Wednesday, August 31, 2005

COLUMN -- Put brakes on taking of private property

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:52 AM |  

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Drainage ditches are not the most appetizing of breakfast conversation topics, but attempting to digest the affects on Minnesota of the hard-to-swallow Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the fare fit the bill.

My breakfast companions were Lee McGrath and Nick Dranias, attorneys for the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter. The institute represented homeowners in the Kelo case in their fight against eminent domain and the transfer of their property to a private developer. In a controversial 5-4 decision and refusal to rehear the case, the Supreme Court bounced the issue of eminent domain for "redevelopment" back to state legislatures and state courts. Minnesota may see action on both fronts.

After Kelo, proposals were introduced in the special session to restrict government use of eminent domain in Minnesota. Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, and Rep. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, are drafting a three-pronged approach that would prohibit the transfer of private property to another private party via eminent domain; prohibit the use of any state or local taxpayer dollars for economic development projects involving eminent domain; and require that profit from lands purchased by government for "economic development" be returned to the original seller.

"With this Supreme Court ruling, the ball is now in our court on this issue," Vandeveer said.

The ball's not only in our allegorical "court," but also in our state courts. In an article in the August issue of the Minnesota Bar Association's "Bench and Bar," Dranias writes that the history, language and structure of the Minnesota Constitution strictly limit the power of eminent domain to redistribute private property.

"The split decision in the Walser case (in which Richfield condemned private property and transferred it to Best Buy for its corporate headquarters) did not definitively resolve interpretation of eminent domain under the Minnesota Constitution," Dranias said. "It's time to address the unanswered questions."

Judicial uncertainty is more than an interesting legal debate. As McGrath points out, officials in New Brighton are "misusing eminent domain" to condemn a small business owner's land for high-end condos. In Champlin, an elderly couple who have lived there for 28 years face condemnation because their home is, in the mayor's words, on "prime real estate" for luxury condos, a restaurant and a marina.

Property owners adjacent to the Jefferson Smurfit property near Loeb Lake in St. Paul, whose family has held title to the land since 1905, are under threat of eminent domain as the city determines (noted in a neighborhood letter from council member Lee Helgen) "how to enhance the neighborhood." So the City Council can "assess redevelopment opportunities" presented by this private property, it passed an ordinance prohibiting homeowners on the land from making improvements to their properties.

Is this the historical concept of eminent domain in Minnesota? Not so, Dranias said. He makes his point by tracing the concept of eminent domain in Minnesota from clear limits set forth in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to the "flexible" definition of "public use" interpreted broadly as "public purpose" used to justify eminent domain abuse today — which brings us back to drainage ditches.

In 1915 Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have permitted condemnation of private property to create private drainage ditches. By doing so, the people rejected the idea, as courts had a few years earlier, that private property could be taken simply because there was an indirect benefit to the public.

"People today have lost that sense of how fragile democracy is," Dranias noted. "In voting down the 1915 constitutional amendment, the people recognized the potential for eminent domain abuse. The authors of the Northwest Ordinance recognized the potential for abuse."

Dranias challenges judges and legislators alike to embrace the original meaning of "public use" and carefully scrutinize "public necessity."

"If this is done," Dranias said, "we can stem further eminent domain abuse in Minnesota."

Westover is an Afton writer who blogs at E-mail him at Westover's daughter was an intern at the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter this summer.

Category: Column,

Monday, August 29, 2005

Minnesota hasn't given this much away to Florida since Super Bowl VIII

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:14 PM |  

Governor Jeb Bush Taps Yecke for
Florida K-12 Education Position

[For Floridians looking to evaluate their new Chancellor of Education, my column and interview with Cheri Yecke are found here and here. ]

Yecke leaves sixth district race

Blaine—Cheri Pierson Yecke today announced that Florida Governor Jeb Bush has invited her to play a lead role on his education team. Yecke will end her Sixth Congressional District bid to help implement Governor Bush’s reform agenda.

“I am honored to have been asked by Governor Jeb Bush to be such a significant part of his education team,” said Yecke. “It is therefore with deep regret that I announce that I will no longer be a candidate for Minnesota’s sixth district Congressional seat.”

“I will be forever grateful to the many people who have given me support in this congressional race. The volunteers and delegates who have worked for me, and the donors who have sent financial support, have served to create a strong and dynamic campaign. However, the opportunity to work for Governor Jeb Bush on an issue for which I am so passionate is an honor I cannot pass up.”

“The accomplishments of Governor Bush’s administration in the area of student achievement hold national significance. For example, since 1999, the percentage of black fourth grade students reading at grade level has increased from 23 percent to 56 percent. It is obvious that the Bush team is making significant progress in the area of academic achievement, and I am looking forward to being a part of that effort.”

“As I leave Minnesota for Florida, I look back on the educational accomplishments of the Pawlenty administration and am honored to have been a part of that effort,” said Dr. Yecke. “Repealing the Profile, creating new, rigorous academic standards, and establishing the state’s first comprehensive system of school accountability is a legacy of which to be proud.”

According to Governor Tim Pawlenty: “Florida is fortunate to have Cheri Pierson Yecke coming on board to lead their K-12 reform efforts. Her leadership in Minnesota provided strong and rigorous academic standards and the first ever statewide accountability system for schools.

“Dr. Yecke has a strong appetite for change and reform and has never been afraid to challenge the status quo. We are confident she’ll do great work in Florida.”

Dr. Yecke concluded: “There are a number of very strong and honorable candidates seeking the endorsement of the Republican Party in the sixth district. I wish each of them well, and am confident that the delegates to the convention will make a good decision to ensure that Congressman Kennedy’s seat remains in Republican hands.”

Yecke will start her new position in Florida in early October.
Kennedy v. The Machine adds --
As a footnote to this story, KvM can tell you definitively that not only does Cheri Yecke stand to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education should there be another vacancy during Bush’s second term, but that she will certainly serve in such a roll if one of the 2008 frontrunners for the Republican nomination, Senator George Allen, should achieve the presidency. Yecke served a senior role in Allen’s Education Department in the 90s and would do likewise during a would-be Allen Administration.[I wouldn't be surprised.]
Update:Republican Minnesota is the best source for following this story. My take on Yecke for Floridians looking to evaluate their new Chancellor of Education is found here and here.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Let "Saint Paul" do it

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:09 PM |  

I read the article "Blog Brings the War Home" on the independent war coverage of Michael Yon in the Star Tribune and was going to blog about it. But I reconsidered, for I knew there was someone that would do it better.

Brian “Saint Paul” Ward did not disappoint.

From its MSM perspective, the Strib concluded that new technology was changing the way war was covered. But isn’t that same technology available to traditional media sources? Brian raises the more pertinent question --
The real curiosity of this story isn't the new technology allowing greater information to get to the public. It's why the old technology (newspapers) have stopped providing it and have largely shirked the duty they once eagerly accepted.

Even Michael Yon's sterling reporting isn't a new thing. War correspondence has a proud tradition in journalism. Reporters like Ernie Pyle lived and fought and sometimes died, side-by-side with our soldiers (read some of his WWII columns here). They provided the kind of first-person, day-to-day accounts of the war the folks at home need to really understand what is at stake and how we're faring.

For whatever reason, the newspaper monopolies of today no longer provide that kind of coverage. Instead of Ernie Pyle, we have the likes of Hannah Allam, the Knight Ridder Bureau chief, getting plaudits for her reports of the war (which she files in between getting manicures and singing karaoke). And when the going got really tough, she left, only then expressing concern that perhaps she wasn't giving a full picture of what is going on in Iraq. (No word on whether that means she's returning her Knight Ridder Journalism Excellence Award.)

Yet Allam's brand of war correspondance is still considered unassailable truth by most of her colleagues in the press.
Case in point, I give you the immediate criticism directed at Pioneer Press Associate Editor Mark Yost for his column on MSM coverage of the Iraq war and then a sudden curtailment of any meaningful discussion of the issue. The Strib quotes a respected MSM source --
As [Yon's] story finds an instant audience on the Internet, Paul Grabowitz, director of the new media studies program at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, says blogs are permanently changing war coverage.

