Monday, July 12, 2010

Roman Polanski. Genius! Sex Offender?

Public interest has been attracted today to a stunning ruling, when Roman Polanski was declared a free man— no longer confined to house arrest in his Alpine villa after Swiss authorities rejected a U.S. request for his extradition because of a 32-year-old sex conviction.

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The decision left the Oscar-winning director free to return to France and the life of a celebrity, albeit one unable to visit the United States. Switzerland, which arrested the 76-year-old Polanski last September as he arrived receive a lifetime achievement award at a Zurich film festival, blamed U.S. authorities for its decision, citing a possible "fault in the U.S. extradition request." The United States failed to provide confidential testimony to refute defense arguments the filmmaker had actually served his sentence before fleeing Los Angeles three decades ago, Widmer-Schlumpf said.

The Swiss decision for now ends the United States' long pursuit of Polanski, who has been a fugitive since fleeing sentencing for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. But Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said his office will try again to have Polanski extradited if he is arrested in another country with a favorable extradition treaty.

Beyond the legal issue, the extradition request was complicated and diplomatically sensitive because of Polanski's status as a cultural icon in France and Poland, where he holds dual citizenship, and his history as a Holocaust survivor whose first wife Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in California.

France, where the filmmaker has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens and Polanski has had little trouble traveling throughout Europe — although he has stayed away from Britain. The U.S. cannot appeal the decision, but Polanski is still a fugitive in the United States.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Obama administration was disappointed by the Swiss action. "The United States believes that the rape of a 13-year-old child by an adult is a crime, and we continue to pursue justice in this case," Crowley said.

In Los Angeles, Cooley, who is running for state attorney general, called the decision a "disservice to justice and other victims as a whole." He accused the Swiss of using the issue of the confidential testimony as an excuse to set Polanski free. "To justify their finding to deny extradition on an issue that is unique to California law regarding conditional examination of a potentially unavailable witness is a rejection of the competency of the California courts," Cooley said. "The Swiss could not have found a smaller hook on which to hang their hat."

Widmer-Schlumpf, the Swiss justice minister, said the decision was not meant to excuse Polanski's crime, adding the issue was "not about deciding whether he is guilty or not guilty." The government said extradition had to be rejected "considering the persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case." In justifying the decision, Switzerland also invoked what it called the "public order" — a lofty notion meaning that governments should ensure their citizens are safe from arbitrary abuse of the law. The Justice Ministry cited the fact that U.S. authorities hadn't pursued Polanski in Switzerland previously, even though he's often visited the country and bought a house here in 2006. It also stressed that the victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly identified herself, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal.

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The acclaimed director of "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" was accused of plying his victim with champagne and part of a Quaalude during a 1977 modeling shoot and raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy, but pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.

In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again.

The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterward he would ask Polanski to agree to a "voluntary deportation." Polanski then fled the country on the eve of his Feb. 1, 1978, sentencing.

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"Polanski got away with a lot, but it's not all black and white," said Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman. "I don't see the D.A. rushing to investigate the very palpable evidence of misconduct in the original case. And the victim said they were hurting her every time they brought this up. So there are many shades of gray."

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Google to acquire travel software firm ITA

ITA Software search string made to the top of Google Search Trend. And it is understandable, because the name of the company ITA Software has became linked to the leading search provider Google itself. And, Google, as usual, is in the community focus, being at the focus of public attention.

According to the official Google press release, today, July 1, 2010, Google announced an agreement to acquire ITA Software, a Cambridge, Massachusetts flight information software company, for $700 million, subject to adjustments.
  • Google's acquisition of ITA Software will create a new, easier way for users to find better flight information online, which should encourage more users to make their flight purchases online.
  • The acquisition will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares and by driving more potential customers to airlines' and online travel agencies' websites. Google won't be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers.
  • Because Google doesn't currently compete against ITA Software, the deal will not change existing market shares. We are very excited about ITA Software's QPX business, and we're looking forward to working with current and future customers. Google will honor all existing agreements, and we're also enthusiastic about adding new partners.
ITA’s technology earlier drew interest from several other firms, including Expedia Inc.,, Travelport LP and Amadeus SA, people familiar with the matter said. Some of them submitted unsolicited bids for ITA but weren't given access to ITA's financial information because it was in exclusive talks with Google. There are rumors that at least one bidder was taking a "wait and see" approach to how Google would handle ITA's clients while another was considering whether it should take a more vocal stand against the deal.

Google said it would "honor all existing agreements, and we're also enthusiastic about adding new partners."

Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst at market watcher Forrester Research Inc., said he "would be surprised if the regulators found any cause for concern."

The deal helps Google compete with rival Microsoft Corp.'s Bing search engine, which uses ITA's technology to provide airfare information; search queries on Google currently point air travelers to other sites.

The acquisition is Google's fourth-largest in its nearly 12 years of existence and comes on the heels of a $750 million purchase of AdMob Inc., a mobile advertising company. That deal received significant scrutiny by federal antitrust regulators before being approved earlier this year.

With ITA, Google could provide more detailed results, including recommending specific flights, and better compete with the other online travel agencies. Critics worry, that Google could use its dominance in overall search to direct traffic to its own offering or increase licensing fees for ITA software. On Thursday Mr. Schmidt said "Google is not going to become a travel agency."

ITA was founded in 1996 by a team of computer scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It raised a $100-million round of funding in 2006 from venture capital firms Sequoia Capital, Battery Ventures and General Catalyst Partners.

The deal signals Google's serious interest in becoming a major player in travel, a hub of online commerce including search.

"With Google, we think we will have access to the scale, both of technology and of other bright people to work with, to help really take this to the next level," ITA Chief Executive Jeremy Wertheimer said.

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