Governors seek commerce for their state – national politicians seek power from ignorant voters

Iowa Soybean Association members at a port on the Po River

In October 1984, Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, made his first trip to China. He and his wife flew to Beijing and took an old steamer train about 200 miles southwest to Shijiazhuang, a city in the Hebei province…

Local government officials greeted the Branstads with flowers and a band. One member of the welcoming committee was a young man who would eventually ascend to the ranks of China’s top leadership, Xi Jinping. Currently China’s vice president, Xi is widely expected to succeed President Hu Jintao, who is set to step down next year.

“The friendships you build, you never know when it might pay off in the future,” said Brandstad, who has stayed in touch with Xi over the years. “Treat everybody well. You never know when they might someday be very important.”

Will someone please engrave this on bronze plaques to be placed on the desks of each of our Congress-critters!

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Republican regulator to join Comcast after she OK’d NBC deal

A top telecommunications regulator who voted to approve Comcast Corp.’s takeover of NBCUniversal in January is leaving to join the company as a lobbyist.

Meredith Attwell Baker, one of two Republicans on the five-member Federal Communications Commission, will become senior vice president of government affairs for NBCUniversal.

Comcast said it did not begin discussions with Baker about a possible job until after the transaction had closed…


Craig Aaron, head of the public interest group Free Press, called the move an example of “business as usual in Washington — where the complete capture of government by industry barely raises any eyebrows.”

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV company, bought a controlling interest in NBCUniversal after the FCC and the Justice Department approved the deal with conditions following a year-long review. The FCC’s vote was 4-1…

At the FCC, Baker was a reliable pro-business voice who frequently expressed concern that the agency was imposing unnecessary and onerous regulations on phone and cable companies.

Along with fellow Republican commissioner Robert McDowell, Baker opposed the controversial “network neutrality” rules approved by the commission’s three Democrats last year. Those rules, which prohibit phone and cable companies from interfering with Internet traffic on their broadband networks, are now facing legal challenges from Verizon and Metro PCS.

It’s called a reward for loyal service – isn’t it?

On the way to CO2-free power plants

The Technische Universität Darmstadt dedicated today a pilot plant for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) contained in flue gases of power plants. Its Institute for Energy Systems and Technology plans to utilize the plant for investigating two innovative methods for CO2 capture that require less energy and lower operating costs than earlier approaches.

Combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, fuel oil, or natural gas, liberates large quantities of carbon dioxide, a gas that significantly affects global climate. A key technology that would reduce emissions and lead to more environmentally friendly power plants is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from flue gases of power plants (carbon capture and storage (CCS))…

Earlier approaches to CO2-capture require expending significantly more energy and entail greatly increased operating costs, which raises questions regarding their efficiency and acceptance. The TU Darmstadt’s Institute for Energy Systems and Technology’s new pilot plant will be utilized for investigating two new methods for CO2 capture that will allow nearly totally eliminating CO2 emissions and require virtually no additional energy input and entail only slight increases in operating costs.

Over the next two years, the institute’s director, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernd Epple, and his 26 coworkers will be investigating the “carbonate looping” and “chemical looping” methods for CO2 capture. Both methods employ natural substances and reduce the energy presently required for CO2-capture by more than half. As Epple put it, “These methods represent milestones on the way to CO2-free power plants. They might allow coal-fired, oil-fired, and natural-gas-fired power plants to reliably and cost-effectively generate power without polluting the environment.”

The carbonate looping method involves utilizing naturally occurring limestone to initially bind CO2 from the stream of flue gases transiting power plants’ stacks in a first-stage reactor. The resultant pure CO2 is reliberated in a second reactor and can then be stored. The advantage of the carbonate-looping method is that even existing power plants can be retrofitted with this new method.

On new power plants, the chemical looping method will even allow capturing CO2 with hardly any loss of energy efficiency. Under this method, a dual-stage, flameless, combustion yields a stream of exhaust gases containing only CO2 and water vapor. The CO2 can then be captured and stored.

Hope they’re successful. I haven’t an excess of confidence in the politics of coal-generated electricity in the United States. The mentality hasn’t changed since the 1930’s. Rip the coal out of the ground. Burn it. Pay us!

