The Lowe Down

Category: International (88)

Chan Lowe: War with Syria


Thank you, Cheney, Rummy, Condi, Wolfie and the rest of the hubristic cabal that felt they alone held the solution to the geopolitical puzzle. Thank you, George W. Bush — who couldn’t find the Middle East on a map before September of 2001 — for giving them the keys to the car.

The Iraq debacle looms over any discussion about what to do in Syria, since we’re still recovering from the burns received from the last time we placed our hand on the hot Middle East stove.

Iraq, according to the neoconservative strategists of the Bush administration, was the key to stability in the region. If we toppled Saddam, a grateful Iraqi people would allow us to establish a model Jeffersonian democracy, creating a thirst for freedom among their neighbors. They in turn would overthrow their dictatorships, establish U.S.-friendly governments, and our source of oil would be secure for generations to come. Win-win.

They made a couple of mistakes. First, there is no such thing as an Iraqi people. “Iraq” is a construct whose borders were imposed by Europeans with little concern for the ethnicity, creed or compatibility of the enclosed peoples.

Second, in a “nation” with no democratic traditions, what the locals prize most isn’t freedom, but stability. The former concept is strange and abstract, the latter is very real and concerns daily life in the streets. Saddam Hussein, for all his sins, provided a healthy dose of social order. The daily mayhem in Iraq is taking a back seat to the news about Syria, but there are many Iraqis who believe life was a lot better for them before the Americans came.

It’s no surprise that our leaders are reluctant to involve us in Syria. We hate to stand back while a dictator gases his own people, but we’ve learned the meaning of “mission creep” the hard way. Besides, if we did get rid of Assad, a hostile Islamist faction could well replace him.

The American people would like to be the good guys, but thanks to the misadventures of the past, intervention — even for the most humanitarian of reasons — has become a political third rail.

As British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said in 1938 during the Czechoslovakia crisis:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

For post-Iraq America, that utterance doesn’t sound as craven as it once did.

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Chan Lowe: Choosing a new Pope


I’m not a Catholic woman, but Mrs. Lowe Down is, and she’s with me on this: The Church wouldn’t have nearly as many institutional problems if women had more of a leadership role in its governance.

One cardinal from Ghana or someplace was recently quoted as saying that the Devil was present in the church at this time, and that it needed someone young and strong to fight him. It seems to me that the Devil always has a field day when a few good old boys get together and pull up the ladder to the tree house behind them. For starters, egos run rampant and they immediately set about trying to arm-wrestle one another, figuratively speaking, to find out who’s top dog. Smart decisions are rarely made under these conditions.

Women would not only have a moderating, calming influence (nobody wants to look like a jackass in front of them), but they would also tend to keep the focus off testosterone and on achieving the stated goal, which is the selection of a leader with a steady hand who would safely navigate the vessel of Holy Mother Church through the turbulent waters of iniquity.

The argument has always been that Jesus surrounded Himself with men to be His disciples, therefore He must have felt that only men were worthy to carry on the mission of His church. I think the reasons for this were societal, and not because He wouldn’t have picked a woman had the mores of the time not been so restrictive. In those days, honorable women tended the home fires. The only kind of woman who could wander around with a bunch of unemployed men back then was a prostitute — shunned by polite society — and it’s significant that Jesus chose one of these to be among His entourage. Chances are she gave Him some wise advice about how to run His ministry while she was busy washing His feet. And then there’s the Virgin Mary, without whom there’d be no Church, no Vatican, nada.

Surely the time has come for Rome to consider entering the twentieth century, now that we’re already well into the twenty-first. The Holy Spirit doesn’t discriminate by gender. Why should Man?

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Chan Lowe: The Afghanistan Quran-burning


When you consider that there exists no coherent strategy for conventionally “winning” the war in Afghanistan, and that the only way we’ll ever exit that morass is if we somehow convince the natives to cooperate with us on a permanent basis, you realize what a tragedy the Quran-burning blunder really was.

We’ve been involved in that star-crossed chunk of real estate for over ten years now. Many families have lost loved ones who volunteered to fight for American freedoms, and were let down by a succession of civilian leaders who either never knew or lost sight of our strategic purpose for being there.

Maybe all the money, time, effort and lives we’ve squandered over there were starting to pay off in terms of convincing the locals we were working in their best interests⎯that’s a matter of debate. What we know for sure is that the fateful trip to the Bagram incinerator probably set us back several years in that fight.

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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: The Italian shipwreck


I went on a cruise once. What intrigued me the most was that the various service occupations on board appeared to be organized by nationality. The stewards were all British, the bartenders were Filipino, and the deckhands were Indonesian.

The dining room was segregated in an even subtler way. To those with incurious minds, it looked like the place was staffed entirely by Italians. Upon closer inspection and study, however, the perceptive cruise guest discovered that the table waiters and busboys were Sicilian, while the headwaiters and the maître d’ were Northern Italians.

Why is this important? They may have all been Italians, but they didn’t speak the same language as their mother tongue. The Sicilians spoke their rich dialect, while the folks from up around Turin and the Alps had theirs, and the dialects were mutually incomprehensible. They were reduced to communicating in textbook Italian, which they had learned in school as practically a foreign language.

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Chan Lowe: End of the Iraq War II


It’s telling that several years ago, I drew a cartoon using the same trope of Nouri al-Maliki-as-hand-puppet, but back then the puppet-master was Uncle Sam. Maliki, at the end of Sam’s arm, had just poked him in the eye⎯it was about something he’d done in direct and public contravention of U.S. interests.

Like Hamid Karzai, his fellow stooge, Maliki felt it necessary once in a while to establish his bona fides as a home grown leader by sticking it to his patron. Appearing to be two-faced and ungrateful toward the superpower is the only way to command respect in that part of the world. Since we paymasters have nobody else to invest in, we’re forced to smile indulgently and suck it up.

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Chan Lowe: Patching it up with Pakistan


The part of the world into which we decided to stick our noses operates on a pretty simple principle: Money talks, tribalism rocks. Since we don’t belong to any of their tribes, the best thing we can do is wave a gallery of our own “tribal leaders,” lovingly engraved on our currency, under their noses.

The difference between a tribe and an “investment in loyalty” is that when you mess with a member of somebody else’s tribe, it can start a vendetta that lasts for generations. With the latter, the fealty only endures as long as money keeps coming, so the idea is to collect as much of it as you can before the benefactors throw up their hands, declare victory and eventually pull out, as they always do.

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Chan Lowe: It's beginning to feel a lot like iPads...


What’s more American at this time of year than heading over to the big box store to pick up an armload of electronics for your loved ones? Think of it as holiday altruism, using our dollars to give a hand up to our little brothers on the other side of the Pacific Rim.

You don’t have to feel guilty about it, because there aren’t really any small consumer electronics jobs left in this country. That “giant sucking sound” that Ross Perot talked about a few years ago has faded away, since there ain’t nuthin’ left to suck.

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Chan Lowe: The Greek debacle


A couple of points to bear in mind about Greece’s economic crisis:

First⎯as long ago as 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared that Czechoslovakia was “a far away country about which we know very little,” the world discovered to its everlasting regret that all nations great and small are interconnected.

Just because we may not count a Greek-American among our acquaintances, or were bored in school when we were taught about Homer’s use of meter, doesn’t mean that the Greeks’ refusal to accept austerity measures won’t impinge on our economy and affect the pace at which U.S. jobs are restored. The world economy is so complex and sensitive an organism that even minor events can have cascading consequences, and the Greek crisis is no minor event.

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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: 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: 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: Gadhafi ousted


We’re all glad Moammar Gadhafi’s gone. The man was a ruthless despot who harbored terrorists and hanged his opponents in the public square as an example to would-be plotters. We hope he’ll be tracked down soon and brought to well-deserved justice.

