Archive for the ‘China’ Category

“For A Greener Planet?”

January 4, 2011 Leave a comment

New Year’s day had its share of commercials pushing the “eco” this and “green” that. In Japan, it seems the car companies are ready to roll out electric/hybrid cars. Zero emissions here we come. But is it really going to make life better?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make these new fangled cars? Cars used to be a bucket of bolts and wires and leather (for the seats). Steel belted rubber hit the pavement and the engines were powered good ole fashioned gasoline, which is derived from environment killing fossil fuels. I’ll stay away from the fact that even though one will not have to stop at a gas station, one has to use electricity, which comes from fossil fuels, for now anyway. Let’s tackle the simplicity of constructing these wonderful machines (and most electronic items that surround our lives).

Rare Earths Unleashed
Ever hear of rare earth minerals? (Some say just rare earths.) To use the word rare is an understatement. These minerals are used in the production of parts that eventually end up in fuel efficient, no-emission producing cars. The advancement of battery technology depends on having a healthy supply of these rare earths. Japan is not rich with these minerals, or other ones for that matter, but thanks to China, Japanese companies have been getting a healthy supply of rare earths. Actually, about 50% of the rare earths mined and refined in China go to Japan. However, that situation took a real blow last fall when a Chinese fishing boat hit a Japanese Coast Guard boat near the Senkaku Islands, which lie in disputed waters. Japan arrested the fishing boat captain, and China stopped shipments of refined rare earths to Japan. Japan rather immediately released the Chinese fishing boat captain. Rare earths miraculously began arriving in Japan from China. You draw the conclusions.

Rare earth oxides, clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium and gadolinium.

Anyway, check out the periodic table of elements and you will see these wonderful minerals in “the so-called lanthanoids, from lanthanum through ytterbium, plus…scandium, yttrium and lutetium.” The New York Times Online has some great background stuff on these rare earths. I won’t go into the science of these elements because quite frankly I have zero clue about this stuff. That said, I do know China controls a lot of it, and here in lies what I believe will be major battleground for 2011, and beyond.

The Reality
Over 95% of the world’s consumable rare earths come out of Chinese mines. America, Australia, and Central Asia make up the majority of the rest of the deposits, but basically, China holds sway over the world’s supply. Why will this cause clash? Let me illustrate through simple examples.

Do you own a flat screen TV? If the answer is yes, you own rare earths. Do you own a cell phone or smart phone? If the answer is yes, again, you own rare earths. Own a computer? – made with rare earths. You want to own a hybrid car? – It will be made with rare earths. In fact, almost all the electronic devices we have in this digital age needs rare earth minerals. Without them, no more of the above. I haven’t even mentioned all the high grade medical technology that relies on this stuff. You didn’t think the MRI machine was made of aluminuum, and some duct tape?

The Environment
So, what does all that have to do with the environment? Simple, getting to the rare earths means destroying a certain environment. Some rare earth’s are really toxic, and if they seep in to the ground water, people will be adversely affected (to put it mildly). Back in the 80s a U.S. based mine had to shut down because rare earth minerals in liquid form got into the local drinking water. Since this time it has been impossible in the United States to get a permit to mine rare earths. China’s environmental regulations are far more lax than the U.S.s. This goes for most of the world outside of Europe and maybe Canada. To get at the amount of rare earths needed to develop our “Eco” or “Green” society we have to muddy some waters. What do you think is happening in China? I can tell you this, in some places, don’t drink the water, and bring your air filter.

Who To Blame?
I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming China for having resources. I just want to point out two things. One, China has a stranglehold on the world, and will not hesitate to apply pressure whenever and wherever necessary. Two, “Eco” isn’t what it appears to be. There are a lot of things to consider when advocating for a “greener” planet. Like Newton’s Law – for every action there is an equal and opposing reaction. When we wash ourselves clean the dirt has to go somewhere.

