August 2007 Archives

August 1, 2007

Spielberg may pressure China on Sudan

According to the International Herold Tribune “Managing Globalization” blog of Daniel Altman:

It takes quite a big profile to get the attention of the Chinese government. Steven Spielberg is betting that his is big enough, according to a report over the weekend from the BBC. Spielberg may bow out as cinematic mastermind of Beijing’s 2008 Olympics unless China compels Sudan, with which it has substantial economic ties, to accept peacekeepers from the United Nations. Does he have a shot?

Well, Spielberg’s economic might by itself isn’t so huge. Yes, he’s one of the world’s highest earning entertainers, with an income equivalent to the GDP of quite a few small island nations. His pull in Hollywood might count for more. But the fact that his actions make headlines is the most important one.

Still, I can’t see China changing a longstanding policy at the behest of a single movie man. Spielberg may just be looking for a principled way out of what has become an uncomfortable situation – in other words, it could be a business decision. If more influential people join him, however, the government may have to think again; the games are supposed to be China’s global coming-out party. So, who else is willing to give up the money and spectacle of Beijing?

Filed under China, Media and Entertainment, Sudan by

Technology Partners Announces $300 Million Venture Fund to Invest in Clean Technology

Technology Partners, a Palo Alto, California-based venture capital firm has announced the formation of a new fund capitalized at $300 million and directed toward Cleantech and Life Science companies. Technology Partners’ Cleantech investments primarily focus on energy technology, water technology and advanced materials. Life Science investments focus on opportunities in neuroscience and lifestyle therapies—in areas ranging from aesthetics to obesity to women’s health. Teh company believe it is uniquely positioned to take advantage of convergence opportunities that require experience in both Cleantech and Life Science, such as the next generation of biofuels and biomaterials. Technology Partners’ team includes General Partners Ira Ehrenpreis, Roger Quy, Jim Glasheen and Sheila Mutter; and Ted Ardell as a Venture Partner. “Our Cleantech practice focuses on solving some of the most important problems of the 21st century,” said Ehrenpreis. “Cleantech remains one of the most revolutionary and transformative areas within the venture asset class as we begin to see innovative technologies tackle the world’s critical energy and water problems.”

Filed under Environment and Climate, Venture Capital by

August 9, 2007

Virgin America Takes Off

Virgin America, headquartered in Burlingame California, has started operations today with daily flights to New York and Los Angeles. As reported in Aviation and Aerospace:

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group that owns 25 per cent of Virgin America and licenses the Virgin brand, will jet into town. Virgin America Chief Executive Officer Fred Reid, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and possibly Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger will be in attendance. Newsom and Schwarzenegger lobbied Branson to have Virgin America set up its headquarters in the Bay Area. The state also put up nearly $13 million in job-training funds as inducements for the carrier to open its corporate headquarters in Frisco.

Virgin America first set up office operations in 2004, promising to create excitement, offer jobs and create an economic ripple in the Bay Area. It took three years, but funding has fallen into place, and the Transportation Department has overcome its fright of foreign ownership and given a green signal to Virgin America’s flight plans. The airline has hired about 500 of the estimated 3,000 to 5,000 employees it expects to eventually have on its rolls. About 100 are pilots and another 100 are flight attendants. Most staffers will be based in the Bay Area.

Not all of Virgin America’s employees are in the Bay Area. The carrier uses reservations agents who work from their homes around the US. Virgin America also outsources many of its IT needs to CSS Corp, a San Jose company that further farms out the work to its outfit in Chennai, India. Justifying these practices, CSS chief marketing officer Ajmal Noorani says: “Virgin America is offering a very high-quality service at a cut-throat price, and it needs to keep its IT lean and mean.

A 10-year-old company, CSS employs just 45 people in San Jose, and 5,000 worldwide in its offices in New York, Washington, Singapore and India. It is also setting up operations in Poland and Ireland. In 2004, Virgin America received nearly $13 million in job development funding from the Employment Training Panel, associated with the California Employment Development Department, to create Bay Area jobs. Officials expect the company will use the money to retrain some of the thousands of Bay Area aviation industry workers laid off in the post-9 / 11 US airline meltdown.

Filed under Aerospace and Aviation, United Kingdom by

State Agency sweeps Orange County Construction sites

A new state agency called the “Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition” (EEEC) has targeted construction companies in Orange County it says are operating illegally. According to CompNewsNetwork, EEEC is a multi-agency task force “designed to root out California’s underground economy”. In last week’s enforcement sweep of construction sites, the EEEC targeted businesses that avoid labor, tax and licensing laws, safety and health regulations and carry no workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.

Launched in July 05 with the full support of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the EEEC was formed with a dual mission: To enforce California labor laws; and to educate business owners and workers on those laws and regulations. On the enforcement side, the EEEC aims to root out businesses participating in the underground economy, which cost the state and legitimate businesses millions each year, in many cases passing the cost on to the consumer. In addition, EEEC helps educate business owners on California’s employment laws and their responsibilities, and educates employees on their rights as workers.

EEEC is a collaboration of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s Department of Industrial Relations (Division of Occupational Safety and Health; Division of Labor Standards Enforcement) and the Employment Development Department. The U.S. Department of Labor participates in the EEEC, as well as the Contractors State License Board when targeting the construction industry.

