April 2007 Archives

April 1, 2007

Southern California may be facing a ‘perfect draught"

“Nature is pulling a triple whammy on Southern California this year. Whether it’s the Sierra, the Southland or the Colorado River Basin, every place that provides water to the region is dry. It’s a rare and troubling pattern, and if it persists it could thrust the region into what researchers have dubbed the perfect Southern California drought: when nature shortchanges every major branch of the far-flung water network that sustains 18 million people. Usually, it’s reasonably wet in at least one of those places. But not this year. The mountain snowpack vital to water imports from Northern California is at the lowest level in nearly two decades. The Los Angeles area has received record low rainfall this winter, contributing to an early wildfire season that included Friday’s blaze in the Hollywood Hills. And the Colorado River system remains in the grip of one of the worst basin droughts in centuries. ‘I have been concerned that we might be putting all the pieces in place to develop a new perfect drought,’ said UCLA geography professor Glen MacDonald, who has researched drought patterns in California and the Colorado River Basin over the last 1,000 years.”

Filed under Environment and Climate by

No cellar is seen for housing slump

“Springtime usually means good times in the housing industry, but this year it’s threatening to become a grim season of reckoning. Signs of a sobering slowdown emerged throughout March, ranging from gloomy forecasts among home builders to a growing number of high-risk borrowers struggling to make payments on exotic mortgages they probably couldn’t afford in the first place. The bleak news threatens to weigh on already drooping home prices, a factor that could undermine potential sales: Prospective sellers may hold off on selling in hopes of a turnaround, while prospective buyers may procrastinate in hopes of getting an even better deal later in the year. The additional dent in home sales could further undermine the overall economy, eroding demand for home furnishings and materials for renovations. Reflecting the worries about the growing threat, economist Steven Cochrane says the risk of a recession beginning later this year is increasing. He estimates there is a 25 percent chance of a recession within six months, up from 20 percent in February. ‘Things seem to be snowballing,” said Cochrane, a senior economist with Moody’s Economy.com. ‘It’s going to be a weak spring’. “

Filed under Real Estate and Housing by

Icann rejects adult XXX domain suffix

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a California-based NGO responsible for the Internet’s naming and numbering system, has rejected the idea of a special “xxx” domain name suffix for adult entertainment websites. As reported in the International Herold Tribune, a “strange bedfellows” arrangement of opponents emerged and the change was opposed by both religious groups and the adult entertainment industry.

A longstanding proposal to create a specialized .xxx suffix for adult entertainment Web sites received a final rejection Friday by the agency governing the Internet address system. The plan, first introduced seven years ago by ICM Registry, was rejected by a vote of nine to five by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, at a meeting in Lisbon. The issue will not be brought for further discussion by Icann, but ICM Registry, the Florida company that was also applying to manage the address, said it would continue to pursue the issue.

“We are extremely disappointed by the board’s action today,” Stuart Lawley, chairman of ICM Registry, said Friday. “It is not supportable for any of the reasons articulated by the board.” Board members who voted against the plan expressed concern that it would compel Icann to get involved in regulating content, among other issues.

To alleviate concerns over promoting adult content, ICM had said that .xxx Web sites would only be issued to adult entertainment providers identifying themselves as complying with a set of business practices that included a ban on child pornography and warnings about content. ICM had argued that creation of the domain would enhance safety for young users by clearly defining .xxx sites as a no-go zone.

Described last week by Paul Twomey, Icann’s chief executive, as “clearly controversial, clearly polarizing,” the issue has been discussed among Internet aficionados and on blogs. Some who objected to the proposal included companies in the adult entertainment industry as well as religious groups. Adult entertainment executives raised fears that use of the domain, although voluntary, could open the way for governments to isolate adult Web sites into a single part of the Internet.

Religious groups expressed concern that creation of a .xxx domain would only serve to encourage creation of more adult content. Others warned the move would create an instant bonanza for ICM Registry, since companies with existing Web sites would be compelled to buy .xxx domain names to prevent someone else from creating a site using their company name.

