Tuesday, March 31, 2009

CPSIA And The Black Market

If you've never heard the term before, a "black market" is an outlaw stream of commerce. It's called "black" because it takes place "in the dark" outside the law. Another term for it is "under the table".

You get a black market whenever people get shut out of the above-board market for various reasons. Some of those reasons can include price controls, onerous requirements to start a business, high taxes, and over-regulation of products. When the hurdles to sell are low, few will bother squeezing under them; but set them too high, and few will bother jumping over them. Prices on the black market can be lower or higher than on the above-board market, depending on what's going on there. When the hurdle is expensive over-regulation, black market goods will be cheaper.

Economists from the 18th century beginning of the discipline have noticed people's natural tendency to "truck, barter, and exchange" in order to obtain goods they cannot produce themselves, or goods that someone else can produce better. This is a human instinct that has proved insuppressible. Government can only hope to channel it by laying down restrictions on its flow. But it is as incompressible as water, and like water if you try to force it through too narrow a channel, it will overflow and cut its own channel. So government officials and self-styled consumer advocates can argue all they want about how "right" a statute like CPSIA is, but it's important to realize that it will not stop people from trading in children's goods because it will not remove their need to do so. Even the most conscientious and moral person would trade on the black market before they'd let their children go without clothing.

The problem with a black market is that like water let loose, it seeks the lowest level. A complete lack of regulation means the black market lacks the advantages that regulation can give. Regulation isn't a bad thing necessarily; a little regulation can make a market more efficient than it would be in pure laissez-faire mode. For example, we have regulations that require truth in advertising. Truth in advertising regulations make the playing field level for all players in the market. On a black market, these regulations become mere social conventions, and over time as new people enter the business they will inevitably fade, necessitating the buyer to do his own research. As there are usually more buyers than sellers, and buyers are worse equipped than sellers to discover truths about the goods they buy, this creates inefficiencies. But worse than that, it creates a culture of cheating the customer because that's where the incentives are. Right now, the business culture is one of willing compliance with truth-in-advertising laws. That is NOT something you want to be changing. No regulation scheme can be fully enforced; it must have the cooperation of the businesses and the business culture in order to self-police the market. When the regulatory regime runs contrary to the market culture, it is foolish to presume it will have no influence.

By increasing the height of the hurdles one has to jump to sell a legitimate product, Congress is encouraging more and more of them not to bother, and the few that are left have every reason to become less ethical. One of the reasons we have so many home crafters selling children's products in the first place is that it's a sort of "gray market"-- a semi-regulated market-- where it's easy to start a business. Putting more pressure on a market like that will turn it into a black market in a heartbeat. Moreover, the crafters' gray market shares in the dominant business culture of honesty. Make them outlaws and watch how fast that disappears-- and how quickly they are joined by the previously reputable legal businesses with which they compete.

At first, little would change. But after a while, we'd start to get reports of disreputable people entering the market. Perhaps someone would import toys illegally that were hazardous, or someone might use imported fabric that was coated with a toxic chemical to make clothes. The government would find it difficult to crack down on them because they don't have business licenses, merchant accounts, etc. Shut them down? Confiscate their merchandise? Next week they'll be in business on a different street selling something else. Government would respond with warnings about buying that cheap black-market trash, but warnings never extend anyone's budget enough to make them able to buy more expensive, regulated goods. Honest men and women would cut corners to compete with them. And thus would all consumer regulation on children's products come to naught.

CPSIA by itself may not be enough to create a nightmare scenario like that, but it's a definite and strong push in that direction. Moreover, because CPSIA will fail to eliminate the risk of contaminated goods, it will inevitably be followed by more and stricter legislation in the same vein, which does have that potential. I don't know about you, but I really don't want to have to buy my kids' jeans out of the back of a truck in a parking lot at twilight, or get their toys from a secret toy dealer. Anyone who is truly concerned about children's safety should be horrified by the thought that children's goods will be sold on the black market. And yet that is precisely what CPSIA is doing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Today's Daily Fax

Here's why CPSC Acting Chair Nancy Nord is NOT the problem with CPSIA.

Heathrow Scientific LLC is a company that makes laboratory equipment, which is primarily used by adults. But a few of their items end up in junior high schools, where children under the age of 13 are exposed to them. Their junior high school customers have begun asking to see the certifications required by CPSIA.

