The Lowe Down

Category: Florida Issues (262)

Chan Lowe: Food stamp cuts


Back in the 1980s, the Republican Party courted and won over religious conservatives, forming an alliance that served both groups well through many election cycles. A lot was said about the lurch to the right in a party that had been traditionally laissez-faire on social topics. Less discussed was how the principle of the Golden Rule became corrupted by too much contact with the practitioners of amoral economic theory.

Somewhere along the line, the doctrine of individual generosity as the path to moral goodness was co-opted by the seductive notion that the best way to benefit the poor was for the state to do everything it could to help the rich get richer. The largesse of the wealthy would, in theory, trickle down to the needy. While we’ve learned through experience that “trickle down” never worked as advertised, we may have forgotten that coddling the haves to alleviate the suffering of the have-nots wasn’t preached in the Gospels.

Europeans view the quirky morality of American politics with befuddlement. Their centrist Christian democratic parties, for example, share with socially conservative Americans a reverence for the sanctity of human life, but for them that sanctity applies across the board to include an abhorrence of the death penalty, which they view as inhuman punishment.

They also generally believe that the state — as the collective extension of the will of people — has a moral responsibility to guarantee sustenance and dignity to everyone. Their fundamental self-view in relation to society is different from ours: they too see themselves as individuals, but also as members of a larger family, and to them, their responsibility to one another is strong enough that they are willing to tax themselves to make sure their convictions are expressed in practice.

Europeans are puzzled when they see a faction of Americans view the plight of the poor not as a social problem, but as a moral failing outside government’s purview.

Maybe our mindset comes from America’s unusual demographic makeup as a nation; we comprise various tribes, ethnicities and religious traditions. It’s only human to look out for one’s own identity group, and to view the idea of collective welfare as a resource grab by someone else’s.

We should remember that America was founded on greater principles than being “only human.” Sometimes, it’s wise to return to basics.

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Chan Lowe: The push to legalize gay marriage


Soon I’ll be attending my first same-sex wedding. The two women who are tying the knot have waited decades to solemnize their relationship, and they wanted to get married in the state where they make their home — a state that recently embraced marriage equality.

Formerly, state law did allow for “domestic partnership” status, for which they duly registered years ago. They carry around laminated cards to prove it. They bought a house together, taking care to make sure the language in the document protected survivor’s rights. They drew up legal documents delineating health directives and powers of attorney. When traveling, they always carried a copy of these documents with them and left one behind with a friend — just in case, God forbid, they were in an accident and they needed to prove what they meant to each other.

Soon, they will no longer have to occupy a nether world of quasi-legality that grudgingly grants them some, but not all of the legitimacy other couples possess just because they happened to be born with differing biological equipment.

The fiancées are doing everything you’d expect of a couple anticipating the greatest moment of their lives. They’re worrying about what they’ll wear, and they’re preparing to receive friends and loved ones who are flying in from all over the country. Parents who, years ago, rejected their own daughter when she first came out as a lesbian, will be front-and-center — ready to embrace their new daughter-in-law and officially welcome her into their family.

The other day, my wife and I were pondering the quiet enslavement caused by tradition-bound thinking. It’s sad enough that, until now, the “norms” of society have prevented two loving people from claiming their rightful place in the community. But I also feel sorry for those who can’t accept their commitment, for they are denying themselves the joy of participating in one of the most sublime achievements of which mankind is capable.

I have searched my soul, and cannot find a scintilla of feeling that my marriage has been cheapened, sullied or denigrated because these two women can now enjoy the same rights we do.

To those who say, “Marriage is for procreation,” I say that my wife and I married too late to have children. Yet, nobody protested at our wedding.

To those who speak of the “sanctity” of marriage, I say that my better half and I were legally allowed to marry — no questions asked — despite several past divorces between us.

So I have to ask: Why shouldn't the union of these two women be as valid as mine?

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Chan Lowe: Medical marijuana


Admittedly, a medical marijuana bill’s chances of being passed by the Florida Legislature this year are about as thin as a leaf of ZigZag rolling paper, but if it does pass, it will be because the most powerful lobby in the state got involved.

No, we aren’t talking about the NRA. We mean Florida’s geezers. That’s right—the same massive voting bloc that enables people to hang onto their driver’s licenses well into their eighties without having to take a visual test might just flex its mighty muscle on this one.

Contrary to what some social conservatives might think, pot is no longer just the drug of young punks, shiftless ne’er-do-wells, criminals and ex-hippies. Granny has been sneaking a toke now and then to relieve her arthritis. Cancer sufferers smoke it to reduce nausea from chemo. It’s used as a palliative by all kinds of elderly folks who are otherwise happy to get their buzz from a Manhattan or a martini, but who find that booze doesn’t cut the pain like Mary Jane.

They don’t understand why this harmless drug that makes life worth living shouldn’t be freely available to them, just like video arcades and Internet cafes. Moreover, if it’s legalized, the state can regulate the quality while eliminating the criminal element needed to provide it. Entrepreneurs can enter the field, producing strains that provide maximum relief with a minimum of headiness, if that’s what’s desired.

It’s both libertarian and free-enterprise. What could be more Republican than that?

Oh, yeah…let’s not forget the compelling argument for our Democratic lawmakers: As a legal substance, it would be taxable.

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Chan Lowe: Sunshine Week


Those who rhapsodize about defending the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution (even if all they’ve read is the last half of the Second Amendment) have a good point. Our rights don’t just sit there, inviolate, waiting to be enjoyed at random. They need to be defended around the clock from enemies foreign and domestic.

Protecting American interests abroad through military might is one area where there is basic agreement across the political spectrum. In the domestic arena of defending individual freedoms and liberties, however, Americans sustain a lively debate. Some feel that these principles are best maintained by the threat of armed rebellion—specifically the possession of personal firearms to ward off a hostile government bent on subjugating the populace.

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Chan Lowe: Is it right to blame the cops?


The moral outrage over the Sun Sentinel’s multi-part expose about scofflaw cops and take-home perks is, in my opinion, misdirected.

Of course it’s offensive when those whom society entrusts with the sworn duty of protecting it abuse their authority. It’s particularly galling when they do so with impunity, due to an understanding of mutual protection between law enforcement personnel from different jurisdictions.

But they’re human. Give a human a little authority, and he develops a swagger. He would have to be a saint not to. There’s that gun. There’s the knowledge that they carry so much clout that the average citizen may wet his pants when he’s pulled over. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The only thing that reminds law enforcement that they serve the people⎯and not the other way around⎯is effective oversight and the certainty of sure and swift punishment in the event they get the equation backwards.

It’s like when your dog has an “accident” in the house. It isn’t the animal’s fault; it’s bad pet stewardship on the part of the owner. If government officials⎯who employ law enforcement personnel in the name of the people who elected them⎯don’t keep the leash taut, cops will come to believe that their authority and that nice take-home perk were given them as divine right for simply being more worthy than the next guy.

If you don’t like what you’ve read in the series, throw out the elected bums you have now and replace them with ones who promise to do their jobs the way they’re supposed to.

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Chan Lowe: The perils of cruising


Personally, I don’t know why anybody would want to take a cruise, but maybe I should check with my newspaper’s advertising department to see how much coal the cruise industry shovels into the engine room before I go and make a sweeping statement like that.

Viral diseases, crimes of violence, theft, seasickness, weight gain, liver damage, possibly getting stuck at the dinner table for the entire journey with people who deny the theory of evolution…sounds like the kind of vacation from which lasting memories are made.

Be sure to send pictures.

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Chan Lowe: Allen West jumps districts


Well, at least we know what it’s all about, now. It isn’t about faithfully representing the people of Florida District 22, because he just coldly abandoned them.

It isn’t about never shying away from a challenge, which is what Congressman Allen West was crowing just a few weeks ago when the Florida Legislature redrew his district to include more Democratic voters.

It’s about putting his career in Congress first and foremost. It’s been about that ever since he first decided not to run in his own home district. Evidently, the war veteran found the self-described “Jewish mom from Plantation,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, more fearsome, even, than Iraqi militants.

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Chan Lowe: Romney wins ugly in the Florida primary


It’s obvious what Mitt Romney’s advisers decided to do in Florida. In order to prevent fatal wounding by a thousand cuts over a period of months, they elected to win quick and, if necessary, to win dirty. Yes, in the short run, those suffering the nine-day scorched-earth lead-in to the Florida primary might conclude that Romney was, as Newt put it, ruthlessly “carpet-bombing” with negative ads and presenting nothing positive about his own vision for America. But negative advertising has been proven over and over again to work, even though voters claim to dislike it. By November, general election voters wouldn’t even recall the Florida ugliness, so went the reasoning.

With attackers from his own party out of the way, Romney would have the luxury of attacking only President Obama (always a crowd pleaser), and unveiling his own rationale for wanting to be president (we’re still waiting).

Romney’s people weren’t counting on the durability of Newt’s rage. Had Romney won in an honest, clean way, Newt might have gracefully folded his tent and offered his support in exchange for a juicy cabinet post. But they also knew that Romney’s support was so lukewarm that he ran a high risk of losing unless he went nasty.

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Chan Lowe: Burmese pythons take over the Everglades


The recent story about how pythons have taken over the Everglades⎯and are eating everything in sight⎯prompts us to re-examine the precarious balance between man and beast in this humid swamp we South Floridians call home.

When you think about it, everything was doing fine down here until homo sapiens came along in search of mild winter weather. For a short while, hot summers drove him off until he invented air conditioning, which allowed him to become a permanent fixture amid the other subtropical fauna.

With Man came hobbies and interests. His love of reproducing microcosms of the oceans within his dwelling inspired him to import exotic species such as lionfish to populate his aquaria. When he tired of them eating up the rest of his piscine investments, he tossed them into the nearest canal. Now lionfish, which have no local predators, have become a menace to our waters, decimating the indigenous species.

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Chan Lowe: The Florida Primary is upon us


While the Florida Republican primary is a spectator sport for many of us here in the Sunshine State, there’s a sense that we all may be witnessing history in the making.

If Mitt Romney clinches it, which, as of this writing, it looks like he will, it could represent the high water mark for tea party influence in the GOP. Yes, he won it dirty by outspending Newt Gingrich five-to-one, but winning by stuffing obscene amounts of money into the system has an honorable history here.

Romney’s victory will be a triumph of blandness, and a late-in-the-game spasm of muscle flexing by what is left of the Republican establishment⎯a group of old bulls that still has trouble accepting that their dalliance with the tea party was a Faustian pact.

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Chan Lowe: Prepare for the Florida Republican Primary


The problem with Florida is that it comprises a pastiche of viewpoints and backgrounds from all across the country, reflecting its transplant makeup. It has no indigenous political character of its own, so it needs to follow someone else’s cue. Florida usually validates the front runner in a race, because as I’ve said before, Floridians are so lackadaisical that they tend to vote for the person they’ve heard of (Exhibit A: Governor Rick Scott, who bought the airwaves before his election. Now you can’t find anybody who’ll admit to having supported him).

An exception to this rule is Rudolph Giuliani, who came down here when he was running for president, expecting to corral Florida and its rich trove of delegates because there were so many transplants from the New York area, and he figured they’d know who he was. Ultimately, that turned out to be his Achilles’ heel. They certainly did know who he was.

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Chan Lowe: Cuba prepares to drill, baby, drill


Basically, all I did in this cartoon was to illustrate the news story. That’s how absurd it is.

We have a Chinese oil rig⎯and we know how dependable Chinese products are, like drywall and baby formula⎯being put in the hands of a country that has no experience whatsoever drilling for oil.

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Chan Lowe: Allen West, vice-president?


God bless Allen West. For someone who’s supposed to be a politician, his utterances can be most impolitic. Maybe the rough edges are a source of his appeal.

While his “Joseph Goebbels would be proud of the Democrat Party” comments were still reverberating through South Florida and beyond, West fell for a set-up that any solon worth his salt could have batted aside with ease. What if Romney tapped him to be his running mate, he was asked. This is the kind of question that custom dictates should be deflected with extreme modesty, no matter how much the responder may hunger for the job. A simple, “What, are you out of your mind?” or, “I won’t even entertain that question, it’s so far out of the realm of possibility,” is the standard riposte.

But instead, Col. West got all soldierly, and said something clunky and revealing about how he wouldn’t turn his back if his country asked him to step up. Which means he’s been thinking about it.

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Chan Lowe: Redistricting smoke and mirrors


Everything was neatly in place. After the census, there would be redistricting for congressional and state legislative offices. The Republicans in Tallahassee had a total lock on the process. It would be business as usual, protecting incumbents, perpetuating a power structure that did not represent the political demographics of the citizenry, and all would be well for another ten years. The whole subject of redistricting is a yawner, anyway, since people are only worried about jobs and schools. Most folks couldn’t name their representative or senator if you held a knife to their throats.

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Chan Lowe: Allen West steps in it again


Rep. Allen West is certainly a man known for pulling no punches in speaking his mind (after all, it’s part of what got him elected), but you have to wonder what was in his breakfast C-rations the day he decided to compare the Democratic Party’s information dissemination operation to the work of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.

West’s Congressional District, Florida 22, has a great number of Jewish constituents, some of whom, no doubt, survived the Holocaust. To make it worse, roughly half of the voters in Dist. 22 are Democrats, so that West, with his usual martial efficiency, managed to offend several cohorts with the same statement.

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Chan Lowe: Tallahassee tackles liposuction?


No surgery is risk free, so if you want to roll the dice and gamble that your number won’t come up when you’re in for a face lift, boob job or liposuction, that’s your business. At least, with the Internet, it’s a lot easier to do the research to find out if you can minimize that risk by going to someone who knows what or he or she is doing.

Still, it’s a tragedy when somebody sacrifices his or her life for appearance’s sake. It says a lot about the rest of us in society, our tendency to judge people based on their looks and how important it is to be accepted by our peers.

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Chan Lowe: More "personhood"


There’s only so much you can write about the hypocrisy of conservatives who want government to stay out of our lives unless it’s to impose restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion, or to prevent gays from getting married, so let’s give that up for now.

Instead, let’s focus on how the rights of the unborn seem to outweigh those of the born. Once a nine-month-old “person” has been brought into this world, he or she, if unfortunate enough to have been born poor, is likely to avail him- or herself of government programs. Neo-natal programs, food stamps, child-care allowances—unfortunately, they all represent that repugnant redistribution of wealth conservatives love to rail about.

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Chan Lowe: School prayer...again.


If there ever were an argument for fairly drawn state legislative districts, this is it.

Florida’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature is planning to revisit the hoary school prayer issue. It isn’t because our elected public servants care that much about religion. This is for back-home consumption. If the United States Supreme Court would allow them, they’d pass a law making the New Testament a required course for the FCATs without batting an eye.

It’s win-win, as far as they’re concerned. They can self-righteously pontificate about the importance of religion and prayer in a child’s upbringing, conveniently ignoring that children have plenty of places outside of school to develop their spiritual identities… like church, for example (I didn’t say “temples,” or “mosques,” because we all know that isn’t the brand of spirituality they’re talking about). Cynical? Shux, cain't even spell the word. Jus' lookin' out for our kids, that's all.

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Chan Lowe: The House page scandal


While I’m away from the blog, I thought I’d run some cartoons from five years ago. It’s always surprising and instructive to see what was dominating our interest in those days, and how little some issues change.

Remember the Mark Foley page scandal?

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Chan Lowe: Fidel falls ill


While I’m away from the blog, I thought I’d run some cartoons from five years ago. It’s always surprising and instructive to see what was dominating our interest in those days, and how little some issues change.

Here, Fidel Castro falls seriously ill (for the first time).

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Chan Lowe: Rising sea levels


While I’m away from the blog, I thought I’d run some cartoons from five years ago. It’s always surprising and instructive to see what was dominating our interest in those days, and how little some issues change.

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Chan Lowe: The Social Security increase


You’d think that the Democrats, with their ear for the concerns of the common people, would be the marketing experts when it came to packaging the products of government. Not so.

It is the Republicans who have traditionally won the name game, jumping in to re-label a program or tax with a catchy moniker that, by its very utterance, imparts spin in the desired direction. I’m thinking of the “Death Tax,” which, even though it imposes a levy on estates that certainly can afford it, sounds unfair and even immoral on its face. “Obamacare” was brilliant, because it forever welded a program to an individual hated by the base. The Democrats made a double mistake here, first by giving the legislation the dry, bureaucratese title of “Affordable Health Care Act,” and second by not claiming “Obamacare” for themselves, and celebrating it as a triumph.