Tragic Irony
Ironically, there was a time the United States was the leader in this category, but for some reason China now has the technology and advanced techniques to mine and process the minerals. Getting them out of the ground is not so difficult, depending on your environmental stance, but refining and smelding are quite complex, apparently, and the Chinese are good at it, environmental and human health degradation being par for the course.

Why can't the U.S., and the world catch up to this?

You would think the U.S. and Europe could figure out more advanced ways to get at these minerals, but the slates seem blank. For now, China is in the driver’s seat, and taking the world for a nice ride. Hopefully other countries open mines to counteract China’s stranglehold, but that all takes time. I don’t want to deny the Chinese their prosperity, I just want to level the playing field and encourage more competition, which could raise standards for everyone involved in the process.

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The Big 4 Blogging…Well 3?

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The speed and vastness that is the Internet will never cease to amaze me, especially when it comes to blogs. Obviously, I have one (even though I’m poor at updating it). Blogs are everywhere and for everyone, including the chief executives of nations. I’m sure this is not news to those who live in cyberspace, but who would think that the leaders of 4 major national powers would be blogging (when they probably should be attending to more pressing national issues – poverty, inflation, unemployment, raising taxes, etc.).

Who are these 4 nations – Russia, The United States, Japan and China. You can get to the first 3 of these blogs very easily, just hit the links. Apparently there was a rumor that Hu Jintao, President of China, did some microblogging, but I could not find it (didn’t really put all that much effort into it).

Out of the 3 I could easily find I am not surprised by the look and feel of Obama’s or Medvedev’s. Both really reflect the men, and how I think they see themselves and their nations. Obama’s is sophisticated and polished, and easy to navigate, much like Obama himself. As far as I’m concerned Obama isn’t hard to understand, if you listen to the man, and not the diatribes of the dimwits who roast him. He hasn’t done everything I would like, but he surely hasn’t put the U.S. on a course of disaster any more than Dubya and his cronies did. If the Republicans actually had some ideas and could actually present them in an articulate manner then maybe things would be better. Will the real conservatives please step forward!

President Medvedev’s blog is very clean cut and easy on the eyes. Like the man himself. It looks like it could have been conceived by a well-trained lawyer who also served in the Russian military, like Medvedev. For a nation with all the problems of Russia, the mere appearance of the blog gives me some hope that this nation with great potential will one day come back to full form, but with a more benign and humane profile.

Like I said, the Chinese blog was not found, except for the rumor that President Hu did some blogging somewhere. I gather the blogger Hu Jintao is much like the man himself – brief and to the point, but also elusive from the camera’s eye, or reporters’ questions. The blogs look would of course highlight the very best of China, and be cast in read and yellow. It probably would also be very serious and not send any indication that China is lesser than any other major world player. If the Beijing Olympics was any indication of the grandeur and sophistication of China look for a blog equally as grand, but also very sophisticated and intelligent.

The final blog is the most interesting (I think) because it fully characterizes what I think Prime Minister Kan means to the people of Japan – a bit of a cartoon. Anime and manga might be big in Japan, and a cultural export the Japanese have marketed to perfection, but it doesn’t need to appear on the blog of the Prime Minister. Kan’s header is basically a big caricature of himself. I have been trying to give Kan the benefit of the doubt, and take him seriously in all that he says, but the blog just looks unsophisticated and unintelligent. I’m not talking about the commentary, I’m just talking about the look. Japanese aesthetics might be grounded in minimalism, but the minimalism also has some taste and style to it. This looks like the blog of an elementary school child. Compared to the sophistication of Obama’s and Medvedev’s blogs I can’t really take Kan’s too seriously.

Now, maybe I’m just looking at this with a pessimistic perspective. Kan could very well be taking the piss of himself when it comes to the illustration that heads his blog. If so, more power to him, but after being in Japan for some time now, and knowing Japanese people the way I do, I think these people deserve more and better from their leader. I do like that Kan, apparently, writes comments himself, and posts regularly. That said, Japan has some big issues to deal with. I hope Kan can balance dealing with structural deficit that will collapse the nation, and attending to his blog.

