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March 31, 2009

General Motors Obama Wagoner

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They're calling it "tough love." President Obama has given General Motors sixty days to clean up its act and present a plan for the future, or we're cuttin' it off. He demanded the head of its CEO, Rick Wagoner, as part of the price of government aid.

Of course, Mr. Wagoner isn't the only one to blame. Sure, his company built big, fat profit-rich SUVs, but we--the American consumer--happily snapped them up. Then, being fickle, we abandoned them when the price of fuel rose. Now, nobody's buying anything, even small cars. Is that his fault?

Let's not forget the unions. I just heard that they get five weeks of vacation, 15 paid holidays a year, and Cadillac health insurance, for which they do not have to pay. Pretty hard to be competitive with the Japanese when so much fat is built into the cost of every car.

Why didn't Obama sack the big financial types? I heard it was because they're the only ones who know enough about the Byzantine system they created to unravel it. Wagoner's big weakness is that he runs a big industrial concern, and there are a lot of people who can do that, certainly as well or as poorly as he did.

It may or may not have been the best move, from a businees standpoint, for Obama to reach in and make breathtaking personnel decisions, but it was certainly politically astute. It looks dramatic, and in this climate, it gives people a warm feeling to see some bigwig's head rolling around on the assembly line floor.

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March 30, 2009

The murder rate and the economy

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Law enforcement types are really scratching their heads over this one. Normally, when the economy sags, there's an uptick in violent crimes and murders. In this recession, however, the year-over-year numbers are down, at least in Broward County, FL.

My theory is that we are confronted with the worst economy that those of us who still have the strength to lift an assault weapon have ever seen in our lifetimes. It's scary, and everyone's too busy out looking for work or trying to hang onto his job to indulge in flighty diversions like killing other people.

An alternative postulate: you know what they say about most murders being committed by someone the victim knew personally. Maybe that someone, at the moment of pulling the trigger, remembers that the bullet's recipient is the one who brings home a significant portion of the bacon. These days, a person with a steady job is somebody to be valued. Maybe it's in everyone's best interests to kiss and make up.

Just an idea. I'm willing to hear others.

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March 27, 2009

Disney World layoffs

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When Walt Disney first built his amusement park in Anaheim, CA, his genius was in creating a mystique around it. It wasn't a place, it was a fantasy experience. You paid once to get in, and that was it--you and your kids turned yourselves over to the confectionery world he conceived.

Now Disney World, Florida's biggest tourist attraction--the destination point of the great American hajj--is suffering the same fate as any other business that relies on disposable income. The suffering is real. Actual people are being thrown out of work.

And while we feel sympathy for their plight, as we do for everyone who has lost his or her job, it's impossible to resist muddying the line between the Disney concept and reality.

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March 26, 2009

Drugs and violence

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There was a report on the radio that the crime of car stereo theft had all but disappeared.

Automakers realized that they could make more money by installing high-quality stereos as standard equipment in order to help their cars sell. With no need to upgrade one's stereo, the market for "used" ones evaporated.

This is the theory behind the "War on Drugs." No market, no crime.

One of the reasons the law enforcement approach has been such a dismal failure is that it may criminalize use and sales, but it never addresses the fundamental aspects of society that make drugs an attractive option to the population.

The Egyptians invented beer. Shortly thereafter, some Egyptian relaxed in his stone recliner in front of a wall of sports hieroglyphics with a six-flagon, and invented the weekend bender. People like to depart from reality. When given the chance, kids sniff glue, prisoners put together stills from anything they can find to make alcohol from fruit. Why? It's fun.

For America to be the kind of place where nobody sought to use and abuse mind-altering substances, we'd all have to be like...Utah. Which is a great place to live if you're into a pure lifestyle. A lot of Americans, I have a feeling, would not think of living in Utah as "fun." I understand, though, that even Utah is finally passing a law that allows you to get a drink in a bar. No fun, no tourists.

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March 25, 2009

Debbie Wasserman Schultz...one tough character

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Sometimes the role of the editorial cartoonist involves more than finding fault or poking fun. Sometimes his role is to channel what the community feels.

