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July 30, 2007

Who Are the Real New Haven Aliens?

It is said you are judged by the company you keep. If that is the case, then many in the crowd that assembled at New Haven City Hall last week to decry the creation of the city resident ID card should be worried. (Click here and here and here to read the New Haven Independent’s in-depth, in-your-face coverage of the controversial cards.)

Actually, they should be terrified.

Not long ago, I used up thousands of pixels in this column on the issue of illegal aliens. My opinion on the need for serious immigration reform, which includes dealing with our porous borders, remains unchanged. But I have watched in awe as an important discussion on an important issue has been hijacked by some seriously scary people. Gone is anything resembling serious discourse, replaced by the flag-waving-America-love-it-or-leave-it-foaming-at-the-mouth crowd -- some, card-carrying members of the John Birch Society -- who believe we can somehow create a high enough wall to prevent people from breaking in. And we’ll just ship all the “illegals” already here back from where they came. That would take how many planes to return how many millions of people to their original countries?

And the John Birch Society? I had thought this bunch had collapsed years ago under the weight of its own uselessness, but I was sadly wrong. This is a true leading light, flat-earth society group that makes some of the other rightwing fanatic groups seem truly intellectual. Back in the dark days of the ’60s, this bunch of moral relativists was opposed to the Civil Rights Act arguing that it overstepped the rights of individual states to make laws regarding civil rights.

What the hell? If some states want to continue to have “Jim Crow” laws, how dare the feds tell them they can’t?

Not enough? The founder of the John Birch Society is on record saying that he believed FDR knew the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. Robert Welch Jr. says FDR and Truman were “used by the Communists.” And as for Dwight Eisenhower, Welch says in his book, "In the third stage the Communists have installed in the Presidency a man who, for whatever reasons, appears intentionally to be carrying forward Communist aims ... With regard to this third man, Eisenhower, it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason." Eisenhower? A Communist? Really? Ha!

So here I am watching the evening news as a small cadre of (quite frankly) scary and scared older white suburbanites and Birchers, who probably haven’t been in downtown New Haven in at least a decade, rant and rave they are protecting America from illegal aliens.

Make no mistake about it; they’re more scared than angry. These poor slobs forgot that things change and if you’re not changing you’re moving backwards. They would like the world to go back to the way it was back in the ’50s. Life was good, no one got pregnant (or even had sex) before they were married, the malt shop was open ‘til 9 p.m., after which time everyone went home, America could do no wrong (and even if it did, it was never admitted), we knew who our enemies were and everyone knew their place.

That was 50-plus years ago and my vanilla ice-cream cone has melted. America makes lots of mistakes. We illegally invade other countries, try to assassinate leaders we don’t like and torture prisoners. And that is only in the last six Bush years.

Welcome to 2007. Like it or not, there are people who are in this country illegally. Like it or not, there are not enough buses and planes to send them back to where they came from, assuming you could even find them all. And like it or not, they work here, in many cases pay taxes here and buy services and products here. In short, they are residents. Their immigration status aside, it would appear to even the casual observer that we have a moral responsibility to these individuals.

I particularly hate eating crow (a dish better served cold) but after much reflection I have come to conclude that Mayor DeStefano charts the right course in creating an ID program for all who live (illegally or otherwise) in New Haven. By giving all residents ID cards, it makes it possible for them to open a checking account (and not have to pay confiscatory rates to check-cashing companies), get a library card and a host of other things we take for granted.

Look, some of those people who get ID cards may be here illegally. I don’t like that and neither should you. But that is a separate issue and one which immigration authorities need to deal with. City government has a responsibility to help everyone who lives within its borders. DeStefano is right. The suburbanites need to go home. While there, they might want to check if the folks doing their lawns aren’t here illegally.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 17, 2007

OneThing, Guv, You Can't Fix Stupid

I just spent the last two weeks as a radio reporter assigned to the state capitol. I walked away with two conclusions: Half the people who work in the Legislature must think the average joe is as dumb as a rake; and reporters covering the Legislature should be downing Thorazine by the bottleful for all of the “stupid” they have to cover.

Yes, once again we take a walk down the “you can’t fix stupid” lane.

