Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: China

Should consumers boycott Apple?

Foxconn
Apple's profits may have soared last quarter, with revenue up 74% (to $46.3 billion), but I wonder how celebratory they feel in Cupertino as reports emerge about the company's business practices, specifically how it keeps production costs low so that it can "make a 60%, 70% margin per phone" sold?

In the last few days, the New York Times has published bombshell reports ("How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work," "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad") that expose the appalling working conditions at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, where Apple's products are made. Here's an excerpt describing the troubling environment:

[T]he workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious -- sometimes deadly -- safety problems.

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple's products, and the company's suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers' disregard for workers' health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

It should be noted:

--Apple is not alone among electronic companies employing Foxconn and other such plants.

--Apple has responded to scrutiny over workplace conditions by disclosing names of suppliers and manufacturing partners.

--If the New York Times' anonymous sources are to be trusted, Apple execs don't seem to care how the work gets done so long as it's fast and cheap. Here are two unabashed (and nameless) quotes from the New York Times stories:

"The speed and flexibility is breathtaking," the executive said. "There's no American plant that can match that." […]

 "We shouldn't be criticized for using Chinese workers," a current Apple executive said. "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

They should have just come out and said they'd rather not abide by U.S. regulations that protect worker rights -- regulations that would slow down productivity and increase costs. ("By some estimates, each iPhone includes $190 in hardware costs, $10 in Chinese labor," Scott Tong said on Wednesday's "Marketplace.")

Earlier this month "This American Life" dedicated an entire episode to the issue of human rights abuses taking place at Foxconn. On the program, Mike Daisey performed from his one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he shares his experience from Shenzhen, where he went with the intention of learning about the people who made his beloved Apple products. Here's an excerpt of his heartbreaking findings:

While I'm in-country, a worker at Foxconn dies after working a 34-hour shift. I wish I could say that's exceptional, but it's happened before. I only mention it because it actually happened while I was there.

And I go to the dormitories. I'm a valuable potential future customer. They will show me anything I ask to see. The dormitories are cement cubes, 12-foot by 12-foot. And in that space there are 13 beds, 14 beds. I count 15 beds. They're stacked up like Jenga puzzle pieces all the way up to the ceiling. The space between them is so narrow, none of us would actually fit in them. They have to slide into them like coffins.

There are cameras in the rooms. There are cameras in the hallways. There are cameras everywhere. And why wouldn't there be? You know, when we dream of a future where the regulations are washed away and the corporations are finally free to sail above us, you don't have to dream about some sci-fi dystopian Blade Runner/1984bull [BLEEP]. You can go to Shenzhen tomorrow. They're making your crap that way today.

When I leave the factory, as I can feel myself being rewritten from the inside out, the way I see everything is starting to change. I keep thinking, how often do we wish more things were handmade? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don't we? "I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch." But that's not true. There are more handmade things now than there have ever been in the history of the world.

Everything is handmade. I know. I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair. One after another after another. Everything is handmade.

Beyond the working conditions, Daisey also sheds light on an environment in which people live in fear and are eventually disposable. "And so when you start working at 15 or 16, by the time you are 26, 27, your hands are ruined," he says. "And when they are truly ruined, once they will not do anything further, you know what we do with a defective part in a machine that makes machine. We throw it away." And there's no one to protect workers, he goes on, in this "fascist country run by thugs."

"It's barbaric," the Daily Beast's Dan Lyons says bluntly. And it's up to us, the consumers, to do something about it rather than turn a blind eye. He writes:

As the Times article points out, this isn't just Apple. It's every company. It's every product we use. It's our entire way of life, built on the backs of people who are being treated in ways that we would not allow ourselves or our countrymen to be treated.

Ultimately the blame lies not with Apple and other electronics companies -- but with us, the consumers.

And ultimately we are the ones who must demand change.

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Photo: A representative from Foxconn Technology Group speaks to applicants outside the computer component maker's plant in Shenzhen last year. Credit: Associated Press

Gingrich: Fly me to the moon

 

On Wednesday, Newt Gingrich appeared before an audience on Florida's Space Coast to extol his proposal for a permanent American colony on the moon by 2020, and his even more science-fiction plans to pass a "Northwest Ordinance for Space" that would allow Moonies to petition for status as a U.S. state once the population hit 13,000 (see video above). 

