Germany’s future turns from the U.S. to China

Germany is bettering its European rivals in the race to harness Chinese growth as exports to the Asian nation begin to outstrip those to the U.S.

With its consumers and companies sating their appetite for power turbines, cars and electronics, China became Germany’s largest non-European customer at the end of last year, helping drive up share prices from BASF SE to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG…

“This is a turning point in Germany’s economic history,” said Andreas Rees, chief Germany economist at UniCredit Markets and Investment in Munich. “China could become the largest export market of all by 2015.”

The U.S. has been Germany’s most important trading partner beyond European borders since the end of World War II, a relationship that helped turn the country into a pillar of economic and political stability for the west. Now, with China becoming the main impulse for world growth, Germany’s exporters of machinery, consumer goods and luxury cars are increasingly turning to the east.

“The theme for this decade is that millions of people in China want to live like Europeans,” said Herbert Perus, head of equities at Raiffeisen Capital Management in Vienna, who helps oversee about $36 billion. “The ‘Made in Germany’ brand is going to be very strong in this market…”

While exports to the U.S. reclaimed the top non-European spot in January, Rees said that will likely be temporary. Sales to mainland China surged 44 percent last year, more than to any other destination. They have more than quadrupled in the last decade, tripling China’s share of Germany’s exports to 5.6 percent. By contrast, the U.S. share dropped to 6.9 percent in 2010 from 10.3 percent in 2000…

Chinese demand is soaring for exactly the goods German firms specialize in — industrial machinery, cars and consumer products. The Chinese middle class could double its 2008 size to 400 million people by 2014, Societe Generale predicts, fueling growth for European firms that make the goods they want…

We are undoubtedly seeing a shift in the centre of gravity,” said Fred Irwin, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt. “But with German firms opening factories both in the U.S. and in China, it’s a win-win situation for them.”

RTFA for beaucoup details. No need to revisit the silliness of American industrialists. Especially those whose only loyalty has been to the flow of dollars – not the people who produced their profits for so long.

WMO measures greenhouse gases at record levels

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Concentrations of the main greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached their highest level since pre-industrial times, the World Meteorological Organization has said…

The main long-lived greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have reached their highest recorded levels since the beginning of the industrial age, and this despite the recent economic slowdown,” WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa told a briefing.

The findings will be studied at a U.N. meeting in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 to December 10 to discuss climate change.

Total radiative forcing of all long-lived greenhouse gases — the balance between radiation coming into the atmosphere and radiation going out — increased by 1.0 percent in 2009 and rose by 27.5 percent from 1990 to 2009, the WMO said.

The growth rates for carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide were smaller than in 2008, but this had only a marginal impact on the long-lasting concentrations…

Carbon dioxide is the single most important greenhouse gas caused by human activity, contributing 63.5 percent of total radiative forcing. Its concentration has increased by 38 percent since 1750, mainly because of emissions from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and changes in land use, the WMO said.

Natural emissions of methane due for example to the melting of the Arctic icecap or increased rainfall on wetlands — themselves caused by global warming — are becoming more significant, it said.

This could create a “feedback loop” in which global warming releases large quantities of methane into the atmosphere which then contribute to further global warming.

Yes, I know it seems to be too difficult a task for many to comprehend time beyond the next 2 quarters much less a few centuries. Geologic time fits only into the rationalization scheme of some ideologies.

Treating the “Age” of industrialization as comparable to prehistoric epochs only works for those whose skull shape matches their perception of the Earth’s geometry.

Swiss celebrate breakthrough in world’s longest tunnel

A giant rock drill has broken through a last section of Alpine rock to open the world’s longest tunnel after 15 years of digging through 13 million cubic metres of rock…

It will house a high-speed rail link due to open in 2017 between Zurich and Milan, a key part of a network joining northern and south-eastern Europe.

The breakthrough, attended by 200 dignitaries 30 kilometres inside the tunnel, was broadcast live on Swiss television and watched by European transport ministers at a meeting in Brussels…

The tunnel will have economic benefits, with about 300 trains travelling through it at up to 250 kilometres per hour, cutting the Zurich-Milan journey by an hour and linking to lines going into Germany.

