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August 31, 2009

Sen. Mini-Me

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Sure it was a cynical move on Charlie's part, appointing his own political crony to a U.S. Senate seat because he's the only person he can trust not to want to keep it.

George Lemieux is a nice guy, but it would have been easier for us to swallow if he had at least some experience in elective office, particularly when there's somebody with former U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw's institutional knowledge sitting around with nothing better to do.

I drew a cartoon about this when Mel Martinez first abdicated. Little did I know that the governor would actually take my advice. Charlie, you always said the people of Florida came first! Say it ain't so, buddy!

Once Charlie gets elected next year, this could be the first time in history that a sitting U.S. Senator has a former senator as his chief of staff.

I may be wrong, but I understand that Sen. LeMieux will be eligible, after his year in office, for the gold-plated health care and pension plan that U.S. Senators have voted for themselves, so maybe he'd rather just retire on our dime than take a demotion. Besides, it would be confusing whenever somebody came into the office and said, "Senator," and they both answered, "Yes?"

POSTED IN: Florida Issues (258), Local South Florida Issues (187)

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August 28, 2009

Florida tourism blues

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When your state's economy is based on homebuilding at a time when people are defaulting on their mortgages, and tourism when nobody is going anywhere, then it's best to stick with your strengths.

And, as any marketer knows, product placement is everything.

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August 27, 2009

Florida's gay adoption ban

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Floridians have such a wealth of issues to be ashamed of that it’s hard to pick one out of the morass, but the state’s ban on gay adoption is surely one of the standouts.

Florida’s draconian law, which presupposes that an orphan is safer at the mercy of the “system” rather than in a loving home (if that home consists of a gay couple), is based on at least two misbegotten premises:

The first is that being gay is a matter of choice, and can be drilled into an innocent youth the same way the Chinese Communists brainwashed our boys in “The Manchurian Candidate.”

The second is that all gays must be pedophiles, or they wouldn’t want kids in the house in the first place. If this were true, then why are gays allowed to be foster parents? If you’re going to be bigoted, at least be consistent about it.

I have a theory that the Republicans in the legislature rammed this nutty law through, but realize that as mores change, it’s starting to make the state look silly. Nobody wants to be the first to bend by suggesting a repeal, because the morality police in his constituency will crucify him.

Best to settle it in the courts, where they can scream about “legislating from the bench,” wash their hands of this tar baby, and move on.

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August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy

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It has become fashionable in the last couple of decades to hurl the term "liberal" around as an epithet.

Those who do so--and they tend to be those who do not even understand how they and their loved ones have benefited from so-called "liberal" policies--use the term as an amalgam of "communist," "degenerate," and "unpatriotic."

Ted Kennedy wore the label with pride.

Whatever your politics, you should acknowledge that Ted Kennedy was a giant. If you don't, it says more about you than it does about him.

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August 25, 2009

The CIA revelations

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You can “look forward, not back,” as President Obama says he is doing in distancing himself from his “rogue” attorney general, Eric Holder.

This, of course, is an adroit little sidestep. After all, Obama’s the one who nominated the guy. Holder, as a member of Obama’s cabinet, serves at his pleasure. I guess this kind of waffling is what they call “leadership.”

Anyway, an investigation of alleged illegal acts is probably a good thing for the republic. Obama has made it clear that those who were only following orders will not be prosecuted (that argument didn’t fly when it was made with a German accent, but this is the national security of the American homeland we’re talking about now, folks).

That leaves…whom? Probably nobody, because going after the principals of the Bush administration who set the policy would distract everyone from Obama’s priorities, not to mention possibly derail his presidency.

In any case, if we don’t at least examine the excesses of our behavior and do a little public self-reflection, then our already-battered worldwide reputation as a nation of laws will suffer even further.

And the terrorists—while not exactly winning—will have achieved a tactical victory in the battle for hearts and minds.

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August 24, 2009

Social Security freeze

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If you're a senior on a fixed income who, say, takes the bus to do your grocery and drug shopping, chances are the price of gas at the pump doesn't affect you much.

Or, at least, you think it doesn't. Unfortunately, it's the huge drop in energy prices (part of the consumer price mix) that has dragged down inflation to the point where the government says that, statistically, there isn't any. So you can forget that cost of living allowance in your Social Security check, Granny.

