P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism

PLA is a fair and balanced Journal published by Dwight Meredith with a Focus on Politics, Law and Autism

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Saturday, December 21, 2002
Please Give A Warm Welcome

Please let us introduce you to The Better Rhetor, a fine new blog by John Duffy. John, an English teacher at Notre Dame University, discusses politics and media issues. John has a number of very fine pieces posted concerning the Thimerosal provision of the Homeland Security Bill, Trent Lott and other issues. Please drop by his site. You will not regret it.

Thursday, December 19, 2002
Thimerosal Again

Professor Reynolds writes about the thimerosal/autism issue today. He links to this post by Dr. Manhattan. Glenn concludes:
So what we have is a conspiracy theory about something allegedly secret that was actually admitted on CNN, being done to immunize a drugmaker from lawsuits based on its doing something for which there is no compelling evidence -- or even much persuasive evidence -- of danger or negligence. Isn't that basically the story here? Or am I missing something?

Both Professor Reynolds and Dr. Manhattan are indeed missing something.

On the issue of who at the White House urged Dick Armey to put the thimerosal provision into the Homeland Security Bill, we have only a passing interest. We would like to know because we see the process of sneaking that provision into the bill without hearings, evidence or substantial debate to be an issue of good government versus bad government.

We do no think that it is necessarily wrong for parents who believe their child’s autism to be required to proceed under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program instead of directly to suit. We object to the fact that the decision was made not on the merits but on the basis of political influence and campaign contributions.

None of that, however, has anything to do with causes and cures for autism. We are interested in preventing autism and finding a cure. This is a song we have sung before and we intend to keep singing it until it is finally heard.

Both Glenn and Dr. Manhattan have indeed missed the seeing the forest. Each is quick to declare that no link between thimerosal and autism has been shown and that there is no such link. Dr. Manhattan goes on to imply that the entire issue is driven by greedy lawyers eager to bankrupt Eli Lilly.

Please allow us to state, once again, the actual status of the science in this area. The best scientific evidence to date neither proves nor disproves that thimerosal included in childhood vaccines causes autism. The causal relationship, if any, between thimerosal and autism remains an open question. It is a question we should answer though science and not through politics.

Dr. Manhattan's analysis of the evidence is superficial. It appears that he is falling into the same trap as many others. Those who want tort reform or wish to increase vaccinations fail to see the evidence of a link between thimerosal and autism. They fall into the trap of thinking that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Those that wish to blame Eli Lilly, the administration or the Republican leadership in Congress fail to see that the studies simply do not yet support a causal relationship.

Our interest is to discover what causes our son to be trapped in an autistic shell that prevents him from talking and prevents him from engaging in social interaction. Our interest is to find a prevention or cure for autism as rapidly as possible.

We hope and pray that thimerosal causes autism. We do not hope for such a result in order to impose liability on Lilly or anyone else. We hope thimerosal is a cause of autism because that will mean that the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines will now cause the incidence of autism to drop and drop quickly. We know first hand the costs in both human and financial terms of autism. We do not wish those costs on any other family.

The evidence relied on by Dr. Manhattan is weak. The Lancet study he cites is badly flawed. Wampum shows the weaknesses of that study in a post today. (Her permanent links are not working. It is presently the second post down. Please read the first post as well as it contains good news for those that seek discovery of the truth. If anyone interested in this issue has not yet figured out that Wampum is the best source on the net, please be so advised).

The MMR study cited is flawed for different but similar reasons. Neither study relied on by Dr. Manhattan was designed to determine if mercury in vaccines causes autism and neither study supports the conclusion that thimerosal does not cause autism.

The evidence showing a link is also not conclusive. The evidence consists of a number of circumstantial facts. Those facts include that the incidence of autism rose approximately 300% at the same time that the mercury exposure from vaccines also increased.

Second, the symptoms of autism arise shortly after the mercury exposure.

Third, the key to whether mercury causes brain damage may be the peak exposure of mercury in the brain. Kids who excrete mercury more slowly are likely to have increased peak levels. One factor that affects the speed at which mercury is excreted is the use of antibiotics. Kids who have been given lots of antibiotics tend to retain mercury much longer than other kids. Autistic kids are five times more likely than typical kids to have many ear infections and therefore to have been exposed to antibiotics.

