Ashland, Ore. I made them attend on the condition that they had to watch it before I would spring for more movie tickets to see something less socially useful. My teenagers dutifully gutted it out through the charts and graphs that must have scared the hell out of them. I know it scared me.
After seeing the film, I went home and changed every single light bulb in my house to the more energy-efficient kind, thinking this small gesture was something. And it was. But how did I really change?
Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Nile) finally made a statement regarding the almost comically damning leaked affidavit that paints a portrait of a politician on the make/take. Calderon’s words are quite Orwellian:
“I have not been charged or convicted of any unjust doing, yet I am being treated by this committee and some media outlets as if I had.”
Um, OK. Fine.
I have read the affidavit. Whether Calderon is guilty or not is up to a jury of his peers (other politicians with their hands out and their blinders on), but the affidavit reads like a TV script from an episode of Law and Order, Senate Victims Unit.
This morning, there were a few e-mails objecting to my portrayal of Gov. Chris Christie as a doughnut aficionado. Several people asserted that I would never draw a Democrat like that, or that I was making fun of him because he’s overweight. Both of those statements aren’t true, and furthermore, if you examine the cartoon, it’s not about whether Christie is fat or not. It’s about whether he fantasizes about being president.
I realize that this is a sensitive subject, and God knows political cartoonists aren’t exactly noted for their compassion when they’re caricaturing someone. I noted to one writer, who simply gave up on the exchange of e-mails, that Christie himself, in jest, pulled out a doughnut on Late Night with David Letterman and ate it.
She wasn’t buying into it. She thought the cartoon a cheap shot.
In a way, all cartoons are cheap shots. One of President Obama’s aides told me an anecdote about him and his reaction to a cartoon I had drawn of him when he was running for president in 2008. Obama, in Cartoonland, is the owner of a prominent set of ears. He was sitting on his campaign plane, looked at the caricature, turned to his aide, and said, “Hey! These ears aren’t so bad in this one!”
With the revelation that everyone in the state Capitol building is Shocked, Shocked I Tell You, by the Calderon affidavit, this whole thing makes me wonder one thing:
Will there be any change?
One of the truly stunning aspects of the affidavit, other than the upper cable channel soap opera quality of the writing (“Any help you can give to my kids, you know that’s diamonds to me”), is the repeated implicit assertion by state Sen. Ron Calderon that one must avoid the appearance of impropriety, not the actual impropriety itself. You know, ethics.
I went to C.K. McClatchy High School on Tuesday and spoke to a couple of civics classes. I was lightly encouraged by the level of newspaper readership among the students, but I also saw lots of hands from those weren’t regular newspaper readers.
Being a cartoonist and all, I lightly chided them for this.
There are a lot of theories about why young people don’t read newspapers, but I have one that I haven’t heard anywhere else. Newspapers started to decline in the early 1970s; if we run the Wayback Machine back to the early 1970s, we can see there was a major news event that I think directly correlates to the reason why newspaper readeship is down, particularly with young readers:
The end of the military draft in the United States.
Now that state Sen. Ron Calderon’s formerly sealed FBI affidavit has been leaked, we can once again watch another thread of American democracy being frayed.
The Founding Fathers built a strong, beautiful, almost mathematical constitution. It has held up remarkably well more than 226 years, despite the best efforts of quite a number of elected officials to shred it. Our individual states also have done a remarkable job of keeping their state constitutions intact, and many well-intentioned, talented, remarkable people have held office in California and 49 other states.
But some people never get the memo.
I am still constantly amazed when I see brazen, flagrant, rampant corruption in politics. I am also constantly amazed that I’m constantly amazed, because I’m a political cartoonist who dines out on this sort of thing. Back in Minnesota, I worked in politics when I was a teenager in the 1970s. I never had a responsible position, really, except for the time when I had to learn how to work (for the first time in my life) a manual transmission from a congressional candidate for whom I was a ... driver.
The Bee’s Ryan Lillis tweeted some photos of proposed Sacramento Kings arena concepts Tuesday afternoon. Apparently the Kings, for some reason (probably because people like me will make fun of them), aren’t officially releasing the renderings.
I have always said that architects are cartoonists who are good at math, and what I’ve seen from these photos doesn’t contradict that theory.
I will analyze them for you briefly:
CONCEPT A – A kind of see-thru nightie of an arena, with lots of sheer screening and a kind of a blobby bicycle inner tube-like roof. Looks fine to me.
Now that the roll-out of Obamacare has been successfully massacred in the media, let’s review a few points:
1. It’s not socialized medicine.
2. It’s an insurance exchange.
3. It was basically a Republican plan.
While giving a presentation to the West Sacramento Friends of the Library annual meeting, someone asked me a very interesting question.
Usually, someone will ask me what I think the difference between Oregon and California is. My response is that California seems to think of Oregon as California’s northernmost county, and that the scale of difference is so enormous that there is no real political comparison. This time, someone asked what I thought the political difference between Sacramento and Washington, DC was.
Given that California is exactly the same size as Canada in terms of population, and could qualify for a seat at the G-10 nations summit, I found it a fascinating question. Having only been in California since January, I’m hardly an expert, but here goes, with an addenda to my answer of last night.
Both Sacramento and Washington, DC are wading in unfathomable amounts of special interest money to the point where it’s very difficult to see how anyone isn’t influenced. When an oil company can pick out a state senator and just pay him so much money to be a lobbyist that he gives up his political career, that’s the influence of money. When an assembly or state senate race costs a couple of million dollars, that’s the influence of money. When the need for that money is so great that members of the legislature are holding fundraising events during the session, that’s the influence of money.
Growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s in the Washington, D.C. area, I was a Washington Redskins fan. Sonny Jurgensen was the quarterback, and the coach was the legendary (this is always the phrase prior to the name I am about to write) Vince Lombardi, best known for his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. Interestingly, the manager of the Washington Senators baseball team at the same time was (the legendary, etc.) Ted Williams.
Being a fan of the Redskins, I never gave a second thought to the team’s name. Neither did millions of other Americans who happened to be something other than Native American.
I would describe my ethnicity as so close to lacking in definable ethnicity that it bothers me. Mostly, I would say I am Swedish/Norwegian on one side and English/Danish/Irish on the other. Let’s throw in the Lutheran/Mormon part to make it even more confusing. As a cartoonist friend once put it, I was Northern European Wonder Bread. Consequently, I was never troubled by any discriminatory phraseology or stereotyping per se, as it was pretty much indescribable.
“Hey, you rotten Northern European with Heavy Scandinavian Influence and Polygamy in Your Background, get out of our neighborhood,” was something I never heard.