May 24, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, CPSIA Updates, Featured Articles
I live in a magical state. Actually, a magical State – the State of Illinois. Howdya like to have our balance sheet? My State of residence owes $45 Billion in borrowings (up from $12 Billion in 2002), has $140 Billion in unfunded pension and retiree health care benefits, is behind on payment of $8 Billion in bills (despite raising personal income tax rates by 66% this year, and is likely to run a multi-billion dollar deficit this year again. We have the second worst credit rating among the 50 States. Slow on the uptake or just magical? Ask California – they’re the only place worse than us. We owe $8 Billion in unpaid bills – gag, this is civic humiliation. And how is our wonderful State, the Land of Lincoln, spending its precious few resources these days? Well, a top priority is the lead labeling law. Ah, that old chestnut! Apparently, the scourge of lead has not been sufficiently snuffed out in Illinois. The absence of injuries, the sharp drop in recalls, the asphyxiating federal requirements are all inadequate around here to keep kids “safe”. Our civic leaders have already put in place the toughest and most unreasonable lead labeling law in the country, out Proposition 65′ing even the real Proposition 65. Never content to leave “well enough” alone, they are going back to the well. So our paid public servants with apparently very little to do have chosen to revise AND TIGHTEN the Illinois lead labeling law. See the attached working draft for your amusement (or nausea). They are extending it to all coatings – get your tests a-ready! – and have added a notation in the “warning” label to indicate that the product actually complies with federal standards. Yes, the ultimate mixed message – dangerous yet safe, all at the same time! – consumers will no doubt appreciate this extra effort by regulators. The law is now much more complex and impenetrable, too. Lucky us. And why did the estimable Lisa Madigan, our Attorney General, demand this change in law? Gotta get elected right? If kids aren’t made safer every day, whether science is involved or not, who needs the AG’s office? No injuries motivated this change, just a basic lack of understanding of science and a passionate need to deceive the public. Lisa Madigan’s paycheck is among the bills that Illinois pays promptly, by the way. My tax refund isn’t on the same list of priorities. Welcome to the Land of Lunkheads. Illinois, you shining star!
The notorious American Academy of Pediatrics, a political organization masquerading as a scientific organization, is mounting a furious effort to stop Congress from amending its baby, the misconceived and defective CPSIA.
April 3, 2010 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
Everyone knows that the CPSC under Chairman Inez Tenenbaum is all about openness and transparency, right? She told us about her closely held principles of open government again and again. [If there is any doubt, see below for her many public statements on this topic. I probably missed more than a few, too – please forgive me.] Apparently, this is part of her plan to restore confidence in the CPSC.
Let’s not obsess over her vote with the self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness”, Commissioner Bob Adler, to prevent a public discussion by the five CPSC Commissioners of the controversial January 15 report to Congress. I am sure she was really trying to be open, but I must be too dumb to understand it.
And then there is the Waxman Amendment 2.0. The anti-business sleight of hand in the pending law has been much discussed in this space. The Waxman Amendment is quite provocative. Many groups have submitted comments to Waxman’s staff, as well as two Commissioners (Nord and Northup). Or is it four Commissioners?
I have reported that Tenenbaum and Adler submitted joint comments on the Waxman Amendment. Their letter was apparently not signed. The only place you can find it, to my knowledge, is in my blog. I believe that senior CPSC officials who asked Ms. Tenenbaum’s office for a copy of it were REFUSED. Is that “open” and “transparent”? You be the judge. By the way, you weren’t supposed to see it, either.
I am told Ms. Tenenbaum previously submitted a secret list to Waxman of 20 changes she wanted in the law, but this document never surfaced. On March 23, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to disclose this and other documents relating to these Commissioners’ interactions with Congress on this bill and finally received an acknowledgement from the CPSC on April 1. No joke. Yet I have not received any documents to date. The Tenenbaum and Adler letter is still a thing of mystery.
And now I understand that in response to press inquiries about the mystery comment letter, the CPSC is admitting the authorship of the two Democrats. No explanation is being given for the secrecy, nor for its absence from the CPSC website.
