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July 31, 2009

Death, taxes and Wall Street bonuses


"Socialism" is when somebody else benefits from government largess. When you benefit, then it's your "God Given Right".

The latest lame excuse for passing out million-dollar bonuses is that the culture requires traders and bankers to be compensated for their contribution, irrespective of how their company is doing as a whole.

The rest of us (those who still have jobs), are told that the business downturn is definitely responsible for furloughs, or pay cuts, or the moratorium on raises for the foreseeable future. You can "contribute" until you're blue in the face and all you'll get for it is that you keep your job. Maybe.

The rules are different for the Masters of the Universe. I wouldn't mind so much if it weren't my money they were rewarding themselves with for having messed up the economy with their greed.

It's time to grab the pitchforks.


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July 30, 2009

The Hollywood cops fabrication


As I’ve said before, it sometimes helps to understand human behavior from a tribal perspective.

When the human animal finds himself in uncertain or stressful situations, his default behavior is to seek refuge with his own kind. The tribe can be an ethnic group, a college fraternity, one’s religious denomination, or even a profession (like law enforcement).

It’s “us” vs. “them,” a mindset reinforced by initiation rituals as well as mandatory loyalty to the group.

Our constitution is a framework of codes designed to protect society from this all-too-natural tendency, especially when it exhibits itself in the institutions of government.

We are a nation of laws, not of men, and the idea of fairness and equality under those laws is the animating ideal that binds us together. It’s why the president swears his fealty to the constitution, and not to the people of the United States.

It is an ideal—not a reality—because men are not perfect. But it is why we feel such a deep sense of wrong when abuses like the recent Hollywood police fabrication occur. The deliberate flouting of our common code is not just an offense to the motorist who was hit by the policeman, but to everyone.

The authority those law enforcement officers wield is conferred by the rest of us. They threw it in our faces in the name of protecting one of their own.

POSTED IN: Local South Florida Issues (187)

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July 29, 2009

FPL's obscene profits

Our relationship with the utility we all love to hate is like a dysfunctional marriage, wherein we want to separate from an abusive spouse, yet find ourselves enabling their bad behavior because life without them is unimaginable.

It doesn't matter how many times FPL is exposed in print, or how many cartoons people draw,
because the utility just doesn't care. We need them more than they need us.

In fact, they've stopped even making excuses. It used to be that they'd come up with some kind of gobbledygook about soaring fuel costs (even while fuel prices were dropping) that was so transparent it insulted our intelligence. But they at least took the trouble to put on the charade.

Now they release the news about a whopping seventy-seven per cent increase in profits, and we don't even get the benefit of the soft-shoe anymore.

We deserve some respect as patsies. We've sat in the dark too many times.


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July 28, 2009

The "Beer Summit"

This whole little sideshow has the sickly air of a face-saving gesture about it.

We'll probably never know what happened inside Professor Gates' house that day he was arrested, but I'm sure he was tired and cranky after a long flight from China, and maybe Officer Crowley was still a little tense, not knowing what he might face when he answered the supposed burglary call.

President Obama, on the other hand, should have known better. He was right: he didn't have all the facts. We all are guilty of shooting our mouths off without knowing what we're talking about, but we're not all President of the United States, whose every word is parsed, weighed, and weighed again for symbolism and meta-meaning.

Only an African-American can truly know how intimidating it is to face a law-enforcement officer who may be harboring a presumption of guilt just because of his color. Hell, I'm afraid of them, and I'm white. Obama may have used the word "stupidly" because of his own experience, but it is prejudiced thinking also to assume that the white officer was automatically at fault, just because other white officers in the past have acted a certain way out of bigotry. As it turns out, Officer Crowley was exactly the wrong person to hang the bigot label upon.

Obama had the grace to admit to his poor choice of words. I'm sure he learned a valuable lesson from this. He's one of the fastest learners in public life.

Let's hope the "Beer Summit" works in that it gets Gates and Crowley to bury the hatchet without resorting to suing each other in civil court...the country really doesn't need that kind of a circus right now.


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July 27, 2009

Sarah's non-swan song


Clearly Sarah Palin articulates, in her own folksy way, a mindset that resonates deeply with a disaffected segment of the American public.

Media-bashing has always been a sure-fire applause line with the grievance-ridden Right, and she employed it skillfully in her resignation speech.

What Sarah has is what we call down here in South Florida good old-fashioned chutzpah.

