January 2010 Archives

January 6, 2010

New “watchdog” website for California government launched

The Pacific Research Institute, and non-profit think tank in Sacramento, has launched a new investigative reporting website at www.CalWatchdog.com.   According to their website, “CalWatchdog is an independent, Sacramento-based journalism venture providing original investigative reports and news stories covering California state government. We’re focused on reporting on the state Capitol, state agencies and on significant government-related stories from across California that are of statewide importance” and they aspire to be “part of a new wave of web-based reporting designed to improve oversight of government”  .

The San Francisco-based institute retained journalist Steven Greenhut Greenhut to lead the nonprofit news site that is intended to be non-partisan.  Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of the new book, “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

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January 11, 2010

California company signs huge deal for solar power plants in China

Pasadena-based eSolar Inc. has signed a deal with a Chinese electric equipment manufacturer to build solar thermal power plants throughout China.  The agreement between eSolar and China Shandong Penglai Electric Power Equipment Manufacturing Co. calls for eSolar to provide the technology and information to build solar farms with a capacity totaling 2,000 megawatts over the next decade.  The first plant will have a 92 megawatts capacity and will be built in 2010 in the Mongolian desert in northern Chinanorthern China at the Yulin Alternative Energy Park.  Plans are for the solar thermal power plants to be co-located with biomass facilities, the companies said in a press release.

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January 12, 2010

California Budget – the five percent solution

This is from Governor Schwarzenegger’s press release about his proposed budget:

To achieve $1.4 billion in General Fund savings, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed 15 percent reduction in state personnel costs achieved by modifying employee compensation and reducing our workforce budget … as follows:
   *   Employees will be required to contribute an additional five percent towards their retirement costs;
    * An across the board five percent reduction in all salaries;
    * A five percent reduction in the cost of the state workforce payroll implemented by executive order S-01-10 requiring all department directors to reduce their payrolls by five percent.

This sounds a little too incremental for me.  Certainly most State employees can take a five percent hit – they have pretty good jobs, but this isn’t getting to the root of the problem.   What about eliminating Civil Service postions all together?   Put government workers under employment contracts instead – even generous ones.  Then they could stop paying pensions as well, something none of the rest of us get. 

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Is Google’s relationship with China turning sour?

Google Inc. will stop censoring its search results in China and may pull out of the country after experiencing an attack on the email accounts of human rights activists, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Google disclosed in a blog post that it had detected a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China.” Further investigation revealed that “a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists,” Google said in the post written by Chief Legal Officer David Drummond.

Google did not specifically accuse the Chinese government. But the company added that it is “no longer willing to continue censoring our results” on its Chinese search engine, as the government requires. Google says the decision could force it to shut down its Chinese site and its offices in the country.

It’s unclear how much of a blow to its business Google would suffer by pulling out of China. The country has the world’s largest population of Internet users but research firm Analysys International said last year that Baidu.com handled 62 percent of Web searches in China compared with 29 percent for Google.

Update, according to the New York TimesGoogle linked its decision to sophisticated cyberattacks on its computer systems that it suspected originated in China :

Those attacks, which Google said took place last week, were directed at some 34 companies or entities, most of them in Silicon Valley, California, according to people with knowledge of Google’s investigation into the matter. The attackers may have succeeded in penetrating elaborate computer security systems and obtaining crucial corporate data and software source codes, though Google said it did not itself suffer losses of that kind.

While the scope of the hacking and the motivations and identities of the hackers remained uncertain, Google’s response amounted to an unambiguous repudiation of its own five-year courtship of the vast China market, which most major multinational companies consider crucial to their growth prospects. It is also likely to enrage the Chinese authorities, who deny that they censor the Internet and are accustomed to having major foreign companies adapt their practices to Chinese norms.

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January 13, 2010

Yahoo sides with Google in China showdown

Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale has issued a statement supporting its cross town rival Google in their dispute with the government of China.  Google apparently believes the Chinese government or its spy agencies were responsible for an attack on its technical infrastructure, which targeted the accounts of human rights activists.  Yahoo issued the following statement:

“We condemn any attempts to infiltrate company networks to obtain user information.  We stand aligned with Google that these kinds of attacks are deeply disturbing and strongly believe that the violation of user privacy is something that we as Internet pioneers must all oppose.”

The issue is sensitive for Yahoo because they provided information from their servers to the Chinese government that resulted in long prison terms for two Chinese journalists.  Yahoo is much more entrenched in China however.  They sold their Internet operations to Alibaba – a Chinese trade portal operator, but retained a 39 percent stake in that company.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Yahoo spokeswoman Nina Blackwell declined on  to say whether its solidarity with Google would cause the company to sell its Alibaba holdings.

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California urban rescue team to deploy to Haiti

California will be sending a 72 member urban rescue team to assist with the humanitarian efforts in Haiti.   According to an AP report, California Task Force 2, organized by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, began getting ready shortly after the magnitude-7.0 quake devastated impoverished Haiti. The team includes firefighters, paramedics, emergency room doctors, search dogs and handlers, heavy equipment specialists and engineers trained in rescues from collapsed structures.

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January 16, 2010

China says Google censorship will not affect trade – but should it?

China has unilaterally declared that their depute with Google over censorship and strong evidence of government sponsored hacking will not affect U.S. Trade relations, but do they get to make that call?  