Now, anybody who goes to the supermarket knows that food prices haven't dropped, unless you're a big milk drinker. But the government doesn't parse things that delicately. They look at the whole gorgeous panoply of consumer goods when they make their heartless calculations.

The problem, as I've said before, is that once you start giving people things on a regular basis, they come to expect them.

So Social Security recipients are going to want to know, in no uncertain terms, why they didn't get their annual raise. It will be amusing, to say the least, to hear members of congress carefully explain the above rationale about inflation to someone for whom a couple of dollars may dictate whether they have to miss a meal this month or not.

My guess is they won't be able to take the heat.

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August 22, 2009

FPL...yes, again

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When one is almost at a loss to say something new about FPL, the company obligingly goes and hands us a new issue on an electric chafing dish.

This time, it's trying to keep the salaries of its top execs a secret, claiming that releasing such proprietary info could harm its competitiveness.

How is it that a "regulated" monopoly suddenly needs to worry about being competitive? FPL has such a sweet deal that a pack of chimpanzees could run the place and still turn a tidy profit.

Maybe FPL worries that we peons--upon learning what these guys get paid--might rebel, hook our home exercycles up to little generators, and start conditioning our own !@#$% air.

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August 21, 2009

Giving thanks for clunkers

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Sure, we all know a lot of those "rice burners" are built right here in the good old U.S. of A. by American workers, who stand to benefit from any increase in auto sales.

But a lot of them aren't. Let's forget that for the moment, and the fact that these companies, regardless of how many Americans they employ, are foreign-owned. Our tax money is going to prop up Japan's and Korea's bottom line. I'm sure that if the situation were reversed, they'd be delighted to return the favor.

But, as I said, let's set that aside. Isn't it sad that when congress bestows $3 billion in free money to American consumers to go out and buy cars, that four out of the top five they choose are Japanese? Are the foreigners that much better at satisfying American demand than Americans are? Do they know us better than we know ourselves?

Or is it simply that they're more nimble and can whirl their factories around like speedboats to start producing the cheaper, more efficient units that we now demand, while U.S. companies are still trying to pull off a U-turn with a freighter?


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August 20, 2009

A fine mess...

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There are several tragedies playing out as the Iraq war winds down. Well, as it winds down for us.

The first tragedy is the incredible loss of human life suffered on all sides.

Then, there's the tragedy of a great nation allowing itself to get bamboozled into a needless conflict, siphoning off its strength into a sand pit while the real threat lay elsewhere. Since there were no WMD, one is left to wonder as to the true reason. Maybe it really was "he tried to kill my daddy." Couldn't Bush, Rummy and Cheney have simply sent in a black-ops assassination squad to deal with that?

Not only did we spend gazillions and lose over 4,000 of our military (not to mention all the wounded), but we're leaving the place worse off for the average local than it was before, Saddam or no Saddam. Not to mention that Al Qaida is now a presence there.

Of course, all this is relegated to the inner pages now, because we're disengaging and the casualty level--that is, the American casualty level--is now negligible. Not for the Iraqis, of course, but we all know that Iraqi blood doesn't spur the kind of interest, ire or compassion that American blood does. Let' em cancel each other out, right?

Then, there's the loss to us of all the schools, hospitals, roads--you name it--that could have been built here in America with that money. There's all that debt our grandchildren wouldn't be saddled with.

And let's not forget how easily the American public and Congress were played. That's a moral tragedy we can all share the blame for. Except for those knee-jerk, unpatriotic war protesters. Remember them?

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August 19, 2009

FDR he ain't

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There are several ways to look at this.

You could say--if you were a starry-eyed believer in the Obama campaign speeches of a year ago--that the so-called "public option" was already a compromise from a pure single-payer plan, which is the holy grail for the left. So this is a compromise of a compromise, or in other words, a sellout.

Or, you could say that Barack Obama is a pragmatist, and that by abandoning one of the cornerstones of his health care reform plan, he is merely acknowledging reality. A partial loaf is better than nothing at all.

I can appreciate Obama's realpolitik, particularly since health reform has been staked out by all sides as a make-or-break issue for his presidency. If your entire credibility depends on getting something--anything--passed, it's better to pass an empty shell so that everyone can declare victory and maybe flesh things out later.