Finally, many autistic kids have severely elevated mercury levels in their brains. That mercury comes from somewhere and it is not good for their brains.

Dr. Manhattan also states that the CDC does not support a link between thimerosal and autism. His information is one day too old. In Wampum’s most recent post, she reports that the Bush administration has withdrawn its motion to seal the records of the VICP records. Mary Beth also reports that:
In addition to the documents obtained through discovery from Eli Lilly, these also include unreleased confidential documents from the Centers for Disease Control stating that mercury in children's vaccines is a potential source of neurological damage in children including ADD/ADHD, speech and language delays and other neurological disorders including autism.

The governmental costs of an autistic child are between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000 per child (depending on the source you believe). One in 200 kids are now autistic. That imposes a "birth tax" on the remaining kids of $10,000 to $15,000 apiece.

Until a few years ago, the federal government was providing only $5,000,000 per year in research funding. That is a pittance compared with funding for many diseases. Now the funding (primarily through the efforts of Jim Jeffords, Dan Burton and the Clinton administration) is approximately $55 million per year. Much better but still not enough.

One of the things that Glenn misses is the role of the public health establishment. Thirty million kids were exposed to mercury at levels that exceed EPA guidelines without the FDA knowing whether or not such exposure was safe. Indeed, it appears that no one within the public health establishment even added up the numbers to determine the total mercury exposure. That is a scandal. Someone should lose their job.

We previously summed up our position as follows (permanent Link not presently available):
The people who believe that autism is related to vaccines and/or thimerosal need to take care not to allow their rhetoric run ahead of the science and thereby unduly alarm parents. If thimerosal is related to autism, the solution is to remove the thimerosal from vaccinations not scare parents into refusing to have their children vaccinated.

If the MMR vaccine poses a risk of autism, the solution is to identify the population at risk and not vaccinate those few children, not to stop vaccinations for all children.

Similarly, the people who do not believe a link is present should refrain from overstating the science. The people arguing against a vaccine/autism link seem so concerned with assuring parents of the safety of the vaccines that they are willing to ignore the risk that such a link exists.

Neither the presence nor the absence of a link between vaccines and autism has been established. The admirable goal of encouraging vaccinations is no excuse to mislead parents about the risks. Parents are capable of making informed, rational decisions if given accurate information.

We are interested in discovering the causes and possible cures for autism. Overstating the science on either side will delay that search. Both sides of the debate need to allow the science to catch up to the rhetoric. The way to speed the science is to increase research funding.

One comment to that post by WildMonk said the following:
This discussion will go nowhere fast. Both sides will cast the other as inherently cynical, money-grubbing opportunists and their own as virtuous and high-minded. I'm tired of sides, sides suck.

We could not agree more. This issue is not about greedy lawyers or about greedy drug companies. It is about kids and science. The more that politics enters into the discussion, the less focus there will be on the research necessary to find a cause and a cure.

We want to know what causes autism. We want to know how to prevent and cure autism. We want to know those things before even one more child is lost to autism.

We applaud the Bush administration for withdrawing its misguided motion to seal the VICP records. Give the maximum amount of information to the scientists and let them discover the truth. Truth is not political.

We have been fighting battles in the area of autism for some time now. So far, money and politics has always trumped science and kids. For once, we should forget about politics, blame, potential liabilities, campaign contributions and other factors. Put all that stuff aside. Forget which side wins and which side loses. Sides suck. We should simply provide the scientists with all available information and plenty of money so that they can save our children.

We Just Wanted to Write It

Recently, a friend asked why we do not include a Copyright Notice for the material posted at PLA. The friend was expecting that we, as a lawyer, would have some technical reason for not having included such a notice. The truth was far simpler. When we started PLA, we did not believe that we would have any readers much less that someone would take our writing and re-publish it without permission.

The question prompted us to start looking for copyright notices on different sites. While visiting a fine site known as Robbed By A Fountain Pen we found the following notice attributed to Woodie Guthrie:

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.

We remain unsure whether we will place a copyright notice on PLA in the future. We do, however, greatly admire Mr. Guthrie’s attitude.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Koufax Awards Voting

If you are looking to vote for the Koufax Awards click here and then scroll on down to other categories.

Count Your Fingers Update

In Count Your Fingers, we reported on the disturbing tendency of Republican leaders to renege on promises made to other Republicans.

