Bayer and Monsanto merge in $66B mega-deal that will reshape world’s food supply.

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Bayer and Monsanto merge in $66B mega-deal that will reshape world’s food supply.

The German chemical company Bayer said it will take over U.S. seed giant Monsanto to become one of the world’s biggest agriculture conglomerates.

The $66 billion deal — the largest corporate mega-merger in a year full of them — could reshape the development of seeds and pesticides necessary to fueling the planet’s food supply.

Bayer first made a $62 billion offer for Monsanto in May and has increased its bid over months of negotiations. The all-cash deal is valued at about $128 a share, making it the weightiest all-cash buyout in history, beating the $60 billion deal between brewers Anheuser-Busch and InBev in 2008.

Bayer in the U.S. is known largely for its pharmaceuticals, with scientists who developed modern Aspirin and Alka-Seltzer. But the deal would pivot the 117,000-employee company more towards its farm-targeting business in agriculture chemicals, crop supplies and compounds that kill bugs and weeds.

Monsanto is the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds, which now dominate American farming but are still a major source of environmental protests in Europe and abroad. The 20,000-employee company also develops Roundup, the weed-killing herbicide.

Bayer’s sales totaled 46.3 billion Euro last year, or roughly $51 billion, about 30 percent of which came from its crop division. Monsanto’s sales totaled $15 billion last year.

The deal is a sign of just how influential the industry of genetically modified seeds has become around the world. Decried as unsafe and chemically tarnished “Frankenseeds” by some environmental activists, they have also allowed for greater harvest efficiency, stronger pest resistance and more widespread crop availability around the world.

A National Academies of Sciences panel of experts said in May that there was no “substantiated” evidence that genetically engineered crops had triggered human health concerns or hurt the environment, though they added that more research was needed.

The companies portrayed the deal as a landmark that would help them invest more in seeds, pesticides and technology for the global harvesting of fruits, vegetables, corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops.

“The whole agricultural industry around the world is basically going thru a transformation. It’s the last big industry in the world to be digitized,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer. “This allows to make more investments, have more capabilities and build better products for farmers, that they can use to grow crops with higher yields … and farm better, farm smarter.”

The deal is likely to warrant intense scrutiny from American and German antitrust regulators, who will assess whether the merger would unfairly lead to higher prices for farmers worldwide. The new company would preside over roughly a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide supplies.

Regulatory crackdowns have busted several high-profile mega-mergers this year, including a $150 billion deal between pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan.

Justice Department investigators have in recent years launched probes into “possible anticompetitive practices” in America’s Monsanto-led seed industry, though a formal investigation was closed in 2012 without pursuing charges.

Bayer and Monsanto said on a Wednesday call that they would be seeking antitrust approval in 30 global jurisdictions. Bayer has committed to paying a $2 billion antitrust breakup fee if the deal falls apart.

Asked if they were worried over the uncertain regulatory challenge from a new U.S. presidential administration, Monsanto chief executive Hugh Grant said on a Wednesday call that the companies were “much more focused on the innovation horizon than the political horizon.”

Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division, said the company was “pretty confident” that the deal would be approved by regulators because both companies have “highly complementary” product lines and geographic offerings.

“We have very, very little overlap,” Condon said. “The whole strategic rationale of the deal is built around encouraging more innovation.”

David Balto, a former Federal Trade Commission policy director who now does legal work on mergers for farmers and consumer groups, said there was a strong chance the deal would be opposed by the Department of Justice.

Regulators, he said, will take a sharp look at the potential for a deal that would lead to few benefits for consumers and limit innovation.

“Antitrust cops are learning they’re cops,” Balto said. The companies “have chosen to do a deal in the year of merging dangerously. They are in for a tough time.”

The companies said the deal, the largest German takeover of a U.S. firm, would help them save $1.5 billion through cost-cutting, added purchase power and other “synergies” within three years.

Monsanto’s current headquarters, in St. Louis, will become the companies’ commercial headquarters for North America, though it’s unclear how the mega-deal could affect jobs there. Grant said on a Wednesday call that the merger would help the city become a “global center” for the seed business, adding, “This is good news for St. Louis.”

A cadre of megabanks, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, will provide $57 billion in short-term bridge financing to help finalize the deal, the companies said.

Bayer was trading up about 1 percent on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange as of Wednesday morning. Monsanto was up less than 1 percent in early trading.

The $100 billion global market of seeds and pesticides has grown increasingly competitive, as farmers duel for crop and market share on a planet whose population is expected to grow more than 30 percent by 2050, to 9.7 billion people.

Tensions have escalated further because global crop prices have fallen for three straight years, squeezing profits and forcing the seed and agriculture industries to cut costs and trim their workforces. Monsanto said last year it would lay off 12 percent of its employees, or 2,600 jobs.

Rival seed and chemical giants, including Dow Chemical, DuPont and Syngenta, have launched their own megadeals in recent months as part of a growing race to consolidation.

A Chinese state-owned chemical giant said in February that it would pay $43 billion for Syngenta, the seed and pesticide conglomerate. That deal faces a number of antitrust reviews but received clearance from an influential U.S. regulatory agency last month.

Bayer chief executive Werner Baumann said the deal with Monsanto would deliver “substantial value to shareholders, our customers, employees and society at large.”

Source: http://trib.in/2cHv8z0

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Pressure builds for President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden.

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Pressure builds for President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden.

