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Judiciary Committee Leaders Press to Hold Russia Accountable on IP Issues PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 14 November 2011 14:38

Judiciary Committee Leaders Press USTR to Hold Russia Accountable on IP Issues during WTO Accession Discussions

WASHINGTON – Leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees are pressing U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to make sure that as Russia attempts to gain membership into the World Trade Organization, adequate focus is paid to its obligations to protect and enforce intellectual property rights.

In a letter to the Trade Representative, House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairmen Lamar Smith and Patrick Leahy and Ranking Members John Conyers and Chuck Grassley expressed concerns that Russia continues to have gaps and lapses in its protection of intellectual property rights.

“There are a number of significant concerns with respect to the denial of adequate and effective IPR protection, or the denial of equitable market access for persons that rely on IPR protection, in Russia,” the Judiciary Committee leaders wrote.

The members added, “The Government of Russia must demonstrate via transparent, substantive and prompt actions its commitment to adhere fully to the obligations it will assume as a future member of the WTO.  Not only is the credibility of the rules-based system of international trade at stake, but should Russia fail to conform to its obligations in a thorough and timely manner, the adverse consequences for U.S. innovators and their workers will continue to be significant.”

The text of the letter to Kirk is below.  A signed copy of the letter can be found here.

 

November 9, 2011

Ambassador Ron Kirk

United States Trade Representative

Office of the United States Trade Representative

600 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20508

 

Dear Ambassador Kirk:

We are writing to express our serious concerns over continuing gaps and lapses in the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR) by the Government of Russia, even as the negotiations regarding Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) are moving forward.  A high standard accession package will be essential before both Houses of Congress can consider a vote to remove Russia from Title IV of the Trade Act of 1974, which is necessary for the United States to enjoy the full benefits of Russian membership in the WTO.

According to the most recent annual report on the global state of IPR protection and enforcement prepared by your office pursuant to section 182 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, there are a number of significant concerns with respect to the denial of adequate and effective IPR protection, or the denial of equitable market access for persons that rely on IPR protection, in Russia.

Specific examples cited include: widespread counterfeiting and piracy of hard goods; storage of pirated CDs and DVDs on several government-controlled military-industrial sites; gaps in Russian law and enforcement efforts with respect to piracy over the Internet; varying levels of enforcement among regions; and, indications of selective enforcement.  Even when initial enforcement efforts are conducted in a sustained and vigorous manner, your report notes that prosecutions and convictions do not necessarily follow.

With respect to gaps in Russian law, your report states that it is the position of the United States to urge Russia to enact online infringement legislation that addresses all forms of piracy over the Internet and provides for the swift removal of infringing content.  In addition, your report encourages Russia to enact legislation establishing a specialized IPR court and calls for Russia’s enforcement officials to increase the number of IPR-related investigations, as well as for Russian prosecutors to seek deterrent penalties in judicial proceedings.  Because of these and other ongoing concerns, Russia remains on the “Priority Watch List” for 2011, which identifies countries with the most onerous or egregious IPR policies, acts, or practices that have the greatest adverse impact on relevant products of the United States.

Separately, the recent report to Congress of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive identifies Russian cyber-espionage as a dangerous threat to our economy and national security.  Specifically, the report warns that “[f]oreign economic collection and industrial espionage against the United States represent significant and growing threats to the nation’s prosperity and security,” and that “[e]conomic espionage inflicts costs on companies that range from loss of unique intellectual property to outlays for remediation  . . . .”

This report further finds that “Moscow’s highly capable intelligence services are using [human intelligence], cyber, and other operations to collect economic information and technology to support Russia’s economic development and security,” and that “the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive U.S. economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace.”

We acknowledge that important progress has been made since 2006, when the United States and Russia reached a bilateral agreement on IPR protection and enforcement in Russia.  Yet, the findings in these reports raise serious questions about the intention and commitment of the Russian Government to abide by and enforce the obligations it will assume as a member of the WTO, particularly with respect to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

In our view, the questions and concerns raised by these reports must be addressed.  The Government of Russia must demonstrate via transparent, substantive and prompt actions its commitment to adhere fully to the obligations it will assume as a future member of the WTO.  Not only is the credibility of the rules-based system of international trade at stake, but should Russia fail to conform to its obligations in a thorough and timely manner, the adverse consequences for U.S. innovators and their workers will continue to be significant.

