Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Much Safer Will CPSIA Make Us?

This is part 1 of some unknown number of parts in a series, "CPSIA by the numbers".

I decided I'd take a closer look and see just how much safer CPSIA would make us if it had been in place in 2008.

First, I made a list of every recall that occurred in 2008. (Yes, it took all day. I have a twisted ankle so I needed an excuse to sit down.) I got the info from the CPSC's website and for each recall jotted down a short description of the item, the hazard for which it was recalled, the number of items recalled, whether CPSIA might possibly have prevented it, how many injuries and how many deaths resulted from it, whether the recall was voluntary or not, and a quick note about what types of injuries were sustained (so that I could distinguish between bruises and broken bones).

Once I had my list in the spreadsheet, I set about analyzing the data. There were 388 recall notices (some of the notices had multiple item recalls on them, for example if they were recalling more than one color of item). Together these recalls represented 31,100,159 individual products, that resulted in 665 injuries and 7 deaths. Most of the recalls (76% of them) had no injuries or deaths associated with them. That means only 24% of the recalls happened as the result of an injury or death.

A quick note about voluntary vs. involuntary recalls. There was only ONE involuntary recall in all of 2008, and it was from a company that had had multiple large recalls in a short period of time and gone out of business. The company that bought its assets refused to conduct the recall, but the retailers jumped right in and went ahead with it, in cooperation with the CPSC. And this one recall was for a bassinet with a strangulation hazard, from which 2 kids had died.

Another point that bears making is that most, but not all, of the recalls for lead paint and lead exposure were ones that would have been prevented by CPSIA. 90% of them would have been (63), but 10% of them (7) were for items definitely not intended for children, such as key chains and candle charms. Wherever there was doubt whether an item might be a "children's item" I pre-emptively ruled that it was a children's item. So for example the Harry Potter bookends that were recalled for lead paint got classed as a children's item for purposes of my analysis. There was one injury from lead exposure from the non-CPSIA lead violations; I didn't count it as one that CPSIA would have prevented, because it was from exposure to a lead-containing adult product (a keychain, in this case).

Of the 63 recalls that would have been prevented by CPSIA, only 1 resulted in an injury (a child ingested lead paint from a crib and had elevated blood levels of lead). This means that had CPSIA been in place for 2008, one child would have been helped.

Think about that: all the expense to which we are going, all the ruination of all the businesses, all of that would only have helped ONE small child be safer.

Now think about how many children we could help if we instituted a lead paint abatement program. According to CDC data, in 2006 there were 39,526 children with blood levels of lead in excess of 10 ug/dl (the level of concern). If we are truly concerned about lead poisoning in children, why don't we start with the 39,525 children who did NOT contract lead poisoning from children's goods?


QUESTION: Trinlayk from Twitter writes: "but still ONE injury from ONE product that would have been covered under this law".

RESPONSE: I'm a big fan of human life, and of saving whomever we can. I don't think lead poisoning is in any way a good thing, and if I were Empress Of The Universe I would order that no child be subjected to lead poisoning. However, think of the billions of dollars that will be wasted on the pre-emptive testing of so many lead-free items that MAY have saved this one child (who, it should be remembered, didn't die)-- and I say "may" because we have no guarantee that unscrupulous manufacturers might make a lead-free sample for testing while still using lead paint on the rest of the run-- think of all the billions of dollars. Now imagine that we took 1/1000 of that (still millions of dollars) and spent it on eradicating lead-based paint in old homes where children live. Sure as hell we'd save more than one child from lead poisoning.

It's a nice sentiment to say "even one is one too many," but to save just one is it worth bankrupting ourselves and putting ourselves in a position where we can't afford to save the thousands of others?


Do you have questions that you'd like to see answered in this series? Email me with the subject "CPSIA By The Numbers" or Twitter me @curiouswork, or leave them in the comments.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aspie Persistence

One of the characteristics of kids with Asperger's Syndrome is that they want everything to be the same, all the time. All young kids benefit from the comfort of a steady routine, but it's vastly more important in the life of a child with AS. It provides for them the same security that just having a mom or dad around provides for a normal child.

Kids with AS tend to be highly specific in their routines, and get extremely upset if the routines aren't followed. How specific, may you ask? Let me give you an example. My 2 year old normal son Knuckles and my 4 year old Aspie son Bagel both like to have me read them books. If I get a new book, I can negotiate with Knuckles to have me read the new book along with his usual books. Bagel has to read the same book over and over for weeks, like he's studying it to plumb the secrets of the universe from its meager words and pictures. He chooses that book and only that book at bedtime, every night. From time to time he'll switch it up for another book, but it's almost always one we've read before. (I think we've just read The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the millionth time; do I win a prize?) He asks for the same lullaby every night and won't tolerate it when it's his brother's turn to choose the song. When we read poems he always wants the same poem ("Hungry Kid Island" by Shel Silverstein). If I want to force him to choose a new book, either because there's a book I want to introduce or because I'm sick to death of reading the book, I have to do it by physically removing the old book to a different floor of the house. That's why The Very Hungry Caterpillar is now sitting on a shelf above my computer desk. It is now officially a Lap Time Book, not a Bed Time Book.

