China


WASHINGTON — Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.”

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. “There are intrusions, and they are growing,” the former official said, referring to electrical systems. “There were a lot last year.”

Via Wall Street Journal.  Seems like an awful lot of time and money invested in disrupting our electrical supply when we are more than capable of doing that ourselves.  On a regular basis.

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Many a sci-fi flick portrays a future Earth becoming victimized by an army of brain-sucking mutants from outer space.  Turns out that brain-sucking is occurring a little closer to home in real life, and it has nothing to do with alien mutants:

While the 20th century had the arms race, the competition in this century will be a brains race, says science policy analyst Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society.  ‘Today’s Sputnik? It’s a little bigger. It’s called China’.  Twenty years ago the United States, Japan and China each graduated a similar number of engineers, with South Korea graduating about half as many. By 2000, Japan has increased its output by 42% to 103,200, South Korea has recorded an 140% increase to 57,650 engineers, according to Jischke. In contrast, the number of US engineering graduates had declined by 20% to less than 60,000. In 2004, China graduated 500,000 engineers, India, 200,000, and North America, 70,000, says a National Academy of Sciences report. If this trend persists, then by 2010 more than 90% of all scientists and engineers will live in Asia, fears Jischke. Besides, one US chemist’s or engineer’s salary is enough to hire five Chinese chemists or 11 Indian engineers.

See Subbiah Arunachalam’s editorial in Current Science from March 2006.  Arunchalam says Americans needn’t worry about this somewhat distressing development — it will be years before India and China overtake America as a world center of technological innovation.  As a world creator of jobs, however … well, let’s just say that Arunchalam doesn’t worry about an increase in unemployment statistics among scientists and engineers in India or China in the near future.

Meanwhile, the U.S. lost jobs in May for a fifth month in a row, and the unemployment rate rose by the most in more than two decades, according U.S. Labor Department figures released on Friday.

US RETAIL giant Wal-Mart is rationing rice sales to protect dwindling supplies as the global price skyrockets and producers such as Australia struggle to keep up with demand.

The drastic move is the first time that food rationing has been introduced in the US.

Growing appetites in China and India, drought in Australia and pests in Vietnam have contributed to the rice shortage and soaring prices.

Hoarding by Asian farmers and rice dealers has sparked clampdowns by authorities there who are worried about getting subsidised rice to the poor.

While Americans suffered some rationing during World War II for items such as petrol, light bulbs and stockings, they have never had to limit consumption of a key food item …

… Wal-Mart said that Sam’s Club, its wholesale business, which sells food to restaurants and other retailers, had limited each customer to four bags of long-grain white rice per visit.

In the past three months wholesalers have experienced a sharp rise in demand for food items such as wheat, rice and milk as businesses stocked up to protect themselves against rising prices.

Global rice prices have more than doubled in the past year partly because countries such as China and India — whose economies are booming — are buying more food from abroad.

At the same time, key rice producers banned exports of rice to ensure that their own people could continue to afford to buy the staple: India, China, Vietnam and Egypt have all blocked exports and so demand for rice from countries such as the US has increased.

Costco Wholesale, the largest warehouse operator in the US, said this week that demand for rice and flour had risen, with customers panicking about shortages and hoarded produce.

Tim Johnson, of the California Rice Commission, said: “This is unprecedented. Americans — particularly in states such as California — have on occasion walked into a supermarket after a natural disaster and seen that the shelves are less full than usual, but we have never experienced this.”

Food prices across the world have rocketed in the past two years, driven by increased demand for corn — the grain that is fermented to produce ethanol, the biofuel. With corn a main foodstock in dairy farming, milk has doubled in price in two years.

Full article here.

Reuters has an interesting Fact Box this morning about China’s Sovereign Wealth Fund:

BEIJING, Dec 19 (Reuters) – China’s sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation (CIC), made its biggest investment to date on Wednesday, taking up to a 9.9 percent stake in Morgan Stanley for about $5 billion.

Here are some facts about the fund:

* CIC has total initial capital of $200 billion. The process of injecting this capital has just been completed, the Finance Ministry said on Wednesday.

* CIC’s first investment, a nearly 10 percent stake in Blackstone Group that cost $3 billion, has lost more than 30 percent of its value since the private equity giant’s IPO in June.

* Its second investment, for about $10 million, was in the Hong Kong IPO of China Railway 601390.SS0390.HK.

* A British broker, after combing through shareholder registers, said in late July that CIC had also bought a stake in BG Group, a British gas company.

See the full piece here.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Iran tested a newly-developed ballistic missile on the day of the Annapolis conference, Channel 10 reported Wednesday.

