Progressive Politics, Indian Issues, and Autism Advocacy

Friday, November 29  

Talk (but not in Diné) about biting the hand that feeds you...

This story out of Navajo country, the first to test "English-only" in regards to Native American languages.

posted by MB | link | 10:53 AM |

The Truth About Squire Romolee

Hop on over to the Times editorial desk and catch this Thanksgiving piece by one of my favorite historians, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

posted by MB | link | 10:22 AM |

More on the thimerosal mystery...

The New York Times jumped onto the "whodunit" bandwagon this morning. They've dug a bit deeper than the Post, pinning the insertion of the provision to a strategy/gloat session on Veteran's Day Weekend. Still, no one will claim ownership:

One aide said the language mysteriously appeared in the House version of the bill in entirely different type than the rest of the measure, as though someone had clipped it out of Mr. Frist's legislation and simply pasted it in. Mr. Diamond said all the negotiators supported the move, but would not say who was responsible.

"If you want to give somebody credit for it," he said, "Mr. Armey takes ultimate credit. It's his bill. We are happy to wrap ourselves around it, but Mr. Armey is not a doctor, like Senator Frist. He's the source of the language."

The Times also mentions ex-Pres. Bush's tenure on Eli Lilly's BoD.

I'm honestly not surprised that no one wants to take "credit" for the provision: Spend a few minutes on any Internet forum of parents of special needs kids, and the anger, regardless of political affiliation, is palpable. As a parent in the Times article expressed, "this morning, I am ashamed to be a Republican."

posted by MB | link | 4:03 AM |

Thursday, November 28  

Still don't know "whodunit"...

But the question intrigues the Washington Post. The latest to deny involvement in what Jim Capozzola of the Rittenhouse Review calls "Lillygate" is WH Budget Director, Mitch Daniels, a former Eli Lilly senior V.P. He does sound a little Enron-esque (not surprising, as Ken Lay sat on on Lilly's BoD) when he asserted,

"I had not even heard of Thimerosal until I received your letter, which is not surprising because Eli Lilly stopped making Thimerosal a decade before I began working there and the lawsuits appear to have been filed after I left."

Of course, no one doubts Daniel's integrity...well, if you leave out that small group of IPALCO shareholders suing Daniels, claiming the company's BoD, including Daniels, misled investors about the financial condition of a dubious acquisition, which in turn led to IPALCO investors losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

That doesn't get the Administration off the hook, as sources leaked to the Post that an "official at the Department of Health and Human Services gave the final approval, a statement that HHS spokesman Bill Pierce adamantly denied."

Another possible lobbyist for the provision not mentioned by the Post is none other than Lilly CEO Syndey Taurel, tapped for a much coveted seat on the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council. And the Budget Director's door appears to be a revolving one for Lilly, as Bush Sr. appointee Deborah Steelman was hired by Lilly to replace Mr. Daniels as VP of Corporate Affairs.

Of course, the idea couldn't have come from the President himself, even though his father, G.H.W., joined Lilly's Board of Directors after leaving the CIA in 1977 (Bush was given the position by Dan Quayle’s father, who owned controlling interest in the Indiana company.) And Poppy has never been known to act improperly on behalf of Lilly...well, except that time while Vice President when he was ordered by the Supreme Court to stop lobbying the IRS on behalf of Lilly and other pharmaceuticals.

posted by MB | link | 11:01 AM |

Wednesday, November 27  

Holiday reading

Jeanne D'Arc (of Body and Soul) has a lovely suggestion for this Thanksgiving holiday (including Friday, Buy Nothing Day). She recommended picking up Barbara Cohen's book, Molly's Pilgrim, a particularly nice find for young readers (4-8). It being Thanksgiving (and I'm a lineal descendant of Samoset, also at Plymouth in 1621), I thought I'd promote a few of my own favorites.

1621: A New Look at the Thanksgiving
by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac
(ages 9-12)

Squanto's Journey
by Joseph Bruchac, Greg Shed (Illustrator)
(ages 4-8)

Nickommoh : A Thanksgiving Celebration
by Jackie French Koller, Marcia Sewall (Illustrator)
(ages 4-8)

Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition (We Are Still Here)
by Russell Peters
(ages 9-12)

All but Nickommoh are authored by local New England Indians: The Bruchacs, Marge and Joseph (siblings) are "cousins" of mine, being Western Abenaki (our family is Eastern Abenaki), and Marge and I are both products of UMass-Amherst's graduate program in anthropology. And while this is obviously a "family" plug, the books are great nonetheless.

posted by MB | link | 11:47 AM |

Is Mainstream US Media abetting Bush's Lillygate?

Just what is determined to be "news" by the major electronic media outlets in the US? Apparently its the annual pardoning of the turkey. Or the pending split between Nick Cage and Lisa Marie. Or that the MTV hit, The Osbornes, is staged.

What you will not find on the websites of the largest US news organizations, with the exception of Reuters and the New York Times, is any reference to the DOJ's request to seal the records of over 1000 plaintiffs in suits against vaccine and thimerosal producers (see below for more info.) A search of the following news sites produced these results:

Reuters - US Government Asks Court to Seal Vaccine Records AP - no coverage
CNN - no coverage
Washington Post - no coverage
New York Times - Justice Dept. Seeks to Seal Vaccine Papers
MSNBC - no coverage
ABCNews - no coverage
FOXNews - no coverage
LA Times - no coverage
UPI - no coverage
Christian Science Monitor - no coverage

So if the American public is not up in arms over the Bush Administration's efforts to suppress information on vaccine safety (or the energy industry's counseling of the Veep, or the President's SEC filings, etc., ad nauseam), perhaps its because they're not getting the (right) news.

{update} NPR's Marketplace just ran a story on the DOJ's action. Although it attempted to be "balanced", neither Eli Lilly or the DOJ would comment, so both came out looking corrupt, the epitome of cronyism. Good.

posted by MB | link | 11:43 AM |

Tuesday, November 26  

As goes Maine...

At this very moment, a drama is unfolding here in Maine, which, regardless of the small-town feeling of it all, may have very national implications. The predicament, ironically, involves a recount, pleadings to the (state) Supreme Court, and an outcome upon which the balance of power in government rests. At this moment, after a contentious recount, Democratic State Senate incumbent Chris Hall leads his Republican opponent, Leslie Fossel, by a mere nine votes. Forty-four ballots remain disputed (no hanging chad here), and the governor, Angus King, an Independent, has been ordered by the courts not to intervene. Unless the state supreme court sides with Fossel, Hall will be seated in the currently evenly-divided senate, where his vote will then be counted in the determination as to who will be certified the winner. Doesn't sound particularly fair, but its the law.