“Any decision made by Google will not affect Sino-U.S. trade and economic relations, as the two sides have many ways to communicate and negotiate with each other,” Chinese government spokesman Yao Jian told a news briefing in Beijing.

Well of course the two sides have many ways to communicate with each other – that is not the point. If one party to a trade agreement censors and blocks the content of the other party, then of course it should it should be a trade issue.  In the tit for tat world of diplomacy, if they block the content from one of our companies, then shouldn’t we block one of theirs?

California buys a huge amount of Chinese imports, but they don’t by nearly as many of our exports. One of our strongest industries in the movie industry – but only 20 foreign films are even allowed to be shown in that country each year. The rest of the movies we produce here are simply pirated (i.e. stolen) there, Can you imagine if we said to China, “we will only allow the products from 20 of your manufacturers in our country each year”. Now they are blocking, and possibly even attacking, one of California’s other great industries – Internet services.

It is not at all disrespectful to China to expect our government to respond to blocking and censorship with reciprocal actions that affect Chinese companies. That is how a mature trade relationship works. Mr. Yao Jian has it wrong. This is exactly the kind of thing that should affect trade and economic relations – this is a trade issue.

UPDATE: Evidence that the Obama Administration may be looking at these blocking and censorship issues from a more sensible “fair trade” perspective, might be found in a speech Secretary of State Clinton plans to give on the issue on Thursday. From a column by Andrew Ross in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

“The Internet is integral to the international trading system,” said Ed Black, CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, who is scheduled to meet with Clinton on the matter this week. “China cannot limit the free flow of information and still comply with its international trade obligations.” “You can’t lecture the Chinese on human rights,” said another industry executive. “You won’t get anywhere with that. So, it’s best to treat it as a trade issue.”

Should the administration go that route, it will enlarge the can of U.S.-China worms already growing around the latter’s increasingly protectionist economic policies. “Greater control of the Internet is part of a wholesale tightening up of the Chinese economy,” said an executive with a high-tech trade organization that is also due to meet with Clinton. “It’s about protecting domestic industries and pushing indigenous innovation. But they’re doing it in blatantly discriminatory, brazenly unfair ways.”

Filed under China, Hollywood, Internet, Opinion by

January 18, 2010

China’s Alibaba attacks Yahoo for Google Support

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.  The Alibaba group – owners of the Chinese trade portal Alibaba has strongly criticized Yahoo – its largest shareholder, for siding with Google after a cyber attack on that company.  

As reported in the New York Times, a spokesman for Alibaba, said executives at the company were “angry” because Yahoo appeared to follow Google in suggesting the Chinese government was behind the cyberattacks.  They issued a statement saying that Yahoo was “reckless” in supporting Google because they believed there was a lack of evidence that the attacks were supported by the Chinese government. 

Yahoo is one of the companies that was targeted in the attacks but the company declined to confirm that it was a victim. “The people with knowledge of the situation said that Google contacted Yahoo about the attacks before it publicized them. Google executives were dismayed that other companies were unwilling to publicly acknowledge the attacks, and they were particularly frustrated by Yahoo’s silence” the Times reported. 

Yahoo paid Alibaba $1 billion in 2005 and gave Alibaba control of Yahoo China in exchange for a 40 percent stake in the Chinese company. Yahoo’s investment in Alibaba has paid off in a big way for that company. Alibaba.com, a unit of Alibaba, went public in 2007 with a huge stock offering in Hong Kong and is now valued at $12.5 billion.  Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba is a celebrity in China because of his success in forcing California’s Ebay to leave the Chinese market, and for taking over Yahoo’s China operations, as part of their billion dollar investment in his company. 

This was a huge amount of capital from a California company that was used to make Alibaba fantastically successful. Now that company is turning on very the people who helped it become what it is.  Is this a simple case of “sucking up” to the Chinese authorities?  Jack Ma is said to be famous for that, and some people even believe he is now milking the resources out of Yahoo so it eventually fails in that country. 

In any event, a consensus seems to be forming that this is a free trade issue.  If the Chinese government blocks Google or other American Internet firms – or forces them to leave that country, the the American Goverment should take the same action with Chinese Internet firms – and it seems like a good place to start would be Alibaba.

Filed under China, Information Technology, Internet, Opinion by

January 19, 2010

Crowd chants “USA” as LA rescue team saves woman in Haiti

In a rare uplifting moments after the unspeakable tragedy and human suffering in Haiti, this video shows the Los Angeles Urban Rescue team being cheered with chants of “USA” after saving a woman from the rubble of a collapsed building.

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January 24, 2010

Avatar pulled from most theaters in China

The hit movie “Avatar” directed by James Cameron of Fullerton, and distributed by 20th Century Fox, of Los Angeles, is being pulled from most theaters in China, apparently because it is so successful.  As reported in the Los Angeles Times, The movie is no longer being allowed in 2D theaters even though is already the most successful movie of all time in China, having grossed a record $76 million.  The Chinese government only allows 20 foreign movies per year to be shown in China’s theaters. “Avatar,” which opened worldwide in mid-December, was held in Chinese theaters until January because the 2009 quota had already been filled.  The movie is already being widely pirated, with copies available in Beijing’s bootleg DVD stores. 

It seems incredibly strange that the Chinese government should be able to pull one of our most successful products just because it is successful, without any repercussions at all from our government.  Should the U.S. now stop the sale of some manufactured goods from China, as soon as they become successful?

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