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Merrick Garland’s Big Tech non-answers grounds to think twice on him

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Merrick Garland's Big Tech non-answers grounds to think twice on him

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm President Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland. The full Senate should think twice before doing the same.

Throughout his two-day confirmation hearing, Democrats and Republicans questioned Judge Garland extensively on his plans to tame and regulate the Big Tech behemoths. The bipartisan focus was understandable: While the Biden administration has faced wide scrutiny for its proximity to Big Tech and appointments of former Facebook and Google leaders, its choices for the Justice Department warrant no less concern.

Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general, for example, has encouraged Facebook censorship. Last summer, she called it “incomprehensible” that the social media giant allowed some of then-President Donald Trump’s posts to remain up. As an activist, Kristen Clarke, Biden’s pick to head the department’s Civil Rights Division, was “instrumental” in getting Facebook to ban users from its platform.

With radicals such as these in place at DOJ, it’s clear that if Judge Garland isn’t serious about confronting Big Tech, his staff will take charge, and not in a pleasant way. And yet, not once in his two days of questioning did he call Big Tech’s assault on competition and free speech a problem. He could only mouth vague platitudes and nebulous talking points, casting significant doubt on his commitment to bringing justice and accountability to these digital monopolies.

It’s easy to claim you take antitrust enforcement seriously while looking the other way or believing no government action against Big Tech is necessary. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) made this point when he asked Garland whether Big Tech’s political donations to Biden could influence a Garland-run DOJ’s operations. The judge ominously responded, “I don’t expect to talk to any donors. I have no conflicts. I don’t own any Google stock.”

Garland’s ability to dodge, duck and weave would make Muhammad Ali proud. Although he insists he doesn’t have any personal Big Tech conflicts, he refused to explain how or if an Attorney General Garland would ensure possible Biden administration’s conflicts don’t impact Justice’s proceedings, which is supposed to operate independently of the executive branch.

Perhaps Garland couldn’t answer because he knows how unpleasant the truth would be to Congress and the American public. Congress can’t afford to rule out Garland deference to the White House, especially given how he conceded he might follow the emerging administration-wide trend of naming Big Tech allies to key posts. 

The importance of isolating the Department of Justice from Big Tech’s political power cannot be overstated. After all, it’s the independence of the DOJ from the executive branch that many believe initiated this whole movement against Big Tech in the first place. 

Despite the administration’s close ties to Silicon Valley, the Obama Justice Department in 2015 filed a brief against Google, arguing that the firm engaged in significant intellectual property theft in creating Android. Thanks in part to a similar friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Trump DOJ, lawyers now consider the action to be the copyright case of the century because it could help stop what appears to be one of Big Tech’s primary means of monopolizing the digital marketplace — intellectual-property theft.

Given Big Tech’s clout with the Obama White House, would this case have gotten to this pivotal point without an independent DOJ? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, the Senate is now poised to vote on an attorney general nominee who declined to even say whether potential White House tech conflicts will influence his behavior. 

The judge’s silence and indirectness should tell Congress everything it needs to know about where he stands: Lack of candor is strong grounds for suspicion, especially regarding a matter as important as Big Tech’s monopolistic power to censor voices it doesn’t like and dictate the terms of public debate.

At this pivotal moment, America simply can’t afford to hand its justice system over to someone who refuses to pledge his full independence and support for holding these behemoths accountable. If Garland doesn’t provide clearer answers soon — either in person or in writing — members should think twice before confirming him. Accountability should always trump political expediency. 

Harmeet K. Dhillon is a civil-rights lawyer and the CEO of the Center for American Liberty.

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Opinion

Letters to the Editor — April 10, 2021

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Letters to the Editor — April 10, 2021

The Issue: The Post’s suggestions on how the city can recover from the pandemic and residents moving away.

Conspicuous in its absence from The Post’s advice to heal Gotham is the issue of people working from home (“How new leader can heal Goth­am,” Editorial, April 8).

For good or bad, the pandemic caused the flight of commuters from the city. The trickle-down economy that once flowed from the Midtown office workforce has paused, and there’s little evidence of a comeback.

