Sunday, March 29, 2009

CPSIA - WSJ Editorial 3-30-08

Pelosi's Library Quarantine

The CPSC is left cleaning up the House Speaker's messy child-safety law.

It looks like "Jumanji" in local libraries these days, after the classic children's book about chaos unleashed by the failure to heed warnings. In February, an overzealous law governing lead in products resulted in toys going from store shelves to the trash heap. Now, confusion over how the rules affect children's books has led some libraries to rope off kids' sections.

Last summer, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) interpreted the 2008 law to include children's books, though exactly what that means is anyone's guess. CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson told the Associated Press that until the agency can give clearer guidance, especially on books published before 1986, public and school libraries "should take steps to ensure that the children aren't accessing those books." The agency hurried to say it didn't mean to tell libraries to toss the books, but that it is "investigating" whether there are unsafe lead levels.

Democrats in Congress have leapt to criticize acting CPSC Chairman Nancy Nord, in hopes President Obama will replace her. But the real culprit here isn't the CPSC, which is overwhelmed with requests from manufacturers trying to make sense of the chaos that Congress created. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman has dismissed efforts to improve the law, claiming the real problem is that "misinformation has spread" about the impact on businesses.

Older books pose hardly any danger, according to safety experts at the Centers for Disease Control. The problem is the ambiguity in a law that leaves businesses facing lawsuits if they can't prove their products are safe. In addition to libraries, thrift stores, church bazaars and small batch toymakers are also unclear what they can and can not sell. Makers of bicycles and ATVs have pulled youth models -- designed to increase safety -- off the showroom floor at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nancy Pelosi boasted last summer that the toy safety law would mean products weren't merely made differently in the future but would be removed from the shelves today. That's the real source of this mayhem, as she was amply warned at the time by Democrat John Dingell, among others. Ms. Pelosi prevailed, and now the harm to thousands of businesses, charities and even public libraries is manifest. Since the House Speaker won't admit a mistake and fix the law, the CPSC must do what it can to prevent more damage to the already challenging economy.

CPSIA - Contesting the Higher Ground

I find it tedious, and a little insulting, to have to assert my "devotion" to safety when discussing the CPSIA. As a professional in the education business since 1990, I believe our company's record of achievement in safety and corporate responsibility speaks for itself, and besides, who on Earth is not for "safety" and injury avoidance? I have yet to meet anyone who values money more than lives or health, and do not believe such people exist in any appreciable number in the United States. In fact, to love money over health and safety make you a psychopath. Consider this quote from the article on "Psychopathy" in Wikipedia: "Lack of a conscience in conjunction with a weak ability to defer gratification and/or control aggressive desires, often leads to antisocial behaviors. Psychopathy does not necessarily lead itself to criminal and violent behavior. Instead, psychopaths high in social cognitiion may be able to redirect their antisocial desires in a different, non-criminal manner." (see Can I ask your indulgence - let's assume I am not a psychopath. . . . With that established, you can perhaps appreciate the strangely irritating feeling that overcomes me when I periodically feel the need to reassert my sanity, that is, my concern over the safety of our products.

Nonetheless, the debate over the CPSIA seems to revolve around competitive virtue, over who occupies the High Ground of Caring The Most About Safety. The group staunchly defending the defective CPSIA implies that they alone value human life and health, and spares no effort to slam anyone who dares disagree with their views or, heaven forbid, criticize their sainted "groundbreaking" law. This has led to some rather shocking incivility by public officials. One example that relates to me personally was an attack by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) at the March 12 Consumer Federation of America conference. In her speech to the CFA group, she (apparently) referred to me by name, called into question my integrity for calling a Rally to protest the CPSIA and then wondered aloud if I have children (yes) or grandchildren (no) - as if that was the only possible explanation for my supposedly inexplicable view of the law. Of course, the implication is that she and her CFA supporters alone are capable of arbitrating good consumer protection. I find it shocking that attack dogs like Schakowsky have nothing more to offer than smears in defense of their law. What does that tell you about the Higher Ground?