When Bagel goes to my parents' house, he likes to choose his book from the same small subset of their generous selection of children's books. Oddly enough, he has little interest in reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar while he's there.

This week Bagel's school had a book fair. Bagel went to school on Monday and saw the book fair and of course wanted a book (this is what we've done at all book fairs during his lifetime: bought him a book). He somehow became convinced that if he wanted the book, he had to go NOW and buy the book. I showed him the flyer and told him that the book fair was going on all week, so I would send him to school with the money on Wednesday and he could buy the book. It took me hours to convince him to stop screaming and persuade him that this was a viable solution and that no, we really weren't going to the book fair right this second or even tomorrow. When he does this, the only way out is through. You can never give in. Giving in makes it worse-- not just because it reinforces the screaming = results equation, but because he will also be upset by the uncertainty that is created by introducing the possibility that you may change your mind. Believe me, I've tried. He screams even worse and longer if I give in than if I hold my ground.

Now all that happened at home. But it doesn't always happen at home. Sometimes it happens in the grocery store. Sometimes it happens at the library. Bagel will get convinced of something and then scream abuses at me, sometimes for hours, when I won't do things his way immediately. Once we were in the line at the library when he began screaming because I wasn't checking out the books to his satisfaction, and a lady snottily remarked that I should control my kids at the public library. I explained that he had AS, but she just didn't care.

My son tells me he hates me, that I'm a bad mommy, that I should get out of the house, that he's going to kill me or set me on fire or cut me into pieces. All because I refused to fetch him a spoon when he was closer to the drawer than I was, or we had run out of bread, or any one of a million tiny things. It's really hard to endure.

Letter From Rep. Jason Chaffetz

A friend of mine, a constituent of Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, passed this along to me. It's Chaffetz's response to her concerns about CPSIA. He's new and he wasn't around for the original passage of CPSIA, so since he said he wouldn't have voted for it, we'll give him a bit of a pass on falling for Waxman and Rush's feint.


Dear Mrs. B-------,

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. We appreciate your patience in regards to our response time. Starting a brand new office is exciting and challenging. We pride ourselves on prompt communications with our constituency and as we settle into our new office, our response time will be much quicker.

The CPSIA was introduced to the United States House of Representatives November 1, 2007 and sent to the United States Senate on December 19, 2007, upon passage of the bill by the House of Representatives (I was not a member of the Congress at the time, however, had I been, I would have voted against this bill). The bill was introduced, and ultimately passed, due to an increase in toy-related injuries caused by lead-based paint used on children's toys. Toys imported to the United States from China were of particular concern to the lawmakers who crafted the original legislation.

As is the case when the heavy hand of government gets involved in regulating the private sector, problems occur. The original legislative intent of this bill has been completely altered since President Bush signed this bill into law on August 6, 2008. The regulation of small business owners who manufacture children's books, apparel, and other various product is unreasonable and unfair.

On January 6, 2009, the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman, sent a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission requesting the Commission to exempt the below products from costly testing and certification procedures, specifically:

1.Children's books that have no unusual components or materials beyond those of an ordinary book; and

2.Children's apparel that consists entirely of dyed or undyed fabric that is unlikely to contain excess amounts of lead and does not include metal, plastic, or painted components that may contain lead in excess of the law's limit.

The Commission has the authority to evoke rule changes regarding the legislation. The rulemaking process is used by the Executive Branch to create or abolish rules based on the legislation that created the public law. The rulemaking process can be influenced by congressional leaders (aforementioned Waxman letter) and by public comment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission may be reached via their website, I recommend to all concerned parties contact the CPSC and express their concerns with the legislation. I have been in contact with my colleagues who serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee and they assure me they are using their positions of power to bring about a decision before the February 10, 2009 deadline.

Again, thank you and we look forward to hearing from you regarding any other problems or concerns you may have.

Jason Chaffetz

Civil Disobedience and CPSIA

When Sonshine was just a couple of years old, he was doing something he shouldn't, so I told him "stop doing that or I'll give you a spanking!" Sonshine thought about it for a second, then bent over for his spanking. He figured the spanking was a small enough price to pay to not have to take the option of stopping doing it.

This is the heart of the idea of civil disobedience-- the idea that accepting the penalty under the law for noncompliance is not as bad as the evil that would be perpetuated by obeying the law. Yes, I have used the E-word, "evil"! I'll explain why later in the post.

It would have been a little thing for Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus, but she refused, because her sitting in the back of the bus was a contribution to the oppression of black people. Rosa Parks simply refused to make that contribution. The oppression of black people was more than just an inconvenience to black people; it was an evil. A shadow of the evil of slavery in America, but an evil nonetheless.