It has been said--with some chagrin by the very media she bashes--that
she wouldn't even have gotten a second look if she resembled, say, Golda Meir. But that's not just a media weakness. I wonder if John McCain would have chosen her as a running mate if she didn't so energize his ticket (not necessarily his message) with her winking, sashaying Betty Boop routine.

Would the crowds have gushed so? Would she even be entertaining breathless questions about whether she plans to run for--gulp--president in 2012?

Let's face it: Sarah Palin is a media creation. She'd be nothing without us. At the same time, we send phalanxes of reporters up to Alaska to shoot video of her fishing because people can't resist watching and reading about her.

One could be offended by her callous treatment of those to whom she owes so much. On the other hand, it's one of those classic sick relationships: Please, Sarah, bash us some more! Your fans love it, and we love to disseminate it.


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July 24, 2009

"Birther" true believers


There must be a great deal of consternation and disappointment among certain circles that Barack Obama has been in office for six months already, and to date has not placed a mark on the Oval Office wall indicating the correct direction of Mecca.

Since the Muslim rumor has proven to be unsubstantiated, one must resort to a backup line of attack, the notion that the Hawaii Certificate of Live Birth is a forgery, and that Obama, actually born in Kenya, is therefore not qualified to hold office.

One can only wonder whether the "Birthers," as they are called, would have been so zealous in their pursuit of truth and justice had John McCain been elected, considering that his claim to naturalized birth (Canal Zone) is much more tenuous.

Nor can we escape the irony that several of our very first presidents--among them the sainted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson--were born British subjects, since there was not even a United States at the time within whose borders they would have come into this world. But nobody is questioning their legitimacy.

This whole affair would be comical, except that it does play to the worst aspects of the American character. In stressful times like these, such messages of hate have a way of rapidly infecting a fearful and ignorant populace. And there are certain public figures, who, for their own selfish reasons, are pouring fuel on the flames.

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.


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July 23, 2009

Health care: To have and have not

If someone were to post a detailed breakdown of the health care coverage congress has voted for itself at our expense, and the amount (or lack of same) congresspersons have to cough up in premiums and co-pays, then mobs armed with pitchforks, scythes and torches would be storming the Capitol doors.

There is really no word to describe the level of hypocrisy displayed by those who enjoy government-paid Cadillac health coverage for themselves and their families, yet who cry "socialism" at the mere breath of a government-offered program for the masses as an alternative to private coverage, or to no coverage at all.

For these parasites, there appears to be no fear of government bureaucracy interposing itself between patient and doctor. Maybe it's because they are the very bureaucracy that they so roundly condemn.

Evidently, the unwashed proletariat that sent them to Washington is not entitled to, or cannot be trusted with, the same type and level of care. In fact, they tell us we can't afford it. Maybe the point of letting them enjoy what we would like to have for ourselves is a way of lifting the burden of daily worry from their shoulders, so that they can be free to make intelligent and selfless decisions on our behalf.

On the other hand, giving them a taste of what we have to face might concentrate their thinking.

Won't happen.

POSTED IN: Medical (50)

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July 22, 2009

It takes a village to tame Palm Beach County


Who do the Palm Beach County Commissioners think they're kidding? An inspector general?

I have to admit, the title sounds impressive, which is about as far as it goes. The first thing the special interests are going to do is huddle and ask, "What's his/her price?"

That's assuming the commission doesn't appoint some crony to the post.

Even if, say, the governor appointed someone independently, how long would it take before this person's operating budget got held hostage by the very people he was supposed to be investigating?

It's window dressing, pure and simple. If voters are fooled by it, they deserve what they get. Actually, they've gotten plenty of it already, and they deserve that, too.

It's time people got involved and stopped voting automatically, over and over, for someone they happen to have heard of.


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July 21, 2009

Pork barrel spending lives!


The Raptor, aptly named for a dinosaur, is a project that Defense Secretary Bob Gates has desperately tried to kill, but even he cannot drive a stake through its reptilian heart. Congress refuses to let it die off, though it's the wrong weapon for the wrong times and a stupendous waste of taxpayer money as we face record deficits.

This is one of those times when democracy and common sense follow skewed paths. You can hardly blame Congress. Weapons systems have traditionally served as socialistic jobs programs for small-government types (actually, all-government types) who use "defense" as a fig leaf for their self-preserving largess with our money.