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Chan Lowe: Cuban offshore drilling


It’s exquisite in politics when a fiercely held principle collides with the reality on the ground. Then, we can sit back and enjoy watching the pols squirm.

Such is the case with the news that Cuba is preparing to drill for oil in its own waters. The problem is that, thanks to the Gulf Stream, Cuba’s waters become our waters pretty quickly. And if the Cubans perform the very tricky and high-tech task of offshore drilling with the usual skill and diligence displayed in attacking other projects, we can be fairly certain that, at some point, refugees won’t be the only thing washing up on our shores.

Thanks to an anachronistic embargo that remains in place because the Cuban exile lobby is so powerful in Washington, and because Florida is a swing state, there is no mechanism for us to cooperate with our neighbors to the south, aid them with our expertise, and implement contingency plans should the worst occur.

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Chan Lowe: Allen West, star fundraiser


My colleague, political writer Tony Man, has a story in today’s paper about how freshman Congressman Allen West raised a whopping $1.9 million in the last three months, ranking him as one of the top national fundraisers. He now has a total of $4.1 million in his reelection kitty, swamping his two Democratic challengers.

I would guess that only a small fraction of West’s war chest was generated in the district he represents, Florida 22 (I would say “home district,” but by now must of us know that would be a misnomer). Rep. West has done an excellent job of burnishing a national profile as one of the tea party’s most valiant foot soldiers, and as such he enjoys a broad financial base.

One has to wonder, at a practical level, how much advantage this mountainous sum will accord him. After all, just about everyone in his district knows who he is, and he is such a polarizing figure that his constituents have probably made up their minds about whether or not they’re going to vote for him without even knowing who is challenger is going to be.

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Chan Lowe: ID theft on the rise


Years ago, when I first heard the term, “identity theft,” it had a kind of science fiction ring to it, like a Robert A. Heinlein novel where faceless shape-shifters steal the souls of the unsuspecting and go about the earth performing heinous acts in their name.

When you think about it, that’s exactly what it is, and the crime couldn’t have been committed just twenty years ago, because our vital stats weren’t spread all over the Internet for anybody with basic knowledge to decrypt and misuse on a whim.

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Chan Lowe: GOP congresswoman goes rogue


With each passing day, gay bashing as a political issue is becoming more and more of a loser. It used to be that the mere raising of the specter of gay equality was enough to coax a flood of cash from conservative wallets, but as more and more families discover they have one⎯or several⎯gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender members, the “stigma” continues to fade.

The only surprise is that American social attitudes have come so far so fast on the issue. Ultimately, gay rights will no longer be considered suitable for discussion in the political arena, in the same way we would never discuss equal rights for diabetics, or for redheads. It is a mark of national shame that gay equality was politicized in the first place.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott's crummy poll numbers


We voted for him because he spent so much of his own money on media buys that he practically became a member of our families during those last weeks and months before election day in 2010.

After that assault, we⎯being Floridians⎯connected the arrows on our ballots for him because we’d heard of him more than his opponent. We knew almost nothing about him, except for a few cries in the wind about some shady Medicare stuff in his past. Nothing, that is, except his catchy slogan, “Let’s get to work!”

Sounds good enough to me, we all said with a shrug before heading back to Dancing With The Stars with our bowl of pork rinds.

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Chan Lowe: Perry receives the Mark of Cain


Rick Perry’s descent in Republican popularity polls has been nothing short of breathtaking. It’s as though the far right, in its zeal to embrace anyone who had a chance of unseating the hated Pretender in the White House, woke up the morning after a heavy date with a supermodel and saw her for the first time without any makeup.

Not only has he shown himself to be so remarkably inept on his feet that he makes George W. Bush look like William Jennings Bryan, Perry has committed the unpardonable sin of being morally suspect on some issues that are sacred to his rapidly eroding base.

How can somebody call himself a Christian conservative, as Perry does, if he performs a reasonable and generous act like allowing the children of undocumented aliens (who live in the state through no fault of their own) to attend Texas universities and pay resident tuition fees? Where in the Bible did Jesus say, “Blessed are the illegal immigrants, for they, too, are the children of God?” Don’t bother to look it up. You can’t find it, ’cause it ain’t in there.

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Chan Lowe: Bibi's stamp of approval


It’s in keeping with the bizarre way the 2012 elections are shaping up that the most important endorsement any candidate of either party has managed to land so far is from a foreigner.

Considering that President Obama cannot win reelection without Florida’s electoral votes, and that our recession-ravaged state could easily swing either way a year from now, anything that might get disillusioned Sunshine State Obama voters off their sofas and down to the polls could spell the difference between national victory and defeat.

This is purely anecdotal, but I talk to a lot of people down here in New York’s sixth borough, and their sentiments about the president’s handling of Israel⎯and the Middle East conflict in general⎯range from bewilderment to disappointment to anger to disgust. “He hasn’t even visited Israel as president yet. What’s he thinking?” one person said to me. Symbolism means a lot in this thorny corner of politics.

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Chan Lowe: Beach renourishment "insanity"


As those who write letters to the editor are fond of telling us, Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

When Einstein took time off (if you’ll pardon the expression), he visited corridors of thought never previously navigated by the human mind, and if his vacation began running short, he simply slowed down the clocks (Nice trick if you know how to do it). His getaways probably didn’t involve pitching an umbrella, setting up his beach chair, cracking open the cooler and happily digging his feet in the sand.

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Chan Lowe: The growth of prescription "pharmacies"


Maybe the conservatives are right. Maybe big government is getting in the way of our recovery. Pill mills, after all, have been one of the few bright spots in Florida’s economy.

First, Governor Business-Friendly suddenly got religion and decided, after all, to allow a prescription database in order to cut down on abuse. That certainly put a crimp in business. Then they passed a law saying that a pill mill can’t both write a prescription and fill it. So now the state and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration are flooded with proxy applications to open drugstores that—let’s face it⎯aren’t concerned with peddling bunion pads and Preparation H.

And what do they do? They deny them! This is real employment, folks. Small business…the backbone of America! And, as we know, it’s a growth industry that appears to be recession-proof. It can’t be outsourced to India. It brings a steady stream of clientele from other states directly into our neighborhoods. These people have to eat and stay someplace. I heard of one operation right around the corner from Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale where clients actually had pizzas delivered to them while they waited in line.

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Chan Lowe: Rep. West considers leaving the Black Caucus


This development shouldn’t come as any surprise. The Congressional Black Caucus⎯all Democrats except for Rep. Allen West⎯comprises, for the most part, members of Congress who represent black constituencies and fight for black interests and aspirations.

Rep. West is a tea party-backed conservative who ran in a politically split district that is majority white. He happens to be an African American, and while he does not downplay his heritage, he tends to identify himself more by his ideology and military background than his race.

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Chan Lowe: Oil drilling in the Everglades?


Fortunately, we don’t have to worry too much about what Michele Bachmann has to say, because ultimately she will never be president.

Ever since Rick Perry entered the race, any chance she might have had to corral the potent combination of cultural and fiscal conservatives evaporated. This is partly because, when given the choice, those who might have voted for her probably feel subconsciously or even consciously that womenfolk belong in a support position while the man should lead. It gives Perry a huge edge, the kind of edge he will have when these same voters find all kinds of reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney other than that he’s a Mormon.

So when Michele Bachmann calls for drilling in the Everglades⎯ which, as some outside Florida may not know, is our source of drinking water besides being a national resource⎯we can, thankfully, ignore her. Of course, she qualified her statement with the amusing locution, “drilling responsibly.”

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Chan Lowe: Preparing for Irene


You probably know people up north who, when you call or write to tell them you’re sweating out an impending hurricane, say something smug like, “Well, you chose to live there, didn’t you?” There’s an implicit schadenfreude in the statement, as if we Floridians made a Faustian deal to live in the sun and fun, hoping that we’d never have to pay the piper.

Meanwhile, our more sensible friends and relatives denied themselves and stayed put, enduring the northern winters but sleeping more easily in the summers, secure in the knowledge that they’d still have a roof over their heads come November.

It’s becoming harder and harder to maintain that righteous position these days. Thanks to (dare I say it?) climate change, there are some mighty odd weather events occurring to the north of us. Like record heat waves, unprecedented drought, and equally unprecedented flooding. If you look at the areas most affected by the recent cataclysms, they include the broad swath of territory that encompasses the drainage areas of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, anchored by Texas to the south.

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Chan Lowe: Number of So Fla gay households soars


North Florida and South Florida have no business being stitched together like some Frankenstein monster. We South Floridians squat at our end of our peninsula, many of us transplants from more progressive-leaning northern locales, with our own particular needs and cultural views that have little in common with our southern brethren to the north.

Worse, thanks to gerrymandered legislative districts, we’re subjected to the depredations of socially conservative hypocrites who spew their party line about freedom from government out of one side of their mouths while relegating gays to second-class status with the other, just because the Bible says so.

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Chan Lowe: The UM athletic scandal


When I lived in Oklahoma in the 70’s and early 80’s, a University of Oklahoma football game was about the closest thing you get to an outdoor religious service without going to Bible camp.

Tickets for games were considered legal tender for all manner of favors and services rendered. Corporations handed them out as perks. Back then, at least, OU was best known for its football program. In fact, one of its presidents is reputed to have said, “My job is to build a university of which the football team can be proud.”

Like any priesthood, the players were treated with kid gloves and got special handling. There were tutors provided to help them pass their academic courses, the training table served all the best and most nutritious foods, and then there were the rumors, spread with a knowing wink.

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Chan Lowe: An unorthodox funding idea


We already know that the Republican Party isn’t interested in saving the economy. It’s really interested in exploiting the opportunity presented by a bad economy to push through a long-awaited and –cherished agenda. Otherwise, why would it fight tooth and nail to pass a deal that virtually guaranteed more jobs would be lost? Why would it agree to a so-called “trigger” mechanism that amounted to more cuts than it even achieved during the first round, without painful tax loophole closures? Please, please, don’t throw us in that briar patch!

A secondary benefit to throwing the economy a life-saving cement block is that it ensures the nation will still be struggling to come out of the morass by November 2012, paving the way for even a nonentity like Mitt Romney, should he be nominated, to attain the White House.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott's rehabilitation tour


Evidently, not all Democratic ideas are bad ones. Even notoriously indifferent Rick Scott has finally decided it's time to remedy his dismal popularity ratings, and has glommed onto an idea first executed very effectively by former Gov. Bob Graham. Good luck to him in his mingling with the groundlings.

More important today is this email exchange I had with a former reader, which I think gets to the core of what's really wrong with this nation:

Hi Chan,
I said so long to the SunSentinel last week. I'll still read it from time to
time when my neighbor lets me have her paper but I just had to stop
my subscription because I just couldn't take the constant left-
leaning garbage your editorial board is shoving down our throats.
It turns my stomach especially in light of an economy that provides
no jobs and a president and his party that are racking up such
tremendous debt that your great grandchildren won't be able to pay.

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Chan Lowe: South Florida chases the gay honeymoon market

gayh.gif In many ways, South Florida is an outlier from the rest of the Sunshine State. Ideologically, somewhere between Palm Beach County and Orlando, time begins to slow, and then to stand still. If you continue farther north, the clock actually starts ticking backwards, as if Einstein himself were reaching out from the grave to apply the theory of relativity to Florida politics. By the time you reach Pensacola, where abortion doctors are considered target practice, you’ve traveled back to the era of the Scopes Trial.

This is the state whose Republican-dominated legislature passed a Defense of Marriage Act to enshrine discrimination in our law. The idea of those who sponsored it was that the institution of heterosexual marriage faced a threat to its moral underpinnings if gays were allowed to marry their own kind, or if the state were merely to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. It is noteworthy that an amendment put forward by then-Rep. Lois Frankel (who hails from a South Florida county, of course), which would also deny recognition to any marriage whose parties had engaged in adulterous sex before marrying, was overwhelmingly defeated by the so-called moralists.

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Chan Lowe: The West/Wasserman Schultz flap


From a political junkie’s standpoint, we here in South Florida are treated to a deliciously abrasive congressional combination⎯adjoining districts represented by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a proud liberal and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. Allen West, the tea party champion who has been touted as Republican Vice-Presidential material.

The other day, the antipathy the two harbor toward each other exploded on the floor of the House, when Ms. Wasserman Schultz expressed her incredulity that Mr. West, a congressman from this senior-rich area, would pursue with such alacrity the cutting of entitlement programs upon which so many of his elderly constituents depend.

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Chan Lowe: Casey Anthony cashes in, Pt. II


I said a few days ago that I hoped the previous Casey Anthony cartoon I drew would be the final one, but this is the gift that keeps on giving.

Ms. Anthony left the Orange County Jail with five hundred dollars and change in her bank account. This isn’t likely to last long. It could become a case study in modern merchandising techniques for marketing students, everything from a porn video franchise to the toys in Happy Meals.

Americans will gobble it all up, and they’ll hate themselves for every penny they spend.

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Chan Lowe: An imaginative way to win the war in Afghanistan


While our defense policy cheeses are making esoteric arguments about whether an anti-terrorism strategy or an anti-insurgency strategy is the best way to “win” in Afghanistan, here’s a little outside-the-box thinking that achieves both goals simultaneously.

We have an almost endless supply of this psychological weapon here in South Florida, and another advantage to deploying it is that we will be able to withdraw from the field knowing that we are leaving a warlike, cantankerous people in a far better mood than when we arrived.

In defense doctrine, that’s called “peace with honor.”

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Chan Lowe: Casey Anthony cashes in?


I’m hoping this is the last cartoon about Casey Anthony that I draw for a while. The problem is that, besides being a quasi-local story here in South Florida, the case shocks, amazes and disgusts at so many levels, and appeals to prurient interests at so many others, that it amounts to one-stop shopping for every public emotional need.

The latest development is the growing disgust and revulsion at the amount of money Casey stands to make from her notoriety. Those no-account news organizations, book publishers, porn flick producers, TV moviemakers, and the rest of the bottom feeders are all beating a path to her cell. Of course, none of us would ever buy her book, see her movie, or listen to her interviews, never in a million years.

“What, never?”
“No, never!”
“What, never?”
“Well, hardly ever!”

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Chan Lowe: The Casey Anthony verdict II


There’s a thin line between justice and vengeance. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since the Anthony verdict yesterday, and it occurs to me that the former is really a codified, organized, legalized form of the latter. “Justice” is an attempt to apply the constraint of convention, tradition, fairness, reason and logic to what is essentially a human, emotional desire for retribution. It also interposes the legal entity of the state between accused and collective accusers.

A lot of trial observers were bent on vengeance, not justice, and when the system didn’t deliver, they blamed it for denying them their satisfaction. One woman who was interviewed on the street outside the courthouse said she was from Pinellas County (where the jury was impaneled), and had shirked her jury duty, much to her regret. “I might have been on that jury, and I would have hung it,” she said.

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Chan Lowe: The Casey Anthony verdict


I was in the middle of drawing this when the verdict was announced. Where else but in America can you can be tried, convicted and sentenced in the media and the court of public opinion, then found not guilty by a jury that’s been living in a vacuum tube for the last eight weeks? It’s a triumph of our legal system, if you ask me.

Now that Ms. Anthony is about to be a free woman again, I presume that she’ll be inundated with offers for books, movie rights, reality shows, and God knows what all. Since she was found not guilty, none of those “Son of Sam” laws prohibiting personal enrichment from one’s crimes apply in this case.

Being reasonably attractive, she’s set for life as a public media figure, with certain caveats. Her personal protection budget will have to be stratospheric, because there are no doubt plenty of vigilantes set on finishing the job they feel the prosecutors and the jury bungled. Nancy Grace alone probably wants to claw her eyes out. Since she’s young, her life will be in danger for many decades. Also, there's no doubt she’ll want to spend some money on detectives to find the real killer of her daughter. If they do, maybe the need for bodyguards will diminish.

As for the rest of the cast, George and Cindy are probably already working on their books. Jose Baez, yesterday’s goat, is now the toast of the criminal defense community, and will have plenty of work for the rest of his days. The jurors are getting booked for exclusives by all the networks.

