Facebook execs establish their own lobbying PAC

Preparing to join the ranks of publicly traded companies, Facebook is also beefing up its presence in the U.S. capital with a first report of money pouring into its newly created political fundraising arm.

A latecomer to Washington, the social networking site is joining scores of powerful technology companies such as Microsoft and Google that have political action committees (PACs) used to raise funds for donations to political campaigns or causes.

The Facebook PAC, officially registered in December, last year raised just above $170,000, predominantly from Facebook’s own executives and employees, according to its filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Co-founder and newly minted billionaire Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave $5,000, and so did investors Marc Andreessen, James Breyer, and Peter Thiel…

Facebook PAC also received $5,000 from Erskine Bowles, another member of the board of directors who was U.S. President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and helped lead a deficit-reduction panel last year…

In addition to privacy issues, Facebook has also thrown its hat into debates over patent reform, online piracy and cybersecurity, among other topics…

The Menlo Park, California-based company added experienced political staffers to its Washington-based public policy team, including Joel Kaplan, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush. Kaplan gave $5,000 to the PAC and is treasurer.

With a new powerhouse team in place, Facebook’s lobbying expenditures skyrocketed in 2011 to $1.35 million from under $400,000 in 2010, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The company’s lobbying is meager, a barebones beginning next to tech firms Google spending $9.68 million and Microsoft spending $7.34 million on lobbying inside the Beltway in 2011. Still, Zuckerberg has learned from the experience of the two giants. Neither especially ramped up lobbying until they were under full-on attack by the elected blivets in Congress and the White House.

The question waiting to be asked and answered is what will be the Facebook style in Washington DC? Will it follow the sort of middle trade road characteristic of Microsoft, be more aggressive and protective of the Web and the industry that provides a foundation for Zuckerberg’s creativity. Will he move in the direction of old school American capitalists and found activist political organizations? Left or Right or pander to American-style fence sitters?

Brazil aids Cuba’s move into a market economy


Dilma Rousseff and Raul Castro
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Brazil is easing Cuba into the free market economy with a generous package of aid in cash and kind and joint projects that give the Latin American country a pre-eminent position in Havana’s heady mix of communism and experimental capitalism.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appeared to be in the right place at the right time when she flew into Havana in a spirit of revolutionary camaraderie and clinched deals that secured Brazil’s status as the senior partner in a long-term, multifaceted relationship…

Rousseff followed in the footsteps of populist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva…The “excellent” ties secure Brazil an advantageous position in Cuba’s hugely porous economy, hungry for basic consumer goods, investment and modernization. Economic upgrading in all sectors and a phased end to Cuba’s international isolation offer lucrative opportunities for Brazil’s state and private sectors.

Brazil will invest $640 million in a $900 million modernization of the Mariel container port, west of Havana, led by the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

Brazil is also giving Cuba $400 million in credits for food imports and investing $200 million in modernizing Cuban agriculture. Rousseff pledged Cuba a long-term commitment to help its economic regeneration…

Brazilian interest in the modernization of Cuban sugar industry is linked to Brazilian plans to promote its pioneering production of cane-derived ethanol, which has led to most new cars in Brazil being fitted with flex-fuel technology to run on ethanol or gasoline or a mixture of both.

The port modernization program also fits in with Brazil’s plan to forge fruitful partnerships that will benefit its aim of making its exports of both commodities and manufactured goods more competitive in the international markets.

Cubans say they need the Mariel port to be ready for expanded trade with the United States, whenever the U.S. embargo is lifted. The embargo, begun in 1960, is the longest on record.

Bravo!

Now, which will provide long-lasting trade and commercial relationships? Efforts like this from Brazil or the usual capitulation to Gusano voters in Florida by Congressional politicians?

First land plants set the context for a series of ice ages

The first plants to take root on dry land may have cooled the Earth enough to bring on a series of ice ages…As plants spread across the continents, they extracted minerals from the rocks they clung to and drew down levels of atmospheric carbon, causing temperatures to drop markedly, the researchers say.

The scenario explains puzzling glaciations that saw ice sheets advance in the Ordovician period between 488m and 444m years ago. At the time, Earth’s continents were clustered over the south pole and stretched as far north as the equator.

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team led by Timothy Lenton at Exeter University describes experiments to investigate the environmental impact of Earth’s first land plants. They took rocks and covered some with moss to mimic the simple plant life that thrived in the Ordovician, then incubated them for three months…

As the plants grew, they dissolved silicate rocks, such as granite, to release calcium and magnesium ions. These ions combine with atmospheric carbon and wash into oceans where they precipitate as carbonate rocks. This process alone might have caused temperatures to fall by around five degrees Celsius.

In another process, plants extracted phosphorus and iron from rocks, but as the plants died these elements would have found their way to the sea. The rise in nutrients there was likely to have fuelled the growth of plankton, microscopic creatures that sequester carbon as they grow and ultimately carry it to the seabed when they die, where it forms rock.

The scientists assumed that 15% of the Earth’s land mass was covered with early plant life, but even with 5% land coverage, the cooling effect would have been substantial, Lenton said.

Although plants are still cooling the Earth’s climate by reducing the atmospheric carbon levels, they cannot keep up with the speed of today’s human-induced climate change,” Lenton said. “It would take millions of years for plants to remove current carbon emissions from the atmosphere.”

Not that there is much political will for our species to either take responsibility for what we have wrought – or to get serious about countering the process.