Many will be tempted to make fun of this. They might say, for example, that Gingrich's space plans are right in line with GOP energy policy because if we continue to "drill, baby, drill" with no consideration of the climate impacts, we'll need to be well versed in surviving hostile planetary environments. They might start calling Gingrich President Moonbeam, or suggesting that Newt move moonward to become the colony's leader. But I'm not going there, because as Gingrich points out, John F. Kennedy was a moon visionary too, and there's nothing wrong with dreaming big about space exploration. Plus, it reminded me of being 12.

In 1975, my favorite TV show was "Space: 1999," a space opera about a team of colonists on the moon who become unwitting galactic explorers when the moon is blasted out of Earth's orbit. It was fun and inoffensive '70s fare starring Barbara Bain, who looked pretty hot in a jumpsuit, and husband Martin Landau, and its major innovation in my mind was the development of ray guns that looked like hand staplers, allowing me to play moon colonist with my parents' Swingline. But here's the thing about that show: It actually posited a better reason why America would want to build a colony on the moon than Gingrich has.

Why did the moon in "Space: 1999" get blasted out of orbit? Because the moon was being used as a storage repository for the Earth's nuclear waste, and for reasons I don't recall, the radioactive dump exploded with such force that it sent the moon soaring out of the solar system. Five minutes' thought will expose the silliness of this notion: Can you imagine the expense of shuttling barrels of nuclear waste all the way to the moon? Or the risk of an accident that would spread radioactive waste all over Cape Canaveral? But this was sci-fi, and that was such a minor plot point in a show that was really about strange encounters with shape-shifting aliens that it was easy to take for granted.

Gingrich's candidacy, unfortunately, is not sci-fi, so he's obliged to come up with a justification for his moon plans that's at least as reasonable as the one dreamed up by a 1975 TV show's writing staff. He fails the test. His apparent reason for setting out on an eight-year, phenomenally expensive moon colony quest, even as he proposes cutting taxes and slashing other government programs, is to stick it to the Chinese. Gingrich wants America to dominate space exploration and, in the course of getting there, produce technologies that will have useful commercial and military applications, just as the Apollo program of the 1960s did. This would establish our dominance over China in these areas, just as we beat Russia on the first moon walk.

Apparently, Gingrich is recalling his days as a 12-year-old too. Back then, we were in the midst of a paranoia-fueled Cold War with the Soviet Union. The space race was born out of fears that the Soviets would surpass us in missile technology. Yet not only are we not in any such contest with the Chinese, there are much better ways to remain dominant in satellite, missile and other technologies than working to establish a moon colony -- we could invest directly in research and development of these systems, rather than the esoteric technologies needed to sustain life in a low-gravity, oxygen-free lunar environment, which doesn't really have a lot of applications here on planet Earth. Moreover, there's little evidence that the moon contains minerals or other materials worth exploiting, at least not at the expense it would require to get at them.

There is, of course, some value in continuing to research manned spaceflight to the farther reaches of the solar system and beyond, and getting back to the moon first would be a nice start. But of all the spending priorities facing the U.S. Treasury in the midst of an economic downturn, this vision isn't just "grandiose," as Gingrich himself concedes -- it's absurd.

See you on the dark side of the moon, Newt.

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China's communists really, really want the iPhone 4S

Crowd outside Apple store in Beijing

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel: "Where have you gone, Chairman Mao, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

They rioted in the streets of Beijing on Friday. It was just the like the old days of the Cultural Revolution. Except this time the rioters weren't waving Mao's "Little Red Book."

No, they were shouting insults -- and chunking eggs -- at an Apple store. Which wouldn't open its doors because it had run out of new iPhone 4S's to sell.

In the United States, we don't make much anymore, and certainly not iPhones, but we buy lots of them.

Meanwhile, in China, they make almost everything these days, and especially iPhones, and they buy lots of them.

Call it "free-market communism."

To be fair, many of the rioters, er, upset customers, weren't mad because they couldn't buy a phone. In another example of that free-market communist system, they were angry because it cost them money.  As The Times story explains:

One member of the crowd, a film extra from Beijing, said he was offered about $20 to wait overnight for the phone. He said scalpers picked up hundreds like him in buses outside film studios where extras commonly work.

"After Apple said they were not selling the iPhones today, no organizers paid their temporary workers," said the man, who declined to give his name….

