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September 30, 2008

Vice-presidential debate

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Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are polar opposites, but as we slouch toward the Vice-presidential debate, we know they have one thing in common: when they open their mouths, it's likely to be entertaining, and in some cases, cringe-inducing.

This may be the most-watched Vice-presidential debate in history, not because of what we as a nation wish to learn about our on-deck leaders, but because of a NASCAR-like hope that there will be a spectacular crack-up at some point during the race. Even if Palin obeys her trainers and says nothing absurd, Biden may oblige and step over his own tongue for us.

Let's break out the popcorn and enjoy our American Civics, demolition-derby style.

POSTED IN: 2008 Presidential Campaign (79)

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Reject corner redux

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A note from Opinion Page Editor Tony Fins:

Following our Reject Corner posting this week, Chan took issue with my version of events. He points out, rightly so, that his comment about Obama and not seeing anything to criticize referred to the previous few days worth of news leading up to the drawing of the cartoon and not the entire campaign. That's true. Chan has drawn critical cartoons of the Democratic nominee throughout this election.

The larger point I was trying to make is that, as editor of the Opinion pages, one of my duties is to look at the broad menu of viewpoints and topics that we offer day-to-day. It's my role to make sure that the paper offers as comprehensive a take on political commentary as possible.

This is why I shot down the Palin cartoon. I felt that we needed more diversity of topics and themes that week. For the record, I thought the cartoon was effective and funny. Just ill timed, considering what we had printed the few days leading up to this one.

My comments:

I think Tony’s statement provides an effective response to those who feel that the Sun Sentinel rushes headlong into so-called doctrinaire editorial positions. Our Opinion staff and I, personally, have been accused of holding irrational viewpoints at all ends of the ideological spectrum. In fact, we arrive at the Sun Sentinel’s institutional positions through a collegial process that reflects the varied backgrounds of the members of our staff. Tony, as he has mentioned, maintains a sense of our overall balance and direction as our editor.

In my particular case, since I sign my work, my cartoons reflect my own point of view rather than that of the institution for which I work. I am not so irrational as to dismiss out of hand the viewpoints of those who disagree with me. In fact, a commentator’s maturity derives from his ability to incorporate new thinking and opinion into his worldview when it appears to make sense. This is essential to maintaining one’s credibility as a provider of meaningful opinion. I do not dispute that I have leaned more heavily, of late, on the candidacy of John McCain. This is because he has done such an effective job of executing the news-grabbing turn of strategy that begs for an editorial response (the choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate being one of them).

As a testament to Tony’s remark about timing, the cartoon presented here--which was the subject of the aforementioned Reject Corner--will be running, appropriately, on the Sun Sentinel’s Opinion Page on Thursday, the day of the Vice-presidential debate.

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September 29, 2008

Bush and the bailout

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Normally, I don't feel too sorry for members of Congress. They have gold-plated medical and retirement plans, and they get repaid for the cost of their commute, among other things.

This bailout, though, is when they really sweat their salary. They hear from screaming constituents that they should not spend taxpayer money to rescue greedy Wall Street capitalists. At the same time, they're afraid that if they do nothing, Main Street might tank from frozen credit.

Here's their real problem:
Today, they chose to weasel out and bow to the will of the people. But, come November, if the economy really DOES crash because Congress did nothing, how many constituents will remember that they sent an email to their representative telling them to vote "nay?"

About the same number as those who remember that they voted for President Bush four years ago. Like, maybe, five.

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September 26, 2008

Pakistan fires on U.S. helicopters

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After Italy capitulated in World War II and then declared herself to be on the side of the Allies, Winston Churchill famously said, "With the Italians as friends, who needs enemies?"

One has to wonder what kind of foreign aid first allows the Pakistanis to export nuclear technology to our enemies, and then permits them to get huffy about U.S. incursions over a border that they are incapable of policing themselves.

Would the old Soviet Union have tolerated this kind of behavior from a client state? No howski. First, a warning--then Islamabad brulee. Certainly no more military funds.

No wonder the world has lost its respect for America when our puppets are doing all the yanking on the strings.

