The Lowe Down

Category: Medical (51)

Chan Lowe: Medical marijuana


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: The birth control brouhaha


If you use your imagination, you can almost hear the political gears grinding in the Oval Office over this decision. Valerie Jarrett and Kathleen Sibelius are arguing passionately for the preservation of women’s rights. You owe it to them, Mr. President⎯not just politically, but on principle. It’s everything you stand for in a nutshell.

At the other end of the sofa, Bill Daley and Joe Biden⎯two veteran Catholic pols who should know⎯imploring him to let this battle slide and live to fight another day. “The blue collar types won’t go for this,” they counsel, “even though their wives all use birth control. The Republicans’ll turn this into a ‘war on religion.’ They’ll make the slippery slope argument!”

Evangelical feelings weren’t even considered. After all, their hatred is visceral, and how many times can you vote against the same candidate?

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Chan Lowe: The Komen faux pas


As I’ve said before, it’s seductively easy for an organization to take its eye off the ball and elevate its self-preservation to a position above its original mission.

This is particularly true of outfits that feel their purpose here on Earth has been blessed by the angels (as in the cases of the Roman Catholic Church and the Penn State football program, mentioned in the hyperlink above). The more outwardly sacrosanct the mission, the more the mere mortals involved in that organization are able to rationalize their activities in the servicing of it.

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Chan Lowe: Tallahassee tackles liposuction?


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

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

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Chan Lowe: The growth of prescription "pharmacies"


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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: The new government food guidelines


Here’s where, if I were a Tea Partier, I’d be in a pickle…as in, “hold the pickle.” Once again, the nanny state⎯in the form of the USDA⎯is attempting to tell us what to eat, the same way the Surgeon General way back in the 1960s started telling us not to smoke.

Fatty foods and tobacco are both perfectly legal products, and we ought to be free to indulge in them as we wish. Give me liberty and give me death, to coin a phrase.

At the same time, if we actually followed the “dictates” of our overreaching government and practiced self-restraint, we would be a healthier nation. We’d be more productive per worker, and more wealth would be produced--a free-marketer's dream.

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Chan Lowe: Cellphone cancer scare


It’s one of the tragic axioms of life that everything we enjoy is bad for us. Ancient peoples, for whom the line between the spiritual and the secular was so fuzzy as to be virtually nonexistent, tried to explain it through narrative and mythology (Sodom, Gomorrah, the Sirens).

Today, scientists and experts seem to delight in exposing one popular food after another as deleterious to our health, as though we were all characters in a sick morality play, forced to trade momentary bliss on the tongue for withdrawals from the finite bank account of our lifespans.

Even if you’re a nature freak, and get your jollies by grokking your oneness with the Life Force, there’s a chance you could get distracted and fall off a cliff. If you’re a marathon runner, sooner or later you’ll need a knee or hip replacement. It’s like gambling in Vegas…the house always wins.

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Chan Lowe: Abortion rears its head


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

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

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Chan Lowe: Gutting Medicare II


There were elements of President Obama’s budget speech that left us wanting more, but in one area he delivered. He was right to cast the coming battle over the deficit as a moral issue, since the main battleground will be entitlement programs like Medicaid and Medicare, which exist because at the time of their inception, this nation felt an obligation to fulfill a moral imperative.

The Republican Party, particularly its Tea Party wing, is making an amoral, purely financial argument. The argument is simplistic and cunning, yet does not stand up to the test of the American character.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the deficit must be reduced. How it is done will depend on who is able to make the most compelling case to the American people. Republicans, in their zeal not to raise taxes on anyone⎯particularly the wealthy⎯will continue to push the discredited notion that by removing any financial fetters from the well-off, we will stimulate an economy that will float all boats.

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Chan Lowe: Mandatory sonograms before abortions


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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: Gutting Medicare


I know, I know. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to lower the national debt has about as much appeal as algebra homework, but
I assure you you’ll start paying attention, particularly if you’re under 55 years old, when Congress begins haggling over the Medicare portion of his proposal.

The old Republican principle about turning everything over to the private sector doesn’t work so well when you’re talking about an elderly cohort that’s guaranteed to be sick, often catastrophically so. This is why spreading the cost out to all the taxpayers makes so much sense: the government can’t turn anyone down. Sure, the program is full of flaws, but consider the alternative.