Besides the fact that a Hall victory would give Democrats control of the governor's mansion and both legislative houses for the first time since 1986, why are the political events of a small New England state so significant? It all revolves around LD 1277, a bill first introduced into the Maine legislature in 2001. The bill sailed through the House (76-54), but was held up in the Senate, which was represented by 17 Democrats, 17 Republicans, and one uncooperative Independent. This year, due to term limits and the loss in power of a moderate third party, the senate is slated to be filled by the two major parties, with one holding a majority of a single seat. So if LD 1277 makes an encore performance, and its expected it will, it has a very probable chance of passage in both houses of the legislature. And although not veto-proof, it will be up to Maine's new Democratic governor, John Baldacci, to decide whether to thwart the will of his party and decline to sign it into law.

So why is LD 1277 such a big deal? It would establish Maine as the first state to institute a single-payer health care system.

Now, no one can honestly declare Maine a hotbed of radicalism. In fact, Maine's a pretty balanced place, in both the political and social domains. We have two female Republican Senators, two male Democratic Congressmen. As I mentioned, our state senate is so evenly divided that three weeks after the election, we still don't know who will be the majority party. Our governor for the last eight years has been an Independent. The most coveted endorsements are from the League of Conservation Voters and the Sportsman's Alliance. Voters generally support reproductive and gay rights, but from the old Yankee mantra that government should stay out of people's bedrooms, not due to any truly revolutionary reasons.

And ironically, the impetus for LD 1277 sprang from a grassroots coalition of progressive groups and their seemingly unlikely ally, small business associations. The Maine People's Alliance website now offers downloadable worksheets for small business owners to calculate their savings under the proposed single-payer plan. In the recent gubernatorial race, Green Party candidate Jonathan Carter won a surprising 11% of the vote by directly appealing to small business owners to support his call for single-payer health care. Last year, voters in Portland, Maine's largest city (and my hometown), approved a universal health care referendum, despite a local health insurance provider's campaign which outspent consumer advocacy groups by over 50-1. And while national right-wing talking heads (a la former Bush speechwriter David Frum), savage Canada's single-payer system, its telling to note that Maine shares its borders with three Canadian provinces (versus one US state), affording Mainers more day-to-day contact with our northern neighbors than most Americans. Not surprisingly, we don't hear a level of grumbling which would put us off the notion. In fact, it seems the opposite is true, as more and more Maine seniors cross the border for another benefit of a single-payer system, cheaper prescription drugs.

Let's face it: Maine, like much of the country, is confronted by a health care crisis. The uninsured rate here rivals the national rate of 16%. In Maine, like the nation as a whole, that's only part of the story. In addition to those who have no insurance at all are an equal number of "nominally" insured. These are families struggling to make the COBRA payment until their baby is born; the self-employed who settle for an "in case your arm falls off" policy with huge deductibles and limited coverage; or one of the 50% of Mainers who work for a small-size employer facing skyrocketing premiums: Where the choice every month for owners is to lay off workers, or discontinue coverage.

In Maine, most businesses are made up of employers with less than 50 employees. According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, 96% of all Maine employers are deemed "small businesses" of less than 50 workers, and they employ half of all Maine wage earners. But as of a 1999 MECEP survey, only 69% of Maine's small businesses offered their employees health coverage, and of those who did, either half of the employees did not qualify due to hours worked or their dependants were not covered. Nearly a third of those who qualified declined coverage. Although many employees cited their spouse's coverage as a reason to decline, survey respondents speculated that at least one in five employee declined due to premium cost. And with insurance rates increasing at an average of 15-20% per year, its clear that premiums will only go up and the ability for small businesses to offer coverage at all will decline. Those who are "nominally" insured will join the ranks of the uninsured.

The single-payer debate is really a non-issue for the elderly, disabled or chronically poor: These groups have been covered under single payer programs, i.e. Medicare and Medicaid, for decades now. And for the most part, no one who is covered has been asking to radically change it, other than to expand it to include a prescription benefit. The debate may not even be an issue for the working poor, as more and more states, like Maine, extend their children's (single-payer) health plans to cover entire families. Under Maine's current program, a family of four with a gross income of $27,000 (200% of the poverty line) can still qualify. And, although right-wing pundits would decline to agree, its not a sop to unions, as heath care benefits have always been a high priority at the bargaining table.

What Mainers, and now Al Gore, have come to understand is single-payer health care is now a middle-class, baby-boomer/x-gen-Xer, soccer-mom and -dad issue. With family premiums rivaling (or surpassing) mortgage payments, even the self-employed and small business entrepreneurs with incomes approaching six figures cannot afford to ignore giving single-payer coverage more than a passing glance. And by convincing current single-payer (Medicare/Medicaid) participants that opening the pool to everyone only protects their benefits by having a majority of the population invested in the program, its easy to see voters, and their elected officials, favoring a single-payer program.

So what of the segment of workers (generally those employed by larger corporations) content with their current healthcare coverage? My position is to let them keep it. With over half the population in the single-payer pool, risk will still be spread thin enough. And as single-payer proves itself, it will eventually pull off more of the corporate clientele. Employees who choose to move around will find it less cumbersome, and employers will no longer have to be the gate-keepers of their employees health care, approving or denying coverage for conditions they know nothing of, becoming intimately involved in the most personal aspects of their lives. Not bound by budgetary constraints of unpredictable cost increases, companies will have more financial flexibility. According to the Maine People Alliance, the program proposed in LD 1277

would have a governing board that is either elected or appointed with public accountability. It would operate with a much lower overhead than current insurance companies because it will not have stockholders or CEO salaries included as a part of the operating expenses. The Maine Care board would have the ability to negotiate cost control with health care providers in our state because all Mainers are insured under the same plan. We could use the negotiating power of nearly 1.3 million people to get the best deal possible for everyone in Maine...a Universal Single Payer Health Insurance system, would reduce insurance costs for everyone and provide health care to all.

It would be good for business, and good for people.