Buyers were reportedly recruited to line up at the Shanghai store Friday as well, with promises of a free breakfast and $15.

And I thought farmworkers in America had it tough!

What does it mean?  Well, one office wag said that the failure to meet the demands of the clamoring horde showed that the Marxist dictate "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" had totally broken down in China.

Another co-worker saw parallels with the Opium Wars of the 19th century.

Personally, I think my colleagues were simply dredging up the few things they remembered from their long-ago college history and political science classes to try and show off.

Well, I can play that game too.  I think Mao's dream of a communist utopia in China has been done in by one of his great rivals, Deng Xiaoping, who once famously defended economic reforms by declaring “It does not matter if a cat is black or white; as long as it catches mice, it is a good cat."

Well, Deng, there are a bunch of your cats in China now, and they all want to catch iPhones.

It truly is an "Alice Through the Looking Glass" world these days.  As paid workers in a communist country riot trying to buy iPhones, here at home Republicans are actually denouncing presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a "vulture capitalist"  who practiced "crony capitalism"  as an executive at the private-equity firm Bain Capital.

Somewhere, Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan are weeping.

Meanwhile, our Democratic president went on television Friday morning to unveil his plan to actually shrink the government.

Somewhere, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are shaking their heads in disbelief.

For the final word, though, let's return to Beijing.  She was only talking about the iPhone, but this lady sums it all up:

A 60-year-old woman who gave only her surname, Chen, said the melee ruined her plans to give her son the latest iPhone for his birthday.

"There are so many people, and it's so cold, and now they say they won't sell us the phone," she said. "This is just so, so wrong."

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Photo: Police try to seal off the area as thousands of customers line up outside an Apple store in Beijing. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

A curtain-raiser on Tuesday's debate

CNN-Debate
CNN and two think tanks have limited Tuesday night's Republican presidential candidates' debate to national security and foreign policy, although the questioners and some of the candidates may try to shoehorn economic and budget policy into the discussion.

The focus will be especially on Herman "Libya?" Cain, but watch Rick Perry to see if he's been coached to say anything other than that he would let Israel bomb Iran. Speaking of Israel, look for the refrain that President Obama is somehow less than devoted to the Jewish state, despite a statement from Israel's defense minister to the contrary.

Another question is likely to be what the candidates think of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see how many of the panelists will echo Jon Huntsman Jr.'s support for a larger withdrawal from Afghanistan. Or will the compulsion to bash Obama lead them to take a more hawkish posture -- for example, by griping about the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq?

Finally, the buildup of U.S. forces in Australia may give the candidates an opening to rattle sabers over China.

The positions the candidates take will be less important than whether they master the basic facts of foreign policy. With the exception of Newt Gingrich, that is very much up in the air.

Note: Join us here on the Opinion L.A. blog during the debate for quick takes from columnist @DoyleMcManus and editorial writer @MichaelMcGough3.

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Cash-rich China spurns the capitalist-running-dog West

Hu Jintao and Nicolas SarkozyNikita Khrushchev might have been right all along.  You know, when he said, "We will bury you."

Or actually, it's this later quote of the former Soviet leader that is more relevant:

I once said, "We will bury you," and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.

Anyway, Khrushchev came to mind when I read The Times' story by David Pierson and Don Lee on Sunday, "China appears unlikely to come to Eurozone's rescue."

The prospects of an emerging China stepping up to the role of global leader by becoming a major supporter of a planned $1.4-trillion European bailout fund has unsettled many in the Asian country.

They don't think China should seal its status as a superpower by shifting its foreign trove of U.S. Treasury bonds and debts of other nations to fund the financial recovery of Greece and some of its troubled Eurozone neighbors, analysts say.

Such irony. The world's leading communist country is now drawing longing looks from those seeking to save the capitalist system in Europe.

And it's not as if the Europeans didn't try:

At last week's meeting of officials from the 20 major economies in Cannes, France, Chinese leaders also were unwilling to play savior in the shaky rescue attempt.

After two days of wining, dining and cajoling by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders, Chinese President Hu Jintao and top aides quietly walked away.

(Maybe the Europeans could've gone a bit further, though.  You know, something like "Sorry about that whole Boxer Rebellion/Opium war thing. Maybe it's let-bygones-be-bygones for Europe but not in Beijing?)  

