Monday, September 02, 2019

States to launch antitrust investigation into big tech companies, reports say

The state attorneys in more than a dozen states are preparing to begin an antitrust investigation of the tech giants, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported Monday, putting the spotlight on an industry that is already facing federal scrutiny.

The bipartisan group of attorneys from as many as 20 states is expected to formally launch a probe as soon as next month to assess whether tech companies are using their dominant market position to hurt competition, the WSJ reported.

If true, the move follows the Department of Justice, which last month announced its own antitrust review of how online platforms scaled to their gigantic sizes and whether they are using their power to curb competition and stifle innovation. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission formed a task force to monitor competition among tech platforms.

It won’t be unprecedented for a group of states to look at a technology giant. In 1998, 20 states joined the Justice Department in suing Microsoft . The states could play a key role in building evidence and garnering public support for major investigations.

Because the tentacles of Google,  Facebook, Amazon and Apple reach so many industries, any investigation into them could last for years.

Apple and Google pointed the Times to their previous official statements on the matter, in which they have argued that they have been vastly innovative and created an environment that has benefited the consumers. Amazon and Facebook did not comment.

Also on Monday, Joseph Simons, the chairman of FTC, warned that Facebook’s planned effort to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp could stymie any attempt by the agency to break up the social media giant.

“If they’re maintaining separate business structures and infrastructure, it’s much easier to have a divestiture in that circumstance than in where they’re completely enmeshed and all the eggs are scrambled,” Simons told Financial Times.


Trump Court Nominee Rebuts Rachel Maddow’s ‘Racial Purity’ Charge

A White House lawyer nominated for a federal judgeship sharply defended himself Friday from accusations based on a 2010 law review article that he, the son and grandson of Jewish immigrants, is an advocate of “racial purity.”

President Donald Trump nominated Steven Menashi on Wednesday to a seat on the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I take seriously the role of the United States as a nation of immigrants and of Israel as a home for the Jewish people, both of which are important because of suffering that has been caused by ethnic nationalism,” Menashi, currently a senior associate counsel to the president in the White House, said in an email obtained by The Daily Signal.

A former acting general counsel at the Department of Education, Menashi noted that his father was an Iraqi Jew born in Iran and his mother’s parents were Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union.

Some on the left, particularly MSNBC host and commentator Rachel Maddow, zeroed in Thursday on the focus of Menashi’s 2010 article on “ethnonationalism.”

Maddow called passages in the article a “highbrow argument for racial purity.”

The 66-page article, titled “Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy,” appeared in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law.

In it, Menashi defended Israel’s status as both a Jewish state and a liberal democracy, contending that ethnic diversity is not a precondition for liberalism. The article did not oppose ethnic diversity.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks tweeted that Maddow and MSNBC “need to apologize for this anti-Semitic attack.”

Menashi previously was an assistant law professor at George Mason University in Virginia, where he taught courses in administrative law and civil procedure.

Before that, he was a partner at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in New York. He was a research fellow at the New York University School of Law.

Menashi is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and a graduate of Stanford University Law School, where he was senior articles editor of the Stanford Law Review.

The attacks against Menashi are misguided and dishonest, Thomas Jipping, deputy director of the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal.

“The attacks against this superbly qualified nominee are not only misguided, they are dishonest,” Jipping said. “Steve Menashi’s critics simply aren’t telling the truth about his past work and are trying to mislead the American people about the kind of judge he will be.”

Carrie Severino, general counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, tweeted about Maddow: “Had she actually read his law-review article, she would know that Menashi says the exact opposite of what Maddow claims. Intentional distortion?”


Preaching the Bible in a blue state capital

SACRAMENTO — Pastor Roger Jimenez implored his congregation at Verity Baptist Church to separate themselves from the ways of a modern, wicked world.

Burn your Harry Potter books. Trash your rock ’n’ roll CDs. Don’t vaccinate your babies. Stay away from gay people.

“The United States of America is on a rainbow- colored boat, and we’ve gotta shake that boat up,” Jimenez said.

Speaking to some 400 people in an overflow crowd that included dozens of young children staring intently at Bibles and giggling when pastors yelled, Jimenez was met with shouts of “Amen!” and “Let ’er rip!”

“If I go down in history as the hardest preacher against homos, praise the Lord,” he added.

Here in the capital of the state that is the vanguard for the so-called liberal resistance, parishioners gathered last month for the Red Hot Preaching Conference, featuring some of the most virulently anti-gay pastors in the country. Jimenez started the conference in 2016 after gaining national notoriety for praising the mass shooting of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The conference’s seven preachers are part of a network of about 30 churches called the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement, which, experts on hate and extremism say, is growing and spreading violent rhetoric over the internet in an era when hate crimes against LGBTQ people are increasing.

The conference took place in Jimenez’s storefront church six miles from the state Capitol. Several pastors, including Jimenez, had called for the U.S. government to start executing LGBTQ people.