You may think these customers of theirs are misinformed. Since it's possible, let's think about who may be informing them. Schools that buy lab equipment usually do so through some sort of administration, usually a public school district. Public school districts generally do not turn to CPSC to advise them on these matters, because they have their own lawyers. Therefore it is extremely likely that these "misinformed" customers are getting their advice from their own lawyers.

Now, perhaps this particular district just has a crazy lawyer who interprets things funny. But it's not just this one company's one customer. Attorney Gary Wolensky of the firm Snell and Wilmer, which specializes in product liability law, has been on the Hugh Hewitt show repeatedly endorsing the position that CPSIA applies strictly to all children's goods including books and thrift stores and dirt bikes and apparel and all the other unreasonable things that have been rumored to be swept up in CPSIA's broad net. Is a product liability law firm more likely to be getting its information from the CPSC, or from actually reading the law? Jennifer Taggart is an environmental engineer and lawyer who runs a lead testing service. She concurs with Wolensky on the requirements of the law and the strictures it places on CPSC's ability to interpret them. Do you think she got her information from "mommy bloggers", or from reading the law?

The CPSC is cut completely out of this loop! How then can anyone reasonably blame them for a misinterpretation of the law?

Senator Dick Durbin has decided that it is definitely CPSC's fault and specifically lays the blame at the feet of Acting Chair Nancy Nord. He accuses her of not being "constructive or accurate" and says: "You accused a law that significantly strengthens the Commission’s hand as having 'taken away our responsibility to look at the risks and make judgments about what is or isn’t safe for American consumers.'" Is this accusation of Durbin's true? No, it is not, because when Nord made just such a judgment-- that items made with phthalates that were manufactured before Feb. 10, 2009 did not pose a sufficient hazard to require their retroactive removal from store shelves-- a COURT struck her down less than one week before the deadline. Surely the court did not get their "misinformation" about the breadth of CPSC's interpretive freedom from CPSC, as CPSC was the party they ruled against! Every time CPSC has tried to interpret the law in a less strict manner, some foot-chomper in Congress has sent Nord a nastygram spanking her for it. But now Senator Durbin complains that Nord is NOT interpreting CPSIA broadly enough? You can't have your cake and eat it too. CPSIA, on even a most basic reading, does not allow exemptions or changes to be made on the basis of Congressional opinions.

There are millions of people out there with one opinion of CPSIA, and then there is a handful of Congressmen and Congresswomen with a different opinion. While it's true that many of the millions did consult with CPSC to see how they were interpreting it, Senator Durbin and friends insult the intelligence of thousands of attorneys advising tens of thousands of clients who sell to millions of children and their parents. If I had to place a bet on whether it was Congress or the American people who were most likely to be the source of legal idiocy, my bet would be on Congress. Crafting moms making baby blankets from yarn they bought at Wal-Mart do not have the same incentive to publicly posture that Senators and Representatives do.

The problem is not CPSC. The problem was never CPSC. The problem is in CPSIA, and in those who carefully crafted it for their own purposes and not for the protection of the public. I urge you, as a member of Congress, to amend this law quickly, before the American public realizes the full extent of the idiocy of this law for which your colleagues have voted.

Please attend the Amend The CPSIA rally at the Capitol Building on Wednesday at 10 a.m. If you cannot attend in person, at least have a staffer attend, or have a staffer attend online. The rally will be the first of its kind, interactive and streaming live online at http://www.amendthecpsia.com/.

Wacky Hermit

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Preteen Eye-Roll Of DOOOOOM!!!!

There must be some kind of evolutionary hard-wiring that makes preteen girls masters of the Eye-Roll Of DOOOOOOM!!!!! For those who are not parents of preteen girls, this is the inevitable gesture that accompanies any parental request to do chores, any embarrassing parental public behavior, or generally anything not in keeping with the sensibilities of a preteen girl. It is often accompanied by the small, sharp sigh which is its auditory equivalent.