Henry David Thoreau, one of our own uniquely American thinkers, expressed his sentiments on civil disobedience in his 1849 essay, On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience. Thoreau believed, as our Founding Fathers did, that people possessed certain inalienable rights, and that gross abrogation of these rights was an evil, whether it was done by others (as in the case of slavery) or by government. He did recognize that a certain amount of minor impingement was unavoidable; he called it "friction" in the machine of government, and maintained that it was tolerable if the benefits outweighed the costs:
If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn. [emphasis mine]

If Henry David Thoreau knew about CPSIA, he'd be rolling over in his grave. He felt that government's proper role was to get out of the way when people are doing decent, everyday things:
Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.... Trade and commerce, if they were not made of india-rubber, would never manage to bounce over obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way; and if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievious persons who put obstructions on the railroads.
CPSIA, by any stretch of the imagination, counts as one of those obstacles; Thoreau would have lain the economic train wreck it will cause squarely at the feet of the legislators, good-intentioned as they are.

On February 10 (or for those who have done XRF testing, August 10), people all over our country will have a choice to make. They can choose to comply with the CPSIA, they can choose to shut down their businesses, or they can choose to keep their businesses open in violation of the law-- in civil disobedience. Clearly the first two choices are moral-- but is the third also moral? Perhaps staying in business as best we can, in an act of civil disobedience, is also a solution? Surely it is an evil to infringe on our pursuit of happiness, so long as we are harming no one by our chosen vocation? Those makers of handmade toys and purveyors of science kits, whom did they harm? And yet great harm is being done them by their government, in the name of "the people". Are we not "the people" too? Or are only special interest groups like USPIRG "the people"?

One more bit from Thoreau:
Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
Why indeed?

My Letter To Rep. Bishop (my Representative)

Dear Representative Bishop:

I am writing to request that you write a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee urging them to hold a hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, also known as CPSIA or HR 4040, which was passed in August 2008.

I have been speaking with your staffer G----- about this issue and he has expressed to me that you have deep concerns about this measure (for which you voted) and its effects on small business and all who have children. I would urge you to put those concerns on the record, and join Rep. Matheson and Sen. Hatch who have already done so, by sending such a letter. I know that anything relating to children is an issue of great importance in Utah, where we treasure our children as the next generation of Americans.

My husband and I have placed our faith in you as our representative to Congress. I follow politics enough to know that the Republicans’ power in the House is greatly reduced. Still, we count on you to do the work in Washington that we cannot—to exercise what influence you can on those for whom we cannot vote, who are nevertheless in a position of power over us. Please do not let us down!

Wacky B. Hermit

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Letter To Rep. Rush

Dear Representative Rush:

I am writing to urgently request that you and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce immediately hold a hearing to consider technical amendments to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (also known as CPSIA or HR 4040) which you sponsored last year.

I and many other women and minority business owners like myself have grave concerns about the effect this law will have on our businesses. Many of us will be put out of business in the middle of a recession. Certainly you are sensitive to how other laws such as NTIA affect women- and minority-owned businesses. Why are you then insensitive to how CPSIA affects them? Tiny home-based businesses that sell children’s goods are highly disproportionately owned and operated and staffed by women, some of whom can get no other jobs because of disabilities or their children’s disabilities which stand in the way of employment at regular jobs. CPSIA as written would turn those women out into a job market that is unable to accommodate their need for flexible schedules.

I know that I personally would be unable to go back to work in my previous field (I was an adjunct professor of mathematics at a community college) because of my fibromyalgia and my need to flexibly accommodate my two boys with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism) and my two children with multiple food allergies. We are not eligible for state or federal benefits to help with these costs. My income is needed to pay for the expensive special foods my children need to eat, which are not covered by even the most gold-plated medical insurance. I am not asking for any federal handout. I want to work for the money I earn. I just need to do it my way, not your way.

I have read the letter that you and Representative Waxman published, asking the CPSC to exempt books and apparel and other items which evidently you did not intend the CPSIA law to cover. May I suggest that if you didn’t intend CPSIA to cover those items, it would have been better to exempt them as part of the law? It is not too late for you to change CPSIA to better reflect what you really wanted.

I would also like to let you know that I am personally offended by the suggestion that all us small businesses and libraries ignore CPSIA because it was not intended to apply to us. Unlike you, we have respect for the ancient tradition of the rule of law. We believe that the law should be followed as written, regardless of how stupidly it was written. Your suggestion that we all just ignore it is a slap in the face of the history of progress in government. It was the rule of law that banned slavery in this country. It was the rule of law that allowed Black people to vote. It is the rule of law that makes you a Congressman and not just a middle-aged guy with pretensions to power. It will be a sad day indeed for our country when our citizens feel empowered to decide for themselves which laws they will and will not be subject to.


Wacky B. Hermit

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


When Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!

Julie Vallese, the now-former spokesperson for CPSC, REALLY pissed off the moms when she blamed "mommy bloggers" for spreading "misinformation" about the CPSIA. Any married man can tell you that is the one thing you do NOT do. You NEVER piss off the moms. They may not have as big a lobby as the librarians, but if they think for one minute you're a threat to them or especially to their babies, they will go straight for your jugular and they will not let go until you stop twitching.