“It’s certainly not the case that they’re in some out-of-the-way place like small-town Alabama,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled several New Independent Fundamental Baptist churches hate groups.

“They’re in major cities like Houston, Sacramento, Los Angeles. They have found inroads in places where you might not expect this kind of extremism.”

Although California is famously left-leaning, there are large swaths of social and political conservatism, including in parts of Sacramento County. Some 4.5 million people in the Golden State backed President Trump in 2016, and there are movements to create a “sanctuary city” for guns and to carve a separate State of Jefferson out of California’s rural, conservative northern counties.

When it comes to gay rights, the state spent years in court battling the voter-approved Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that banned same-sex marriage until it was overturned in 2013.

A New IFB church recently opened in El Monte. Another will open in Fresno in August.

The New IFB Movement was started by Steven L. Anderson, a Sacramento native and the pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., who garnered headlines in 2009 for telling congregants he prayed for the death of President Obama. A day later, a congregant went to an Obama appearance in Phoenix carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.

Among the pastors associated with Anderson’s network is Grayson Fritts, a Knoxville, Tenn., pastor and detective with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office who, in June, called for the arrest and execution of LGBTQ people. Fritts took a buyout from the sheriff’s office in July and continues to preach.

In Sacramento, most of the pastors were fresh off another event held in June just outside Orlando: the Make America Straight Again Conference.

Jimenez, 33, opened it by saying that although the media depict gay people as “a little flamboyant” and “kind of funny,” he believed they were a danger to children. (That belief — also cited by Catholic bishops seeking a scapegoat for sexual abuse by priests — has long been discredited by studies showing no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.)

“We’re not advocating taking the law into your hands, but here’s what we’re saying: If the government would put them to death, it would make America safe again,” Jimenez said. “Here’s all we’re saying is that when they die, we don’t feel bad about it.”


The questions that linger after Cardinal Pell’s appeal

It has always seemed clear to me that His Eminence was railroaded -- convicted for the sins of his church, not for anything he personally did.  And for those who are concerned about such things, I am an atheist of Protestant background --  JR

By Gerard Bradley

The Court of Appeal of the state of Victoria dismissed George Cardinal Pell’s appeal on Wednesday 21 August in Australia from his sexual abuse conviction.

That conviction came at the end of a second trial on five counts of indecency with a minor, after a first jury could not agree on a verdict.

He was sentenced to six years, without the possibility of parole until November, 2022. Cardinal Pell’s lawyers are yet to decide a further appeal to the Australian High Court. That process is likely to take up to a year. During the interim, the cardinal will remain in a Victorian prison.

Because the trials were conducted in closed sessions and under a press “gag” order, accounts of the evidence against the cardinal have been incomplete and even sketchy. Until now.

It was long widely known that the case involved allegations of assaults on two choirboys, both aged 13 when the crimes supposedly occurred in late 1996.

The setting was said to be just after then-Archbishop Pell celebrated Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.

One of the boys died accidentally a few years ago. The surviving complainant said nothing to anyone of his horrendous story until 2015. (The other boy died without ever claiming to have been abused; in fact, he expressly denied that any such thing happened to him when his mother in 2001 pointedly asked him.)

Improbable allegations

It has long been apparent, too, that the allegations against Cardinal Pell were so inherently improbable as to be, on their face, almost fantastic. Nonetheless, the prosecutors pressed on. They finally got a jury to return the verdict they wanted.

Knowing the cardinal as I do, and evaluating the evidence reported in light of my years as a Manhattan trial prosecutor, I have always confidently believed that Cardinal Pell is innocent.

One small mercy of this unwelcome appellate setback is that I am now certain that Cardinal Pell is innocent.

After the appeal: how things look

Another consolation is that the appellate decision supplies reasonable grounds to hope that the High Court will finally correct this awful miscarriage of justice if the Cardinal seeks leave to appeal. The basis for affirming Cardinal Pell’s innocence lies in the evidence now recounted in extraordinary detail across the 325 pages of the appellate corpus.

The court split 2-1. The dissenting judge — an Oxford-educated lawyer named Mark Weinberg — never quite said that he believed that Cardinal Pell was innocent.

The closest Weinberg J came to saying so might be this sentence: “[T]o my mind, [there is] a ‘significant possibility’ that the applicant in this case may not have committed these offences.”

Reading between the lines

Perhaps Weinberg J came closer when he addressed the second of the two assaults alleged by the surviving claimant:

“The complainant’s account of the second incident seems to me to take brazenness to new heights, the like of which, I have not seen … I would have thought that any prosecutor would be wary of bringing a charge of this gravity against anyone, based upon the implausible notion that a sexual assault of this kind would take place in public, and in the presence of numerous potential witnesses.

“Had the incident occurred in the way that the complainant alleged, it seems to me highly unlikely that none of those many persons present would have seen what was happening, or reported it in some way.”  None did. Weinberg J directed the reader to the next logical inference: If the complainant made up (for reasons we shall likely never know, or at least not ever fully understand) one of the two assaults, then no reasonable person should credit just on his say-so that the first incident ever occurred, either.