The prosecutors may have lost the case, but they still have their jobs, which is more than nine percent of the U.S. population can boast.

The only one who really got short shrift here was Roy Kronk, America’s most famous meter reader, who somehow wasn’t able to collect on the reward for finding the body.

Oh, and Caylee Marie Anthony, of course.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott, American hero


Without even trying, Florida Gov. Rick Scott could turn out to be a national hero.

That’s right, after a mere seven months in office, he’s become so unpopular in the Sunshine State that he’s now a liability to his party. The Republican hierarchy is worried that, thanks to his abuses, Floridians in November of 2012 will fail to pull the lever for the Republican nominee at all, or worse, vote for Obama in retaliation.

There is no strategy for a Republican to win the required number of electoral votes next year without taking Florida. In effect, Scott may singlehandedly save feckless Obama-hating Americans from accidentally electing the likes of a Bachmann or a Palin.

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Chan Lowe: Fair Districts and fact


I’ll bet the words “redistricting” and “reapportionment” make your eyes glaze over. The legislators in Tallahassee are betting on that, too.

Every ten years, each state must redesign its congressional and state legislative district maps to reflect changes in census data. It’s one of the reasons the Founding Fathers required that a census be taken in the U.S. Constitution.

It seems simple, but it isn’t. Recent Supreme Court decisions have found that special exceptions must be made to ensure that certain districts are drawn to guarantee minority representation. Then there’s the fact that the party in power generally controls redistricting, and their top priority is to preserve that power in perpetuity, as well as to protect incumbents.

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A pre-written letter to Gov. Rick Scott


I can attest that the part about the dog is true.

In the opinion page business, we call this “astroturf,” which is shorthand for “artificial grass-roots campaign.” Some group or another publishes a suggested letter to the editor on its website, then urges supporters to download it, sign their names and send it in.

Scott’s self-aggrandizing endeavor takes technology one step further. I went to his site, and in the address field of the fawning letter in question, it had somehow known to pre-choose “Sun Sentinel” for me. No downloading was necessary. All I had to do was fill in my name and email, click “send,” and it would become one more snowflake in the presumed blizzard of encomia overwhelming my editor’s inbox.

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Chan Lowe: Republican anti-voter fraud laws


There must be some centrally located underground room where Republican governors and pols from Republican-majority state legislatures met to lay out a coordinated national strategy. Otherwise, why would so many states simultaneously try to pass anti-immigrant laws, union-busting laws⎯and most egregious of all⎯voter suppression laws?

Republican chief executives and supermajorities have willfully misinterpreted the economic “mandate” they were given last November and instead are using it to cram through cherished agenda items that they were never elected to promote.

If you really want to know the difference between a liberal and a conservative, it is glaringly apparent in this so-called anti-voter fraud legislation that is being foisted upon us in so many states, including my own.

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Chan Lowe: The Miami Heat loss


If, like me, you don’t follow sports, then the recent crescendo surrounding the Miami Heat’s progress through the NBA finals is just part of the background noise of living in South Florida, like the wail of emergency vehicle sirens.

Some of my basketball-minded colleagues, however, have been expressing their despondency and⎯this being South Florida⎯their retributive anger toward their erstwhile heroes since last night’s fall from grace.

I think they have a right to be ticked off. Sports is a profession where excellence is rewarded not just handsomely, but obscenely when you think about the poverty that holds the rest of the world in its grip. It may be exceeded only by arms- or drug-dealing in terms of concentrating vast wealth into the hands of a few.

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Chan Lowe: The big insurance sellout

Permit me to digress briefly from the current national media obsession, which is to determine whether in fact that is a congressional member inside the infamous gray jockey shorts that some malefactor allegedly misTweeted in the name of Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Those of us back in the real world are worrying about more banal matters, like how the people of Florida were sold out by our governor and Republican super-majority legislature. Evidently, their idea of solving the state’s insurance problem is to make the prospect of doing business in this market so attractive and obscenely lucrative that nobody can resist it.

Charlie Crist, whatever you may think of him, tried at least to slow down the growth of premium hikes through regulation, but the downside of that was that companies decided they would rather take their ball and go home than face some risk without what they felt was the proper remuneration.

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Chan Lowe: Loud car stereos


As I creep toward geezerhood, I become increasingly annoyed at people who selfishly encroach on my space and peace of mind, specifically the slick young exhibitionists in muscle cars who feel the desperate need to share their musical tastes with me at intersections.

Actually, that isn’t true. I’ve always felt that way. For years, one of my fantasies has been to answer them back with an even more powerful stereo system, and blow them off their tires with some Mozart or⎯even more annoying⎯klezmer. It would be so satisfying to give them a sense of how their generosity plays with others. If their goal is to impress, it doesn’t work with me…nor does it on the young women who are their putative targets, I would imagine.

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Chan Lowe: Loud car stereos


As I creep toward geezerhood, I become increasingly annoyed at people who selfishly encroach on my space and peace of mind, specifically the slick young exhibitionists in muscle cars who feel the desperate need to share their musical tastes with me at intersections.

Actually, that isn’t true. I’ve always felt that way. For years, one of my fantasies has been to answer them back with an even more powerful stereo system, and blow them off their tires with some Mozart or⎯even more annoying⎯klezmer. It would be so satisfying to give them a sense of how their generosity plays with others. If their goal is to impress, it doesn’t work…nor does it on the young women who are their putative targets, I would imagine.

Lest we accuse the Florida Appeals Court of being activist liberals on this constitutional question of free expression regarding the noise polluters, they based their decision on the fact that the state law arbitrarily excludes commercial and political noise. I guess this is what they call “equal protection under the law,” although it appears that motorists like me aren’t being very well protected under this interpretation.

My other fantasy is that James Madison, while he was sitting upstairs in the heat penning the Bill of Rights, would have been treated to one of those university football factory marching bands passing right beneath his window, blasting brass arrangements of Broadway show tunes. Then the First Amendment might have read, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech under 90 decibels.”

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Chan Lowe: Developers gone wild


“Concurrency.” It’s one of those awful bureaucratese words that cause the average citizen to instantly flip to Dancing With The Stars.

Which, of course, is what the pols are counting on. Loosely translated, it means that when developers create whole new communities out of swampland, they are required to build roads, schools, sewers and other infrastructure to service these communities as they go, by adding surcharges to individual units.

Well, they were required. Thanks to our Republican super-majority business-friendly legislature that just adjourned last week, we the taxpayers will now have to pick up the tab for those frills. The legislators also stripped the state of growth planning oversight, putting it back in the hands of local government, which is much easier for developers to control through judicious use of campaign contributions.

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Chan Lowe: Abortion rears its head


Hey, talk about bait-and-switch. We didn’t elect these guys to go up to Tallahassee to try to singlehandedly repeal Roe v. Wade. They told us they’d create jobs, jobs, jobs. The only job openings I see in our state’s future are for sonogram technologists.

They know this is their chance, their golden moment when all the planets are in alignment⎯a Republican Cabinet, huge Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature, and a governor who would happily sign legislation forbidding people from traveling too far out to sea because they might fall off the edge of the earth, if it were placed before him.

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Chan Lowe: Voter fraud legislation


Anti-voter fraud legislation is a solution in search of a problem. When Republicans talk about the specter of voter fraud that could bring the nation to its knees, they’re really talking about the horror of allowing people whose views they don’t agree with to vote.

Some supervisor of elections here in Florida recalled somebody registering as “Mickey Mouse,” and the state GOP seized upon this as proof that our state’s registration rules are too lax. Never mind that that particular registration was snagged by the existing system. No, the only answer is to make sure that college kids (who tend to be naïve, irresponsible, liberal and⎯of course⎯Democratic voters), old people, women and minorities have to jump through a series of restrictive hoops in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

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Chan Lowe: Government for sale


Thanks to the overwhelming preponderance of Republicans in state government, many Floridians feel that their representative bodies are not responsive to their needs and aspirations. Those of us who didn’t sleep through civics class know that democracy is all about majority rule, but in a properly functioning government, the minority is at least paid attention to.

I know for a fact that when my Republican friends voted for their legislators in the last election, they were casting their ballots for fiscal restraint and a return to what they believed was a philosophy of reining in Tallahassee’s reach. They were not voting for a slew of anti-abortion bills, or for handguns to be openly carried virtually everywhere. This is what happens, though, when you achieve and then exceed critical mass in government. Things get screwy.

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Chan Lowe: Mandatory sonograms before abortions


Retired Republican U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming was on television the other night, expressing himself with the kind of rawboned candor that only a retired pol dare employ.

Simpson was opining, in his prairie twang, on the subject of abortion. He felt, for starters, that the government should “just get out of the culture business altogether.” Nobody wants abortions, he added. And, in a surprisingly sensitive observation for someone of his gender, he indicated that men should never be allowed to vote on the issue.

Ever since the Republican Party embraced cultural conservatism as a ticket to political success, there has been a fundamental—some would say hypocritical—disconnect in its platform. The small-government, libertarian wing believes that government’s role should begin and end with national defense and protecting the borders. The social conservative wing (or the “Terry Schiavo Wing,” if you will), on the other hand, feels that government ought to break into the hospital rooms, classrooms and bedrooms of American citizens to enforce a moral code that, while not hewed to by many or even by most of us, is justified in its enforcement by the sheer zealotry of its adherents.

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Chan Lowe: Congrats, Debbie!


Whatever your political stripe, you should be pleased to see a fighter like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz rise to the top national position in a major political party. Back when she revealed that she had survived a bout with breast cancer, I wrote an appreciation of her many qualities as a politician and as a person.

South Floridians ought to be proud of our local girl, as well as gratified that our area continues to grow in importance on the national political map.

It would be fitting now for freshman Rep. Allen West, who is one of her constituents, to join in the chorus of congratulations for this most able public servant. It would be the right thing to do, and it would go a long way toward restoring that civility and workability in our government that the rest of us all crave.

Congratulations, Ms. Wasserman Schultz! May your reign be long and fruitful.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott's tax cuts


A recent poll has found that if the Florida gubernatorial election were held today, an overwhelming number of Floridians would vote for Alex Sink over Rick Scott.

This says a lot more about the electorate than it does about Scott. It isn’t as though he pulled a bait-and-switch. He always said that if he became governor, he would run the state like a business. We all knew that the business he ran paid a record fine to the U.S. Government for fraud, and we knew that he had no experience whatsoever in government. What more did we expect?

Scott’s idea of cutting corporate taxes at a time when Florida desperately needs revenue is so unrealistic that even the Republican legislators can’t swallow the trickle-down myth. They have to balance the budget, and even the most conservative Republicans know⎯deep down in their granite hearts⎯that generating revenue by creating a more favorable business climate would take more time than they’ve got. Besides, with lower taxes, you’d have to see some pretty phenomenal corporate growth for such a folly to pay off.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott's drug testing


It isn’t like our state bureaucracy hasn’t been running smoothly since as long as anyone can remember. It has continued to thrive and--with the exception of some minor setbacks--expand, and as a self-sustaining organism, it is practically unparalleled in survivability.

So why would Gov. Rick Scott want to impose random drug testing on Florida’s state employee workforce? Has there been a drastic, worrisome reduction in red tape? Has it become unnecessarily easier for the public to interact with government? Are state workers suddenly showing suspicious signs of courtesy and helpfulness on the job?

It’s easy to understand why people in hazardous jobs need to be regularly and randomly tested. The unpredictability of randomness keeps, say, airline pilots from gaming the system.

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Chan Lowe: Japan's nuclear nightmare


When J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, beheld the first atomic fireball in the New Mexican desert, he famously quoted a line from the Bhagavad Gita, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

He had devoted his life for the previous few years to developing a theoretical process into a weapon of mass destruction. During the course of his work, he probably mused about the possible peaceful applications of the monster he had created, but he also knew that the difference between a weapon and a controlled power source was only one of degree and intent, not one of substance.

When you combine that with mankind’s record in battling the unforeseen forces of nature, it leaves you a little less credulous of the reassuring claims made by the nuclear power industry.

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Chan Lowe: Tallahassee two-step


Rick Scott⎯being both mega-rich and the former CEO of a health insurance company, (a) no longer knows what matters to average people, and (b) probably wouldn’t care if he did.

He is able to navigate in that ethereal world divorced from the daily concerns of basic survival and getting along in a community with one’s neighbors. In fact, Rick Scott can hole up in the governor’s mansion, dream up all manner of unworkable ideas and attempt to foist them on the state of Florida, like Lex Luthor from the Superman comics working his will on a miniaturized version of Metropolis that he has imprisoned inside a corked water cooler bottle.

The members of the legislature, most of whom are also Republicans, view the affairs of state through a much more mundane prism. Unlike Scott, who apparently isn’t concerned about getting reelected to a second term, they not only want to remain and prosper in politics, but they must also return frequently to their home districts to face constituents (a notoriously fickle lot).

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott, contrarian


Rick Scott ran on a platform of platitudes and generalities, like “Let’s get back to work,” and “Seven hundred thousand jobs in seven years.”

He was short on details, and as a candidate refused to meet with newspaper editorial boards⎯a time-honored vetting process that would have smoked out some specifics, or determined if there were any at all.

Instead, Mr. Scott was long on bucks, and money talked…at least in this last election.

He is smarter than we give him credit for, because had he met with a few experienced journalists with institutional memories, he might have been asked questions like, “What is your position on high speed rail in Florida?”

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Chan Lowe: Pill mills busted


Our society is not alone in according medical doctors enormous respect. Maybe it’s because we see them as the anointed among us to whom we turn, in faith, to perform miracles. We consider them miracles because they are shrouded in mystery and beyond the understanding of the rest of us.

Since doctors often deal with matters of life and death, we consider them a sort of priesthood, an earthly extension of the Hand of God. If they succeed or fail in curing us, maybe it’s because He meant them to. And, this being America, we can always sue if we don’t agree.

Certainly there are other degrees and training regimens that are as demanding as those necessary to become a doctor of medicine, but a maître d’ isn’t as likely to find an open table in a crowded restaurant for a theoretical physicist as he is for a Doctor So and So.

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Chan Lowe: Red light cameras


I’m ambivalent about the whole red light camera issue.

For decades, I’ve watched Floridians blow through red lights seconds after they’ve changed, and I’ve developed a defensive mechanism of waiting for a second or two if I’m the first in line when mine goes green.

I have two theories about this. First, since most of us are from somewhere else, we don’t feel we belong to this community, so there is no sense of responsibility, and even more important, no accountability to our neighbors.

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Chan Lowe: Scott derails hi-speed train


Are you sorry you voted for Rick Scott yet?

What was he thinking? More important, what were you thinking? Here was a man with a completely unproven record…well, at least, in government. Unfortunately, his record in the private sector says a lot of things about him that should have caused you to pull up short before connecting that arrow on the ballot.

He’s decided to allow the running sore of pill mills to continue infecting our state (because they’re a tourist draw, I suppose), and now Mr. Seven-Hundred-Thousand-Jobs-In-Seven-Years has disdained $2.4 billion in federal gift money on the tragically incorrect premise that it will cost Florida taxpayers more than that in matching funds.

And that’s just in one week. This guy is worse than incompetent…he’s malevolent. I thought Scott was all for helping private enterprise create jobs. A consortium of business groups is ready to match the federal money with private investment, and they’re contractually bound to make up any overages out of their own pockets. Where is the risk to the taxpayers?

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Chan Lowe: Scott and the pill mills


Let this be a lesson to all you civic dilettantes out there. You know who you are…you’re the ones who don’t do your homework and then let yourselves be bamboozled by TV ads at the last minute, because you have no foundation of real knowledge about the candidates.

Rick Scott spent $72 million of his own money to, among other things, swamp us with his feel-good “Let’s get to work” ads. His opponent, Alex Sink, had to resort to more conventional methods of political fundraising, which wouldn’t have been a liability in any other year.

She was overwhelmed. She may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but at least she had experience in state government. True to form, Floridians voted for the person they’d heard of, and Scott made sure through his phenomenal media buys that he was that person.

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Chan Lowe: Staged accidents


It was a major blow to Florida state pride last week when Miami clocked in on Forbes’ list as only the second-most miserable city in America.

