Archive | January, 2010

What’s Dartmouth got to do with It?

26 Jan

“If you know your history, then you would know where you coming from”

-Bob Marley

For those of you still puzzling over the nonsense of the recent Supreme Court ruling against restrictions on corporate and union interference in the political process, Texas Monthly has had some interesting blog posts by their political editor (a lawyer by trade) Paul Burka.  He is a conservative, but he does call bullshit when pols fail to do their job and/or homework.  To prove I’ve done my homework, we’ll first have a history lesson.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling from 1819 under Chief Justice John Marshall sanctified contracts and corporate charters in a lawsuit between Dartmouth University and New Hampshire.  It turns out the Dartmouth began from a charter from the King of England.  New Hampshire wanted a state university of its own to educate its people and figured it would be nice to have Dartmouth instead of starting their own.  Since we weren’t under the King of England the charter shouldn’t be valid in the new republic.  The state of New Hampshire nationalized the university and took over the board of the school.  A lawsuit (naturally) followed and famous lawyer-politician Daniel Webster argued for his alma mater’‘s independence before the high court.

In the lawsuit Dartmouth College v Woodward, the Supreme Court ruled that even though Dartmouth began under a royal charter, the contract must be respected and the state could not infringe on the rights of the corporation initiated by the King.  The state had to give up Dartmouth, and the Court made contracts totally inviolable in the United States, even in the case of nonexistent royal charters.  This incidentally is a foundational case in corporate personhood and paved the way to the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific decision that made corporations people.

Burka explains how the Citizens United decision differs significantly from the Dartmouth case and even from a 1990 ruling in Michigan.  A not-so illogical consequence could be a corporation asking to register to vote or run for office.  The effects on the already “pro-business” Texas Legislature are examined here.

Bigger than Senator Brown: Rolling Back Democracy

21 Jan

The Supreme Court has overturned restrictions on campaign financing by ending the century-old bans on unions and corporations financing of elections.  I had meant to write that this decision was pending and going to have massive implications, but I never got around to it.

Citizens United, a small non-profit corporation, made a documentary called Hillary the Movie. Under long-standing law dating back to Theodore Roosevelt, corporations are forbidden from political advertising and donations.  This small corporation was forbidden from distributing the movie under election laws after losing a Federal Election Commission lawsuit.  This case went to the Supreme Court with Citizens United arguing that corporations are people and are entitled to free speech under the First Amendment and therefore the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 and other related campaign laws are unconstitutional.  This seemingly invalidates state laws against corporate contributions like in Texas, where Tom DeLay was indicted and the Texas Association of Business convicted for their illegal donations in the 2002 state elections.

The Supreme Court agreed (5 to 4) in what is to be one of the worst-ever decisions made in the history of Supreme Court.  Now corporations and unions will freely spend to better buy our corrupt democracy.

My solution?  Repeal the doctrine of corporate personhood which applied the Fourteenth Amendment rights of people to corporations.  In a bizarre 1886 decision called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific, the Court held that corporations were people!  The implications of this decision are huge and must be seen in the Canadian documentary, the Corporation.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor thinks the original decision was wrong.

Let’s fight back!


Reclaim Democracy – Take Action Now!

Weekend at Umar Yar Adua’s

11 Jan

If you’ve ever talked to a Nigerian about the state of their country, you will hear countless stories of corruption and cartoon foolishness in their military-political-thieving class.  My personal favorite is the “coup from heaven” where long-time dictator Sani Abacha died of a heart attack in the company of two Indian prostitutes (usually followed by the statment “he overdosed on Viagra”).

That cake may now have been taken by the clowns at the King Faisal Hospital in Saudi Arabia.  President Umar Yar Adua, a Muslim, was elected in very precarious health in 2007 in a blatantly rigged election.  Nigeria has a history of taking turns between Christians and Muslims for their presidents, but this time the Muslims got a bum deal because former president Obusanajo had a sickly Muslim replace him.

He is so sickly that word on the street is that he is dead and has been dead for over a month having been hospitalized in December in Jeddah.  The joke finally came out went someone sent to Saudi Arabia to get the President to sign the budget was not allowed to see him.  His aides locked the man in the room and returned a “signature” for the supplementary budget.  The hospital says he is just doing fine.

Being dead I assume would make it hard to deliver for the President to deliver the state of the union this month.

Issue XXXIV: How to save the World for Cheap in the new Decade

8 Jan

Four years ago in Bolivia when I volunteered in a regional hospital, I saw a disease that regularly destroyed the hearts and bowels of rural villagers every day.  AIDS?  No, nothing sexy like that.  Malaria?  Nope.  Tuberculosis?  No, not anything in the Global Fund.  Or that receives any attention.       

Chagas disease kills 14,000 people a year and infects 10-15 million, and it turned 100 years old this year.  Sadly, there has been little progress in the research and treatment of the disease in these one hundred years since Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas discovered it.  There are two drugs for the disease, both over thirty years old.  Both have highly toxic side effects (but not lethal) akin to cancer chemotherapy, but it is difficult to know when to treat because there are very poor diagnostic tests for the disease.  All of this must vex the single pediatric cardiologist in Bolivia who has to treat the thousands of affected children’s hearts.

Chaga’s disease is one of the dozen or so “neglected tropical diseases” that affect the bottom billion of humanity, primarily highly-impoverished rural dwellers in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.  They cause 20% of the developing world’s death, disability, and disease.     

Because these disease do not exist in the First World, do not travel to the First World, or infect soldiers stationed in the tropics, little research occurs on these drugs.   MSF calls this the 90/10 gap.  90% of the world’s research goes for conditions that afflict the 10% in the developed world while only 10% of the world’s research goes for 90% of those living in the developing world.    

Because the populations affected are so small and impoverished, there is no incentive for pharmaceutical companies to research treatments for these drugs.  But even for an NGO to order a patch of 50,000 pills for these treatments is difficult because it costs a drug company too much to produce such a small batch of pills.  The cooperation of drug company donation programs is key in this field.    

Who champions them?

NTD’s do not have a Bono championing them, and when Prince William got shistosomiasis while on a safari in Africa, the World Health Organization’s Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Disease wrote the court to ask for his help publicizing the plight of those with a very treatable condition.  The palace did not respond. 

However, the Carter Center has championed the elimination of onchocerciasis, river blindness, in the Americas with donations of Mectizan from Merck & Co.   Jimmy Carter has been instrumental in promoting the NTD cause.  MSF’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign now has a Break the Silence website for Chagas “celebrating” 100 years of neglect of this disabling disease and explaining how you can inform yourself and take action.      


In era of massive budget deficits in the OECD, how can we and how should we prioritize our official development assistance?  A very good case is made to prioritize these diseases over expensive programs treating chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS.  Treatments are usually only needed once a year, and can be done without functioning health systems.  Drugs cost only a few pence per year while producing dramatic health improvements.  In Nigeria, successfully de-wormed areas are greener on satellite images because farmers are now healthy enough to farm better.

These health causes should not, in the end, compete with each other in a zero-sum game I believe.  Fighting to take more of the AIDS budget for NTD’s while the bankers enjoy their tax-funded bonuses and Christmas parties is a bit parochial. 

Their ultimate dream said WHO NTD Director Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, “is not a new program, but to join the Global Fund and receive the same grants as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria do.”  That would be something to make Carlos Chagas proud. 


World Health Organization – Neglected Tropical Disease List and Website

Medicins sans Frontieres – 100 Years of Chagas