If you are confronted by a Preteen Eye-Roll Of DOOOOOOM, here's what to do:
  1. Don't Panic. The eyes won't really roll out of her head. They just look like they might.
  2. Continue To Insist On The Chore Being Done. Stand your ground, the eyeballs are not weighty enough to hurt when they roll you over.
  3. Mimic The Gesture. Roll your own eyes and emit a sharp sigh. This shows your preteen girl that you understand where she's coming from. Note: in some girls this can cause a cascade of eye-rolling as they become exasperated with your mocking. If this happens, continue to mimic the gesture with ever more pubescent drama until your preteen girl busts out laughing.
  4. Copy That Girl From 7th Grade Who Yelled At You For Rolling Your Eyes. Use a snappy line like "You roll 'em, I bowl 'em! You rock 'em, I sock 'em!" (Funny thing is, I have no idea what I did that set her off. I think I looked at her friend funny, but I don't recall rolling my eyes.)
  5. Write Blog Posts About Your Experience. Especially if your preteen reads your blog. If your preteen rolls her eyes at this, be sure to tell her to quit reading your blog if she can't take a little poke in fun. (Hi Princess!)
Don't forget, the time to do something about the Preteen Eye-Roll Of DOOOOOOM is now. If you let it stand, it will eventually evolve into the Teen Eye-Roll Of DOOOOOOM, which is much like it only more permanent.

Daily Fax

Every day I write a fax to Congress and I have my fax software send it out to the entire House and Senate Commerce Subcommittees on Consumer Protection. Today's fax goes out to all of the above and Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid as well.

The second part of the fax is always cut-and-paste from some interesting news article or blog post on CPSIA, but the first part is always my remarks. Today's second part is this post by Rick Woldenberg, which you should also read. What follows is today's first part.


Are you a leader or a follower?

That's the question every Democratic member of Congress must ask themselves on April 1 at 10 a.m.

On that day and time, at the Capitol Building, a rally will be held in support of making much-needed amendments to CPSIA. This is a bipartisan event. But guess what-- Democratic leadership has forbidden Democratic Congressmen to speak at the rally! On the one truly bipartisan issue in Washington, will Democrats be silent? On the issue that has brought people of every political stripe together in a grassroots movement, will only one party show up to represent them in Congress?

So, I ask you (and especially if you are a true Democrat): Are you a leader or a follower? Because I for one want LEADERS in Congress. I want people who will listen to their constituents and do what it takes to represent THEM, not represent whoever has the most influence. Your real constituents, the moms and pops who vote for you and place their hope for change in you, want CPSIA to not take away their thrift stores and libraries. The American people do not want their minibikes banned or their school supplies to double in cost. The American people cannot possibly want you to make already-safe children's apparel even more expensive in the middle of a recession. All these things and more are happening because of CPSIA. Will you do nothing just so that you can continue to get invited to all the best Washington parties?

Be a true LEADER. Come to the rally and show your constituents that you hear the voice of the populace, that the 1st Amendment to the Constitution wasn't kidding when it said we could "petition the government for a redress of grievances." Or just be a cowardly FOLLOWER and do as you're told by your betters, exactly as you'd like us who are protesting CPSIA to do.

(By the way, this is still America, where people are born equal. The day Congress poops rainbow Skittles is the day I believe anyone in Congress is anyone's "better.")

[Wacky Hermit]

Mr. Squeak Takes A Bath

As you may know, Mr. Squeak is Bagel's capricious toy rodent. He roams the house at will and has been found in many a stray cupboard. What you may not know is that there are actually several Mr. Squeak doppelgangers. When one would disappear and not be found for a week or so, another would mysteriously show up in a random place, like the pantry or under a bed. I've always done a pretty good job keeping track of which one was in circulation... until the original Mr. Squeak happened to show up in the church lost and found. I knew Mr. Squeak had gone missing, but I was not aware that Mr. Squeak had hitched a ride to church. I suppose I should have been excited by this development. After all, Mr. Squeak had recently been a bad influence on Sonshine's stuffed armadillo. That he might be seeking spiritual enlightenment and mending his ways should be a good thing.

Bagel came home all excited after a weeknight activity, holding Mr. Squeak in his hands. I rushed to find Mr. Squeak II and hide him posthaste, but sadly I did not move fast enough, and Bagel soon discovered that there were two of them. Thankfully we hit on a convenient cover story: the one that was found at home is Mr. Squeak's cousin, Mrs. Poah (rhymes with "Noah"; it was Bagel's idea) and she is on an extended visit.

When Mrs. Poah is done with her visit, she will conveniently disappear...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Did You Know...