So, what does this all mean? Not much, just that leaders of nations feel they need to connect with people and to do that blogging is great. All the sites are seemingly nationalistic and promote the overwhelming positive aspects of the nation. Why not? What would be the point of posting critically negative stories? Ironically (or not if you think about it), and for what it is worth Medvedev’s blog is set-up to appear in multiple languages (Russian and English).


Another Proper Use of the Military – Blowing-up Drug Cartels

Last year I posted an article, “The Proper Use of the Military – Killing Pirates.” Some might argue that using trained soldiers to kill outlaws is not a job suitable to their qualifications. Well given how the pirates were running ransack over ships and what not, and considering how much valuable cargo was involved, I think using trained killers was a good way to stop amateur ones.

Well, you don’t read much about these pirates anymore, at least in U.S. newspapers. Don’t know if using U.S. Navy forces combined with other nations has worked, or not, but I don’t see pirate stories on the news. Now you read about the violent drug war. Mexican drug cartels are really upping the levels of violence being used against foes – government and criminal. The traditional police are definitely not up to this war. And the Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, FBI, Mexican military, whoever, seem to be overwhelmed. You’d think with all the highly trained agents, getting rid of some drug cartels wouldn’t be a problem, but not so. These cartels are well financed, and have the guns to protect themselves, as well as inflict severe punishment on those who stand in their way.

So, my recommendation to the U.S. government, use the full ability and force of the United States Department of Defense. Send in the unmanned drones and blow those cartels off the map. We know where they are, so lets get ’em. Let’s use that “winning hearts and minds” strategy in Mexico. Given the damage that hard drugs are doing, why not pull out all the stops? What do we have to lose…some might argue we are losing already.

I really think how the U.S. military is organized needs to be re-assessed anyway. It is bloated and way overdone. We could slim it down so much. It seems China is way ahead of us in this respect. They announced their defense would grow only by 7.5% this year. That is down from 14.5% last year. This is according to the China Daily. On top of that, the Chinese have announced that their military is strictly defensive in capability. Critics will contend that statement, but they haven’t attacked anyone.

Instead of military spending China is spending money on infrastructure – transportation, agricultural, communications, you name it. The goal is to connect China from one end to the next and make sure people can physically access China. I don’t know if that will stem the potential social unrest that is the backdrop of Chinese development, but fixing and upgrading buildings, bridges, rail, and roads probably won’t anger people. As long as it is done well.

The U.S. needs to optimize the military more efficiently, and put the muscle where necessary. Get those F-35s (whenever they are finished) over Mexico and take out the drug cartels. Use the drones to bomb drug lords. Use those Navy Seals in Coronado Bay to run some assassination operations in Mexico. Those would be overnight deployments. Not to mention it would give the Mexican government some relief, and help them regroup. They are using their military, and seem a bit overwhelmed. The U.S. should bring the noise because this drug war is just as much our problem as Mexico’s; We are the marketplace. So, here is another good use for our military. Instead of fighting endless wars in far off lands. Let’s protect our backyard.


Proper Use of the Military – Killing Pirates

April 24, 2009 1 comment
Pirates Abay!

Pirates Abay!

I may have written about this before, but I find myself struck dumb with this whole pirate situation. In discussions with an elder very close to me, I came to realize that we are just simply misusing our military to the Nth degree.

The United States spends like 700 billion U.S. dollars on defense. Most nations on this planet don’t have budgets that large. Yet, we spend that much on defense. We have fleets of nuclear submarines with stealth technology. We have planes that fly at break neck speeds, and can’t be picked up by the most sophisticated radar systems. We have the best special forces troops in the world. We have intelligence agents scattered in places that one couldn’t imagine. One could say there is no where anyone can hide from the U.S. military force. Yet, unsophisticated pirates with pansy-archaic weaponry (by comparison) can hijack supertankers and in no time receive 25 million U.S. dollars in ransom money for the safe return of crew, and maybe cargo. What’s wrong with this picture?

