On corporations and political speech; Google in China; Beverly Hills students

Corporate free speech

Re “Will money talk?,” Opinion, Jan. 10

Monica Youn posits a dark world in which people could become mere bystanders in future elections if the Supreme Court rules in favor of free-speech rights related to corporate political expenditures.

But it's not as if some corporate plutocracy, driven by a desire to enhance their own wealth and power, could ever have too much influence over the political process or the results of elections, or could talk us into spending ourselves into financial oblivion, eating ourselves into life-threatening obesity, smoking ourselves to death or trashing our planet.

I mean, those things could never happen.

Jon Thingvold

Murrieta

The short version of Youn's Op-Ed is that she wants to silence people (or entities) she doesn't agree with. That Youn is completely silent on labor unions (which, like corporations, receive special benefits under the law), betrays her agenda.

The 1st Amendment says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. It does not specify or exclude organizations or groups of individuals.

Frederick Singer

Huntington Beach

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Whatever happened to the concept of "one man, one vote"? In my wildest dreams, I have never seen a corporation that resembled a man or woman. This could be the last nail in the coffin of our democracy.

Jim Throgmorton

Seal Beach

Google in China

Re “Google may leave China in wake of hacker attacks,” Jan. 13

Google's action concerning alleged Chinese hacking of its domain is to be commended. It is a timely reminder that the world's largest country is still a communist, totalitarian state that awaits its own perestroika and glasnost, which are coming no matter what those intent on profit may conceive.

John Bowen

Goleta

Should we be able to patent genes?

Re “Gene warfare,” Editorial, Jan. 10

The Times is correct: The judiciary is not the appropriate forum for resolving the gene patent issue. Nevertheless, your editorial is misguided in calling on Congress to curtail all gene patents.

Multibillion-dollar diagnostic and therapeutic industries that focus on genetics rely substantially on patent-driven venture capital funding. Flexibility inherent in the patent system fosters growth in these and other nascent industries.

Rather than doing away with gene patents because we are uncomfortable with the subject matter, we should maintain the low initial threshold for patentable subject matter. Once novel technologies make it past this relatively trivial barrier to entry, various bars to patentability could then be employed surgically, by the courts and the Patent Office, to optimize patent protection, depending on the needs of each industry and society.

Dov Greenbaum

Menlo Park

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Sunday's editorial convincingly describes why businesses should not be able to patent human genes, and the negative impact gene patents have on medicine and research. However, contrary to the editorial's assertion, the patentability of human genes is, indeed, a legal question properly decided in lawsuits such as ours.

What can legitimately be patented is frequently decided by the courts. The Supreme Court has long held that natural phenomena and laws of nature are not patentable. Because genes are products of nature, not inventions that can be improved upon, the U.S. Patent Office should never have allowed patents on genes in the first place.

As long as the Patent Office continues to grant gene patents, patient care, scientific learning and the free flow of information remain stifled. Be it by the courts or by Congress, monopolies on genes must end soon.

Lenora Lapidus

New York

The writer is director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

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The editors should be commended for their support of Rep. Xavier Becerra's (D-Los Angeles) bill prohibiting the patenting of human DNA. But it is a mistake to minimize the legal issues raised in the ACLU case, or to assert that the question of whether any biotech corporation can be "trusted" to share underlying research tools is at the heart of the debate.

Of greater significance is the meaning of the case beyond questions of patents and innovation. The consideration of whether or not individuals can access and control the use of their own genetic information exemplifies the meaning of civil rights in the 21st century -- a challenge to the trend of institutional ownership of information about ourselves. The patenting of a genetic correlation or condition involves the ownership of thought itself, a fundamental 1st Amendment question that demands a judicial response. The editors, in light of this context, should support the plaintiffs in this case and the ACLU, as well as the Becerra bill.

Debra Greenfield

Los Angeles

The writer is a visiting scholar at the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics.

Out of B.H.? Try the LAUSD

Re “Beverly Hills schools end most nonresident permits,” Jan. 14

To Westside parents of Beverly Hills schools students:

I can feel your frustration that some of your children will not be allowed back next year. But this could be an opportunity to visit your local Los Angeles Unified School District campus and see how your children can benefit.

Parents who fight for their local schools have worked with teachers and administrators and created some jewels. Palms Middle School has a terrific music program. Hamilton and Venice high schools both have magnet programs you have probably never stopped to find out about. Your tax dollars have contributed to a massive building program.

Beverly Hills has sent a clear message about looking after your own residents first. That goes for you as an L.A. resident and parent. You and your children can be stars in L.A. Unified.

Elizabeth Bar-El

Los Angeles

The writer is vice chair and student parent representative for L.A. Unified's School Construction Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee.

Sad stories

Re “Donner Party? Not quite,” Opinion, Jan. 10

Though I am glad things worked out for Samantha Dunn and her husband, I have no sympathy for her or other government employees. A 14% pay reduction because of furloughs is nothing compared with what private-sector workers have endured. While Dunn still has a decent income and probably very good health insurance, many in the private sector have lost their jobs, businesses and retirements and have to pay more for healthcare.

Please, let's not misplace our sympathy. Private-sector workers have really suffered in this recession. Government workers have not.

Christina Jacobs

Long Beach

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