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Henry Waxman

The website of the Golden Cockerel import firm includes a rather elaborate warning as to why its matryoshka are not meant for the under-12 set, at least not since the enactment of the calamitous Jan-Schakowsky-backed law:

the law requires each batch of toys be tested by a 3rd party laboratory to be sure they are “toy safe.” Such tests can cost well over $1000 per nesting doll set! And sometimes, as with our museum quality one-of-a-kind dolls, a “batch” consists entirely of one doll, or only a few, making it totally unfeasible to test.

CPSIA: reserving treasured toys for strictly adult use since 2008.

More: The CPSC has just sided with purported consumer groups and against pleas from the business community in adopting a broad definition of what constitute “children’s products” under the disastrous Barbara-Boxer-backed law: for example, ordinary paper clips must go through costly separate CPSIA testing when meant for kids’ use as part of a science kit with magnets and similar items [NY Times, AP/WaPo ("Kids' science kits may take hit from safety ruling"), Commissioners Anne Northup and Nancy Nord]

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You might be bitter too:

I called the lab, got the quote and did the math. CPSIA-mandated testing costs for my little product line was over $27,000 for just over $30,000 worth of product. I cannot express the horrible feeling I had when I realized that I had made a mistake that was going to cost my family all of our money. …

I blame every one of the Energy and Commerce legislative staffers.

– Jolie Fay, crafter, SkippingHippos.com, guest post, AmendTheCPSIA.com

SeeSawa

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Ethel Everett, illustrator, Nursery Rhymes (1900), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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Readers of this site will recall that as reports rolled in last year of the calamitous effects of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the Congressional leadership, and in particular key lawmaker Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) steadfastly refused to hold hearings or in general acknowledge that the law was causing systematic ill effects of any sort. As resale outlets across the nation swept harmless winter coats from their shelves or stopped dealing in kids’ goods entirely; BadMrsGinger1bas librarians warned that whole collections of pre-1985 books would need to be either put through prohibitively expensive testing or simply discarded; as makers, importers and sellers of perfectly harmless apparel, school supplies, furniture, musical instruments and other children’s items puzzled over ruinously high testing costs and bans on common materials like brass; as smaller, craft-oriented producers began folding, leaving the market to be served by the largest mass-production toymakers and retailers (many of which had supported the legislation); as the kids’ motor vehicle industry, including makers and sellers of dirtbikes and mini-ATVs, found itself transformed overnight into outlaws; even as all this unfolded, Henry Waxman and his counterparts on the Senate side kept the lid clamped down tight on any Capitol Hill airing of such woes. Eventually Waxman held a hearing with exactly one (1) witness, Obama-appointed CPSC chairperson Inez Tenenbaum, who sought to put the best face on the law. (After a false start, a House small business committee lacking actual legislative jurisdiction was also allowed to hold a more varied hearing.)

In recent months, without of course admitting any error whatsoever, representatives of Waxman’s office have been quietly floating amendments intended to correct some of CPSIA’s most blatantly impractical elements. The fixes would be likely to help in some specific areas where opposition has been vocal and influential, BadMrsGinger2bsuch as children’s books and mini-vehicles, while affording much less relief, or none at all, to many others trying to cope with the law. At the same time, Waxman’s staff has been demanding that “business” (conceived as if it were some monolithic group) gratefully sign off on the fix as acceptable and perhaps even accept new provisions that would increase CPSIA burdens. While many affected groups are understandably eager to reach a deal, others, such as persistent critic and businessman-blogger Rick Woldenberg, are reluctant to sign off on obviously partial and inadequate fixes as if were going to solve the wider problems with the law.

The fixer amendment has gone through several iterations; its current draft is here (PDF), named the Consumer Product Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, or CPSEA (more background from the committee, PDF, via ShopFloor). Now, at long last, Waxman has agreed to hold a hearing tomorrow (to be chaired by his colleague Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.). The witness list includes persons from Goodwill Industries, the National Association of Manufacturers, Handmade Toy Alliance, and the Motorcycle Industry Council — all of which groups have apparently agreed to support the legislation — as well as Rick Woldenberg of Learning Resources Inc., who continues as a critic, and Steve Levy of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Of course the difference now, and the reason some of these groups at long last will get their chance to testify, is that they have agreed to testify at least nominally on Waxman’s and Rush’s side — perhaps in some cases while biting their tongues.

We’ll be reporting more in days to come. In the mean time, this would make a good occasion for news organizations to renew their attention to the public policy disaster that CPSIA has wrought.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGES from Honor C. Appleton, The Bad Mrs. Ginger (Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1902), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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Some views you probably won’t be hearing during today’s highly orchestrated Capitol Hill events [Ed Wallace, Business Week] Regarding that “declining quality at Toyota” meme ["The Truth About NHTSA Complaints," TTAC] Sudden runup in count of deaths “linked to” possible Toyota acceleration is from newly filed reports on old cases [Fumento/CEI] Commentary from Richard Epstein [Forbes.com via Damon Root, Reason "Hit and Run"] Former trial lawyer lobbyist David Strickland, now helping lead charge against Toyota as NHTSA administrator, was principal author of ghastly CPSIA law [Amend The CPSIA] Also: links to ongoing Point of Law coverage.

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The Motorcycle Industry Council feels momentum is now on its side in its effort to re-legalize youth motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, which flunk CPSIA’s ban on lead-containing alloys. [MotorcycleUSA.com] More background here and here.