The Ashoura missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers and is capable of reaching Israel, US Army bases in the Middle East and eastern European cities.

According to the report, the new missile is an improvement to the existing Shihab-3 missile. The Ashoura uses solid fuel instead of the Shihab’s liquid fuel, giving it a significantly faster launch sequence which is harder to detect.

Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Mostafa Muhammad-Najjar had announced the development of the new missile on the day of the summit, but had not specified whether it had actually been tested.

According to the country’s IRNA news agency, Najjar said the missile was named the “Ashoura,” meaning “the tenth day” in Farsi – a sacred reference among Shi’ite Muslims to the martyrdom of the third imam.

The Iranian defense minister said that “the production of the new missile was one of the Defense Ministry’s greatest achievements.”

Analysts believe much of Iran’s military production has benefited from assistance from Russia, China and other countries, but many of their weapons development claims have not been independently verified.

Recent weapons development has been motivated by Iran’s standoff with the US over its controversial nuclear program.

The Shihab-3, which means “shooting star” in Farsi, has a range of at least 1,300 kilometers.

In 2005, Iranian officials said they had improved the range of the Shihab-3 to 2,000 kilometers, a range equal to that of the new missile reported Wednesday.

Experts also believe Iran is developing the Shihab-4 missile, thought to have a range between 2,000 and 3,000 kilometers that would put much of Europe in range.

Well, that’s one way of expressing your displeasure about being left off of the tea party invite list …

Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) — China Petrochemical Corp. signed a $2 billion agreement to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field, advancing prospects for a contract on the sale of liquefied natural gas to the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

The field will produce 85,000 barrels a day in four years and a further 100,000 barrels a day three years after that, China’s official Xinhua news agency cited Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari as saying yesterday. Under an initial agreement in 2004, China would pay Iran as much as $100 billion over 25 years for LNG and oil and 51 percent stake in Yadavaran.

Sinopec Group, as China Petrochemical is known, hopes to talk about liquefied natural gas supplies “later,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA said today, citing Zhou Baixiu, president of Sinopec Group’s international exploration and production unit. China is “willing” to buy LNG from Iran, Zhou said.

China, a veto-holding member of the United Nations Security Council, has resisted pressure from the U.S. to isolate Iran and impose a third round of international sanctions over the country’s nuclear program. The Chinese government wants its oil and gas producers to step up their global search for energy resources to meet rising consumption, spurred by an economy that surged 11.5 percent in the third quarter.

Full article here.

Walker Percy, in his novel Love in the Ruins, describes an apocalyptic America in which the Gross National Product continues to rise, yet the war with Ecuador has gone horribly awry, terrorized Middle-Class citizens wax nostalgically about the defunct Auto Age, and the political landscape has devolved from earnest ideological debate, to snarky verbal assault to out-and-out violence and social fracture:

These are bad times.

Principalities and powers are everywhere victorious. Wickedness flourishes in high places.

… Americans have turned against each other; race against race, right against left, believer against heathen, San Francisco against Los Angeles, Chicago against Cicero. Vines sprout in sections of New York where not even Negroes will live. Wolves have been seen in downtown Cleveland, like Rome during the Black Plague. Some Southern states have established diplomatic ties with Rhodesia. Minnesota and Oregon have their own consulates in Sweden (where so many deserters from these states dwell).

I am as optimistic an observer of pessimistic, apocalyptic reflexes as they come, but even I, I must admit, feel the welts begin to pop upon my temples when I see, for the umpteenth time in the space of a few breaths, more news about the recall of toys made in China. Aqua Dots laced with date rape chemicals, lead-smeared faces on plush Curious George dolls, lead-smeared pull-and-release toy cars, lead-smeared kids’ fashion sunglasses … they jump out as scary, Percine portents of America’s impending doom, don’t they? Or is it just me?

The vines began to sprout in earnest a couple of months ago. People do not like to talk about it. For some reason, they’d much rather talk about the atrocities that have been occurring ever more often: entire families murdered in their beds for no reason. “The work of a madman!” people exclaim.

If you’re looking for signs of the apocalypse, look, as Percy’s Dr. Thomas More does, at the little signs, like new white ivy vines sprouting through the country club bar and grabbing hold of a bottle of Southern Comfort, or the Virginia creeper overtaking the $500 lead statue of Saint Francis that his wife had ordered from Hammacher-Schlemmer. Or that weak, sickly grin on poor Curious George.  If you’re looking …

If anyone needs me, I’ll be drinking bootleg fizzes today.

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