You can't blame the defense contractors, either. After all, it is they who figured out how to game the system by spreading their subcontracts out to as many congressional districts as possible, thereby making the projects virtually bulletproof. In fact, you should tip your hat to them. If getting rich by being merchants of death is their raison d'etre, then they have no peer.

Imagine if the Raptor, rather than being a plane we don't need, were a program of wind turbine and solar panel construction, spreading as many jobs out to just as many districts as now benefit from the defense contracts. As we became more self-sufficient in our energy needs, the need for new weapons systems to protect our far-flung and vulnerable sources would gradually disappear.

But that would leave the dinosaurs out in the cold.


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July 20, 2009

Florida: Prescriptions R Us

We're going about this all wrong.

We all know that Florida is always at the top on the lists of the bad stuff, and at the bottom of the lists of desirable stuff. For once, we should celebrate--rather than bemoan--our strengths.

Tourism is one of the legs of our economic stool, isn't it? (The others are development and agriculture, I think, although you'd never know it from our tomatoes, which often taste like they were shipped from a Siberian sawmill). Here we have the one attraction that people will travel all the way down here for, even in a recession, and Gov. Crist goes and signs a law making it harder to get.

Is this the kind of thinking you want out of your governor, much less your next U.S. Senator? After all, if they can't get their prescriptions filled here, they'll just go and get them someplace else, like Mexico. So, no harm done in the end. Plus, it helps keep our international trade balance in line.

We should be offering packages to our honored visitors. "Stay two nights in a Florida hotel, and we'll throw in a bus tour of the top pill mills in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Reserve within the next 30 minutes and we'll send you home with a pet Burmese python."

We can even have a slogan: "Florida. You'll love us from your first dose."


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July 17, 2009

Wall Street bonuses are back!!!


You may be angry, but you'd be a fool if you were surprised.

This is what President Obama means when he says that you have to fix the nation's financial system before you can fix the economy. Translation: Until they get theirs, they're not going to let us get ours.

The freeze-up in the credit market was all about the financial types not seeing a way to get rich by lending out to the rest of us. Until that obstruction got cleared, nothing was going to move through the pipe. Think of it (as we should about virtually everything) from a tribal viewpoint. You look after your own first. These folks happen to have their hands on our throats, which is why they call themselves "Masters of the Universe."

How do they get away with this? Here is an analogy: I once took lessons from a flute teacher who charged $35 an hour. I said to him, "You've dedicated your life to practicing, perfecting, and performing your art. Yet, a plumber makes far more than you do per hour. Why is that?"

He laughed. "When your toilet backs up all over the floor, you don't call a flute player."


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July 16, 2009

Crackerbox development


I was talking with a tile guy one day (Word of advice: Don't ever hire a Brazilian
tile guy right before the World Cup Finals), and we were lamenting the fact that my typical South Florida tract home, thanks to shoddy construction, had no square corners. Nor were any of the walls plumb or the ceilings level--something I learned when I installed my own crown molding.

In fact, I was in the attic once and happened to look down into the interior of a wall below me. Buried down there was a time capsule of discarded cigarette packs, disposable lighters, sardine cans and other detritus left behind by the construction workers decades before.

Anyway, the tile guy told me he kept running into the same tradespeople at construction sites all the time, whether the house was relatively humble, like mine, or a waterfront McMansion. "The quality's all the same, " he said. "You may pay more for a bigger house on the water, but it'll fall down just as fast as yours."

That was heartwarming. And it helped explain why Parkland, which is adjacent to the land being transferred from Palm Beach to Broward County, and which is a relatively well-to-do community, should find itself one of the more high-profile victims of the Chinese drywall debacle. Let the buyer beware: no one is immune. One gets the impression that Florida developers would buy drywall from Borneo made of compressed bat guano if it came in cheaper than the Chinese stuff.


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July 15, 2009

Updating the war on terror

Can you remember what was dominating the news back on September 10, 2001?

We were obsessed with Gary Condit and his missing aide, Chandra Levy. The blathering heads were discussing the growing irrelevancy, ineffectiveness and pointlessness of the Bush administration, that he was destined to be a one-term president and that history would shroud him in obscurity. Ah, how we long for those simpler times.

Fast forward eight years, and we're just coming off a another string of juicy political sex scandals and the Michael Jackson beatification. And oh, yeah...most of us are either hurtling into the economic abyss or staring over the edge. That is, unless we work for Goldman, Sachs. In that case, we're looking forward to an average bonus in the $800,000 range. But that's a topic for another cartoon.

