Sinovac Biotech activates 'poison pill' defense in rare move

(Reuters) – Sinovac Biotech Ltd, a Nasdaq-listed Chinese vaccine developer, activated a shareholders rights plan on Friday, according to a press release seen by Reuters, the first time a company has used a “poison pill” takeover defense in more than a decade.

Sinovac is seeking to defend itself against a group of shareholders, including investment firms 1Globe Capital LLC, Chiangjia Li and OrbiMed Advisors LLC, which own 40 percent of the company. They have sought to take over the company’s board along with a Chinese subsidiary of Sinovac.

While companies occasionally threaten to use poison pill defenses, they rarely proceed. Sinovac’s decision will result in the issuance of 28 million new shares that will collectively dilute the investment firms’ holdings to about 25 percent of the company’s voting stock.

In the press release, which has not yet been made public, Sinovac said its board determined that 1Globe Capital, Chiangjia Li and OrbiMed Advisors met the triggering threshold of the poison pill because they own more than 15 percent combined of stock and conspired to take over the company’s board ahead of a February 2018 shareholder meeting.

The dissident shareholders can decide to challenge the board’s decision in Antigua, where Sinovac is incorporated, or in Delaware, which governs shareholder rights contracts.

1Globe Capital LLC, Chiangjia Li and OrbiMed Advisors could not be reached for comment.

Sinovac said in December a court in Antigua had rejected 1Globe Capital’s claim that its slate of nominees had been elected to Sinovac’s board in February 2018.

Under the plan, Sinovac shareholders can exchange one share for 0.655 of common shares plus 0.345 of a newly created preferred share class that will not trade on a stock exchange. Holders of the new share class, will receive a 41-cent per share dividend until the new share class issued is able to trade on the public market.

Shareholders “should expect the share price to adjust downwards,” the company said, since Sinovac is issuing a significant amount of new shares and will have a higher share count, going from 71.1 million in shares to 98.9 million.

Nasdaq advised Sinovac that it will halt trading for about two weeks to give it time to work out its plan. Sinovac will put its newly issued shares into a trust for shareholders who will need to follow instructions to get their new shares, including obtaining a certificate to show they are not part of the dissident shareholders.

The last time a company activated a poison pill defense was in 2008, when software firm Selectica Inc did so. That move, however, was related to preserving a tax benefit.

Sinovac, based in Beijing, makes vaccines against infectious diseases such as the flu, mumps and hepatitis and has a market value of close to $400 million.

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Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in talks to sell workers compensation unit: sources

(Reuters) – Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc is in advanced discussions to sell its Applied Underwriters workers compensation unit to a consortium of insurance firms, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The deal would be a rare divestment by Buffett, who has built a corporate empire of more than 90 businesses in sectors spanning insurance, chemicals, energy, railroads, food and retail. Unlike private equity firms, the 88-year-old billionaire investor does not seek to cash out once he takes over a company.

However, San Francisco-based Applied Underwriters now sits outside Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance focus, making it a non-core asset Buffett wishes to shed, the sources said.

Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance businesses include the auto insurer Geico, reinsurer General Re, and a unit that protects against major catastrophes or unusual risks.

Applied Underwriters, on the other hand, provides bundled workers compensation and other employment-related insurance products targeted to small and medium-sized businesses.

A grouping of insurance firms and a hedge fund-backed reinsurance firm are in talks to buy Applied Underwriters at around the value of its book of business, the sources said, declining to disclose the price and the identity of the buyers.

The sources cautioned there is always a possibility that deal negotiations end unsuccessfully and asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Berkshire Hathway did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Applied Underwriters has also been in the crosshairs of California’s insurance regulator, reaching a settlement agreement in June 2017 over “bait and switch marketing tactics”, according to a statement from the state’s insurance commissioner at the time. Berkshire Hathway acquired Applied Underwriters in May 2006.

Buffett is scheduled to publish his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders this weekend, alongside the company’s annual report. Berkshire Hathaway’s cash pile reached $103.6 billion as of the end of September, as Buffett has struggled to find attractive acquisition opportunities to put money to work.

Buffett’s efforts to divest Applied Underwriters come as one of his biggest investments, Kraft Heinz Co, has soured. On Thursday, the food giant announced a multibillion-dollar writedown on its marquee brands, raising concerns that years of rigorous cost cuts had eroded the value of its Kraft and Oscar Mayer products.

