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, 2010

Chan Lowe: Chef Petraeus' busy kitchen

kitchen.gifDavid Petraeus may be a bigger hero than most of us realize.

Here’s a guy who doesn’t just salute and say, “Yessir!” when called upon by his commander-in-chief, but he does so knowing there’s a good chance that in the end, he may be associated with the failure of the longest war in our history.

When you listen to all the supporters of the President’s Afghanistan policy, there appears to be a lot of wishful thinking involving the Afghan “police” suddenly identifying themselves as Afghans (instead of Pashtuns or Tajiks or whatever), and Hamid Karzai experiencing a spiritual conversion wherein the scales fall from his eyes and he emerges reborn as an enlightened Jeffersonian democrat.

I’m guessing that after the November mid-term elections, the White House will begin a gradual campaign to prepare the American people for failure, and come August of 2011, the nominal date for the beginning of the pullout, we will have been reasonably convinced that the fabled “conditions on the ground” have developed to a point where we can extricate ourselves with something approximating honor.

While reason would indicate that we might as well abandon our effort now as a year from now, politics does not. Obama cannot afford to be known as the man who “lost Afghanistan,” which is the way he would be cynically portrayed by those who secretly agree the situation is hopeless, but would hasten to profit in the short run from that very hopelessness.

It will be up to General Petraeus, the most respected man in uniform, to tell us that we did our best, and that we’re leaving the place better than we found it.

And for that, he’ll deserve yet another ribbon on that chestful of fruit salad.


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June 29, 2010

Chan Lowe: Kagan gets grilled

grilling.gifPredictable and irritating as they are, we have no choice but to sit back and endure the Elena Kagan hearings, led by the requisite Parade of Egos.

This is big business for both sides when it comes to fundraising and firing up the base to turn out in November.

To listen to Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s appraisal of Ms. Kagan compared to that of Charles Schumer, you’d think the two Senators represented different planets. Actually, they do.

The Republicans may have latched onto something, however, with their harping on Ms. Kagan’s lack of judicial experience. William Rehnquist didn’t have any before he was named an Associate Justice, either, and look where that got us.

If his nomination had been voted down at the time, he would never have risen to Chief Justice. The Court’s decision on Bush v. Gore might have turned out differently. There would have been no war in Iraq, no “Mission Accomplished,” no Dick Cheney. Thousands of soldiers’ lives might have been saved.

Of course, they say the same thing about Theresa LePore, the hapless Supervisor of Elections who designed the infamous “butterfly ballot,” which resulted in an unexpected bump for Patrick Buchanan--at the expense of Al Gore--in the 2000 election.

And if Lawton Chiles hadn’t been the popular governor of Florida in 1994 when Jeb Bush ran against him and lost, Jeb would have been the Bush tapped for the Presidency, rather than his dimmer-witted brother, the successful governor of Texas.

“Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” as Yul Brynner, the King of Siam, used to say.


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June 28, 2010

Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist, Caped Campaigner

campaigner.gifHe’s tanned, maybe not so rested, but certainly ready.

…and ambitious as hell, as we all know. A few weeks ago, Mrs. Lowe-Down was watching CNN at midday as the media and the political types prepared for a press conference at one of the fouled coastal areas of the Gulf.

President Obama was due in momentarily for one of his now-regular local appearances to demonstrate to the American people how much he truly, deeply cares, and for some reason a wide-angle shot of all the disorganized pre-speech milling around was being broadcast, C-SPAN-style, during the lull in the festivities.

According to my real-time witness, there was a lot of jockeying for position among the various hangers-on who always appear at these politically charged gatherings, and as Obama strode to the lectern, some jostling occurred between Governors Charlie Crist of Florida and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Jindal, a slight fellow, took an expertly-aimed elbow jab in the ribs from Crist, who ended up in prized pole position right next to the President just as the cameras tightened for the close-up. Charlie immediately hung a concerned, squinty expression on his tanned visage, nodding sagely like a bobble-head doll for several minutes as Obama spoke.