Nevertheless, as he passes from the public stage, we must tip a hat to his sense of personal flair. Not since Fat Hermann strutted in his sky-blue field marshal’s outfit has there been a political leader who displayed a similar comic opera appreciation of military uniforms. And Gadhafi’s sartorial daring didn’t stop there. His collection of Bedouin robes and unique headgear treatments even outshone the capes and karakul lamb filling-station attendant caps of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In one of his recent speeches, the be-turbaned strongman looked as though he were channeling the Gloria Swanson character in Sunset Boulevard.

Compared to Gadhafi, everyday butchers like the Castro brothers and Kim Jong Il look positively drab. Dictators around the world could all learn something from the eccentric colonel. If you’re going to keep your population oppressed, deprived and terrorized, at least leave ’em laughing.

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Chan Lowe: The Norway tragedy and stereotyping


It’s only human nature, when something occurs that offends our sensibilities, to round up the usual scapegoats. It happened again with the Norway tragedy. Evidently the Norwegians suffer from the same prejudices the rest of us do. They reflexively assumed at first that the perpetrator was a Muslim extremist, and, like the rest of the world, were surprised to find out he was a Christian anti-Islamist.

A corollary to this mindset is the reluctance to apply the word “terrorism” to terrorist acts perpetrated by non-Muslims. You rarely, if ever, hear the phrase, “Oklahoma City terrorism,” while “9/11” and “terrorism” are terms forever conjoined.

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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: Obama's Israel stumble


The ongoing Middle East conflict is so sensitive, so nuanced and so tinder-dry that any alteration in what is said, what is not said, the timbre of the saying of it, and which parts are emphasized and de-emphasized can cause a conflagration to break out.

Added to these variables are the one that has been occupying the news of late: Who says it. George W. Bush, who was considered a “Friend of Israel,” could say that peace negotiations should use as their basis the pre-1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps. No ripples in the waters of the status-quo. But Barack Obama says it, and suddenly it’s an international incident.

A colleague who has been to Israel several times, and who has her finger on that country’s political pulse, says that our president is not a popular figure in Israel. This is putting it mildly. She says the general feeling there is that Obama “is too busy trying to suck up to the Arabs.”

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Chan Lowe: L' Affaire Strauss-Kahn


What makes this scandal so delectable, of course, is that lies at the intersection of wealth, power and sex. Throw in a dollop of old European decadence, and we have a summer story with legs.

Here’s a gent most Americans never heard of before a couple of days ago. He’s head of the International Monetary Fund, one of the most powerful posts in the world. He’s a leading candidate for president of France. He has the very finest of call girls in the greatest city in the world at his disposal. Mon Dieu! What’s he doing, allegedly jumping a hotel maid?

That isn’t the only confusing aspect to this. For the French, it’s perplexing that we put him through a perp walk after he was apprehended. In France, they don’t treat the ruling class that way. They pay off the maid and discreetly sweep the whole affair sous le tapis. A simple misunderstanding, non? Remember, this is the country that didn’t even raise an eyebrow when both a former president’s widow and his mistress appeared side-by-side at his funeral. Along with the kids.

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Chan Lowe: With the Pakistanis as friends...


It rightly angers Americans to know that roughly $3 billion of the money we borrow every year from the Chinese flows down the Pakistani rathole to buy questionable loyalty as we try to prosecute an endless, increasingly pointless war.

When you see such brazenly duplicitous behavior out of people who are supposed to be our allies, you are tempted to just walk away and let them rot in the political cesspool of their own making. Unfortunately, that would be worse than what we’re doing now.

Don’t forget that these two-faced military types are all that stand between Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and some guy with a backpack and a detonator. Yes, they smile with one side of their mouths and make pro-forma gestures toward helping us root out terrorists. With the other side, they curse us for being in the vicinity. They aid our enemies as they reach for our wallets.

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Chan Lowe: Royal wedding mania


A British journalist put it best the other day: “Can you name, off the top of your head, the president of Germany? No, it isn’t Angela Merkel. She’s the chancellor. Who’s the head of state?”

Most Americans can’t name the British prime minister (David Cameron), but they sure as shootin’ know who the British head of state is. There’s a mystique about the monarchy that fulfills a yearning in people to respect institutions, and a desire for historical continuity that binds a country to its past.

We don’t have that luxury. In our system, the head of state and the head of government are the same person, so that leader is automatically looked at askance from the outset by a large portion of the electorate that didn’t vote for him. He’ll be out in a maximum of eight years, to boot⎯so there’s no point in carving his crest into any architectural masonry.

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Chan Lowe: Arm the Libyan rebels?


We’ve done so well until now. Let’s not go and shoot ourselves in the foot. What little we know about this ragtag band of so-called “freedom fighters” is that they come from a part of Libya that is a popular recruiting ground for al-Qaida.

The UN mandate empowered the coalition to “do whatever is necessary” to protect innocent civilians from harm. We’re already stretching that language to the limit with our aggressive action, regardless of how you euphemize it (Did William Tecumseh Sherman really say, “Kinetic military engagement is hell?”).

“It wouldn’t be prudent,” to quote a former president, not to find out for certain that these people aren’t arsonists before we put gasoline and matches in their hands. Let’s take note, also, that the materiel we would supply to them isn’t exactly of the simple point-and-shoot variety. It’s sophisticated, as befits weaponry for which the U.S. taxpayers paid plenty in order that our defense contractors could bedazzle the bejeezus out of our military procurement people.

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Chan Lowe: Obama's Libya speech


In his speech about Libya the other night, President Obama hit all the right patriotic notes. After all, he was selling something, and there’s no better way to move merchandise than to butter up your customers.

Americans like to hear that they are an exceptional nation, and Obama, who has often been accused by conservatives of not properly accepting this notion, turned the tables and presented our exceptionalism as the key justification for intervening in the Libyan conflict.

For us to stand by and let Gadhafi massacre his own people, he asserted, would be to violate our very character as a people. It’s true that of all nations, we’re the ones most likely to involve ourselves militarily to protect the human rights of others, on the premise that to allow someone else’s rights to be trampled puts those of all in jeopardy.

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Chan Lowe: The tsunami...what really happened


Admittedly, this cartoon is speculative, but it’s certainly as plausible as the brave Minutemen who fired the shot heard round the world at Concord and Lexington, New Hampshire (Even then, the Colonials knew it was going to be the first primary state, and accordingly relocated the border with Massachusetts until the skirmishes were over).

Or as credible as how someone’s passion for his country prompted him to commit adultery (“Oh, God…oh, God…oh GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!”).

One of the oddities about listening to the utterances of people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich when they address friendly crowds is that they can say the most preposterous things, and no one among their nodding listeners ever steps up to correct them, or bursts out laughing at their inanity.

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Chan Lowe: Japan earthquake aftermath


In addition to the measureless destruction of once-picturesque cities and countryside in Japan is another scene that appears even more otherworldly to American eyes: the absence of violence, looting and general chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

Instead, survivors wait quietly and patiently in line for supplies, or help each other pick through the wreckage for other survivors. Above all, order is maintained.

A theory holds that it’s because they’ve all been forced to live, densely packed, for centuries. The code of politeness and acceptable behavior that the Japanese have created in order to coexist in such a small space has come to define the scope of their daily lives.

To them, personal accountability and the avoidance of shame are so important that throughout their history, ending one’s life was an accepted way to atone for a breach of the social code.

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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: Tragedy in Japan


The Japanese people are in our thoughts and prayers.

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Chan Lowe: Send in the Marines?


Will they never learn?

We’ve had troops mired for years in two theaters, and they’re spread so thin that the stress of repeated tours of duty is breaking them. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Secretary of Defense said that anybody who considers getting involved in another Middle East conflict ought to have his head examined.

Yet, the armchair hawks in congress are ready to go to war all over again in Libya, and they have the gall to chastise the president for moving too slowly. Sure, it plays well back home, where people are screaming about gas prices. But it’s President Obama who, if he gets us involved militarily, will be lying awake nights with those lives on his conscience.

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Chan Lowe: Gadhafi and fuel prices


This is what the Japanese dared to start a war over, back when they created the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the 1930s.

