Archive For September 27, 2021

R. Kelly Found Guilty Of Racketeering And Sex Trafficking

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R. Kelly Found Guilty Of Racketeering And Sex Trafficking

In this illustration drawn from a video feed, the prosecution presents its closing argument in the federal trial against singer R. Kelly on Sept. 22 in New York.

Elizabeth Williams/AP

Elizabeth Williams/AP

After more than 25 years of accusations and a federal court trial in New York that lasted seven weeks, R&B singer R. Kelly has been found guilty of charges including sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, racketeering and sex trafficking involving five victims. Kelly faces a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

Kelly sat absolutely still as the foreperson gave the jury’s verdict to Judge Ann Donnelly.

Fourteen alleged underlying acts were associated with the racketeering charge. The jury found that the government had proved 12 of those acts, which involved five victims: the singer Aaliyah as well as women named Stephanie, Jerhonda Pace, Jane and Faith. Two acts associated with an alleged victim named Sonja were not proved. (Most alleged victims went by their first names or pseudonyms.) The government needed proof of only two of the racketeering acts for a guilty charge.

Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York successfully proved to a jury of seven men and five women that Kelly had been the head of a criminal enterprise whose purpose was to lure girls, boys and women to the R&B singer for his sexual gratification.

On top of awaiting sentencing in this New York case, Kelly will face a second federal trial on charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice in Illinois. Some of those accusations are related to a 2008 child pornography trial in Chicago in which he was acquitted of all charges.

Additionally, Kelly faces outstanding criminal charges in both Cook County, Ill., where he was indicted by the state attorney in February 2019 for aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims (three of them minors), and in Minnesota, where Kelly was charged in August 2019 with engaging in prostitution with a minor.

Sentencing in New York is scheduled for May 4.

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Google Is Appealing A $5 Billion Antitrust Fine In The EU

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Google Is Appealing A $5 Billion Antitrust Fine In The EU

The Google exhibit building shows off a variety of devices with Google Assistant, including Android smartphones and Wear OS smartwatches during the CES tech show in 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Ross D. Franklin/AP

LONDON — Google headed to a top European Union court Monday to appeal a record EU antitrust penalty imposed for stifling competition through the dominance of its Android operating system.

The company is fighting a 2018 decision from the EU’s executive Commission, the bloc’s top antitrust enforcer, that resulted in the 4.34 billion-euro ($5 billion) fine — still the biggest ever fine Brussels has imposed for anticompetitive behavior.

It’s one of three antitrust penalties totaling more than $8 billion that the commission hit Google with between 2017 and 2019. The others focused on shopping and search, and the California company is appealing all three. While the penalties involved huge sums, critics point out that Google can easily afford them and that the fines haven’t done much to widen competition.

In its original decision, the commission said Google’s practices restrict competition and reduce choices for consumers.

Google, however, plans to argue that free and open source Android has led to lower-priced phones and spurred competition with its chief rival, Apple.

“Android has created more choice for everyone, not less, and supports thousands of successful businesses in Europe and around the world. This case isn’t supported by the facts or the law,” the company said as the five-day hearing opened at the European Court of Justice’s General Court.

The EU Commission declined to comment. The court’s decision is not expected until next year.

Android is the most popular mobile operating system, beating even Apple’s iOS, and is found on four out of five devices in Europe.

The Commission ruled that Google broke EU rules by requiring smartphone makers to take a bundle of Google apps if they wanted any at all, and prevented them from selling devices with altered versions of Android.

The bundle contains 11 apps, including YouTube, Maps and Gmail, but regulators focused on the three that had the biggest market share: Google Search, Chrome and the company’s Play Store for apps.

Google’s position is that because Android is open source and free, phone makers or consumers can decide for themselves which apps to install on their devices. And because it’s the only one bearing the costs of developing and maintaining Android, Google has to find ways to recoup that expense, so its solution is to include apps that will generate revenue, namely Search and Chrome.

The company also argues that just because its apps come pre-installed on Android phones, it doesn’t mean users are excluded from downloading rival services.

The Commission also took issue with Google’s payments to wireless carriers and phone makers to exclusively pre-install the Google Search app. But Google said those deals amounted to less than 5% of the market, so they couldn’t possibly hurt rivals.

Following the ruling, Google made some changes to address the issues, including giving European Android users a choice of browser and search app, and charging device makers to pre-install its apps.

