The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Zachary Hubbard

November 16, 2011

Zachary Hubbard | Buying American no trivial matter

— While you were getting bombarded with details of the Penn State child sex scandal, you might have missed an important story last week. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, the committee’s ranking Republican, are upset that China is manufacturing counterfeit spare parts that end up installed in U.S. defense systems, including high performance aircraft.

Was this blinding glimpse of the obvious truly a Homer Simpson moment for the senators? D’oh! Senators aside, who besides Rip van Winkle could possibly be surprised to learn China sells America junk? A “Made in China” label used to be a virtual trademark for “junk” and this hasn’t changed much over the years.

Levin and McCain fear some Chinese plot to sabotage America’s national defense.

While many of China’s leaders would certainly like that, the facts surrounding the situation might not be so sinister.

Upon closer inspection, one discovers that counterfeits and knockoffs are a mainstay of the Chinese economy. Furthermore, economic espionage, not research and development, is a key factor behind many Chinese technological and manufacturing advances.

In 2009, the Justice and Homeland Security departments seized $143 million worth of Chinese-made counterfeit computer networking hardware, consisting mostly of bogus Cisco network routers. The operation yielded 30 felony convictions.

Counterfeit hardware might have hidden features giving Chinese intelligence personnel, industrial spies, or criminals access to our most sensitive computer systems.

The counterfeiting problem has grown so bad it now threatens even China’s national security. Counterfeit software is so common that some estimate up to 70 percent of the software installed on Chinese networks is bogus. The problem is so dire Chinese authorities have started cooperating with the FBI to shut down the software producers.

In July 2007, Beijing announced that a joint operation between the FBI and Chinese law-enforcement agencies had resulted in the seizure of half a billion dollars worth of counterfeit software.

It gets worse. Just last week, China reported a four-month law-enforcement investigation had resulted in 114 arrests and the seizure of more than 65 million fake drugs. The original investigation began after some of the drugs were discovered in Chinese pharmacies. According to the AP, some contained harmful chemical pigments and even animal feed.

If counterfeit drugs in Chinese pharmacies might not trouble you, you’d best reconsider. On Aug. 13, The New York Times reported, “More than 80 percent of the active ingredients for drugs sold in the United States are made abroad, mostly in a shadowy network of facilities in China and India that are rarely visited by government inspectors.”

While these plants are supposed to be periodically inspected by the U.S. government, the article indicated it would take 13 years at the present rate to inspect all of them.

In 2000, Congress formed the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission to investigate and report annually on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. According to a 2010 report ordered by the commission, “China is the world’s No. 1 producer of acetaminophen – a widely used, over-the-counter analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer), commonly used for the relief of fever, headaches and other minor aches and pains; and is a major ingredient in numerous cold and flu remedies such as Contac, Benadryl, Excedrin, Sudafed, Theraflu, and Vicks among others.”

The same report indicates China is also a major producer of vitamin C, making more than 100,000 tons per year and exporting 90 percent of this.

If you use nutritional supplements, check the label and you’re likely to find the product, or at least some of its ingredients, originated in China.

We often hear reports about China using slave and child labor, one of the reasons many Chinese products are cheaper than their American-made counterparts. But another reason for China’s low prices is shoddy manufacturing and poor workmanship. Compare almost any Chinese product to a similar one manufactured in America and you will usually find the American product is superior.

Maybe this isn’t a big deal when it comes to your sandals and athletic socks, but what about building materials?

In September 2007, the Kiplinger Letter reported that shoddy steel imports from China are a threat. This is particularly true of the tubular steel used in bridges, skyscrapers, pipelines, cranes, farm equipment and a host of other items.

Business Insider reported in September 2010, that completion of the repair and refurbishing of the San Francisco Bay Bridge was delayed by

15 months due to “... inferior steel, shoddy welds and poorly translated plans.” The prefabricated steel sections, produced in China, were selected because the project could be done at about half the price of using American steel. Will this bridge, part of which collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, survive the next major quake?

Chinese steel repercussions could hit close to home for those in western Pennsylvania. What if shoddy Chinese tubular steel gets used in constructing the pipelines transporting Marcellus Shale natural gas across the Keystone State? Recall last year’s San Bruno explosion in California, where a ruptured gas pipeline caused massive damage in a neighborhood, destroying

50 homes and killing at least half a dozen. While the exact cause of the pipeline rupture in the San Bruno explosion remains unclear, the level of destruction is typical of what occurs when an underground gas pipeline explodes.

Given America’s crushing national debt, punishing high employment and the serious health and safety considerations, buying American simply makes good sense. Every American can make a difference by adjusting his or her buying habits. When given a choice, choose American- made goods over similar items made in China. It might cost you more up-front, but the products will last longer and will be of higher quality.

I encourage everyone to visit www.madeinusa.org, where you’ll discover a search engine and database for helping to find American-made products.

Zachary Hubbard is a retired Army officer and freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune-Democrat Reader Advisory Committee.

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