"It's much easier, obviously, for a freelancer to publish information that they've gotten for a story, whether text or photos or whatever," he said. "And it's not like somebody standing on a street corner passing out flyers that they mimeographed of 'My thoughts on the war in Iraq.' The Internet has lent credence ... to people who are independent, being part of the sort of mix of coverage of an event. ... I don't know how far that's going to go."
Brian takes Grabowitz apart.
Anyone reading Yon's work knows it is anything but "easy" for him to publish his information. Beyond the physical risks he's taking daily by operating in a combat zone, he has no institutional resources to rely upon. He pays for his own travel and equipment and relies upon his own journalistic instincts and ethical code alone for the accuracy and quality of his reporting. In truth, what he's doing is more difficult than the work assigned to any MSM reporter in Iraq. And he's still far out performing them all.
Brian does an outstanding bit of analysis -- but then maybe he just has better technology available that the Strib.

Beyond thimerosal -- A question of arrogance

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:45 AM |  

A bill passed by the New York state legislature, similar to the bill that died in committee in the recent Minnesota legislative session, is on Governor George Pataki’s desk awaiting signature or veto by August 30th. Below is an alert issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics calling on its members to urge Gov. Pataki to veto the bill.

The AAP alert is interesting; it follows the form of the arguments made against the Minnesota legislation. It reflects both arrogance and a somewhat frightening proposition that individuals ought to surrender “informed consent” to government mandated programs established for their own good. Note that nowhere in the alert is there an expressed concern for the safety of any individual child. Collective benefit is “good” that takes priority.

From the AAP:

Contact Governor Pataki Immediately and Urge him to Veto the Thimerosal

Bill A.5543/S.2707 which is based on pure junk science and would implement bad public health policy. Please click on the link below that will take you to a prepared letter to be sent directly to the Governor. We at the AAP District II believe this bill is bad for our patients and bad for all New Yorkers, so please act now.

As a pediatrician in New York, I urge you to veto A.5543/S.2707. This legislation represents very bad public health policy that is based on junk science and mass hysteria, not on the evidence of science.
I have never been one that is overly complimentary of legislators, but the implication of the alert is that the New York State legislature was taken in by bill proponents; either they are stupid, or the issue is so complex that only people like the memo’s author can make judgments about what is, or is not, junk science and bad public policy, although the case for either is not made. But this is just the first hint of the arrogance to come.
This bill, designed to protect individuals from alleged adverse effects of thimerosal which contains ethyl mercury, is completely unnecessary. To legislate based on fear and misinformation is an anathema to those of us who work tirelessly for the health and welfare of our communities. To enact this legislation implies that the vaccines that have virtually eradicated many diseases, constituting one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the past century, are dangerous. This bill denigrates our informed scientific and medical communities while supporting all of the anti-vaccine factions in our society. This legislation potentially jeopardizes our most vulnerable communities.
There is a fallacy and an attitude in this paragraph that are found throughout dismissals of the thimerosal controversy. The fallacy is that because the vaccine program has accomplished great goods (which it certanly has), it is ipso facto impossible of creating great harm. This fallacy extends itself to the concept that if some immunization is good, then more (and more) must be better. The safety of that objective is secondary to its achievement.

The attitude is that questioning the fallacy denigrates science. The major concern thus far expressed in the memo is not vaccine safety, but the good name of the medical community, the purity of its intent and the worthiness of its objectives.

Vaccine formulations that are either thimerosal-free or have only trace amounts of thimerosal are currently licensed for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All recommended childhood vaccines are already thimerosal-free. Influenza vaccine with greatly-reduced thimerosal content is already licensed and available for use in young children and pregnant women. And most importantly, despite the headlines in the media, there is no evidence that thimerosal is harmful.

Update: A reader emails that claiming there are no longer childhood vaccines containing thimerosal may be a false assumption. Some manufacturers, he asserts, did not get FDA approval to begin manufacturing thimerosal free versions until 2003 and 2004. That would mean that any vaccines they produced in 2003 and even as late as early 2005 might contain thimerosal. The email notes -- "I have heard many stories of parents who are told there is no mercury in the shot their child is about to get, and when asking to see the insert, the nurses and doctors act shocked to see that they were wrong. "

This same point was made to me by a physician, citing the Johns Hopkins' Institute for Vaccine Safety as her source.

Returning to the AAP alert --
This legislation would abolish the use of thimerosal-containing vaccines in children under age three and in pregnant women, except under specified declared exceptional circumstances. In the absence of influenza vaccine shortages, this is a non-issue. Should we again experience influenza vaccine shortages and face an issued exception to this rule, families are likely to believe that vaccine is dangerous (for why else would there be such a law?) and refuse such immunization.

These paragraphs expose an element of this controversy that extends beyond the thimerosal issue; government health agencies have lost sight of individuals and are focused almost exclusively on the safety of the herd. “Informed consent” is a non-issue. So are any market-force checks and balances on vaccine safety. To question safety is unacceptable. To refuse immunization is not just ignorant -- it is selfish in that it endangers the herd.

In addition, our vulnerable adult populations should receive influenza vaccine each year to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. This legislation suggests that the vaccine they receive is dangerous.
If one goes back to last fall’s flu vaccine shortage, prior to the shortage everyone was urged to have a flu shot. During the shortage, we were reassured that only the most vulnerable required such shots and others should not get the shot so there would be supplies for the most vulnerable. Then suddenly we had excess shots available and everyone was again urged to get vaccinated. At that point, many did not and vaccine had to be destroyed. The message changed to fit the capability of the government program to provide vaccine.

Again, individual health was not so much the concern as the health of the vaccine program. In fact, extension of the flu vaccine program and government control of prices is a likely culprit in recent shortages.

To allow fear and misinformation to jeopardize the robustness of our immunization efforts, particularly around influenza, does our public health efforts a disservice, endangers our children, families, and communities, and is ill advised.
Case in point. The danger as the AAP sees it is a danger to “our immunization efforts,” not a concern for individual safety. It does “public health efforts a disservice.” This is not the sound of government conspiracy; it is the voice of arrogance. Questioning safety does not endanger children, families and communities. It only endagers a program that cannot provide satisfactory responses to questions of safety.

Update: From a reader email --

That [attitude toward biomedical treatment] isn't going to change until someone studies our kids, especially kids like mine who regressed after vaccinations and got better on biomed/chelation, and some reputable, brave journal actually prints it. I have tried to talk to my own pediatrician about it, and he gives me kudos for all [my child's] progress, but says he is not going to make any changes in the way he assesses and referrs until he hears different from the AAP. "I figure that they are a hell of a lot smarter that I am".

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Tobacco Companies Take Minnesota To Court Over "Fee"

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:49 PM |  

Read it!

David Kirby on chelation

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:55 PM |  

Sou’wester tip
to Adventures in Autism

David Kirby, author of "Evidence of Harm," which reports on the controversy surrounding the use of mercury-based preservative thimerosal in childhood vaccines comments on the death of a boy in Pennsylvania undergoing chelation treatment.

Noting that nearly four years ago, the Institute of Medicine recommended research into chelation therapy and autism, but that it never happened, Kirby provides his view on the boy's death (which is more informed speculation awaiting more definitive information) before returning to his main theme, which is indeed worth noting.
Which brings us back to the IOM recommendation of 2001. The committee assigned to look into thimerosal (the mercury containing vaccine preservative) noted that some autism practitioners report “clinical improvements following chelation.” And though the committee said that chelation “is not a benign treatment,” it nonetheless recommended “careful, rigorous, and scientific investigations of chelation when used in children with neurodevelopmental disorders, especially autism.”

That report was issued on October 1, 2001, nearly four years ago. But few paid attention to the recommendation, and no one did the hard science on chelation. This left parents and doctors flying half-blind in pursuit of chelation -- not out of “desperation,” but out of strong evidence their children had suffered from mercury exposure.

Just think, if the government had listened to the very IOM report it commissioned back in 2001, we might know a lot more about chelation and autism than we know today. If clinical trials had gotten underway then, we would know with certainty whether chelation could heal, or kill.

If hard scientific proof had been uncovered that chelation was 100-percent worthless in the treatment of autism, no parent or doctor would still be pursuing the therapy today. If evidence had surfaced in clinical trials that children could be harmed or even killed by chelation, no one would be using it today. The doctor in Pennsylvania would have halted chelation therapy long ago, and this poor grieving family would never have crossed the ocean from the UK in pursuit of its false promise.

But what if the opposite were true? What if the “rigorous science” recommended by the IOM had yielded proof that chelation can indeed help some kids -- provided that it’s done with the safest agents, at the safest doses, and through the safest routes of administration (not to mention in combination with other therapies)?

Either way, if America had done its scientific homework, as recommended by its top science professors, Abubakar might still be alive today.

If chelation is quackery that kills, let’s outlaw it today. But if it can be done safely, with demonstrated clinical benefit to some autistic patients at a minimum of risk, then it should be approved by the FDA for the treatment of autism.

