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China Makes Crap

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Heh. This is a movement I can support.

We bought a "ceramic heater" from Target, where everything except the employees and customers is produced in Chinese factories, and it lasted about a week before it stopped heating and started whistling, which I assume was the preliminary to vaporization.

And yes, I will buy the t-shirt.

One of our socialist readers from Across the Pond posted an interesting comment yesterday. He concluded:

Three things should be eternally free from commercial interests - religion, education and health. Making money from any of those is morally contemptible.
-- Har Noah Neemus

I would like to address these seriatim.

Barack Hussein Obama Monday bashed American automakers for failing to make fuel-efficient cars: "Here in Detroit, three giants of American industry are hemorrhaging jobs and profits as foreign competitors answer the rising global demand for fuel-efficient cars."

So his solution, naturally involving government intervention, is to "[encourage] domestic automakers to make fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles by giving them health-care assistance for retirees."

One would think that, with "the rising global demand for fuel-efficient cars," profits would be enough to encourage auto-makers to produce fuel-efficient cars. Automakers make cars based on which models they think will make them the most profit. They certainly have a better handle on this information than politicians do, even magical politicians. Retiree health care is overhead, Mr. Obama. It does not change with different models.

Still, health care is an issue for our automakers. Japanese automakers do not pay for their employees' and retirees' health care, the government does. So to make our automakers competitive, Mr. Obama recommends giving ours assistance with their health care costs. (What does that have to do with fuel-efficient cars? Nothing.)

Now of course the Japanese government doesn't really pay for the workers' health care -- the taxpayers do. The taxpayers pay for everyone's health care in Japan. So the money goes in a big circle, and the workers, by paying taxes, pay for their own health care. The net effect is to lower their real income. Now we get to the real heart of the problem, which is that our autoworkers demanded too much in their union-negotiated deals. They had a good run of it, getting paid far more than other unskilled workers. The party is over, and they are now putting their employers out of business.

No poner el bebe en la cerveza

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The brilliant "Superman was black" series continues at Digital Camel. Keep scrolling down from the main page to read the previous installments.

What's it about? I'll give the hint it contains coffee, water, multiple hops and practically zero babies.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing June 14 and one of the agenda items was Verizon's application for a cable TV franchise that would allow Verizon "to provide cable television services to residents along with the broadband services and telephone service that they currently have the authority to provide."

(If you're REALLY free at the moment, you can actually go watch the entire meeting, or just skip to the Verizon portion, via the link on this page. That, my friends, is pretty cool technology for a county government.)

Verizon is in the process of laying fiber optic cable throughout portions of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, including Herndon and Sterling. In case you're not familiar with the technology, fiber optic is to normal cable like the Beltway is to Elden Street: They can both carry lots of traffic, but the one carries more than the other. Verizon's FIOS package will provide phone, high definition TV and high speed Internet service on one wire to your house.

For most residents in the Herndon – Sterling area, this means Verizon would provide a cable TV option to compete with your current cable or satellite provider. I can't say whether Verizon's will be better, but it will certainly provide an impetus for the others to optimize their products, pricing and customer service. With more competition, the consumer wins.

Please click the link below for the suspense, the heartbreak, and the thrilling conclusion.

I had no problem tanking up in McLean today, but I learned of this story via Fox News:

"The situation here is chaotic," said Mike O'Connor, president of the Virginia Petroleum Jobbers Association, which represents gas stations in the state. He said his association is seeking a federal waiver to allow the sale of lower grade gasoline to ease the crunch.

Fuel marketers said there were reports of gasoline stations running out of fuel in areas of Virginia, around Washington D.C., in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and parts of Massachusetts.

The U.S. government had warned in recent weeks that gasoline supplies could be disrupted along the East Coast and in Texas as the oil industry shifts to the new anti-smog blend using ethanol.


From China, with lead

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I'm not an economics guy, so I can't pin down the real impact of the fact that every item I touch in the course of my daily life is imported from China. Good? Bad? Who knows?