Pundits have asked, somewhat rhetorically, if Al Gore is nuts or a mad genius. I personally think that he's just acquired a bit of old-fashioned Yankee common sense. Let's hope he can convince the country of the old saying, "As goes Maine, so goes the Union."

posted by MB | link | 6:52 PM |

Monday, November 25  

People never cease to amaze me, and for the most part, I mean that in a good way. Take for instance the outpouring of emotion, mostly anger and frustration, over the thimerosal liability provision in the HLS bill. I would have expected families of autistic kids to rant and rail (and we did): But never did I expect the same from politicians such as Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi, as well as an array of journalists in both print and electronic media (including a new editorial this morning in the New York Times by Bob Herbert). From bloggers on the web to friends on the street, the outrage has been clear and unrelenting.

And whereas often in the past, parents of effected children have been portrayed either as well-meaning but delusional or sacrificing of the "common-good" by undermining confidence in vaccines with unsubstantiated gobbledegook, this time, the wrath of the masses fell not on the families, but on those who would attempt to circumvent full-disclosure by giving or receiving a cool million in campaign donations. And for the most part, dueling hypotheses of autism causation remained in the background, where they belonged. The debate had moved beyond whether or not vaccines caused autism, and medical professionals and epidemiologists smartly shelved their arguments of parental hysteria and fantasy.

For the most part, that is. Last week, Dr. Marie McCormick, of Harvard Medical School and a senior editor of numerous reports on vaccine safety for the Institutes of Medicine was questioned thusly by Wolf Blizter regarding vaccines and the recent upsurge in autism cases in California.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this doctor. If it's not these vaccines, what possibly can cause this huge increase in the number of autistic cases, especially in California, as we've just seen?

MCCORMICK: Well, I don't think the California experience is unique. There are now two quite substantial and authoritative reviews in literature by two quite well know figures in the field that really believe as part of this, and a good part of this, is changing diagnoses on autism.

The collective gasp from the parents of autistic children at that point must have been deafening. Did McCormick not know of the recent study from UC-Davis/MIND Institute which disproved that hypothesis? What about the subsequent report to the California Legislature, which emphasized,

There is no evidence that loosening in diagnostic criteria contributed to an increase in the number of children with autism. The Regional Center designation of full syndrome autism, CDER status 1 autism, closely matched DSM-IV criteria for autism, and this did not change over time. (88% of the 1983-85 cohort met DSM-IV criteria compared to 89% of the 1993-95 cohort.) In addition, no differences over time were found in comparisons of the number of criteria met within specific components of the ADI-R. There is no evidence that a loosening in the diagnostic criteria has contributed to increased number of autism clients served by the Regional Centers.

One must assume that McCormick, an authority on vaccine safety, was well aware of the UC-Davis study. The question remains why she chose to ignore it. I can't ascribe intent to her obfuscation of the facts. But it did lead me on a circuitous quest to establish the veracity of other statements made during the interview. Over the next few days I'll elaborate what I learned on my journey.

{addendum} Seems more medical professionals have resumed their old ways, and by merely calling for more research and open dialogue, we parents of autistic children (note to self, trademark that) may be responsible for future plagues. From Bob Herbert's discussion forum at the NYTimes:

The parents who are convinced their children's routine vaccine series were somehow responsible for their subsequent development of neurological disease may be right. But they probably aren't. And by discouraging other families from completing routine vaccination for their own children, the controversy they have created will likely cause the injury and death of far more innocent children.


Eric L Beyer, MD, FAAP

posted by MB | link | 11:41 PM |

Saturday, November 23  

Today's tidbits

Some middle-of-the-night satire at the expense of Eli Lilly by Mike Argento.

Speaking of Eli Lilly, pop on over to the Rittenhouse Review for an exceptional (and often humerous) essay on our favorite pharmaceutical. (Apparently, they (Eli Lilly) like us (and PLA) too, as they've been visitors to our sites in recent days.)

Its a good day for Indians and archaeologists (and those of us who are both) when dregs like these are caught red-handed.

Although I'm a bit behind the trend, I finally made it over to TheSpark to take the gender test. The determination, with unabashed certainty, was that I'm male. Bzzzzzzzt. And I swear I answered truthfully.

posted by MB | link | 4:52 PM |

Out of the frying pan...

And into the fire. But definitely not into the lake. Or stream. That is, for fish in Maine, as those bodies of water are the most mercury-laden in the country. And that's not just the conclusion of Maine's granola-eating, Birky-wearing environmentalists: The Maine Department of Environmental Protection website warns,

Mercury levels in Maine fish, loons, and eagles are among the highest in North America. This has led the Maine Bureau of Health to issue a statewide advisory recommending that pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and young children limit their fish consumption based on the type of fish they consume. The advisories have been in place since 1994 and remain in effect today because mercury levels in fish have not decreased. Currently 40 states, including Maine, have fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination.

And according to EPA's 1997 Mercury Study Report to Congress, coal-fired power plants are the largest source of human-caused mercury air emissions in the U.S. Of course, the impact of Mid-West pollution is not only felt among Maine's wildlife; the state's human residents pay a huge price as well. It is estimated that 100,000 Mainers, or 10% of the population, suffer from chronic lungs disease and emphysema. Maine has the highest rate of asthma among children in the US. The PPH quips Maine has "earned the nickname "America's tailpipe" because an estimated 70 percent of the state's air pollution blows in from other states" mostly from coal-burning Mid-Western electric utilities.

The Clinton Justice Department attempted to address the core issues, by bringing suit against 51 inefficient power plants which had been "grandfathered" in under the 1970 Clean Air Act. Under the Act, older plants were only required to meet stricter air-quality requirements when they expanded or modernized. The plants attempted to get around the legislation by claiming such modernizations were "routine maintenance". Two of the companies settled, agreeing to reduce emissions at 18 of its coal-burning plants.

In its typical approach to undermine environmental legislation, the Bush Administration ordered a review of regulations in May, 2001. Ostensibly, this was to "remove certain ambiguities" concerning what actually was meant by "modernization".

Yesterday, the Administration released the results of that review, and Maine's Attorney General (and my neighbor) Steve Rowe immediately announced Maine would join nine other Northeast states in a suit against the EPA to prevent the new rules from taking effect, declaring that Maine residents would be greatly harmed by the proposed changes.

In the press release accompanying the new rules, EPA director Christine Whitman eluded that the policy changes, among other things, aims to curb litigation. However, in this case, its not the "trial lawyers" who are the litigious ones, but her own agency and the Justice Department. She also argued that it would "offer facilities greater flexibility to improve and modernize their operations in ways that will reduce energy use and air pollution", by essentially removing all the rules established under the Clean Air Act meant to safeguard plant modernization.

