Never perhaps have there been stranger political bedfellows. In Nevada, a pro-Harry Reid group -- he's the Senate's lead Democrat -- promotes a little-known Tea Party candidate running against Reid: Scott Ashjian.
Vaccines have saved untold millions of lives, and the vast majority of people who get them suffer no major problems.
But there's a trade-off: occasionally, vaccines cause injury or death. Very rarely, patients are left with what's known as "encephalopathy", the medical term for brain damage.
In fact, CBS News has found nearly 1,300 cases in which vaccine-related brain damage has been compensated in court over the past 20 years.
The debate over any links between vaccines and autism - a behavior problem triggered by brain damage - couldn't be more contentious. The great majority of medical opinion holds that vaccines don't cause autism. However, many of the same experts don't dispute that vaccines can, in rare instances, cause brain damage.
Our examination of federal vaccine court decisions over the years reflects this. Children who end up with autistic symptoms or autism have won vaccine injury claims over the years-as long as they highlighted general, widely-accepted brain damage; not autism specifically. But when autism or autistic symptoms are alleged as the primary brain damage, the cases are lost.
That doesn't make sense to families who see autism as a specific form of encephalopathy. But it makes perfect sense to the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Brian Strom, who has served on Institute of Medicine panels advising the government on vaccine safety. He says the prevailing medical opinion is that vaccines are scientifically linked to encephalopathy, but not scientifically linked to autism.
"The fact that a person suffers autism and encephalopathy does not mean that the vaccine caused both of them," says Dr. Strom. "Even if it caused the encephalopathy, that may or may not have been the cause of the autism--those are two different questions."
Still, some families who believe vaccines caused autism in a loved one are circulating these words of advice: use "encephalopathy" in vaccine court and you're more likely to win. Argue "autism" and you're sure to lose.
"I purposely avoided mentioning 'autism' in the claim," says the attorney for a child diagnosed with brain damage and autism after her DTaP vaccination at 18 months. The lawsuit alleged only encephalopathy. "Using (the child's) autism diagnosis would have dragged out the lawsuit for years. The point wasn't to try to win the autism debate, it was to get this family the compensation they need to take care of their injured child." They promptly won a significant award.Continue »
As Reverend Terry Jones prepares to strike a match and send a Quran up in smoke, the ACLU finds itself in a strange position: defending both sides in the debate. "We are in a unique position to say he has the right to burn the Quran, and then walk across the street and protest him for doing it," says Brandon Hensler, spokesman for the ACLU of Florida. "There are two competing interests and they're not mutually exclusive."
When asked about the national security aspect of burning the Quran--meaning the inflammatory act could put troops in harm's way--Hensler told CBS News: "we're not insensitive to endangering troops abroad... but you can't censor speech based on hypothetical outcome. The Reverend clearly has the free speech right to burn a Quran, as disgusting and vile an act as it is. It's everybody else's right to exercise their free speech against him. You can't pick and choose who has constitutional rights."
The ACLU has also been communicating with the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera which is covering the Quran burning story. Many in Al-Jazeera's audience, Hensler says, do not understand a nation such as ours whereby free speech is protected. "That's what makes it so special here."
It's not the first time the ACLU has defended opposing sides in a controversy. For example, the Florida branch of the civil rights group defended organizers of a gay pride parade in St. Petersburg while defending anti-gay protesters at the same event.
Hensler is en route to Gainesville, Florida to participate tomorrow in an interfaith event at a Methodist church promoting tolerance. "This is as naked as the Bill of Rights and Constitution get. It's an uncomfortable, ugly display but it's his right to do it."
In addition to the first year, the family will receive more than $500,000 per year to pay for Hannah's care. Those familiar with the case believe the compensation could easily amount to $20 million over the child's lifetime.
Hannah was described as normal, happy and precocious in her first 18 months.
Then, in July 2000, she was vaccinated against nine diseases in one doctor's visit: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae.
Afterward, her health declined rapidly. She developed high fevers, stopped eating, didn't respond when spoken to, began showing signs of autism, and began having screaming fits. In 2002, Hannah's parents filed an autism claim in federal vaccine court. Five years later, the government settled the case before trial and had it sealed. It's taken more than two years for both sides to agree on how much Hannah will be compensated for her injuries.
