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Courtesy of the Michigan Dental Association

I was given a very lovely birthday dinner last year by people who care about me, and while I attempted to put on a good show, I was miserable.

That’s because I had suddenly developed an abscessed tooth, and the next morning experienced all the delights of an emergency root canal. However, I was lucky. I have dental insurance, and was able to pay for that part of the bill that wasn’t covered.  

Remembering our nation's second-most bizarre president

Jan 9, 2018
President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, 1972
www.nixonlibrary.gov

Probably few are thinking about him today, on what would have been his 105th birthday, but there was a time when everybody thought about him all the time.

For a while, he was one of the most divisive figures in this nation’s history. I never met him, but I was in a room with him more than once. The last time was nearly thirty years ago before a packed crowd at the Detroit Economic Club.

Homeless
SamPac / creative commons

Fifty-four years ago, kids were bused from my suburban Detroit high school to Ann Arbor for a special event. The president was coming to the University of Michigan to give a historic commencement addresses. Lyndon Baines Johnson, in office exactly six months following the assassination of President Kennedy, announced his plans to build what he called the Great Society by launching a massive war on poverty.

When Democrats won massive majorities in both houses of Congress that fall, he was able to do just that. These days, popular legend sees the War on Poverty as a failure. In reality, statistics tell a different tale. Some of the programs were clearly poorly thought out, and funding for and interest in poverty waned as the Vietnam War heated up.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The American car is dying.

And it took an Italian to point it out.

That’d be ol’ Sergio Marchionne. He’s the heretical CEO who shocked the industry when he said Fiat Chrysler would stop producing cars in its U.S. plants. They’d be converted to building higher-margin SUVs because that’s what Americans want in more shapes and sizes. 

Thirty years ago, both Detroit newspapers circulated statewide, had hundreds of thousands of readers, and had squads of reporters in Lansing, covering state government.

The Detroit News at one time had 13 reporters there, on the reasonable theory that state government was really the most important branch of government in the lives of people.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

My Dad let me use a car for the winter term of my senior year at Michigan Tech. It not only was a generous thing to do, it was also very smart, saving him from making multiple trips between Flint and the hinterlands of the Upper Peninsula to drop me off and pick me up.

It did, however, come at a cost.

The politics of irrational behavior

Jan 4, 2018
Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Macomb Daily

There’s a principle in law called the “presumption of regularity” that holds that, generally speaking, the things government does are considered to be legal unless proven otherwise.

That’s why, a law professor once told me, it took so long for people to really believe that President Nixon was lying and encouraging members of his administration to break the law.

The MSU/Nassar Scandal: Who Should Pay?

Jan 3, 2018
Larry Nassar at a hearing in Michigan in 2017
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Here’s something those running Michigan State University have to know: The lawsuits stemming from former university physician Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse are likely to cost the school hundreds of millions of dollars.

The looming little-known health care crisis

Jan 2, 2018
MidMichigan Urgent Care - Houghton Lake
MidMichigan Community Health Centers

For the last year, there has been a lot of news about Republican efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act, or failing, that, to try and strangle its funding.

In recent weeks, we’ve also become increasingly aware of the crisis facing the federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, which provides health insurance for more than nine million kids nationwide, more than 100,000 of them in Michigan.

John Auchter / Auchtoons.com

Whether you were delighted with the politics of 2017 or devastated, we can all look forward to expressing ourselves in 2018. An informed and engaged electorate is the catalyst that makes this grand American experiment work. Thank you for reading — Happy New Year!

John Auchter is an independent editorial cartoonist. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

For way too long, the Detroit narrative arced only one way – and it was down.

It’s the nation’s poorest major city. It’s home to “ruin porn,” an American affliction so fascinating to condescending Europeans. Nearly half of the city’s adults are functionally illiterate, we’re told. And economic revival of this moribund municipality is about as likely as achieving peace in the Middle East.

Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

One day this fall, I was listening to the news while driving to Lansing. The announcer, in a manner-of-fact tone, talked about the tweets the President of the United States had sent in the wee hours of the morning attacking his own secretary of state. It seems the two men differed on what approach to take in handling the dictator with nuclear weapons our chief executive was calling “Little Rocket Man.”

What struck me was the degree to which this all seems normal now — the degree to which late night comedy, so-called reality TV, and the affairs of state have all merged into one giant infotainment center. There are days when I even think that I’m getting used to this, and to me, that’s the most worrisome of all.

Christmas gifts
Alan Cleaver / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Christmas is here once again, right on time.

I can’t say this is that big a deal for me. I’ve seen 53 of them – and really, at my age, if I really need it, I’ve already got it. Why I really need is less stuff, not more of it.

But my view of the holiday flips completely when I think of my son, who’s just two-and-a-quarter. He’s old enough know what gifts are, and asks for “Presents!” almost as often as “Ice cream!”

Because he’s the first grandchild on my wife’s side, and the first in a generation on my side, this kid is spoiled rotten. So, what do you get a kid who already seems to have everything?

Last Christmas we got him a mini-hockey net with mini-plastic sticks. He grabs both sticks, whacks the ball toward the net, and when it rolls wide, he yells, “Gooooooooooaaaalll!” Then he waves the sticks around, until he whacks himself in the head, and starts crying.

We’re working on the fundamentals, but I like the passion.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

Sorry. I tried to come up with a positive, hopeful holiday message. But as was often the case in 2017, cold, harsh reality won out.

A win for teachers, but not for Democrats

Dec 21, 2017
moare / MorgueFile

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that the state has to refund more than half a billion dollars improperly taken from the state’s teachers.