Political views aside, it would be hard not to have anything but respect for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who not only battled and beat breast cancer, but did so without missing a day of work. As befits her character, she is now using her experience to aid in passing legislation that will increase breast cancer awareness among young women.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz is an unabashed progressive. I remember decades ago, when she first made her mark in the legislature by pushing for dry cleaning parity for women's blouses, which for some reason incurred a higher charge because they buttoned left-to-right. It sounded silly at the time, and was ridiculed both by her colleagues and the media, but she stuck to it and gained a lot of credibility in the process as a crusader. She knew that small things mattered to her constituents.

Well, this is a big thing, and it looks like she has attacked it with the same determination that has become her hallmark, and that has helped catapult her to a leadership position in the U.S. House.

We all wish her good fortune in her life and endeavors.


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March 24, 2009

Obama overexposed?

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FDR had Fireside Chats, after all. If he'd had Jay Leno, he would have been on there, sure as God made dry martinis, pushing his alphabet soup legislation, or trying to pack the Supreme Court. Whatever.

When you have something to sell, it's all about getting past the media filter. You see, Obama can't get on a news program and say a word without their feeling the need to fulfill some journalistic requirement by trotting out John Boehner or Lindsey Graham to give the contrarian point of view.

The tobacco people and the climate change-deniers learned this lesson well. If all you can scrape up is one pseudo-scientist (who happens to be on your payroll) to say that smoking is good for you, or that whales breaking wind causes global warming, they'll give you equal time, even if ten thousand Nobel laureates say the opposite.

So if it means putting on a puce Harry Belafonte shirt and pirouetting on prime-time, our 21st-Century president will do what it takes to bring his message straight to the people.

That's what leaders do...LEAD! (One, two, cha-cha-cha...)

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March 23, 2009

Charlie Crist flies on someone else's dime

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It's easy to be the "People's Governor" and promise open, transparent government when you're just coming into office and have nothing to hide yet.

Charlie's probably doing us a favor by using planes belonging to fat cats when he flies around the state. Money's tight, and if he wants to cop a ride from somebody who holds the contract for state worker health care --well, the guy's already got the business, so who's harmed?

The secrecy and the dodging, though... they all indicate that Charlie knows he's being a naughty boy. Why doesn't he just 'fess up and let it pass? All he has to do is say, "At least I'm not burning up taxpayer money on personal trips like my Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Kottkamp, here."

Remember what they said after Watergate: It isn't the crime, it's the coverup.

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March 20, 2009

Tim Geithner, Obama, and the financial crisis

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You know you're in trouble when the head honcho expresses his unqualified confidence in your abilities.

Yes, there's no question that Tim Geithner has walked into the kind of hailstorm not faced by a Treasury Secretary in any living person's memory. All the same, his days are numbered. For one thing, he hasn't exactly covered himself with glory. For another, Washington is never happier than when there's blood in the water.

Some feel it's time to put a chink in the armor of the Victory Garden-cultivating, Jay Leno-schmoozing arriviste whose poll numbers remain annoyingly high. What better way than to pick off a Cabinet member?

Pack your bags, Timmy.


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March 19, 2009

The Pope, condoms, and HIV/AIDS

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There's no question that this Pope has made some controversial moves during his pontificate. Most recently, there was the rehabilitation of the holocaust-denying bishop. Oops.

Now, he's made some irresponsible remarks about condoms and AIDS during his trip to Africa. I don't quibble with his view that the use of condoms is a sin because it's a form of contraception, if that's what he believes. After all, he's in the belief business, and who knows what constitutes a sin better than the Pope? But, declaring that the use of condoms helps to spread HIV is just plain wrong.

Sure, abstinence works well, if you use it all the time. Unfortunately, the same God who created us also bequeathed us this pesky drive to procreate, and sometimes that drive just overwhelms reason and faith. I don't think He meant to say, as seems to be the case with HIV/AIDS, “Lapse one time and you're dead, along with a raft of other innocent souls you may be lapsing with in the future.” That doesn't leave much room for repentance and forgiveness.

Before you go calling me a Catholic-basher, I should say that I'm very fond of Catholics. In fact, I'm married to one.

I just think His Holiness is way off base this time. He's a man, not a god, and he isn't infallible. The problem is that his words, even when misguided, carry a great deal of weight.

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FPL rate hike request

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It's too bad they can't figure out a way to generate electricity from chutzpah, because if they could, we FPL customers would be paying the lowest rates in the nation.

After a rainstorm--that's right, a rainstorm---causes tens of thousands to lose their power, FPL wants to squeeze an additional $1 billion out of us, claiming that they haven't raised base rates in kilowatt decades. If that's so, what's been causing our bills to go up over the years? Could it be those fuel charges they wanted to raise, even though prices have dropped precipitously since last summer?