A more recent example of stunning self-justifying discourtesy, also from a representative of my own Land of Lincoln, is the March 27 letter of Senator Dick Durbin shredding Acting Chairman Nancy Nord of the CPSC for having the nerve to not bow down to the CPSIA in her March 20 letter to Rep. John Dingell. See How dare she! Durbin's letter, riddled with errors, is a new low water mark in the vicious attacks by the folks who brought you the CPSIA. These street brawling tactics are intended to work your emotions, and to skirt the legitimate issues raised by opponents to the law, presumably because the supporters of the CPSIA have no answers.

In his letter, Durbin chooses to attack Nord for a letter explicitly prepared by the CPSC staff (, and on one hand, tears into Ms. Nord for the letter's (inconvenient) view that the law takes away the authority of the CPSC to do its job ("You accused a law that significantly strengthens the Commission’s hand as having 'taken away our responsibility to look at the risks and make judgments about what is or isn’t safe for American consumers.'”) while complimenting the staff at the same time ("I commend the Commission for its hard work so far in implementing the law’s provisions, especially the job performed by the career staff who have responded heroically to the new workload. We can only hope that these career staffers will help make a clean break from failed policies of the past."). The purpose of Durbin's letter is quite clear - it is just a venal, personal attack on a Commissioner who chooses to disagree with the CPSIA to turn her into Public Enemy Number One. Obviously, this distraction works much better than actually reading the law and answering the chorus of complaints. Maybe if Durbin and his cohorts can convince the public that Ms. Nord is "the problem", they can claim that they solved the invisible national health crisis with a new Democrat-appointed Chairman who would break with the so-called "failed policies of the past."

Contesting possession of the Higher Ground is counter-productive. It doesn't matter who is most saintly, since the real object here is to create a workable legal mechanism for safety administration. If we must deal in emotions, rather than facts, there is no chance to create good law. Unfortunately, Mr. Durbin seemingly must resort to distortions and untruths to make his point: "Over the last two years, tens of millions of toys were recalled by your agency because they posed a serious threat to consumer safety. These recalls included wooden trains covered in lead paint and poorly produced magnetic toys. Ordinary families paid the price for weaknesses in the Commission’s oversight. Their children suffered life-threatening injuries or, in the most tragic cases, death. Yet you have referred to these problems which led to the law as 'what Congress perceived to be this hysteria over recalls.'" Having personally reviewed every single recall notice on the website, I am not aware of any deaths from lead-in-paint since January 1, 2007. Of the 125 lead-in-paint recalls between January 1, 2007 and the end of January 2009, there was ONE claim of injury from lead-in-paint on a recalled item and no deaths reported. There was one documented death from a lead bangle on one bracelet in that time period - that's it. I do not discount the suffering of these families (there I go again . . .), but I have a simple question - is this enough of a problem for our society to turn over the entire economy? It takes little effort to come up with ten more urgent situations that we have choosen not to address. Frankly, it is hard to argue with the CPSC staff's assertion of "hysteria over [toy]recalls", given these FACTS.

As long as politicians debating the issues relating to the CPSIA place a priority on whipping up public emotions, presumably to cast themselves in a better light, we will have a hard time working out a proper and balanced solution to the obvious problems with the CPSIA. In the meantime, many good Americans will suffer breathtaking economic losses at the worst possible time. I hope it will not come as a shock to hear the OBVIOUS - the people who are taking the low road, the ones who will NOT listen and have a policy of asserting legislative infallibility, are DEMOCRATS. Safety is NOT a partisan issue, at least it wasn't until this group of Democratic legislators made it into a partisan issue. I can only hope that they will rise to a higher state of leadership, acknowledge the need for further FAIR, OPEN AND OPEN-MINDED INQUIRY, and stay this legislation long enough to allow for that deliberate consideration. If they persist in holding the line, we will all suffer from the awful impact of the shockingly misguided CPSIA. If the law persists unchanged, our company will have to reorganize to survive in a highly-distorted marketplace, consumers will have to do without many essential products (in our case, important educational products) - and with my new-found free time, I think I will work on getting new representation in Washington.

Have we had enough yet, America???


Friday, March 27, 2009

CPSIA - Will the Dems Show Up?