That has to be an extremely welcome holiday present for Michigan’s beleaguered teachers, who for years have felt under siege from politicians who have weakened their unions, their pensions, and made them pay more for health care.

This should also be a political gift to the Democrats, who have in recent years become the party of choice for the state’s teachers, especially since Republicans in the legislature often seem to have declared war on teachers as a class.

Fighting our worst epidemic

Dec 20, 2017
prescription drugs
flickr/Charles Williams / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

I was a teenager during the psychedelic 1960s, when my friends were tuning in, turning on, dropping acid, and later dropping out. For those of you who weren’t there and are seized with Sixties nostalgia, it was, more than most TV specials suggest, an age of anxiety.

The fight against gerrymandering faces its next obstacle

Dec 19, 2017
Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Getting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot is a lot harder than it sounds, as many groups have found out over the years.

FOIA
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

We once had a President who believed anything he did was legal, just because he was President, and that he had the right to keep anything from the public he wanted to.

His name was Richard Nixon, he attempted to lead a vast criminal cover-up, and in the end, that didn’t work out too well. He was driven from office in disgrace, largely because even top members of his own party believed America was meant to be a democracy.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

After nearly 20 years of waiting, nostalgia-mad Detroit got what it’s long been waiting for. Mortgage mogul Dan Gilbert, architect of downtown’s revival, cut the ribbon on the site of the ol’ J.L. Hudson’s store.

It’ll be a, quote, “city within a city.” It’ll be a “vertical” statement. It’ll be the tallest building in Detroit, overtaking that one built by the last pair of heavyweights who aimed to change the city's direction by sheer force of will.

Max Fisher and Al Taubman meant well with the Renaissance Center. But their timing stunk. Gilbert? Not so much.

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has wrongly accused tens of thousands of people of cheating on their unemployment claims.
Bytemarks / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once said that the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic. Well, tragedy can also result from treating people as statistics, and that’s what happened to at least 37,000 Michiganders in recent years.

When I was a 20 year-old college student, I got a summer intern job at a GM foundry in Saginaw. I was a second shift supervisor. For the three months I was there I had various assignments and was responsible for anywhere between 8 and 16 workers. It was this type of job: Thankful for having the experience, thankful for never having it again.

When it comes to taking a stand, timing matters

Dec 14, 2017
gretchen whitmer
Michigan Senate Democrats

For more than a year, the sexual assault scandal at Michigan State University has been simmering in the background, a ticking time bomb that was certain to explode with devastating consequences for the university.

That this would have a political dimension was also certain.

It's time for Michigan to decriminalize mental illness

Dec 13, 2017
prison bars
Flickr user FatMandy / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

For many years I’ve admired Milton Mack, who is about as authentic a Detroiter as they come. Two of his ancestors arrived with Cadillac when they founded the city in July 1701.

I don’t know how long it was before those French voyageurs built their first prison stockade. But today, Michigan has tens of thousands of people in prison, which costs us almost $2 billion a year. Mack, who spent years as chief probate judge in Wayne County, has studied our prison system for years and made recommendations for improving it.

How do you fix the mess at MSU?

Dec 12, 2017
Larry Nassar at a hearing in Michigan in 2017
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Last week I talked about the sexual assault scandal involving sport doctor Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and its possible effect on next year’s campaign for governor. 

There’s only one safe prediction about next year’s elections: Millions will be spent on broadcast commercials for the various candidates for office.

Millions more will be spent on commercials attacking these candidates, many paid for by secret, so-called “dark money” funders that are disgracefully legal in Michigan. But so far, the ad that has gotten the most attention is a well-produced but low-budget spot posted on YouTube a couple weeks ago. It’s an ad featuring Dana Nessel, who is attempting to get the Democratic nomination for Michigan attorney general.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

With apologies to Mark Twain, rumors that Detroit’s clunky ol’ auto industry can’t compete for talent and can’t compete with Silicon Valley may be greatly exaggerated.

A set of surveys by the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MICHauto unit, out this week, shows an auto industry regaining favor with would-be employees and the people who influence them. It shows a 14-point gain when asked whether young people would consider a career in the auto space.

Many years ago, a lonesome, newlywed army officer was sent to Detroit, and on a day in late April – his birthday – he wrote his wife Julia a hopeful letter. He had managed to rent what he called “a neat little house” in the same neighborhood as a couple of his friends.

“In the lower part of the house there is a neat double parlor, a dining room, one small bedroom and kitchen. There is a nice upstairs and a garden filled with the best kind of fruit. There is a long arbor grown over with vines that will bear fine grapes.”

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

Credit where credit is due. The punchline came from a friend. We were talking over lunch trying to reconcile the events of the past week: The Republican/Trump tax bill, the Alabama Senate race, travel-ban decisions, North Korean missiles, the Mueller investigation, and so on.

There is just so much to process, so much to, well, not to sound old, but growing up we just never would have anticipated this level craziness.

There is, to put it mildly, a lot going on these days, with the biggest story being the ever-mushrooming national sexual harassment scandal.

But there is another sex scandal of a different sort that is already a big deal and which seems almost certain to become much bigger and take on many more dimensions. I’m speaking about the events at Michigan State University, involving former sports medicine Dr. Larry Nassar, who has been credibly accused of sexually abusing at least 125 women and girls.

The problem with political dynasties

Dec 6, 2017

I’m not running for Congress, even though my congressman and two nearby ones have announced they are going to retire. As I have said many times in many parts of this great state, I am not a candidate for anything; and never intend to be.

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