Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tobacco Cos.: We do help these things kill you

Pause a moment to mentally congratulate Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:  Her 13-year-long slog presiding over United States v. Philip Morris et al., No. 99-2496, is coming to an end. And it is ending in pretty spectacular fashion.
On Nov. 27 she ordered all the big tobacco companies to begin publishing "corrective statements" in newspapers, on TV, on the Internet, in magazines and on their cigarette packs to correct the lies they have been telling cigarette consumers for decades and decades. 
The statements will say not just that cigarettes kill more than 400,000 American smokers and ex-smokers every year, not just that secondhand smoke kills 3,000 Americans a year, not just that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette ...
Judge Gladys Kessler
The statements will say tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction to make it very hard for you to quit and then lied to you about just how addictive they are.
Judge Kessler has approved the exact wording of the statements and the tobacco companies cannot change the wording, no matter how embarrassed, chagrined or pissed-off their corporate executive may be.
They lost their last argument in the Nov. 27 ruling, that the statements violated their rights of free speech.
Au Contraire, the judge said.  Commercial speech does not enjoy the protections that political speech enjoys.

"There is no reason to believe that issuing these corrective statements would place any burden on defendants' speech other than the desired one, namely preventing defendants from denying the accuracy of them," she said.
Here are the corrective statements that the tobacco companies have to publish, in full and verbatim, straight from the opinion. Look for the statements to start appearing in four or five months. (Ignore any links in the following.  I didn't put them in and can't figure out how to get them out.)
The preamble:
 "A Federal Court has ruled that the Defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking, and has ordered those companies to make this statement.  Here is the truth:" 
A. Adverse Health Effects of Smoking
·         Smoking kills, on average, 1200 Americans.  Every day.
·         More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.
·         Smoking causes heart disease, emphysema, acute myeloid leukemia and cancer of the mouth,  esophagus, larynx, lung, stomach, kidney, bladder, and pancreas.
·         Smoking also causes reduced fertility, low birth weight in newborns, and cancer of the cervix and uterus. 
B. Addictiveness of Smoking and Nicotine
·         Smoking is highly addictive.  Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco.
·         Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.
·         It's not easy to quit.
·         When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain-that's why quitting is so hard.
 C. Lack of Significant Health Benefit from Smoking “Low Tar,” “Light,” “Ultra Light,” “Mild,” and “Natural” Cigarettes
·         Many smokers switch to low tar and light cigarettes rather than quitting because they think low tar and light cigarettes are less harmful.  They are not.
·         "Low tar” and filtered cigarette smokers inhale essentially the same amount of tar and nicotine as they would from regular cigarettes.
·         All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease,heart attacks, and premature death -- lights, low tar, ultra lights, and naturals.  There is no safe cigarette.
 D. Manipulation of Cigarette Design and Composition to Ensure Optimum Nicotine Delivery
      ·          Defendant tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.
·         Cigarette companies control the impact and delivery of nicotine in many ways, including designing filters and selecting cigarette paper to maximize the ingestion of nicotine, adding ammonia to make the cigarette taste less harsh, and controlling the physical and chemical make-up of the tobacco blend.
      ·         When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain-that's why quitting is so hard.
 E. Adverse Health Effects of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke
      ·         Secondhand smoke kills over 3,000 Americans each year.
·         Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults who do not smoke.
·         Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, severeasthma, and reduced lung function.
·         There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

I don't know if all this will do any good, but at least, the tobacco companies are finally being forced to stop lying.  I can't wait for their new advertising campaigns. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Joe Biden could sue himself and other fun facts

