Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Looting Lorillard

by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
December 22, 2010

A BOSTON JURY last week ordered Lorillard Inc., the tobacco company, to pay $71 million as compensation -- and another $81 million in punitive damages -- for the death of lifelong smoker Marie Evans, who died of lung cancer in 2002. Evans's son William, a Harvard-trained lawyer, claimed that Lorillard had hooked his mother on cigarettes by giving out free samples of Newports in the Boston neighborhood where she lived as a child in the 1950's and 1960's.

Marie Evans in 2002 at age 54 with her son William, a Harvard-trained lawyer.

Lorillard denied the allegation, and apparently the only direct evidence for it was a videotaped deposition in which Marie Evans described how she began smoking at 13. But it doesn't seem implausible to me. The great majority of smokers take up the habit before turning 18, and even I can recall packs of cigarettes being handed out on Cleveland's Public Square in the late 1970's.

Yet even if it were true, how can it be just or moral to expropriate tens of millions of dollars from a company for distributing free samples of a lawful product? Why should Marie Evans's decision to smoke -- something she always knew was bad for her health -- entitle her son and estate to be showered with money? Reasonable people can debate whether cigarettes, already heavily regulated, should be banned outright. But it is not reasonable to hold tobacco companies liable for the foreseeable risks that smokers assume.

Lorillard never forced or tricked Marie Evans to use cigarettes; she became a smoker willingly. By her own account, she first received those free cigarettes when she was 9, and for years traded them for candy. Plainly it wasn't Lorillard that eventually got Evans to start smoking; if she could resist the lure of tobacco until she was 12, she could have resisted it at 13.

The demonizing of tobacco companies is popular, and who wouldn't rather think ill of Big Bad Tobacco than of a devoted mother who lost a terrible fight with lung cancer at the age of 54? But sorrow for Marie Evans and sympathy for her son don't alter reality: What turned her into a smoker was not a wicked corporation. It was a foolish choice she made as a teen-ager. People who willingly make foolish choices -- a category that includes most human beings, especially those of the teen-age persuasion -- ought not to be enriched for their foolishness.

Yes, smoking is addictive, but the addiction is not inescapable: Tens of millions of Americans have kicked the habit and nowadays most never start. Among those who do, there may conceivably be some so weak-willed, suggestible, or mentally deficient that they were literally incapable of refusing an invitation to smoke. Marie Evans -- a single mother who earned a degree from Northeastern University, rose through the ranks at Verizon to become a human-resources manager, and is described as "the determined one" by Michael Weisman, the lead plaintiff's lawyer in the suit against Lorillard -- was clearly not such a smoker.

"It's awful, what they did to my mom," Willie Evans told an interviewer this week. But "they" -- Lorillard -- did nothing very different from the countless other vendors who tempt us with products we would be well advised to resist, or at least to use in moderation. As a son who loved his mother and hated to see her suffer, Evans understandably hates the cigarettes that sickened and killed her. It's even understandable that he might hate the company that makes the cigarettes she favored. However, to turn her death into a legal pretext for looting that company does her memory no honor. Neither does Evans's claim that his mother "had no free will." Of course she had free will. And one of the ways she exercised it had tragic consequences.

What if Marie Evans had died from cirrhosis of the liver after drinking a six-pack of Budweiser every day for 40 years? Would her son be entitled to a fortune in damages from Anheuser-Busch? If she had been an incorrigibly reckless driver, who died in a crash caused by her speeding, would Willie Evans have sued the auto manufacturer whose commercials made fast cars so irresistible to his mother? If she had eaten her way to an early grave, would her son have gone after Nestle, Mars, and Hershey for getting her hooked on sweets long ago with a marketing strategy that targeted children?