Since the island nation lacked raw materials of its own, it determined that it was of vital national interest never to let its economy be held hostage to a shortage of natural resources and commodities.

Japan’s methodology in subjugating and brutalizing the peoples of a vast region was contemptible, but at times like these we can certainly appreciate her motives.

We like to think of ourselves as the most powerful nation on earth, yet our fragile economic recovery risks being strangled by, of all things, the reluctance of a semi-obscure North African madman to vacate his seat of power. Every day that he counterattacks and digs in is an extra day of turbulence and uncertainly in the world’s oil futures markets, with direct consequences to the prices of everything we consume here at home.

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Chan Lowe: Mubarak steps down


I was just doing the ink on this cartoon when the news broke that Mubarak was stepping down. Fortunately I had chosen an angle that would be relevant no matter what happened over there.

It’s a problem we in the old-fashioned news biz have had ever since this cascade of events began. The narrative was moving so quickly that anything we drew or wrote might be hopelessly out of date by the time it reached readers’ driveways.

Ironically, this very morning my editorial page editor finally decided that he could no longer put off writing something about the Egyptian developments; our silence was doing our readers a disservice. Within five minutes of his finishing, the Mubarak government fell, necessitating a rewrite.

Say what you will about the crowds, the army, Obama, and everyone else in this narrative…the Egyptian people owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Sun Sentinel’s editorial page for plunging in and producing an editorial that was ready for the trash before the keyboard was cool.

On a final note, we ought to congratulate the Egyptians, who have forever changed our attitudes about the humanity, the generosity, and the courage of their nation. They have shown the American people, in their unquenchable yearning for freedom, that we have much in common with them.

Now we enter into a period of uncertainty and flux, maybe even (God forbid) chaos. Now, the nail biting begins.

Post script: Fans of the Second Amendment, a well-armed citizenry, etc., might want to take note that the Egyptians managed to overturn their repressive government without using a single firearm.

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Chan Lowe: Egypt and the Tea Party


To me, insistence on a punctilious, “authentic” interpretation of any document from another era is the safe haven of the small and fearful thinker.

We rightly esteem the legacy of enlightened reasoning and principles embodied by the U.S. Constitution, and the thinking that led to its writing ought to be revered and heeded as the philosophical bedrock upon which our way of life is built, but the act of divining the “original intent” of the authors from a 21st Century perspective is a form of freewheeling interpretation in itself.

Ought we modern readers to attempt to climb inside the heads of a group of men who never heard the sound of an internal combustion engine, who never conceived of machinery that could keep people artificially alive for months or even years, or who could translate “web” and “site” into Latin and Greek, but would be clueless as to the meaning of the two English words when combined?

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Chan Lowe: The Twitter Revolution


What’s going on in Egypt could never have happened ten years ago, or even five. Suddenly, with worldwide access to the Internet, people have a tool at their disposal that is so unlike any we have ever known, so “game-changing,” to use a tired but apt cliché, that the political history of mankind from now on now may well be upended.

I’m not ready to give Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Jack Dorsey of Twitter the Nobel Peace Prize just yet, but those are some potent weapons they inadvertently created. For thirty years, Hosni Mubarak has been able to rule Egypt, as strong men and caudillos have ruled other countries before him (and still do), by sheer force of arms.

He, and others, have accrued wealth, comforts and power for themselves, their families and cronies, by creating a corrupt system that robs the wealth of their own people. Anyone who complains or foments discord is taught a quick lesson, or worse, disappears.

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Chan Lowe: Baby Doc returns to Haiti


Last year, American holy man Pat Robertson famously claimed that a wrathful God visited the earthquake upon the Haitian people because they had struck a deal with the devil two hundred years ago to gain independence from the French.

One would think that any group of people trying to free itself from the French was on the side of the angels, but this is no time to argue theology. I wonder, however, what the Rev. Robertson has to say about the return of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to his home turf.

Haiti remains a poverty stricken, cholera-racked nation that is trying to rebuild its infrastructure (such as it was before the quake), and that is still waiting for most of the countries that pledged humanitarian funds last year to pony up. Baby Doc could not have chosen a worse time to materialize in its miserable midst.

For him, of course, it’s a golden opportunity. Half the current Haitian population wasn’t even born when he was thrown out of office by popular demand a quarter of century ago, so they don’t remember the torture, the repression, the fear, the corruption and the disappearances that characterized the reigns of the Docs, both his and Papa’s before him.

They’ve heard stories about the relative prosperity of that time, and the political stability that the dictatorship provided. It’s similar to many Iraqis’ wistfulness about Saddam, now that they’ve lived for eight years under the mixed blessings of American benevolence.

When a nation’s predicament is dire, and shows no sign of easing, its people have been known to trade their freedom for stability, safety and food on the table (See what happened to the Weimar Republic in the 1930s).

Baby Doc’s arrival bears all the signs of another tragedy in the making for Haiti. His mere presence there amounts to a temptation for its beleaguered people. Now, Rev. Robertson, we’re talking about the devil.

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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: The loss of Richard Holbrooke


Who is this guy? Why do an editorial cartoon about him?

Richard Holbrooke may not be a household name, but it isn’t for lack of the man’s effectiveness. He was one of the most consequential American diplomats of the last fifty years, a titan of a man who was well-known and respected in international and domestic power circles, and who goes to his final resting place with mammoth accomplishments to his credit.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Balkan Peninsula alone owe their lives to his tireless efforts in brokering the Dayton Peace Accords, using the power of his own words and personality to face down Slobodan Milosevic, after bullets failed to do the same thing.

He accepted a thankless task⎯trying to unravel the Gordian Knot of Afghan and Pakistani politics to find a sane way out for all involved⎯and died, tragically, with the task unfinished.

Richard Holbrooke didn’t tweet his fans every day, he didn’t have his own reality show, and he didn’t rouse crowds to a fever pitch with pop slogans. All that attention-getting would have been antithetical to his goals.

Instead, he did the real grunt work, toiling away in the brambles for the furtherance of his country’s interests, and even more nobly, for those of the world in general. We should always remember his name.

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Chan Lowe: The Wikileaks debacle


I used to think that Hillary Clinton was too strident, too self-centered, too opinionated and too vindictive to be President. Since then, another personage of the female persuasion has grabbed the center stage of politics, and by comparison Hillary seems like an exemplar of cool-headedness under fire.

Considering the plateful the incoming President was handed back in January of 2009, it has become more apparent than ever that simple, cold competency was and is the foremost quality needed in our leader in these tough times. The jury’s still out on Barack Obama in that regard, but Hillary has left no doubt that she possesses it in abundance.

I make light of her in this cartoon, but right now I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have in the hot seat when there’s so much ’splainin’ to do, as Ricky Ricardo might say. Not only is she handling a touchy situation with the same grace she displayed during the Monica Lewinsky circus, she might yet make a silk purse out of this mess.

Take, for example, the Gulf States’ constant behind-the-scenes badgering that we waste Iran and President I’m-A-Dinnerjacket for them. Now⎯thanks to the Wikileaks cables⎯ it’s out in the open that they, we, and Israel are all on the same side. You know that Arabic cliché, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Peace agreements have been forged on shakier grounds than this, and Hillary definitely has the resourcefulness to uncover opportunities in our newly revealed camaraderie.

May the Force be with you, Madame Secretary.

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Chan Lowe: The Afghanistan morass


I haven’t read Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, yet, but enough has leaked out (all Bob Woodward has to do is belch and it becomes a weeklong media beltway story) to tell us that we’re really stuck.

Wars are always a confluence of pragmatism and politics. A political genius like FDR was able to unite the American people behind our involvement in World War II by laying out a clear purpose. In so doing, he provided the nation with a way of knowing exactly when it had achieved its objective.

It didn’t hurt his case that the Japanese pulled a sneak attack on the Pacific Fleet, or that we were fighting organized nation-states that knew how to officially surrender and cease hostilities when they were beaten.

