By Pete Engardio- By Yahoo! News Is Washington finally getting serious about doing something to shore
up America’s flagging global competitiveness in manufacturing? There are certainly some signs in recent moves by President Obama.The president has promised to listen to the needs of business more carefully and declared that America must „out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” He has visited factories in the hard-hit Midwest and appointed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head a new jobs panel. And Wednesday, President Obama unveiled an initiative to increase training of skilled manufacturing workers. But do these moves add up to a manufacturing policy? Yes and no.On one hand, Obama’s administration has been one of the most active in recent years when it comes to intervening to support industries seen as strategically important for America’s industrial future.The rescues of General Motors and Chrysler were the most prominent examples. The administration also pumped $2.4 billion in loans and grants into dozens of factories involved in production of next-generation lithium-ion batteries for cars, an important new industry that once seemed destined to take place entirely in Asia. Washington gave similar subsidies to developers of innovative solar-power modules. And Congress has approved tax credits for building and modernizing factories.[ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]Handing out those kinds of subsidies is controversial. Many economists and conservatives don’t think the government should be in the business of picking and choosing industries to favor. Given the heavy subsidies that rivals such as China and Germany are willing to shell out to attract these kinds of factories, however, others argue that this kind of government intervention is necessary in today’s global economy.Yet even those who believe such investments are smart see problems with the current programs. Most of the loans and grants for new factories are part of one-off programs included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Obama stimulus bill that Republicans revile. Convincing Congress to make them permanent fixtures of U. S. policy will be tough. What’s more, they benefit only a handful of manufacturing industries that meet strategic goals, such as cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and promoting renewable energy.The main thrust of the Obama plan to boost U.S. competitiveness so far has been to propose big funding increases for research and education. The idea is that will spur more American innovation, which in turn will translate into new products, companies, industries, and ultimately high-paying manufacturing jobs.No question, spending more on education and basic research could help spur innovation in the long run. But it will do little to create manufacturing jobs in the near future.Even though other countries are catching up in science, the U.S. still far outspends any other nation on research and development. America generates the most patents, has the biggest concentration of top-notch universities, and remains the best place in the world to start up a new company. Whether the industry is renewable energy, micro-electronics, or new materials, the United States is at the technological vanguardThe problem is that once it comes time to make a high-tech product at any kind of scale, the manufacturing work and most of the jobs and supply industries that
accompany it often head offshore, typically to Asia. Cheap Chinese labor has little to do with the problem, because most modern factories are highly automated. Besides, if wages were the only issue, how can one explain Germany’s ability to keep running up huge trade surpluses in everything from vehicles and machinery to wind turbines? Factory wages and benefits now are much higher in Germany than in the United States.American inventions are industrialized elsewhere because the United StatesÂ is not a cost-competitive place to build modern production capacity. Former Intel CEO Andy Grove notes that thanks to differences in taxes and government incentives, building a state-of-the-art silicon wafer plant offshore rather than the U.S. can yield $1 billion in additional profit.While Asian nations waive taxes for 10 years to attract industries they covet, U.S. companies pay some of the highest corporate taxes in the industrialized world, Between state and federal levels, U.S. manufacturers are taxed at 39.3 percent, compared to a median rate of 33 percent for other industrialized nations, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The Manufacturing Institute estimates that non-production expenses such as taxes put U.S. factories at an 18 percent cost disadvantage compared to average offshore locations.Moreover, the cost of capital in the U.S. is high, if it can be raised at all from banks or investors. In Germany, China, South Korea, and other nations, industry can tap government development banks for low-interest loans. In much of the U.S., the regulatory hurdles are also complex and too time-consuming to navigate. Nations such as Singapore have one-stop shops that take care of all the necessary permits within days.Even if they are willing to shoulder these burdens, many U.S. companies that want to manufacture at home run into other more practical problems. Many high-tech manufacturing industries have been so hollowed out by years of offshore outsourcing that modern factory capacity, key suppliers, experienced managers, and engineers with up-to-date know-how are hard to find in America. Rebuilding this industrial base will take years.Countries such as Germany, South Korea