Common Cause is suing Joe Biden
Those of you who went right back to sleep, political junkie-wise, right after the election are sure missing some fun now!
I'll get to Common Cause and Joe Biden in a minute, but first let's catch up on some other things.
In its first post-election poll (Dec. 4), Public Policy Polling -- which did some remarkably accurate presidential election polling -- learned that:
* Nobody knows or much cares who Grover Norquist is. Forty-eight percent of those polled were not sure if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of the great no-taxes ever for any reason guru, but fully 77 percent either thought it was not important for politicians to stick to his no-tax pledge or weren't sure.
*Some people will never stop believing President Obama somehow stole the election from what-was-his name?  Twenty-four percent of those polled believe ACORN stole the election for Obama despite the fact that ACORN was disbanded in 2010.   And if ACORN didn't steal the election, then 39 percent of the poll subjects believe the Democrats engaged in voter fraud. It had to be one or the other because how else could you explain it?
* Here's the best poll result: 16 percent oppose the Simpson-Bowles federal deficit plan while 17 percent oppose the "Panetta-Burns" plan, which is a completely made-up plan name that PPP threw in just to see if anyone was paying attention.
* Oh yeah, and 18 percent of those polled want to secede from the union.  I say, don't let the door hit ya ...
So the PPP poll, was hilarious, but that's not all.
U.S. Senator and Tea Party darling Jim DeMint (R-Wingnut Crazy Town) is leaving the U.S. Senate to head the Heritage Foundation.  DeMint, you may remember, was the guy who said the Affordable Care Act would be Obama's Waterloo.  So Obama is staying and Napoleon DeMint is leaving? 
DeMint may be the meanest, craziest right-wing nuttiest U.S. senator in recent memory, though Rand Paul we're counting on you to take up the slack.  So there was dancing in the streets everywhere at the announcement DeMint was leaving, except perhaps among the employees of the Heritage Foundation. 
But wait, it gets even better:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a vote this morning (Dec. 6) on a bill giving President Obama unilateral power to raise the debt ceiling (a ploy to embarrass Democrats) and when Majority Leader Harry Reid called him on it and said, "Sure, let's vote," McConnell had to block his own bill.  He actually had to filibuster himself! It doesn't get any more dysfunctional than that. 
Which brings us to Common Cause v. Biden, No. 12-775 (D.D.C.). 
Delaware County's former congressman and currently president and CEO of Common Cause, Bob Edgar, says that Common Cause is suing Biden, in his capacity as president of the Senate, seeking a judgment that the filibuster is unconstitutional.
 Long story short, Edgar says that the U.S. Constitution provided for only six specific things that require a 60-vote super-majority -- impeachments, expelling members, overriding a presidential veto, ratification of treaties and constitutional amendments.   The founding fathers, as they spelled out so eloquently in the Federalist Papers, intended that everything else be decided by majority vote.  You know, majority vote, democracy and all that.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is holding a hearing Monday on Biden's (really the Office of Senate Legal Counsel's) motion to dismiss.  The motion argues that Common Cause has no standing to sue. 
Common Cause may not have standing, but interestingly, the Judge told the parties he especially wants to hear argument on whether three of the other plaintiffs -- members of the U.S. House of Representatives -- have standing to sue.  Their argument:  They cannot do their jobs because nothing they pass ever gets enacted by the Senate due to the filibuster.
As to Biden suing Biden -- Bob Edgar told me that the vice president could have standing to sue himself because as president of the Senate he is tasked with casting tie-breaking votes, but he never gets to do that because defeating a filibuster requires 60 votes.  I'll keep you posted on what happens with the court hearing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

