National / International News

Lame duck Congress still has plenty to do

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-05 02:00

It was a little more than a year ago, in October 2013, that a showdown between the President and Congress led to a government shutdown, after missing the deadline to pass a new bill to fund the government. 

Now, even though Congress is in a lame-duck session, there is still work to do, including another government funding bill.  

“The single most important, must-pass bill for the lame-duck Congress to finish is a spending bill for the federal government,” says Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

That bill could either be a continuing resolution that funds government for a while longer—the current C.R., as it's known, expires at the end of the day on December 11—or it could fund the government through September 2015. 

Binder thinks it will be the latter. 

“My sense is that Republican leaders in particular, and I think Democratic leaders, really want to put the omnibus bill—wrapping up all these spending bills—they really want to put it to rest in December, so that they can start from a clean slate come January,” says Binder. 

But, James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, isn’t so sure. He says a shorter-term funding bill is more likely.

“They have very little time, so I suspect that they’ll just move it into the next year,” says Thurber. “And within that bill there will be discussion of whether we should support the war effort against ISIS.”

In addition to the government funding bill, Thurber and Binder agree Congress will have to address defense spending issues before the end of the year. The House has passed a bill to fund the defense department in 2015, but the Senate hasn’t yet, and is likely to work toward that goal. 

With only a few weeks left, lawmakers will also face the end-of-year expiration of 128 tax incentives, such as the mortgage interest tax deduction and the R&D tax credit for business.

The economics of a runoff election

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-05 02:00

We’re thinking about how money is spent on runoffs, but we should be looking at a different part of the fundraising process. So says Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

"Whether or not money is spent differently, it’s going to be raised differently," he says.

Because of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, there’s been a dramatic increase in what Norden calls 'outside money.'

“[Money] that’s not coming from the candidates, that’s not coming from the parties, that’s coming from outside groups," he says. "That means Super PACs, that means these new dark money groups, 501(C)(4)s. They’re spending an extraordinary amount, often times more than the candidates themselves are spending."

But, while everyone wants to get voters out, doing it an additional time, "that’s going to take additional resources,” says Tracy Sturdivant, co-founder of the Make it Work Campaign,  a non profit that works to creates economic security for women.  

At least, notes Sturdivant, runoffs have one bright side. For organizations, trying to get voters to the polls also means a chance to recalibrate.

"They’re going to take what they learned and put more resources towards the activities that actually did encourage voters to turn out the first time,” she says.

But even so, voter fatigue can make runoffs tough — for all parties involved.

Keeping track of Ebola

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-05 02:00

One of the first steps in the fight against Ebola is to increase communication throughout the region. The Ebola phone does just that.

The phone, which looks much like your typical office device, has been distributed across threatened regions in an effort to get first line responders connected to epidemiologists and isolation centers.

The point of this communication is to share information and data, but one of the problems that comes up when storing data in clinics treating Ebola patients is that everything that goes into the clinic is destroyed, which makes keeping a diary or a hard drive to share with others is impossible.

For this reason, among many others, the CDC has launched an online platform called Epi Info which allows clinics to log all the information they're getting about Ebola in the field to this central software. Clinics treating Ebola patients have iPad's where the information is logged and shared with others to continue fighting this vicious disease.

Colin Baker is a journalist based in Bamako, Mali's capital city. He joined us to talk about the other high tech solutions being used to share important medical data.

Click the media player above to hear Colin Baker in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Trademark law: Why Disney is fighting a Canadian DJ

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-05 02:00

Deadmau5 makes dance music. But he also sells hats, pint glasses, t-shirts—all featuring the eerie, circles-for-ears cartoon "mau5head" that is his symbol. 

"He's in gaming and mobile apps and music and producing and imaging and movies," says his attorney, Dina LaPolt. "He's in every space imaginable."

Under U.S. law, the use of his "mau5head" on all this merchandise has trademark protection, just by existing. But last summer Deadmau5—real name Joel Zimmerman—applied for something stronger: trademark registration. 

The implications of registration are significant but limited. "It's a little bit easier and cheaper to sue others," says Jeremy Sheff, law professor at St. John's. 

“There are various side tweaks in the process that a registration is helpful for,” says Rebecca Tushnet, law professor at Georgetown. 

The legal costs, on the other hand, were clear. 

"We always knew Disney would oppose it because that’s what Disney does," says LaPolt. 

Disney is notoriously protective of its intellectual property, especially when it comes to Mickey Mouse. To pick a trivial example, in 1981, Disney successfully got a bar in Colonie, NY called "Mickey's Mousetrap" to change its name, even though it was owned by two men named Mickey.

"We're giving in,'' Mickey Colarusso told the New York Times, ''because we don't have the time or money to battle an organization as big as Disney."

In part, this may be because you need to exercise trademark rights in order to retain them. "Trademark owners often feel they need to take symbolic actions," says Tushnet. 

But despite the certainty that it would bring about a battle with Disney, LaPolt strategized to apply for registration. "I like to change things and battle people," she says. "That’s why I’m a lawyer."

Disney did file to block Deadmau5's registration, arguing that despite the creepy grin and vacant eyes, the "mau5head," with its round head and round ears, "so resembles Disney's prior use and registered Disney's Mouse Ears Marks" as to be likely "to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive." 

"There are a number of thing that’ll confuse people," says Jack Jacoby, professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business who says he is involved in 30 or 40 trademark disputes per year.

In the case of Disney vs. Deadmau5,  Jacoby says the confusion case boils down to what’s in the mind of the person who picks a mau5head t-shirt off the rack-and whether they'll think the Deadmau5 item was made by, affiliated with or allowed by Disney.