...that a Tupperware bell tumbler fits just perfectly inside the orifice of a standard garbage disposal? So perfectly, in fact, that it takes a table knife to pry it out?

You learn something new every day...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

So Much For Green

It's time to start the seeds for the garden. I saved several cardboard egg flats for the purpose, thinking I'd be all greeny and recycley and thrifty and stuff. A couple of weeks ago I tried but failed to do it. I got some of them planted, but Bagel's excessive interest made sure they were out of any kind of order. To cool his interest, I put the egg flat on top of the fridge. FH promptly opened the fridge in such a manner as to spill the entire thing, dirt, seeds, and all. So there went our first attempt at starting seeds for the garden.

I broke down and bought a plastic Jiffy peat pot greenhouse. The peat pots won't scatter all over the floor if dropped (nor insert dirt into the ice maker, that was a disaster) and the clear plastic will keep the tiny fingers out. If I have to, I'll glue the lid down and poke holes in it so I can water the plants with a funnel. And this time I'm planting the seeds after the kids go to bed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today's Phrase For Repetition

"Get in the habit of shutting the door when you walk through it, or the flies will come in."

I have to say it each time as if it were the first time I was saying it, though, otherwise Sonshine will feel stupid and Bagel will start screaming at me.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Looking for debate participants

I would like to hold a CPSIA debate here on my blog. I am looking for participants, especially someone to take the pro-CPSIA side. (Obviously I'm well in touch with plenty of eloquent people who could take the anti-CPSIA side.) I would like the debate to be kind of highbrow, full of facts and logic, with each side doing their best to persuade the reader. I will be moderating because it's easier than participating. :) (Yes, I'm lazy)

These are the terms of the debate.

The debate is in four rounds:
1st round: opening statements, limit 1000 words
2nd round: arguments, limit 2000 words
3rd round: rebuttals, limit 2000 words
4th round: closing statements, limit 1000 words

Each round will be published as two posts on my blog. They will be published at the same time but one will inevitably be a minute before the other, so the order in which that will happen will be determined by a coin flip. There will be a minimum of one day between rounds to allow for composition of posts.

I will act as moderator and will only edit statements for spelling. If there is a deeper problem with a statement (e.g. if it breaks one of the rules), publication of that round will be withheld until we can correct it.

No ad hominem attacks on opponent
Avoid disparaging others
Keep to the word count limits
Cite and/or link all quotes and facts

If you are interested in being a participant in this debate, please email me at sarah.natividad -at- gmail.com.

Things I Never Thought I'd Say, #30472

"Why is there a wire in your pants?"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Question Of The Day

If you unbutton your belly button, does your birthday suit fall off?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Childrearing Doesn't Change

A 1550 treatise on the proper raising of children:
Nature, when she geueth the a sonne, she geueth nothyng else, thẽ a rude lumpe of fleshe. It is thy parte to fashiõ after ye best maner, that matter that will obey & folow in euery poynt. If thou wylt slacke to do it, thou hast a beaste: if thou take hede thou hast, as I myght saye, a God.
Or, in slightly more modern English:
Nature, when she giveth thee a son, she giveth nothing else than a rude lump of flesh. It is thy part to fashion after the best manner that matter that will obey and follow in every point. If thou wilt slack to do it, thou hast a beast: if thou take heed thou hast, as I might say, a God.
It's really intriguing to see that not much really has changed about childrearing over the last 500 years. I was particularly struck by the author's annoyance at people not beginning to discipline their children until well after the age of six. I guess "feral kids" were a problem even before there were restaurants for them to run around and scream in.

Why OHVs?

That was the question my husband asked the other day: Why is the OHV industry getting all the media attention on CPSIA, when the apparel industry affects so many more children?