One day last week while lounging around the palatial state capitol press corps offices (you gotta be kidding), we got word that Gov. Jodi Rell was planning a press conference to unveil a statewide energy initiative. My heart beat a little faster at the notion that there might be something of substance here. After all, Connecticut has some of the highest electric and gasoline rates in the nation. In the case of electricity, virtually double those of the Southern and mid-Atlantic states and higher than every other state in the region except New York. Since legislators failed to do anything this year to even address the issue of sky-high electricity rates and deregulation -- other than to collectively flap their gums -- I was hoping for some guidance and initiative from the Governor’s Office.

Boy was I wrong. Instead of some major drive to reform our insanely skewed deregulated market, we learned about the governor’s plan for “OneThing.” It is a new marketing effort to help you save money on your utility bills. Curious? Click here. Seeing is believing.

And to herald the charge for saving electricity the governor announced she has “replaced all of the standard incandescent light bulbs in the governor’s residence with compact fluorescent light bulbs.” Actually, I don’t think she replaced any of them. Chances are she had someone else do it. I don’t think governors stand on stepladders and change light bulbs.

Who said government is clueless? Most people who don’t have money falling from their pockets have long since tossed most of their incandescent light bulbs for those squiggly looking compact fluorescents. No one needed a Web site to motivate people to do that, just their last electric bill. With rates up near 50 percent, homeowners got the message real fast.

By the way, the governor’s OneThing “initiative” isn’t free, not a by a long shot. Connecticut needed to hire a PR firm to make you aware of the obvious.
To once again quote from the press release, “The campaign, developed by the Farmington-based Lang/Durham strategic advertising, marketing and public relations firm, is an extension of Governor Rell’s Connecticut Energy Vision for a Cleaner, Greener State.”

That is pretty rich. Connecticut really needed to hire a marketing firm to assist consumers in deciding to buy squiggly light bulbs and use fewer resources. How much better can it get than this?

Maybe just a little.

Last Wednesday, a legislative committee began hearings into the train wreck that is the construction on I-84 between Cheshire and Waterbury. It is no secret the company hired to do the work blew it. It is also no secret the company hired to act as the consultants to the project -- and ensure the work was done properly by actually inspecting it -- apparently hired people who needed seeing-eye dogs. None of them saw anything. And the DOT inspectors (who incidentally are state employees) either didn’t or couldn’t inspect the work that the consultants failed to inspect.

If this sounds more like the work of Moe, Larry and Curley, the hearings were nothing short of Chinese water torture.

Never have so many taken testimony from so few and heard so little. Two days’ worth revealed what you just read two paragraphs up. And here is the real rub: No one has been fired. Not one. With all the state government oversight and inspectors and consultants and inspectors to the consultants -- all of whom apparently saw nothing -- not one state employee has been tossed out the door. A full 18 months after the revelation that the I-84 construction project was an abysmal disaster, the best we reporters can get from state government is that some people have been reassigned. To where? Bridge inspection?

So the next time you read a story in your local newspaper or see one on TV and start screaming that the story can’t be true and the reporter must be wrong because only the criminally insane could allow this to go on, remember, we really are just reporting on what we see and hear. The stuff we cover and the things they do at the capitol under the heading of “governance” sometimes are just plain stupid. And unfortunately, sometimes you can’t fix stupid.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 2, 2007

Forget Paris

You may think (and possibly hope) this is a very late review of the movie love story starring Billy Crystal and Debra Winger. You would be wrong.

I’m not sure where Paris Hilton came from. Not in the biological sense. But in the what-does-this-person-do-that-makes-him-or-her-a-celebrity category, she is not an actress or philosopher, author, poet, musician, intellectual, sports figure or even stripper. So it is with particular amazement that I learned not long ago she gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to show up at nightclubs and bars in Los Angeles. What a racket.

Let’s call Paris Hilton what she is: an anorexic, self-centered, not terribly attractive blonde bimbo who has absolutely no claim to fame except for being an anorexic, self-centered, blonde bimbo.
Still, her incarceration, release and then subsequent re-incarceration received almost as much media attention as you would expect if that fella from Nazareth finally returned.

I don’t think I ever met Mika Brzezinski, now an anchor at MSNBC. If I did, it was only for a moment and I have no doubt she would not recognize me. You might recall she started at WFSB before moving on to CBS. I believe at one point she was on a short list to anchor the weekend editions of the CBS Evening News. I know she filled in on a number of occasions and my recollection is that she came off as a smart, credible journalist.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough these days and for whatever reason, she is now at MSNBC. Hopefully, they will see the value of having a smart, credible journalist on staff.