So many things to feel really, really good about

People love lists?  Here's a list:
  1. Apparently a majority of American voters do NOT believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born, Muslim, socialist, terrorist, America-hating Nazi witch doctor, despite enormous efforts to convince us of those absurdities.
  2. There's going to be a lovely black family in the White House for four more years.
  3. Young people came through again.  The percentage of voters in the 18-29 age group was 19 percent this time, up from 18 percent in 2008 and 60 percent voted for Obama, as did more than half of the 17 percent of voters between the ages of 30 and 39.  The demographics are against you, Republicans.
  4. Thank you Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert for the masterful job you did educating those young voters on how the American political system really works.  
  5. Proposition 32 was defeated in California so maybe it won't be popping up all over the country in the next four years courtesy of ALEC.  Prop. 32, titled, in the fine old tradition of Orwellian Newspeak, "the Paycheck Protection" Act," would have emasculated California unions by forcing them to get written permission from each of their members every year to spend union dues on politicking.  Corporations would have to do that too if they deducted any money from their employees paychecks for political campaigns, but of course, corporations don't work that way, so only unions would have been suppressed. It's a damned shame that $133 million was spent on this bit of anti-democratic crap before California voters defeated it 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent.
  6. Republicans so  frightened us women with their anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive, put them back in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, war on women, we went out and elected four strong women to the U.S. Senate -- the first openly lesbian woman, Tammy Baldwin, in Wisconsin, the first Asian-American woman, Mazie Hirono, in Hawaii, Heidi Heitkamp, a real come from behind surprise in North Dakota and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusets, who will know more on Day 1 about how our economy works than most 20-year Senate veterans. 
  7. We also re-elected a bunch of terrific Democratic women in California, Washington, Minnesota, New York and Michigan, and one who claims to be a Democrat, Claire McCaskill in Missouri.  She is, in any case, 100 times better than the"legitimate rape" troglodyte she was running against.  
  8. There will be 20 women in the Senate and 61 women in the House of Representatives.  The House will also have 43 African-Americans, 27 Hispanics, 10 Asian Americans and five openly gay members.  Looks a little more like America, don't you think? 
  9. The Republicans did not succeed in "taking back America."  What made them think they had lost it?  
  10. The Republicans did not succeed in destroying the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, and it will go into full effect in the next year.  It's not single-payer, but it's a hell of a lot better than the collapsing healthcare system we had. 
  11. The Republicans will not be able to make the Supreme Court more conservative than it already is. 
  12. The Senate may be able to get rid of or limit the filibuster so it can get some real work done for a change. 
  13. Piles and piles and piles of anonymous campaign funding only went so far to influence our vote.  And the Electoral College system ensured that only the swing states, and not all of us, were drowned in TV ads, though we were all drowned in emails and phone calls.  
  14. But no matter which state we were in, it was important for us to go out and vote to fulfill the pollsters' predictions, and we did. 
  15. Yay democracy!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Proud, proud, a little bit worried, proud

I am so proud of my friends, Paul Mulshine and Andi Getek, both of them former Daily Times reporters, for staying in their home in Bay Head, N.J., and doing what news reporters do -- report.
Paul, a columnist for the Newark Star Ledger, and Andi, a teacher who teaches journalism in a middle school in Monmouth County, stayed in their home, about seven or eight blocks from the beach, and are currently without food and water, except what they stockpiled, and without electricity.  I don't know, but I suspect, that their oldest daughter, Molly, also a reporter for a local newspaper/blog, also stayed.
It's what I would have done.  It's what any reporter I know would have done.  A reporter does not turn his or her back on the story of a lifetime in the face of a little danger.  War correspondents, so many of whom have been killed, do not opt out of danger.
The list is long, but I am thinking now of Marie Colvin, who you probably never heard of, who died so heroically in Homs, Syria earlier this year.
New Yorkers are the toughest people on earth and Newersyites are the second toughest people on earth, and Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama are heroes without equal.
I lived in New Jersey -- Camden, Trenton, Toms River - for 23 years of my life and I remember several wonderful moderate (wild-eyed liberal) Republicans, including Clifford Case, Edwin Forsythe and Millicent Fenwick (on whom the Doonesbury character was based) who held office during those years. 
If that fat-assed, obnoxious, insufferable Christie runs in 2016, I may find myself forcing my right hand with my left hand (think Dr. Strangelove) to pull the lever for him.
Hurray New Jersey.  We have your back.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Grandma's coming home, are you ready?