As we all know, government programs are virtually impossible to kill. They develop constituencies that tend to vote as self-protective blocs. They are much easier to fatten over time, like a Christmas goose. If you want to be cynical about it--and there is always a large component of cynicism in any White House's strategy--just getting the framework in place is enough to ensure a thriving, growing bureaucracy as well as mission creep.

Give it a decade or two, and even conservatives will be fighting to protect the National Health Care we have come to accept as an American birthright. Have you ever seen one turn down Medicare?


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August 14, 2009

Oh say, can you eat?

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We hear that Dick Cheney spent the last decade or so having nightmares about whether some rogue state would put nukes in the hands of anti-U.S. terrorists.

In order to prevent these nightmares from becoming reality, he was prepared to go to any lengths--torture, domestic spying, whatever--and to turn the U.S. Constitution into an irrelevant piece of parchment filled with flowery, archaic writing.

He needn't have worried, nor should the terrorists bother. We're likely to kill ourselves before they can get to us. The Big Mac and the Whopper are our ticking time bombs.

Maybe instead of tapping our phone calls, Cheney should have been inspecting our cholesterol counts.

If Americans could be weaned off greasy food and smoking, the resulting health benefits we'd enjoy would probably enable us to provide cradle-to-grave medical insurance for everyone in this country, without breaking the bank.

The Scandinavians manage to do this, but then again, a Norwegian's idea of a Happy Meal is a plate of smoked herring.

As they say in Oslo, "Fuggedaboudit."

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August 13, 2009

Dick Cheney's tell-all

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Ever heard of the diamond cutters of Antwerp, Belgium?

These are guys with an extraordinary amount of experience who have an extraordinarily high-pressure job. They sit in their little workspaces, jewelers' loupes screwed into their eyes, and they transform raw, shapeless diamonds from the mine into gemstones. They "read" the crystalline structure of the diamond, carefully position a chisel over the stone and give the chisel one sharp tap with a mallet.

If they do it exactly right, they split off a portion of the diamond, and are on their way to producing an object of surpassing beauty.

If they're off just a hair, or the angle is wrong by less than a degree, the chisel reduces a stone worth possibly millions into a pile of very expensive gravel, suitable only to coat the edges of drill bits.

I see Dick Cheney as the guy with the mallet, and George W. Bush as the chisel. What gorgeous possibilities could have been coaxed out of the goodwill stemming from 9/11, had they just handled it right.

Anyway, Cheney's big beef now is that George got recalcitrant toward the end, and stopped following directions.

The gall. After all, Cheney chose himself as Bush's vice president after exhaustive research because he knew that he--and only he--had the requisite skills to run the White House and keep Junior in line.

In the past, Cheney condemned administration figures who aired dirty laundry in self-serving books as despicable, but that isn't stopping him now. This is a crusade. George will taste the lash, for sure.

In the meantime, the rest of us can just be content with our pile of gravel.

POSTED IN: Dick Cheney (11), President Bush (36)

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August 12, 2009

Tropical depression

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It's hard to get friends and relatives Up North to understand what it means to wonder, year after year, if you're still going to have a roof left by Thanksgiving.

They just don't feel the immediacy of it. Have you ever called someone after a hurricane hit to tell them you made it through OK, and they go, "What, you had a hurricane? Ohhh, yeahhh...I remember hearing something about it on the news?" To them, it might as well have been a typhoon in Malaysia.

An embittered member of Florida's congressional delegation--it may even have been my own congressman, Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Maryland (see how smart he is to opt out of living in his home district?)--once said that the only way we're ever going to get a national catastrophe fund is if a Category 3 hurricane goes right up the Connecticut River Valley.

I think he was wrong. It would have to hit the Hudson and the Potomac as well.

Anyway, it makes you think twice and three times about remodeling the bathroom when you could be showering with a garden hose by next month. No, our northerly neighbors will never be able to truly appreciate the thrill of going mano a mano with Mother Nature.

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August 11, 2009

Health care screamers

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Fear has always been a potent motivator in American politics.

Fear of Communists lurking under the bed, fear of Liberals re-distributing our hard-earned money to welfare queens, fear of hippies undermining our kids' morals with their drugs and free love.

