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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July 30, 2010

Chan Lowe: Teacher pay raises

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This isn’t about whether teachers are worth more than they get paid. Of course they are. A lot of people are underpaid for what they do.

It’s about realizing that when times are tough, everybody has to tighten his belt a little; we can’t go on demanding things as if we lived in a vacuum.

We would all love to give teachers a raise; Lord knows they deserve it. But to do so means that more revenue must be found—this isn’t the federal government where we can just appropriate where necessary and let the Chinese pick up the tab.

We find the money by hiking property taxes on everyone, including private-sector workers who haven’t seen a raise in a long time and who consider themselves lucky to still have jobs.

As homes are foreclosed upon, counties and school districts with basic overhead expenses find themselves forced to lean on the remaining property owners, including those who don’t have the benefit of unionized collective bargaining to put the squeeze on their employers.

In other words, for teachers to get more, other already-strapped workers must get by with less. Surely, no one should feel that entitled, no matter how worthy his calling.


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July 29, 2010

Chan Lowe: The Arizona immigration law

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Like gay marriage and gun control, cooler heads will not prevail on the issue of immigration reform until the last vote and the last campaign dollar have been squeezed out of the base, which is to say, never.

Both sides are guilty of demagoguery, which is nothing new. In a perfect world, we would bring out an enormous sieve, strain it through the American populace to collect all the illegal aliens, and ship each of them back to his country of origin.

At the same time, we would build a crenellated Great Wall of America across our southern border, with embrasures every dozen feet or so, that would afford a clear field of fire for the crossbowmen to keep the barbarian hordes at bay.

Of course, we’d all have to eat off paper plates because no dishes would get washed, and we’d need machetes just to get through our front lawns. Fruit and vegetables? An ounce of Beluga caviar would be cheaper than a chicken Caesar salad.

While it might offend the moral sticklers if a way were found to legalize (some would say, “reward”) those already here, it’s probably the only realistic solution in the long run. But reason is trumped by emotion when it comes to getting people to pull out their checkbooks.

Besides, if the pragmatic solution were ever achieved, we wouldn't be able to scream about the civil rights of the downtrodden being violated any more. Nobody would benefit from that, except the workers and their families who live furtively in a perpetual twilight legal state.

When you look at it that way, why would any politician want to settle?


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July 28, 2010

Chan Lowe: The oil slick's lasting damage

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Ours is a nation that runs on visuals. To put it more bluntly, if we don’t see it on TV, it doesn’t exist.

Those of us old enough and not too high at the time to remember the 1960s recall that what made the Vietnam war so immediate was that Uncle Walter was delivering footage of dying American boys right to our living rooms.

This had never happened in any war before, and many historians contend that it was this sight that galvanized the protest movement. Of course, knowing we could get drafted and end up on that reality show ourselves helped galvanize us, too, but that’s another story.

Conversely, if an issue is too abstract to lend itself to an easy visual, it is almost impossible for the public to grasp. Take the deficit, for example. It’s some kind of bookkeeping thing, right? What does it have to do with us? You’ve probably noticed that whenever it’s mentioned on TV, they use the same lame video of sheets of hundred-dollar bills rolling off the presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, because it's the best they can do.

Now, if TV news could somehow travel to the future and depict our hollow-eyed, skeletal grandchildren waiting in soup lines for a handout because the Chinese are taking every penny they earn to service a national debt that we wastrels incurred, we might work up a sweat.

It’s the same with the oil slick. BP and the Obama Administration are counting on the fact that TV cameras won’t show the underwater plumes that will plague us for years, or the consequent destruction of the aquatic food chain, because those things aren’t readily visible the way oil-covered waterfowl are.

Out of sight, out of mind.

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July 27, 2010

Chan Lowe: The leaked Afghanistan papers

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This should tell you something about the shifting, treacherous sands we find ourselves in while fighting the longest war in our history: Leaked classified documents reveal to the American public that we’ve been indirectly financing our own enemy, and government types in the know dismiss it as “old news.”