Tragically, this not only means Maine's emergency rooms may be seeing an increase in asthma attacks, but that the much-hoped for decrease in autism rates with the removal of ethyl-mercury from vaccines may never occur. Unlike ethyl-mercury, the body of research supporting the neurotoxicity of methyl-mercury, the kind found in "acid rain", is generally undisputed. And with a 1:175 rate of autism, significantly higher than the CDC's national estimate of 1:250, more mercury is probably not what Maine needs right now. Although Eli Lilly might see it as unpredicted, but not unwelcome, fallout from the Bush Administration new policies, as impending epidemiological studies fail to implicate Thimerosal in the current "epidemic" of autism. Muddying the waters, so to speak.

{Humorous aside} From my partner: How does a Mainer check the temperature? With a trout.

posted by MB | link | 7:32 AM |

Friday, November 22  

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

An excellent article providing a wrap up of the events surrounding Thimerosal/HLS appeared in yesterday's SF Gate. While most of the news was disheartening, it made passing reference to legislation which may be the best hope for parents of children possibly harmed by mercury in vaccines.

Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project, a small group based in Vermont that was created by the Tides Center of San Francisco, said some Republicans are talking about changing the statute of limitations for filing claims under the vaccine compensation program from three years to six years.

The legislation Bender is referring to is HR 3741, a bill introduced by Reps Burton (R-IN) and Waxman (D-CA), to "amend the Public Health Service Act with respect to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program." While not perfect, HR 3741 goes a long way in addressing the current obstacles families of children possibly harmed by Thimerosal face by extending the statute of limitations from the current 36 months to 6 years, and providing a one-time "grandfathering" period of two years for all injuries which occurred prior to the 6 year limitation. The bill was introduced in February, 2002, and is currently in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Feel free to contact the committee members to urge them to address this bill in the 108th Congress.

Another high point yesterday was the press release dispatched by the Democratic leadership. Senate Majority Leader Daschle and House Minority Leader Pelosi issued a statement announcing their intent to keep this debate alive for those families pursuing redress through the courts:

Daschle and Pelosi Commit to Remove Special Interest Provisions from Homeland Security Bill

Washington, D.C. -- After a meeting in the Capitol late this afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Democratic Leader-Elect Nancy Pelosi vowed today to remove egregious special interest provisions in the Homeland Security bill. To prevent three members of their own Republican party from joining with Democrats to remove the bill's worst provisions, Republican leaders promised to eliminate three of the most outrageous provisions they had added. Daschle and Pelosi said one of their first actions in the 108th Congress would be to introduce legislation that would remove the provisions.

It appears the Democratic leadership understands that this is not just an issue for the 100,000 families whose children developed autistic spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disorders during the decade of increased Thimerosal use. Many more parents are now skeptical of the current Administration and Republican Congressional leadership's commitment to protecting American children. Another example of this is mercury contamination of fish. Again from the Mercury Policy Project website (an excellent resource I'm adding to my permanent links):

Recently obtained information from the Food and Drug Administration reveals a seafood mercury monitoring program severely lacking in thoroughness, depth and degree. The report says that although FDA is charged with protecting the public from mercury-contaminated seafood, by its only admission, FDA no longer conducts a monitoring program for tuna (canned, steaks, and sushi), shark or swordfish.

You can read its entire report, entitled "The One that Got Away", here.

posted by MB | link | 4:54 PM |

Thursday, November 21  

Dean in '04? Ndatta, say the real locals
Since outgoing Vermont Governor Howard Dean will probably be getting good press (and blog) in this, his "honeymoon" period, here's a hint as to why you won't find many Indians lining up behind him. You can read (and hear) more about his mistreatment of some of my Vermont Abenaki cousins here, here and here. This should also explain why I'm adding a link to a satirical blog on Dean.

Dean might want to be a bit concerned regarding the not unsubstantial population of Abenakis in New Hampshire (also not recognized.) And the majority are, like most Indians, Democrats. Its surprising what a difference a few hundred votes here and there can make in the crowded New Hampshire field, especially with neighbor John Kerry and tree-hugging Al Gore as probable contenders.

{clarification} "Tree-hugging" is a complimentary term in this context.

posted by MB | link | 4:58 PM |

I take it back

I said yesterday that I was going to stop blogging on the Thimerosal/HLS issue for a while, but this blurb in a Washington Post article raised my ire a notch:

One provision in the homeland security legislation, Democrats say, will lead to the dismissal of hundreds of lawsuits filed against the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Co. by parents who believe a mercury-based vaccine additive caused their children's autism. At least four senators, including three Republicans, agreed on Tuesday to vote against a Democratic proposal to strike down the provision after Lott assured them that their concerns would be addressed early next year. But aides to House Republican leaders, including incoming majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), said today that their bosses had made no commitments.

I called Senator Snowe's office a few minutes ago, and, with a voice oozing molasses, read the poor staffer the offending paragraph and asked if the Senator was aware of the mercurial (no pun intended) behavior of the House Republican leadership. No, the Senator had not heard of Delay's retraction, and yes, the Senator was in fact assured that the provision would be removed, not just "revisited". I haven't yet pounced on Collin's office (I've always like Snowe better anyway), but that's next on my agenda.

I now think that its necessary to develop a strategy which maintains constant pressure on my Senators, at least until the first appropriations bill of the 108th Congress is passed. Maine's a small state media-wise (just a handful of newspapers and television markets), so keeping the issue alive shouldn't be impossible. Feel free to email WampumBlog if you want to help in this endeavor.

posted by MB | link | 4:55 PM |

Wednesday, November 20  

I'm following PLA's lead and this will be my last post on thimerosal and the Homeland Security Bill, unless its revived again in the 108th Congress. The WSJ, in its typical corporations-first approach, published this editorial on the subject. An eloquent and heartfelt response appeared in this morning's Schafer Autism Report:

To the Wall Street Journal

Politicizing Facts

As a parent of an autistic child, I was shocked at how many "facts" the editorial "Politicizing Vaccines" left out (WSJ 11/18/02). Taking the attitude that anything that slows down the Republican (and drug industries) agenda is unpatriotic is like saying "Think like me, or the terrorist have won!"

Although it is true that Thimerosal has been used for over forty years, the amount of Thimerosal a baby is exposed to has increased a great deal in the last two decades. In the early eighties children received a handful of shots. Now children are required to receive almost 20 shots before they begin kindergarten.