We’re used to being Number One in these things, so it was with a sense of vindication that we greeted the news from the National Insurance Crime Bureau that Florida leads the rest of the country in staged auto accidents.

We have long known that Florida is a storehouse (cesspool?) of entrepreneurial spirit, business acumen, and unbridled imagination. It isn’t for nothing that we have been dubbed the “Scam Capital of America.” If only this raw talent could be harnessed for the good of mankind.

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Chan Lowe: Gov. Scott's budget


The release of the state budget is normally pretty dry stuff… little more than bedtime reading for Tallahassee reporters and policy wonks.

Since Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature are all cost-cutting Republicans anyway, we would expect the newly minted governor’s proposed spending plan to glide through the corridors of the state capitol easier than a lobbyist in a new pair of Guccis, right?

Wrong. We must remember that for Scott, this gig is more or less a very expensive hobby, and he may not care whether he gets reelected in four years, having grown weary by that time.

The rest of our public servants do care, and they know that Scott’s draconian cuts aren’t going to go over well with the voting public, who will surely blame them when education and children’s services, for example, begin to shrivel on the vine.

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Chan Lowe: Teacher merit pay


The concept of teacher merit pay appeals to our Republican legislature and governor because it makes sense at a surface level, is a neat, simplistic solution easily comprehended by the public, and has the added benefit of weakening the hated teachers’ unions, which are part of the power base of the Democratic Party.

From the teachers’ point of view, there is no allowance made for students’ sheer stupidity, bad luck of the draw in one’s class roster, or working in schools whose families find it more difficult to spare the time to get involved in their children's learning.

It is true that unions are formed in order to collectively assure that workers receive compensation in line with the work they perform. Without unions, each worker must negotiate alone, and historically, that has led to exploitation.

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Chan Lowe: Scott targets state pensions


Much as it pains me to agree with Gov. Rick Scott on anything, I have to admit that his idea to require workers on the state pension system to contribute five per cent of their salaries toward their retirement packages makes sense, particularly in this time of financial tribulation.

Frankly, it came as a surprise that, up until now, they have had to make absolutely no personal contribution. Those who set up the system, in their wisdom, left that burden to the taxpayers.

To those of us who work in the private sector, particularly in the age of the 401(K), the idea of the personal contribution is as much of a given as the medical insurance co-pay. It’s pointless to complain, because that’s the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it.

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Chan Lowe: No tea for Marco Rubio, thank you


Marco Rubio’s no fool. Florida’s freshman senator was a familiar face in state politics, and a leader in the legislature, long before the Tea Party reared its tri-corned head on the national scene.

His fiscal conservatism was a natural attraction for the Tea Party, and when they decided to adopt him as their poster boy, he was more than delighted to surf the wave that would drive newly-converted moderate Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary race and then go on to swamp him when he tried to run as an Independent With Name Recognition.

Now that Sen. Rubio is happily settling into the cushions of his senate office chair, he has decided (as they all do) that it’s a pretty cushy gig and he’d like to stay on for a few terms. This is why it should be no surprise that when certain senate Tea Partiers called their first caucus meeting, Rubio conspicuously included himself out.

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Chan Lowe: Grading parents


I’m not a parent, so I admit I’m not an expert in this matter, but I imagine the idea behind this bill is to help make everyone more aware that the education of a child is a cooperative effort between teachers and parents. The former are charged with formal instruction for several hours a day, while the latter need to provide the home environment that is critical to effective learning.

I’m sure the notion of teachers grading parents is well intentioned in theory, but we’ll see what happens when and if it’s put into practice. Will it be used constructively as an informational tool for parents, or merely create an animus between the two most important influences in a child’s education?

If enacted, will the process be misused by bad teachers to provide an excuse for their own ineptitude? Will children who find out their parents scored poorly use it as a reason to slack off? What criteria will teachers follow? How will they keep their own bias out of the assessment? Will there be allowances made for hardship as opposed to negligence?

Will parents try to game the system by flooding their kid’s classroom with supplies? Worse, will they become the dreaded “helicopter parents,” who hover over their child so closely that they actually impede a teacher’s ability to do his or her job effectively?

As with so much legislation, there can be unintended consequences when the rubber meets the road. If nothing else, this law⎯if enacted⎯should make for livelier PTA meetings.

Regarding that last sentence, see my discourse on the proposed open-carry law.

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Chan Lowe: Gunslinging condo commandos


Lost in the impassioned arguments about the Second Amendment and the right to defend oneself from government and each other is the question of what “open carry” might do to the already fragile fabric of society.

Let’s set aside the prospect of someone opening fire in a restaurant and forty would-be heroes suddenly responding with a hail of bullets, only guessing at who actually began the conflict.

Instead, let’s talk about what makes us civilized, and what makes America free. Guns don’t make us free, much as the NRA’s literature would have you believe it. What makes us free is the ability to govern ourselves, to make laws through a democratic process, and the mutual understanding that we will obey these laws once they are enacted.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott Inauguration


This being the January right after the election, it’s time for Floridians to begin their four-year-long blind date with their new governor.

I say “blind date,” because we know so little about him.

To use a homely expression, we bought a pig in a poke—well, actually, he bought us to the tune of $3.89 of his own personal fortune for every man, woman, and child in the state.

In fact, you could probably march Rick Scott down any street in Florida and ask passersby who he was, and chances are they wouldn’t recognize him. You could even whisper a hint, like: “He’s the governor of a state,” and they might say, “Oh, YEAH…it’s Jesse Ventura after a year on Weight Watchers.”

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Chan Lowe: Fallout from the 2010 census


New York loses two congressional seats after the census reapportionment, and Florida gains two. So it only makes sense that as the electorate moves south to sunnier climes, their politicians should follow. Pols like mild winters, too.

What if, for example, Rep. Anthony Weiner, who represents New York’s 9th district (spanning parts of eastern Queens and Brooklyn), were to lose his seat in the game of musical chairs? If I were an outspoken firebrand liberal like Weiner, I’d move here and run in the Democratic primary for Robert Wexler’s old district, Florida 19. It probably even contains more than a few of Weiner’s former constituents, so right there he’d enjoy an advantage. Ted Deutch, the current rep, sort of disappeared into the fog when he went up to Washington.

Or maybe Weiner could run for one of the two new districts yet to be carved out of the Sunshine State. An advantage would be that he commands seniority and national name recognition, giving his new constituency instant clout.

But all this is just a parlor game. Weiner probably isn’t going anywhere, and here in Florida, there’s an endless supply of homegrown mediocrity to choose from.

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Chan Lowe: "Twas the night before Christmas..."


This cartoon is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t muddy it up with more commentary.

In an act of cross-pollination that would bring tears of joy to the eyes of the Sun Sentinel’s online editor, our award-winning business writer Paul Owers will be posting the above effort on the blog he co-authors, House Keys, as a Christmas gift to his long-suffering readers.

I say “long-suffering” not because of Paul’s writing, but because his job is to chronicle in exquisite detail the flounderings of the South Florida real estate market, which is one of the engines that drives our local economy. Well, it would be, if somebody hadn’t stolen the spark plugs.

If you wake up in the morning with a case of what Alan Greenspan once called “irrational exuberance,” one glance at Paul’s blog will immediately set you back in balance. I work about six feet away from Paul, and by the time he’s through doing the phone reporting for a story you want to slit your throat. Frankly, I don’t know how he manages to maintain his sunny demeanor in the face of such relentless bad tidings.

In any case, the black humor of this drawing, I feel, is a perfect fit. Since our readership probably doesn’t overlap much, we thought it might be a good idea to give each other’s blog a holiday plug.

And on that note, I’d like to wish my readers a better year in 2011. I think we all deserve it.

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Chan Lowe: The Great Cold Snap of December 2010


This story is a propos of nothing, but since today’s topic is Canadians, I’ll tell it anyway:

About twenty-five years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Toronto watching hockey (what else?) on TV when an older gent sat down on the stool next to me and ordered a Depth Charge, which (at least in this bar) appeared to be a shot glass of Canadian Club dropped into a mug full of Molson’s.

We started a conversation, and it came out that this guy was a survivor of the Dieppe Raid, which you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re a student of World War II history or happen to be a Canadian. In one day, over sixty percent of the assault force of predominantly Canadian troops in this operation were killed, wounded or captured. There are memorials all over Canada to the Dieppe Raid. In Windsor, Ontario, whose Essex Scottish Regiment suffered heavy losses, Dieppe Park with its beautifully tended flowerbeds lies in the shadow of Detroit across the river.

Our encounter took place during one of the many Quebec separatist eruptions, and I noticed that the old veteran spoke with a heavy French-Canadian accent.

“Are you French-Canadian?” I said.

“NON!” the man replied emphatically. “I am CANADIAN!”

It occurred to me that the Germans⎯not regarded as a nation of mediators⎯had managed to accomplish the near impossible, at least in this one individual case: the complete unification of Francophone and Anglophone Canada. In response to the Teutonic menace, the proud old vet, notwithstanding his heritage, had gone overseas to fight for King and country, no questions asked.

On that note, I bought my non-hyphenated Canadian friend another Depth Charge. It was the least I could do.

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Chan Lowe: 'Tis the season for religious strife


As sure as bullets fall from the sky at New Year’s, here in Florida Thanksgiving means the start of religious protest season.

Yes, the holidays tend to bring out the essence of who we are as a people…petty, vindictive, parochial and selfish. What can I say that hasn’t been said already?

Well, there’s this: the Florida Turnpike Enterprise has now banned holiday displays of any kind from its tollbooths (which until now have been provided at their own expense and initiative by the toll-takers, presumably to add a little joy to an otherwise distasteful operation for all parties) because some Christians complained that Halloween decorations were Satanic.

My favorite is today’s legalistic twist from the Catholic League out of New York (we Floridians are perfectly capable of stirring up our own teapot tempests without outside interference, thank you very much), which has weighed in with a complaint that the City of Boca Raton, by placing a menorah, a Christmas tree and a “Happy Holidays” sign alongside one another in a public building is practicing discrimination against Christians.

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Chan Lowe: Boca Raton's rogue otter


The national media must be as sick and tired as the rest of us of reporting the same old dreck about how deep an economic hole we're in, and how the election just brought us (Surprise!) more of the same intransigence in Washington.

Why else would the story of Boca Raton’s rogue otter become national news? Our newsroom was getting calls from as far away as Oregon, where otters (at least, the seagoing kind) are practically the state pet.

I asked our Palm Beach County bureau chief why he thought the otter story had such “legs.” He shrugged and said that readers love fuzzy little mammal stories, even if the mammal in question is rabid.

We have plenty of other rabid creatures here in South Florida, many of which can be seen commuting on our roads every day, but unless I’m mistaken, otters are something unusual.

Maybe this one arrived (the way other uninvited fauna do) in a cargo container from some far-flung locale.

And then got bitten by a motorist.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott, Gov. Slice 'n' Dice


Have I told you already that this guy is fun to draw?

Aside from the shiny pate, which opens things up to all manner of visual humor, there’s the dark, brooding, Karloffian stare that we haven’t seen in a Florida governor since the days of Bob Martinez.

Anyway, much as I’m going to enjoy the next four years with Governor Scott for selfish reasons, I’m still left scratching my head as to what logic lies behind his claim that starving the schools is going to help create jobs.

It would seem that the mediocrity of our state educational system is one of the impediments to industries locating in Florida. After all, if your workforce can’t be properly trained for lack of, say, reading comprehension or math skills, no amount of industrial tax breaks is going to change your mind. Unless, of course, you import your labor from Iowa or some other state willing to tax itself in the name of quality education.

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Chan Lowe: Advice for Allen West


Congratulations to Allen West for clobbering incumbent Democrat Ron Klein in the Florida Dist. 22 Congressional race last week.

It already sounds like Col. West is going to hit establishment Washington like a sledgehammer, having made his first order of organizational business the appointment of a local conservative radio talk show host as his chief of staff.

Col. West might be wise to remember that while he is on his libertarian crusade to change the way Washington works, the people of his district are more concerned with bread-and-butter issues than with Taking Their Country Back.

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Chan Lowe: The Republican supermajority in the Florida Legislature


Years ago, one of Broward County’s weirder sights was a scrubby empty lot adjacent to a stretch of Old Dixie Highway in Oakland Park.

Low-rise rental units surrounded the parcel, and an auto-parts store sat across the street. Nobody would argue that this was a rural area; it was smack in the middle of a built-out city.

Cars driving past the property were treated to the sight of a single Holstein cow contentedly chewing her cud, day after day. It was explained to me that by stationing the lone bovine on the empty lot, the owner (who was waiting for a developer to buy the land) could claim that it qualified for agricultural zoning. As such⎯under the vagaries of Florida law⎯it was liable for only a tiny fraction of the taxes that would normally be due were it to be assessed for its intended purpose.

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Chan Lowe: Welcome, Governor-elect Rick Scott


The election’s over, and Rick Scott bought it fair and square. The people have spoken, and now it’s time for the people to find out whom they voted for.

Gradually, and in the fullness of time, Governor-elect Scott’s actions will reveal insights into his true nature. So far, he has done a pretty good job of veiling his character, but from now on, he will be under a microscope.

He has told us that as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, he knew nothing of the practices of the company he headed that culminated in its paying one of the largest fines ever for defrauding Medicare. As I’ve said before, he’s either rewriting history or he was an incredibly incompetent chief executive…take your pick. Whichever you believe, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for running a sprawling organism like state government.

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Chan Lowe: Political attack ads


Some of the races around the country are predicted to be so close that there’s a good chance we’ll be treated to some post-season recount ugliness.

Here in Florida, for example, we’re anticipating a cliffhanger between the two gubernatorial candidates, Alex Sink and Rick Scott.

When it comes to recount strategy, Floridians have fond memories of Bush v. Gore, when the Republicans showed us that prevailing in a recount is not just a battle of numbers, but of winning hearts and minds through a strategy of shaping the argument and creating the perception of inevitability.

Back in 2000, Poppy Bush called in the family consigliere, James Baker, to arrive in Tallahassee to mastermind the post-campaign campaign, which he did with his usual efficiency. It seemed as though he had his legal and public relations machinery up and smoothly running before the Gore campaign could even figure out where to find Tallahassee on a map. His operation didn’t come cheap.

There’s no reason to believe that, after blowing so much of his own money already, Scott won’t be delighted to finance a protracted post-election battle out of his own pocket if he comes up a vote or two short.

Which makes one wonder why he would spend $73 million to buy a job whose salary is only in the low six figures in the first place. Maybe $73 million doesn’t mean as much to the fabulously wealthy as it does to you and me, particularly when it comes to running a vanity campaign.

If that’s so, why do the über-wealthy fight tooth and nail to hang onto their piece of the Bush tax cuts? Whether they keep it or not isn’t going to affect what brand of champagne they order to wash down their next meal.

I’m getting off topic. Nevertheless, it bears some thought.

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Chan Lowe: Dems kneecap Kendrick Meek


Lest Florida manage to make it through an entire election cycle without some unique distinction, we have Bill Clinton’s eleventh-hour effort to talk Kendrick Meek into abandoning his senate candidacy to ensure that our state once again makes national news.

This goes beyond cynical. Political parties exist to enable the election of candidates who espouse the principles for which they stand. Using this criterion, there is no more faithful Democrat in the U.S. Senate race, from any state, than Kendrick Meek. Besides, he's been laying the groundwork for his candidacy for years, traveling the length and breadth of Florida and giving it his all.

Now comes Meek’s old friend and mentor Bill Clinton, taking him aside and recommending that he quit because he doesn’t have enough money to win.

Never mind that the national Democratic Party machine shorted the Meek campaign from the beginning because it didn’t have faith in his viability; the real crime here is that Clinton comes at the behest of erstwhile Conservative Republican (now Moderate Wet Noodle) Charlie Crist, who uses as his rationale the threat that if Meek doesn’t bow out and throw his support to Charlie, it ensures a victory by the hated Marco Rubio.

So the national party is willing to throw one of its own to the wolves in order to protect its majority in the Senate.

Here’s why this little caper is not only cynical but naive: It presupposes that Charlie Crist, who is rumored to have secretly assured the Dems that he would caucus with them, can be trusted to keep his word if elected. Anyone familiar with Charlie’s history can safely assume that he will caucus with whichever party gives him the better deal in terms of committee chairmanships and access to power.