Does chelation in autism kill or cure? Only hard science will answer that question. What a shame we have wasted four long years not finding out.

Kirby's outsider's insight reflects the same emotional insight expressed by the mother of an autistic child in the update to this post.

This is what is so frustrating to many -- the insistence by government health agencies that there is not enough merit in the mercury theory to warrant any further research, which defies both anecdotal observation and theoretical and laboratory science done by independent researchers that, while not conclusively proving a link between mercury and autistic symptoms, creates a growing body of supportive evidence.

Underlying the thimerosal controversy, we have two groups arguing a scientific point, Government health agencies use the might of their resources to prove the thimerosal hypothesis false while parents and independent researchers push the scientific envelop, risking their hypothesis in search of answers. Would that the government health agencies did the same.

Garbage in, garbage out

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:38 PM |  

I’ve had this in the to “to post” file for a while. The news is somewhat old, but the point is always relevant -- government just can’t simply tax its way out of financial problems. Case in point -- Ramsey and Washington counties have taxed their way into a kind of black market in garbage. Excepts from the Pioneer Press
Ramsey and Washington counties on Tuesday decided to cut the "tipping fee" they charge to garbage haulers by 13 percent, in hopes of stemming a decline in trash being taken to their garbage-processing mill . . .

Last year, the mill processed about 355,000 tons of garbage, but at the rate waste is being trucked to the facility now, the annual total could dip as low as 320,000 tons this year. The counties are contractually bound to direct 280,800 tons a year to Newport but need more to bring the mill closer to breaking financially even.

They now subsidize the operation with a "county environmental charge" tax on garbage bills. The counties adopted that charge in 2002, in part because they hoped a direct tax, rather than a property-tax bill, might encourage home and business owners to throw away less.

. . . county officials and consultants believe that it may be as much as $9 per ton cheaper for haulers to take the garbage to Wisconsin and that some waste is being reclassified as demolition debris or industrial waste and disposed of elsewhere.

"It's our understanding that the tipping fee makes a difference in the utilization of that facility, and our concern is getting waste to that facility," said Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt after the vote. . . .

None of the commissioners in St. Paul, though, believed that the discount would have much impact on the public, particularly because a small state subsidy had been phased out.

"My hunch is that it will go to the haulers, to either pay for gas or their rising costs, etc.," Commissioner Janice Rettman, of St. Paul, said of the discount. "I'm not sure it will have a corresponding reduction to residents."
So what do we have? Well first off we have the counties using tax policy to engineer what ought to be market-driven consumer behavior -- what to do with one’s garbage. They increased the “tipping fee” to raise revenue lost by encouraging people to throw away less, which drove truckers to take their garbage to Wisconsin to dump, which cost the counties the revenue they hoped to gain by raising the tipping fee. So now they cut the tipping fee (sounds a lot like lower taxes increase revenues, doesn’t it) but consumers aren’t likely to see any price reduction because the garbage-haulers will keep the cost cut to compensate for their increased costs.

Indeed, this proves definitively that in government policy as in computer technology -- garbage in, garbage out.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Chelation and elective procedures

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:34 PM |  

Although I come down on the opposite side of the biomedical question than this site,, the author raises many good points and issues that shouldn't be ignored. For example, he comments --
Westover tries to equate elective surgery with biomedical treatments for autism, but fails to understand the key difference. With most elective surgeries, the benefits are proven through peer-reviewed studies. Parents have a knowledge base by which to make a risk-benefit analysis. With biomedical treatments for autism, you can't make the same value equation because the proof of success is anecdotal and sketchy. You're basically taking somebody's word for it.

Again, say what you want about vaccine manufacturers and public health agencies, disagree with their statistics or their assessment of the potential burden of vaccine-preventable diseases. But they're giving parents a risk-benefit analysis to work from, which is more than I can say for proponents of biomedical treatments. [Link added by CW]
He's partly correct. For most elective surgery there is a definable risk assessment and knowledge base to work from. I for one wish there were more such a base of knowledge for biomedical treatments for mercury issues. On that we agree.

But, the question is not all or nothing. In other words, I think it foolish, dangerous and irresponsible if not criminal to postualte some radical biomedical treatment with little scientific basis claiming that it "cures" autism. Isn't that the accusation made against the CDC -- that with limited knowledge of benefit (e.g. HEP B for newborn infants) or the toxicity effects of mercury on developing infants, the CDC increased the vaccination schedule and the mercury exposure of infant children?

The flip side is, it is just as foolish and irresponsibile if not criminal not to explore biomedical treatment on a case-by-case individual basis where both expectations and risks are limited and better understood.

Who makes that assessment? Ultimately it boils down to parent and physician. It's a false statement to say that there is no risk/benefit analysis to work from. But it is true, that relationship is not as fully defined as anyone would like. Again, that puts parents in the fightful position of having to make a major decision with limited knowledge. Here's how one parent put it in an email I received today --
Had the medical professionals tested my son when they realized the amount of mercury to which he was exposed, perhaps we would have a more accurate idea of whether or not he was harmed by this exposure. Had we discovered that he was, indeed, unable to excrete the mercury he was given, would we have taken the necessary steps to help his body remove this substance? If we had taken such steps, would he have a tumor in his brain today? Had I not taken a year to thoroughly evaluate treatment, would he..?

“So you see, Mr. Westover, we all . . . do the best we can with the information we have available. I have tried to apply logic and reason, as you have, to a situation that, by all accounts, seems to defy it. Has either of us done the "right" thing? I honestly don't know. What I do know, however, is that we have both tried to help children who need more help than they are currently receiving.

I shot an elephant running down the road in my pajamas or Let’s stop abusing hospitals

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:41 AM |  

From today’s lead editorial in the Pioneer Press --
The study tracked the number of children admitted to hospitals with injuries stemming from physical abuse.
Somewhere an English teacher is barking.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Boy dies during chelation treatment

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:53 PM |  

These are very sketchy details from a breaking story that will put the biomedical treatment of "autism" in the spotlight. How it will be spun is anybody’s guess.
Autistic boy dies during controversial treatment
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

By Karen Kane and Virginia Linn, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A 5-year-old Monroeville boy died this week during a medical treatment that's being touted by some as a cure for autism.

The autistic boy died while receiving chelation -- an intravenous injection of a synthetic amino acid known as EDTA, for ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the practice only to treat heavy metal (such as lead) poisoning. The treatment is becoming increasingly popular, though still controversial, for autism.

Police are investigating the boy's death, which occurred Tuesday morning in the office of Dr. Roy Kerry in Portersville. Kerry did not return calls today.

An autopsy conducted today was inconclusive. Results on the cause and manner of death are pending additional testing that could take up to five months to complete, authorities said.
Despite a lack of details, several points can be made immediately.

First, no matter what the actual, physical cause of the child’s death, he died because his parents chose to treat their son’s “autism” as having a biological cause subject to biomedical treatment. The boy's parents, who have my prayers, made the kind of decision many parents are faced with and not just for “autism.” For example, many children have non-fatal conditions that can be improved through elective surgery during which an allergic reaction or some other unforeseeable event causes more harm or even death. Making such a choice is an awesome responsibility (been there done that) and no one should blame these parents for the decision they made in what they felt was the best interest of their child.

Second, the fact that this child died during a chelation treatment does not invalidate the plausibility of biomedical treatment for autistic symptoms. However, every parent should understand that biomedical treatment of autistic symptoms is controversial, experimental in many cases, not a magic bullet, not something that should be considered lightly and above all, not something that parents should administer themselves.

Third, although a number of physicians are using biomedical approaches to treating autistic symptoms with remarkable success, whenever there are people suffering there are charlatans and con men waiting to take advantage of them. This comment is not to disparage without evidence Dr. Kerry, whom I know absolutely nothing about, but it is meant as a general comment.

Again, isolated instances of abuse does not invalidate the concept. Only research and testing can do that, and despite the fact that parents are on their own researching biomedical help for their children, government health agencies refuse to acknowledge the cases of success and investigate the potential benefits. Rather than risk a sin of commission -- “wasting” resources on a treatment alternative that may not work -- bureaucracies prefer the sin of omission -- do nothing and no one can place blame for the silent suffering of families that might be helped.

Finally, it is important to understand the cause of death before leaping to conclusions. It’s not medical jargon, but saying “chelation really screws up a body’s chemical balance” more than adequately makes the point. In one sense, biomedical treatments for autistic symptoms are like chemical treatments for cancer. The precision one would like is not there and a great deal depends on the diagnostic ability and clinical methods of the doctor. Unfortunately, parents must make many medical decisions without benefit of expert resources.