The Bush Administration was particularly adept at wielding the fear weapon: Remember how they used the climate after 9/11 to start wars and pass a raft of questionable legislation?

Fear of the unknown is a particularly useful tool. It’s what people can’t get their mind around that they find most terrifying, and what makes them most easily manipulated.

In the health care debate, the president and his people have fallen down on the job by failing to articulate what all Americans, the haves as well as the have-nots, have to gain from reform. By creating a vacuum of information, they’ve allowed special interests to define for the nation what change may mean in their own scary and self-serving way.

Like a herd of cattle, people can be spooked into stampeding if you manage to generate around them a fog of anxiety about an unknown peril; in this case, a fear of what they may lose, even though what they may now have is a lousy deal. The problem with a stampede is that once it begins, it’s difficult to control.

The stampede could go over a cliff, and then what would you have? Nobody left who can afford to buy your insurance, or your pharmaceuticals, or whatever else you may be peddling. Be very careful what you wish for.


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August 10, 2009

Gov. Charlie's pickle

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For the People's Governor, it's a vexing problem.

It's a job he wants so badly. His new wife probably wants him to have it badly, too. Think of all the embassy parties, the state dinners, the coveted tickets to special events.

Now Mel Martinez has to go and pack it in, leaving a yawning opening Charlie is required to fill.

Charlie would dearly love to appoint himself, dropping Florida's no-win financial mess on the Flying Dutchman, Lt. Gov. Kottkamp--but everybody knows that governors who appoint themselves to U.S. Senate seats invariably suffer a backlash from the voters for their overweening ambition, and lose in the next election.

Any appointee is a potential risk. Senator Mel has been such a colorless figure that he's an easy act to follow. A replacement could look statesmanlike by comparison, start liking the job, and double-cross the governor by refusing to bow out next year. Since many Florida voters blindly vote for the incumbent in any primary, it could give Charlie and his huge war chest fits.

The choices are bad and worse, so I suggest he appoint our former governor, Bob Martinez. It'll save the taxpayers money by not having to change the brass nameplate on his desk, and he can probably keep using Mel's leftover stationery since nobody'll notice the difference.

When Republican primary time rolls around, Charlie can bamboozle the voters into thinking it's been the same Martinez--the one who said he was going to resign--all along.

By the time everybody sorted it out, the election would be over.

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August 7, 2009

Swine flu drive thru

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Parts of South Florida, particularly the Greater Boca Raton Metroplex, can be characterized as Beverly Hills Lite mixed with a generous dollop of Nassau County, Long Island.

This is why it came as no surprise when one of Boca's own institutions of higher learning, Florida Atlantic University, announced it was offering valet parking to students so they wouldn't have to traipse across the college parking lots in our punishing humidity and arrive in class with the frizzies. If you can look better by paying more, it's money well spent. That is the Boca Way, as well as the Hippocratic Oath for the plastic surgery industry.

It's also the South Florida way to do as much as you possibly can without leaving your car. If you must leave it, then make sure you minimize the number of steps you take to the greatest degree possible. This may even involve waiting for several minutes, burning fuel and blocking cars behind you, for that perfect spot to open up near the entrance to the fitness center--a place you are ostensibly going to in order to burn calories.

I say ostensibly, because we all know you're really going there to meet people, and you want to look your best when you arrive.

Any entrepreneur who can come up with a way to deliver a needed service to people as they wait in their car with the engine running is bound to succeed in South Florida.

Hence the business model I hereby offer up in my cartoon. I would love to see it become a reality.

POSTED IN: General Topics (188), Local South Florida Issues (187), Medical (50)

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August 6, 2009

Justice Sotomayor

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While the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic associate justice of the supreme court is a laudable achievement in light of our history, the fact that the media and the nation are making such a big deal about it means that we still have a ways to go in terms of how we think about race.

It is said that in thirty or forty more years, everyone will be part of a minority, but until then, it’s interesting to note that when ethnic labels are used to describe people, it’s usually in relation to groups from which the labelers wish to remain distinct.

When was the last time you heard the term, “English-American,” or “Dutch-American?” I don’t know if Chief Justice Rehnquist was the first American of Scandinavian extraction to hold his position, but I can’t recall anybody bringing it up at the time.