Republicans will quickly cave over this, because the backlash from pushing it would make them an extinct species in Congress. If you’re going to wake the American body politic out of its stupor over an issue that directly affects its self-interest, make sure it’s the other guy’s fault. This will be the Democratic strategy (“What? You want to cut Grandma’s lifeline so Wall Street fat cats can take another round-the-world cruise?!!?”).

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Chan Lowe: Pill mills busted


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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: Scott and the pill mills


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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: Obamacare headed for the Supreme Court


It looks like the Affordable Care Act is headed to the Supreme Court, thanks to a rash of conflicting lower court opinions.

Court kremlinologists in the media and legal communities, basing their prognostications on the previous records of the nine justices (you get a gold star if you can name all nine without cheating, and no…Judge Judy is not one of them), have already decided that “Obamacare” will be decided by a vote of 5-4, with the battlefield being the heart and mind of the Swing Justice, Anthony Kennedy (far left in this group portrait).

Why they say they know this is because the case turns on how you view the reach of government in individual lives, and at what point you feel that reach becomes an overreach. The much-reviled “individual mandate,” which is at the core of the battle, is either within the purview of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, or it’s an unjust intrusion, imposing a penalty on people for not doing something.

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Chan Lowe: The Obamacare repeal vote


So the Republicans have dutifully thrown the Tea Party people their bone. Yes, it was absurd and a waste of time, and while the Republicans won’t talk about it openly, they know just as well as everyone else how foolish it looked to pass legislation that was going nowhere.

These are the same people who accused the Democrats in the last Congress of putting their own agenda ahead of that of the American people, which purportedly consisted of jobs, jobs and jobs. This is why they inserted “job killing” into the title of their legislation, as a head fake toward relevance.

They were paying off a political obligation, and one must fulfill one’s promises. Yesterday’s vote, however, doesn’t eliminate the crosscurrent that the establishment GOP finds itself caught in.

The whirlwind that was unleashed at last year’s town hall meetings may have been directed at Democrats, but the Tea Partiers are still angry, they have no party loyalty, and they know when they’ve been played. They are not going to be satisfied with a mere kabuki dance and then quietly go back to their caves until the next election season. They will continue to clamor for the meaningful action they feel is their due.

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Chan Lowe: House Republicans charge!


There’s talk (maybe wishful thinking) among the liberal elite that the Republicans, flexing their new found muscle in the House, will overstep and hang themselves by wasting the country’s time indulging in conservative movement issues that are of little relevance to the general moderate public.

I disagree. Assuming that establishment Republican members of Congress are cynical, which is usually a safe bet with pols, I expect them to get the ideological stuff out of the way early and quickly to satisfy the extremists who helped them win a majority this time around.

They’ll go after “Obamacare,” make a big production of reading the Constitution aloud (minus the 14th Amendment, of course), and throw a few other sops to the ravening mob so they can then settle down and get back to core party business. This consists of making sure the rich get richer and that their hard-earned fortunes aren’t frittered away in taxes so that bloodsuckers like the elderly, poor, unemployed and uninsured get free handouts from socialist do-gooders and other subversives.

Look for them to return to hot-button issues like kicking out all the Latinos, doubting global warming and maybe even a soupçon of gay-bashing (if it’s still in vogue by then) around the spring of 2012, when they’ll need to rally the commoners and successfully convince them to vote against their own economic self-interest for the umpteenth time.

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Chan Lowe: The McDonald's Happy Meal suit


The mom who just filed suit against McDonald’s for selling Happy Meals (aided and abetted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest) claims that the fast-food giant has made it much more difficult for her to refuse the entreaties of her children and to provide them with a healthful diet.

This doesn’t cut it with me. I don’t have kids, but I was one once, so I’m familiar with the business end of parental discipline. My particular bête noire was liver and onions, and I felt that life was being terribly unfair to me when I was forced to eat said repulsive dish.

In retrospect, though, when I realized that no amount of wheedling and whining was ever going to change the situation (without exception), it provided a certain sense of stability. Stability and predictability are what kids really crave, anyway, even though they may not know it.

TALLY-copy.gifWhat is required, though, is that parents discipline their own behavior as well as the child’s. Take my dog, Tallulah, who is shown at right (an adorable basset-shepherd mix, in case you were wondering). Half the time I tell her to do something, she ignores me. This is not her fault, but mine for not putting in the time to train her properly (as Mrs. Lowe-Down frequently reminds me).

So my advice to the mom, to quote Nancy Reagan, is to “Just Say No,” and to say it consistently, rather than attempt to invoke the power of the nanny state to restrict a lawful product. Sure they’ll say they hate you at the moment. But years from now, they’ll come back to visit for the holidays.