But it was also the fruit of campaigns by environmentalists, who demanded a cut in trans-Alpine road traffic, winning a referendum in 1994 to stop heavy goods vehicles crossing the mountains.

In recent years, Austria, France and Italy have set in motion two similar rail tunnel projects through the eastern and western Alps. They are both planned to exceed 50 kilometres in length in the 2020s.

The sort of political and technological victory we are decades away from in the United States.

After World War 2, Europeans had to decide on the most best way to rebuild their infrastructure. They chose rail as the most efficient means of commercial transport. Passenger transport expansion was part of an ongoing process; but, the serious decisions about the cost of moving goods had to be based on a long range appreciation of the cost of fuel to move those goods. They looked further ahead than the next election cycle.

Here in the United States, with an automobile lobby and the Oil Patch Boys already in charge of Washington, DC – we went the route of our Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower made the appropriate pitch for Homeland Security which is almost as sacred as “Think of the Children”.

Railroads were dismantled, gasoline and diesel was cheap, all was right with the world. Till we began to reach the end of the working life of that highway infrastructure and fuel costs crept towards equity with the rest of the industrial world.

Poisonally, I think even if Obama wanders into a 2nd term, Democrats will stick to Jello battle armor and fail to fight for significant changes in transport policy. Republicans are wedged securely in the back pockets of Big Oil and hardly likely to start caring about the cost of goods for the American middle class. They never have.

Still, take faint pleasure from knowing what modern design and technology is capable of constructing. Even though we’re not likely to see much of it on our safe and secure continent.

US overtaken by Singapore, Sweden in competitiveness

Yes, there are a few Congressional politicians who get it. Not many.
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The United States has been overtaken by Sweden and Singapore in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) competitiveness survey for 2010-11.

The change meant that the US slipped two places to fourth in the WEF’s latest ranking.

Switzerland, which overtook the US last year, remains the top ranked economy.

Germany rose to fifth, and was the best placed eurozone country. The UK, after falling back in recent years, moved up one place to 12th position…

The WEF says the US has lost ground because of what it calls a weakening of its public and private institutions, as well as what it describes as “lingering concerns about the state of its financial markets”…

The WEF report reflects the improving fortunes of the developing world, but shows it still has a long way to go before it matches the developed world for competitiveness…

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said: “Policy-makers are struggling with ways of managing the present economic challenges while preparing their economies to perform well in a future economic landscape characterized by uncertainty and shifting balances.”

Understand that the Republican Party and their Tea Party flunkeys could give a rats’ ass about a report like this.

Competitiveness, modernity, manufacturing capacity, design standards, interest in growing into future needs – mean next to nothing to the political hacks who engineered liar loans for sub-prime mortgages, kicked-off the whole world of outsourcing to optimize profits, refuse to participate in the simplest of well-established economic reforms to aid our nation’s recovery from the disaster they provoked.

As lame and cowardly as is the Democratic Party barely clinging to the economic and political leadership from Obama and the White House cadre, they offer a better chance for growing the United States’ economic performance than the reactionaries lining up on the other side of the aisle for lobbying perks – already planning on the mid-term elections fitting historic patterns.

Study identifies oil sands polluting Alberta river system

Oil sands operations are polluting the Athabasca River system, researchers say, contradicting the Alberta government’s assertions that toxins in the watershed are naturally occurring.

In a study likely to add more fuel to the environmental battle over oil sands development, researchers said mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium are among the toxins being released into the Athabasca, which flows north through the region’s major oil sands operations.

The findings of the study, co-authored by University of Alberta biological scientists Erin Kelly and David Schindler, should be a signal for the Alberta government to finally consider limits on oil sands development, Schindler said.

“I really think it’s time to cut down the expansion until some of those problems and how to reduce them are solved,” he said in an interview.

The environmental impact of developing the oil sands, the biggest reserves of crude outside the Middle East, has been a topic of snowballing controversy in Canada and around the world. The Alberta government has devoted millions of dollars to defend the multibillion-dollar industry.

The latest research is published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A government-supported agency, called the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, has published material as recently as 2009 saying that water quality in the Athabasca River was similar now to conditions before oil sands development. But Schindler said the RAMP monitoring and findings “violate every rule” of long-term study and his research showed the opposite.