With only three business days to go before the Rally, no Democrats have agreed to be seen with us yet. This is both disappointing and surprising - as our message is not and never has been "anti-safety". No, in fact we have long advocated for strong safety. Our disagreement is the means for achieving strong safety. We insist that quantifiable risk of injury must be used to determine what constitutes a safety issue, not arbitrary standards that often are irrelevant to safety and lead to inefficient misallocation of resources. In addition, we have cried out against the negative economic incentives in the law - these rules will devastate our businesses, and as anyone in the "kids" business can tell, it hurts to know that families and schools won't be able to get our products now even though the products are safe. The Democrats publicly reply in Stepford Wives fashion, repeating the mantra that the law is fine as is, and it is the fault of the CPSC that "misinformation" has not been corrected or clarified. Ironically, the Republicans are quick to concede that the bill contains errors and misjudgments, so apparently the Democrats' infallability argument does not apply to everyone who supported the CPSIA in 2008!

I still find it amazing that safety has morphed into a partisan issue in America, where Democrats and Republicans are on opposite sides of "safety", each claiming the higher ground. In this case, Democrats are seemingly aligned behind arbitrary standards divorced from any assessment of risk of injury. They are also gleeful over heavy penalties and high legal risk, not to mention jackpot justice with independent State Attorney General enforcement of Federal law. On the other side, Republicans seem to be open to a risk-assessment legislative model and retain an open mind about the legitimate concerns of industry over the (many) negative incentives in this law.

The support our movement has enjoyed has largely been a Republican affair. There are ten Senators sponsoring bills to amend the CPSIA (one Democrat) and 32 Representatives sponsoring bills (five Democrats), with a total of ten bills pending. None of the Democrats sponsoring bills have agreed to attend the Rally, incredibly. These six members of Congress have made an important contribution by standing up for change, but their reluctance to be seen at the Rally is disturbing. Where are you, Democrats?

Other members of Congress are working back channels for change. One such person is Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Ms. Klobuchar wrote a detailed letter to Nancy Nord of the CPSC on January 26 outlining many of the familiar (important) flaws in the law. Her state has a high population of ATV users and also is the home of some important companies making products affected by the CPSIA. I happen to know Senator Klobuchar from student days and can attest to her character and intellect. Now we just need her to come to our Rally to learn more about how to fix this broken law.

The Rally will be a historic event, with or without Democrats. The open forum, Internet features, compelling content and public participation will set an example of how democracy is supposed to work. As the world watches our streaming video and audio feeds, poses interactive questions, tweets back and forth to let everyone far and wide know what's happening on the moment, we will be making legislative history. And history will record that no Democrats were there to support this true exercise of democracy in its highest form. Is that how you want to be remembered, Dems?

We'll leave the door open, just in case you change your mind.


CPSIA - Update Letter of March 27

Dear Friend,

There is a lot going on in the CPSIA advocacy area. It's time for an update!

The April 1 Fly-In, Rally and Congressional Briefing:

When/Where: The Rally is set for Wednesday, April 1 at 10 AM EST at the Capitol Visitors Center in Rooms HVC201 A&B. Details on how to get there are found at The Rally will last 1.5 - 2 hours, and afterwards many of us will go on legislative visits.

Who Will Be There? We have invited all 535 Congressmen and Senators, the CPSC, media and the public. At the moment, we have confirmed that five Representatives (Barton, Blackburn, Gingrey, Stearns and Whitfield), one Senator (DeMint) and Governor John Engler (CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers) will address the Rally. We are in discussions with others members of Congress, as well. The line-up of speakers is extensive, from many industries and will include scientists, as well. The list of Sponsors is growing every day - check the website for regular updates:

Website: I urge you to explore our exciting Rally website, This brand new, content-packed website is constantly being updated and has wonderful resources, blogs and links to put you in contact with the community of CPSIA protestors. You will be amazed at how diverse and committed the community is - explore and learn!