In other words, in WWII the politics and the resoluteness of national will were not issues that needed tending, so we could turn our focus completely and wholeheartedly to prosecuting the war.

In the case of Afghanistan, we are bogged down building a nation whose “citizens” don’t even think of themselves as “Afghans,” and where the original purpose for invading⎯to root out al-Qaida⎯may no longer even be operative.

Besides, it appears that we’re losing. Americans hate to lose. What they hate even more is sacrificing American lives when they don’t see a clear purpose.

And in case we didn’t think things could get any worse, now we all know--thanks to Bob Woodward--that nobody in our leadership agrees on what to do to extricate ourselves.

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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: Fidel Castro admits failure


Maybe the old coot is trying to get square with his maker before he heads off to stir up rebellion in the next world.

In any case, it looks like the long-running joke was on all of us; the many U.S. Administrations that tried to topple him, the Soviet Union that found him to be a most unruly client, and above all the Cuban people, who suffered and died for fifty years in the name of what even he, Fidel, has now admitted was a failed experiment.

Thanks to El Lider, the human race came within a hair’s breadth of playing the final joke on itself during the Missile Crisis. Oh, how he begged Khrushchev to loose those babies on us. We owe our continued existence today to the fact that the old Russian warrior had the sense to think of his own grandchildren before acceding to his request.

The aged dictator has finally acknowledged what everyone has known for years, that the political and economic system he imposed was bankrupt at its core. It’s cold comfort to the relatives of the dead, but you have to hand it to him—he even managed to outlast his Soviet patrons.

Castro’s legacy to the star-crossed Cuban people is little more than laughter and tears. From now on, they have earned the right to bring forth both in abundance whenever they hear the words, “Viva la Revolucion.”

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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: The end of combat operations in Iraq


Tuesday night, President Obama gave just about the only speech that could have been given to properly mark the transition of America’s role in Iraq.

He sounded like the maid stuck with cleaning up a hotel room the morning after it has been rented by a rock band. There really wasn’t much to say about the whole endeavor that was positive, except that our troops did their jobs superlatively. The whole subject is uncomfortable for us, because while our service members did their duty and in many cases made the supreme sacrifice, we’re at a loss to know what they did it for.

We’re at a loss because our leaders violated the sacred pact the civilian leadership has always had with the military: We will ask you to go into harm’s way on behalf of your country, and in return you can have faith that we will only ask you to do so if the cause is worthy, if the mission is clear-cut, and if it has a reasonable chance of success.

We went in because they said there were WMD. Well, there weren’t any. Then it was about democracy, and we “surged” to give the Iraqis time to form a government. They still haven’t formed one. The place is a hair’s-breadth away from anarchy.

We had intentions of building a Western-oriented Arab bulwark in the Middle East. The only thing the Iranians will lack after the last Americans leave is an engraved invitation to invade.

Americans like to win wars, particularly after they’ve spent a trillion borrowed dollars when there are pressing needs at home. With Iraq, there is no surrender at Yorktown, no signing ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, just a fizzling-out.

Years from now, after the accursed place recedes into painful memory, it will probably revert to what it was before: a dusty crossroads ruled by whichever warlord among its contentious populace happens to be the most ruthless.

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Chan Lowe: Leaving Iraq


So much for Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Principle about Iraq: “If you break it, you own it.”

Just because Powell got snookered by the Cheney-Rummy tag team into being a shill for the bankrupt WMD argument doesn’t mean that everything he ever said ought to be disbelieved.

Sadly, even though he’s right on the Pottery Barn thing, it looks like we are leaving the place broken and only partially pasted back together with bubble gum and masking tape, ready to fall apart again at the slightest jarring.

What’s even sadder is that we don’t care anymore. We don’t care after spending a trillion dollars, sacrificing thousands of our best young people, maiming thousands more, and leaving even more thousands with psychological damage. And we can’t even begin to fathom what our altruistic act of political liberation has done to the Iraqi people.

Geopolitically speaking, we’ve removed the only counterbalance the West and the Arab world had to keep Iran in check. Saddam may have been a bad man, but he was doing some pretty effective work in that department. We’re enjoying the fruits of removing him from power now.

Knowing what we know now, was it all worth it? As a nation, we shy away from that question, because the answer might be too painful, and could throw doubt on our core belief in the myth of American exceptionalism; that we are a force for good in the world.

At this point, we just want to wash our hands of the whole mess. The Iraqis can keep the pottery shards, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

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Chan Lowe: U.S. combat troops leave Iraq


It’s a nightmare: a nation divided; a populace unable to move past its ethnic and sectarian differences; a central government paralyzed and powerless to lead a country; demagogues stirring up unrest…at least we Americans have a tradition of respect for the rule of law to fall back on when we find ourselves on the ropes like this.

Imagine what it’s like for the Iraqis…it has been said that they are such a fractious people that only a strong man along the lines of a Saddam Hussein could rule them, using fear as his enforcer.

Since Iraqi culture and thought have not been steeped in the nurturing humanistic broth of the European Enlightenment, any attempt to superimpose a framework of democratic government upon that country is like casting seeds on barren ground, so they say.

Moreover, their sense of tribal and sectarian identity is more deeply rooted than their concept of being a citizen of an Iraqi nation; consequently a central constitutional government will never gain legitimacy in the public mind.

Maybe what they’ll finally come up with is a uniquely Mesopotamian amalgam of government by the people and government by dictator, benevolent or otherwise.

Whatever. We’re outta there. What a tragedy that we had to go in at all.

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Chan Lowe: The leaked Afghanistan papers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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: World Cup blahs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: Helen Thomas steps in it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: Middle East Rorschach test

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

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

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

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

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

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

So simple, yet so unattainable.

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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: Greek drama

urnx.gifI knew that if I just waited long enough, that art history degree would finally come in handy.

For most of us, myself included, macroeconomics is one of those subjects the experts natter on glibly about and win Nobel Prizes for, while their discipline inhabits some abstruse, ethereal level rarely gazed upon⎯and even more rarely comprehended⎯by us working stiffs.

You’d think, though, that the folks who managed to dream up derivatives and tranches de jambon or whatever would figure out some way to make the world markets more stable.

The fact that a third-rate economy and some trader with a fat finger can cause the world’s most sophisticated stock market to upchuck like a drunken high-school kid at a prom means something needs re-engineering.

I’m sorry for the Germans and the French (not really) for being stuck with weaklings like the “PIIG” nations (Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Greece), but their unremitting arrogance about the mighty Euro and our fiscal irresponsibility was getting tiresome.

The downside (and in economics, there’s always a downside), is that as the Euro tanks, investors will rush to convert their wealth to dollars. Our newly-strong currency will make it harder to export what little stuff we still make, which is not what our economy needs right now.

Too bad most Americans can’t afford to go to Europe this summer. I hear you can snap up some real bargains, especially near the Acropolis.

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Chan Lowe: Church abuse scandal

benedict.gifSince the doctrine of Christian forgiveness and absolution is grounded in the concept of self-examination, open acknowledgement of one’s sins through confession, and repentance, one would think that the Church⎯of all places⎯would appreciate the value of unburdening itself of the effects of its transgressions by exposing them to the light of day.

But that flies directly in the face of another Church priority, which is self-preservation, a corollary being maintaining an image of infallibility. Ironically, it is this monolithic attitude that results in the self-infliction of far more damage from the steady drip of new revelations.

Whatever you think of the institution, as long as it resides in the custodianship of mortal men, it will reflect their mortal shortcomings, which appear to be legion.

When Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” it’s a safe bet to assume He wasn’t talking about stonewalling.

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Chan Lowe: China vs. Google

googles.gifThe Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the Long March, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square…they’re small dumplings compared to the bloodbath that now looms on the Middle Kingdom’s horizon.

Does the Chinese government really want to take on Google?

You’d think the oldest civilization on Earth would have developed a more finely-tuned survival instinct by now. The worldwide spread of Google’s infotentacles enables its CEO to strangle the economies of entire nations by simply blocking searches of, to, and from them, should he so desire.