And yes, I know dogs are different than kids. Tallulah doesn’t mind being seen with me in public, she doesn’t ask to be driven to the mall, and I never have to worry about whether she’s hanging out with the wrong element.

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Chan Lowe: Graphic cigarette warnings


Regarding the new, graphic cigarette warnings, it seems that nobody inhabiting the twisted halls of the Nanny State in Washington is thinking on all three cylinders.

First, let’s talk about young people. If you’ve ever experienced the pleasure and curse of being an adolescent boy, you know that, for this cohort, there is some inexplicable attraction to things that would cause a normal human being to retch. The more disgusting, the better, because said adolescent can show whatever it is to his friends and multiply the enjoyment. If he has a kid sister, he can use it to make her scream.

So, far from putting young males off cigarettes, the photos of human husks blowing smoke through tracheotomy holes or cadavers in morgues might actually spur them to buy more cigarettes in order to augment their collections.

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Chan Lowe: Health insurance shock


One of the great bamboozlements of the last couple of years has been the success of special interests in convincing ordinary Americans that health care reform was an attempt by Big Government to purloin their personal freedoms.

The strategy can be encapsulated in the simplistic, bumper-sticker slogan, “Do you want a government bureaucrat making medical decisions instead of your doctor?”

Not only is this an inaccurate scare tactic, it conveniently ignores the reality that private insurance company bean counters are already making life-and-death decisions that should be made only between you and your doctor, and have been doing so for decades.

The fear strategy was so successful that candidates who voted to pass the legislation⎯rather than taking credit for their vote⎯have been shying away from it in the 2010 election campaign.

And maybe they should. Once the public option was dropped in order to get the bill through Congress, the future law was rendered toothless in terms of its ability to contain private rates through competition.

Sure, there are a few things we can be happy about (elimination of the pre-existing conditions restriction, for example), but those yearning for true reform might also want to use the pejorative “Obamacare,” in this case, to describe what might have been but wasn’t⎯by a long shot.

Think I’m wrong on this public option thing? Americans with employer-provided health plans are currently in the middle of their open enrollment periods for next year’s coverage, and what they’re seeing ain’t pretty.

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Chan Lowe: Dengue fever in Florida

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

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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: Merchants of death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chan Lowe: Congressional death threats

patriotx.gifWhen a conflagration erupts, who is most to blame—the person who brings the can of gasoline, or the one who hands him the match?

There has always been a restive undercurrent in this country, the rugged individualists who feel that any government encroachment into their lives is too much.

What is different now is that cynical, self-serving politicians are stoking the fears and anger of these people and inciting them to perform acts of violence against an imagined threat.

You want to talk takeover? How about the Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore in 2000, when the justices⎯in a five-to-four vote⎯arbitrarily decided to stop the vote counting and declare George W. Bush the winner?

Maybe my memory is faulty, but I don’t recall anyone making death threats against Chief Justice Rehnquist at the time. I would say that that act was far more injurious to our individual liberties than the health care reform vote.

The malcontents should just suck it up and wait until November to vote the scoundrels out. That’s what real democracy is about. It isn’t about “taking back” your country by force or intimidation if you don’t like the way Congress is voting.

As for the inciters, they may be sorry someday that they ever unleashed this angry animal. It could turn around and bite them right in their craven behinds.

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Chan Lowe: Health care reform passes

sonny.gifThe reason that health care reform has inflamed so many passions on all sides is that it goes to the very core of what each American believes his relationship to his government should be.

Because we are a nation founded on principles, not ethnicity, it is a stand-in⎯for better or worse⎯for what “being an American” means to many people.

This has been a conflict of fundamental world-views. If, through your prism, you view the providing of health care as primarily an economic issue, then you embrace the argument that if the nation can’t pay for it, we shouldn’t have it (A more rugged variant is “Why should I pay for someone else’s?”).

If, however, you believe that health care is a citizen’s right, and that it is the moral obligation of government (as an expression of the people who empower it), to provide it to every American, the same as it does their national defense⎯then you accept that as an imperative, and find a way to pay for it.

If you adhere to the latter view, you prioritize. Maybe depriving the rich of some extra lucre is the way to go. They won’t miss their next meal, and it might save someone whose child has a catastrophic illness from missing theirs. Un-American? Depends on your point of view.