The urge to blame others for our own self-destructive choices is as old as the power to choose. There is nothing admirable in yielding to that urge. Still less in rewarding those who do with $152 million.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010





Evidence has emerged suggesting that the U.S. secretary of homeland security may suffer from a rare dissociative disorder called Ganser syndrome. As described by

The most well-recognized symptom of Ganser syndrome is the so-called symptom of approximate answers (alternately designated in the literature by the German terms vorbeireden [talking past], vorbeigehen [to pass by], or danebenreden [talking next to]). Here, the patient responds to questions with an incorrect answer, but by the nature of the answer reveals an understanding of the question posed. This can be illustrated by the patient answering "3" when asked, "How many legs has a horse?" or "black" when asked "What color is snow?" or "Tuesday" when asked "What is the day after Sunday?" Frequently, the patient answers a number of questions with these odd approximate answers. This is in direct contrast to answers that are simply nonsensical, perseverative, or otherwise inappropriate.

To be clear, an example of a perseverative answer would be "Failure is not an option." A nonsensical one would be just about anything Vice President Biden says. But Janet Napolitano's latest utterance falls into the approximate category.

In a much-discussed interview with ABC's "World News Tonight," reports, Diane Sawyer asked Napolitano about the possibility of a terror attack over the holidays. The secretary answered: "What I say to the American people is that . . . thousands of people are working 24/7, 364 days a year to keep the American people safe."


She's had a long year.

The minimum number of days in a year is 365. So what was Napolitano trying to say? Our first thought was that the Homeland Security Department doesn't work on--pardon the expression, Miss Totenberg--Christmas, which would explain how that guy managed to get on a plane last year with a bomb in his drawers. This would be consistent with a Ganser diagnosis. WebMD notes that questions have been raised about Ganser's "status as a true mental illness versus a specific form of malingering." But while those questions have "been the subject of multiple journal articles and book chapters," they have yet to be answered with precision.

In a 2003 article for the Journal of Medical Humanities, Mady Schutzman offered a provocative hypothesis. In the course of researching "hysteria as a cultural and relational phenomenon rather than a disorder belonging to women's bodies," Schutzman stumbled upon a curious phenomenon known as "humor," which bears an uncanny resemblance to the symptoms of Ganser syndrome:

I discovered a performative trope--a slippery kind of verbal humor--that epitomized "talking past the point" and relocated its dynamic outside the boundaries of medical science. . . .
Jokes rely upon "getting the point" just at the boundaries of the point; that is, jokes are about sidestepping the point, a kind of punning, taking the literal and tweeking [sic] it, bending it so that we are made precisely aware of what was "past," what was expected, precisely from the vantage point of the unexpected. A master of this form of comedic repartee was Groucho Marx. "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." Or, "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."

And inside of a plane, the underwear bomber flies on Christmas.

If Napolitano is suffering from Ganser syndrome, what are the implications for homeland security? The good news, according to WebMD: "Symptoms usually resolve spontaneously." The bad news: "Occasionally, they may be followed by a major depressive episode."

"The full Ganser syndrome is considered very rare," WedMD reports, noting that "fewer than 100 cases have been described and documented in the literature." But we wonder if the disorder doesn't often go undiagnosed. Remember the Beatles song "Eight Days a Week"? Maybe the Fab Five had it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Mitt Romney does the health-care straddle

by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
December 19, 2010

Q: WHEN IT COMES to a government overhaul of health care, what is the difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney?

A: Obama was against an individual insurance mandate before he was for it. Romney was for the mandate before he was against it.

Actually, that's not precisely accurate. The real difference is that Obama acknowledges reversing his position, while Romney seems to be trying to have it both ways.

As a candidate for president in 2008, then-Senator Obama blasted Hillary Clinton's health-care plan because, as one of his campaign ads put it, "It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't."

But within six months of being sworn in as president, Obama had embraced a mandate. Asked in an interview with CBS whether "each individual American should be required to have health insurance," Obama owned up to his 180-degree shift:

"I have come to that conclusion," Obama said. "During the campaign I was opposed to this idea [but] I am now in favor of some sort of individual mandate as long as there's a hardship exemption."