At the time, Louisiana was the only state to be affected by the slick, but Gov. Jindal was nowhere to be seen in the footage.

Then again, he wasn’t running for the U.S. Senate this November. Eat slime, Shorty.


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June 25, 2010

Chan Lowe: The iPhone 4 phenomenon

realty.gifWhat recession?

The iPhone 4 phenomenon is proof of what the theorists say, that we could easily spend our way out of this slump if we really wanted to.

The eighty-nine percent of us who continue to be employed (for now) are sitting on our money out of fear that we may really need it someday.

We put off buying that new air conditioner, or roof, or car, for better times, and those who would make these products we normally purchase get pink-slipped.

Then along comes a gadget which projects such talismanic appeal that people are willing to camp out twelve hours or more before the stores open so that they can be the first to spend several hundred dollars on it. To possess this thing, they will joyfully throw all caution to the wind.

It’s clear that all we need to rescue ourselves from the Great Recession are more irresistible products whose mere ownership induces the same euphoria, and—voila!⎯unemployment is banished.

Can’t you envision it? The iGarbage Disposal, the iFurnace, the iRiding Lawnmower. The manufacturers simply pay Steve Jobs a small licensing fee for the privilege of sticking an Apple logo onto whatever it is they make, and then sit back and wait for the iSheep to line up around the block.

There's probably an app for that.


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June 24, 2010

Chan Lowe: McChrystal, crazy like a fox?

McC.gifYou can go ahead and fault Gen. Stanley McChrystal for insubordination, but you have to give him credit for his impeccable timing.

Everyone is wondering why on Earth a smart guy like McChrystal would allow such intimate access to a reporter from Rolling Stone, of all places. Was he crazy? Maybe like a fox. Here’s a theory, admittedly far-fetched but plausible:

If you’re going to torpedo your own career, it’s best to do it now just as the situation in Afghanistan is really beginning to go south. That way, you may be written off as a frat-boy who couldn’t control his mouth, but your war-fighting prowess will never be called into question. Walking away in the middle of battle marks you as a quitter. You must be forced to leave.

To put a modern twist on Douglas MacArthur’s famous aphorism, “Old soldiers never die; they just end up on TV news as in-house military analysts.”

With the new cred McChrystal has just acquired by holding Obama and his team in open contempt, he’s a shoo-in to be Fox News’ next celebrity battlefield poo-bah. For all we know, Roger Ailes was already on the horn asking Big Mac to simply name his price before Obama had even finished his speech announcing his dismissal.

Meanwhile, the ever-dutiful and heroic General Petraeus, answering his commander-in-chief’s call, will preside over a degenerating mishmash involving military and civilian brass who don’t get along, locals who simply want us out so they can return to their feudal ways, and a corrupt puppet in Hamid Karzai whose only saving grace is his snazzy wardrobe.

It is Petraeus who will be tarred with the way things turn out. If, by some miracle, our final exit isn’t a debacle, then good for him.

Does anyone have a better explanation?


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June 23, 2010

Chan Lowe: World Cup blahs

It confounds sports promoters everywhere that the United States, which even has a dog in the World Cup fight, is an impenetrable fortress when it comes to embracing a sport that is the passion of every other country in the world.

Some say it’s because it’s a sissy sport where people don’t use brute force to get ahead (which means that it clashes, metaphorically, with the American concept of what it takes to succeed in our society).

That doesn’t explain the appeal of baseball or basketball, or why rugby, which is even rougher than American football, is still considered a boutique sport here.

No, I think it’s the myth of American exceptionalism. In our minds, there’s us⎯and then there’s all them other countries. The very fact that that soccer is the rest of the world’s sport makes it un-American.

Besides, some third-world country could beat us, and probably will. Talk about embarrassing.

Best to ignore the whole thing. How many guys are left on The Bachelorette this week?


