Toy Story II

by John Holbo on February 12, 2009

Just a quick follow-up to my Toy Story post, which got some good comments. The CPSIA is now law, the CPSC granted a stay and issued some guidelines (PDF) but things seem pretty screwed up. Etsy folks are hopping mad. Fashion incubator, who did a lot of work on the issue, is seriously depressed. Overlawyered has a lot to say on the subject. He has a fifty state round-up of bad-sounding stuff. Thrift stores forced to strip their shelves of stuff. The post on vintage books really depresses me. From an Etsy forum poster:

I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed! I managed to grab a 1967 edition of “The Outsiders” from the top of the box, but so many!

I haven’t seen anyone seriously making the case that all this Fahrenheit 451-goes-to-Etsy chaos is 1) due to hysterical people not understanding what the law really says; 2) some sort of big money astroturf confusion.

To put it more sharply: given the failure of the act’s defenders to make a serious argument (that I’ve seen) that this chaos and small business suffering is mostly unnecessary or temporary, I haven’t seen any positive answer to the following question: if these are the consequences – small businesses wiped out, only the big manufacturers able to bear the heavy burdens of compliance, and a lot of nonsense like old childrens books made unsalable – do we think it’s a good law? Is the safety benefit worth these costs?

I’ve read quite a bit of stuff like this: “Take your thumbs out of your mouths, grow up, and accept that the country needed to stop children from dying or being made sick from toxic toys.” But that doesn’t seem like a serious response to genuine concerns. The first commenter to my first post, one Mike Russo, attempted a more measured response in the same vein. But it seemed to me he was rebutted pretty effectively as the thread progressed.

It does seem fair to note that some people have been testing old books for lead and, apparently, a significant number of the pre-1985 ones fail. So don’t let your toddlers lick the colored illustrations in old books, people. A lot of thift store items fail – zippers, clasps, rhinestones are frequent offenders. So there are a diversity of issues here. There are people producing stuff that’s harmless, but they can’t afford to prove it, so they can’t sell it. (Even with the 1-year stay, vendors apparently feel they can’t take a chance.) There are old books that shouldn’t be licked by children, but does that mean no one should be able to sell them? (Yes, if they are valuable vintage items, ergo not ‘intended for children’, you can. But many don’t clearly qualify. So you would be running a risk.) Maybe it’s good to make reselling old children’s clothing illegal, if the clasps might have lead. Maybe thrift store shopping for children should become a thing of the past, because it’s too hazardous to life and limb. But, to repeat, I haven’t actually seen anyone 1) argue that the law shouldn’t, as written, have these really very sweeping effects; 2) argue that, even if it does, on balance it’s still a good law.

{ 58 comments }

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Sarah Natividad 02.12.09 at 6:07 pm

Thank you for your reasoned arguments regarding CPSIA. I truly hope that this is a sign that the days are coming to an end when the knee-jerk response to opponents of consumer product regulation is “you all just want people to DIE for your filthy lucre!!!!” While I think all can agree that at least some quantity of legislation is necessary, I would hope all can also agree that more regulation is not necessarily better, and can indeed have side effects so harmful that the cure is worse than the disease.

The book thing particularly troubles me. To date there are no known cases of a child getting lead poisoning from a book, and yet many vintage books do contain lead. Rather than seeing this as evidence that perhaps lead content is not directly determinative of lead poisoning outcomes, however, we are searching in vain for scientific evidence that vintage books do not contain lead. While it’s easy enough to see the ridiculousness of this approach when it comes to books, however, I find few enough people willing to apply it to other children’s products. There is no known case of a child being poisoned by eating their clothing either (indeed, they are far more danger from being strangled by their hoodie drawstrings) but for some reason, I see a lot of arguments that if CPSIA forces a clothing item off the shelves, it must be because it was unsafe to begin with.

So I hope that this means the beginning of the end of such circular reasoning. CPSIA was supposed to increase consumer confidence in product safety, but I find it’s doing exactly the opposite, fostering an environment of suspicion. We are already seeing reputable producers of harmless products go out of business while disreputable producers just fake their certifications, and a black market in unregulated goods will inevitably start to emerge. Surely this can’t be a good thing for consumer safety.

I know I don’t want to live in a world where children’s jeans and books are hawked illegally out of the backs of trucks. I certainly hope the rest of the country agrees with me on that point!

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Sarah Natividad 02.12.09 at 6:15 pm

Oh, one more point that bears repeating: consumer groups are suing to overturn the CPSC’s stay of enforcement right away. If this is overturned before CPSC has a chance to finish making the regulations needed to implement the law, then even more chaos will ensue, because there are currently NO exemptions for books, pre- or post-1985, outside of the temporary ones in the stay. And because the lead requirements are retroactive, it will mean that pretty much all books except the most recently printed ones will be right there in the dumpster next to the pre-1985 books.

To my thinking, the easiest way to avoid this sorry outcome is to support a bill like S.374 and its House counterpart, HR 968, which eliminates the glitches in the law that would make all books subject to retroactive testing.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.09 at 6:47 pm

“if these are the consequences – small businesses wiped out, only the big manufacturers able to bear the heavy burdens of compliance, and a lot of nonsense like old childrens books made unsalable – do we think it’s a good law? Is the safety benefit worth these costs?”

John, you know that I like a lot of what you write, but this is piffle. It’s the wrong question, and the wrong question obtained through the same reasoning that caused people like you to support the Iraq War.

Of course it’s not a good law. *No good law is obtainable.* We’re talking about a law passed by the Bush-era Congress (as if the current Congress is really doing much better). The GOP has done damage to this country that isn’t going to be fixed quickly, if at all, and any attempt at making regulations that don’t overreach or underreach was part of what was damaged. You can’t even try to fix this thing without the handmade toys people going off about elitist PIRG people like the worst, most vicious Limbaugh dittohead.

So, to get back to the Iraq War example. Was a war that was sure to be done badly, with a probable million of Iraqis killed, worth it? Given that no “good war” option was available? No, it was not, and that should have been apparent from the start. Now back to toys. Is this bad law worth it, given that our system is now dysfunctional enough so that no good one is available? Yes, it appears to me that it is. There was no other way to get the large manufacturers to comply, and unlike a war, “a 1967 edition of “The Outsiders”” does not make a convincing casualty. And the people who say that no children were dying from toys made by large manufacturers are simply wrong.

So these people should get involved in the political system for the next go-round. I read many of them asking how they could have known this would happen. That’s the kind of informed and active citizenship that got us the Bush years in the first place.

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jsalvati 02.12.09 at 7:30 pm

Given that this law seems to be causing a lot of harm, I want to ask the question: Were the problems it is intended to fix a big problem before? I know there were some high profile problems, but were a lot of children getting sick or suffering some other sort of damage?

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DeputyHeadmistress 02.12.09 at 7:49 pm

Rich, the “Bush era Congress” was a Congress controlled by Democrats for two years before the election, which covers the time this law was written. The CPSIA had 106 sponsors, and 101 of them were Democrats, so I am not really sure what Bush has to do with it, other than he was the sitting President when the Democrat led Congress presented him a feel-good bill with a veto proof majority.

Yes, Popehat was mistaken when he said that nobody died from lead toys. One child died from swallowing an imported lead charm which already violated the legal standards for lead in China- and he might have survived had his mother realized he’d swallowed the charm, and had the hospital recognized it as a foreign object in his x-rays- instead, it was in his system for some time while he grew sicker and sicker, and it’s a horrible tragedy. So regulate children’s jewelry and imports.
And heartbreaking as it is, that is the only lead related death.
If Rich knows of other harm related to lead in children’s products, by all means, post the data and the sources. I have looked at the CPSC figures, and so has Sarah, and that’s all we can find, nor is there much evidence that children were harmed by lead in toys or other products- most of the time the lead was discovered by testing the toy, not due to any harm to children.

Many children have died from drawstrings in their sweatshirts, so regulate those. Oh, wait- they have already been illegal since the 70s.
Many children have died from crib and bassinet accidents, or choking on small parts, so regulate those (oops, again- that was already being done).
Children have died from accidents on their motorized vehicles, but not from the lead in them.