One of the examples we used in that article concerned the selection by the families of the 9/11 victims for a Commissioner on the 9/11 Commission. That story is now complete and the Republican leadership broke its promise to the families.

The administration wanted the families of the 9/11 victims to support its proposal for an independent commission. In order to get that support, the families of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy were promised control over one of five Republican seats on the Commission.

The families were concerned that the Republican appointees would be more concerned with protecting the administration than finding the truth. By requiring one truly independent Republican appointee, the families could ensure that a majority of Commissioners would be independent of the White House and would have the subpoena power necessary to take the investigation wherever the evidence led. The families selected former Republican Senator Warren Rudman.

The Republicans recently announced their choices for the commission. Former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean will chair the commission. The five Republican Commissioners are former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, Fred Fielding, a former White House lawyer, former Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington and John Lehman, former Navy secretary. Warren Rudman is conspicuous by his absence.

The administration failed to abide by its promise to the families of the 9/11 victims.

Another example we used was the “iron-clad” promise by Republican Congressional leaders and the White House to remove certain offending provisions of the Homeland Security Bill when Congress reconvenes next year. That promise was made to Republican Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee. One of the offending provisions was a limitation of liability for the makers of the vaccine preservative thimerosal. Some contend that the inclusion of thimerosal in infant vaccines is linked to the development of autism.

The prospect of the Republicans honoring the “iron-clad” guarantee seems dimmer all the time. There are three major reasons why it seems unlikely that the Republicans will keep the promise made to fellow Republicans.

First, large pharmaceutical companies make large campaign contributions to Republican candidates and the Republican Party. The drug companies also make large “independent expenditures” that generally help Republicans. Autistic kids are not known for their large campaign contributions.

Secondly, one of the persons making the “iron-clad” guarantee was Trent Lott. MSNBC reports that Lott lacks the votes necessary to reclaim the office of Senate Majority Leader. If that is true, the new Majority Leader may simply say to Snowe, Collins and Chaffee, “you do not have an agreement with me.”

Third, one of the potential replacements for Lott as Majority Leader is Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. As Hesiod notes, Senator Frist wrote and sponsored legislation in the Senate concerning thimerosal and autism that contained language identical to the provision included in the Homeland Security Bill. Indeed, the language included in the Homeland Security Bill was almost certainly simply cut and pasted from Senator Frist’s legislation. If Senator Frist becomes Majority Leader, he seems particularly unlikely the keep the promise.

Perhaps Senators Snowe, Collins and Chaffe will consider getting a “titanium-clad” guarantee before committing to vote for a new Majority Leader. To be safe, the agreement should be in writing in President Bush’s own hand.

Faith-Based Initiative

President Bush campaigned on the issue of government funded social programs administered through local churches and charities. He described the program as a "faith-based initiative." That proposal permits charitable institutions, such as churches, to provide social services to poor people using government funds.

Mr. Bush’s proposal was part of his “compassionate conservatism” agenda. He proposed that plan precisely because it addressed the concerns of liberals and moderates that the Gingrich form of Republicanism was heartless. The proposal has stalled in the Senate. Mr. Bush, however, has used his executive powers to implement the program without congressional approval.

We have deep reservations about the faith-based initiative program. It permits churches to use federal money to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring employees. Federal oversight of the spending of federal dollars by religious organizations has First Amendment implications. We fear that the process of selecting the religious organization to receive federal funding will either discriminate on the basis of religion directly (no covens need apply, for instance) or will fund organizations of which a majority of Americans disapprove. The first time a person aided by federal funds blows up an abortion clinic out of religious fervor, the origins of such fervor may need to be explored.

Nonetheless, it appears that the idea will be implemented by Congressional action if possible and by fiat if necessary.

Given that, we think that Democrats and liberals should own this issue. The program uses federal funds to provide social services to poor people. Is it liberal or conservative to believe that the richest society in the history of the world can afford to provide a measure of assistance for those most in need? Is it liberal or conservative to believe that the worth of a person is not always measured by the market? Are those issues not bedrock principles of liberalism? Are they not also fundamental to the teachings of most mainstream religions?

With a Republican majority in both houses of Congress as well as in the White House, the choices appear to be to have faith-based service programs operated only by conservative churches or charities or to have such programs in which liberals groups also participate. Which best serves the goals of liberals and best helps the needy?