Is it possible to direct some that 700 billion towards eradicating piracy? Instead of using unmanned CIA drones to bomb Afghan villages during weddings, how about using them to bomb the hell out of the pirate enclaves in Somalia.

I’m no military genius, or defense budget guru, but when I hear/read Katie Couric questioning Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about how the Chinese may have “acquired” sensitive information regarding the F-35 joint strike fighter jet, I ask myself, “Are the Chinese hijacking boats in the Indian Ocean….Why are we building F-35s when we should be killing pirates?” I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned by the Chinese hacking U.S. military computers, but we should be killing pirates!

So to sum up: Good uses of military might – killing pirates. Bad use of military might – building useless, and very very very expensive, F-35 strike fighters.

F35 Joint Strike Fighter by Lockheed Martin

F35 Joint Strike Fighter by Lockheed Martin


Buy American Clause Not So Bad

March 8, 2009 1 comment

So as I’ve been following the recent downturn in the world economy, and paying a special note to the blame being given to the United States for being the cause of this bleak situation. I guess turnabout is fair play. I mean, U.S. leaders try to dictate to the rest of the world how it should act, and we often play the blame game, so I guess it’s our turn. We took some stupid risks, and now everything is messed up…Sorry. I would like to hear more concrete solutions than blame, but what do you expect it’s human nature, right?

Within this time of note, I’ve been paying particular attention to how this new administration is going about things. President Obama and his team seem to be trying to get the U.S. back in shape, not only for the short term, but for the long term. This brings me to the subject of this post.

In the new stimulus package, that was recently signed into law, there is this little clause headed, “Buy American – Sec. 1605. Use of American Iron, Steel, and Manufactured Goods.” This little clause seems to be getting all the attention, as it apparently rings of protectionism towards U.S. industries. Interestingly enough, since this whole global downturn started many countries seem to implementing “protectionist” policies. From Sarkosy looking to help French automakers by floating them money to Russia raising tariffs on imported cars to India restricting certain ‘made in China’ products from entering its nation, the protectionist swing is going on, and it seems to be the hippest move.

Okay, back to the ‘Buy American’ clause. I don’t know what the problem is? If you read the whole thing, it’s really not that bad. Check it out:

(a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made
available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction,
alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public
work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used
in the project are produced in the United States.
(b) Subsection
(a) shall not apply in any case or category
of cases in which the head of the Federal department or agency
involved finds that—
(1) applying subsection
(a) would be inconsistent with the
public interest;
(2) iron, steel, and the relevant manufactured goods are
not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably
available quantities and of a satisfactory quality; or
(3) inclusion of iron, steel, and manufactured goods produced
in the United States will increase the cost of the overall
project by more than 25 percent.
(c) If the head of a Federal department or agency determines
that it is necessary to waive the application of subsection (a) based
on a finding under subsection (b), the head of the department
or agency shall publish in the Federal Register a detailed written
justification as to why the provision is being waived.
(d) This section shall be applied in a manner consistent with
United States obligations under international agreements.

The heading is all tough and protectionista like, but the actual body of the clause sings a different (at least in my opinion). First of all, this clause is referring to PUBLIC BUILDINGS OR PUBLIC WORKS. The private sector can do whatever it wants, and if a project is found to be INCONSISTENT WITH THE PUBLIC INTEREST things can change. Not convinced that this leaves the door open for foreign competition, well how about if the manufactured product you want is in short supply, too expensive, or just downright sucks? You can opt for an alternative. Oh, and to top this all off this clause states that it SHALL BE APPLIED IN A MANNER CONSISTENT WITH UNITED STATES OBLIGATIONS UNDER INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS.

Can I get some relief, and some calm? Of course any project manager that wants to waive this clause so he/she is not in violation of U.S. law, will need to put everything in writing (small price to pay…okay more paperwork – say it…Bigger Government!).

Maybe what the Obama administration is trying to do is motivate U.S. industries to raise their product quality, while making sure things remain fiscally sound. Again, this is pertaining to public projects, so maybe Obama is trying to make the Federal Government fiscally sound?