How very transparent. Is this building your confidence in fairness and openness at the CPSC? Perhaps this is the new Washington Mr. Obama is installing. No more business as usual!
Mr. Nixon would be so proud. I wonder if there is an enemies list, too. . . .
In chronological order, the remarks of Ms. Tenenbaum on transparency and openness (emphasis added):
[I particularly like nos. 6 and 12, btw.]
1. [This one is from the agency itself, but it's a good warm-up.] U.S. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION INFORMATION QUALITY GUIDELINES :
“CPSC also achieves transparency through wide dissemination of its information. Most reports and other data products are available both as printed and electronic documents. They are announced on the CPSC web site and most electronic versions can be accessed and downloaded directly from the web site.”
“Ms. Tenenbaum identified three major areas of focus for her common sense approach to serving as Chairman. ‘First, I want CPSC to be more accessible and transparent to parents and consumers. By creating an electronic database of product incident reports that consumers can search and by collaborating with state and local agencies and consumer groups, we can give the public confidence that CPSC is working openly and in their best interest,’ she stated.”
“Consistent with the President Obama’s approach to governance, if confirmed as Chairman, I will ensure that the Commission is operated in an open, transparent, and collaborative way and in a manner worthy of the American people. . . . If confirmed, I commit to you that under my leadership the Commission will operate in an open, fair, and evenhanded manner and will invite participation by the public, consumer advocacy organizations, and industry.”
“Enforcement is actually one of my three top priorities as Chairman, along with government transparency and consumer education and advocacy.”
5. Statement of Inez Tenenbaum Chairman U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection “The Consumer Product Safety Commission: Current Issues and a Vision for the Future”, September 10, 2009:
“In my first two months leading the CPSC, I have focused on three key goals: transparency and openness to those we serve; a renewed focus on education and advocacy to all American consumers; and fair, but firm enforcement of the product safety laws we oversee.”
“Hello, I’m Inez Tenenbaum, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In my first hours as Chairman, I spoke frankly to families and consumers across the country. I said that as the leader of this important safety agency, I was committed to creating an open and transparent CPSC. We have kept our word.“
“I have said this previously and I want to be clear with all of you – I support the creation of the database, as I believe it furthers the vision of creating a more transparent CPSC and a more informed consuming public.”
“The spirit of cooperation and dialogue with which we are opening this Summit reflects the philosophy that I have as a regulator. I embrace open government, information sharing with all stakeholders, and a commitment to finding mutual interests.”
“With the passage of CPSIA, the proposed product safety legislation introduced here in Canada, , it is more important than ever for industry, consumer groups, and government to work together. We must assure that there is a transparent and fair handling of the vast responsibilities we are being given. Serving as the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission puts me in a position to oversee a reshaping of consumer product safety issues affecting the global community, and I take my responsibilities seriously.”
“I am as committed to transparency as I am to enforcement and as we go forward, I hope all of you will work closely with us through our comments process and open proceedings. It is essential that we find common ground through dialogue on ‘building safety into toys and children’s products.’”
“I am as committed to transparency as I am to enforcement and as we go forward, I hope all of you will work closely with us through our comments process and open proceedings.”
“As many of you have heard me say before, I am a believer in open government. It is integral to the Administration’s efforts to change the culture in Washington, and I believe it is integral to changing perceptions of the CPSC. Over these past months, I have made the Commission as accessible to the public as any time in its history. At the same time, I have made myself accessible to both industry and consumer groups. I will continue to have an open door in the years ahead.”
“After a tumultuous 2007 and 2008, we made 2009 a year of change at CPSC:
• change that brought new staff and new thinking,
• change that brought new partners and a return to openness, and
• change that has brought renewed confidence to parents.”
“After a tumultuous 2007 and 2008, we made 2009 a year of change at CPSC:
• change that took us from having only 385 employees in 2008 to having more than 500 in 2010 – and we are still hiring – our goal is to reach 530,
• change that brought new powers and a return to openness . . . .”
