By Chris Sorensen - Monday, October 29, 2012 - 0 Comments
China-bashing is all the rage in the U.S. Beijing is pushing back
As the U.S. election looms, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have been eager to blame China for America’s economic woes. Both are running ads that paint China as a job-stealer, an intellectual property thief and a currency manipulator. Romney’s campaign has called China a “cheater” in international trade, while Obama has accused Romney of offshoring American manufacturing jobs while running his private equity firm.
The rhetoric is amplified by concerns about the $1.15 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury bills that China holds, ostensibly threatening Washington’s financial independence. “I love Big Bird,” Romney said during the first debate, spawning a torrent of Twitter jokes. “But I’m not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.” Beijing hasn’t found the campaign threats nearly as funny. A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry urged both candidates to “do more things conducive to China-U.S. mutual trust and co-operation,” while China’s official news agency, Xinhua, called the China-bashing an election-year ritual that “leaves Americans with the impression that China is responsible for their country’s decline.”
The war of words highlights how high tensions are running on both sides. That’s because both countries are under intense economic pressure. America is trying to pull out of a crushing recession (and a debt of more than $16 trillion) and put millions back to work. China is desperate to maintain economic growth, the glue holding the country of 1.3 billion together, while in the midst of a difficult leadership transition (tarred by the Bo Xilai corruption scandal). Caught in the middle is a $503-billion trade relationship that’s emerged as a cornerstone of the global economy.
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Q. Do you ever wonder if this desire to make things more “narrative” is a problem?
A. Maybe if I were a better person or a different kind of a reporter I would see a problem, but I don’t. It’s hard to do something that’s compelling. The best way to get it across is to attach the traditional devices of narrative: all the things that make it engaging and interesting. I don’t see a down-side to it.
-Ira Glass, interviewed on The Sound of Young America, November 2007
The dust is settling from the Mike Daisey affair. If you missed it, Daisey is the theatrical performer who presented parts of his one man stage show on the public radio program This American Life. The piece was about the atrocious working conditions at the Chinese factories where Apple products are made. Last week it was revealed that while the claims made against Apple are true, Daisey’s account of witnessing these things firsthand was largely fabricated.
This American Life dedicated a full episode to a retraction of the episode. It is one of the most uncomfortable pieces of radio you’ll ever hear. Host Ira Glass dissects Daisey’s lies with Daisey present. The exchange is equal parts lawyerly cross-examination and maternal guilt-trip. The episode is called Retraction, but it could easily have been titled “How could you do this to me?”
Glass takes full responsibility for his part in airing the fabricated episode, but he seems very, very disappointed in that Mike Daisey. He can’t even bring himself to make his signature Torey Malatia joke at the end of the show. When it’s all said and done, Glass has apologized so thoroughly to his listeners that he emerges almost more noble and trustworthy than before the incident. This American Life will march on, lessons learned. Daisey, meanwhile, is left behind in a smouldering heap–his reputation tarnished, then set ablaze, its ashes buried, the burial site pooped on.
I listened to the Retraction episode as soon as it was posted last Friday. It hasn’t been sitting well with me.
To be clear: This American Life is a journalistic enterprise of a high order. Over the past 17 years, no program or publication has done more to make important news stories sound important. And it has achieved this largely through narrative. For a “serious” news story to become a This American Life story, it will need a carefully constructed narrative arc, it will require cinematic flourishes, great writing, dramatic music, and most of all, it will require a strong central character for us all to relate to. The same storytelling techniques used by David Sedaris to talk about his family life are applied by This American Life to frame major world events.
But real life events rarely work this way. Is there one individual whose true life story fully encapsulates the Iraqi war or the European financial crisis? If so, This American Life is looking for her. News stories like this have to be cast like Hollywood movies.
Mike Daisey knew that, and he wanted the part. So he lied to Ira Glass and to Glass’ fact-checkers. His guilt is so clear and so painful that This American Life made a story out of it.
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 2:07 PM - 0 Comments
As a tech journalist, I aspire to no greater goal than providing you with details about Apple products slightly before this information is officially announced. That’s why I started working eight months ago on this post. I wanted to be the first to give you a sneak peek at the iPad 3, and I am proud to announce that I have succeeded. Suck it, Gizmodo.