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CPSIA chronicles, September 12

by Walter Olson on September 12, 2009

  • On Thursday Henry Waxman’s House Commerce Committee finally held its long-promised hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the first such hearing by a committee with legislative jurisdiction since the calamitous law went into effect in February. TomTomPipersSon2(The Small Business Committee, a panel with no legislative authority over the law, had gone first.) As noted last week, Thursday’s virtually dissent-free event hardly counted as much of a hearing, since Waxman turned down all pleas to allow testimony from actual affected businesses or other critics or victims of the law. Instead he called as his single witness recently appointed CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum, who hewed closely to the line he (Waxman) wished to hear. A Washington Times editorial is appropriately scathing, and Rick Woldenberg has much more about the committee majority’s finger-in-ears response to the broad outcry over the law. Ranking Republican Joe Barton (R-Texas), who supported the law’s passage, did say that “we have all been inundated” with constituent messages about its ill consequences. The Handmade Toy Alliance has published the statement that Jill Chuckas of Crafty Baby would have made if invited to testify (more).
  • In an August 26 WSJ letter to the editor, Eric Havill of Branchport, N.Y. observes that Congress’s refusal to fix the law “is, if possible, even more irresponsible than the original legislation.”
  • By a unanimous vote, the CPSC recently confirmed that Mattel, the giant toymaker whose many recalls helped touch off the lead-in-toys panic in the first place, has qualified for an exemption from third-party (outside lab) testing of its products under CPSIA, and can instead test in its own in-house labs. Of course, most of Mattel’s competitors are less fortunate and do not operate on a scale that will make such an exemption feasible. The exemption for “firewalled” in-house labs, deemed by one critic a “hall pass,” was something Mattel obtained through intense lobbying back when the law was under consideration. Like the other giant in the business, Hasbro, Mattel actively lobbied for CPSIA’s passage, and even as the law has brought undreamt-of woe to thousands of smaller producers of kids’ products, the two big companies seem to be doing rather well under it. More: Timothy Carney, Washington Examiner; Brad Warbiany, Liberty Papers; Christopher Taylor, Word Around the Net. Other reactions to the exemption: Holly Jahangiri, Rick Woldenberg, Ed Morrissey/Hot Air (“one of the companies that created the problem in the first place has gotten a waiver”), Katherine Mangu-Ward/Reason (“Mattel now has a cost advantage on mandatory testing, and a handy new government-sponsored barrier to entry for its competitors”), Handmade Toy Alliance.
  • AlphabetRSTTurkeys

  • What’s going to replace forbidden phthalates in kids’ products now that CPSIA has banned them? Probably alternative plasticizing chemicals about which we know less, notes Andrew Langer in Roll Call.
  • It’s old news, of course, that the CPSC asserts the power to go after eBay and Craigslist sellers, church bazaars, homeowners who hold yard sales and other sellers of used items that do not comply with CPSIA and other safety standards (although evidence is very sparse that most members of Congress actually realized the law would reach sales of those kinds.) Last month the CPSC saw fit to announce “Resale Roundup”, a new crackdown on secondhand sales. It also revised its book of guidance for resellers, in ways Rick Woldenberg finds less than enlightening. Discussion: Adler/Volokh, Ed Morrissey/Hot Air (“What did we ever do before the CPSIA protected the US through its throngs of federal nannies? How did we ever survive garage sales in the past 233 years?”), Washington Times (“from yard sales to jail cells”), Katherine Mangu-Ward/Reason, John Stossel, Deputy Headmistress/Common Room (“Remember when Congress assured us that the little guys had NOTHING to worry about with the CPSIA because they weren’t going to come after us? They. Lied.”) On the brighter side, McClatchy’s James Rosen quotes spokesperson Scott Wolfson as saying the commission isn’t planning to seek admittance to inspect private homes and garages to enforce the law. So be thankful for small favors.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGES from Ethel Everett, illustrator, Nursery Rhymes (1900), and (illustrator not known) Farm Yard ABC (c. 1880), both courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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YMGcandlestick2A fine hearing/My friends, this is… Rep. Waxman’s plan for a dissent-free panel this Thursday (Sept. 10) is to call as the only witness CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum, to talk up the merits of the law and her efforts as new steward of the agency. It’s not as if the law’s controversial or anything! The Handmade Toy Alliance wonders whether he’ll get away with it.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Benjamin Cobb, Yankee Mother Goose (Ella Brison, illustrator), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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KidBookSilverPencilElizabeth Mullaney Nicol has an excellent article in The New Atlantis on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and its appalling consequences for old children’s books and the cultural inheritance they represent. (If you’re new to this topic, we’ve covered it extensively here and here.) Among the questions she addresses:

Isn’t there a wealth of worthwhile children’s literature published since 1985 for kids to read?

[Older books,] as a group, have certain desirable characteristics. Children’s books of yore tend to use more sophisticated, literary language than their more recent counterparts. The quality of their paper, bindings, and illustrations are often superior. Vintage children’s books assume and encourage the readers’ fascination with adventure, their eagerness to learn about the world, their respect for great men and women.

Won’t the really good older books survive in post-1985 reprint editions that can be sold without fear of liability? (Yes, one really does hear this argument.)
KidBookCircusBaby

Some books from the 1950s and 60s are back in print, but with updated illustrations so the characters appear to be from our time; if that’s what it takes to lure readers who are wary of anyone who doesn’t look like them to pick up the books, it’s probably fine, but there is also value in presenting books with a style of illustration and characters with a style of dress from a different time, and that’s what we get with old copies. Some books, such as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, are thoroughly “updated” for today’s readers—simplified, abbreviated, substituting familiar words for those no longer commonly used—so if a child is going to read the originals he needs to read old copies….

Some old books, it is true, express ideas and attitudes of which we would disapprove, prejudices and errors that make modern readers wince. But learning about such sentiments firsthand is at the heart of what it means to learn our history. Moreover, while correcting some of these past problems, our present age has its own objectionable attitudes.