When dahling Paris was released from prison it was the lead on every cable newscast for days. Days, not hours, but days. Newsrooms as far away as India sent reporters to cover the release of this self-absorbed poor excuse for a human being. But to her credit, Mika Brzezinski did the amazing and unthinkable: she balked, challenged her producers and did it all publicly. You can watch the entire event unfold by clicking here.

As important as her decision was to exercise a modicum of editorial judgment you should know things like this never happen. Charles Gibson can tell a producer he isn’t going to do a story but he is Charles Gibson. For the rest of the world, in most cases producers run the show. They get their marching orders from news directors and executive producers, and if the EP says Paris is the lead then it usually takes a decision from some other senior producer or an act of God to change that. It is a rarity for anchors to be able to unilaterally change the lead story and almost unheard of to publicly challenge producers.

The former TV news director in me is terrified of the notion that anchors may start doing more of this. Then again, I’m also thrilled. There is something radically wrong with our newsrooms when the story of a self-centered child becomes the most important story of the day, eclipsing war, government in action (or the lack thereof) and other real stories. The vapid trials and tribulations of an intellectually transparent rat clearly belong right next to the horoscopes. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea if newsrooms and their management took a hard look at what they consider news. Call it a tune-up, not an overhaul.

But the big problem may be us, the viewers. We love this stuff. We love hearing about celebrities, what they do, when they do it, whom they are doing -- and especially where and when. For some it is entertainment. Taken in small doses it probably will not kill you but might give you a bad case of agita. For others, concentrating on celebrity “news” is the only opportunity they have to escape their own empty lives. Maybe they need to get one.

As for Mika, someone ought to give her the “common sense trumps all else” award.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

June 18, 2007

In Sickness and in Health

Roughly 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance. If you have insurance, 50 million is just a number. If you don’t, it is a very personal number.

Two and a half weeks ago out of the clear blue I became very sick. Sicker than I have ever been in my entire life. I will not bore you with the details but when they start talking about your gallbladder, your liver and a surgeon being your next best friend, well, it gets pretty scary awful fast.

I have health insurance. Yes, I pay dearly for the privilege but I have always considered it money well spent. So while I was scared for my physical well being the one thing I wasn’t concerned about was the cost of getting better.
Having good insurance means I also have a good doc. I’ve had the same one for the last 20-plus years. He has seen me enough over the years so that he knows me. It makes a big difference, I’m told, in diagnosing problems.

Having good insurance also means not having to worry about the bevy of tests they ran on me. I’m clueless as to what an ultrasound test costs but I have no doubt it is not cheap. And even though it was my blood in all those blood tests, there is no question they weren’t free.

And my prescription plan picked up almost all the cost of my drugs. One tiny bottle of 10 or so pills retailed for $65. My co-pay was $3.

So while my two-and-a-half-week ordeal was frightening, it was manageable. Yes, I had a 102.5 degree temperature for almost a week and could barely hold down water. I was told body parts (of which I have grown quite fond) might be leaving, but I wasn’t worried about being treated or paying for it. I knew there was one guy whose sole responsibility was to find out what was wrong with me and get me better. And if he couldn’t figure it out he would bring in people who could.

Contrast my story with those of people who don't have health insurance. When I was in my mid 30s, I was unemployed and uninsured, so I know firsthand what it's like.

You wait until you’re real sick before seeing a doctor. In most cases that means the emergency room. You sit, sometimes for hours, while a triage nurse tries to make sure the very sick and injured are treated first. If you happen to go to an ER in a big city on a Friday or Saturday night, expect a long wait. Gunshot wounds always go ahead of bronchial issues.

In my case, I had to wait about three hours before seeing someone. My recollection is that I had a bad case of bronchitis which was on the verge of becoming walking pneumonia. They gave me a prescription for something generic and sent me on my way. When I got the hospital bill a few weeks later, I was shocked. It could have been $500 or $5 million, I didn’t have the money.
Luckily I still had my wits and a few calls to the hospital later I found out I could apply for a grant from the hospital’s “uncompensated care” fund. I swallowed what little pride I had left, applied, prayed and got lucky. There are no atheists in foxholes or on the receiving end of medical bills.