"Government does not create jobs."
"I will create 12 million new jobs."
"Teachers don't grow the economy." 
Mitt Romney has said each of these things.  At least one of these statements is not true.  Actually, I think none of them is true.
Government -- federal state and local -- actually creates one hellava lot of jobs and can cut one hellava lot of jobs.
Mitt Romney says 600,000 women have lost their jobs in the last four years.  True.  But what he doesn't say is that many of them teachers, social workers, state workers other public sector employees in states now controlled by Republican governors and legislatures intent on breaking public sector unions and cutting spending on the social safety net to the bone.
But the laid-off workers know that and their families know that and their mortgage companies and car payment companies and utilities providers know that.  Their grocery stores and doctors and clothing stores and insurance companies know that. 
Here in Pennsylvania, 232 unemployment division workers have been laid off themselves, making  it nearly impossible for all of those who have been recently unemployed to even apply for unemployment insurance.  Brilliant, (one-term) Governor Corbett!
One concession those unemployment division workers won -- they could submit their own unemployment benefits applications before they walked out the door.  
If the Republicans succeed in being elected, seize Congress and implement their wonderful plans to turn Medicaid into block grants to the states -- because the states know so much better how to spend our money -- you can expect Grandma and/or Grandpa to wind up on your doorstep or the nearest street corner very soon
Medicaid pays for hundreds of thousands of destitute seniors to be cared for in nursing homes.  By the very existence of this benefit, it creates thousands of nursing home jobs.
Want the states to take that away?  Congrats, here comes grandma.
The nursing homes will disappear and the seniors it provides with care (after they have spent every last dime they have except Social Security and Medicare), will not have any place to go but home -- your know, the place where if they knock on your door, you have to take them in.
But there are many other ways in which government creates jobs or services, both directly and indirectly.
Take for example, the military -- and by "the military," I do not mean the troops, I mean the military industrial complex that builds weapons and provides all the goods and services that the troops need at 200 bases around the world.
Just by giving out contracts to private companies, the government creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and  enables small companies to become big companies.  Mitt Romney keeps saying he wants to support small businesses, although by his definition, a small business can employ 10,000 workers.  That ain't your corner McDonalds or your local insurance broker.  
Here's a sampling of the military contracts that were given out to private companies just in the month of October in no particular size or order:
* $59 million to the Raytheon Corp. "for the modification of an existing contract to support the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor"  and $240 million in other contracts for whatever, all given out in one day (Oct. 5). 
* $490 million to General Dynamics, Electric Boat, in Groton, Conn., for plans, drawings and technical data for a new nuclear submarine (just the plans, mind you), plus $72.5 million to "exercise an option" for the decommissioning of the U.S.S. Enterprise.(Oct. 16).
* $8.5 million to Boeing Corp., St. Louis, to "procure 12 virtual Mission Training System kits and spares in support of the T-45 aircraft platform" (Oct. 16).
* $9.4 million for research and development for the Air Force Radiation Effects Laboratory (Oct. 16).
*$45 million to Communications and Power LLC for a "simplified driver traveling wave tube to be used by the Navy and Missile Defense Agency" (Oct. 3).
* $21 million to J. W. Clark Enterprises"for painting and vinyl wall covering throughout Hampton Roads, Va." (Oct. 3).  Pretty sure they mean the military installations in and around Hampton Roads.   Now there's a small painting company that went big. 
* $90 million for airfield pavement construction services at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam (Oct. 12). Wonder if a local company won that contract or if they have to fly workers and equipment in. 
* $349 million to Raytheon Co. for "TOW missiles wireless precision-assault capability" (Oct. 8).
That's just a very small sample of the contracts that the federal government gives out every day to private companies to maintain our military and all its gadgets and all its paving and painting and food service and uniforms and flagpoles and jeeps and barracks mattresses and toothpaste and golf courses and officer's clubs and training facilities and who knows what else.
The moving of military families from one base to another (moving companies)  is huge as is family housing (construction companies) as is clothing (the garment industry) and shoes and hats and vehicles and soda machines and fences and sand bags and flights and doctors and dentists and hospitals and VA hospitals .... and ...
Our military is already larger and more powerful than the next 10, 20 or 25 countries combined.  When you see that we are spending this kind of money on it day in and day out, you just have to say, "Wow."  
How many employees do these contracts support?  How small did these companies start out and how big have they become? 
And these are direct jobs.  Think of all the indirect ones.  Some companies have to formulate all those tests we are constantly giving to our students, soldiers, civil service employees. 
Some companies have to develop the forms and training programs and manuals and Internet sites that our governments use to contact, register, screen and eliminate applicants for jobs, welfare, food stamps, unemployment, bids and contracts. Some company has to provide the vehicles, furniture and supplies that keeps government going.
Some companies develop the computer programs and supply the computers, printer, radios, walkie-talkies, nightsticks, Tasers, police cars, prisons, courtrooms, schools, playgrounds, sports equipment and offices our public employees use.
The truth is, not many small companies become big companies without having anything whatever to do with supplying or servicing government.
And government employs a great many people.  How many teachers, police, firemen, trash collectors, road construction workers, economists, agricultural specialists, water and electric workers, state, county and municipal workers, doctors, nurses, janitors, judges, bailiffs, prison guards, parole officers, social workers, school nurses, bus drivers and cafeteria workers do we employ every single day?
Hell yes the government creates and sustains jobs, scads and scads of jobs.
Here's the bottom line -- government is an industry, perhaps the biggest industry we have left.  We are all shareholders in it and all consumers of it.  
No matter who is elected, we will all have to pay more taxes to support this industry.  That is the pain that is coming. 
But perhaps if we keep government employees working and taking home a paycheck, they can pay their own taxes and mortgages and bills and share our pain.  Otherwise, we will be paying for them, but they will not be paying for us. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How can anyone vote for this man?