After all is said and done, however, the real question is whether or not there were potential benefits from chelation that justified risking this child's life. I have written about and supported the plausibility of the theory that thimerosal found in childhood vaccinations causes mercury poisoning in some children. I have supported the idea that some children can and do respond to biomedical treatments. In doing so, I put myself at risk for some of the more nasty email I have received saying that this child was murdered and I have “blood on my hands.”

I do not take those comments lightly.

I recognize and accept that because of my articles some people might not vaccinate their children with disastrous results. Some might elect biomedical treatment without properly investigating it with tragic consequences. That is the risk of a sin of commission, and one I considered long and hard before I wrote my first article on this topic.

Nonetheless, the conclusions I have arrived at are where the evidence leads. To operate from a position of self-interest, as bureaucracies always do, is to hide behind the anonymity of omission and ignore the suffering of children that might benefit from biomedical treatment. I will stand on what I believe and accept the risk and the consequences if I am wrong. I can only wonder if those that achieve some level of satisfaction from vindictive email appreciate the anguish of families that they refuse to acknowledge.

Update: Some comments from readers that evidence biomedical treatments are controversial, but also can be effective.

From a Ph.D. Medicinal/Pharmaceutical Chemist
EDTA itself, although not recommended for mercury toxicity, is generally quite safe and has been shown to have some effect on mercury toxicity. There are virtually no cases of toxicity associated with its administration except at very high dose levels, although there may have been deaths associated with an allergic response or other manifestation. Most likely the child was being treated for both lead and mercury toxicity, with the rationale being that the EDTA will pull the lead and at least some of the mercury, thus reducing the synergistic toxicity associated with lead/mercury toxicity. IV infusion is always risky and as a general rule, I would never agree to have my nine year old autistic son treated in that way. We use many interventions for my son, one of which is a DMSA/ALA chelation protocol of DAN, although we have gone very slowly in this approach.
From a mother whose son has made significant developmental improvement with a gluten free/casein free diet and several nutritional supplements (edited for brevity).
He is ready to start chelation therapy.

This was bittersweet news as I had just learned from the message boards of the boy's death during EDTA IV therapy. I really can't voice an opinion on the tragedy until many more details are released.

But I did need to fully reconsider using chelation on my son and have decided to proceed as planned [using] a nutritional form of DMSA and a slower chelation protocol [with] a number of supplements to replace the minerals and vitamins that the DMSA effects. It will take longer to get results, but this method has proven to be safe and effective for children. My son has done a pre-test with DMSA and will continue with periodic quantitative testing.

If we couldn't afford a DAN! doctor to see us through the biomedical treatments, I don't know what I'd do. If my son was older (he turned 4 in June) or was on the severe end of the ASD spectrum or had unsuccessfully been through the conservative biomedical treatments like DMSA, I don't know what I'd do. Actually I do know what I do. I'd spend hours and hours researching the more aggressive biomedical approaches. Hopefully if I ever get to that point, more of the medical community will have joined the biomedical treatment effort so I won't have to make a faith based decision on which direction to go.
It should be noted that these parents took an active yet cautious role in their children's treatments. That approach cannot be emphasized enough.

Update: Associated Press version of the story.

Update: Some additional insights at Adventures in Autism (read the comments).

Update: The Pat Sullivan blog looks at EDTA treatment from an adult, personal perspective. There's also a link to an expanded story in the Post-Gazette.

COLUMN* -- Is Wal-Mart boycott really in best interests of children?

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:14 PM |  

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Minneapolis and St. Paul federations of teachers, with unquestioned loyalty to the National Education Association, are urging their members not to purchase back-to-school supplies at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, they say, has unfair labor practices, pays substandard wages and has a high percentage of workers without health insurance.

"This is the beginning of a much more in-depth education program, in which we tell our members why and what Wal-Mart does — not just to small towns, but to workers," said Louise Sundin, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers president.

Education and labor leaders also have urged Wisconsin parents to cross Wal-Mart off their back-to-school lists.

"We've been told you get what you pay for," labor leader John Goldstein is quoted as saying on the Wisconsin Education Association Council Web site. "Wal-Mart's low prices get us exploited children, high taxes, lost jobs and destroyed communities."

Friends, Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, lend your ears to Sundin and Goldstein, honorable people with naught but your children's welfare as their concern.

To find employees for its sweat-shop archipelago, Wal-Mart exploits the illiterate poor too ignorant to realize that even perpetual unemployment promises a better life than the work experience of stocking shelves with boxes of 25-cent crayons. It is an honorable effort of the teachers unions, coming not to praise Wal-Mart for creating jobs, but to bury it.

Do not let mere common sense suggest that the teachers unions doth protest too much. Do not imagine that there might be more to the NEA's indignant display of disgust at Wal-Mart than an honest solidarity with the proletariat.

Listen not to people like Elizabeth Mische of the St. Paul-based Partnership for Choice in Education. Mische suggests it should not be discounted that the NEA "abhors the Walton family's support of scholarship programs and school choice for low-income families."

So what if the NEA declares itself a participant in the national "Wake-Up Wal-Mart" effort to illuminate, among other Wal-Mart evils, "the anti-public education activities of founder Sam Walton's family."

Wal-Mart heir John Walton, who died in June in an experimental aircraft crash, led the Walton clan in supporting nongovernmental schools, including Christian schools.

"John Walton's recent death seems, perversely, to have energized the unions' attacks on all who buck the status quo," says education insurgent Mische.

The Walton crime? In 1998, John Walton co-founded the Children's Scholarship Fund to provide tuition assistance for low-income families. The fund has removed about 67,000 students nationwide from public schools. Annually, through the KidsFirst Scholarship Fund, approximately 1,500 children from low-income families in the Twin Cities are lured by Walton money to schools chosen by their parents.

Of course, that show of generosity and concern for the education of children from low-income families is but camouflage for the Walton family's primary objective of destroying public education. So say the teachers unions, which, lest we forget, are honorable groups.

What legacy did John Walton leave to Wal-Mart that could counter such compelling criticism? He came to his dedication to America's kids through belief that improving education could have the broadest impact on the most pressing problems. "All the challenges we face as a nation have the roots of their solutions in good education for all of our kids," he said. "The question is, how do you help kids across our country without regard to their family circumstances?"

He saw education in a visionary context. "The people on the receiving end have absolutely no influence," he noted. "The money in education comes from the top, filters its way down, and various interest groups and factions pull off their share into what they think is important. The customers at the bottom just take what they're given. The best way to empower schoolchildren and parents is to let them direct the money."

He considered public schools to be the foundation of equality in the United States, and contributed millions to public education. He started a Teacher of the Year award to encourage outstanding classroom teachers. It was not teachers, but the system, that was broken. He thought even the teachers union could be persuaded to see the reality of that. He told a friend, "Surely we can all agree to do what is best for the children."

Is that the stuff of public education destruction? Is expansion of educational opportunity an evil greatly to be feared? The teachers unions tell us that is so. And the teachers unions are honorable organizations.

Update: Here's Exhibit A for why school choice is necessary. From my email --
I could not disagree more with your views on teachers encouraging a boycott of Walmart. Would you prefer that children be taught by people who have no interest in issues such as fair labor practices, exploitation of foreign workers, and the Walmart-ization of small towns? I would hope that NONE of my students EVER work at Walmart. I have never shopped at Walmart and I never will. And given the current anti-democratic "big brother" atmosphere the neo-cons have foisted upon us, I will not attach my name to this email for fear of retribution. THAT is the kind of country Bush has fostered.
All I will say is that this teacher is free not to shop at Wal-Mart; unfortunately, parents of children in his/her classes are not free to choose a school where the teachers have a better understanding of economic principles and freedom of choice. I also gender very little respect for people that blame others for their resort to anonymity, and I find it especially disappointing in a teacher. Socrates, as I recall, was not afraid to state his opinions facing far more severe consequences than whatever kind of retribution this teacher is imagining.

Update: And Exhibit B.
In a message dated 8/24/2005 9:29:08 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

unfortunately, parents of children in your classes are not free to choose a school where the teachers have a better understanding of economic principles and freedom of choice

In case you haven't heard, Minnesota has open enrollment. If my kids want to choose another school where teachers only are allowed to hold conservative views, they are free to enroll there. Too bad the vast majority of teachers (both public AND private AND charter) are liberals Conservatives stay away from teaching because they don't want to have to live off of what teachers are paid. It's easier to sit back and criticize, isn't it?
No comment necessary other than it is fortunate that most teachers, liberal and conservative, are not this narrow-minded.