Nobody died or even got sick from the lead (some real, but mostly imagined) in books, socks, shirts, zippers, microscope bulbs, underwear, scarves, mittens, coats, desks, bikes, DVDs, CDs, playing cards, board games, computer games, baseball cards, felt toys, yarn plushies, math manipulatives, blue jeans, etc, etc, etc.

One 1967 book is hardly the only casualty here- we are talking THOUSANDS of pre-1985 books that have never been reprinted, in many cases the bookplates were lost or destroyed after that publishing run, books that have NO record of ever causing a child harm.
We are talking hundreds, of not more, of small, safe, cottage industries that use products that are either inherently lead-free or, in the case of snaps and zippers, have absolutely no history of poisoning a child, yet can no longer support their families because they can’t afford the devastating costs of multiple, redundant tests, and in August these must be third party tests which destroy the product, ending one of a kind artisan toy making.
We are talking about a German toy company called Selecta that made safe, beautiful, environmentally friendly, non-toxic toys that simply cannot afford the redundant testing required by this asinine law, because they would have to price their products out of the market- so they have withdrawn from the American market.

The testing must be at approved labs. There are none west of Texas, and precious few east of Texas. There are quite a few in China, which is where the leaded toys came from in the first place.

As for being ‘informed and active,’ well, not even the ALA realized until around December that the big “TOY” bill that PIRG and Public Citizen touted included books. How many laws does Congress pass in a year? How many regulations are added to that?

In fact, the ALA reports that when they complained to Congress, Congressional reps expressed surprise that their own bill actually covered books.

It’s not clear to me how it supposedly keeps any children safe when it leaves in the market those companies responsible for the lead recalls in the first place, and prices out of the market unoffending products such as knitted baby booties and books published before 1985.

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Anderson 02.12.09 at 8:13 pm

Death is not the sole issue from lead poisoning. Lead damages the nervous system.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.09 at 9:02 pm

DeputyHeadmistress, come on. “Nobody died or even got sick from the lead” in those things? How do you know? Because the CPSC reports every toy-related death or illness? And if I see one more mention of the developmentally delayed kid and the mother who somehow should have known better, I’m really going to go off on you. I have a kid with Tourette’s, and he routinely chews on things, when that’s the kind of tic he has. Developmentally delayed children are not some weird exception that don’t really have to be taken into account because normal people don’t do that.

Now, what I meant by the “Bush era Congress” is really pretty simple. The ideal way to make these kinds of regulations is slowly. Bit by bit you add important cases, and that way you don’t overshoot and suddenly find yourself driving lots of small businesspeople out of business. But the GOP has systematically made that approach impossible. The choice is either a regulatory apparatus that does nearly nothing, because regulation has been discredited and institutionally demolished, or a feel-good bill that suddenly slaps in a poorly conceived regulation all at once.

And yes, your people should have been all over this long ago. You were content not to be involved until it directly affected you. All right, bad decision; there’s no way that scandals at large toy companies aren’t going to affect small producers too. Now that you are involved, good — but perhaps you can avoid going instantly to arguing like a right-winger.

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Sarah Natividad 02.12.09 at 9:25 pm

Rich, I’d like to address the issue of lead poisoning you bring up.

First of all, the “level of concern” is a blood lead level of 10ug/dl. Whether this level causes actual damage depends on a lot of factors, including the child’s nutrition (lead competes with calcium and is chelated by Vitamin C, so a nutritious diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin C reduces damage). While a lot of kids (1.21% of kids the CDC tested in 2006) had lead levels that high, very few of those children had levels high enough to cause actual discernible damage.

Second, these lead levels are caused largely by the known hazard of lead paint in housing. The figures vary widely by region, but estimates are that 70% of children with elevated BLLs get them from lead paint in their housing. The CDC essentially knows where the problem housing units are, so with a little funding it probably wouldn’t be that hard to do something about that and thus reduce lead exposure in children without imposing a single regulation on toy and clothing manufacturers.

Third, of the other 30% of lead poisoning cases, about half of them come from ethnically-related lead exposure. What do I mean by that? I mean lead-laced home remedies from the old country, lead-laced tamarind candies imported from Mexico, bottles of formula made with water heated in lead-soldered samovars brought from the old country, etc. This isn’t a problem coming from one region of the world; the problem remedies come from every continent. Some of these home remedies involve the child literally sucking on items which are 20% lead or more, and result in injuries of greater magnitude and deaths more often than lead paint on toys or cribs. A little education in affected immigrant communities would go a long way here too in reducing lead poisoning.

The other half of the 30% comes either from lead in the soil, or unknown sources. Lead in the soil can be naturally occurring, or it can be the residue of years of leaded gasoline or from smelters. Banning leaded gasoline did more than any other anti-lead measure besides the lead paint ban to reduce lead exposure, but like leaded paint its legacy is still with us, and likely will be for some time. We have done a lot to eliminate this source of lead exposure, and it shows.

As you can see, very, very few if any of the increasingly rare lead exposures come from toys and household items. And of those, more come from household items than from toys. Your child’s painted toy is probably the SAFEST thing he puts in his mouth.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.09 at 9:50 pm

Sarah, that comment of yours is either purposefully deceptive or just incorrect. Check out, let’s say, this CDC publication for an explanation of how the 10ug/dl level was set. It’s not that levels below this don’t cause damage. Nor is damage “discernible” at low levels; the most probable effect is the loss of a few points of IQ, and how are you possibly going to detect that?

As I wrote above, you’re arguing like right-wingers. You don’t think that exposures from lead in toys are worth bothering about — OK. Why should I think that the minimal job losses from people hand-making expensive toys for rich people are worth bothering about? I could go into similar statistics about how many jobs are in the large manufacturers rather than the little boutique places. You don’t care about the tail end of exposure — why should I care about the tail end of job loss?

Now, in fact, I do agree that this law should be changed so that small producers aren’t driven out of business by testing that their products don’t need and can’t support. The clear way to go was to have the suppliers of zippers, fasteners, and so on test these mass-produced products, and then have small producers just say that they are using tested materials. But I have no sympathy for someone arguing that hey, there’s lots of bigger sources of lead, so who cares if there’s lead paint on toys.

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Anne 02.12.09 at 10:06 pm

Rich,
Are you suggesting everyone who makes any product that could possibly be used by children under 12 should have been psychic enough to see that problems with toys manufactured in China by large companies would have anything to do with books or clothing?

To a child who grew up with books from the 70s those books that inspired them to take up writing or illustration as a career are a big deal.

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Sarah Natividad 02.12.09 at 10:12 pm

On the contrary, Rich, I do indeed believe that lead poisoning is an issue we need to deal with. I’m merely pointing out that the place we should start, if we want to be effective, is NOT lead in children’s products.

Surely it is evident that the money and effort government has are both finite, and therefore are best spent on that which is effective. If, like me, you support reducing lead exposure in children, is it really “arguing like a right-winger” (whatever that means) to say that we should attack the problem first from the most effective angle?

I have actually read that CDC publication, 137 pages though it is, and what I got from reading it is that the CDC did consider lowering the blood lead level of concern, but decided not to precisely because they could not with any reliability detect damage at BLLs below 10 ug/dl. You seem to be arguing that the level of concern should be lower. If by your own admission damage is not discernible at lower BLLs, by what logic do you imagine anyone can prove damage is not there?

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Mark Thompson 02.12.09 at 10:27 pm

Rich:
There are a few major flaws in your argument. First off, it’s important to note that the big manufacturers uniformly lobbied for this law, massively increasing their lobbying budgets to do so. Yes, this was partly a PR stunt, but the point is that they were pretty unconcerned about this law having a major effect on them. When small manufacturers and retailers, etc., sought changes to the bill, the response from Congress was “the big manufacturers support it, therefore it can’t possibly be bad and we’re not even going to allow you to get your foot in the door.”

Second, this law likely does extremely little to actually improve toy safety. Remember – the imported toys that were the impetus behind this law were already over the legal lead limits; the CPSC was unable to catch them, though. Instead, what this law does is to place a huge emphasis on paperwork violations, which are very easy to catch, unlike violations where a product actually contains illegal amounts of a substance. What this means is that the CPSC will almost certainly dedicate the majority of its resources to catching technical paperwork violations instead of actually focusing on enforcement of meaningful safety standards.