Which is worse…that a website released the information, which is surely damaging to our cause, or that our leaders have learned to accommodate this travesty as part of the cost of doing business with the Pakistanis?

The Bush team thought they were the sharpest guys around. After 9/11, they were going to go in there, shoot ’em up, and show the Rooskies the right way to tame those Afghans. Bring back Osama’s head on a plate.

They should have known they were getting this country embroiled in a part of the world where, if the locals didn’t actually invent intrigue, they certainly refined it to an art form.

There’s a story about a meeting in the Holy Land during the Crusades between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the local warlord. It’s probably apocryphal, but that doesn’t mean it can’t teach us something:

Richard, in order to demonstrate his military might to Saladin, draws out his huge, heavy double-handed broadsword and, in one blow, smashes a rock to pieces with it.

Saladin smiles, and pulls out a silk handkerchief. He tosses it in the air and unsheathes his scimitar of fine Damascus steel, holding it out cutting-edge up while the kerchief flutters down across the blade, splitting itself in two.

That’s what we’re up against over there.

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July 26, 2010

Chan Lowe: Tony Hayward to leave BP

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I was getting ready to celebrate the fact that at least somebody had lost his job over this avoidable tragedy, and that even though the benighted and self-centered Tony Hayward was probably “retiring” with a wad of BP stock, it wasn’t worth as much as it used to be.

As it turns out, all BP really wanted was to resuscitate that anemic stock price by moving its pet clown out of the limelight. As long as he was visibly in charge, that figure was going to remain unrealistically low.

The company apparently still likes the guy, and they’re going to let him run some Russian oil company that they half-own. Chances are the Russians don’t even have the laughable regulation enforcement that we do, so our seafaring toff will be free to cut safety corners all he wants.

If he were to make another boo-boo in, say, the East Siberian Sea, it would probably take several weeks for anyone to notice there was a spill, much less be annoyed by it.

In the unlikely event the BP brass might want to punish Tony at all for his transgressions (a notion which implies, of course, that oil companies are headed by people with a sense of right and wrong) they might require him to spend at least ninety-five percent of his time circling his Russian wells in his new icebreaking yacht.

At minimum, that would offer cold comfort to a few out-of-work Gulf fishermen.

POSTED IN: Environment (46), Florida Issues (258), International (86)

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July 23, 2010

Chan Lowe: Who is Rick Scott?

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If this guy Rick Scott manages to win the Republican primary and goes on to become governor of Florida (Does anyone know or care who’s running as the Democrat?), he will have proven something nobody had the means to test before in pure form: that it’s possible to buy statewide office outright.

The little we know about Scott is that he’s swimming in loot, and that he’s willing to spend an awful lot of it on his vanity campaign. When asked about his policies, all he offers up are some vague conservative bromides about reexamining taxes and getting the state back to work.

Another thing we know about Scott is his name, thanks to a huge pre-primary media ad buy. This is the part where Florida’s peculiar political character comes in. Since many of us are from someplace else, those of us who even bother to vote often simply push the button for the person we’ve heard of.

It’s a variation on the theme (also prevalent here) of voting for the person whose name happens to align with the ethnic group we prefer—whether we know what they stand for or not.

Scott is betting on the outsized influence of name recognition in Florida politics. So far, according to the polls, his simple strategy appears to be working. If he wins the whole shebang without revealing any more about himself, it will be a sad comment on Floridians’ ability or willingness to fulfill their basic civic responsibilities when it comes to governing themselves.

For all I know, Rick Scott is another Abraham Lincoln in waiting. But maybe he isn’t. I’d sure like to be a little better informed before he convenes his first session of the legislature.

POSTED IN: Florida Issues (258)

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July 22, 2010

Chan Lowe: Tea Party Caucus

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It does seem ironic that these politicians are jumping on the Tea Party bandwagon in hopes they’ll get reelected and be able to spend two more years mismanaging the same Evil Empire against which they rail.

If I had a job with their salary, perks, and benefits, I wouldn’t want to leave it, either. Sure beats taking your chances in the private sector.