The two people pictured above are employees of Sensata Technologies in Freeport, Ill., owned by Bain Capital, which is in the process of shutting the 170-employee company down and outsourcing its production of thermostats and circuit breakers to China.
Now we all know that Mitt Romney is retired from Bain Capital and is no longer directing its operations but still continues to reap millions of dollars in retirement income from the company each year.
Back in July the employees sent an open letter to Romney asking him to use his influence to keep the profitable factory open and save their jobs.
"It's not right that our good American jobs are being sent to China. It's not right that you stand to get even richer off of our loss and pain," the letter said.
"We know that you can take action to stop the offshoring of our jobs. You are running for president, promising to create good jobs. You can start keeping that promise today by stepping in and saving our jobs," it continues.  
Romney never responded.
Cheryl Randecker is the first signer of the letter as you can see in this PDF.According to the Huffington Post, Cheryl is 52 and is a 33-year Sensata veteran so it’s a safe bet she never had any other full-time job.  She received her 60-day layoff notice shortly after Labor Day and her job will end the day before Election Day.
Cheryl will become one of that 47 percent that Mitt Romney doesn't care about. She’ll apply for unemployment.  She may have to get food stamps and she probably won’t pay much in income tax next year.  If she’s lucky, she’ll get a job as a waitress or working at McDonald’s.
Now that Romney has released his 2011 tax returns, we can see why he hasn't stepped in to save any of those 170 jobs heading for China.  He transferred $700,000 of Sensata stock to Tyler Charitable Foundation, a tax-exempt non-profit he controls and thereby saved himself a bundle.  
He gets to deduct the full value of the stock, which, if he were taxed at 35 percent would be a $250,000 benefit and at 15 percent, amounts to about $100,000.  
Defenders will say two things about this:  1) he doesn’t control Bain and 2) he didn’t even take as large a charitable deduction as he could have for 2011.  
As to the first, he benefits mightily from this company that he started, ran and still profits from.  As to the second, if he loses the election he can still amend his 2011 return and take that full deduction.
Either way, he profits and ordinary, hard-working people and the little town they live in all lose.
Romney has an ad on TV that says something like: “President Obama and I both care about the poor and Middle Class.  The only difference is, I will make their lives better.”
Really?  Really?  Who believes that?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Um, maybe it's the emergency contraception

Maybe rape victims can get help here.