How is it possible that a nation that can send men to the moon, spend billions searching for a cure for cancer and even more billions invading a foreign country can’t figure out how to develop a simple solution to the question of universal health care? Every other civilized nation has some sort of program, from the Canadians to the Europeans. You can argue the United States has the best health care in the world and you would be right, but how good it is it when one in seven Americans can’t participate? How strong a nation are we if we do nothing for the truly defenseless?

It is time to take health care away from politicians. They spend way too much time looking over their shoulder for votes or running from right-wing talk show hosts. The United States needs to empanel a blue ribbon special commission made up of the brightest doctors, economists, ethicists and lawyers in the nation. Let’s give them the job of coming up with a plan that provides decent, affordable coverage for everyone and also allows those who can afford it to “buy up” to a better plan. That’s one option. The other might be to develop a “gold standard” plan for everyone and have the government (through our taxes and those in business) pay for it.

What we don’t need is another decade of babble and pandering. We need thinking, rational and reasonable adults to come up with a plan that works and we then need Congress to find its spine and put it into effect.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

May 21, 2007

You Can’t Fix Stupid

Thursday evening I’ll have the pleasure of presiding over the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards dinner. Among a litany of other things, it is a chance to acknowledge some of the best reporting done in the state. While there are fewer of us than when I joined SPJ in 1982, there is still plenty of excellent reporting going around. Just pick up a newspaper, magazine or flick on the TV.

Contrary to what you might hear from talk-show hosts, politicians and the regular joe, most journalists don’t wake up every morning thinking about new ways to foist a liberal agenda on an only recently awakened unsuspecting public. Most journalists go out to report on the stuff they see. We don’t report on all of the good stuff (no one got a parking ticket in Hamden today!) but on the anomaly. Many times we report on the “dumb” things that seemingly “dumber” people do that they think they can get away with. For that simple transgression of reporting of the stupid and by the stupid, we are pilloried by some as having an agenda. Why are we held at fault just because there seems to be more “stupid” out there than ever before? The only problem (as my father pointed out to me more then once) is you can’t fix stupid.

Consider some of the following:

Paul Wolfowitz and his friends decry both the coverage of his transgressions by the press and also the “liberal agenda” of the World Bank. Let me see if I get this right: a relatively unknown in Washington, responsible in part for a failed Iraq War gets a high-profile, high-paying job as president of the World Bank, turns around and promotes his girlfriend and gives her a fat raise -- and in the height of chutzpah tries to suggest he was doing the World Bank a favor.
Right, and when he and the girlfriend got together at night they talked only about loans to deserving nations. If he was nothing more than just a mid-level passable executive at a local bank, he’d be tossed out on his ear. The World Bank hands out billions, not thousands, and he wants a pass? What did Wolfowitz think was going to happen when (as is always the case) someone found out? It is a classic case of professional arrogance and you guessed it, a perfect example of plain stupid. And you just can’t fix stupid.

Before meeting and going to work for George Bush in Texas, Alberto Gonzales had what could charitably be described as a forgettable career. Whether he latched onto the president or the president latched onto him is unimportant. The fact is that staying a few steps behind and to the side of George Bush has been a good thing for Gonzales. So faced with the opportunity of becoming a stellar attorney general, Gonzales decides to torpedo his own page in history. In a scene best described as last-second shenanigans, Gonzales et al race to the hospital bedside of his heavily sedated boss, John Ashcroft, to have him sign off on a questionable domestic spying program.

Not laughable enough? Gonzales then turns around and approves the firing of anywhere from six to over a dozen attorney generals from various states, not for incompetence or any “terminable” offense (like using their office for political gain), but for not being political enough. He seemingly ignores that the Justice Department is supposed to be above the political process. We report, you decide. Sometimes you just can’t fix stupid.

Not to be outdone by the national politicos, our local breed does its best to make it to the front page not for successes but for transgressions. Messrs. Rowland and Ganim, to name but two, could have been remembered for any number of things. Rowland now has his place in history as the first governor in the state -- if not the nation -- to be forced out over a hot tub. Sure, there was probably also a fair share of booze, babes and bucks, but John’s accomplishments are now foreshadowed by a hot tub and his newly minted wife, Patti.