Bernie Sanders leads a chorus of prominent public figures calling for clemency, a plea agreement or, in several cases, a full pardon for the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Writing in the Guardian, the runner-up in the race to become Democratic presidential candidate argues that Snowden helped to educate the American public about how the NSA violated the constitutional rights of citizens with its mass surveillance program. Sanders argues that there should be some form of resolution that would acknowledge both the “troubling revelations” that he had brought to light and the crime that he committed in doing so, that would “spare him a long prison sentence or permanent exile”.

Sanders joins 20 other prominent public figures – from Hollywood actors and rock musicians to politicians, professors and Black Lives Matter activists – who call on Barack Obama to find some way of allowing Snowden to return home to the US from exile in Russia. The Guardian’s voices are raised in the week that Oliver Stone’s film, Snowden, is released in the US and that a coalition of groups including the ACLU and Amnesty International launch a new campaign for a presidential pardon before Obama steps down.

Among the writers in the Guardian are Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, who calls for Snowden to be allowed to make a public interest defense in any US trial. From the world of arts, actor Susan Sarandon and director Terry Gilliam, novelist Barry Eisler and Sonic Youth singer Thurston Moore all make impassioned calls for an Obama pardon.

Senior politicians from both sides of the Atlantic, including former US senator Mark Udall, UK parliamentarian David Winnick and German Green party member Hans-Christian Ströbele all fly the flag for a Snowden homecoming. Similar calls are made by public intellectuals including Noam Chomsky, Cornel West and Sanders’ former Democratic presidential rival and Harvard law professor, Lawrence Lessig.

Not everyone writing in the Guardian today is empathetic towards the whistleblower. The former director of the NSA, Michael Hayden, says Snowden should face “the full force of the law” were he to come home. Stewart Baker, also latterly of the NSA, argues that Snowden’s leak caused harm to US national interests – a contention that is strongly disputed by many of the other people writing here.

The information disclosed by Edward Snowden has allowed Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights.

Now we must learn from the troubling revelations Mr Snowden brought to light. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be given the tools they need to protect us, but that can be done in a way that does not sacrifice our rights.

While Mr Snowden played an important role in educating the American people, there is no debate that he also violated an oath and committed a crime. In my view, the interests of justice would be best served if our government granted him some form of clemency or a plea agreement that would spare him a long prison sentence or permanent exile.

Ed Snowden did this country a great service. Here was a man who had a well-paying job and a good life in Hawaii yet tore it all up so that he could reveal to all of us what the NSA was doing to us in the name of national security. He did so for no personal gain, and at massive personal cost, because he cared about a basic principle: that governments should not lie to their people.

I think President Obama should do the right thing: pardon Ed and let him come home to his family and his people.
Susan Sarandon

I don’t think a person like that should be exiled from their country. I don’t think a person like that deserves to be locked away for decades like Chelsea Manning. I think President Obama should do the right thing: pardon Ed and let him come home to his family and his people.

Ed Snowden should be freed of the legal burden hanging over him. They should remove the indictment, pardon him if that’s the way to do it, so that he is no longer facing prison.

The NSA and US government have revealed no evidence that the information Ed Snowden released has caused any harm. Inconvenience, yes, embarrassment certainly, but what has truly been revealed is that the NSA itself was unquestionably committing international, domestic and constitutional crimes.

Were the government to have any evidence that Snowden revealed information that should have been protected, I think he should be judged by a jury. I was the first person to be tried for a leak under the Espionage Act, and I certainly didn’t object to my case being weighed by a jury, although it never came to that. But there has to be a public interest defense, which doesn’t exist in US law now.

As things stand, I think the chance that this or any president will pardon Snowden is zero. They wouldn’t dare to challenge the intelligence community that remains so hostile to him. Nor does Snowden have any chance of a fair trial under the Espionage Act, any more than I did.

So nothing would be gained by him coming back and standing trial unless the Espionage Act were changed to permit that public interest defense. He’s said to me that he’s willing to come back and serve one, two or conceivably three years as a result of a plea bargain arranged beforehand, but they haven’t offered him one as far as I’m aware.

I think anyone helping to strengthen the workings of democracy should be rewarded. What Edward Snowden’s prize should be, I don’t know, perhaps something as unglamorous and hard to display on his mantelpiece as a presidential pardon. That would be nice.

What Snowden did amounted to the greatest hemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in the history of my nation.
Michael Hayden

What Edward Snowden did amounted to the greatest hemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in the history of my nation.

If he wants to come home, and that’s his choice, I think he should face the full force of the law. Then he would be able to mount his defense. I would not be supportive of a public interest defense, however, because the American people declare some things to be legal and some things to be illegal, and don’t anoint the individual citizen to decide whether that’s a good or a bad idea.

If Snowden really claims that his actions amounted to genuine civil disobedience, he should go to some English language bookstore in Moscow and get a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Thoreau points out clearly that civil disobedience gets its moral authority by the willingness to suffer the penalties from disobeying a law, even if you think that law is unjust.

It would be incredibly unwise for this president to offer a pardon. President Obama and his successors are dependent on the 100,000-plus people inside the American intelligence community – the people Edward Snowden betrayed. For any president to align himself with Snowden’s approach in this controversy would carry an incredible cost to the spirit and morale of the intelligence community.

Right now, Black Lives Matter activists protesting deadly police and other forms of state violence who have not been accused of any crime are being spied on with Stingray cellphone interceptors, tracked through biometric facial recognition software and license-plate readers, among other things. And, this isn’t limited to black activists.
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Black people of all kinds know that since blacks were enslaved in the western hemisphere, to be black in America is to suffer persistent surveillance, to be watched as if being black was a spectator sport. How many black people right now are wearing electronic monitors? Are in databases we can’t get off? Are on the no-fly list? Are living in communities that are so over-policed they have been turned into open-air prisons?