Oh, one more thing: what is likely to harm more children – putting untold thousands of their parents out of work due to idiotically crafted legislation or maintaining the status quo for a few months, knowing that many of the standards at issue in this law already apply (and have applied for years) to children under the age of 3 who are actually likely to ingest a toy?

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.09 at 10:54 pm

And I agree that loss of small business is an issue we need to deal with, I’m merely pointing out that the place to start, if we want to be effective, is NOT with tiny producers of boutique children’s toys.

And let’s get real. When you write “we should attack the problem first from the most effective angle”, what do you mean? That you are going to spend any effort whatsoever on this the moment that it drops off the toy radar screen? No. There’s no way for people to cash in regulation on toys in exchange for regulation on lead paint in houses. That’s exactly what I’ve been writing, if you’ve been paying attention. In a dysfunctional system, you can’t say “we should spend X amount of dollars on lead; let’s start with houses.” Y0u can only take advantage of scandal to do some small part of the problem that should have been done more slowly and gracefully a long time ago.

I’ve seen all these arguments of yours time and time again. Like, we should not spend any money against global warming, because we could save lives more cheaply by buying seat belts. If you want to do that, go campaign to buy seat belts. If the only time I hear it is when you don’t want people to do something, it’s a dodge.

Are you sure that you’re not an ex-tobacco-industry person, or trained by them, or something?

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Matthew Kuzma 02.12.09 at 11:07 pm

Okay, reading those guidelines makes me think there is very little cause for concern.

Starting with children’s books, since that seems to be the most stringent part of the new law, it’s important to note that books made before 1985 really could contain dangerous amounts of lead. Whether or not there’s been a known case of lead poisoning from those books is pretty much irrelevant, since a known case relies upon a high level of detection and reporting. I’m sure there are hundreds of mild cases of lead poisoning that have gone unnoticed. So this law really could be protecting some kids. Secondly, old childrens books can still be sold as collectables. All these stores need to do is put them in a separate section labeled “vintage” or “collectables” and be within the letter of the law.

As for anything else, either already on store shelves or manufactured on a small scale, there’s a pretty extensive list of materials you’re allowed to assume contain no lead. I have no idea of some things that aren’t on that list should be, but I can easily see cheap metal jewelry containing dangerous amounts of lead.

So inventory already on store shelves doesn’t need to be tested, products made from a broad list of materials can be assumed to contain no lead or phthalates, for resellers the list of things to be concerned about is extremely limited, and where things like paint and mixed metals and soft plastic need to be tested, there’s some good cause. I would expect it’s only a matter of time before the market provides pre-tested paint and metal components at craft stores such that small-scale crafters can make just about anything they already make.

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DeputyHeadmistress 02.12.09 at 11:11 pm

Rich, please do not put words in my mouth.
“And if I see one more mention of the developmentally delayed kid and the mother who somehow should have known better, I’m really going to go off on you. I have a kid with Tourette’s, and he routinely chews on things, when that’s the kind of tic he has.”
“Go OFF on me?” Contrary to your utterly groundless assumptions about me, I am also the mother of a profoundly disabled child- she is 21 and does not speak, doesn’t toilet herself, dresses herself with help and functions at approximately the level of a two year old. We adopted her when she was six years old, and I perfectly well understand how easy it is for a child like her to be harmed by the belongings of others without a mother being neglectful, so I certainly don’t need you to preach at me or threaten me.
I did not blame the mother, I have never blamed the mother, I have only felt great anguish for her. I merely pointed out that it was a combination of factors that resulted in the tragic death, not just that he swallowed the toy, and one of those factors was that she did not know he’d swallowed the toy, another was that the hospital did not recognize it as a foreign object. To my mind, these things only add to the tragedy of the situation.

You were content not to be involved until it directly affected you.
Bollocks. I got involved the same day I heard of it and at the time I did not even realize that it did. I am not a crafter, not a small business owner, and the effect I will experience is in a very small way, as I sell a few used books to other book junkies like myself at 3-10 dollars a book, mainly to pay for my habit of buying used books.

So what’s your basis for these false accusations? The fact that I disagree with you seems to be it.
And what on earth is ‘arguing like a right-winger?’ based on the style of your attacks, it seems to be using facts instead of emotional attacks.

You don’t think that exposures from lead in toys are worth bothering about—OK.
Um, no, that’s not what I said. That’s not what Sarah said. I don’t think IMAGINARY lead in toys is worth bothering about.
I don’t think lead in sources that have never been shown to result in any rise in blood level lead is worth bothering about- board books that babies chew, sure, test them. Testing millions of books to discover lead in the cover illustration of a 1950 edition of Little Women? That’s not saving any children, and it’s a misuse of resources that would be better directed toward known sources of significant levels of lead poisoning- the drinking supply and water in old houses.
Lead in painted toys is a known and commonsense threat- it’s been banned for years, keep it banned.
Lead in children’s jewelry, definitely a threat, a high risk item, test it and ban it.
Rhinestones appear to have high levels of lead, and it makes sense that these would also be a choking hazard, so ban them for children, say, 6 and under.

Furthermore, after August the testing has to be third party wet testing, which destroys the item being tested. It’s also very expensive. This is economically feasible for a company selling a million Barbie dolls each year or other McSame toys, but it not only makes no sense, it’s impossible and pointless for small runs, one of a kind items, and out of print books.

I find it very instructive that you have yet to offer any actual facts- just emotional arguments based on your false personal assumptions. Where is your evidence that a child has been harmed by reading a pre-1985 book? Where is your evidence that a child was harmed by an untested pair of blue jeans or the snaps in his over-the-diaper shirt?

It’s a badly written law that needs to be fixed, and only Congress can fix it.

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DeputyHeadmistress 02.12.09 at 11:19 pm

Matthew, I am not sure where you get the information that many pre 1985 books contain dangerous amounts of lead. Jennifer Taggert tested a lot of old books in her home and found one copy of Little Women where the red dresses on the cover illustration tested at high levels, and a handful of other books with some lead- they were an anomaly, not the standard.
And this demonstrates one of the problems with the law:

“I would expect it’s only a matter of time before the market provides pre-tested paint and metal components at craft stores such that small-scale crafters can make just about anything they already make.”

These products are ALREADY available. Lead in paint has been banned in this country for decades, and no so American crafters can even buy leaded paint. It doesn’t matter, because as the law is written, even if you buy lead-free products (products tested and certified as lead free), you, the crafter, STILL have to test the individual components you use and then the final product- currently you can use XRF testing, but in August it has to be expensive third party wet testing.

That is one of the changes that needs to be made in the law- it should allow component testing at the manufacturer’s level so crafters can use the certificates of their suppliers instead of testing all the supplies again.

This is what the crafters are talking about when they complain of the redundant testing

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Sarah Natividad 02.12.09 at 11:29 pm

I’m absolutely certain I’m not in any way associated with the tobacco industry. I don’t even smoke. I’m not in any way associated with any industry of any kind. I just make crocheted baby booties out of my home, since my health won’t permit me to teach mathematics anymore. The largest “industry” I’ve ever worked for was a large state university, if you can count that as an industry.

I’m glad to hear that we can both agree that CPSIA is a turkey of a law. However, I disagree that the only way to attack a problem is by using opportunities created by scandals. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it is incumbent on those who would be statesmen and stateswomen to consider the problems that face our country carefully and with deliberation, not in haste or in reaction to scandal; to craft laws that are both proscriptive of negative behaviors and protective of the rights of the innocent; and to inform themselves on the issues so that they are prepared to lead. Even if all our legislators did this, they would still disagree; but their debates would be a hell of a lot more substantive.

In fact, this debate you and I are having, Rich, is more substantive than anything Congress came up with over CPSIA. I watched the speeches on YouTube; it was clear that those who had written the law had not considered many important issues (like whether it would be possible to pass the buck largely to CPSC to fill in the details in only 6 months) and that most who had voted for it thought it was limited to toys.

I agree that it’s overly simplistic to say “We have X dollars; spend it here.” However, it is equally simplistic to strike blindly at a problem without considering the effectiveness of the approach. Money and time is wasted that way, money and time that then distract from more effective efforts. The opportunity cost of just randomly acting against a problem is too high.