Yet that is exactly what the prosecutors maintained.

Justice Weinberg wrote, quite accurately, that the “prosecution relied entirely upon the evidence of the complainant to establish guilt, and nothing more.

“There was no supporting evidence of any kind from any other witness. Indeed, there was no supporting evidence of any kind at all. These convictions were based upon the jury’s assessment of the complainant as a witness, and nothing more.”

“Indeed,” Weinberg J added, the prosecutor not only “did not shrink” from making it his whole case at trial. The prosecutor “invited the members of this Court to approach this ground of appeal in exactly the same way.”

A strong dissenting voice

Justice Weinberg’s opinion is masterful and cogent. It supplies (though he did not expressly say it) overwhelming proof that George Pell is an innocent man.

There is another encouraging thought: The path to reversal on further appeal if pursued is now in view.

According to Australian procedure, much of the appellate judges’ job in a case such as Cardinal Pell’s (where the gravamen of the appeal is the sufficiency of the evidence to convict at the trial) is to simply use common sense to weigh the evidence presented to the jury.

This the three jurists did; the entire trial was videotaped and transcribed as well. Two members of the court said that they agreed with the jury’s verdict. So they voted to affirm the conviction.

Their common sense is obviously poor and their practical judgment, worse.

A simple mistake of this sort would probably not, however, warrant reversal by the High Court.

Legal error?

But they made a specifically legal error as well. On this ground at least one may reasonably hope that sometime within the next 12 months George Pell will be again a free man.

Justice Weinberg identified the majority’s mistake. Their error rested upon the two judges’ acceptance of the prosecutor’s invitation to decide first and in isolation — that is, without regard for all the other evidence, notably including the cogent exculpatory evidence offered by the Cardinal’s lawyers — whether the complainant’s testimony was “compelling.”

The term is not spot-on apt in this context. Hamlet is “compelling.” It is nonetheless fiction.

The majority judges seem to have adopted the term anyway as a synonym for not only believable, but for true, accurate.

Then these judges compounded the error: they used their isolated (and, in that sense, totally uncritical) validation of the complainant’s testimony as the criterion by which they rejected, as ineffectual or just plain false, the abundant evidence of Pell’s innocence.

They seemed to have reasoned thus: because the complainant’s story is true (we have concluded by, according to their own account, its apparent sincerity and drama), the evidence offered by the defendant which contradicts the complainant’s allegations must therefore be false.

Or, at a minimum, they judged that because the defence evidence did not demonstrate that the claimant’s story was simply impossible, it did not for that reason raise a reasonable doubt.

Justice Weinberg saw the mistake.

Weighing up witnesses

The complainant’s credibility and thus the accuracy of his story must instead be evaluated in light of the competing evidence of Cardinal Pell’s innocence.

He wrote that it “is, of course, entirely legitimate for the prosecution to [rely upon the complainant’s allegations] in answer to the challenge to these convictions.

“They must be weighed in the scale, but they must also be considered in the light of the evidence as a whole. That includes the body of clearly exculpatory material elicited from the various witnesses called by the prosecution.

“And one should not ignore the applicant’s own strong denials of any wrongdoing, as alleged, in his record of interview.”

In other words, a reasonable juror (and appellate judge!) would have to conclude that the defence case made the complainant’s story so implausible that a reasonable doubt was inescapably present.

A conscientious juror (or appellate judge sitting in review) must not conclude that a complainant is speaking truthfully until after he or she critically compares what that witness says to what the other witnesses say.

The critical evaluation incumbent on jurors is not the majority’s sequence — if looking only at the complainant’s testimony, it seems true, then all the evidence exonerating the Cardinal must be false — but rather Justice Weinberg’s dialectic (if you will), where the juror tacks back and forth across the evidence, using this bit to test the veracity of that, and that bit to evaluate the truthfulness of this.

That is simply what looking “at all the evidence” means. And herein is the majority’s legal mistake.

Put differently: The key issue on appeal was whether the jury’s verdict of guilty was reasonable.

Because the standard of proof in criminal cases in Australia is (as it is in America) “beyond a reasonable doubt,” there is some danger of confounding readers by using too many cognates of the word seeking definition — reason.

The plainest way to put the matter is probably this: Would a sensible, intelligent, conscientious juror who considered with an unbiased mind all of the evidence have to have a “reasonable doubt” about the Cardinal’s guilt?

Sufficient doubt

That doubt would be sufficient to require an acquittal if it attached to even just one essential element of the offenses charged.

Justice Weinberg concluded that, “in my respectful opinion, these convictions cannot be permitted to stand. The only order that can properly be made is that the applicant be acquitted on each charge.”

Indeed. And so one hopes, and perhaps dares to expect, the Australian High Court to conclude as well, some months from now.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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