This is why Edward Snowden must be pardoned – because the ability of black communities to organize for our collective liberation depends, in part, on whistleblowers like him. Black movements for peace and freedom demand that out of the darkness of empire, truth-tellers emerge to sound the alarm.

His revelations directly challenged the commonly held belief that media, phone and technology corporations must always give into state interests to target and harass the public. His bravery was a catalyst for the modern movement to defend democracy from both state and corporate overreach.

President Obama should provide Edward Snowden with a form of clemency that would permit him to return home to the United States – and still more appropriately in my view, remove all threats of criminal investigation as well.

He should not be punished for the services that he has performed in the interests of democracy and civil rights.

Snowden should, in my opinion, be welcomed home with honors for his service to his country, and for his courage and integrity in the manner in which he performed this service. Apart from exceptional circumstances, citizens have every right to know what their government is doing, in particular what it is doing to them – in the present case, as Snowden revealed to us, keeping citizens under extensive and deeply intrusive surveillance.

No case has been made that relevant exceptional circumstances prevail. As well known, initial claims about prevention of terrorist actions collapsed under investigation, and no credible case has been made that the massive invasion of privacy, arguably in violation of constitutional rights, is warranted. Snowden made every effort to follow established procedures for bringing this crucial information to the general public. When these failed, he took the courageous and honorable step of transmitting the information through the medium of careful and highly reliable and experienced journalists, who, along with him, carefully vetted the material to ensure that no possible harm would be caused to individuals or to security.

Citizens of the United States – and indeed the world, considering the extraordinary range of the operations that have been revealed – are very much in Snowden’s debt. He should certainly not be punished in any way for the services that he has performed in the interests of democracy and civil rights. At the very least, he should be granted the full freedom to return home without fear of prosecution, and, I very much hope, to be welcomed with the respect that he richly deserves.

From the perspective of someone born in the friendly ’50s in the USA, it has become normal to witness the uncovering of classified information over time …

Living in this day in age one would imagine that we – so connected now – could’ve found a way to share resources in a more socially responsible way. It’s absolutely perplexing to me to try to understand people involved in The Bilderberg Group, or see people, even friends and colleagues in places such as Los Angeles, spending hours and hours and hundreds of dollars bleaching their hair every week and purchasing absurdly priced designer clothing whilst in travels on the same tours through Europe and witness to young Syrian refugees or young disenfranchised children and kids in Detroit or Mexico City or even London on the streets, starved. There is an obvious and embarrassing injustice.

We are grateful for the courage and the conscience of the whistleblowers. Everywhere.
Thurston Moore

Simultaneously going to the cinema, there are sometimes advertisements/campaigns before the trailers to join the military – and there we are in the audience boo-ing! How dare these guys boast their heartless, imperialist activities in an effort to recruit young people. It’s sickening.

It’s difficult to talk about. It’s hard to even talk anymore. I listen more now. We listen to our Palestinian neighbors. We listen to the brave men and women and trans people fighting for basic rights. We seek out film festivals and documentary festivals where activist artists bravely tell stories to try to affect change in communities. We read everything Chelsea Manning has written. It inspires us. We try to make a more universal music of peace and love.

We are grateful for the courage and the conscience of the whistleblowers. Everywhere. From Angela Davis and the Black Panther party in the USA, Anna Mendelssohn (aka Grace Lake) and Stuart Christie and The Angry Brigade in the UK and today’s activist beauties such as Snowden, Manning, Assange … others. All I can say to them is thank you, and try to honour them in my music. They are heroes. They will be remembered, hopefully honored in their own lifetime.

In an age of pervasive mendacity and massive criminality my dear brother Edward Snowden exemplifies courage and integrity. I call for President Obama to give him a pardon owing to his public service for truth and democratic accountability.

Frankly, I believe that were Snowden to return to the US, he would be treated badly; so much so, that even if he were fully pardoned – and could convince himself that that were truly so – he still would still be treated very badly.

I’m certain that most of the following of Donald Trump would want him in prison for life at best and hanged at worst.

That, sadly, is the nature of our country these days (some would argue we have always been thus and point to all manner of cases from the Salem witch trials to Alger Hiss, to the Rosenbergs, to the San Francisco 49ers quarterback now being shouted down for his refusals with respect to the US national anthem). Snowden’s actions, in many minds, constitute treason. I’m quite certain that most of the following of Donald Trump, for example, would want him in prison for life at best and hanged at worst.

After listening to Snowden on tape and video multiple times, I believe him to be a highly courageous and extremely ethical young man. He just might be the type who could weather such a storm and lead an otherwise productive life, like Daniel Ellsberg has for example. That might make him a martyr to some; but he will remain a villain to many others.

Am I for pardoning him? I would have to know a great deal more about the real impacts of his revelations – not the lies the government tells – before I could formulate my view. None of this truth is about to be forthcoming, so I really cannot make an informed judgment. It’s shameful because I don’t think any reasonable citizen can.

The essence of America’s precious freedom is the right to speak up. For people all over the world, especially in countries where whistleblowers’ only fate is death, Snowden has become a symbol of citizenship and moral courage. He has changed the way we feel about possibility of freedom.

He has taught us that in times of moral crisis, neutrality is not the side we want to be on. In pardoning Snowden, America strengthens itself and the ideas it stands for. Bring him home, honor him.