Supporters of the .xxx proposal on the Icann board argued that the agency’s proper role is to serve as a technical arbiter about the feasibility of new domain names, not to discriminate on the basis of content. The decision to reject .xxx was “weak and unprincipled,” according to one board member, Susan Crawford. “No centralized authority should set itself up as the arbiter of what people may do together online,” Crawford said in a statement to the board Friday, adding that political pressures played an undue role. “This is not a technical stability and security question.“

Filed under Information Technology, Media and Entertainment by

April 2, 2007

Hell’s Angels celebrates 50th birthday

“Even with members old enough to collect retirement pay, a party at Hells Angels headquarters is no party for the police. As the Oakland club plans to mark its 50th birthday this weekend, police were putting extra officers on duty Thursday even as they downplayed the chance of trouble. The Oakland chapter is best known for providing security at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert during which a fan was killed by a Hells Angel as the Rolling Stones performed. Police expect up to 800 bikers to attend the event that kicks off with a concert today. The group has secured permits, and police will patrol. The Hells Angels were formed in Fontana in 1948. The Oakland chapter was created in 1957. By the 1960s, the club had become synonymous with the outlaw biker counterculture. Today the group organizes motorcycle runs all over the world and takes part in charitable events such as Christmas toy drives.”

Filed under California culture by

Republican strategist Dowd has "lost faith" in Bush

In a stunning interview in the New York Times, Matthew Dowd who helped both President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger get reelected, has said he has “lost Faith” with Bush and believes that Senator Kerry was right about Iraq:

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership. He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides. “I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things,” he said. He added, “I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.” In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle to break so publicly with him. He said his decision to step forward had not come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s presidency is so great that he feels a sense of duty to go public given his role in helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power. Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could not be trusted with national security during wartime, said he had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled “Kerry Was Right,” arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Filed under California Politics by

Legislators give themselves trips to France, Taiwan, Japan

“Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, D-Los Angeles, and five other California lawmakers are scheduled to be in France this week to take a look at the TGV (the French high-speed rail system) as the state considers building a 700-mile, high-speed rail system of its own… Also on the trip are Assembly members John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, Joe Coto, D-San Jose, Michael Duvall, R-Yorba Linda, and Bob Huff, R-City of Industry…

While Nuñez and his group are in France this week, five state senators are in Taiwan to consider opening an office to promote trade with California. Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said the trip will include stops in Taipei, the capital, and Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city. He said visiting the cities will give lawmakers ‘an understanding of their ability to foster trade and enhance trade with California.’ In addition to Yee, the delegation includes Sens. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, Ron Calderon, D-Monterey Park, Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, and Denise Ducheny, D-Chula Vista.

Another five legislators are in Japan on a trip sponsored by the California Foundation for the Environment and the Economy. The San Francisco-based group finances annual overseas trips for legislators that focus on a particular issue facing the state. The foundation’s board of directors includes representatives of oil and telecommunication companies, utilities, labor unions and environmentalists. Alex Traverso, a spokesman for Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Sherman Oaks, said Levine went on the trip to look at ‘new innovations in cell phones and broadband.’ Also on the trip are Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and Sens. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, Bob Margett, R-Arcadia, and Jack Scott, D-Altadena…

Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, is the lone legislator on another European trip this week, one organized by the California Climate Action Registry. The nonprofit organization was created by the state to promote greenhouse gas reductions. Also on the trip are several Schwarzenegger administration officials, said James Lee, a spokesman for the California Environmental Protection Agency. Lee said the registry was covering costs. The eight-day trip includes meetings with Belgian, German and British officials to discuss their efforts to combat global warming.”

Filed under California Legislature, Foreign Relations by

April 3, 2007

Racial Diversity program benefits high performing Asians

“Under a system of ‘diversity permits,’ (Beverly Hills) high school began enrolling scores of minority students from Los Angeles each year. For decades, the permit program aimed to bring in a deliberate mix of black, Latino and Asian students from outside the city limits. Today, however, the vast majority of the students enrolled with diversity permits at Beverly Hills High are high-performing Asian students. The dramatic shift stems from California’s stringent anti-affirmative action law, approved by voters in 1996. Concerned with running afoul of the sweeping ban, Beverly Hills school officials have followed what amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the diversity permits. Students who apply are not allowed to identify their race or ethnicity. The program has become as competitive as the Ivy League, with about 8% of the students who applied last year being accepted. Critics say the program has shifted by default from a program aimed at increasing racial and ethnic diversity to one that simply brings smart, well-rounded students into the district.”