Yikes. Throughout it all, John blamed the press. Sorry governor, you took the hot tub from a state contractor and then tried to hide the payoff -- oopsy, gift. Thanks to the head start by the Hartford Courant and Jon Lender, the press just reported it. OK, now all in unison, “Sometimes you just can’t fix stupid.”
And don’t forget Joe Ganim. Here is a guy who could have gone down in the books as the fella who almost single-handedly rebuilt Bridgeport. Been there lately? Emptying the Long Island Sound with a thimble would be easier, but between a new stadium and plans for the waterfront it seemed like Joe had a plan. But Joe’s bagman ratted him out to the feds for a reduced sentence and now Joe will be remembered as yet another corrupt politician who traded his office for a couple of cases of expensive wine (OK, very expensive), suits and I don’t remember what else. He was on the fast track for a race to the governor’s mansion. Now? Nine years in the pokey and a political career flushed down the toilet.

So the next time someone cries foul over coverage of the thing they did and remarks (unremarkably) how the press is nothing more then a teeming cesspool of liberal mutants intent on foisting their liberal media bias on the general public, remind them that we really don’t have to go out of our way to make the news ’cause there is plenty of “stupid” going around these days. Just look around.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

May 8, 2007

Don't Hire Illegals

I’ve often thought just how lucky I am to have chosen good parents and was therefore lucky enough to be born in the United States. I could have picked badly and been born in some backwater banana republic or country that sees no difference between people and livestock.

I picked well.

Many did not and have found themselves in places most of us would rather not be. Civil wars in Africa have been nothing short of killing fields. Adi Amin Dada killed -- and possibly ate -- thousands. In Cambodia it was Pol Pot who had millions slaughtered during his brief but horrific reign. No real reason. Just ‘cause.

Which brings us to a discussion of the United States and its current immigration problem. Fundamentals first. There is no such thing as an “undocumented alien.” You’re here either legally or illegally. The so-called “undocumented alien” is here illegally.

Next. The United States is not deporting 15 million illegal aliens. Ignoring the humanitarian issues and looking at it from a purely practical standpoint, deporting 15 million people would require 500,00 bus trips or 50,000 747s stuffed to the wingtips. Not likely.

So here is the problem. Millions of people living in not terribly good surroundings and making dirt for income realize all too quickly that things are much better off someplace else. Many apply for the “guest worker” program. I respect and applaud their willingness to work hard for a living and send much of that income back to their families. The program allows them to do jobs that Americans would rather not do. Mostly it is backbreaking farm work. While we pay our guest workers better than they would receive back home, we still pay them dirt. Americans love cheap and if it means slave wages for them -- who cares if they live in China or right here in the good old U.S. of A.?

But those are documented guest workers. Then there are the uninvited. I guess I’m not supposed to call them what they are: felons. But what would you call someone who came into your house when you weren’t looking, took up residence in your basement and when you finally found out you had an unwelcome border announced, “I’m here and you can’t make me leave and if you try I will stand on the street corner and claim I am being mistreated and you are a racist and/or bigot.”

But if you think they are the only part of the problem you are wrong. They’re only part of it. The real problem is you and me. It is people who will look the other way because they can hire “illegal (undocumented) aliens” for a lot less that those who have proper documents. If a contractor offers to build that addition to your house for half of what everyone else charges, no one asks any questions. Ever ask the house painter if those six people working for him have green cards? Didn’t think so. You’re getting a deal so what do you care?

Face it, every time you employ an illegal (undocumented) alien you’re responsible. Every time you look the other way you are a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. We have to go after the Wal-Marts just like we have to go after the mom and pop operations. And the fines should be big -- big enough to hurt. There are too many documented aliens and American citizens looking for a job for us to be hiring people who moved in and stayed when we weren’t looking.

And here is something you probably didn’t think about: If the United States were to grant blanket amnesty and suddenly admit millions more illegal aliens into our citizenry, there would be 15 million more individuals eligible for Social Security and Medicare. They haven’t been paying into the system up until now but they would be eligible. Some estimates peg the cost to Social Security over the next 20 years at upwards of a trillion dollars, and that says nothing about Medicare. Sure would be nice if some of the rocket scientists in Washington thought about that for a second or two.