Here are the factors I think make for the perfect storm of media attention that children's OHVs are getting:
  1. All OHV manufacturers pulled children's product at the same time, on short notice. Children's OHVs are (with a few exceptions) made by a small finite number of large manufacturers, all of which were aware of CPSIA just barely in time to pull their children's product from showroom floors on Feb. 10. Contrast that with apparel, which is made by a very large number of small manufacturers, many of which still know nothing about CPSIA. Another contrast could be made with toys: most non-single-craftsman toy manufacturers were aware of CPSIA by Feb. 10 and had already taken proactive steps to make sure they met the lead standards, so for those who didn't pull their product it was more an issue of certification for toys already known to be in line with new lead standards.
  2. OHVs are certain to contain violative amounts of lead. Apparel mostly does not, with the exception of the occasional violative fastener or screenprint. Apparel manufacturers at least had the option of swapping out one kind of button for another, difficult as that is to do mid-production. OHV manufacturers have to use lead in their alloys and for things like battery terminals. The equivalent situation for apparel makers would be if they had banned cotton. Books present no danger from lead, even those with lead content. The special place of books in our society allows them to evoke pathos for innocent victims of CPSIA. Hence their appeal as a rallying point, but that's a whole other post. Toys, sporting goods, and furniture have been safe (lead-wise) for a long, long time, and electronics have been inaccessible for years (which is a good thing, even as I curse it every time my kids break something or need a change of battery). So OHVs make the perfect test case for CPSIA: What do you do with a product that definitely contains lead, can't not contain lead, and still does not poison children?
  3. OHVs are never mouthed by children. Toys, furniture, and apparel frequently are mouthed by at least small children, making a ban on lead in these items more reasonable. The ridiculousness of the lead standard in OHVs highlights CPSIA's excesses, while the ridiculousness CPSIA brings to apparel is a bit harder to grasp.
  4. OHV riders are organized. There are magazines, web sites, events, and some newspapers even have a special column or blog that will cover the issues. What's really interesting is that other industries have these too, and yet the OHV community seems to be more inclusive of those that ride OHVs than the apparel industry is of those who make apparel or the toy industry of those that make toys. But for some reason, getting the apparel industry to all go in one direction is like herding cats. Librarians have formal organizations like the ALA, but the ALA has some polarizing politics of its own and so many librarians pay it no heed.
  5. OHVs appeal to a particularly ignored segment of American society. While books are universally used by children, they are not universally revered. While all children wear apparel, apparel tends to be of heightened interest in coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles where the apparel industry concentrates. But OHVs are a "heartland thing". Banning OHVs brings out the "silent majority" of people who work their middle class trades and just want to go outdoors on weekends. These are not people who typically organize politically, and they have little in common culturally with politicians, so politicians pay them little heed. These are the consumers that "consumer" groups ignore. So when people who would never give them the time of day if they met on the street pass laws that take away their recreation, the emotions run high. They were perfectly willing to let those out-of-touch politicians do their thing, but now they've gone too far.
  6. Dollar values of OHV losses are easier to quantify. Because OHVs are made by a few manufacturers and sold at dealerships, and sales of these are carefully tracked by the manufacturers, it is easier to know exactly how many OHVs go unsold and project how many would have been sold had CPSIA not taken them off the market. The situation with other retail goods is messier. They are made by a decentralized network of tiny suppliers and sold to another decentralized network of stores that carry goods from many suppliers, and they have many more confounding variables in their sale. It is impossible to know what the losses to the apparel industry have been, because (a) the manufacturers sometimes cannot know whether their failure to sell is due to CPSIA or the recession or just an unpopular design, and (b) there is no central organization where manufacturers can report their losses.
What do you think are factors in why OHVs are getting more media attention?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Return of Somerville Manor?

I got some great news from my brother. He's squire to a knight whose family used to own Somerville Manor, a medieval living history site. It was available for parties, weddings and such, but it got shut down because authentic medieval buildings don't meet modern building codes. But now they're thinking about reopening it in Utah! This is great news!

Imagine a medieval bed-and-breakfast. Or a castle where you could have weddings. Or an educational day trip for your kids!

If this sounds even remotely interesting to you, and you are on Facebook (or you want to be on Facebook), please go and "friend" William FitzArthur. Find him using the email address williamfitzarthur@gmail.com . If he can get 10,000 Facebook friends, he can show the Small Business Administration that there is enough interest in Somerville Manor to justify opening it up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Inevitable

I had to put off doing the dishes, but I managed to do the taxes!

Death is still on my to-do list, however. I don't think I can get to it till at least next year. There's just too much higher-priority stuff on the list. Sorry, Death, take a number.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

My Letter To Rep. Dingell (UPDATED; now with PowerPoint version)

Representative Dingell sent a letter to the CPSC to ask some very specific questions which indicate that he might be interested in making changes to CPSIA. So far he's the first Democrat who's expressed any realization at all that CPSIA might not be the rainbow-unicorn fantasyland that the bill's authors seem to think it is. Since he asked for information, I thought I'd give him some. Here is my response to his request.