In addition, we expect that you will continue to consult the House and Senate Judiciary Committees as future developments warrant; such ongoing consultations will be particularly valuable in the event that Congress considers legislation to authorize termination of the provisions of title IV of the Trade Act of 1974 with respect to Russia.

Sincerely,

_____________________________  ______________________________

Lamar Smith                          Patrick Leahy

Chairman                       Chairman

House Committee on the Judiciary                      Senate Committee on the Judiciary

 

 

 

______________________________ ______________________________

John Conyers, Jr.                            Charles Grassley

Ranking Member                         Ranking Member

House Committee on the Judiciary                      Senate Committee on the Judiciary

 
2010 Health Care Reform Law Costing Americans Insurance Coverage and Jobs PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Friday, 11 November 2011 15:03

Senator Chuck Grassley made remarks this morning about the impact of the 2010 health care reform law on the individual insurance market and employers, and how it is costing Americans both insurance coverage and jobs.

 

Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

 

Mr. President, I’d like to begin by thanking my friend from Nebraska, Senator Johanns for joining me on the floor today.

America’s families are struggling to put food on their tables, pay their utility bills as winter arrives, and purchase health insurance as costs skyrocket.  Unemployment continues to hover around nine percent and millions of Americans are underemployed.  With the economic situation that our country is facing, Congress must reexamine its actions and realize the errors made through partisan votes.

Last month, The Des Moines Register reported that the American Enterprise Group, an insurance company participating in the individual health insurance market in Iowa and Nebraska, will be leaving the market.  This action shows the importance of repealing and replacing the health care overhaul passed by Democrats in Congress and signed by the President last year before the situation deteriorates further.

American Enterprise notified 110 employees in Iowa and Nebraska that they will lose their jobs sometime during the next three years.  American Enterprise is leaving the individual health insurance market as a result of the instability caused by implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  American Enterprise stated that it will no longer sell individual health insurance policies because of the regulatory environment created by the health care reform bill.

This isn’t an isolated incident for Iowa.  The Principal Financial Group left the small group health insurance market in 2010.  This has cost many Iowans their jobs, while leaving scores of small businesses and their employees to choose from health insurance plans in a health insurance market where there is less and less competition.

The regulatory culprit is the new Medical Loss Ratio regulation.  This regulation requires insurers to pay a certain percentage of premiums in claims.  And I will know supporters will defend the regulation as “keeping insurers in check”, the real world effect is to force insurers to leave the market reducing competition and choice available to consumers.

The small group and individual markets are volatile.  Insurers bear risk and have to set their premiums accordingly.  Insurers are making the rational decision to get out of the market because the risks have become too great.  Competition is reduced and costs rise.

Once upon a time, the President promised Americans that if you like the insurance plan you have, you can keep it.  This is more evidence that that promise rings hollow.  This recent plan pull out will leave 35,000 individuals without the insurance plan they have grown accustomed to receiving.  Forcing people to choose a different insurance option can lead to higher costs and may limit the health care accessibility these individuals have depended on for years.

This is especially detrimental when these individuals have a pre-existing condition or an acute chronic disease.  The President specifically promised that if people want to keep their health care coverage they would be able to after the passage of this law.

This is just one of the many examples of how this overhaul has led to broken promises made by the President and the Democrats when pushing through the passage of this legislation in a partisan way.  These problems will certainly continue.

The Congressional Budget Office expects people in the individual insurance market to see an average nine percent rise in premium costs solely based on the passage of the health care law.  Is that increased accessibility or affordability?

Not only has the health care overhaul caused health insurance companies to leave parts of the health insurance market and health insurance costs to increase, it has also put additional burdens on employers.  Some employers will no longer offer their employees health care coverage.  Higher taxes and mandates put on employers by the new health care law have left many employers without the resources to maintain current coverage for family members of their employees.