“After a tumultuous 2007 and 2008 – we made 2009 a year of change at CPSC:
• change that brought new staff and new thinking as we grow from 385 employees in 2008 to 530 by the end of this year,
• change that brought new partners and a return to openness . . . .
Over these past months, I have made the Commission as accessible to the public as any time in its history. Our public meetings are online – you can watch our Commission meetings every Wednesday morning, — we have hosted public workshops to collect input from the public on major issues and our staff members are presenting useful information to groups like this around the country. At the same time, I have made myself accessible to associations like AAFA and to consumer groups. I will continue to have an open door in the years ahead.”
Read more here:
CPSIA – Waxman Amendment, Tenenbaum and “Openness”
January 26, 2010 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
Perhaps you have been expecting it. After all the “heat” in this blog over the past year, finally, my defense of lead. Hope you’re happy now. . . .
Last Friday, Commissioner Bob Adler posted his long-awaited position paper on lead and related CPSIA issues. Weighing in at 21 pages and 89 footnotes, Mr. Adler’s paper includes a thorough recitation of facts as well as his recommendations about the law. Among other things, he recommends making the lead exemption process more flexible and allowing clothing to be sold through charity resale shops. He also left the door open to changes that would ease the economic burden of the CPSIA on small businesses and low-income consumers. I agree with all of these changes – but I also think many other and more extensive changes are needed, too. I do not agree with the basis of Mr. Adler’s reasoning, however, and that makes all the difference.
Mr. Adler devotes about half of his statement to a detailed analysis of lead safety, reciting many facts not in dispute. Unfortunately, he then leaps to familiar conclusions that we have seen in recent Commission meetings and which are also found in many of his written statements. He does signal some extremely limited flexibility on lead, more or less hewing to the line put forth by Central Casting.
Ironically, Mr. Adler’s statement sometimes leaves you wondering where he stands, since he seems so sympathetic to both sides. It is frustrating to not have a clear picture of how he really sees the world. I fail to find persuasive his argument that the lead rules are good for us when they lead to ridiculous results like the banning of brash bushings on toy cars. Mr. Adler himself noted in the Learning Curve hearing that the brass bushings pose NO risk to children at a hypothetical tipping point with blood lead levels (in other words, the toys were incontrovertibly safe) – and then voted to ban them because the law compelled it. This should trigger a sense of outrage in the Commissioner . . . but it doesn’t.
To me, as an ex-lawyer, the illogical results documented in the Learning Curve case are intolerable. It is proof of a defective law and a defective system. Banning acknowledged safe products is a SIGN of problems, not something to rejoice in. As you know, it costs money to toss away perfectly good product. It also costs a lot of money to employ CPSC staff and Commissioners to decide silly cases like the brass bushing case. Something’s quite wrong if we are celebrating a system so obviously broken.
i believe there are fundamental flaws in Mr. Adler’s views on lead which prompt him to make recommendations basically defending a broken, illogical and self-destructive legislative system. Let me start by stating what I considered to be incontrovertible facts:
- Lead is bad
- Lead can be dangerous to children
- Harming children is bad, and unacceptable if reasonably foreseeable.
- Lead poisoning in children is largely if not entirely the fault of lead house paint and leaded gasoline
Mr. Adler makes the latter point in his footnote 83: “Clothing is not a significant source of lead poisoning. Far and away the greatest source of lead poisoning is lead paint in older housing, lead-saturated soil from gasoline emanated over the years from automobile exhausts, and lead-saturated dust (both from paint and gasoline).” [Other citations omitted] It is important to remember that Mr. Adler KNOWS that blood lead level problems stem from house paint and the long term consequences of years of leaded gasoline use (particularly in the inner city).
Mr. Adler tries to prove that lead is bad – but that fact beyond dispute. He goes further and builds the case that there is no “safe” level of lead, providing citations. Thus established, he then seems to justify the legislation’s strict terms based on the logic that if science hasn’t identified a safe level for lead, every instance of lead is therefore dangerous: “We may have currently reached the outer limits of our ability to measure negative effects of exposure to small amounts of lead, but that does not mean that no adverse effects are occurring. It basically means that we do not know.” Scary stuff. . . but what does he really think?
