|OCTOBER 31, 2007||by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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Stonewalling Consumer Safety
Yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill strengthening the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) by raising its budget, increasing its staff, and granting it “broad new powers to police the marketplace” in the name of consumer safety. The vote came over the opposition of an unlikely foe: the head of the CPSC, Nancy Nord. The New York Times reported that Nord objected to “provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.” According to her spokesman, Nord worried that the new regulations would “put the agency in court” rather than strengthen enforcement. Nord’s opposition comes after half a million toys imported from China were recalled earlier this month, adding to the millions that have already been recalled for containing dangerous levels of lead and other safety concerns. Though parents are worried about their children’s safety, the CPSC brushed off the latest recall. “A lot of what is being recalled is because it violates the law, not that there is an imminent health risk,” CSPC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said. The CPSC’s stonewalling of effective reforms plays along with the White House’s determination to move towards even greater deregulation across government agencies at a time when the questionable safety of products demands increasing oversight. Straight from conservative ideology, Bush’s determination to “leave it to the market” — even at the expense of safety — has failed the American public.
CRONIES IN POWER: Bush’s first CPSC chair, Harold Stratton, assured the business world that he would “break the barrier of fear” by making it more difficult to order product recalls. After Stratton stepped down last year, Bush nominated Michael Baroody, the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), to head the CPSC. NAM is “a trade group that opposes aggressive product safety regulation” and “has called for weakening the Consumer Product Safety Commission.” With NAM, Baroody opposed asbestos regulations, highway safety reform, and government action to combat global warming. Consumer groups, including Public Citizen, Consumers Union, and the Consumer Federation of America, cried foul, “saying he could not possibly be an advocate for consumer safety having represented industries the agency regulates.” “It’s sort of astonishing that the administration would pick someone from a regulated industry,” Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America said. Facing mounting criticism — which only increased when it was revealed Baroody would receive a $150,000 severance package from NAM upon taking up his new government post — Baroody was forced to withdraw his nomination on May 23, the day before his Senate confirmation hearing.
UNFIT FOR THE JOB: After Baroody’s withdrawal, Bush appointed Nancy Nord to serve as acting head of the CPSC. Unfortunately, Nord is cut from the same political cloth as Baroody. She had been a lobbyist for Eastman Kodak, the executive director of the American Corporate Counsel Association, and the Director of Consumer Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Given her background, it is unsurprising that Nord does not recognize the challenges facing her agency or the American consumer,” a report released yesterday by the Campaign for America’s Future noted. Nord’s current resistance to legislative reforms — which would increase the CPSC’s budget and staff — has perplexed lawmakers. Yesterday Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for Nord’s resignation. “Any commission chair who does not, in the face of the facts that are so clear, say we don’t need any more authority or any more resources to do our job, does not understand the gravity of the situation,” she said. “I call on the president of the United States to ask for her resignation.” This is not the first time Nord has rubbed lawmakers the wrong way. Last month, when she was asked to testify about the safety of toys imported from China, she said she would “rather go to the dentist.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank noted that “instead of showing contrition, Nord treated the lawmakers as if they were impertinent children.”
FAILURE OF CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: The politicization of the agency, coupled with the Bush administration’s adherence to a flawed conservative ideology, has crippled the CPSC. In its first year of operation in 1974, the CPSC had a staff of 786 and a budget equivalent to $146.6 million in today’s dollars. Today it operates with a budget of only $62.3 million and 420 full-time employees. Now is not the time to scale back regulation of product safety, as imports of consumer goods from overseas have reached an all-time high. For example, the Toy Industry Association estimates that 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are imported from China. Because of this deregulation, millions of children going trick-or-treating tonight to celebrate Halloween will be at greater risk than ever before from products made outside the United States, including tainted costumes and plastic candy buckets. Even when faced with safety risks to kids, conservatives would rather allow the markets to regulate themselves and consumers to fend for themselves. “As this point, when it comes to imported products, American are basically on their own,” notes the Campaign for America’s Future. “[T]hey can’t rely on what they need — active and efficient government regulation and inspection that can protect our children and insure that our safety standards are met. It is past time for that to change.”
MSN “has rolled out” a “green-themed media venture” called MSN Green, “a new channel consisting of environmental news and information aimed at the masses.”
OREGON: Portland boasts “the second highest rate of bloggers in the nation.”
MISSOURI: The first commercial wind farm in the state is pumping “tax revenue, tourism dollars and civic pride” into a Missouri town.
ENVIRONMENT: “Mountaintop removal and strip mining are decimating the majestic Appalachian Mountains.”
THINK PROGRESS: Vice President Cheney visits a hunting lodge that hangs the confederate flag.
DANGER ROOM: Blackwater has its own “special edition” pistol complete with the Blackwater logo on the grip.
HUFFINGTON POST: Conservative candidates postpone yet another minority-focused debate.
THE MIDDLE CLASS: The Drum Institute launches a new resource for keeping Congress accountable.
“‘If he does not believe that waterboarding is illegal, then that would really put doubts in my own mind because I don’t think you have to have a lot of knowledge about the law to understand this technique violates’ the Geneva Convention and other statutes.”