Won’t older children’s books still be available when intended for adult use, say as collectibles or for research?

But the availability of these books to children is the very purpose and value of preserving them. We want them in children’s hands, being read, not only preserved on the dusty back shelves of research libraries. Quantities are important — quantities of titles, and quantities of each title, so they are readily available for loan from public libraries and for purchase through used booksellers. Families have been able to build home libraries through priced-for-reading book sales and thrift stores. … We are suddenly facing the prospect that many of these books will be destroyed, making those that remain all the more rare and inaccessible.
KidBookTamingTiger
Some used booksellers, trying valiantly to continue selling books for children, are re-labeling their children’s books as collectors’ editions. But this obscures the books from searches by those looking for ordinary children’s books, it clutters the market for real collectibles, it makes the bookseller look ignorant of his trade, and it is prohibited under CPSIA, which stipulates that a book “commonly recognized” as being meant for children’s use will be regulated as such.

The article’s strength, I should note by way of quibble, is not as legal advice: it somewhat overstates the stringency of the law, which does not ban the sale of all untested pre-1985 kids’ books as such, instead exposing booksellers to punishment when they guess wrong about whether a given volume would meet current standards (hence the CPSC’s guidance advising retailers to discard them all). And the call for “sequestering” library copies has thus far come from only one member of the three-member CPSC, not as yet the full commission. As a summation of what will be lost to children and the nation if Congress does not change this law, however, the article is one of the best yet. Read it here.

Relatedly, Ken at Popehat is still trying to grasp the news that according to our federal government:

Children’s books have limited useful life (approx 20 years)

And since Rep. Henry Waxman, closely identified with CPSIA and its defense, has a new book out, Carter Wood at ShopFloor wonders whether this topic is going to come up at any of his bookstore appearances.

P.S. Fenris Lorsrai at LiveJournal reprinted the Nicol article and in so doing prompted some interesting reader comments.

GRAPHICS courtesy VintageChildrensBooks.com.

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  • At long last a House committee — the one on Small Business — has announced a hearing on CPSIA’s impact on small business, to take place Thursday. (I’m almost hesitant to report this as good news since the last time I did so it took only hours for the event to be called off). The Small Business panel does not have primary legislative authority in the area; that is vested in Rep. Henry Waxman’s Energy and Commerce Committee, whose CPSIA-overseeing subcommittee has chosen instead to hold hearings on that very urgent subject of public concern, college bowl championships. Rick Woldenberg recalls the fingers-in-ears techniques the House has used to shut out unwanted information up to now: first Waxman/Rush staffers prearranged “hearings” that heard nothing, after which they (successfully up to now) maneuvered to make sure critics of the law would not obtain any official Hill forum at which to air their grievances as public outrage built.
  • Hard to steer with no head

  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission has released new guidance (PDF) for thrift shops and other product resellers on compliance with CPSIA and other laws overseen by the agency. According to Ian at Musings at a Catholic Bookstore , the manual lays out policies that differ only slightly from what was known before, often by spelling out what will be made an enforcement priority, since the commission has no power to alter the law’s actual requirements. Thus it seems phthalates in older kids’ playthings, the kind unlikely to be placed in the mouth, are not going to be a high priority in reseller enforcement — which still doesn’t make it legal to resell those items. For many outside readers the biggest surprise seems to have been that the agency views its authority as extending to yard sales. As Ian notes, this isn’t actually news; it’s just that the new manual is spelling it out in a more visible way than it did at some earlier times.
  • “Toy Story 3: Emperor Uncle Sam Puts You Out of Business” [Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), The Hill]
  • In the ongoing series of crises that is CPSIA, the next major crisis is due on or around August 14, as of which date newly made children’s goods must comply with new tracking and labeling requirements (touched on briefly in this space last month). The intent is to make it easier to trace and contain safety problems, enable recalls and so forth. For makers of children’s apparel, Kathleen Fasanella explains the complicated and sometimes expensive implications in posts here, here, and here. And apparel makers have it relatively easy, in part because they are already used to affixing permanent labels to most products, unlike many makers of items such as wooden toys and pencils, straw dolls, ceramic wall plaques, rubber spiders or bouncy balls, glass bead craft items, and so forth. Toy importer Rob Wilson writes, “this one clause will be enough to finish off a good majority of the companies that the other provisions of the law do not kill first. I personally know of many companies that are planning to close by August 15th if this provision is not amended.” The National Association of Manufacturers has requested (PDF) an emergency stay on the tracking and labeling rules; the CPSC has put off consideration of the request. Rick Woldenberg comments here and here. And tomorrow (Tues., May 12) at 1 p.m., the CPSC is holding a meeting, to which any interested member of the public is invited, to discuss the tracking and labeling rules. (Update: CPSC hearing is online as a webcast (h/t Woldenberg). Kathleen Fasanella has more, including links to more than 500 pages of protest letters, PDF, received by the CPSC on the issue).
  • One that fits

  • Cutting across multiple lines: per the Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, a local resident whose son got sick from salmonella (and recovered) appeared with Rep. Henry Waxman at a press conference to promote more effective federal food safety regulations; at the same time, though, “Christoferson said she can sympathize with the harm that poorly written rules can do to businesses” because her own resale store in the city of Bend, Stone Soup, has been harmed by CPSIA.
  • Whimsical Walney, who has written with passion about the CPSIA fight, has announced that she is closing the doors of her children’s business.

Public domain paper doll images courtesy Karen’s Whimsy.