It’s hard to tell. Notwithstanding his assertion that no level of lead is safe, Adler seems oddly reassured by the permitted levels set by Congress: “[Given] that lead remains ubiquitous and often unavoidable, policymakers who are fully aware of lead’s risks, have sought to determine some level of lead that would be acceptable – at least until new information becomes available.” And these all-knowing policymakers (Congress) set a retroactive scheme of rapidly declining permitted lead levels. In other words, what was considered “safe” (meaning legal) on February 9, 2009, was “unsafe” on February 10, 2009, and what was considered “safe” on February 10, 2009 became “unsafe” on August 14, 2009, and what was “safe” on August 14, 2009 promises to become “unsafe” on August 14, 2011. Mr. Adler analyzes retroactivity under the CPSIA in his statement and then endorses it. Huh?
I fail to grasp the logic of either Congress or Mr. Adler here. Is lead in substrate dangerous or is it not? Is there a safe level for lead or is there not? Is lead safe on one day, and not safe on the next day? If so, can someone explain the science of that safe/unsafe trigger to me? I believe Mr. Adler’s accommodative attitude toward the lead standards and retroactivity is best explained by politics than by any notions of safety or risk.
It is even harder to take Adler’s stern tones on lead seriously when you consider the volume of lead elsewhere in a child’s life. Will regulation of lead in substrate in children’s products have any material impact on blood lead levels? Can anyone prove that it will, or that the cost of getting rid of all the lead is worth the cost? Remember that we could redeploy the same money for more impactful projects, like eliminating high lead levels in drinking water in schools or remediating soil contaminated with lead. We have already covered the fact that Mr. Adler knows that blood lead levels are fundamentally tied to exposure to leaded house paint and contaminated soil. It is also well-known that cars are coated in lead paint, legally under our laws. Lead is also in our food chain, is found in nature – and enters our bodies every day. [For data on this topic, see "Eat My Dust".] By obsessing on children’s products in the face of these facts, Congress ensured that its new legislation would fail to deliver measurable results.
In essence, the slogan “no safe level for lead” connotes a risk-free condition. “Risk-free” is an unrealistic standard and FAR too expensive as public policy. Mr. Adler uses this formulation in his lengthy analysis of used clothing sales: “In sum, I cannot state with certainty that a “safety” threshold of, say, 1 µg/dL blood level change would never occur from zipper sucking. . . . The fact that I cannot say there is no risk is why I characterize the choice [between allowing and banning resale of used clothing] as between bad and worse.” [Emphasis added] Mr. Adler is not following a legal principle here, he is asserting one. This is the precautionary principle, the famous Nanny State being implemented before your very eyes.
It is difficult to diffuse an argument based on the elimination of all possible risk. If we wish to organize our society around the elimination of risk, rather than the management of risk, we are doomed. All of us, not just the children’s product industry. The sad truth is that no one in the Federal government can prove that the policies of the last 35 years on lead caused injury. Mr. Adler implicitly asserts that our inability to prove that it DIDN’T is enough justification to throw the old system out. This is a belief system, not science.
The fear of risk is fanned by the threat of undetectable dangers. Mr. Adler notes: “To say the effects [of lead on healthy children] are not directly observable is not to say that that they are minor.” He amplifies this point by implying a link to children’s products to lead injuries without any proof of a relationship: “[MRI] technology has permitted us to identify permanent damage in adults stemming from childhood lead exposures.” Exposure to what, precisely? ABC blocks or the soil next to an inner-city apartment building in the leaded gasoline era? Mr. Adler’s assertion that we just don’t know what the harm is dodges the real question – how do you know there is any harm resulting from THESE USES OF LEAD? No answer is supplied because no one can answer that question.