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Commentary: The strange revisionism of Pompeo’s Cairo speech

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s much-marketed speech in Cairo was rich in straw man fallacies while short on substantive specifics, a speech bursting with contradictions that reminded me just how hard it must be to speak for a president who has, at best, an incoherent foreign policy. Pompeo’s speech appeared to have three intended audiences, none of which was actually present in the American University in Cairo auditorium: the Oval Office; the Saudi royal court; and President Trump’s political base, which hungers for ABO (“Anything but Obama”), however inaccurate.    

The strange revisionism of Pompeo’s Cairo speech was hard to miss. He began by excoriating Barack Obama for words the former president never spoke. Referring to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, Pompeo said that Obama had told Egypt that “radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from an ideology” and that “9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals.” Pompeo argued that Obama was guilty of seeing the United States “as a force for what ails the Middle East,” and that “the results of these misjudgments have been dire.”

Of course, Obama never said any of that. As his presidency began, in a Middle East still roiled by the American invasion of Iraq – a blunder opposed by most of the Arab world – Obama defended the United States: “America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.” He did make it clear that “I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States,” and for good reason: President George W. Bush’s own administration had come to believe that Guantanamo and the fallout of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal had badly damaged America’s image, aided terrorist recruitment, and made it harder for the United States to bring Arab allies to its side. Obama never said that radical terrorism was devoid of ideology; in fact, like his predecessor, he argued that “America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam.” He separated the terrorists from the religion, in order to pull the Muslim world closer in isolating and fighting those very extremists who were bastardizing a religion.

It’s not a new phenomenon for the Trump administration to rewrite the history of the Obama administration. But this time it was particularly brazen. Pompeo argued that, after Syria’s 2013 poison gas attacks, “in our hesitation to wield power, we did nothing”; he neglected to mention that it was Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell who opposed granting Obama the authority he’d asked for to conduct airstrikes, or that then-private citizen Trump opposed U.S. intervention of any kind in Syria.

But the big question is why an American secretary of state would travel to the heart of the Arab world to deliver a speech largely intended for partisan political consumption at home?

One might argue that Pompeo had little choice but to engage in rhetorical broadsides, given the difficulty of explaining Trump’s vision. The secretary argued that “the age of self-inflicted American shame is over”; he might want to check with his commander in chief, who has famously defended autocrats who kill journalists and innocents and said, “our country does plenty of killing too.” It requires extraordinary rhetorical dexterity to attack his predecessors for “abandoning” the Middle East less than a month after Trump, without warning, announced a unilateral, precipitous withdrawal of U.S. special forces from Syria, prompting the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in protest.

But my lasting worry about Pompeo’s speech is more than its contradictions; it’s the willful misunderstanding of what Obama sought to achieve in the region. Pompeo doesn’t need to agree with Obama’s policies to understand and be informed by their motivation.

Obama in 2009 sought a “reset” with the populations of the Middle East because he diagnosed the danger of America’s image being defined in the region to serve our adversaries’ agendas; the Arab Spring which followed two years later confirmed why the United States needs to tend to its image on Arab streets, not just with autocratic allies: there’s no guarantee their reigns will endure.

Pompeo should worry now that Trump, in mismanaging America’s image, has once again handed Iran and others a convenient weapon of mass distraction. He should certainly worry that Trump’s decision to put all his eggs in the basket of personal relationships with two or three leaders in the volatile region could prove short-sighted.

Pompeo should also remember that the Obama administration performed a delicate diplomatic dance: rather than plunge into a unilateral war with Iran, Obama won even grudging Gulf Arab support for an Iran nuclear weapons agreement that is still working in spite of the absence of the United States. By seemingly taking sides on ancient Sunni-Shia sectarian divisions between Riyadh and Tehran, Trump is exacerbating tensions instead of seeking an uneasy equilibrium that serves America’s interests.

And, of course, in decrying the Obama approach that successfully decimated Islamic State (which hasn’t changed in practice under Trump but has shifted in rhetoric) Pompeo forgets that Secretary of State John Kerry began his diplomacy to organize the coalition against Islamic State in Jeddah. Having the kingdom – home of Mecca and Medina – prominent in a coalition against Sunni extremists was pivotal in mounting an operation that couldn’t be mistaken as a war against Islam. It was Saudi Arabia that appreciated the ways the Obama administration bent over backwards to demonstrate that we were not at war with their religion.

