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February 27, 2009

Paying for the octuplets


Sometimes stories that don't seem to be relevant to anything in our lives just grab the public by the throat and don't let go. Or, more accurately, the public grabs them by the throat.

I know people who don't know the difference between the deficit and the national debt (and don't care) who have become world authorities on every intimate detail of Caylee Anthony's life and death.

The Octuplet Mom is another one of those stories. They're the glue that holds this great nation together, because, just like whether or not you want anchovies on your pizza, everybody's got an opinion, and everybody wants to share it, vocally.

The fix illustrated in this cartoon does not seem unreasonable, when you take into account society's current levels of crassness. Everybody comes out satisfied, because the taxpayers don't have to foot the bill, and the companies involved get some eyeball time.

It won't happen. Not because of a belated sense of propriety, though. In this economy, everybody's cutting back on his marketing budget.

POSTED IN: General Topics (188)

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February 26, 2009

Paying for the stimulus


You've heard conservatives use the term, "Tax and Spend Liberals." Well, at least there's a certain moral defensibility to taxing and spending.

If you tax before you spend, then you are asking the beneficiaries of government largess to pay up front for the cost of their benefits. There's a built-in accountability to that.

Borrowing and spending is less defensible, and utterly indefensible when you do it to the degree our federal government did it during the Bush years.

With the stimulus plan, we are now asking the unborn to shoulder yet another burden. This is what John McCain calls "generational theft," a term we did not hear out of him when Congress was appropriating off-the-books money for prosecuting a war in Iraq that we did not need to be fighting. Maybe an eight-hundred-billion-dollar bailout wouldn't hurt our grandchildren quite as much if they weren't expected to pay for that, too.

As we know, it is the American Way to have our cake now and pay for it on credit. The difference between this and buying stuff on our MasterCards is that the dunning calls probably won't start until after we're dead.

Yes, future generations will curse us. I think the Octuplet Mom should go ahead and have a few more. The country will need them to help pay the bills.


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February 25, 2009

President Obama's address to Congress


This must be what they mean when they say "leap of faith."

Imagine how worried you are about your job, your home, your watched that speech, and you wish you could summon up the confidence that President Obama appeared to exude up there on the dais. You want to, but it's soooo hard.

Then, try to imagine how things would look to you if that were John "Don't Know Much About Economics" McCain standing up there, instead of Obama.

And count your blessings.


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February 24, 2009

It's un-American


It sticks in your craw, doesn't it? It goes against everything your mama taught you about there being no reward for bad behavior.

You remember that day a couple of years ago, when you were standing on your front lawn holding a beer, watching as the moving van pulled up down the street. You saw it unload all that stuff for the family that bought that house with the bigger pool than yours, the one YOU'd wanted but knew was just a tad beyond your means.

Now they're in trouble because they bought too much house, and instead of being thrown out into the street like they deserve, the feds are asking YOU to bail them out so they don't lose their home. And your only crime was to mind your p's and q's. You know what that is? That's SOCIALISM.

Then they come along and tell you that if you don't help everybody in you neighborhood stay in their homes, the value of your own property will go down the toilet along with theirs. that you put it that way...

POSTED IN: Economy (197)

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February 23, 2009

Welcome Williams College Art 102

On a point of personal privilege, I just want to give a "shout out," as Sarah Palin might say, to the current students in the Williams College Art 102 survey course. I understand you were cajoled, importuned--nay--threatened, into visiting this blog by my great friend and mentor Eva Grudin.

I remember what a relief it was to pass from 101 to 102 because (and don't tell EJ Johnson I said this) if you've seen one Gothic cathedral, you've pretty much seen 'em all.

When I came back to teach Winter Study, I spent a good deal of my time trying to talk my students out of going into investment banking careers. That doesn't seem to be such a problem anymore, considering this economy, so take it from me--if you're after a classical liberal arts education, you could do a lot worse than major in Art History.

From the likes of the aforementioned EJ, and the legendary Lane Faison and Whit Stoddard, I learned much more than who painted or built what. I learned critical thinking, the organization. distillation and communication of ideas, and--especially from EJ--how to turn an elegant phrase.

'Nuff said. I hope you enjoy the blog. Please tell your friends and family about it.