Kendrick was wise to turn Clinton down. Only he seems to know that the Democrats have nothing to lose in standing by their man.

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Chan Lowe: A Florida Halloween horror


I heard an interesting theory during our daily editorial board meeting this morning about why Rick Scott is doing so well in his race for governor against Alex Sink, despite the mountain of negative baggage the man carries around.

According to this theory, Charlie Crist is to blame. Evidently, when Charlie—way back during the primary season—forsook the Republican Party because he was losing to Marco Rubio in the polls, he so enraged the GOP rank and file for caving in to his own opportunism that they’re turning out in angry droves to vote for Rubio.

They’re going to teach the tanned turncoat a big fat lesson, and while they’re in the voting booth, full of venom, they’re going to vote Republican down the line, whether they’ve heard of Scott’s complicated past involving Medicare fraud or not…or whether they even care.

This is as plausible a scenario as any I’ve heard. It’s amazing that Scott has been able to get away with doing no editorial board interviews with any Florida newspaper, and refuses to comment on his past when asked, as if voters are being impertinent for wanting to know. His feet have never been held to the fire over his failure to provide tough, specific answers to the question of how he would balance the state’s budget.

He’s a pig in a poke. Nobody is saying that Alex Sink is any Lawton Chiles, but at least she has some experience in government. Are Floridians really ready to hold hands and jump off the cliff with this guy?

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Chan Lowe: The foreclosure debacle


No one should be surprised that mortgage lenders have displayed the same devil-may-care attitude toward checking their foreclosure paperwork that they did when they made the loans in the first place.

It isn’t as though they’ve gotten soul transplants over the last three years since the boom went sour.

If you find yourself gripped by anger and frustration over what these cowboys have done⎯and continue to do⎯to our country, it helps to think of them as cockroaches.

Cockroaches are perfectly evolved life forms. According to scientists, they can survive anything⎯including nuclear Armageddon. When you leave out food and turn off the lights, they head for it. When you turn the lights back on, they scatter so fast you can’t possibly destroy them all.

This is what they are programmed for. It is all they do. They cannot change, for if they did, they would no longer be cockroaches. If you could somehow inject a sense of ethics into them, they would become ensnared in moral dilemmas over their behavior and die of starvation.

For this reason, we cannot judge cockroaches by accepted codes of human conduct, because to do so would presuppose freedom of choice on their part.

Until Armageddon occurs, we will always be in uneasy coexistence with the pests. That being said, we are under no obligation to encourage them in their activities.

So if we forget, say, to snap the lid down tightly on the Tupperware, we have nobody to blame but ourselves when they start feasting on the family pot roast. They just can’t help it.

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Chan Lowe: Crist, Rubio, Meek..oh my!


It doesn’t hurt, once in a while, to say something nice about someone, which is what I am doing now.

I’m sure many readers aren’t even aware that George LeMieux is one of Florida’s two U.S. Senators. The other guy--the one who sounds like Foghorn Leghorn at slow speed--is Bill Nelson.

The reason you don’t know George LeMieux is that, once in office, he kept his head down and worked hard. Not for his reelection, because he came to Washington with the understanding that he was only a bench-warmer. Nevertheless, he took his role seriously.

That’s right…when Mel Martinez resigned back in August of last year, it was up to Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint a replacement. Since his own eyes were on the prize, who better but his loyal lieutenant, Mr. LeMieux, who could be counted on not to catch Potomac Fever and try to stay on instead of vacating the space for Charlie?

But that was back when Charlie was a shoo-in. Charlie was also a right-of-center Republican then, so naturally his appointee was somewhat conservative.

Sen. LeMieux visited with our editorial board earlier this year, and while I didn’t agree with many of his political stands, he struck me as a thoughtful, reasonable man. More important, he was that rare conservative who appeared to have humility and heart.

He gave us proof of that just last week, when he and the also retiring George Voinovich of Ohio broke ranks with the Republican “Just Say No” caucus to help pass a bill that would give tax breaks to small businesses and grease the skids for bank loans.

The Republicans, of course, were for this bill until Barack Obama came out in favor of it. Then they opposed it. Unfortunately for them, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell couldn’t threaten LeMieux and Voinovich, because they each have one foot out the door.

So LeMieux voted for what he thought would be best for his country…not his party, not his own political ambitions.

What more could you ask for from a United States Senator?

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Chan Lowe: Wexler endorses Charlie Crist


Back when Robert Wexler represented my fellow Florida Congressional District 19 constituents in absentia, he was one of my favorite occasional targets.

I liked to give him some good-natured ribbing, portraying him as a reverse-carpetbagger who chose to reside in a cushy hurricane-free suburb in Maryland while paying lip service to the teeming and steaming condo communities back here in the hinterlands.

All that Robert (who used to list his in-laws’ place as his district home address until forced by embarrassing revelations to rent a Potemkin pad of his own) had to do was show up once a year before election day to press some flesh, while making sure that everybody’s government checks arrived on time.

I was sad to see him retire, sadder still when his mid-term retirement (to chase bigger bucks at a think tank) resulted in a special election to replace him that cost local taxpayers over a million dollars.

Fortunately for me, the holidays have arrived early this year. Robert has bestowed one last gift by briefly resurfacing in his old district to endorse famously former Republican Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate.

The self-described Fire-Breathing Liberal has, for reasons of his own, chosen to shill for a man who, up until earlier this year, was quite the conservative.

You have to respect loyalty to old friends. It’s that kind of quality that makes Robert such a mensch.

I would guess that the Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek, is using different words to describe him.

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Chan Lowe: The Everglades of the future


The Everglades are one of those things we value in the abstract, like the great whales. We go “tsk, tsk” when we hear about their impending extinction, but since we don’t really see them very often, saving them gets lost in the welter of more clamorous needs.

Besides, we tend to pay more attention to events like wildfires, which provide compelling TV visuals. The whales and the Everglades are dying slowly. This doesn't make for tremendously entertaining viewing.

If it weren’t for conservation groups, the ‘Glades wouldn’t have a constituency at all. Alligators, mosquitoes and snakes are not lovable creatures. The plant life is⎯let’s face it⎯nowhere near as majestic and stately as an old-growth forest.

The fact that we need the Everglades to guarantee South Florida’s supply of fresh water is lost on many people. “I thought that’s what Lake Okeechobee was for,” many say. They don’t realize that the ‘Glades act as an enormous filter to take out the crud we pump into them from upstream.

The average South Floridian isn’t really going to care about the Everglades until he turns on his tap--and instead of drinking water, he gets a foul smelling, yellow-greenish liquid he’s expected to consume and bathe in.

Wait a second. That’s happening already.

Oh, well...maybe there's a wildfire to watch on TV.

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Chan Lowe: Crist and the gay adoption ban


It really pains me to draw a cartoon like this. As I’ve said before, Charlie is a very nice guy.

Once he’s left a roomful of people upon whom he has worked his charm, everyone feels warm inside. Then they look around, and it dawns on them that there is no possible way all of them could have heard exactly what they wanted to hear.

In fact, they all heard very little, but it sure sounded good.

That’s the problem with Charlie. We’re electing a United States Senator here, not the toastmaster for a Jaycees banquet. We want our elected representatives⎯on occasion⎯to be statesmen, not just weak reeds who bend to every zephyr coming from the public opinion polls back home.

Sometimes real statesmen have to buck the trend. They have to see clearly into the future and vote their conscience, even if it may be politically harmful to their prospects.

And statesmen don’t tend to be nice guys. Lyndon Johnson didn’t get civil rights and Great Society legislation rammed through Congress by being a delightful dinner companion, although his so-called charm was his most terrifying quality. He did it by being the kind of S.O.B everyone loathed and feared.

Charlie doesn’t have to act all the time like he’s worthy of having his image added to Mt. Rushmore. I just wish he’d find some principles and stick to them for a while.

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Chan Lowe: Gay adoption ban crumbling


In light of recent events, it's time to bring out this cartoon again, which I originally drew for the Sun Sentinel's editorial page in February of 2004.

That may seem a long time ago, but Florida's unique law banning gay adoption (it's the only state that still has one) was adopted in 1977 by a legislature swayed by the arguments of the notoriously homophobic Anita Bryant, who at the time was a Florida resident.

That was another era, and it looks like one Florida judge after another has decided that it's time to move into the 21st Century, along with a growing preponderance of the American people. This week, it was a state appellate court in Miami. Next, it will probably be our state Supreme Court, which should have trashed this archaic statute years ago.

Call it judicial activism if you want. The attitudes about gays in this country are becoming so settled that the only activists left are the bigots. Even the State of Florida can't decide if it wants to appeal the decision. If you want any further evidence that this law is unjust on its face, consider that Florida does allow children to be raised by gay foster parents.

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Chan Lowe: Invasion of the bedbugs


Here in South Florida, we’re old hands at pestilence.

The Cuban Death’s-Head Cockroach, the Formosan Termite, the Indonesian White-Footed Ant, the Burmese Python, the Bahamian Curly-Tailed Lizard and the Ficus Whitefly are but a short list of the immigrants that have claimed asylum in our sheltering clime during the last few years.

We’ve all figured out a way to get along, and I’m sure we’ll do so with our latest scourge, the bedbug. Chances are, since the beast is impervious to chemicals, they’ll scrounge up another exotic creature that likes to dine on it, the way they did the Melaleuca Beetle, which was imported in turn to get rid of a foreign plant we brought in to drain the swamps so that we could build more developments.

Of course, whatever the crawly solution is, it will (as they all do) proliferate in our natural-predator-free environment and soon become a pest in its own right, requiring the importation of yet another remedy, and so on.

Are we beginning to detect a common denominator here? There’s one creature without whose presence none of these freak twists of nature might ever have occurred.

Too late for that, I suppose…although it’s the only pest I’ve heard of that, when left to its own devices, does a perfectly fine job of exterminating itself.

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Chan Lowe: Florida energy rebates fizzle


Maybe the most appropriate comment for this situation is the one made by Otter, the frat brother of the fat loser, Dorfman, in the classic movie Animal House:

“Face it, Dorfman,” he says as the boy looks over the smoking wreck of his older brother’s Lincoln after allowing his friends to use it for a road trip, “you f****d up. You trusted us!”

And “trusted” is what hundreds of people did when they went out to buy air conditioners and solar gear on the promise that the State of Florida would provide them with energy rebates to help defray the outlay.

Little did they know they would get caught up in a grudge match between outgoing governor Charlie Crist and a spurned Republican legislature bent on destroying his dream to become a United States Senator.

The arcane details are not that important—all we need to know is that ordinary citizens, as usual, are being used as pawns by state pols following their own petty and self-serving agendas.

Suffice it to say that if Charlie had remained a Republican and taken his chances in the primary, the legislature wouldn’t have dragged its feet in approving the use of federal funds for the rebates…a strategy designed to portray him as having gone back on his word.

So if you want to blame someone for this mess, blame the Tea Party. If they hadn’t supported Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate nomination, he probably wouldn’t have been able to mount such a strong campaign, thereby eclipsing the colorless Crist.

Charlie wouldn’t have bolted the party and gone rogue, and the legislature wouldn’t have sought revenge by punishing those who laid out their hard-earned bucks in good faith.

That was almost too easy.

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Chan Lowe: Cuba lays off half a million workers


Welcome to the real world, Paisanos.

The appeal and the promise of the Communist Paradise was that everybody worked, no matter how menial or meaningless the job. Everybody got paid: Doctors, who spent years in training, made the same salaries as doormen. In the classless society, all citizens pulled the wagon together for the common welfare.

The only thing missing was incentive—a proportionate reward for initiative, creativity, and hard work. Oops…how do you account for laggards in Marxist theory, particularly when everyone is encouraged to lag?

The destitute central government may be laying off half a million Cubans, but fortunately it is rich in ideas. According to the AP, the newly unemployed can form cooperatives! Raise rabbits! Make bricks! Paint buildings! It’s a new model for a new century.

If you ask me, the only sure-fire Cuban business plan is a co-op that builds rafts equipped with compasses pointing toward Florida. Fortunately for the Cubans, the U.S. still considers them political, not economic, refugees⎯and we will welcome them with open arms to the Land of Opportunity, as we always have, no questions asked.

The Cuban government has said that salaries ought to be adjusted upward for those remaining employees who work hard and whose product is critical to the economy, although the current situation makes that unlikely. Those who lose their jobs will just have to sink or swim.

Sounds a lot like life here in the bastion of free enterprise these days. Our Cuban friends might want to think long and hard before taking that northbound cruise. There isn’t much of a market for rabbit meat up here.

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Chan Lowe: Burning the Quran


When the Founding Fathers bequeathed upon future generations the perpetual gift of the First Amendment, they probably gave some thought to the downside.

Unlimited free expression, while clearly the cornerstone of a strong democracy when made use of by responsible citizens, also cleared the soapboxes for all manner of speech: seditious, hateful, ugly and divisive.

Evidently, they decided that the positives outweighed the negatives, that a society rendered strong by the exercise of individual freedoms would be better able to withstand recklessness within its ranks without having to resort to dreaded (and self-destructive) censorship.

The fact that the nation has been having a lively debate about the intention by a small church in Gainesville to stage a mass burning of Islam’s most holy scripture is testimony to the Founding Fathers’ wisdom. While the behavior of these people repels us and makes us wince, it is behavior we must endure for the sake of our collective welfare.

Muslims around the world who do not appreciate niceties like our guarantees under the Bill of Rights assume that by allowing the burning to occur, the United States is tacitly condoning the act. All Americans will be tarred by it.

If you have any doubts about that, just think for a moment how many Americans believe that all Muslims are terrorists, based on the acts of a handful of madmen back in 2001, and how many of us have been mailing copies of the Quran to Gainesville to help fuel the flames.

All that “hearts and minds” stuff we’re trying to do in Afghanistan? It’s back to Square One for us. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.

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Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist, Independent


Here’s how the scenario could play out this November:

A cracker from North Florida goes to the polls and faces three choices for U.S. Senator. “Shux,” he exclaims. “Meek?!!? A black Democrat? Sounds a lot like that commie Muslim we already got in the White House. Marco Rubio? Wonder if he’s even legal. Guess I’ll go with Crist. He ain’t done nuthin’ to tick me off.”

A retiree from the I-4 Corridor votes in Tampa. “Charlie’s that kind of moderate we always appreciated back in Ohio. I wonder if the Democrats are even running anybody, not that I’d vote for him anyway.”

In South Florida, a gay man makes a tough decision. “My heart’s with Kendrick, but I’d just be throwing my vote away. Rubio’s plain scary. I guess there’s no choice but to go with Gov. Man Tan.” Meanwhile, a snowbird from Queens connects the arrows for Crist because he’s heard of him.

The state and national Democratic Parties, while not openly supporting Crist, at least refrain from attacking him. They know Meek is a non-starter, but they can’t afford to anger blacks, who might stay home and withhold their votes for Democrats altogether.

Governor Charlie thereby squeaks into office, defying the early prognostications. Now the man who coyly answered direct questions about which party he would join in the senate, saying, “I caucus with the people of Florida,” (open mouth here, insert finger, and make a gagging noise) is open for business.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, once all the national results are in, discovers he’s one vote shy of a Republican majority. The GOP has already won the House in a landslide, and he’s willing to sell his own mother into prostitution to make this a sweep.

He extends the olive branch to Charlie. “All is forgiven, welcome back to the fold, and here’s a juicy committee chairmanship as a peace offering from the Republican Party. We love you, Charlie. Always have.

“Now, I’m sure we can count on your vote to convict Obama once he’s been impeached by the house, can’t we?”

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott, slobber baron


Politics is theater, as the saying goes. In the case of the Rick Scott for Governor of Florida campaign, we can interpret the expression as referring to actors who play leaders in public, but who neither mean nor believe the scripted words they utter.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Republican bigshots were pouring money into shoring up the faltering gubernatorial candidacy of Bill McCollum, the establishment candidate.

They financed attack ads focusing on the usurper Scott’s background as head of a health care company later found to have committed Medicare fraud. They asserted that the man was unfit to be governor.

How things change after a primary. It took a few days for the GOP leaders to recover from their drubbing, but then the wagons began to circle around the new star.

Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi and the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was particularly egregious in casting aside the old, outdated script. “That’s all water under the bridge now,” he said when asked about his earlier statements attacking Scott.