So you have this guy, Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, running for the U.S. Senate in Missouri who sits on the House Science Committee – he sits on the House Science Committee – saying that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant because they have some magic biological mechanism that shuts down their fertility.
I think there might be something else at work here: 
Here in America, victims of “legitimate rape,” I mean “forcible rape,” I mean “violent, brutal, super-traumatic stranger rape” tend, if they survive, to report the attack pretty quickly to the police.  And the police take them to hospitals.  

                                         Taylor Ferrara clues you in to legitimate rape.
And, the doctors at the hospitals offer these victims emergency contraception, which short-circuits any incipient conception.  That's why they call it "contra-ception."  This is a service that I doubt very many rape victims turn down because they're thinking, "Wow, I'm just thrilled to be pregnant even if it took enduring a rape to do it."
So there you have it – the magic lady parts that spring into action during “legitimate rape” is only ordinary, garden variety morning after Plan B.  But, there's a problem:  We all know right-wing, pro-life know-nothings like Akin consider emergency contraception abortion and they would gladly deny it to rape victims and every other woman on the planet if they had half a chance because, you know, the sanctity of life.
What about those other rape victims – the 13-year-old repeatedly violated by her father or uncle or stepfather, the college student who drinks too much or is slipped a date rape drug at a frat party or bar, the kidnap victim held prisoner in her attacker’s back yard for years, the woman who can’t fight back when her date (or her boyfriend or her husband) decides that no mean yes?
They’re obviously not victims of “legitimate rape” so if they get pregnant they should just shut up and have the resulting kid and raise the resulting kid and not “blame” the resulting kid because their lives, their mental health, their families and their futures have been ruined.  No, the only consideration is that precious little bundle of cells growing in their bellies.
Until the little bastards get here.  Then it’s every millionaire for himself.  Cut food stamps, slash Medicaid to the bone, get rid of WIC (the Women Infants and Children nutrition program), cut Head Start, reduce unemployment benefits, cut welfare, starve poor school districts, close public housing, close homeless shelters, shut down homeless feeding programs.  
Made rape victims pay for their own rape kits.
Heck, cutting WIC even affects the unborn because their poor pregnant mothers can't get the nutrition they need.  But that's somehow okay.  Let them all starve, let them wear rags, let them die in the streets (I mean back alleys) or hills. Just not in our sight, please.  
The poor "born" deserve what they get because their lazy, fornicating,drinking, drugging, undeserving, jobless, foreclosed-on, under-educated parents don't have defense jobs, haven't joined the military and just don't measure up to Conservative standards of American rugged individualism and self-reliance. 
We all know what's being said here: No abortion, no exceptions, no matter what.  But in order to dehumanize rape victims so you can deny them abortion services in their direst hour of need, you first have to distinguish between "real" rape victims and the pretend kind and then you have to convince yourself that "real" rape victims don't really need abortion anyway because their own bodies take care of the problem. 
This is not just what Akin believes, it is what a great many "pro-life" advocates believe, though they're not dumb enough to say it out loud.  
Gosh, and Republicans wonder why they have a gender gap problem.  They also have a "compassion gap" problem the size of the Grand Canyon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The joys of federalism -- tobacco edition