The Adler statement paints a pretty compelling picture and the 89 footnotes were presumably intended to add academic gravitas to his arguments. However, not all academics agree with Adler. Here are videos of the presentations of two Ph.D.s who specialize in risk assessment in children’s products and lead issues taking an opposite view: Richard Reiss of Exponent and Barbara Beck of Gradient. They both note that the dose makes the poison and that only through true risk assessment will a sensible safety system be possible.
A couple brief notes:
- Mr. Adler talks a lot about retroactivity in the CPSIA. At the end of the day, he comes down . . . get ready for it . . . in favor of retaining retroactivity, but also for the recommendation of the Commission to make the pending 100 ppm lead standard prospective. I am not commenting on his arguments other than to say that I think relaxation of this provision would bring considerable economic relief without any possibility of physical harm to anyone. That’s enough reasoning for me.
- In calling for change to the lead exemption process, Adler is apparently willing to support only “a modest expansion in the amount of discretion granted to the Commission”. I find this rather curious and unexplained – he only wants a little discretion. Why? Does he worry that the Commission can’t handle the responsibility for full discretion? Again, why? I wonder if greater powers suggested this very limited recommendation out of a lack of “trust”, namely trust of future Commissions not hand-picked by this Dem-dominated Congress. No matter the explanation, it is curious indeed to see a Commissioner ask Congress to extend his Commission limited discretion.
- Adler devotes considerable space to sale of children’s clothing at resale shops. He ultimately recommends that charity resale shops be allowed to sell children’s clothing (possibly subject to posted Proposition 65-like warnings, see footnote 88). Adler’s logic in this section is puzzling to me. Is Adler trying to defend children or defend the CPSIA? He concedes that clothing has no history of causing injury from lead but is apparently troubled that it cannot be proven that a child couldn’t be harmed by clothing. Incredibly, he resolves the dilemma by distinguishing between resales made by charity shops and by for-profit shops, leaving the latter out of his proposed exemption. So is he approving the sale of unsafe products by charity resale shops to poor people so they can stay warm? Or is he saying that the clothes are probably safe, but can’t be sold by for-profit stores for . . . what reason? If the clothing is safe to sell, sell it . . . and if it isn’t, don’t. WHO sells it shouldn’t matter. But apparently it does.
An aside: Mr. Adler uses some strong language to discuss those of us who have pushed back on this law: “As I have waded into the debate, I have encountered many thoughtful, sincere, and anguished concerns about the CPSIA. I have also heard numerous overheated arguments, scanned many bloviating blogs, and read great numbers of error-laden emails (and letters) commenting on the law.” For those of you who don’t know this SAT word, “bloviating” is defined as “[to] discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner” on dictionary.com. I wish our government officials would stick to the issues and avoid attacking the exercise of Free Speech by U.S. citizens. This is particularly the case here, since after a long fight, many of those bloviaters have been proven right. I don’t expect thanks, but I think this is out of line.
I could go on, but I won’t. Mr. Adler’s voice in the debate is an important one and I appreciate his efforts to set the record straight. I don’t agree with him and appreciate the opportunity to reply.
You be the judge!