Filed under Education and Training by

Brunton Vineyards signs Letter of Intent for wine distribution in China

Brunton Vineyards, Inc., a division of Brunton Vineyards Holdings, Inc. announced that it has received a Letter of Intent from Zhejiang Ouhai International Trade Corporation for the distribution and delivery of a minimum of 1,200 containers per year of the company’s wine brand, Addison Cole. The proposed transaction translates to approximately 1,000,000 cases of wine for the year, with an approximate annual contract value of $80,000,000. The first purchase order is scheduled to be received by mid to late April 2007, once details are finalized pertaining to label design and compliance specific to the Chinese market.

Filed under Agriculture and Food, China, Wine by

UCLA Anderson Forecast sees significant economic slowdown but no recession

“In its first quarterly report of 2007, the UCLA Anderson Forecast remains steadfast in its belief that the national economy does not face recession, though the group’s economists concede that length of the current, below trend growth period leaves them “increasingly nervous.” The Forecast in particular notes that, “ … the credit crunch in the subprime mortgage market will likely trigger a second leg down in the housing market in terms of output and prices.” The Forecast asserts that the slowed economy may well endure longer than previously expected, but that better-than-expected consumption, a “less-negative” trade sector and at least two and possibly three rate cuts will keep Gross Domestic Product (GDP) positive throughout 2007. In California – and in spite of some positive news in the form of revised employment revisions – the UCLA Anderson Forecast looks for a “significant slowing of the California economy in 2007, as the double-whammy from construction and mortgage finance creates drag on the rest of the (state’s) economy.” “

Filed under California Economy by

April 4, 2007

Hollywood fire was a major Internet media event

Although dinky by California standards, the recent fire in the Hollywood hills produced some dramatic images and was a major online media event. According to a report in today’s L.A. Times, when the fire started, “hundreds sprang into action with cellphone cameras, camcorders and digital cameras in hand”. The report said part of the reason was location: A large fire in the heart of the entertainment industry, where “everyone’s a photographer and everyone’s a filmmaker,” said Jeremy Emerman, 19, who took shots of the fire from Mulholland Drive. Many saw the fire- through filmmaker’s eyes- as beautiful. “I was awestruck,” Mecija said. “The smoke was just so huge, it looked like something out of a movie. You just can’t help but take a picture.” The “The confluence of the Internet and digital video technology” has allowed individuals to begin making this type of video news report, and it is in that spirit that we announce that we are starting to collect and organize videos about California on www.caltrade.com and will occasionally be posting some of them here, as in the example above of an opportunistic amateur filmmaker who added some creative elements to his reporting.

Filed under Media and Entertainment by

USDA Files Complaints Against Two California Almond Handlers

“Two California almond handlers, International Almond Exchange, Inc., and Global Nuts, LLC, have been charged with willfully violating the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 and various provisions of the federal marketing order regulating almonds grown in California. USDA filed complaints alleging that International Almond Exchange and Global Nuts failed to pay assessments for crop years 2002 to 2006. The complaints also include counts of failure to dispose of inedible almonds and failure to file reports. USDA is seeking full payment of all assessments due.”