Anyway, the War On Terror seems like ancient history compared to the hummingbird flight that is the American national attention span. It's about as remote from our daily concerns as it was...back on September 10, 2001.

POSTED IN: War on Terror (50)

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July 14, 2009

The Sonia Sotomayor miniseries

You've probably heard the aphorism, "Politics is show business for ugly people."

Well, once you understand that the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor are nothing more than pure theater, then everything falls into place.

We know that the lady is a shoo-in. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, himself said that barring some kind of a meltdown, Sotomayor was sure to be confirmed.

In light of that certainty, one would naturally wonder what the point of this charade might be. All the opposition research has been done, and nothing truly damning has been found. Might as well stop wasting everybody's time.

One would be missing the point. You've also heard former Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum, "All politics is local." These senators have restive constituencies back home, and in some cases the base is expecting their boy to rough the lady up a little, bein's as how she's kinda furrin and all. It's a delicate cakewalk, of course, because while the base wins primaries in reelection races, bases don't win general elections, especially in states where there are a lot of eligible hispanic voters who might turn out in righteous anger if they felt Sotomayor had been mistreated.

Hence we have Sen. Sessions shoehorning in the "wise Latina" comment, and heavy emphasis on the New Haven firefighters decision. A lot of concern being expressed. Nothing too scathing. On the opposite side, Sen. Leahy of Vermont is expected by his left-wing bleeding hearts to be Sotomayor's vocal champion, and he is discharging his duty with gusto.

If this brand of showbiz is too boring for you, go watch Desperate Housewives or something.


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July 13, 2009

State employees get kid glove treatment

This wouldn't be surprising if we had a Democratic-dominated legislature here in Florida. We know how they love to throw public money around, right?

But Republicans? The party of "starve the beast," "root out waste, fraud and abuse," and "government health care is creeping socialism?" They're willing to cut education and social services to balance the state budget, yet they also know how to take care of their own.

Those of us who are lucky enough to be employed by state government get inexpensive or even free health care, access to professional financial planners, and Cadillac retirement benefits, all on the public dime. Karl Marx would be grinning from ear to ear to know that the workers were so well taken care of.

Apologists say we need to give them these benefits in order to attract the best and the brightest talent, considering they have such low salaries. A check of those salaries shows they are comparable to or better than those in the private sector. And the poor dears have to do extra work now, what with all the layoffs.

Sound familiar? If you still have your private sector job, you've probably had to shoulder an extra workload thanks to all those empty desks around you.

Maybe if our coddled public servants had to live the way the rest of us do, there might be a little money left over so that elementary school teachers wouldn't have to buy classroom supplies out of their own pockets.


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July 9, 2009

A skunk by any other name...


Recently, the Republican members of our state legislature, in a showy burst of sanctimony, signed a No New Taxes pledge. This is their shtick and they're sticking to it, but in so doing, they effectively tied their own hands when it came to giving themselves options for how to deal with the state's financial crisis.

In the last session, they were faced with a dilemma: raise taxes as well as the ire of the people who voted them in, or make cuts in services that people really need, raising ire in the same benighted voters who think services just appear as a gift from God.

The only answer is to play semantic games, hoping the lumpenproletariat is so dense it won't catch on. The government is raising "fees." A "fee," you see, is a government charge for things people use.

As opposed to a "tax," which is...oops...the same thing.

Oh, well, as long as they didn't raise taxes.


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July 8, 2009

The Great American Vacation Ripoff

We're all feeling a bit spent after the mass Michael catharsis, and our president is overseas, although nobody seems to care.

The only item of interest to come out of the G-8 meeting (snore) is that the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is a proud, in-your-face skirt-chaser, and he's not holding any teary-eyed press conferences, thank God, to justify his behavior. They're much more civilized about these things in Italy.

It's the dog days. Al Franken joined the other comedians in the U.S. Senate... at least he's honest enough to admit to his calling. Sarah Palin's flash in the pan has sizzled out. I'm drawing cartoons about the fact that theme parks nickel and dime you to death once you've paid the steep fee to get in the gates.

Anybody who goes to a family attraction should expect to get fleeced. What makes it special is the fantasy. The kids get to imagine themselves in the midst of a charmed wonderland. The parent footing the bill gets to imagine that he or she is a small shopkeeper in Bedford-Stuyvesant getting shaken down by the neighborhood gang in exchange for their not smashing his plate-glass windows.