Or maybe you want to pay for it some other way. Fight fewer pointless wars, perhaps. Whatever. If you truly believe, you’ll find a way.

There is no right or wrong way of looking at the role⎯or the reach⎯of government. Deciding what it will be is the function of elections.

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Chan Lowe: The great pill heist

robin.gifWhile we should never⎯no, never⎯condone theft, there is an inherent paradox about the daring medication heist at the Connecticut warehouse last week.

If the robbers who stole an estimated semi-trailer load of brand-name pharmaceuticals manage to fence the goods at a sharp discount, making them possibly more affordable to the masses on the black market, then they will be doing good by doing evil.

The stories say that the estimated “street value” (what a lovely term for a legitimate product) to the company is approximately $75 million.

Let’s hope that isn’t what they report to their insurance company, because the true replacement value of the stolen property is probably a fraction of that.

Which leads us to the question of why pharmaceuticals have become so expensive, pound for pound, that they have turned into a hot target for cat burglars. Yeah, yeah…we know all about the staggering R&D costs, the lengthy government trials. That still doesn’t explain why the same stuff is so much cheaper in Canada and elsewhere.

Do they charge us so much because they can? Because Congress doesn’t have the Viagra to stand up to big pharma?

And why can’t we import from Canada? Oh, that’s right⎯it’s too risky. The stuff might be tainted.

Poor Canadians.

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Pill mills

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

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

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

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

Both women must be so proud.

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Chan Lowe: Dr. O prescribes heath care reform

waah.gifThe rest of the industrialized world scratches its head in wonderment as the greatest economic power on earth--the shining city on the hill--squabbles over something they've all taken for granted for generations.

Why are we so far behind even our Canadian cousins when it comes to health care? It's our uniquely American way of viewing the solution to societal needs through the prism of the free enterprise system.

From the days that the Declaration of Independence was written and before, government has been viewed as something individuals need to be protected from, while other countries see it as the collectivization of individual needs under one paternalistic umbrella.

Both approaches have their pros and cons. Unfortunately, looking after the medical health of all citizens, including the underprivileged, is not one of free enterprise's strong suits.

Obama is trying to get Congress to go out on a limb with this one, and Congress is never comfortable treading where its immediate self-interest does not lie. One thing the Republicans are right about: If health care reform does pass, it'll be with us for good, because no member of any party will be willing to take back something the have-nots have begun to enjoy for the very first time.

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Health care profit motive

profit.gifWhy is the public option such a political third rail, even to President Obama?

What part of “option” don’t people understand? If it were going to be mandatory, they’d call it the “public requirement.”

If you want to fall for the scare tactic of a bureaucrat getting between you and your doctor, then fine…don’t opt for it.

Let a profit-seeking insurance adjuster make your life-and-death medical decisions for you. Since that’s pretty much the way things are now, you can stick with what’s comfortable.

Anybody who thinks that the Great American Profit Motive and the equitable, compassionate dispensation of health care share the same code of ethics either has his head wedged in a bedpan or enjoys his own Cadillac health plan and doesn’t care about anyone else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Great American Profit Motive. It’s great for making stuff, floating some if not all boats, and keeping congressional campaigns solvent--but I wouldn’t want to rely on it as the only bulwark standing between me and my headstone.

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Chan Lowe: Health care summit

summit.gifIt's a testament to how trust and cooperation have deteriorated in Washington that when President Obama first called a televised bipartisan health care summit, the Republicans immediately branded it a "trap."

Since then, some GOP members of congress have grudgingly agreed to attend, presuming--rightly--that it would play better in Peoria if they at least looked like they were trying to accomplish the people's business.

After all, with everyone's health care premiums continuing to rise at multiples of the inflation rate, even the Republicans' core business constituency is squawking.

If you deconstruct Republican logic, the only thing they would have to fear from revealing the elements of their health care reform plan to America is that it might be something Americans won't like. Otherwise, why not jump at this opportunity to stand their plan up against the Democrats' in a bully televised forum?

Either that, or they simply don't have one.

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Chan Lowe: Health care reform...or not

waiting.gifThe lobbying armies of the status quo did a great job of scaring the hell out of people last year ("Are you going to let a bureaucrat get between you and your doctor?"), and the pro-health reform forces have been afraid of their own shadows ever since Scott Brown's victory.

That means the whole mess will either get shoved on a high shelf in hopes we'll forget about it and move on, or the Democrats will pass some window dressing so empty as to be effectively meaningless.

