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January 19, 2017
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday began hearing oral arguments for Lee v. Tam, an intellectual property case challenging a 71-year-old federal ban on "disparaging" trademarks. Immediately at issue is a Portland dance-rock band called The Slants, but how the case is decided is expected to have broader implications — including for the Washington Redskins.

The Slants' band members are Asian-American, and they wanted to trademark the name as a way to reclaim the slur. "I thought that was interesting," band member Simon Tam told The New York Times, because "we can talk about our slant on life on what it's like to be people of color." Tam grew up listening to bands that similarly took stigmatizing labels "and flip these assumptions on their heads." So when his trademark application got rejected, he assumed it was a paperwork error — until he noticed the rejection reason given was that the name is "disparaging to persons of Asian ethnicity." "Well, do they know we're of Asian descent?" Tam wondered.

Tam's case has now made it to the Supreme Court, where initial arguments see the justices skeptical of the government's claim to have a legitimate interest in preventing consumer "distraction" by disparaging trademarks, as well as the argument that trademarks, unlike copyrights, "generally have not historically served as vehicles for expression" of viewpoints which are protected as free speech.

As for the Redskins, their trademark was canceled in 2014 on grounds that it too is disparaging, in that case of Native Americans. The team has filed suit to regain the trademark, but if The Slants win their case, depending on the details of the decision, the Redskins might get their trademark back, too. Bonnie Kristian

1:11 p.m. ET
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Syrian government strikes have killed some 500 civilians, including about 120 children, over the course of a week in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The activist group says Russian planes are assisting with the attacks, but Russia denies direct engagement.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly used barrel bombs and artillery shells to target the area where some 400,000 people have no option of escape. Civilians are "being forced into bunkers and many of them can't even find the time to bury their dead," reports NPR's Lama Al-Arian. The Assad regime says its goal is to liberate civilians from a nearby rebel enclave.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for a U.N. resolution implementing a 30-day ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be delivered to East Ghouta. "I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population," he said, describing the situation as "hell on earth." If the resolution passes — Moscow is demanding edits in exchange for its support — its prospects for enforcement are dubious. Bonnie Kristian

12:44 p.m. ET

Delta and United Airlines on Saturday announced they are cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The airlines join the Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental brands as well as First National Bank of Omaha, Best Western hotels, MetLife insurance, and more than a dozen other companies in ending deals with the NRA. Delta previously offered discounted airfare for NRA members, and United offered discounts on flights to and from the organization's annual conference.

Companies are distancing themselves from the NRA in response to outrage following last week's mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Customer responses to the tweeted announcements were predictably mixed. Bonnie Kristian

12:13 p.m. ET

A daring squirrel narrowly cheated death Saturday while attempting to sprint across the course of the women's parallel giant slalom competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Austrian snowboarder Daniela Ulbing just barely maneuvered around the animal, which appeared to reconsider its choices after she passed. Watch the squirrel's moment of destiny below. Bonnie Kristian

12:00 p.m. ET
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Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway on Saturday. Berkshire's net worth grew by $65.3 billion in 2017, Buffett said, but $29 billion of that gain came from savings effected by the Republican tax plan passed in December. The new tax law lowered the nominal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent.

For individual investors, Buffett cautioned against going into debt to purchase stock because the market may drop. "There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period," he wrote. "Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren't immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions."

Read the full letter here. Bonnie Kristian

10:26 a.m. ET
Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday began soliciting public input on restoring work requirements for food stamp recipients in high-unemployment areas where rules were waived in recent years.

"Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. "USDA's goal is to move individuals and families [using food stamps] back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty."

Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) are eligible for only three months of food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) unless they spend at least 80 hours per month working or at a qualified training. In five states — Alaska, California, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico — and economically struggling localities in 28 other states, that rule is currently suspended.

No changes have been formally proposed at this time, but the USDA estimates about 2.9 million ABAWDs are currently unemployed and would therefore be affected if the waiver were rescinded. They make up about 7 percent of the 43.6 million people who used food stamps in 2017. Bonnie Kristian

10:17 a.m. ET

Heavy rains over the weekend are expected to exacerbate deadly flooding in the Midwest and southern Plains regions. Hundreds of people have evacuated their homes in affected areas from eastern Texas through southern Indiana, and at least three people, including one child, have been killed in connection to the floods.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has declared a 30-day state of emergency, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has issued a disaster proclamation for three counties. The National Weather Service advises caution of flash floods and tornadoes throughout the weekend. Bonnie Kristian

8:33 a.m. ET

The United States men's curling team took its first-ever gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Saturday. After nearly being eliminated from the competition, the team made a comeback win, besting both the Canadian team — prior to this victory, no American team in men's or women's curling has ever beaten Canada at the Olympics — and the Swedish team, which was ranked first in the world.

"During the entire end we could kind of feel it building," said team leader John Shuster of the gold-medal victory over Sweden. "Their margin for error got really small."

Also Saturday, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic became the first woman to take gold in two separate events at the Winter Games. Last Saturday, she was the surprise victor in Alpine skiing, and this week, Ledecka triumphed in her primary event, women's parallel giant slalom snowboarding. Bonnie Kristian

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