Tech specs to come, but first, my journey: it began in San Francisco, where I hoped to snatch a prototype from a drunken Apple employee. I loitered in Mission district bars, buying drinks for anyone with an iPhone just in case they had the goods. The drinks were expensive, but geeks are lightweights. It typically took only a couple of acai berry spritzers before I could dash away with a laptop bag. I obtained masters for Kanye’s secret country album and photos of Osama Bin Laden’s new Miami condo this way, but alas, no iPad 3. It was time to try unconventional methods.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Consumers are waking up to the ugly truth about how iPads and iPods
“All companies have secrets,” goes an epigram in Adam Lashinsky’s new book. “The difference is that at Apple everything is a secret.” Lashinsky’s Inside Apple shines an X-ray on the bizarre culture of rivalry and silence that Steve Jobs built at the tech giant’s famous campus in Cupertino, Calif. The price of working for Apple in America, it turns out, is security harangues, legal threats, and paranoia—along with extensive explanations of exactly why you, as an Apple employee, ought to be paranoid. Without obsessive secrecy, Apple’s new-product rollouts wouldn’t have the dramatic quality that keeps the cultists mesmerized.
Under Jobs, Apple was traditionally just as secretive about its manufacturing arrangements abroad. Which is what made the company’s Jan. 13 press release so portentous. Its opening words: “The following is an alphabetical listing of Apple production suppliers.” Nothing special for a publicly traded company, you might say, but the list, from AAC Technologies Holdings Inc. to Zeniya Aluminum Engineering Ltd., had long been sought by Apple-watching activists and critics without success.
“For Apple, this is huge, the equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down,” says Leander Kahney, a tech journalist who edits the Cult of Mac news website. “It goes against all the company’s instincts. There’s a lot of trade-secret stuff the company has released here.”
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 1:38 PM - 0 Comments
The New York Times tried to stir things up over the weekend with a lengthy investigation into the working conditions at Apple’s manufacturing plants in China. The story detailed all the gruesome details at supplier companies such as Foxconn: unsafe working environments, unfair overtime, overcrowding in dormitories, violations of employments codes and so on.
It’s a damning story, intended to appeal to peoples’ consciences when it comes to the electronics they buy. It is, after all, hard to feel warm and fuzzy about your new iPad when you think of the human cost that went into making it.
By Colin Campbell - Monday, November 14, 2011 at 9:10 AM - 3 Comments
Last week, Foxconn launched a $224-million project to build one million robots in the coming three years
For all the love heaped on Apple’s artful products, critics have long pointed to a dark side—the working conditions at factories where iPhones and iPads are made. Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer that churns out the gadgets, has struggled in recent years with over a dozen worker suicides in China. In response, it has boosted wages and even put up netting to stop employees from jumping from rooftops.
Its latest bid to solve labour woes goes a step further. Last week, Foxconn launched a $224-million project to build one million robots in the coming three years to use in its factories. The output, which has been described in Taiwan as “an empire of robots,” will double the number of industrial robots in the world and replace 500,000 Foxconn workers. The company has said the efforts will move employees “higher up the value chain.” No doubt it will also ease rising labour costs and shortages.
By Erica Alini - Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 6:20 AM - 4 Comments
Some Canadian firms are showing how the sector could drive the economy of the future
When the assembly line at Ford’s plant in St. Thomas, Ont., came to a halt on Sept. 15, it wasn’t just one factory that shut down. The closure could bring the death of an entire industrial ecosystem, experts warned. More than 300 suppliers feed into the St. Thomas plant—35 of them in Canada. Job losses are likely to extend far beyond the 1,100 workers directly employed at the southern Ontario plant that had been churning out Ford Crown Victorias, Mercury Grand Marquises and Lincoln Town Cars for the past 44 years.
The story of St. Thomas and its displaced workers follows a script well-known to this and most other rich countries. Between 2004 and 2008, Canada shed nearly 322,000 manufacturing jobs, according to Statistics Canada, and this was before the economic downturn took hold. In the U.S., the hemorrhage, driven, as elsewhere, by cheaper foreign competition and a general shift toward the service sector, amounts to eight million jobs lost since 1979. And workers transitioning to a job outside the factory often have to accept a painful pay cut—in Canada it averages around $10,000 less a year, according to a 2008 report by Toronto-Dominion Bank—driving up the divide between rich and poor. Yet the loss of industrial jobs has simply been assumed to be the price of advanced development.
There are signs, though, that the factory era may not be over in Canada just yet. Some manufacturers in niche markets are flourishing. Others are showing how the production plant, with a high-tech spin on it, could even be the future of the Canadian economy—or at least an integral part of it.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 1 Comment
Sharply rising wages could mark the end of China’s reign as the world’s greatest exporter
Last week, Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contractor, made an unusual announcement: it would stop making so-called “condolence payments” to families of Chinese workers who kill themselves. These payments could total what a worker would bring home in about 10 years of work, and may have contributed to a spate of suicides—11 so far this year—at its factories in China.