Sunday, March 08, 2009

POLITICS AS USUAL

Virginia has always had a special place in my heart. Although I grew up in Louisiana, I was born in Virginia, and spent many happy days visiting my grandparents up there. That’s why it hurts a little to find out their politicians play the same games that are played elsewhere. I always hoped they were above that sort of thing in the birthplace of presidents.

Over at Autism Online Today, Curt Linderman posted a couple of items out of the Old Dominion State that unfortunately rove that things are just as bad there as anywhere else

Like many states, there are efforts afoot to pass legislation to mandate health coverage for autism treatments. To get passed, however, the bill first has to be reported out of the subcommittee to which it was assigned. A convincing argument for the bill was put forth at a hearing, and the subcommittee’s response ⎯ or to be more precise, their lack of response ⎯ was breathtaking.
After what Lansdowne resident Pat DiBari called 45 minutes of “testimony and great questions and dialogue back and forth” there was “absolute silence” from the eight present subcommittee members, he said.

“Nothing. No action. Zero,” DiBari said Tuesday evening. “They chose not to vote. Families are stunned, outraged, disappointed, you name the emotion.”

The Delegate who introduced the bill, Republican Bob Marshall, was every bit as angry as the parents who are counting on the bill to have a chance of helping their children:
In a statement released Feb. 4, Marshall said the lack of action on the part of the subcommittee was a “display of complete indifference” and said he had told the members of the subcommittee who were present that “silence is not a morally acceptable response to this situation.”

Of course, state legislatures are not the only battle ground these days. Much is going on in the halls of Congress. I am planning to write more about that in the very near future, but for now, we’re just going to talk about the kind of representation Virginia is getting in Washington.

Again from Autism Online Today, we have a letter from Rep. Robert Wittman to a constituent who expressed concern about the plans to yet again run away from the idea of funding studies to determine whether the rise in ASD might be at all connected to the most sacred cow in the public health system. The Congressman’s letter is quoted here in its entirety:
Dear Friend:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and the Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I value your views on the important issues facing our Commonwealth and the Nation.

As you know, the IACC coordinates ASD-related research within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The IACC also promotes federal and public collaborative efforts through public forums, educational initiatives and public outreach programs.

As you may also know, the IACC does not have a dedicated research program on vaccines and autism. The IACC noted limited funding resources and inconclusive scientific evidence as an important factor in this decision. You may be pleased to know, that the IACC proposed to pursue autism and vaccine research through existing research programs. I am committed to continuing the effort to review emerging scientific data concerning vaccines and autism.

I want you to know that on the judiciary front, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled on February 12, 2009 that childhood immunizations containing Thimerosal, a preservative found in some inoculations and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, are not linked to autism. The court noted that scientific evidence from medical studies conducted in various countries have failed to demonstrate that Thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to immune dysfunction, autism or gastrointestinal dysfunction. For more information on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims' ruling, I encourage you to visit the court's website at: http://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/node/5026.

Additionally, as Congress considers the funding levels for FY2010, please be assured that I will keep your views in mind as the House of Representatives considers funding for autism research in the FY2010 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill.

Thank you again for sharing your views and opinions with me. I am committed to serving you to the best of my abilities. If I can ever be of assistance to you or your family, please do not hesitate to call me at (202) 225-4261 or contact me online at: www.wittman.house.gov.

Sincerely,

Robert J. Wittman
Member of Congress
www.wittman.house.gov

The whole point of there being a federally funded study into the issue is to at least try to avoid the conflicts of interest that make everyone so wary of “existing research programs.” It’s hard to tell if Rep. Wittman understands that. He clearly doesn’t want to actually have to discuss the issue. He would rather issue letters that are the written equivalent of a pat on the head and an “off you go.”

Condescension has been elevated to an art form in American politics.

I sometimes think back to an experience I had in Louisiana many years ago. I got one of those newsletters put out by my representative in the State Legislature, which solicited my opinion on a number of issues. On at least one issue (it’s been long enough that I don’t even recall what it was), I had a very sharp disagreement with the stated position of this particular Representative. I noted that disagreement in the form, and mailed it back.

A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from the Representative, who was calling from the floor of the Legislature during a lull in the “action.” We spent nearly 20 minutes in a very honest exchange, discussing the issue. By the end of our conversation, we both maintained our original views, but I felt as though I was dealing with someone who was willing to listen to the complete reasoning behind disagreement so he could re-examine his own views, as well as show the moral courage to face disagreement and fully explain his own reasons. A guy who didn’t have my vote when he first ran had it when he was up for reelection. Unfortunately, his honesty did not play so well with the rest of the district, and he lost his seat to someone who was more willing to play the “politics as usual” game.

On other occasions when I have let elected officials know my views, the responses I have received have been along the lines of what our friends in Virginia are now getting: either silence or condescension. Maybe it’s time we make it clear that we expect more. We always talk about that, but we never take the time to back up our views. We need to make it clear to our elected officials that we will no longer allow them to cop out. They should not fear losing our votes if they express honest disagreement, for they will surely lose those votes anyway if they run away from discussing the issues with those who put them into office.

I expect to write more about this kind of issue in the future. In the meantime, remember to maintain an air of decorum and respect when communicating with your elected officials (such as Rep. Wittman). To turn the tide, we must be taken seriously, and that means expressing your opinions in a serious and sober manner.

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