You need to know this. On Thursday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives managed to kill the $940 billion dollar farm bill. GOP lawmakers were quick to blame Democrats for the failure, because they did not deliver 40 votes. However, Democrats pointed to huge cuts to food assistance, and a poison pill amendment from Florida Representative Steve Southerland as their reasons for voting against the bill. Congressman Southerland's amendment would have allowed states to subject SNAP recipients to drug-tests, and additional work requirements. Republicans attempted to paint the amendment as beneficial “reform.” But, Democrats noted that the so-called “work requirement” amendment provided no funding for job training, and said it would have unfairly included disabled people and low-income parents of young children. Fifty-eight of the Republicans who voted against the final bill also voted to accept Representative Southerland's amendment, which they knew Democrats would reject. So, House Republicans doomed the bill they had no intention of supporting, by voting for a poison pill knowing that Democrats wouldn't swallow it. If the GOP leaders had been able to get full support from their own party, the bill would have passed even without any Democratic support. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer rejected the GOP's blame-game, and said, democrats “will take no blame for the failure of the farm bill. None. Zero.” After the votes were tallied, it was Republican dysfunction that spared our nation's most needy from being hit with these heartless cuts and work requirements. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now calling on House Speaker John Boehner to bring the Senate-passed version of the farm bill to a vote, saying, “nutrition assistance should not be held hostage to Republican incompetence.” Many Americans rely on the vital food assistance program in the farm bill, but it's anyone's guess as whether House Republicans can get it together.
In screwed news... Once again, the United States Supreme Court has taken the side of big business. In a 5 to 3 ruling on Thursday, the Court obliterated almost any chance for small companies to challenge credit card monopolies in court. The case involved a group of merchants, who charged that American Express used its monopolistic power to charge inflated processing fees. The group wanted to take on the credit card giant as a class, but were denied because of arbitration clauses in their merchant agreements. As the Think Progress Blog has noted on multiple occasions, the current Supreme Court is the most pro-business court in 65 years. Even in cases between companies, the Justices have a record of ruling in favor of big business. So, unsurprisingly, Thursday's ruling sided with American Express. In order to pursue their legal case, the merchants must now individually submit to arbitration, which will cost each of them more time and money than they could receive from winning in arbitration.
In the best of the rest of the news...
U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren and Senator Ron Wyden have finally introduced “Aaron's Law.” The bill has been in the works since January, but it is finally being presented in both chambers of Congress. The legislation would reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which lead to the harsh prosecution, and eventual suicide of internet icon Aaron Swartz. If passed, Aaron's Law would decriminalize violations of “terms of service” agreements, and set some limits for financial penalties. Most importantly, it would curtail the ability of prosecutors to press for extreme penalties, like the one million dollar fine and thirty-five years prison sentence suggested for Aaron Swartz – whose only crime was attempting to share information. David Segal, the executive director of Demand Progress, which Aaron co-founded, said, “When Aaron's Law is signed into law, it will mean that Aaron will continue to do in death what he always did in life, protect the freedoms and rights of all people.”
The Federal Trade Commission is recommending a sweeping investigation of so-called “patent trolls.” The FTC will begin looking into companies that buy large collections of technology patents, and use them to sue tech-innovators and software designers. Patent-assertion entities – a.k.a. “patent trolls” - have no real business other than extorting settlement payments using frivolous patent lawsuits. They are responsible for more than 60 percent of all 4,000 patent lawsuits last year, and they have drawn the attention of President Obama and members of Congress. Although the FTC is an independent agency, and not subject to executive orders, the President has directed the Patent Office and other executive agencies to take steps to “protect innovators from frivolous litigation.” Those who defend patent-assertion entities contend that the companies play an important role in compensating investors, while opponents say patent trolls are just shell corporations, who's only purpose it to extract money from end users. An FTC investigation is expected soon. Stay tuned.
And finally… Next year, the “Sunjammer” solar sail will be launched into deep space, carrying a few more stars to add to our solar system. According to NBC News, the spacecraft will transport the remains of three sci-fi celebrities – “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry, and James Dooham, who played “Scotty” in the original TV series. The Star Trek crew's memorial voyage has been organized by the Houston-based company, Celestis, which has been sending cremated remains into space for 16 years. For a mere $12,500 bucks, you can include your own MindFile – a digital message to accompany the “Trekie” icons into space. For a bit more you can send a BioFile – like a strand of hair, which includes DNA markers some say make it possible for you to be cloned by an alien civilization. Celestis co-founder, Charles Chafer said the BioFile is “a way to have a little bit of you go on a space mission,” and that a MindFile is kind of like your very own Facebook Post for space.
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