This issue is completely independent of opinions other issues like global warming. There is a bewildering variety of thought among people who oppose CPSIA. They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and in this case we have everybody from gun control advocates to conspiracy-minded libertarians to Iraq war opponents to pro-lifers siding together against CPSIA. It is truly that rare bird, a bipartisan issue.

Oh, and in case you were interested, I don’t just talk. (I’m talking today because I’m not feeling well.) Just to give one issue, I started a science club for neighborhood kids because I wasn’t satisfied with the school’s science program. (It’s currently on hiatus for the winter, because we meet outdoors.) I firmly believe that if you feel strongly about an issue, as I do about science education, you should do something about it besides whine about what other people aren’t doing. That’s why I speak out against CPSIA, even as I retool my business to comply with it.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.09 at 11:39 pm

DeputyHeadmistress, when you people do things like bring up details of a case like that, yeah, it means something. How does it “being a combination of factors that caused the tragic death” affect anything to do with this regulation? Of course some mothers are not going to know that their children swallowed something. Of course some hospitals are not going to recognize small foreign objects on X-rays. Something like that contributes to just about every cause of accidental death.

And yes, you were content not to be involved until it affected you. (Of course I mean this in a group sense — I have no idea what your personal history is.) When people were campaigning for years about lead and phthlates, did any handmade toy people involved say, “Hey, if we actually get this going, don’t regulate us”? Maybe they did, but I certainly don’t recall it. Because, as best as I can remember, your community didn’t care until their ox was gored.

And you still don’t care about anything except your ox. You don’t “think IMAGINARY lead in toys is worth bothering about”? It’s not imaginary. You say that it’s fine for children’s jewelry and rhinestones to be tested, but guess what? You, as a group, didn’t do squat to make that happen in a selective way. So the people who cared about it did the only thing they could, which was to make it happen in a non-selective way.

And mostly I don’t believe you because it really makes no difference to you that I actually agree with you on the merits of fixing this particular law. You don’t just want me to agree that Congress should fix it — you want to go into this standard anti-regulatory bumf. That’s a key sign of people whose agenda is not what it seems.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.12.09 at 11:57 pm

“However, I disagree that the only way to attack a problem is by using opportunities created by scandals. “

If only. Sarah, look at what’s happened around this particular law. I may be wrong, but I really don’t remember the small toy producers / handmade toy makers / crafters organizing like this until this law passed. Am I incorrect? In effect, the law was the scandal that your community organized around. Now, you aren’t legislators — but you’re certainly trying to use the scandal to get people together to affect legislation, just as people did with the lead-paint-on-Chinese-toys thing even though they’d been working on this for years.

And the system is especially broken right now. In effect, you have half the country behind a party that is in line with all the anti-regulatory tropes. That means that you can’t, metaphorically, have half a regulation. It’s always either nothing, or suddenly you get something and it’s been deliberated over for maybe two hours. And then you need to go back and fix it.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 12:23 am

At a more general level, Jim Henley once wrote something that I think bears on this. He wrote (as a libertarian) about a kind of freedom that some people want, to be free of having to be involved in politics. (I should find his post and link to it, but it was years ago. Oh well.) He said that liberals were all very much into “Why not get involved in the political system if you want things to go your way?” but that some people just aren’t interested in politics and don’t want to have to be. And when everything under the sun is affected or potentially affected by politics, that’s a particular sort of loss of freedom, because people can’t afford to not be involved.

I think that this bears on this case, to some extent. People are going along, happily making toys, not hurting anyone. (I agree that handcrafted toys are probably negligible sources of harm.) And boom, suddenly someone somewhere has passed a law, and The State is telling them what they can and can’t do. And to get back to the status quo, they have to spend all this time politicking.

Well, I can sympathize, but I think this kind of perceived freedom always was half an illusion, half a historical artifact. There simply aren’t any safe havens from other people any more, if there ever were. That doesn’t mean that I think that people should be just run roughshod over. But it does mean that that’s what’s going to happen to a lot of people whether I approve of it or not.

Now, what do I mean by “arguing like a right winger”? It’s buying into all the same styles. The fact that there is lead in old house paint is not a real argument about whether there should be regulation of lead in toys. Without any political means of transferring money from one to the other, it’s just a distraction in a particular style that the right has used over and over. Nor is downplaying the effects of lead a good argument about whether there should be lead in toys; not when you’re talking about a particular known case as if that’s really the only one, or glossing over the toxicological data. (Which you’re doing, though I’m not going to take time to get into it root and branch.) Nor is — and I’ve read this on every blog concerned with this that I’ve checked on — going on about the “elitism” of PIRG people. Those are right-wing tropes.

But I think that’s a mistake. You were inevitably going to be pulled into politics as soon as the Chinese toy scandal hit, in my best guess. That doesn’t mean that you need to reflexively line up against the people who made you have to care about it.

21

DeputyHeadmistress 02.13.09 at 2:13 am

DeputyHeadmistress, when you people do things like bring up details of a case like that, yeah, it means something. How does it “being a combination of factors that caused the tragic death” affect anything to do with this regulation?

YOU PEOPLE? What collective noun are you using to tidily label and dismiss my points? Mothers of handicapped children? Women? bloggers? “People who disagree with me?” How is this even useful?

The point is- that this regulation wouldn’t even have saved that child. He died because he swallowed an item that already violated the law in the country where it was made, that already violated the standards set by the company that bought the charm, and he died because of a tragic collection of factors the regulation cannot address, therefore, it is exploitative and emotional propaganda rather than corrective or informative to use his tragic death as the justification for this draconian law.

What, in this regulation, is going to prevent Chinese companies from getting their products tested at Chinese testing labs (they are CPSC approved) and receiving forged certificates and importing them here as usual?

And yes, you were content not to be involved until it affected you. (Of course I mean this in a group sense—I have no idea what your personal history is.) When people were campaigning for years about lead and phthlates, did any handmade toy people involved say, “Hey, if we actually get this going, don’t regulate us”?Maybe they did, but I certainly don’t recall it. Because, as best as I can remember, your community didn’t care until their ox was gored.

I have no idea why you prefer to address my points by tidily assigning me to a particular group and then dismissing my points because of some moral failing, perceived or imagined, in that group- especially when I am not a member of the group to which you keep assigning me.
Tell the truth- you did not even read the full paragraph, did you? Because it did not affect me, and my ox was not and is not gored. I am not a crafter. I am not a handmade toy person. I do not craft. I do not sell crafts. Sometimes I sell a few used books but my family will eat regardless of whether or not I continue to do this. I am not a member of whatever ‘community’ you are assigning me to. I sometimes BUY handcrafted items, and for years I found it best to clothe my disabled child by paying a crafter to make her clothes to fit her and to use fastenings she can manage- that is now a felony, but thankfully for me one of my other daughters can sew her clothes. But I could not possibly tell you what the handmade toy community was doing as a group because I was not part of that ‘community.’

I heard of the law and recognized it as the over reaching, irrational boon-doggle it is, and I read the law and wrote about it the same day I heard of it- before I realized that it would make my book-selling illegal. I have done this before on other issues- in, no doubt, a fashion not organzied enough to meet your moral standards, but then, you are not my judge.
And In what sense do you imagine this gored my ox?

And you still don’t care about anything except your ox. You don’t “think IMAGINARY lead in toys is worth bothering about”? It’s not imaginary.

How odd that you have failed to provide a single fact to back up your assertion, then. The imaginary lead I am talking about is lead in books, socks, shirts, lead-free paint, yarn, fabric, and the vast majority of lead-free products regulated by this law- the testing required is testing for a substance that doesn’t exist in those products, it is entirely pretend. That’s my point- I am not in favor of bothering about lead in things that have never been shown to cause elevated blood levels of lead.

You say that it’s fine for children’s jewelry and rhinestones to be tested, but guess what? You, as a group, didn’t do squat to make that happen in a selective way.

What group? I haven’t been part of any crafting or small business community. And from what I understand from most of the crafters I’ve been talking to, many of them got involved in what they were doing in the first place because they wanted to provide a safe alternative to imported junk. Are you seriously arguing that you decide what level of involvement is serious enough to merit respectability or some sort of moral authority? Are YOU part of the crafting community that you are able to speak with any authority about what they have or have not done as a group?