No, the big problem appears to be that, well, the Europeans just aren't that good of an investment.

China can't use its $3.2 trillion in foreign reserves domestically because of currency controls, but many Chinese still expect the funds to be invested wisely overseas….

"People's lives in Europe are still a lot better than they are in China," said Yang Guoying, a commodities trader in Nanjing, a city in eastern Jiangsu province. "We need to be really careful with how we use our reserves, which we built up over 30 years of reform. We can't just put it anywhere without any conditions."

A capitalist-running-dog banker couldn't have put it better.

So, while China sits on its $3.2 trillion, the capitalist working class in the West mostly just sits these days. 

Which means that, if you're a member of the financial elite, and you happen to drive by an Occupy site and see those folks stockpiling shovels -- well, you just might wish you'd have paid more attention in that history class at college.

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Photo:  French President Nicolas Sarkozy greets Chinese President Hu Jintao at the G-20 summit in Cannes, France, last week.  Credit: Susan Walsh / Associated Press

 

Slovakia, the little country that could derail us

Prime Minister Iveta Radicova

Wrapped up as you are in the GOP presidential debates, the Occupy Wall Street protests, the fate of President Obama's jobs bill and  -- oh, OK, who are we kidding, the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor, the NFL season, the non-NBA season and the baseball playoffs -- you might have missed Tuesday's big news.

Here's The Times' headline: "Slovakia rejects Europe bailout fund on initial vote."

Now, before you go clicking away to the Fabulous Forum blog, take 30 seconds and read this. Because even though you might not be able to find Slovakia on a map, you need to know this stuff:

Lawmakers in Slovakia on Tuesday rejected a proposal to beef up Europe's bailout fund for debt-stressed nations, but supporters are holding out hope that the measure will pass in a second vote expected to take place within days.

The plan to strengthen the rescue fund is widely considered imperative for Europe as it tries to tame a debt crisis that has already forced Greece, Portugal and Ireland to accept emergency loans to stay afloat. But in a tense showdown, a junior party in Slovakia's ruling coalition refused to back the measure, saying Slovaks should not be on the hook to bail out richer but less financially responsible nations.

Expansion of the fund requires the ratification of each of the 17 countries that share the euro currency. All but Slovakia have given their approval.

Prime Minister Iveta Radicova is now expected to appeal to Slovakia's main opposition party to help her government pass the measure in a second vote. But its support will come at a steep price: The party's leader has said he will back the plan only if Radicova calls an early election.

Analysts say she has little choice but to comply. Not to do so would risk throwing already volatile global markets into even greater turmoil.

So the fate of America's stock market -- and thus your 401(k), the country's economic future, the world's economic future -– may rest in the tea party-like hands of the government of Slovakia.

And you thought the debt-ceiling debate was stupid.

Don't think it's serious? Here’s how the Associated Press put in, writing about Tuesday's stock market results:

Markets have been swinging wildly since early August, when Europe's economy suddenly seemed closer to the brink of collapse.

Moves of more than 100 points for the Dow have become commonplace as traders react swiftly to every whiff of news coming out of Europe. The S&P 500 is up 8.8% since last Tuesday, when it traded 20% below its April peak.

Many market watchers think the volatility will continue until heavily indebted countries like Greece, Spain and Italy have established a clear path out of their current debt mess.

It's not yet Chicken Little time. Cooler heads will probably prevail. Europe won't drown in a wave of debt, taking us with it. [Updated 12:23 am Thursday Oct. 13 2011:  This just in -- lawmakers in Slovakia  on Thursday approved a proposal to beef up Europe’s bailout fund for debt-stressed nations.]

But Tuesday night, the Republican presidential candidates met in a debate on the economy

Slovakia didn't come up.

Instead, they talked about Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan, and Rick Perry's idea to turn the U.S. into a giant oil well (or something), and then Rick Santorum said he wanted to go to war with China over trade, and Ron Paul trashed the Fed. 

And watching the debate, I couldn't help thinking that these candidates would have fit right in in the classroom scene from "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off":

Teacher: In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the... Anyone? Anyone?... the Great Depression, passed the... Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered?... raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. Today we have a similar debate over this. Anyone know what this is? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone seen this before? The Laffer Curve. Anyone know what this says? It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point. This is very controversial. Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something-d-o-o economics. "Voodoo" economics.