Sure, that’s politics. It’s theater. But you wonder if these players ever truly mean anything they say, if they can deliver their words so convincingly and yet retract them with such facility when circumstances demand.

It also makes you wonder if there is anything so unacceptable in a candidate that the leadership would actually draw the line and not support him once he won the primary. Spousal abuse? Child porn? Embracing universal health care?

Bill McCollum, at least, has refused to do what’s expected of him and has not pivoted to support his party’s candidate, continuing to claim that the man is unfit.

Some would say he is being a sore loser. I say he's just a lousy actor. In this case, it's something to be proud of.

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Chan Lowe: Using Hurricane Earl


It’s appropriate that the late Tip O’Neill, who coined the famous saying, “All politics is local,” hailed from Boston. At least, it may be appropriate by this weekend if Eastern Massachusetts, specifically Cape Cod, gets walloped by Hurricane Earl.

Those of us down here in the vulnerable states, who wonder from summer to summer if we’ll still have roofs on our houses by November, have been agitating for years for a national catastrophe fund⎯a federally-backed mechanism that would provide a stabilizing foundation for the insurance industry. This would translate in turn into stability in homeowner premiums.

But it’s hard to get low-risk states to go along with the idea. “Why should we pay more for you to live in a place that is known to be vulnerable?” they rightly ask.

I once read a study claiming that the lowest-risk state for any kind of natural calamity is Utah. But in order to benefit from this meteorological and geological peace of mind, you’d have to live in…Utah.

So the only way to overcome the naysayers is to outnumber them in Congress. You do this by taking advantage of any act of God that might come along. Let’s say the Northeast⎯not exactly a hurricane hot-spot⎯gets sideswiped by Earl...not enough to inflict serious damage or human injury, but to a degree that serves to raise the region’s consciousness.

The five states combined from New Jersey to Massachusetts marshal fifty-eight votes in Congress (Party affiliation is irrelevant. All politics is local, remember?). Get California, Oregon and Washington to go along by including earthquakes as one of the covered calamities. Add to that the combined votes of all the Gulf states, with Georgia and the Carolinas thrown in, and you’re talking some serious numbers.

Hey there, Salt Lake City property owners…can you spell “C-A-T F-U-N-D S-U-R-C-H-A-R-G-E?

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott wins GOP nomination for governor


Boy, did I get this one wrong. It’s true Bill McCollum is no live wire, but I had faith, albeit misplaced, in Florida’s Republican voters not to be so completely bamboozled by the blizzard of Scott ads.

The irony is that McCollum probably had a better chance of winning in the general election in November against Alex Sink. Well, whatever we end up with, we’ll certainly deserve it.

As a journalist, I’m delighted that Rick Scott has advanced to the finals. It adds an element of unpredictability and spice to an otherwise dreary contest. Plus, he’s very easy to draw.

As a person who has to live in this state, however, I’m less sanguine. I’m reminded of the suspension of good judgment Minnesotans displayed when they voted in former professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura (who bears a passing resemblance to Mr. Scott, I might add) as their governor. His very newness and brashness captured the electorate’s imagination. The Body left office with decidedly mixed reviews.

Electing Scott as governor of Florida will be like taking a teenager to get his learner’s permit, then handing him the keys to a semi packed with nuclear waste material.

Considering the fiscal straits the state finds itself in, the guy who really should have won Tuesday’s primary was the virtually unknown third candidate, a gentleman by the name of Mike McCallister, who spent a grand total of $8,000 to garner ten percent of the vote. Contrast this with Scott, who shelled out $50 million of his own money to snag only forty-three percent, and it’s easy to see who knows how to get the most bang for the buck.

At the very least, Scott would do well to make McCallister his chief financial adviser in the event he actually gains office.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott calls on a higher power


What was this guy thinking? The biggest Republican party event of the season, five days before the primary, and not only doesn’t he bother to appear, he sends his mother instead?

It sounds like our dilettante billionaire has decided that running for governor of Florida is no longer a fun hobby, now that his numbers have dropped behind Bill McCollum’s in the latest polls.

Maybe he’s taken his bat and ball and moved on to some other indulgence, like buying a small Central American republic for a personal playground.

Assuming he goes on to lose the Republican nomination this Tuesday, one is left to wonder what benefits the $30 million he spent on his ego might have wrought, had it been given to charity.

All over Florida, there might have been Rick Scott pantries to feed the hungry, Rick Scott community programs to keep kids in school and off drugs, Rick Scott shelters for the homeless.

Instead, all that will linger of Rick Scott in Florida’s collective consciousness are some titters of laughter and a smattering of polite applause as we recall his poor mother standing there in his place and telling a disappointed crowd that her no-show son was once an Eagle Scout.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott, stonewaller


It would be charitable to write Rick Scott’s clumsiness in handling the media off to his inexperience as a candidate, but as I indicated in a previous posting, when you’re running for an office as lofty as state governor, there’s no room for amateurishness.

Here’s a guy who’s trading on his acumen as a businessman, the candidate with the purported savvy to pull Florida out of its financial morass. Naturally, one would think that this opens a legitimate line of questioning by the media regarding a rather glaring issue in his past, which is that the company he headed, Columbia HCA, had to pay a fine of $1.7 billion for defrauding the Medicare system.

The fine was paid after he left the company, but he did receive hundreds of millions in stock options with which he is now financing his campaign for governor.

Now there’s a brouhaha over a deposition he gave regarding a chain of walk-in clinics he co-founded, which he will not deign to discuss. Not only that, but he’s become downright rude to reporters who even allude to it.

Even though we Floridians are dumb enough to allow a lot of personally financed campaign ads to put the virtually unknown Scott within a hair’s breadth of the governor’s mansion at this stage, we wouldn't be blamed for wondering why he’s being so secretive.

Could it be that the revelations in the deposition are so devastating that they might deep-six his campaign if they became public? Was it decided that it would be less injurious to his run for office if he simply stonewalled and rode out the inevitable backlash?

Or is he just being snooty and asserting his so-called right to privacy?

When you seek to work for the people, that’s a good way to get turned down for the job.

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Chan Lowe: Early primary voting in Florida


Let the games begin.

Florida has never been blessed with Lincolnesque candidates for public office; in fact, by our standards, a politician’s term is considered successful if it doesn't end with a conviction.

It seems that the primary races of 2010 offer some particularly stellar examples of mediocrity, both on the part of candidates and voters.

One of the Republican candidates for governor, Rick Scott, has set about to buy the office with his own money. As if that weren’t enough, it appears that he made said millions while remaining ignorant of the fact that individuals within the health insurance company he headed were committing fraud. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for someone who seeks to be the chief executive of a large state.

On the Democratic side, another candidate with too much money on his hands, Jeff Greene, is attempting to purchase the U.S. Senate nomination. His conflicting accounts about a yacht vacation to Cuba read like a collection of Hemingway short stories. That both these gentlemen are front-runners thanks to their ad buys says as much about the electorate as it does about them.

At the local level, a Democratic acquaintance of mine lives in Florida House District 90, and faces a dilemma. “If Irv Slosberg doesn’t value my vote enough to try to bribe me with a corned-beef sandwich or a free schlepper bag this time around,” he said disdainfully, “then he doesn’t deserve it. At the same time, how can I cast my ballot for somebody whose campaign slogan is, ‘Send Klassy to Tallahassee?’”

Surely, a conundrum the Founding Fathers couldn’t possibly have envisioned.

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Chan Lowe: Teacher pay raises


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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Chan Lowe: Tony Hayward to leave BP


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.

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Chan Lowe: Who is Rick Scott?


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.

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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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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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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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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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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.

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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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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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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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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.

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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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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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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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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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Chan Lowe: The Arizona law in Florida?

cuban.gifThere’s talk here in the Sunshine State about adopting a “show-me-your-papers” law like they have in Arizona.

So far, the loudest voice is coming from a Republican candidate for governor who is trying to squeeze out front-runner Bill McCollum by playing to the conservative peanut gallery of likely primary voters.

It is doubtful that Florida will embrace the idea of such a law with the same passion as Arizonans…or even the rest of the country, as polls seem to show.

Unlike Arizona, much of Florida’s population (particularly South Florida’s) is no longer trying to hang onto the myth of a “real America,” one where Anglos rule by divine right and folks speak English without accents. By weight of sheer numbers, Latin immigrants to Florida—both legal and illegal—have forged a culture with the indigenous Anglos that redefines what “Americanness” is.

Of course, there are some Anglos, particularly recent arrivals, whose comfort levels are lower than those of us who have been here a while and learned to appreciate the richness of the stew rather than fear its spicy bite.

These folks will always lend a willing ear to opportunistic politicians who would twist xenophobic urges to their own purposes.

The fact is that we should be pressuring Congress to tighten our borders, rather than passing constitutionally doubtful laws that treat our neighbors as though they were subhumans.

Besides, as a lot of Florida politicians—even those from North Florida--know, Florida Hispanics, once motivated, can be a fearsome voting bloc. And they detest this law.

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Chan Lowe: The Great Drywall of China (II)

drywallx.gifI once went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Oakland, CA, with a woman who hailed from Shanghai. It was way, way off the tourist track.

The mirrored walls were covered with Chinese characters. “What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s the menu for Chinese customers,” she said. “The printed menu is for gwylos (foreign devils).”

My dinner partner then entered into a lengthy, animated conversation in Shanghai dialect with the restaurant's owner. Eventually, he bowed and left us. “I was negotiating the price of the meal with him,” she said. “I know his family in China.”

In a little while, a multi-course feast arrived, replete with foods of doubtful origin. “What is this stuff?” I said to my companion, as I poked at what looked like an endocrine gland with my chopstick.

“Don’t ask. If you like the way it tastes, eat it.”

The experience taught me something important about the way Chinese approach business transactions. There is an understanding that the burden is on the purchaser to make sure he is not being taken. Certainly, the concept of a third party--a governmental entity, for example--that exists to ensure the quality of the merchandise is alien to the intimacy and mutual trust of a one-on-one transaction.

In the Chinese view, if you bought it, it’s yours. If you’re not happy afterwards with your purchase, you should have taken greater care up front to familiarize yourself with the reliability and reputation of its provenance. There are no guarantees in life.

It isn’t dishonest; just culturally different. "Caveat emptor," as they say in Shanghai.

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Chan Lowe: Oil and the government

boot.gifThis is a Manhattan Project moment, as was 9/11. And we’re squandering it the same way we did then.

Had George Bush surrounded himself with advisers of broad vision and foresight, he could have molded the world into an interdependent, terror-proof network. He could have laid the foundation for a crash program leading to energy independence for America. Instead, he started a couple of wars.

Now a nation that is just beginning to grasp the true scope of the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf cries out for leadership, as it did in 2001.

Rather than provide it, the Obama Administration has gone into bunker mode, uttering empty platitudes and hollow ultimatums in an attempt to divert blame and responsibility in an election year.

We are awakening to the reality that our government is powerless to deal with the mess. A victim of its own lack of political will in not requiring that adequate safety provisions be put in place before drilling even began, it now reaps the whirlwind of its corrupt impotence.

We as a nation are forced to entrust the rescue and restoration of our environment to the very same soulless private sector whose cutting of corners resulted in its rape.

We are angry at the oil industry, the way a debtor is angry at his loan shark. We know that the oil companies are exacting what amounts to a national indemnity by providing us what we cannot do without. We are in their thrall, and we look to our leaders to extricate us.

But we don’t elect leaders anymore; we elect people who tell us what we want to hear. They reflect us, with all our weaknesses and addictions. If we can’t do anything ourselves to stop the madness, why should we expect them to?

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Chan Lowe: Cleanup in the Gulf


There really isn’t much more to say, except that after more than two centuries, the British finally avenged Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown…with compound interest.

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Chan Lowe: The Key West non-story

motel.gifSuddenly, everybody’s an environment reporter.

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the first landfall for the Great Spill⎯other than Alabama and Louisiana, which are already covered by the media like beach tar⎯happens to be Key West.

If a tar ball had turned up on the shores of Duluth, MN, one has to wonder whether hordes of media would have materialized to interview it in the same way they descended upon the Conch Republic, showering the bars and restaurants on Duval Street with their per diems.

As it happens, the tar balls weren’t from the Gulf slick anyway, but that wasn’t enough to halt the stampede.

The Key West overkill is simply a manifestation of two cardinal rules of news coverage: First, if you see a pack of journalists gathering somewhere, you’d better join it or you might lose out on a story. Second, if there’s any possible way to justify a junket⎯particularly to a resort⎯then it’s the responsibility of any self-respecting reporter to make the case.

The real slick is due in Key West in about a week. No doubt there are a few courageous members of the fifth estate who are busy convincing their editors they need to remain on site--tough as that might be--and wait it out.

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Chan Lowe: Why fear big government?

samx.gifWhat are you Tea Partiers worried about?

Crisis after crisis, the one common denominator that keeps popping up is that some government regulatory or enforcement body was incompetent, asleep at the switch, or incestuously intermingled with the industry it was meant to oversee.

When Washington displays this kind of ineptitude regarding the fat, easy targets, how can it possibly get its act together enough to intrude upon and control the lives of its individual citizens?

Congress can pass⎯and President Obama can sign⎯all the “socialistic” and “Nazi” laws they want to, but when the black helicopters land in your back yard and they beat down your door, it sounds like all you have to do is provide some booze, broads, and a few lines of coke, and they’ll be putty in your hands.

If it’s the SEC that concerns you, then simply tune your laptop to some hot Internet porn. That ought to keep ’em distracted for a while.

As for protecting our borders, local law enforcement in places like Arizona will be so busy mistakenly rounding up suspiciously ethnic-looking American citizens that the real illegals will slip through to Colorado, Kansas and Minnesota faster than a personal injury lawyer can file a false arrest lawsuit. If you aren’t brown and don’t have a Mexican accent, they won’t be interested in you.

So chill.

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Chan Lowe: The great slick cometh

flaslick.gifThis is beginning to look a lot like the Wall Street bailout all over again: the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk.

BP has been making a big sanctimonious stink about how it’s going to pay for the entire cleanup, as well it should.

But after that, the company is only liable for $75 million in compensation to mitigate the damage done to everyone from shrimp fishermen to mom-and-pop motels along the coast.

Considering all the tort lawyers who have swarmed the Gulf Coast to sign up clients, that $75 mil isn’t going to stretch very far. “Here’s your hundred bucks minus my commission, Ma’am. Have a good life.”

The U.S. Senate is talking about raising the cap for damages to $10 billion, but you know how that’s going to go. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will put a personal hold on it and it won’t go anywhere. She doesn’t even have to make it one of those infamous “secret holds,” since there will be no downside for her back in her home state.

I love her reasoning: A cap that high will squeeze all the little people out of the offshore drilling business. Only the huge mega-corporations will be able to afford it. Right. “Hey, Duane! Let’s take that money you got for sellin’ the Fairlane and go sink us a billion-dollar rig out there in the gulf. We’ll get rich quick.”

So, absent making BP and related villains pony up, who will that leave to make us all whole again?

Us, of course.

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Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist, Founding Father


Since Charlie Crist cut himself off from his fecund Republican funding sources, he’s been leveraging his governor’s pulpit to the hilt.

His latest move is to call a special session (costing taxpayers $40,000 per day) to pass a state constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling for all time. It’s a textbook example of how he can bend the power of his office to his own ends.

Aside from the fact that it may be as bad an idea to enshrine a drilling ban in the constitution as it was to protect pregnant pigs (yes, newcomers, that happened), Charlie is banking on us to forget that a short time ago⎯pre-slick⎯he was touting offshore drilling as a way to help deliver the state from its fiscal woes.

It's a gamble that will probably pay off, because the Pennsylvania transplant knows as well as anyone that in a transient state like Florida, name recognition pays off in a way that it doesn’t in places where pols and voters grew up knowing each other.

Those who are familiar with Charlie and his career are becoming more and more disappointed⎯in some cases, disgusted⎯with his spinelessness. But most voters don’t follow that closely. They’ve heard of him, more than they’ve heard of Kendrick Meek and Marco Rubio. They neither know nor care that he’s a human weather vane.

Whatever direction the parade goes in, all that matters to Charlie is that he’s out front playing the drum major, and that everybody's keeping time to his beat.

