Longwood Gardens. Photos by joanneleon. March, 2012
(Orchid Extravaganza 2013 started this weekend so we'll have a lot of orchid photos in the near future!)
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News and Opinion
Lobbying forces rule inaugural
Obama's inauguration, brought to you in part by corporate America.
“We've always relied on each other, not Washington lobbyists or corporate interests, to build our campaign,” he wrote to supporters after launching his re-election campaign.
While Obama has banned donations to his second inaugural celebration from lobbyists, no such prohibition exists on donations from the corporations that employ them.
Donate they have: Obama’s inaugural festivities Monday are bankrolled by several of the nation’s most powerful corporate lobbying forces, which have collectively spent at least $158.6 million on lobbying since the president first took office, a Center for Public Integrity review of congressional disclosures indicates.
Bank of America, unions among newly named inauguration sponsors
Corporate backers spent $283 million on lobbying
Add Bank of America, Coca-Cola, FedEx and a collection of labor unions to the growing list of powerful lobbying forces underwriting the second inauguration of President Barack Obama — long a vocal critic of the influence industry and corporate political power.
The new inaugural bankrollers, the names of which the Presidential Inaugural Committee released this weekend, have together spent $124.3 million lobbying the federal government since Obama took office, a Center for Public Integrity review of federal disclosures shows.
Obama has banned individual lobbyists from donating to his inaugural celebration, but he’s instituted no such prohibition for the corporations or labor unions that together employ several hundred lobbyists to influence government policy and legislation.
OBAMA'S INAUGURATION DAY IS A DAY FOR MLK JR., TOO
Obama recognizes his role in U.S., and even world, history and how he has benefited from the work of King and other civil rights advocates. During his presidency, he has paid regular tribute to King, who was assassinated in April 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., when Obama was just 6 years old. American's first black president will deliver his second inaugural address looking out across the National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech nearly 50 years ago.
One of eight floats scheduled to participate in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House will honor King, featuring his image and a representation of his quote "out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a veteran of the civil rights movement who knew King and knows Obama, said the symbolism is overwhelming.
"It is almost too much to believe that we would commemorate this year, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington," Lewis said. "I don't know what you'd call it, something about time and history and fate all coming together."
Inequality Is Holding Back The Recovery
The re-election of President Obama was like a Rorschach test, subject to many interpretations. In this election, each side debated issues that deeply worry me: the long malaise into which the economy seems to be settling, and the growing divide between the 1 percent and the rest — an inequality not only of outcomes but also of opportunity. To me, these problems are two sides of the same coin: with inequality at its highest level since before the Depression, a robust recovery will be difficult in the short term, and the American dream — a good life in exchange for hard work — is slowly dying.
Our society is squandering its most valuable resource: our young. The dream of a better life that attracted immigrants to our shores is being crushed by an ever-widening chasm of income and wealth. Tocqueville, who in the 1830s found the egalitarian impulse to be the essence of the American character, is rolling in his grave.
Memorial service honors Swartz as activist, individuallink to the DemocracyNow livestream channel. Below the main video there are video segments from the ceremony.
At a memorial gathering for Aaron Swartz in New York City, the tech activist's death prompts tender recollections and fierce resolve.
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the main threads running through today's memorial service in New York City for tech activist Aaron Swartz was a call to action.
That call arose again and again from varied speakers, and was sounded as one of the final notes of the observance when master of ceremonies Ben Wikler, a political campaigner and friend of Swartz's, announced that the service had come to an end but added, "I hope it's clear this is just the beginning of everything we have to do."
Prior to Wikler's closing remarks, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman -- founder of SumOfUs.org, an organization devoted to corporate accountability, and Swartz's partner at the time of his suicide, spelled out what some of that "everything" should be.
A fitting tribute to Swartz, she said, would be for "all of us to go out today and fight to make the world a better place." Specifically, Stinebrickner-Kauffman said, the U.S. Attorney's office in Massachusetts -- which at the time of Swartz's death was prosecuting him for his alleged theft of millions of documents from the Jstor database of academic articles -- must be "held accountable" for what critics have said was its persecution of Swartz.
Roy Singham, chair of IT consultancy Thoughtworks and a major proponent of open-source software, spoke of Swartz's fear that the "wonderful world of technology" would be "usurped" and end up not being a tool of democracy. He contrasted Swartz with the heads of well-known and moneymaking tech companies, whom he called the "self-aggrandizing ego maniacs" who use technology for the benefit "of the 1 percent."