Mysteriously, the rate of Autism has skyrocketed in the same period of time. The official (conservative) estimate has gone from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 500 children in that same time. Many in the medical community have tried to brush this off as better diagnosis, but a recent study out of UC Davis showed that diagnostic criteria can not explain the increase in autism.

The other fact that was overlooked is that Thimerosal is about 40% mercury. It wasn't a Democratic plot that got the CDC to recommend the removal of Thimerosal. Someone finally did the math and realized that they were giving babies nearly 5 times the maximum dose of mercury for an adult, and there is no safe dosage for a baby. It is also a fact that the many of the symptoms of mercury poisoning and autism are the same. Thimerosal is used as a preservative in vaccines. I am sure the drug companies can come up with something that is not a poison to replace it.

I am not saying that Thimerosal caused the increase in autism. The fact is, the studies have not been done yet. But saying the drug companies need not be responsible for their product is putting our heads in the sand. Are we willing to sacrifice corporate responsibility in the name of homeland security?

Economic factors are more responsible for the slowdown in vaccine manufacturing. There just isn't enough money in vaccines the drug companies no longer own patents to. Blaming the parents for the slow down in vaccine manufacturing won't help, although with 1 in 500 kids being diagnosed with autism, there are a lot more of us.

Arnold Patscott, Father of Stuart, Chicago, Illinois

While I do agree with Dominion's assessment that the thimerosal debate has now been heavily politicized, I don't necessarily agree that we'll probably never reach a scientific conclusion regarding its association with developmental disorders. Even the NEJM study on MMR has not been received as the final word, as a number of medical professionals and scientists have made substantial findings based on medical, not epidemiological/statistical, research. A recent Harvard Medical School/Mass General study of 400 subjects, which supported earlier findings of Andrew Wakefield, will be expanded in coming years.

And its not clear that, even with the strong-arm tactics this Administration employs, debate regarding thimerosal will be completely quashed. Rep. Dan Burton, R-IN, has compelling personal reasons to keep the issue alive, and according to his own letter to his colleagues, entitled "Facts and Fiction about Thimerosal in Vaccines",

An internal HHS document produced to the House Government Reform Committee during its investigation into vaccine safety described what it referred to as a “weak signal” in its data linking thimerosal to neurological disorders:

“Preliminary screening of ICD-9 codes for possible neurologic and renal conditions following exposures to vaccines containing thimerosal before 3 months of age showed a statistical association for the overall category of neurological developmental disorders
and for two conditions within the category, speech delay and attention deficit disorder.”

As a scientist, I have not made up my mind as to the merits of the thimerosal arguments. However, prior to the recent debate and the anti-litigation provisions in the Homeland Security Bill, we had decided to wait for science to catch up before taking any action. But now, with the three year clock on filing to the NVICP quickly running out on our eldest son, now almost 4.5 years, we've been propelled into action. Somehow I doubt that was the intention of the provision's proponents, whoever they may be (since that is still in debate, with no one taking due credit for slapping around autistic kids.)

Signing off on this issue for now, unless, of course, we see some indications of "Thimerosal-Gate".

posted by MB | link | 12:03 PM |

Tuesday, November 19  

Were Maine's Senators Snowe-d?

From UPI this afternoon:

Moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine, said they voted against the amendment after being given an "iron-clad" assurance from the Republican leadership that the most controversial measures would be stripped from the bill before money for the new department would be approved.

Collins said a special working group will focus on three issues: allowing people who believe they have been injured in the past by vaccine additives to sue; limiting the right of off-shore companies to participate in homeland security contracts; and opening up the competition for the new research center to many universities.

"We have an iron-clad assurance from Minority Leader Lott, House Speaker (Dennis) Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Leader (Tom) De Lay (R-Texas), and the White House that this will happen," Collins said.

"Iron-clad assurances" and $2.50 will get you a latte at Starbucks. Collins is a major beneficiary of pharmaceutical dollars and its hard to imagine that this is anything more than a sop to pesky parents and environmentalists. I guess we'll see in January. Stay tuned.

{update} Already it seems there is hemming and hawing over exactly what was agreed to before votes were cast. According to an interview on CNN, Collins and Snowe reported that they had received phone calls from Hastert and DeLay, moments before their votes were cast, promising "that the first appropriations bill of the 108th Congress would reverse [the] provisions." Within the same segment, CNN reported,

"Lott told reporters he had made a "commitment" to make changes to the provisions, but the details of how and what would be changed were not immediately clear. "We will work with senators on both sides of the aisle and the House to make some corrections and clarification," Lott said.

On the House side, a spokesman for DeLay said "no particular action was agreed to" and that DeLay had indicated he would address "improvements" next year.

Must have been static on that line...."Can you hear me now?"

posted by MB | link | 12:01 PM |


This morning I awoke with a heavy heart, as last evening, I had received an email from CAN (Cure Autism Now) which opined,

"In an eleventh hour maneuver, the House suddenly amended the Homeland Security Act with a rider that makes it impossible for families who believe their children were neurologically damaged by non-essential mercury based additives in vaccines to sue for civil damages --- even in cases of fraud or criminal negligence.

In light of growing scientific evidence that thimerosal --- delivered by injection during infancy in quantities far above the recommended safety levels --- may play a part in the growing autism epidemic, the Senate and House need more time, information, and debate before they can make the right decision. Therefore, Cure Autism Now supports the Lieberman-Daschle amendment, which removes this issue from the Homeland Security Bill. However, we do not expect the amendment to pass."

I scoured the news this morning, only to learn that Republican-in-Democratic clothing Zell Miller of Georgia was the one sure Democrat vote the White House had secured to defeat the Lieberman-Daschle amendment. Mary Landrieu, whose re-election has yet to be decided due to Louisiana's run-off law, was also on the fence, as was, for whatever reason, Ben Nelson of Nebraska. I knew that black-sheep John McCain, always the populist, had crossed the aisle and promised his support for the amendment, but I held out little hope that, despite my calls and emails to my own moderate-Republican Senators, few others would join him. Imagine my surprise when less than an hour ago, I came across this bit in the NYTimes, speculating

"despite a last-minute push by Republican leaders to gain support to defeat the amendment, including telephone calls from President Bush, at least three Republican senators, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, said tonight that they had not made up their minds..."

I flew to the phone, figuring that my lady Senators were due a little more urging. If you have the time, feel free to call Collin's office in Portland (her Washington office is closed) at (207)780-3575. Her staff was very cordial, even empathetic. Maybe there's hope.