I wholeheartedly support a full presidential pardon for whistleblower Edward Snowden.

As a CIA officer 25 years ago, I knew the government classified too much information. Everyone knew it. But no one spoke up. And today the problem is far worse.

For his service to his country, he deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But because of Edward Snowden, we now know the head of US intelligence was lying to the Senate committee responsible for intelligence oversight. Programs concealed from the citizenry have been declared unconstitutional by federal courts. For the first time, the country has the minimal information necessary to grapple with the benefits and dangers of a surveillance apparatus far more vast and intrusive even than the one Senator Frank Church warned 40 years ago could lead to the eradication of privacy and the imposition of

Surely in a democracy, the people have a right to know about the implementation of programs with risks as vast as that. Surely in a democracy, the people have a need to know.

That today we do know, that today we are able to engage in this critical conversation about how properly to govern ourselves, is almost entirely due to the conscience and courage of one man: Edward Snowden. For his service to his country, he deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. But a presidential pardon might be acknowledgment enough.
Susan Buck-Morss

Philosopher and professor of political science at the CUNY Graduate Center

The charge of espionage against Snowden makes no sense. How can he be guilty as an agent of an enemy power, when his goal was to defend the people of the United States against secret and illegal actions by their own government?

What would a pardon of Edward Snowden signal? It would acknowledge the very principle of democratic rule.

A line between hero and traitor in this case is impossible to draw. And that is the deeper issue. What would a pardon of Edward Snowden signal? It would acknowledge the very principle of democratic rule. Nothing protects us from the abuses of executive power more effectively than their exposure by individual citizens who make them public and sound the alarm.

UK member of parliament and vice-chair of the Home Affairs Committee

From the start I thought that Edward Snowden had made a significant contribution in revealing the excesses and, in some instances, illegal surveillance carried out by US agencies.

If not for his actions, there would not have been the tightening up of such operations and we would never have known how even leaders of various democracies, such as Chancellor Merkel, had their phones tapped by the National Security Agency.

A half a century ago, Daniel Ellsberg was denounced in the US as a traitor for releasing the Pentagon Papers, which contained information concealed from the public about the war being waged against Vietnam. His actions have long since been vindicated, and there is a general consensus that what he did was absolutely right. Mr Ellsberg has strenuously defended Edward Snowden.

Snowden could be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which would bestow him a certain degree of immunity in the US
Hans-Christian Ströbele

When I met Edward Snowden in Moscow in October 2013, he told me that he would eventually like to live in a country where democracy and the rule of law are respected. I can think of two ways to make that happen.

First, President Obama could pardon Snowden at the end of his last term, in the way other outgoing presidents have done in the past. Second, Snowden could be awarded the Nobel peace prize, which would bestow him a certain degree of immunity in the US even if he isn’t pardoned: during the cold war, for example, we saw that Soviet Union was unwilling to prosecute people who had been awarded with such an internationally recognised honour.

The key to both of these solutions doesn’t lie in our hands, but there is something we all can do. Like Oliver Stone’s new film, we can try to help emphasise that there is another side to Snowden’s story than the one that prevails in the US media: that this is a man with a lot of integrity, who did a great merit for the civil rights and privacy for the mankind and who knew what he was doing when making a extremely risky decision.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures provided powerful confirmation that the NSA was spying on the digital lives of hundreds of millions of innocent people, undermining digital security and attacking American companies. The leaks caused a sea change in policy and secrecy related to government spying that led to the first piece of legislation to rein in the NSA in over 30 years, reform to the secret Fisa court, and significant, long-overdue public releases of critical information by the government about its spying on innocent Americans as well as millions of others around the world.

His motivations … were clearly to benefit the public and restore privacy and security to the internet.

The information he revealed was critical to starting a conversation about realigning a broken relationship between the intelligence community and the public. His motivations – and the impact of the leaks – were clearly to benefit the public and restore privacy and security to the internet.

The heavy price that the government seeks to exact – indicting him under the Espionage Act as if he had sold secrets to an enemy with no chance of explaining the broader public benefit – is wrong. Snowden’s behavior both before and after he brought this information to the media is that of a whistleblower who brought necessary public attention to a corrupt surveillance system still in need of further reform.

Strong oversight of our intelligence agencies is essential so the American people trust what they are doing to keep us safe. That trust was shaken when Edward Snowden disclosed the disconcerting truths about US surveillance that fueled my years-long effort, alongside Senator Wyden, to end the dragnet, warrantless collection of Americans’ communication records. Although Snowden’s actions aided my push for reform, the fact remains that Snowden broke an oath he willingly took to protect our national security and classified secrets.

I do not believe the president should pardon Snowden. You can make the case that he did our nation a service, and that is why I believe he should return to the United States to make that argument in court and to the public.

Senator Ron Wyden: ‘I think it’s very clear that mass surveillance was never going to end until the public found out about it.’ Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

I’m not going to sit in judgment on pending criminal charges, though I certainly don’t think there should be a double standard where defenders of particular programs can disclose classified information get and off scot-free, while critics of those programs go to prison.

I think it’s very clear that mass surveillance was never going to end until the public found out about it. That’s why I spent years urging the Bush and Obama administrations to begin this discussion with the public. I wish this debate had started earlier, but I’m glad it’s happening now.

What if there hadn’t been a Snowden? A program that violated the principles that this country holds dear may have continued to this day. A program that an appellate court in New York found illegal, that was so egregious in terms of law and civil liberties, may have continued or even been expanded.