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oakandreeds3

  • Did you know that you can use the advanced search function at the SEC’s EDGAR database to track some of the losses in the business world from the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act? (h/t Sunny Day Notes). Thus the Dollar General chain reveals in a 10-k filing that it took a charge of $8.6 million due to the sudden loss of value of merchandise early this year when a court reinstated CPSIA’s retroactive ban on phthalates in children’s playthings. Mark Riffey also suggests Google searches combining 10-K with CPSIA. (More on the countable costs).
  • A Quick Guide To What’s Wrong with the CPSIA” by leading reform activist Rick Woldenberg is more a jumping-off point for discussion than a finished bill of particulars — it doesn’t bring up the needless burdens of the law’s testing regime, for example. And it argues for more reasonable implementation without really taking issue on principle with the wisdom of the law. But it does have the advantage of being couched in the sort of Washington language a legislative staffer might be willing to take to colleagues.
  • Speaking of quick guides, Carol Baicker-McKee has done up a two-page fact sheet on the need to fix CPSIA before it does more harm on the vintage-books front. Valerie Jacobsen polled both sellers and buyers in the homeschool market for used children’s literature and found that nearly all the buyers, and for the time being most of the sellers, were ignoring the CPSC guidelines that discourage most resale of pre-1985 volumes. Deputy Headmistress had a great post last month summing up reactions on the vintage-books front from David Niall Wilson, Amy Ridenour, Zodi @ Tim & Zodi, and less admirably, Consumer Reports/Consumers Union (which seems to be perfectly fine with the law’s effects). And did you know there’s a displayable sidebar widget of “CPSIA Endangered Books” based on the Flickr group with that theme?
  • I am sorry to say I believe the story Jacobsen told at her site last month:

    I just had an interesting conversation with Jared at the Senate Commerce Committee at 202-224-5115. Jared told me that the Commerce Committee had been unaware that pre-1985 children’s books (he knew about that restriction already) would still have commercial importance and ongoing value for children’s use. … Jared asked a lot of questions and twice expressed that it was new information “to the Committee” that these books still have any market importance.

    The comments section to that post is a particularly good one for those interested in the fate of vintage children’s books or in the attitudes widely held on Capitol Hill; see also Deputy Headmistress.

  • Not a good sign: the Obama/Biden campaign took a simplistic “ban ‘em all” view on CPSIA issues in its document “Barack Obama: A Champion for Children” (PDF) And (h/t Mark Riffey) it was two and a half years ago that Rep. Henry Waxman and then-Sen. Obama reached for headlines by blasting the U.S. Capitol gift shops over its sale of trinkets and souvenirs containing lead — no need for careful distinctions about which such items if any might present actual, material hazards and which do not. (Dec. 11, 2006 announcement).
  • Rain boots, buttons, Dr. Seuss: What passed and what didn’t when the owner of a Chicago-area resale store did x-ray fluorescence (XRF) testing to detect lead levels in many vintage kids’ products [From My Room]
  • Pete Warden’s neat Mailana venture (among other functions) will analyze a group of Twitter connections to detect patterns. It indicates that of the 1,300+ persons now following @walterolson on that service, the two most distinctly identifiable social clusters are toymakers and lawyers. I feel torn sometimes between the North Pole and a hot place.

Public domain image courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org: Walter Crane, illustrator, The Baby’s Aesop (1887)

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Last Wednesday’s CPSIA rally at the Capitol drew an overflow crowd of hundreds, with thousands more reportedly watching from around the world via webcast. Many speakers had powerful stories to tell, and cameras from CNN and ABC were on hand to record them; AP mentioned the event in covering the dirtbike-ban story. There is, as you might imagine, no way to upstage a six-year-old motocross champion who declares from the podium, “I promise I won’t eat my dirt bike”.

A few things I learned by attending:

  • Ordinary bikes (not the motorized kind) are clearly out of compliance with the law because of the leaded brass in certain components, and have been given no exemption. I’m still wondering why the CPSC directed the motorbike dealers to tarp over their inventory but did not do the same with the ordinary-bike dealers. Earlier here; much more (PDF) in this CPSC submission by Mayer Brown for the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.
  • Until I saw their handout leaflet, it hadn’t sunk in that the non-profit and charitable giants in resale, including Goodwill, Salvation Army, Easter Seals, Volunteers of America, and St. Vincent de Paul, have banded together in a Donated Goods Coalition. Good for them, and I hope someone listens.
  • Held up for inspection