Filed under Agriculture and Food, U.S. Government by

U.S. Wine Exports Surge 30 Percent in 2006, Led by California

“U.S. wine exports, mostly from California, soared 30 percent in value and 4 percent in volume last year, after slipping in 2005, according to a new study of Commerce Department data by the Wine Institute trade group. Exports rose to $876 million and 404.5 million liters last year, with California generating 95 percent of the total. In Europe, where the U.S. makes more than half of its foreign sales, exports surged 48 percent by value. In Canada, they increased 29 percent. ‘This dramatic sales growth in 2006 must be placed in perspective, as it does follow a decrease in 2005,’ says Joseph Rollo, director of the international department at the Wine Institute, which represents more than 1,000 California wineries and related businesses. `Nonetheless, the long-term trend of California wine exports shows steady expansion in all major markets and growth in new, undeveloped markets. The 2006 number represents a 106 percent increase in exports by value in the last decade.’ The growth is particularly encouraging because Europe has long had a protected wine industry, with tariffs that can run 2 1/2 times the U.S. rate. `The export growth is impressive considering the trade barriers that California wineries face in markets worldwide,’ Rollo said in a phone interview, `where they have distribution restrictions and the wineries receive production subsidies from their governments’. “

Filed under Agriculture and Food, Wine by

Corporate "nonprofit" funds another junket for State officials

The Sacramento Bee has written another expose about the “California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy”. This so called “nonprofit”, actually made up of some of the largest Corporations in the State, made the arrangements for this “all expenses paid” trip to Japan for officials in the Schwarzenegger administration and several California State Legislators:

The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit not required by law to disclose its donors, is paying for the trip. The group’s board of directors is populated by the top executives at the biggest energy and telecom companies in the state — among them AT&T, Verizon, PG&E, Chevron, Sempra Energy, Southern California Edison and BHP Billiton — as the lawmakers and regulators tour Japan to discuss telecommunications and energy technology.

Along on the Asia trip — whose participants departed Thursday — are Timothy Simon and Rachelle Chong, two of the governor’s appointees to the Public Utilities Commission, the powerful state board that regulates California’s multibillion-dollar telecommunications and energy industries. Also participating are Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine of Van Nuys, both Democrats, who chair the legislative committees that oversee energy and telecommunications policy in California. Sen. Alex Padilla, a freshman Democrat from Los Angeles and a potential swing vote on the Rules Committee — which will decide the fate of embattled PUC nominee Simon — is on the trip, as well.

“What makes this trip so particularly egregious is that the corporations are focusing on the exact levers of power in hosting this junket for the state’s top utility cops,” said Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer-advocacy group. “If you had to identify the people with the most responsibility over utility issues in the state, they’ve brought the two in the Legislature and 40 percent of the Public Utilities Commission.”

One of the corporate executives traveling this week in Japan is Kenneth McNeely, the president of AT&T California. Last year, McNeely helped secure major legislation allowing phone companies access to the state’s cable TV and Internet market. AT&T spent $23.6 million in lobbying for the bill, which was jointly written by Levine and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, and signed into law by Schwarzenegger… On Friday, the Public Utilities Commission announced that it had approved a video franchise agreement to allow AT&T access to California’s lucrative broadband market. McNeely, who was traveling with PUC members Chong and Simon in Japan when the deal was announced, issued a laudatory statement, which Heller jested was made “over sake shots with the regulators, no doubt.”

The article did not mention that AT&T also gave generously to the Schwarzenegger reelection campaign, and some of this money may have been used for the huge bonuses the Governor recently paid to his senior staff. A smaller campaign contribution of $25,000 was transfered from Schwarzenegger to his Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy just a few weeks after she voted to approve the purchase of AT&T by SBC Communication, leading many to believe that this was a payment made by the giant telecommunication firm in exchange for this vote.

Filed under Business Associations, California Government, California Legislature, California Politics by

April 5, 2007

Cherokee signs licensing agreement with Mexican firm

“Cherokee Inc. has entered a multi-year international licensing agreement for its Cherokee brand with Comercial Mexicana, the company said Wednesday. The deal with the Mexican retailer covers a range of categories including men’s, women’s, children’s clothing, footwear, accessories and more, the company said in a release. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Van Nuys-based Cherokee Inc. is a marketer, licensor and manager of a variety of brands it owns, including Cherokee, Sideout, Carole Little and others, and is a consultant to the brands it represents.”

Filed under Fashion and Apparel, Mexico by

Actuate launches German version

“Actuate Corp., a provider of business intelligence, performance management and reporting applications, said Wednesday its flagship product is now available with German-language support. South San Francisco-based Actuate said German-speaking countries are a key market for performance management in general and software specifically. The company said its German version offers the same functionality as the English version, including performance maps and briefing books.”

