Tagged: China

Feds drop charges against professor – Scientific reality beats Cold War bigots

Xi Xiaoxing, the chairman of Temple University’s physics departmentDavid Maialetti/Philly.com

When the Justice Department arrested the chairman of Temple University’s physics department this spring and accused him of sharing sensitive American-made technology with China, prosecutors had what seemed like a damning piece of evidence: schematics of sophisticated laboratory equipment sent by the professor, Xi Xiaoxing, to scientists in China.

The schematics, prosecutors said, revealed the design of a device known as a pocket heater. The equipment is used in superconductor research, and Dr. Xi had signed an agreement promising to keep its design a secret.

But months later, long after federal agents had led Dr. Xi away in handcuffs, independent experts discovered something wrong with the evidence at the heart of the Justice Department’s case: The blueprints were not for a pocket heater.

Faced with sworn statements from leading scientists, including an inventor of the pocket heater, the Justice Department on Friday afternoon dropped all charges against Dr. Xi, an American citizen.

It was an embarrassing acknowledgment that prosecutors and F.B.I. agents did not understand — and did not do enough to learn — the science at the heart of the case before bringing charges that jeopardized Dr. Xi’s career and left the impression that he was spying for China…

…Dr. Xi’s case, coming on the heels of a similar case that was dismissed a few months ago in Ohio, raises questions about whether the Justice Department, in its rush to find Chinese spies, is ensnaring innocent American citizens of Chinese ancestry…

The science involved in Dr. Xi’s case is, by any measure, complicated…Dr. Xi’s lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, said that despite the complexity, it appeared that the government never consulted with experts before taking the case to a grand jury…

And the grand jury did what grand juries always think they’re required to do. They handed over an indictment.

Mr. Zeidenberg, a lawyer for the firm Arent Fox, represented both Dr. Xi and Sherry Chen, a government hydrologist who was charged and later cleared in the Ohio case. A longtime federal prosecutor, Mr. Zeidenberg said he understood that agents felt intense pressure to crack down on Chinese espionage, but the authorities in these cases appeared to have been too quick to assume that their suspicions were justified.

In Dr. Xi’s case, Mr. Zeidenberg said, the authorities saw emails to scientists in China and assumed the worst. But he said the emails represented the kind of international academic collaboration that governments and universities encourage. The technology discussed was not sensitive or restricted, he said.

“If he was Canadian-American or French-American, or he was from the U.K., would this have ever even got on the government’s radar? I don’t think so,” Mr. Zeidenberg said…

About a dozen F.B.I. agents, some with guns drawn, stormed Dr. Xi’s home in the Philadelphia suburbs in May, searching his house just after dawn, he said. His two daughters and his wife watched the agents take him away in handcuffs on fraud charges…

Temple University put him on administrative leave and took away his title as chairman of the physics department. He was given strict rules about who at the school he could talk to. He said that made it impossible for him to continue working on a long-running research project that was nearing completion.

Last month, Mr. Zeidenberg delivered a presentation for prosecutors and explained the science. He gave them sworn statements from the experts and implored the Justice Department to consult with a physicist before taking the case any further. Late Friday afternoon, the Justice Department dropped the case “in the interests of justice.”

Nice of the DOJ finally to get round to consideration of justice – instead of continuing to act like obedient little blue minions on the payroll of a government committed to unrelenting Cold War ideology. Our political leaders – the two flavors we’re allowed – are dedicated to the imperial ideal we took over from a poverty-stricken British Empire after World War 2. That this ideology leads the United States further down the path of economic and social corruption is of no concern. That lives and careers may be crushed by bureaucrats is of no concern.

The bigotry and racism that is a central characteristic of American culture is no less strong in our system of justice than daily life. If Professor Xi tried too hard to stand up for his rights, his innocence, he could have died at the stroke of a moment’s decision made by FBI agents with guns drawn.

Coming – $470M GM plant to build and sell electrified vehicles in China

SAIC already plans to build an electric Lavida with Volkswagen

Building on its current momentum within the region, General Motors announced it will be part of a new venture to construct an electrified vehicle factory in China.

GM is joining SAIC Motor Corp Ltd and Wuling Motors to build the $470 million plant. A GM representative said the factory will be dedicated to producing only “new energy vehicles,” China’s term for battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Annual capacity is expected to be 200,000 vehicles per year…

This new factory expands on a collaboration already in place between GM and SAIC Motors. Last month, GM announced that it is creating a new vehicle family from the ground up, which will replace several existing models. SAIC Motors is working alongside GM to develop the powertrain architecture and engine for this new line…

GM noted that this product line will be manufactured and sold in China, Mexico and India, among other regions.