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September 25, 2008

John McCain suspends his campaign

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This cartoon is a smorgasbord of images: a little something for everyone.

In searching for a vehicle to make my point, I intentionally harked back to those heroic equestrian statues of George Washington, because the Washingtonian resoluteness in the face of adversity is what John McCain is trying to evoke by suspending his campaign and returning to the capital. Here is the great leader marshaling his troops, rousing their morale when things seem at their most hopeless. He did, curiously, use the word, "patriotic," when he made the announcement that he was temporarily folding his tent for the greater good of the nation.

Of course, the image of the mounted leader is also reminiscent of Napoleon, and we all know what happened to him.

In keeping with McCain's militaristic persona, I dressed him in a 19th Century U.S. Cavalry uniform, and Baby Boomers will recognize Cpl. Agarn's buffoonish head cover stylization from the television series F Troop.

Finally, for you art historians, I wasn't consciously channeling Picasso here (God forbid!), but when I finished the drawing, I realized that the horse definitely has the same facial expression as the rearing steed in Guernica, which brings an element of chaos to the picture.

After all that, what the hell does the cartoon mean?

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September 24, 2008

The economic crisis and compensation

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I heard an economic journalist from the Washington Post say the other night that this bailout wasn't about fairness, it was about saving the economy.

In other words, for the rest of us to stay afloat, we're going to have to make sure the Masters of the Universe get what they feel they deserve, or they may not sign onto the package.

Evidently, these guys would rather see the economy tank than give up their obscene compensations. This will be interesting: the power elite-- which are an immovable object, up against an irresistible force--a Congress full of politicians running for reelection in six weeks.

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September 23, 2008

Immigration and the economy

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There was a story that immigration, both legal and illegal, is way down lately thanks to our anemic economy. If things get much worse, it is not a stretch to imagine the scenario envisioned in the above cartoon.

In his waning days, President Bush may at last be able to point to a positive legacy: the immigration problem was solved on his watch.

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September 22, 2008

Wall Street Bailout

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All you had to do for the last few years was look at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The New Yorker and see all those ads for wristwatches that cost more than your house to know that Wall Street has been in a period of excess.

It rankles, galls, and irritates us lowly taxpayers that somehow these guys don't have to take the fall for their high-flying ways. What was it Jesus said about a rich man and the eye of a needle? Looks like the U.S. Treasury has built a hole the size of the Gateway Arch for them to pass through.

There's talk that Congress is going to rule out golden parachutes for the big shots who made all the greedy decisions. Don't bet the homestead that anything's really going to change after this.

Oops, too late...you just did.

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September 19, 2008

Gas Futures

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Here’s another one of the Great Mysteries of Economics (no wonder they call it the “Dismal Science”) that I’ll never be able to get my mind around. Maybe some Ph.D. can explain it to me: How is it that the price of gasoline in the underground tank, the stuff that’s ALREADY BEEN BOUGHT, is instantly affected by storm- or terrorism-induced fluctuations in the futures market? I thought “Future” meant the prices hadn’t arrived yet.

Conversely, why is it that it takes weeks after the supply situation has returned to normal for the prices to “work their way down through the pipeline” to our local gas pump?

I guess if you’re the type of person who can understand this principle, you are the type who gets invited on quail “hunts” with Dick Cheney. Be sure to wear face protection.

POSTED IN: Economy (197)

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September 18, 2008

John McCain gets religion

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Up until about forty-eight hours ago, John McCain had a reputation for being Mr. Laissez-Faire. He fought government regulation tooth and nail. But, like his previous stance on offshore drilling, the scales have suddenly fallen from his eyes.

Funny thing how nobody's using the term "flip-flopper" this year. Remember 2004, when people dressed as huge sandals followed John Kerry around on the campaign trail? Remember the windsurfing ad? Oh-- wait a minute--he was a DEMOCRAT! When it's the Republican candidate, we call it a "strategic reassessment of the situation on the ground."

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September 17, 2008

Saggy pants and the Constitution

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Chances are the Founding Fathers, back in olden days, had no idea to what absurd lengths their Bill of Rights would be stretched. On the other hand, if you don’t go to those lengths, somebody might arbitrarily draw the line at a place that is unacceptable to the rest of us.

