Thursday, October 22, 2020

Last Call For Google This

Bill Barr and the Trump Regime, and Red State AGs are coming for Google's head as the war for the future of Silicon Valley now enters the endgame.

The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Google for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

And it could just be an opening salvo. Other major tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Facebook are under investigation at both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

“Google is the gateway to the internet and a search advertising behemoth,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen told reporters. “It has maintained its monopoly power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have long accused Google of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising. The case filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges that Google uses billions of dollars collected from advertisers to pay phone manufacturers to ensure Google is the default search engine on browsers. That stifles competition and innovation from smaller upstart rivals to Google and harms consumers by reducing the quality of search and limiting privacy protections and alternative search options, the government alleges.

Critics contend that multibillion-dollar fines and mandated changes in Google’s practices imposed by European regulators in recent years weren’t severe enough and Google needs to be broken up to change its conduct. The Justice Department didn’t lay out specific remedies along those lines, although it asked the court to order structural relief “as needed to remedy any anticompetitive harm.”

That opens the door to possible fundamental changes such as a spinoff of the company’s Chrome browser.

Google vowed to defend itself and responded immediately via tweet: “Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to -- not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”
And while Democratic (and some Republican!) AGs still want Google broken up, they are still looking into how they are going to handle the cases.

Eleven states, all with Republican attorneys general, joined the federal government in the lawsuit. But several other states demurred.

The attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah released a statement Monday saying they have not concluded their investigation into Google and would want to consolidate their case with the DOJ’s if they decided to file. “It’s a bipartisan statement,” said spokesman Fabien Levy of the New York State attorney general’s office. “There’s things that still need to be fleshed out, basically”

President Donald Trump’s administration has long had Google in its sights. One of Trump’s top economic advisers said two years ago that the White House was considering whether Google searches should be subject to government regulation. Trump has often criticized Google, recycling unfounded claims by conservatives that the search giant is biased against conservatives and suppresses their viewpoints.

Rosen told reporters that allegations of anti-conservative bias are “a totally separate set of concerns” from the issue of competition.

Sally Hubbard, an antitrust expert who runs enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, said it was a welcome surprise to see the Justice Department’s openness to the possibility of structurally breaking up Google, and not just imposing conditions on its behavior as has happened in Europe.

“Traditionally, Republicans are hesitant to speak of breakups,” she said. “Personally, I’ll be very disappointed if I see a settlement. Google has shown it won’t adhere to any behavioral conditions.”

The argument for reining in Google has gathered force as the company stretched far beyond its 1998 roots as a search engine governed by the motto “Don’t Be Evil.” It’s since grown into a diversified goliath with online tentacles that scoop up personal data from billions of people via services ranging from search, video and maps to smartphone software. That data helps feed the advertising machine that has turned Google into a behemoth.

Let's get this out of the way: I believe Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple should absolutely be broken up. A trillion-dollar company is a monstrous altar to Mammon that should be torn down and destroyed. No company should ever be allowed to become that large. I've said this before.

And having said that time and again, I also must reiterate that the Trump regime is attacking Google here for the wrong reasons. They are going after Google because it is a threat to Republican power as well as Democratic, and that's the only reason why.

I want to see these companies fractured like panes of glass falling on an empty parking lot. There is nothing more hideous to me than a company worth thirteen digits in dollars, a company whose very worth could easily feed and house America for a year and still have twelve digits left over.

But it has to be done right.

The War On Drugs "Captures" A Coporate General

The Justice Department has collared OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma with a plea deal that will pay the government $225 million and put the company through bankruptcy.
Purdue Pharma LP has reached an agreement to plead guilty to criminal charges over handling of its addictive prescription opioid OxyContin, in a deal with U.S. prosecutors that effectively sidesteps paying billions of dollars in penalties and stops short of criminally charging its executives or wealthy Sackler family owners, people familiar with the matter said.

In a far-reaching agreement set to be unveiled on Wednesday, Purdue has formally admitted to criminal conduct related to distribution of its painkillers and agreed to pay $225 million to resolve U.S. Justice Department investigations.

Prosecutors are preparing to impose significant penalties exceeding $8 billion against Purdue, though the lion’s share will go largely unpaid, the people said.

Purdue has agreed to pay $225 million toward a $2 billion criminal forfeiture, with the Justice Department foregoing the rest so long as the company completes a bankruptcy reorganization transforming itself into a “public benefit company” or similar entity that steers the unpaid portion to thousands of U.S. communities suing it over the opioid crisis.

A $3.54 billion criminal fine and $2.8 billion civil penalty are likely to receive cents on the dollar as they compete with trillions of dollars of other claims from those communities and other creditors in Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings, the people said.

Members of the billionaire Sackler family who own Purdue have agreed to pay a separate $225 million civil penalty for allegedly causing false claims related to the company’s opioids to be made to government healthcare programs such as Medicare, the people said.

Neither the Sacklers nor any Purdue executives are expected to be criminally charged. The agreement does not release any individuals associated with Purdue from potential criminal liability. A separate Justice Department criminal investigation scrutinizing individuals remains ongoing, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Purdue conspired to engage in criminal conduct over the years that kept medically questionable prescriptions of its opioids flowing, prosecutors are expected to allege. The Stamford, Connecticut-based company has agreed to plead guilty to three felonies, two of them violations of a federal anti-kickback law and another charge under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the people said.
At the press conference yesterday we got more details, including, what do you know, federal criminal charges!