Pompeo, like all secretaries of state, will ultimately be judged on substance, not speeches. But make no mistake, Thursday in Cairo, he made his own job a little harder. Some listening is in order – to the Arab Street, and to history.

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Uber Eats close to selling Indian food delivery business to Swiggy: ET

(Reuters) – Uber Eats, the food delivery arm of ride-hailing app Uber Technologies Inc, is close to a deal to sell its Indian business to Bengaluru-based Swiggy, the Economic Times reported on Friday.

The share-swap deal is expected to close by next month and will give Uber a 10 percent stake in food delivery service Swiggy, the paper said, citing people privy to the development.

Separately, the Times of India reported that Uber was considering the sale of its food delivery arm in India and has been in talks with Swiggy and Gurugram-based Zomato.

Swiggy is currently leading discussions but rival Zomato is still in the race for a share-swap deal, the Times of India said, citing sources familiar with the development.

Swiggy, which runs a mobile-based application and a website for food-delivery services, currently operates in more than 80 Indian cities.

Swiggy was valued at a little more than $3 billion and competes with homegrown Ola-owned Foodpanda, Uber Eats and China’s Ant Financial Group-backed Zomato, which is valued at over $1 billion.

Both Swiggy and Uber declined to comment while Zomato did not immediately respond.

Last week, San Francisco-based Uber posted a 2 percent growth in quarterly revenue, raising questions about its future growth prospects, as the company prepares for a public offering.

Uber in December filed confidentially for an initial public offering, setting the stage for one of the biggest technology listings ever.

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German biotech Centogene plans Nasdaq IPO: sources

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German biotech company Centogene is considering a stock market flotation in New York this year as it seeks to raise funds to finance further expansion, people close to the matter said.

Centogene, which says it is the global leader in the field of rare disease diagnosis, is expected to file its initial public offering (IPO) plans with the Nasdaq stock exchange shortly, they said.

A deal could take place as early as the second or third quarter, they added.

Biotechnology firms often choose Nasdaq as a venue for an IPO as the large number of peers listed on that exchange means they are often able to secure higher valuations than they would get in their home country.

Centogene, headquartered in Rostock, is owned by investors such as DPE Deutsche Private Equity, Careventures, TVM Capital and CIC Capital. It has annual sales of 45 million euros and employs about 300 staff.

A company spokesman said Centogene continuously examines financing options, declining to specify.

DPE declined to comment, while the other investors had no immediate comment.

Centogene was founded in 2006 by neurologist Arndt Rolfs with a view to speeding up the diagnosis of rare diseases using worldwide clinical data. It received 25 million euros from investors in a July 2017 financing round.

The firm says it has built the world’s largest data repository for genetic information on rare hereditary diseases. It sells genetic testing products and helps pharma firms develop drugs with its big data solutions.

Centogene says it has a test portfolio covering 2,800 genes, biochemical tests, biomarkers and genome sequencing. It has grown by more than 40 percent annually over the last five years.

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Xinjiang, Labour Party, Venezuela: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

China builds a database of Uighurs’ DNA, an ex-spy chief turns on Venezuela’s president and a fire in Bangladesh fits a disturbing pattern. Here’s the latest:

China uses DNA to track Uighurs, aided by U.S. expertise

China is collecting genetic material as part of a vast campaign of oppression against Muslim minority groups. Human rights groups and Uighur activists say the DNA could be used to chase down anyone who resists conforming.

To help build out the DNA database, China used equipment from a U.S. company, Thermo Fisher, and got material from a prominent Yale geneticist for comparing Uighur DNA with genetic material from people around the world.

How it unfolded: Under the guise of free medical checkups in the western region of Xinjiang, where much of the population is Uighur, the government collected DNA samples, images of irises and other personal data of tens of millions of people.

In some cases, people were told the checkups were mandatory.

Background: In 2016, the government set out to make Uighurs and other minority groups more subservient to the Communist Party, detaining up to a million people in what it calls “re-education” camps.

The response: Thermo Fisher said it would stop selling equipment in Xinjiang. And the Yale researcher said he had believed that the Chinese authorities were operating within scientific norms that require the informed consent of DNA donors.

U.K. Labour Party grapples with accusations of anti-Semitism

Wavertree — a tiny, multiethnic, mostly working-class constituency in Liverpool, England — is at the center of a national row over whether anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour Party. Luciana Berger, the member of Parliament for the area, resigned this week after local Labour activists called her a “disruptive Zionist” and a supporter of a “murdering” Israeli government.