In other words, if you have to invoke the First Amendment to protect some youth’s right to wear his clothes in such a way that will make him feel like an idiot when somebody shows him a picture of himself twenty years later, so be it.

In the two-cents department, just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it. Take heavy-metal music, for example, of which I am not a fan. I do not try to stop it from being played, even when an aficionado of the genre is generous enough to share it with me at high volume while stopped at an intersection.

When treated to this largesse, I refrain from manually expressing my own Constitutionally-guaranteed First Amendment right, especially if I think said aficionado is likely to exercise his Second Amendment right to discharge his musket in my general direction.

Eventually, the light changes, and we all move on with our lives, our civil rights intact.

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September 16, 2008

Barack Obama's dilemma

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There’s something the Obama campaign knows, and the McCain people know it too. It’s that little secret many Americans don’t know about themselves: Way down deep in parts of their souls they never visit, they’re prejudiced.

They don’t know it because the prejudice, until now, has remained dormant, waiting to be triggered. Racism comes in many forms. It isn’t just the overt kind-- the bigoted redneck shouting slurs.

Once activated, it’s cunning, pernicious. It steals into our thinking, cloaked in euphemism and rationalization.

As long as Barack Obama stays cool, speaks like a Harvard graduate and wears nice, tailored clothing, he doesn’t present a threat to the average white American. If John McCain gets angry, he’s just a patriotic war hero expressing righteous indignation for the lamentable state into which his country has fallen.

If Barack Obama gets angry, suddenly he’s a Black Panther about to hurl a Molotov cocktail into our gated community. He’s Rev. Wright, Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, and Al Sharpton rolled into one. “Martha! I knew it all along! He’s that guy hanging out at the intersection that we roll up the windows and lock the doors against! And HE wants US to give him the keys to the CAR???”’

It’s Obama’s job not to be goaded into rising to the bait that the McCain camp is so generously scattering on the waters, and lose his temper. He’s hobbled in that he can’t really sling it back the same way it’s being shoveled at him. He’s a new kind of politician, remember?

At the same time, nobody wants a man for President who appears weak. If he can’t stand up to John McCain, how will he keep Vlad Putin from using him as a chew toy? Americans like to see a little fire in their Presidential candidates. Well, in some of them.

It’s an almost impossible act to finesse. The race issue, much as we’d like to deny it, is just sitting there, throbbing softly... the cobra in the corner. Whatever the outcome in November, it’s going to take some time and honest self-examination as a people before we realize how truly groundbreaking the Obama candidacy has been in our society.

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September 15, 2008

The stumbling of the bulls

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Okay, I don't understand much about high finance. Obviously, neither do any of these Wall Street cowboys, or they wouldn't be in this fix.

I'll bet any of us, me included, could have run these companies into the ground just as efficiently as those guys, and for half their compensation package. If I'd known it was this easy, I would have followed my college roommate into investment banking, rather than go into the newspaper business.

POSTED IN: Economy (197)

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September 12, 2008

Sarah Palin at sea

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Well, she didn't fall on her face during the Gibson interview, but she didn't exactly come off sounding like she'd be ready to occupy the Oval Office "from day one," to quote another notorious political female.

One has to wonder what kind of attacks the Republicans would have launched had Barack Obama chosen someone with Palin's... um...qualifications... to be his running mate.


POSTED IN: 2008 Presidential Campaign (79)

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September 11, 2008

Palm Beach County votes...?

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It would be nice if the words, "Palm Beach County," evoked images of swaying palms, pristine beaches, and the good life when uttered abroad.

If only. Last week, I opened a lecture in Austria with an explanation of how George W. Bush got elected back in 2000. "I happen to be from Palm Beach County," I said, and immediately heads in the crowd started nodding up and down. "Ach, ja, ja," they said knowingly. "Der Falterfischwahlzettel! (the butterfly ballot!)" It sounds so much worse in German, doesn't it?

Here it is, eight years later, and we're still appealing to anybody who will listen to help us out of our electoral morass. Maybe the Jimmy Carter Center will come to our rescue.