Subscribe and Register: To receive regular updates from the website, you need to SUBSCRIBE. This is easy - just complete this screen and follow the instructions: If you are attending the Rally, we would appreciate it if you would kindly register:

How To Participate if You Cannot Attend in Person: We are providing a LIVE webcasting of the Rally at our website There will be a live video and audio feed direct from the Rally. If you must be away from the computer, we will also provide an audio feed by phone (call 312-878-0222, access code 656-413-666). [We will post the video and audio afterwards if you want to watch the Rally later.] The website will allow you to pose questions for the speakers (although Q&A time may be short, unfortunately). Another interesting event feature will be a dialog box on our website home page where Twitter reporters can post "tweets" about both the Rally as it happens, and meetings with legislators before and after the Rally. You can be a Twitter reporter, too - everyone experiencing this event can contribute. You may want to monitor the Twitter dialog box throughout the day to see reactions to the event, and to follow fast breaking developments and on-the-spot reporting. Finally, we are inviting written testimony from the speakers, as well as from any interested party (see There are many ways to participate - this event is for EVERYONE.

It is worth noting that an inspiration for this Rally was our strong feeling of exclusion from the legislative process. Even getting our opinions on the record proved IMPOSSIBLE. Ultimately, it became clear that the only way we could get on the record was to create our OWN record. Thus, the Rally! It is interesting to reflect on this event as a demonstration of true democratic principles at work, a Civics lesson for those who would exclude us. The totally open platform, shared worldwide via the Internet LIVE for all to see and for all to participate in, is intended to set an example for involving interested parties in the legislative process. We are opening up our record for anyone to contribute written testimony - an open debate means an open record, so I hope you will avail yourself of the opportunity to go on record and be heard. Let this expression of true democracy, government by the People, be heard in Washington by the legislators who will determine our fate!

GEAR! You can support the event and show where you stand by purchasing Amend The CPSIA Gear at Thank you for showing your support!

Dingell Letters: You and many other people answered the call to respond to Rep. John Dingell's March 4th letter to the Commissioners of the CPSC. We met his short deadline of March 13 with more than 150 pages of replies. The honesty and compelling nature of these letters has certainly left Mr. Dingell with lots to think about. Thank you for participating in this important letter-writing process. We are posting some of these letters on our website

CPSC Calls for Comments: Please keep monitoring for the CPSC's open calls for comment. The dreaded tracking label implementing rules are being considered right now, with a pending request for comments. Make your opinion heard!

Finally, please be sure to follow up on the economic survey put out by the AAFA. I addressed this in my March 19 letter. The survey links are as follows and ARE DUE BY MARCH 31. The more participation, the better for all of us.

For Retailers:

For Manufacturers/Wholesalers, etc:



Thursday, March 26, 2009

CPSIA - Lead and Crackers

One of the great puzzles of the CPSIA is its obsession with Children's Products as a focal point in the "war on lead". Okay, I think I am able to perceive that the object of the law is to protect children from certain health hazards (lead, principally) and further, that children use Children's Products which could be the source of those health problems. But no one has explained to me in terms I can understand why Children's Products are "the" problem, or even consistitute a problem at all.

Here's an analogy that comes to mind: Let's say you decide "Enough is enough, I am getting too fat" and resolve to take action by eliminating crackers from your diet. Yes, that nightly snack of brie on crackers is clearly a problem, and no one can deny that the crackers are adding to your weight problem in some way. Eliminating that source of calories must help, almost as a matter of mathematics. How could anyone defend eating crackers anyhow? Isn't it obvious that you would be "safer" from fat if you eliminate crackers from our diet?

Frankly, I have no way of knowing the answer to that question. How could we determine if you will lose weight or even arrest the upward trajectory of your weight if you eliminate the crackers? I doubt crackers, in or out of your diet, will affect your belt line in any way. First of all, the amount of calories you are eliminating is probably immaterial based on your daily intake of food. Second, there is little reason to believe that the crackers are the root of the problem. In fact, it is highly likely that the delicious hot fudge sundae that you enjoy at the end of each dinner, and the loaded baked potato you prefer for lunch, not to mention your constant snacking between meals and lack of exercise, may be more important factors in your ongoing weight problem. If those larger sources of calories are not controlled, crackers or no crackers, you are still fat and getting fatter. If it were very costly for you to eliminate crackers from your diet, is this where you would start your weight loss work? Would crackers be the rational focus of your resources and effort to lose weight?

