Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Graham: Flu response shows shortcomings in bio-defense

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham delivers a lecture at the University of South Florida's Sarasota campus last year. (Bradenton Herald file photo.)

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham watches the response so far to the nation's H1N1 flu outbreak, and it only confirms what he has been warning as chairman of commission studying the threat of bio-terrorism and other weapons of mass destruction against the United States:

We aren't doing enough to protect ourselves.

Officials knew more than six months ago that H1N1 would be a problem this winter, but "in spite of that, the president just declared an emergency, all over the country people are lining up to get shots and there is not enough vaccine available," Graham told Political Watch, in advance of a speaking engagement next week in Sarasota.

"If it is a man-made pandemic, we will have zero time to respond," Graham warned.

The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism
, which Graham has chaired for almost two years, last month issued an interim report updating progress on recommendations it made last year.

Among the conclusions: The government is spending only a fraction of what is needed for drugs and medical countermeasures to counter influenza, other emerging diseases and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear public health threats.

Considering that the commission's warning last year that WMD will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013, the time to prepare and act is now, Graham said.

"If we are not ready when that moment arrives, the game is over," he said.

Graham, who turned 73 on Monday, has remained active in public life as a lecturer, author and senior statesman since retiring from the U.S. Senate in 2004 after 18 years of service. Just last week, Graham and fellow former governors Jeb Bush, Bob Martinez and Reubin Askew joined in a campaign to lobby state lawmakers to restore funding for the Florida Forever land acquisition and conservation program.

On Nov. 18, Graham will be the first speaker in a series sponsored by Forum Truth, a nonpartisan public affairs group based in Sarasota.

Graham co-authored "America, the Owner's Manual: Making Government Work for You," released earlier this year.

Using 11 case studies, Graham said his book is designed "to provide to people who want to be more than spectators in democracy ... a road map of how to do that."

The challenge in getting more people involved in the system is that too many people do not have the basic skills or knowledge about American civics, Graham said. As a result, too many Americans don't bother to vote or otherwise participate in the democratic process.

To illustrate that, Graham, who graduated from high school in 1955, said that between the 7th and 12th grades, he took three 0ne-year civics courses.

By comparison, his granddaughter, who recently graduated from high school, took only a single one-semester course all throughout middle and high school.

"I think one of the reasons why there has been such a decline in citizenship ... is because people are intimidated about being involved," Graham said. "They never learned the skills of citizenship."

For more information about Graham's speech, including how to get tickets, visit ForumTruth.org or call (941) 349-8350.

--- Marc R. Masferrer

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