April 7, 2010

California Chamber of Commerce funding Republican Attack Ads

The California Chamber of Commerce is apparently continuing its transition from a business association to a political lobbying organization for the Republican party. They are now funding vicious televised attack ads against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, implying that he is somehow responsible now that “California’s lost one million jobs” and the fact that “we’re 200 billion dollars in debt”

The Chamber broke a tradition of non-partisanship dating back more than 100 years when it endorsed Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall election. For this, they were rewarded handsomely by the Schwarzenegger administration and were given unprecedented access and influence over our State government, to the detriment of almost everyone else – especially small business. The “job killer” label they put on any legislation they didn’t like, for example, for many years virtually guaranteed a Schwarzenegger veto.

According to several news reports, complaints have now been filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission that say the Chamber didn’t even fund this ad through its own political action committee- since that would have been subject to disclosure regulations, and instead paid for it through their membership dues, to the tune of more than one million dollars! They also noted that Republican candidate Meg Whitman’s campaign manager, former Gov. Pete Wilson, is on the chamber’s board.

The man responsible for turning the California Chamber of Commerce into this overtly partisan political organization is apparently their President and CEO: Allan Zaremberg, He was the Master of Ceremonies at the Republican Primary Gubernatorial Debate in Orange County last month, touting his take on “the importance of a business-friendly governor to California”.

He is also the head of the “California State Protocol Foundation” – a shadowy “non profit organization” has paid for millions of dollars’ worth of Schwarzenegger’s overseas travel and other bills racked up by his office, including the use of private jets. This group claims these payments allow the Governor to meet with foreign dignitaries, “thereby supporting business opportunities between California and their countries” but what they have really done is turn what should have been public interest trade missions into luxury junkets with blatant cronyism. More than anything, this organization has corrupted and perverted California’s international trade and economic development programs, and it is almost unbelievable that they have gotten away with it.

The ad now being run by the California Chamber is stunning in its dishonesty. For example, they attack Brown for having been against Proposition 13, the property tax initiative, not mentioning that they were also opposed to it at the time. The theme of the ad is “enough is enough” and that may very well be the way many in California feel about the California Chamber of Commerce.

Let’s hope the next Governor- who ever he or she is, from whatever party, will stop this bullying and political manipulation by the California Chamber of Commerce. The rest of us – especially small business, deserve a seat at the table on California business issues for a change. It seems to me that members of the California Chamber of Commerce should not only resign from this organization, they should also demand a full refund of their membership fees for as many years as they have been members. Regardless of their political party, I’m sure they didn’t sign on for this garbage.

Filed under Business Associations, California Politics, Opinion by

Will the Chinese again build our railroads?

That is the gist of an article in today’s New York Times – that nearly 150 years after American railroad companies imported thousands of Chinese laborers to build rail lines across the West, China may once again to play a role in American rail construction. This time, however, they will have a much different role: supplying the technology and engineers to build high-speed rail lines.

The Chinese government has signed cooperation agreements with the state of California and General Electric to help build such lines. The agreements, both of which are preliminary, show China’s desire to become a big exporter and licenser of bullet trains traveling 350 kilometers, or about 215 miles, an hour, an environmentally friendly technology in which China has raced past the United States in the past few years.

“We are the most advanced in many fields, and we are willing to share with the United States,” said Zheng Jian, the chief planner and director of high-speed rail at the Chinese Railroad Ministry.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has closely followed progress in the discussions and hopes to return to China this year for talks with rail ministry officials, said David Crane, the governor’s special adviser for jobs and economic growth and a board member for the California High Speed Rail Authority. China is offering not just to build a railroad in California but to help finance its construction, and Chinese officials have already been shuttling from Beijing to Sacramento to make presentations, Mr. Crane said by telephone.

China is not the only country interested in selling high-speed rail equipment to the United States. Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and Italy have also approached the state of California.

The state’s high-speed rail authority has made no decisions on whose technology to choose. But Mr. Crane said that there were no apparent weaknesses in the Chinese offer and that Mr. Schwarzenegger particularly wanted to visit China this year for high-speed rail discussions.