I had no idea (nor did most people) that rhinestones had elevated levels of lead, or that jewelry often did, so, no, of course I didn’t make any effort to make that happen (and neither did anybody else, not in a meaningful way, “Test everything because we’re scared and we don’t care how likely it is that this would make a child sick” is not a meaningful or reasonable reaction).

“So the people who cared about it did the only thing they could, which was to make it happen in a non-selective way.
That is not the only thing they could have done (and how do you know what they were thinking?)- if they actually knew rhinestones had elevated levels of lead, they could have publicized that fact, but they did not because they didn’t know.
They could have required testing at the supplier level rather than redundant component testing by each and ever user of the same supplies. They could have not required expensive third party testing that destroys the final product. They could have made the rules apply to children 6 and under instead of all products for 12 and under. They could have banned imports from China, the source of all the lead problems. they could have have imposed stricter standards on imports, the source of all the problems. They could have provided the funding to enforce the laws already on the books (as it is, the CPSC still doesn’t have any additional funding until later this year). All the ways they could have taken care of the problem with far less unintended disaster are pretty much laid out in the reform bills offered.

“And mostly I don’t believe you because it really makes no difference to you that I actually agree with you on the merits of fixing this particular law. You don’t just want me to agree that Congress should fix it—you want to go into this standard anti-regulatory bumf. That’s a key sign of people whose agenda is not what it seems.”

You don’t believe me about what?
WHAT are you talking about? You argue all over the place, conveniently ignore real facts and corrections to your false assumptions just to make more ad hominem attacks, and throw in everything but the kitchen sink, presumably preferring the most irrelevant points you can find.
What ‘anti-regulatory bumf?’ You sound like a conspiracy theorist to me.

One of the things I have noticed about this bill, as Sarah pointed out, is that those trying to get it fixed include people from both pretty much every political party, every point on the political spectrum- liberals, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, environmentalists, as Sarah said, all kinds of people who would never agree with each other on anything can see that this law is deeply flawed. The only agenda I’ve seen from those on ‘my’ side is to fix this bill. On other issues, ‘we’ are all over the board.

22

salient 02.13.09 at 2:20 am

.

http://xkcd.com/438/

Stop hurting each other?

.

23

John Holbo 02.13.09 at 2:30 am

Rich, you know that I like you just fine as well, but I can’t make heads or tails of your contribution to this thread.

You are the only one who is bringing up dittohead arguments and accusing people of accusing PIRG of elitism and so fortth. There’s nothing about that in my post and I don’t really see that in the other critics of the bill. Where are you getting this? They are a bit shrill, sometimes, but they are personally affected and upset, so I don’t see there’s much point in misdiagnosing their upsetness as crypto-dittohead-plotting. Why should it be THAT? Who is downplaying the effects of lead? Surely not the people in this thread.

You’re argument seems to come down to this: a stopped clock (kneejerk anti-regulation rhetoric) cannot be right even once a day. But that’s just not a good argument.

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Sari 02.13.09 at 3:39 am

I’m a disabled SAHM and home crafter… I make toys from the same materials many moms, dads & grandparents buy from the same stores, to make clothes and other things for their own kids. (If those materials have lead and phylates, how does it help to not be testing at the level of the manufacturer of the supplies?)

Because of my increasing disability this is the only work I can do, and I’m never going to be able to go back to a “normal job”.

My product has always been safe, (presuming my SUPPLIERS have not been breaking existing laws.)… but I can’t afford the testing for each of my One of a Kind handmade items that sells for between $15-$50…
(I’m using mostly knit and crochet as I realize that in 10-15 years I will probably have totally lost my sight, and this particular medium will allow me to continue working.)
$50 (actual quotes from the approved labs is more like $100- $175 and HIGHER) per material from my One of a Kind item, for destructive testing will leave me with no sellable product.

I also can’t afford to close my business, unless I also get AFDC, Foodstamps, Energy Assistance… etc.

Any reasonable suggestions? ANYONE?

25

Eric H 02.13.09 at 3:41 am

Mark @ 12: I would like to see the supporting evidence for the claim that the big manufacturers lobbied for this. I’ve read the congressional testimony and it comes mainly from citizen’s groups (self appointed and otherwise). And I think several people have pointed out that the lobbying budgets look defensive, not offensive. True, the larger manufacturers get the benefit of economy of scale, but the simple fact is that Congress passed this more or less in a big rush, bit off more than they should have, and now they are denying that there are any problems, or if there are, Nord caused them. Meanwhile, the “citizen’s” groups are negotiating by taking three interesting positions: (1) that there are no problems, (2) the CPSC can fix the problems by making rules, and (3) every ruling the CPSC makes is contrary to the law (see (1)).

The politics have been interesting. A Democratic Congress passed it, a Republican President signed it. A Chief Counsel hired by Bush appointees found that the lead rules are retroactive, but the phthalate ban is not. When the citizen’s groups started calling her and her non-retroactive ruling a last trick from the Bush administration, a little research showed that she was actually a generous supporter of Friends of Hillary.

Bravo, John Holbo, for staying on this and seeing through the empty rhetoric. The case for this law is “safety vs. profit,” the most transparently empty bit of nasty rhetoric ever. Throw in a little “it’s for the children” and who would oppose it? But the devil is in the details. Fashion-Incubator and others at first applauded the Act, but as we began to poke at the details, we started to realize that there were problems, not so much with the *what* as with the *how*. Apparel manufacture has specific processes that cannot be arbitrarily changed or ignored. The Fashion-Incubator forum members cobbled together an answer to one of the RFCs to try to educate the CPSC on how this thing could be done without putting everyone out of business, but since then Congress has tied the hands of the CPSC, blamed them for the law’s shortcomings and accusing them of not opening enough holes in the law, and the citizen’s groups have waged a campaign of FUD against all opponents while threatening to sue CPSC over anything less than the hardest line of enforcement.

26

Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 4:50 am

“Who is downplaying the effects of lead? Surely not the people in this thread.”

Um, no. Claiming only one death because they’ve turned up one known death from CPSC stats? Downplaying the fact that acute fatalities are not the usual effect of lead poisoning in any case? Talking about the 10ug/dl level as if it’s the level at which actual damage starts to occur? Insisting that toys with lead in them are safe because no kid chews on them? Insisting that other toys have no lead in them, with no real idea whether they do or not? (Try here for an interesting testing story.) Talking about detectable damage, when most lead damage is well known to be detectable only with large-scale studies, not on individuals, because no one can tell what an individual kid’s IQ would have been? Saying that because greater exposures to lead exist, we might as well not do anything about lesser ones? I’ve seen all of those right here.

I mean, come on, this is lead. If all this was about phthlates, I could sort of understand; phthlates are not as well understood. But people right here have pulled out all the usual stops. If you don’t see it, it’s because you’re not familiar with what the usual stops are.

No, “a stopped clock (kneejerk anti-regulation rhetoric) cannot be right even once a day”. Why? Because I don’t see any constituency that wants to attack the small toy producers. Not the large manufacturers, not the people who wrote the bill, no one really has an interest in it. It appears to be a screw up. When everyone recognizes that, the anti-regulation rhetoric is just buying into a set of tropes that automatically makes this not so much about the issue itself and more about lining up on culture war sides.

Now, given that there’s been a screw up, I’ve tried to explain part of why there was one — why the people who got this passed might well say, as an answer to your original question of whether this was worth it, that it was worth it (i.e. there was no other apparent way to get at the large manufacturers.) If I were in one of those citizen’s groups that Eric H keeps scare-quoting above, I wouldn’t trust people going against this law with this rhetoric either.

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John Holbo 02.13.09 at 4:51 am

A point about the CPSA guidelines, which Matthew – at #14 – says seem sensible. They do. It seems that the CPSA people are trying to enforce the law in as reasonable a way as they can. But that isn’t good enough if the law itself is written unreasonably. People can’t do business on that basis, as I understand it. Vendors can’t be sure that the CPSA guidelines won’t change tomorrow, that there won’t be pressure to enforce the letter of the law in draconian fashion. Regime uncertainty like that is still too costly. In short, while these guidelines are very welcome, and the CPSA does seem to be doing the best it can, congress needs to fix the problem.

