spinning the flu and making my friends sick

I went canvassing this morning for Kerry with some other folks – friends and acquaintances that I’d either bullied or cajoled into helping. We met at 10:00 AM and broke up into four teams. My team, consisting of myself and my friend Dirtgrain, took to the streets between Cross and Michigan, and did pretty well. In two hours, we turned up a little over 25 strong Kerry supporters and a few folks that were on the fence. There were a few folks that said they were planning to vote for Bush, but, for the most part, they were pleasant.

Most Bush supporters kind of gave me a good-natured chuckle and slowly turned their heads from side to side when I’d say, “I don’t suppose there’s anything that I could say that would convince you that John Kerry is the better candidate, is there?” (At this late date, we aren’t trying to win people over – we’re just trying to identify unlikely voters who are supportive of Kerry, so that we can talk with them again on election day — but I always feel like I should at least try.) One fellow, who clearly wasn’t going to change his mind, turned his back on me when I said this, and began stalking away, toward the back of his garage. I was still standing there, looking at him, when he reached the back wall and had nowhere to go. He just stood there, staring at the wall for a moment, knowing that I was still there, and trying desperately to find a prop of some kind, to make it look as though he’d gone off for a reason. I waited a split-second and then headed off to the next house. Later, as we were making our way down the other side of his street, he saw us, stopped his lawnmower and began to walk toward us. I thought about taking off my glasses so that when he hit me the glass from my glasses wouldn’t lacerate my eyes, but I just stood there as he approached. When he got about five feet from me, he stopped and… apologized for having turned away from me as I was speaking. He said, “I’m sorry about before.” I thought that was pretty cool. I just nodded and told him not to worry about it. If I’d been able to think any faster, I would have told him that this election’s got us all on edge. At the time though, I was just thankful that I still had my sight.

Around this same time, I got a call from a friend who was across town, working off of another list. He, unfortunately, wasn’t having as good of a time. His mean people didn’t apologize. Not only that, they didn’t walk away — they yelled. I felt bad for not having gone with him on his first time out canvassing, but, as he’d been partnered with one of the regional MoveOn coordinators, I thought that he was probably in good hands. As it turns out though, she’d left him on his own after their first few houses. He kept going for an hour or so, but he never got any momentum. All he got were angry looks. Instead of making him feel better about democracy and our fellow human beings, I think the experience just kind of kicked him in the gut… And, I would later find out, team three didn’t do much better… So, half of us did well and half of us didn’t. My hope is that those people who didn’t have a pleasant and rewarding experience don’t hold it against me. I know they’re probably drinking together somewhere (my wife included) right now, cursing my name and talking about my bait-and-switch, but I really did think that they’d enjoy themselves…. (Someone somewhere sobs and mumbles, “But he said they’d greet us with flowers and chocolates.”)

At some point during the morning, I also got a call from my father. I was standing on Lincoln Street, rattling someone’s rickety old gate to see if they owned a pit bull, before extending one of my meaty legs into their yard, when I felt my phone vibrate. My dad, I think, had been pissed at me since the day before when I’d responded to a photo he sent me of Kerry and Edwards dressed up in leotards and masks like effeminate superheroes by saying, “People come up with some pretty funny stuff when they’re desperate.” This morning’s call, his retaliation, was about John Edwards. My dad wanted to tell me that he’d read that the reason there wasn’t enough flu vaccine to go around this year wasn’t the Bush administration but John Edwards… Apparently, according to my dad, Edwards had won a $5 million judgment against a US vaccine maker in the late 80’s, when he was a trial attorney, which caused all the US manufacturers to get out of the business. I told him that I thought it was doubtful, but thanked him for his time and went about the business of finding more voters among the decaying homes of Ypsilanti.

When I got home, after training another MoveOn volunteer, I checked my email and found that my dad had followed up by forwarding the email that he’d called about. With that, I began to look into the story. I don’t know a hell of a lot about the vaccine business, but having read a few articles about MedImmune, the company that last year launched FluMist, an inhaled flu vaccine, I knew that, at the very least, the assertion that no American companies now make vaccines was false. I started there and began digging. After a half an hour, I ended up where I probably should have started in the first place, at Snopes.com. They’d already heard the rumor and debunked it. American companies, it seems, got out of the business because they were losing money in vaccines, not because of John Edwards. In fact, it doesn’t seem as though John Edwards was ever even involved in a case against a vaccine maker, although he has successfully gone after a number of companies that have hurt Americans through their willful disregard of health and safety issues… As an aside, in my research, I also found evidence of a request that Edwards had formally made in 2003 to look into the shortage of flu vaccine… So, not only did he not cause the current situation, he suggested a year ago that we do something about the inadequate vaccine supply.