Oh, and ask EJ to tell you about the time he fell through the stage. That happened during my year.

POSTED IN: General Topics (188)

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Charlie Crist and the stimulus


Editor's Note: There has been some misinterpreation of Chan's cartoon. The governor's complexion is a play on his tan, and is not meant as a racial slur.

Antonio Fins
Editorial Page Editor

Governor Charlie looked good the other day on Meet The Press.
Compared to Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana wunderkind who is clearly positioning himself for a presidential run in 2012 (and spent most of a minute playing a coy game of tag about it with David Gregory), Crist seemed the soul of common-sense.

Charlie said he cared more about the people of Florida than political labels, and he was going to grab the money and be grateful. "We're all Americans," he said of his support of the president (he must have been reading the Lowe-Down).

And how about that magnificent tan? I like to call Charlie the George Hamilton of Politics. With the possible exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger, never has a governor so embodied one of the bedrock industries of his state, unless you want to count that bizarre Sarah Palin interview where a turkey was being slaughtered in the background.

When Charlie casually drops the term "Sunshine State" into his conversation as a synonym for Florida, you can just imagine the shivering bluenoses Up North logging on to Travelocity for the cheapest fares.

The sad thing is, his bipartisan attitude gives him a lot of appeal as a presidential candidate, but he'll never win the Republican nomination by acting so sensible.


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February 20, 2009

The chimpanzee and the law


Local governments issuing permits so that people can keep wild animals on their property is a little bit like imposing federal limits for carcinogens: in reality, there is no maximum allowable. The mere presence of the danger is either a threat, or it isn't.

Issuing an animal's owner a permit to keep a tiger, a boa constrictor, or a chimpanzee does not automatically render the animal safe. They cannot really be domesticated, or they wouldn't be considered "exotic pets."

Surely people who enjoy the thrill of keeping savage beasts penned up in settled communities could take up a hobby less injurious to their neighbors, like chainsaw juggling.

POSTED IN: General Topics (188)

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February 19, 2009

The stimulus hits home


It's easy to posture and spout the Newt Gingrich mantra about cutting taxes when you're up in the Washington fairyland and "deficit spending" is just a couple of words that cause some eye-rolling at Georgetown cocktail parties.

It's quite another when you're where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. State legislatures have annoying little realities, like constitutional requirements to balance the budget, to deal with.

If some federal program comes along that is going to shower billions on your state, you're going to grab the money and run, whether the Democrats passed it all by themselves or not. If it keeps you from having to make those painful cuts that bring screams from your constituents, then it doesn't matter if Karl Marx himself wrote that stimulus plan.

All together now: YES WE CAN!!!


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February 18, 2009

Obama signs the stimulus package


It looks like Obama's already gotten lost in the "bubble." Sure, Denver has economic problems, but why did he have to fly a 50-ton airplane all the way out there and back to "emphasize" that the cavalry is coming to the rescue? Tone deafness has set in all too quickly.

What do we maintain a White House Rose Garden for? Sure, it's cold out there this time of year, but Denver isn't exactly balmy in February, either.

If Obama wanted to make a point about housing and jobs, he could just as easily have motorcaded over to one of the many neighborhoods in D.C. that are suffering. The visuals would have been just as compelling, and the government would be a few million dollars less in debt.


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February 17, 2009

Congressional Republicans and the stimulus


Talk about tunnel vision. There are three things uppermost in Americans' minds right now: save my job, save my house, give me and my family medical care. Not among them is the scoring of temporary political points in the Washington echo chamber.

Congressional Republicans, by voting almost unanimously against the only possible remedy for our economic predicament that we've got going at the moment, find themselves in the unenviable position of hoping we all continue to suffer for two more years so they can gain a few seats in the House and Senate if the stimulus fails.

This is truly strange. I thought we were all Americans here. This bill was going to pass no matter what, so wouldn't it have been better to get on board, and shoehorn in some of their own pet stuff in the process? They did get more of their precious tax cuts as it was.

Remember that nutball ultra-conservative Congresswoman from Minnesota, Michelle Bachmann, who distinguished herself last Fall by calling for a full-scale investigation into the patriotism of members of Congress? She had no idea at the time how right she was.