Filed under Germany, Information Technology by

Visto mobile email chosen for Qatar

“Visto Corp., a mobile e-mail provider, said Wednesday it was chosen by Qatar telecom provider Qtel to provide e-mail services in that country. Redwood City-based Visto did not disclose financial terms of the deal. Qtel is the sole provider of mobile services in Qatar, and launched two previous customer trials before making the Visto service available throughout the country.”

Filed under Qatar, Telecommunications by

YouTube censored in Thailand

“The military-appointed government of Thailand has blocked access to YouTube and several other Internet sites in a crackdown on material seen as denigrating the country’s monarch, officials said Wednesday. ‘We have blocked YouTube because it contains a video insulting to our king,’ Winai Yoosabai, head of the censorship unit at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, said. The Thai ban on YouTube, the popular video-sharing Web site, came after YouTube’s owner, Google, refused to remove the video clip, the communications minister, Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, said.”

Filed under Media and Entertainment, Thailand by

Microsoft sues to stop gray market sales from Jordan

Microsoft has announced lawsuits in California and five other States against companies it accuses of participating in the gray market software trade. Microsoft said the companies named in the suits were importing low-cost, educational versions of its products from Jordan and other countries and reselling them at full commercial prices. The companies look at how gray market software finds its way into the United States from foreign countries was an international operation. The Jordanian government, among others, assisted with the investigation. “Companies that break Jordan’s intellectual property laws will be prosecuted,” said His Excellency Eng. Basem Rousan, Jordan’s minister of information and communications technology.

Filed under Information Technology, Jordan, Legal and Criminal Issues by

Vietnamese International Film Festival to open in Irvine

The Vietnamese International Film Festival 2007 (ViFF) is set to open reflecting the lives of Vietnamese around the world via the eyes of filmmakers. ViFF 2007 will open with the world premiere of the martial arts drama, The Rebel, directed by Charlie Nguyen on April 12 and close with the feature debut, Owl and the Sparrow, directed by Stephane Gauger. A Spotlight Program on will showcase screenwriter, Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc, whose work is featured in the film Song trong so hai (Living in Fear) directed by Bui Thac Chuyen. Six made-in-Vietnam features, including Chuyen cua Pao (Pao’s story), Song trong so hai (Living in Fear), Hon Truong Ba da hang thit (Souls on swing), Hat mua roi bao lau (Bride of Silence), Ao lua Ha Dong (the White silk dress), and Dong mau anh hung (the Rebel) will be showcased at the festival. Established in October 2003, ViFF aims to support and promote cinema by filmmakers of Vietnamese descent. Screenings will be held mainly at University of California, Irvine (UCI)’s Film & Video Center with selected screening panel discussions at UCLA and in Westminster, California on two consecutive weekends from April 12-15 & 19-22. Opening Night will be held at the Edwards University Cinema 6, Irvine.

Filed under Media and Entertainment, Vietnam by

Bush hits record low in new California poll

Even for Democrat-leaning “blue” California these numbers are shocking. The Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University has just released a survey that shows President Bush has only a 23 percent approval rating and fully 72 percent of California voters disapprove of the job he is doing. While the Iraq War is a big part of the picture, the distrust of the President is much deeper and go to personal characteristics. A full 64% of Californians do not believe the President tells the truth versus only 28% who believe he does. Only 9% of Democrats and 15% of independents think he is telling the American public the truth. Governor Schwarzenegger, by contrast, remains relatively popular with approval ratings of 62% of California voters, slightly down from the last survey in January. The poll also found that Californians say the most important issue facing the state today is immigration (19%), followed by jobs and the economy (13%), and education (12%). Fewer mentioned health care (9%), gasoline prices (7%),or other issues. In addition, Californians have grown more pessimistic about the state’s economy for the coming year. Half of all adults (51%) now think bad economic times are to come. In January, only 39 percent of all adults expected bad economic times.

Filed under California Economy, California Politics by

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