For whom the homeland is secure? Its not for thee

I listen to my daughter singing a Christmas carol with her dad and wonder, is it mercury poisoning? Is that why she was diagnosed with autism?

Well, with the new Homeland Security Act, signed into law by Bush on Nov. 25, we may never know the truth. Someone inserted wording to relieve drug manufacturers of ALL product liability. It doesn’t matter if it’s a product to combat terrorism or not.

Vaccine manufacturers, most notably Eli Lilly, are facing lawsuits because they used a mercury-based preservative that could have been absorbed by children in their vaccines.

The use of mercury – the second most poisonous substance in the world – may be the cause of the skyrocketing autism rates in the U.S. Maybe that Hepatitis B vaccine given to my daughter, without my permission or knowledge, the first day of her life could have been the cause. I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want to know.

But I do know this possibility moved many families to action. It moved the federal government in 1999 to ask vaccine manufacturers to change their preservatives. It moved members of Congress to introduce legislation supporting legal recourse for families who may have been harmed by vaccines.

Sometimes the truth can only come out in court. In our society, sometimes the only way you can make a giant corporation take responsibility for its anti-people actions is to sue it. Plaintiffs who file such lawsuits usually say it’s not about the money. It’s about making sure it doesn’t happen again, about making someone accountable.

National Association of Manufacturers spin doctor Darren McKinney denied any link between the clause and the cozy relationship between corporate drug cartels and the GOP. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) – who never met a drug company he didn’t get money from – claimed the “threat of liability” would be a “barrier to our ability to protect the American people.”

Product liability has been a major bone of contention for the National Association of Manufacturers, Wall Street and far-right ideologues. Seems they don’t like the idea of the courts being a place for the “little guy” to get justice from a company whose faulty product causes death or injury. It hurts their bottom line and they think themselves above this kind of public accountability.

Speaking of accountability, it seems the GOP House leadership is ducking for cover on this. GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s spokesperson told me they are “pointing in the direction of [House Majority Leader] Dick Armey (R-Tex.) and Robert Portman (R-Ohio). They were the ones involved in the bill.” Armey, DeLay, Portman – none returned my call. The only office that did was the White House Office of Homeland Security, which gave me their slick doublespeak. “The White House did not insert the provision,” the guy said. “It’s not my job to speculate how the provision got in there.” When I asked why the President doesn’t take responsibility for the provisions that he signed into law, the guy hit the replay button: “The White House did not insert the provision … “

Armey has denied reports that he wrote the amendment at the urging of White House officials. Armey’s spokesman said it came from Sen. Frist. Frist’s aides said that while he wrote a similar provision that never passed, he had nothing to do with putting it into the Homeland Security bill.

You know – the families like mine who struggle daily with the reality of having a child with autism are connected in a bizarre way to the families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If it weren’t for those attacks, there wouldn’t be a Homeland Security Act where drug companies got everything on their wish list. So it’s pretty important how these Sept. 11 families feel about homeland security.

Tom Roger, president of Families of September Eleventh, whose daughter Jean died in the crash of American Flight 11 into the World Trade Center, told the World the amendments are “totally” inappropriate and must be removed from the law. “This is a case of politics as usual. As a group we are united in our opposition to these particular amendments. There were commitments made to strip these measures out of the bill and we hope Congress carries through with that promise.”

Donald Goodrich, a Bennington, Vt., lawyer whose son Peter died in the plane that hit the WTC south tower, denounced the amendments, telling The New York Times, “To think that they’re invoking the name of my son and all the other victims for a bill this bad, it’s really offensive. People in Washington are attaching their personal agendas and their corporate agendas to a bill that’s supposed to protect this country, to make sure that something like this never happens again.”

It is times like these that make a great majority of us wonder: for whom is Bush and company making the “homeland” secure? It’s the scary answers that push many of us into collective action.



Terrie Albano is Associate Editor of the People’s Weekly World. She can be reached at talbano@pww.org. Tim Wheeler contributed to this article.