It will be years before anybody even dares to think of reforming the system again, maybe after health care claims one out of every two dollars spent in the economy, rather than the current one out of six. Meanwhile, the Europeans will continue enjoying better and cheaper health care than we have.

But eventually, in a desperate effort to remain globally competitive, American companies will begin to drop or severely curtail health care insurance for their employees, and many of us will discover to our dismay that coverage is not a God-given right of employment.

Only when the have-nots finally outnumber the I've-got-mine-so-screw-yous will congressional town-hall meetings begin calling for the head of anyone who doesn't promise to deliver on national health care, pronto.

Sadly, it will already be too late for a lot of people.

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Health care reform, medical, insurance

rx.gifIt's the nature of the beast.

The Republican Party--at least until now--has tended to be more homogeneous in ideology than the Democrats. They've always been better at marching in formation and saluting when told to by their leaders.

The Democrats are, by necessity, a coalition. Labor unions, immigrants, minorities, wealthy Upper-West-Siders, tree-huggers, gays--they band together loosely and sometimes get along with each other in hopes of persuading others in the party to back their own agendas.

It's a fragile construct, and when confronted by something enormously complex like health care reform, interests collide and it can easily break apart. With exactly sixty votes in the senate, there is no room whatsoever for error.

Down deep, I think President Obama is willing to settle for anything, as long as it's written on a piece of paper he can sign with a flourish, take credit, and move on to other priorities.

Maybe the Republicans are right when they say the Democrats can't govern. Then again, I haven't seen any remarkable statesmanship out of them over the last decade, either.

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Lieberman the lackey

lieber.gifIt's to be expected that a U.S. Senator will look out for the welfare of his home state's main industry, but there are limits of propriety.

Joe Lieberman has shielded the big Connecticut insurance companies with the zeal of a coal-state politician throwing roadblocks in the way of clean energy legislation.

He denies that he is an insurance lackey, declaring with his characteristic grating sanctimony that he is simply doing what he thinks is best for the country.

Nevertheless, it is hard to see how making sure the public option never sees the light of day helps the American people, especially those of us who pay ever-spiraling health insurance premiums. He has not given us a sound reason for his obstructionism, hence we are forced to come to our own conclusions.

He doesn't seem to care that he may be vilified for the ages by many American families who will now lie at the mercy of an industry unfettered by real competition, yet which is blessed with a law that will require everyone to have coverage.. Now, that's what I call a conscience of steel.

If Connecticut voters ever come to their senses and kick him to the curb where he belongs, don't feel sorry for him. No doubt there's a nice directorship waiting for him in one of those big glass buildings in Hartford.

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Chan Lowe: No presidential slack

vaccine.gifOne thing Mr. Obama has learned about being president is that nobody ever cuts you an inch of slack.

When he went to Denmark to argue Chicago's case for the Olympics, he was criticized for using up all that aviation fuel and coming home empty-handed. Had he not gone, he would have been accused of not doing all he could to help out a great American city.

Another example: Now the gay rights movement is upset at him for not going up to Maine and making the pitch against repeal of that state's gay marriage law. They feel that it's just one more in a long string of Obama disappointments related to their cause.

They might want to remember that Obama always said he was against gay marriage. He prefers civil unions with all the rights pertaining thereto, to use the dry legalistic phrase. Gays have plenty to be disgruntled about--it looks like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is still in place despite his assurances to the contrary--but Obama's silence on gay marriage should come as no surprise.

With so many other irons in the fire, Obama has had to perform some painful triage in order to get his top priorities accomplished. It's hard, understandably, for interest groups to accept that their top priorities may not be his. Maybe this is one of the reasons presidents serve four-year terms, to force a restless public to be patient.

If Obama still hasn't delivered by 2012, then those with a grievance have a remedy. I wish them the best of luck with the Republican To Be Named Later. So does Barack Obama, which is probably why he made the political calculation he did. It's cruel, but that's politics.

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Chan Lowe: selling the public option

option.gifIt's all very clear-cut, really.

Since it seems that we are to be eternally cursed with health insurance companies, polls show that most Americans like the idea of a public option--a non-profit health insurer administered by the government--to act as real competition to keep their prices in line.

After all, since insurance companies are exempt from antitrust laws, and some have a virtual monopoly on their business in many states, they shouldn't have it both ways, should they?

Critics complain that the public option is a Trojan horse that will eventually usher in the dreaded single-payer government health plan, and be the death of private insurers. I'm not sure where the threat lies here: it's like saying that introducing penicillin will mean the death of venereal disease.

Anyway, it should please states-rights conservatives that the Democratic leadership is offering a state opt-out as a sweetener. This way, blue states can have their public option, and red states can--on principle--reject its subversive, godless, socialistic philosophical underpinnings if they want to.

Of course, if the red-staters begin to notice that the blue-staters' premiums are falling precipitously, there may be a reapportionment of legislators in the next statewide elections. Money always talks, and...well, you know the rest of the expression.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: "Hot" shots

swine2.gifIt's all a secret plot, like fluoridation of our drinking water.

Now that the long-awaited swine flu vaccinations are finally being distributed, why am I not at the front of the line? Why should I and my family have to wait while some other, lesser mortal gets inoculated ahead of me?

First responders, shmirst responders. What about those willing to pay extra? What's more American than getting preferential treatment for greasing a few palms?

It's the long arm of paternalistic government again, telling us who can get medical care and who can't. It's Obamanistic socialism. I hear the feds paid for the vaccine. I have half a mind to refuse it, just because the serum might be a Communistic scheme to infect us all with an insane desire to sit down during the Pledge of Allegiance or something.

What's wrong with good old-fashioned free-enterprise-produced vaccine? Fine, so it might cost ten times as much. That would keep the hoi polloi out of it. I could get my shot sooner, which is exactly the way it should be.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Barack Obama, head shill

heir.gifThe White House handlers obviously believe that their strongest suit is the Pitchman-In-Chief, and they're playing their hand for all it's worth.

The Charismatic One, in an unprecedented tour de force, appeared on five morning yak shows on Sunday.

Then came the David Letterman appearance, another first for a sitting president.

While poll numbers show that the President himself remains personally popular, his programs continue to be decidedly less so, and there is a clear danger here that repeatedly putting him out there as the head shill is going to wear thin over time.

If there's one thing Americans hate, it's being exposed to the same old shtick over and over. This is why ads lose their effectiveness with overexposure.

For example, I'm sick of seeing that couple holding hands in those side-by-side bathtubs (obviously, I watch a lot of news programs), and wondering how on earth they managed to rig the plumbing for them when they're perched on some Grand Canyon pinnacle five thousand feet in the air, or why anybody would want to take a bath in separate tubs way up there in the first place.

I figure if they're going to insult my intelligence like that, then I'm not going to spend my hard-earned medical insurance dollars on their lousy pills.

See? This is the risk the White House runs.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: The Party of No

illuminated.gifThings are starting to jell in Congress.

The final contours of health care reform are yet to be defined, but the fractious Democrats, possibly prodded by the President's speech, are beginning to see the advantages of passing some kind of bill, even if its contents don't completely mesh with their individual dreams.

Meanwhile, there are misgivings in Republican ranks. So far, just saying No has pleased the base, but while the base is well-organized, it's shrinking compared to the number of moderates who are being alienated by their behavior. The "You lie" comment didn't help make them look reasonable.

As I've said before, once a program is in place, people start to think of it as their birthright. Even if all the Democrats pass is a skeleton, it'll be enough to start hanging the Christmas ornaments on down the line. As Americans begin to enjoy (maybe) health care that for many was previously beyond their reach, and discover in the process that we haven't all started speaking Russian, they'll start looking at the GOP as the party that wanted to deny them the goodies.

Look at Social Security--which is certainly socialism--or Medicare, which is just what Obama wants for everybody, except limited to old people. Nobody dares even question those programs now.

The train's pulling out the station, and the Republicans are in danger of being left on the platform, looking in the wrong direction.

Can you hear that lonesome whistle blowin'?

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The health care long knives are out

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for meaningful health care reform to pass through this congress.

There are so many moving parts in this game of three-dimensional chess, so many special interests, so much money to be made and lost, that only someone with the legislative skills of a Ted Kennedy--or maybe a Tom Daschle--could have played it pitch-perfect.

Sadly, the American people seem to be forgotten in all the jockeying.

We have only our own ignorance to blame. If the majority of this country had any idea what the average citizen takes for granted in Europe, and for what cost, our members of congress would pass universal health care in a heartbeat, to the light of torches waving outside the U.S. Capitol windows.

But those of us who have some semblance of health care coverage desperately hang onto our miserable scraps, because it's all we know. Those who have nothing...hell, nobody listens to them, anyway.

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FDR he ain't

There are several ways to look at this.