And what do we do about the millions who are here illegally? Face it, eventually they are going to become citizens. How we do that is almost already decided just by the magnitude of the issue. We’ll have some sort of general amnesty. There will be a bunch of rules and trip-wires -- break any one of them and it is back to your Mother country. Ultimately, illegal aliens will be able to become citizens although the United States may have to limit their access to Social Security and Medicare based on the amount of time they were legally in the United States. Maybe.

The bigger issue remains the lure. We need tough new laws that make it very costly for companies and individuals to hire illegal aliens. We need to dry up the reason for coming here illegally. And we also have to simplify our immigration system. I spent a fair amount of time online trying to figure it out and got a headache.

And no discussion about illegal immigration would be complete without a mention of American politicians. This idea of “sanctuary cities “ for “undocumented aliens” is just nonsense. Some mayors argue their stance is similar to that taken by some cities during the Vietnam War. Phooey. They’re not even close. We protested an immoral and some might argue illegal war. That’s a far cry from busting through the border and looking for a place to hide out. By the way, what nitwit came up with the air-headed idea of handing out “identity cards” to “undocumented (illegal) aliens?” So an arm of the government is now creating documents to give to people who are here illegally and shouldn’t have them in the first place? How does this make any sense to someone with above a first-grade education? Handing out “identity cards” only provides some level of legitimacy for a patently illegal act. It is just pandering.

American has always been a land of immigrants and should continue to be. But building walls will not solve the problem of porous borders so long as there are employers who openly flaunt the law just to make a quick buck. And speaking of a quick buck, we need to tell most of the far right-wing talk show hosts who engage in northing short of a racist screed to just “shut up.” They add nothing to the discourse.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 23, 2007

What a Supreme Mistake

This week the Supreme Court, not content to provide judicial guidance to our nation and its courts, took on the role of parents of this country’s women.

It was in the '90s when Pennsylvania decided that it too had a moral, ethical and legal obligation to peer into a woman’s mind. “The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act” assumed that all women seeking abortions weren’t really sure of what they were doing. The act required a 24-hour waiting period after a woman sought to have an abortion. In effect, the law made women second-class citizens.

The Pennsylvania governor and its paternalistic legislators seemed to believe that 10s of thousands of pregnant women woke up some morning and said, “Gee, I had my toast and coffee. Let’s see, shopping at Marshall's or get an abortion?” Hmm. It was a frightening example of what happens when a bunch of moralistic curmudgeons decide they need to legislate how a woman makes decisions about her body.

If the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act was an abject lesson in paternalism then the most recent Supreme Court ruling elevates paternalism to a level almost unheard of in modern jurisprudence.

Writing for the Court’s 5 to 4 ruling, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy opined, “We find no reliable data” on whether abortion in general -- or the procedure prohibited by the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act -- causes women emotional harm. However, he added it was “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who terminate their pregnancies suffer “regret,” “severe”depression,” “loss of esteem” and other ills.

Quoted in The New York Times, professor Reva B. Siegel of Yale Law School called the decision “enormous” adding it was “beyond Alice in Wonderland: criminalize abortion to protect women.”

Just as important is realizing that this is only the beginning. Having chipped away at the right of women to have safe, legal and available abortions foes will continue to look at using whatever means they have available to make abortions less legal and less available. For them the fetus is all and discussions about privacy and a woman’s right to determine what happens to her body fall on deaf ears.

That’s too bad, for in our rush to protect the fetus we forget to protect the mother. Sometimes pregnancy occurs not because the woman is on some wild fling to have sex with every male available (AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases ended the currency of “free love”) but because the birth control method of choice fails to work. Condoms break. Not often, but who wants to play the odds? The “pill” is 95 percent effective. Then there is the IUD, contraceptive sponges, patches, diaphragms and a host of other methods women use to do their best not to get pregnant. Just for the record, you may have “rhythm” but I can’t think of too many women who use that as a proactive means for birth control. But sometimes “layers” of protection fail and oopsy, guess who is with child? Or as they used to say in the 1950s, guess who is now in “the family way?” For whatever reason “family way” may not be the way she wants to be, hence the need for safe, available and legal abortions.

Hard as it may be to believe, some women prefer not to have children but are not ready to give up having sex. Here’s a clue: Some women may actually want to have a monogamous relationship or even serial monogamous relationships without necessarily having (more) children. Their body, their choice. We forget all too quickly about the women who died from self-inflicted abortions or those done by back-alley butchers using anything but sterile equipment. Thousands of women died or were forever mutilated because abortions were not legal and safe.