In acknowledging Hannah's injuries, the government said vaccines aggravated an unknown mitochondrial disorder Hannah had which didn't "cause" her autism, but "resulted" in it. It's unknown how many other children have similar undiagnosed mitochondrial disorder. All other autism "test cases" have been defeated at trial. Approximately 4,800 are awaiting disposition in federal vaccine court.
Time Magazine summed up the relevance of the Poling case in 2008: ...(T)here's no denying that the court's decision to award damages to the Poling family puts a chink -- a question mark -- in what had been an unqualified defense of vaccine safety with regard to autism. If Hannah Poling had an underlying condition that made her vulnerable to being harmed by vaccines, it stands to reason that other children might also have such vulnerabilities."
Then-director of the Centers for Disease Control Julie Gerberding (who is now President of Merck Vaccines) stated: "The government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism. This does not represent anything other than a very specific situation and a very sad situation as far as the family of the affected child."
The short back-story to all of this is as follows: last fall I was made aware of the fact that Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had advised states to stop testing and tracking H1N1 or "swine flu."
Sources indicated they felt this decision was hasty and ill-though-out, and could be designed to skew the public's view of how widespread swine flu really was - or in this case, was not.
Getting statistics and answers would have been easy, if the CDC had provided the public documents I requested. The documents should have been provided quickly, as they were clearly public in nature, they were readily accessible (requiring no special search), and my request was very specific as to what I needed to see. When the CDC balked at providing the information and quit communicating with me, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the materials. Under FOI law, my request was entitled to expedited processing because--among other reasons-- it about an issue of public safety, and an issue of widespread public interest.
At the time, CDC denied my request for expedited processing denying - laughably - that swine flu was of widespread interest to the public. That meant my request, dated August 27, 2009, went at the end of a long, mysterious cue where it might be fulfilled in weeks, months... or someday.
But as they were sending America's housing market down the tubes, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports new documents show Countrywide and Fannie Mae were quietly scratching each other's backs.Read the complete story.
by CBS News Investigative Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson
***Read Updated Story with Statements
New documents released by the House Committee on Oversight shed shocking new light on the cozy partnership between Countrywide Financial Corporation and Fannie Mae -- which left taxpayers holding the bag for billions in subprime loans.
The documents show that dozens of Fannie Mae employees accepted VIP loans and VIP treatment from Countrywide.
According to investigators, Countrywide's VIP treatment could range from special handling of customer phone calls to discounted loan rates worth thousands of dollars on a loan.
Rep. Darrell Issa is asking investigators to see whether the VIP loans violate conduct codes of the government sponsored mortgage funder. According to Issa, employees may have benefitted personally from the risky relationship forged between Countrywide and Fannie Mae, even as the system was falling apart.Continue »
The latest scientific estimate of just how much oil is gushing out calls into serious question the expertise of those managing the spill: BP and the government.
When BP cut the riser pipe 13 days ago, independent scientists said it would increase the amount of oil gushing out, like cutting the kink out of a hose.
Top government officials assured everyone it wasn't much.
"Is there any thought that perhaps the procedure that BP went through to cut off the rise added to the quantity of oil coming out?" asked Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
"The range of increase may have been somewhere between 4 and 5 percent over what it was before," answered Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
BP was even more optimistic.Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf
"The amount of oil will not change," BP Managing Director Bob Dudley said on "Fox News Sunday." "The oil was coming out anyway from just above it at a broken area of the pipe."
But the opposite happened. Cutting the riser was supposed to allow BP to use a containment device capture more oil.
A team of independent scientists analyzed high-resolution video and found it actually made things worse, not better. Now, the scientists say, about 50 percent more oil is coming out than before. Far more than BP has been able to collect.
That means up to 100,000 extra barrels - or 4.2 million extra gallons - has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico since June 3.
BP hopes to soon double that amount of oil it contains. President Obama says it should capture 90 percent in the near future. But it's hard to have faith in the predictions when so many have been proven to be wildly off.