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Archive for August 2010

US Probes Corruption in Big Pharmaceuticals

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Friday, 13 Aug 2010 

By: Stephanie Kirchgaes, Financial Times

The US Department of Justice is scrutinizing payments by leading pharmaceuticals companies for hospitality, consultants, licensing agreements and charitable donations in markets around the world as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe.

GlaxoSmithKline [GSK-LN  1224.50    28.50  (+2.38%)], Pfizer [PFE  16.15 -0.05 (-0.31%) ], Bristol-Myers Squibb [BMY  26.3925 0.0625 (+0.24%) ] and Eli Lilly [LLY  35.74 -0.86 (-2.35%) ], among others, have disclosed being contacted by the DoJ and Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the investigation. Merck [MRK  35.062 0.022 (+0.06%) ], the US drugs group, announced last week that it had also been contacted and was co-operating with investigators.

An industry attorney familiar with the probe said that the DoJ was looking at whether pharma companies had ignored a “systematic risk” inherent in the global drugs business and ignored obligations under local and US anti-bribery law.

The highly regulated nature of the business, combined with the fact that healthcare officials in many non-US markets were government funded, made the industry a natural target for such a probe, the person added.

The investigation is at a relatively early stage but is considered a priority for the DoJ.

While hospitality – including meals and all expenses-paid travel for conferences – has long been considered a potential risk for pharma groups, the DoJ’s probe is looking at all aspects of companies’ dealings in non-US markets, people familiar with the matter say. That includes the recruitment of physicians for clinical trials. In some markets, the same physicians may serve on regulatory boards that approve or deny drugs.

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Written by laudyms

August 13, 2010 at 9:24 am

The Digital Surveillance State: Vast, Secret, and Dangerous

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“we have a Secret Government of 854,000 people, so vast and so secret that nobody knows what it does or what it is. That there is a virtually complete government/corporate merger when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State is indisputable”

by Glenn Greenwald
Lead Essay     Cato Unbound August 9th, 2010

It is unsurprising that the 9/11 attack fostered a massive expansion of America’s already sprawling Surveillance State. But what is surprising, or at least far less understandable, is that this growth shows no signs of abating even as we approach almost a full decade of emotional and temporal distance from that event. The spate of knee-jerk legislative expansions in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 trauma — the USA-PATRIOT Act — has actually been exceeded by the expansions of the last several years — first secretly and lawlessly by the Bush administration, and then legislatively and out in the open once Democrats took over control of the Congress in 2006. Simply put, there is no surveillance power too intrusive or unaccountable for our political class provided the word “terrorism” is invoked to “justify” those powers.

The More-Surveillance-Is-Always-Better Mindset

Illustrating this More-Surveillance-is-Always-Better mindset is what happened after The New York Times revealed in December, 2005 that the Bush administration had ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without the warrants required by law and without any external oversight at all. Despite the fact that the 30-year-old FISA law made every such act of warrantless eavesdropping a felony, “punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both,” and despite the fact that all three federal judges who ruled on the program’s legality concluded that it was illegal, there was no accountability of any kind. The opposite is true: the telecom corporations which enabled and participated in this lawbreaking were immunized by a 2008 law supported by Barack Obama and enacted by the Democratic Congress. And that same Congress twice legalized the bulk of the warrantless eavesdropping powers which The New York Times had exposed: first with the 2007 Protect America Act, and then with the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which, for good measure, even added new warrantless surveillance authorities.

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Critical plant bank in danger: “It’s a bad day for biodiversity”

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“These varieties represent literally millennia of collections by farmers and of plant evolution,” said Fregene

August 11, 2010  thescientist.com

Posted by Bob Grant

Plant scientists around the world are warning that hundreds of years of accumulated agricultural heritage are in danger of being plowed under after a Russian court ruled today (August 11) that the land occupied by a world-renowned plant bank on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg may be transferred to the Russian Housing Development Foundation, which plans to build houses on the site.

The fate of the collection at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, which includes more than 70 hectares planted with 5,500 different varieties of apples, pears, cherries, and numerous berry species — most of which occur nowhere else on Earth and were developed over hundreds of years by farmers in northern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia — was decided in Russia’s Supreme Arbitration Court at 10:30 AM, Moscow time.

“It’s a bad day for biodiversity,” said Cary Fowler, director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which has for months been trying to raise awareness of the dire situation at the decades-old collection. The collection of plants was started in 1926 by the father of seed banking, revered Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. “Unless somebody intervenes, we’re going to stand there at the gates and watch the bulldozers destroy thousands of varieties that are growing in a collection that dates back to 1926,” Fowler told The Scientist.

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US: First GM Plants Found in the Wild

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August 6, 2010  Care2

This is the stuff of my nightmares: Genetically-modified (GM) plants escaping the confines of agriculture and invading the wild. We thought regular invasive species were bad? They seem tame compared to genetic contamination of the wild. Even more alarming: Some of the plants had a mix of modified genes, indicating that they are reproducing on their own.

Although GM plant populations in the wild have been found in Canada, this is the first time they have been found in the United Sates.

Meredith G. Schafer, from the University of Arkansas, and colleagues established transects of land over 3000 miles long including interstate, state and county roads in North Dakota from which they collected, photographed and tested 406 canola plants.