“There are no plans to export the vehicles to mature markets such as the United States,” said GM.

GM does well in China. They sell more Buicks there than anywhere else in the world. Yes, they still look like Buicks to me. But, informed consumers + government support = equals an opportunity to market products more in line with forward-looking values.

Which is why there are no plans to offer any of these cars in the United States.

China passes new pollution law

Legislators have approved amendments to China’s 15-year-old air pollution law that grant the state new powers to punish offenders and create a legal framework to cap coal consumption, the Asian giant’s biggest source of smog.

The draft amendments were passed by 154 votes to 4, with five abstentions, Zhong Xuequan, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, told a media briefing…

The ruling Communist Party has acknowledged the damage that decades of untrammeled economic growth have done to China’s skies, rivers and soil. It is now trying to equip its environmental inspection offices with greater powers and more resources to tackle persistent polluters and the local governments that protect them.

The amendments are expected to make local governments directly responsible for meeting environmental targets. They also ban firms from temporarily switching off polluting equipment during inspections and outlaw other behavior designed to distort emission readings.

Tong Weidong, vice-director of the NPC’s legal work committee, told the briefing the law would improve the way local authorities were assessed and allow them to draw up their own plans to meet environmental targets…

However, researchers said the changes do not go far enough and that the third reading of the bill should have been postponed until all its shortcomings had been resolved.

Sounds like another step forward. The article isn’t clear about household air pollution though broadly it sounds as if it is covered.

Like England in the period after WW2, half of China’s coal-generated air pollution comes from home fires for cooking and heating. These are almost always in the least efficient stoves for any purpose – regardless, there isn’t any way to bring them up to useful standard.

I’ve blogged earlier about efforts to bring NatGas into easy urban access and the last-mile problem will remain the greatest obstacle. That solution is what changed life in many American industrial cities as well as the UK in the fifteen years or so after the war. That change didn’t have to provide new pipelines or local access. We already had use of coal gas. The conversion only required a new orifice for each burner in every stove or furnace.

China’s cities will have to excavate.

Myths about China’s ghost cities

ghost cities

Ghost towns tend to start as boomtowns, and contemporary China more than likely has more boomtowns than any other country in history. No economy has ever risen so rapidly and no place has ever built so much so quickly. This rapid growth has resulted in peculiar side effect: ghost cities, everywhere.

Although the term “ghost town” is technically a misnomer in this case. A ghost town is a place that has become economically defunct — in other words, a place that has died. What China has is the opposite of ghost towns: It has new cities that have yet to come to life.

There are nearly 600 more cities in China now than there were when the Communist Party took over in 1949. This large-scale urban transition began in the early 1980s, when rural areas began being rezoned as urban en masse and the city took center stage in China’s plans for the future. In the early 2000s this urbanization movement was kicked into high gear. New urban developments began popping up seemingly everywhere — along the outskirts of existing cities as well as in the previously undeveloped expanses between them. Many cities doubled or even tripled their size within relatively short spans of time. In just 15 years Shanghai alone grew sevenfold and its population increased to more than 23 million from 6.61 million.

China’s broader urbanization movement shouldn’t be thought of as a developmental free-for-all. There is a method behind all of this building and an overarching framework. Ten massive new urban conglomerations called mega-regions have been proposed in strategic locations across the country. These are essentially city clusters of 22 million to more than 100 million people each that are to be connected through infrastructure, economically, and, potentially, even politically…

When developers purchase these new plots of land, they are prohibited by law from sitting on them. They must build something. While it is commonly thought that getting in on a new development zone early is key to making a big profit, these areas tend to lie far outside the bounds of mature, built-up urban areas. This often means constructing vast apartment complexes, giant malls and commercial streets in places that do not yet have much of a population base to support them.

Building a new city from the ground up is a long-term initiative, a process that China estimates takes roughly 17 to 23 years. By 2020, Ordos Kangbashi plans to have 300,000 people, Nanhui expects to attract 800,000 residents and 5 million people are slated to live in Zhengdong New District. China’s new cities are just that: new.

There is hardly a single new urban development in the country that has yet gone over its estimated time line for completion and vitalization, so any ghost city labeling at this point is premature: Most are still works in progress. But while building the core areas of new cities is something that China does with incredible haste, actually populating them is a lengthy endeavor.