The negative impact this legislation is having on large employers and those insured by employers is demonstrated by the National Business Group on Health.  In its recent annual survey, overall plan costs for large employers are expected to rise by 5.9 percent in 2012.  The National Business Group on Health also notes that seven out of ten employers will lose their grandfather status, meaning that employees will lose their current health care plan and employers will be subjected to additional regulations.

According to this same survey, three out of ten employers are unsure if they will continue to insure employees due to the health care overhaul.  Other employers will increase the employee share of the insurance premium, and many employers state that they will likely lower the level of health care coverage offered to their employees.  For example, Wal-Mart will not allow many of its new part-time employees to receive health care insurance through the company.  Many of these workers are already under-employed.

They work hard, yet don’t always have adequate resources to purchase health insurance on their own, especially as costs in the individual insurance market continue to increase due to the new health care law.  Additionally, many businesses are simply dropping coverage for their own employees because of the extra cost incurred with the health care bill recently enacted.

It is more affordable for some employers to drop coverage for their employees and pay the fine associated with the employer mandate.  An employer must provide health insurance for their employees if they have more than fifty employees, or fifty full-time equivalent employees.  Employers who are required to insure employees will be fined $2,000 per employee who seeks health insurance through one of the exchanges created under the health care overhaul.

Any employer-sponsored plan must meet the definitions set by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on what an adequate health insurance plan is under the mandate.  This requirement will increase insurance costs for employers and employees when they must upgrade health insurance benefits in order to meet the standards defined in the regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Forcing employers to provide health insurance when they are having a tough time hiring new employees just adds to the burden employers are facing in this struggling economy.  Employers will likely pay their increased health insurance costs by reducing employee take-home pay or by increasing the employee share of health insurance premiums.  Also, employers will continue struggling in future years as the federal government increases, year by year, the requirements for health insurance benefits needed to avoid the penalty associated with the employer mandate.  Furthermore, employers already faced with economic uncertainty have had to deal with government regulations that continue to change, creating greater uncertainty.

A Department of Health and Human Services rule released last November allows fully-insured group plans to switch insurance providers as long as the insurance benefits provided to the beneficiaries remain comparable; however, this is only for group plans that switch after November 15, 2010.  The Department of Health and Human Services wrote this new rule so more group plans can find affordable coverage and shop around for similar coverage at a cheaper rate.  If the group insurance plan carrier was changed before November 15, 2010, the plan would lose grandfather status which would subject the plan to numerous insurance regulations and increased costs.

Ironically, what created the need for this new rule was another rule that the President’s administration and HHS crafted in June 2010 that stated plans would lose their grandfather status if they switched carriers.  This chaotic situation shows what happens when the government is given more authority to regulate the health insurance market.  Mr. President, what we have here is a mess.  We need to put a halt to the implementation.  We need to repeal the law and start over again with common sense solutions.  We need to move away from the regulatory and bureaucratic nightmare that is costing Americans their coverage and too many Americans their job.

***

 
Allison Redman Serves Areas in New York Affected by Hurricane Irene PDF Print E-mail
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Written by readMedia   
Friday, 11 November 2011 15:00

PELLA, IA (11/09/2011)(readMedia)-- During her fall break, Allison Redman, a junior elementary education major from Davenport, Iowa, along with 17 other students from Central College in Pella, Iowa, traveled to Esperance and Schoharie in New York to help clean up some of the destruction caused by Hurricane Irene in August.

The group left after classes Wednesday, Oct. 12 and drove through the night to reach New York. On Friday, they helped clean up the remains of destroyed homes on Priddle Camp Road in Esperance, trying to make sense of the piles of houses the flooding from Irene left behind.

"There was nothing left to salvage," said Kristin Tremper, coordinator of Reformed Church in America relations at Central, who organized the trip. The students moved garbage out into the street so that trucks could pick it up.

On Saturday, Oct. 15, students worked in Schoharie to muck mud out of basements and rip out ruined drywall.

The trip wasn't all hard work for the students. On Thursday, they did a ropes course, ziplining and a cave tour at Howe Caverns. They also hiked and visited The Old Stone Fort, a revolutionary war museum in Schoharie.

"Our students are awesome," said Tremper. "This was the best group I've ever been able to work with. It was a joy to get to know them."