Edward Snowden was immensely important and will only become more important as time goes on. Not only did he show the American public what was being done in their name and to them, he ended a program which, upon examination, national security and legal experts concluded did not work.

The importance of what he did for the country outweighs the law that he violated
Karen Greenberg

When considering whether or not he deserves to be pardoned, the president should remember that even former attorney general Eric Holder said that Snowden performed a public service. His revelations were the tidal wave the nation needed to change its ways. The importance of what he did for the country outweighs the law that he violated and the just move is a pardon for Edward Snowden.
Ladar Levison

Owner of webmail service Lavabit that he shut down in 2013 rather than comply with US government orders to facilitate spying on Snowden

Snowden has stated he would be willing to stand and be judged by a jury of peers, but doesn’t believe he would receive a fair trail. I believe the conduct I encountered proves his contention. The individuals responsible for investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating his actions have lied in court, ignored conflicts of interest and irrevocably tainted the evidence against him. I believe it amounts to prosecutorial misconduct.

I think asking President Obama to pardon him is a lost cause.

The charges against Snowden should be dismissed with prejudice; just like the case against Daniel Ellsberg was dismissed. To quote Judge Byrne, from his decision in 1973: “The totality of the circumstances of this case offend a sense of justice.”

On the other hand, I think asking President Obama to pardon him is a lost cause. Snowden revealed misconduct by the very person who is being asked to grant him the pardon. If we were to petition anyone, it should be Congress, or possibly the four presidential candidates (Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green).

There should be nothing less than a full pardon. The information that Snowden released to the public was critical: it made Americans aware of the way the law was being violated or at least subverted by unchecked government officials.

Then there was the manner in which he released the information. It was careful and limited, given the unresponsiveness he had experienced inside the NSA and from other branches of government.

Whistleblowing is an essential part of the architecture of checking government power. We’ve recognized the importance of whistleblowers in the past, and it’s entirely appropriate that Obama now recognizes the role that Snowden played in America in exposing the way in which extraordinary power was abused.

I am not in the “pardon Snowden” camp. And the longer he stays away, the fewer people will be in that camp.

In the early days after his leaks, Snowden was a bit of a paradox – a plausible, intelligent commentator who seemed to have done something that was irresponsible at best and actively hostile to US national security at worst. We were just not sure what to make of him.

It turned out [the benefits of the leaks] could have been achieved by leaking three or four documents.
Stewart Baker

But the public benefits of those leaks were spent within a week or two, as they spurred a genuine debate about surveillance. And it turned out they could have been achieved by leaking three or four documents.

In the years since then, the massive flood unleashed by Snowden has been used for one purpose only – to harm US intelligence and national interests by exposing perfectly legitimate intelligence sources and methods.

As the debate wanes, the ongoing harm to the United States remains front and center. So the longer he stays away the more he becomes, in reality and in perception, simply one of Putin’s tools. And a willing tool to boot, one suspects. That fact naturally casts a new and unflattering light on his deeds in 2013.

Edward Snowden clearly acted in the public interest. He sparked one of the most important debates about government surveillance in decades, and brought about a global movement in defence of privacy in the digital age. Punishing him for this sends out the dangerous message that those who witness human rights violations behind closed doors should not speak out.

It is ironic that it is Snowden who is being treated like a spy when his act of courage drew attention to the fact that the US and UK governments were illegally spying on millions of people without their consent.

Source: http://bit.ly/2cqRyor

First cousin marriages in Pakistani communities leading to appalling disabilities among children.

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First cousin marriages in Pakistani communities leading to appalling disabilities among children.

Couples who are getting married should be forced to have a DNA test first to ensure they are not cousins amid growing concern about incest within Pakistani communities, Britain’s first Asian peer has claimed.

Baroness Flather, a former Tory who now sits as a cross-bencher, said in the House of Lords that it is “absolutely appalling” that first cousin marriages in Pakistani communities are leading to “so much disability among children”.

She said: “There are a lot of first-cousin marriages in certain communities, particularly among Pakistanis who come from the Pakistani Kashmir area. We know so much about DNA now, but there is so much disability among the children, which is absolutely appalling.

“You go to any such family and there will be four or five children, at least one or two of whom will have some disability. That is absolutely unacceptable, and if we cannot do anything about it, is it fair to the children?”

Baroness Flather, a former barrister who was born in the Pakistani city of Lahore when it was part of India, said: “Never mind the parents — it is not fair to the children that they should be allowed to become disabled because of a social practice. It is a social practice which does not belong in today’s age, when we know so much about DNA. There should at least be some rule which says that you must have a DNA examination before your marriage can be registered.”

First-cousin marriages, which are are legal in the UK, are practised within Britain’s Pakistani community, as well as among some Arab and African families. Medical data previously suggested that while British Pakistanis were responsible for 3 per cent of all births, they accounted for 30 per cent of British children born with a genetic illness.

The noble Baroness Flather also raised concerns about Sharia law, under which women struggle to get a divorce.

She said: “I know I am probably talking about Muslims, but we now have this business of sharia marriages. It is appalling that the man can get a divorce by just asking for it, while a woman may have to wait years, and may still not get it. She can get a British divorce, but not a sharia divorce.

Noble Lords may ask, “Why does that matter?”, and I asked that of those women. They replied, “It means that we can’t go to Pakistan”.

“If they go there, the husband can come and take the children away, no matter what age they are. In any case, the husband can take the children from a sharia marriage when they are seven. All marriages should be automatically registered in this country. It is not fair to the women that some British women — they are British women when they come here — are treated in a different and unacceptable way from others.”

