The Lowe Down | Political cartoonist Chan Lowe's take on current issues and the news of the day | Sun Sentinel blogs

The Lowe Down


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June 30, 2009

Madoff Sentencing

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An armed robber goes into a convenience store to steal money out of the cash register. He pulls out a pistol and points it at the store clerk.

He has no intention of using it. He just wants to show the man he means business. The store clerk, upon seeing the weapon, involuntarily recoils. He slips on a puddle of Mountain Dew and his head hits the tile floor. He dies of a cerebral hemorrhage.

The robber is apprehended, and charged with something called "felony murder," which is to say that even though he never intended to take a life, he embarked on a series of activities that directly resulted in the death of the clerk.

How is Bernard Madoff any different than this guy, when his theft resulted in several suicides by people whose entire life savings had been wiped out?

He's lucky all he got was 150 years, and not the magic mojito I.V. As it is, I heard that he's not going to a country club prison. Thanks to the enormity of his crimes, he's rumored to be headed for medium security, with rapists, armed robbers, and other unsavory types who are also serving life sentences with no possibility of parole.

In other words, the system has no way of disciplining them if they should happen to visualize their own grandmother in the place of some little old lady who is now forced to survive on cat food, and decide to take appropriate action.

That's what it feels like not to know if you're going to make it through the next day, Mr. Madoff.

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June 29, 2009

A great pitchman silenced

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I like to think that when people die within a short time of each other, they share a bus to the next life which departs only once each week.

It's a pretty long trip, so the passengers get plenty of time to talk to each other on the way to the end of the line. If you think of it this way, it makes for some fascinating speculation about what conversations might be taking place during the journey.

Imagine Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays having an impromptu bull session in the back. After Ed introduces everybody, Farrah and Michael discuss all the fashion trends they've set between the two of them, and Billy, with his inextinguishable enthusiasm, shows the King of Pop how to get rid of that stubborn stain on his glove.

The quartet have one thing in common, and it is the thing that reserves for each of them a special place in our hearts: they really, really loved their work. What a pleasure it was to watch them do (and so deftly, at that) exactly what they were born to do.

We should all be so lucky.

POSTED IN: General Topics (188)

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June 26, 2009

The Michael Jackson media circus

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Editorial cartoons are a clunky medium for doing tributes.

It's difficult to tread the line between sincere and sappy, because brevity is the soul of an effective cartoon, and you have to hit the sentiment just right or it blows up in your face.

While I respect Michael Jackson's work, I am not a fan; so at first I decided to pass on the subject. That was before, one by one, my colleagues came by asking what I was planning to draw in response to his death. It became apparent that this is one of those mega-topics you cannot avoid, because it is so much a part of common existence that it demands commentary.

Fearing that my lack of requisite grief would cause a tribute to ring hollow, I decided that the best way to honor Jackson, the man and the artist, was to comment on my own profession and the way it is exploiting his demise (being mindful of how the Princess Di extravaganza eventually played itself out).

Endless electronic wallowing on the air, in print and on the Internet seems to be the modern way of mass grieving. Many people must need it, or it wouldn't pump ratings, circulation and net hits the way it does.

I do not argue with that. It's just a shame that taste always has to be a victim in the race to be the most saccharine. It debases us all.

And another thing: Poor old Farrah Fawcett, a figure equally worthy of our respect, has been all but forgotten in this orgy.

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June 25, 2009

Mark Sanford's last tango

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This is happening so regularly now that it almost isn't worth commenting on. After all, we'd just gotten over Senator John Ensign of Nevada last week when Mark Sanford obligingly added his name to the rapidly growing list of Politicians You've Probably Never Heard Of Until They Cheated On Their Spouses.

This latest sex scandal borders on the garden variety (everything seems rather ordinary after Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards), except that there's a certain deliciousness to the self-immolation of someone who was so quick to condemn Bill Clinton for the same behavior. Hypocrisy is the spice that livens up an otherwise mundane dish.