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh say, can you eat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

As they say in Oslo, "Fuggedaboudit."

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Health care screamers

Fear has always been a potent motivator in American politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swine flu drive thru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Health care: To have and have not

If someone were to post a detailed breakdown of the health care coverage congress has voted for itself at our expense, and the amount (or lack of same) congresspersons have to cough up in premiums and co-pays, then mobs armed with pitchforks, scythes and torches would be storming the Capitol doors.

There is really no word to describe the level of hypocrisy displayed by those who enjoy government-paid Cadillac health coverage for themselves and their families, yet who cry "socialism" at the mere breath of a government-offered program for the masses as an alternative to private coverage, or to no coverage at all.

For these parasites, there appears to be no fear of government bureaucracy interposing itself between patient and doctor. Maybe it's because they are the very bureaucracy that they so roundly condemn.

Evidently, the unwashed proletariat that sent them to Washington is not entitled to, or cannot be trusted with, the same type and level of care. In fact, they tell us we can't afford it. Maybe the point of letting them enjoy what we would like to have for ourselves is a way of lifting the burden of daily worry from their shoulders, so that they can be free to make intelligent and selfless decisions on our behalf.

On the other hand, giving them a taste of what we have to face might concentrate their thinking.

Won't happen.

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Florida: Prescriptions R Us

We're going about this all wrong.

We all know that Florida is always at the top on the lists of the bad stuff, and at the bottom of the lists of desirable stuff. For once, we should celebrate--rather than bemoan--our strengths.

Tourism is one of the legs of our economic stool, isn't it? (The others are development and agriculture, I think, although you'd never know it from our tomatoes, which often taste like they were shipped from a Siberian sawmill). Here we have the one attraction that people will travel all the way down here for, even in a recession, and Gov. Crist goes and signs a law making it harder to get.

Is this the kind of thinking you want out of your governor, much less your next U.S. Senator? After all, if they can't get their prescriptions filled here, they'll just go and get them someplace else, like Mexico. So, no harm done in the end. Plus, it helps keep our international trade balance in line.

We should be offering packages to our honored visitors. "Stay two nights in a Florida hotel, and we'll throw in a bus tour of the top pill mills in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Reserve within the next 30 minutes and we'll send you home with a pet Burmese python."

We can even have a slogan: "Florida. You'll love us from your first dose."

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How to pay for health care

Common sense and good politics have always made awkward bedfellows--that is, at those times when they can even get into the same bed together.

In a perfect, non-political world, the best way to pay for health care insurance would be to tax the hell out of the things we consume that harm our health. We could pay for our own upkeep with our vices. As the social engineering took hold, and we began to consume less of these things, the revenue from them would, of course, drop.

But, by then, we'd be correspondingly healthier as a nation, and would have less overall need for medical services. Our race of super-healthy ubermenschen could march happily off into the future.

Well, that isn't the American way. Only a politician getting ready to retire anyway would be nuts enough to suggest something so sensible. Besides, this isn't Scandinavia. Rugged American individualism requires that we be free to eat, drink and smoke ourselves to death if we want to. It is our right, and if it isn't somewhere in the Constitution, then, by God, it should be.

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Vets get the short end of the stick

It shouldn't have to be this way.

It should be a given that our veterans go to the head of the line when it comes to federal expenditures. After all, there'd be no Federal Government to expend anything if they didn't put their lives on the line, time after time.

Instead, we get the national shame of the Walter Reed scandal (uncovered by Washington Post investigative reporting --a field which is in great danger these days--but that's another story) and VA hospitals with staffs so poorly trained that they spread horrific diseases through shoddy hygiene to people who deserve much better.

My guess is that the reason the pols pay lip service to our men and women in uniform without following through with the goods is that the volunteer military is a relatively small constituency. Back when we had a draft, the inconvenience and sacrifice were spread to many more families throughout the congressional districts, and besides, many pols had served themselves, thanks to that same draft. They could relate.

Now, as the number of veterans in Congress dwindles, there is no immediacy.
It's easy to forget our national obligation, except at election time or Veteran's Day, when talk is cheap.


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The health care battle is joined


My cousin lives in Canada and works at a university, shelving books in the library. He told me the other day that he had to start taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. It's one of those name-brands you see advertised on TV all the time, sandwiched between the erectile dysfunction and gold investment commercials.

It really works, too. I was on it for a while, and my numbers looked great. The doctor was pleased.