Small government is for the little people, not elected cheeses, particularly if along with the job comes a tidy staff allowance to hire lackeys who can handle the nuts and bolts, thereby leaving you free to demagogue your pet issues.

The new caucus members had better hope that their tri-corned constituents never find out the full extent of those benefits they pull down—the free gym membership, the more-than-generous pension, the health care, the travel allowance, the taxpayer-financed self-serving puff piece mailings, to name only those I’ve heard of.

They might just find themselves on the wrong end of a pitchfork.


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July 21, 2010

Chan Lowe: The USDA Sherrod debacle

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Ultimately, this is a story about fear.

Fear on the part of Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, that a racist time bomb was about to blow up on his watch and embarrass the administration.

Fear on the part of the White House that the rabid right would use this as an excuse to accuse the administration of harboring racism within the ranks of the executive branch, a rap to which it is particularly sensitive, since the African-American president’s popularity is sinking among whites.

Fear on the part of the NAACP that it would not appear as pure as Caesar's wife when it came to condemning racism, no matter what quarter it came from.

And, of course, Fox News—in what is the most egregious motive of all⎯leaping to profit by stoking the fears of those who have never been comfortable with the Obama presidency.

In their fear, all parties started flapping their mouths without putting their brains in gear, or doing even the most rudimentary of background checks to find out the nature of the entire story. Everyone involved, except one, covered himself with shame.

The one person who did not show fear was Shirley Sherrod, who confronted her fears a quarter of a century ago, realized they were misplaced, and went on to back up her convictions with actions. Naturally, she’s the only one who got screwed.

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July 20, 2010

Chan Lowe: Afghan corruption

hamid.gifHamid Karzai may be corrupt, but he’s no fool.

He knows it’s just a matter of time before we throw up our hands and pull out of his ungovernable country, so he’s following the time-honored script perfected by past U.S. clients: paying lip service until the last possible minute while secretly getting his affairs in order for his next act.

Afghanistan doesn’t have a history of being kind to its leaders when they retire—if they even get the chance to retire⎯and my guess is that Karzai is a keen student of history, specifically of figures like President Nguyen Van Thieu of Vietnam and the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, who escaped the retribution of their people in planes loaded with looted gold bricks. Keep those engines warmed up, Hamid.

On another topic, I stumbled across this post and cartoon, which I wrote and drew on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration in January of 2009. What I predicted about our current national mood was so prescient that it surprised even me. I haven’t altered a word of it.

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July 19, 2010

Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist's special session

special.gifMuch as it makes me shudder to agree with anything Marco Rubio says, I have to admit that there’s something fishily opportunistic about our newly independent governor calling for a special session to deal with offshore oil drilling.

Charlie wants to enshrine a ban on drilling off Florida’s shores in our state constitution. For several reasons, this is unnecessary and sets bad precedent.

First, the state constitution ought to be a blueprint for the mechanics of how Florida is governed, nothing more. Any editorial board and political policy wonk will tell you that. The rest of us probably don’t even know or care that we have one.

Specifics like oil drilling policy have no more reason to be included than protecting pregnant pigs. Oops, that’s in there, isn’t it? Remember, this is Florida’s constitution. We should allow room for at least a little idiocy.

Second, a ban on offshore drilling is already part of state law, so the amendment would be superfluous. But Charlie fears the law could be changed someday. Does he really think that after what just happened in the Gulf, any politician would dare touch that law? Ever?

So it’s beginning to look like Charlie is calling a special session--at tens of thousands of dollars per day—which will accomplish little more than showcase him at the podium acting as master of ceremonies. Oh, and looking senatorial.

If it’s so easy for Charlie to play fast and loose with state money (where the budget has to be balanced by law), imagine how much fun he’ll have in Washington, where they can print as much as they want.


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July 16, 2010

Chan Lowe: Dengue fever in Florida

dengue.gifWhen I draw cartoons about Florida, this is one of my favorite genres.

We depend on tourism as part of our three-legged economic stool (the other two being growth and red-light cameras), and yet calamities befall the Sunshine State out of proportion to its size compared to the rest of the country.