Are Children's Products "crackers" in the war on lead? Perhaps. It is clear (to me) that the oft-cited 20-year steady decline in blood lead levels is related to environmental issues, like elimination of leaded house paint and leaded gasoline. Other environmental controls, like restrictions on lead-in-paint on consumer products (but not on your car!) and the gradual replacement of lead plumbing pipes, have also contributed to these sharp improvements in lead health. Is there any rational reason to believe that elimination (on a zero tolerance basis) of lead from Children's Products will move the needle in blood level studies? I don't believe it myself. The total mass of lead introduced into the U.S. economy annually via Children's Products is a mere pittance compared to environmental exposure EVEN TODAY.

If Children's Products are an immaterial source of lead (or phthalates, for that matter) and if much more significant sources in daily life are left entirely unaffected by this "groundbreaking" law, what exactly has been achieved? It's just cracker crumbs, in my view.


CPSIA - Safety is a Non-Partisan Issue . . . Isn't it???

We are busy organizing our CPSIA Fly-In, Rally and Congressional Briefing for next Wednesday, April 1 in Washington, D.C. Part of our effort is to include members of Congress in our line-up of speakers. We reached out to many members on both sides of the aisle looking for volunteers to appear in front of our group. So far, we have commitments from one Senator (DeMint), five Representatives (Barton, Blackburn, Gingrey, Stearns, Whitfield) and one ex-Governor (Engler) - all Republicans. No Democrats are apparently willing to speak in public to our group. One unnamed Democratic member of Congress even conveyed to us that he/she wanted to appear to tell us that we are being heard and help is on the way, but was told in no uncertain terms by "leadership" that an appearance would not be permitted. What's going on? I thought everyone was in favor of safety - it shouldn't be an issue that Democrats and Republicans disagree on.

Unfortunately, what's going on is that there is a major turf war underway, and we are caught in the middle. The CPSIA is being claimed as a hard-fought and emblematic achievement of the Democratic Party leadership and it thus appears that opposition to the defective law is seen as opposition to these leaders. Hence, Democrats aren't allowed to speak publicly with common sense on the CPSIA - they have to tow the Party line of infallibility, regardless of how strained it is. Any Democratic member of Congress daring to defy Party leadership by acknowledging the flaws in the law and calling for fixes, risks isolation or other punishments. This sad state of affairs only magnifies the significance of John Dingell's March 4 letter to the Commissioners of the CPSC which I interpret as a major breach in the ranks.

I have long had the sense that democratic principles were somehow sacrificed in the CPSIA debacle. The closed door bargaining, limited legislative investigation with sources certain to give convenient answers, cancelled hearings when opposing voices might be heard publicly, the generally frosty and sometimes rude reception to opposing viewpoints, all were signs that that fix was in, and our participation in the process was unwanted (and perceived to be unneeded). This is not right - the People are still Congress' employers and deserve a role in rulemaking that affects their destiny so directly. Hence, we felt the Rally was a necessary response to our permanent exclusion from the legislative process. Reaching this conclusion is both shocking and terrifying. We need to take our government back.

It seems to me that the Democratic leadership needs a Civics lesson. [Interestingly, we are told that at least one High School U.S. Government class will be watching our Rally and using it as course material to learn about democratic processes!] Apparently, the Democrats feel that an open exchange of views on the CPSIA is dangerous and out of the question. Isn't that pathetic? I guess the Obama Revolution didn't last too long. . . . To demonstrate how a truly transparent, democratic process functions, we expect to offer the following interactive, participatory features for the Rally through our website

1. Streaming audio and video LIVE during the event.

2. Interactive features allowing viewers to pose questions to the floor of the Rally.

3. A call-in number so you can listen to the speeches on your phone if you have to leave the computer.

4. A live "tweet" feed on the home page of the Rally website for on-the-spot reporting all day long.

5. Written testimony not only from speakers but also from all other interested parties. See for more details if you want to submit testimony.

All of this will be provided free-of-charge to encourage wide public participation in our process.