Maybe they just took a cue from AIG. Since massive incompetence appears to be richly rewarded these days, why not belly up to the trough with the rest of the hogs? After all, FPL can stack its ineptitude up with the best of them.

Strike while the socket is hot, as they say at FPL headquarters.

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March 18, 2009

AIG bonuses, Part II

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When we first heard that an idea floating around Congress was to tax these arrogant incompetents, some of whom don't even work at AIG any more, 100% of their bonuses, it seemed like the perfect way to rattle their sense of entitlement.

If the government's going to take it all away anyway, why not get ahead of the parade and look like a patriot by offering to give it up for your country? You can walk away thinking you're a hero instead of the bottom-feeder you are.

The problem is, they still can't quite bring themselves to pry their fingers completely off the loot. AIG CEO Edward Liddy said in Congressional testimony that he has asked the bigger bonus recipients to give back at least half.

To me, this is even more insulting than standing their ground. It's like they're throwing scraps to a dog. Don't they realize that what they're keeping, in some cases as much as $3 million, would put a large family that had lost its income out of its misery forever, and then some?

Are we supposed to be grateful for this show of generosity? I'm beginning to agree with Sen. Grassley that a public apology followed by a hara-kiri performance may be the only way these guys will ever learn their lesson.

Even then, they'd probably have their fingers crossed behind their backs.

POSTED IN: Economy (197)

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March 17, 2009

Goodbye, Mayor Naugle

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Now that the Jim Naugle era is over, we can afford to be a little magnanimous about a civic leader who remained so resolutely out of step with the community he served.

Mayor Naugle's views and outspokenness on the subject of gays made him a national poster boy for the Forces of Righteousness, and reflected an attitude more in line with the mayor of a medium-sized city in Utah than of a cosmopolitan, easy-going metropolis like Ft. Lauderdale.

He belongs in the pantheon of one-of-kind politicians who refused to back down from their words--no matter how many people they might have hurt--like Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, and Dick Cheney.

Speaking as an editorial cartoonist, Mayor Naugle was the gift that kept on giving, providing me endless material with his anachronistic spoutings about gays and the poor.

Godspeed, Mr. Mayor...and may you continue to generate waves of discord wherever your journeys take you. I know it will make your day.

POSTED IN: Culture Wars (199), Local South Florida Issues (187)

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March 16, 2009

AIG bonuses

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I always thought that bonuses, by definition, were something extra that was awarded for good performance. The government is claiming that AIG is contractually obligated to pay these obscene amounts of money to its executives, in some cases as much as $6 million.

Most of the bonus money, we hear, is going directly to the division that made the shaky investments that put AIG in the hole. If they have the bonuses coming to them no matter what, they really aren't bonuses. They're salary.

AIG argues that if they didn't pay bonuses like these, they would lose their best and brightest talent. I submit we could find better and brighter by randomly running a finger down the Manhattan white pages.

And another thing-- AIG fears that if the execs don't get paid, they might sue. I say, let them. No, encourage them. It would be high entertainment indeed to watch their lawyers try to assemble a jury of American taxpayers that would return a verdict in their clients' favor.


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March 13, 2009

Rush Limbaugh and the billboard

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Whatever you think of Rush Limbaugh, he's worthy of your respect...as an entertainer. He knows well his listeners' carnivorous palates, and he throws them the bloody scraps they crave.

What he and his fellow traveler Ann Coulter are doing to the gossamer fabric that binds our nation together, just to make a buck, is another story. For that, there's a special hot love seat waiting for them where they're going.

But this is about Rush the Entertainer, who cannot help but be chortling over the way the Democrats are helping to boost his ratings. Their condemnation is his gravy.

As for the Democrats, their behavior with this idiotic billboard just reinforces my belief that the number-one mission of any organization is self-preservation. If they had just kept their mouths shut, the Republican Party would probably have marginalized Rush on their own, since his cause is not theirs.

But, Rush is also a powerful fundraising magnet. He must not be allowed to sink into obscurity, lest the fires dim in the bellies of checkbook-bearing lefties everywhere.

Sure it's cynical. That's why so many of us are registered as Independents.