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Photo: Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicova speaks to reporters in Bratislava. Credit: Samuel Kubani /  AFP / Getty Images 

Shark fin ban: Yes, a distraction, Sheriff Baca

banchinese americanchinese chamber of commercefinjerry brownlee bacasharkshark finshark fin soupveto

Lee Baca

Sheriff Lee Baca has inexplicably picked up the preservation of shark fin soup as a pet issue, according to a press release from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles. The chamber lauds Los Angeles County's top cop for his "concerns" about legislation that would ban trade in shark fins, the key ingredient in the very expensive and prestigious dish shark fin soup, sometimes served at Chinese weddings as an indication of affluence that honors the guests.

The problem with shark fin soup is that the larger Chinese middle class, both in the United States and abroad, has been able to afford the food like never before, with the result that an estimated 70 million sharks are killed just for their fins each year. The fins are cut off, and the shark is thrown back in the ocean to die.

Sharks might not have many fans, but they do serve an important ecological function in the ocean, and their plummeting numbers are reason for environmental action. The Times' editorial board has supported the legislation, which awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Hawaii, Oregon and Washington already have passed bans.

According to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Baca opposes the proposed ban as "a distraction from more pressing employment issues and suggested that the Legislature refocus on the economy." He went to Sacramento to voice these concerns in person to the governor, the release says.

The Chinese American community has called the bill discriminatory. There is not much demand outside that group for shark fin soup, to be sure, and they point out that other shark goods, such as shark skin wallets, have not been banned.

Fair enough. If banning those wallets would save tens of millions of sharks, I'd certainly agree, those should go as well. But that's no reason for vetoing the ban. The idea of the legislation was to focus on a limited item that causes a tremendous amount of damage and that requires extraordinary waste -- the disposal of an entire animal for one small part.

Is the proposed shark fin ban more a distraction for the Legislature or for Baca himself, plagued with a report  claiming that his deputies are abusing jail inmates and allegations by the FBI that a deputy was bribed to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate?

State government, meanwhile, has many important functions. One of them is to tend to the budget and the economy. Another is environmental protection and, especially in a state whose identity is so closely entwined with the ocean, marine protection. Brown should sign the bill.

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Photo: Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press

Baby boomers: Are 'greedy geezers' setting America up for failure?

Riots in Greece

Baby boomers are greedy. It seems to be all I hear anymore. And what's worse, the wealthiest among them are reluctant to leave an inheritance to their children. Some of those polled say it's for fear that their adult children will squander the money it took a lifetime to earn. But in real life, the reason I've heard most often is "hey, you can't take it with you." The "it" being money.

To be clear: I don't object to consumer spending, especially when it's done offline and in the real world. These days, spending money is good for the economy -- and a way we can all do our part to contribute to the recovery. What troubles me is the selfish and shortsighted mentality about not leaving any money behind. What happened to taking care of your children, to leaving a legacy?

To read Thomas L. Friedman's most recent column in the New York Times, the "greedy geezer" isn't just a way to describe a select few. It's an ethos that's infected our political culture and will quite possibly change the future of the U.S. In comparing our country to Greece, Freidman says:

Indeed, if there is one sentiment that unites the crises in Europe and America it is a powerful sense of "baby boomers behaving badly" -- a powerful sense that the generation that came of age in the last 50 years, my generation, will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids. […] There are Eric Cantors everywhere -- reckless baby boomer politicians for whom no crisis is too serious to set aside political ambition and ideology.

This corrosive mentality, combined with a punishing economic reality, can make it really hard for this 30-year-old to breathe sometimes. And no wonder. Friedman continues:

What happens is that both the American and European dreams hang in the balance. Either we both put our nations on more sustainable growth paths -- which requires cutting, taxing and investing for the future -- or we're looking at a world in which democracies are going to turn on themselves and fight over shrinking pies, with China having a growing say over how big the slices will be.

Is it only a matter of time until  European-style riots erupt in the U.S.?