This post is to congratulate all the "mommy bloggers" out there, and all the bloggers who are moms, and all the non-bloggers who are moms who are spreading the word about CPSIA. Our businesses pay our bills and in some cases are literally saving our children's lives, paying for medical treatments (or sometimes just for Mom to get out of the house before she strangles the kids). This IS our lifeline. And if you try to cut it, the last thing you see before you pass out will be a stroller gang descending on your pitiful candy @$$.

Go on, Congress. Make. My. Day. Bring a change of underwear, you're gonna need it. (No, I will NOT clean it up. Big boys clean up after themselves.)

My Letter To Rep. Waxman (and Princess' too)

Dear Representative Waxman:

I am writing to request that you hold a hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (also known as CPSIA or H.R. 4040). As you no doubt are aware, when provisions of this act go into effect on February 10, 2009, they pose an enormous risk to a not-insignificant sector of our economy in the middle of a recession. The “first rule of holes” is that when you have reached the bottom of a hole, you would do well to stop digging. Likewise in a recession, enacting a law that decimates an entire industry is, to put it bluntly, stupid beyond belief. My 11 year old daughter (whose letter I am appending to this) understands the problem quite handily. Are you smarter than a 6th grader?

As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, you are the only person with the power to initiate action on this law. The CPSC cannot take action in time to prevent the tsunami of business closings. My own business will be fine until August, barring any action by the CPSC that will allow it to keep going. But there are many businesses large and small which are financed by using their inventory as collateral. When their inventory becomes unsalable on February 10, their businesses will go under.

It is my understanding that you passed this law in part to allay the public’s fear of lead-containing products. Instead, you have enabled even more fear by suggesting that innocuous products like clothing and shoes contain unsafe amounts of lead—so much that we need a sweeping law to protect us from them. Clearly you were unaware that according to the CDC’s own data, freely available to all on their website, the percentage of children with potentially dangerous levels of lead in their bloodstreams (not actually dangerous levels) is barely over 1% of the population, and that this is a fraction of the proportion that had these levels just 10 years ago. If there were such dangers lurking in our children’s clothing, surely that number would be far higher or increasing. Our nation’s children were never in enough actual danger to warrant a sweeping new law.

I understand you recently held a markup session on the new stimulus bill. I would humbly suggest that if you would like to stimulate the economy, you would do well to start by not making it worse. Also, I understand that there has recently been a vote to extend the transition to digital television. This transition was allotted years, and the federal government sprung for an awareness ad campaign and even digital converter boxes. CPSIA, by contrast, was implemented in just six months, and there was no awareness campaign (other than the CPSC’s 1990’s-style website) and not a dime to help hard-hit businesses adapt. Why do businesses get such short shrift? One might be inclined to think that you have a particular dislike for businesses. Indeed, one might wonder why it is that you are so eager to give out government money to everyone except businesses.

Small business is perfectly content to make jobs for you, if you will quit standing in its way. Maybe we small business owners should ask for a handout instead. Then you might pay more attention to us.

I have read your letter to the CPSC, and your office’s and your committee office’s public statements to the effect that we shouldn’t worry about the enforcement of the law because we are unlikely to be shut down by an overtaxed CPSC. One thing that has heartened me during this entire ordeal is that so many of my fellow business owners respect the rule of law so much that they would voluntarily quit their businesses rather than flout a law, even an unenforced law. The rule of law is an ancient tradition, one from which you and the rest of Congress derive their power. Passing a law that you fully intend to not be enforced is a travesty. It is a slap in the face of the history of progress in government, from Hammurabi’s Code to the Magna Carta to even our own Constitution. You should be grateful that our people still respect the law that you spit upon, for it is by that law that you have any power to put your boot on our necks at all. I urge you to consider that as you decide what to do about CPSIA.


[Wacky B. Hermit]



Dear Congress,

I am writing on behalf of the CPSIA law. My name is [Princess] and I am 11 yrs. old. I have three siblings and am in the sixth grade. My mom runs a business which sells baby booties. On February 10, 2009 her products will be hazardous. Why? Because you helped vote for that stupid law. Think about what is going to happen in the future! We are in the middle of a reception here people! Think!!!! The country is going to go into a depression! Think about the people you are representing! You are voting for the whole country to go into depression, losing small business' (which sell really nice things), and for other kids like me to lose being a kid and having fun.
In my opinion this law is stupid .Don't forget the Analects of Confucius. To those working in the government, Confucius said: "Go before the people with your own good example and hard work for there sake." I hope you change your mind about that law because it is just dumb.

Yours Truly,


Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Dirty Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

Is it just me, or does "President Obama's enormous stimulus package" sound vaguely erotic?

Comments like this one don't help:
"You know, I'm concerned about the size of the package. And I'm concerned about some of the spending that's in there, [about] ... how you can spend hundreds of millions on contraceptives," House GOP Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) later said.
I can see why a package that huge would require hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of contraceptives.