The Hon. Representative John Dingell

2328 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Rep. Dingell;

I would like to thank you for your willingness to look into the destructive impact of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008. This law, if it is allowed to stand as written, will work against government efforts to stimulate the economy and prevent job losses. As I am sure that you share the goal of preventing our nation from sliding into a depression, I hope you will support much-needed changes to this law.

I have read your letter to CPSC Commissioners Nord and Moore, and while I’m sure they will respond in a timely manner, I thought I might also add the information that I have on the subject. In my letter I will address four main failings of CPSIA: the short timeframe, the lack of consideration of actual safety, the impact of the retroactivity provisions, and the climate of fear it creates.

Regarding the deadlines for implementation, I’m sure that Congress thought that stepping down the lead content limits from 600 ppm to 300 and eventually 100 ppm was a good idea, and it is. What Congress evidently did not know is that inventory of children’s goods often sticks around much longer than the step-down timeframe they set, and is planned even further in advance. CPSIA allows six months for the 600 ppm standard and another 6 months for the 300 ppm standard. Because turnaround time is often more like one year, companies are having to jump directly to the 300 ppm standard, thus negating any mitigating effect Congress may have intended by writing a gradual step-down into the law.

Six months is also a completely unrealistic amount of time for implementing much of anything at the federal level. By comparison, the transition to digital television (which was to cost individual consumers far less money than CPSIA testing will cost businesses) was implemented over a period of several years, was well-publicized, and funds were set aside to assist people in buying set-top boxes for the transition. The lifetimes of TV sets were considered when constructing this timeframe. Congress even took time out of their work on the stimulus bill to extend the deadline for the DTV transition. However, with CPSIA, Congress discounted out of hand industry complaints that the timeframes were too short, ignored industry pleas to at least extend deadlines, and didn’t spend even one penny to give the CPSC enough funding to publicize, let alone enforce, the new standards. Even the 18th Amendment allowed the liquor industry one year in which to go out of business. Six months was never enough time.

Given that the vast majority of the businesses impacted are tiny ones with less than 20 employees, and a very large majority of them are micro-businesses, I cannot imagine why Congress would lump small businesses in with huge publicly traded corporations like Hasbro and just assume we could suck up the costs of compliance. If you would like to defend “the little guy,” please be aware that businesses ARE “the little guy” more often than not.

The second failing of CPSIA that I’d like to address is that it does not have adequate provisions for assessing actual safety. Lead is a natural element and cannot be totally eliminated from everything by anyone, even by an act of Congress. Consequently, any lead standard must take into consideration the likelihood that the lead content will result in lead poisoning, as not every instance of contact with lead results in lead absorption. Because lead must be ingested in order to be toxic, a child could play happily next to a lump of pure lead and never be poisoned. Thus, lead in items like dirt bikes that are never mouthed by children never has, does not now, and never will cause lead poisoning.

While CPSIA allows exemptions where lead is inaccessible, CPSIA does not allow the CPSC to make the determination that lead is not absorbable. Any exemptions that are made have to be made on the basis of peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Congress evidently did not consider where such evidence might come from or how much time or money it might take to obtain it. Therefore the CPSC cannot exempt dirt bikes, ATVs, books, ballpoint pens, and other items that by necessity contain lead that is not absorbable or extraordinarily unlikely to be absorbed during normal use. I have read Representatives Rush and Waxman’s letter to the CPSC instructing Acting Commissioner Nord that the law was never intended to cover “ordinary books” and the like, but that’s not what the law they wrote actually says, and it certainly does not allow CPSC to exempt whole categories of items based solely on Congressional say-so.

CPSIA also is unrealistic in its age limits. While there are certain items that older children may mouth, such as pencils, only developmentally disabled 12 year olds routinely mouth their toys. The limit was originally intended to be age 7, but was raised to age 12 at the request of consumer groups on the grounds that young children often play with their older siblings’ toys. Young children often play with their parents’ things too, and in fact lead poisoning has occurred from this. However, the problem has been limited to certain items like paint, keychains and jewelry. No child to my knowledge has ever been lead-poisoned by contact with the unpainted belongings of others outside of those categories. Congress was right to regulate the items that are known to be dangers, but a better approach would have been to focus on those items for all age groups and not all products for children 12 and under both in and out of those suspect categories.