Central College is a four-year, private, residential, liberal arts college in Pella, Iowa, affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. Central offers a bachelor's degree in 39 majors and pre-professional advising. For more information about Central, call 877-462-3687 or go to www.central.edu

 
Grassley Reacts to Holder Testimony before Judiciary Committee PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Friday, 11 November 2011 14:38

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley released the following statement after Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the Judiciary Committee for a regular oversight hearing.

“The Attorney General did a lot of dodging and weaving today.  He didn’t seem to be alarmed that nobody notified him that the guns found at Agent Terry’s murder scene were from Fast and Furious.  And, while he said that he regretted the fact that the department provided false information to Congress, it’s unclear what he will be doing to hold accountable those in the department who knew it was false.  It’s unconscionable that a federal agency would let such a misleading letter stand for more than nine months.  The head of the Criminal Division knew it was false, his deputy knew it was false, the whistleblowers knew it was false, the documents suggested it was false, and I discovered it was false—but, if Congress had relied on the department’s official talking points, we still wouldn’t know the truth today.  Congress deserves more candid and honest responses to our questions.”

 
River Pilot Vodka Honored With National Awards As Distillery Reaches Visitor Milestone PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ryan Burchett   
Friday, 11 November 2011 14:31

Le Claire, Iowa, November 8, 2011 – Mississippi River Distilling Company has recently been recognized with two exceptional industry awards for their spirits.  MRDC’s River Pilot Vodka received the Beverage Tasting Institute’s (BTI) Gold Medal in the International Review of Spirits as well as a Bronze Medal at this year’s 2011 New York International Spirits Competition (NYISC).

River Pilot was recognized in BTI’s Unflavored Vodka category.  The tasting was completed in BTI’s Chicago Tasting Room on November 1.  River Pilot received a score of 90, which put it in the “Exceptional” category and garnered the gold medal award.

BTI described River Pilot as, “Aromas of rye cracker and salt water taffy with a satiny dryish medium-to-full body and a grainy, creamy vanilla, dusty stone, and Brazil nut accented finish.  A nice balance of raw and refined characteristics.”

The Beverage Testing Institute relies heavily on highly experienced, professional guest tasters who are either retailers, restaurateurs, or prominent writers that are especially knowledgeable about the beverage category being reviewed.  All panelists are rigorously screened and audited and then trained in BTI’s proprietary blind tasting methodology.

The second award came from the prestigious New York International Spirits Competition.  NYISC uses trade-only judges from top to bottom that consist of people who are buyers from the top retail stores, restaurant and bar owners, distributors and importers.  Each submission is placed in its product category and along with other spirits in its same price range.  While the full list of 2011 winners has not yet been publicized, in 2010 only 2 medals were awarded in this highly competitive category.

“These are fantastic awards and such a compliment to what we are doing,” Ryan Burchett, owner/distiller says.  “To have a product handmade from local ingredients be recognized with by two prominent nationally recognized organizations in the industry is just outstanding.  It lends a lot of credibility to what little guys like us are doing.”

These awards are on the heels of another national recognition for MRDC’s River Baron Vodka.  In August, River Baron was recognized as the 8th best vodka made in the United States by TheFiftyBest.com.

It’s been an exciting time at the distillery as MRDC crossed another big milestone over the weekend.  The distillery welcomed its 20,000th visitor in less than 11 months of being open.

“It has been so encouraging to visit with all the people who have stopped in to see what we’re all about,” said owner/distiller Garrett Burchett.  “People have taken such a tremendous interest in our locally grown products.  We love having the opportunity to share our story with everyone who walks in the door and for them to see the grain-to-glass process in person.”

Mississippi River Distilling Company is open from 10 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday and from 12 to 5 PM Sundays.  Free tours are offered to the public daily on the hour from 12 to 4 PM or by appointment.  The tour takes visitors through the entire distilling process.  Tours end in the Grand Tasting Room with free samples of products for those patrons over 21 years of age.  Mississippi River Distilling Company’s next product release will be their much anticipated Cody Road Bourbon Whiskey will hit store shelves on December 2, 2011

 
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