When large numbers of people move into a new area, they need to be provided for; they need public services like healthcare and education. Therefore, a population carries a price tag and there is often an extended period of time between when cities appear completed and when they are actually prepared to sustain a full-scale population. This could be called the “ghost city” phase…

It generally takes at least a decade for China’s new urban developments to start breaking the inertia of stagnation. But once they do, they tend to keep growing, eventually blending in with the broader urban landscape and losing their “ghost city” label.

Can you imagine an American journalist, much less an American politician or a denizen of Wall Street capable of appreciating planning that accepts a 17 to 23 year timeline? It’s so much easier to sit back and point fingers at furriners who do things differently from a nation of builders and homeowners that created Levittown.

Nope. Steven Roach, the economics maestro of MCSI in Asia for decades – and now senior fellow and senior lecturer at Yale – tends to demolish “ghost city” tales of woe with a brevity I appreciate. Even though I would like a wee bit of invective thrown in for good measure. I’ve seen him do it on Bloomberg TV more than once.

It’s even more useful and productive to bump into a source within the conservative confines of a Reuters blog that fleshes out the reasoning behind the process so well. Now, I have to get his book. :)

Thanks, Wade Shepard

State and country trade maps

Click to enlarge

International trade is a big part of America’s economy, and a factor in each of the fifty state economies that constitute it.

The Census Bureau publishes annual figures on each state’s international trade. In addition to the top 25 goods imported and exported by each state, the Bureau reports the 25 countries each state imports the most from and exports the most to. We took a look at the biggest trade partners by dollar value of goods imported and exported for each state in 2014.

Here’s the country that each state imports the most from. Canada and China loom large.


Republicans pushing GE to ship $10 billion in work overseas

General Electric Co is taking steps to shift some U.S. manufacturing work overseas now that the U.S. Export-Import Bank will be shuttered at least until September…

GE Vice Chairman John Rice said the conglomerate is bidding on over $10 billion worth of projects that require support from an export credit agency (ECA) like Ex-Im.

With Ex-Im unable to extend new loans or guarantees thanks to an effort by congressional Republicans to shut it down, GE is arranging with ECAs in other countries to finance the deals involved, with much of the production going to GE plants in those foreign locations. The prospective government partners include Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Hungary, he said…

Ex-Im has been unable to consider any new financing requests since Congress allowed the bank’s charter to expire on June 30.

Rice’s comments come as the U.S. Congress starts a five-week summer recess with no clear path to revive Ex-Im in the months ahead. A group of conservative Republicans, who say the 81-year-old trade bank is a nest of “crony capitalism” that doles out government welfare to GE, Boeing Co and other wealthy corporations, want to keep it closed for good…

Rice, who is based in Hong Kong, said GE is not moving to shift work and jobs overseas “just to make a point” to Congress, but to win contracts that require export credit agency support. “We’re doing this because if we don’t, we can’t submit a valid tender,” he said.

In one such power-sector bid, for example, GE would do final assembly work on its aero-derivative gas turbine power generation units at GE plants in Hungary or China instead of a factory in Houston. It already has capacity in place, and export credit agencies willing to support the work, he said.

“Next year, if we win this bid, work that would have been in Houston will be someplace else,” Rice said.

In practice, shutting down the Ex-Im Bank handicaps small-biz as much or more than any other. Such questions devolve from commercial regulations and cause problems just like this one.

I expect Tea Party idjits will ignore the result they cause as often as ever. And if we’re really lucky, Luddites who panic over commerce taking place in a real world which now stretches well beyond the boundaries of the industrial landscape pre-World War 2 will join their peers on the Right.

After more than a half-century of political activism on behalf of the working class I was born into I’m still frustrated by sectarians who can turn an ordinary question of guaranteeing a loan – into religious fears over the purity of their bodily fluids.

Coal is getting to be worth less than dirt

Coal is having a hard time lately. U.S. power plants are switching to natural gas, environmental restrictions are kicking in, and the industry is being derided as the world’s No. 1 climate criminal. Prices have crashed, sure, but for a real sense of coal’s diminishing prospects, check out what’s happening in the bond market.

Bonds are where coal companies turn to raise money for such things as new mines and environmental cleanups. But investors are increasingly reluctant to lend to them. Coal bond prices tumbled 17 percent in the second quarter, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. It’s the fourth consecutive quarter of price declines and the worst performance of any industry group by a long shot.

