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Public Forum to Address Safety Issues on Vaccines

In the midst of yet another controversy about whether vaccines cause autism, the federal government will hold its first ever public meeting on Friday to discuss a government-wide research agenda to explore the safety of vaccines.

The meeting is intended to help defuse years of criticism from vaccine skeptics that the government is hiding what it knows about vaccine safety or failing to investigate the issue diligently.

But the gathering is unlikely to appease the government’s many critics in part because the latest notion to grip vaccine skeptics — that vaccinations trigger or worsen something called mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn causes autism — will remain largely unaddressed.

“I think there could be real frustration,” Dr. Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program Office, which is coordinating the meeting, said in an interview on Thursday.

Indeed, Margaret Dunkle, senior fellow at the Center for Health Services Research and Policy at George Washington University, said government experts needed to take into account the latest controversy.

“If they just talk about the same old issues and don’t reflect what we now know and the concession the government has made, that would be a huge disappointment,” Dunkle said.

McCain Reverses Himself On Mortgages

Sen. John McCain, who drew criticism last month after he warned against broad government intervention to solve the deepening mortgage crisis, pivoted Thursday and called for the federal government to aid some homeowners in danger of losing their homes, by helping them to refinance and get federally guaranteed 30-year mortgages.

“There is nothing more important than keeping alive the American dream to own your home, and priority No.1 is to keep well-meaning, deserving homeowners who are facing foreclosure in their homes,” McCain, R-Ariz., said in a speech on economic themes that he gave at a window company in Brooklyn.

McCain had been painted as uncaring by Democrats, and drew murmurs of concern from some Republicans, after a speech in California last month in which he cautioned that “it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers,” and noted that the crisis had been brought on by both lenders and borrowers.

Since then he has gone out of his way to try to signal that he understands that times are tough and that people are hurting. His speech in Brooklyn on Thursday — which is to be followed by what aides are billing as a major economic address next week — was a shift in tone, and part of a new effort to communicate that as president he would act to help Americans in financial distress.

“Let me make it clear,” McCain said, “that in these challenging times, I am committed to using all the resources of this government and great nation to create opportunity and make sure that every deserving American has a good job and can achieve their American dream.”

Guantanamo Bay Detainee Says He’ll Boycott His Trial

A Sudanese man on Thursday became the latest detainee to present perplexing challenges to the military commissions here, refusing to accept any American lawyer, saying he would boycott court proceedings and delivering a rambling attack on the proposed trials. A military defense lawyer suggested he might be mentally unstable.

The detainee, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, used his arraignment to say that Osama Bin Laden “has succeeded immensely,” adding, “The whole world had a headache, from your hypocrisy that you are the land of justice.”

Al Qosi called the military commissions here sham courts that “move at the pace of a turtle in order to gain some time and keep us in these boxes without any human or legal rights.”

The proceeding was the latest here to raise questions about how the war crimes cases will proceed as some detainees reject American lawyers, refuse to participate and show signs of psychological problems that detainee advocates say are byproducts of years in captivity.

Al Qosi was the third detainee to say in recent weeks he planned to boycott the war crimes court. The boycotts and decisions by some detainees to refuse to work with military defense lawyers are among a host of issues that are slowing proceedings here. Few trials may be completed before the end of the Bush administration in January, some lawyers have said.

Powell Praises Sen. Obama

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell may have contributed $2,300 to the Republican presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, but he is reserving his strongest praise for the Democratic candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama.

In a television interview that was broadcast Thursday, Powell said he “admired” how Obama handled a speech in March on race. He said he agreed with much of what Obama said about the controversial sermons of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

“I thought that Sen. Obama handled the issue well,” Powell told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “He didn’t abandon the minister that brought him closer to his faith, but at the same time he deplored the kinds of statements that the Reverend Wright had made.”

Powell noted that he was friends with all three presidential candidates. While he said he had not decided which candidate to support, he said he was impressed by Obama’s ability to “learn quickly.”

“With Sen. Obama, he didn’t have a lot of experience running a presidential campaign, did he?” Powell said. “But he seems to know how to organize a task, and he seems to know how to apply resources to a problem at hand.”