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February 16, 2009

Evolution of a cartoon

This cartoon should be pretty self-explanatory whether or not you read the Sun Sentinel story over the weekend. When asked to explain why customer rates continue to rise in spite of dramatically lower fuel costs, some FPL flack said that they could not release fuel price information for competitive reasons.

They're a monopoly, for crying out loud. Where are we going to go if we don't like their brand of electricity? Florida Flower and Blight? They have a non-answer for everything.

Anyway, I thought it would be instructive, and give you a behind-the-curtains view of the editing process, to show you how this cartoon evolved from the moment it sprang to life inside my twisted brain.

The color cartoon you see above is the final version, which will appear in black and white on the February 17 Sun Sentinel Opinion Page. Below is a sketch of the original idea, which I discarded out of hand without even drawing (I drew it afterward for the purposes of this discussion).

I tossed it because, while the Abu Ghraib image is powerful, it introduces an element that is not germane to the central idea.

"What's Abu Ghraib got to do with my FPL bill?" I can hear somebody saying. Also, by using such a shocking image, which could be thought of as overkill, I run the risk of actually turning my target, FPL, into a sympathetic figure. This is no mean feat, I assure you, but I didn't want to run the risk of my cartoon backfiring.

Which brings us to the sketch below. I showed this one, which I felt captured the atmosphere I wanted to create without all the extra baggage, to my editor, the estimable
Antonio Fins. Tony looked at it and said, "Ooh! That's harsh!"


This cartoon, ironically, reminded Tony of Abu Ghraib. He once toured our "facility" at Guantanamo Bay, and is particularly sensitive to the whole issue in a way one cannot be unless one has actually seen one of our prison camps firsthand. In his opinion, the sketch trivialized the suffering of the Abu Ghraib prisoners.

Tony asked if I could put clothes on the victim, and make the interrogator look less like an executioner and more like a mad scientist. I acquiesced, because in my mind, the essential idea had not been sacrificed, although I ultimately decided to use the image of an interrogation cop rather than a mad scientist in the final version.

Now that we've been through all that, I would be interested in knowing from readers which version they would have preferred to see as the final, finished product: the color one that ran, the Abu Ghraib image, or the regular, garden variety "harsh interrogation" scene? We'll call them "A," "B," and "C."

Feel free to tell us why you think so.


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February 13, 2009

The octuplets


Yes, everybody is justifiably indignant about the single woman who had all the babies, and whose self-indulgence is going to cost the State of California (which can ill afford it) millions for their delivery and upkeep.

You would think that the pro-life crowd was celebrating the miracle, and sending wads of money to help the poor woman take care of her brood, since she had the courage to go ahead, get implanted, and give birth without "getting rid of the problem." I must be missing something, because the cash doesn't appear to be rolling in.

It's strange the way some pro-lifers, at least the ones who use abortion as a political wedge issue, seem to lose interest in the welfare of children once they're born. Where do all the funds for pre- and post-natal care come from? The subsidies for the actual deliveries? Pre-K programs? College assistance? Day care? Hold on a second--those are programs Democrats tend to fight for.

And another thing, while I'm on the topic: Why does the "sanctity of life" not extend to our use of the death penalty? When I lived in Oklahoma, I met plenty of folks who saw no disconnect between fighting to save a fetus' life and clamoring for somebody to get fried.

I never could figure out exactly at what age a human being's life ceased to be sacred. Asking the experts just stirred up trouble.


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February 12, 2009

Charles Darwin's 200th birthday

Being the Gringo-centric nation that we are, we can easily forget that another luminary besides Abraham Lincoln was born on exactly the same day as our 16th President. Maybe--dare I say it--somebody even more important, because he helped to define how we view ourselves in relation to nature and the universe.

Certainly, Charles Darwin’s legacy is argued more vehemently in current affairs than Lincoln’s. We’ve settled the slave issue, and the Confederacy lives on only as a welling-up in the eyes of its sons and daughters.

Why is it that evolutionists and creationists can’t live together in harmony? This isn’t a football game, where only one team can win. My view (and not an unusual one, I’m sure) is that the concepts are not mutually exclusive.