The very term “Hispanic,” a Nixon-era moniker, was concocted so that government could isolate a certain group from the rest of us for separate treatment.

Such a label—whether for good or ill--entrenches racist thinking within all groups. Moreover, it’s inaccurate. A Puerto Rican has about as much in common with a Peruvian as my grandmother—a Polish immigrant--had with the descendents of the Mayflower pilgrims. Nevertheless, various groups would label them Hispanic and Anglo, respectively, in a misbegotten attempt to categorize them according to ethnic origin.

If we can’t get it right, why not just drop it altogether? Would that it were that simple.

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August 5, 2009

The dangers of texting

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Back in the '90s, when cell phones were becoming all the rage in New York City, a courtesy code developed about their appropriate use.

New York, like Japan, is a densely populated living space, and selfish activities that make life more tedious for the general population are quickly frowned upon, the perpetrators ostracized. There is a code, and it is understood that sticking to the code is what makes the city livable.

Most New Yorkers, at least those who wanted to have friends, learned that talking loudly on a cell in a restaurant would attract rude stares, and often an impolite word or two from table neighbors. The same was true in enclosed spaces like doctors' waiting rooms, where sometimes an involuntary witness to a phone conversation would simply begin reading his newspaper or book out loud to the point where the phone user had to either hang up or leave the room.

What is needed with this texting fad is a sense of shame. Outlawing texting while driving is fine, up to a point--but it's hard to enforce. Mothers Against Drunk Driving managed to accomplish the stigmatizing of an activity. Before they came along, it was hard to convict drunk drivers because juries were sympathetic. "There but for the grace of God go I," and all that.

Americans love to do what is bad for them, especially if it makes them feel good. Take smoking, for example (the analogy is appropriate, because we're talking about addictions that also happen to be harmful to others). Only when driving texters are figuratively "driven out of the building" to stand in shame in the rain--the way smokers are--will the destructive behavior diminish.


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August 4, 2009

Burmese pythons in the backyard

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The presence in our local environment of creatures like the Formosan termite, the Bahamian curly-tailed lizard, the Africanized bee and the dreaded Cuban death's head roach is understandable, and probably unavoidable in today's free-trade world.

These uninvited guests arrived by way of shipping containers from far-off lands, or in the case of the bee, by an accidental release.

The problem of the lionfish and the Burmese python, however, can be traced to irresponsible idiots who keep these predators as interesting pets until they get too big or annoying to keep in the house.

What do you do if you're a typical Floridian who's gotten all the use out of something that he wants to, and is ready to move on? Dump it and forget it. That's what that big swamp back there, and that ocean out front, are for. You don't even think twice about letting it become somebody else's problem, because this is Florida. Other people don't worry about trashing the environment, so why should you? After all, it's pretty much trashed already.

When the place becomes so polluted and overrun with exotic, predatory wildlife that human existence becomes untenable, you can always just move to another state, the same way you moved in. Run a few red lights on your way out while you're at it. Weave in and out of traffic. Toss the packaging from your fast-food lunch on the highway.

Somebody else'll clean up the mess.

POSTED IN: Environment (46), Florida Issues (258), Local South Florida Issues (187)

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August 3, 2009

Your cash for their clunkers

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It’s a lot like the time your new neighbors bought that bigger house down the street that you always coveted.

When their loan payments ballooned, they realized they didn’t have the means to stay in it--that is, until the government bailed them out with your hard-earned tax dollars.

Now the snobs who lorded it over you on the road in their big, fat, gas-guzzling SUV’s are getting a financial break to reform their wastrel ways. Uncle Sam is helping them buy the kind of car you originally settled for because you were doing the right thing by the environment and your pocketbook.

The only way to deal with this without going insane is to take the long view. If you’re the type who believes in divine retribution for those who irritate you, then the definition of Hell for these people will be to wait in line for all eternity at, say, Disney World while good folks like you—who, obviously, are going to heaven—jump in ahead of them to ride Thunder Mountain Railroad, over and over again.

If you’re into reincarnation, karma will dictate that they come back as a 1970 AMC Gremlin—ugly from the moment of conception and a target of universal derision. You, the hot little Alfa Romeo, will snarkily toot your horn as you blow past them in the fast lane.

If you don't believe in those things, you can just go home and try to strangle your pillow.

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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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