Reliable Security Information

Made in China: Shoddy goods or superweapons?

What's to believe? That China has quantum teleportation and fields an aircraft-carrier-killing supermissile? Or that it makes shoddy consumer goods for American businesses which have de-instrustrialized? It's not a trick question.

From today's Los Angeles Times:

Since January, the Consumer Product Safety Division has targeted more than 200,000 pieces of cheap jewelry from China that were made with cadmium and sold at numerous national retail chains, including Wal-Mart and Claire's.

The newspaper story informs when the US virtually banned toxic lead from Chinese toys in 2008, the factories simply moved to cancer-causing cadmium.

"Because entry into low-end jewelry manufacturing in China is inexpensive, competition is tough and factories do all they can to stay afloat, even if that means using toxic materials," reads the newspaper. "The US EPA labels cadmium a 'probable human carcinogen.""

But the Dickensian character of US business practice must also take some of the blame.

The story interviews Chinese manufacturers who could make non-toxic jewelry. But it costs more and the pressure is tremendous for the cheapest goods. To sell in the US -- presumably at Wal-Mart superstores.

Again, always the image of US de-industrialization, the shipping of jobs making things overseas where American businesses can exert pressure on those manurfacturers for the cheapest goods, playing one against the other, not having to worry about any environmental or labor laws. Until an understaffed US regulatory agency catches up years later.

At which point something else conveniently cheap and bad is found.

Contrast this item with an almost laugh-out-loud one at TIME magazine on the potential futuristic threat of Chinese quantum communications.

The Chinese will use quantum teleportation to communicate with their new submarine fleet, using blue lasers!

"China is now at the cutting-edge of military communications, transforming the field of cryptography and spotlighting a growing communications arms race ... While the People's Liberation Army won't be beaming up objects Star Trek-style anytime soon, the new technology could greatly enhance its command and control capabilities," reads TIME.

Or one can consider the menacing stories, based on shreds of hard information and big gasbags full of speculation, on the allegedly very threatening DF-21D supermissile which will kill our supercarriers.

"The Chinese could even destroy their opponents' electronic control systems - critical to the operation of ground vehicles and aircraft - by producing damaging current and voltage surges with the help of electromagnetic pulse bombs loaded into the DF-21D [supermissile], reported the Asia Times. "Yet another option would be to fit a missile with a thermobaric fuel-air bomb."

Every Chinese weapon or threat -- from quantum teleportation to supermissiles to the ever present stories on that country's cyberwarriors -- never suffers from any taint of intimation that they might be afflicted with the same fundamental essence of crap associated with that nation's consumer products.

And every day Americans have experience this first hand with Chinese-made goods. There's no escape, no way out. US business de-industrialized for the sake of leveraging slave work over expensive American labor and regulation.

So in everything from toilet seats to stub wrenches to socks, things are found to be ersatz, inferior and often surprisingly dangerous in interesting ways. But cheap.

Consider this older post from 2009:

We're getting a dose of what security [or insecurity] means ... A fallen over economy and mass-firings. In the past eight years, our leaders were good at making us look the other way. See the Islamic terrorists! They want to destroy our way of life!

But underneath our noses a different story unfolded, one of a place that made no sense, a land that worked hard at crushing a Middle Class way of life all by itself.

Let's employ a bit of a fable to define it: The tale of the broken stub wrench, pictured above.

In southern California, everyone has embedded lawn sprinklers. And sometimes, the sprinkler heads are damaged, like when your neighbor runs over one with his SUV. When that happens, you have to replace the fractured sprinkler. And that job requires that you remove a broken piece of it, called a stub, from the water pipe outlet which serves the sprinkler.

There is a tool for doing this and it is called a stub wrench.

Your host did not have a stub wrench when this happened to a sprinkler in his yard last summer. So I went to the hardware store on Colorado Street in Pasadena to buy one. That stub wrench is pictured above. It was made in China.

For a stub wrench to work, it has to be a little like a corkscrew. That is, you have to be able to twist it into the broken plastic stub of the sprinkler head. Burrs on the tip of it dig into the stub, allowing you to untwist the broken piece from the outlet coupling, thus removing it. Then you can screw in a replacement sprinkler.

This stub wrench had no burrs and I didn't notice until he got home. No matter how I tried to make it work, no dice.

So I went back to the hardware store and marveled at an entire shelf of 'made in China' stub wrenches, all the same, all guaranteed not to work, all with the name of an American company on them. But they were cheap, only about three dollars a piece.

It was an astounding display, not just because of the broken-before-buying quality of the goods, but also because it was obvious that people who bought them never complained. So these non-working items just stayed in stock and were never removed, a Ponzi pay-and-get-ripped-off scheme on the micro-scale, a metaphor for the entire economy, now collapsed but still sitting on the shelf in its polystyrene shrink wrap -- broke.

So whenever I read about whatever wonder weapon the Chinese are said to have come up with lately, I laugh. Because it's invariably delivered by US sources in one of the parts of the economy which doesn't really care if there is a Middle Class, the national security complex. Its only important to find some potential menace and inflate until it's a suitably sized horror.

Here's something to chew over.

The Pentagon worries about fighting a regional war with the Chinese military. I don't. Chinese manufacturing has serious systemic quality control issues. The evidence on the table -- literally nationwide -- is that the country has an incredibly difficult time producing anything that is robust, up-to-standard or poison free. This doesn't matter for a lot of things. For instance, it's not really a major issue in strategic war if your blues harmonicas, toilet seats, stub wrenches and sundries -- really eat it.

However, their rockets and missiles, the alleged lasers and quantum teleporters? C'mon now. Seriously.

Besides, why would they endanger their best market?

An earlier version of this post was published at Dick Destiny.

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