That's why they call it the Magic Kingdom.


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July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson--on to the dark side


I was just talking to a man whose son, a U.S. Marine, was involved in one of the largest helicopter assaults since Vietnam (four thousand troops), which took place on Wednesday, July 1.

He said that a lot of Marine parents get together on a web chat site to support each other when they know a major operation is going on.

In this case, they agreed between them to watch all the available TV stations and let everybody else know if anything about the assault was mentioned. Between coverage of Michael Jackson and Gov. Mark Sanford, over an hour passed before he was able to tell the others to tune in to a network.

It was the BBC.

Now, you can't blame the media for all of this. They do their homework, and they look at their instant ratings. If war were still a hot seller, we'd see a lot more of it on TV and the front pages, so we're collectively responsible as members of a nation that happens to have an incredibly short attention span.

Which brings me to this cartoon. With this memorial extravaganza, the age of innocence is over. We're about to be treated nonstop to the sordid, seamy underbelly of the Jackson saga. The parasites are coming out of the woodwork. They were always there, but this is their moment in the sun.

My advice: If you are the type who wants to keep Michael's spirit of love, harmony and peace alive, this would be a good time to go read a book.


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July 6, 2009

Sarah Palin bails


I'm waiting for the other snowshoe to drop.

It's hard to believe that someone as politically ambitious as Sarah Palin would bail out of her first term as governor unless there were extenuating circumstances that we have yet to hear about.

If there is no scandal waiting in the wings, then Gov. Palin deserves to be thought of as a flake not fit for the presidency, regardless of one's political point of view.

Some of her admirers among the Conservative chattering classes are calling this a bold masterstroke, clearing the decks for her to come down here to the lower forty-eight and tour the cornfields of Iowa as well as the mill towns of New Hampshire.

She says she quit to pursue a higher calling. The irony is that another Republican governor, Mark Sanford, chose to pursue a lower calling, and he's still in office.

I suggest we sit tight and wait to see if this calling comes in the form of a subpoena.


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July 2, 2009

The Sanford soap opera


I've said this before about other pols, but I really mean it this time: This guy is the gift that keeps on giving.

The only conclusion I can come to at this point is that the Republican Party has a secret strategy, which is to let the man talk himself into such a black hole that the general public can only conclude he's a rogue nutball and not representative of the Party as a whole.

It's fun watching all the TV talking heads try to keep straight faces while they recite the direct quotes. This could be a bodice-ripper romance novel, except that the little I ever read of one that was lying around in a doctor's office was much better written.


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Hard times Fourth of July

Americans are having trouble coming to grips with all the ways the recession affects daily life.

Sure, we trim the budget at home, but when local government makes painful cuts that we feel down at the grassroots level, we get resentful. Take Independence Day fireworks, which we feel is our right as Americans to enjoy. Somehow, they just happen.

It's this preconception that causes civic leaders to swallow hard before they take away something so highly visible. They're afraid we'll take it out on them later at the polls.

On the other hand, how would you like to be a city worker who's been doing his or her job for decades, and doing it well, when some councilman comes to you and says, "Sorry, but we had to lay you off so we could save our own butts by blowing up a few thousand dollars in the atmosphere this year?"


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July 1, 2009

Giving Iraq back to its owners

The talking heads use various metaphors: "It's going to be a hard road ahead."
"We're only entering the fourth quarter."

Well, we're giving the Iraqis back their country, for better or worse. Mostly worse. We've already been over how misbegotten this whole foray was, how it was the wrong war for the wrong reasons, all the blood and treasure lost in the sand.

The hard line rear guard Bush administration apologists claim that, regardless of all the bloodshed, the Iraqi people are better off now than they were under Saddam.

I wouldn't know, since I'm not there on the ground. I have a feeling they don't either. As we stand back and observe the inevitable sectarian score-settling, favoritism, corruption, and the other symptoms of a failing state as the Iraqis--who never thought of themselves as a "people," but a collection of tribes--jockey for power, we'll probably see a strong man emerge.

A populace grown weary of undending violence will turn to him for stability, and gladly trade in whatever trappings of "democracy" we bequeathed upon them at the point of the gun.

The new strong man, after all is said and done, will remind us a lot of Saddam Hussein. Maybe he won't look as ridiculous in a fedora. He'll probably deal with us on oil, because he'll need the money...which was what the whole thing was about in the first place.


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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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