Thou shalt laugh . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:15 PM |  

An especially good Borowitz Report today --
Televangelist Breaks Second Commandment in Two Days

One day after Pat Robertson called for the U.S. to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the televangelist raised the ante again today, urging the U.S. to covet President Chavez' wife.

In so doing, Mr. Robertson appeared to contradict two of The Ten Commandments in as many days, having flouted "Thou shat not kill" on Monday.

Speaking on the television program he hosts, "The 700 Club," Mr. Robertson lashed out at the Venezuelan strongman once more, telling his audience, "It's high time that the United States coveted Hugo Chavez' wife."

Warming to his topic, the opinionated preacher added, "And while we're at it, we should covet his house, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox and his ass, for that matter."

Mr. Robertson indicated that all of the coveting he referred to would not require a war, arguing that it could be all done through the use of covert operatives within Venezuela.

"We could send some special ops guys down there, and bang-bang, covet all of that stuff," Mr. Robertson told his audience.

Speaking to reporters after the program, Mr. Robertson was unrepentant about having broken two of the Ten Commandments in two days, telling them, "I fully intend to obey the other eight, and eight out of ten ain't bad."

But the televangelist seemed to waver from that position slightly, telling reporters that the U.S. should "bear false witness against Hugo Chavez and dishonor Hugo Chavez's mother and father."

Elsewhere, one day after the Princeton Review named the University of Wisconsin the nation's top party school, UW said that it was "too hammered" to comment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

When will they let the bulldog out?

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:48 AM |  

In his July 12 Pioneer Press column, my fellow “Right Brother” Mark Yost turned the mainstream media refrain “why they hate us” inside out in looking at military attitude toward press coverage of the Iraq war. Comparing press coverage with correspondence he regularly receives from his military contacts in-country, Yost contrasted reports of those “fighting and dying [that] want to stay and the people who are merely observers [that] want to cut and run.”

I commented on the controversy itself here. This, however, is not another column about whether Yost is right or wrong. It’s about the reaction to Yost’s column from his mainstream media colleagues and the news-consuming public. It’s about why the American public if not outright “hates” the media, certainly distrusts it.

Presenting conflicting views, seeking out controversy -- “news with an attitude” as the Pioneer Press characterizes its style with its bulldog logo -- is a time-honored journalistic tradition. One would think that challenged by Yost, publishers, editors and reporters might have embraced his column as an opportunity to air a discussion on media coverage of the war. To the contrary, Yost’s column ignited a media jihad.

The managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review posted on the Internet, “I can't wait to see how the KR [Knight Ridder] Washington bureau and the KR Iraq contingent responds to this one!. There he is, guys. Go get him.”

Knight Ridder Washington Editor, Clark Hoyt chided Yost , who “from the distance and safety of St. Paul, Minnesota, presumes to know what's going on in Iraq” better than the hundreds of brave journalists, including his own Knight Ridder colleagues “because his Marine colonel buddy tells him so.”

On the home front, Yost took an incoming hit from his own newsroom. “With your column, you have spat on the copy of the brave men and women who are doing their best in terrible conditions,” said one circulated email that concluded “I am embarrassed to call you my colleague.”

Meanwhile, Yost was receiving hundreds of emails from military men and women stationed in Iraq and around the world, thanking him for speaking up on their behalf.

“You speak the truth!” wrote the founder of, a web community for families of servicemen and women. “CNN . . . asked me if I could cry during an interview. . . . . You’re a lone voice in the wilderness, but you’ve obviously struck a chord with millions.”

The Pioneer Press has garnered national and international notoriety for Yost’s work, but you wouldn‘t know it from reading the home town paper. Outside of a couple of letters to the editor, there‘s been nary a word. Controversy close to home has the bulldog cowering quietly next to its dish. Apparent policy is let sleeping dogs lie. A good soldier, Yost pulled out of a CNN interview with Aaron Brown. No follow-up column has appeared since the “Why they hate us” column.

Ironically if not overtly, the Pioneer Press is reacting positively to Yost’s comments. Power Line posted an internal Pioneer Press memo suggested the paper could do a better job by broadening coverage of the war on the home front. The New York Times reports some “healthy” soul-searching at the Associated Press, a major source of Pioneer Press coverage of the war, about whether A.P. articles are really answering the question, “are we making progress in Iraq?”

Agree or disagree with Yost, it is an essential concern when a mainstream media institution backs off a legitimate story only because it is controversial. It raises the specter that other coverage might be tempered by trepidation -- made more relevant the Pioneer Press increases its focus on local issues.

Local is not equivalent to “inconsequential.” Local issues often impact our lives in ways far more critical than the lead stories on FOX or CNN. But if controversy close to home puts a leash on the Pioneer Press bulldog attitude, if it backs away from controversy with real consequences, the capitol city newspaper becomes little more than a daily shopper with a Sunday edition.

I am proud to be Mark Yost’s colleague. I’m proud to be associated with a newspaper with the courage to run a controversial piece that struck a chord with millions. There’s no need to keep the bulldog locked up. Wake him up and let him run.

Not my table

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:28 AM |  

After spending several hours listening to great classical compositions and having some interesting conversations with Earthlink technical support for my DSL connection (“Please to now find on your screen the network icon”), I am back on line, have caught up on three days of email, written my column for tomorrow’s Pioneer Press and can once again start posting.

What was interesting about a frustrating experience is how quickly and efficiently (and courteously) the tech support people identified that my problem was not with my system or Earthlink’s connection. Having mastered high school Spanish only well enough to point to my throat if I need the Heimlich maneuver, I am in immense awe of anyone who can communicate geek-speak in a foreign tongue. On that score, I found the service was great.

Policy is a whole ‘nother matter. The problem was with Earthlink’s contracted local service (QWEST). So it was the old, there is nothing we can do on this end but contact our vendor trick. A mere thirty hours later and I was up and running with hours to spare for some research for my column tomorrow.

Ain’t technology grand -- it provides the rationale for me to bitch about a couple of day delay in doing research that once would have taken me a couple of weeks, assuming the sources would have a) been available and b) I’d have known to look for them sans Google. Now if there were just a way to make my gas tank look half-full instead of half empty.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Education reform and the commissioner that got away

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:08 PM |  

So much for reform.

According to the Pioneer Press, hundreds of teachers and school administrators got a crash course Wednesday on a new system for tying teacher raises to performance instead of seniority, but only a couple of districts are on the verge of making the switch.
The heavy turnout was understandable given the financial incentives lawmakers attached to QComp. Districts where administrators and unions agree to overhaul traditional pay models can qualify for $260 more per child in state aid, part of an $86 million pot statewide.

"People are curious," Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said. "The money is very tantalizing. They'd like to see if they can make it work."

The money the Legislature set aside for QComp won't cover every district in the state, making the program first-come, first-served. State officials are assuming that many districts will require a year or more to transition into the program.
In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for results. A year or so for planning, a year or so to make the transition, a year or so for results to filter to the classroom, a year or so to evaluate the results -- and today’s kindergartner is preparing to enter middle school before we can possibly know if he or she benefited at all.

Oh and by the way, only two school districts on that timetable -- Hopkins (Sen. Steve Kelley’s district -- Coincidence? I think not.) and St. Francis. Perhaps the program will close the achievement gap between the Swedes and the Norwegians, but don’t hold out much hope for solving Minnesota’s #1 education and most costly societal problem, the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

Cheri Yecke Book Available in Paperback

So much more reform.

From the Michigan Education Report --
In 1983, the U.S. Education Department’s National Commission on Excellence in Education published its watershed report, "A Nation at Risk." The report famously stated, "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

Since then, there has been a great deal of talk about improving the educational system. Some legislation has been passed purporting to raise standards.

But on the whole, it’s hard to perceive much improvement. In fact, if author Cheri Pierson Yecke is correct in "The War Against Excellence, [The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America‘s Middle Schools]" things have gotten worse, particularly at the middle school level.
The book that Yecke’s Senate critics claimed “bashed public schools,” and that they used to oust her from the position of Minnesota commissioner of education -- but whose philosophy is now being seriously considered -- is now available in a paperback .

Said one teacher/reader --
There are many teachers fighting for better performance at the Middle and High School levels and your book has helped move us away from the "heretic" and "dissenter" labels. It's so nice when we can refer to people like you when we try to force school administrators to face common sense.