The third aspect of CPSIA, and one of the most destructive, is the retroactivity provisions for the lead and phthalate standards. It is this aspect of the law that is greatly affecting thrift stores. Products that were manufactured before some of the Congressmen who voted for CPSIA were even born are now illegal to be sold without testing or assurances from manufacturers and publishers long-defunct. It is unrealistic in the extreme to think that thrift stores running on tiny margins could afford testing. This is why despite all assurances by CPSC, Congress, and consumer groups that thrift stores should not be affected, they are dumping children’s products and books left and right. If a product cannot be sold, and it cannot be tested, what other options are left?

It is admirable to want to create a world where parents can walk into a thrift store and know that everything available to buy is perfectly safe, but CPSIA as it is written gets us to that world by passing through a world where thrift stores refuse to sell children’s items for many years starting in the middle of a deep recession. Is that really better than the alternative of passing through a world where items in thrift stores gradually get safer but are never less safe than they are now?

The final failing of CPSIA that I wish to address is the climate of fear it creates. CPSIA was intended to increase consumer confidence in the products they buy, but it is having the opposite effect, even as it turns every element of the supply chain against the others. Consumers often assume that if a product is recalled or taken off the market, it must be because it was “toxic” or dangerous. Now that products are being taken off the market merely for lacking the required compliance paperwork, consumers making that assumption are seeing that “dangerous” products are all around them, and wondering what else might be putting them at risk.

But it gets worse. Because CPSIA doesn’t have any provisions to exempt retailers from penalties if they act in good faith, retailers are being extremely wary, often requiring additional assurances above and beyond those required in CPSIA. Burlington Coat Factory asked its vendors, on pain of fines, to produce General Conformity Certificates for goods manufactured back as far as 2006. Amazon.com asked its vendors for compliance assurances by January 15, nearly a month in advance of the February 10 deadline. There are too many examples to list them all here. We are also finding that to avoid substantial losses, some unscrupulous manufacturers are issuing inaccurate certificates of conformity. A friend of mine, an environmental engineer, recently tested some articles from a major discount department store and found them noncompliant with the new lead standard, despite the store’s good faith efforts to comply. This is the kind of result I fear we’ll see more of, not less of, as the net tightens.

Because CPSIA requires only sampling of products and not testing each item, the laws of mathematics that govern this kind of sampling result in a paradox. When manufacturers try to comply with CPSIA, they must make the choice between a frustrating and expensive testing regime well beyond CPSIA’s requirements, and a significant chance that a noncompliant item will pass through undetected and result in disaster for them and their customers and investors. If you are interested in learning more about this paradox, I posted about it on my blog, Organic Baby Farm: http://organicbabyfarm.blogspot.com/2009/02/cpsia-and-stochastic-approach.html I am not advocating testing each item, as that would be even worse of an economic train wreck than CPSIA. I merely point out that the testing of samples has mathematical limitations that cannot be overcome by increasing penalties or stricter testing regimes. I wish Congress had known about these limitations before they condemned the previous testing regimes as inadequate.

Through this mathematical loophole, unintentionally noncompliant goods will slip; these can be detected by anyone who walks into a store with an XRF gun. Groups like Public Citizen, USPIRG, and NRDC already have histories of going into stores and randomly testing goods, and they would love nothing better than to count coup on business and win money in the process. Even if you think they’re above such dirty play, there are plenty of other groups that are not. Because acting in good faith is no defense under CPSIA, Congress basically handed these groups a license to go out and be bounty hunters, preying on small defenseless businesses who don’t have K Street lobbyists. Even a small chance of noncompliance caught by vigilantes results in a large chilling effect on retailers, distributors, and manufacturers alike. This does nothing for the safety of the public and in fact drives out anyone who cannot honestly bring themselves to do business if they cannot keep their assets, including their homes, safe from predation.