There is this weird thing that's going on in Florida -- and only Florida -- in which long-time smokers, or in most cases their survivors, are winning millions upon millions of dollars from tobacco companies.
Only Floridians are allowed to sue.  Only Floridians (or their families) who can prove that they were addicted to cigarettes before it became public knowledge that cigarettes were addictive killers, got cancer (and in most cases died) have a hope in hell of winning. 
                                                                         * * *
Here's what happened as best as I can figure out:  In 1994, a class action lawsuit was filed in a Florida state court against all of the major tobacco companies.  There ensued a lot of really complicated legal stuff over the next 12 years, including a separate suit by the states themselves against the tobacco companies culminating in the "Master Settlement Agreement" in which the tobacco companies agreed to pay hundreds of billions of dollars to the states to pay their Medicaid costs for treating indigent smokers, and individual suits in most other states were somehow verboten as part of the agreement.
But in this one case, now known as Engle v. Liggett Group (Fla. 2006), the Miami trial judge certified a nationwide class of people with smoking-related diseases and survivors of deceased smokers.  A jury eventually heard the case and awarded damages of more than $145 billion.  A state appeals court later said the class can only be made up of Florida residents.
Then the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 decertified the class altogether and tossed out the $145 billion verdict, but it ruled that class members -- 8,000 of them -- could file individual suits using the Engle jury's findings that the tobacco companies lied about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking over decades.
                                 * * *
Sooo, ever since that ruling, trial after trial has been going on in the Florida courts with varying results.  The family of one woman won $300 million, later reduced to $37 million, another family won $5 million, later overturned, the widow of a construction worker got $75 million.
Overall, the families have won nearly 70 percent (42 cases) of the trials held so far and the tobacco companies have won about 30 percent (19).  One verdict has been overturned and several large awards have been reduced in the Florida appeals courts.  Interestingly, in April the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the tobacco companies' appeals of four cases -- thus upholding verdicts of $28 million, $15.8 million, $3.4 million and $6.2 million.
In doing so, the high court also affirmed the Engle ruling itself -- that is, the one that decertified the class, overturned the $145 billion verdict but said plaintiffs could use the jury's findings to pursue their own suits -- in Florida only. 
And so, the trials go on.  Only 7,930 or so to go.
In a recent case, a Florida appeals court ordered a new trial on damages because the smoker's husband was listed on the verdict form as supplying his wife with cigarettes, allegedly contributing to her death and thus perhaps prejudicing the jury to award low damages of only $500,000.
In another case, a Florida appellate court has thrown out a $79.2 million jury award against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.  finding that the $7.2 million compensatory damages portion was larger than the evidence at trial reasonably supported.
Some attorneys are making boatloads of money, some appellate judges are beholden to the tobacco companies for their election campaign money, some families are really making out big-time, some are losing heart-breaking amounts of money they thought they had won from sympathetic juries.  The tobacco companies are employing phalanxes of lawyers and the only fun aspect of the whole thing is watching juries take those companies for astronomical amounts of money.  

What I find so strange is this:  How did we get to the point that only Floridians can sue for wrongdoing that the tobacco companies committed on millions of people nationwide?   Or, since the states settled with the tobacco companies in 1995, why is it that anybody is allowed to sue? Or why isn't everybody? 
It's all part and parcel of our very odd and somewhat rare federal system in which the federal government and each of our 50 states can make separate and sometimes very unequal laws.
You do see the occasional suit in some other state, but they have become rare as statutes of limitation have expired, not to mention smokers.   Only the Engle class members are guaranteed the right to sue. 
It is not that way in most other countries where one set of laws govern the entire country.
Ain't life grand in these United States?

Friday, August 3, 2012

'We were living on the edge'