Source: http://bit.ly/2cDGYPw

Johnson & Johnson to pay $72m in case linking baby powder to ovarian cancer.

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Johnson & Johnson to pay $72m in case linking baby powder to ovarian cancer.

A Missouri jury has awarded $72m to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer, which she said was caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and other products containing talcum.

The civil suit by Jackie Fox of Birmingham, Alabama, was part of a broader claim in the city of St. Louis circuit court involving nearly 60 people. Her son took over as plaintiff following his mother’s October 2015 death at 62, more than two years after her diagnosis.

Marvin Salter of Jacksonville, Florida, said his late mother, who was a foster parent, used the brand of talcum powder as a bathroom staple for decades. “It just became second nature, like brushing your teeth,” he said. “It’s a household name.”

The attorney representing the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of Johnson & Johnson products says the company knew the risks

An attorney for Fox said the jury verdict Monday night, which came after nearly five hours of deliberations at the conclusion of a three-week trial, was the first such case among more than 1,000 nationally to result in a jury’s monetary award.

The jury said that Fox was entitled to $10m in actual damages and $62m in punitive damages. Attorney James Onder said he “absolutely” expects Johnson & Johnson – the world’s biggest maker of healthcare products – to appeal the verdict.

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The New Jersey-based company previously has been targeted by health and consumer groups over possibly harmful ingredients in items including in its Johnson’s No More Tears baby shampoo.

In May 2009, a coalition of groups called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pushing Johnson & Johnson to eliminate questionable ingredients from its baby and adult personal care products. After three years of petitions, negative publicity and a boycott threat, the company agreed in 2012 to eliminate the ingredients 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products by 2015.

Spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said that the company was considering its next legal move. In a written statement, she said the verdict “goes against decades of sound science proving the safety of talc as a cosmetic ingredient in multiple products,” citing supportive research by the US Food and Drug Administration and National Cancer Institute.

In the trial, Fox’s attorneys introduced into evidence a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygenic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “Denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
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Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, mined from the soil and composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products, such as talcum powder, to absorb moisture, prevent caking and improve the product’s feel.

Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford University law professor not involved in the Missouri case, said it was unlikely the $72m award would survive, noting that the US Supreme Court, in a recent series of rulings, has maintained that appeal courts clamp down on punitive damages.

“Big jury verdicts do tend to be reined in during the course of the appellate process, and I expect that to be the case here,” she told Associated Press.

Monday’s verdict “doesn’t bode well for Johnson & Johnson” as it faces at least 1,200 still-pending lawsuits and possibly thousands more, she said.

“This case clearly was a bellwether, and clearly the jury has seen the evidence and found it compelling,” she said, concluding “the jury was distressed by the company’s conduct”.

Source: http://bit.ly/2ckJ84c

 

MRSA superbug’s resistance to antibiotics is broken.

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MRSA superbug’s resistance to antibiotics is broken.

From superbug to… bug. Newly discovered chemical compounds can make MRSA bacteria vulnerable to the antibiotics they normally resist, restoring the old drug’s former powers.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureaus, commonly known as MRSA, is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections, and the second biggest cause of death by drug-resistant bacteria in the US. These bacteria are resistant to the most widely used class of antibiotics, called beta-lactams, which include penicillin, methicillin and carbapenems.

These drugs work by targeting essential components of a bacterium’s cell wall called peptidoglycans. But MRSA protects itself by using a type of molecule that can soak up the drug and stop it from working.

Now Christopher Tan and colleagues at Merck Research Laboratories in New Jersey have found a way to break this resistance. They have identified two compounds that make beta-lactam antibiotics powerful against MRSA again.

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Called tarocin A and tarocin B, these compounds target a different part of a bacterium’s cell wall, called teichoic acid. Neither of these drugs kill bacteria on their own, but when either one is combined with an antibiotic, the combination can kill MRSA in both clinical samples and in infected mice. The compounds haven’t yet been tested in humans.

“It’s like a two-prong attack,” says David Brown, of the charity Antibiotic Research UK. “They’re weakening the wall by a second mechanism, which makes it easier for the beta-lactams to have their effect as well.”

New weapons

But there is a snag: if the combination alone was used to treat patients, bacteria could become resistant to it. To get round this, Tan suggests adding a third drug that targets another part of teichoic acid production. “We think by having a deep understanding of the biology of this particular pathway, it enables us to identify where the weak spots are in the bacterium to address resistance,” he says.

This method of using existing antibiotics in combination with compounds that restore their potency could be a powerful weapon in the global antibiotic resistance crisis. A similar strategy is already used to treat Escherichia coli and pneumonia that have become resistant to beta-lactamase. These bacteria have an enzyme that breaks these antibiotics down, but adding compounds that inhibit this enzyme makes beta-lactams more effective.

Brown believes we need to apply this strategy more broadly. His charity is funding a screening programme to see if any existing compounds also work as antibiotic resistance breakers.

“It will take 20 years minimum to come up with a reasonable number of new antibiotics,” says Brown. “So we’ve got to salvage our current antibiotics over the next 20 years or so with resistance breakers, which are really the only chance we’ve got.”

Source: http://bit.ly/2chvq0O

Stephen Fry sneers at child sex abuse victims and says free speech is being stifled.

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Stephen Fry sneers at child sex abuse victims and says free speech is being stifled.