Not only have Europeans a longer timeline of experimentation with some of these processes, there is a tradition of civil service oversight, fiscal and environmental, that may be a pain-in-the-butt sometimes; but, it guarantees fewer lies to citizens, less collaboration between politicians and corporate barons.

Nothing holy or sanctimonious about it. Just systems more reactive and preventive than our two-party tomfoolery. We just witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico how reliable our civil servants can be – when guided by a government in bed with the Oil Patch Boys.

Business class rises in ashes of caste system – in southern India

Chezi K. Ganesan looks every inch the high-tech entrepreneur, dressed in the Silicon Valley uniform of denim shirt and khaki trousers, slick smartphone close at hand. He splits his time between San Jose and this booming coastal metropolis, running his $6 million a year computer chip-making company.

His family has come a long way. His grandfather was not allowed to enter Hindu temples, or even to stand too close to upper-caste people, and women of his Nadar caste, who stood one notch above untouchables in India’s ancient caste hierarchy, were once forced to bare their breasts before upper caste men as a reminder of their low station.

“Caste has no impact on life today,” Mr. Ganesan said in an interview at one of Chennai’s exclusive social clubs, the kind of place where a generation ago someone of his caste would not have been welcome. “It is no longer a barrier…”

India is enjoying an extended economic boom, with near double-digit growth. But the benefits have not been equally shared, and southern India has rocketed far ahead of much of the rest of the country on virtually every score — people here earn more money, are better educated, live longer lives and have fewer children.

A crucial factor is the collapse of the caste system over the last half century, a factor that undergirds many of the other reasons that the south has prospered — more stable governments, better infrastructure and a geographic position that gives it closer connections to the global economy.

“The breakdown of caste hierarchy has broken the traditional links between caste and profession, and released enormous entrepreneurial energies in the south,” said Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University who has studied the role of caste in southern India’s development. This breakdown, he said, goes a long way to explaining “why the south has taken such a lead over the north in the last three decades.”

Cynicism isn’t required to look somewhat askance at this article. Yet, I understand the process of history. After all, taking part, taking a leading part in commerce is not so much a leveler for individuals but a bringer of opportunity. Especially to those outside the backwardness of previous political royalty.

RTFA. There is a great deal of information whether you accept the analysis or conclusions. Some of the latter are confirmed – and welcome. I only speak as someone who has witnessed decades of American stubbornness at maintaining our national racism as a cultural “heritage”.

Ping, Apple, Amazon and social networking

Apple announced on Wednesday a cornucopia of new hardware and software: sleek iPods, a brand new Internet-enabled video streaming device and new versions of its iOS software and iTunes 10. However, the most impressive to me by far was Ping, the music-only social network that Apple is opening up its 160 million existing iTunes users.

No, I’m not blown away by the 160 million number. What I’m impressed by is the thinking behind Ping…

From a content perspective, there are three different types of media we love to talk about:

* movies we see
* music we listen to
* books we are reading

These are accepted social norms. In fact, many relationships are made on the basis of collective love of a movie and many friendships have started with mixed tapes. It makes perfect sense for a music service to be social…

Ping…can tell me who my friends think are cool and the top 10 favorites of people in my social graph. Some of my friends are famous deejays. Others just have eclectic musical tastes. They can collectively sift through over 10 million songs and help with the discovery of music. This social-powered discovery is part of the biggest theme of our times: serendipity…

My belief has only been affirmed by growth in the amount of data available. With 12 million songs and 250,000 apps, the best way for Apple to enhance the iTunes store – aka its shopping experience — is through the use of social. Back in 2007, I argued that social networking was merely a feature that had to be embedded into applications to enhance their value. Apple has done a great job of that, but it’s also gone one step further, not only by adding a social networking layer to iTunes, but by meshing it with its commerce engine, the iTunes Store. And it’s made this experience available on both the desktop and its devices…

Like Apple, Amazon too has a lot more data about its customers and their behaviors and could create a compelling discovery experience. I believe with tens of thousands of products in its store, the retail giant needs to figure out ways to surface content and other offerings smartly.

As much of a non-social being as I am, I see what Om has perceived. Starting with the business opportunity, granting like access to like is socially meaningful as well as commercially beneficial. After all, this is part of how craft-oriented magazines – from Road & Track to Quilting Magazine – built their subscription base.