She is one of eight Labour defectors who quit in protest of their left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, criticizing his ambiguity over Britain’s exit from the European Union and accusing him of tolerating anti-Semitism in the party.

Details: Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, has said that the party is investigating the Wavertree branch.

Bigger picture: Mr. Corbyn’s supporters, many of them Jewish, deny that he has brooked prejudice, arguing that instances of anti-Semitism in the party have fallen since he became leader and that criticizing the Israeli government, as Mr. Corbyn does unapologetically, does not equate to a hatred of Jews. Critics say there is anti-Semitism under the surface, as when a Labour lawmaker suggested that the defectors might have had financial backing from Israel.

A former Venezuelan official turns on Maduro

A former Venezuelan intelligence chief called President Nicolás Maduro a dictator with a corrupt inner circle, one of the most public rejections to date.

In interviews with The Times, the former spy chief, Hugo Carvajal, urged the military to break with Mr. Maduro ahead of a showdown with the opposition on Saturday, when tons of aid from the U.S. and other countries is slated to arrive.

U.S. investigators have accused Mr. Carvajal of drug trafficking. In interviews, he denied those claims, but depicted other senior Venezuelan officials as a criminal claque in league with drug traffickers.

Other developments: To thwart aid shipments, Mr. Maduro ordered the closing of Venezuela’s border with Brazil, having already blocked air and sea traffic from three Caribbean islands.

Vatican begins conference on clerical sexual abuse

Pope Francis, his moral authority in question and his papal legacy in the balance, opened a historic four-day conference at the Vatican to address child sexual abuse in the church.

“We hear the cry of the little ones,” he said.

Before 190 church leaders, he called for “concrete and effective measures” to address clerical sexual abuse. Victims are putting enormous pressure on the Vatican to take action on an issue that in some parts of the world has eroded trust in the Roman Catholic Church while being ignored and denied in others.

Other issues: The conference is shadowed by a series of fresh scandals: the sexual abuse of nuns, the shaming and closeting of gay priests, and revelations that the church has secret guidelines for dealing with priests who father children.

Here’s what else is happening

Mueller investigation: The special counsel is expected to submit his report to the attorney general within weeks. In an Op-Ed, the acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama argues that it will probably act as a “road map” for more investigations, rather than the beginning of their end.

Syria: The White House said it would keep 200 U.S. troops in the country, reversing a vow of a full withdrawal.

India: The country appears determined to follow through on a threat to cut back Pakistan’s water supply after two recent attacks on Indian troops in Kashmir. A top official said the Indus River, which provides water for hundreds of millions of people across the subcontinent, could be diverted.

Bangladesh: An inferno on Wednesday night claimed at least 110 lives in a historic neighborhood in Dhaka, adding to the toll of hundreds who have died in the country in recent years in fires that tore through crowded, unsafe structures. A promised crackdown on building violations, which are abetted by greed and corruption, has fallen short.

Johnson & Johnson: The U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating concerns about possible asbestos contamination of the company’s popular baby powder and other talc-based products. The company faces about 13,000 lawsuits around the world in which its body powders are blamed for causing ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.

Green New Deal: A proposal by congressional Democrats for a “10-year national mobilization” to make the U.S. carbon-neutral would cost trillions of dollars and probably take longer than that — but it would be feasible and a major victory against global warming, experts and economists told us.

Jussie Smollett: After his arrest in Chicago on Wednesday over accusations that he staged a homophobic and racist attack on himself, the actor was said to be back at work on the Fox show “Empire,” raising awkward questions for Fox about the future of his character and the show itself. Prosecutors have said he was upset by his salary and seeking publicity.

Spain: RiFF, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Valencia, has closed indefinitely as health officials investigate the death of a woman who ate there. Spanish news outlets reported that the restaurant had been tied to as many as 28 cases of food poisoning.

Space: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft landed on an asteroid and fired a bullet to help with the gathering of samples. And an Israeli company’s lander blasted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, aiming to become the first private craft to land on the moon.

Academy Awards: Our expert has been closely following the races and the voters, all season. Here’s what he thinks will happen at the Oscars ceremony on Sunday.

Karl Lagerfeld’s cat: Choupette, the designer’s immensely pampered and incredibly famous white Birman, is expected to receive a substantial inheritance.

Smarter Living

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Recipe of the day: End the week with Italian flourless chocolate cake.