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The Rolling Stones Are Back On Tour And Paid Tribute To Late Drummer Charlie Watts

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The Rolling Stones Are Back On Tour And Paid Tribute To Late Drummer Charlie Watts

The Rolling Stones perform in St. Louis. It was their first public concert since the death of longtime drummer Charlie Watts.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

ST. LOUIS — The Rolling Stones are touring again, this time without their heartbeat, or at least their backbeat.

The legendary rockers launched their pandemic-delayed “No Filter” tour Sunday at the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis without their drummer of nearly six decades. It was clear from the outset just how much the band members — and the fans — missed Charlie Watts, who died last month at age 80. Except for a private show in Massachusetts last week, the St. Louis concert was their first since Watts’ death.

The show opened with an empty stage and only a drumbeat, with photos of Watts flashing on the video board. After the second song, a rousing rendition of “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It),” Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood came to the front of the stage. Jagger and Richards clasped hands as they thanked fans for the outpouring of support and love for Watts. Jagger acknowledged it was emotional seeing the photos of Watts.

“This is our first-ever tour we’ve ever done without him,” Jagger said. “We’ll miss Charlie so much, on and off the stage.”

The band then dedicated “Tumbling Dice” to Watts.

The tour had been scheduled for 2020 before the coronavirus virtually shut down the touring industry. Signs of the pandemic were everywhere at the show in Missouri, a state hit hard by the virus’s delta variant.

A video tribute to Charlie Watts plays before the Rolling Stones perform during the “No Filter” tour at The Dome at America’s Center on Sunday in St. Louis.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

The tens of thousands of fans wore masks as required by St. Louis’ anti-virus protocol. The Stones themselves appeared in a public service announcement urging anyone with symptoms to stay home. A vaccination site was set up at the dome, with plans for similar sites at each tour stop.

The concert itself featured the same driving beat personified by Watts, thanks to his replacement, Steve Jordan. The drummer may be new to fans but he’s hardly new to the Stones — Jordan has performed for years with Richards’ side project, X-Pensive Winos, along with many other leading acts.

Still, die-hard fans couldn’t help but miss Watts, widely considered one of rock’s greatest drummers, even though his real love was jazz. He joined Jagger and Richards in the Rolling Stones in 1963. Wood joined in 1975.

For Laura Jezewski, 62, of Omaha, Nebraska, seeing the Stones without Watts was bittersweet.

“It’s really sad,” she said. “He’s the first of the old Stones to pass away.”

The show featured the band’s long litany of hits. Jagger hardly looked like a 78-year-old man, strutting around the stage like a man half — or one-third of his age; a constant whirl of motion. His vocals, and the guitar work of Wood and Richards, sounded as good as ever.

After St. Louis, the tour will include stops in Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; Nashville, Tennessee; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Tampa, Florida; Dallas; Atlanta; Detroit; and ending in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 20. The band also added new dates in Los Angeles on Oct. 14 and Oct. 17, and a concert in Las Vegas on Nov. 6.

Jezewski and her 60-year-old husband, Brad, brought their 30-year-old daughter, Sarah, to St. Louis for the concert. It was Sarah’s first chance to see the Rolling Stones. Her mom and dad have seen them in various places — Ames, Iowa; Boulder, Colorado; Denver; even Wichita, Kansas — dating back to the 1970s.

With the surviving band members well into their 70s, the Jezewskis didn’t want to miss this chance.

“If it is their last time — we’re here,” Brad Jezewski said. “And if there’s another tour, we’ll be there, too.”

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Federal Investigators Probe Deadly Amtrak Derailment In Montana

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Federal Investigators Probe Deadly Amtrak Derailment In Montana

This aerial view taken Sunday, shows part of an Amtrak train that derailed in north-central Montana Saturday that killed multiple people and left others hospitalized, officials said. The westbound Empire Builder was en route to Seattle from Chicago, with two locomotives and 10 cars, when it left the tracks about 4 p.m. Saturday.

LARRY MAYER/AP

LARRY MAYER/AP

JOPLIN, Mont. — A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was at the site of an Amtrak derailment in north-central Montana that killed three people and left seven hospitalized Sunday, officials said.

The westbound Empire Builder was en route from Chicago to Seattle when it left the tracks about 4 p.m. Saturday near Joplin, a town of about 200.

Trevor Fossen was first on the scene. The Joplin resident was on a dirt road nearing the tracks Saturday when he saw “a wall of dust” about 300 feet high.

