Tories use girl’s death to score (invalid) points

When the story broke on Monday that a young British schoolgirl, Natalie Morton, had died after receiving the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer, I wondered why it had made the news. After all, she also died after eating her breakfast that morning, and presumably after attending a couple of lessons. Why did the news stories not provide this information, I wondered. Why did they only mention the vaccination – which after all, was just another event in the girl’s schedule that day. And why didn’t they mention any of the other British children who’d also died that day, in road accidents, for example?

The reason, I soon worked out, was that newsmen like to start controversies. Controversies, however unfounded, sell newspapers or help broadcasters sell advertising space. However, this still didn’t tell me why the BBC – a “public service broadcaster” which has no need to sell ads and which is supposed to be a responsible counterweight to the tabloids and the Murdoch TV channels – published the story on its website under the banner, “Schoolgirl dies after cancer jab.” As with the tabloid press, the tone of the article, and of the BBC’s report on the episode in the 10 o’clock news, strongly suggested, without any evidence, that Natalie Morton’s death was caused by the vaccine.  Anyone who did not see the follow-up story, published today, would have reasonably thought that the HPV vaccine was dangerous and may well have decided it was unsafe for their daughters to be immunised. Given that the vaccine is expected to reduce cervical cancer cases by 70%, such a decision would have left thousands of girls at risk of contracting a frequently fatal disease.

Hopefully, the follow-up story, which reports that Ms Morton died of a massive tumour in her chest that affected her heart and lungs, and not because of the vaccine (nor because she ate breakfast or attended lessons that day, for that matter), will receive as much coverage as the initial report and the scare will abate, though I’m not holding my breath. You only have to look at the mountain of coverage received by the MMR scandal (where duff science linked the vaccine to autism) to see that vaccination is not a topic that attracts responsible journalism.

Sadly, it doesn’t attract responsible politics either.

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Brainwave – let’s re-invent the IPCC

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, George Will has a bright idea in today’s column which will, sadly, be read in 350 or so US newspapers this morning: “America needs a national commission appointed to assess the evidence about climate change.”

Brilliant. Truly brilliant. Shame, really, that the world already has the IPCC whose job it is to “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Of course, Will knows this. In the run up to Copenhagen, he’s simply lobbying for anything that will delay robust steps to cut emissions (RealClimate has a round up of his woeful track record writing about the issue).

What he may not know, however, is that the IPCC itself owes its existence – at least, in part – to a much earlier American attempt to deflect policy action. Alex and I covered this in our paper, State of the Debate:

According to Shardul Agrawala’s fascinating account of the origins of the IPCC, its roots can be found in a workshop held in 1985 in Villach, organized by two United Nations agencies and the non-governmental International Council for Science (ICSU).

At the Villach workshop, a group of scientists, acting in a personal capacity, announced a consensus that “in the first half of the next century a rise of global mean temperature would occur which is greater than any in man’s history.”

The need to deepen, extend and institutionalise this consensus was pushed in particular by the United States government – in part because it wanted to ‘buy time’ and delay a potentially costly policy response. The US wanted an inter-governmental mechanism and that’s what it got.

According to Agrawala, this formal insertion of scientific expertise was of great importance. The result was to pump sufficient shared awareness of the climate problem into the international arena, providing a platform for governments to enter into a serious negotiation.

The IPCC’s dominant position in the debate also became self-reinforcing. “The more credible experts there were already in the IPCC, the more attractive it was for other established experts to join, [and] the more internal strength the institutions had to defend its scientific integrity against political pressures.” An anchor for global understanding of the issue, and perceptions of its seriousness, had been provided.

But, hey, let’s have another review of the evidence! If it takes another thirty years, I am sure that will suit Will just fine…

U.S. Army to topple Obama?

John L. Perry, a right-wing columnist, knows things most of us don’t:

There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the “Obama problem.” Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic.

I wouldn’t dream of it.   My face is entirely straight.

Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a “family intervention,” with some form of limited, shared responsibility?