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Photo: Demonstrators clash with riot police in front of the Greek Parliament on June 29. Millions of Greeks participated in the strike to oppose new heavy austerity measures. Credit: Orestis Panagiotou / Ana-MPA

Does the U.S. need China? [Most Commented]

Chinese Currency

Reduce the trade deficit with China -- and clean up our economic mess. That's what Peter Navarro, business professor at UC Irvine and CNBC contributor, argues in an Op-Ed in Tuesday's pages. This would significantly reduce the overall trade deficit, he writes, as the U.S. owes China more than $1 trillion, while China holds more than $3 trillion in foreign reserves. Further, he points out that China doesn't just use cheap labor; it also employs practices that are illegal under free-trade rules and prohibited by the World Trade Organization. Navarro cites examples including the piracy of U.S. technologies and trade secrets, duplication of brand names, undervalued and manipulated currency, and export subsidies.

Make no mistake. All of these real economic weapons have led to the shutdown of thousands of American factories and turned millions of American workers into collateral damage, all under the false flag of so-called free trade.

The second myth we must expose if we are to ever reverse the job-killing trade deficits we now run with China is the idea that free trade always benefits both countries. That doesn't hold true if one country cheats on the other. Instead, when a mercantilist China uses unfair trade practices to wage war on our manufacturing base, the American economy is the big loser.

Here's what readers are saying about the U.S. economy and its relationship with China.

American corporations and consumers are also to blame

Very nice, but remember that it is American corporations that produce their goods in China and import them for the U.S. market, and it is American consumers that want them at low cost.  There is room for drastic improvement, but don't hold your breath waiting for it, as none of the players in this game have the muscle and fortitude to do anything about it.

-- TimBowman

Decreasing oil importation is also key

Great article, except I don't know why you took out oil imports.  Eliminating the importation of oil would also almost eliminate our trade deficit.   It's time to do so.   Using NG to power semi's would be a great and cost effective start.

--kroneborge

Stop supporting poor working conditions

If American execs had any ethical standard, they would not export jobs to countries which allow their citizens to work under unsafe conditions for slave wages.

-- SteveMo

The U.S. should cut China off

Why is it that so many Americans feel that only the United States is to blame for the mess in the world's economy?  There isn't any doubt that China plays hard ball and its about time that the US and all of its citizens recognize that we need to play just as hard as they do.  We need to restrict their imports just like they restrict ours.  Why are we so willing to let them kill our pets, kill our sick, and poison us with bad dry wall.  Every time there is a mess with their imports, somehow its our companies fault.  Lets cut them off from the largest economy in the world and be done with it.

--stockinger

The U.S. needs China

Can't cut off China completely.  We need their money.  Without it, the US Government can't borrow and would default on her debt.  If we can't borrow, we can't maintain our social security and defense spending.  Almost every major countries is running a trade deficit with China just like almost every major countries ran a trade deficit with Japan in 80s.  Remember how scary Japan looked to us on those Japan bashing days?  China is playing a clever game with outright violating WTO rules.  We have a lot of anger and little will to impose an effective solution aimed at reforming ourselves.

--babypaty

*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected.

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Photo: China's currency controls have been blamed for an unexpectedly large global trade surplus that widened to $11.4 billion in April. Credit: How Hwee Young / EPA

The death penalty for food crimes?

chinadeath penaltye. colifdafoodlettucemelaminemilkpeanutspoisoningsalmonellaspinach

Cabbage I'd agree with the officials of the municipality of Chongqing in China that fines don't appear to be enough to make agribusiness clean up its food-safety act. And killing people by tampering with their food is indeed a form of homicide. But fortunately, this country isn't likely to go the route of that Chinese city by making the death penalty one of the possible punishments.

China Daily reports that the city has made it clear the death penalty is a possibility when it comes to criminal tampering. But China already has imposed that sentence for food crimes. Two years ago, the people responsible for putting melamine in milk powder, poisoning thousands of babies in order to enrich themselves, were sentenced to death as well. Melamine, a cheap substance used to manufacture dishes and other products, falsely boosts protein readings.

Still, China has a point. Not about the death penalty. But officials at corporations who knowingly allow unsafe conditions to prevail at their farms or plants, and who sicken or kill consumers as a result, should be facing more than lawsuits and administrative slaps on the wrist. Why shouldn't they face the same criminal fate as other people who similarly harm others? I'm talking about companies with repeated violations for filth, or those that ship out food despite testing that has found salmonella or other contamination. Isn't that much the same as driving drunk?

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--Karin Klein

Photo: Unsalable cabbages are seen at a field on April 25, 2011, in Shanghai, China. Credit: ChinaFotoPress /Getty Images

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