Noticeably absent in all of this is anything even remotely resembling a reasonable, rational and thoughtful discussion of the issues surrounding abortion. Somehow we have to get past both the anti-choice crowd and those who want abortions to be legal until about three seconds before birth.

OK, I exaggerate a little but you get the idea. Abortion isn’t going to go away. If abortions were outlawed tomorrow people who could afford them would still get them, and those who can't afford them would probably also get abortions, but they would be anything but safe. Women would die needlessly, and how does that make any sense?

And for God’s sake, please stop -- just stop -- telling me the fetus has rights. Doesn’t the adult, too? Why do the rights of the three-week-old mass of protoplasm trump the rights of a sentient being? Explain to me how that works. Better yet, please don’t try. I would just get a headache.

Full disclosure. In 1990 when I was a talk show host when talk shows were actually forums for discussion, I received the “outstanding media award” from Planned Parenthood of Connecticut for “offering a forum for lively discussion of reproductive health issues.” I was proud of it then and equally proud of it now.

Led by the Supremes, a small select group of individuals known as the “anti-choice” crowd -- which clearly does not represent the vast majority of Americans -- won one last week. Too bad the rest of us lost.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 9, 2007

Dysfunctional Interest

It has been a long time since I have been strapped for cash. There was always a credit card I could use in the event there was nothing in the bank. And there was always Mom.

So I was kinda curious about a TV ad I saw. I could borrow cash with absolutely no credit check and no bank account. All I had to do was make a phone call and the money would be mine. Sounded too good to be true. Mind you, I had absolutely no intention of actually borrowing any money, but I was curious.


That pretty much sums up my absolute amazement at the hole someone could fall into if they borrowed money from these folks. Had I borrowed $100 for seven to 14 days I would have had to pay $18.62 in interest. That is 18.62 percent for two weeks. Imagine if I kept that loan for an entire year? I’d pay almost $500 in interest on my original $100 loan. That is 500 percent, and I still owe the $100. That’s some “vig” from a so-called legitimate business.

I’m told the guy on the street corner who breaks kneecaps if you're late doesn’t even charge that much. And he is a “neighborhood” guy.

How is it possible there isn’t a law, or a series of laws, to prevent lenders from charging what used to be called usury? I know we used to have laws against it but during the reach-for-the-sky interest and inflation days of the '70s, banks were able to convince Congress to drop the caps on interest-rate charges. Interest rates then skyrocketed but never quite got to pre-inflation panic levels. I’m surprised.

Armed with the knowledge that a completely “legitimate” business could charge almost 500 percent annual interest on a $100 loan, I decided to look at my credit cards and see what they charge.


Fall behind and your 11 percent to 16 percent rate suddenly heads for the stratosphere. One says 29 percent is the “default” rate, another 34 percent. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine a scenario where an individual gets divorced, sick or for some other reason falls behind and before he or she turns around the rate has tripled. Just like the price of gas, I suspect it takes no time for the rate to go up but forever to come down.

Here is a sobering thought. If you carry a $1,000 balance on your credit card (the average is close to $9,000) with a rate of 16 percent, you are paying $160 a year for the privilege of not paying off the balance. The “average” American with that $9,000 balance pays almost $1,500 in interest. That’s $125 a month. I don’t know about you but that $125 could fill my tank a couple of times a month.

All of this isn’t to say that people who carry credit card balances or who run out of money and need to borrow some on a short-term basis are bad people. Quite the contrary. What troubles me is that even though short-term interest rates are at near historic lows, for many credit rates are confiscatory. How can a society survive when the average American is charged 16 percent to18 percent interest while short-term interest rate returns are at 5 percent? With a rate spread like that I should get kissed first.

Along with a return to saner borrowing rates would come a tightening of credit availability for some. Maybe that isn’t such a bad idea. Breathing shouldn’t automatically qualify you for a $5,000 credit line.

Sen. Chris Dodd (the man who would be president) chairs the Senate Banking Committee. You might want to drop him a note. Maybe he can tell you why a bank can charge upwards of 30 percent if your life takes a bad turn and how you are ever supposed to get it back, or how a legitimate company can charge 500 percent a year to people who have to borrow $100 until payday. It is just wrong.

There ought to be a law. Actually, there was.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)


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