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John Holbo 02.13.09 at 5:05 am

Rich: “It appears to be a screw up.”

And yet any attempt to say so is ‘piffle’? Why?

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Mark Thompson 02.13.09 at 5:11 am

Eric:
In answer to your question, first look at the lobby disclosure reports, which will show a massive increase in lobbying expenditure for Mattel and Hasbro beginning in the latter half of 2007 and continuing until the law was signed. Then you can look at the November 6, 2007 hearing testimony on behalf of Hasbro and NAM, which is close to uniformly supportive of the bill. In addition (I’m not sure if it’s still up, but it was as of December), the websites of several groups representing larger manufacturers indicated almost wholehearted support for the law. They pretty much didn’t start working to oppose or limit this law until after the grassroots opposition from small to medium sized businesses had gained momentum.

All that said, I’m not alleging that big manufacturers were out to hurt small businesses, who really don’t compete much against big manufacturers. Instead, all the information I have on this is that the lobbying was mostly to make sure that the big manufacturers would be able to handle whatever Congress threw their way while also being supportive of the legislation for PR purposes. So yeah, in a sense it probably could be characterized as “defensive” lobbying; but my understanding is that it was defensive lobbying that was exceedingly aware of the PR benefits of being supportive of the law overall.

When small businesses and trade groups actually did become aware of the law’s potential effects, Congress pretty much told them to buzz off on the grounds that, if the big manufacturers were ok with the law, then the small businesses shouldn’t have a problem with it.

30

Bruce Baugh 02.13.09 at 5:27 am

We know from prior threads that for Rich there is no fundamentally un-toxic community building and back-to-forth discussion on the net: any blogging effort, allegedly grassroots organizing, or whatever, is either fraudulent, captured, and manipulative from the outset or becomes so in short order, while all authentic voices are twisted or silenced.

PIRG is the classic old-school lobbying venture, going out door-to-door and largely untainted by the net. By contrast, a lot of the small-business and independent artist (and fan) concerns such as are raised here are making heavy use of the net to get their word out. Some, like Ravelry, have preexisting communities, and others are forming because of this effort. All of this is necessarily suspicious to someone with Rich’s view of what the net does to honest discourse and imposes a heavy – probably practically impossible – burden on those who rouse his hackles.

31

Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 5:29 am

“And yet any attempt to say so is ‘piffle’? Why?”

Because, to return to my original analogy, just like the Iraq War, it was bound to be a screw up. People going into the Iraq War should have been able to see that it was bound to involve massive deaths (of Iraqis, at least) and should therefore not have done it. People going into consumer safety product legislation in this era know that it’s bound to be a screw up. How could it not be? All of the people who are saying that it was a feel-good thing passed with lawmakers not really knowing what’s in it are correct. But since it, unlike the Iraq War, isn’t killing people, and since the alternative of doing nothing is killing people, it seems worth it to launch something that is bound to be screwed up somehow and fix it later.

So the whole “Wow, this is a screw up” thing is a lot like the people discovering in year 2 of the Iraq War that hey, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. There were two questions in your original: “Is this a good law? Is the safety benefit worth these costs?” Well, no and yes. If people have created a system such that good consumer product legislation is impossible to pass, because anything measured and considered is going to get shot down by knee-jerk anti-regulatory rhetoric, then by definition the only things that are going to pass are going to be not measured or considered, they’re going to be snap reactions to news stories. The questions that you’re asking just don’t reflect the reality of what’s going on.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 5:33 am

“We know from prior threads that for Rich there is no fundamentally un-toxic community building and back-to-forth discussion on the net:”

Not really true, Bruce; I think that netroots things are generally fine. My hackles are raised in this case because of the specific rhetoric being put out by this group of people.

33

John Holbo 02.13.09 at 5:51 am

““And yet any attempt to say so is ‘piffle’? Why?”

Because, to return to my original analogy, just like the Iraq War, it was bound to be a screw up.”

So, by analogy, anti-war arguments were all ‘piffle’. Ergo, we shouldn’t care about the war? (I am sure you are going to respond that the war really killed people, but this act is doing real harm to real people who are deprived of their livelihoods. In the long run we’re all dead. Doesn’t that prove that all arguments about politics are ‘piffle’? This doesn’t seem to me a very helpful way to look at it.)

“If people have created a system such that good consumer product legislation is impossible to pass, because anything measured and considered is going to get shot down by knee-jerk anti-regulatory rhetoric, then by definition the only things that are going to pass are going to be not measured or considered, they’re going to be snap reactions to news stories.”

So therefore it’s wrong to complain about bad legislation. Are you arguing that somehow this bad legislation is just punishment – a sort of poetic justice – for small business owners who have the unwisdom to live in a society in which there are people like the Overlawyered folks?

Let’s turn this into a parable: once upon a time there was a boy who cried ‘wolf’. Eventually there was a real wolf, but everyone figured it was just that damn kid crying ‘wolf’ again. The wolf caused some serious damage. This served the people right.

This makes sense to you, Rich?

34

Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 6:03 am

I really don’t know why you’re getting this, John. It doesn’t mean that anti-war arguments are piffle at all. It does mean that people saying two years later “Wow! The Iraq War is a failure, I’m so surprised!” are basically writing piffle. Writing that indicates that they don’t really understand anything about why the war was a failure.

Yes, this act is doing real harm to people. (The amount of harm seems to be to be overblown. They got a year-long delay while the CPSC re-thinks, after all.) But all regulation does harm to someone. If it only helped everyone, then there generally wouldn’t be any need to legislate it, people would just do it. And certainly they should complain. If they don’t complain, it will never get fixed.

But they have a choice about how to complain. If they want to say something like “Hey, we didn’t do it, so why hurt us?” that sounds perfectly reasonable to me. By all means go ahead and revise the law. If they want to come about with a bunch of BS about lead, that’s a whole other story.

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Bruce Baugh 02.13.09 at 6:10 am

But of course the hurt they are not doing is purveying materials with dangerous lead content.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 6:17 am

I’m not sure who the “they” is in your sentence, Bruce. If it’s the handmade toy people, then as I said above, I’m perfectly willing to assume that any harm that they might do via sale of materials with lead in them is negligible. That doesn’t mean that the harm they do by buying into anti-regulatory propaganda about lead is negligible.

37

John Holbo 02.13.09 at 6:24 am

“It does mean that people saying two years later “Wow! The Iraq War is a failure, I’m so surprised!” are basically writing piffle.”

Sorry, I guess I was confused because I was trying to relate your comments to the content of my post. After all, it’s not as though the post say ‘Wow, the CSPIA is a failure, I’m so surprised’. I was merely trying to inform people, who might not know, that the CSPIA – which sounds like a very well-intentioned bill, aimed at keeping children safe – has serious problems; and my attempt to inform people apparently ticked you off. Which I find strange.

“If they want to say something like “Hey, we didn’t do it, so why hurt us?” that sounds perfectly reasonable to me.”

Well, then, since that’s what they ARE saying, pretty much, why doesn’t it sound reasonable to you? Riddle me that.

“If they want to come about with a bunch of BS about lead, that’s a whole other story.”

Indeed, and on the day that they come up with a bunch of BS about lead, we can tell that story.

38

John Holbo 02.13.09 at 6:43 am

“That doesn’t mean that the harm they do by buying into anti-regulatory propaganda about lead is negligible.”

Rich, you seem to think that the best way to resist anti-regulatory propaganda is to insist that it is wrong even in the stopped-clock cases when it isn’t wrong. That is, even in cases where regulation is over-reaching, and we know it, you would have us (falsely) deny that the antiregulation types have a point in this case. But this is never going to be a good thing, either rhetorically or at the level of policy or politics. It’s sure to backfire and only work to convince these folks that there must be something generally right about all that Republican boilerplate after all. The thing to do is get out in front of the specific problem: recognize it and set out to correct it. Why should liberals want to dig in in defense of a flawed bill, rather than working to amend it, after all? Don’t let the likes of Jim DeMint out-sensible you, as I say in my first post. But if he does out-sensible you, then just agree with him, and now he’s got nothing. Which is good. The way it should be. And everyone is better off.

39

Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 6:49 am

“my attempt to inform people apparently ticked you off. Which I find strange.”