When there are hurricanes, we attract them. Of course, the slick has affected our shores. When pestilence arrives via containerized cargo, it always manages to take root and thrive in our hospitable clime. I could go on, but we all have our own stories.

Our hats should be off to those whose thankless job it is to take the reality of where we live and, as the unlovely expression goes, “put lipstick on the pig.”


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July 15, 2010

Chan Lowe: Tea Party Racist?

teaparty.gifThere are many good-hearted people in the Tea Party, I’m sure, who have been swept up in the enthusiasm of a cause that articulates the frustrations that have been building within them for years.

The very nature of their movement--amorphous, absent any hierarchy, lacking a clearly defined manifesto, welcoming to all disgruntled newcomers—is the source of its spontaneity, its inspiration, and what makes it so exhilarating to be a part of.

It’s also the Tea Party’s Achilles’ heel. Without rules, structure or coherent leadership, what is a legitimate representation of political sentiment can easily be infiltrated and hijacked by those with a darker agenda.

Racism—tragically--will always be tangled in the warp and weft of the American fabric. It’s the legacy of a past we’d just as soon forget, but are shackled to forever. It lurks just beneath the surface of our national discourse like a crouching beast.

We see examples of it every day right here at our newspaper’s website. The Internet, with its attendant anonymity, has given voice to those whom nobody ever bothered to listen to before, and they exercise their vocal cords with a vengeance. Even comments to our weather site, of all places, can easily degenerate into racist rants if we don’t keep an eye on them.

So the Tea Party may have a racist component, as the NAACP claims, but that does not mean that all of its adherents ought to be tarred as racists.

It’s equally unrealistic to ask the Tea Party to condemn racism within its ranks. It isn’t organized that way. Who is going to write the resolution? Who will disseminate it? Who will sign it?

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July 14, 2010

Chan Lowe: Unemployment benefits extension

sacred.gifIf Conservatives in Congress really feel that extending unemployment benefits will break the bank, why is it so incredibly difficult to find the means to pay for it?

Here’s an idea right off the the top of my head, and they don’t even have to give me credit: Why don’t we eliminate government subsidies for oil companies to drill in this country and off our shores?

Does an oil company that makes a profit of several billion dollars per quarter really need an incentive from the U.S. taxpayer to keep drilling?

Here’s another: The U.S. Treasury now has an agreement with Swiss banks to flush out American fat cats who stashed their wealth over there in order to avoid paying taxes. It has offered the scofflaws amnesty if they ’fess up and pay up now, rather than face prosecution later. Can you think of a more appropriate use for this sudden windfall?

Need more? Force American companies that base themselves in places like Dubai to pay their fair share of U.S. corporate taxes if they want to do business in this country.

Wow! That was so easy, it clearly can’t be a lack of resources…it’s more like a lack of human decency.

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July 13, 2010

BP installs new well cap

jester.gifLet’s say this well cap works.

You have to ask, then, why didn’t they try it seven weeks ago?

Might it have anything to do with the fact that this solution shuts off the oil completely while the other, failed designs provided for profit in the form of crude to continue to spew forth (under control, of course), thereby not rendering the investment a total waste for BP?

And, is it true that the $3.5 billion BP has spent so far would have gone to federal taxes anyway, were it not for the loss to the company…which means that we are paying for the cleanup after all, regardless of what we are being told?

While this cartoon is a comment on BP’s slapstick technical efforts so far, maybe it is the American public that ought to be wearing the collective fool’s cap.

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July 12, 2010

World Cup trumps LeBron news

spain.gifOK, this is the last LeBron cartoon I’ll do for a while. Give me a break-- it’s a local story.

And besides, that’s only two in a row. I recall doing five or six straight when the Presidentially defiled blue cocktail dress emerged into the public sphere.

As we celebrate here in Heatville, and betrayed Clevelanders burn LeBron jerseys in effigy, we ought to remember that our newest star hasn’t even scored a single point yet for his new team.