In addition to helping provide services to the least fortunate of our society, the program could also be good politics for Democrats. After the midterm elections, Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote a great article entitled Ground Level Politics. In that article, she wrote:
Real political action is always social. The primary interaction isn't between you and your political ideals; it's between you and other people. If you don't engage with your fellow citizens, you might just as well have stayed home, or joined a community theatre group.

By their very nature, the local programs to aid poor folks will be social, interactive and, therefore, political. The mixing of government money with religion in an activity that is primarily political is the main reason to oppose the plan.

If the plan is to go forward regardless of those concerns, liberals and Democrats should embrace the program, volunteer for the work, help as many people as possible and reap the political rewards for having done so.

This is an issue that may poll well for President Bush. There is probably no way to change that. On the ground, however, this is an issue that has no downside for liberals. Poor folks will be helped by provision of badly needed services. Liberals should applaud that result. The people who are personally affected by the program will not associate it with Democrats or Republicans. They will associate it with the person providing counseling or ladling soup. If that person is a liberal, faith-based initiatives will be a winning issue for liberals.

Monday, December 16, 2002
Best Series

The nominees for the Best Series are:

1) Armed Liberal on Terrorism,

2) Blah3 for the Question Mark series

3) Seeing the Forest for How they Do It

4) Zizka for KellyWatch

5) Atrios on Trent Lott (too many entries to link)

6) Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings on the D.C. Sniper (the link is to one of many posts)

7) Hesiod on Jeb Bush and the Florida Department of Children and Families

And The Nominees Are …

We have received a large number of responses both by comment and e-mail to our announcement of the Koufax awards. The nominations prove that a lot of people are doing great work for the simple joy of expressing their opinion. The quality, breadth and depth of the nominations is truly remarkable.

Before listing nominations, we need to make a few clarifications about the conditions of contest. First, as one of our more astute readers has pointed out, “Best Comedy Blog” and “Best Comedy Post” are better titled “Most Humorous Blog” and “Most Humorous Post.” Please consider that changed. “Best Commentor” refers to readers who use the comment board on others’ blogs. Nominations for people who better fit the description “Best Commentator” (Ted Barlow, for instance) have been moved to a more appropriate category.

We also have added two new categories. Those are “Best Pro Blogger” and “Best Design.”

The nominations for individual awards will be listed in separate posts below. All previous comments or e-mails will also be considered as votes. You may vote by comment or by email. Vote like a Chicago politician, early and often.

Any complaints about the conditions of contest or the list of nominees should be sent to PLA’s office at 100 Iceberg Drive, Antarctica, 99999.


The Post for Best Series is above. In response to a question, no PLA posts were included by decision of the Panel. Katherine Harris disqualified all such ballots. She said she did not have to give a reason. Arthur Anderson's accountants dissented saying that they could not discern a conflict of interest. Ken Lay said he don't read no stinkin' PLA anyway.

Best Pro Blogger

The nominees, by fiat, for Best Pro Blogger are:

1) Josh Marshall Talking Points Memo

2) Eric Alterman Altercation

3) Tapped of The American Prospect

4) Joe Conason of Salon

5) &c. of The New Republic.

Best Blog

We received a very large number of nominations in the category of Best Blog. In order to make the following list meaningful and manageable, we included on the following list only blogs that received multiple nominations:

The Nominees for Best Blog are:

1) Atrios

2) Matthew Yglesias

3) Kevin Drum of Calpundit

4) Aziz Poonawalla of Unmedia

5) Ted Barlow

6) Jeanne D’Arc of Body and Soul

7) Ampersand of Alas, A Blog

8) Hesiod of Counterspin Central

9) Max of Maxspeak

10) Brad Delong of Semi Daily Journal

11) Daily Kos

12) Jim Capazzola of The Rittenhouse Review

Best Writing

We also had a large number of entries for the Best Writing Koufax. Multiple nominations were required to make the list. The Nominees for Best Writing are:

1) Jeanne D'Arc of Body and Soul

2) Neal Pollack

3) Jim Capazzola of The Rittenhouse Review

4) Kevin Drum of CalPundit

5) Max of Maxspeak

6) Jeff Cooper of Cooped Up

7) D squared Digest

8) Jesse Taylor of Pandagon

9) Kieran Healy

10) Mattew Yglesias

11) Tim Dunlop of The Road to Surfdom

Best Post

There have been a huge number of entries for the Koufax for Best Post. That is not really surprising as there is really a lot of good stuff out there. Please click through the following list for some of the best commentary and writing on the net.