Mutually supportive, generating an internal energy, the subscription base of iTunes can utilize Ping to lead and support purchasing decisions. Music, movies, books – access deepened by the people you choose to accept as peers and friends.

Cripes, I have a single simple example like those Om mentions in his article: 3Cities. A group I’ve never heard of – Bombay Dub Orchestra – produced this recording a short while back. I never heard of them. But, Om mentioned liking the CD in his personal blog – I listened to a track and bought the CD. Best music purchase in the last year!

Same-sex bridal magazine a response to conventional ignorance

Kirsten Ott walked down the aisle in a white strapless gown with an embroidered bodice and cascading ruffles. Maria Palladino, dressed in a white suit, waited for her at the end of the aisle with a minister. Surrounded by their family and close friends, the women committed to each other for the rest of their lives.

A beautiful reception followed. It had all the makings of a traditional wedding, but instead of calling themselves bride and groom, the couple used the terms bride and “broom.”

“Broom is a combination of bride and groom,” said Kirsten, who took Maria’s last name when they wed…

Both were relieved the special day they had planned for so long finally arrived.

Organizing a wedding can be challenging, what with finding the right photographer, the perfect cake, the prettiest flowers and, most importantly, the venue. It was even harder for Kirsten, because she had to find vendors who accepted same-sex marriage in Atlanta, Georgia, where the union isn’t legally recognized…

Kirsten and Maria turned to wedding magazines for inspiration while planning their 2008 wedding. But Kirsten said something important was missing. “There are tons of wedding magazines when you go into a wedding section at a bookstore, but we weren’t in any of them. Not one single gay couple. It was disheartening…”

Planning their wedding inspired the newlyweds to start their own wedding magazine geared toward engaged same-sex couples. Kirsten, a journalist, and Maria, a graphic designer, used their career backgrounds and personal experience to launch the online magazine Equally Wed…

The Palladinos discovered that more wedding vendors across the United States are now offering their services for two brides or two grooms. The magazine has a staff that spans the country. Employees find companies that cater to same-sex weddings and welcome couples to their honeymoon destinations. They list gay-friendly vendors that will make the cake, design the flowers or take pictures of the ceremony…

“It’s a ceremony in front of your friends and family, committing to this other person for the rest of your life … it doesn’t matter what sex you are or who, the sex or gender of the person you’re marrying.”

It’s a sound business in my neck of the prairie. There are just as many bible-thumping bigots as most places; but, the community as a whole recognizes the borderline criminality of such behavior. Same-sex marriages would be a daily occurrence in Santa Fe if our state government was endowed with either courage or common sense.

Like our own, China’s economy has bottomed out

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Statistics showed the decline in China’s economy has bottomed out, said an article posted on the website of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

A series of macro-control policies launched since the fourth quarter last year helped prevent the economy from slumping and China’s economy now showed positive changes with the positive factors accumulating, said the article by Guo Tongxin from the Department of Comprehensive Statistics.

The bottom of this round of economic downturn in China should be at the fourth quarter in 2008 and the first quarter this year, based on the year-on-year GDP changes, the article said.

GDP growth was 9 percent in the third quarter in 2008, then slumped to 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter and further down to 6.1 percent in the first quarter in 2009.

GDP in the second quarter this year was expected to be almost 8 percent judging from the current GDP growth and main economic indexes in April and May, the article said…

Despite these positive indices, China’s economy faced obstacles to maintaining a stable economic rebound because of recession in most parts of the world, sluggish demand for Chinese products, production overcapacity in some industries and possible inflation.

Leading indicators validate this analysis which – not so incidentally – matches my own about the U.S. economy though not as dynamic in this neck of the world prairie.

Leading indicators don’t make it feel any better on Main Street; but, if folks can hang on, the economy is turning around, locally and globally. We have had a lot more to change here in the States; but, the election last November signaled the biggest and best change of them all.

Now we just need to keep a bit of backbone in the Congressional jellyfish.

Asia welcomes Hillary Clinton – and revised priorities

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

When Hillary Rodham Clinton visits China and other Asian nations this week in her first trip abroad as U.S. secretary of state, she will not just be breaking with the tradition that America’s top diplomat visit Europe or the Middle East first.