We're all screwed, aren't we?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change Of Plans

The tide may be turning in the fight against CPSIA. Last Friday, Reps. Rush and Waxman and some friends published a letter to the CPSC, basically spanking them for not doing what Congress damn well should have done in writing the law-- that is, thinking through how exactly it might be implemented. They did make one thing clear though-- they fully intended this law to be the way it is-- vague enough to put people at the whim of the enforcers. But this is still a positive step-- it wasn't long ago that they felt it was a non-issue; now it's a big enough issue for them to write a letter. It damn well should be an issue-- it made the top ten at, right along with issues like health care and gay marriage.

So the new emphasis in our calling campaign will be to call the office of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, of which Rep. Waxman is the chair and Rep. Rush is a member and former chair. Please, everyone, call them at (202) 225-2927. Call them every day. Hell, call them twice a day! Annoy the crap out of them (they deserve it). Ask them to at the very least extend the deadline past Feb. 10. The country got 4 years to convert to HD television broadcasting; why the hell should the children's industry get six months to change all their operations in accordance with guidelines that have yet to be worked out?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On Having To Measure Everything

I'm a big fan of the quantitative approach to all kinds of issues. One of my favorite classes to teach was the Quantitative Literacy class, where I taught my students to calculate exactly how much money they were saving by driving an extra few miles to save a few cents on gas or groceries, to use math as a tool to make business decisions, etc. I got them to appreciate how much math and measurement could help them when they need guidance.

That being said, however, I understand better than many what the limitations of the quantitative approach are. Measurement takes time and effort. Sometimes these limited resources are better spent on other activities, like actually living your life.

When I take my kids to the doctor or to my mom, I'm always being asked "How many hours of sleep did so-and-so get at night?" Well, how on Earth would I know that exactly, unless I at a minimum looked up at the clock every time somebody woke up, and memorized what time it was so that I could calculate elapsed time? Whenever I wake at night and make an upright movement or open my eyes to a light source, I become unable to get back to sleep for hours. I would need to stay up all night measuring my children's sleep to make the kinds of observations people are asking me to make. I kinda need that time to, you know, get some shuteye myself.

It's amazing the kinds of things we can measure nowadays, and the tools we have with which to measure them (like the XRF gun in the post below, which measures lead levels in just a few seconds). But as they become more widespread, so does the expectation that people will know all sorts of statistics off the tops of their heads. What's your body temperature? How fast were you going? What's your mortgage interest rate? How much did you pay for that? What percentile is your son's body mass index? How much lead is in that toy? What percentage of your school's students passed their end-of-level tests? What's the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Science is cool and all, but it's not the most important thing in life. We must never forget that the most important thing in life is the people that surround us.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Message To The CPSC

Allow XRF Testing


Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Ballad Of CPSIA

Every grassroots movement has to have its own folk song, right? Right?? It's like the law or something.

OK then. Well nobody else was doing it, so I wrote one. (Do I have to do everything around here?!?!)

Here it is. Now get to singing it. It should be in a minor key. Somebody needs to create a guitar accompaniment and some poignant harmony for the final chorus, and make a recording.

Don't make me come down there and sing it for you, you'll regret it. ;)


The Ballad Of CPSIA

Now gather 'round my children, and listen to me tell
Of a time when toys were handmade, and blankets we did sell
But then one day it happened, and on that fateful day
We lost our children's industry to CPSIA.

Now Christmas time was comin', the kids had all been good,
And snow was lightly fallin' upon the neighborhood.
Mom opened up her inbox, and there what did it say?
"Save work-at-home moms, call Congress now, it's CPSIA!"

Oh C.P.S.I.A.
Oh what is this, the law we see today?
An ugly blight, oh what a sight, a symptom of decay,
Oh C. P. S. I. A.

At first Mom didn't understand, "They surely can't mean me,
For I've worked hard to make sure all my products are lead-free."
But Fashion Incubator had laid it out for sure.
Our businesses would have to close, or else they'd make us poor.

So eagerly Mom searched the web, there surely must be ways
To make it not apply to her, she searched for days and days,
But everything she read was dire, the fix it sure was in,
Her business it was doomed that day, with no way she could win.

Oh C.P.S.I.A.
We can't afford to do those tests today!
How will we find the money? We'll network and we'll pray...
Oh C. P. S. I. A.

Now there had been a meeting in Washington D.C.
For industry representatives with the C.P.S.C.
They'd pleaded dear, "Oh won't you hear what else we have to say?
The Tenth of February is our Bankruptcy Day."

Rick Woldenberg stood up to speak, the podium was his,
Upon deaf ears his words did fall, explaining why his biz
Could not do the impossible, the law said anyway
He'd have to do it or close down from C.P.S.I.A.

Oh C.P.S.I.A.
How could you write a law we can't obey?
No guidelines have been issued, to show us all the way.
Oh C. P. S. I. A.

The Tenth of February is looming closer now.
Our businesses are closing down, we cannot figure how
To make our lines compliant, so we'll just have to go
And our wee ones are trudging out into the winter snow.