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June 22, 2010

Chan Lowe: Three impossible dreams

prayerx.gifThree naïve, impossible dreams…and we could make at least two come true, if we only had the will.

As for the first, what is the point of public service unless you service yourself, your friends and your family in the process?

As evidenced by current attempts to gut the feeble ethics rules we are trying to establish locally, our officials still don’t get it, and never will get it until they’re standing in their cells with quizzical expressions, looking at their constituents from the wrong side of a set of bars.

To them, it isn’t corruption, it’s part of the job description, and if you go to the trouble of running for office, cultivating networks of supporters and developing a closed system of mutual back scratching, then you deserve to skim some of the cream off the top. It’s hard work, and the salary’s not all that great compared to a respectable job.

As for the second, as long as people keep moving to Florida because the taxes are low, our education system will go begging. You get what you pay for, and I assume that Iowa has a reputation for great public schools because its citizens make the education of their children a high enough priority that they’re willing to tax themselves. Contrary to what some Tea Partiers will tell you, it isn’t un-American to pay taxes.

In the long run, funding for education has been shown to be a good investment in terms of higher-income jobs for the community. Unfortunately, raising taxes for benefits that do not become immediately apparent doesn’t get local officials reelected around here. That’s partly our selfishness, and partly because so many of the bucks raised flow out through the sieve of corruption and waste without delivering any bang.

Why should we believe things are ever going to be different?


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June 21, 2010

Chan Lowe: Merchants of death

merchants.gifBack when I lived in Oklahoma, I had a Hitchcockian problem with hundreds of pigeons living under the eaves of my house.

They were filthy, they left guano all over the place, and their incessant cooing drove me crazy day and night.

Desperate for relief, I approached a neighbor for advice. “You got several alternatives,” he said. “You can get yourself one of them fake owls to scare ‘em off, but they wise up after a while and ignore it. You can use a pellet gun on 'em, but you might bust a window if you miss.

"You can spread poisoned feed, but then you’ll have to clean up all the dead bodies. And finally,”⎯here, he grinned diabolically⎯“you can nail some shiny metal shingles to your roof. They go nuts peckin’ at the reflection, and they peck themselves to death.”

There was an almost biblical appeal to the last option, in which the pigeons actively participated in their own demise. Besides, it removed me ethically from direct responsibility for the birds’ deaths, because there was an element of free will involved on their part.

Maybe this is how people who make money by selling products that shorten people’s lives rationalize their livelihoods.

They produce legal products, after all. If people can’t control their urges around them and end up hurting and killing themselves and others, then they’re the victims of their own weakness. So be it. The providers can join Pontius Pilate in the clean hands club.

By the way, before I could figure out what to do about the pigeons, they flew off en masse one day of their own volition. I was left with a clear conscience and a fascia full of guano.


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June 18, 2010

Chan Lowe: America's most hated man

tonyx.gifYou just knew, watching Tony Hayward bobbing and weaving and sliming around at his hearing, that he’d been coached the night before by a murder board of corporate image specialists and tort lawyers, each impersonating a congressman as he fired scattershot questions at him.

“Look contrite,” they admonished Mr. Hair Mousse. “Apologize all over the place that it happened. Take the arrows. Make the martyrdom of St. Sebastian look like a Sunday picnic, but whatever you do, DON’T ADMIT YOU DID ANYTHING WRONG!”

Any such disclosure, any slip into the matter of willful negligence, could mean billions in court. We won’t know anything until the investigations are finished, he said. Blame? Not his province, thank you very much. The matter should be put before an adjudicator.

It’s all a joke because we already know the answer. We’ve heard the testimony about the arguments over whether safety measures should have been taken, or whether the potential damage to BP’s profits was just too heavy to take the trouble.

What do you do with a person who feigns repentance when his heart and mind remain wrapped around the idea of safeguarding the bottom line above all else?