Well, it’s because you’re not really either informing or alerting. It’s too much information to be a mere alert to people that the CSPIA problem exists. And I don’t think that you really know enough about it to be able to inform people. For instance, you don’t think that they’re coming up with a bunch of BS about lead, when they really are.

One more attempt at analogy. Let’s say that two years later, someone writes “Wow, Iraq War a failure, I’m surprised.” People then point out that by doing so, they are buying into a narrative of possible success, possible failure — let’s say, that the war could have been won or lost due to competence or incompetence. That effectively disagrees with the narrative of someone saying that the war was necessarily going to be a failure from the start, even though at that point, two years later, both people are saying that the Iraq War was a failure.

Although those two people agree at that point that the war was a failure — just as I agree with you that this law should be re-written — they have very different reasons for doing so. In particular, the one of them who thinks it may have been incompetence is more likely to be just as surprised that the next war is a failure, and to have effectively not learned anything from the experience, if it is true that it was necessarily going to fail.

And, again, it’s not that you’re just telling people that the problem exists. You’re saying that the anti-regulatory rhetoric is in this one case justified.

40

Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 6:57 am

“Why should liberals want to dig in in defense of a flawed bill”

Well, I’m not doing that. I’m saying the bill should be changed, remember?

But I’m not going to give an inch on rejecting saying that it should be changed because lead in toys doesn’t matter because of lead paint on houses, or that no one should care about the toys having lead that no normal kid chews on, or that 10ug/dl and you’re fine, or that whole classes of toys have no lead when really some of them do. Or, for that matter, that PIRG is a “citizens” group. Give in to that nonsense and you lose the ability to do anything, ever.

41

Bruce Baugh 02.13.09 at 7:04 am

So truth is to be ignored when bad people happen to be right. I find that…not easy to grasp, at a minimum.

42

Bruce Baugh 02.13.09 at 7:04 am

It does suggest some interesting legislative tactics for bad people to use, though.

43

Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 7:17 am

Bruce, from my viewpoint, you’re the ones ignoring truth, frankly.

I’m saying that this law involves regulatory overreach, and should be changed. That’s true, right?

I’m also saying that approximately all the arguments about lead used against CSPIA are either misleading or untrue. You apparently don’t know enough about lead to know this, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

And finally, I don’t see any sign that you understand *why* the law necessarily involved regulatory overreach, or why John’s “let’s just let the stopped clock rhetoric go because this one time it’s right” approach is not a good option for the people who want to ever do anything with product safety ever again.

44

Bruce Baugh 02.13.09 at 7:27 am

Rich, I’ve been dealing with metal toxicity problems for about 25 years now; it’s one front among many in life with a generally collapsed immune system. In disagreeing with your assessment, I come at it with the perspective of one who’s done their time in experimental treatments for metal reduction and in environmental management, learning a lot of this the hard way.

But then we’ve established in the past that we disagree on a lot of other topics’ facts, too, so I’m not what anyone would want to call deeply surprised.

45

John Holbo 02.13.09 at 7:36 am

“One more attempt at analogy. Let’s say that two years later, someone writes “Wow, Iraq War a failure, I’m surprised.”

And let’s say, for good measure, that two years from now I write a post about the CPSIA, saying something like ‘wow, it was surprising that this passed’. THEN you can leave comments saying that this is a bit pointless. But, until then, can we focus on the post I actually wrote? Fer pete’s sake, Rich, snap out of it.

“I don’t think that you really know enough about it to be able to inform people. For instance, you don’t think that they’re coming up with a bunch of BS about lead, when they really are.”

Do you have any evidence that they are coming up with a bunch of BS about lead? If so, what is it? No one is saying that lead standards shouldn’t be strict. But people object to mandatory expensive testing of items that have no risk of containing lead. Because they are made of components that are certified lead-free already (or materials that wouldn’t contain lead, like natural cotton.) That’s it. Ditto for the paint issue. No one is arguing for any practical lessening of the safety standards. Have you seen anyone arguing anything else? (And don’t say that the Act doesn’t require such things. The guidelines may try to correct for these problems, but people are worried that the Act doesn’t, and they are worried the guidelines can’t be depended on, legally.)

In my post I requested that someone make the case that the damage done by lead is so high that, indeed, some such measure as this one, even with all this cost to small businesses, is warranted. If you would like to make that case, I would like to hear it. I can well imagine, for example, that banning thrift stores from selling old clothes with rhinestones might make a lot of sense, for example. I just haven’t seen any attempts to make a reasonable risk assessment and, accordingly, a reasonable policy prescription. All I’ve seen are attempts to deny that the act, as it stands, imposes significant costs on business. And all this appears to be false, and you yourself seem to admit that it is false.

“And, again, it’s not that you’re just telling people that the problem exists. You’re saying that the anti-regulatory rhetoric is in this one case justified.”

Good grief, Rich. You’re just making yourself a rhetorical patsy for the other side with this stuff. The rhetoric against this Act has been very measured. By and large, people have bent over backwards to say they aren’t opposed to regulation, per se, merely to certain details of this one bit of legislation. But that isn’t enough for you. How, may I ask, is it possible to speak the truth about this issue without offending against this apparent ban against saying things that are superficially similar to what knee-jerk anti-regulationists say. If it isn’t enough to confine yourself to this case, and argue it on the merits, and say you aren’t making some sweeping anti-regulatory claim, then what would be enough to satisfy you?

You do it for me: articulate a forthright argument for reforming this legislation – make it sound impassioned and stirring and heartfelt – but without sounding anything like the people who are, currently, making forthright arguments for reforming this legislation.

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Katherine 02.13.09 at 8:52 am

Rich, you are losing this one. I have absolutely no stake in this argument – I’m not American, I don’t live in America, I neither sell nor buy goods that would be affected by this from either small businesses or large ones – and I can tell you, you are losing this one.

The weird thing is that you are actually agreeing on the major point(s) – this law overreaches and should be changed. And yet you have managed to personally insult people disagreeing with you on detail, told people their detail is nonsense without posting any evidence or really going into why you think they are talking nonsense. What’s going on?

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Pete 02.13.09 at 10:54 am

I think my comment on the ecstasy-vs-equestrians post applies here too: everything is either safe or dangerous, and everything dangerous must be banned FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN!

(/facepalm)

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 1:15 pm

“I just haven’t seen any attempts to make a reasonable risk assessment and, accordingly, a reasonable policy prescription. “

And I’ve tried to explain, for n times now, why a reasonable risk assessment and, accordingly, a reasonable policy prescription, was impossible. n+1: legislation via scandal leads to unreasonable policy prescriptions.

I’ve never denied that this imposes significant, and in some cases completely crippling, costs on small business. My reasonable risk assessment / policy prescription is, let’s say, exactly the same as what the handmade toys alliance wants. Now how exactly do we get to a situation in which large manufacturers are regulated, yet small ones are not crippled — which is what we all say we want? Unfortunately, the only path available to people who want to see anything happen in the first place is regulatory overreach, followed by correction. Needless to say, this is not the ideal system. But the ideal system really doesn’t matter; what matters is the actual system that we have.

I don’t really have the patience to look up a whole bunch of lead links for this comment thread, sorry. But I’ll try to explain just one little piece of it. People use lead in products for a reason, either because it does something or because it’s cheaper not to get rid of it. And all remaining lead uses are perched on the pyramid of old paint in houses and apartments. Everyone knows that our system is completely incapable of actually getting rid of the lead in them, because they are generally occupied by poor people, and there’s never going to be a scandal. So saying, every time that some other use of lead is attempted to be regulated, that most lead exposures are from old paint in houses, is true yet a dodge all the same. The end result, if the argument is believed that this is relevant to whether we should regulate e.g. lead in toys, is no action — not for toys and not for old paint, either. If you don’t understand this, I think it’s time for me to give up.

So everyone agrees that this should be fixed, yet the path by which we get to fixing it is still quite important. The legislative correction for the overreach is likely to be no more measured or well thought out than the original law was.

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salient 02.13.09 at 1:56 pm

And I’ve tried to explain, for n times now, why a reasonable risk assessment and, accordingly, a reasonable policy prescription, was impossible.