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.

Military intervention is what Obama’s exponentially accelerating agenda for “fundamental change” toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.

Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem.

Um, let me see… Elections? Congress? The free press? There, that’s three already.

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Pot meets kettle

Nicolas Sarkozy – apparently – believes Barack Obama is “incredibly naive and grossly egotistical – so egotistical that no-one can dent his naivete.” Things are so bad that the French President is now said to be deeply worried about the future of the West.

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Here’s a picture of Sarko and ‘Bama in happier times… Let’s hope the two patch things up.

Update: BTW, Jack Kelly, the Pittsburgh columnist who has passed on this tittle tattle has some fairly fixed views on Obama.  In July, he wrote a column speculating that the US President is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

What. Just. Happened?

Exhibit A:

I grew up in a family, a party and a country that believes no obstacle is so great that it can stop the onwards march of fairness and of justice.

And so I urge you, as the poet said, dream not small dreams because they cannot change the world. Dream big dreams and then watch our country soar.

Exhibit B:

From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes.

Yup, same speech.

Not often that I’m lost for words, but I am now.

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Africa’s new Big Man shows his true colours

Back in December, when Moussa “Dadis” Camara seized power in Guinea in a bloodless coup, he promised to hold elections and return his country to democracy after decades of hardline dictatorship. His people welcomed this approach and hailed the young and previously unknown army officer as a breath of fresh air. When he pledged not to stand in the elections, his popularity grew still stronger.

Sadly, those who were taken in hadn’t been studying their post-colonial African history. Like many before him, far from bringing change and cleaning out a corrupt system, Camara has turned out to be yet another brutal, power-hungry Big Man. Not long ago, he banned public demonstrations. Then he did an about-turn on his election promise (although he says he hasn’t decided whether or not to take part in the upcoming poll in January, a new party has sprung up saying he will represent it and few doubt he will stand).  And yesterday, he demonstrated the lengths he will go to to cling onto power by violently quashing a protest against his candidature in the capital, Conakry.

157 people died as troops opened fire on demonstrators. Many were bayoneted to death. And in a scary echo of neighbouring Sierra Leone’s vicious civil war, soldiers used sexual violence to make their point too. An eyewitness from a local human rights group “saw soldiers strip women naked, spread their legs and stamp on their privates with their boots.”

France, the colonial power, has suspended military aid to the country (why were they giving arms to an unelected dictator in the first place, you might wonder). It is reconsidering its development aid. Whether this will have any effect is uncertain, however. As Camara recently pointed out, there was widespread international criticism when Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz took power by ejecting an elected president in a coup in Mauritania last year, but when Aziz won a subsequent ballot, the complaints rapidly subsided. Camara is counting on the same thing happening with him.

On the web: Merkel’s re-election, Japan’s foreign policy, inefficient markets, and what not to say at the UN…

- With Angela Merkel re-elected as German Chancellor, and the CDU-CSU now forming a coalition with the free-market FDP, Mary Dejevsky assesses the implications for the country’s domestic politics. Alan Posener suggests that Frau Merkel has the potential to be the new Thatcher, while Der Spiegel takes a look at the implications for forming a coherent German foreign policy.

– Staying with shifting politics, WPR assesses the potential for changes in Japan’s international outlook, particularly towards the US. The Asia Times examines the domestic machinations and their likely impact on the new government’s foreign policy priorities.

– Elsewhere, the New Yorker talks to Columbia economist, Joseph Stiglitz, about his concerns over the current economic crisis and the need to address not just market failure, but government failure too. Catch the video here. The FT’s analysis section, meanwhile, assesses the flaws in “efficient markets” theory and explores what might take its place.

– Finally, following last week’s round of summitry at the UN, complete with rhetorical flourish from Muammar al-Qaddafi, Foreign Policy has a list of “The Top 10 Craziest Things Ever Said During a UN Speech” – Qaddafi joins Castro, Khrushchev and Ortega among others.

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