“I started looking at that, wondering what it was and then I saw the train had tipped over and derailed,” said Fossen, who called 911 and started trying to get people out. He called his brother to bring ladders for people who couldn’t get down after exiting through the windows of cars resting on their sides.

The train was carrying about 141 passengers and 16 crew members and had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.

A 14-member team including investigators and specialists in railroad signals would look into the cause of the derailment on a BNSF Railway main track that involved no other trains or equipment, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.

Law enforcement said the officials from the NTSB, Amtrak and BNSF had arrived at the accident scene just west of Joplin, where the tracks cut through vast, golden brown wheat fields that were recently harvested. Several large cranes were brought to the tracks that run roughly parallel to U.S. Highway 2, along with a truckload of gravel and new railroad ties.

Several rail cars could still be seen on their sides.

The accident scene is about 150 miles northeast of Helena and about 30 miles from the Canadian border.

Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn expressed condolences to those who lost loved ones and said the company is working with the NTSB, Federal Railroad Administration and local law enforcement, sharing their “sense of urgency” to determine what happened.

“The NTSB will identify the cause or causes of this accident, and Amtrak commits to taking appropriate actions to prevent a similar accident in the future,” Flynn said in the statement.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said BNSF was readying replacement track for when the NTSB gives the go-head. “BNSF has assured me they can get the line up and running in short order,” he said.

Railroad safety expert David Clarke, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee, said accident scene photos show the derailment occurred at or near a switch, which is where the railway goes from a single track to a double track.

Clarke said the two locomotives and two cars at the front of the train reached the split and continued on the main track, but the remaining eight cars derailed. He said it was unclear if some of the last cars moved onto the second track.

“Did the switch play some role? It might have been that the front of the train hit the switch and it started fish-tailing and that flipped the back part of the train,” Clarke said.

Another possibility was a defect in the rail, Clarke said, noting that regular testing doesn’t always catch such problems. He said speed was not a likely factor because trains on that line have systems that prevent excessive speeds and collisions.

Matt Jones, a BNSF Railway spokesman said at a news conference that the track where the accident occurred was last inspected Thursday.

Because of the derailment, Sunday’s westbound Empire Builder from Chicago will terminate in St. Paul, Minn., and the eastbound train will originate in Minnesota.

Most of those on the train were treated and released for their injuries, but five who were more seriously hurt remained at the Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls, Mont., said Sarah Robbin, Liberty County emergency services coordinator. Two were in the intensive care unit, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Another two people were at Logan Health, a hospital in Kalispell, Mont., spokeswoman Melody Sharpton said.

Robbin said emergency crews struggled without success to cut open cars with special tools, “so they did have to manually carry out many of the passengers that could not walk.”

Liberty County Sheriff Nick Erickson said the names of the dead would not be released until relatives are notified.

In this photo provided by Kimberly Fossen, people work at the scene of an Amtrak train derailment on Saturday in north-central Montana. Multiple people were injured when the train that runs between Seattle and Chicago derailed Saturday, the train agency said.

Kimberly Fossen/AP

Kimberly Fossen/AP

Robbin said nearby residents rushed to offer help when the derailment occurred.

“We are so fortunate to live where we do, where neighbors help neighbors,” she said.

“The locals have been so amazing and accommodating,” passenger Jacob Cordeiro said on Twitter. “They provided us with food, drinks, and wonderful hospitality. Nothing like it when the best comes together after a tragedy.”

Cordeiro, who is from Rhode Island, just graduated from college and was traveling with his father to Seattle to celebrate.

“I was in one of the front cars and we got badly jostled, thrown from one side of the train to the other,” he told MSNBC. He said the car left the tracks, but did not fall over.

“I’m a pretty big guy and it picked me up from my chair and threw me into one wall and then threw me into the other wall,” Cordeiro said.

Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a school..”

A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.

Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he didn’t want to speculate but suspected the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track, equipment, or both.

Railways have “virtually eliminated” major derailments by human error after the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Zarembski said. He said NTSB findings could take months.

Bob Chipkevich, who oversaw railroad crash investigations for several years at the NTSB, said the agency won’t rule out human error or any other potential causes for now.

“There are still human performance issues examined by NTSB to be sure that people doing the work are qualified and rested and doing it properly,” Chipkevich said.

Chipkevich said track conditions have historically been a significant cause of train accidents and noted most of the track Amtrak uses is owned by freight railroads and must depend on those companies for safety maintenance.

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