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March 12, 2009

Obama and earmarks

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First, as a U.S. Senator, he bellied up to the pork trough. Then, as President, he condemned it. Now, he's gotten religion again: letting Congress bring home the bacon is the cost of doing business.

The hypocrisy!

Actually, we're talking about less than 2% of the appropriations bill's total cost. Hardly worth getting exercised about, especially if earmarks greased the skids and got the thing passed.

Dare I ask why earmarks are such a terrible thing? It's how federal money gets to the localities. If the Florida delegation doesn't steer the money our way for Everglades restoration, do we think the Montana delegation is going to do it for us?

It's how hospitals get built in rural areas. It's how channels get dug for ports so that we can trade with the world. Sure, bridges to nowhere are egregious, but pork in and of itself benefits real Americans in real places. Maybe we just get upset when too much of it goes to one location because those folks happen to have a powerful congressman, or senator, or it looks through our distant eyes like it's being thrown away on something we never heard of.

I'm sure the locals, who also happen to donate to the IRS just like we do, have a different view.

POSTED IN: Barack Obama (172)

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March 11, 2009

Madoff Sentencing

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I think some of the vitriol aimed at Madoff, even by those who weren't his victims, is based on the acknowledgement that he is not sorry for what he has done. Not in the slightest. A sociopath, devoid of conscience.

While he was confined to his apartment, (a show of leniency that added insult to those he injured), Madoff brazenly mailed expensive jewelry and cash to friends and relatives, right under the noses of his federal keepers. Now skeptics say he's pleading guilty in hopes the feds will leave his family out of the investigation. He holds no cards, yet he's still trying to game the system.

Personally, I find it refreshing. I'm tired of people in the public trust--like politicians, for example--dragging their wives up to the podium with them to blubber about how sorry they are for what they did (read here: for getting caught at what they did). Madoff is a genuinely detestable character, unrepentant, an equal-opportunity perp who is shuffling off to the slammer with his head held high.

There is no room for pity. None asked for, none given. Bernie is offering himself up as the national pinata, someone we can hate without reservation. We needed a clear embodiment of the inchoate violation we all feel, and he has done himself proud.


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March 10, 2009

FCAT Scratch Fever

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Maybe it takes a childless person like Yours Truly to speak the truth in a Nixon-Goes-To-China sort of way.

From my dispassionate perspective, the FCAT is superlative at teaching kids how to take a test. They may, if they’re lucky, pick up a few other skills by accident, like reading and writing--nothing that probably couldn’t happen more efficiently and effectively were their educators not so distracted by teaching to the FCAT.

I watch my parent colleagues rend their garments over the stress the FCAT creates in their children, and by extension their families, and I wonder if it’s worth it. One was lamenting the fact that her daughter went to school and took the test with a fever. She wasn’t quite sick enough—or was she?—to suffer the consequences of missing it now and having to make it up later. My colleague asked herself if she was being a bad mother.

My guess is that Jeb Bush dreamed up the whole idea of a standardized assessment exam when he saw his older brother come home one Christmas break from Yale, flop down on the sofa with a beer and flip open a copy of The Incredible Hulk.

“Now there’s an example of schools failing in their mission,” he thought to himself…and the rest is history.

POSTED IN: Florida Issues (258)

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March 9, 2009

Unemployment

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I've stopped listening to National Socialist Radio. Every day, whether it's Morning Edition or All Things Considered, you might as well just call the programs Forty Variations On The Theme That The Economy's Going To Hell. It's like Groundhog Day without the video.

For a little comic relief, they sometimes slip in a story about how Afghanistan and Pakistan are lost causes.

Forget that stuff. Here's the news that will really make your flesh crawl: a liquor wholesaler I know told me that business is the worst he's ever seen. The world is awash in wine. The French, who until last year were still arrogantly raising prices on Champagne and Cognac (because they could) are now drowning in their own swill. Nothing to celebrate. People are buying jug wines and cheap no-name vodka, which this guy says the average person can't tell from the expensive stuff in a blind taste test, anyway. And they're buying less of it.

When Americans start skimping on nutritional necessities like booze, it means they're really out of money. Time to go to the mattresses.


POSTED IN: Economy (197)

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March 6, 2009

Barbie turns 50

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There are armchair and professional shrinks who contend that Barbie, the iconic doll of the past half-century, has done more to harm self-esteem and promote the spread of eating disorders among young girls than any other object in history. Barbie, they say, creates an ideal so unreachable that teenagers have starved themselves to death trying to replicate her figure in their own flesh.