These honest, hardworking people are the ones you want in business selling goods for children, not the ones you want to drive out of business, because they take the time to select only the highest quality goods from small producers with excellent quality control standards. I know this because I’m one of them. I’ve spoken out publicly against CPSIA, so I fully expect one or more of these consumer groups to anonymously and falsely tip off the CPSC that I’m in violation at some point, triggering an investigation and allowing their false accusations to be published on the internet and remain there even when proven to be unsubstantiated. In order to protect myself from this kind of attack, I cannot rely on the CPSC’s stay of enforcement and do business without being in complete compliance. That means that I’ll be out of business in August, because I cannot afford the third party testing that would put me in full compliance with CPSIA. And I’m one of the lucky ones: my husband has a good job. I buy extras with my business income; many of my friends rely on their business income to pay their bills and mortgages.

There is a bill before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, HR 968, which would rectify all four of these failures of CPSIA. Sadly, it will probably never make it out of committee. The Representatives in control of the committee are the same ones who wrote CPSIA, and they are unwilling even to acknowledge that there is a problem with CPSIA, let alone justify even the most minute changes to the law. Representatives Rush, Waxman, and Schakowsky in particular have been vehement in their defense of CPSIA as written, and they blame the CPSC for not writing exemptions for apparel, books, and dirt bikes. They are in complete denial that the law they wrote could possibly tie CPSC’s hands so tightly that they could not exempt any of these things.

I appreciate your open-mindedness and your willingness to reconsider this law before it has even more dire effects on our economy. By my calculations, which cover only a limited number of companies, losses from CPSIA are already nearly $2 billion and rising. I hope you are able to help stop this rising tide before it sinks all of our boats.


Wacky B. Hermit

UPDATE: Someone in the comments asked for a PowerPoint version. Ask and ye shall receive!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Super Awesome

Behold: The Periodic Table Of The Awesoments.

Link via IMAO.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Salt Lake Tea Party!

Ask and it shall be given-- there's going to be a Tea Party protest in Salt Lake City!

Mar. 6 Salt Lake Tea Party

11:00 AM MDT - 2 hours

When: Friday, March 6, 2009
Where: West Stairs of the Utah State Capitol Building
Time: 11:00 AM Meet, Organize, Make Posters
12:00 Noon Protest! When the legislators break for lunch. Let's remind them WE vote too!
1-2:00 pm clean up

This is a peaceful protest for the silent majority who won't stand by while our country's future is squandered under a mountain of debt and government programs.

Contact: David Kirkham

I'm A Stoopid Mommy Blogger

Various defenders of CPSIA assert baldly that many of us who are opposed to it are mere "mommy bloggers" who are spreading "misinformation" about CPSIA. Yes, that's right, we are stoopid, because when we read the law itself, lawyers' interpretations of the law, industry professionals' interpretations of the law, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission's interpretation of the law, we somehow get the mistaken impression that it applies to books, dirt bikes, BMX bikes, ATVs, clothing, bibs, ballpoint pens, thrift stores, and many other things that we've wrongly assumed were covered under the rubric of "all children's products".

Here's what I want to know: I used to be smart; when did I become a stupid mommy blogger? Was it the day I birthed my first child? Because I've gotten a Master's degree since then, although you could make a pretty good case that it was stupid to pay good money for an advanced degree in Mathematics. Was it the day I started blogging? My 5th blogiversary is coming up in a week. Oh, I know! I know how I suddenly got so stupid!

The day I became a stoopid mommy blogger was the day I disagreed with the "consumer" groups about CPSIA.

Now it all makes sense.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Recipe: Spiral Stuffed Pork Roast

You've gotta stretch that meat budget, and you can really only eat so much chicken.

I like to keep my meat under $2 a pound, though I've had to raise that limit to $3 a pound for beef. Needless to say, we're having beef less often now. That leaves more room for pork in the menu, to space out the chicken and meatless meals.

I go to Sam's Club and get the cry-o-vac boneless pork loin-- that gigantic strip of meat. When I get it home, I cut it into three equally sized pieces to get three meals out of it. Usually I'll cut one of the thirds up into cubes for stir-fry, one into boneless pork medallions, and leave the last whole for various purposes.

One of those purposes is a spiral stuffed pork roast. I like to do this with the fat end of the loin. I cut the loin open in a spiral so that it lays flat in a sheet of meat. Then I make up a package of Stove Top Stuffing (yes, I'm aware that's cheating) and spread it on top of the meat sheet in an even layer. I roll the meat back up, put it in the oven, and roast it till it's done. To serve, I slice it like a loaf of bread, exposing the spiral of stuffing. It looks like a million dollars!

It's fast, it's easy, and your husband thinks it took a lot of work.