Dairy products contribute about 3.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions per year, so switching to plant-based options can decrease your footprint.

You don’t have to break your workout routine while traveling. Here are some exercises that you can do in any hotel room.

Back Story

A reader recently asked us about a trader pictured at the New York Stock Exchange who looked familiar. The reader was right: Peter Tuchman, below, is one of the most photographed traders on the floor.

“I think about Tuchman more than any other person when I think about the stock market,” said Jeenah Moon, a photographer who shoots the exchange, and Mr. Tuchman, on occasion.

There are currently 233 active traders licensed with the exchange, but Ms. Moon usually sees a far smaller number at work. Among them, Mr. Tuchman, a broker since 1988, stands out.

In an email, Mr. Tuchman said that he “wears his emotions on his face” and that a resemblance to Albert Einstein “surely brings a lot to the table.”

“I thrive off the adrenaline,” he wrote.

“I’m like a hurricane whirling its way through the floor,” he added. “And I love it, it’s the greatest job on earth.”

Remy Tumin, on the briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story.

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Michael Kelly: 'The scapegoating of gay priests for the Church's abuse scandals is dying thanks to saner voices'

If you want to launch a book about gay priests, the backdrop of the Pope meeting in an unprecedented gathering with the world’s bishops to push accountability and transparency is an alluring prospect.

And so it was in Rome this week that Frédéric Martel launched ‘In the Closet of the Vatican’ to an eager press in town to cover the Papal meeting.

Subtitled ‘Power, homosexuality, hypocrisy’ it has the perfect mix of intrigue and innuendo, including an allegation that some 80pc of priests who work in the Vatican are gay.

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Set beside that, two conservative cardinals who are long-time critics of Pope Francis used the occasion to warn against what they described as “the plague of the homosexual agenda” within Catholicism.

They suspect Francis’s more welcoming style as being a prelude to giving the shop away on a whole host of issues.

The spectre of homosexuality amongst the clergy looms large here in Rome. On the one hand, openly gay people like Mr Martel lament the fact that priests who are gay don’t come out and own up to their sexuality.

On the other hand, Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller see homosexual priests as the tip of the iceberg in a corrupt Church and are determined to hunt them down and run them out.

It’s been popular in conservative circles for decades now, particularly in the US, to blame the abuse crisis in Catholicism on “the gays”.

The fact, the theory goes, that most reported cases of abuse by priests were allegations of sexual misconduct with boys shows this is first and foremost a problem with homosexual clergy.

Cheerleaders of the theory merrily ignore the inconvenient truth that most abuse involved boys because traditionally priests had more contact with boys whether it be altar servers, via single-sex schools or male-only organisations like scouting or boys’ sodalities.

After all, it was only in 1992 that the Vatican lifted the ban and permitted girls to become altar servers for the first time – and some parishes ignored this for years. But, hey, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good stitch-up.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh – who is in Rome for this week’s meeting – is dismissive of the simplistic thesis that would lay the blame at the feet of gay priests. Speaking of his experiences of meeting both male and female survivors of abuse, he told me this week: “With young women, or women who were abused as young girls, what do we tell them? Do we tell them it was heterosexuality?”

Whether the survivor was male or female, “it was the very same dynamics of deviance, of deceit, of cover-up, that happened”, he insists.

He’s not alone. Victims and survivors of abuse have given the theory equally short shrift.

“To make this link between homosexuality and paedophilia is absolutely immoral, it is unconscionable and has to stop,” according to Peter Isely, a survivor and founding member of the survivor’s group SNAP.

Phil Saviano, who runs an advocacy group called BishopAccountability, told reporters at the Vatican yesterday that he felt “there has been a lot of scapegoating of homosexual men as being child predators”.

To lay the blame for the abuse of children on homosexuality “tells me that they really don’t understand” the problem and have made a claim “that is not based on any source of reality”.

What is a reality is that the issue of clerical sexual abuse is the latest front in a war that began when Pope Francis was elected almost six years ago.

Shortly after he took office, the Pope was asked about gay priests and answered simply, if a gay priest seeks the Lord sincerely “who am I to judge?”

Voices on the extreme right immediately rejected that open attitude and have been on a battle footing ever since, with gay priests as enemy No 1.

Ultras who for all intents and purposes ignored the issue of abuse for decades suddenly became the Church’s most trenchant critics and were determined that something must be done about homosexuality in the ranks.