I don’t know that it was necessarily a good idea, but, when I found this out, I sent it not only to my dad, but to the people CC’d on the original email that he’d received. I debated it for a while, and wrote and rewrote my letter about five times, but ultimately just sent a link to Snopes saying, “It’s not true.” (I didn’t send the, “Next time, do a few minutes of research before you propagate something like this,” note that I’d written, complete with links to stories about other disinformation being spread by the Bush/Cheney campaign.) So, right now, I’m just sitting here waiting for the response.

UPDATE: OK, I just got a note from my mom, who was also copied on my response. She said that it was unfortunate that both sides resort to such smear tactics. Personally, I don’t see this as being something that happens on both sides. I see this as a Republican tactic… And it was as predictable as it was dishonest. The minute it looked as though the flu might be an issue that resonated with the American people, to the detriment of the Bush campaign, they began looking for a way to spin the story so that it hit the Kerry campaign. The facts didn’t matter. They never do. Bush and Co. don’t even care that it will be debunked in time. All they want is to get something out quickly to confuse the issue and add a little more doubt in people’s minds about Kerry and Edwards. It’s disgusting and Americans should demand better.

UPDATE II: I don’t want to drag this thread out too long, but I just got a response back from the person who sent the note to my dad in the first place. If I’m reading it correctly, she knew that it was a lie and sent it anyway, hoping that it might hurt the Kerry campaign. I’m tempted, but I won’t be responding. Here’s her note:

“I saw that too but decided that if Kerry (including Mrs. Heinz-K) and Edwards could stoop to slinging mud at the Cheney family (“complimenting” them on loving their daughter) and Laura Bush (Never had a “real” job???
What do you call raising children, being a librarian AND First Lady???), I could toss some mud back. The lies Kerry and Edwards have spewed are outrageous. John Edwards has proven himself to be nothing more than an ambulance chasing, sleazebag, opportunistic trial attorney who doesn’t deserve to be the vice president of our country. You’ll note that snopes.com clearly states that it can’t be determined who was the attorney of the case quoted. So, who knows. I do know that Kerry/Edwards are a dangerous ticket… I do appreciate someone who does his homework. Good catch.”

So, that’s what we’re up against.

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  1. Posted October 23, 2004 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I’m in awe your canvassing effort. Way to get it together. That’s probably the single hardest thing to accomplish in local politics.

    In our area many republicans seem to be single-issue voters (anti roe v. wade). Karl Rove has some kind of magical jim-jones-spell over the evangelical right.

    Who was it on NPR today that mentioned how interesting it was that the Bush administration is fighting radical evengelicals in Afghanistan and Iraq while orchestrating their installation here in the US?

  2. Posted October 23, 2004 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    In between my night of live Jandek MP3’s and watching Ms. Ashlee Simpson get caught lip synching on nation television, I found the above link.

    Basically it says that the number of absentee voters is up in a lot of states. Reading the article I got a little tingle, because it gives me even more reason to think that Kerry will win.

  3. Dan
    Posted October 24, 2004 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I just have to say that I think its terrible that you are spending all this time on politics when there are REAL problems out there…like What happened to Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live last night? Huh? Lip-synching!?

    Please straighten your priorities people!

  4. mark
    Posted October 24, 2004 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    So, what happened with the young Ms. Simpson? I fell asleep at 9:30 last night, after a day of campaigning in the cold rain.

  5. mark
    Posted October 24, 2004 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    An interesting discussion by her fans and detractors:


    If somoene finds the footage posted on-line, let me know.

  6. TLK
    Posted October 24, 2004 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I got the link from Metafilter. Enjoy.