The vote on the Lieberman-Daschle amendment is scheduled for 10:30 this morning.

posted by MB | link | 12:00 PM |

Sunday, November 17  

Following the trail...to cronyism

The Washington Post yesterday gave us another clue as to who was originally behind the "thimerosal indemnification provision", as Dick Armey admitted he slipped in the language at the request of the White House. And although limits on product liability and malpractice have been in this president's sites for some time, one would think that something as obscure as thimerosal would miss the radar of the executive who openly dismisses the importance of details. So has the pharmaceutical industry been lobbying hard on this issue, or is there someone directly whispering in the President's ear? The answer may lie at the feet of Mitch Daniels, the White House Budget Director. According to OpenSecrets.org and other sources, prior to his joining the Administration, Daniels hailed directly from none other than Eli Lilly, where he assumed the post of senior vice-president of corporate strategy and policy in 1997.

{update} Obviously California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman is on top of the issue, as Friday, he asked Daniels (as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson) to provide records of the Bush administration's input into the effort.

posted by MB | link | 11:51 PM |

More science, less politics, please

Perhaps in light of the thimerasol controversy which has overshadowed passage of the Homeland Security Bill last, there has been a great deal blogged on the speciousness of the link between autism and the vaccine preservative thimerasol (which is 50% ethyl-mercury by weight). PLA addresses these concerns adeptly, and aptly points out, and I concur, that the argument belongs to science, not politics.

The issue is a very hot topic in autism research, and its important to point out that although thimerasol has been used in vaccines since the 1930s, it was only given in doses which exceeded EPA guidelines more recently, within the past 15 years. In addition, it was only since the implementation of the HepB and HIB vaccine protocols in the early 1990s that thimerasol was used in neonatal immunizations. Thus, research on this subject is still very much in its infancy, and the jury is not only out, it hasn't even been seated yet. But progress is being made, both in epidemiological and medical studies. IMFAR, the International Meeting for Autism Research, conducted its annual meeting in early November, and a number of studies investigating thimerasol and mercury were presented. Below are abstracts from two, also found at in the program's abstract listing. While only small pieces in the autism puzzle, both studies prove that in spite of Republican assertions that thimerasol lawsuits are "frivolous", serious research is being conducted which may one day determine if mercury toxicity is a factor in some cases of regressive autism.

C. Holloway, J.B. Adams, M. Margolis, X. Liu, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-6006

The cause of autism is unknown, but there are suggestions that mercury and other heavy metals play a role in its pathogenesis. A case-control study of 50 children with autism and 50 age- and gender-matched controls was carried out to investigate the possible link between mercury and autism. Some of the highlights of the study include: 1) Maternal consumption of seafood during pregnancy was an important risk factor for autism, presumably due to mercury in the fish. This was consistent with higher levels of mercury in the hair of mothers of children with autism compared to the control mothers. 2) Children with autism had 5x as many ear infections as the controls during their first three years of life, so they also had 5x the exposure to oral antibiotics. Oral antibiotics have been shown in rats to increase the half-life for excretion of mercury from 10 days to over 100 days. 3) A detailed hair analysis of toxic metals will be discussed. Overall, the data suggests that children with autism were exposed to higher levels of mercury, and that they had a decreased ability to excrete mercury due to oral antibiotic use. Since mercury is a known neurodevelopmental toxicant, leading to symptoms similar to autism, our data suggests that mercury poisoning could be an important factor in exacerbating and/or causing many of the symptoms of autism. However, larger, more-controlled studies are needed to test this hypothesis.

M. Hornig, D. Chian, and W.I. Lipkin. Center for Immunopathogenesis and Infectious Diseases, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY 10032.

Increases in reported cases of autism spectrum disorders are ascribed to broader definition of the disorder, altered case ascertainment, or pre- or postnatal exposure to environmental factors such as microbes, stress, or toxins. Specific concern is focused on the possibility that ethylmercury in the vaccine preservative, thimerosal, results in aberrant brain development and behavioral features reminiscent of autism in immature, susceptible hosts. Early postnatal administration of thimerosal using doses and timing that mimic the childhood immunization schedule induces mouse strain-specific effects on weight gain, locomotor and exploratory activity, stereotypic behaviors, and size of CA regions of hippocampus. SJL/J mice, a strain with heightened sensitivity to autoimmune disease, show the most prominent behavioral and neuropathologic effects. In this strain, male gender is associated with a more severe outcome. C57BL/6J mice demonstrate an intermediate phenotype, and BALB/cJ mice have minimal deficits. These findings suggest that brain architecture and function may be altered in genetically susceptible hosts following postnatal thimerosal exposure, and support the utility and relevance of this model as a tool for identifying genetic and maturational factors underlying vulnerability to toxin-induced CNS injury and understanding the pathogenesis of human neurodevelopmental disorders.

posted by MB | link | 11:45 PM |

Saturday, November 16  

Its rare when issues which seem so unconnected are found to be inextricably intertwined. When WampumBlog was first published last week, little did I know that two of its components, politics and autism advocacy, would be in that position. Sadly, indigenous issues also provide an addendum (or more accurately, a prequel) to the drama which is playing out under the guise of the Homeland Security Bill. But with so much going on, its probably best to break the news down somewhat.

Senate Democrats find a spine

From this morning's Charlotte Observer (among many others - obviously a newsfeed story):

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted decisively Friday to force final action on a major homeland security bill, but Democrats charged that the fine print contained needless breaks for drug companies, airport security screeners, offshore tax evaders and even Texas A&M University.
. . .
But the bill also contains seven GOP-favored provisions that have drawn scathing Democratic attack.

Three of them concern liability protections for businesses.

For instance, drug companies that make mercury-based vaccine preservatives would win special protection under language inserted into the bill within the past week.

Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said the provision would undermine pending lawsuits that claim such preservatives have caused autism in children.

It is expected that all Democrats (even Breaux and Landrieu?) will vote to strip the bill of these provisions, with hope that some Republicans will join their ranks. Sen. John McCain has already signaled his intentions to do so, and so one would trust that other moderate Senators, such as Snowe, Chafee and Collins, would do the same. Here's a list of Senators' web sites and contact info. Start calling and emailing if you want these provisions removed.

Anyone warn the AMA yet?