And besides, as I've pointed out in the cartoon, what's wrong with nice, red-blooded American girls? What are our womenfolk, chopped carne asada?

It's an insult to the locals, like joyriding around Detroit in a Hyundai.

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June 24, 2009

FPL rate hike

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I speak here as a disgruntled FPL customer ( Is there any other kind?). What ticks me, and probably others, off as much as the rate hike is the way they insult my intelligence with their lame corporate rationalizations.

FPL says that lower fuel charges and increases in efficiency will more than offset the new kilowatt-hour base rate increase, in fact lowering our total bills. If they're doing so well with all these economies, what do they need to raise our base rate for?

They say we pay less per kilowatt-hour than customers of other Florida utilities. Could this be because FPL is the biggest, and benefits from economies of scale? And, just because other utilities rip their customers off more than ours does, is that a valid reason to increase our rates?

It wouldn't be quite as bad if our service weren't so spotty. A storm doesn't have to be a hurricane to douse the power at my house. Probably true for yours, too.

On top of all that, they're picking a lousy time to do this. By further strangling homes and businesses in an already stumbling economy, they make it that much harder for their customers to claw their way back to prosperity someday. Less money for them, in the long run.

To put it kindly (and there's no reason that I should), this business tactic lacks foresight.

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June 23, 2009

How to pay for health care

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Common sense and good politics have always made awkward bedfellows--that is, at those times when they can even get into the same bed together.

In a perfect, non-political world, the best way to pay for health care insurance would be to tax the hell out of the things we consume that harm our health. We could pay for our own upkeep with our vices. As the social engineering took hold, and we began to consume less of these things, the revenue from them would, of course, drop.

But, by then, we'd be correspondingly healthier as a nation, and would have less overall need for medical services. Our race of super-healthy ubermenschen could march happily off into the future.

Well, that isn't the American way. Only a politician getting ready to retire anyway would be nuts enough to suggest something so sensible. Besides, this isn't Scandinavia. Rugged American individualism requires that we be free to eat, drink and smoke ourselves to death if we want to. It is our right, and if it isn't somewhere in the Constitution, then, by God, it should be.

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June 22, 2009

Walking the tightrope on Iran

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It's very easy to say all kinds of nutty stuff designed to please your base when you're (a) campaigning for something, (b) holding an elective office where what you say on a particular subject really doesn't matter to anybody, or (c) a non-elected political big shot standing on the sidelines.

Barack Obama is certainly guilty of transgression (a) regarding a raft of subjects, including gay rights, Guantanamo, and the Iraq War. The scales fell from his eyes when he got in the Oval Office and realized that to make good on all those reckless promises, he would basically torpedo his presidency before he even got out of the gate.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven," to quote Ecclesiastes.

Guilty of transgression (b) are those who, from the safety of their armchairs, would take a tougher line with Iraq in its electoral crisis, like members of Congress who have the luxury of not representing the official American line with every word they utter. Guilty of (c) are smart-mouthed ex-pols jockeying to be presidential nominees in 2012 and broadcast types seeking to boost ratings.

I think Obama is handling this one correctly. Rash statements now will only serve to unite the Iranians against the Great Satan. Don't confuse the protesters with Yankee-lovers. It has nothing to do with us. But it could if we muscled in there and tried to interfere.

Besides, what would we plan to do to back up the tough talk? Use Iraq and Afghanistan as staging grounds for Operation Iranian Freedom? The Pentagon would probably have something to say about that.

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June 19, 2009

The Stallworth wrist-slap

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When a crime is committed, the people's interest in an ordered society is represented by the prosecution, which pursues its task (without passion or prejudice) within an accepted and respected framework of law.

Our reverence for the law and the assumption of its equal application (at least in theory) are part of the social contract that holds us together as a society. When that contract is violated, it's an affront to us all. That is, I think, what lies at the root of the anger at Donte Stallworth's punishment, or lack thereof.