I imagine that sitting in heaven listening to celestial choirs of angels and archangels can get a little tedious after a while, even with the likes of Mozart and Bach writing the score. Maybe He set up Natural Selection as a kind of combination ant farm and demolition derby to keep Himself occupied.

Before you go labeling me as an Intelligent Design type, by extension He would have had to set up the system so that it would be random and unpredictable, otherwise He would know how it was going to turn out (see celestial choir, above). Now we’re getting into the doctrine of Free Will, which is beyond my pay grade.

POSTED IN: Culture Wars (199)

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February 11, 2009

Valentine's Day and the economy

A survey I once read about said that men feel more stress over Valentine's Day than any other holiday. Evidently, the fear is that the wrong gift, or one not lavish enough, might wreck everything.

There was an attractive young Cuban-American reporter in our newsroom a few years back. I'm not sure being Cuban-American had anything to do with it...let's just say she was a traditionalist in matters romantic. She was known to have had several suitors on the string at the same time, and as Valentine's Day drew nigh, she began tapping her foot. Sure enough, Security began arriving carrying enormous batches of roses to the point where it looked like a funeral service was taking place over in her cubicle. Her haul became the yardstick by which all future Valentine's floral offerings were judged.

Our current economic situation is bound to create even more trauma as young swains seek to pinch pennies without looking penurious.

It will also stimulate cleverness and creativity in the art of gift-giving. For what it's worth, Ladies, I suggest you go with the creative guy.


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February 10, 2009

Alex Rodriguez and steroids


Lord knows we needed a distraction. Between the Caylee Anthony memorial and the Boss Man jetting around the country telling us that if we weren't all going straight to economic Hell, we were at least going to make a pretty close pass, it was practically throat-slitting time.

Along comes A-Rod to take our minds off our problems. Why the fascination with his juicing up? Why care? I'm guessing it's like looking at candid paparazzi photos of superstars wearing bikinis, and finding out they have thigh saddlebags just like you do.

Feet of clay. "Yeah, I could hit as good as him if I'd taken 'roids, too. Anybody could." It says something about us that we make heroes out of people who can connect with a leather ball, then knock 'em down. Adulation translates into money, which is why grabbing an edge where you can is hard to resist.

If you want to put sports figures up on a pedestal, why not make role models out of the folks who do such a good job, time after time, of getting those foul ball lines perfectly straight with the lime cart? Or how about that guy who proudly mows the outfield just so, leaving a Scottish tartan pattern behind? We appreciate the majesty of their work, it's far more consistent than that of a star hitter, and they probably don't need drugs to do it.

POSTED IN: Sports (17)

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February 9, 2009

Jeff Kottkamp flies high


Imagine being a statewide politician so obscure that the first time most of your residents even realize you exist is when you're caught sponging on the public dime.

Our clueless Lieutenant Governor, Jeff Kottkamp, who flew his family around in the state plane while "forgetting" to reimburse taxpayers for the expense (as required by state law), has suddenly gotten religion and said he will pay us back, now that he's been exposed.

As for "legal" use of state aircraft, apparently no newly-completed outhouse or equipment shed in Kottkamp's home district of Ft. Myers is safe from his flying all the way down from Tallahassee at our expense to cut the ribbon for it.

In his oversight, Mr. Kottkamp has raised another issue, which is why do we need a Lieutenant Governor in the first place? He has no constitutional role except to take over if, God forbid, something were to happen to Charlie Crist. And, it's not like Charlie carries the nuclear codes around with him or anything. Surely a constitutional chain of succession could be put in place without fear for our collective safety.

It's a time of severe fiscal austerity for Florida, and worthy programs are being cut to balance the budget. Since it looks like we're stuck with the guy, the least he can do is have the grace to remain in one place or the other until his term is up.


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February 6, 2009

The Madoff Scandal


Whenever there's any kind of bad news, from a high incidence of HIV/AIDS to soaring school dropout rates, Florida is well represented. Our state regularly rates the poorest in the desirable statistics and the highest in the negative ones.

It is no different with the Madoff scandal. Floridians constitute a huge proportion of the con artist's victims. I suppose we can be happy we're not in the majority, but it's bad enough.