Bonds fluctuate less than stocks, because the payoff is fixed and pretty much guaranteed as long as the borrower remains solvent. A 17 percent decline is huge, and it happened at a time when other energy bonds—oil and gas—were rising. Three of America’s biggest coal producers had the worst-performing bonds for the quarter:

Alpha Natural Resources: -70 percent
Peabody: -40 percent
Arch: -30 percent

The map shows coal plants in 2010 that may be headed for retirement. Blue circles represent plants that will be shuttered by 2020, while yellow will convert to gas, and red have undetermined futures.

About 17 percent of U.S. coal-fired power generation will disappear over the next few years, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Obstacles include age, the abundance of cheap natural gas, and new EPA rules to cut pollution…

Even China, the world’s biggest consumer of coal, wants to be rid of it…While China’s electricity demand will soar in the coming decades, its coal use will remain relatively flat, peaking by 2030 and then declining, according to BNEF. The pollution is too thick and the alternatives too cheap for coal to flourish…

But even setting aside the environmental and health issues, renewables are on a trajectory to outcompete fossil fuels, starting with coal. Between now and 2040, two-thirds of the money spent on adding new electricity capacity worldwide will be spent on renewables, according to BNEF…

Pigs like the Koch Bros and their bed-buddies ExxonMobil et al are putting their last hopes into the Republican Party. Unlike their peers in archaic monarchies like Saudi Arabia, they have to confront minimal papier mache democracies like the United States. Conservatives like Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats needn’t involve themselves with science to decide policy. Their only decision is whether they require a new wheelbarrow to carry away the dollar$ on offer from the barons of fossil fuel – or the old one is adequate.

It only remains for the crowd in charge of the Democrat Party to decide if they will listen to reason, evidence-based science and concern for future generations of our species. For some that’s still a difficult questions.

China’s Striped Mountains

Click to enlarge

It’s hard to believe that this collection of colorfully striped mountains is real. Sure, some amount of photo manipulation may have awoken the rich hues, but even the un-retouched images paint a pretty picture. Located in China’s Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, these “rainbow mountains” are yet another wondrous example of what Mother Nature can create. The formations’ stripes are most vivid after a rainstorm or as the sun enters or leaves the sky.

With enough time, anything is possible–even this 400-square-kilometer section of striped mountains. 24 million years ago, red sandstone and mineral deposits formed layers that compressed and underwent metamorphism, speckling the Chinese landscape with a “layer cake” of blues, reds and yellows. Erosion worked against the formation, carving cliffs, valleys and natural pillars into the earth, adding the array of textures and patterns that now characterize the region’s mountains


KFC going to court to prove it hasn’t bred an eight-legged GMO chicken.

Lorck, The Basilisc chicken

The company that owns KFC is trying to dispel rumors that it genetically modified its meat and manufactured an eight-legged, six-winged chicken to serve to customers.

Yum Brands, which owns China’s largest fried-chicken chain, said in a statement Monday that it has sued three companies there that have been spreading false rumors on social media — among them that the restaurant delivered maggot-infested food and created a deformed chicken. It wants $242,000 and an apology from all three defendants…

KFC, which has more than 4,600 restaurants in China, has been fighting for its reputation for years. In 2012, Chinese media outlets reported that a KFC supplier had been using growth hormones and antibiotics to grow larger chickens…The accusations spurred fears about the country’s food safety. Then last year, KFC, along with McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, had to apologize to customers after a supplier was caught on video violating safety regulations — picking up meat from the factory floor and tossing it into mixers and touching meat on the assembly line with bare hands. There were also complaints that the meat was expired.

“When I saw that, I said, ‘Uh-oh, here’s six to nine months of problems,’” Yum chief executive David Novak told investors at the time…

KFC’s China CEO Qu Cuirong said in a statement that it is difficult for companies to guard against falsehoods, because it’s hard to get evidence, the Associated Press reported. “But the stepped-up efforts by the government in recent years to purify the online environment, as well as some judicial interpretations, have offered us confidence and weapons,” she said.

Even though physical, scientific evidence is easy to produce – especially when accusers have nothing to offer other than “what-ifs” and “maybes” – you still run the risk of know-nothings simply picking up and running with the headlines from low-lifes pretending to be investigative journalists.

We all know a few folks who will believe those headlines because it fits their view of the world around them.