How about some condign punishment? Throw him in a cell lined with defective Chinese drywall, where he can spend the balance of his days inhaling the brimstone-laced fumes of a corporate irresponsibility that he had nothing to do with.

God knows BP’s victims have already been condemned to such a fate.

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

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June 17, 2010

Chan Lowe: Internet privacy

hr.gifThis is another one of those cases where the sensibilities of older folks⎯who remember a clumsier, less invasive time before the Internet⎯are having trouble reconciling with the new, ultra-efficient way of disseminating information.

Studies have shown that younger generations think nothing of revealing personal details about their lives online that would horrify their elders. This stuff is mined, collated, digested and fed back in the form of targeted advertising, and for some, the amount of money to be made off the raw data is clearly worth the effort to preserve the Internet as a wild frontier of non-regulation.

The geezers are feeling assaulted, and Congress⎯as always, with its ear to the ground⎯is ready to respond with some restrictive legislation to make them feel more comfortable.

The online businesses that have the most to lose, like the Googles, Yahoos and Facebooks, may be young and brash, but they’ve wasted no time getting wise to the old ways of doing things. They’ve begun using some of their vast resources to buy that very same Congress, so you can bet that any new laws will be short on substance.

Remember the old WW II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships?” Security begins with the individual. Nobody else is going to be looking out for you, especially when there’s a profit motive, so don’t put online what you don’t want everyone to know. There’s no taking it back, and chances are there’s no turning back to the good old days, either.

POSTED IN: Culture Wars (199)

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June 16, 2010

Obama's Oval Office speech

infamy.gifFirst, a word of thanks to all you readers who kept faith with the blog while the Lowe-Down was off in the lush, rain-kissed mountains of Western Massachusetts attending his college reunion.

To those who posted comments hoping to see their deathless prose online, my apologies. Even cartoonists have to take a break once in a while to rest the fingers.

As for President Obama’s speech last night, I found myself unsatisfied. Sure, we elected the guy partly because he was cool and unflappable under fire, but sometimes circumstances call for more than a reasonable, analytical approach. They call for a little kick-ass.

Some say we shouldn’t blame him, because there really isn’t much a president can do besides show up at the scene and look concerned.

They are wrong. Were the president an FDR-style leader⎯a man with a sense of theatricality who was not afraid to display his emotional side with a nation in need of an emoter-in-chief⎯he could harness the inchoate babble of public anger and⎯like a laser mirror⎯forge and amplify it into a monochromatic, coherent beam of pure political energy.

He could focus this beam ⎯ a beam so white-hot that no lobbyist could quench it, not even with a fire hose spewing campaign contributions⎯on an inert and fearful congress, making its seats sizzle to the point where members would jump out of them to pass a set of meaningful laws that would finally break our addiction to fossil fuels and get us on the road to sustainable, clean energy, Manhattan Project-style.

Oh, well.

Artist's note: Why no color today? I was evoking a speech given in 1941. Everything back then happened in black and white...just ask your grandparents.


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June 15, 2010

Chan Lowe: Blast from the past (IV)

fishes.gifThis is one of my favorites from ten years ago.

Thanks for your patience...fresh stuff tomorrow!

POSTED IN: Cartoons from 10 years ago (4)

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June 14, 2010

Chan Lowe: Blast from the past (III)

prison.gifI'm still away from the blog, but thought this cartoon might be interesting. It ran in the Sun Sentinel exactly ten years ago today.

It's comforting to know that some controversies never die...they become like cherished old friends.

POSTED IN: Cartoons from 10 years ago (4)

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June 11, 2010

Chan Lowe: Blast from the past (II)

cyclist.gifI'm still away from the blog. Care to know what ran in the paper exactly ten years ago today?

This cartoon seems so quaint, in retrospect. Ten years from now, we'll probably be saying the same thing about gay marriage.