  • Even blogging the subject as much as I have, I’ve somehow said almost nothing about CPSIA’s requirements for batch numbering, labeling and tracking of kids’ products, due to hit later this year. It seems these requirements all by themselves will suffice to wipe out small producers in droves even if the crazy testing requirements can somehow be made sane.  A few write-ups touching on the subject: Handmade Toy Alliance (Word document), Kathleen Fasanella/Fashion Incubator, Publisher’s Weekly.
  • The rally happened because of the efforts of grass-roots business people around the country, above all Rick Woldenberg of Learning Resources. (The story of the Oregon delegation could stand for that of many others.) Motorbike people were much in evidence. Also present: people from trade associations from regular businesses not been much heard from in the CPSIA furor of recent months, including makers of shoes and footwear, cribs, and even household cleansers, all of whom turned out to have stories to tell. Who knew there was a whole association specializing in the little items you get when you put in the quarter in the vending machine and turn the crank?
  • Kids’-book author (and valued commenter) Carol Baicker-McKee was there and gave a superb talk, making effective use of a copy of Orwell’s 1984. Otherwise, however, among groups deeply affected by the legislation, the book and library trades were conspicuous by their absence. I wasn’t the only one who noticed this; so did Publisher’s Weekly.
  • I finally got to meet face to face many persons who have been favorably mentioned in these columns over the past three months. I was not surprised to find a whole lot of nice, dedicated people, the sort of people you’d want to be making products for your children to use. You, Reader, would have enjoyed meeting them too.
  • Many members of Congress spoke. All were Republican, and a few were pretty good. For better or worse (maybe some of each) there was a minimum of partisanship, with scant mention of the reports that the Democratic House leadership had ordered members not to attend. Several lawmakers minimized the institutional role in the debacle of Congress (which passed the law last year almost unanimously), instead seeking to throw the blame onto the CPSC’s management, which put them surprisingly close to the position of Henry Waxman himself. One GOP member said it was important to be nice to the Democrats and not alienate them, since they held all the power. Not observing the nicetiesThis may have been good advice, but I was still a little surprised.
  • Amid a great deal of talk about unintended consequences, very little was said about there being actual adversaries out there, who know quite well what the law is doing and support it anyway. If more than a word or two was breathed about the roles of Public Citizen, PIRG, or the various members of Congress who are actively hostile on the issue (and not just “needing to be educated”), I missed it. Which meant (it seemed to me) that some of the good people who’d taken the trouble to come to Washington were going to be surprised and perhaps unprepared when they discovered figures out there like, oh, just to pick randomly, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, whose positions are not so much unreflected-on as deeply hostile (and with mysteriously unsourced numbers too).

Speaking of which, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumers Reports, confirmed once again that it falls into the “hostile” and not merely “unreflective/ uninformed” category with this deplorable hatchet job, which provoked a slew of angry, substantive comments; see also blog posts including those of Carol Baicker-McKee and Sheeshamunga.

More rally coverage: Domestic Diva, Polka Dot Patch.
Public domain image: Yankee Mother Goose (1902), illustrator Ella S. Brison, courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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humming-bird2

In a plea for relief from the law, the printing industry reminds us that the world of printed material for children is a big and diverse one: any exemption narrowly drawn to cover bound books alone will expose to the law’s full and often prohibitive rigor a whole world of paper and paperboard wall posters, party invitations, thank-you cards, educational pamphlets and supplements, puzzles, leaflets, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, writing pads, folders and other back-to-school supplies, stickers, origami paper, Sunday school collection envelopes, mazes, score-keeping tallies, tracts, calendars, maps, home-school kits, Valentines, sticky notes, napkins and placemats, trading and playing cards, and much more. (Update: more from PIA).

Relatedly, Valerie Jacobsen narrates “a teacher’s dilemma”:

This teacher said that if she brought her own classroom into compliance, she would lose most of her carefully collected library and many more educational supplies that she finds very helpful. She said, “I guess our whole shelf of microscopes would have to go, too.”

This teacher is working to give her students a rich, well-rounded education and she finds older books very useful in her classroom. Meanwhile, her experience confirms my own: children just don’t eat books.

Jacobsen wonders whether Henry Waxman has talked to many teachers about the law, and whether it would change his mind if he did.

Another group hit by the law, many of whom sell in smallish quantities not well suited to amortize the costs of a testing program, are the suppliers of equipment for school science programs. Is there a “Teachers Against CPSIA” group yet? And if not, why not?

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kidsdancearoundtree

Given that nearly every member of Congress voted for CPSIA last year, it’s not surprising that that body of lawmakers was slow to respond to reports of the law’s catastrophic consequences. It’s beginning to happen now, though. Republicans have been in the lead, the latest sign being a strong letter from ranking House Commerce minority members Reps. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) and Joe Barton (R-Calif.) asking for a hearing. The motorcycle/powersports issue has also kindled widespread interest from Hill members (example: Rep. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho).

On March 4 there was a welcome break in the ice on the Democratic side as well. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) sent a letter to the commissioners of the CPSC that, although cautiously worded, acknowledges many of the reports of calamitous consequences from around the country, something that his colleagues Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) have been unwilling to do (when not dismissing those reports as based on misinformed or uninformed rumor). Of course, there is famously no love lost between Dingell and Waxman, who ousted him as Commerce chair. But Dingell’s stand could give cover for other Democrats to join in heeding the public outcry as legitimate. That letter in turn has prompted many CPSIA critics to write Dingell letters in hopes of arming him with more facts and arguments on the law’s ill effects: see in particular Rick Woldenberg and Wacky Hermit.

Waxman, for his part, has announced his intent to hold no hearing on the law until the Obama Administration installs a new chair at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That serves the multiple functions of 1) stalling (while more small enterprises are driven out of business and thus are neutralized as political threats); 2) reinforcing the impression that the ball is in someone else’s court on addressing the law’s harms; 3) assisting in orchestrating whatever hearing is eventually held, since he expects an ally of his own to be installed as CPSC chair (the ultimate nightmare for CPSIA critics in that job would be someone like Pamela Gilbert, the class action lawyer, former plaintiff’s-lawyer lobbyist, and longtime Litigation Lobby figure who ran the Obama transition effort for the agency).

The membership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, by the way, is listed here (hit “membership”; scroll to “Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection” to find the members most directly involved). The membership of the Senate Commerce Committee is listed here and that of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance here.

Some miscellaneous weekend reading about the law: John Markley, Bureaucrash; Michael Maletic (Weil Gotshal & Manges), Republican National Lawyers Association; Ed Driscoll, Pajamas Media.
Public domain graphic: Grandma’s Graphics, Ruth Mary Hallock.

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[Broken link on CPSC surveillance program fixed now.]

