Category Archives: Whinge

Discussing the Holocaust

by Sean Gabb

I’ve just put this up on a thread that the Blogmaster and I had completely and embarrassingly overlooked:

“Right, David Davis and I have been remiss in not having noticed that this thread has been rumbling on for over four years. Neither of us can be bothered to look through all the hundreds and hundreds of comments. However, we have decided to close this thread to further comments just as soon as we can work out how to do so. Our reason is that this blog exists to debate libertarian issues, not whether and to what extent the Holocaust happened. There are other places to debate this, and we are absolutely opposed to any attempts to censor these. But, now we have noticed it, this thread really has to stop. We are in the position of householders who have thrown a party, and find that, long after we thought everyone had gone home, there is a continuing orgy in one of the summer houses. It stretches hospitality rather far, and is likely to get us funny looks from the neighbours.

“Doubtless, it will take us ages to work out how to turn off comments, and we will not delete anything that has been put up. But the time really has come for us to shoo you all off to continue your discussions somewhere else.”

You may all scratch your heads in wonder that we could have spent four years in absolute ignorance of a debate on this blog that has generated 620 comments, some of these thousands of words long. But we are both rather busy, and we have only just looked through the WordPress control panel and ticked the box that makes us aware of all comments posted. We were surprised to find that a very ancient thread was one of the most active areas of this blog.

We take a rather sniffy approach to censorship, and do agree that people should be at perfect liberty to say whatever they like about the Holocaust and Jews and whatever else takes their fancy. But, while we will say this, and will allow debates on this application of the free speech principle, we really don’t see the function of the LA Blog as providing a forum for people to discuss the substantive issues.

We would take the same approach if we found that there had been a long and overlooked discussion about the merits of vegetarianism, or the David Icke claims about lizard space aliens, or the merits of digital as opposed to analogue sound recording. If there is a place for everything on the Internet, it is not always on the LA Blog.

We should have said this four years ago, and we have been most negligent in overlooking all that has been going on under our noses. But, now we have noticed, we will close the thread to further comments, and we shall try to be more observant in future.


FLC203, The Libertarian Alliance: A Plain View of What Has Happened, Sean Gabb, 10th February 2011

Note: This is all so bloody predictable for small organisations – lovey-dovey one moment, foam-flecked screaming the next! I have no doubt I am partly to blame for this. But here is my account of what has happened. Decide for yourselves.

Following our President’s resignation the other day, I sent out a news release filled with lush mutual flattery and with promises of future glory. But this will never do. The truth is that, both morally and financially, the Libertarian Alliance has been severely damaged. I have no doubt that I can repair this damage. Those who have caused it are persons of no long term importance, and their attacks will, in due course fade into obscurity. Even so, I do feel it is my duty, as Director of the Libertarian Alliance, to give the plainest and most truthful account that I can manage of what has happened.

via FLC203, The Libertarian Alliance: A Plain View of What Has Happened, Sean Gabb, 10th February 2011.

These Sheep Deserve the Wolves They’ve Got!

 Mario Huet

A shit-for-brains neighbour says: ‘I think there should be an investigation. I cannot help but think that whoever did this has caused her death. If it hadn’t happened, she would still be working in the market.’

Such a lukewarm response – and how typical of the bleeding sheeple! Working in the market? Not only that, love, but she’d still be alive. And THIS is why things are so bad for us. It’s not useless pigs or corrupt politicians or corporate greed or the EU or America or ANYTHING else. It’s a worthless degraded populace who for the most part would sooner watch their neighbours die horribly and then bleat feebly afterward than do anything to prevent it. I don’t believe this has anything to do with intimidation; I don’t believe more than a tiny minority of people are much afraid of this. What they are afraid of is of someone in authority telling them that they are ‘making a fuss’, and of their ‘friends’ and neighbours not approving. These are exactly the sort of people who tend to respond to people like us that we are unfeeling and that the things would see done would have deleterious effects on the ‘less fortunate’. But the truth is that they are the ones who have no faith in human nature, unless it is a faith that it is human nature that we should all live and die in the gutter.


Tormented to death: Pensioner, 80, dies after she falls into manhole trap set by yobs who made her life a misery

By Daily Mail Reporter Last updated at 12:51 PM on 24th September 2010

Jenny Ward, 80, from Blackpool, who died after she fell down a manhole when the cover was stolen and never recovered

Jenny Ward had been plagued by a gang of youths who smashed the windows of her home and taunted her for several months

An 80-year-old woman died after sick yobs removed a manhole cover from her driveway and she plunged into the hole in darkness.

Jenny Ward, who still worked on a market stall selling jewellery, had been plagued by a gang of youths who smashed the windows of her home and taunted her for several months.

The thugs’ campaign of harassment eventually ended in tragedy when the pensioner returned home and fell into the trap late one night.

Her cries for help went unheard for three hours until she was finally rescued by firefighters.