Drugmaker Purdue Pharma, the company behind the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic, will plead guilty to federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

The deal does not release any of the company’s executives or owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family — from criminal liability, and a criminal investigation is ongoing. Family members said they acted “ethically and lawfully,” but some state attorneys general said the agreement fails to hold the Sacklers accountable.

The company will plead guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, the officials said, and the agreement will be detailed in a bankruptcy court filing in federal court.

We'll see what happens, but this isn't even close to justice.

Remember that when Trump crows about how he "fixed" the opioid crisis.

The State of the Senate, Con't

Sabato's Crystal Ball Senate team, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman, are moving Iowa's Senate race between GOP incumbent Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Teresa Greenfield to Leans D from Toss-up, meaning that the Dems are now favored to take control of the upper chamber

In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) is looking increasingly like an underdog against her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield. At the presidential level, Iowa is looking like a true toss-up, and Greenfield seems to be running at least even with — and often better than — Joe Biden in the state.

For political junkies, perhaps one of the most anti-climactic features of the 2016 election was that, across the 34 states that saw contests, the senatorial results lined up perfectly with the presidential picture. That year, no Donald Trump-won states sent a Democrat to the Senate, or vice versa. But Iowans may be in a more split-ticket mood now — or, they may even deliver the Democrats a sweep in the topline races.

As of Monday, Greenfield’s average lead in the RealClearPolitics average was 4.8%, while Biden was up by a more meager 1.2%. Perhaps tellingly, most of that difference comes from Ernst underperforming Trump — her average polling share stands at 42.5%, compared to Trump’s 46.3%. So it makes sense that, despite his sagging national fortunes, Ernst generally is still trying to frame herself as a firm ally of the president.

For Senate Democrats, last quarter’s fundraising numbers were truly historic. For the period spanning from the start of July to the end of September, Democrats in key Senate contests across the country raised a combined $265 million. In Iowa, Greenfield set a state fundraising record — her $29 million quarterly haul was roughly four times what Ernst raised. Candidate fundraising isn’t everything — outside groups are also spending heavily in the state, and Senate candidates in past cycles have lost to lesser-funded opponents — but going into the final stretch of the campaign, Greenfield seems to have the momentum.

In 2014, Ernst had the luxury of running against a gaffe-prone candidate in then-Rep. Bruce Braley (D, IA-1). Though Braley was initially seen as a strong recruit, he fumbled early in the campaign when he was caught on tape speaking derisively about the state’s other senator, Chuck Grassley, at a fundraiser. If Republicans took the Senate majority that year, Grassley was in line to chair the Judiciary Committee — Braley dismissed the veteran senator as a “farmer from Iowa” who didn’t go to law school. Fairly or not, Braley’s campaign never really recovered from that episode, and 2014 ended up being a disastrously bad year for Democrats across the country.

In last week’s debate, Ernst had something of a Braley-esque gaffe herself. Though her down-to-home image plays prominently into her campaign, she didn’t know the break-even price of soybeans, an important cash crop for the state. Greenfield, by contrast, nailed the price of corn when asked. Senate debates across the country have taken on increasingly national tones, but we’d expect Democrats to use Ernst’s debate answer on such a local issue to cast her as out of touch with the state.

The soybeans gaffe seems symptomatic of Ernst’s reelection effort: in 2014, playing up her rural persona and vowing to “make ‘em squeal,” she rode her motorcycle onto the national scene as a political outsider. After a term in the Senate, and running in a totally different environment, Ernst’s campaign seems to have lost some of that 2014 zeal. Though Iowa hasn’t ousted an incumbent senator since 1984, we see Greenfield with the upper hand. The race is moving from Toss-up to Leans Democratic.

Moving Iowa to the Leans Democratic category before North Carolina wasn’t something we’d have expected for much of this year. In April, the Crystal Ball identified a quartet of Senate races that we identified as the Democrats’ “Core Four” states to flip. Back then, it seemed that Democrats’ most feasible path to a bare 50-seat-plus-VP Senate majority ran through Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina — in fact, at the time, we cited Montana as the Democrats’ next best pick-up prospect. We now see Democrats as at least modest favorites in those first three states, while Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) seems to have a slight edge over his challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), in Big Sky Country.
But that's still only a net gain of three seats, and while that would put Kamala Harris as a tie-breaker, the Dems need one more seat, and that mens Cal Cunningham prevailing in NC.

With today’s update, North Carolina is the only Toss-up race left on our senatorial board. Since news broke of his extramarital activities a few weeks ago, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D-NC) continues to lead first-term Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). In some surveys that have been conducted since the scandal broke, Cunningham has, perhaps counterintuitively (or maybe completely expectedly?), expanded his lead in some polls — although both his overall share of the vote and his lead over Tillis in polls are a little smaller than before the scandal broke, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

As we discussed recently, amidst all the dizzying news cycles of the Trump era, Cunningham’s affair may seem outright vanilla, and voters may not end up caring. But Republicans are adamant that the affair has, at minimum, hurt Cunningham’s image. Perhaps the key factor is whether the scandal remains in the headlines and what new developments emerge. Over the weekend, the joint editorial boards of the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News and Observer issued an unusual dis-dorsement in the race, noting that they would have endorsed Cunningham, but because of the scandal and how he has handled it, they declined to back either candidate. Given the uncertainty there, plus the state’s purple hue, we’re hesitant to write off Tillis.
Still a toss-up in my old home, and there's always Steve Bullock in Montana. 



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