  • The internet is a-hum with reactions to a proposal by West Virginia state representative Jeff Eldridge (D-Big Ugly) to ban Barbie dolls “and other similar dolls that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.” That idea is predictably going nowhere (at least in West Virginia: Montpelier, Vt. is said to have voted a Barbie ban*), but Eldridge can perhaps take consolation in that CPSIA has already (with virtually no media taking note of the fact) banned the sale of vast numbers of vintage Barbies that pose equal dangers of symbolic or psychological impairment, if not of actual physical dangers. This 1999 New York Times piece describes how Mattel was “beginning an effort to eliminate” the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) compounds in the dolls, and that environmental activist groups contended that PVC often included lead as well as (less surprisingly) the plastic softeners phthalates, some but not all of which are banned by the law. dollsanddollclothes As Denise Van Patten noted in an About.com write-up in January, it is not clear what old dolls are still going to be lawful to sell, distribute or give away under CPSIA, if they cannot be fit into the “adult collectible” exception that covers items so expensive they will be kept out of children’s hands. Soft plastic is only the beginning of the problem. Most older dolls have paint as a component — often only in the rendering of the eyes, but that’s enough to count as a resale red flag under the CPSC’s Feb. 9 guidelines. Hair and dyed fabric, both of unknown composition? Buttons or snaps in the garment, or worse yet, rhinestones? About the only such plaything a thrift shop would not advised to discard under the guidelines would be an unpainted and unvarnished rigid humanoid figurine of raw wood or cast aluminum. If your child does find one of those on a thrift store shelf, she’s welcome to cuddle it all she pleases.
  • Carol Baicker McKee is a children’s book author and illustrator who commented eloquently (more) on one of our earlier posts about books. Now she has a great post explaining why, although she “never used to think of myself as an activist,” she’s thrown herself into the fight to change this law. As she points out, some things changed, but other things didn’t change, when the CPSC announced a short safe list of presumptively lawful material for children’s products along with a one-year stay on many testing requirements (but not on the banning of goods that flunk the thresholds). She explains why “the stays provide only the illusion of relief,” and that “when the stay ends a year from now, the destructive testing provisions will still go into effect for all children’s products except the small percentage that have been given a reprieve – the costs of that testing will force the remaining small businesses that have limped along this year into oblivion (and the [requirement for] destructive testing will obviously signal the end of one of a kind products).” Read the whole thing.
  • In a classic 1850 pamphlet, Frederic Bastiat writes of “what is seen, and what is not seen” when people recommend government solution to a problem. Deputy Headmistress writes of “what Congress didn’t see“. More: Patrick Stephens on a similar theme last month.
  • A Georgia newspaper quotes CPSC spokeswoman Arlene Flecha as saying that “her agency will have inspectors make unannounced visits to stores throughout the country and will randomly conduct tests on products.” And if you’re wondering about the CPSC “Internet surveillance project”, in which agents of the commission pose as consumers in order to trap detect persons selling forbidden goods on eBay or Craigslist, you can find out more about that here (link fixed now).
  • At the Heritage Foundation’s InsiderOnline blog, Alex Adrianson has a detail-filled though not lengthy post that would make a good short introduction to the subject to send to (say) a lawmaker.
  • Allison Loudermilk at the How Stuff Works blogs takes a look at the law’s heavy impact on thrift stores (“the selection at your local thrift store just got a whole lot slimmer”), while the PTA Thrift Shop of Carrboro, N.C. regrets to inform its customers that it’s out of kids’ resale entirely due to the law; things are only a little better in Salem, Ore. Manager Lisa Sonnek of the York, Nebraska Goodwill has pulled all the children’s clothing, toys, furniture, and pre-1985 books, in accord with policy from above, but has put aside “some clean children’s clothing, in anticipation of the policy being modified in the near future”. Dunno – that might depend on Henry Waxman’s heart melting or something.

*Although numerous online sources report as fact a Montpelier Barbie “ban”, commenter Barb says it’s far from clear that the reports have much of a factual basis.

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Their hands are tied

  • Finally! Today’s Boston Globe covers the thrift-store calamity:


    In recent weeks, Goodwill pulled all children’s merchandise from its nine stores in the state. Thrift chain Second Time Around eliminated kids’ clothing from several of its 16 shops. St Vincent de Paul is currently removing children’s clothing with metal zippers, buttons, and painted fabrics from its processing center, which sends out merchandise to its six stores in Massachusetts.

    It’s exactly the sort of coverage that’s been overdue in the biggest newspapers since Feb. 10: well-reported, making clear the human costs of the law for both cash-strapped shoppers and charitable sponsors, and including words like “devastating” and “heartbreaking”. And on page one.

  • If you missed it yesterday, Overlawyered gets results! Although sometimes the opposite of the kind we intend. Yesterday we hailed as a breakthrough the House Small Business Committee’s willingness to hold a hearing next week on the costs of CPSIA. Within a few hours, as Rick Woldenberg relates, Congressional staffers hastily put out word that they were canceling the hearing and that the idea is “not likely to ever be brought back”. There’s no way for us to know just who placed the phone call, but odds are good it was someone who realized that letting people from around the country get in front of a microphone and talk about this law’s effects would not exactly do wonders for the image of Henry Waxman, Bobby Rush, Jan Schakowsky, Public Citizen, PIRG, or their allies. More on the cancellation from Rick Woldenberg, who reports that this is the third time he’s been disinvited from Capitol Hill testimony. Sounds like someone really dislikes the message he would deliver.
  • About ten colors too many