She will also be signaling the new administration’s determination to take a fresh – and less confrontational – approach to diplomacy in the region, making China and other Asian nations a higher diplomatic priority than the previous administration.

“There has been a general feeling that perhaps we didn’t pay an appropriate amount of attention to Asia over the last years,” she said at the Asia Society in New York last Friday, two days before she departed for her trip, today.

Clinton also called for “rigorous and persistent engagement” not just with China, but also with Japan, Indonesia and South Korea, which are also on her itinerary…

Still, Clinton spoke mostly of China on Friday in New York, signaling that she would take a new, more vigorous approach in relations with Beijing. She said she intended to break with the Bush White House, which viewed China more as a rival than a partner, declaring that the United States had nothing to fear from an economically ascendant Beijing…

“Some believe that China on the rise is by definition an adversary,” she said. “To the contrary, we believe the United States and China benefit from, and contribute to, each other’s successes.”

Climate change will figure high on Clinton’s agenda in Beijing, where she said she would emphasize how the two countries must work together. She plans to visit an energy-efficient power plant near Beijing that is a joint venture of General Electric and a Chinese partner.

Worth reflecting upon, discussing among ourselves as well as sitting back and watching the politicos in action. From my vantage point – I’ve been watching this sort of growing economic interrelationship since long before Deng Xiaoping moved China to a new socialist way of enabling markets, back to Leontiev’s revelatory macro-economic articles appeared in Scientific American – this is overdue.

Hillary has talent at hand in the State Department – like Chris Hill – who have established relationships throughout Asia and can lend a hand as needed. And she has smarts enough to use those talents.

Hong Kong remains number one for economic freedom

A Canadian think tank on Tuesday hailed Hong Kong as a bastion of economic freedom, despite concerns about restrictions on foreign investors that want to buy into companies listed on the city’s stock exchange.

The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute said Hong Kong has now taken top spot in its annual Economic Freedom of the World report for three decades.

The honour is “a tribute to the importance of letting people get on with their lives,” said Mark Mullins, executive director of the Fraser Institute, during a luncheon at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong. More than a decade after Britain handed Hong Kong back to China, it is “a terrific example for the world,” Mr. Mullins added.

Of course, the folks writing the article contradict themselves with the canard about “fears still remain, blah, blah”. If anything, those fears have diminished in the eyes of investors since independence from the Brits.

Beijing is accused in some quarters of favouring domestic interest groups over foreign companies looking to expand into Asia, including mergers and acquisitions of Hong Kong-listed mainland businesses…

Mr. Mullins said Beijing must resist being “tempted” to policies that restrict the freedom of Hong Kong’s market. “This sort of transaction in Hong Kong in the past would have gone through,” he added.

There are more than few working families in North America and Europe that wish for a government that cared a bit more for that tiny bit of regulation that might encourage domestic jobs and enterprise.

Cute Overload – empire built on “cuddly” branches out from Web

Calendars and coffee table books filled with pictures of cute, cuddly kitties and sad-eyed puppies have been around for decades. So what explains the success of Cute Overload, a new page-a-day desk calendar that recently shot to the top of its category on and, more remarkably, to the upper ranks of the site’s overall best-sellers list?

Stranger still, the birth of Cute Overload was almost purely accidental. Meg Frost, a 36-year-old design manager at Apple, started three years ago to test Web software. Within months, it became an online institution, drawing about 88,000 unique visitors a day — about the same as the political gossip blog Wonkette. BoingBoing linked to Cute Overload, saying that viewing the site “is like taking a happy pill.”

And in that warm feeling lies the reason for its popularity. Given all the nastiness on the Internet — blog trolls, flame wars, vicious gossip, pornography, snark and spam — what better antidote is there than looking at pictures of tiny ducklings waddling in a line or kittens splayed on their backs, paw pads in the air?

Frost has not given up her day job at Apple. “I actually love doing both, though it’s pretty crazy,” she said. Viewers send her about 100 submissions a day, and in doing so, grant her full republishing rights, she said. Frost is free to reuse the photos as she pleases. The calendar’s success may be just the beginning. She hints at other projects, possibly including a video channel.

It really is about “niches and demographics”. But, then, isn’t that true of 90% of blogs and websites that become “successful”?

One of the most significant expansions of communications within a species.