I just thought you'd like to know that your book has helped us feel that we aren't the only "crazy" people out there demanding proof before instituting educational "reform."
An $86 million dollar pot is not the road to education reform. A $24.95 book just might be.

Yecke has written a follow-up report to the 2003 book, that will be released at the National Press Club on September 14.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My obligatory post on Cindy Sheehan

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:28 PM |  

In my humble opinion, Brian "St. Paul" Ward shows the proper sensitivity and commen sense realization that says all that really needs be said about Cindy Sheehan

Update: Kathleen Parker expresses a keen perspective in today's Pioneer Press.
It is unseemly to critique how people express their personal grief, especially when it comes to those who've lost children to war.

So if Cindy Sheehan wants to camp outside President George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch in the name of her son — Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed last year in a Baghdad ambush — then she deserves only cool drinks and soft shade.

As for those glomming onto her tragedy — whether for political posturing or personal profiling — gloves off. As these grief hounds bask in the kliegs of temporary fame, even the dogs of "dog days" skulk in shame.

Trivial Pursuit

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:45 PM |  

There are a lot of questionable conflicts of interest and quid pro quo exhanges of money for favors that go on in Congress, but methinks the DCCC is reaching just a tad in its press release calling attention to the "hundreds" in campaign contributions the Gutknecht campaign received from Jack Abramoff.

Take the Money and Run:

Will Gutknecht Return Abramoff’s Money?

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) Has Taken Hundreds From Recently Indicted Super-Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, With Abramoff Now Free on Bail, Will Gutknecht Return the Tainted Cash?

This Money Is Not So Funny:

$250 -- Abramoff money taken by Congressman Gil Gutknecht.

6 -- Number of counts of the Abramoff indictment.

0 -- Amount of Abramoff money returned by Gil Gutknecht.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Gil Gutknecht has taken $250 from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Gutknecht's indicted benefactor is in court again today, and with more legal troubles ahead for Abramoff, will Gutknecht return the money?

Abramoff, who is closely linked to Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and other ethically challenged Members of Congress, has masterminded schemes against American Indian tribes and then convinced those tribes to hire him for millions of dollars as a consultant. He has lobbied the interests of Indian gaming before Congress and in back room deals with several Members of Congress. Now, Abramoff has been indicted on six counts of conspiracy and wire fraud and accused of falsifying documents in a multi-million dollar business deal.

“With Abramoff appearing once again in a courtroom, will Congressman Gutknecht send back the tainted contributions from the indicted super-lobbyist?” asked Bill Burton, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The hard-working families who sent Gil Gutknecht to Congress deserve someone who’ll fight for their jobs, health care and retirement — not someone taking campaign cash from indicted lobbyists pushing their special interest deals.
This just makes the DCCC look silly.

Education reform -- not!

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:20 PM |  

Representative Mark Buesgens provides his overview of the “education reform” of the past legislative session.
This year we spent hundreds of millions of new dollars on K-12 education and have very little real reform to show for it.
I wonder if Alice Seagren will consider Rep. Buesgens piece a “disservice” to Star Tribune Readers.

Hat Tip Scholar's Notebook (Great overview post of opinions about Q-Comp.)

Education Minnesota again puts politics ahead of kids

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:37 AM |  

The Star Tribune is reporting today that the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers are following the lead of the National Education Association add urging their members not to buy back-to-school supplies at WalMart, because, they say, Wal-Mart has unfair labor practices, pays substandard wages and has a high percentage of workers without health care insurance. According to the article, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers may go a step further and not reimburse its members for any school supplies bought at Wal-Mart.
This is the beginning of a much more in-depth education program, in which we tell our members why and what Wal-Mart does -- not just to small towns, but to workers," said Louise Sundin, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
Elizabeth Mische of the St. Paul-based Partnership for Choice in Education notes in an email that while they may claim that their stance is motivated by Wal-Mart’s labor practices, not to be discounted is that the teacher’s unions “abhor the Walton family’s support of scholarship programs and school choice for low income families. John Walton and the Foundation are on the NEA’s 'enemies list.'”

John Walton died this past June in the crash of a homemade experimental plane he was piloting. In March, Forbes magazine listed John Walton as No. 11 on the list of the world’s richest people with a net worth of $18.2 billion. Walton used some of his wealth to support non-government schools, including Christian schools. In 1998, he and Ted Forstmann founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund to provide tuition assistance for low-income families wanting to send their kids to private schools. The fund has benefited some 67,000 students nationwide and approximately 1,500 children in the Twin Cities (annually).

Locally Walton-funded scholarships that enable low-income parents the opportunity for their children to attend non-district schools are provided through KidsFirst. KidsFirst provides partial tuition grants for youngsters in grades K-8. The fund pays 75% of the tuition, to a maximum of $1,700 (2005-2006) per year to qualified applicants. There are no academic requirements for KidsFirst grants. Eligibility is based on financial need and parents' willingness to pay their portion of the school expenses.

Because applications exceed available scholarships, new applicants are selected by lottery -- some indication of the desire of low income parents to find alternative education for their children. [Tax-deductible contributions to KidsFirst can be made here.]

The recent NEA action is not the first time unionized teachers have taken out after WalMart; it’s just that previous instances were less disingenuous. In 1998, after the formation of the Children's Scholarship Fund, the Wyoming delegation of the National Education Association accused John Walton of bashing public education and siphoning tax funds from public schools. Some members even suggested that the NEA initiate a boycott against WalMart stores.”

John Walton’s recent death seems, perversely, to have energized the unions’ attacks on all who buck the status quo,” said Mische. They are taking an opportunity to put a chill on any contributor to the school choice movement.

The latest action by the teachers unions is just another indication that the system of government schools (not individual teachers) is no longer primarily concerned with education. Its focus is on middle-class employment and teacher career advancement. If it were really about kids, why would Education Minnesota so strongly oppose providing low-income families the opportunity to choose a school that best meets their children’s needs.


A new study released jointly by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs and authored by Ericca Maas of the Partnership for Choice in Education analyzes the Education Access Grants as originally proposed in the Hann/Buesgens bill this year in the Minnesota legislature. It finds that the legislation targeting financial aid for low-income families that wanted to send their children to private schools would be financially advantageous to the state, to the Minneapolis Public School District, as well as the individual families that would directly benefit.

The study found that because the amount spent by the state on each student using an Access Grant would be significantly less than the amount spent if he/she stayed in Minneapolis public schools, the state would save $3.3 million in the first year and up to a total of more than $41 million over six years.

In addition, for six years after a given student leaves a district school, the Minneapolis Public School District will continue to receive a substantial amount of the exiting students’ per-pupil state aid. This “stability revenue” would have allowed for a smooth transition as low-income families exercise greater educational choice and resulted in a positive fiscal impact for the Minneapolis Public School District of up to $8.2 million in the first year and $9.4 million by the third year.

“The Minnesota legislature missed a golden opportunity,” said Robert C. Enlow, executive director of the Friedman Foundation. “School choice will be a net gain for Minneapolis Public Schools and for Minnesota taxpayers. More importantly, families of those students most in need of a different education environment would have the freedom to find what works best for their children.”

Update: From the Center of the American Experiment --

Center of the American Experiment Distinguished Senior Fellow and former Minnesota education commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke issued the following statement in response to calls by Minneapolis and St. Paul Federation of Teachers union officials to boycott Wal-Mart:

Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers union officials, who are calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart, are suffering from a serious case of misplaced priorities.

“Last year, only 53 percent of Minneapolis public school students graduated on time. And St. Paul’s graduation rate was also well below the state average.

“Instead of engaging in politically-motivated protests against Wal-Mart, which have nothing to do with improving the education of children, union officials should focus more of their time and energy on supporting reforms that will close the achievement gap in their districts.”

Update: Tom Swift and Doug Williams check in on the issue.

Update: King Banaian posts with his usual on-target comments. Also check out Dave's thoughts at Downingworld.

Update: I thought about writing a parody of the teacher's union position, but I couldn't come up with anything foolish enough to boycott that someone might not take it seriously. The Night Writer has come up with a better way to lampoon the issue.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Minneapolis: "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result."

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:23 AM |  

At Our House, Margaret Martin has an excellent piece putting a personal face on crime in Minneapolis (city motto: "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result."). Read the whole thing -- it’s excellent.