Now gather 'round my children, and listen to me tell
Of a time when clothes were handmade, and warm things we did sell
But then one day it happened, and on that fateful day
We lost our children's industry to CPSIA.

Oh C.P.S.I.A.
Our Congress wrote a law we can't obey!
Oh you can bet we won't forget who brought us to this day.
Oh C. P. S. I. A.

Oh C.P.S.I.A.
Our Congress wrote a law we can't obey!
Oh you can bet we won't forget who brought us to this day.
Oh C. P. S. I. A.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

World Ends; Women And Minorities Hardest Hit

...So goes the old joke. CPSIA was supposedly written with minorities in mind; it even includes a section entitled "STUDY OF PREVENTABLE INJURIES AND DEATHS IN MINORITY CHILDREN RELATED TO CONSUMER PRODUCTS" (Section 107). Here is a partial list of minorities that will be hard hit by CPSIA. If you can think of others, please add them in the comments.

  • English language learners, including adults. My mom runs a program that teaches Hispanic parents to read to their children, first in Spanish, then later in English. She advocates the use of children's books by adults to help them learn to read English alongside their youngsters. Her program has hard statistical evidence that it works. But many of these parents can't afford even cheap Scholastic books, so libraries are essential to them. Sadly, libraries are threatened by CPSIA.
  • Autistic children. Children with autism spectrum disorders often benefit greatly from the use of products like weighted vests and blankets, special sensory swings, pencil grips, inflated seat cushions, "Chewlery" (jewelry safe for them to chew on to satisfy oral sensory needs), and many other occupational therapy items. The earlier the intervention, the greater the benefit; there's no way a person of conscience can advocate that autistic children go without therapy until the age of 13. There is only a tiny market for these items, and items that are made in small quantities are among the most endangered because the added cost of testing prices them out of the market.
  • Native Americans. Powwow regalia for children is handmade, with dozens of different types of beads. These items are custom made by the most skilled seamstresses and craftsmen. Wasn't it enough that we drove them out of their homelands, made them live on desolate reservations, and took their kids away from their families? Now we have to limit participation in their culture to people 13 and over too?
  • Disabled people. Many disabled people have at-home businesses making crafts for children, and a few own stores where they can have a manager take over for them when they're not feeling well (I say "a few own stores" because 90% of disabled people live below the poverty line). It's tough to find a job if you're disabled. Many disabilities eat into your ability to work a full 40 hour week, your stamina to finish a shift, or your ability to keep a steady schedule. People with MS, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, and other conditions that flare up may find themselves unable to keep a job because they never know when they're going to have to call in sick to work, and employers need to be able to rely on their employees to keep their schedule. And disability payments take months to kick in, and when they do they aren't much to live on.
Add your contribution to the list in the comments.

Monday, January 12, 2009

On Lead In Toys And CPSIA

We start with three incontrovertible premises.

First, lead is a natural element. It's easy for many people to forget that you can't entirely ban something that occurs on the Periodic Table Of The Elements. So we should start off knowing that we were never going to be able to make anything 100% lead free.

Second, not everything with lead in it results in lead poisoning. People safely drink out of leaded crystal goblets, for which they pay a premium price to get even higher lead content. This is because the lead in the crystal is chemically locked in the crystal and cannot be leached out into the drink. The only liquids you could put in which would cause lead to leach out of the crystal goblet would also cause much nastier effects in your body and you are therefore unlikely to drink them unless you are a character in an action movie. In addition, the lead has to be ingested in order to be poisonous. Lead paint is a danger if people eat it as chips or breathe in the dust. Sitting on a lead painted chair in the same room with a large chunk of lead will not harm you, but swallowing a small lead charm will.

Third, there comes a time in every person's life when he or she stops putting stuff that isn't food in his or her mouth. For most of us this is somewhere around the age of 3. That being said, occasionally people older than 3 will put pins or key rings temporarily in their mouths, chew on jewelry or the ends of pencils, or engage in other thoughtless habits.

With the premises out of the way, we can state that the goal of reducing the amount of available lead in children's products is unqualifiedly a good thing. The harmful effects of lead in children (whom it hits hardest because they are growing) are well documented and occur at blood levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. It is a good idea to make sure children who lack the judgment necessary to think about what they are putting in their mouths are not put in a position where they can ingest lead.


Since we cannot eliminate all lead in everything children touch (Premise the First) and we cannot eliminate all errors in judgment even in adults (Premise the Third), we should focus our efforts on those products that contain the most available lead (Premise the Second).

Prior to CPSIA, this effort was focused on lead in paint. In 1978 lead in paint was banned, but leaded paint is still on the walls of many old houses, and it poses a health risk as it peels off, is licked off by kids looking out the window, is worn off by kids rubbing their hands on it and putting their hands in their mouths. This is the major source of lead poisoning in children today. Lead paint is also found in imported toys (domestic manufacturers would have a lot of difficulty getting ahold of lead paint to use on their toys) from countries where lead paint is still legal. These countries are not the EU and Canada. This is why it makes no sense to impose the strictures of the CPSIA on toys from the EU and Canada. The EU in particular has its own recently developed lead standard, RoHS. It is very well crafted and we all really wish Congress had copied the EU's homework instead of guessing at the answers.

