Three big losses

A symptom of pregnancy: loss of human rights
Two weeks ago, a three-judge panel heard Samantha Burton’s case in the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, Florida. In March 2009, the 25-week pregnant Burton went to hospital, fearing premature labour, but decided to leave against medical advice, wanting to go home to her two children.

Instead, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s friend-of-the-court brief reports that the Circuit Court ordered her “to be indefinitely confined, which had her pregnancy gone to term would have been up to fifteen weeks… and to submit, against her will, to any and all medical treatments, restrictions to bed rest, and other interventions, including caesarean section delivery, that…‘the unborn child’s attending physician’ deemed necessary.”

Her obstetrician also refused to allow her to leave in order to obtain a second opinion. Essentially, when Samantha Burton became pregnant, she lost her constitutional right to make her own medical decisions, because a woman is not a human being but a shell around a fetus. After three days, the hospital performed an emergency caesarean section to find that the fetus had already died.

Next question for the court: should we involuntarily and indefinitely confine women who smoke during pregnancy? Who choose not to take prenatal vitamins? Who have coffee after dinner? Because that’s how the right to bodily autonomy works in the United States – women forfeit it as soon as the sperm hits the egg.


Money talks
Corporations are not people and money is not speech. Others have said it before; I’m saying it now. Apparently the Supreme Court of the United States disagrees. In a 5-to-4 decision on January 21, the Court ruled that limiting donations to political candidates violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and that Vermont’s laws limiting such contributions to $200-$400 are unconstitutionally restrictive.

In a country where the Congress is already composed of plutocrats who by and large rose to power on huge piles of cash, dismantling such regulations can only have the most destructive effects. In a country where legislation is already written in consultation with Big Pharma, banks, and other industrial giant-squid, such a ruling can only tighten their tentacular stranglehold around the government’s neck.

This ruling is a game-changer. As Florida congressman Alan Grayson points out, the Court has given corporations an enormous new set of rights the individual citizen can never hope to have: “They have the right to bribe, the right to buy elections, the right to reward their elected toadies, and the right to punish the elected representatives who take a stab at doing what’s right.”

Congress needs to act, and it needs to act now. Midterm elections are just around the corner, and Big Capital is poised to consolidate its gains. Grayson has proposed six bills that would create strict campaign finance rules. The bills, which you can see on, would be a powerful, ethical response to this unethical ruling. Until these bills or similar legislation is passed, there’s a new order in America: corporations are people, and money is speech.


Howard Zinn, R.I.P.

Howard Zinn died yesterday. The left-wing historian leaves behind a legacy of engaged scholarship and political activism. His seminal text A People’s History of the United States focuses on the suppressed narratives of American history as told through the lives and struggles of marginalized people. His life was more than ivory-tower pondering. In his own words: “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity.’ I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it.”