The EEEC conducts enforcement sweeps in various industries, including garment, agriculture, construction, horse race track, car wash, janitorial and restaurant, which have been identified as having a high degree of workplace violations and lack of regulatory compliance. EEEC also holds workshops throughout the state to educate employers and workers on labor and wage issues.

Filed under California Government, Legal and Criminal Issues by

Marijuana Dealers Offer Schwarzenegger One Billion Dollars

A coalition of California marijuana growers and dealers has offered Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger one billion dollars to solve the current state budget crisis, according to a press release issued by the group- which calls itself “Let Us Pay Taxes”. The offer comes at a time when the California legislature is deadlocked on a new budget and California has stopped issuing checks for vitally needed social services. Legislators are currently arguing over which programs will be cut in order to balance the budget.

“It is ridiculous that California can’t pay its bills,” said spokesman Clifford Schaffer. “It is a tragedy that they will cut badly needed services and programs such as medical care for the elderly and prison drug treatment when the money to fund all these programs and more is there and available. Everyone who is currently waiting for a check from the state should be enraged at this foolishness.”

Regulation and taxation of marijuana could produce six billion dollars in additional tax revenue, according to economic studies linked from their web site In addition, it could save up to ten billion dollars in enforcement costs. “That is a conservative estimate,” said Schaffer. “By other estimates, the revenues could be five times that. The economists are with us all the way on this one. Marijuana prohibition is an economic disaster.”

“Let’s face reality,” Schaffer says. “Marijuana legalization is inevitable. The situation is already beyond control in California. The state and local authorities have offered safe harbor for medical marijuana use and the Federal Government simply doesn’t have the resources for effective control.” More importantly, says Schaffer, the operators of the medical marijuana clubs are no longer afraid of the Federal Government. “If you talk to them, you will find that they know they are going to win this battle.

Filed under California Politics, Legal and Criminal Issues by

Western Growers hires former Trade Negotiator as new Lobbyist

Trade negotiator Cathleen Enright has been hired to head Western Growers’ office in Washington, DC. , according to a press release issued by the association. Enright has served as deputy assistant U.S. trade representative, plus held positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. State Department.

“Cathleen stood out for her combination of academic training in science, intellectual firepower, her energy and determination, and her substantial record of achievement in the difficult world of foreign trade negotiations,” said Western Growers president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif.

As deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative, Enright negotiated bilateral and multi-lateral agreements with U.S. trading partners that restored market access, or opened access for the first time, to U.S. agricultural commodities. Among these included agreements with South Korea for California citrus, India for California almonds, and Canada for northwest U.S. potatoes. Enright served from 2000 to 2006 as assistant deputy administrator with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She negotiated the resolution of 30 plus phytosanitary trade barriers affecting U.S. agricultural commodities. From 1995 to 2000, Enright served as a policy analyst with the U.S. State Department, where she coordinated interagency and international coalition efforts for negotiation of an international treaty in trade in products of biotechnology.

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

Flying-car developer wins DoD Contract

Moller International Inc. has been selected as a primary vendor for the Department of Defense development services, the Davis company has announced. The 12-18 month contract will not have an impact on the flying-car developer’s bottom line, Moller said. The contract will take advantage of Moller’s experience with ducted fans, manned and unmanned vertical take off and landing systems designs and high power-to-weight rotary engines.

Filed under Aerospace and Aviation, Defense and Military by

Disney buys Club Penguin for $700 million

Club Penguin, a virtual world for kids, has been bought by the Walt Disney Company. The deal is valued at $700 million: $350 million in cash now, and another $350 million if performance targets are met through 2009, according to a report in Venture Beat. The company, based in British Columbia, has more than twelve million total users — mostly kids 6-14 in North America — and including more than 700,000 paying subscribers. It says it is completely funded through subscriptions. Founded in March 2005, Club Penguin features avatars of animated penguins that live in an antarctic virtual world. Users can play games together, chat, and furnish virtual homes with virtual accessories. Subscribers choose to pay between USD$5.95 per month and USD$57.95 per year to “[d]ress up your penguin, decorate your igloo, be the first to discover new areas and lots more.” The purchase shows that Disney is hungry to get into online gaming, a market that is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. One analyst expects US spending to hit $725 million in 2008, up from $375 in 2006.

Filed under Canada, Media and Entertainment, Mergers and Acquisitions by

Congressman Lantos calls Yahoo “despicable” for role in Shi Tao case

Congressional investigators plan to look into whether Yahoo officials misrepresented the Internet company’s role in the arrest of a Chinese journalist sentenced to a decade in jail, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos ordered the investigation after a human rights group released a document that it said raised questions about what Yahoo knew when it shared information with authorities about Shi Tao. Beijing officials had sought Shi for sending an e-mail about Chinese media restrictions.

“For a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for,” said Lantos, D-Calif. “We expect to learn the truth and to hold the company to account.”

Yahoo general counsel Michael Callahan told lawmakers at a hearing last year that his company had no information about the nature of the investigation when it provided details about Shi to Chinese officials, Lantos said. But the Dui Hua Foundation has released a document that it says shows the Beijing State Security Bureau had written Yahoo saying it wanted e-mail content about Shi for an investigation into suspected “illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities.” Lantos said that “covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense.”

Filed under China, Foreign Relations, U.S. Congress by

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