Meanwhile, the Spaniards pulled off a genuine sports feat yesterday. Never having made the finals of the World Cup before, they can now claim to be the best players in the world in soccer, a sport that every country except ours takes seriously.

Now, to Americans, this is tantamount to being the world champions of tiddlywinks when you’ve got sports like basketball and football to think about, but let us remember that there is a fine line between chauvinism and ignorance.

A fan for the losing team, the Netherlands, put the significance of soccer in its proper perspective during a radio interview, while revealing what long memories Europeans have.

“It would have been nice to win,” he said, philosophically, “but the really important thing is that we beat the Germans.”


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July 9, 2010

Chan Lowe: LeBron James joins Heat

lebron.gifIf you’re one of those weirdos like me who doesn’t follow sports, then you just sit back with bemusement and watch everyone get orgasmic over LeBron James’ announcement that he’s joining the Heat’s roster.

My colleagues, in their rhapsodizing about a LeBron-enhanced future, tout the economic boon this will be for the region (this is the way fanatics always justify professional sports developments, like asking me to help pay for a stadium I will never go to).

To hear them toss around the term, “King James,” you’d think they were talking about the man who unified Great Britain and commissioned one of the greatest works ever written in the English language.

But that King James probably didn’t pull down anything like LeBron’s salary, either.

If nothing else, it gets us all talking about something besides the economy, housing foreclosures, Afghanistan and the slick.

And for that—you have my thanks, LeBron.

POSTED IN: Florida Issues (258), Local South Florida Issues (187), Sports (17)

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July 8, 2010

Chan Lowe: Immigration reform

mariachi.gifThe Spanish expression for “to patronize” is, “tratar a alguien con condescendencia.

Now, when President Obama just happens to give a speech in favor of immigration reform, and its intended audience knows he knows there’s nothing he can really do about it--given this Congress and the current public mood--it doesn’t matter if he’s treating them with condescencia or not; that’s they way they’re going to read it.

It doesn’t help that the speech came just as the polls show that Obama’s support with Latino voters is slipping a few months before the November election, when all Democratic hands are on deck to minimize the inevitable losses.

People get ticked off when they think they’re being taken for fools. It’s an affront to their dignidad. They went along on this ride the first time around, and now they’re being asked to get back up on the bronc after it already threw them into the mud and rode off into the sunset without them.

The political calculus in the White House is that Latinos aren’t going to suddenly vote Republican; the principles of that party are inimical to Latino self-interest. But they are worried they’ll stay home on election day out of disgust with the way they and their issues have been kicked to the back of the line. Hence, bring out the old silver tongue and woo them once more.

Words are nice, but action is all that counts at this point. The word in Spanish for “word” is “palabra.” Interestingly, there's a cognate to that in English: “palaver.”

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July 7, 2010

Chan Lowe: Local government corruption

snatcher.gifTalk about an embarrassment of riches.

The biggest problem most commentators worry about is having enough interesting topics on which to opine. In this “Perp of the Week” atmosphere pervading the governing class in South Florida, the hardest part is coming up with a cartoon idea I haven’t already used.

It’s gotten to the point where, the moment we elect someone to public office, we might as well just take their fingerprints, do a DNA swab and snap a frontal and profile mug shot to save us trouble down the road.

In all fairness to those allegedly corrupt officeholders getting taken down of late, how were they supposed to know we were going to change the rules on them in the middle of their tenure?

Actually, that’s a mischaracterization. We didn’t change the rules, we simply began enforcing them. Some gratitude for all the work our officials have done for the benefit of themselves and the rest of us lo these many years.

If we keep treating our public servants like this, we’ll be sorry in the end. All that unappreciated talent and experience may just fly out the window, and then what’ll we be left with?

The honest ones. Clearly, they have no concept of what it means to serve.


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July 6, 2010

Oil slick hits Texas

tex.gifJohn Steinbeck once wrote, “Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession.” In light of that sentiment, it will be interesting to see what the Lone Star State makes of the oil slick fouling its beaches.