"Disney’s saying 'Wait, people may think that this comes from us,'" says Jacoby.

Outside a mall in Queens, New York, I put this to the test by showing a picture of a Deadmau5 shirt to various fans of electronic music. 

Among his fans, everyone knew the symbol immediately, and had no confusion about Disney's involvement. 

Jacoby wrote, or at least edited, the book on doing more scientific versions of these surveys for the American Bar Association, and says such a survey could help Deadmau5 if Disney sued for infringement. But although the current battle over registration rights at the Patent and Trademark Office concerns the same questions—Does the use of the Deadmau5 mark cause "confusion" of Disney's mouse ears mark—it won't admit this kind of survey. 

"Most of the action is in the federal courts. And the federal courts, they want you to simulate reality as closely as possible," says Jacoby. "But the PTO only wants to look at the mark in isolation. So the silhouette, in this case, of the ears."

This lack of real-world context could hurt Deadmau5's chances. The choice to take on Disney anyways could be to seek a settlement or for PR—Deadmau5 has been known for publicity stunts in the past. Or it could be sheer stubbornness. 

"Sometimes people get very committed to their symbols, almost like their children," says Tushnet. 

The Patent and Trademark Office wouldn’t comment on timing, but observers say a decision from the PTO on these warring parents could take years.

VIDEO: Volunteers save beached NZ whales

BBC - Wed, 2014-11-05 01:59
Volunteers and residents in New Zealand manage to help free some pilot whales which had become beached in Ohiwa Harbour.

Voters decide U.S. minimum wage landscape for 2015

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-11-05 01:30

On Tuesday, voters in four states decided whether to raise the minimum wage starting in 2015.

Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all decided to approve the increases. Illinois voters approved a non-binding ballot initiative to raise the state's minimum wage.

The measure in Illinois was placed on the ballot by that state's legislature, while the measures in the other states were added by citizen initiatives. A number of other states, including New York, Massachusetts and West Virginia, are also set to increase their minimum wages in 2015, in accordance with previous legislation.

When states put minimum wage increases on the ballot, voters tend to be supportive. But voters this week also flipped the balance of Congress in favor of Republicans, many of whom say they don’t want to raise the minimum wage.

Mixed message?

“Don’t ever make assumption that voters are consistent in the way they think,” says Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science of Tufts University. “When you go into the ballot booth, and cast your vote, there’s here’s no sign that says, ‘You’re required to be consistent in the way you vote. Please proceed.’”

He says voters who supported the increase in minimum wage may still have wanted to convey a desire for change in Washington – the two messages don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

But the popular support for these increases likely won’t push Republicans to embrace raising the federal minimum wage, says Berry, because that’d be too big a win for President Obama.

“That’s the last thing this new Congress wants to do,” he says.

While the state-by-state approach feels chaotic, it also kind of works.

“You might say that it makes more sense to have a $10 minimum in California and a $7.25 minimum in Mississippi than to have a $9 minimum in both,” says David Neumark, a  professor of economics and the director of the Center for Economics & Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine. He notes that outliers like Seattle and San Francisco which have voted for $15 per hour minimum wage are the exception.

Even before these elections, nearly two dozen states – plus District of Columbia – had set their minimum wages above the federal level.

VIDEO: Heroin thrown from car during chase

BBC - Wed, 2014-11-05 00:26
Two drug dealers who threw heroin from a car window as they were involved in a high-speed police chase on the M6 have been jailed.

Republicans win control of US Senate

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 21:54
The Republican Party wins control of the Senate in the US mid-term elections, increasing its power in the final years of Barack Obama's presidency.

Australia to pay firm to fight Ebola

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 21:53
PM Tony Abbott says Australia is contracting a private company to staff and operate an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone.

VIDEO: Inside new Ebola treatment centre

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 21:48
Clive Myrie looks around a new, British army-built centre for treating people with Ebola in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone.

1,100 NI student places 'to be cut'

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 21:38
Queen's University Belfast and the University of Ulster warn that they will have to cut 1,100 student places in Northern Ireland .

Migrant study and Halloween accident - papers

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 21:35
A study of UK immigration is interpreted in different ways, while there is much coverage of the Halloween accident involving Strictly star Claudia Winkleman's daughter.

Newly Released 'Fast And Furious' Documents Include A Slam On Issa

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-04 20:43

Several details already have become the center of conversations, including one email in which outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder criticizes Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and his "idiot cronies."

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AU in Burkina power handover talks

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 19:54
The presidents of Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal are to visit Burkina Faso to press the military for a speedy handover of power to a civilian ruler.

Government crackdown on 'notspots'

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 19:21
The government plans to make mobile operators improve patchy coverage around the country.

Memorial for Australia ex-PM Whitlam

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 19:19
Australia holds a state memorial service for former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who died on 21 October at the age of 98.

Kim Jong-un seen walking unaided

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 19:08
North Korean media publish photos of leader Kim Jong-un walking without a stick at an army meeting, following speculation on his health.

Will Narendra Modi change India?

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 18:51
The jury is still out on whether India's new prime minister can reform India.

France threatened by civil strife

BBC - Tue, 2014-11-04 18:45
Disaffection with mainstream politics in France could see the far right gain high office, says Hugh Schofield.

Governors' Races: Scott Beats Crist; Quinn Loses In Illinois

NPR News - Tue, 2014-11-04 18:38

In Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner is projected to beat Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn. And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has won re-election, defeating Democrat Mary Burke.

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