The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Even the Democrats Don't Get It

There is a reason why my voter registration card lists me as an 'independent' and not a 'Democrat'. Most of the time, I would associate myself with the Democrats, I would consider myself socially progressive, I would say that I'm a liberal, but... there are times when I listen to the Democrats and I wonder how they just don't get the issue at hand.

I'm watching the CNN debate and they were discussing what the future President of the United States should do about trade with China given that there has been an uproar about unsafe products coming out of China. Everyone is talking about enforcing the WTO law and shut off trade with China, they are talking about how bad China is this, and how bad China is that, is that the real heart of the issue? I think they are missing it.

At my workplace, we make consumer electronics. No they aren't immediately threatening products like a medical device, but they still need to be safe. The products need to be lead-free, they need to not explode in your hand, in short, we test them extensively to make sure they don't hurt people. At the same time, we manufacture things in China, like everyone knows, manufacturing at places like Foxconn just makes financial sense, they do it fast and they do it well. If something went wrong, the attention I think is on us, not on China. It is our responsibility to make sure that everything is defined to a T. This includes giving them materials so that we know the resistors and capacitors are in fact Pb Free/RoHS compliant, that the paint we use has no lead in it, it is our job to make sure that things are so explicitly defined that no shortcuts can be taken. It is ridiculous in my opinion to not do these things and then turn around and plead ignorance when something bad happens.

There were very few people on the debate stage that identified the problem, that we should be checking what China exports to us. But they are going about this incorrectly, they want to set up a foreign FDA/watchdog type arm of the US government to inspect exports. Why? This is a complete waste of money. This is one of those things that is very Republican in a way (although I haven't heard any of the Republican candidates even bring this up), we live in a capitalist system, we keep preaching how market forces drive things; market forces should drive safety.

It should be up to each individual company to define everything that goes into the product, to test a sample of the products before they are exported and sold into the American marketplace. I find myself in disbelief when we are blaming China for what happened. Even Mattel apologized to the Chinese government and Chinese people about the lead in the paint ordeal. It's not for the most part, China's fault. If Mattel didn't define what goes in the paint, if they aren't testing the products for lead, if they aren't the first line of defense, they should be held criminally liable. We don't need a government organization to check this kind of stuff, there is no way that a government organization can have the expertise to know exactly what safety concerns they should be looking for. It needs to be up to the experts, it needs to be up to the corporation designing the goods. What's so hard about this? We need to stop being so afraid of holding American corporations liable and scapegoating China. We manufacture in China because it's cheap, and we should understand that you get what you pay for. If you as a company find that it is no longer financially beneficial to build in China because of all the safeguards you need to implement, don't build there!

Let's stop blaming China for things that we should be responsible for. Now alternatively, if we do everything we can to be explicit about how they are to manufacture things, how to be safe, and things still go wrong, then and only then should we be making a public issue about it. Then and only then should we be going after Chinese manufacturing. We need to start being really on the ball about this issue, it is inevitable in my opinion that as profits begin to grow in China, Chinese business owners are going to start realizing that cutting corners can mean more money in the pocket. That's what we need to be watching out for, but first and foremost we should be doing our due diligence and making sure we take all the precautions necessary. As you can read in the news, due diligence is what has been lacking in almost every one of these public scandals.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Diplomats upset at being sent to Iraq

I thought this an interesting state of affairs:

Diplomats angry over forced posts in Baghdad
"At a rare, contentious meeting, foreign service officers told senior State
Department officials that the move to fill vacancies in Baghdad puts them in
danger, jeopardizes the well-being of their families, and could deplete the
ranks of those willing to serve overseas at a critical time."

A great many people, from congressmembers to DoD leadership, have long been insisting that success in Iraq can only arise out of a political solution, and not a military one. That the military is there to provide stability so that a political solution can be had. Now, while thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines continue to serve multiple tours in Iraq and face danger every day, the members of the foreign service - literally the tip of the spear in diplomatic terms, on whom the responsibility for working towards a political solution rests - are angry that they too might be required to go to Iraq. Who else do they think is going to perform their diplomatic duties? It certainly isn't the military's job. At least it isn't supposed to be, despite the fact that the military has frequently acting in such a capacity in many ways since the occupation began.

Now Gen. Sir John Hackett has noted that military servicemembers are unique in the realm of occupations in that they accept what he calls ‘the contract of unlimited liability.’
"A soldier gives up some individual rights (such as the right to withdraw his
labour), accepts collective standards which contribute to the common good, and
undertakes, in the last analysis, to kill or be killed for a purpose in which he
may have no personal interest."

Even in dangerous civilian occupations, such as Police and Firefighting, an employee has the right to quit if he or she does not wish to serve any longer. A soldier does not have that right, and their obligation under oath to serve extends to any situation to which the government, and by extension the public, wishes to deploy them. Such an obligation is crucial to enabling the military to function under even the most dire of circumstances.

The State Department cannot force its employees to deploy. And this may be the problem.
It is yet more evidence of the need for a more robust multifaceted force with obligated deployable diplomatic assets. Or, at the very least a dedicated quickly deployable corps of "Diplomatic Special Forces" at State, with capabilities great enough to coordinate an effort in a country the size of Iraq or Afghanistan or continent-wide as in Africa. The status quo at the State department just doesn't work in the contemporary operating environment.