The sheer numbers of China’s population, long feared by other nations as a self-renewing source of manpower in the event of war, would become its Achilles’ heel as teeming masses bumped blindly into one another, unable to search terms, peruse photos of scantily-clad movie stars, or perform other basic Internet functions.

And they would seek a scapegoat. Who better to blame than the government that deprived them of their supreme navigation tool in a spasm of self-protective pique? Civil unrest would be a euphemistic term for the resulting carnage.

Talk about a clash of Titans. Let’s grab the popcorn, sit back, and watch Great Wall of Cards come tumbling down.

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Chan Lowe: Joe Biden's humiliation

biden.gifNobody knows how to play the rough-and-tumble game of parliamentary politics better than the Israelis, and it looks like Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a rare slip, found himself outmaneuvered.

I think we should believe Bibi when he says he was blindsided by the announcement of a new settlement, which just happened to fall during Vice President Biden’s trip.

Maybe the conservatives wanted to let everyone know they weren’t going to let their big brother ally push them around when it came to when and where they performed their urban renewal.

They certainly proved their point. Now, in an area of the world where antennae are ultra-sensitive to who’s got the power, America looks like a big, sloppy dog being wagged by his tail. Bibi has to choose between angering us further and assuaging a demanding faction upon which the survival of his government depends.

Nobody, of course, imagines that our long-term alliance will ever suffer for it. In the meantime, we can sit back and watch the Kabuki theater as Hillary and Bibi act oh, so shocked about the awkward turn of events.

You can bet your blintzes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be watching, too.

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Toyota recall hara-kiri

harakiri.gifIt's easy to look good when everything is humming along on an even keel.

Sooner or later, though, you're going to make an error...particularly if you're turning out millions of complex examples of your craftsmanship every year.

What is true of people is also true of corporations: It's how you own up to your mistakes that reveals your true character.

Toyota is new to this business of acknowledging its faults and making good on them--something American automakers have gotten accustomed to, if not exactly comfortable with.

Because they're newcomers, Toyota fell into the trap of trying to stonewall, rather than preserve customer goodwill by immediately taking responsibility. Now they've annoyed people and hurt the reputation of their brand.

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Chan Lowe: Haitian relief's silver lining

It says a lot about mankind--and the way we have organized ourselves into self-interested nation-states--that it takes a cataclysm for the world to discover its better nature.

We had that opportunity at Kyoto and Copenhagen, too, but as I've said before, the peril of climate change is too slow-moving and there are too many skeptics for us to drop our tribal barriers and address it effectively.

It's impossible to deny that something horrific has happened in Haiti--it's all over our TVs and the Internet, nonstop. When we witness something that hits us this hard, most of us manage to take the blinders off and think of human welfare in general as something to be nurtured, regardless of ethnicity or culture.

For a brief time, those of us who are grateful that we were spared are able to grow from the tragedy and extend a hand to those who were not. For those who would turn their backs on human is a journey, and there is always hope.

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Haiti earthquake

haiti.gifYou have to wonder why the poor Haitian people have been singled out for so much tribulation over the centuries.

There's their history of slavery, the yoke of which they threw off in revolution. More recently they have been the victims of the brutal kleptocracy of the Docs--Papa and Baby--in which many thousands died at the hands of their own brothers.

Because there is not enough fuel, they denude their land of forests for charcoal, which opens the country up to the depredations of another, more capricious scourge--periodic hurricanes that result in fatal mudslides because there is no vegetation left to hold the soil in place.

Hunger, poverty, crime, lack of education--these are but some of the problems that the Haitians must live with on a daily basis. These alone would be more than any American would be willing to bear as an abiding reality of life, but then along comes an earthquake that would be devastating even for a place like California, with its strict building codes.

Haiti is the recipient of humanitarian aid, but it is never enough. The world community, in spite of its economic turmoil, can and must do more than corral and return Haitians who attempt to escape their blighted land in boats. Until we do enough to finally provide this star-crossed country with a solid foundation, Haitians will never have a chance to improve their own lot.

Maybe this earthquake will be the catalyst for such an effort.

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Obama snags the Nobel Peace Prize

nobelz.gifMaybe those besotted Nobel panelists got the Obama charm dust sprinkled in their eyes when he made that campaign lap through Europe in 2008.

What better way to demonstrate the hipness of the Peace Prize than to give it to the biggest rock star going at the time...bigger than Bono, even.

That was then. They might have had second thoughts after Surge II, Afghan Version, but it's poor form to yank it after it's been awarded and the guy's already been fitted for his white tie and tails.

At least the honoree had the grace to point out the, um, awkwardness of it all in his acceptance speech, and it'll never come close to the embarrassment suffered after they gave it in a three-way split to Yasser Arafat, who probably melted his third of the medal into bullets or something.

Remember when you were a kid, and your parents bought you new sneakers a couple of sizes too big because they knew your feet would eventually grow into them? And you spent a few months tripping over the big, floppy toes?

Maybe we should think of it like that.

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Blowing smoke at Copenhagen

copenhagen.gifSo it's down to us and the Chinese as the biggest offenders.

Only, the Chinese--being no fools--have begun investing heavily in alternative-energy industries even while they continue to befoul the environment. They are actually implementing a green jobs program that that Socialist in the White House can only dream about.

The Chinese political system isn't hobbled by self-interested senators from energy-producing states who hold enormous sway in government policy, so they are more supple than we are when it comes to turning the ship of state around, at least in this regard.

Besides, we all know that climate change is a hoax, anyway, so let the other fools invest in windmills and solar mirrors and hamster treadmills or whatever. We've got jobs in the mines and the oil patch to protect, and nowadays, nobody wants to interfere with the jobs we've still got.

And what if we're wrong, and it isn't a hoax? That's the beauty of it: nobody's gonna know until it's too late. And those who may find out the hard way either aren't born yet, or they're still too young to vote.

Party on.

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Obama makes the pitch for the Afghan war

plan.gifRemember that much-maligned line first uttered by Condi Rice when the Bushies were bamboozling congress and the American people into war in Iraq: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?"

It turned out--as we now know to our everlasting regret--that Saddam had no WMD, and her cute turn of phrase, while mighty scary, was empty at its core.

This time, though, it's for real. It's now Barack Obama's unenviable job to convince an incredulous public that the old Domino Theory is still valid. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban and al-Qaida is allowed to thrive there, the infection will spread even deeper into an already rickety Pakistan, and possibly overwhelm its government.

Normally, we'd just allow the warlords and nut jobs in that part of the world to cancel each other out, but we're talking upwards of 80 nuclear weapons here, any one of which in the wrong hands could mean disaster.

Obama's speech will have to be short, sweet and to the point: no "nation-building," no "nurturing democracy," no subtlety. If he's going to sell this thing, we have to come away thinking, "Either we commit, or someday we're all going up in a ball of flame."

Americans aren't good with abstract concepts (think, "deficit spending"). They do, however, understand matters of life and death.

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Afghan corruption

karzai.gifWhen it comes to corroding people's faith in their leadership, nothing is more effective than rampant corruption.

Since our ostensible goal in Afghanistan is to establish a stable, peaceful government, it makes sense that stamping out corruption would be in our best interests. When it's so pervasive, though, where does one even begin?

There are fabulous amounts of money washing around in a place that has only known poverty for centuries. It's not that the Afghans are any more corrupt than anyone else. If the opportunity exists, and there's no oversight to speak of, any typical person will take whatever he can.

Singapore, I read somewhere, has one of the cleanest governments in the world. As I recall, it's because the prime minister, who is in effect a dictator, decreed that the penalty for corruption by a government official is death.

Singapore also has closed-circuit cameras to catch people spitting in elevators, as well as sirens and flashers on vehicles that activate if their drivers exceed the speed limit, so one can go overboard in maintaining public order.

Probably the best--and only--way to cure the problem of government corruption in Afghanistan is for us to pack up our loot and go home. In a matter of weeks, there wouldn't be any government left to corrupt.