I witnessed plenty of Texas hubris having lived next door in Oklahoma for nine years. While the two states shared plenty of similarities, Texans viewed their northern neighbor as a sort of discount store knock-off of the gen-u-wine article.

Oklahomans carried a large cow-chip on their shoulder about it, and looked forward to the annual Texas-Oklahoma football game, known locally as “The Game,” to settle the score with Baja Oklahoma, as they sneeringly referred to territory south of the Red River.

The Game took place in Dallas, considered “neutral” territory between Austin and Norman, the hometowns of the two universities in question. Wealthy alumni would cruise drunkenly up and down Commerce Street the night before the clash in their brand-new Cadillac convertibles (bought just for the event), conducting endless car horn duels with specially-fitted klaxons that played the opening bars of “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You,” or “Boomer Sooner.”

Texans viewed The Game as a reaffirmation of their supremacy in all things that mattered. Oklahomans saw it as an opportunity to take their blowhard brethren down a notch. Much in the way of testosterone-infused swagger rights rode on the outcome, not to mention a vast amount of legal tender.

It isn’t hard to imagine that--Texans being Texans--this cartoon will prove prescient. Shux, they even tussle with Florida over who has the biggest cockroaches.

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July 2, 2010

Chan Lowe: Jobless recovery

flatscreen.gifOne thing a crisis like this teaches you is that⎯unlike civil law⎯ the law of economics is not predicated on fairness.

When things began to go south back in 2008, business started shedding jobs like a dog does fleas…which, of course, worsened the problem.

Businesses⎯with the possible exception of some outfits that treat their employees like family⎯do not operate based on humanitarian motives, nor should we expect them to. There are economic necessities, period.

The cold reality of economic downturns, though, is that businesses eventually get used to making do with fewer employees.

When the recovery finally begins, it obviously makes sense⎯particularly if an employer is still unsure⎯to increase the workload of existing employees rather than spread the burden by making new hires, whose benefits will cost him a lot more.

Hence, the “jobless recovery.” As the economy chugs along, some people have more money to burn, and they use it to buy things, but few new workers get absorbed into the growth.

It’s too bad that our political system follows a two-year cycle. It took a lot longer than that for us to get into this mess, but we expect our leaders to get us out of it within that trial period. If not, it’s time to throw the bums out.

That’s where economics gets human: at a time when we're buffeted by forces we can neither understand nor control, it's nice to have somebody to blame, even if it isn't the right person. After all, it's what we pay them for.


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July 1, 2010

That patriotic feeling

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It’s hard to think of another people that imbues the ownership of firearms with the same mystical, symbolic mix of independence, self-reliance and patriotism as Americans.

The Mujahedeen of Afghanistan may hold their personal weapons in similar esteem, but because they think tribally, the concept of allegiance to and affection for a nation-state whose very defining document bequeaths upon them the right to carry their weapons is an alien one.

Many of us would agree with last week’s Supreme Court decision that people should have a right to possess a firearm for defensive purposes. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t that simple. Once a gun is in someone’s hands, it can so easily be converted into an offensive weapon, depending on the bearer’s state of mind.

A psychiatrist friend of mine writes, “People, men in particular, get a sense of potency, of power with firearms, get pumped up, get stupid, and yes, this is one case where Freud and followers were absolutely correct: the similarity to the sex organ, the discharge, the “I’m a strong guy, I can shoot,” is absolutely a part of the mix.”

I’m sure the Founding Fathers were thinking about the fledgling nation’s collective security when they adopted the Second Amendment, and not about inserting access to an 18th Century-version of Viagra as the second most important right after freedom of speech and religion.

Yet, there it is. Meanwhile, little has been done in our history to bolster the self-esteem of the womenfolk (All right, we did give them the vote in the last century). The Equal Rights Amendment (remember that?) still hasn’t been ratified by the required number of states since Congress passed it in 1972, even though the deadline has been extended.

So girls, get your behinds into the kitchen and rustle us up some July 4th baked beans and slaw. We’ve still got a few rounds to squeeze off while the grill warms up. Your time will come.

POSTED IN: Culture Wars (199), General Topics (188)

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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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