  • Hair bow makers on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
  • The Examiner, which has a wide readership in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and other cities, is out today with a great editorial on CPSIA which also generously directs readers to this site and its “chilling” reports. It concludes: “This law is an utter disaster. Congress ought to fix it, immediately.” The Examiner also quotes Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), one of the law’s sponsors, as saying “the law allows the CPSC to make ‘commonsense exceptions’ to anti-lead requirements.” This is not the first time I have been obliged to wonder whether Sen. Pryor actually has a close familiarity with the terms of the bill he helped guide to passage, and if not, whose summaries he has been relying on when he talks to the press. arkansasstateflag
    It is precisely because the law does not confer on the CPSC any “commonsense exception” authority that the commission was obliged to turn down the makers of kids’ minibikes in their plea for an exemption the other day. Same for many other instances that could be cited, such as the pre-1985 books and the size 10 winter coats with zippers and snaps that are being yanked from thrift store shelves. Had the commission such a “commonsense exception” discretion, it would almost certainly have acted by now to defuse these sources of public outcry. To repeat the question: who does Sen. Pryor rely on for his briefings?
  • For adult use only

  • Speaking of products with vanishingly low risk of poisoning that have trouble obtaining commonsense exemptions, we’ve been remiss in not staying on the case of ballpoint pens, mentioned in our Feb. 6 and Feb. 13 roundups. Deputy Headmistress has quite a bit more on the legal limbo occupied by the writing implements, which appear now to be unlawful when intended primarily for under-12 use. And visitor “Scott” wrote last week in our comments section:



    What still amazes me is that the story about ballpoint pens being in violation of the CPSIA isn’t getting more notice. The CPSC admits that ballpoint pens intended for children are covered. As it happens, the US trade association for the makers of pens, pencils and erasers has sent a letter to the CPSC that ballpoint pens are not-compliant and no existing alloy satisfies the lead limits. It may take 2 years to develop an alloy, if one exists. I can only conclude that there must be very very very many stores not in compliance and ‘poisoning’ our children with lead. Are these stores not facing strict liability and risking felony criminal liability including 5 years in prison and $250,000 fines? The stay by the CPSC doesn’t help the pen-makers or sellers, because they’re in knowing violation of the lead limits. All they can hope for is that none of the 50 state attorney generals decides to prosecute what would appear to be a slam-dunk case. There is a chance that the CPSC may eventually decide to make an exemption for pens, however the CPSC admits that its staff is ‘not yet aware of any substance as to which the required showing [of no absorption of any lead into the human body] can be made.’.

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processionofthenursery

  • UPDATE 5:45 p.m. Eastern: Well, that was quick. A source reports that Congressional staffers hastily announced that they’re canceling the hearing next week and that the idea is “not likely to ever be brought back”. Someone must have realized that letting people from around the country get in front of a microphone and talk about the effects of this law would not exactly do wonders for the image of Henry Waxman, Public Citizen, PIRG, or Consumer Federation of America. More: Rick Woldenberg confirms cancellation/disinvitation.
  • A prime objective for critics of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in recent weeks has been to obtain a hearing on Capitol Hill that might focus lawmaker and press attention on the law’s many unexpected and harmful effects. Now it looks as if that might be happening. Rick Woldenberg:

    I have been invited to testify before the Subcommittee on Regulations and Healthcare of the House Committee on Small Business next Thursday. The purpose of this hearing is to explore Small Business issues related to the CPSIA. The Subcommittee is still looking for small businesses to testify. … If you are motivated to testify, you may want to reach out to the Subcommittee staff to volunteer, or if you have a Congressman on the Subcommittee, contact their Washington office urgently. …

  • Relatedly, Whimsical Walney, whose time seems to have been in part freed up for blogging by the CPSIA-induced shutdown of her Bay-Area-based children’s line, offers some advice here and here on how to talk with lawmakers about the act.
  • If you still haven’t taken a look at it, Daniel Kalder’s excellent BooksBlog entry in The Guardian (U.K.) on CPSIA and older books, which quotes from my City Journal article, is here. It’s drawn attention around the world, including places like France, Italy, and Romania.
  • oldtalesreading

  • Speaking of books, America’s libraries appear to have dodged catastrophe for now with the help of the American Library Association’s (understandable under the circs) last-minute embrace of the position that unless someone announces otherwise, it’s going to assume the law doesn’t apply to library stacks or circulation (earlier; commentary on the shift, Deputy Headmistress and Rick Woldenberg). Thus: Cincinnati Enquirer (“We’re hopeful saner heads will prevail and they’ll exempt us,” says Emily Sheketoff of the ALA), Middletown (Ohio) Journal, Brown County, Ohio, News-Democrat.


    So it seems to be mostly the librarians who are the most literal-minded and obedient about following guidance from high government authorities, or who are most legally risk-averse, or something, who are taking drastic steps like tarping over their pre-1985 stacks or planning to discard the volumes entirely or excluding older kids’ books from their used-book sales (in which case they’ll wind up….where?). Esther at Reading Loft/Design Loft has been picturing how libraries will look if they can’t make an exemption stick. And I didn’t notice it when it ran last month, but Annoyed Librarian had a funny rant at Library Journal about the law. Perish the thought, of course, that any library might ever want to acquire a pre-1985 book for kids’ use.
  • Popular conservative talk host Hugh Hewitt has continued his coverage of the law. Per one transcript, he discussed it with star columnist Mark Steyn who knew about the youth motorsports debacle:

    In my little corner of New Hampshire, every 12-year old boy loves taking an ATV, loves riding it around up in the hills. And the idea that the lead in it is going to cause that kid to keel over, is preposterous. This is government by insanity…

    On the other hand, Mark Riffey passes along word that popular talker Glenn Beck doesn’t plan to cover the issue because “there’s no public outcry” (a paraphrase second-hand of what might be a staffer’s view, or his, it’s not clear). What? Does he restrict his reading diet to the New York Times?