Read more here:
CPSIA – In Defense of Lead
September 20, 2009 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
The CPSC’s notorious Resale Roundup was greeted with more “acclaim” by Fox News this week. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Be sure to check out the article (“New Government Policy Imposes Strict Standards on Garage Sales Nationwide”), the slideshow (“Ridiculous Recalls?”) and the video . Each is worth your time. For those who are not familiar with this novel new program, the CPSC is fanning out to save you from “evil” resellers who might be foisting off recalled items on you. This includes spying on local garage sales, visiting your local resale shop and poking around on eBay and Craigslist.com. The CPSC has apparently given up on education and individual responsibility as a way to protect against harm – instead, they are redoubling their effort to be the Cop On The Beat, like it or not. In this case, they have chosen to make up a fake crisis, the resale of recalled items, to justify becoming an active protector of the public safety. To get the flavor of this article and the basic problem, here are a few quotes: 1. “The [strict CPSIA] standards were originally interpreted to apply only to new products, but now the CPSC says they apply to used items as well. ‘Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,’ said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. ‘Resale stores should make safety their business and check for recalled products and hazards to children.’” RW – Note that Ms. Tenenbaum justifies this massive incursion into people’s lives by the claim that recalled items “[put] children’s lives at risk”. While I concede SOME recalled items might in fact endanger children’s lives, please check out the slideshow for perspective on the mortal danger posed by many recalled items. Hmmm. A little hyperbole, perhaps? There are ways to deal with the limited problem of certain dangerous items circulating without resorting to the claim that there’s a Five Alarm Fire burning. 2. “CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson says the fines are intended for large companies with serious infractions. ‘CPSC is an agency that has used its penalty powers over its 30-year history against companies,’ Wolfson told FOXNews.com. ‘CPSC is not seeking to pursue penalties against individuals hosting a garage sale or yard sale, we are encouraging them to take the right steps to not resell recalled products.’ But FOX News Legal Analyst Bob Massi says the law makes no distinction for families and small resellers. . . . Don Mays, senior director of product safety planning at the publisher of Consumer Reports, says the hefty penalties are necessary to have an impact. ‘The former civil penalty limit of $1.87 million was too small to be an effective deterrent to large companies who flagrantly violated the law,’ Mays told FOXNews.com. ‘Mattel and its subsidiary Fisher-Price, for example, recently paid a $2.3 million penalty for importing about 2 million toys that violated the CPSC 30-year-old lead paint ban — that amounts to just over one dollar per toy.’” RW – CPSC says they won’t hit you with big penalties, but the law permits it. The Fox video shows that people are afraid. It’s hard to trust a regulatory agency out looking for “bad guys” in your garage with a BIG stick and no checks, balances or controls on how it will use it. Yes, they claim to be all sweetness and light – but what happens if they change their minds? The consumer groups are all for hefty fines, as Mr. Mays confirms, and nowadays, they seem to be passing notes to Congress and to the CPSC. So, is it any surprise that many people are quite alarmed? Side note: Don’t worry, the CPSC says they won’t be coming into your home (yet): “Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn’t be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches. ‘We’re not looking to come across as being heavy-handed,’ he said. ‘We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we’re still going to enforce.’” Aha. Personally, I feel SO much better now. 3. “‘It is scary to think that there could be such hefty fines imposed on unsuspecting households,’ another garage sale organizer, Patti Lombardi, told FOXNews.com. ‘I think I speak for many people when I say that the government spends too much time interfering in the individual citizen’s personal life and this is almost bordering on the ridiculous … what if it opens up a Pandora’s box of litigation brought by the purchasers of items at garage sales?’” RW – Ms. Lombardi hits the nail on the head for the business community. We all KNOW that litigation will follow in the wake of this law. There is a reason why the trial bar-supported consumer groups are all so gung-ho on this law. Everything’s illegal now (check out your reporting requirements under Section 15(b) of the CPSIA – you have a generous 24 hours to report ANY violation of ANY term of ANY law, regulation or rule enforced by the CPSC (they don’t even publish a list, btw) – super!). Litigation by public attorney generals, State attorney generals and the Feds is expected by everyone. Given that it is inevitable that everyone will have violated something, and with the imputed knowledge standard of the CPSIA, probably deemed to have done so “intentionally”, the choice of when and who to sue will favor the government rather substantially. The law was written to terrorize – and mission accomplished, it has. 4. “‘If I’ve got a wirebound notebook, the lead content in that wire binding is now under scrutiny, even though the chance of ingesting lead in any amount from something like that is virtually non-existent, [TimetoPlayMag.com content director Chris Byrne] said. ‘It’s a level of political grandstanding to say ‘we’re taking care of everything,’ but the science clearly demonstrates that the transference is not really possible — I mean, a child who eats the wire binding from a notebook is going to have significantly worse health problems than lead.’” Perhaps you get the idea. I wonder if the CPSC and Congress will EVER get the idea.