Mitt and Ann Romney enjoying their summer home at Lake Winnipesaukee
I recently came across this 1994 interview with Ann Romney that just leaves me speechless (not really, but please, please read it. It's priceless).
It seems that Ann and Mitt were really "struggling" in college, circa late 1960s, so much so that they lived in a basement apartment that cost $62 a month and were so poor that they had to use a door for a desk.
"We were living on the edge, not entertaining," as they both attended Brigham Young University, she tells the Boston Globe in this Oct. 20, 1994, interview when Mitt was running for governor of Massachusetts.
Well I can feel for her. In 1967 I too was living on the edge, in my senior year at Rutgers, College of South Jersey, in lovely downtown Camden, working two or three part-time jobs (who can remember now), living in an $80 a month apartment, with help from a roommate who was also struggling, and spending $25 a week between us for food in a good week.
If I wanted to cut up my 1967 college yearbook, I could show you a picture of me with the College Center Activities Committee. I was summoned to pose for the photo while I was working one of those two or three jobs so there I am in a hideous canary-yellow waitress-bus girl uniform that I wore while busing tables in the college center.  Hey, it was a job and I was not too proud to do any job that kept the wolf from my door.
According to the interview with Ann Romney, despite the fact she and Mitt were struggling students, she was kicking out a kid every year or two and not working because she and Mitt thought it was important "for me to stay home with the children, and I was delighted."
"Mitt and I walked to class together, shared housekeeping, had a lot of pasta and tuna fish and learned hard lessons."
"I had a baby sitter during class time, but otherwise I'd hold my son on my lap while I studied," she said.
What! A baby sitter? I was the baby sitter. No woman I ever went to school with could afford to have children and go to college at the same time.
Maybe baby daddy could go to school, but baby momma got baby sitters only so she could work to put baby daddy through. Already back then Ann's universe and the rest of our universes were diverging into different planes of existence.
I walked to classes too, right out my back door.  And I ate a lot of tuna fish and pasta (though I don't think we called it that back then) and even, on occasion, canned bacon.
That's right. Bacon in a can. The most God awful stuff on the face of the Earth.  My roommate and I also shopped for label-less mystery cans at the Campbell Soup Co. thrift store. You never knew what was in the can until you opened it.
Mitt and Ann and my roommate and I and millions of other baby Boomer children were alike in one respect -- we had been brought up to believe that education was the pathway to a comfortable Middle Class existence and we understood that our college poverty was temporary.
Here's where we were different. She claims that neither she nor Mitt got any help from their very well-to-do parents during those college years. Hard to believe, but okay. I'll take her word.
My mother and stepfather didn't help me either, other than buying me a $200, 10-year-old Volkswagen. But I am eternally grateful that my father faithfully sent me $50 a month.
I think now that must have been an awesome struggle for him as he was living in a trailer and supporting a second family while working at a GE plant. Without that monthly stipend I would most assuredly not have graduated from college.
Here is another way the college-era Romneys and I were different. I really was struggling.
I was literally living hand to mouth, never knowing whether I would make tuition or rent from one month to the next. And I hasten to acknowledge that I was not alone.   Millions of us have gone through that mill.
The Romneys, on the other hand, had a very nice fallback: They owned a fair amount of American Motors stock, courtesy of Mitt's father, that they could sell when the rent money came due, according to Ann.
Did I mention that Romney's father, George, was the president of American Motors?
It's not clear how much stock Mitt had in those horrible old college days.  By one estimate, it was roughly $60,000 worth in 1969 dollars (about $377,000 today), not "we're facing starvation" by any means.
Here's Ann: "Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education."
Ann does admit that Mitt's daddy helped them out with a loan so they could buy their first home for $42,000 in Belmont, Mass., around 1971, which they sold seven years later for $90,000.
"So we not only stayed for free, we made money.  As I said Mitt's very bright," Ann told the Globe.
He may be very bright, but making money on that house doesn't prove it.  The Romneys merely took advantage of the same rising housing market the rest of us did.
My husband and I bought a home in 1970 in Trenton for $24,000 and sold it in 1979 for $54,000. We then bought a home in Swarthmore for $100,000 in 1981 that we sold in 1990 for $210,000.  I bought a house for $154,000 in 1991 and sold it three years ago for $275,000.  And we were financial dimwits.
Here is what is clear -- from the time they were "poor students" until now, Mitt and Ann Romney have never lived on the edge as you and I did, as most blue collar, Middle Class and poor people did and do.
They have never known what it was like to work your way through college because you had to and then work the rest of lives to provide a comfortable life for your families. They have never lost their job to outsourcing, their home to foreclosure or 40 percent of their retirement savings to Wall Street gambling like so many of the rest of us have. They have never had to go back to work in their retirement years because they don’t have enough money even with Social Security to survive.
They knew that one brief period of pretend belt-tightening in college and that was it.
Mitt Romney has been retired since 1998 (or 2001 depending on whether you believe him or his SEC filings) and is still raking in millions of dollars a year from his former business.
Our 401Ks have $100,000 or so if we were lucky and frugal and didn't get killed by the stock market. 

His IRA (and here’s a great mystery) has $102 million.
"We were struggling" my sweet patootie.