Forgive me if their concern for those who have been abused rings more than a little hollow.

Of course, it’s long been known that a high proportion of priests are gay – certainly considerably higher than the prevalence of homosexuality in the wider community.

Why is this the case? Well, it’s a complex question that I’m not qualified to answer, but the fact is some ultra-conservatives have long referenced this as the root of all evil in the Church.

But as any expert worth his or her salt will tell you, the abuse of children is a deviance that has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation.

Of course, that won’t stop the crusaders trying to target gay priests in their witch hunt to find an easy answer to the abuse crisis within the Catholic Church and get back to business as usual.

Meanwhile, those priests who are gay continue to selflessly serve their parishes and communities all around the world in tandem with their straight colleagues with an energy often bordering on the heroic.

I know many priests who are gay in Irish parishes who live their priesthood in an exemplary way and they are as hurt as they are angry at the insinuation that being born gay means they present a risk to children.

Their reaction when they hear such claims by those in leadership within the Church? According to one I spoke to this week, “a strong stomach and a weak smile”.

So long as the scapegoating of gay priests continues, it will prevent the Church facing the reality of the fact that child sexual abuse is like a cancer that consumes everything it touches.

Thankfully, if this week’s meeting in Rome is anything to go by, it is increasingly a marginal view and saner voices will win the day.

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Rachel Dugan: 'Single women at the back of the queue'

Maybe house-hunting can be fun. No, really. In a buoyant but not over-inflated market, in which the banks are doling out tracker mortgages like vodka jelly shots at spring break party, it could be a real blast.

In Ireland, though, it’s just stressful and fraught, as my other half and I discovered a few years ago.

But, a bit like childbirth, your memories of all those ‘Wacky Races’ Saturday dashes across the city, guided only by a meticulously planned spreadsheet of open viewings and a rising sense of panic, seem to magically disappear when you finally secure a house. I say this because it’s the only possible explanation for me offering to chauffeur a friend to some viewings last Saturday.

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And it didn’t take long for the bad memories to come flooding back. We arrived very early at the first viewing, a one-bed cottage in the south inner city “in need of some work”, having panicked and overestimated how long it would take to get there.

An anxious 20-minute wait ensued as we watched a slew of prospective buyers form an informal queue at the door. Once the agent arrived and we’d all squeezed into the property – which was so tiny I felt like a commuter trying to wedge myself onto a Tokyo subway train – we sized up the other viewers.

Why was that woman tapping that wall? What are they whispering to the agent? Does anyone else have the cash needed to transform this ramshackle abode into the Instagram-worthy crash pad we’d spied on AirBnB that morning? My friend – whose budget, if she’s lucky, might get her on the very lowest rung of the Dublin property ladder – certainly didn’t, so we slipped out quietly and moved on to the next viewing, and the next and the next…

You tend to see the same faces again and again when house-hunting. During our search, it was a mixture of singles, couples or those with young families. But last weekend it was all women, mainly viewing alone. I said as much to my friend. “Yeah, they’re all like me: single women in their 30s. Rarely couples and never single blokes.”

“Where are the single men?” I asked.

“At the higher end of the payscale,” she deadpanned, before sighing loudly.

It was at that moment I offered to take her out again. Like I said, house-hunting can be fun, but definitely not if you’re a single woman in your 30s.

Oscars swag bag goes down the pan

The Oscars are on this Sunday and while it’s still not clear if there’ll be a host, we know there will be winners and losers. But even those who don’t bag a statuette will not be walking away empty-handed. Stuffed full of $100,000 worth of goodies – including an exclusive trip to the Galapagos Islands and dinner cooked by a celebrity chef – this year’s swag bag will go a long way in tending to those wounded egos.

But a quick perusal of the contents reveals some truly bizarre ‘gifts’. These include a Peta spy pen for discreetly reporting on-set animal abuse and an 18-minute session with a phobia relief expert. My personal favourite, though, is a $20 Mr Poop emoji toilet plunger. Well, I guess most celebrities are full of sh**e.

Going vegan? It’s not eggsactly my thing…

As a former vegetarian, I’m surprised at my steely resolve in the face of the recent rise of veganism.

No amount of articles about the joys of a beetroot burger haemorrhaging on your plate or the authentic tang of vegan cheese will turn me off meat.

More likely to sway me was the news this week that a teenager managed to hatch a duckling from a supermarket egg. Certainly food for thought.