  • Wacky Hermit at Organic Baby Farm is angry: “When you have to consult a lawyer before you hold a church benefit sale, you are not in America.” (some rude language).
  • In the first-linked item above, Woldenberg also reports on an announcement by the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s chief of enforcement, Gib Mullan, that the commission intends to shift its enforcement methods in a more punitive direction, handing out many more penalties than previously in order to achieve more deterrent effects on businesses of all sizes. This is well in line with the clear guidance the commission has been given by Henry Waxman and colleagues in Congress. Next Thursday, if those planning the hearing do their jobs right, many in Congress might for the first time hear some voices that no one thought to consult when the law hurtled toward passage last summer. [REPEATING THE UPDATE: Hearing reportedly canceled.]

Public domain images: Grandma’s Graphics, Mabel Betsy Hill and Elson’s Basic Readers.

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With large inventories of kid-sized motorbikes, mini-ATVs, and similar products rendered worthless and unsalable under tarps or in back storage rooms, the Motorcycle Industry Council now estimates that the economic damage from the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in its sector of the economy alone could reach $1 billion in 2009 if Congress does not act to restore the products’ legality. Joe Delmont at DealerNews has more information on how that figure was arrived at. Two weeks ago we cited an estimate that the frozen inventory alone exceeds $100 million in value; the larger figure adds in the cost of payroll and insurance at dealerships while they wait for the ban to be lifted, lost service and accessory sales, and so forth. It apparently does not count harms to tourism and recreation sectors in parts of the country that draw a family vacation trade based on use of the vehicles (see, e.g., ShareTrails.org, Americans for Responsible Recreational Access). Since the vehicles are intended for outdoor use, the weeks leading up to and including spring — in other words, now — are ordinarily their prime selling season. Some recent coverage previously unlinked: Chico, Calif., Enterprise-Record, WDAY Fargo, N.D., Orlando, Fla. Local6, WCTV Tallahassee, Fla., Gloversville, N.Y. Leader-Herald, Kingsport, Tenn. Times-News. Forums: cpsia-central, VitalMX, Motorcycle Addicts, and many more.

bombardierbrp

The minibikes fall into a category of products for which the drafters of CPSIA made it particularly hard to obtain exemptions, namely products that concededly do contain a more than infinitesimal quantity of lead in a normal and accessible component. Yesterday, the CPSC published (PDF) its proposed rule on the subject. In it, the commission staff explain the stringent legal requirements governing such waivers, and why they often do not allow the commission to grant “common sense” waivers even where risks of harm are very low and costs of regulation are very high (pp. 7 et seq of the document, which fall on pp. 9 et seq of the PDF). In other words, the minibike dealers are out of luck unless they can convince (or persuade Congress to take the issue away from) the implacable Henry Waxman, who in turn tends to take his cue on these matters from Public Citizen and that group’s allies.

The powersports dealers aren’t the only ones stranded. At The Smart Mama, lawyer/lead testing consultant Jennifer Taggart ponders what might amount to “the end of bling” in kids’ wear. Genuine crystals by definition include lead, as do many rhinestones, although cheaper plastic imitations will more often be free of it. Trade groups have petitioned for an exemption, but given the law’s stringency (calling for the submission of peer-reviewed data, for example) it is far from clear that the commission can grant their requests. It will be easy in some quarters to dismiss the whole matter with a wave: who cares about mere embellishments, anyway?
irishdancedress
It’s not so easy to be dismissive if you’re, say, a teacher of Irish step dancing, with a stock of performance dresses in youth sizes (quite possibly with crystals, rhinestones or sequins, since nothing picks up stage lights the way they do). That stock of costumes, which might even be your most costly asset, by law at least may now occupy the same frozen contraband category as those tarped-over new youth minibikes at the sports dealer’s. As message-boarder “GailV” put it, “The dresses are worn for about 15 minutes at a time, the possibly lead-containing parts never touch the child, but it’s still illegal.” For more on the dismay CPSIA has struck into the Irish dance apparel community, see Irish Dance Moms, Fashion Incubator Forums, and Voy Forums comments here, here, and here (“Heidi”: “Most of us would like to be successful and running legitimate (law abiding) businesses. I want to grow my business, not hide in the shadows looking for ways to circumvent the law. Besides, the jealous world of Irish dance is full of potential whistle blowers.”)

More: In comments, Jennifer Taggart reports more distress in the bling sector.

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We posted a week and a half ago about the cute baby quilt priced at $3,530 — formerly $58, but with a new higher price to cover the required testing under CPSIA. (In general, items with many colors and components are hardest hit by the law’s onerous testing requirements.) At Etsy, the online crafts market, you can check out a whole gallery with dozens of “CPSIA specials” reflecting the new cost structure that Reps. Henry Waxman, Bobby Rush and their colleagues have succeeded in inflicting on the handcrafted market as of Feb. 10. (If the link doesn’t work, search “CPSIA” and sort by highest-price-first).

The $17,240 travel toy shown above, which has more than 40 different components, is at present among the most costly. (Its pre-CPSIA price: $20). Here is a $3,940 pair of toddler socks:

And if you’re on a limited budget, here’s a $900 “Elsa the Elephant” stuffed toy:

(Note to any consumer-advocacy lawyers in the readership whose first impulse is to cross-examine the crafters who posted these items: yes, it’s true, the cost of the testing can be spread over the entire lot of goods produced in the particular style and size. So the mom who makes the polka-dot socks at her kitchen table and sells them on Etsy doesn’t really have to recoup her $3,940 expected testing bill by selling one $3,940 pair of socks. She could instead break even by selling 10 pairs at $394 each, or even 197 pairs at $20 each. You sure tripped her up on that!)

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