and Taiwan also have lost plenty of factories to lower-cost countries. But they remain export powers because they refused to let go of the parts of their industrial bases that were necessary to sustain the next wave of more advanced industries. They shower domestic manufacturers with financial help and state-funded research institutes that employ armies of engineers who help local companies apply new technologies into innovative products. If a strategic industry is a little ahead of its time, such pro-manufacturing governments also help build a domestic market for cutting-edge products.Take Germany. When the Great Recession hit in 2008 and forced companies to cut production, the government didn’t just hand out unemployment benefits. It paid half of workers’ wages so that companies could hold on to them until recovery came. Rather than focus only on basic research–the focus of most U.S. government research spending–Germany has the Fraunhofer Institutes, which have a $2.2 billion annual budget and 17,000 technical staff that work hand-in-glove with German manufacturers big and small to develop new products. Germany also spends around six times more than the U.S. on research and development related to manufacturing.China uses generous subsidies and its immense government purchasing power to build markets in next-generation industries it wants to dominate, such as wind turbines, electrified vehicles, and solid-state lighting devices. The caveat:The products must be built domestically.The Obama Administration is getting the message about building domestic markets. It has announced a goal of putting 1 million advanced-technology vehicles on American roads by 2015. To help make that happen, it suggests giving U.S. consumers an instant $7,500 rebate when they buy an electric vehicle. It also proposes that the federal government start converting much of its fleet of 700,000 vehicles to hybrids and electric cars and trucks.Given the intense political pressure to slash government spending of any kind, however, there is little chance the U.S. can come close to matching many of the subsidies offered by other nations. Washington can, however, overhaul the U.S. corporate tax system to cut the cost of building capacity on U.S. soil. Congress could boost applied research aimed at helping companies turn discoveries into commercial products and manufacturing processes. The U.S. also could set up a development bank of sorts to lend to U.S. manufacturers who need to build or expand factories when money isn’t available from private capital markets.Such actions may have little political traction for now. But they lie at the heart of reviving U.S. competitiveness in manufacturing.Pete Engardio is an award-winning former BusinessWeek senior writer who continues to write and
Exclusive: Clinton in talks about possible move to World BankBy Lesley Wroughton –
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been in discussions with the White House about leaving her job next year to become head of the World Bank, sources familiar with the discussions said on Thursday.The former first lady and onetime political rival to President Barack Obama quickly became one of the most influential members of his Cabinet after she began her tenure at State in early 2009.She has said publicly she did not plan to stay on at the State Department for more than four years. Associates say Clinton has expressed interest in having the World Bank job should the bank’s current president, Robert Zoellick, leave at the end of his term, in the middle of 2012.”Hillary Clinton wants the job,” said one source who knows the secretary well.A second source also said Clinton wants the position.A third source said Obama had already expressed support for the change in her role. It is unclear whether Obama has formally agreed to nominate her for the post, which would require approval by the 187 member countries of the World Bank.White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied the discussions. „It’s totally wrong,” he told Reuters.A spokesman for Clinton, Philippe Reines, denied Clinton wanted the job, had conversations with the White House about it or would accept it.People familiar with the situation, told of the denials from the White House and State Department, reaffirmed the accuracy of the report.Revelations of the discussions could hurt Clinton’s efforts as America’s top diplomat if she is seen as a lame duck in the job at a time of great foreign policy challenges for the Obama administration.Under normal circumstances, names of potential candidates for the World Bank would not surface more than a year before the post becomes vacant. But the timing of the discussions is not unusual this year given the sudden opening of the top job at the bank’s sister organization, the IMF, after Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s resignation following his arrest on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York.The World Bank provides billions of dollars in development funds to the poorest countries and is also at the center of issues such as climate change, rebuilding countries emerging from conflict and recently the transitions to democracy in Tunisia and Egypt.WOMAN HAS NEVER HEADED WORLD BANK OR IMFThe head of the International Monetary Fund has always been a European and the World Bank presidency has always been held by an American.That gentleman’s agreement between Europe and the United States is being aggressively challenged by fast-growing emerging market economies that have been shut out of the process.The United States has not publicly supported the European candidate for the