Looking in from the outside, knowing something of comparable questions of geology, I have to wonder about the construction of the tests instituted by the government. I question why the insurgent study is after the fact; but, that often is grounded in questions ranging from finances to time constraints. The Alberta government had beaucoup time to produce definitive studies that would have/could have passed peer review. Obviously they haven’t.

Too often the quotient of short-term economic gain influences voters as thoroughly as it does politicians. I can’t hazard an opinion of comparative testing procedures and results – this morning; but, unless Canadians have bred some new species of human being that wants badly to be a politician in North America, questions take precedence over answers received, so far.

Offshore drilling faces actual review instead of a rubber stamp

The Obama administration said Monday that it would require significantly more environmental review before approving new offshore drilling permits, ending a practice in which government regulators essentially rubber-stamped potentially hazardous deepwater projects like BP’s out-of-control well.

The administration has come under sharp criticism for granting BP an exemption from environmental oversight for the Macondo well, which blew out on April 20, killing 11 workers and spewing nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The more stringent environmental reviews are part of a wave of new regulation and legislation that promises to fundamentally remake an industry that has operated hand-in-glove with its government overseers for decades…

You can guess who’s the hand and who’s the glove.

Drillers are already chafing under a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the gulf and strict new rules on shallow-water wells. The new environmental rules provide a foretaste of what the regulatory climate will be once the moratorium is lifted later this year. The House and Senate are moving legislation that will tighten regulatory standards for offshore drilling and put a higher multibillion-dollar limit on liability for damages from any future oil spill.

The administration is moving on a parallel track. After three months of review of federal environmental law, the White House Council on Environmental Quality on Monday recommended that the Interior Department suspend use of so-called categorical exclusions, which allow oil companies to sink offshore wells based on environmental impact statements for supposedly similar areas, while the department reviews the environmental impact. Permits for the Macondo well were based on exemptions written in 1981 and 1986. The waiver granted to BP in April 2009, as part of the permitting process for the doomed well, was based on the company’s claim that a blowout was unlikely and that if a spill did occur, it would cause minimal damage.

The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, recently renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, issued hundreds of these exemptions in recent years to reduce the paperwork burden for oil companies seeking new wells and for government workers. As a result, there was no meaningful plan in place to cope with the BP spill and its impact on aquatic life and gulf shorelines.

This is the how and why that Mussolini always said that fascism should be called corporatism.

When the state and federal governments say nothing more than “how high” whenever corporations say “jump” – the result as defined by most legislation from Congress, rolled out in practice via regulatory agencies from the Interior Department to the SEC – is eventual disaster.

The cost in context, in environment, in jobs, in degradation of lifestyle and standing for working people and the middle class is exactly what you should expect. At least, if you ignore the lies of our politicians and collaboration of the press.

With Asian industry leading the way, job-seekers go East

Hong Kong — Shahrzad Moaven quit a public relations job in London and moved to this teeming metropolis four months ago to take up what she saw as a more exciting post: communications director at the exclusive jeweler Carnet.

Jan Mezlik, 29, moved here from the Czech Republic in late April for a job as a trainer in a physical therapy studio called Stretch. For him, the move brought a secure job and the chance to learn to become a yoga instructor.

Charlotte Sumner, a lawyer, arrived eight months ago, thanks to a transfer within her firm. She had spent six months in London and another six in Moscow and had jumped at the chance of a stint in Asia, which she felt would lead to more opportunities than a posting elsewhere.

Before the global financial crisis, none of the three had thought seriously about moving to Asia. But growth in China, India, South Korea and many other countries in the region is outpacing that of Europe and the United States. Many local companies are enjoying rapid expansion, while international employers are shifting positions to Asia and are hiring again. So increasingly, European and American job seekers are hoping that Asia is a place where opportunities match their ambitions…

Landing a position in Asia, though, is not just a matter of being willing to make a new life halfway around the world. Many employers prefer candidates who have track records in the region and who bring language skills and local contacts to the job.

Mike Game, chief executive in Asia for Hudson, an international recruitment agency, said the number of Westerners actually making the move was still fairly small. Many employers, he said, are more demanding than they were during the economic peak of 2007 and are “setting the bar very high in terms of what they want.”