Filed under China, Transportation by

April 5, 2010

California’s Exports moving up

Could exports lead California out of the recession?  There is at least a glimmer of hope in a an analysis of federal trade data by the University of California Center Sacramento.  According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, The $10.3 billion in goods shipped abroad in January represented a 18.5% increase over the $8.7 billion recorded during the same month last year. The products shipped by land, sea and air included high-end, top-value items such as civilian aircraft engines and parts. They also included low-value bulk, such as scrap metal and paper that will become the raw materials for new goods manufactured in Asia.  “We are now just getting back to the level of exporting we were at in early 2007, before the global financial and economic crisis sent international trade spiraling down,” said Jock O’Connell, the UC center’s international trade and economics advisor. 

Filed under California Economy by

February 9, 2010

Paypal suspends payment to India without explanation

PayPal, the online payment service provider that is a owned by eBay of San Jose, has shocked Indian nationals who rely on the service by suspending payment transactions to and from India for more than a week. Almost nothing was given in explanation for this abrupt action except a vague blog post on their website by Anuj Nayar, a PayPal spokesman:

Personal payments to and from India and transfers to local banks in India have been suspended while we work with our business partners and other stakeholders to address questions they have about the service

PayPal executives have been unavailable for comment on specific reasons why the service was discontinued. There is speculation that this may have something to do with new Indian government rules aimed at preventing money laundering. Last November, the Indian government introduced rules requiring financial institutions and other intermediaries to verify the identity of clients carrying out international money transfers.

Paypal has not just been blocking all their money transfer but has also not letting the Indian account holders withdraw money they already have in their accounts. For the past week, merchants have been unable to withdraw funds in Rupees to local Indian banks. shocking many Indians who have relyed on the service. The blocking started on January 28th and Paypal will only say that it is working to resolve the current situations in “the shortest span of time.”

Filed under Banking and Financial Services, India by

February 3, 2010

California Wine Shipment Drop for first time in 16 years

California shipments of wine have dropped in 2009 for the first time since 1993. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, sales figures show that consumption is up 2.1 percent nationally, but consumers are turning to cheaper imports from Chile, Argentina and Australia as global production exceeds demand.  ”

The numbers announced last week by Woodside wine research firm Gomberg, Fredrikson &amp Associates analyst Jon Fredrikson at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. “As we basically had a financial heart attack, people just reined in their spending and were very cautious,” Fredrikson said. “They moved dramatically down to lower price points, below $5 and $7. Small wineries in the North Coast that sell bottles from $25 to $100 were basically shut out. Inventories backed up, and that just made it an ugly year.”

The biggest drop in wine sales is for bottles that retail for more than $20. Sales were off between 20 and 30 percent in 2009, Steve Rannekleiv, an analyst for Rabobank told the Chronicle.  During the same time, sales for wines that cost less than $6 a bottle rose 5 percent.

As consumers have tightened their purse strings, bulk wine imports from countries with lower production and land costs have climbed. Between 2007 and 2009, imports more than doubled to 13 million cases to capture 32 percent of the U.S. market. “Argentina is the sleeping giant,” Rannekleiv said. Argentina has 510,000 acres planted in grapes, compared with 480,000 in California, which produces 90 percent of the wine made in the United States.

Filed under Argentina, Wine by

Sony Pictures to lay off 450

Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., based in Culver City, will be laying off about 450 people and eliminating 100 open positions to cope with declining DVD sales. Most of the cuts at the studio will occur by the first week of March and will be in the home entertainment and information-technology units in the United States.

The company, a subsidiary of Japan’s Sony Corp. also cut back last March, when it laid off nearly 250 people and eliminated nearly 100 open positions. Company staff was informed of the latest cuts in a memo Monday and through videos by the studio co-chairs on an employee Web site. “Our industry is affected by two things: It’s affected by the economy, of course, and it’s affected by technology,” co-chair Amy Pascal says in the video. “Over the last two years, it’s changed people’s DVD buying habits, which has had a huge effect on our company and the industry at large.”

The home video market has been declining as people have not been buying videos as often, and instead turn to rentals, which are far less profitable for the industry.

Filed under California Economy, Entertainment Industry, Japan by

February 2, 2010

Google and Apple at War?