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Chan Lowe: Another specialty car tag

tag.gifThe only bill that the Florida Legislature is required by law to pass every session is the state budget. That august body, however, never fails to produce a few self-generated doozies on the side.

Figuring that 114 specialty car tags were already enough, the legislature had actually placed a moratorium on future plates in a past session, but this one was special: It celebrated Hispanic heritage in an election year.

We’re talking about millions of potential voters here, so we might as well just toss the rules in the basura.

I have nothing against “Hispanic Achievers,” as the legend on the new tag reads. Lord knows Florida has plenty of them. But I fear it unintentionally creates a whole class of newly aggrieved minorities, to wit: Polish Achievers, Micronesian Achievers and Achievers from the Maldives, to cite but a few.

They did show enough sense to water down the original slogan from "Hispanics Discovered Florida," to "Since 1513 helping communities prosper.” The original wording implied that all the Indians living here before Ponce de Leon came along were just sitting around, waiting to be legitimized by white Europeans.

And then there’s the illustration of the sailing vessel, which looks suspiciously like the Santa Maria. Unless I’m mistaken, she was captained by an Italian Achiever.

At least they left the Maltese Cross emblems off the sails. Their inclusion would, no doubt, have engendered a round of lawsuits from the ACLU.

Knowing the leanings of this legislature, it was probably an oversight.

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Chan Lowe: The slick giveth

tort.gifIn a mega-disaster, where some see the ruination of their homeland, livelihood and culture, others see opportunity, particularly those who are perpetually on the alert for such things.

If you’re a tort lawyer, for example, a class action suit is the holy grail of your profession. Once you have aggregated your client base⎯a “dividend-multiplier” if you will⎯then for the same amount of legal work as you would perform in a single case, you are entitled to a wedge of thousands of little pies.

The goal is to be the first on the scene with the most aggressive team, so you can get your finger in as many of those pies as possible before somebody else tries to muscle his way in.

This case is literally oozing with potential: “BP” might as well stand for “Bulging Pockets.” As the oil seeps around the Florida peninsula and on up to the Tidal Basin in Washington, it could be the gift that keeps on giving long after the gusher has finally been capped.

So the slick taketh away, but it also giveth. If you want to think of it in purely financial terms, it has become its own dynamic ecosystem.

Of course, it takes a special kind of person to think of it in purely financial terms.

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Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist, fallen angel

pulse.gifThe way the Republican Party leadership was talking about poor old Charlie last weekend in the wake of his apostasy, you’d think he was the guy who left the SUV full of explosives in Times Square.

Some senator on Meet the Press huffed about how Charlie, by resolutely ignoring the Voice of the People, had been beaten fair and square by Marco Rubio, and instead of being man enough to bow out of the race had decided to become the skunk at the garden party.

What made the comments ugly and cynical was that, up until Thursday, the GOP establishment would have been perfectly happy to support Charlie’s candidacy with money, staff, and boots on the ground had he won the primary.

As I alluded to in a cartoon on Switcheroo Day, he was still the same old Charlie he’d been the previous week. Nothing about him had changed except his label.

For his part, Charlie⎯who was given his own Meet the Press segment⎯ allowed as how it wasn’t he who had changed, but rather his beloved Republican Party whose primary voters had moved so far to the right that ordinary Americans couldn’t compete anymore.

I tend to agree with him. If Charlie actually had principles, I’m guessing they’d be more along the lines of the fiscally conservative, yet socially laissez-faire Rockefeller Republicans who may still inhabit Tri-State Area country clubs. If there are any left alive, they can probably be found hunkering in the Men’s Grill over their Wild Turkey manhattans, wondering what the hell happened to their party.

It gives a whole new meaning to "mourning in America."

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Chan Lowe: The Gulf oil spill

spill.gifEvery disaster is abstract until it happens.

It can be demagogued, exploited, twisted, disputed, trivialized and even ignored when it is still theoretical.

Now, as the tendrils of oil approach the coast of the southeastern United States⎯ with heartbreaking pictures of petroleum-soaked wildlife struggling ashore on ruined beaches sure to follow⎯ everybody from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of history.

Drill, baby, drill? Whoever said that? It’s so 2008.

The reality that our insatiable energy demands require us to drill in the Gulf in the first place provides a perfect segue to something I witnessed on the way to work this morning: Here in Florida we have these gorgeous trees called tabebuias that bloom an electric yellow for a few weeks, then drop all their petals to the ground, creating an enormous mess.

I passed a shopping center where a maintenance worker was cleaning up after one of these things. Rather than rake up the petals and dispose of them, he was using a gasoline-powered blower to disperse them off the property and into the street--where they became everyone else’s problem, meaning no one’s problem.

So, after all the fuel was burned and the additional greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere, absolutely nothing of value was accomplished.

How perfectly American.

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Chan Lowe: Charlie goes Independent


As of this writing, it looks like Charlie has decided to go rogue.

A mere three weeks ago (an eon in political time), he was telling us that he was and always would be a Republican. But then, he was also saying that teacher merit pay was a great idea for Florida's schoolchildren. He's a professional politician...what do you expect?

Being an unprincipled moderate means that pesky things like ideology never stand in your way. This can be both an advantage and an Achilles' heel. It affords extraordinary flexibility to someone who uses the same common sense most of us would to solve problems and forge sensible compromises.

It also means that certain officeholders can never be depended on to do anything courageous in the face of strong public opposition. There are times, believe it or not, when the public doesn't know what's best for it. Sometimes people in government, who are supposed to make it their business to be well informed, can grasp the nuances and ramifications of issues in a way that rises above the raw, self-interested emotion of the masses.

Then, they act in a way they think is best for the country, rather than their own political futures.

Which type of person is Charlie Crist? That's something the voters will have to decide in November.

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Chan Lowe: Red light cameras

redlightx.gifFor a party that likes to scare the bejeezus out of people with horror stories about socialist government takeover of our lives, the Republicans are capable of some pretty Orwellian moves in their own right.

Just today, the Florida Senate passed a bill requiring that a woman who is about to get an abortion must receive an ultrasound first, and pay for it herself.

At least they threw in an exception for rape and incest (as long as she can prove it…I guess that means she has to get the relative or rapist to sign a notarized affidavit).

And let’s not forget the Terri Schiavo episode (perhaps one the GOP would prefer to bury for all time), which pushed government intrusion into private decision-making to breathtaking limits (What was that line they use? Oh, yeah-- “Do you want a bureaucrat getting between you and your doctor?”).

Now our Republican legislature, with alacrity, has passed a bill allowing red-light cameras at intersections. Motorists will be automatically ticketed for infractions. The ever-present eye in the sky.

Had Democrats proposed this idea, it would have been shouted down as Big Brotherism. Let’s bear in mind, however, that under the new law, the state receives a huge portion of the revenue from the tickets.

Suddenly it’s a safety issue. Well, let's make sure we're not too safe, or the whole thing will be a wasted investment.

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Chan Lowe: Civics, schmivics.

civics.gifHere’s a game you can play the next time you are having a conversation with someone who is ranting about out-of-control government not heeding the will of the people:

Ask them who their member of Congress is. Chances are better than even that you’ll get either a blank stare, or the name of somebody they may have heard of on TV, like John Paul Stevens.

If you really want to have some fun, say: “OK, I’ll make it easy for you. Name one of Florida’s three U.S. Senators.”

Again, the blank stare.

Government is made up of human beings, and being human, they’re only going to do the right thing if they’re accountable to someone. An ignorant, disengaged populace is a lamb waiting to be fleeced.

It's practically criminal that Florida does not require any basic civics curriculum in its schools. Some county systems require it, but it shouldn’t be left to them to decide that it’s necessary. One could almost suspect the Legislature, for nefarious reasons, of deliberately trying to keep the masses in the dark.

Civics isn’t some arcane package of useless knowledge. Unless you know the mechanics of how you’re governed, you will never be able to take control of your life. If you really want to bring government to its knees, taking up arms is nothing compared to the power of the collective vote.

Those people in Washington, D.C. who supposedly ignore your wishes didn’t crown themselves emperor, like Napoleon. Somebody voted them in, and if it wasn’t you, then it would be wise to keep your complaining to yourself.

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Will Crist pull a switcheroo?

rumors.gifThe big speculation, even in national circles, is whether embattled Gov. Charlie Crist is going to run as an Independent.

Everyone is weighing the pros and cons. The bad news for Charlie is that if he bolts, he'll lose his big GOP donors, most of his staff, all of his party's organizing support, and be branded as a turncoat.

Already, party stalwarts are saying he should either remain in the primary race against Marco Rubio or bail out altogether, rather than act as a spoiler.

The good news is that polls show he actually has a chance of winning the general election as an Independent. Charlie can go ahead and be moderate (detractors would say "wishy-washy") Charlie, the People's U.S. Senate Candidate. If he makes it to Washington, he can acquire power beyond his junior status by auctioning his loyalty to whichever party needs his caucus vote more.

Most interesting in the wake of Charlie's decision will be the Great Moderation of Marco Rubio. Once he becomes the de facto Republican candidate, Rubio will no longer be forced to emit all the wild jungle noises that appeal to rabid right Republican primary voters.

In fact, he'll leave skid marks as he suddenly begins to sound like a reasonable person in an attempt to pick off the Crist moderates in November. Tea Partiers be damned...after all, where are they going to go?

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Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist's Veto

velveto1.gifYesterday, when a reporter asked Gov. Crist if his veto of the teacher merit pay bill meant that he was planning an independent run for the U.S. Senate, he said, "That's the last thing on my mind right now."

This is why Charlie Crist generates so little passion in the electorate. Even if you are one of those people who welcome his veto decision, you know that his senate campaign is the very first thing on his mind. You resent that he thinks you're so clueless you don't realize it.

Just a week ago Monday, as you may recall, he was championing the bill as a responsible way to make teachers accountable and generally improve the academic achievement of Florida's students.

What a difference eleven days can make. Once the orchestrated groundswell started shaking the foundations of the state capitol, Charlie began to dither. Maybe the first thing he did was to pick up the phone and call his political brain, incumbent Senator George LeMieux. Together, they may have weighed the pros and cons of alienating this group or that with a decision Charlie could no longer avoid making. Maybe the relative merits of the merit pay issue factored into the conversation somewhere. Maybe.

Then, with steely conviction, Charlie vetoed the bill as detrimental to teachers and students.

Which way will he go the next time there's a controversial decision to be made?

Keep a finger to the wind.

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Chan Lowe: Will Crist veto teacher merit pay?

charliex.gifWill he or won’t he?

This is one of those delectable moments when a pol who has made a career out of being all things to all people has to find his backbone and actually make a decision that is going to infuriate someone, whichever way he goes.

For Charlie, it was supposed to be a walk to the U.S. Senate. But suddenly the upstart Marco Rubio galloped up on the right, thriving on the poisonous political atmosphere.

The very moderateness that was Charlie's hallmark has become repugnant to those who would nominate him in the primary.

Charlie must prove himself anew, and what better way than by defying the teachers' union?

On the other hand, there are a lot of teachers out there, and they have friends and families. If he signs that bill, they'll remember the kick in the teeth, and be out there militating faster than you can say, "Kendrick Meek for U.S. Senate."

When in doubt, the best thing to do--if you're Charlie--is dither until the last possible minute. Maybe the teachers will generate such an irresistible groundswell of public outcry that by Friday’s deadline, Charlie can don his populist mantle and declare that he was forced to listen to his “boss, the people.”

If so, look for him to run an independent campaign, because for a Republican, vetoing this bill is what the Romans used to call “crossing the Rubicon.”

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Chan Lowe: Teacher pay reform

graduate.gifLet's give the Republicans in the state legislature the benefit of the doubt.

Let's say that they really are interested in improving the quality of education of Florida's schoolchildren, and not taking advantage of a fiscal crisis to do some union-busting.

In their short-sightedness, they're not thinking like the rat in the Skinner box, to recycle a simile.

If you make someone's livelihood dependent upon whether some snot-nosed kid is going to be able to answer the questions on a test correctly, then obviously that person is going to teach to the test, teach to the test (write that 100 times on the blackboard).

And those are the honest ones. We've already busted some bad-apple educators for giving their kids an unfair leg up with the FCATs. What makes anyone think the problem would diminish once people's actual salaries depended on the outcome?

There's no question there are some mediocre and/or burnt-out teachers who are only there because they're too difficult to get rid of. Is purging these few worth the universal damage in terms of limiting the scope of children's learning to the body of "knowledge" covered by some exam questions?

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Chan Lowe: Teachers commit theft

53191229-08192043.jpgSettle down, class.

It must be hard, as teachers, to be on the receiving end for a change, and even harder to squeeze into those miniature desks, but please pay attention…today’s lesson is very important.

Today we’re talking about the bad example you’re sending to children, which is that it’s OK to steal. Oh, yes, you committed a crime. It’s called “Intellectual Property Theft.”

To put it in clear, simple terms, just because you saw an image on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free for you to use in any way you wish. Take the caricature of Gov. Charlie Crist emblazoned on the signs carried by the marching teachers in Tallahassee (shown above).

When I first looked at the Sun Sentinel’s home page this morning, the image on that placard looked mighty familiar. Maybe that’s because it originally sprang from my own mind.

Funny…I don’t recall anyone asking my permission to use this COPYRIGHTED IMAGE before they printed up their signs (and let’s face it, you teachers know all about insisting that people first ask permission). No, they just right-click>saved it right off the web.

Not that I would have given them my permission, anyway, because as an editorial cartoonist I try to avoid sanctioning the use of my work by advocacy groups, even if I agree with them.

Which makes it all the more galling, since I have been a consistent and frequent advocate of the very group that just stole from me.

Shame on you all. Go stand in the corner.

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Chan Lowe: Obama drills

chill.gifThe White House's chess game is verging on being a little too clever for its own good.

The calculation is that throwing a sop to the Republicans in the form of relaxed offshore drilling restrictions will buy cooperation from them later. In fact, they will be so disarmed by this gesture that they'll dance with Obama on more ambitious energy initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Democratic "base," which counted on Obama to rectify some of the environmental misdeeds of the Bush administration--and certainly not ape them-- will have nowhere else to turn in November.

Even if the Republicans don't play ball, their slapping of this outstretched hand will prove to the public that they are, indeed, the party of obstructionism, and it will punish them on election day.

There are two things wrong with this scenario: First, it looks like the Republicans, far from being charmed, are saying that the gesture is so flimsy, it's almost an insult. Saying "no" has worked for them so far. Why change the strategy now?

Second, what Obama did was just enough to infuriate the environmentalists. Yes, they have somewhere else to go on election day, which is to go hug some tree in the backyard rather than head to the polls.

The grand plan a gamble, and not even a smart one. He could well lose, and so will the environment.

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Slashing Florida teachers' pensions

teach.gifWhen a professional basketball player wraps up a stellar career, he often walks away with millions. If he has been particularly outstanding, his number is retired and his jersey is hung from the rafters of his home arena. As time passes, his exploits may be recalled, with decreasing frequency, at sports bars.

When a stellar teacher retires, he or she--if lucky--can look forward to the promise of a reasonable pension. His legacy is not a retired number, but a flicker of inspiration carried in the hearts and minds of the students he touched.

When those students grow old and take stock of what they have done with their lives, they may credit that dedicated professional who set them on the path that enabled them to exploit their individual potential to its fullest.

Both the basketball player and the teacher chose their line of work out of love for their profession. There is nothing wrong with rewarding the basketball player for providing us with high-quality--albeit transitory--entertainment. He performed his role with excellence.

There is something wrong, however, with so undervaluing the profession of those to whom we entrust the nurturing of our children's intellects that they must struggle for decent pay and a respectable retirement.

Yes, we are in desperate economic straits, but surely we owe our teachers more than that.

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Chan Lowe: Championship panhandling

vet.gifI was just a little sad when the Sun Sentinel did an exposé on our intersection “vets,” those guys who dress up in camouflage and carry collection buckets emblazoned with the stars and stripes.

It was only a matter of time, I knew, before word of the scam would spread through the region, and virtually every motorist would know that little of the money they give to these guys actually ends up in the hands of our honored veterans.

In a jaded environment like ours, where you need an original shtick to stay afloat, the vet routine has been superb street theater.

