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Finger pointing.

So now China's heavy-handed approach to human rights is the tech industry's fault.

For those who have better things to do than follow C-SPAN all day, here are the accusations Congress is leveling at our industry (courtesy of the Associated Press):</p> <pre> WASHINGTON -- Halfway through an extraordinary congressional hearing Wednesday about the role of U.S. high-tech giants in censoring the Internet in China, Rep. Tom Lantos tried to cut through all the legalese. Executives from Google, Yahoo, Cisco Systems and Microsoft had defended their actions as the unfortunate price of entry into the world's largest market, while several lawmakers castigated them as collaborators with a repressive regime. Raising the specter of corporate cooperation with Nazi Germany, Lantos, D-San Mateo, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, asked in his deep Hungarian accent: "Can you say in English that you are ashamed of what you and your company and the other companies have done?" </pre> <p>[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Later, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) announced legislation that would create a code of conduct for companies operating in China and call for a U.S. corporate and government push for "global Internet freedom." Said the lawmaker in an interview after the hearing: "Whether it's witting or unwitting, once you find out that you've been complicit with a dictatorship--you've got to reform what you're doing." He added, "I hope they take some of that back and start really robust discussions in their own boardrooms because this is very serious stuff."

Give us a break. This is the same body that writes and passes the laws. The same body that has done little to nothing to press China to live up to its obligations under the WTO. The same body that has repeatedly ignored Tech's calls for China currency reform. And now that China is exercising its sovereign (if abhorrent) rights, Congress bellyaches that this is somehow Tech's fault?

Hello kettle, you're looking mighty black today.

Unfortunately, those hearings were not the only shenanigans playing out in Washington of late. In December in our weekly digital newsletter, PCB UPdate, I congratulated Congress for having at long last taken the initiative to properly fund domestic technology research. In that editorial, I noted that The National Innovation Act of 2005 would nearly double the National Science Foundation's research funding from 2007 through 2011.

In retrospect, I should have waited to start handing out the cigars. A similar plan, this one put forth by President Bush and called the American Competitiveness Initiative, hits on most of the same topics. Like the National Innovation Act, it calls for doubling the federal basic research budgets (although over 10 years). But rather than seeking wholly new funds for the initiative, Bush proposes paying for the ACI via a permanent R & D corporate tax credit. (The previous credit expired last year.) Some $50 billion of the $136 billion the ACI is budgeted to cost over 10 years would come from a tax credit, not new funding. In my book, that's a tad bit deceptive.

Worse, the ACI allocates $1.3 billion for research and teacher-training spending in fiscal 2007. That's actually $1.2 billion less than the cuts made to the higher-education student-loan subsidies that were approved in January as part of a fiscal 2006 budget reconciliation measure. As those of us whose family members hold student loans can attest, the lack of robust federal funding is a huge disincentive to graduate-level studies. To be sure, that's money that gets paid back. But from my perspective, the government is a much easier lender to deal with than private firms, and offers borrowers generous terms to ease the risk of loan defaults. If the role of government is to protect its citizens, organize basic services and ensure educational opportunities, Washington needs a refresher course.

Return of the turnkeys. Are we seeing a return of the turnkey equipment supplier? For those lucky few who walked the floor at Apex in February, it sure seemed so.

The latest entry onto North America turf--and perhaps the most prominent at the show--was Samsung Techwin, whose familiar placement solutions have been extended to dual-camera screen printers and 10-zone reflow ovens. The company has installed 700 to 800 of each worldwide.

At Essemtec, if you want it, you got it. The Swiss company makes printers, dispensers, pick-and-place machines, reflow ovens, wave soldering baths, even board handlers, all available in standalone or integrated configurations.

Several other companies are extending their reach. Sony Manufacturing Systems, equipment arm of the consumer electronics giant, sells small-sized placement machines and printers for mid-sized and large format boards. While primarily focused on Mexico, it continues to keep its eye on the U.S. market. And although it did not bring it to the show, placement OEM Mydata now has a solder printer. Now all we need is for Dover to bundle its equipment groups. Don't get your hopes up, though: Universal Instruments president Jeroen Schmits quickly and emphatically dispelled that idea.

Mike Buetow, Editor-in-Chief
COPYRIGHT 2006 UP Media Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Caveat Lector
Author:Buetow, Mike
Publication:Circuits Assembly
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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