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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 cartoon: Karzai brings in the heavy artillery


Katherine Harris is surely one of the top five gifts to editorial cartoonists in the last ten years, two of the others being Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

Any excuse I can come up with to bring this one-of-a-kind individual out of mothballs makes for a red-letter work day. Katherine, I miss you so...

'Nuff said.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: B.O.'s big haul

Just a week or two ago, the Obama haters were crowing that Chicago's elimination as a summer Olympics site amounted to a personal loss of prestige for the president, when in fact the decision had very little--if anything--to do with him.

Had he not gone to Copenhagen, the same carpers would have attacked him for not doing all he could to bring the Olympics to the U.S.

How can you blame the International Olympic Committee? Given the choice, wouldn't you rather loll on Copacabana Beach in the shadows of Sugar Loaf than on the steamy shores of Lake Michigan beneath the hulking pile of the Sears Tower?

Anyway, that's old news. Last week, he won the Nobel Peace Prize--again an event he had little to do with--and they say he didn't deserve the accolade. So, which is it?

From the tepid response out of the White House, the prize was viewed as something of a mixed blessing for a president who is already perceived (and perception in politics is reality, as they say) as being all mouth and no follow-through.

Those crazy Europeans. Don't they remember that one of the reasons Sen. Kerry lost the election in 2004 was that he looked "too French?" They should keep their pompous little prizes to themselves, thank you very much.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Polanski: Roman no more

genius.gifWhy bother with this guy?

Let's face it: He's in his seventies. That thing he did with the 13-year-old girl was thirty years ago or more, and he hasn't broken the law since. He made a cash settlement with her, and she doesn't want to pursue charges any more. Plus, look at all the magnificent films he's made. One of the greatest cinematic minds of our time.

As for the first part of that argument, which is being peddled by the French, the Poles, and the Hollywood glitterati among others: It's not up to the girl. Society has an interest in the pursuit of justice. The crime to which Polanski confessed was against all of us.

To extend this argument logically, John Demjanjuk was shabbily treated. After all, his alleged crimes against humanity as a Nazi prison camp guard occurred over sixty years ago. He lived a nondescript, law-abiding life ever since as an autoworker in Cleveland. He was deported once to Israel for trial, found guilty, had the verdict overturned, and returned to the U.S. He's now in Germany awaiting another trial at the age of 89. I wonder how the French, the Poles, and Hollywood would have felt if he'd been discovered and the Justice Department had decided to just let bygones be bygones.

No, he was deported to face justice, which is as it should be. The same reasoning applies to Roman Polanski. If there are those who think the brilliance of his movies might exonerate him if he is found guilty at trial, then film critics can be brought in to testify as expert witnesses.

That would cover the second part of the argument. And who knows...he might get a jury full of film buffs.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Crazy Mahmoud

mahmoud.gifSo much for engagement.

Engagement only works when the guy you're trying to engage is rational. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? Both President Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev were veterans of WWII. Kennedy knew that his adversary had experienced what all-out war can do to a nation--in the USSR's case, wipe out nine million of its citizens.

He knew that behind all the saber-rattling, Khrushchev was worth engaging, because he understood the argument that mutual annihilation benefited no one.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not act like someone who is aware of the possible consequences of his actions. Either that, or he's performing one of the most daring high-wire acts of all time.

The Israelis are realists. After all, it's their country these missiles crazy Mahmoud is waving around are aimed at. They're not going to sit around forever while President Obama conducts a debating society, or relies on leaky "sanctions" that the Chinese have a vested, petroleum-based interest in sabotaging.

Proof once again that it's a whole lot easier to conduct a Foreign Policy of Change We Can Believe In from the campaign lectern than from the Oval Office.

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Giving Iraq back to its owners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walking the tightrope on Iran

It's very easy to say all kinds of nutty stuff designed to please your base when you're (a) campaigning for something, (b) holding an elective office where what you say on a particular subject really doesn't matter to anybody, or (c) a non-elected political big shot standing on the sidelines.

Barack Obama is certainly guilty of transgression (a) regarding a raft of subjects, including gay rights, Guantanamo, and the Iraq War. The scales fell from his eyes when he got in the Oval Office and realized that to make good on all those reckless promises, he would basically torpedo his presidency before he even got out of the gate.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven," to quote Ecclesiastes.

Guilty of transgression (b) are those who, from the safety of their armchairs, would take a tougher line with Iraq in its electoral crisis, like members of Congress who have the luxury of not representing the official American line with every word they utter. Guilty of (c) are smart-mouthed ex-pols jockeying to be presidential nominees in 2012 and broadcast types seeking to boost ratings.

I think Obama is handling this one correctly. Rash statements now will only serve to unite the Iranians against the Great Satan. Don't confuse the protesters with Yankee-lovers. It has nothing to do with us. But it could if we muscled in there and tried to interfere.

Besides, what would we plan to do to back up the tough talk? Use Iraq and Afghanistan as staging grounds for Operation Iranian Freedom? The Pentagon would probably have something to say about that.

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Castro channels the wrong Marx


You'll notice this entry is cross-filed under "Local South Florida Issues," because that's where it belongs.

The multi-decade dance between Castro's Cuba and successive U.S. administrations has transcended mere foreign policy; long ago, it became an emotionally-charged co-dependency fueled over the years by a volatile exile community capable of tilting national elections.

That we are now making a form of progress in relations with Cuba is due to a couple of developments: the hard-line old guard of the Miami exile community is gradually dying off, leaving more moderate, American-born heirs who think of themselves more as Americans of Cuban descent than Cuban-Americans, and the fact that Obama won Florida in 2008 without the Cuban-American vote, so he owes them nothing.

Both countries have benefited from this warped relationship. Fidel--and now Raul-- Castro needed the U.S. and its embargo to blame for inherent systemic failures in the Marxist Paradise, and U.S. conservatives liked having a Communist enemy just off our shores, not only to keep the base whipped up, but to ensure that mostly Republican Cuban-Americans showed up to vote in high proportion.

Well, it's time to move on, at least for the United States. The Organization of American States has, with qualifications, invited Cuba, finally, to join. The U.S., deciding it doesn't really matter that much anymore, dropped its objections.

Raul, not surprisingly, has spurned the invitation, proving that he needs us as an enemy more than we need him. The intractable problems of his country aren't going away soon, so he might as well keep shifting the blame.

Good luck with that, Amigo.

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Mr. Obama goes to Cairo


In the end, it's all about respect.

His detractors will say that he didn't introduce any new ideas. While they'd like to think that's a criticism, it isn't. It's a fact. It also wasn't the point of the speech to throw new strategies or initiatives into the stew.

The point was to show people who think we hate them that we treat them as equals, that we value their contribution to civilization, that we appreciate and understand their grievances, and that they will find a new, welcoming attitude from us if they approach with outstretched hands and open hearts.

Regardless of what everybody may have been expecting in his own mind, that was President Obama's goal in Cairo, and he accomplished it with his customary eloquence and grace.

Some may say that that isn't the way to treat these people, that they only respect you when you slap 'em around a little, walk tall, strut your stuff, rattle the saber, let 'em know who's boss.

Well, that hasn't worked very well to date, so what's the harm in trying the human approach?

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Hummer bought by the Chinese!


This really seems to be "who'd a thunk it?" week.

It's bad enough that GM goes bankrupt, but now we have the company selling one of its iconic brands to...the Chinese!

Remember when you saw a Hummer (usually when it was blocking your line of sight to make a left turn, or back out of a parking space), and its owner looked so tall in the saddle? Remember that surge of good old American pride when somebody who drove a vehicle that got about ten miles to the gallon left it running in the parking lot to keep the A.C. running while he or she shopped, just because they could? It does bring a tear to one's eye.

Now the stylish street knockoff of our armed forces' standard combat vehicle is just another rice-burner, like all those Toyotas, Hyundais and (shudder) Mitsubishis that lesser mortals sneak around in.