POSTED IN: Cartoons from 10 years ago (4)

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June 10, 2010

Chan Lowe: Blast from the past (I)

cheney.gifJust so you, my readers, know that you're still close to my heart while I'm away from the blog for a few days, I've arranged to run a few oldies to keep you occupied.

I couldn't resist digging this one out of the archives, in light of recent events. It's hard to believe I drew this on May 31, 2001.

The more things change...


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June 9, 2010

Chan Lowe: Global warming hoax, Part II

hoax.gifIf I may, I am going to use the words of Golda Meir to make a point about the environment: "There will be peace when the Palestinians love their children more than they hate Israel."

Let’s hang on to the same brilliant locution and plug in a different subject: “The environment will improve when people love their children more than they hate paying higher prices for energy.”

Ultimately, cost is the siren song of the global warming hoax argument. Never forget the old Nixonian admonition, “Follow the money.” If there weren’t financial interests involved, there would be no point in arguing the issue. After all, alternative energy development and environmental stewardship⎯something that benefits us all right now⎯go hand in hand. If you ever needed proof, look at the Gulf.

Oil companies fear the specter of alternative energy sources, which is why they fund so many studies showing that man has nothing to do with climate change, and why they pay so many members of congress to swallow the results of those studies whole.

Average people are predisposed to sing along with that choir, because the hoax argument plays to their fears about higher costs for everything, and possible loss of jobs.

Unfortunately, we live in the now, not the future, and right now, some of us in our myopia see nothing but hardship ahead if we follow the green road.

There’s a flip side to this argument, which is that until we find out for sure what is responsible for climate change, it might be prudent to pretend that man is the cause.

Ah, fuggedaboudit. Let the future worry about itself.

POSTED IN: Environment (46)

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June 8, 2010

Chan Lowe: Helen Thomas steps in it

helen.gifHelen Thomas has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist, but there’s no condoning what she said on video yesterday, which is that the Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine.”

It was coarse, insensitive, and stupid. As one of my colleagues put it during an editorial board meeting, “It’s like telling American blacks they should all go back to Africa.”

Any reasonable person would agree that her comments were outside the pale. If one wishes to be charitable, one might ascribe the faux pas to Ms. Thompson’s advanced age (eighty-nine), and leave it at that. She was pushed out of her job for her transgression, and it was probably time.

All that having been said, it might be instructive for us to look at the above cartoon as a thought experiment. Had Ms. Thomas uttered the words depicted, rather than her actual ones, would she have been treated as harshly? Would she have lost her job? Would commentators have been lining up, as they are today, to pile on?

After all, the words in the cartoon are just as offensive, unfair, and reflective of a total ignorance of the facts on the ground, which is that the area in question is a patch of earth that both Israelis and Palestinians belong to. It would be a lovely thing if the two peoples could live in harmony, but since they appear unable to, the conflict arises over how to divide it.

Anyone who doesn’t agree that she ought to be treated the same in both circumstances might want to look to his own bias.


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June 7, 2010

Chan Lowe: Tar balls on the Potomac?

tidal.gifThere may be a few folks still around who remember the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The science of soil conservation was in its infancy, folks didn’t know about contour plowing, and when the wind started to blow, it scoured the topsoil right off the prairie.

When I lived out there, I heard a story that senators and congressmen from the great Midwestern farm states pleaded in vain for relief from a government that wasn’t used to being the handout of last resort. Remember, even Social Security was just getting off the ground. Folks tended to look after themselves, locally.

Besides, people didn’t travel as much back then, and there was no TV. So the evidence was mostly anecdotal, and lacked immediacy.

It finally got so bad that a wall of dust several thousand feet high blew all the way east and was visible from Washington, D.C. One senator gathered his colleagues on the Capitol balcony and said (I paraphrase), “Gentlemen, what you see before you is the State of Oklahoma.”

Finally, they voted for some funding.