The nominees for Best Post are:

1) The Rittenhouse Review for:

Al Gore And The Alpha Girls,

Michael Novak And The Toiling Masses,

Now About that Ad, and

Chomsky as "Easy Mark"

2) Ampersand for"

Husband Battering,

Why Peanuts Kicks Garfield’s Sad Furry Ass; Follow up here,

Let’s All Oppose Anti-Semitism! (If it’s On the Left, That is.), and

Mary Daly and the Temple of Doom

3) Body and Soul for:

Reading is Fundamentalist,

Not an analysis of election results,

connections and contradictions,

educating girls, and

Continuing Thoughts of “Western” Values and Non- Western Cultures

4) William Burton for An American's Statement to the World

5) Aziz Poonawalla of Unmedia for Lanat Upon the Hirabists

6) Calpundit for:

Keynesian Economics The Sequel and

Tempest in a Blogspot

7) Ted Barlow for objective pro-saddamism"

8) Andrew Northup for Led Zep Final Exam

9) A Skeptical Blog for Happy Labor Day Weekend

10) Sisyphus Shrugged for Just a Little Rant

11) Making Light for:

The Underlying Forms of Fraud,

9/11 Anniversary, and

Ground-Level Politics

12) Brad Delong for
In The Bush Administration, Loyalty Is A One Way Street Only

13) Mathew Yglesias for Race, Politics and Progress

Best Single Issue Blog

The nominees for Best Single Issue Blog are:

1) Daily Kos

2) J.B. Armstrong’s MyDD

3) The Bloviator

4) Sam Heldman’s Ignatz

5) Jeralyn Merritt of Talk Left

6) Sullywatch

7) Social Design

Most Humorous Blog

The nominees for Most Humorous Blog are:

1) TBogg

2) Mad Kane

3) Neal Pollack

4) Andrew Northup’s The Poor Man

5) Sisyphus Shrugged

6) Oliver Willis

7) Adam Felber of Fanatical Apathy

8) skippy

Most Humorous Post

We had a large number of entries for the Most Humorous Post award. Please put down your coffee before clicking through the links listed below. Your keyboard will thank you.

The nominees for the Most Humorous Post are:

1) Neal Pollack for Ow!

2) Hesiod for What the White House Really Wants

3) Pandagon for the parody of Peggy Noonan

4) Oliver Willis for the Warblogger parody

5) Soundbitten for Word of Oaf: Bill O’Reilly vs. Ludacris

6) Leftbanker for One Man’s Garbage

7) Adam Felber of Fanatical Apathy for Fraudulent Palm Pilot Ruined My Life

8) Andrew Northrup for Iraq Will Have Pepsi Blue by 2004

Best Commentor

The Nominees for the Best Commentor (posting comments in the comment boards of other blogs) are:

1) Digby (who posts at Atrios and elsewhere)

2) Rob Lyman (who posts at Ted’s site and elsewhere)

3) Rea (who posts at Atrios and elsewhere)

4) Mark Williams who posts at PLA

5) Matt McIrvin who posts at The Poorman

Best New Blog

If you have not yet read the new blogs listed below, please click through. They are all worth your time.

The Nominees for Best New Blog are:

1) Wampum

2) NitPicker

3) Roger Ailes Not that Roger Ailes

4) Pennsylvania Gazette

5) Musings and Meanderings

6) Left in the West

7) Parting Shot.

Best Special Effects

The Nominees for Best Special Effects are:

1) Blah 3

2) skippy The only blog with a theme song.

3) Get Your War On

4) R Robot

5) Ampersand of Alas, a Blog

6) Ugga Bugga

Best Design

The Nominees for Best Design are:

1) Devra of Blue Streak

2) The Road to Surfdom

3) The Poorman

4) Ampersand of Alas, A Blog

5) Negroplease

6) Free Pie

7) Pandagon

8) Planet Swank

Please vote in the Comments or by e-mail. Vote early, vote often.