Personally I think the central government should use homemade products. I would take it as a source of great pride to know that my tax dollars when to the construction of a building that uses quality American goods, produced by my fellow citizenry.

So this doesn’t pertain to fuel, cars (unless built for government use), homes, cotton, food, etc (at least that’s how I interpret it). If China can spend billions upgrading it’s physical infrastructure, and encourage its population to buy Chinese made goods, why can’t we do the same?

In any case, I hope the global community doesn’t get in too much of a huff (I might be too late on that one) over the ‘Buy American’ clause. It’s not as tough as people have been making it out to be.


Government Catches Up To Business

So it seems that government diplomacy is following behind business diplomacy. According to The New York Times Online article “Taiwan and China Hold Formal Talks, by Edward Wong, and Alan Cowell reporting from Paris,

Representatives of China and Taiwan agreed in a meeting here on Thursday to establish permanent offices in each other’s capital to help coordinate discussions about closer relations. The agreement came on the first day of negotiations over how to strengthen the economic relationship between China and Taiwan…

About time, as according to the same NYTimes Online article, “Taiwan is the biggest investor in China and many Taiwanese businesspeople live on the mainland.” Businesses always seem to a few steps ahead of official government diplomacy. Thankfully, in this situation government policy seems to be really trying to follow businesses lead.

A catch-22 to this whole story is that China still considers Taiwan a “renegade nation,” and has ballistic missiles pointed at them. Still, business finds a way around all that. Another funny catch-22 to this courting relationship is that these two neighbors are just beginning to work out a currency situation that will allow normalization of currency usage in each nation. Taiwan is opening its doors to the Chinese Renminbi for the first time. Imagine the United States and Canada saying, today, “Hey guys maybe we should normalize our currency policies so we can use each others’ currency instead of always having to change money into Euros or Swiss Francs or Japanese Yen.” And still, business finds a way of dealing with these little financial hang-ups. Business is obviously tuned in to something, and are now hampered by a lack of government unity between these two major Asian economies.

I always believed it quite strange that China and Taiwan could never get along, as having an unruly neighbor these days is quite strenuous. If one neighbor is upset they aren’t just going to leave last night’s trash on your doorstep. But if they did, last night’s garbage isn’t the same old ramen noodles it used to be in the 1950’s. These days last night’s trash contains ballistic missiles with a topping of depleted uranium to make things extra nice and ripe when it smacks on your doorstep. Ramen noodles never tasted so good. Not to mention Taiwan has its own big neighbor that although has to stretch some distance can hit with alarming impact. So, who wants all that tension around the neighborhood? Isn’t it easier to just exchange wok recipes and call it a night?

I’m not oblivious to the history of these two nations, nor do I make underplay the inter-cultural tensions and ideologies of these two nations, but something has to be done as human casualties can be at stake. Taiwan and China have an interconnected history, as this tiny island was the main fleeing point for Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist ruling party the Kuomintang, which now heads the Taiwanese government, after defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong and his Communist Party at the end of the Chinese Civil War. Since those days in 1950 China has tried to bring Taiwan back under the delicate fist of “One China Unity.” I believe, if Taiwan had not transformed itself into a prosperous economic power we might not hear so much chest thumping from China about “One China” (a strong connection to the United States and other Western powers probably has something to do with the chest thumping as well). And if China had not taken off on its economic rise Taiwanese business people might not be pushing to normalize relations with the Mainland folk who chased them away. Still though, they are interconnected and no one can deny that. Separated by a stones-throw these two state entities are eternal neighbors, and what affects one will affect the other. They must get along. At least that’s what the business people believe, and are proving. Hopefully the governments follow suit.


If I Were President of China

This week’s rant is up and ready. Taking aim at China is always fun. While I support the common Chinese person, and his or her right to make a living, I take great issue with how the Chinese government handles disputes of any kind. With over 5,000 years of history and culture you’d think they would have figured out a better way to deal with sensitive matters both domestically and internationally. I’d love to have Hu Baby’s job. That said, here’s The Weekly Rant (click).