We call the punishment of a crime the perpetrator's "debt to society" for a reason. It is not his or her "debt to the victim," because in theory, it is society and its code that have been wronged. This is what keeps our system from descending into "eye for an eye" justice. The legal system is there to protect us from ourselves, from each other, and from our natural revenge instinct. Without it, we'd all be killing each other off in vendettas.

The redress of personal grievances is settled lawfully in civil court. The fact that Donte Stallworth made a financial settlement with the family of his victim should have no bearing on his criminal sentence. We know this, if not because we are familiar with the law, then because we feel it in our guts as members of a collective group with a stake in preserving our code.

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June 18, 2009

Education funding cuts

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You get what you pay for, and we Floridians have always undertaxed ourselves compared to other states.

It's part of our ethos here in God's Waiting Room, and some would argue that low taxes are what have fueled an economy that has, until now, been based on immigration from other states and countries.

A lot of our retired residents escaped from such high-tax states as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. They've put kids through the education system Up North, and they're through with that. I would be, too, if I'd had to pay that much.

They have some pretty fine public schools up there. I just visited an elementary school in New Jersey whose multi-media computer room was filled with the latest Apple computers, and the courtyard contained a $90,000 Zen garden for the children to relax in while they contemplated the meaning of life. One classroom door label said, "Mandarin Chinese."

Admittedly, this was a high-end residential community, but clearly the residents were willing to tax themselves to the hilt to give their kids the very best. Here in Florida, they'd just complain and try to hang on to what was theirs.

We could have a top-notch education system, regardless of whether we were in a boom or bust economy, if we had the will.

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June 17, 2009

Hate in America

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Yes, it's a dark view of the American character.

My feeling is that the American psyche embodies both the best and the worst of human nature. There is a xenophobic strain that has permeated our culture since before we became a nation, perhaps stoked by our two-ocean isolation. Ironically, we are a nation of immigrants. One could imagine that this might inoculate us from the poison of racial and ethnic hatred. If anything, it has heightened the sense of isolation felt by some on the fringes.

The institution of slavery in a relatively modern society helped to solidify a mind-set wherein some human beings were considered, legally, less "human" than others. Glowing embers of that attitude continue to smolder beneath our national surface.

Economic hardship tends to bring such strains into stark relief and make them more acceptable, particularly when the have-nots or the aggrieved are seeking someone to blame for their current plight.

On the other hand, what makes America exceptional is that we have laws and systems in place designed to conquer those base and ugly forces of human nature that have consumed other peoples. It is our strength that we keep trying to better ourselves as a pluralistic nation, in spite of persistent setbacks. We are a nation of laws, thank God. Unfortunately, we are also a nation of human beings, with all our inherent flaws.

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June 16, 2009

Vets get the short end of the stick

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It shouldn't have to be this way.

It should be a given that our veterans go to the head of the line when it comes to federal expenditures. After all, there'd be no Federal Government to expend anything if they didn't put their lives on the line, time after time.

Instead, we get the national shame of the Walter Reed scandal (uncovered by Washington Post investigative reporting --a field which is in great danger these days--but that's another story) and VA hospitals with staffs so poorly trained that they spread horrific diseases through shoddy hygiene to people who deserve much better.

My guess is that the reason the pols pay lip service to our men and women in uniform without following through with the goods is that the volunteer military is a relatively small constituency. Back when we had a draft, the inconvenience and sacrifice were spread to many more families throughout the congressional districts, and besides, many pols had served themselves, thanks to that same draft. They could relate.

Now, as the number of veterans in Congress dwindles, there is no immediacy.
It's easy to forget our national obligation, except at election time or Veteran's Day, when talk is cheap.

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June 15, 2009

REJECT CORNER!!!

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We haven't had one of these for a while. My editor and I have been seeing more or less eye-to-eye lately, which makes me worry for his sanity.

This time, he took one look and shook his head. Among others, the words, "cheap shot" were uttered.

