Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Trading Down: “Made In China”

Our most popular export is our nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs lost since mid-2000, as U.S. companies have moved production overseas to lower-waged nations. Yet the Bush administration is still not heeding the advice from economists warning that the United States cannot sustain its current $800 billion annual trade deficit, which has led to trillions in dollar-denominated reserves being held by China and other Asian countries, and by Saudi Arabia and the other major oil producers. Such large reserves give these countries that possess them undue leverage over the United States, which could lead to a sell-off of dollars that would send the value of the currency skidding. This in turn might force the U.S. to raise interest rates, choking off future economic recovery.

The U.S reported trade deficit with China alone for 2006 is a mind-blowing $232.5 BILLION dollars. Recently closing 180 food plants due to inspectors uncovering more than 23,000 food safety violations, the country’s exports of contaminated vegetable protein earlier this year triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in American history. Industrial chemicals including dyes, mineral oil, paraffin wax and formaldehyde have been found in everything from candy, pickles and biscuits to seafood. One suspected cause is a lack of cold storage and logistics systems but these chemical additions into their products were not by accident.

Cutting corners in manufacturing is not strictly a food industry predicament for China. Four hundred and fifty thousand radial tires are being recalled due to the tires missing a necessary gum strip that prevents tire separation. To add insult to injury, the company importing the tires, Foreign Tire Sales, had originally sought the U.S. federal government’s help with the recall, saying it did not have enough money to recall all the tires itself. This New Jersey company wanted to import inexpensive tires to save a few ‘pennies’ but then wanted the taxpayers to pay for what is readily their product and their responsibility.

In more uplifting new, bargain toothpaste now contains diethylene glycol, a known poison commonly used in antifreeze. It has been profitable to substitute this chemical for its cousin, glycerin, which is usually more expensive. Glycerin is used as a thickening agent in toothpaste and is also commonly found in food, drugs and household products.

But not everyone is China is profiting from these the high export rate. There is a widening income gap and threats of social unrest. “Under China’s “iron rice bowl” system of the 1950’s and 60’s, all workers were protected by the government or by state-owned companies, which often supplied housing and local health coverage. But by the 1980’s, when the Maoist model had given way to economic restructuring and the beginning of an emphasis on market forces, China began eliminating many of those protections-giving rise to mass layoffs, unemployment, huge gaps in income and pervasive labor abuse.” *

With much of the international spotlight now focusing on these issues, where the Chinese government is not lacking is in the severity and punishment of corrupt executives. Unlike the U.S’ mockery of a judicial system in handling Enron, Tyco, etc., the Supreme People’s Court approved the death sentence against Zheng Xiaoyu, who was convicted of taking bribes worth some 6.5 million yuan ($850,000) from eight companies. He was executed earlier this month. “Zheng Xiaoyu’s grave irresponsibility in pharmaceutical safety inspection and failure to conscientiously carry out his duties seriously damaged the interests of the state and people,” reported Xinhua news agency citing the high court.

Investigators found Zheng and his subordinates abused new rules in renewing drug production licenses to squeeze kickbacks from companies. “We must ensure that those who have power fulfill their duties and responsibilities, and if anyone abuses their power they will be punished,” proclaimed Yan Jiangying, spokeswoman for the State Food and Drug Administration. Perfectly stated…should not those leaders allowing the U.S. economy to be held hostage to foreign nations be held responsible?

* “China Drafts Law to Boost Unions and End Labor Abuse”, New York Times, 10/13/2006
“China’s Trade Surplus Surges 73 Percent”, New York Times, 6/11/2007
“Trade Deficit Soars To Record”, Associated Press-The News Journal, 2/11/2006
“In Food Safety Crackdown, China Closes 180 Plants”, New York Times, 6/27/2007
“Chinese Tires Are Ordered Recalled,” New York Times, 6/26/2007
“U.S Trade Deficit Is Called a Threat to Global Growth”, New York Times, 9/5/2006
“Toxic Toothpaste Made in China Is Found in U.S.”, New York Times, 6/2/2007
“China Executes Ex-Drug Chief for Graft”,, 7/11/2007

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What Are We Doing To Each Other?

An injured Lebanese boy seeks comfort from his mother in the picture on my wall above my computer. He leans over his mother; both of them covered in blood. Her hands reaching up trying to comfort the boy’s cries. An Israeli rocket hit their van as they fled through the coastal city of Tyre in southern Lebanon.

As a currently childless woman, I can not help but fear ever being in position of fright and helplessness at the actions of other people and their effect on my future children. Should I dare ever bring another human being into this hurtful world?

-A 3-year-old boy died in Chinese hospital after ingesting pesticides and was denied medical care until his grandfather could pay for the treatment. The boy died after the grandfather left to raise money.

-Mukhtar Mai, 4 years ago, was gang-raped by four men in her village in Pakistan to punish her brother for an offense they believed he committed. Her honor destroyed, she was expected by her community and even her own family to kill herself in shame.

-Formerly ChevronTexaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the soil and water of a previously pristine section of the Amazon rain forest. Too poor to move, parents have watched their children play and their livestock feed in areas contaminated with these hazard wastes. Rene Arevalo who lived near a separation plant that was once operated by a Texaco subsidiary and lives with his five children drink contaminated water… “What else can we do?”

-Ayaan Hirsi Ali had her genitals cut out when she was 5-years-old. Her clitoris and labia were carved out and the whole area was sewn up so that a thick band of tissue forms a chastity belt made of her own scarred-flesh. “What were we being kept pure from? Somebody owned us. What was between our legs was not mine to give. I was branded.” (Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali)

-Kazakhstan, Sept 2006, a government official confirmed that 55 children had contracted the H.I.V. virus through contaminated blood or used needles at a hospital.

-On an icy February morning 19 years ago on a Bronx street, Alison Dolan was left in a Bud Light box in a filthy alley. The plight of babies who are abandoned in the U.S.-left in dumpsters or gas station bathrooms or vacant lots.

-171 million children throughout the world work in hazardous conditions or with dangerous machinery.

-In less than a decade, an estimated four million people have died in the Congo, mostly of hunger and disease caused by fighting. It has been the deadliest conflict since World War II, with more than 1,000 people still dying each day. (“In Congo, Hunger and Disease Erode Democracy”, New York Times, 6/30/2006)

-88,345 homeless people live in Los Angeles and the surrounding communities. Close your eyes, and they disappear. Better yet, tell them to get a job!

-Rebecca Riley, 4-years-old dies of a drug overdose after being prescribed medication for ADHD and bipolar disorder since age 2 ½. She was 2 ½…yes, it is called ‘terrible twos’ for a reason. Nothing new but hey, pharmaceutical companies can make money and doctors kickbacks from such diagnosis’s.

-After bouts of hypertension and diabetes, Mary Rose Derks, a 65-year-old widow, scrimped money out of her grocery fund for an insurance policy that promised to pay eventually for a room in an assistant living home. After paying for the insurance, now 81, has yet to receive a penny from the Conseco Insurance while her family has paid around $70,000 in care.

All blips in the morning newspaper…if you even get one that covers such events. Wash down that bagel with your Starbucks, put your head back in the game and remember, who makes the most money wins!

Where has our compassion for one another gone?