After spending a month in hospital and enduring an operation on her foot, Mrs Ward went to live with a relative, but took a turn for the worse and died in hospital on September 8.

Blackpool coroner’s office said Mrs Ward died after a blood clot formed in her lung caused by deep vein thrombosis.

However, friends and neighbours of the pensioner, who had run a market stall in Blackpool for 50 years, said she had never recovered from the campaign of torment and her fall into the manhole.

They have accused police of not doing enough to deal with anti-social behaviour and urged them to find those responsible.

They said that in the weeks leading up to the manhole incident she been scared to return to her home on Shetland Road, because a gang of around ten to 15 teenagers would gather regularly outside her home. Bev Lord, friend of Blackpool pensioner Jenny Ward, who died after falling down a manhole when yobs stole the cover

Bev Lord, friend of Jenny Ward shows a manhole cover in her garden similar to the one which was taken from the pensioner’s home

Bev Lord, who worked with Mrs Ward in the market, said: ‘I’m devastated. She was being tormented. She stayed out most nights and didn’t go back home until later because she was frightened of being home. She was getting verbal abuse and she had her windows smashed.

‘She was still working up to a couple of months ago when she had arrived home late one night and someone had stolen the manhole cover from her drive. She didn’t see it and got trapped down the hole.

‘At her age it must have been such a shock. She was well known, she was a real character.

‘I think there should be an investigation. I cannot help but think that whoever did this has caused her death. If it hadn’t happened, she would still be working in the market.’

Victor Granda, 46, who had known Mrs Ward since her family employed her on an ice-cream stall when she was a teenager, said: ‘She was a lovely lady. She’d talk to a lot of people.

‘These teenagers were making her life a misery. They were throwing stones at her, shouting things at her and taunting her.

‘She was staying out later and later at night because she didn’t want to see these youths.

‘The next thing I heard she had fallen down a manhole because a cover had been taken. A Google Street View shot of Shetland Road, Blackpool

Anti-social: Neighbours said Mrs Ward was afraid to return to her home in Shetland Road, Blackpool, because of gangs of youths hanging around

‘She’d been a very energetic lady, she would have had about ten years on her if this hadn’t have happened.’

Neighbour Ced Nortorn, an assistant manager at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, said: ‘Mrs Ward was being victimised by local children. It’s been a shock.’

Another neighbour, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals, said: ‘They were always hanging about outside her house and they’d give her cheek.

‘There was a gang of them. I’ve had hassle from them too. There should be an investigation. Someone took the manhole cover and she fell in it. I think that’s why she died.’

Another neighbour said: ‘They smashed her window once but Mrs Ward said she didn’t get it fixed because they’d only do it again.

Police said they were not aware of the antisocial behaviour and have not launched an investigation as the coroner’s office did not deem Mrs Ward’s death as suspicious.

But they say they are looking into the theft of the manhole cover and urged anyone with information to contact them.

PC Paul Michael said: ‘We regularly patrol this area, but we’ve not been made aware that antisocial behaviour is a particular problem.

‘We would encourage residents to report incidents to us so we can provide an appropriate policing response.”

As promised, we have just raised the price of the LA Conference to £99

Our reason is that the National Liberal Club has had to increase its own prices, and, while we never make a profit from the conference, we cannot afford a loss.

Yes, think of this every time some slimy politician comes on the telly and tries telling us that inflation is not a problem.

Pig Flu and the “Expert Advice”: Plutocracy in Action


Conflicts of interest and pandemic flu

WHO must act now to restore its credibility, and Europe should legislate

The world should of course be thankful that the 2009 influenza A/H1N1 pandemic proved such a damp squib. With so many fewer lives lost than had been predicted, it almost seems ungrateful to carp about the cost. But carp we must because the cost has been huge. Some countries—notably Poland—declined to join the panic buying of vaccines and antivirals triggered when the World Health Organization declared the pandemic a year ago this week. However, countries like France and the United Kingdom who have stockpiled drugs and vaccines are now busy unpicking vaccine contracts, selling unused vaccine to other countries, and sitting on huge piles of unused oseltamivir. Meanwhile drug companies have banked vast profits—$7bn (£4.8bn; {euro}5.7bn) to $10bn from vaccines alone according to investment bank JP Morgan.1 Given the scale of public cost and private profit, it would seem important to know that WHO’s key decisions were free from commercial influence.

An investigation by the BMJ and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, published this week (doi:10.1136/bmj.c2912), finds that this was far from the case.2 As reported by Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter, some of the experts advising WHO on the pandemic had declarable financial ties with drug companies that were producing antivirals and influenza vaccines. As an example, WHO’s guidance on the use of antivirals in a pandemic was authored by an influenza expert who at the same time was receiving payments from Roche, the manufacturer of oseltamivir (Tamiflu), for consultancy work and lecturing. Although most of the experts consulted by WHO made no secret of their industry ties in other settings, WHO itself has so far declined to explain to what extent it knew about these conflicts of interest or how it managed them.