I begged to differ. I wanted to point out the irony that in a supposedly stand-up democracy like ours (unlike the Iranians' corrupt excuse for one), leaders could still be chosen by arcane means that defied the real numbers.

He didn't buy it. It looked to him like a gratuitous slap at our ex-President.

To me, that was just the icing on the cake, not the main thrust of the cartoon.

What do you think? Should it have run?

POSTED IN: Cartoon Rejects (15)

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Higher education cuts

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There's a saying in my profession, "If you have to put that many words into a cartoon, why not just write an editorial?"

I tend to agree with that philosophy, and do my best to keep my stuff short and sweet. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a better way to make my point this time.

That having been said, it is an unfortunate reality that revenue shortfalls and budget cuts are having an effect on higher education everywhere.

What worries me is that, in an attempt to minimize the damage, the folks in charge will decide what programs to keep or drop based on popularity, rather than intrinsic worth.

Engineering is a popular major, because engineers tend to make money. So do economics majors-turned-stockbrokers. But what about Classics, never a major that has attracted multitudes to its doors? If one of the higher purposes of education is to further universal knowledge in increments measured by the contribution that individuals make to the whole, then Classics is indispensable.

If Classics, or Literature, or Philosophy are not passed on to the next generation, who will pass them on to the next? Will we forget what intellectual forces forged our civilization? I, for one, would hate to put the character of future human understanding in the hands of a bunch of happy-go-lucky twenty-year-olds who voted their favorite courses with their feet.

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June 12, 2009

The health care battle is joined

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My cousin lives in Canada and works at a university, shelving books in the library. He told me the other day that he had to start taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. It's one of those name-brands you see advertised on TV all the time, sandwiched between the erectile dysfunction and gold investment commercials.

It really works, too. I was on it for a while, and my numbers looked great. The doctor was pleased.

Then my company changed health insurance plans, and under the new formula for drugs, the same pill was going to start costing me around $60 to $100 per month (for some reason, the price kept changing). My doctor switched me to a generic, which didn't work quite as well, but was a lot cheaper.

My cousin told me that under his plan, the Ontario Health Plan, he gets that drug for $3 a month.

Now, he pays more in taxes on his salary than I pay. But then, he doesn't have that big fat deduction for his health insurance premium that I have.

You can call his system "socialism" if you want. You can call ours "good old-fashioned American market-driven capitalism."

Either way, I call it dollars I don't have. At least my cousin gets something back.

POSTED IN: Medical (50)

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June 11, 2009

King Tobacco tamed

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It says something about the power of politics and influence to trump common sense when it has taken this long to get any meaningful legislation passed that regulates tobacco like the drug that it is.

There's an analogy here to the health care issue, in that we are the only industrialized country left with no guaranteed health care for its entire population, because powerful special interests stood in the way of the people's interest.

It does seem a bit weird that the Food and Drug Administration, an outfit designed to ensure the safety and purity of things we put into our bodies, is about to be placed in charge of a substance that kills and, at best, sickens people, with no redeeming medical value. I guess it's the only agency with the structure in place to do so.

We could have built a whole new department out of thin air--a la Department of Homeland Security--called the Slow Suicide Administration or something, but we know how Republicans feel about expanding bureaucracy. Best to keep it all under one roof.

This way, the Surgeon General can condemn the product on the one hand, while the FDA can safeguard us from, ahem, any harmful chemicals that might make it into our coffin nails on the other. As a taxpayer, I appreciate these rare examples of government efficiency.


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June 10, 2009

We'll miss the dealerships

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Surely there are more efficient and less intimidating ways to buy a car, what with the Internet and all.

But is there a more American way? After all, think of all the Little League teams in small towns across our heartland, their uniforms emblazoned with dealership names that start with "Bud," "Chuck," "Buzz," "Scooter" and "Red," that will have to lay down their bats forever.

Think of the Fourth of July Sale-a-Brations we'll never sale-a-brate again. Think of the little minuet you do with the salesman, who knows all along what his bottom line is while you, sweat beading your brow, try in vain to divine it.