No, it's worse, because the Koreans and the Japanese aren't poised to take over the world, and they don't hold the tattered remains of our economy in thrall. That's right, every Hummer that gets sold now is aiding and abetting the enemy.

Looks like it's time for our own Cultural Revolution.

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The Afghanistan mess

It just shows you that no matter who is in the White House, our republic--with all its awesome and high-priced might--remains at a disadvantage when it comes to asymmetrical warfare.

What do you do if you're the Taliban, you're armed with rocket-propelled grenades and maybe some old Enfield rifles the British left behind back in the Nineteenth Century, and you're fighting a foe who has precision missiles that can rain down destruction from the sky with no advance notice, obliterating an entire crowd?

You make sure the crowd he obliterates is the wrong one.

Remember, this battle is for hearts and minds, not body counts. You use jiujitsu, turning the aggressor's own bulk and momentum against him. Enough of these little mistakes, and pretty soon the whole country sees you as the heroic defender of innocent women and children.

What are a few thousand more deaths in a country that has suffered so much already, especially if they serve a strategic goal? The locals don't know the Twin Towers from the Doublemint Twins, and when you say "terrorism," they look at all the bodies of their friends and loved ones that need to be buried.

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The rescue of Capt. Phillips

What a feel-good moment. We certainly needed it. Reminds me of the "Miracle on Ice" during the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, and more recently, the Hudson River plane crash.

The first thing that struck me when I heard the news on Easter Sunday was how capricious fate can be. Barack Obama is being hailed as a man who, when tested, made the right decision under pressure.

What if, God forbid, a rogue wave had lapped against the side of the little lifeboat, throwing off the rhythm of one of our snipers just enough so that he hit the hostage, instead of his captor, in a horrible accident? The President would be condemned as a man whose intemperate rush to conclude the impasse cost an innocent man his life, when further negotiation might have yielded fruit.

I would have liked to be inside Jimmy Carter's head for a moment yesterday. Remember when he sent the task force into Iran to free the hostages, and the effort ended in tragedy? All because a few rotor blades got tangled up with each other, and some sand got in the engines. Had it succeeded, he might have been reelected.

Upon such discrete and seemingly trivial phenomena do the great wheels of History turn.

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Cuban exile group sees the light


It looks like Fidel Castro may have won simply by outlasting everybody else.

The Cuban American National Foundation, long the bulwark of the hard line against engagement with the Communist regime--a group so powerful that it hamstrung one administration after another and virtually dictated our Cuba policy for years--has now decided that maybe increasing our ties with the island is the best way to effect change.

It's true that the C.A.N.F.'s influence is on the wane (Obama took the swing state of Florida in spite of its support of McCain), and the younger Cuban-Americans, the next generation, neither share the fire in the belly nor the fear of being tarred as Castro sympathizers for following their own political path. Slowly and tentatively, U.S. official policy toward Cuba is becoming more flexible.

It has been said that Miami-Dade County is the only county in the U.S. to have its own foreign policy. That may still be so, but at least theirs is finally coming into line with the federal one.

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Chinese drywall blues

Some of us may be old enough to remember Nikita Khrushchev's famous utterance, "We will bury you," from 1956. He didn't exactly mean it the way it sounds--it was a loose translation made by someone who obviously didn't understand Russian very well. He meant that capitalism would fall on its own accord from bloat and topheaviness, and that Communists would be shovel-ready to pile dirt on the corpse.

He was wrong about a lot of things, including which Communists would be doing the burying. Modern-day China, whose political and economic system would give Karl Marx an aneurism, is delighted to shower us with a panoply of defective and poisonous goods that we are happy to purchase at places like Wal-Mart because they are less expensive than their American-made competition used to be, back when America was making stuff.

Lead in our children's toys, melamine in our pet food, and now some mysterious gas trapped in our drywall that sabotages our air conditioning and rots the wiring in our flat-screen TVs...could it all be part of a mysterious Manchurian Candidate-type plot to rot us from within? A silent, creeping terrorism that we won't be aware of until it's too late?

Confucius say: He who buy cheap junk always get more than he bargain for.

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Some "victory."


Take any organization, founded for whatever reason, and pretty soon its first order of business becomes self-preservation.

Back in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church needed money, the Pope sold indulgences whereby wealthy mortals could assure their souls a shortcut past Purgatory and straight through the Pearly Gates.

When Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine, the March of Dimes reinvented itself as a crusader for pre- and neonatal care.

So now comes Hamas, whose popularity with Gazans is in decline because it is failing to deliver on all those mundane promises about lowering crime, keeping the lights on, and getting the garbage picked up. A dingy light bulb clicks on over some strategist's head, and he says, "I know, let's go shoot rockets at the Israelis! They'll retaliate in force, as they always do. We hide amongst our own people, they get mowed down, we fight back in their name, and even though we're sure to lose, we're heroes! We sweep the next elections!"

That's all well and good, except for the people who got mowed down. Nobody asked them.

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America's new face abroad


In his inauguration speech today, President Obama addressed the Islamic world directly, saying that those who were willing to work with us in building things, rather than destroying them, would receive the hand of friendship.

Here is one place where his heretofore burdensome middle name probably helps him. He has an enormous reservoir of political capital abroad as well as in this country. If he uses it more wisely than his predecessor, it could go a long way toward alleviating at least one of the many vexing problems that face us--that being our standing in the rest of the world.

I understand that one of Obama's first overseas trips will include Indonesia, the land where he spent a portion of his childhood. Can you imagine the reaction in the world's most populous Muslim nation when he makes a few remarks to them in their own language?

A far cry from a President who even had difficulty making a few remarks to the American people in their own language.

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Votes you regret


When you give the gift of democracy to a people, the vote doesn't always turn out the way you had hoped.

Take the Palestinians (no Henny Youngman jokes, please), who freely and openly elected a government whose central platform plank was the destruction of the State of Israel. Their vote may have been out of desperation, despair or anger, but they made their bed, and the Israelis are now making sure they sleep in it.

It was Hamas, not average Gazan civilians, who fired the rockets into Israel, but the only way Gazans are going to be convinced to change their government is to show them that there is no future for them in supporting their current one.

If this keeps up, Hamas' support in Palestinian public opinion polls may sink even lower than George W. Bush's in American ones. In the regrets department, our two peoples have a great deal in common.

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Gaza madness


One can understand why the Arab world would see things from the Palestinian point of view, although innocent victims are innocent victims whether they belong to your own nation or someone else's.

What I don't understand are the negative feelings toward the Israeli incursion by nations that ought to know better. Do the French honestly think that they would act any differently if rockets were raining down daily on their beloved Arc de Triomphe, and flattening everyone in the vicinity?

The only thing the Israelis have done that the rest of us haven't is to retaliate surgically by going straight to the source of the threat and attempting to eliminate it with overwhelming force and an eye toward minimizing "collateral damage."

For some reason, they haven't been stupid enough to get bogged down in a multi-year, phenomenally expensive war with a nation that had nothing to do with the original problem.

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The sole of a free people

forrmonnblogg.gif And we thought the French were an ungrateful bunch.

It's a fitting coda to the utter pointlessness of Bush's invasion of Iraq. Even the people we liberated at the cost of so much human life and treasure are literally hurling their very worst insults at our president as he tries to run his final "victory" lap.

Bush laughed off the incident in his simple-minded way, but it really is tragic that our massive undertaking has come to this. Is there any positive outcome, anything at all, that we can point to? We got rid of Saddam. Great--Iran is taking advantage of the power vacuum, as are the various domestic Iraqi sects and factions he managed to keep in some kind of restless order.

At the very least, we were hoping to leave behind a pro-American client state in the middle of a hostile region.

Instead, the locals are hailing the shoe-thrower as a national hero.

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Pakistan fires on U.S. helicopters


After Italy capitulated in World War II and then declared herself to be on the side of the Allies, Winston Churchill famously said, "With the Italians as friends, who needs enemies?"