It’s easier for politicians and pundits to focus on whining and profits. Two dominant sports of the entertainment society.

Washington State well on the way to passing Gay Marriage Bill


Folks in the state Senate gallery applauding passage of the bill

Washington appeared almost certain to become the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage after the State Senate voted late Wednesday for a measure that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry beginning this summer.

Supporters had considered the Senate to be the more challenging chamber in which to pass the bill, but it was approved easily, by a vote of 28 to 21, after less than 90 minutes of debate. The measure now moves to the House, where it has wide support and could be voted on as soon as next week. Gov. Christine Gregoire has urged the bill’s approval. The governor is a Democrat, and both legislative chambers are controlled by Democrats.

“Regardless of how you vote on this bill, an invitation will be in the mail,” Senator Ed Murray of Seattle, the prime sponsor in the Senate, said in his final remarks before the vote. Mr. Murray, who is gay, has noted many times publicly that he and his longtime partner hope to marry in their home state.

The measure, echoing one passed in New York last June, includes language assuring religious groups that they would not be required to marry same-sex couples or allow them to marry in their facilities. Washington would join New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa as states where same-sex couples can marry. Washington, D.C., also allows same-sex marriage…

The floor debate late Wednesday was civil and relatively succinctA wonder in American politics.

A few Republicans joined Democrats in support of the bill.

In general, the reactionary wing of America’s artificial political division into two parties continues to come down against civil rights and civil liberties – our Constitution and Bill of Rights notwithstanding.

Predictable. I retain theoretical hope for true multiple-party electoral politics in this nation. One of these centuries.

Is this a record? Pensioner eats 64-year-old lard…

A German pensioner who received a tin of American lard 64 years ago in an aid package has only just tasted it, after discovering that it is still edible.

“I just didn’t want to throw it away,” said Hans Feldmeier, 87. I love my fellow pack rats.

Food safety experts in Rostock, his home town on Germany’s Baltic coast, said the pig fat was still safe to eat.

Mr Feldmeier was a student in 1948 when the US was running a huge aid programme to rebuild war-ravaged Germany. He kept the tin of lard for emergencies…

A food expert, Frerk Feldhusen, said the lard was rather gritty and tasteless and hard to dissolve, though quite edible. Mr Feldmeier provided some black bread to go with it.

The red, white and blue tin of Swift’s Bland Lard bore no expiry date.

Eeoough!

A debate my wife and I have all the time. Yes, it’s a guy thing. I mostly come down on the side of eating old stuff.

After all, it works for cheese and most wine.

Afghan soldiers signing ceasefire deals with Taliban who — let’s face it — will still be around when Uncle Sugar leaves!


Afghan military already selling heavy weapons to Taliban

Afghan soldiers are selling their weapons and vehicles to the Taliban, sharing intelligence and even signing covert ceasefire agreements with the insurgent group as they prepare for the withdrawal of Nato forces…

Despite Britain and its western allies having spent billions on training and equipping Afghanistan’s security forces, they are freely co-operating with the Taliban and in some cases, ceding territory without a fight or even joining forces with their opponents…

According to the Nato study, Taliban fighters believe they have overcome the American troop surge, that victory and their return to power is “inevitable” and that they can easily subdue President Hamid Karzai’s forces once they take charge of security in 2014.

It also says that after trying by turns to threaten or cajole Pakistan away from its covert support for the Taliban, the Pakistani government remains “intimately involved” with the insurgent group. Taliban prisoners also claim the country’s ISI intelligence agency is “thoroughly aware of Taliban activities and the whereabouts of all senior Taliban personnel”.

In a further setback yesterday, the Afghan Taliban said that no peace negotiation process had been agreed with the international community, “particularly the Americans”. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that prior to any negotiations, confidence building measures must be completed…Har!

A bazaar in Miranshah, capital of North Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal region, was “increasingly inundated with rifles, pistols and heavy weapons which have been sold by Afghan security forces.”

“The vehicles and weapons were once only acquired on the battlefield. They are now regularly sold or donated by the Afghan security forces,” the report concluded…

Yes, NATO officers, highly-placed Brits, American PR flacks all deny the likelihood of any of these really happening. Of course, all three categories of Blimp have only just progressed from trench warfare to helicopters in the past couple of decades.

Our ancestry keeps getting more complex

The tip of a girl’s 40,000-year-old pinky finger found in a cold Siberian cave, paired with faster and cheaper genetic sequencing technology, is helping scientists draw a surprisingly complex new picture of human origins.

The new view is fast supplanting the traditional idea that modern humans triumphantly marched out of Africa about 50,000 years ago, replacing all other types that had gone before.

Instead, the genetic analysis shows, modern humans encountered and bred with at least two groups of ancient humans in relatively recent times: the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia, dying out roughly 30,000 years ago, and a mysterious group known as the Denisovans, who lived in Asia and most likely vanished around the same time.

Their DNA lives on in us even though they are extinct. “In a sense, we are a hybrid species,” Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist who is the research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said in an interview.

The Denisovans were first described a year ago in a groundbreaking paper in the journal Nature made possible by genetic sequencing of the girl’s pinky bone and of an oddly shaped molar from a young adult. Those findings have unleashed a spate of new analyses.

Scientists are trying to envision the ancient couplings and their consequences: when and where they took place, how they happened, how many produced offspring and what effect the archaic genes have on humans today…

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