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Graham: Top border cop nominee blames China for fake drugs

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Graham: Top border cop nominee blames China for fake drugs

While the debate over sanctuary cities and migration made the headlines Tuesday, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be America’s top border cop used his appearance before the Senate Finance Committee to call out a country far from the border for its role in counterfeit goods and illegal drugs: China.

Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, nominated to lead the Customs and Border Protection Agency, was questioned about the trade and commerce aspects of his duties by committee members, including Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection has an important role in disrupting international drug smuggling operations and interdicting the flow of drugs and money across the U.S. border,” Hassan said, noting that opioid addiction “is ravaging my state of New Hampshire.”

Asked what he would do as CBP director to fight international drug trafficking, Magnus said he was well aware of the problem of fake pharmaceuticals, particularly those made with fentanyl and other opioids, and he pointed a finger at China.

“We should touch on e-commerce, where we know that there are many opioids and precursors of such that are coming through in small packages,” Magnus said. “Many times through the Postal Service because of relationships that are complicated involving China.

“There are a whole series of ways in which we can do more to address the scourge.”

“China remains the primary source of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked through international mail and express consignment operations environment, as well as the main source for all fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The danger from these drugs, which have migrated to mainstream e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay, has become so great the agency issued a rare public alert last month.

“The Drug Enforcement Administration warns the American public of the alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine,” the alert reads. “International and domestic criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake pills, falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription pills, and killing unsuspecting Americans.”

The agency has seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills so far this year, and “the number of DEA-seized counterfeit pills with fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019,” it reported.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates China is the source of 86% of the world’s counterfeit goods, much of it shipped directly to customers in the United States.

The problem of e-commerce counterfeiting has gotten so big that private businesses are banding together to network with law enforcement in the fight. One organization, United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT), recently hosted a roundtable on “The Dark Side of Cybercrime” to help warn businesses and consumers of the dangers.

“Most of these counterfeit goods aren’t made in America. They’re made in China and Asia, and they’re transiting around the globe to come into the U.S.,” said Matt Albence, spokesperson for USA-IT and a former acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “And a lot of it now comes through the mail — UPS, the Postal Service, DHL. There are all sorts of vulnerabilities in the supply chain, and these are areas where law enforcement and corporate America are investing in security.”

And whether it’s counterfeit medications or fake drugs laced with fentanyl, Albence added, the funds from this e-commerce trade often go to criminal gangs and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, ISIS and al-Qaeda, as well as drug cartels.

“It’s not just a loss to our economy. The public safety and national security implications from this illegal trade are quite dangerous,” Albence said.

Magnus pledged to collaborate with state and local law enforcement to fight the flow of drugs, but he also said new technology is required.

Magnus also mentioned the STOP (Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention) Act, which strengthened the collection and sharing of advance electronic data by the United States Postal Service and CBP for international mail shipments.


Michael Graham is managing editor of InsideSources.

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Fuel in tap water alarms Pearl Harbor military families

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Fuel in tap water alarms Pearl Harbor military families

HONOLULU — Cheri Burness’ dog was the first to signal something was wrong with their tap water. He stopped drinking it two weeks ago. Then Burness started feeling stomach cramps. Her 12-year-old daughter was nauseous.

“It was just getting worse every day,” said Burness, whose husband is in the Navy.

Cheri Burness via AP

This 2021 photo provided by Cheri Burness shows Burness and her family, including dog Lilikoi, in car in Honolulu. Hundreds of military families living near Pearl Harbor have complained of stomach pain, nausea and other health ailments amid concerns the Navy’s water system may have been contaminated by a fuel leak.(Cheri Burness via AP)

Their family is among hundreds of military families living near Pearl Harbor with similar complaints after the Navy’s water system somehow became contaminated by petroleum.

The problems have afflicted one of the most important Navy bases in the world, home to submarines, ships and the commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region. The issues may even threaten one of Honolulu’s most important aquifers and water sources.

The Navy said Thursday that tests had identified petroleum in its Red Hill well which taps into an aquifer near the base. Rear Adm. Blake Converse, Pacific Fleet deputy commander, told a town hall meeting the Navy took this well offline on Sunday because it was the closest well to affected housing areas.

Converse said the Navy will flush clean water through its distribution system to clear residual petroleum products from the water. The process, followed by testing to make sure it the water meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking standards, could take four to ten days, he said.

The Navy will also investigate how contaminants got into the well and fix it, he said.

The crisis came after the Navy on Nov. 22 said a water and fuel mixture had leaked into a fire suppression system drain line in a tunnel at a massive fuel storage facility 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) inland of Pearl Harbor. The Navy said it removed about 14,000 gallons (53,000 liters) of the mixture, and said the liquid hadn’t leaked into the environment.

The Navy said so far it’s received calls about a fuel odor or physical ailments from 680 homes in Navy housing and 270 in Army housing on the Navy’s water system. The Navy water system serves 93,000 people.