If this exodus is not addressed, the entire economy of New York and other cities will be turned upside down, not unlike what e-commerce has done to the retail sector.

Richard J. Carhidi
Manhattan

The enforcement issues delegated to the NYPD is one of several items highlighted in The Post April 8 editorial.

No doubt, ineffective governing at all levels has resulted in legislation and guidelines that negatively affect the personal performance of NYPD officers and have contributed to the debacle.

Reduced membership, funding and the imposition of restrictive guidelines have affected job performance.

The City Council’s vindictive attitude is evident in its elimination of qualified immunity for the NYPD.

John Gargiulo
Whitestone

The fix for New York City doesn’t begin with more police, better schools or lower taxes, although that’s all needed — it begins with an electorate that realizes those whom they elect will determine what changes happen.

Voters can’t continue to elect and re-elect Democrats, like Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and those who dominate the state Legislature.

It’s like going go to a “Dr. Feel Good” who tells you to eat two Twinkies every day, instead of going to a medical specialist who tells you that you need to make changes in your lifestyle to live longer.

The public listens to the lies of the Democrats because they’re a tasty Twinkie, but The Post knows better.

John Brindisi
Manhattan

If the mayor of New York, or a candidate for mayor, wants to save the city from decline and darkness, he or she has to focus on and commit to just one thing: fighting crime — crime on the streets immediately, and eventually crime behind closed doors (meaning corruption) as well.

I am not being cute or simplistic. All those other things — education, housing, transportation, more — are important and not easy to fix, but people from all walks of life will come forward to address them if the mayor will commit to fighting crime.

It will not be easy to fix overnight, but it will be simple and achievable in a surprisingly brief period of time. But you’ve got to want it.

Brian Burke
Branford, Conn.

The Post article covered the main points on what’s needed to turn around this great city.

I would add that communities must be involved with policing their neighborhoods, and the teachers union needs more accountability, among other things. Yet these are just a couple of fine points.

But The Post hit the nail on head with its comments on the “crazy progressives.” They are the real culprits for most if not all the madness going on right now. They are but a small faction dictating to the masses.

I think most people will agree with The Post’s assessment: Time to flush them out with the dirty water.

B. Tonuzi
Wanaque, NJ

I couldn’t agree more with your solutions to heal Gotham, especially addressing the issue of the homeless, which includes not allowing public sleeping and living.

In Central Park this week, I saw a homeless woman go into the flowerbed bushes to do her business. The people sitting on benches to enjoy the beautiful spring flowers were treated to the smell and a hunk of nasty, used toilet paper blowing away.

It is too bad if they don’t want to go to a shelter to sleep. It’s often a mental illness and drug or alcohol problems.

And pulling all NYCThrive funding is a great idea.

Carol Meltzer
Manhattan

Want to weigh in on today’s stories? Send your thoughts (along with your full name and city of residence) to [email protected]. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, accuracy and style.

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Opinion

De Blasio must order NYC teachers back to school

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De Blasio must order NYC teachers back to school

It’s past time for Mayor Bill de Blasio to reopen all public schools, full time, shut down hybrid learning and end remote instruction. Period.  

Instead, all he’s done is give parents one last chance to opt-in to in-person classes —because that’s the most United Federation of Teachers chief Mike Mulgrew will agree to.

But why is de Blasio still kowtowing to Mulgrew, when the union boss regularly insults him in public? Just this week, he said all the problems with reopening are de Blasio’s fault, and even got mayoral wannabe Andrew Yang to endorse that lie.

The union plainly has no use left for the lame-duck mayor, except as a convenient scapegoat. He dumped huge pay hikes on its members in exchange for . . . nothing, even awarding “retroactive” raises. When COVID hit, he caved to almost all of the union’s demands, such that the great majority of its members are still teaching from homes while earning full pay, tenure credits and priority for the lifesaving vaccine.

They’re also more immune from accountability than ever, with most grading standards suspended so parents have no idea what their kids might have failed to learn.

Teachers have had three months to get jabbed. With a few rare exceptions, they have no excuse for not going back. What’s the point of mayoral control if de Blasio can’t find the guts to order vaccinated teachers back into classrooms without Mulgrew’s signoff?