I remember when the whole 'Wal Mart' phenomenon started a couple decades ago, offering surprisingly low prices on a wide range of merchandise, good service and every single thing 'Made In America,' true to the vision of the late Sam Walton, the company's founder. It quickly became an American institution.

And today, hard as it may be to believe, the franchise STILL offers surprisingly low prices on a wide range of merchandise. The facts that the service is an order of magnitude worse than what you'd find at the local Division of Motor Vehicles, and every single item is 'Made in China,' and Sam Walton has been spinning so fiercely in the grave he is actually IN China by now, are surely mere signs of the progress of our modern age.

Even if your principles have you leaning in a different direction, however, you can't escape the allure of cheap Chinese merchandise.

And I don't mean, figuratively, 'you just can't avoid it, old chap.' I mean, literally, you have absolutely no other choice. If you want to buy something from a major U.S. retailer, and if that something can be produced in China, then, my friend, you are buying a Chinese import. Don't go to Home Depot looking for an American-made ceiling light fixture. There's no such thing at that store.

The downside of all these Chinese imports is, to be perfectly honest, totally incomprehensible to me. The Chinese steel industry allows me to buy items at 1/3 the price they might have cost 10 years ago. I can walk into the local Wal Mart and buy everything I need to furnish a house for a few thousand bucks.

Even though I have the vague idea that 'outsourcing' can be bad, and I have the impression the Chinese don't allow us to sell stuff to them in corresponding amounts, I don't really know for sure. Macroeconomics is pretty fuzzy to me. I might walk into Home Depot or Lowes all steeped in patriotism, but I usually walk out with a bag full of Chinese-produced merchandise congratulating myself on the bargain.

Regarding the quality of these goods, I tend to be bullish just because of the general rule that expectations are directly proportional to price. My expectations of a $37 computer desk are low, and if it actually fits together and lasts for a spell it seems like a pretty sweet deal. Quality? If I wanted quality I would not be shopping at Wal Mart. If a $37 piece of furniture goes south on you you toss it out back by the fence and buy another one.

But sometimes quality IS important: in the case of medicine, for instance, or food items.

I drink green tea, in an attempt to undo the damage already done. The best loose tea I have found I purchase at a local Indian food mart. It's a Chinese product called 'Gunpowder Tea'. It's good; it's strong..well, mainly it's strong. And I drink it by the potful.

So imagine my distress from today's news:

A sizeable portion of Chinese tea for sale in South Korea is contaminated with lead and insecticides, a report by the Korea Consumer Protection Board said Thursday.

The state-run consumer protection agency said that about one in 10 products on the market contains lead residue in excess of government permitted levels.

The findings came after food safety tests were conducted on 30 imported Chinese tea products and 29 local brands that are sold at supermarkets and over the Internet.

Man, I hate when that happens.

But it's a word to the wise. When you buy the $12 Chinese lamp there's little risk apart from some potential guilt trip about not supporting American companies, assuming any of them still make lamps. You sublimate the knowledge that the backbreaking work of a platoon of grey-clad Chinese women and children may have been what made your item so affordable. In fact, it makes no sense to even get hung up on how the product was made because you have no other choice unless you go to a specialty store.

FOOD, however, is another story. The business strategies that allow foreign firms to sell goods at low prices may not harmonize with one's rules for putting things in one's mouth. I tend not to eat fresh produce from Mexico, for instance, unless it's been dipped in bleach, cauterized or digitally scanned. (I will eat a laser print). In that case, I DO care how the product was made.

I have no idea whether Chinese-produced foodstuffs on the whole bear watching because of questionable hygiene or purity policies. But I know I will be watching from now on, and probably should have been before. In fact, now that I think of it, I don't know why I didn't put two and two together sooner while I was buying box after box of that tea.

Pretty dumb, I must say. Guess I'll blame it on the lead. At least now I don't feel so bad about not having a witty punchline for this post.

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