Nevertheless, many Westerners seem to be looking to make the move

Local language skills are a plus — and often a must — for anything China-related…

“Employers don’t want to have to do a lot of baby-sitting and training,” said Matthew Hoyle, who runs his own company, which specializes in hiring senior staff members for banks and hedge funds. “There are plenty of local people with good qualifications who speak Mandarin and Cantonese — you’d have to bring something pretty special to the table to top that.”

I recall watching a tech panel on TV a while back – when the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, mentioned he was pushing his grandkids to learn to speak Chinese.

Go East, young man – and young woman, Go East.

Toxic town: People of Mossville are a chemistry experiment

Gather current and former Mossville, Louisiana, residents in a room and you’re likely to hear a litany of health problems and a list of friends and relatives who died young.

“I got cancer. My dad had cancer. In fact, he died of cancer. It’s a lot of people in this area who died of cancer,” says Herman Singleton Jr., 51, who also lost two uncles and an aunt to cancer.

Singleton and many others in this predominantly African-American community in southwest Louisiana suspect the 14 chemical plants nearby have played a role in the cancer and other diseases they say have ravaged the area.

For decades, Mossville residents have complained about their health problems to industry, and to state and federal agencies. Now with a new Environmental Protection Agency administrator outspoken about her commitment to environmental justice, expectations are growing…

Lisa Jackson, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the first African-American administrator of the EPA, this year listed environmental justice as one of her seven priorities…

Thousands of pounds of carcinogens such as benzene and vinyl chloride are released from the facilities near Mossville each year, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.

Robert Bullard, author of “Dumping in Dixie,” says it’s no surprise industry chose Mossvillle, an unincorporated community founded by African Americans in the 1790s.

Without the power, Bullard says, African-Americans have borne the brunt of living near industry, landfills and hazardous facilities…

Bullard says Jackson has breathed new life into environmental justice since she took office last year. During the previous eight years, he says, “environmental justice was non-existent or invisible.”

Some residents of Mossville have blood dioxin levels three times above acceptable levels. When the EPA reviewed such tests during the Bush years their decision was that people shouldn’t worry about that.

Dioxin has a wonderful history at home and abroad. The United States used it as central to Agent Orange and never did squat about the damage done to Vietnamese – or American servicemen. A supposedly pristine trout river in Connecticut had bans put in place and corporations picked up the tab for care for families that had been eating dioxin-flavored fish.

Color is always an acceptable reason for differentiating everything from health care to pollution – in America.

Common industrial cleaner = risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Marine Camp Lejeune – Feds said TCE in drinking water wasn’t dangerous for 3 decades
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Workers exposed to tricholorethylene (TCE), a chemical once widely used to clean metal such as auto parts, may be at a significantly higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a study just released.

“This is the first time a population-based study has confirmed case reports that exposure to TCE may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease,” said study author Samuel Goldman, MD… “TCE was once a popular industrial solvent used in dry cleaning and to clean grease off metal parts, but due to other health concerns the chemical is no longer widely used.”

For the study, researchers obtained job histories from 99 pairs of twins in which only one of the twins had Parkinson’s disease. All of the twins were men and identified from the World War II-Veterans Twins Cohort study. Scientists used twins in the study because they are genetically identical or very similar and provide an ideal population for evaluating environmental risk factors.

The study found workers who were exposed to TCE were five and a half times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than people not exposed to the chemical. Those who were exposed to TCE had job histories including work as dry cleaners, machinists, mechanics or electricians.

Thanks a lot, folks. One more thing for me worry about – in hindsight.

To say that TCE was popular is an understatement. I think the first three jobs I had just out of school – all in local industry back East – all used TCE for one thing or another. Certainly for cleaning metal parts before welding or assembly.

Of course, back then, we used cyanide powder for case hardening steel. I wonder how long some of my buddies from the heat-treating department at GE lived?

My kind of commercial

Even though I’ve hated GE most of my life – getting up to be at work as an apprentice machinist at 7AM in a New England factory town does it to you – the commercial is a gas.

Building machines this big. Playing a part in the industrial base of any nation. All give you a true feeling of accomplishment. I know how these dudes feel. And appreciate their care for their creations.