Say what you will about Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Maryland) and his weaselly residency irregularities; that's small potatoes compared to his greatest sin, foisting Elections Supervisor Without Peer Dr. Arthur Anderson upon us. Safely ensconced in Civil Service Pension Valhalla, Theresa LePore is having a good laugh.

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The Lowe-Down goes international

Last week the Lowe Down shipped out to Vienna, Austria, of all places, to give a series of lectures at the behest of the U.S. State Department. The Europeans are fascinated by the U.S. elections this year, to the point where our campaign reports lead their news programs. The average Austrian I met knew more about the dynamics of our election than most Americans.

You'd never know, from following our media, that the Austrians are in the midst of a bitter parliamentary election of their own. Their campaigns are limited by law to six weeks (so civilized), and to an American, the bewildering array of party names looks like somebody spilled a bowl of alphabet soup on the table.

The SPO and the OVP had a Grand Coalition for awhile, but that broke up, necessitating this snap election. But the right-wing FPO is coming up on the outside. Then, there's the crackpot ultra-right BZO, and some worry that they might pull off some political jiujitsu and grab the Chancellorship. (It can happen: Remember Kurt Waldheim? The old ex-Nazi with memory problems won the Austrian Presidency and was banned from travel to the U.S.)

As if that weren't enough, the Greens are splashing around in the soup with their own agenda, not to mention a Scrabble-bag full of marginal two-bit parties that might forge coalition blocs of their own.


Many of the issues in the Austrian elections, which will be held on Sept. 28, are eerily similar to ours. Anti-immigrant sentiment (the FPO is pushing a law to make them learn German or go home), gay marriage, social security, inflation. Over there, the Turks are to them what Latin immigrants are to us.

One other thing...they don't care at all what a pol does in his private life. It's irrelevant to them in terms of his or her electability. John Edwards would still be a contender over there. What they hate are dirty, Karl Rove-style politics. This always backfires onto the perpetrator.

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This pretty-boy (I'm talking about the one on the poster. The guy standing there looking like a typical ugly American is your intrepid editorial cartoonist) is Heinz-Christian Strache, the face of the FPO, the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party. Often, you see his poster (political posters number in the millions in Vienna) defaced with a red stick-on clown nose. The message translates as "Social Security for OUR people," which is code for "native Austrians." There is a strong xenophobic streak over there, and the emphasis in this poster is on denying social security to immigrants and other undesirables.


Why was I there? The State Department thought the Austrians would be particularly fascinated by an American editorial cartoonist who explained our elections to them and amplified his comments with examples of his work.

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As you can see by this photo of a Viennese crowd breathlessly awaiting admission to one of my lectures, the trip was a success in terms of promoting our country's image abroad. I dragged out some of my college German from 35 years ago for my introduction, which, thankfully, appeared to win over the mob, "Ich bin ein Berliner"-style. Fortunately, almost everybody understands English over there to some extent. If you read this blog regularly, you've probably seen most of the cartoons that I displayed over there, so I won't bore you further with them now.

For those of you who understand German, I've placed links below to the websites of the Austrian dailies that covered my visit. Even if you don't sprechen Deutsch, there are some interesting pictures in there.

Also listed is a story in English by a young reporter from the local newspaper in the Quad Cities, which, as every red-blooded American knows, means Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline and Rock Island. She happens to be over there on a journalism fellowship.

Lastly, I did a radio interview (in English) for Austrian state radio, which is linked below. The best thing about it, I think, is the accent on the guy who interviewed me. He's originally from Barbados, picked up the plummy Queen's English at Oxford, and looks like Sydney Poitier in his younger days.

Auf wiedersehen!

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Here's the Quad City Times piece (in English):
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Click here to hear the radio interview

POSTED IN: International (86)

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September 10, 2008

Nancy Pelosi drills down

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When I began sketching this cartoon, I realized that I had never drawn Nancy Pelosi before, which seems surprising considering how much she has been in the news. Or, maybe I was just having a senior moment.

Cartoonists are always hypersensitive to facial quirks and details--after all, it's our job. I think anyone would admit, though, that our fair Speaker wasn't born with eyebrows that far up on her forehead (I'm not talking about the cartoon).