One has to wonder what kind of foreign aid first allows the Pakistanis to export nuclear technology to our enemies, and then permits them to get huffy about U.S. incursions over a border that they are incapable of policing themselves.

Would the old Soviet Union have tolerated this kind of behavior from a client state? No howski. First, a warning--then Islamabad brulee. Certainly no more military funds.

No wonder the world has lost its respect for America when our puppets are doing all the yanking on the strings.

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The Lowe-Down goes international

Last week the Lowe Down shipped out to Vienna, Austria, of all places, to give a series of lectures at the behest of the U.S. State Department. The Europeans are fascinated by the U.S. elections this year, to the point where our campaign reports lead their news programs. The average Austrian I met knew more about the dynamics of our election than most Americans.

You'd never know, from following our media, that the Austrians are in the midst of a bitter parliamentary election of their own. Their campaigns are limited by law to six weeks (so civilized), and to an American, the bewildering array of party names looks like somebody spilled a bowl of alphabet soup on the table.

The SPO and the OVP had a Grand Coalition for awhile, but that broke up, necessitating this snap election. But the right-wing FPO is coming up on the outside. Then, there's the crackpot ultra-right BZO, and some worry that they might pull off some political jiujitsu and grab the Chancellorship. (It can happen: Remember Kurt Waldheim? The old ex-Nazi with memory problems won the Austrian Presidency and was banned from travel to the U.S.)

As if that weren't enough, the Greens are splashing around in the soup with their own agenda, not to mention a Scrabble-bag full of marginal two-bit parties that might forge coalition blocs of their own.

Many of the issues in the Austrian elections, which will be held on Sept. 28, are eerily similar to ours. Anti-immigrant sentiment (the FPO is pushing a law to make them learn German or go home), gay marriage, social security, inflation. Over there, the Turks are to them what Latin immigrants are to us.

One other thing...they don't care at all what a pol does in his private life. It's irrelevant to them in terms of his or her electability. John Edwards would still be a contender over there. What they hate are dirty, Karl Rove-style politics. This always backfires onto the perpetrator.


This pretty-boy (I'm talking about the one on the poster. The guy standing there looking like a typical ugly American is your intrepid editorial cartoonist) is Heinz-Christian Strache, the face of the FPO, the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party. Often, you see his poster (political posters number in the millions in Vienna) defaced with a red stick-on clown nose. The message translates as "Social Security for OUR people," which is code for "native Austrians." There is a strong xenophobic streak over there, and the emphasis in this poster is on denying social security to immigrants and other undesirables.

Why was I there? The State Department thought the Austrians would be particularly fascinated by an American editorial cartoonist who explained our elections to them and amplified his comments with examples of his work.


As you can see by this photo of a Viennese crowd breathlessly awaiting admission to one of my lectures, the trip was a success in terms of promoting our country's image abroad. I dragged out some of my college German from 35 years ago for my introduction, which, thankfully, appeared to win over the mob, "Ich bin ein Berliner"-style. Fortunately, almost everybody understands English over there to some extent. If you read this blog regularly, you've probably seen most of the cartoons that I displayed over there, so I won't bore you further with them now.

For those of you who understand German, I've placed links below to the websites of the Austrian dailies that covered my visit. Even if you don't sprechen Deutsch, there are some interesting pictures in there.

Also listed is a story in English by a young reporter from the local newspaper in the Quad Cities, which, as every red-blooded American knows, means Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline and Rock Island. She happens to be over there on a journalism fellowship.

Lastly, I did a radio interview (in English) for Austrian state radio, which is linked below. The best thing about it, I think, is the accent on the guy who interviewed me. He's originally from Barbados, picked up the plummy Queen's English at Oxford, and looks like Sydney Poitier in his younger days.

Auf wiedersehen!

Here's the Quad City Times piece (in English):

Click here to hear the radio interview

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The Olympics and perfection


The Founding Fathers were pretty smart when they inserted the word "more" into the phrase, "in order to form a more perfect union," in the Constitution. They were recognizing that humans are fundamentally flawed, and that the best they could hope for was to keep improving the forms of government they devised.

The problem with a state-run operation like China's is that the State derives its authority from the assertion that it is inherently perfect, and therefore knows best. Hence, we see the Chinese doing things at the Olympics like substituting a girl with perfect teeth to lip-sync for the real performer, who will now grow up imagining herself to be forever unacceptable to society.

Gymnastics, apparently, favors the really young. So, what does the State do when there's a mandatory minimum age of 16 for contestants? They doctor their papers. This perfection thing is serious business. I was watching the poor Chinese girl who snagged only a bronze in the All-Around behind two Americans. You could read the shame all over her face, a shame that will be handed down in her family for generations. It's a good thing the Chinese won gold in the team competition, or they'd all be herding yaks in Gobi Desert Re-education Camp #14 by now.

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The Crisis in Georgia


At first glance, this probably looks like another gag cartoon about how stupid George Bush is. It isn't. That line of humor and commentary was exhausted a long time ago. This cartoon is about the frustratingly powerless position we now find ourselves in when it comes to influencing world events.

Our President must honor the Chinese with his presence at their Olympics because they hold so much of our national debt that not to do so might offend our biggest bankers, regardless of their record on human rights.

And now, thanks to being overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must look on helplessly and cluck, cluck while Russia swallows our staunchest ally in Eastern Europe. Remember when President Bush visited Georgia back in 2006 (you probably don't)? "You Georgians have chosen to stand up for democracy," he said to the cheering multitude (more or less), "and the people of the United States will stand with you."

Now the Georgians, as well as Bush, are learning that he misspoke himself ever so slightly. What he meant to say was, "We will stand by."

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Barack Obama's World Tour


You have to feel for the McCain campaign. He visits a marketplace in Baghdad, and the only thing that gets mentioned is that he had to wear body armor and walk with a protective cover of helicopter gunships. Or, that he can't tell Shia from Sunni and has to be reminded of the difference by Joe Lieberman.

Obama, on the other hand, takes a little trip abroad and the media types start acting like teenyboppers at a rock concert who can't wait to throw their underwear onto the stage. No, it ain't fair, but unfortunately war heroes, while worthy of our respect, don't make for sexy TV ratings.

Our better angels tell us the media are supposed to be a public trust, but in the end, only the BBC can afford to be boring, because it's government subsidized. Obama, God bless him, moves car insurance, Boniva, retirement plans, erectile dysfunction meds, Activia, Touch of Gray, and all the other essential components of American life that undergird the First Amendment. McCain, unfortunately, only reminds people that they need them.

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In all the excitement with the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, gas prices, and the economy going to hell in a handbasket, it's easy to forget there are other things going on in the world that make our issues pale by comparison. It's also easy to forget that there is somebody still occupying the White House, trying to be relevant.

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Biofuel and international food prices

Biofuel and international food prices

When you're standing there, gnashing your teeth at the gas pump, have you ever given thought to the fact that our insatiable appetite for gadding about in huge cars has caused so much land to be planted for corn to make ethanol that we're helping to drive up grain prices around the world? I hadn't either, until a short time ago.

So now people are starving--and rioting--so that we can have the freedom to take that impulse trip to the mall. It IS written into the Constitution, after all. Maybe these high fuel prices will force us, in our overriding self-interest, to re-think our responsibility to the rest of the world...


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Protesting the Olympics


The Chinese, in their ancient wisdom, have provided us with the bond that unites mankind.

Drawing the Earth gives me a rare opportunity to use my compass, which normally lies around in a drawer waiting to stick me in the finger when I'm scrounging around for an eraser or something.

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Cuba enters the 20th Century


With absurd fanfare, the Cuban government allows its people to possess things they cannot afford. Sounds like our own credit card business.

I had fun drawing this cartoon.

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Tibet, China and the Olympic Games


It will be interesting to see how "tough" President Bush is able to get with China on the human rights issue during the period before the Olympic Games begin, considering that the Chinese hold such a massive amount of U.S. debt.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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