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Opinion | Trump vs. The Times: ‘Enemy of the People’

To the Editor:

Re “In Attack, Trump Aims ‘Enemy of the People’ Directly at The Times” (news article, Feb. 21):

I know that our president doesn’t read, but if he did, he might realize that the term “an enemy of the people,” the title of a famous play by Ibsen, is, ironically, a badge of honor.

The play’s hero, Dr. Stockmann, is attacked and isolated by his little town for daring to expose the truth: that its public baths are contaminated. He stands alone, as the town is interested only in commerce, not in truth or public health, although he is supported by his daughter, Petra, whom I had the honor of playing in a high school production. I never forgot Ibsen’s lesson.

I sincerely hope that The New York Times continues to be an “enemy” — that is, a friend of the people, or in this case, a friend of our entire democracy.

Susan Jhirad
Medford, Mass.

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Opinion | The Stench of Prejudice in Keith Tharpe’s Death Sentence

Several years after Keith Tharpe was sentenced to death for murder in 1991, a juror in his case signed an affidavit stating that there are two types of black people: good ones and “niggers.” The juror, who was white, put the defendant in the latter category and said that he wondered “if black people even have souls.”

Mr. Tharpe sits on death row in Georgia. Although his lawyers assert that his punishment was tainted by juror racism, a state court ruled against Mr. Tharpe on that issue two decades ago.

Since then, state and federal courts have put procedural obstacles in front of his efforts to appeal that ruling. Mr. Tharpe seemed to be doomed when the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rebuffed him. He was set to be executed in September 2017.

But the Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay, shaken by the juror’s disturbing affidavit which, in the court’s words, presented “a strong factual basis that Tharpe’s race affected [the juror’s] vote for a death verdict.”

When the Supreme Court returned the case to the 11th Circuit, it again refused to examine the racial bias claim, offering new procedural impediments. As soon as March 1, the Supreme Court may decide whether it will review Mr. Tharpe’s case.

What is going on here?

The struggle over Mr. Tharpe’s fate has to do, in part, with a continuing dispute over whether the legal system should allow jury verdicts to be impeached by the post-verdict testimony of jurors.

For a long time, federal and state courts almost always prohibited jurors from testifying about deliberations. In 2015, for example, after a sex crime conviction, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to consider testimony from two jurors who came forward to report that a fellow juror had expressed anti-Latino bias against the defendant and his alibi witnesses.

In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court reversed the Colorado court, ruling that, amid serious allegations of racial juror bias, a reviewing court must be able to consider evidence from jurors, even if doing so opens jury deliberations to more scrutiny than otherwise allowed.

The court acknowledged the importance of supporting the finality of verdicts, protecting candor and confidentiality within the jury room and discouraging efforts to flip jurors beset by regrets. But it rightly concluded that even more imperative is eradicating racial discrimination from the criminal justice system. Racial bias, the court declared, “implicates unique historical, constitutional and institutional concerns” — a sentiment suggesting that even among some conservative jurists there exists a newly energized desire to rectify the racism that remains all too evident in our administration of criminal justice.

More generally, the struggle over Mr. Tharpe’s case has to do with the circumstances, if any, under which a government ought to be allowed to execute someone.

One camp is relatively tolerant of contaminations, like racism, that might have affected sentencing. In an unpublished memorandum to his colleagues, Justice Antonin Scalia rebuffed a challenge to capital punishment, despite acknowledging that “the unconscious operation of irrational sympathies and antipathies, including racial, upon jury decisions and (hence) prosecutorial decisions is real … and ineradicable.” The other camp is more demanding, recognizing the need for exacting scrutiny when it comes to assessing the validity of the most extreme form of governmental power: imposition of capital punishment.

Some people in this camp oppose capital punishment altogether. They believe that we cannot trust the criminal justice system to impose a penalty as irrevocable as death. The Supreme Court of Washington State recently invalidated capital punishment because the death penalty there “is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” Others in this camp tolerate the death penalty, but only if there is no substantial whiff of prejudice.

The impending execution of Keith Tharpe cannot pass that test. There is the stench of prejudice, not just a whiff. In this case, remember, one of the 12 people who voted for death voluntarily admitted that he thought of Mr. Tharpe as a “nigger” and “wondered if black people have souls.” Under these circumstances an execution would certainly be a miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court must intervene out of an elemental embrace of due process.

Randall Kennedy is a law professor at Harvard and the author of “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.”

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