Oblivious to the possible financial fallout of alienating a very wealthy constituency, the Republicans shifted the possible responsibility for consumer protections from production to distribution. As reported in the Detroit News,

Richard Diamond, a spokesman for retiring House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, lead sponsor of the homeland security legislation, said the provision affects pharmaceutical companies beyond those who made Thimerosal and does have national security implications.

Diamond said that under the provision, if an ingredient is listed on a vaccine label, the manufacturer cannot be held liable for something that happens as a consequence of the ingredient. It's up to the physician prescribing the vaccine to weigh the dangers involved, he said.

What next? Are Republicans going to start blaming parents for not reading the ingredient labels of the vaccines?

A Brat-Pack flick in the making?

It could have been a script for a teen-angst movie; de facto leader of the geeky underclass sells out his roots to play ball with the big boys, then finds himself left out of the Homecoming Game. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who touted himself as an axis-building moderate who forged the original Homeland Security bill, found out the hard way that, after all was said and done, he was just being used. In this Hartford Courant analysis, Lieberman was excluded from amending his own bill, because he "was not part of a group of Democrats that stepped up and said they were considering voting with us," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., the panel's top Republican. In other words, we knew that if we told him what we were planning on doing to his bill, he would have publicly balked and it might not have passed. I hear Rob Lowe will be free for the part come April.

And that tragic prequel...

An excerpt from this book on the HepB vaccine by Judy Converse appeared in a recent Schafer Autism Report. It referenced a letter by a John Hoffman which "notified the National Indian Brotherhood in Ottawa, Canada with concerns about a death in a human trial of the vaccine. Hoffman was from The Bell of Atri, a "public interest organization concerned with health, science, and public policy". In his letter, Hoffman quoted physicians working for Merck and the CDC as they nervously mention, in their June 1981 meeting of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biologics Committee, "a sudden death as we have had in our vaccine study within seven hours of receiving hepatitis B vaccine...it makes us a bit uncomfortable"... The doctors go on to gingerly state, according to Hoffman, that one dead Native North American shouldn't stop licensure." The book also asserts that Native Alaskans were used in vaccine trials without informed consent. Now there are a slew of anti-vaccine books on the market, many of which merely are there to make money off the fears of parents, but any reference to the abuse of indigenous peoples for medical research always piques my interest. Time to gather more info on such allegations (always good to make sure we're not being doubly exploited.)

posted by MB | link | 11:38 PM |

Friday, November 15  


An interesting article from Arkansas which sheds more light on my post yesterday regarding the impact of Indian participation in elections.

* * * * *

Buried in the Media Notes section of the Washington Post was an astounding revelation on a topic near and dear to many Mainards' hearts, single payer health care.

"On a stage in a synagogue on New York's Upper West Side Wednesday night, Gore made this stunning announcement to several hundred people in response to a question from the event's host.

"Gore suggested he was hesitant to reveal his position at this forum – but then declared that he had come 'reluctantly' to the conclusion that single-payer is the best solution to the nation's health insurance crisis. He offered no details for what kind of system he would favor, or how he would propose transitioning to such a massive change."

During the 2001 legislative session, the Maine House of Representatives passed LD1277, a bill establishing a single-payer system. The bill died in an evenly split state Senate, but the issue certainly hasn't gone away. Last week, Green Party gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Carter walked off with a surprising 11% of the vote campaigning strongly on a single-payer platform. While the idea may not have taken hold in the rest of the US, with the probability of a complete sweep of state government by Democrats, LD1277 will be back this year. Thus, to hear Al Gore even tepidly endorse the idea certainly makes me warm to his potential candidacy.

posted by MB | link | 5:44 PM |

Fish or Foul?

More on the vaccine litigation riders which Republican House members snuck into the Homeland Security Bill. This morning's Washington Post reported:

Lawyers for parents of autistic children suing pharmaceutical companies over childhood vaccines charged yesterday that a new section in the homeland bill -- passed on Wednesday by the House and now before the Senate -- would keep the lawsuits out of state courts, ruling out huge judgments and lengthy litigation. Complaints, instead, would be channeled to a federal program set up 14 years ago to provide liability protection for vaccine manufacturers. The program, funded through a surcharge on vaccines, compensates persons injured by such vaccines, to a maximum of $250,000.

Its important to note that the statute of limitations for filing to the national vaccine injury fund is 3 years from the time symptoms first appear. Since it often takes years for a diagnosis of autism, and still more time to make the mental connection to a possible source or event, most parents would not be able to utilize this venue for compensation should it ever be determined that vaccines were(are) culpable.

I'm also curious about the government's double standard when it comes to warnings of mercury ingestion. The FDA is adamant about the possible risk to fetuses and young children posed by their or their mother's consumption of fish, but will not even consider the risks posed by mercury in vaccines and other drugs. Actually, I should say that the FDA was adamant; the present administration has added a caveat to its fish consumption websites that "*FDA is in the process of re-evaluating this information and will update this advice as new information becomes available." Should we expect another Cheney task-force, this one with pharmaceutical interests, where administration policies are vetted to make sure they pass a litigation litmus test?

I want to emphasize that we don't claim to know what, if anything, other than genetics and bad luck, can be fingered in the autism of our own sons. But why the rush to head off an open and objective investigation into the effects of thimerosal?

{update} I added a link under "Info" on the sidebar for the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) for those interested.

{update2} I did a little more digging regarding the FDA's position on ethylmercury, and found this an abstract pointing to an interesting article in the May 2001 issue of Pedatrics which, as one can see, was carried out by the FDA researchers.

Pediatrics 2001 May;107(5):1147-54
An assessment of thimerosal use in childhood vaccines.

Ball LK, Ball R, Pratt RD.

Division of Vaccines and Related Products Applications, Office of Vaccines Research and Review, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Foodand Drug Administration, Rockville, Maryland 20852, USA. balll@cber.fda.gov

BACKGROUND: On July 7, 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Public Health Service issued a joint statement calling for removal of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, from vaccines. This action was prompted in part by a risk assessment from the Food and Drug Administration that is presented here. METHODS: The risk assessment consisted of hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, and risk characterization. The literature was reviewed to identify known toxicity of thimerosal, ethylmercury (a metabolite of thimerosal) and methylmercury (a similar organic mercury compound) and to determine the doses at which toxicity occurs. Maximal potential exposure to mercury from vaccines was calculated for children at 6 months old and 2 years, under the US childhood immunization schedule, and compared with the limits for mercury exposure developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, the Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization. RESULTS: Delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions from thimerosal exposure are well-recognized. Identified acute toxicity from inadvertent high-dose exposure to thimerosal includes neurotoxicity and nephrotoxicity. Limited data on toxicity from low-dose exposures to ethylmercury are available, but toxicity may be similar to that of methylmercury. Chronic, low-dose methylmercury exposure may cause subtle neurologic abnormalities. Depending on the immunization schedule, vaccine formulation, and infant weight, cumulative exposure of infants to mercury from thimerosal during the first 6 months of life may exceed EPA guidelines.

posted by MB | link | 5:12 PM |

Thursday, November 14  

Who says we don't count?