And let's talk about the law of unintended consequences. Think of all the American flags that will never get ordered. Enough, maybe, to shut down our domestic American flag production. Then, only the Chinese will be making American flags. What if there's a war, and we find ourselves without this critical strategic industry?

Clearly, this is a Mom and Apple Pie issue. Contact your Congressperson, before it's too late.

POSTED IN: Economy (197)

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June 9, 2009

Castro channels the wrong Marx

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You'll notice this entry is cross-filed under "Local South Florida Issues," because that's where it belongs.

The multi-decade dance between Castro's Cuba and successive U.S. administrations has transcended mere foreign policy; long ago, it became an emotionally-charged co-dependency fueled over the years by a volatile exile community capable of tilting national elections.

That we are now making a form of progress in relations with Cuba is due to a couple of developments: the hard-line old guard of the Miami exile community is gradually dying off, leaving more moderate, American-born heirs who think of themselves more as Americans of Cuban descent than Cuban-Americans, and the fact that Obama won Florida in 2008 without the Cuban-American vote, so he owes them nothing.

Both countries have benefited from this warped relationship. Fidel--and now Raul-- Castro needed the U.S. and its embargo to blame for inherent systemic failures in the Marxist Paradise, and U.S. conservatives liked having a Communist enemy just off our shores, not only to keep the base whipped up, but to ensure that mostly Republican Cuban-Americans showed up to vote in high proportion.

Well, it's time to move on, at least for the United States. The Organization of American States has, with qualifications, invited Cuba, finally, to join. The U.S., deciding it doesn't really matter that much anymore, dropped its objections.

Raul, not surprisingly, has spurned the invitation, proving that he needs us as an enemy more than we need him. The intractable problems of his country aren't going away soon, so he might as well keep shifting the blame.

Good luck with that, Amigo.

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June 8, 2009

BSO employees at the trough

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It really isn't the fault of the Broward Sheriff's Office employees.

Putting the possibility of almost unlimited overtime without regulation in front of a bunch of public workers is like dropping off a load of cake and ice cream in a room full of unsupervised kindergartners. After the feeding frenzy is over, the only thing left besides the sticky mess is the grousing about who got to belly up first and grab more than their fair share.

Which is what I understand is going on now at the Sheriff's Office. But that's their problem.

Let's face it- when it's everybody's money, it's nobody's money. That's why we now have spectacles like out-of-control contractor expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan...multi-million-dollar mess halls nobody's ever going to use, for example.

There really is no way to get public officials in senior, supervisory positions to safeguard public funds as if they were their own. There's too much cronyism, too many mutually-beneficial relationships. The money's just...there, as if the Tooth Fairy dropped it off.

It's a twenty-dollar bill you find on the sidewalk. You can either pocket it, or run around town asking if anybody lost a twenty. What's the point? It's a victimless crime, after all...they've already lost the money.

POSTED IN: Local South Florida Issues (187)

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June 5, 2009

Ex-Palm Beach Commish gets new federal digs

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It's comforting to know that my home sprawl, Palm Beach County, is famous for more than Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Madoff and the Butterfly Ballot. We are also one of the capitals of government sleaze.

With three out of seven commissioners behind bars for corruption, we need only one more for a quorum.

Right before the latest, Mary McCarty, was sentenced yesterday to three-and-a-half years in the hoosegow, her lawyer argued that her stint should be reduced to a year and a day, on the grounds that the scope of her crimes did not approach that of her already-incarcerated colleagues, Warren Newell and Tony Masilotti.

This is like saying that while you indeed did the crime, you should get points for incompetence because you couldn't manage to self-deal as much as the next guy.

We all wish Mary well during her sojourn at Club Fed. She seems the type who will benefit from the period of introspection. Considering how things are going here on the "outside," her position is, in many ways, enviable. She gets three guaranteed squares a day, doesn't have to worry about losing the roof over her head, and enjoys steady employment making Federal license plates or whatever it is they produce in the big house.