IMF, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, although Washington’s support is expected.Neither institution has ever been headed by a woman.If Clinton were to leave State, John Kerry, a close Obama ally who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is among those who could be considered as a possible replacement for her.Clinton’s star power and work ethic were seen by Obama as crucial qualities for her role as the nation’s top diplomat, even though she did not arrive in the job with an extensive foreign policy background.She has embraced the globe-trotting aspects of the job, logging many hours on plane trips to nurture alliances with countries like Japan and Britain and to visit hot spots like Afghanistan and countries in the Middle East.She has long been vocal on global development issues, especially the need for economic empowerment of women and girls in developing countries. She has made that part of her focus at State. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has also been involved in those issues through his philanthropic work at the Clinton Global Initiative.(Editing by Kristin Roberts, David Storey and Peter Cooney)
Space station gets 3 new tenants from 3 countriesBy MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – It’s a full house again at the International Space Station.A Russian capsule carrying three astronauts from three countries docked at the orbiting lab on Thursday. The linkup ended a two-day trip for the Soyuz spacecraft that launched from Kazakhstan.The three new tenants join three others already on board, all of whom will be part of history when NASA flies the shuttle for the last time. Atlantis is set to deliver one last shuttle load of supplies to the space station next month; liftoff is scheduled for July 8. The mission will end 30 years of shuttle flight.Shuttle Endeavour just ended a two-week space station visit.Arriving Thursday for a five-month stay were American Michael Fossum, Russian Sergey Volkov and Japanese Satoshi Furukawa. They join American Ronald Garan Jr. and Russians Andrey Borisenko, the commander, and Alexander Samokutyaev, who have been on board since April.The rendezvous unfolded smoothly, despite a minor thruster problem with the Soyuz. The two craft came together nearly 220 miles above the Atlantic, northeast of Rio de Janeiro.NASA’s chief of space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, watched the docking from Russian Mission Control outside Moscow. In response to a journalist’s question, he said the first private space station delivery could come as early as November.NASA is encouraging U.S. companies to take over cargo runs to the space station and, ultimately, provide rides for crews. In the meantime, American astronauts will continue to ride back and forth on Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of tens of millions of dollars a seat, as NASA turns its attention toward interplanetary travel.
Soyuz Capsule Arrives at Space Station with New Crew By Denise Chow, SPACE.com
Three spaceflyers have arrived at the International Space Station, their new home for the next 5 1/2 months.NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov reached the orbiting lab today (June 9) after a two-day journey. Their Soyuz capsule docked to theRassvet mini research module in the station’s Russian segment a few minutes ahead of schedule at 5:18 p.m. EDT (2118 GMT).During preparations yesterday for the spacecraft’s rendezvous with the station, a slight issue was detected with one of the Soyuz thrusters. Russian flight controllers determined, however, that it would not impact the capsule’s docking operations.”Everything went nominal,” Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, said in a post-docking news briefing. „I would like to point out that everything happened even five minutes ahead of schedule. There were a couple of issues regarding one of the thrusters, but the system logic allowed us to compensate for this.”The arrival of the new crewmembers brings the population of the space station back up to six people. NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko have been living and working on the orbiting outpost since April 6.Garan, Samokutyaev and Borisenko, the station’s commander, were on hand to welcome the new residents after the hatches were opened between the two spacecraft at 8:34 p.m. EDT (0034 June 10 GMT). Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa were all smiles as they floated through the hatch and exchanged hugs. The six spaceflyers now make up the station’s Expedition 28 crew. [Amazing Space Photos by Astronaut Ron Garan]The united crew then gathered in the Russian Zvezda service module to receive congratulatory calls and well-wishes from space agency officials, friends and family members who had gathered at the Russian Mission Control in Moscow.”It’s great to see all you guys on orbit,” NASA’s space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier radioed to the crew from Mission Control-Moscow. „You all look great and the smiles are just amazing. Have a good expedition and enjoy the space station.”Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa launched into orbit on Tuesday (June 7) aboard the Russian-made Soyuz TMA-02 spacecraft. The trio lifted off at 4:12 p.m. EDT (2012 GMT) from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.