Newly re-elected Senator Tim Johnson knows that he has "The Ridge" to thank for putting him over the top in his nail-biting win over Rep. John Thune. Johnson, down by 700 votes soon after polls closed, was in the black by over 500 soon after the results from South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation came in. And despite Republican claims of voting irregularities, Thune conceded yesterday, a respectable move to head off a possibly brutal recount.

In the race for Oklahoma governor, Democrat Brad Henry beat Republican Steve Largent by fewer than 7,000 votes, in a state where over twice that number of Indians were newly registered. You can read more about these races in this SF Gate article.

This year's results mirror those in 2000, when Maria Cantwell narrowly defeated the much-despised Slade Gorton in Washington's Senate race, providing for the surprising 50/50 Senate configuration. Here in Maine, Indian participation provided the needed votes in the 2nd CD, handing Al Gore 4 electoral votes versus 1 (we spit our electorals here.) Thus, although we may make up less than 2% of the national population, we're proving to be pretty mighty. Oh, and we vote 98% Democrat, so DNC, don't forget that.

posted by MB | link | 5:07 PM |

Corporate Security Bill?

Despite the best efforts of Democratic-nemesis-but-autism-advocate Dan Burton (R-IN), Republicans, under the guise of the "Homeland Security Bill", have shown their true stripes when it comes to choosing between guarding the profits of huge corporations and ensuring the safety of young children. From this morning's NYTimes, it was reported:

The bill would allow immunity from liability for companies that make faulty antiterrorism devices or technology, and would make it difficult to sue companies that make smallpox vaccinations if the vaccines cause illness.

In one last-minute addition, Representative Dick Armey, Republican of Texas, inserted a provision that was apparently intended to protect Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical giant, from lawsuits over thimerosal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative that some parents contend has caused autism in their children.

"I'm really quite surprised they would put in the fine-print provisions we never saw in any other versions, that never even went through committees," said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee."

But Republicans, like Representative William M. Thornberry of Texas, said the additions were minor and paled next to the importance of creating a department to protect the nation's safety.

I guess that speaks for itself. Fortunately 121 members, mostly Democrats, voted against the bill, citing its new provisions.

posted by MB | link | 5:03 PM |

Wednesday, November 13  

Not much to write today. Spent the day knee-deep in special education policy papers and statistics, trying to get a better grasp on the twenty-five-plus years since IDEA went into effect. Ugh. One thing for sure is that Maine certainly defies current reform-minded ideology that the ranks of special ed are swarming with minorities; that resource rooms are seen as an escape hatch for poverty (code word for African-American/Latino/American Indian)-induced behavioral problems. Maine is (officially) 98% white, and while its true that African-American and Latino Mainards are twice as likely to be identified as needing special services, their numbers still barely make a dent in the state's special ed numbers. Current ideology also argues that special ed numbers directly reflect the neonatal effects of prematurity, which such proponents then lay at the feet of the poor and promiscuous young. But teenage birth rates have decrease dramatically in Maine, and you're just as likely to have your neonate's incubator next to the middle-class parents of in-vitro-conceived multiples as you are a 16 year old waif. I know this from experience. More tomorrow.

posted by MB | link | 5:02 PM |

Tuesday, November 12  

Two kids back to school, one sick on the couch watching Monsters, Inc., and one asleep in the swing. Ah.....

Lunch today is a powwow with another Democratic hack, an attempt to brainstorm ways to get the Party back on track. Part of the problem, if you want to call it that, is Democrats are generally succeeding here in Maine, both in promoting traditionally Democratic values and getting our members elected. Even our Republican Senators are as liberal as they come (there are always whispers that they might "pull a Jeffords" if pushed.) Maine's prescription drug plan is in front of the Supreme Court (its always a good sign when you're sued by the pharmaceuticals), Portland overwhelmingly passed a non-binding referendum on single-payor health care, the state legislature and Blaine House are overwhelmingly occupied by Dems, public financing of elections has survived two election cycles, and Westbrook slapped its right-wing, homophobe native son by upholding its newly-enacted anti-discrimination measure. Maine's early intervention services (birth to age 5, versus to age 3 in all other states) have given us everything we've requested for both our autistic boys. If you ignore the looming budget deficit, things seem pretty good here on the range.

Oh, yeah, that budget deficit, both on the state and federal level, it is a problem, isn't it? Bob Herbert, in this week's NYT's editorial noted that "conservatives have long reasoned that the only way to destroy popular programs that actually help ordinary Americans (Social Security, Medicare and so on) is to starve the government of the money needed to pay for them." So while Maine conservatives may have lost the war to derail their state's move towards the populist center, they may then look to their federal level counterparts to achieve what they cannot. Denying full-funding for IDEA is one step in that direction, particularly in light of the MMA's proposed Citizen's Initiative to shift 55% of the cost of funding education to the State, including 100% of growing special education costs. Fifteen percent of Maine's education budget is currently targeted at meeting its special education obligations, and currently only 14 percent of that amount is reimbursed by the federal government under IDEA. And while the population of children receiving special education services is decreasing, the number needing more intensive and expensive services is increasing, e.g., the number of autistic children in Maine, mirroring the national epidemic, has more than doubled, from approximately 300 in 1999 to more than 700 in 2001.

So the question on my mind today will be, how do we as a state maintain our progressive pattern in the face of slash-and-burn tactics of federal conservatives?

posted by MB | link | 5:01 PM |

Monday, November 11  

Last day of a three day weekend. Also known as Purgatory for parents of special needs kids.

My first post was eaten by my attempt to publish it. Must not have read the directions properly. Seems to happen too often, leading to the handlebars on the bike pointing backwards, or a call into Cnet for a new motherboard. This time it was just my thoughts, fortunately not as expensive. This is my second try. If it shows on my page, I guess I'm not as lame as I thought.

posted by MB | link | 5:00 PM |
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