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Updated: 21 min 52 sec ago

Budget day feels a lot like Groundhog Day

Mon, 2015-02-02 02:00

President Barack Obama is releasing his budget on Groundhog Day. You remember Bill Murray in the "Groundhog Day" movie, reliving the same day over and over?

President Obama was stuck in a routine, too. Year after year, his budget bowed to sequestration cuts. “There was the same script over and over again, where he was trying to put out a budget to meet the Republicans halfway,” says Mike Konczal, a fellow at the progressive Roosevelt Institute. 

He says this year, President Obama is departing from the script. In fact, in an op-ed in the Huffington Post, the President says his budget “will fully reverse the sequestration cuts.”

Konczal is delighted. “Yeah, I think it’s a great move,” he says. But even some Democrats say President Obama may be going a bit too off-script, and could risk alienating voters worried about the deficit.

“There are limits as to how far down the President can go down this road without incurring some political risks,” says Bill Galston, a former Clinton White House official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. And the budget, of course, is mainly a political road map. No one expects Congress to approve it.

You bought a counterfeit sports jersey. So what?

Mon, 2015-02-02 02:00

As soon as the clock ran down on Super Bowl Sunday, out came the preprinted commemorative t-shirts and hats. Sports memorabilia is a huge industry, but so is counterfeiting. Federal investigators seized nearly 20 million dollars’ worth of counterfeit hats, t-shirts, and other souvenirs ahead of the Super Bowl, in a year-long effort they dubbed “Operation Team Player.”

Alan Zimmerman, a professor of international business at the City University of New York Staten Island, says many consumers view knock-offs as a victim-less crime, believing they’re taking money from rich firms and rewarding a local manufacturer instead.

But counterfeiters can often be a part of larger criminal organizations.

“Counterfeit products are just a black market revenue stream for criminal organizations, to fund their large scale activities, everything from guns, drugs, violence, you name it,” says Bryan Cox, a spokesman with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of the government agencies involved in Operation Team Player.

How do you solve a problem like censoring YouTube?

Mon, 2015-02-02 02:00

Silicon Valley was once again on the spot in Europe last week. French president Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that Google and Facebook should be treated as “accomplices” of hate speech if they fail to block “extremist” content. A day later, the European Union’s counter terrorism chief said it was up to governments to flag “terrorist-related” videos on YouTube.

All this talk, as well as the disturbing proliferation of terrorist propaganda online, has raised questions about how sites like YouTube can screen what users upload. 

At the moment, a lot of this process is user-based. “This is a very human moment, where people look at something and say, 'That is completely inappropriate for our community,'” says Karen North, Director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at USC Annenberg. It’s our responsibility as a community to alert YouTube, she says.

Among the challenges of policing YouTube's content: the sheer volume of daily uploads — YouTube says 48 hours worth of video is uploaded every minute. There's also the fact that YouTube is all about user-generated content. Given this, North says it’s impractical to expect Google to monitor each upload, and then decide whether it's appropriate or not.

This is not a new debate. YouTube was in a similar soup back in 2012, when it was alleged that a video on the site sparked violence in the Middle East. There were calls back then for Google to curate its content far more.

There have also been suggestions of governments being more involved in this process. But North says such a development, especially in the U.S., would only result from “a long, complex negotiation.”


A post Super Bowl huddle up

Mon, 2015-02-02 01:30

The final score of Sunday night's Super Bowl, which saw the New England Patriots win their fourth title with a last-second interception at the one yard line, following a miraculous play had nearly propelled the Seattle Seahawks to victory. It was a nail-biter, and that's on trend. The New York Times' Upshot points out that Super Bowls are getting more exciting over time, with most games in the past decade decided on a touchdown or less.

$20 million

That's how much in counterfeit sports memorabilia was confiscated in a sweep by Federal investigators a week before the Super Bowl. The fake hats, t-shirts, and other souvenirs were all printed in anticipation of the game's outcome. And while some believe they may be supporting local manufacturers by purchasing the goods,  a spokesman with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says revenue from the counterfeit industry often supports black market activities.

28.4 million

That's how many tweets were sent about the Super Bowl from kickoff to the end of the telecast, Twitter reported late Sunday night. The conversation peaked at 395,000 tweets per minute, when a goal-line interception clinched the game for the Pats at 20 seconds left. Twitter made a gorgeous map showing activity all around the world during the game.


That's what it would cost to buy every item advertised during a Thursday Night Football game from last fall, according to an analysis from the Verge. This total comes from 115 that added up to a little less than an hour of ads.