I watched one of our intrepid roadside warriors march between the lanes of cars (calling out a cadence, “Hup, toop, thareep, four), execute a spit-and-polish left face, and proffer the bucket to a driver as though he were presenting his weapon for inspection. It would have made a drill instructor proud.

Rather than passing laws preventing this kind of thing, we should be encouraging it. Make our intersections Darwinian—let the best act survive. We cast our ballots by the amount of change we give them, and those that don’t measure up get voted off the island.

Then, we sell it up north as a tourist attraction.

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Chan Lowe: The new driver's license rules

driversx.gifMaybe this is what the tea partiers mean when they sound the trumpets about government overreaching.

It makes some sense, given our current national security environment, that a one-time-only requirement to produce hard-to-find documents in order to prove one's identity would be necessary to satisfy the federally-mandated "Real ID" law.

This supposedly makes it harder for terrorists to obtain a state driver's license, which, for better or worse, functions as a national ID card in a country where custom and tradition render that concept abhorrent.

Bureaucracy, though, is by definition an unthinking blob whose primary raison d'etre is to perpetuate itself and grow larger. Bureaucracy is devoid of imagination and elasticity, otherwise why would it demand that a woman who had been widowed for 35 years produce her marriage license to establish why she changed her name? Yes, this actually happened to the mother-in-law of one of my colleagues.

Are a little balance, a touch of humanity, and some common sense too much to ask of our public "servants"?

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Chan Lowe: The Great Recession

genome.gifIn addition to the more apparent consequences of high unemployment, the Great Recession has resulted in a tragic waste of human talent.

Embedded in the arid statistics and monthly up-and-down jobs figures lie real stories of people who have spent a lifetime acquiring priceless experience, training and wisdom in their fields and whose intellectual wealth is now lost to the rest of us.

They are forced to settle, underutilized, for whatever they can find to feed themselves and their families. And those are the lucky ones.

Meanwhile, the financial cowboys who galloped off into the unregulated Wild West of exotic financial instruments and whose greed engendered the whole mess haven’t missed a meal or an hour of sleep.

In fact, the their first brazen order of business (as our forever-scarred nation painfully recovers) has been to award themselves bonuses for their achievements⎯flaunting their conviction that the word “conscience” resides only in the vocabulary of so-called lesser beings.

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Chan Lowe: Merit pay for teachers

merit.gifSurely there is some kind of compromise between paying teachers based solely on seniority and level of training, and a pay scale predicated purely on the achievement of their students.

The first position (which is consistent with union philosophy) completely leaves out the possibility that there may be better teachers and worse teachers, regardless of how much time they have put in.

The second, which is to tie raises and job security to how students score on the FCAT, rewards or penalizes teachers based on what is in effect a lottery. If a teacher is fortunate enough to be given a class drawn from a relatively well-off population, where families are involved in their children's learning and have the time to encourage them with their studies and other intellectual pursuits, then it follows that these kids will be better test-takers.

Unfortunately, both positions are politically charged, and neither is completely fair, either to the students or the professionals who instruct them.

And then there's the whole matter of whether teaching to a test makes any sense in the first place.

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Pill mills

pain.gifThe scene is a beauty parlor. Two women of a certain age are seated next to each other under the dryers.

"My son the doctor," says the first, "has a decent surgical practice. He's a good provider for his family, but wishes he could make more. You know how it is with Medicare--they never reimburse enough, and the insurance companies always stick it to him. Whether he likes it or not, a lot of his work ends up being pro bono.

"Nevertheless, he still finds time once a year to travel to third world countries with Doctors Without Borders to repair cleft palates on underprivileged children."

The other puts down her magazine and smiles broadly. "My son the doctor," she replies, "finished med school, did his residency in pharmacology, and paid off his student loans in one year. He works in a pain clinic on a per-patient contract basis, and makes over a million per by providing pain relief to patients all over the country. In cash, I might add."

Both women must be so proud.

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Chan Lowe: Global warming hoax

Was it Voltaire or Descartes? I don’t remember…the Age of Enlightenment was centuries ago, and at the time I first heard about it, I was concentrating on the Cartesian curves of Mlle. Daphné, a young woman in my high school French class. Je désire, donc je suis.

Anyway, something one of those periwigged philosophers wrote actually managed to penetrate my teenage hormonal haze and take root.

“What if everything we’ve heard about God, creation, the purpose of Man, the soul, and divine salvation are all just a big joke (I paraphrase)? Even if that’s so, and we simply disappear into a void at the end, isn’t expressing a moral life of probity, humility and compassion for one’s fellow man the best way to live? Then, if we happen to find out when we die that it’s all for real, we are saved.”

If you extend this line of thinking, then maybe practicing good stewardship of our planet is worthy in its own right, even if climate change isn’t the result of man’s actions.

There’s no question that we pollute. Accessible, potable fresh water for millions of the world’s population is only a dream. In many places, people get diseases and die from the poor air quality.

Why not just pretend we’re to blame, and act accordingly, even if we can’t accept the fact? That way, there’s no chance of finding out we were wrong after it’s too late to do anything about it.

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Chan Lowe: Florida Legislature saddles up

prayer.gifThis isn't what our local pols bargained for when they ran for the legislature.

When they first dreamed of lunging for the brass ring, they imagined themselves dispensing state-funded goodies back in the home district, making lots of new friends with expensive shoes, getting wined and dined on someone else's dime, and being part of an elite club of movers and shakers.

This year, they're having to slink back to the state capital wearing rubber Halloween masks. Thanks to ethics rules, there's no more hobnobbing with the Gucci Gulch crowd at Clyde's (unless you pay for your own drinks, and that's no fun), no more fancy free dinners (goodbye, "Tallahassee Tummy,") and there won't be any county senior centers or swimming pool complexes back home named after them either, no sir.

There won't be any thanks for a job well done, because the better they do their job, the more complaints they're going to get from the local folks.

The session promises to be a joyless and punishing test of nerves and stamina. When it's all over, some of those pols will stumble out beaten and broken, others may emerge as statesmen.

We'll see, 60 days from now.

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Guns in the national parks

parks.gifThe Founding Fathers, writing in an age when single-shot muskets were all the rage, may not have known to what lengths their precious Second Amendment was destined to be stretched.

There has been a spate of legislation recently that enshrines the red-blooded American's right to bear an arm just about anywhere. As to whether it's wise to do so, the Founding Fathers sagely kept their own counsel.

One of the core arguments used by gun advocates is that when guns are regulated, only outlaws will carry guns. If everyone packs heat, then everyone is protected thanks to a kind of mutual assured destruction doctrine.

To take this to its logical conclusion, then, let's say (just as an example) that a female professor in Alabama goes berserk and starts shooting up her class. One of her students, thanks to permissive gun laws, is packing a rod and starts to shoot back. Another student walking down the hall hears the commotion, looks through the classroom door to witness a pitched gun battle underway between teacher and student, and draws his own cannon.

Who do you think he's going to shoot at first before asking questions later?

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Crist, Rubio, Florida, senate, election

poll.gifIf Marco Rubio is riding the wave of voter resentment, then Charlie Crist is caught in the undertow.

Poor old Charlie. Never one to light fires of passion in the electorate, he chooses to run as the incumbent heir apparent in a year when "throw the bums out" is rapidly becoming the full-throated cry of the land.

Florida has always been a place where merely having more name recognition than one's opponent has usually been enough to guarantee a victory in any statewide race. This year, Charlie's name recognition is working against him. He is the governor of a state hit harder by the recession than most, and that Obama hug certainly didn't help.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio has been spouting the kind of populist, iconoclastic rhetoric that has enabled a hitherto unknown to become a serious contender. Even God-fearing folks up in North Florida--who, until now, thought Marco Rubio was a game kids play in the pool--have managed to overcome their considerable suspicion of anybody who hails from south of Orlando to push him ahead in the primary polls.

When you're red-hot mad, you vote for a chili pepper, not a marshmallow.

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Pythons in the Everglades

pythons.gifToday's immigrants are the next generation's founding fathers, and the first thing the next generation wants is no more immigrants.

It's probably as true of reptiles as it is of people.

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FCAT cheating

FCAT2.gifYou know what they say about paving the road to Hell with good intentions.

The best way to kill a student's interest and initiative is to teach to a test, which the dependency on the FCAT has done nothing but encourage.

The teachers I talk to say that the reason they chose their profession was to prepare children for life by training them how to think.

They want to challenge them, and awaken an intellectual curiosity that will spur them to continue wanting to learn long after their formal education has ended. They did not choose to be teachers in order to cram facts into children's heads so that they could regurgitate them later onto a test paper. Nor do they want their professionalism judged by how well those students managed to regurgitate.

I had a European history teacher in junior high who told me that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. Big deal. Why should I care? Then he told me that we use the words "pork" and "beef" to this day to denote the meat of pigs and cattle because the invading William beat the locals in that battle over 900 years ago. Suddenly, it meant something to me, and I wanted to know more. I became a voracious student of European history.

To me, that's educating.

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Chan Lowe: Blocking the sunshine

sunshine.gifKeeping a lid on our elected officials here in Florida is a little like the Global War On Terror: The bad guys are always coming up with clever new ways to get around the safeguards, and the forces of good are always playing catch-up.

The Florida Sunshine Law, which at the time it was enacted was considered one of the more progressive, good-government pieces of legislation in the country, is woefully out of step with new communications technology.

When the legislators wrote that law, they were thinking about preventing secret discussions over coffee down at the pancake house, or maybe in a back office, out of view. Nobody ever envisioned texting, or instant messaging, or whatever.

So if you're a public officeholder, and you want to check in with your lobbyist/handler but you'd prefer to keep it on the q.t., you text that person, because hey-- there's currently no law against it.

The "spirit of the law?" What is that, some kind of booze?

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Gov. Charlie's shine starts to tarnish

roth.gifOf all the office walls in all the world, Gov. Charlie's fifteen chummy photos have to show up on Scott Rothstein's.

Even our notoriously Teflon-coated governor may have a hard time slithering out of this one, although one of my editorial board colleagues insists that there is virtually nothing that will keep him out of the U.S. Senate seat currently being warmed for him.

Still, the double-talking will be fun to watch. While Charlie is probably too dim to be that crooked--and just got burned like everybody else who allegedly fell under Rothstein's spell--photos like these (and this cartoon is based on a real one--Charlie's birthday party) are a potent reinforcement of the kind of simplistic connections that resonate with the average voter.

Let's sit back with our popcorn and watch what Marco Rubio makes of all this.

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Chinese drywall to take out?

drywall.gifEven for Florida, where shoddy workmanship is the hallmark of excellence, this is egregious.

You move into your beautiful new tract home and discover that the walls make you and your kids sick, tarnish your jewelry, and probably most important of all, screw up the air conditioner.

You go to the developer who sold you this elephant, and he's oh so sorry, but to gut the house would cost him $100,000 or more, and to fix all the homes he's built would put him out of business.

You hear that Obama will be talking to the Chinese next month about making good on their cheesy product, but you realize that he isn't going to get anywhere with them because for manufacturers to back up their goods, they have to actually care about their reputation for quality. They know as well as you do that you only buy their junk because it's cheap.

The feds say maybe they'll free up some HUD money to compensate, but you have to be poor to qualify. A nice Catch-22, because no poor person could have afforded your house.

The insurance people say it's a manufacturing defect, not an act of God, so not only isn't it covered, they're going to cancel your sorry a-- for even asking about it.

Your only recourse is my nifty little kit, shown here. Get your neighbors to buy one too, and make it a block party. Kids'll love it, and it's great for building neighborhood cohesion.

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Chan Lowe: Corruption's long tentacle


Ah, yes...if you have friends, you are a wealthy person indeed.

Until the Federal Corruption Task Force comes a-knockin' at your door, and you find out they've all turned into witnesses for the prosecution.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: New blood at the PSC


Maybe FPL has already done opposition research on these two new appointees with the ruthless efficiency of a KGB counterintelligence squad.

Any proclivities that can be exploited? Skeletons in their past? Kids of college age that got admitted to pricey Ivy League schools that might make them susceptible to a sweet job offer down the line?

Ah, don't listen to me...I'm just being paranoid--ZZZZZOTTTTT!!!!!
AAUUGH that hurt!!! How did they manage to plant those electrodes in my office chair??

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Windstorm rate hike roulette

boardroom.gifWe've had a few pretty good years lately, knock on wood.

It would be understandable were the insurance companies to stick us with higher rates if we'd been battered repeatedly by hurricanes like we were back in 2005, but they've already hiked them several times since then even though the weather has been favorable.

They come at us now with some kind of gobbledygook about how the cost of reinsurance is up, thanks to worldwide catastrophes. They always have a reason.

Didn't they create those independent Florida subsidiaries (e.g. Allstate Floridian) so that they could soak us for big premiums, yet insulate the national company from huge losses in case the worst happened?

Why doesn't that "insulation" work both ways? Why should our premiums be affected by earthquakes in Japan, or a tsunami in Malaysia, if they're trying to treat the entire Florida market like some kind of isolated hothouse rose?

As usual, they always have the last word: If you don't like it, don't live here.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Dial 511 for frustration

511.gifOn occasion, my editors have seen fit to send me to Tallahassee to cover the sillier side of our legislature in graphic montage.

There is no end of inspiration up there. I remember a special session that then-Gov. Bob Martinez called twenty years ago to reform Florida's abortion laws.

Impassioned partisans arrived from all over the country to stage demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in the streets of our sleepy capital city. The pro-life crowd, in particular, came equipped with visual aids that I won't even go into.

Anyway, I discovered that one way to get a handle on the crazy-quilt character of our state is to sit in the gallery of the House of Representatives. It's a little like witnessing a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.

Over in one corner, the Miami-Dade delegation is deliberating in Spanish. In another, the Broward and Palm Beach reps are still rehashing some football game from long ago between their old high schools back in Brooklyn. One can hear the broad diphthongs of the Midwest from the Orlando/Tampa/Sarasota corridor, and cutting through it all is the twang of good ol' boys from the Panhandle across to Jacksonville, thick and tough as the crust on a chicken-fried steak.

Bearing all this in mind, it's no wonder that a statewide voice-activated highway information system would be stymied trying to understand instructions from an average Floridian. Mainly because there is no such thing as an average Floridian. We're really a loose collection of accents and idioms.

That is, when we're speaking to each other.

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The great state of FPL

welcome.gif Do you feel that your social life isn't quite what it ought to be? Do you work the online dating sites in vain, waiting for someone to click on that glam shot you had made at the mall?

If so, I suggest you apply for a job with Florida's Public Service Commission--the outfit that ostensibly regulates utilities in our name. You'll never be lonely again.

I understand they're hiring--the governmental affairs director and a chief adviser just stepped down. Two other advisers are on administrative leave.

You'll be invited to parties galore. Your BlackBerry will buzz so often with calls from FPL execs that you'll have to start blocking the ones who don't provide caviar at their picnics.

In fact, the sky's the limit. Drop a hint, and your wish is their command. It'll be up to you to draw your own line on ethics.

As they say down at the nuclear plant, "Par-TEE!"

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Drill, baby, drill!

I used to live in the “awl patch,” which is the folksy term used to describe that part of the country where petroleum and natural gas are extracted from deep inside the earth.

When the wind was right, there was a smell--not unlike what you smell when your neighbor’s roof is being tarred. That, along with the aroma coming from the feedlots, was what the locals called “the smell of money.”

The awl patch ain’t purty. I once passed through a town in the Texas Panhandle that was surrounded by oilfields. The unrelenting removal of liquid and gas from beneath the surface had caused the land above to buckle and collapse in unnatural ways. It was devoid of vegetation, and the whole tableau--dotted by pumps and power poles leaning at crazy angles--looked like a moonscape being preyed upon by a swarm of mechanical locusts.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, because that land was probably not too appealing to begin with. But now we hear that a consortium of Texas wildcatters is trying to, um, influence the Florida Legislature to relax our offshore drilling ban with tales of vast riches to replenish the state’s depleted kitty.

Considering that preserving the natural beauty of the coastal environment is not exactly a priority for our out-of-state investors, maybe they shouldn't be trusted with the welfare of Florida’s beaches, which are pretty appealing.

But, shux--if we don't have enough gasoline to drive to 'em, what's the point in having 'em, anyway?

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Sen. Mini-Me


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 h