Free speech is under attack and here comes Stephen Fry to defend it. Bemoaning the “infantilising” culture of safe spaces and trigger warnings that has developed at universities in recent years, Fry launches into an extraordinary attack on victims of sexual abuse, saying: “It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place – you get some of my sympathy – but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy.” It was a sustained attack. “Self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity,” he said. “Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is, we’ll feel sorry for you if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Grow up.”

That such contempt for victims of child abuse should emerge from the lips of Fry, a man lauded for his great work highlighting mental health issues, is remarkable. That he should use his right to free speech and his platform to express himself in this way is reprehensible. It is also risible, for this is the same Fry who regularly flounces off Twitter because he doesn’t want to hear people criticising him over things he has said and done. Now he expects us to join him in condemning people who have been affected by events they could not possibly control.

And there are many of them. A recent study found that up to 80% of abused people had at least one psychiatric disorder by their 21st birthday: depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide. Schoolyard bullying can be just as destructive, with one study arguing that bullying carried out by other children is five times more likely than neglect or abuse at home to cause anxiety.

Just as the body’s immune system is still forming in childhood, so too is the brain’s stress response. The effects of childhood trauma cannot be overstated: abuse, sexual abuse in particular, is devastating. Children need love, and they need to feel safe.

While the effects of abuse can never be erased completely, therapy for survivors is crucial. Despite this a recent study in the US revealed that, of the 294,000 reported child abuse cases, only 81,000 of the survivors had received any form of counselling. We don’t live in a culture that “indulges” abuse victims; we live in one that is woefully failing them. Fry is talking rubbish.

He is allowed to, of course, because of free speech: for in 2016, an absolutist interpretation of free speech has become popular among the chattering classes. If only the overwhelmingly white, middle-class, Oxbridge-educated, male-dominated commentariat would take “freedom from prejudice” as seriously as it takes “freedom of expression”.

Free speech means something only if you have a platform with which to use it. These free speech fetishists don’t seem to realise that “free speech” is a privilege usually afforded only to people like themselves. To blithely assert that everyone enjoys the same right to free speech is like claiming that I have a right to buy a large house in north London because there is a “free market”. Theoretically it is possible, but life in our real world isn’t like that.

Utilising his right to free speech, Fry says it would be awful if people didn’t read Titus Andronicus. Sorry, Stephen: I haven’t. I went to a rundown comprehensive and read Romeo and Juliet for my GCSEs. I knew one person in my hometown who went to university. I’m from Nottingham, which as the BBC reported in 2013 is the poorest city in Britain, measured by disposable household income. The Beeb sent a reporter to speak to some of its poor residents and met Michael, a man in his twenties who lives on nothing but beans on toast because, as he says “It’s not healthy but it’s cheap”. He spends most of his time hanging around an estate. I wonder how much his notional right to free speech is worth? Very little, I’m afraid, without an invite to Oxford Union.

I have a platform now. Why? Because I had sex for money and put myself through university. Luckily for me, I fell in love with a nice, middle-class boy in my final year and gave up prostitution. After a few months, I moved to London to live with him. He was a banker.

Free speech isn’t under attack; platform privilege is. Stephen Fry, Germaine Greer and the rest of the commentariat are the free speech 1%, enjoying regular and ready access to platforms the rest of the population can only dream about. When you use such platform privilege to pour scorn on minorities and sneer at victims of child abuse, you’re not a champion of free speech – you’re a bully.

Source: http://bit.ly/2ccZ2g5

Muslims in Burma (Myanmar) now facing finals stages of genocide.

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Muslims in Burma (Myanmar) now facing finals stages of genocide.

Despite the U.S.-led rolling back of economic sanctions and internationally backed national elections taking place early next month, more than a million people in Burma are facing state-sponsored genocide, according to a new report.

The Rohingya Muslim community of the military-dominated Southeast Asian nation, which is now officially known as Myanmar, has been systematically persecuted and expunged from the national narrative — often at the behest of powerful extremist groups from the country’s majority Buddhist population and even government authorities — to the point where complete extermination is a possibility, according to a damning new study by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at the Queen Mary University of London.

“The Rohingya face the final stages of genocide,” concludes the report.

ISCI uses noted genocide expert Daniel Feierstein’s framework of the six stages of genocide, outlined in his 2014 book Genocide as Social Practice, as a lens through which to view Burma. Through interviews with stakeholders on both sides of what it describes as ethnic cleansing, as well as media reports and leaked government documents, the report enumerates how the Rohingya have undergone the first four stages — stigmatization and dehumanization; harassment, violence and terror; isolation and segregation; systematic weakening — and are on the verge of “mass annihilation.” The sixth stage, which involves the “removal of the victim group from collective history,” is already under way in many respects, the report says.

Stricken from Burma’s 135 officially recognized ethnicities in 1982, the Rohingya have undergone decades of discrimination and disenfranchisement, albeit never to the degree they currently face. The Burmese government’s official position is that the Rohingya are interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh, despite many having lived in the country for generations, and it refuses to even acknowledge their collective name, preferring the loaded term “Bengali.” The report documents a systematic deterioration of the Rohingya’s situation since communal violence broke out in June 2012 in Burma’s Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state.

Although the Burmese government has painted the strife — which saw hundreds of people, mainly Muslims, slaughtered during two main waves of violence that June and October — as a spontaneous outbreak of long-mounting religious tensions following the reported rape of a Buddhist woman, the ISCI report presents compelling evidence that the attacks were premeditated and possibly even organized by local authorities.