Then my company changed health insurance plans, and under the new formula for drugs, the same pill was going to start costing me around $60 to $100 per month (for some reason, the price kept changing). My doctor switched me to a generic, which didn't work quite as well, but was a lot cheaper.

My cousin told me that under his plan, the Ontario Health Plan, he gets that drug for $3 a month.

Now, he pays more in taxes on his salary than I pay. But then, he doesn't have that big fat deduction for his health insurance premium that I have.

You can call his system "socialism" if you want. You can call ours "good old-fashioned American market-driven capitalism."

Either way, I call it dollars I don't have. At least my cousin gets something back.

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The coming fight over health care


The health care industry is throwing words like "socialized" around to scare people into hanging onto the status quo, where there's money to be made.

There are two problems with this argument: First, the cold war ended twenty years ago, so "socialized" doesn't carry quite the menacing "Rooskies hiding under the bed" sting that it used to.

Second, we watch our Canadian and European friends make life decisions--like retirement--based on when it's best for them, rather than being forced to work until they can crawl across that bridge to Medicare.

Them ungodly socialistic types also rest easier when they lose their jobs, knowing that state benefits will kick in to protect them from starvation, and that their children can still see a doctor even if they're unemployed. Assuming that meeting these basic needs is what the state is primarily there for, then socialism doesn't look so bad, after all.

As for the "your taxes will skyrocket" argument, to me it's semantic. Taxes, health care premiums--either way, they get taken out of your paycheck. If, by calling them "taxes," they guarantee me and my family health care no matter what my employment status, then sign me up. Chances are they'll be less than the combination of premiums, co-pays, and "your provider charges more than the standard accepted rate for your region" dodges.

And finally, if single-payer "socialized" health care is so bad for us, why are the private insurers fighting hammer and tong to prevent that option from being passed into law? Could it be that we might get something closer to our money's worth?

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Swine flu


Not again!

Remember the Great Swine Flu scare of 1976? Poor old President Ford could never catch a break. Somebody died of swine flu in Vermont or somewhere, and the whole U.S. health system mobilized.

Millions of doses of swine flu vaccine were manufactured at taxpayer expense, thousands upon thousands of Americans were inoculated, and in the end more people died of reactions to the flu shots than from the original disease. The whole fiasco ended up as a political embarrassment.

I clearly remember drawing swine flu cartoons when I was just getting started at a small paper in Oklahoma that didn't even publish on Mondays (so that nobody would have to work on the Sabbath), and now, thirty-three years later, I find myself having to brush up on my hog anatomy all over again.

To quote Santayana, "Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it." There are two lessons to be taken from this: Don't stay too long in the same dead-end job, and let somebody else be the guinea pig for that flu shot before you take the plunge.

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The octuplets


Yes, everybody is justifiably indignant about the single woman who had all the babies, and whose self-indulgence is going to cost the State of California (which can ill afford it) millions for their delivery and upkeep.

You would think that the pro-life crowd was celebrating the miracle, and sending wads of money to help the poor woman take care of her brood, since she had the courage to go ahead, get implanted, and give birth without "getting rid of the problem." I must be missing something, because the cash doesn't appear to be rolling in.

It's strange the way some pro-lifers, at least the ones who use abortion as a political wedge issue, seem to lose interest in the welfare of children once they're born. Where do all the funds for pre- and post-natal care come from? The subsidies for the actual deliveries? Pre-K programs? College assistance? Day care? Hold on a second--those are programs Democrats tend to fight for.

And another thing, while I'm on the topic: Why does the "sanctity of life" not extend to our use of the death penalty? When I lived in Oklahoma, I met plenty of folks who saw no disconnect between fighting to save a fetus' life and clamoring for somebody to get fried.

I never could figure out exactly at what age a human being's life ceased to be sacred. Asking the experts just stirred up trouble.

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Florida's obstetrics crisis


I admit this is a rather flip treatment of a serious problem. I ran it past a few colleagues when it was in rough form, asking if it was too silly. They all (women, by the way) gave me a variation on, "Silly works sometimes. It's funny enough to make it worthwhile, even if it's a little light on substance." Plus, I'd hit a wall on other ideas.

We can't be preachy ALL the time.

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Abortion and the Florida legislature


With all the serious problems this state has, the Republican-dominated legislature always manages to find the time to address this subject in an election year. Gay marriage, in recent years, has become another reliable vote-getter. It's one of those amazing natural phenomena that the fate of the unborn and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage never seem to be under threat in years that end with odd numbers.

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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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