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June 4, 2009

Mr. Obama goes to Cairo

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In the end, it's all about respect.

His detractors will say that he didn't introduce any new ideas. While they'd like to think that's a criticism, it isn't. It's a fact. It also wasn't the point of the speech to throw new strategies or initiatives into the stew.

The point was to show people who think we hate them that we treat them as equals, that we value their contribution to civilization, that we appreciate and understand their grievances, and that they will find a new, welcoming attitude from us if they approach with outstretched hands and open hearts.

Regardless of what everybody may have been expecting in his own mind, that was President Obama's goal in Cairo, and he accomplished it with his customary eloquence and grace.

Some may say that that isn't the way to treat these people, that they only respect you when you slap 'em around a little, walk tall, strut your stuff, rattle the saber, let 'em know who's boss.

Well, that hasn't worked very well to date, so what's the harm in trying the human approach?

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June 3, 2009

Hummer bought by the Chinese!

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This really seems to be "who'd a thunk it?" week.

It's bad enough that GM goes bankrupt, but now we have the company selling one of its iconic brands to...the Chinese!

Remember when you saw a Hummer (usually when it was blocking your line of sight to make a left turn, or back out of a parking space), and its owner looked so tall in the saddle? Remember that surge of good old American pride when somebody who drove a vehicle that got about ten miles to the gallon left it running in the parking lot to keep the A.C. running while he or she shopped, just because they could? It does bring a tear to one's eye.

Now the stylish street knockoff of our armed forces' standard combat vehicle is just another rice-burner, like all those Toyotas, Hyundais and (shudder) Mitsubishis that lesser mortals sneak around in.

No, it's worse, because the Koreans and the Japanese aren't poised to take over the world, and they don't hold the tattered remains of our economy in thrall. That's right, every Hummer that gets sold now is aiding and abetting the enemy.

Looks like it's time for our own Cultural Revolution.

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June 2, 2009

Hurricane preparedness...or lack of it

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The fact that many coastal residents are not prepared for a hurricane is no surprise.

Nobody is going to prepare for anything as long as the threat remains an abstraction. It's human nature. They will begin to prepare, however, when the news that a storm is approaching percolates its way through the ordinary stress and distractions of their daily lives.

This usually happens about forty-eight hours before the storm hits. All of a sudden, there are lines at Home Depot for (now scarce) plywood, and at the supermarkets for water, batteries and other staples that should have been bought months in advance. Incredibly, home improvement stores report that much of the plywood is returned after a storm fails to materialize, as if by surviving a near-miss, we have been inoculated against future catastrophes.

That kind of attitude can only be ascribed to blind superstition. This is what a lot of people must be taking solace in when they fail to perform simple preparatory tasks despite incessant government and media reminders.

It's too late now, but realize that I left ground bat wing and eye of newt out of the cartoon. Shoulda been better prepared.

POSTED IN: Economy (197), Florida Issues (258), General Topics (188), Local South Florida Issues (187)

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June 1, 2009

General Motors Bankruptcy

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It's supposed to be a "controlled bankruptcy," not the death knell of a once-great company. It's a way to reemerge, like Phoenix, from the ashes. We've expected it for some time.

All the same, it's still a shock. Who'd have thought it would ever happen in our lifetimes? GM was the very backbone of our country, its stock solid as bedrock. "What's good for General Motors is good for the United States of America."

I guess we're still supposed to believe that. With one in ten jobs in our economy dependent upon the auto industry, we need to pump yet more billions down the memory hole and just pray that this particular infusion will work.

A word about competitiveness on the world market: It doesn't matter how well you build a car, if the Japanese, the Koreans or the Germans can build one just as well at a lower cost. Until Congress passes some meaningful health care legislation that takes some of the burden off corporations, companies like GM will always have to build health care expense into the price of each unit they sell.

A silver lining...maybe this is just the kind of pressure our spineless pols need to resist the siren call of the health care industry for once in their craven lives. Yeah...that's the American Dream.


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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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