Carmen Ortiz Strikes Out
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is fighting to hold on to her job, and to avoid an embarrassing grilling in Congress and possible professional disciplinary proceedings. Her prospects look grim. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight is pledging a vigorous and critical inquiry into her management of the dubious criminal prosecution of Aaron Swartz, one of the greatest computer prodigies of his generation, who committed suicide a week ago, apparently convinced that out-of-control prosecutors had destroyed his life. While Issa’s prior attempts to take aim at the DOJ have fizzled, this one is garnering significant bipartisan support: Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.) is introducing “Aaron’s Law,” expressly overturning the interpretations upon which Ortiz proceeded against Swartz, while Jared Polis (D., Colo.) blasted the prosecutor’s case as “ridiculous and trumped-up.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who would have a say in the appointment of Ortiz’s successor, was unstinting in her praise for Swartz as a person who “wouldn’t hurt a fly” and whose acts demonstrated a “powerful commitment” to the betterment of society. Nancy Gertner, a recently retired federal judge who is intimately familiar with both prosecutors, lambasted them in a broadcast interview, parsing and ridiculing the claims they had made against Swartz and suggesting that the case should have been dismissed. At funeral services in Highland Park, Illinois, on Tuesday, Swartz’s father charged that his son had been “killed by the government.” While some might ascribe this to the anguish of a bereaved father, scholars and investigators poring over the record of the Swartz prosecution are increasingly shocked at the scope and outrageousness of the prosecutorial misconduct that he faced.
Kim DotCom's 'Mega' goes live
The flamboyant entrepreneur's follow-up to MegaUpload, which was shuttered by U.S. authorities over piracy concerns, is now open to the public.
A year after file-storage site MegaUpload was brought down by U.S. law enforcement officials targeting piracy, flamboyant founder Kim DotCom has cut the ribbon on his new site, Mega.
"As of this minute one year ago #Megaupload was destroyed by the US Government. Welcome to http://Mega.co.nz," DotCom tweeted today.
On top of the free storage, Mega -- which offers encryption and is being touted as "an awesome cloud storage service that will help protect your privacy" -- offers three pricing plans with added storage space and bandwidth.
The arrival of mega.co.nz as a cloud-based storage locker may have U.S. prosecutors in a tizzy, but MegaUpload's defense team says DotCom is "entitled to innovate and work in technology like any other innocent New Zealander" until he's found to be otherwise.
One of DotCom's lawyers, Ira Rothken, told Ars Technica during a recent interview with him and DotCom that anyone who tries to take down Mega will have no legal ground to stand on.
"You have companies like Dropbox and Google with Drive with materially similar technologies," Rothken said. "and they are in business and they're thriving -- and Mega adds encryption."
Face to face with Kim Dotcom as he launches Mega, talks about Megakey and the future of free contentI heard a rumor that Larry Summers would be replacing Bernanke as Fed Chairman.
Megakey is the idea that perhaps advertisers have got it all wrong. Instead of paying content producers to have advertising on their websites, they want to pay the users for their eyeballs. Previously — during Megaupload’s reign and just before the raid — Megakey was in a closed trial with around 2 million participants that received free premium services on Megaupload in return for them replacing Google’s advertising with their own.
This raises a question, though — How long does it take before this starts hurting Yahoo or Google and they decide to come after Megakey? Rothken chimed in again at this point and pointed out that “consumers have the right to control their viewing experience online. If they choose to go to our website and download Megakey, they are within their rights to do so.” Rothken said that “we don’t force them to install it, they choose to, which means there’s no legal issue. It’s just like using Adblock.”
Megakey will only replace advertising on major sites, and only on piracy-related searches. The biggest concern at the round table seemed to be that such a service could actually take money away from publishers, but Dotcom says that the ads will only ever be replaced on actual web searches, not on third-party websites.
Dotcom says this is a space to watch closely in the near future, and he thinks that it will be “a war — a fight for the eyeballs [of internet users].” He thinks that the advertising war will shift from the web to actual desktops very soon. This is where Megamovie (or whatever it will be called) comes in. In return for users’ eyeballs the company will give some sort of gift currency that allows users of the product to watch movies and other premium content online for free.
Days Before Housing Bust, Fed Doubted Need to Act
Officials decided not to cut interest rates. The Fed did not even mention housing in a statement announcing its decision. The economy was growing, and a transcript of the meeting that the Fed published on Friday shows officials were deeply skeptical that problems rooted in housing foreclosures could cause a broader crisis.
“My own bet is the financial market upset is not going to change fundamentally what’s going on in the real economy,” William Poole, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, told his colleagues at the meeting.
That was on a Tuesday. By Thursday, the European Central Bank was offering emergency loans to continental banks, the Fed was following suit, and an alarmed Mr. Poole had persuaded the board of the St. Louis Fed to support a reduction in the interest rate on such loans. The somnolent Fed was lurching into action.
“The market is not operating in a normal way,” the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, told colleagues on a hastily convened conference call the next morning. Mr. Bernanke, a former college professor and a student of financial crises, was typically understated as he explained that the Fed was pumping money into the financial system because private investors were fleeing. “It’s a question of market functioning, not a question of bailing anybody out,” he said. “That’s really where we are right now.”
More than five years later, the Fed continues to prop up the financial system, and the transcripts of the 2007 meetings, released after a standard five-year delay, provide fresh insight into the decisions made at the outset of its great intervention.
Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest
15 Minutes @barackobama— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) January 19, 2013
Edge Of Glory - Glee
Remember when progressive debate was about our values and not about a "progressive" candidate? Remember when progressive websites championed progressive values and didn't tell progressives to shut up about values so that "progressive" candidates can get elected?
Come to where the debate is not constrained by oaths of fealty to persons or parties.
Come to where the pie is served in a variety of flavors.
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum." ~ Noam Chomsky