One part that specifically caught my interest was this paragraph --
In our part of North Minneapolis, it’s clear that many parents have voted with their feet by sending their kids out of the neighborhood to charter schools and private schools. During the school year we barely ever see the kids next door, they are so highly scheduled to keep them busy. During our recent block meeting we talked to a few kids who are going to the local public schools. One is going to a school she thinks is OK or at least it is OK for her. She’s taking all AP classes. She did complain however about the recent spate of layoffs and defections of good teachers from her school. "All the good teachers are leaving and all the bad ones are staying."
A observation: While as Margaret notes, many parents are sending their children to schools outside their neighborhoods, many are not. This point was brought home at a Partnership for Choice in Education-sponsored speaker series on school choice. I posted about it at the time --
This week I attended a lecture given by Rebbeca Nieves Huffman, a highly-degreed Hispanic woman and President of Hispanic CREO, an organization promoting educational opportunities for Hispanic children. Following her prepared presentation, she opened for questions.

A woman from the Minnesota Department of Education asked about a current state program that buses kids from the inner city to the suburbs. She wondered why the Hispanic kids didn't take advantage of it.Ms. Huffman was professional and gentle explaining cultural issues and some types of possible outreach programs. Then a young Hispanic man from the audience (I’d met him earlier in the day at San Miquel School in Minneapolis, where he has a daughter and nieces and nephews) was given the microphone.

Basically he told the woman from the MDE that Hispanic parents didn’t send their kids to the suburbs because they are afraid their kids would get the crap beat out of them.The woman from the MDE didn't get it. The Hispanic community doesn’t necessarily want to send their kids to “white” schools. They want good neighborhood schools -- integrated by the make-up of the neighborhood. No parent of any color wants to put his kid on a bus for a couple hours everyday just to send her to a school where she has no common ground for building solid relationships with her classmates.
The point is, contrary to the “beneficent white man” point of view that underlies liberal thinking, many minority parents do not believe that their kids necessarily get a better education because they sit next to a white kid. They want good neighborhood schools that reflect their neighborhood poplation, which the massive state bureaucracy we’ve created is incapable of delivering simply because it’s so cobbled together with mandates, rules, regulations and the like that its focus is no longer education; the school system is the bosom of the nanny state and an employment agency for middle-class minorities.

I’m willing to bet that nearly everyone of those kids that tramp to a bus stop every morning to go to school outside their neighborhood walks past or lives nearby a neighborhood parochial school, San Miguel being a case in point, for which they can’t afford tuition.

Strong neighborhoods need strong neighborhood schools. “Meaningful school choice” like the Hann/Buesgens legislation -- introduced in the last legislative session and abandoned in the special session in favor of the Rino (“reform” in name only) bastardization of a “pay for performance” plan for teachers -- would have provided low-income urban families the opportunity to take advantage of an existing neighborhood school.

Kudos to families that take the initiative to find the best possible education for their children -- inside or outside their neighborhoods. Shame on the legislature for not providing them the freedom to find that education in their own neighborhood.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Mulling Nick’s Question

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:02 AM |  

Flash, the resident “Centrisity” voice of Minnesota blogging, via an email from Nick Coleman himself, sheds light on the reasons for Nick's departure from the local Air America affiliate.

I want to say attaboy, Nick, when he writes to Flash that he “essentially quit“ his AM 950 gig because, among other reasons --
Station management increasingly demanded control over "topics, tone and guests" and ordered certain hot button topics off limits, such as guns, gays and abortion. I refused to comply.
"If I'm going to be put on a leash, I'm leaving," Coleman told The Blotter. (Insert you’re favorite I’m nobody’s monkey joke here.)

However, having been the butt-end (playing straight man for Nick here) of his tirades, I’d point out there is a big difference between control over topics as in censoring certain discussions and demanding that controversial topics be handled in a civil and respectful manner. Nick has a tendency to confuse “conflict” with “controversy” and “controversy” with “relevance.” A journalist takes the chaos of conflict and distills it down to the basic issues of controversy so people can have a relevant discussion. From my experience, Nick views conflict as an end in itself and thus makes himself irrelevant.

That brings us to the question Nick poses to Flash --
Now here's a question to mull:

Can "liberal" or "progressive" talk radio prosper under an
ownership that is neither?
Well, having mulled for bit, the answer is that if Nick is defining “liberal” and “progressive,” the answer is probably “no.” To “prosper” in a free market, one has to appeal to a wide enough audience that one can entice advertisers and consequently make enough money to support operations if not show a profit. That probably means appealing to a wider audience than is interested in "speculation on the size of the genitals of the Power Line guys.” It doesn't mean a station can't have a point of view -- it does mean its host ought to be able to frame the point of view so it's possible to have a discussion not just a bashing.

Sounds like Air America is getting that message and apparently Nick wasn‘t.

There’s a paragraph of The Blotter article that the “hobby columnist” in me can’t let pass --
For his tenure as weekday morning-show host, Coleman received "embarrassingly low pay," in the low five-figure range--lower, he says, than union wages at a station he described as "pro-union."
Five figures? For a “hobby talk show host”? I can’t make my hobby columnist remuneration get to five figures if I count the places to the right of the decimal point. But there are other rewards.

Update: Dave, Ohligarchy, from western Pennsylvania, dropped by Keegan's while on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Dave has taken to telling his kids stories about Captain Fishsticks and the evil pirate Nick. I had the honor of having my picture taken with Dave at Keegan's so he could show his kids he met the real Captain Fishsticks (kind of a Galaxy Quest moment for the Captain). Paul writes --
The kids were intrigued to learn that I had met the real-life "Captain Fishsticks". On the return journey Monday morning, we stopped for breakfast somewhere near Eau Claire. The restaurant's gift shop had some nautical knick-knacks, including a man in a shipcaptain's outfit. They insisted that it was Captain Fishsticks. Nearby was a dark skeleton wearing a black rag on its head. "And that's Nick the Pirate!"they told me.
Like I said -- there are intangibles to being in the public eye, good and bad.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- Thanks for ruining my summer Craig Westover!

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:05 PM |  

I have to admit, that title on an email I received yesterday made me more than a little nervous, but after I read it, well, it made my day.
Dear Mr. Westover,

Yes in fact, you have ruined my summer, but I am thanking you for it. I was looking forward to a relaxing Minnesota summer with my 3 kids until I read your June column "Don't allow partisanship to muddy autism discussion". From that day on, my life has changed. One of my children is a 4-year-old boy with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). I'd heard of the thimerosal-autism link before, but always dismissed it because I believed the FDA/CDC. After all, they are scientists and I am a scientist. Before I decided to stay home with my children, I worked with FDA regulations for medical devices and I have degrees in biology and chemistry. So when I saw your column, speaking to the "science" of the thimerosal issue, a spark was lit. I started reading and haven't stopped.

I read the RFK Jr. article "Deadly Immunity", David Kirby's book "Evidence of Harm, Lisa Lewis's book "Special Diets for Special Kids", Karyn Seroussi's book "Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Development Disorders", Jaquelyn McCandless book, "Children with Starving Brains" and probably a hundred related articles. Daily, I'm on several yahoo message boards including Evidence of Harm. I have quickly become educated on the topic.

Reason being, my son had been in traditional therapy for the past 2 years without much progress. His main issue is speech delay and since he was 2 years old, he was consistently 18 months behind in speech. He also had Sensory Integration Disorder, and several characteristics of autism and ADHD. He was born and continued to struggle with gastrointestinal issues. This all changed this summer thanks to you Mr. Westover!

Shortly after I began studying the thimerosal-autism theory, I located Dr. Mayfield, a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) doctor in Bloomington. He is a Chiropractor Physician and Certified Clinical Nutritionist who has been treating children nutritionally with this disorder for many years. He thought my son had a good chance for improvement because I received several thimerosal containing Rhogam shots while pregnant with my son and my son's vaccinations contained thimerosal (he was born in June 2001 and I have documented proof). He first started a gluten (wheat plus) free and casein (dairy) free diet and then started on 11 over the counter nutritional supplements. My husband and I immediately noticed a positive change in our son. So did all of the other people who know him. His gastrointestinal issues disappeared, he was immediately potty trained, he was less hyperactive, he was much less sensitive to sensory over-stimulation, his attention span dramatically increased and his verbal communication drastically changed. I could go on and on.

His private speech therapist was shocked at how quickly our son changed. After a month on the diet and supplements, his speech was reevaluated and our son was just 13 months behind in speech! His therapist said he would no longer classify him as ASD, but rather having an articulation problem and very energetic. We plan to pursue chelation therapy with Dr. Mayfield and are optimistic we will continue to see positive results in our son.