  7. Posted October 24, 2004 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately in this case Snopes got the story wrong.
    First, the government

  8. Posted October 24, 2004 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Correction: I should have qualified my statement of the shortage from 2003 with the word severe. Whatever shortage there was in 2003 is not comparable to the current situation in 2004.

  9. mark
    Posted October 24, 2004 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like you know what you’re talking about, but I still find it incredibly doubtful that John Edwards is in any way accountable for the predicament we’ve gotten ourselves into this year with the flu vaccine. Personally, I think that Bush’s other blunders are far worse, but, in my opinion, he needs to share in the culpability here too. We’ve known for a while that this was an eventuality and he didn’t take action to fix the situation, or demand that someone else, like Tommy Thompson, do it.

  10. sytrek
    Posted October 24, 2004 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    I do concur that the portion where Edwards is named is unlikely to be true. Unfortunately by labeling the entire email as untrue based on that particular point it also negates the impact of liability lawsuits on vaccine manufacturing. Such subject must be considered as part of any discussions regarding the reasons for vaccine shortages. The VICP is not even shielding vaccine manufactures of vaccines INCLUDED in the program since lawyers found a loophole, where they claim that the program covers the vaccines but not the “additives” and are suing because of the presence of thimerosal preservative, even though two studies have shown no negative effect from their usage.

  11. Posted October 25, 2004 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    You’re a good man, Mark. Saturday was a miserable day to be out canvassing neighborhoods.

  12. Kristi Coulter
    Posted October 25, 2004 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Re Steven’s comment about many Republicans being single-issue voters: my husband was canvassing in Normal Park last week and was gratified to meet one young couple on our street who said they voted for Bush in 2000 and have serious differences with Kerry on social issues, but will be voting for him this time because they ‘just can’t believe this idiot is running the country.’ The woman told John she’s vehemently anti-abortion, but is putting that issue aside for the first time because the stakes are so high. They were actually able to have a nice talk about what it’s like not to vote your conscience, which is something I think people on both sides of the political spectrum are dealing with in this election. It’s kind of heartening to know that civilized discourse is still out there on our streets. Of course, he also loved the guy on our street who, when asked his main reason for supporting Kerry, said “Is there a space for ‘To get that fucker out of the White House?'”

  13. Posted October 25, 2004 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    To hell with the pharmaceutical companies and flu vaccine manufacturers. If they can’t maintain a safe standard, then they deserve to get sued–we need to keep them in line. Of course the current administration could have done more to make ensure that enough vaccines were available. We could have a system where the government manufactures the vaccines. Oh, no. That’s not right. We need to privatize to encourage competition and efficiency. It’s clearly working. . . the hell it is.

    Is giving people mercury a good idea (ethyl mercury, that is)? To babies? If there is no link between Thimerosal and damage, then how would these lawyers have a case? Why would the vaccine-creating companies balk? Maybe it is because they don’t know for sure what effect the mercury-based Thimerosal has on babies.

    Sytrek said: “. . . even though two studies have shown no negative effect from their usage.”
    There are certainly many who see Thimerosal as a problem, and there is information out there that shows a correlation (not causation, necessarily).

    SafeMinds, an organization dedicated to getting mercury out of our vaccines (check out their “Research” tab–the provided pieces illustrate how the effects of mercury in Thimerosal are currently being debated), offers the article, Flu Vaccination Shortage

  14. mark
    Posted October 25, 2004 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I just came across a post at the Daily Kos site concerning the flue vaccine and I thought that it was worth reposting here:

    “I have some expertise in the vaccine business, having worked for Aventis Pasteur in the 80’s and 90’s, and I can tell you that the Snopes.com debunking of the flu vaccine myth is almost totally accurate (the only inaccuracy is that the eggs are not inoculated by hand. They are inspected (candled) by hand, though). I would also say that their estimate of the number of doses per egg is high, but I’m sure that there have been a number of yield improvements since I left in 1997.

    Flu vaccine is absolutely a commodity item with an uncertain market (50 million one year, 100 million the next, depending on the TV news). If we want to make sure we have flu vaccine, the government needs to guarantee the purchase of excess flu vaccine at a fair price. This would cost less than one B-2 stealth bomber, and would reduce the overall cost of healthcare.”

    As for Shoe Goo, I ordered it at a Vietnamese restaurant once and didn’t really care for it.

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