Neo-Nazi blogger, Andrew Anglin, ordered to pay $14 million to woman targeted in racist ‘troll storm’

BuzzFeed reports:

A federal judge ruled more than $14 million should be awarded to a woman who was barraged with anti-Semitic and threatening messages online after a neo-Nazi blogger instructed his followers to target her and her family with a “troll storm.”

The ruling was handed down Monday against Andrew Anglin, a white supremacist and publisher of the website The Daily Stormer.

In his decision, judge Jeremiah Lynch found that Anglin “acted with actual malice” when he told followers: “Let’s Hit Em Up. Are y’all ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm? Because AYO – it’s time, fam.”

What followed were a series of racist and sometimes threatening messages to Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh, her co-workers, and her family, including her 12-year-old son. [Continue reading…]

Jeffrey Epstein minimized both the legal and social consequences of being a sex offender

The New York Times reports:

A strange thing happened when Jeffrey Epstein came back to New York City after being branded a sex offender: His reputation appeared to rise.

In 2010, the year after he got out of a Florida prison, Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos dined at his Manhattan mansion with a British royal. The next year, Mr. Epstein was photographed at a “billionaire’s dinner” attended by tech titans like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. A page popped up on Harvard University’s website lauding his accomplishments, and superlative-filled news releases described his lofty ambitions as he dedicated $10 million to charitable causes.

Powerful female friends served as social guarantors: Peggy Siegal, a gatekeeper for A-list events, included him in movie screenings, and Dr. Eva Andersson-Dubin, a champion of women’s health, maintained a friendship that some felt gave him credibility. Mr. Epstein put up a website showing Stephen Hawking and other luminaries at a science gathering he had organized. [Continue reading…]

Real hedge-fund managers wonder whether Epstein’s real business was blackmail

Michelle Celarier reports:

[T]he hedge-fund managers we spoke to leaned toward the theory that [Jeffrey] Epstein was running a blackmail scheme under the cover of a hedge fund.

How such a scheme could hypothetically work has been laid out in detail in a thread on the anonymous Twitter feed of @quantian1. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but in summary it is a rough blueprint for how a devious aspiring hedge-fund manager could blackmail rich people into investing with him without raising too many flags.

Kass and former hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson both emailed the thread around in investing circles and both quickly discovered that their colleagues found it quite convincing. “This actually sounds very plausible,” Tilson wrote in an email forwarding the thread to others.

“He somehow cajoled these guys to invest,” says Kass, speaking of hypothetical blackmailed investors who gave Epstein their money to invest, but managed to keep their names private.

The fact that Epstein’s fund is offshore in a tax haven — it is based in the U.S. Virgin Islands — and has a secret client list both add credence to the blackmail theory. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports:

Jeffrey Epstein, the financier facing sex-trafficking charges in New York, tried to influence possible witnesses against him, prosecutors said on Friday, wiring $350,000 to two people who might testify against him at trial.

Mr. Epstein sent the money to the potential witnesses in late November and early December, 2018, shortly after the Miami Herald began publishing an investigative report about a secret deal he had reached with the authorities in Florida to avoid federal prosecution, prosecutors said.

The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan made the new allegations in a court filing asking that Mr. Epstein be denied bail while he awaits trial, saying the payments were evidence that he might try to influence witnesses if he were not detained. [Continue reading…]

Jeffrey Epstein’s wealth may not be as vast as claimed

The New York Times reports:

When federal prosecutors announced sex-trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein this week, they described him as “a man of nearly infinite means.” They argued that his vast wealth — and his two private jets — made him a flight risk.

Mr. Epstein is routinely described as a billionaire and brilliant financier, and he rubbed elbows with the powerful, including former and future presidents. Even after his 2008 guilty plea in a prostitution case in Florida, he promoted himself as a financial wizard who used arcane mathematical models, and he often dropped the names of Nobel Prize-winning friends. He told potential clients that they had to invest a minimum of $1 billion. At his peak in the early 2000s, a magazine profile said he employed 150 people, some working out of the historic Villard Houses on Madison Avenue.

Much of that appears to be an illusion, and there is little evidence that Mr. Epstein is a billionaire.

Mr. Epstein’s wealth may have depended less on his math acumen than his connections to two men — Steven J. Hoffenberg, a onetime owner of The New York Post and a notorious fraudster later convicted of running a $460 million Ponzi scheme, and Leslie H. Wexner, the billionaire founder of retail chains including The Limited and the chief executive of the company that owns Victoria’s Secret.

Mr. Hoffenberg was Mr. Epstein’s partner in two ill-fated takeover bids in the 1980s, including one of Pan American World Airways, and would later claim that Mr. Epstein had been part of the scheme that landed him in jail — although Mr. Epstein was never charged. With Mr. Wexner, Mr. Epstein formed a financial and personal bond that baffled longtime associates of the wealthy retail magnate, who was his only publicly disclosed investor.

Mr. Epstein’s firm, Financial Trust Company, has released no audited financial statements or performance reports to back up his claims of investment prowess. In a 2002 court filing, Mr. Epstein said he had 20 employees, far fewer than reported figures around that time. Six years later, he lost large sums of money in the financial crisis. And friends and patrons — including Mr. Wexner — deserted him after he pleaded guilty to prostitution charges in 2008. [Continue reading…]

Trump can’t block critics from his Twitter account, appeals court rules

The New York Times reports:

President Trump has been violating the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account because they criticized or mocked him, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. The ruling could have broader implications for how the First Amendment applies to the social-media era.

Because Mr. Trump uses Twitter to conduct government business, he cannot exclude some Americans from reading his posts — and engaging in conversations in the replies to them — because he does not like their views, a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled unanimously.

Writing for the panel, Judge Barrington D. Parker noted that the conduct of the government and its officials are subject today to a “wide-open, robust debate” that “generates a level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen.”

The First Amendment prohibits an official who uses a social media account for government purposes from excluding people from an “otherwise open online dialogue” because they say things the official disagrees with, he wrote. [Continue reading…]

Tim Wu explains why Facebook should be broken up

Nicholas Thompson interviewed Tim Wu:

Nicholas Thompson: What I’m going to do here is present the arguments that Mark Zuckerberg gave on antitrust yester­day in the fairest way I can, and then, Tim, I want you to respond. So it’ll be a bit like Tim being on stage yesterday.

Mark made two arguments, and the company often makes a third. Number one, if you break the large platforms into smaller companies, they will not compete on the stuff you want. They won’t compete on making their platform safer, they won’t compete on privacy. They’ll only compete on the stuff you don’t want, which is unadulterated growth. And if you have smaller platforms, they won’t be able to do things like hire 30,000 people to find all the bad stuff on Facebook. That is argument number one.

Argument number two: If you break up the large American tech companies, you will give an advantage to China, because there are certain technologies where you need large companies. For example, many kinds of artificial intelligence require massive data sets and massive compute, which you only have at the large tech companies. And it’s not like China is going after Alibaba. So as we head toward a technological cold war, the US government is kicking the tech platforms in the shins while the Chinese government is helping their large companies. So that’s number two. Mark didn’t make that yesterday, but others at Facebook have.

Number three: Tim, you have very specifically said that the antitrust remedy to Facebook is to split apart Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, to unwind those mergers. You can argue whether they should have been approved or not. But they were approved. You said unwind them. And what Mark said yesterday is, hey, sometimes mergers are bad, no question. But these mergers were not. Instagram had 13 employees when Facebook bought it. It didn’t have an Android app. Without Facebook, Instagram doesn’t become what it is. It has become much more innovative because of Facebook, and the same can be said of WhatsApp.

So if you could take on those three arguments, we’ll go through them.

Tim Wu: Pleased to. Let me make a preface here and talk about my greater mission. I believe that we need to reinvigorate a great American tradition, and that is the tradition of antitrust. I think we have lost some of our pioneering spirit. It’s long been part of the American tradition to believe in competition, to believe in competitive markets, and Americans have always rebelled against concentrated power. A big part of the Constitution is dividing up power to make sure no one has too much. And it’s a big part of what we did in in 1890, in 1914, and again in 1950: pass antitrust laws, the goals of which were to put some controls on private power, and to keep markets competitive and prevent them from just becoming two or three big players. So that’s my big mission. That’s the curse of bigness. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m happy to take those arguments on in reverse order.

The first is the easiest. Mark Zuckerberg wrote an email when he was acquiring Instagram that was disclosed in the New York Post, and it suggests he was buying Instagram because he saw it as a competitive threat. Now, it is a felony under US law to buy companies that you believe are competitive threats to you. And so he was actually acting in a way that was illegal when he bought Instagram. The idea that Instagram would be nothing without the infusion of Facebook’s capital is untrue. Instagram already had enormous amounts of venture capital funding; they were kind of rolling in money. Also, and this is more important, what Mark Zuckerberg didn’t mention was that Twitter was trying to buy Instagram, to turn Instagram into a Facebook killer. Instagram was the most dangerous company for Facebook. Facebook had already destroyed a company like it, MySpace, earlier. Instagram was a bigger threat for two reasons: First, it was much stronger on mobile; second, it was better at photo sharing. As a commentator said at the time, Instagram had Facebook’s Achilles heel. The American way is that we believe in competition and that companies should fight it out, not buy each other when there’s serious competition. We established that principle with the Standard Oil Company. So the purchase of Instagram was, in terms of intent and effect, an illegal transaction. [Continue reading…]

Google’s onetime hired gun could now be its antitrust nightmare

Politico reports:

When Google needed government sign-off on a 2007 acquisition that would tighten its grip on the digital advertising market, the company turned to antitrust attorney and lobbyist Makan Delrahim to help get the job done.

Now, as the Justice Department’s top antitrust enforcer, Delrahim could be the one to undo it all.

As U.S. competition enforcers cast a more critical eye on the nation’s biggest technology companies, Delrahim would play the leading role in any DOJ lawsuit accusing Google of stifling markets and harming consumers. It’s a striking turn of events given the assistant attorney general’s past role in shepherding the company’s $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, a display advertising and ad tech firm that has played a central part in establishing Google’s market dominance.

“He worked on the key merger and, ironically, his job now is to undo the consequences,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based public interest group that opposed the Google-DoubleClick deal on the grounds that it would harm consumer privacy and depress competition.

Delrahim, a 49-year-old Iranian émigré with decades of antitrust experience and some light dabbling in Hollywood, has declined to discuss his plans with regard to Google. But the Justice Department began laying the groundwork weeks ago for a possible probe of the company, and Delrahim has already drawn a harder line than many antitrust observers had expected in opposing the accumulation of corporate power. [Continue reading…]

Where John Roberts is taking the Supreme Court

Garrett Epps writes:

Last year’s Supreme Court term ended with a vivid display of willed gullibility by Chief Justice John Roberts. In Hawaii v. Trump, the “travel ban” case, Roberts announced he would pay no attention to that Islamophobia behind the curtain and instead treat the ban as a “facially neutral policy denying certain foreign nationals the privilege of admission.” This year’s term ended with the same man stating in Department of Commerce v. New York, the census case, that he would not ignore the government’s lies: “We are ‘not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free.’”

Donald Trump’s administration, in both of these cases and in ever so many others, lied in its high-profile submissions to various federal courts. Until last week, the response of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has been to put its fingers in its ears and proclaim, like Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, “Nobody’s hearing nothing!”

The fact that Roberts decided, in at least one case, that he would no longer play rubber-stamp judge is a huge development; much of the future of our democracy depends on whether this was a cosmetic move by a reluctant Trump supporter or a genuine renaissance of Roberts’s judicial conscience. [Continue reading…]

Human rights expert: Treatment of migrant children appears to meet definition of ‘mass atrocity’

Kate Cronin-Furman writes:

The debate over whether “concentration camps” is the right term for migrant detention centers on the southern border has drawn long-overdue attention to the American government’s dehumanizing treatment of defenseless children. A pediatrician who visited in June said the centers could be compared to “torture facilities.” Having studied mass atrocities for over a decade, I agree.

At least seven migrant children have died in United States custody since last year. The details reported by lawyers who visited a Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Tex., in June were shocking: children who had not bathed in weeks, toddlers without diapers, sick babies being cared for by other children. As a human rights lawyer and then as a political scientist, I have spoken to the victims of some of the worst things that human beings have ever done to each other, in places ranging from Cambodia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Sri Lanka. What’s happening at the border doesn’t match the scale of these horrors, but if, as appears to be the case, these harsh conditions have been intentionally inflicted on children as part a broader plan to deter others from migrating, then it meets the definition of a mass atrocity: a deliberate, systematic attack on civilians. And like past atrocities, it is being committed by a complex organizational structure made up of people at all different levels of involvement.

Thinking of what’s happening in this way gives us a repertoire of tools with which to fight the abuses, beyond the usual exhortations to call our representatives and donate to border charities.

Those of us who want to stop what’s happening need to think about all the different individuals playing a role in the systematic mistreatment of migrant children and how we can get them to stop participating. We should focus most on those who have less of a personal commitment to the abusive policies that are being carried out.

Testimony from trials and truth commissions has revealed that many atrocity perpetrators think of what they’re doing as they would think of any other day job. While the leaders who order atrocities may be acting out of strongly held ideological beliefs or political survival concerns, the so-called “foot soldiers” and the middle men and women are often just there for the paycheck.

This lack of personal investment means that these participants in atrocities can be much more susceptible to pressure than national leaders. [Continue reading…]

Supreme Court bars challenges to partisan gerrymandering

The New York Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that federal courts are powerless to hear challenges to partisan gerrymandering, the practice in which the party that controls the state legislature draws voting maps to help elect its candidates.

The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s more conservative members in the majority. In a momentous decision, the court closed the door on such claims.

The drafters of the Constitution, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, understood that politics would play a role in drawing election districts when they gave the task to state legislatures. Judges, the chief justice said, are not entitled to second-guess lawmakers’ judgments.

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” the chief justice wrote.

Partisan gerrymandering is almost as old as the nation, and both parties have used it. But in recent years, as Republicans captured state legislatures around the country, they have been the primary beneficiaries. Aided by sophisticated software, they have drawn oddly shaped voting districts to favor their party’s candidates. Should Democrats capture state legislatures in the next election, the ruling would allow them to employ the same tactics.

In an impassioned dissent delivered from the bench, Justice Elena Kagan said American democracy will suffer thanks to the court’s ruling in the two consolidated cases decided Thursday, Rucho v. Common Cause, No. 18-422, and Lamone v. Benisek, No. 18-726. .

“The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government,” she said. “Part of the court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.” [Continue reading…]