The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Partly Cloudy

News Briefs

House OKs Tax Breaks In Minimum Wage Debate

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The House Thursday approved an assortment of new tax breaks for the business community, as GOP leaders tried to give corporate America some sweeteners for an anticipated increase in the minimum wage.

The 257-169 vote came as the House prepared to take up a proposal Thursday night to raise the minimum wage by a dollar -- to $6.15 an hour -- over the next two years. House leaders vigorously oppose the measure on philosophical grounds but appeared powerless to stop it -- or spread out the increase over three years -- because of strong pressure from Democrats and moderate Republicans.

To take the sting out of the minimum wage plan for business, the GOP pushed through a variety of new tax cuts which congressional analysts estimate will cost $122 billion over the next 10 years. These include reducing inheritance tax rates, providing deductions for self-employed people to buy health insurance and increasing the amount of money people can put into tax-favored retirement accounts.

House Republicans hoped that by taking care of the minimum wage question relatively early this year, they would dispose of an issue that has been wielded to great political effect by Democrats in years past. Congress last increased the minimum wage in 1996.

Amazon.com Chairman Proposes Rewrite of Patent Laws for Web

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Stung by widespread criticism of Amazon.com’s patents on some of its Internet-based business methods, company Chairman Jeff Bezos on Thursday proposed a rewriting of U.S. patent laws to accommodate the lightning pace of innovation on the Web.

In an open letter posted on the online retailer’s Web site, Bezos proposed cutting the term of patents on business methods and software to 3 to 5 years -- much shorter than the existing term of 20 years from the date the patent is applied for.

Amazon came under extraordinary criticism for its 1-click patent from a particularly sensitive source: the Internet community itself, where the notion that information should be free and widely distributed has a large following.

The influential free-software advocate Richard M. Stallmann PhD ’75 has even called for a boycott of the company, arguing that the patent was an attempt to stake a claim for an obvious application of existing technology, and was granted mostly because patent examiners were unfamiliar with software technology.

Who’s Teaching Online Courses?

LOS ANGELES TIMES

While schools developing online curricula try to strike a balance between profits and prestige, many educators are scrambling to define their role in this digital domain.

In traditional course work, a professor creates and leads each class. But online, professors can easily be replaced once the course is built and posted. On the Net, no one knows who’s really answering those e-mail questions.

At Deerfield, Ill.-based UNext.com, whose partners include Columbia and the University of Chicago, its professors won’t be teaching the classes. The professors lend their names and insights to UNext’s staff, which then creates the electronic material and posts it on the Web.

The people who actually run the classes are UNext employees -- people the company has hired to act as online mentors, grade homework and answer students’ questions.

Industry sources say professors can get $5,000 to $10,000 merely for lending their names to Web programs. For instructors who actually help develop courses and lecture online, the paycheck can be $100,000 or more a year.