In the days after Thanksgiving, Burness’s daughter felt so sick she didn’t want to eat any leftovers, including potatoes, turnips and carrots that had been boiled in water.

“‘I don’t want you to have to throw out food because I know it’s expensive, but I can’t eat this Mom,’” Burness said her daughter told her.

On Sunday, Burness started seeing comments on social media from military families saying their tap water smelled like fuel. She didn’t smell it, but people told her to turn on her hot water and check. She did and smelled it too.

She told her family not to drink the water and not to wash their hair and face with it. She ordered private water delivery for $120 a month. They family has mostly been eating off of plastic and paper plates and eating out.

On Monday, when she gave her dog some bottled water, he immediately drank a full liter’s worth and then drank two more liters over the next 12 hours.

The Navy has since starting distributing bottled water and said said Marines would set up showers and laundry facilities connected to clean water.

The Army said it would help affected families move into hotels or new homes and the Navy is working on a similar program. The Navy is also setting up dedicated medical clinics.

Burness said her stomach cramps are about 85% better, but not over. Her daughter’s nausea has improved. But they are both now complaining of breathing issues.

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U.S. employers added a sluggish 210,000 jobs in November

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U.S. employers added a sluggish 210,000 jobs in November

WASHINGTON — America’s employers slowed the pace of their hiring in November, adding 210,000 jobs, the lowest monthly gain in nearly a year.

But Friday’s report from the Labor Department also showed that the nation’s unemployment rate tumbled from 4.6% to 4.2% evidence that many more people reported that they had a job. That is a historically low jobless rate though still above the pre-pandemic level of 3.5%.

Overall, the November jobs figures point to a job market and an economic recovery that look resilient though under threat from a spike in inflation, shortages of workers and supplies and the potential impact of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

For months, employers have been struggling with worker shortages because many people who lost jobs in the pandemic have not, for various reasons, returned to the workforce. But last month, more Americans came off the sidelines to look for jobs and were generally hired quickly.

That positive trend suggests that November was a healthier month for job growth than the modest 210,000 gain the government reported Friday in its survey of businesses. The unemployment rate is calculated from a separate survey of households. This survey found that a much larger 1.1 million more people reported that they were employed last month. The results of the two surveys typically match up over the long run but sometimes diverge sharply in a given month, as they did in November.

The survey of households found that the number of unemployed Americans sank in November to 6.9 million, not far above the pre-pandemic number of 5.7 million. And average wages, which have been rising as employers try to attract or keep workers, increased a strong 4.8% from a year ago.

The government’s survey of businesses showed a slowdown last month in hiring at restaurants, bars and hotels, which added just 23,000 jobs, down from 170,000 in October. That could reflect the effects of an uptick in COVID-19 cases last month and a reduction in outdoor dining.

Retailers cut 20,000 jobs, a sign that holiday hiring hasn’t been as strong as in previous years. But transportation and warehousing firms added 50,000 positions, which indicates that online retailers and shippers anticipate healthy online shopping.

The jobs outlook for the coming months has become hazier with the emergence of the omicron variant. Little is definitively known about omicron, and widespread business shutdowns are considered unlikely. Still, omicron could discourage some Americans from traveling, shopping and eating out in the coming months and potentially slow the economy.

For now, though, Americans are spending freely, and the economy is forecast to expand at a 7% annual rate in the final three months of the year, a big rebound from the 2.1% pace in the previous quarter, when the delta variant hobbled growth.

Nearly 600,000 people joined the workforce last month, increasing the proportion of Americans who are either working or looking for work. If that much-anticipated development continues, it could point to stronger job growth ahead.

The proportion of Americans who are in the workforce rose from 61.6% to 61.8%, the first significant increase since April.

Even as the jobless rate has steadily declined this year, the proportion of Americans who are working or looking for work has barely budged. A shortage of job-seekers tends to limit hiring and force companies to pay more to attract and keep employees. Higher pay can help sustain spending and growth. But it can also feed inflation if businesses raise prices to offset their higher labor costs, which they often do.

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MSP Airport gets $12 million from FAA to build fire and rescue aircraft facility

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MSP Airport gets $12 million from FAA to build fire and rescue aircraft facility

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has been awarded a $12 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a facility to house fire and rescue aircraft, officials announced Friday.

The award, which follows a busy wildfire season in Minnesota, will help MSP meet FAA safety requirements and is just the beginning of a larger project to build out an emergency operations center to house airport firefighting, police and 911 dispatch departments, according to a news release issued by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

“Investments in our airports serve as down payments on the long-term economic well-being of our state and country by boosting the tourism industry, creating jobs, and making it possible for people to travel to see family and friends,” Klobuchar said in the news release. “After unprecedented wildfires in our state this summer, constructing a new aircraft rescue and fire fighting station is critical to supporting the airport’s infrastructure and ensuring the safety of all residents and visitors.”

The FAA also awarded more than $200,000 to six airports in northeastern Minnesota, including Duluth and Cloquet.

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