So it may take something like tar balls in the Tidal Basin before these folks finally wean themselves off big oil’s teat and actually pass some laws and regulations that benefit the country instead of their own careers. Nothing like soiling someone’s own back yard to focus his attention.


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June 4, 2010

Chan Lowe: Funnel in position

dunce.gif No doubt, Tony Hayward’s chums at his Mayfair gentleman’s club speak of him in warm terms. “Sterling bloke, wot? I remember when he wore the lampshade and throw rug at the annual Christmas party and pretended to be Attila the Hun. Simply ripping fellow!”

But clearly, down in the Gulf of Mexico, our boy is what you might call a fish out of oily water. His comments about wanting his life back, and about the slick being not so large if you consider the vastness of the Gulf, come off as tone-deaf if not callous.

The fact that they’re delivered in a tony British boarding-school accent doesn’t make them any easier to swallow, as Americans witness the despoliation of their coastline by a corporate Goliath that views our precious environment as a wealth generator and nothing more.

BP is desperately trying to hang onto the shreds of its reputation by deliberately under-reporting the bad news and organizing Potemkin cleanup squads for the TV cameras.

As one of its maladroit stabs at self-rehabilitation, the corporation might consider sacking its feckless CEO. Nothing would communicate more effectively to an exasperated public that BP really was sorry about what happened, and it might give a tiny measure of solace to those who never will get their lives back that at least one of the cheeses had to learn some compassion the hard way.


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June 3, 2010

Chan Lowe: Middle East Rorschach test

rorschach.gifIt tells you something about the power that the Internet and social media have accrued in our lives that both sides amply documented the Israeli raid on the would-be blockade-runners for Facebook and YouTube.

It was a contrived event conceived as a salvo in the all-important public relations war, and the battlefield is the world’s computer and television screens.

Since we now have video evidence of what transpired from every possible angle, all that’s left is for the world to interpret what it sees.

That interpretation, naturally, gets filtered through the prism of each observer’s background and prejudices. What we “see” is what suits our own personal narrative and belief system. Anything that doesn’t fit into the matrix is discarded.

In the end, nothing will be resolved, because the “rightness” or “wrongness” of people’s actions are judged within a historical context, and that depends on whose history you’re buying, and how far back you want to go.

In any case, the sooner we get past who’s right or wrong and simply accept that everyone has a right to exist with dignity, the sooner we’ll end the tragedy.

So simple, yet so unattainable.


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June 2, 2010

Chan Lowe: Marriage advice from an old pro

advicex.gifThe first thing that probably entered many minds upon hearing the news of the Gores' split was how ironic it is that the Clintons, who by any objective yardstick have plenty more reasons to have gone their separate ways, are still together.

Bill Clinton—America’s favorite rogue--is, and always will be, good for a laugh…and this editorial cartoonist is not above having a little more fun at his expense. Call it an appreciative tip of the hat to someone who was so good to our profession back in the 1990s.


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June 1, 2010

Chan Lowe: Death by oil

kidding.gifWinston Churchill, who was known as a superb practitioner of the mother tongue, said the following in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister in 1940: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.”

How well do you think a speech like this would go over in today’s America? Of course, the British didn’t need to be convinced that crunch time had arrived; the only thing that separated them from the Nazi war machine was 22 miles of English Channel, and they realized—too late⎯that they had squandered the previous 20 years in an idealistic fog when they should have been rearming.

Yet the threat that faces our country today is no less immediate or existential than that which faced England in 1940. It is a more insidious kind of threat, like the slick of oil that creeps across the surface of our pristine Gulf, enveloping all while we stand as observers, helpless to contain it.

We need a special kind of leadership, the kind that will--without fear of the effects on personal popularity--tell us what we must deny ourselves now so that we may continue to survive as a people.

Our self-indulgent energy consumption only stokes the dependency on oil that will kill us in the end—environmentally, economically, and strategically.

Sadly, leaders of Churchill’s caliber are all too rare, which is what makes them great. We could use one right now.


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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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