I think this is the crux of it: you were trying to explain to people, who feel they are going to be hurt by an unreasonable legislative act, that no legislative act would have been reasonable. Your defense of this perspective has become increasingly wild, as we see in this from comment #40:

Give in to that nonsense and you lose the ability to do anything, ever.

That’s a dramatic sentence. But nobody’s requiring you to take some kind of Custer’s Last Stand here on a CT thread. A lot of people feel personally affected by this legislation, they’ve voiced their concerns here. You’re talking to people who despite substantial disability are trying to eke out a living for themselves, and who are frightened they’ll no longer have a chance to do that. In response you’ve been insensitive to people with genuine concerns, and you’ve been hurtful.

I imagine you feel you’re trying to fight some monumental tide of bullshit with the power of words as best you can, but it’s not working. Luckily, this isn’t a place where one needs to engage that fight. Take advantage of that. As you said:

I think it’s time for me to give up.

That sounds about right.

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John Holbo 02.13.09 at 1:58 pm

“legislation via scandal leads to unreasonable policy prescriptions.”

In short: you think what I say is wrong because … you agree with me?

“I’ve never denied that this imposes significant, and in some cases completely crippling, costs on small business.”

And yet you wonder why small business people are indignant at those who do deny this?

“Unfortunately, the only path available to people who want to see anything happen in the first place is regulatory overreach, followed by correction.”

And so the reason you object to my post advocating correction, in the aftermath of regulatory overreach is …. what exactly?

“So saying, every time that some other use of lead is attempted to be regulated, that most lead exposures are from old paint in houses, is true yet a dodge all the same.”

But despite the fact that this dodge is made ‘every time’, in the present case no one appears to be making it.

“If you don’t understand this, I think it’s time for me to give up.”

I think we can all agree that it’s time for you to give up in this particular thread, Rich.

“The end result, if the argument is believed that this is relevant to whether we should regulate e.g. lead in toys, is no action—not for toys and not for old paint, either.”

You are arguing against nobody. Nobody is saying that we should NOT regulate lead in toys. No one is saying that we should not regulate load in toys heavily. Neither of those options is even in consideration. The issue is entirely elsewhere. Can you not see this?

“I don’t really have the patience to look up a whole bunch of lead links for this comment thread, sorry.”

For frack’s sake, Rich. What is the point of taking the time to make multiple irrelevant disagreeing-to-agree contributions to a thread, but not have the patience to make a relevant one, if you actually have some expertise on the subject – which I believe you probably do.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 2:09 pm

All right then, I give up.

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Slocum 02.13.09 at 2:47 pm

Wow–when you step back and look at CPSIA from a Public Choice perspective, it is a true thing of beauty. Could the children’s toy and clothing manufacturers and book publishers have designed a more perfect law? In one fell swoop it has the potential to clear away the whole long tail of small craft competitors AND — it only gets better — forces the destruction of the whole stock (years, decades worth) of used children’s clothing, toys, and books. Think of the millions of families have saved huge sums in buying used books, toys, and clothing for their children at thrift stores and yard sales. And now that stuff will go to the landfills, and all those families will have no choice but to buy new products. You know — this has to be an incredible boon for big discount stores as well, since people who are not longer able to buy children’s products at thrift shops are likely to turn to Walmart (I wonder — did Walmart lobby in support of the law)?

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Xmas 02.13.09 at 3:22 pm

Slocum,

Scary, isn’t it. Though, it’s a morass of a bill. It’s hitting other types of manufacturers that are being blindsided by the law. Yamaha, Kawasaki and many other small motorbike and ATV manufacturers have told their dealers they can no longer sell the smallest sized vehicles aimed at children under 12. They are no longer allowed to sell the replacement parts either. Too much lead in the “substrates” of some parts, like brakes.

Remember, too, that the current amounts for lead 600 ppm, is going to drop over the next few years.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.13.09 at 5:49 pm

I should add briefly — it’s possible we’re going into a new legislative era. I just saw here that there’s $100 million in lead hazard reduction for housing in the stimulus bill.

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Sebastian 02.13.09 at 6:43 pm

Virginia Postrel on the issue:

“Unfortunately, once you are ideologically committed to the idea of regulation, you can’t say that a given regulation is bad–or, worse, that maybe doing nothing new would have been the best course.

Maybe, as I argued to a skeptical editor, the system worked in the case of lead in children’s toys. Recalls, lawsuits, and reputational damage solved the real problem, and the CPSIA is just an extraordinarily costly way of demonstrating after-the-fact concern. But you simply cannot say such things in polite company. “

The funny thing is that this is exactly the type of thing that Rich seems to want to fight against, but is it worth even considering, for a second, that it might be correct? Initial legislation got rid of the low-hanging fruit that was causing serious damage: lead paint, lead pipes, lead in gasoline. And it was really effective at that. Legislative spending might be good in the remediation area (replacing old paint for example). Why aren’t we doing more of that by the way?

But that fact that broad legislation is good in some cases doesn’t necessarily make it good in all cases. And just be cause it fixes some things, doesn’t mean that other methods aren’t better for related problems.

I wonder if there isn’t some sort of heuristic like “The government is better at making broad initial changes and getting at the first 80% of a problem, but other things work better the further along we get to the last 20% and 10% and 5% and 1% of a problem.”

Banning lead paint and pipes and gasoline dealt with an enormous part of the problem and was effective. Rich is right that libertarian arguments against that type of legislation shouldn’t be paid much attention to. (Were they?) But on the flip side, the reason they shouldn’t have been paid much attention to is that the benefit side of the cost benefit ratio was very high. Here the benefit side of the equation is MUCH smaller, and the cost side is at least as large and potentially larger. Which is where the libertarians or conservatives have their best arguments.

It seems to me that the objections are sliding scale. As the benefit goes down and the costs go up, almost everyone agrees that at some point the government needs to give up. The main differences between libertarians/rightists/conservatives/liberals/leftists is about what counts as a cost, what counts as a benefit, and how much of a cost/benefit ratio is appropriate.

What seems really weird is to react to the fact that libertarians tolerate certain cost/benefit ratios that liberals wouldn’t tolerate by asserting that even when the cost/benefit ratio looks out of whack to a liberal that you still can’t fix it because it gives power to the libertarian argument.

The fact is that not fixing it is what gives power to the libertarian argument, because it lets them say “see, liberals are so into being controlling that they won’t give it up even when it is obvious to everyone in the world that the cost/benefit ratio is out of kilter”.

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Lisa 02.14.09 at 10:08 pm

I didn’t really read this story but it just popped into my head when my husband came home and told me today that there is nothing for kids at the local Goodwill. We’ve relied on them for almost all clothes and books and the occasional toy for the last 4 years.

So I’m on board with the ‘risk management gone amok’ camp. Unless children are actually being sickened by used items, then this is over the top.

It’s not like our kid won’t be clothed but it does represent a cost for people like us and people poorer than us–people who can’t afford to shop retail. (We can manage OK without Goodwill but not everyone can, especially now.) I guess you can add that into the problematic side effects of the bill.

I’m kind of cringing thinking about the brutal competition for craigslist and yard sale kids stuff! Without thrift stores, that will get even worse than it is. The battle for toddler snow suits, boots and coats (very pricey items retail) is already pretty extreme.

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DeputyHeadmistress 02.17.09 at 12:05 am

Craig’s List is also covered by the ban:

Incidentally, I just learned that CPSIA would not even have saved the life of the one child who died from ingesting the lead charm. According to Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota’s page, the charm wasn’t intended for children at all. It was given away with his mother’s shoes- shoes for an adult woman are not covered by CPSiA:

“Jarnell swallowed part of a charm bracelet that came with his mother’s new Reebok sneakers. Doctors said his lead levels were three times the danger level. His death caused Reebok to recall 300,000 bracelets and eventually pay federal regulators a $1 million settlement.”

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DeputyHeadmistress 02.17.09 at 1:03 am

Sorry, forgot to add the source on the information that Craig’s List is also covered:
Craig’s List is also covered by the ban:
Jenny Nowatzke
KPTM TV, Omaha, NE
Stated on a news program:
“In order to crack down on online sites such as Craigslist and Ebay, the CPSC says, they are currently working with an internet surveillance team to watch over the online marketplaces.”

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