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Amateur astronomers set sights on alleged telescope price-fixing conspiracy | CBC News

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Amateur astronomers set sights on alleged telescope price-fixing conspiracy | CBC News

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Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away actually, Taiwan, 1980 a man named Dar Tson”David”Shen started a telescope company.

Four decades later, in a court in Northern California, Shen and his B.C.-based relatives are accusedintwo proposed class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of amateur astronomers who claim they’re victims of a massive price-fixing conspiracy.

“Since the beginning of time, humans have looked beyond their world into the night sky,” read the opening lines of one of the two suits, filed by plaintiff Daniel Hightower.

“But if you love astronomy and want to share your joy with others, you must pay a price hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal overcharges.”

A constellation of companies

The proposed class actions arethe latest development in a legal battle that saw iconic U.S. telescope company Meade Instruments file for bankruptcy last year after a jury ruled against the firm and its Chinese parent company, Ningbo Sunny, in a $50.4million US antitrust suit filed by a competitor.

Hightower, a “telescope consumer and amateur astronomy enthusiast,” filed the firstclaim for a class action at the beginning of June.

Stargazing is a popular hobby in the United States. But a class-action lawsuit claims that people who choose to study the skies with telescopes have been consistently overcharged. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

Sigurd Murphy, a retired California amateur astronomer and telescope collector, and Keith Uehara, a Hawaiian photographer and amateur astronomer, filed their claimthis week.

They’re all seeking to represent amateur astronomers across the United States,a market in which 80 per cent of recreational telescopes are made by either Ningbo Sunny or Shen’s company, Synta Technology.

Neither lawsuit has been certified by a court but they bothaccuseSynta and a constellation of associated companies of working with Ningbo Sunny to divide up the telescope market, fix prices, retaliate against any competitors and to “dominate the U.S. market so they could rip off consumers.”

The lawsuits, which both cite the earlier court ruling, claim Shencontrolled his companies through “henchmen,” including sistersSylvia and Jean, both of whom allegedly live in B.C.

According to Hightower’s claim, Sylvia Shen is a member of the executive committee of Celestron, a dominant U.S. telescope retailer, which is owned by Synta, andJean Shen is in control of both OlivonCanada andOlivon USA, North American telescope companies.

Hightower’slawsuit claims that both women “participated in, plannedand carried out the conspiracy” together with their brother and others, including a B.C.-based “advisor and confidante.”

Synta, Olivon, Celestron and another pair of related companies, Sky-Watcher USA and Sky-Watcher Canada, are accused of being part of a network “directly and indirectly owned and controlled by chairman Shen and his family members.”

“They are operated and run for the common benefit of one another and chairman Shen and have aided, encouraged and co-operated with defendants and their co-conspirators to fix the prices of telescopes, and dominate and allocate the markets for telescopemanufacturing and distribution,” Hightower’s lawsuit claims.

A broader story of U.S.-China relations

According to figures published in February by market research company Global Market Research, the worldwide amateur telescope market is predicted to grow to $294 million annually by 2025. The North American market accounts for the largest portion of that amount.

San Francisco-based lawyer Matthew Borden represents Hightower and was part of the team that won the earlier case against Meade and Ningbo Sunny.

In an interview with CBCNews, he said the history of Meade and Celestron both founded in the U.S. but now owned by Chinese parent companies speak to a larger business trend.

“It’s an interesting, broader story in the U.S where Celestron used to be a manufacturer itself, Meade used to be a manufacturer itself, and once the manufacturers in China figured out they could make a lot more money from having a brand, Synta bought Celestron and Ningbo Sunny bought Meade,” Borden said.

“And then they transferred all the manufacturing over to China.”

One of the lawyers representing the astronomers says the telescope industry is an example of a larger pattern in relations between the U.S. and China in which manufacturing has moved away from the United States. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

Celestron and Meade are the two dominant players in the U.S. telescope market.

Hightower’s lawsuit says the U.S. Federal Trade Commission blocked the two from merging in 1991 and again in 2002, for fear of creating a monopoly. Synta bought Celestron in 2005.

When Meade wentup for sale in 2013, Hightower claimsShen made a deal that saw NingboSunny buy the firm.

The companies then “colluded not to compete with one another,” the lawsuit claims. “This conspiracy is revealed in numerous emails.”

The legal actioncitesdocuments thatwere part of the previous court win, including one thatallegedly speaks of a “tacit understanding” about not competing for sales to Costco.

The result of the alleged conspiracy is areduction of consumer choices in telescopes and the elimination of price competition for tens of thousands of customers. The Hightowerlawsuitestimates damages at $350 million. The second suit says there are thousands ofamateur astronomers in the U.S.

Company disputes lawsuit allegations

Shen could not be reached for comment.

In an email to CBC,Celestronsaid it would not comment on the ongoing litigation but “unequivocally”rejected the allegations.

“Celestron has rightfully earned its position as the world’s most popular telescope brand through our 60 years of effort from generations of employees,” the company said.

“We are ready to defend Celestron and our collective accomplishments and are confident that the legal system will ultimately find the allegation baseless.”

Olivon and Sky-Watcher did not reply toemailsrequesting comment by CBC.None of the companies havefiled a response to the court.

Borden, Hightower’s lawyer,saidthe casehaswidespread implications for amateur astronomers.

“I love astronomy, and I love looking at the stars,” he said. ” What I would like to do, through these lawsuits, is to change the way the industry operates and restore competition. It will be better for everyone. With competition comes innovation.”

None of the claims have been proven in court.

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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