This lack of transparency is compounded by the existence of a secret "emergency committee," which advised the director general Margaret Chan on when to declare the pandemic—a decision that triggered costly pre-established vaccine contracts around the world. Curiously, the names of the 16 committee members are known only to people within WHO.

Cohen and Carter’s findings resonate with those of other investigations, most notably an inquiry by the Council of Europe, which reports this week and is extremely critical of WHO.1 It concludes that decision making around the influenza A/H1N1 crisis has been lacking in transparency.

One of its chief protagonists is Paul Flynn, a UK member of parliament and a member of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly. He and others raised concerns last year about the lack of evidence to justify the scale of the international response to H1N1 (as also covered in the BMJ in December3), and the lack of transparency around the decision making process for declaring the pandemic.1

WHO’s response to these concerns has been disappointing. Although Margaret Chan has ordered an inquiry and WHO has stressed its commitment to transparency, her office has turned down requests to clear up concerns about potential conflicts of interest.2 And at a hearing of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in January, WHO denied any industry influence on the scientific advice it received.1 Such a knee jerk defence before the facts were known may come to haunt the organisation.

This response is also disappointing given WHO’s track record of standing up to industry. In the late 1970s WHO sparked two iconic clashes with multinational companies over the marketing of breast milk substitutes in the developing world and the setting up of the Essential Drugs Programme.4 Both issues set WHO at loggerheads with the United States where these industries had major holdings. Partly in response to WHO’s position, America withdrew contributions to WHO’s budget.

More recently, in 1999, when the forced disclosure of confidential tobacco industry documents alerted WHO to possible interference in its anti-tobacco activities, its then director general Gro Harlem Brundtland quickly set up an independent inquiry. She then published and press released its shocking findings—of an elaborate industry funded campaign to undermine WHO—without any attempt at interference or spin.5 The report recommended that all staff, consultants, temporary advisers, and members of expert committees should be required to declare their conflicts of interest, with well enforced penalties for those who failed to do so.6

As Cohen and Carter report, WHO subsequently published in 2003 new rules on managing conflicts of interest. These recommended that people with a conflict of interest should not be involved in the part of the discussion or the piece of work affected by that interest or, in certain circumstances, that they should not participate in the relevant discussion or work at all.7 WHO seems not to have followed its own rules for the decision making around the pandemic.

WHO will not be the only body to come under scrutiny for its handling of the pandemic. The coming months will see a spate of reports, from the European Commission, the European Parliament, and from national bodies including the French Senate, and the UK’s Cabinet Office. This soul searching takes place against a backdrop of hardening attitudes to conflicts of interest around the world. Last year’s report from the Institute of Medicine8 has been followed by new guidance from groups such as the World Association of Medical Editors9 and the American College of Chest Physicians,10 which stress that declaration alone is no longer enough. To quote the Institute of Medicine report, "Disclosure is the essential though limited first step in identifying and responding to conflicts of interest." The big question is what to do about the conflicts.

On the basis of our own investigation and those of others, the answer is now inescapable. As Barbara Mintzes says in Cohen and Carter’s report, "No one should be on a committee developing guidelines if they have links to companies that either produce a product—vaccine or drug—or a medical device or test for a disease." The same, and more, must apply to committees making major decisions on public health. Where entirely independent experts are hard to find, experts who are involved with industry could be consulted but should be excluded from decision making. The United States has made important progress with its Sunshine Act and other legislation. European legislation on managing conflicts of interest is long overdue.

As for WHO, its credibility has been badly damaged. Recovery will be fastest if it publishes its own report without delay or defensive comment; makes public the membership and conflicts of interest of its emergency committee; and develops, commits to, and monitors stricter rules of engagement with industry that keep commercial influence away from its decision making.

In a briefing at the end of last year, a spokesperson for WHO said, "Given the discrepancy between what was expected [from the pandemic] and what has happened, a search for ulterior motives on the part of WHO and its scientific advisors is understandable, though without justification."11 The implication is that, had there been a huge death toll, the process behind WHO’s decision making would not have been subject to such scrutiny. This is almost certainly true. But it does not mean that we are wrong to ask hard questions. Neither does it make the answers we have found any less troubling. And nor does it remove from WHO the urgent need to restore its credibility and public trust before the next pandemic comes along.

Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2947

Conflicts of interest and pandemic flu — Godlee 340: c2947 — BMJ

Sean on the Beeb Tonight!

On the back of my earlier news release about price floors for alcohol, I’ve been booked for a debate on BBC Radio 5 Live tonight at 10pm BST (Friday 21st May 2010). The Presenter will be Stephen Nolan. I shall be up against a Professor Ian Gilmore, who is a liver specialist convinced that higher prices are the only path to saving us all from killing ourselves with drink. If you want to listen, Radio 5 is somewhere on the Medium Wave and on Freeview. Otherwise, you can go here:    

If you want to contribute to the discussion, here are all the contact details:

Call: 0500 909 693

SMS/MMS: 85058


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