Two of California’s biggest technology giants are increasingly at odds and it looks more and more like they are turning into fierce competitors.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt was on the board of Apple for three years and at one time it was said that they had a pact not to poach each other’s employees. They were always thought to be united in fighting a bigger enemy – Microsoft.

In 2007, however, Google released Android, a mobile phone operating system; while the iPhone runs on a propitiatory operating system developed by Apple. At first, this was was seen as primarily an attack on Microsoft and its Windows OS. Still, the handwriting was on the wall, and Schmidt resigned from the board of Apple a month later.

Then, in the July 2009 Google announced the Google’s Chrome OS, a web-based operating system meant for netbooks, and has more recently even announced its own “app store” that would directly compete with the Apple app store. With the launch last week of the iPad – essentially a high end netbook – it seems Apple now considers the Chrome OS a direct threat.

Now it has really come to a head. Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs reportedly verbally attacked Google Inc. at an employee meeting after rolling out the new iPad tablet computer last week. Wired reported that Google’s entry into the phone business with its Nexus One drew the ire of Apple CEO. They quoted attendees of the meeting in which Jobs reportedly let loose a tirade where he called Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto “bullshit” “We did not enter the search business, they entered the phone business,” it reported Jobs told his employees. “Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them.”

Filed under Information Technology, Internet, Telecommunications by

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?

Filed under China, Entertainment Industry, 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.

Filed under Foreign Relations 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 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 13, 2010

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.

Filed under California Government by

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.

Filed under China by

January 12, 2010

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.

Filed under China, Information Technology, Internet by

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. 

Filed under California Government, Opinion by

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.

Filed under China, Energy Industry by

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.”

Filed under z9-Uncategorized by

December 9, 2009

UCLA Anderson Forecast: Double digit unemployment to continue

The UCLA Anderson Forecast for the third quarter of 2009 has just been released, and says that while this huge recession may have ended, unemployment will stay in double digits and the “negative impact of the downturn will last well into the next decade”. Unemployment going to get worse and is expected to rise to 12.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. Though the economy will be growing in 2011, it will not be generating enough jobs to drive the unemployment rate below double digits until 2012. Economist Jerry Nickelsburg called the unemployment situation “ugly” and will remain so for some time to come. “More rapid growth than can be expected over the next twelve months would be required to bring the unemployment rate down,” he said.

There is one possible silver lining in all these dark clouds, however – exports may be improving. According to Nickelsburg, “In trade and manufacturing, there is new evidence that demand for California-produced goods is increasing. He believes that the keys to the California recovery are exports of manufactured and agricultural goods, a recovery in U.S., increased public works construction and increased investment in business equipment and software.

Filed under California Economy by

October 13, 2009

California sours on Schwarzenegger

With a long history of bad moves and missed opportunities, California has soured on Governor Schwarzenegger. In spite of his “nice guy” image, a field poll just released shows that only 27 percent of residents approve of Schwarzenegger’s job performance while 65 percent disapprove. This is That’s the lowest approval rating for any California governor in 50 years – except for Gray Davis who registered a 22 percent approval rating in 2003 just before voters recalled him. Voters are even more disgusted with the State Legislature with only a 13 percent approval rating – the lowest in 25 years. “It’s brutal,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said to the San Francisco Chronicle. ” ‘How low can we go?’ is an open question. Voters don’t think we’ve bottomed out yet.”

Filed under California Legislature, California Politics, Governor Schwarzenegger by

October 6, 2009

Apple leaves U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Apple Inc. has quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because the group has been too critical of proposed steps to cut pollution. This seems like a good move. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents many of the really huge Corporations in the U.S., but has never shown any real interest in small business concerns, or in the rest of our society for that matter. As reported in San Francisco Business Times:

The Cupertino computer and popular electronics business is just one of several businesses, including Nike Inc. and PG&E Corp., that have criticized the chamber’s stance. Nike resigned from the chamber’s board of directors but stayed as a member of the group. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized proposed “cap-and-trade” legislation passed by the House of Representatives and due to come before the Senate. Apple’s vice president of worldwide government affairs, Catherine Novelli, sent a letter to Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the chamber, in which she said, “We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue.”

Filed under Business Associations, Energy Industry, Environment and Climate, Opinion by

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