[Video: Soyuz Blasts Off to Space Station]The new crewmembers will live and work at the space station for roughly 5 1/2 months. During their stay, they will be involved in a variety of scientific experiments and research, ranging from life sciences to Earth observation.The astronauts will also perform routine maintenance and upgrades to the station’s infrastructure as needed.Additionally, the Expedition 28 crew will play host to the space shuttle Atlantis and its four astronauts next month. Atlantis is currently scheduled to embark on its last mission — the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program — on July 8.Atlantis’ STS-135 flight will deliver critical supplies to the International Space Station to help prepare the complex for the years following the retirement of the shuttle program. When NASA stops flying the shuttle, the agency will no longer be able to take advantage of the enormous cargo-carrying capability of its three-orbiter fleet.NASA’s 30-year shuttle program is being retired to allow the agency to focus on exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit, such as to Mars or an asteroid. Over the long haul, NASA hopes that commercial American spacecraft will provide taxi services to the station. But for at least next five years or so, the Soyuz will be carrying that load.You can follow SPACE.com Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
Study: Asteroids May Have Served as Incubators of LifeBy JEFFREY KLUGER – TIME
Meteorites don’t always announce their arrival, but the one bearing down on Canada on Jan. 18, 2000, was not shy. Plunging toward the ground in a roaring fireball, it took aim at Lake Tagish in the British Columbia mountains and – this being winter – smashed itself into fragments on the lake’s icy surface.It wasn’t until Jan. 25 and 26 that scientists could travel to the site and collect bits of what was once a meteorite measuring perhaps 13 ft. (4 m) across. Those fragments have been kept frozen to preserve any organic compounds that may have been riding aboard the rock when it crashed and are periodically subjected to scientific analysis. The latest of those studies was published this week in the journal Science, and what the new investigators reported was eye opening: biology may have been incubating on asteroids long before it arose on Earth. (See TIME’s photo-essay „The Hubble Telescope’s Greatest Hits.”)The elements that give rise to life are hardly unique to our planet. Hydrocarbons, the basic molecules from which known life is built, are made of nothing but hydrogen and carbon. Two other key players are oxygen and nitrogen – and all four of them are everywhere in the universe, often combining in interesting ways.”There’s no doubt from astronomical observations that we can see organic compounds out there in space,” says geologist and mineralogist Christopher Herd of the University of Alberta, the lead author of the new paper. „You can also cook them up on Earth.” (See amazing pictures of the sun.)But if raw materials were all it took for life to exist, it would be everywhere. It’s not, of course, partly because those extremely simple building blocks have to be processed into slightly less simple ones and on and on through various stages of refinement. Three of the most critical materials produced in this process are amino acids (from which DNA is made); monocarboxylic acids, a suite of hydrocarbons that readily participate in chemical reactions; and macromolecular clumps of organic material called kerogen.Bits of some of these prebiotic materials have been observed in meteor samples before, and Herd and his colleagues were thus not terribly surprised to find them in the tiny 0.4-in. (1 cm) samples of the Tagish meteorite that they studied. What was unexpected, however, was that they saw all the materials in various stages of development, from their simplest forms to their most complex ones. It was as if the scientists had discovered not only butterflies but also cocoons and caterpillars. (See pictures of meteors that fell from the sky.)„There was this linear correlation from one stage to the next to the next,” says Herd. „We saw the organic materials through five different stages of sophistication.”The Tagish meteor, Herd and his colleagues concluded, must have been operating as a sort of incubator, flying through space and cooking up increasingly elaborate organic compounds until it deposited them in British Columbia. On modern-day Earth, which is saturated with life, a few more organic materials wouldn’t make much of a difference. On the original, barren Earth, they could have played a meaningful role – adding at least some extraterrestrial seasonings to the organic soup already bubbling here.Just how a dead rock flying through icy space could support such elaborate chemical processes is not clear, but Herd has a theory. The Tagish meteor formed the same way all the asteroids and meteors in the solar system formed: accreting out of the primordial swirl of gas and dust that also gave rise to the sun and planets. The oxygen and hydrogen in that cloud would have combined to create at least some water, which would also have been mixed into the matrix of the asteroid. And the gravitational heat generated as the rock was coalescing, coupled with radioactive materials onboard, would have kept the water warm and, in a sense, pulsing.”It could have operated almost like a hydrothermal cell,” says Herd, „with water circulating through the asteroid. After a while, the heat would run out and that process would shut off, and you’d be left with different stages of organic materials.”None of this means that true life could have arisen on asteroids; their warm phase would simply have been too brief. What it does mean is that biological processes may be taking place everywhere in the solar system and that some of the early chemical seeds may have been scattered on Earth. In other words, we have met the aliens – and they are at least partly us.