Even the mayor’s change in the “two-case” rule is pathetic. The rule of two positive tests shutting down entire buildings (and thus often multiple schools) was nuts, but he’s simply upped it to four positives in a week (albeit with a supposedly tougher “tied to the school” addendum) closing things down for up to 10 school days.

It’s a concession to Mulgrew that has no rational basis. School grounds aren’t transmission hotspots here or anywhere in the world.  

Mulgrew (like Randi Weingarten, the president of his national union) isn’t really worried about safety; he just doesn’t want his members to have to trek back to their workplace this semester.

De Blasio may think he needs the UFT’s support if he wants to, for instance, run for governor. But you know who he needs more? The votes of parents who are fed up with this intransigence. It’s your last months in office, Mr. Mayor — stand up to the UFT and stand up for New Yorkers.

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Let’s hope CBS just helped Ron DeSantis become the future of the GOP

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Let’s hope CBS just helped Ron DeSantis become the future of the GOP

If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ever sets up a presidential exploratory committee, it should have to disclose an enormous in-kind contribution from CBS News.

The “60 Minutes” segment last weekend alleging that DeSantis distributed the COVID vaccine through pharmacies at the Publix grocery store chain as part of a quid pro quo was so outlandishly wrong that even Democratic officials in the state have objected.

It’s not clear that the “60 Minutes” piece can even be called “journalistic malpractice,” since it barely qualifies as journalism.

The downside for DeSantis is that he’s been smeared by the most iconic news magazine show on American television; the upside is that this latest, swiftly debunked media attack contributes to his ongoing ascent in the Republican political firmament.

It’s much too early to know with any certainty what the post-Trump GOP will look like, or even if there will be a genuinely post-Trump GOP for years. But if a post-Trump GOP looks like Ron DeSantis, who has a populist edge and is combative with the press, yet is unquestionably serious about governing and is succeeding in the third-most populous state in the nation, it will have landed in a favorable place.

DeSantis has navigated the Trump years with a deft political touch. He obviously went out of his way to identify himself with President Donald Trump at the outset of his gubernatorial run in 2018, but it wasn’t a Matt Gaetz-style play to gain cable TV notoriety and become a Trump-world celebrity.

DeSantis took the boost he got from Trump’s support, won a contested Republican primary and then captured the Florida governorship with a clear idea of what he wanted do with it — indeed, near the end of his first year, prior to the pandemic, he had a 72 percent approval rating.

The governor checks key Trumpian boxes. Trump’s supporters want someone who is a fighter, who gives as good as he gets with the media, and has the right enemies.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the media has been determined to paint DeSantis as a villain flouting science to the detriment of his constituents. Actually, he had a considered approach focused on protecting the most vulnerable in the nursing homes and taking a light touch on government restrictions to try to get through the pandemic with a minimum of economic damage.

Any fair reading of the evidence — Florida has a death rate that’s about the national average, while its economy is in much better shape than New York’s and California’s — has to concede that at the very least this was an entirely reasonable strategy.

DeSantis has, rightly, been fierce in defending his record, but never gives the sense, as Trump often did, that fighting with the media is a good thing in its own right, over and above any substantive considerations.

If the rise of DeSantis is a Trump-era phenomenon, his record is rooted in traditional conservative priorities — textualist judges, school choice, tax cuts, spending restraint and law and order. He also has a more pragmatic side, increasing teacher pay even as he has pushed for educational reforms and pursuing a robust environmental agenda.

It always a fool’s errand forecasting a presidential race three years before it begins in earnest. Trump may decide to run again in 2024 and blot out the sun, and DeSantis has to win reelection in 2022.

On paper, though, he has obvious strength as a potential national candidate. He’s from a hugely important swing state. He’s been battle-tested — he won a brawl of a race in 2018, trailing in the polls throughout. He would perhaps be the only major candidate in 2024 holding an executive office, while his governing record would, in theory, allow him to appeal not just to the hardcore, but also to the key category of “somewhat conservative” voters in GOP primaries.

Certainly, “60 Minutes” has done its part.

Twitter: @RichLowry

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