Moving beyond the Florida connection, it's fascinating that a number of really famous people--like Kevin Bacon and Steven Spielberg, to name just two--were stung. We peons have this feeling that famous people must be "in the know," and that there's some secret code among them that prevents them from falling victim to the usual scams the rest of us face. Also, they must be smarter than we are or they wouldn't be famous.

The fact that these people were not insulated tells us something important about the nature of fame: in some cases, it's a byproduct of hard work and excellence in a particular field--like Madoff victim Sandy Koufax.

In other cases, people get famous for things that have nothing to do with intelligence, like non-victims Paris Hilton and the Octuplet Lady.

Fame, in other words, says more about us than it does about them. It's about whom we're willing to confer it upon, and for what reasons. They're just folks, with the same problems and susceptibilities we have, only they can't go out to the driveway and grab the paper without some jerk sticking a camera in their faces.


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February 5, 2009


The latest hot pastime is for kids to send sexually-oriented text messages and nude pictures of themselves to each other on their cell phones as a way of "flirting." Whatever happened to offering to carry somebody's books home?

I was having a discussion about this at work with a friend, who happens to be the mother of two teenagers. "Kids these days have nothing on Sodom and Gomorrah," she said authoritatively. "Read your Bible. You shoulda seen the things they were doing back then. And while Moses was up on the mountain, they were down there making all kinds of stuff out of gold and silver!"

My friend may have conflated a couple of stories, but her point is well taken. Young people have done everything they could to challenge the mores of their societies since "time in memoriam," as one of my old Oklahoma associates would say. Idol worship, dancing the waltz, glue sniffing, psychedelic drugs, love-ins, listening to Elvis Presley records. Now it's body piercings, something called "embedding" that I won't even go into, and "sexting."

All parents can do is shrug and try to stay a step ahead in the arms race.

A word about Sodom and Gomorrah: I was under the impression that the Sodomites (Why is it that they get all the credit? Is it because it looks awkward to add a "y" to "Gomorrah" when you're writing a state morality statute?) were condemned not for their imaginative sexual proclivities, but for being inhospitable to strangers.

I don't purport to be a scriptural scholar, so I'll leave that to the sages to argue. Besides, it could be a subject for another cartoon.


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February 4, 2009

The Daschle debacle

Remember when President Bush said that if anybody were found to be involved in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame they would be fired? He said this, I suppose, knowing that he couldn't statutorily fire his Vice-President.

It was all supposed to be different with Obama. Accountability. Responsibility. One after the other, his nominees for cabinet seem to have tax problems that make it look as though Obama tacitly recognized one set of rules for big shots and one for ordinary working stiffs (despite his vehement denial).

The only thing different this time is that Obama trotted in a bunch of news anchors and did a mea culpa all over the airwaves. That's refreshing, but some important questions remain unanswered, at least in my mind: What kind of so-called "vetting" went on that Obama's people missed something so significant? Daschle's no fool. He knew, like every other Washington pooh-bah, that a car and driver are taxable income. If he was dishonest with his own potential boss, how could he be honest in his Cabinet post? If Obama knew about it, did he actually think he could finesse this through Congress? What about the fact that Daschle made millions from the very industry he was going to be regulating? What happened to those high standards?

If this is the New Politics we were promised, then why not bring back the best in the business? All he did was lie under oath to a grand jury, and as far as we know, he pays his taxes.


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February 3, 2009

Congress and the stimulus plan

Yes, the democratic process is slow and cumbersome, but we're hanging on by our toenails while these guys grandstand for the local audiences and their lobbyist financial supporters to craft the finest possible stimulus plan.

Sure, we don't need money to re-sod the mall, or fund psychotherapy for pets or whatever little goodies are tucked in there. Normally, we'd all be against earmarks and sweeteners, but sometimes that's the necessary juice that gets things passed, Congress being what it is.

Remember Terri Schiavo? They passed that bill in about fifteen minutes, and W. even quit clearing brush and flew all the way back from Crawford at a cost of $10,000 per minute to sign it in person.

So here's an idea, Congress (Democrats and Republicans alike): Think of America as a comatose patient, and the stimulus plan as a feeding tube. Pass something, pronto.


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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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