Interviews with some of the perpetrators — none of whom have been prosecuted because of a supposed lack of concrete evidence — reveal that they were bused into Rakhine state’s capital city Sittwe from nearby villages, provided two free meals a day and told it was their “duty as Rakhine to participate in an attack on the Muslim population.”

There are also strong indications that the government not only allowed the violence to take place unabated for almost a week, but that police, military and other state security forces participated in the attacks themselves, the report says.

Since then, close to 140,000 Rohingya have been sequestered in squalid camps outside the state’s capital, heavily guarded and prevented from leaving by security forces. The 4,500 that remain in Sittwe reside in a run-down ghetto with similar restrictions on movement. A majority of the Rohingya, numbering about 800,000, are spread out across two townships in northern Rakhine state — another region completely blocked off from the outside world by the military.

A lot of the food rations sent by international aid organizations never make it to the Rohingya camps, and denial of access to adequate health care have turned them into hotbeds for malnutrition and disease. As a result of the apartheid-like conditions, the inhabitants of these camps are also largely prevented from receiving an education and earning any sort of livelihood.

“The abuses that the Rohingya are experiencing are at a level and scale that we have not seen elsewhere in Southeast Asia,” Matthew Smith, the founder and executive director of Bangkok-based nonprofit Fortify Rights, tells TIME. The human-rights organization has been documenting abuses in Burma, and Smith echoes the assertion that there is a strong reason to believe state-enabled ethnic cleansing is taking place in the country.

“The Rohingya don’t have to be annihilated for someone to be held responsible for the crime of genocide,” he says. “They [Burmese authorities] are creating conditions of life for over a million people that are designed to be destructive.”

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There are more than just physical aspects to the Rohingya’s plight — they have been stripped of their citizenship, with their children no longer being issued birth certificates and laws restricting their marriage and birth rate. The government also excluded the community from the 2014 census unless they registered as “Bengali.”

They have also been denied the right to participate in the upcoming Nov. 8 general elections, a complete reversal from the last election in 2010 when Rohingya voted in large numbers and some were elected to the legislature, as the military-backed government yoked their animosity to the Rakhine to see of the challenge of ethnic parties aligned with the latter.

No political party has countered the Islamophobic national narrative, with even the liberal National League for Democracy (NLD) of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi going to the polls without a single Muslim candidate, and the Rohingya’s deplorable situation will likely endure no matter the election’s result.

“There will be no change for the Rohingya,” says Shwe Maung, a Rohingya lawmaker from northern Rakhine state who has been barred from re-election. “The government is totally denying our community, totally denying our ethnicity,” he tells TIME. “Whatever is happening is with the ultimate objective of genocide or cleansing, which is to finish these people … and to drive them out.”

In the absence of a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a growing likelihood that Rohingya will take to the seas en masse in order to flee their country — like thousands did earlier this year — in the coming months, falling pray to people-smugglers with often deadly consequences.

“Many Rohingya tell us that their options are to stay in Rakhine state and face death or flee the country,” Smith says. “Many of them know that attempting to flee the country is in itself life-threatening, and they’re willing to take those risks because the situation in Rakhine state is as bad as it is.”

The previous exodus, which reached its height this June, was not only enabled and encouraged but also enforced by government authorities, interviews conducted by al-Jazeera for its new documentary Genocide Agenda reveal.

“They said, ‘You are Muslim and you are not allowed to live in Rakhine state. Get on the boat and flee wherever you want,’” an elderly Rohingya man says, recounting the presence of members of Burma’s security forces, army and police who forced them into the vessels. When his elder brother tried to resist, Rakhine Buddhists hacked him to death with a sword on the spot, he tells al-Jazeera before breaking down in tears.

The documentary, released on Monday, is the culmination of a yearlong investigation by al-Jazeera and contains stark evidence of government intent to, at the very least, promote an anti-Muslim sentiment among the Burmese population. Classified government documents obtained by the news channel’s investigative unit warn of “countrywide communal violence between Muslims and Burmans” being planned at a mosque in Burma’s capital, Rangoon, (violence that ultimately did not take place), and a presentation given to new army recruits contains sections on the “Fear of Extinction of Race” detailing how “Bengali Muslims … infiltrate the people to propagate the religion” and aim to increase their population and wipe out the Burmese Buddhists.

The film’s findings, as well as Fortify Rights’ research, were also the subject of an eight-month analysis by the Lowenstein Clinic at Yale Law School. The clinic examined the Rohingya’s circumstances according to the 1948 International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and precedents set by international law, and concluded that “strong evidence” exists to substantiate the claim that genocide is being carried out in Burma with intent to destroy the Rohingya.

The clinic’s report, released on Thursday, calls for a commission of inquiry by the U.N. Human Rights Council to conduct an “urgent, comprehensive and independent investigation” into alleged genocidal acts perpetrated against the Rohingya.

“The international community needs to understand in a deeper way, in a clearer way, that the abuses being perpetrated against the Rohingya are widespread, systematic and a matter of state policy,” Smith tells TIME. “The international community needs to take action. These abuses have been going on for decades.”

Neither TIME nor al-Jazeera was able to obtain a response to the allegations from the Burmese government despite repeated attempts, though Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut told us last year: “We never pay attention to organizations such as Fortify Rights, which are openly lobby groups for the Bengalis.”

Such attitudes do not bode well for the Rohingya, whose plight is grimly summed up by a woman living in one of the camps interviewed by ISCI.

“If the international community can’t help us, please drop a bomb on us and kill all of us,” she says.

Source: http://ti.me/2cwi15O