The problem that occurred in 2007 was a lack of adequate enforcement. Lead paint was already illegal, but the CPSC did not catch these. I don't know why not-- perhaps they were undermanned and there were too many products on the market to test, perhaps they declined to do the right kind of testing or test random samples. But it certainly wasn't because there was lead in clothing or science kits. Likewise there was a recall because of lead charms that a child swallowed and was poisoned. Lead in jewelry had not previously been regulated, but likely should have been as jewelry is something that even older children put in their mouths.

Another problem with CPSIA is that it switches us over from a system where we committed relatively few Type 1 errors (assuming products were safe when actually they were not) to a system where we commit monstrous numbers of Type 2 errors (assuming products are leaded until proven otherwise). Yes, recalls are a pain in the butt, yes they never manage to get back all the recalled items, and yes the CPSC needed the extra commission members that CPSIA gives them so that they can always have the quorum required to issue recalls. But the perfect is the enemy of the good; the alternative to the pre-CPSIA mess was never to have all children's products made by happy elves in amber-lit workshops with unicorns for supervisors. When we have to choose in real life, we are always choosing the lesser of two evils. You tell me which one you think is the lesser evil in the middle of a recession, the imperfect Type 1 scenario or the disastrous Type 2.

So in summary, the main reasons we are so concerned about the CPSIA are these:
(1) It goes too far in covering items not known to be prone to lead and/or not containing lead in a form that can cause poisoning. An example of the former is clothing; an example of the latter is telescopes. This imposes wasteful additional costs that result in no increase in safety.
(2) Some of the people promoting CPSIA as a good thing do not understand any or all of the above premises and in addition lack knowledge of how goods are produced, deny or downplay their ignorance, and honestly believe that we oppose CPSIA because we want kids to be poisoned so we can make more filthy lucre. (I have a feeling they were absent from school the day their classes took the field trip to the factory and ditched most of their high school chemistry classes as well.)
(3) Hundreds of smarmy Congresspeople evidently voted for this thing without having read it, and some of those were sponsors of the bill and/or gave cloying speeches about "The Children," when the children would have been better served by them spending their speech time on crafting a precision law instead of a blunderbuss.
(4) We really needed a law that would do something such as set a standard for lead in jewelry, give the CPSC extra funding and add commissioners, and institute random testing, but instead we got a law where scofflaw manufacturers can still create "special" samples to send off for testing while slipping lead paint into their regular product, and which puts many legitimate, ethical businesspeople out of business.
(5) It will put people out of business in the middle of a time of economic turmoil-- and not just a few people, half of an extremely large industry. This is approximately the same order of magnitude as the GM problem, except that none of us are asking for a bailout, only to be left alone to do business.

Look Ma, I'm On The Radio!

Well, I'm on the BlogTalkRadio, anyway, a guest on the MomRN show, talking about CPSIA.

Just a side note: I use my real name on the show. My real name is not a secret; I just don't use it on the blog so that if my kids' friends get extra-curious with the search engine, their entire history of misbehavior won't come up. But in case you don't already know which one is me, I'm the one whose name is kind of like Narah Satividad.

Friday, January 09, 2009

New Element Discovered!

My brother sent me this from a forum he's on.
--------------Original post by Wrathraker.

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element
yet known to science.

The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant
neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons,
giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called Morons, which
are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be
detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into
contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that
would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years
to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay,
but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the
assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since
each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming

This characteristic of morons promotion leads some scientists to
believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical
concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an
element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it
has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

I believe we have finally discovered why exposure to Congress causes as much impaired brain function as exposure to lead.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Another Congressman on board

Another Congressman joins our cause: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY).

CPSC "clarifies" thrift store "exemption"

Everyone's getting excited because the CPSC issued a statement on a supposed exemption for thrift stores. Thrift stores don't have to test used items, but if they sell lead-tainted goods they will be cracked down upon:
The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
So basically, thrift stores supposedly get a pass-- or do they?

See, there's two ways you can be "required" to do something. One way is to be told "you are required to do this." The other way is to be told "you are not required to do this, but if you don't, we will _______" where _______ is some adverse consequence you really, really would not want. They do car insurance this way in New Hampshire, or at least they did when I lived there. You were not required to carry proof of car insurance like you are in most states. However, if you got into an accident and you didn't have proof of insurance, you'd be subject to a horrendously large fine. So long as you never left the state and didn't get into an accident, you weren't "required" to have car insurance! Needless to say, very few people chose to take the bet.