Getting to more serious stuff, my editor and I agree that the way out of our dependency on oil is not to drill for more, but to add a consumption tax on the petroleum products we use (while providing means to offset the tax's effect on the needy). It would force us to conserve and to find alternatives in our personal lives, while funding research into other forms of energy.

Makes a lot of sense, even though it'll never happen...especially with people around like Nancy Pelosi who can't think past the next election.

POSTED IN: Florida Issues (258), General Topics (188), Local South Florida Issues (187), The Environment (9)

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September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin and Hillary

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There is a delicious irony in this whole business about Sarah Palin. I can't remember in which play Shakespeare used the phrase, "hoist on his own petard," but it certainly describes Hillary's present situation.

If she hadn't hung on all the way to the end, if she hadn't made that bitter non-concession speech, if she hadn't talked about the need for "catharsis," then maybe those of her followers who remain disgruntled females might not have been up for the taking.

John McCain might have picked another boring rich white guy, and everything would have trundled along as expected. But, no. He picked a woman, and now Hillary finds herself too clever by half. If McCain wins, she won't be the first woman anything.

Now, she's forced to work her heart out for Obama, and sincerely, really sincerely (AAACK!), hope that he wins. And wait eight whole years now for her chance at the brass ring.

Even Bill, the political genius, couldn't have prognosticated this one.

POSTED IN: 2008 Presidential Campaign (79), Hillary Clinton (26), Sarah Palin (40)

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September 8, 2008

Eau de 9/11

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While I'm away from the blog, here's another cartoon from exactly four years ago, again, during the conventions. President Bush, his popularity already sagging, ran for reelection using an overarching national security theme.

No matter what Kerry said about Social Security, health care, education, or anything else, Bush's simple response was, "Vote for me, or you might die."

Valid or not, it worked.

POSTED IN: Four years ago this month (4)

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September 5, 2008

John McCain, man of stature

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While I'm away, I'm running some cartoons from exactly four years ago, when the conventions were also going on.

This cartoon illustrates how perceptions, and my own attitude, can change over four years. Actually, I still agree with the premise, which isn't conceding a whole lot. McCain has done a few things since that time, however, that tarnish his luster.

POSTED IN: Four years ago this month (4)

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September 3, 2008

The swiftboating of John Kerry

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I'm temporarily away from the blog, so I thought I'd post one of my personal favorites from almost exactly four years ago (there were conventions going on then, too). As you may recall, an independent group calling itself "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," began a campaign to destroy John Kerry's reputation as a war hero.

One has to view this strategy through a jaundiced prism today, as John McCain, war hero, uses the POW defense for virtually every difficult question posed to him. Not to take away from his sacrifice in the least, but does it really help the electorate in making an intelligent choice when he uses it as his default answer?

POSTED IN: Four years ago this month (4)

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September 1, 2008

Reject corner!!!!

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This sketch is what I submitted to my editor, the estimable Antonio Fins, last week, right after Allstate got slapped by the state for trying to jack up its rates again. I thought it would be clever to depict an insurance executive getting a taste of his own medicine on Judgment Day.

Tony gave the drawing a shrug. I was miffed, because I was so impressed by the sharpness of my own commentary as displayed in the cartoon. Baffled by his obtuseness, I ran it past my colleague Gary Stein, who allowed as how it didn't do much for him, either.

Humbled, I returned to my office and produced the piece you see below, which Tony liked a whole lot more. Since I'm unable to decide which I prefer, and certainly unwilling to admit that Tony might have made the right call, I present both versions here for your review and possible discussion. Below it is his own take on the contretemps.

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Tony says:

Admit it, I got this one right.
The original sketch for the Allstate cartoon lacked punch. I saw the devil and the punchline and I thought, Yeah, whatever. It wasn't grabbing in any particular way.
This one was much better. And it was better suited for color on the Internet version -- which is something even I take into consideration.
Too bad we can't get color on our editorial page. It could happen if, say, the publisher were to see it and really like it and make it so.
Or, having now called out the publisher, I might end up getting whacked like Allstate. Then Chan would really have something to write about in this blog.

POSTED IN: Rejects (5)

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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