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.