A colleague of mine isn't buying it. She has two young daughters who have a couple of dozen Barbies between them, and she says they are not suffering from self-esteem issues. They just like to dress the things. If anything, they're developing overly robust shopping habits.

Anyway, the overlooked story here is Ken, the unsung prince consort. Being that this is a tough economy, products need to collaborate (as I have suggested in this cartoon), to get the word out. Ken must be in his late sixties by now, having begun life as a teenager, and he most likely suffers from...um...male issues that the major pharmaceutical companies could have a field day with.

And let's not forget accessories. We could get Crane or Kohler to produce little side-by-side bathtubs for our lovers to lie in while they hold hands and contemplate their golden years.

You got a better stimulus plan?

POSTED IN: General Topics (188)

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March 5, 2009

Twitter

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Evidently, many Congresspersons were Twittering madly under the table to their tuned-in constituents during Obama's address the other week. This is a sure sign that the latest communication fad many mainstream Americans are just learning about has already ceased to be hip and cutting-edge.

I am reminded of the 1970's, when our elected officials wore extra wide ties, big fat Carnaby Street collars, and cut their hair just long enough to look "with it" for the younger set, yet not so long as to offend their more strait-laced constituents back home. It was a delicate balancing act of personal grooming.

Personally, I do not understand things like texting and Twitter. Aside from not wanting to know about every belch and grunt emanating from distant acquaintances, I would rather run my car into a tree while talking to a friend on my cell phone than do so while wearing out my thumbs producing a text message. Saves effort.

POSTED IN: General Topics (188)

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March 4, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, Obama, and the Democrats

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SLEEP TIGHT.


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March 3, 2009

Tallahassee, Republicans and taxes

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It must be pretty grim up there in Tallahassee. I never thought I’d see the day when Republicans would abandon their creed and agree to look at “revenue enhancement.”

It was one thing when just poor people were hurting…they’re Democrats. But now our legislators are hearing screams from all levels.

Remember the exquisitely named Laffer Curve? As I recall, it held that lowering taxes would stimulate commerce, which in turn would create more revenue even at the lower tax rate. It didn’t say anything about what to do when you’re spiraling into the tank and there’s no commerce to tax no matter what the rate, even though there are still necessities to pay for, like schools, cops, and firefighters. Who’s laffin’ now?

So, the desperate pols are thinking about taxing previously exempt items like bottled water. Bottled water is an absurd idea, anyway, and un-green besides. Everybody should get a filtration system and reusable bottles. It’s much cheaper.

Also, they can raise the “sin tax” on stuff like booze, butts and exotic dancing. Why tax sin? Because sin is fun, and a whole wing of the Republican Party, the social conservatives, believe that "fun" is something that nobody should ever have. Raising sin taxes, therefore, has a double-edged appeal: a politician can both generate revenue and shore up his base at the same time.

See? It really isn’t so hard, after all.

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March 2, 2009

The bailout and the wealthy

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Like John McCain, I’m proud to say that I don’t know much about economics. Didn’t study it in school, because it involved numbers.

I do know this much, though: it looks like “Trickle Down” has had its day. The Reagan-era concept that if you let the rich get as rich as they possibly can, they’ll share their largess with the hoi polloi--floating all boats--has been discredited.

They got richer all right, but the rest of us didn’t. In fact, those at the lowest end of the spectrum are doing even worse than before. Other trickle-ees like me at the middle-level feel like the fire hydrant outside the Westminster Kennel Club. They need us, but they don't want us inside.

I read somewhere that the Swedes have a tax system that we rugged individualists in America would abhor. Rather than allow the huge disparity in incomes that we have here, Sweden taxes its wealthiest citizens as much as one-hundred-and-ten percent of their income to keep everybody more or less in line. This is why the filmmaker Ingmar Bergman moved here (I get the feeling I wouldn’t have understood his movies even if they weren’t in Swedish, but that’s another story).

Punitive? Maybe. Stifles the capitalistic impulse? No doubt. But the last survey I could find of the U.N. Human Development Index showed Sweden as No. 2 in world standard of living, with the United States stumbling in at No.8.

But then, those Swedes have all those un-American things like cradle-to-grave health care, child support, decent retirement benefits…I could go on.

But I won’t, because that’s socialism…and as we all know, socialism sucks.

POSTED IN: Economy (197)

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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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