Compelling nearly everyone to obtain health insurance (or pay a stiff penalty for failing to do so) is the heart of ObamaCare, the linchpin without which the whole scheme falls apart. That's why US District Judge Henry Hudson's ruling last week that the individual mandate is unconstitutional -- and that allowing the federal government to force citizens to buy a private product would "invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers" -- was so significant. The White House immediately fired back -- "We disagree with the ruling," the president's spokesman said. In a Washington Post column the next day, Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius extolled ObamaCare's "individual responsibility provision," and insisted that it would be upheld on appeal.

That euphemism for mandating the purchase of health insurance -- "individual responsibility provision" -- may sound familiar to Massachusetts ears. It is essentially the same term Romney used in selling his own health-care overhaul, which also requires everyone to buy health coverage and penalizes those who don't.

"It's a personal responsibility principle," Romney maintained, arguing over and over that an individual mandate was the only alternative to letting uninsured "free riders" show up at hospital emergency rooms and get medical care at public expense. In 2006, as he was gearing up for a presidential run, Romney called it "the Republican approach" to say: "Everybody should have insurance. They should pay what they can afford to pay. If they need help, we will be there to help them, but no more free ride."

Republican Governor Mitt Romney signs the Massachusetts health-care overhaul into law, April 12, 2006. Among those flanking him are US Senator Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Senate President Robert Travaglini, all Democrats.

Calling RomneyCare "the Republican approach" didn't make it so, of course. Democrats were closely involved in drafting the legislation, and the late Senator Ted Kennedy -- whom Romney called his "collaborator" on the measure -- headlined the phalanx of politicians surrounding the governor as he signed the bill into law. In most important respects, including the individual mandate, RomneyCare became the model for ObamaCare. MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped prepare the Massachusetts law, told The Wall Street Journal in April that "if any one person in the world deserves credit for where we are now [with the passage of the new federal law], it's Mitt Romney. He designed the structure of the federal bill."

If ObamaCare were popular, Romney would presumably be delighted to take credit for siring it. But it isn't popular, and so Romney insists that "there's a big difference" between the law he signed in 2006 and the similar one signed by the president earlier this year. He applauded the court decision last week that struck down the individual mandate as impermissible under the Commerce Clause. "'ObamaCare' is an unconstitutional power grab by Washington," Romney's spokesman said. "We should repeal the law and return to the states the power to determine their own health care solutions."

Is it Romney's position that coercive insurance directives are fine when they are imposed by states, and a "power grab" only when imposed by Congress? Does he oppose ObamaCare, with its maze of controls and penalties, as a matter of federalism -- or as a matter of liberty? With medical costs and premiums rising even faster in Massachusetts since health-care "reform" took effect, where exactly does Romney stand? Is an individual mandate still his idea of "the Republican approach?" Most Republicans can answer that question. What isn't clear is, can Romney?

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).

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Monday, December 13, 2010



Dear American Taxpayer

For only the second time in my adult life, I am not ashamed of my country. I want to thank the hard working American people for paying $242 thousand dollars for my vacation in Spain . My daughter Sasha, several long-time family friends, my personal staff and various guests had a wonderful time. Honestly, you just haven't lived until you have stayed in a $2,500.00 per night suite at a 5-Star luxury hotel. Thank you also for the use of Air Force 2 and the 70 Secret Service personnel who tagged along to be sure we were safe and cared for at all times.

Air Force 2 only used 47,500 gallons of jet fuel for this trip and carbon emissions were a mere 1,031 tons of CO2. These are only rough estimates, but they are close. That's quite a carbon footprint as my good friend Al Gore would say, so we must ask the American citizens to drive smaller, more fuel efficient cars and drive less too, so we can lessen our combined carbon footprint.

I know times are hard and millions of you are struggling to put food on the table and trying to make ends meet. I do appreciate your sacrifice and do hope you find work soon. I was really exhausted after Barack took our family on a luxury vacation in Maine a few weeks ago. I just had to get away for a few days.


Michelle (Moochelle) Obama

P.S. Thank you as well for the $2 BILLION trip to India we are currently on! Love ya, mean it.