Suppose you're a thrift store owner and you read the "guidance" I've quoted above. So now you have to think about what you want to carry. You can carry anything you want, so long as it hasn't been recalled and doesn't contain lead. So when somebody brings in that used set of blocks, you don't have to test it; but you'll think about how long it'll take to look up on the internet whether it's been recalled, and think about how likely the paint is to have lead, and how little profit you might get from it, and whether your competitor wants you out of business badly enough to sneak a lead test kit into your store and swipe it along the paint, then report you to the CPSC... and maybe you'll take a pass on that block set. Resellers get hundreds of different brands of used items in their store. They're not "required" to check each and every one to see if it's been recalled or been tested for lead, but with their business at stake, why would they chance it? How much employee time will that take, and what will the cost of that add to their bottom line?

Result: resale stores may still carry kids' clothing, but jewelry, toys and furniture may be too chancy for their tastes. I imagine clothing doesn't account for much profit, given how cheaply they have to sell it to compete with new imported clothing. And from what I understand, resale shops operate on a pretty thin margin. Making it any thinner will put them out of business, whether they're "required" to go out of business or not.

Another point: many kids' resale shops also sell new products. I've seen children's resale stores carry new hair ribbons, barrettes, jewelry, handmade toys and clothes, and nursery decor. Just because they also sell used items, do they get a pass on making sure the new goods are lead-free? If they do get a pass in the name of practicality, why don't retailers get a pass too? And if they don't get a pass, how is this an "exemption?"

And yet another: who is a "reseller"? a lot of kids' items are sold used on eBay by private parties. Are they "resellers" under the law? A store that carries unused items that they bought as surplus from retailers who couldn't sell them, are they a retailer or a reseller? If a store owner buys his merchandise from a distributor, is he a reseller? If you sew a missing button on a donated pair of used kids' pants and then put them out for sale, are you a reseller or a manufacturer? What if you add Swarovski crystals to the pants pocket?

The CPSC must think the public will shut up and go away if they make us think they've exempted thrift stores. They can see that thrift stores are a bridge too far for the American public, so they're hoping that if they can make the thrift store problem go away, they will be safe from the public's wrath. Let's hope the public sees through this plan and doesn't take the bait.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Join the CPSIA Mail-In Protest

Congress really needs to do something about CPSIA, but it's not likely it'll come to their attention, busy as they'll be with passing everything the Democrats have ever wanted like a kid in a candy store. So if we want them to do something about it, we'll have to get their attention in a way that emails and letters can't.

A while back I organized a mail-in protest on Etsy. This is still ongoing. Anyone can participate, not just Etsians. We are targeting Rep. Bobby Rush because he is one of the main sponsors of the bill and also the head of the Energy and Commerce committee and so this monstrosity is his baby.

Participation is easy. All you have to do is drop something in the mail. You don't have to be a manufacturer, either. If you make a product that is endangered by CPSIA, mail it to Rep. Rush. If you can't spare one, or if you don't make an endangered product, send an empty box with a picture of the product inside. You can even send a used children's book; they're endangered too. The goal is to flood his office with physical reminders of the unintended consequences of CPSIA. Letters are great, but a stack of 500 letters isn't that large. A stack of 500 packages, however... if he has to step over them to get into his office, so much the better!

Be sure to enclose a letter explaining why you are sending this. Suggested letters are below. Please feel free to steal any of this text for your own use, and please feel free to alter it according to your needs. There are more examples of letters peppered throughout the Etsy forum thread.

Let's keep this protest going until they change the law, even after Feb. 10 if necessary (although I hope it won't be necessary).


Address letters to:

Rep. Bobby Rush
2416 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Let's make sure we don't put "Hazardous Substance" on the outside of the box, or else they'll have to call in the bomb squad or something.

Suggested text #1:

On Feb. 10, 2009 this item will turn into a
Don't let this happen!

I am a crafter [or artisan; I don't want to reopen that debate] who makes and sells one of a kind items for children. It is financially and physically impossible for me to do all the lead testing that the CPSIA requires. Since all my products will legally be classified as "hazardous substances" on Feb. 10, 2009, I am sending one as a gift to you. How else am I going to get rid of it, if it will be a felony to sell it? Hopefully you can find something to do with it before Feb. 10 too, so that you don't have to call in the hazmat team to take it away.

Of course, Rep. Rush, if your committee would reconsider the interpretation of the CPSIA, I might not have to go out of business...

[your name]

Suggested Text #2 (for empty box):

Everyone loves getting a gift at Christmas [or holiday] time! Guess what I got for Christmas? A law that says that on February 10, 2009, it's going to be a felony to sell this [name of item]. Yes, at the stroke of midnight on that day, this cute, cuddly, [list appropriate adjectives here] [name of item] is going to turn not into a pumpkin, but into a piece of "hazardous material!" You see, it's financially and practically impossible for me to test each and every one of my one of a kind products for lead to comply with the CPSIA. So I'm going to have to go out of business, which is too bad because the money I make selling these supports [my family, my autistic kid's therapy, whatever is applicable].

So what did you and the American public get for Christmas? Well, I know what they're NOT getting next year... one of these. Thanks to you, our kids are now safe from handmade [plural name of item]!

[your name]