The results show that transgenic plants have clearly established populations in the wild.  Of the 406 plants collected, 347 tested positive for CP4 EPSPS protein (resistant to glyphosate herbicide, aka Roundup) or PAT protein (resistant to glufosinate herbicide, aka LibertyLink). The finding shows that genetically modified canola plants can survive and thrive in the wild perhaps for decades–the study was presented today at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

The team’s key finding was two plants that each carried both types of herbicide resistance — a combination that is not commercially available. The only way this can happen in the wild is if the plants are reproducing on their own. “There were  two instances of multiple transgenes in single individuals,” said coauthor Cynthia Sagers, University of Arkansas. “Varieties with multiple transgenic traits have not yet been released commercially, so this finding suggests that feral populations are reproducing and have become established outside of cultivation. These observations have important implications for the ecology and management of native and weedy species, as well as for the management of biotech products in the U.S.”

Once a GM crop is released it cannot be unreleased, and there are no systems in place to prevent genetic contamination through pollen flow, spills or human error. Although the GM plants found by the roadside are assumed to be the result of escaped seeds during transportation, the GM plants found away from roads suggest that the plants are taking on a life of their own.

The Trust Crisis with Regulating Net Neutrality

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August 6, 2010     Activist Post

Since it was reported that Google and Verizon are close to a deal on so-called “net neutrality,” the policy debate has heated up in Washington. Of course the debate has very little to do with the actual mechanics of how net neutrality will work, rather who will get the control to regulate it.

However, now that the FCC has abandoned negotiations on a “net neutrality” compromise, it is looking like the Congress will ultimately establish the rules — handed down to them by their corporate masters. It seems the Elite’s fight over who controls the dial has been decided.  One thing is for sure, whoever controls the speed dial on the Internet will control the entire Web and subsequently all flow of information.

This is where the problem lies:  the American people don’t have any trust in their government, regulatory agencies, or corporations.  In fact, it seems that these three entities typically work in unison to establish profit and power guarantees that can only be described as monopolistic cartels where power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We the people have lost our voice in nearly all legislation or regulation debates.  And doing away with net neutrality — the people’s last bastion of free speech — is the endgame for the power of the people.

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From One Transparency Advocate to Another: Steven Aftergood on WikiLeaks

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Update below

from July, 2010

Thoughtful and rational discussion of this issue is in short supply.  Steven Aftergood is the writer of Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists, which reports on new developments in government secrecy and provides public access to documentary resources on secrecy, intelligence and national security policy.

July 30, 2010 Transcript  Onthemedia audio available at site

WikiLeaks leaked the biggest collection of classified documents in U.S. history, a fact that should make government-transparency advocates proud. But even some of WikiLeaks most likely allies have mixed feelings about precisely how this leak took place and how WikiLeaks operates. Longtime open government writer Steven Aftergood makes his case.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: WikiLeaks has demonstrated its ability to flout U.S. law by being, in effect, stateless. Guided by different priorities than the more traditional advocates of sunlight, it lives by the rules of the Internet. Here’s Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, explaining his code of conduct.

JULIAN ASSANGE: We’re an activist organization. The method is transparency. The goal is justice.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Steven Aftergood is the longtime writer of the email newsletter and blog, Secrecy News. For years he’s reported and researched government secrecy and advocated for U.S. government transparency. He’s no stranger to the antagonism between secrecy and disclosure. But in recent months he’s been a critic of WikiLeaks and its methods. Steven, welcome back to the show.

STEVEN AFTERGOOD: Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So in June you wrote a blog post offering some praise for WikiLeaks, but you didn’t mince words when it came to its failings. You wrote, quote: “It is not whistleblowing and it is not journalism. It is a kind of information vandalism.”

STEVEN AFTERGOOD: What I was responding to there was a pattern of activity by WikiLeaks in which they were disclosing confidential records of social and religious groups, like the Masons and the Mormons and several others, that did not reveal any misconduct. And it seemed to me that they were using the posture of transparency as a kind of weapon against disfavored groups. And, to me, that was a really repugnant thing to do.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007 that WikiLeaks leaked in April?

STEVEN AFTERGOOD: Well, that I thought was a perfectly legitimate disclosure. I wish the Pentagon had released it when they had been asked to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

A Police State You’d Better Believe In

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We should not let a smooth talking political leader like our current President talk us out of the civil liberties he seemed zealous to protect.

by Jack Kenny    Thursday, 29 July 2010

The New American

When our nation is waging “war on” so many things (drugs, crime, poverty, terrorism), it’s hard to know where to enlist and when to defect. Or put another way, when should a patriot oppose his government? One answer, which we may hope is obvious, is when his government is waging war on liberty. The trick, of course, is to recognize it as such, since the government will always claim to be defending liberty when waging war against it.

Thus it is that in the “war on terrorism” our government is building, brick by brick, a new police state, called “Security.” Consider, for example, this item from The Washington Post:

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

The administration wants to add just four words — ‘electronic communication transactional records’ — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the ‘content’ of e-mail or other Internet communication.

But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.

There now. Don’t you feel safer and more secure already? Or do you have that creepy feeling that somebody is looking over your shoulder? Read the rest of this entry »