I use most every opportunity I have to "educate" family, friends, neighbors and even strangers on the thimerosal-autism theory and use my son as evidence. I also carry also articles to share with anyone interested. People in the Twin Cities have mixed reactions to my "we are doing biomedical treatments with my son to removed the mercury he received in his childhood vaccinations and are seeing big improvements". Some people are shocked and want to learn more because they know someone with an ASD child and some people try to refute with the FDA/CDC's findings. I think the more these people see and hear proof of the theory, the more they will believe. After all, I didn't believe it until I spent 15 minutes looking into it.

I read your "Thimerosal and autism" blog and "Thimerosal issue hit the radar screen" column and want to thank you for being such a clear thinker and excellent writer with this issue. Your talents reach out to many people, myself included.

Heather O'Brien
Heather defies characterization as a “desperate, anti-vaccine” parent. Despite having a child on the autism spectrum, she was skeptical of the thimerosal-autism connection. She is a scientist. She has ties to the FDA. So when a person like Heather looks at the evidence and sees harm, it’s worth taking note. One wonders how many other children might be helped if government more forthrightly addressed the issue.

You see, there’s also a dark side of Heather’s email. In addition to people like Heather with the knowledge and the time, the will and the resources to do the in-depth research and find reputable help for their children as she did, there are other, truly desperate parents, that for lack of knowledge are potential prey for medical charlatans and even well-intentioned but ill-informed pediatricians and family doctors. And they are out there.

That’s why this story is so important. That’s why it is necessary for government health agencies to not simply insist there is no evidence of harm; it is necessary for government to investigate the plausibility and growing body of evidence of harm caused by mercury in vaccines. Protecting citizens, not protecting itself, is the primary function of government.

My thanks to Heather for not just making my day, but also for sharing an experience that might “ruin” some other parent’s fall or winter.

[For those interested in DAN -- Defeat Autism Now -- biomedical approaches to treating children diagnosed with autistic symptoms, background information is available here. A free web cast of presentations from DAN conference speakers is found here. I have viewed many, but not all of these presentations.

Based on that and other research and conversations with parents having more association with DAN than I have, I consider the organization a reliable source of information. However, be advised -- biomedical treatment of autism, whether dietary or chelation (removal of heavy metals from body tissue), is controversial. It can also be an extremely difficult, time-consuming and physically trying treatment. There are risks. Biomedical treatment is not something to be considered lightly, experimented with based on simply doing Internet research or even taken on if one is not 100 percent confident in one’s physician. Again, that’s why there is a need for government health agencies to become actively involved in evaluation of biomedical approaches to diagnosed cases of autism.]

Update: Brief, but well-balanced news report on biomedical treatment of autism.

Thimerosal, vaccines and autism -- Robert Kennedy rides out of the hills and shoots the wounded, again

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:07 PM |  

I’ve posted my review (and Pioneer Press column) of the “Meet the Press” segment featuring Dr. Harvey Fineberg of the Institute of Medicine and David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm discussing the hypothesis that the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal is connected to an increase in diagnosed cases of autism. I have also posted a Pioneer Press column I wrote very critical of Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s Rolling Stone article on this topic.

Once again, this time in a post on, RFK rides out of the hills after the battle and shoots the wounded. He piggybacks on another author’s work with out giving him named credit, way overstates the conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence in that work and uses inflammatory rhetoric that denigrates the evidence he defends.

Although I support the position Kennedy defends, I again want to stress that Kennedy’s rhetoric and reasoning hurts that position in the long term. As a writer that owes much of what I have written on this topic to the persistence of others, I find Kennedy’s consistent lack of crediting others a disingenuous attempt to make himself and his politics the center of the controversy rather than the issue itself.

Kennedy writes --

On Sunday morning's Meet the Press, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, debated New York Times reporter and author David Kirby about the strength of the science linking the current epidemic of neurological disorders among American children to the mercury-based vaccine preservative Thimerosal. The Institute of Medicine as well as the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration base their defense of Thimerosal on four flimsy studies ginned up by the pharmaceutical industry and federal regulators who green-lighted the use of Thimerosal in the first place. Those fraudulent studies deliberately targeted European populations which were exposed to a fraction of the Thimerosal given to American children.
Kennedy’s facts here are essentially correct, but the rhetoric detracts from a reasonable assessment of the studies he questions. The studies are flawed for valid scientific reasons -- some methodological flaws, but more importantly insistence on using this data in the face of new genetic studies that indicate a need to evaluate the validity of epidemiological evidence from what appears to be a genetically diverse base vis a vis the ability to excrete heavy metals. Personnel involved in these studies did have previous connections to the thimerosal issue, but use of words like “fraudulent” and “flimsy” and the implication of intentional misrepresentation of data is way out of line -- especially given Kennedy’s repeated misrepresentations in this post and that Rolling Stone corrected in his article "Deadly Immunity" From Rolling Stone --
NOTE: This story has been updated to correct several inaccuracies in the original, published version. (Lengthy corrections and clarifications follow.)
Kennedy goes on in his Huffinton Post --
If Dr. Fineberg genuinely wants to test his assertions about Thimerosal safety with epidemiological data, he should commission a study comparing American children who were exposed to vaccines to the Amish, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists or others, who, for religious reasons, did not receive Thimerosal-laced vaccines.
Call this a personal or professional bias, but Kennedy makes that paragraph and the next sound like he is proposing a new area of study based on raw data from the Amish community. In fact, he is simply regurgitating analysis done by Dan Olmsted in an excellent series of articles written for United Press International under a series heading “The Age of Autism” (without giving him credit). Olmsted’s research (his own words)--

“ . . . has centered on the Amish to try to determine whether an isolated population in the United States has the same prevalence of autism as the "English," as the Amish call the rest of us. The idea: Because Amish ways are so different -- from what they eat to how they spend their time to the fact that most do not vaccinate their children -- they might offer clues to autism.

That is, it is important to know whether their autism rate is notably different. So far, there is evidence of fewer than 10 Amish with autism; there should be several hundred if the disorder occurs among them at the same 166-1 prevalence as children born in the rest of the population. The Amish have big families, and they should also have autism.
Olmsted’s articles are excellent for the questions they raise, not the answers they provide -- which is what journalism is all about. Olmsted’s articles are another bit that lends credibility to the thimerosal theory, but at the end of the day, they are journalism, not scientific research. Nonetheless, Kennedy, who criticizes government agencies for fraudulent claims concludes --

A recent survey by United Press found that autism is virtually unknown among Pennsylvania's large Amish populations -- a strong indication that vaccines are indeed a principal culprit of the epidemic. Despite the repeated urgings of independent scientists and the families of autistic children, the federal agencies involved have refused to commission such a study and have closed federal vaccine files in order to derail the creation of those studies by outside scientists.
Olmsted’s investigation cannot be portrayed as a strong indication that vaccines are a principal culprit in the rise of diagnosed autism. Other factors other than vaccines might enter into the Amish equation. Olmstead's research is journalism, not science. Its significance lies in the questions it raises that government agencies cannot answer.

And once again, Kennedy skirts the edge of truth when he accuses federal agencies of refusing to conduct such a study. Dan Olmsted asked that question at the recent CDC press conference. The response from the CDC was evasive, but plausible -- from a scientific perspective, it is difficult to isolate a population to achieve scientifically valid results. In this case, I agree there are more pressing biological invesitigations into thimerosal that government ought to be pursuing.

Finally, and most importantly, Kennedy makes a major misrepresentation when he equates such a study with certain closed CDC data files. The closed files (which is a valid issue in another sense) relate to data on adverse reactions to vaccines, including autistic symptoms. This data is not appropriate for conducting a study comparable to Olmsted’s journalistic investigation of the Amish.

Further, in Olmsted’s own words --

My research among the Amish so far does not point a finger at any one cause, but if a much lower prevalence holds up under more scrutiny, it might suggest that something "environmental" -- in the broad sense of coming from outside the body rather than from a solely genetic or metabolic disorder -- could be the decisive trigger in a huge increase in autism cases.
Here, Olmsted is being the ultimate “objective” journalist. He’s looked at the evidence and actually drawn a conclusion, but he’s remained careful not to exceed his evidence. He recognizes that his research doesn’t prove anything, but it certainly doesn’t negate the plausibility of the thimerosal theory and it is another bit of evidence supporting it -- evidence, not proof, of harm.

An idea, unfortunately cannot be responsible for the people that support it. The many valid criticisms of Kennedy’s self-serving, misrepresentation of the thimerosal issue that have and will appear should not be taken as refutation of the hypothesis itself. Kennedy is an unfortunate personification of the straw man those denying neurological damage from thimerosal would have had to invent. As I posted previously, that is more than unfortunate. It is tragic.