It's been quite the year, eh? Let's face it: We've reached the point where our government's failures -- to regulate financial institutions, protect the environment, avoid pointless wars and read the Constitution with comprehension -- are crashing into each other like cars on a foggy California highway. And the wreckage is still piling up -- crash, bang, boom! -- with no discernable end in sight. The moment of truth came for me when John McCain aired an ad in which he said, in these words or close, "Things haven't gone so well the past eight years, have they?" When the designated successor to the president of the United States says that, the verdict is unanimous and non-partisan.
This is not a political issue -- Age of Autism took no position in the presidential campaign, drawing some irritation from both sides, and we would be just as hopeful and eager to offer advice if John McCain had won. The real issue is that at this moment almost nothing touched by government -- or its inexcusable absence -- is working. People are actually paying the United States Treasury to hold onto their money, the last safe haven this side of a mattress.
On other fronts, things are just as bad. Brad Pitt is doing a better job of rebuilding New Orleans than the feds. After showing up for the party a week late, FEMA put folks in formaldehyde containers (oops, I mean temporary trailers) and their CDC buddies covered up the fallout. The politicization of science reached the point where the feckless Julie Gerberding's testimony to Congress on global warming was chopped to bits by the administration to minimize the health effects. (Even when the CDC tries to tell the truth, it can't.)
The governor of Illinois is a crook, and a dumb one at that (and a Democrat). The people in charge of our financial system, our car companies, our decision to attack Iraq and our occupation afterwards, have all blown it. Many of them have admitted as much, or at least blamed each other, which to a betrayed citizenry is a distinction without a difference.
The FDA has crumbled into institutional ruin and is risking our lives -- its own advisory committee says so. It can't protect us from gunk in milk, lead in toys or manifestly unsafe drugs like Vioxx. A lot of ideas that inexplicably seemed good at the time have turned out predictably bad -- having drug companies pay the FDA to consider new drug applications (you can thank Bill Clinton for that); taking down the Berlin Wall between consumer and investment banks so they could gamble with grandma's money and slice and dice your mortgage into oblivion.
And it's all going to get worse before it gets better. You thought the last eight years didn't go so well? The next eight months are going to make this look like our salad days -- at least, that's what President-Elect Obama says.
Amid all this rubble caused by the failure of the United States government to function competently -- to do the job we're paying it for -- we are asked to take it on faith that one pillar is still standing straight, strong and true. That would be the vaccine-development complex, the hydra-headed monster consisting of asleep-at-the-switch regulators, germ-phobic CDC martinets, clueless state public health officials, avaricious drug companies, and their protectors and benefactors in Congress and the administration and the media. Despite the eyewitness testimony of thousands of parents, despite the lack of any other probable cause, despite the decline in children's health and the rise of autism, asthma, ADD, ADHD … despite all that, all is well.
Like little children in Sunday School, this we know because Paul Offit and his ilk in and out of government and private industry and academia (what's the difference?) tell us so. Yes, and people with similarly august imprimaturs and affiliations said it was certain -- beyond rational dispute -- that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; that letting banks function as investment houses would be no problem; that there was no scientific evidence whatsoever Vioxx killed thousands of people when it was marketed as yummy treats for achy athletes rather than last-ditch treatment for severe arthritis.
I can't tell you how many times I've sat and listened to folks bemoan the state of the world, then turn on a dime (all some of them have left!) when it comes to defending the mad campaign to stick every baby full of genetically altered recombinant Hep B virus on the day of birth, to shoot up every one-year-old with needless, shingles epidemic-triggering chickenpox vaccine, to mix more and more live viruses without a clue as to what they do ... shall I stop now?
Might as well. None of that matters to them, because while we now agree that GM Presidents Are Idiots, CIA Directors Are Toadies, Investment Bankers Are Greedy and Reckless, nonetheless Doctors Are Valiant and Scientists Are Smart and Public Health Officials Are Wise. Always. They act in the interests of their patients and the public and the truth -- and they are immune to the catastrophes of self-dealing, myopia, sheer ignorance and incompetence that have beset us on every other front.
Why be so harsh to all these nice people who are just trying to help? Can't we all just get along?
No, we can't. What matters is not being nice. What matters is telling the truth while the truth still matters. Wouldn't it have been better if Congress got tough two decades ago on all those people running GM into the ground; wouldn't it have been kinder, karmically speaking, for the media to have yelled louder, longer and sooner about the paltry evidence for going to war in Iraq? Being nice is not the be-all and end-all in a democracy. As Patrick Fitzgerald said, sometimes it is necessary to try to interrupt a government crime spree as urgently as possible.
What too many people still don't get is that the public health debacle triggered by the vaccine-development complex is on a par with, and parallel to, these other meltdowns.
We're looking at the same kind of catastrophe and the same kind of consequences in the financial markets and New Orleans and Iraq and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the safety studies conducted by Merck and company; it's a ditto, not a different universe. The autism enablers are down to their last act, raging like a dying King Lear against the ungratefulness of the vaccine-protected herd instead of facing the reality of the neurological havoc they are wreaking.
So the fight over what happened to these kids is not a fight in isolation, nor is it a fight over the past. As Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist writing in the new Vanity Fair, puts it in discussing the roots of the financial disaster: "Behind the debates over future policy is a debate over history -- a debate over the causes of our current situation. The battle for the past will determine the battle for the present. So it's crucial to get the history straight."
I hope we are about to get that history straight and, in this hour of reckoning, realize the vaccine-industrial complex is the Lehman Brothers of public health. It's bankrupt. It just doesn't know it yet.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism