Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction Wednesday after finding an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.
Cosby has served more than two years of a three- to 10-year sentence at a state prison near Philadelphia. He had vowed to serve all 10 years rather than acknowledge any remorse over the 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand.
He was charged in late 2015, when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from her lawsuit — arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.
The court said that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil suit. There was no evidence that promise was ever put in writing.
Justice David Wecht, writing for a split court, said Cosby had relied on the former prosecutor’s decision not to charge him when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in the Constand’s civil suit.
They said that overturning the conviction, and barring any further prosecution, “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”
The 83-year-old Cosby, who was once beloved as “America’s Dad,” was convicted of drugging and molesting the Temple University employee at his suburban estate.
The trial judge had allowed just one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial, when the jury deadlocked. However, he then allowed five other accusers to testify at the retrial about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that testimony tainted the trial, even though a lower appeals court had found it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women.
Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. The law on prior bad act testimony varies by state, though, and the ruling only holds sway in Pennsylvania.
The justices voiced concern not just about sex assault cases, but what they saw as the judiciary’s increasing tendency to allow testimony that crosses the line into character attacks. The law allows the testimony only in limited cases, including to show a crime pattern so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.
In New York, the judge presiding over last year’s trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case had sparked the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify. Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is now facing separate charges in California.
In Cosby’s case, one of his appellate lawyers said prosecutors put on vague evidence about the uncharged conduct, including Cosby’s own recollections in his deposition about giving women alcohol or quaaludes before sexual encounters.
“The presumption of innocence just didn’t exist for him,” Jennifer Bonjean, the lawyer, argued to the court in December.
In May, Cosby was denied paroled after refusing to participate in sex offender programs during his nearly three years in state prison. He has long said he would resist the treatment programs and refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even if it means serving the full 10-year sentence.
This is the first year he was eligible for parole under the three- to 10-year sentence handed down after his 2018 conviction.
Cosby spokesperson Andrew Wyatt called the parole board decision “appalling.”
Prosecutors said Cosby repeatedly used his fame and “family man” persona to manipulate young women, holding himself out as a mentor before betraying them.
Cosby, a groundbreaking Black actor who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, made a fortune estimated at $400 million during his 50 years in the entertainment industry. His trademark clean comedy and homespun wisdom fueled popular TV shows, books and standup acts.
He fell from favor in his later years as he lectured the Black community about family values, but was attempting a comeback when he was arrested.
“There was a built-in level of trust because of his status in the entertainment industry and because he held himself out as a public moralist,” Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Jappe, of suburban Montgomery County, argued to the justices.
Cosby had invited Constand to an estate he owns in Pennsylvania the night she said he drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Constand, a former professional basketball player who worked at his alma mater, went to police a year later. The other accusers knew Cosby through the entertainment industry and did not go to police.
The AP does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.
Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction Wednesday after finding an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.
Federal law enforcement agencies secretly seek the data of Microsoft customers thousands of times a year, according to congressional testimony Wednesday by a senior executive at the technology company.Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that federal law enforcement in recent years has been presenting the company with between 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders a year, or about seven to 10 a day.”Most shocking is just how routine secrecy orders have become when law enforcement targets an American’s email, text messages or other sensitive data stored in the cloud,” said Burt, describing the widespread clandestine surveillance as a major shift from historical norms.The relationship between law enforcement and Big Tech has attracted fresh scrutiny in recent weeks with the revelation that Trump-era Justice Department prosecutors obtained as part of leak investigations phone records belonging not only to journalists but also to members of Congress and their staffers. Microsoft, for instance, was among the companies that turned over records under a court order, and because of a gag order, had to then wait more than two years before disclosing it.Since then, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, called for an end to the overuse of secret gag orders, arguing in a Washington Post opinion piece that “prosecutors too often are exploiting technology to abuse our fundamental freedoms.” Attorney General Merrick Garland, meanwhile, has said the Justice Department will abandon its practice of seizing reporter records and will formalize that stance soon.Burt is among the witnesses at a Judiciary Committee hearing about potential legislative solutions to intrusive leak investigations. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in opening remarks Wednesday that the Justice Department took advantage of outdated policies on digital data searches to target journalists and others in leak investigations. The New York Democrat said that reforms are needed now to guard against future overreach by federal prosecutors — an idea also expressed by Republicans on the committee.”We cannot trust the department to police itself,” Nadler said.Burt said that while the revelation that federal prosecutors had sought data about journalists and political figures was shocking to many Americans, the scope of surveillance is much broader. He criticized prosecutors for reflexively seeking secrecy through boilerplate requests that “enable law enforcement to just simply assert a conclusion that a secrecy order is necessary.”Burt said that while Microsoft Corp. does cooperate with law enforcement on a broad range of criminal and national security investigations, it often challenges surveillance that it sees as unnecessary, resulting at times in advance notice to the account being targeted.Among the organizations weighing in at the hearing was The Associated Press, which called on Congress to act to protect journalists’ ability to promise confidentiality to their sources. Reporters must have prior notice and the ability to challenge a prosecutor’s efforts to seize data, said a statement submitted by Karen Kaiser, AP’s general counsel.”It is essential that reporters be able to credibly promise confidentially to ensure the public has the information needed to hold its government accountable and to help government agencies and officials function more effectively and with integrity,” Kaiser said. As possible solutions, Burt said, the government should end indefinite secrecy orders and should also be required to notify the target of the data demand once the secrecy order has expired.Just this week, he said, prosecutors sought a blanket gag order affecting the government of a major U.S. city for a Microsoft data request targeting a single employee there.”Without reform, abuses will continue to occur and they will occur in the dark,” Burt said.
A former CIA operative known for his exploits everywhere from Miami to Nicaragua to Afghanistan has a book deal. Enrique “Ric” Prado’s “Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior” will come out next March. “A lot has been said about the CIA over the years,” Prado said in a statement Wednesday. “And a lot of it has been (expletive). I wrote ‘Black Ops’ to clear the name of my agency. I know the untold sacrifices that have been made for this country by devoted men and women who have served anonymously, as quiet heroes. I’m eager to share those stories now.” His book, subject to government review, was announced by St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan. Prado spent 24 years in the CIA before retiring in 2004. His assignments ranged from fighting with the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s — even after Congress had cut off U.S. support for the Contras — as they tried to overthrow the Sandinista government, to helping lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden, to overseeing SEAL Team Six missions into Afghanistan. Investigative reports in The Nation and a book by reporter Evan Wright have alleged that Prado has ties to organized crime and drug traffickers in Miami and to shell companies for the private contractor Blackwater. According to St. Martin’s, he is writing the book “to set the record straight about himself, his career and the men and women of his agency.” “In ‘Black Ops,’ Prado shares a harrowing true story of life in the deadly world of assassins, terrorists, spies and revolutionaries and reveals how he and his fellow CIA officers devoted their lives to operating in the shadows to fight a little-seen and virtually unknown war to keep the United States safe from those who would do it harm,” the publisher announced.
Solstice Yoga returned to New York City’s Times Square in 2021, after being suspended last year because of the pandemic. The all-day event brought together over two thousand enthusiasts with their yoga mats to the very heart of Times Square. Evgeny Maslov filed this story narrated by Anna Rice.Camera: Michael Eckels
They were once so close.Princes William and Harry grew up together, supported each other after their mother’s untimely death and worked side by side as they began their royal duties — two brothers seemingly bonded for life by blood, tradition and tragedy.But those links are now painfully strained as William sits in London defending the royal family from allegations of racism and insensitivity made by Harry and his wife, Meghan, from their new home in Southern California.Royal watchers will be looking closely for any signs of a truce — or deepening rift — on Thursday when William and Harry unveil a statue of their mother, Princess Diana, on what would have been her 60th birthday. The event in the Sunken Garden at London’s Kensington Palace will be their second public meeting since Harry and Meghan stepped away from royal duties over a year ago.A display to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Britain’s Diana, Princess of Wales, a recreation of the desk where Princess Diana worked in her Sitting room at Kensington Palace, on display at Buckingham Palace in London, July 20, 2017.People shouldn’t expect a quick resolution of the conflict because the two men are fighting over core beliefs, says Robert Lacey, a historian and author of “Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult.” William is defending the monarchy, and Harry is defending his wife. “It’s a matter of love versus duty, with William standing for duty and the concept of the monarchy as he sees it,” Lacey said. “And then from Harry’s point of view, love, loyalty to his wife. He is standing by her. These are very deeply rooted differences, so it would be facile to think that there can just be a click of the fingers.”But finding some sort of rapprochement between the princes is crucial to the monarchy as Britain’s royal family seeks to appeal to a younger generation and a more diverse population.BBC Under Mounting Pressure Over Princess Diana InterviewThe public broadcaster has been plunged into a major crisis of trust after an inquiry found her participation was secured through deception, fraud and forgeryWhen Harry married Meghan just over three years ago, it seemed as if they would be central figures in that next chapter of the royal story. The Fab Four — William and his wife, Kate, together with Harry and Meghan — were seen as a cadre of youth and vigor that would take the monarchy forward after the tumultuous 1990s and early 2000s, when divorce, Princess Diana’s death, and Prince Charles’ controversial second marriage to Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, cast doubt on the future of the institution.Meghan, a biracial former TV star from Los Angeles, was expected to be an important part of that effort, with Black and Asian commentators saying that for the first time there was a member of the royal family who looked like them.But the words “Fab Four” were quickly replaced in tabloid headlines by “Royal Rift.” First, their joint royal office was dissolved. Then, Harry stepped away from royal duties and moved his family to North America in search of a more peaceful life. William pressed on with royal tasks, including goodwill events like accompanying his grandmother to Scotland this week to tour a soft drink factory.The relationship was further strained in March when Harry and Meghan gave an interview to U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Harry confirmed rumors that he and his brother had been growing apart, saying “the relationship is ‘space’ at the moment” — though he added that “time heals all things, hopefully.” Harry also told Winfrey that his father, Prince Charles, didn’t accept his calls for a time.And then came the real shocker. The couple revealed that before the birth of their first child, an unidentified member of the royal family had expressed concern about how dark his skin might be. Days after the broadcast, William responded, telling reporters that his was “very much not a racist family.”But whatever their disagreements, out of respect for their mother, William and Harry won’t put their differences on display during the statue ceremony, said historian Ed Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953,” which examines the royal family’s public relations strategy.”We’re not going to see any acrimony or animosity between the brothers on Thursday,” Owens said. “I think reconciliation is a long way off, but nevertheless these are expert performers. Harry and William have been doing this job for long enough now that they know that they’ve got to put, if you like, occasional private grievances … aside for the sake of getting on with the job.”Lacey believes William and Harry will ultimately reconcile because it is in both of their interests to do so.Harry and Meghan need to repair relations to protect the aura of royalty that has allowed them to sign the lucrative contracts with Netflix and Spotify that are funding their life in California, Lacey said. If they don’t, they risk becoming irrelevant like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who were shunned by the royal family after the duke gave up the throne in the 1930s to marry an American divorcee. His brother, Queen Elizabeth II’s father, then became king.”It’s very appealing, particularly in America, the idea that they rebelled against this stuffy old British institution,” Lacey said. “But there’s a point they can’t go too far, and they’re approaching that point.””On William’s side, it is impossible to go on ostracizing, boycotting the only members of the royal family who are of mixed race in a multiracial world of diversity,” he added.The critical moment may be next year, when the queen celebrates her platinum jubilee, marking 70 years on the throne.Under normal circumstances for these big occasions, the queen would want the whole family together on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, where the royals have traditionally gathered to wave to the public.”Who’s going to be on the balcony at Buckingham Palace?” Lacey asked. “That family grouping has surely got to include Meghan and Harry and their two children, Archie and Lili, alongside their cousins, the children of William and Kate.”
Cuban screenwriter Delia Fiallo, widely seen as “the mother of the telenovela” and the writer behind international hits like the soap opera “Crystal,” died Tuesday in Miami at the age of 96, her daughter-in-law confirmed to AFP. A pioneer of the wildly popular romantic soap operas in Latin America, Fiallo , whose career began in the middle of the last century, told AFP in an interview in 2018 that she wanted to be remembered “as a person who loved a lot and who was very loved.”Her daughter-in-law, Odalis Baez, confirmed her death. Adored by her fans, Fiallo left her mark on U.S. Hispanic popular culture in the second half of the 20th century. She started her career in Cuba in 1950 with radio soap operas before writing her first television screenplay in 1957. She then worked with Venezuelan television stations after leaving Communist Cuba for Miami in 1966, scripting popular shows like “Lucecita” in 1967, or global hits like “Esmeralda,” “Leonela,” “Cristal” and “Kassandra.”In all, she wrote more than 40 works for radio and television during her long career.The cause of her death was not immediately made public.
Tennis great Serena Williams limped out of Wimbledon in tears on Tuesday after her latest bid for a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam singles crown ended in injury. The American sixth seed and seven-time Wimbledon winner was clearly in pain on a slippery Centre Court and sought treatment while 3-2 up in her first-round match against unseeded Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich. Williams returned after a lengthy break, but the distress was evident. She grimaced and wiped away tears before preparing to serve at 3-3 after Sasnovich had pulled back from 3-1 down. Serena Williams, right, retires from the match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in first round women’s singles on Centre Court at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, June 29, 2021. (Peter Van den Berg-USA Today Sports)The 39-year-old, who had started the match with strapping on her right thigh, then let out a shriek and sank kneeling to the grass sobbing, before being helped off the court. “I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg,” Williams wrote on Instagram. “My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on center court so meaningful. Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on — and off — the court meant the world to me.” ‘Great champion’Sasnovich, who practiced her serve while Williams was getting treatment, commiserated with an opponent who had never gone out in the first round at Wimbledon in her previous 19 visits. “I’m so sad for Serena. She’s a great champion,” said the world No. 100 Sasnovich. “It happens sometimes.” Eight-time men’s singles champion Roger Federer expressed shock at Williams’ departure and voiced concern about the surface, with the roof closed on Centre Court on a rainy afternoon. His first-round opponent, Adrian Mannarino of France, also retired with a knee injury after a slip in the match immediately before Williams’. “I do feel it feels a tad more slippery maybe under the roof. I don’t know if it’s just a gut feeling. You do have to move very, very carefully out there. If you push too hard in the wrong moments, you do go down,” Federer said. “I feel for a lot of players. It’s super key to get through those first two rounds because the grass is more slippery. It is more soft. As the tournament progresses, usually it gets harder and easier to move on,” he said. Hopes dashedWilliams has been a Wimbledon finalist in her last four appearances, but her bid to equal Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles has stalled since her last in Australia in 2017. With the absence this year of world No. 2 Naomi Osaka and third-ranked Simona Halep, hopes were rising of another year to remember for the American. “It was hard for me to watch that,” said compatriot Coco Gauff. “She’s the reason why I started to play tennis. It’s hard to watch any player get injured, but especially her.”
Officials in Greece say they have recovered two priceless paintings — one by Pablo Picasso and another by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian — stolen from the National Gallery in Athens in 2012.During a news briefing in Athens Tuesday, a spokesman said police acted on a tip and arrested a 49-year-old handyman who confessed to the crime. Police had originally believed the burglary had been the work of two people.The official offered details to reporters of how the man had plotted to steal the two paintings — Picasso’s 1939 “Woman’s Head” and Mondrian’s 1905 “Stammer Mill with Summer House.”He said the thief broke into the museum in the early morning hours, and, to mislead the guard on duty, had activated the alarm in one part of the gallery while he broke into another.He added the thief had originally hidden the paintings in his home but later wrapped them and hid them in a ravine in the town of Keratea, about 20 kilometers from Athens. They were recovered there Monday in good condition.Speaking at the same news conference, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said it was a day full of joy and emotion. She explained the Picasso painting is of special value to the Greek people because the painter personally dedicated it to them for their struggle against fascist and Nazi occupying forces during World War II. Painting Found in Romania Studied As Possibly Stolen Picasso
Romanian prosecutors are investigating whether a painting by Pablo Picasso that was snatched from a museum in the Netherlands six years ago has turned up in Romania.
Four Romanians were convicted of stealing Picasso’s “Tete d’Arlequin” and six other valuable paintings from the Kunsthal gallery in Rotterdam.
One of them, Olga Dogaru, told investigators she burned the paintings in her stove to protect her son, the alleged leader of the 2012 heist.
She said the painting bears his hand-written dedication. “That is why it was impossible for this painting not only to be sold but even to be exhibited anywhere as it would be immediately identifiable as being stolen from the National Gallery.”The Mondrian painting was a gift to the National Gallery by a Greek owner. Both paintings will be displayed at the gallery later this year when it reopens following extensive renovations.The Associated Press, Reuters News Service and the French news agency, AFP contributed to this report.
Most people wouldn’t volunteer to walk through a minefield. Princess Diana did it twice.
On Jan. 15, 1997, Diana walked gingerly down a narrow path cleared through an Angolan minefield, wearing a protective visor and flak jacket emblazoned with the name of The HALO Trust, a group devoted to removing mines from former war zones. When she realized some of the photographers accompanying her didn’t get the shot, she turned around and did it again.
Later, she met with a group of landmine victims. A young girl who had lost her left leg perched on the princess’s lap.
The images of that day appeared in newspapers and on TV sets around the globe, focusing international attention on the then-languishing campaign to rid the world of devices that lurk underground for decades after conflicts end. Today, a treaty banning landmines has 164 signatories.
Those touched by the life of the preschool teacher turned princess remembered her ahead of what would have been her 60th birthday on Thursday, recalling the complicated royal rebel who left an enduring imprint on the House of Windsor.
Diana had the “emotional intelligence that allowed her to see that bigger picture … but also to bring it right down to individual human beings,” said James Cowan, a retired major general who is now CEO of The HALO Trust. “She knew that she could reach their hearts in a way that would outmaneuver those who would only be an influence through the head.”
Diana’s walk among the landmines seven months before she died in a Paris car crash is just one example of how she helped make the monarchy more accessible, changing the way the royal family related to people. By interacting more intimately with the public — kneeling to the level of a child, sitting on the edge of a patient’s hospital bed, writing personal notes to her fans — she connected with people in a way that inspired other royals, including her sons, Princes William and Harry, as the monarchy worked to become more human and remain relevant in the 21st century.
Diana didn’t invent the idea of royals visiting the poor, destitute or downtrodden. Queen Elizabeth II herself visited a Nigerian leper colony in 1956. But Diana touched them — literally.
“Diana was a real hugger in the royal family,” said Sally Bedell Smith, author of “Diana in Search of Herself.” “She was much more visibly tactile in the way she interacted with people. It was not something the queen was comfortable with and still is not.”
Critically, she also knew that those interactions could bring attention to her causes since she was followed everywhere by photographers and TV crews.
Ten years before she embraced landmine victims in Angola, she shook hands with a young AIDS patient in London during the early days of the epidemic, showing people that the disease couldn’t be transmitted through touch.FILE – Princess Diana and Prince Charles look in different directions, Nov. 3, during a service held to commemorate the 59 British soldiers killed in action during the Korean War, Nov. 3, 1992.As her marriage to Prince Charles deteriorated, Diana used the same techniques to tell her side of the story. Embracing her children with open arms to show her love for her sons. Sitting alone in front of the Taj Mahal on a royal trip to India. Walking through that minefield as she was starting a new life after her divorce.
“Diana understood the power of imagery — and she knew that a photograph was worth a hundred words,” said Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine and author of “Diana: An Intimate Portrait.” “She wasn’t an intellectual. She wasn’t ever going to be the one to give the right words. But she gave the right image.”
And that began on the day the 20-year-old Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, the heir to throne, on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Elizabeth Emanuel, who co-designed her wedding dress, describes an event comparable to the transformation of a chrysalis into a butterfly, or in this case a nursery school teacher in cardigans and sensible skirts into a fairytale princess.
“We thought, right, let’s do the biggest, most dramatic dress possible, the ultimate fairytale dress. Let’s make it big. Let’s have big sleeves. Let’s have ruffles,” Emanuel said. “And St. Paul’s was so huge. We knew that we needed to do something that was a statement. And Diana was completely up for that. She loved that idea.”
But Emanuel said Diana also had a simplicity that made her more accessible to people.
“She had this vulnerability about her, I think, so that ordinary people could relate to her. She wasn’t perfect. And none of us are perfect, and I think that’s why there is this thing, you know, people think of her almost like family. They felt they knew her.”A postcard of a commemorative stamp celebrating the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 is displayed outside a philatelists in LondonDiana’s sons learned from their mother’s example, making more personal connections with the public during their charitable work, including supporting efforts to destigmatize mental health problems and treat young AIDS patients in Lesotho and Botswana.
William, who is second in line to the throne, worked as an air ambulance pilot before taking on full-time royal duties. Harry retraced Diana’s footsteps through the minefield for The HALO Trust. Her influence can be seen in other royals as well. Sophie, the Countess of Wessex and the wife of Charles’ brother Prince Edward, grew teary, for example, in a television interview as she told the nation about her feelings on the death of her father-in-law, Prince Philip.
The public even began to see a different side of the queen, including her turn as a Bond girl during the 2012 London Olympics in which she starred in a mini-movie with Daniel Craig to open the games.
More recently, the monarch has reached out in Zoom calls, joking with school children about her meeting with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. What was he like, ma’am? “Russian,” she said flatly. The Zoom filled with chuckles.
Cowan, of HALO, said the attention that Diana, and now Harry, have brought to the landmine issue helped attract the funding that made it possible for thousands of workers to continue the slow process of ridding the world of the devices.
Sixty countries and territories are still contaminated with landmines, which killed or injured more than 5,500 people in 2019, according to Landmine Monitor.
“She had that capacity to reach out and inspire people. Their imaginations were fired up by this work,” Cowan said. “And they like it and they want to fund it. And that’s why she’s had such a profound legacy for us.”
The African wild dog, or African painted dog, is one of the world’s most endangered mammals, with fewer than 7,000 remaining, mostly because of human-wildlife conflict. In Zimbabwe, the Painted Dog Conservation group finds and removes thousands of snares every year that can kill or injure the dogs, and turns them into crafts to raise funds for their protection. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Hwange, Zimbabwe.
A federal judge on Monday dismissed antitrust lawsuits brought against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of state attorneys general, dealing a significant blow to attempts by regulators to rein in tech giants. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled Monday that the lawsuits were “legally insufficient” and didn’t provide enough evidence to prove that Facebook was a monopoly. The ruling dismisses the complaint but not the case, meaning the FTC could refile another complaint. “These allegations — which do not even provide an estimated actual figure or range for Facebook’s market share at any point over the past 10 years — ultimately fall short of plausibly establishing that Facebook holds market power,” he said. The U.S. government and 48 states and districts sued Facebook in December 2020, accusing the tech giant of abusing its market power in social networking to crush smaller competitors and seeking remedies that could include a forced spinoff of the social network’s Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services. The FTC had alleged Facebook engaged in a “a systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including by purchasing smaller up-and-coming rivals like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. New York Attorney General Letitia James said when filing the suit that Facebook “used its monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users.” Boasberg dismissed the separate complaint made by the state attorneys general, as well.
Asked to sum up her friendship with training partner and four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles doesn’t mince words: “She’s my ride-or-die.” With the Olympic trials wrapped up on Sunday, the 20-year-old is one of five Olympic newcomers set to compete for the highly decorated U.S. gymnastics team in Tokyo this summer, with 2016 veteran Biles, 24, one of the most decorated competitors in the history of the sport, leading the way. Chiles, who ranked third overall during the two-day competition at St. Louis, Missouri, nearly quit the sport in 2018 and said she credits Biles with helping her to this point in her career. FILE – Simone Biles, left, and Jordan Chiles look over a rotation schedule during practice for the senior women’s competition at the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 11, 2019.”I thank her 24/7 and it’s something that I wish a lot of people had that same experience,” said Chiles. “She will forever be my partner in crime.” Sunisa Lee, 18, who came in second behind Biles in the all-around at the nationals and finished with a higher score on the second night, and 18-year-old Grace McCallum rounded out the four-person team. MyKayla Skinner, 24, who was a designated replacement athlete in 2016 but did not compete, picked up the individual quota spot after Jade Carey, 21, previously qualified for an individual spot through World Cup performances. As the only returning member of the Rio Olympics’ gold medal-winning “Final Five,” Biles is well aware of the outsized responsibility she has on the team. “I’m old, I feel like I have a lot of wisdom,” said Biles, “I’ve been here before, so I just want to keep everybody cool, calm and collected.” The U.S. will begin their Olympic title defense July 25, in Tokyo’s Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
For the second consecutive year, the lingering pandemic consigned New York’s annual Pride march Sunday to the virtual world, even as its alter-ego, the Queer Liberation March, took its edgier message through the streets of Manhattan.The NYC Pride march, the city’s marquee LGBTQ+ event now in its 51st year, became a made-for-TV production as a cautionary measure to prevent coronavirus infections, which have dropped sharply as the number of vaccinated people has grown.Only a small number of guests were invited to the three-block area where the group’s floats and musical acts paraded for the cameras, but organizer Sue Doster said “something in the millions” of viewers were expected to tune in.Guests included Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the June 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, who has since become an advocate for LGBTQ rights legislation.“Six days after the shooting, we had a funeral service for my best friend and I made a promise to him that day that I would never stop fighting for a world that he would be proud of,” he told ABC, which aired the event.“We’ve made incredible progress in equality across the country, but trans people are under attack,” he added.HIV/AIDS expert Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, one of the event’s grand marshals, urged all LGBTQ+ community members to get tested frequently for the virus.“At the end of the day, HIV is just a virus, and we have the ability to prevent it and to treat it,” said Daskalakis, who is the director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.’Liberation and justice’Meanwhile, thousands of people organized by the Reclaim Pride Coalition, whose parade began as a protest to the Pride march two years ago, marched more than 30 blocks down New York’s Seventh Avenue with rainbow flags and signs that included “Liberation and Justice.”Coalition co-founder Jay W. Walker said the group was hoping to attract up to 70,000 marchers.Under sunny skies with muggy conditions that felt like 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit), a racially mixed crowd of men and women chanted “No Justice, No Peace,” and other slogans, some critical of the New York Police Department.After linking last year’s message to the Black Lives Matter movement, Walker said this year’s theme is returning to the coalition’s standard: “None of us are free until all of us are free.”Although the group had urged marchers to wear masks, few did. Last year’s march produced no discernable spike in new coronavirus cases, he said.Both events commemorate the June 28, 1969, uprising at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, when patrons fought back during a police raid. The defiant stand gave birth to the modern LGBTQ rights movement.The two groups have differed over their policies on police participation in their events, which the Reclaim Pride Coalition opposes. But Heritage of Pride last month also decided to bar uniformed police officers from its future parades. Doster said many of its Black, brown and trans members feel threatened by their presence.
A large, newly restored area of the Colosseum, which used to be the underground backstage of the ancient Roman amphitheater, is now accessible to the public for the first time. Visitors can use a newly constructed wooden walkway to admire the tunnels and chambers under the arena that were used by wild animals and human performers before they joined the action in front of large audiences.A team of more than 80 experts, including archaeologists, engineers and restorers, worked on the Colosseum’s hypogeum for two years. The project was the second phase in a major restoration of the iconic landmark that began in September 2013. Funding was provided by Diego Della Valle’s Tod’s fashion group. At the time, Della Valle pledged 25 million euros for the ambitious and complicated feat.Diego Della Valle, who funded the works at the Colosseum. (Sabina Castelfranco/VOA)Speaking at the opening of the hypogeum, Della Valle expressed satisfaction at what has been achieved so far for a monument that “the whole world loves.” He also praised the decision that allowed the public and private sectors to come together “for a good cause.”Alfonsina Russo, director of the archaeological park of the Colosseum, said “a monument within a monument has now been fully restored and reopened”. She said the restoration of the hypogeum was very complex adding that “each stone here is a witness of everything that occurred under the great arena of the Colosseum from its inauguration in AD 80 to its final performance in AD 523.” Alfonsina Russo, director of the archaeological park of the Colosseum. (Sabina Castelfranco/VOA)Russo said 2,000 years ago this was the heart of the Flavian amphitheater where all the preparations for the shows took place. She added that this was the backstage where gladiators prepared for their challenges and where cages with wild animals were kept for the shows.A new 160-meter wooden walkway for visitors has now been constructed in the hypogeum, which provides access to parts of the monument which were not previously visible.Russo explained that this 15,000-square-meter area was filled with technology advanced for its time, with mobile platforms and wooden elevators that allowed the animals and performer out onto the arena so that they could join the combat action. There was also special water system which filled the arena with water for naval battles, normally for the grand finale of the shows at the Colosseum.Tourists outside Rome’s ancient amphitheater. (Sabina Castelfranco//VOA)In the first phase of the works the northern and southern facades of the Colosseum were cleaned, damaged mortar in arches was replaced and the monument was fitted with new gates. The third phase, soon to be launched, will involve the restoration of galleries, the creation of a completely new visitors’ center and a new lighting system.Another project approved for the Colosseum involves installation of a high-tech retractable stage, expected to be operational by 2023 and which is likely to bring back cultural events and performances.
Dr. Rania Awaad was attending a virtual religion program this Ramadan when discussion turned to an unexpected question: Is it religiously acceptable to say a prayer for someone who died by suicide?Suicide is a complex and delicate topic that Awaad, as director of the Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab at Stanford University, knows much about — but one she says isn’t discussed nearly enough in U.S. Muslim communities. When it is, she said, it’s often poorly understood and shrouded in misconceptions.Awaad and other mental health professionals are trying to change that, working alongside some faith leaders and activists to bring nuance and compassion to such conversations, raise awareness in Muslim communities about suicide prevention and mental health and provide religiously and culturally sensitive guidance.The effort took on new urgency in the aftermath of an apparent murder-suicide that left six family members dead in Allen, Texas, in April, sending shock waves through Muslim communities in the area and beyond. Investigators believe two brothers made a pact to kill their parents, sister and grandmother before taking their own lives.The incident sparked a flurry of activity in Muslim spaces, from public discussions on mental health and trainings on suicide response to healing circles and private conversations.“The initial reaction of the community was total shock,” said Imam Abdul Rahman Bashir of the Islamic Association of Allen, where the family’s funeral was held. “Their reaction went from shock, grief to then concern about other families around them: Are they saying something that they can’t hear? Is something out there that they can’t see?”“It definitely opened up the conversation for understanding what mental health is and the importance of mental well-being,” he added.Suicide is theologically proscribed under Islam, and Awaad while acknowledging that, takes a nuanced view on the issue, arguing that it’s not up to people to judge. Contrary to what she’s heard some say about people who took their own lives, she believes the deceased may receive prayers regardless of how they died.“We don’t know the state of a person when they reach this point in their life, and we don’t know their mental state in that moment,” she said. ”… Only God can judge on this.”The importance of seeking professional help for mental health struggles, without worrying about what people may say, is a message the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation sought to drive home in a recent video. Aimed at the South Asian American community, it featured actors, young activists and others sharing their experiences to help break the stigma.Some community leaders in Texas addressed suicide and mental health issues after a Muslim American woman took her own life in 2018, according to Saadia Ahmed, director of the foundation’s youth leadership program. Following the Allen tragedy, she’s heard from lots of people who have reached out to share their personal battles or ask how to get help for loved ones.One young man opened up about having previously had suicidal thoughts and about how getting help made things better. There was a high school student who needed therapy, but her parents weren’t getting her any; with the aid of a school counselor, she ended up getting help. Ahmed also heard from parents worried about their kids.“I feel like at least I see progress,” Ahmed said.Sameera Ahmed — no relation — a psychologist and executive director of The Family & Youth Institute, a not-for-profit research and education institute, said that when her group was developing suicide prevention resources for Muslim communities a few years ago, some questioned the need.“People wouldn’t share what was happening because they were afraid of the stigma,” Ahmed said. “They were afraid people wouldn’t come to their loved one’s janazah,” or funeral.But today she sees more openness to conversation and says some well-known imams have begun addressing the issue from more compassionate perspectives. Still, much work remains, she added.Following the Allen tragedy, Awaad gave virtual trainings on suicide response from her base in California to help people navigate the aftermath, including to religious and community leaders. Her lab at Stanford provided guidelines for Islamic sermons. “The crisis response is the hardest part,” she said. Many imams and religious leaders grapple with “striking a balance between healing the community and Islam’s stance on the impressibility of suicide.”She also co-authored a piece detailing do’s and don’ts after a suicide, like providing resources and support to those who may be struggling, while refraining from speculation on spiritual implications such as whether someone who took their life will go to paradise.By the end of 2022, Awaad hopes 500 Muslim religious leaders will have received training on suicide using material developed by a nonprofit, Maristan, in collaboration with her lab at Stanford that’s grounded in both science and the teachings of Islam.Several religious leaders have thrown their weight behind the effort.One of them, Imam Bashir, of the Islamic Association of Allen, said that while Islam doesn’t allow suicide as a way to solve problems, the faith “encourages the community to be one body with ears, eyes and arms to help each other not get to a point where that would be a consideration.”Wrestling with difficult questions around suicide isn’t unique to Muslims. Mathew Schmalz, a professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, said a belief common to theistic traditions is that one’s life belongs to God, so taking it “fundamentally violates” God’s most precious gift.Yet attitudes have been evolving with a greater appreciation of the complexities of mental illness, he added, and it’s important to challenge beliefs that suicide signals moral weakness or a failure to be grateful of God.“While an understanding of God as merciful is important,” Schmalz said, “equally important is being part of a faith community in which mental health issues are taken seriously and not stigmatized.”
Zhang Zhizhen qualified for Wimbledon on Thursday to become the first Chinese man in the Open era to play in the Grand Slam tournament.The 24-year-old defeated Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6) in the final round of qualifying to make the main draw.Ranked 178th in the world, Shanghai native Zhang is the only Chinese man in the world top 250.He is also only the fourth Chinese man to play singles in the main draw of a Grand Slam since 1968, after Wu Di at the Australian Open in 2013, 2014 and 2016; Zhang Ze at the Australian Open in 2014 and 2015, and Li Zhe at the 2019 Australian Open.Until Thursday, Zhang had tried and failed to qualify for this year’s Australian Open and French Open.”My full name is too hard for people to say, so I just tell them to say whatever they want to call me and I will respond,” he said recently when explaining his nickname of “ZZZ.””Then it became ‘ZZZ’ because there are three Z’s in my name. It is much easier for people outside of China to say. And it sounds cool. Triple-Z. I also like to sleep, so ‘ZZZ’ is perfect,” Zhang said.Unlike China’s men, the country’s women have shone at the Slams, with Li Na winning the French Open in 2011 and Australian Open three years later.Li made the quarter finals at the All England Club in 2006, 2010 and 2013, while Zheng Jie reached the 2008 semifinals.
A Ukrainian hacker was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in a notorious cybercrime group that stole millions of credit and debit card details from across the United States, the Department of Justice said Thursday.Andrii Kolpakov, 33, was also ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, the department said in a press release.Kolpakov’s lawyer, Vadim Glozman, said his client was disappointed with the sentence but respected the judge’s decision.He said Kolpakov — who has already spent three years in custody after being apprehended by police in Spain in 2018 — planned to return to Ukraine after serving out the remainder of his sentence.Kolpakov was sentenced in the Western District of Washington. Glozman said that his client was currently in custody in Washington state.Kolpakov’s gang — dubbed “FIN7” — is among the most prolific cybercriminal enterprises in existence. A memo drawn up by U.S. prosecutors said that “no hacking group epitomizes the industrialization of cybercrime better,” alleging that the gang had over 70 people organized into discrete departments and teams, including a unit devoted to crafting malicious software and another unit composed of hackers who exploited victims’ machines.For cover, FIN7 masqueraded as a cybersecurity company called “Combi Security,” which claimed to be involved in penetration testing.Prosecutors say Kolpakov worked for FIN7 from at least April 2016 until his arrest in June 2018 and rose to become a midlevel manager directing “a small team of hackers” tasked with breaching victims’ computer systems and training new recruits to use FIN7’s malicious tools.
U.S. lawmakers debated into the night Wednesday over details of legislation aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech firms with a sweeping reform of antitrust laws.The House Judiciary Committee clashed over a series of bills with potentially massive implications for large online platforms and consumers who use them.The legislation could force an overhaul of the business practices of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, or potentially lead to a breakup of the dominant tech giants. But critics argue the measures could have unintended consequences that would hurt consumers and some of the most popular online services.Rep. David Cicilline, who headed a 16-month investigation that led to the legislation, said the bills are aimed at restoring competition in markets stymied by monopolies.”The digital marketplace suffers from a lack of competition. Many digital markets are defined by monopolies or duopoly control,” Cicilline said as the hearing opened.”Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are gatekeepers to the online economy. They bury or by rivals and abuse their monopoly power conduct that is harmful to consumers, competition, innovation and our democracy.”The bills would restrict how online platforms operate, notably whether tech giants operating them could favor their own products or services.The measures would also limit mergers or acquisitions by Big Tech firms aimed at limiting competition and make it easier for users to try new services by requiring data “portability” and “interoperability.”The fate of the bills remained unclear, with some Republicans and moderate Democrats expressing concerns despite bipartisan support.Clash points included whether it is right to target laws at four big tech companies and whether government agencies will hobble them instead of letting them adapt to competition.”The interoperability measure is a huge step backwards,” said Oregon Republican Cliff Bentz. “Big Tech is certainly not perfect. This bill is not the way to fix the problem.”Representative Zoe Lofgren said she hoped the bill would include more measures for data privacy and security but endorses the concept.“The big platforms have all your information. And if you can’t move it, then you’re really a prisoner of that platform,” she said. “Who wants to leave a platform if they’ve got all your baby pictures and all of your videos of your grandchildren, locked up?”As the session stretched into the night, some members of the body lobbied to adjourn and resume the work another day.’They make it worse’Republican Representative Ken Buck, a supporter of the overhaul, said the legislation “represents a scalpel, not a chainsaw, to deal with the most important aspects of antitrust reform,” in dealing with “these monopolists (who) routinely use their gatekeeper power to crush competitors, harm innovation and destroy the free market.”But Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican, criticized the effort, renewing his argument that Big Tech firms suppress conservative voices.”These bills don’t fix that problem — they make it worse,” Jordan said. “They don’t break up Big Tech. They don’t stop censorship.”Steve Chabot, another Republican, called the initiative “an effort for big government to take over Big Tech.”The panel approved on a 29-12 vote a bill that was the least controversial, increasing merger filing fees to give more funding for antitrust enforcement.Tech firms and others warned of negative consequences for popular services people rely on, potentially forcing Apple to remove its messaging apps from the iPhone or Google to stop displaying results from YouTube or Maps.Apple released a report arguing that one likely impact — opening up the iPhone to apps from outside platforms — could create security and privacy risks for users.Forcing Apple to allow “sideloading” of apps would mean “malicious actors would take advantage of the opportunity by devoting more resources to develop sophisticated attacks targeting iOS users,” the report said.Amazon vice president Brian Huseman warned of “significant negative effects” both for sellers and consumers using the e-commerce platform, and reduced-price competition.”It will be much harder for these third-party sellers to create awareness for their business,” Huseman said.”Removing the selection of these sellers from Amazon’s store would also create less price competition for products, and likely end up increasing prices for consumers. The committee is moving unnecessarily fast in pushing these bills forward.”The measures may also impact other firms including Microsoft, which has not been the focus of the House antitrust investigation but which links services such as Teams messaging and Bing search to its Windows platform, and possibly other firms.
After 13 years of near silence in the conservatorship that controls her life and money, Britney Spears passionately told a judge Wednesday that she wants to end the “abusive” case that has made her feel demoralized and enslaved.Speaking in open court for the first time in the case, Spears condemned her father and others who control the conservatorship, which she said has compelled her to take birth control and other medications against her will and has prevented her from getting married or having another child.”This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” the 39-year-old Spears said. “I deserve to have a life.”She spoke rapidly and sprinkled profanity into the written speech that lasted more than 20 minutes as her parents, fans and journalists listed to an audio livestream. Many of the details Spears revealed have been carefully guarded by the court for years.Spears told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny that “I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated.”Penny thanked the pop star for her “courageous” words but made no rulings. A long legal process is likely before any decision is made on terminating the conservatorship.Spears said she wants to marry her boyfriend Sam Asghari and have a baby with him, but she is not allowed to even drive with him.”All I want is to own my money and for this to end and for my boyfriend to be able to drive me in his (expletive) car,” Spears said.”I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive,” Spears said, adding at another point, “I want my life back.”‘Exploiting my life’When an attorney representing her co-conservator said the hearing and transcript should be kept sealed if private medical information was to be revealed, Spears shouted her down, saying her words should be public.”They’ve done a good job at exploiting my life,” Spears said, “so I feel like it should be an open court hearing and they should listen and hear what I have to say.”She went on to say she was forced to take lithium — which made her feel “drunk” — after rehearsals broke down for a Vegas residency in 2019, which was subsequently canceled.She said all she had done was disagree with one part of the show’s choreography.”I’m not here to be anyone’s slave,” she said. “I can say no to a dance move.””Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it,” Spears said.She accused her father of relishing his power over her, as he showed when she failed a series of psychological tests in 2019 and forced her to go into a mental hospital.”I cried on the phone for an hour, and he loved every minute of it,” Spears said. “The control he had over someone as powerful as me, as he loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000%.”Spears said she felt forced to do the Las Vegas residency on the heels of a tour, and felt like a great weight was lifted when it was canceled. She has not performed or recorded since.Spears also said several nurses often watch her every move, not even letting her change her clothes in private.’I am traumatized’Vivian Thoreen, attorney for Spears’ father James Spears, gave a brief statement on his behalf after conferring with him during a recess.”He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain,” Thoreen said. “Mr. Spears loves his daughter and misses her very much.”James Spears serves as co-conservator of his daughter’s finances, and also had control of her life decisions for most of the conservatorship. He currently serves as co-conservator of her finances.Britney Spears said her years-long public silence has falsely created the impression that she approved of her circumstances.”I’ve lied and told the whole world, ‘I’m OK, I’m happy,'” she said. “I’ve been in denial, I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized.”More than 100 fans from the so called #FreeBritney movement gathered outside the courthouse before the hearing, holding signs that read “Free Britney now!” and “Get out of Britney’s life!”Fan Marissa Cooper was inside the courtroom and cried and occasionally clapped during the remarks.”It was insane,” Cooper said outside court. “Everyone that’s been following this has been called crazy since the beginning, and conspiracy theorists, so it just feels really, really good to actually hear it from her.”Spears said she has not felt heard in any of her previous appearances before the court, all of which were sealed from the public.Her court-appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham III, said he made no attempt to “control, or filter, or edit” his client’s words. He said Spears has not officially asked him to file a petition to end the conservatorship.Spears said she had done research that showed her conservatorship could be ended without further evaluation of her. But under California law, the burden would be on her to prove she is competent to manage her own affairs, and an intensive investigation and evaluation is probably inevitable before it can come to an end.The conservatorship was put in place as she underwent a mental health crisis in 2008. She has credited its initial establishment with saving her from financial ruin and keeping her a top-flight pop star.Her father and his attorneys have emphasized that she and her fortune, which court records put at more than $50 million, remain vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. Under the law, the burden would be on Spears to prove she is competent before the case could end.