It's time that Democrats join the democracy - come speak at our Rally and participate in an open and free debate on much-needed changes to the CPSIA. Avoiding the Rally won't make us go away, and it won't make all the information generated at the Rally go away either. That's what our website is for.

See you on Wednesday. It will be a big day for us and for our democracy!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CPSIA - If We Can Meet the Standards, Why Do I Still Hate This Law?

An interesting question comes up from time to time: If our company can easily meet the new lead and phthalates standards, why am I so uptight about the CPSIA? It is true that our products will be basically unchanged under the new law, and the few products which we will modify slightly are being changed mainly to avoid ambiguities in the law. My strong position against this law has apparently given some people the impression that we are having trouble with the standards. This was demonstrated most recently at the ICPHSO meeting when I asked a question about reporting compliance, and received a response that implied that my concern must be based in the "difficult nature" of our products. Not so. If we don't perceive a serious issue with complying with the standards for our company, why am I kicking up a fuss?

a. The New Law Changes the Economics of Our Products. Under the new law, we will incur tremendous new costs over time. Each of the following costs will materially affect the economics of each product we sell: (i) testing costs (and we don't even know the required frequency of such testing yet), (ii) tracking label costs on both packaging and product, (iii) administrative costs incurred to monitor legal compliance with a myriad of rules, plus advertising requirements, labelling requirements and reporting requirements, and (iv) legal risks including enforcement actions by State Attorney Generals and the risk of large fines for non-compliance. Risk equals cost (think of sub-prime loans) so even uncertain future expenses must be included in our calculations on some discounted basis. When we calculate the profitability of each item, we must account for all of these (and other) costs. Since the perceived value of our products is inelastic (little pricing power), profitable revenue is very dependent on selling at the right price for us. In addition, having reduced our operating costs significantly to survive the current severe economic downturn, our ability to absorb these additional costs through productivity gains and efficiencies is rather limited. Many items will go from profitable to unprofitable in a blink as this law phases in. This is a non-mass market phenomena, of course. Companies selling in high volumes will not experience many of the problems that we face. Their economics are more favorable since they spread costs over many more units. Companies like ours will be beset with a major Darwinian process devouring their product lines.

b. The New Law Changes the Economics of our Business. The complexity and risk of this law creates new and irresistable incentives to change our business model. The legal risks/costs under this law tend to rise exponentially with the complexity of the tasks one must take on. In other words, the more you try to do (in our case, products we offer for sale), the more likely you are to violate the law. Why? Because of the sheer number of requirements for each item to be compliant, FULLY-COMPLIANT, with the law, the odds of properly complying with the law goes to ZERO with a big product line. And, as the number of tasks rises, focus on what's important will certainly be lost (remember the old saying, when everything's important, NOTHING'S important) which suggests that serious safety issues will RISE even as resources devoted to compliance increase exponentially. A surprising result? No, the more complexity, the more predictable (the more likely) is spectacular failure. This is essentially a statistical argument, which cannot be countered by good intentions, great organization or legions of saints working on your team. "Cops on the beat" won't matter, either (thanks, David Arkush). In another delicious irony of this law, owing to overarching complexity, legal infractions will rise, which consumer groups and regulators will chalk up to low character among children's product companies and call for tougher enforcement . . . . Yes, this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The risk of failure, and the SEVERE (and ridiculous) penalties possible for failure under the law, makes it foolhardy to stick with a model requiring thousands of items to be sold. Again, the economics won't support that model. The CPSIA wants our company to sell 50 items, not our current 2,000, and wants us to sell them in lots of 50,000 units, not 500-10,000 as we do currently. The longer we defy the CPSIA and its economic incentives, the worse we will do financially. This will also create real disincentives against being a distributor of children's products. It's only a matter of time before these incentives work their magic - the market always responds. Wal-Mart should love it!

c. The New Law Turns Our Business Into A Tedious Bureaucracy - And We Don't HAVE To Do This. Under the CPSIA, we must undertake a number of urgency, zero-tolerance activities that are essentially bureaucratic in nature. For instance, we need to monitor warning labels in our catalogs and on our websites, manage test reporting on multiple standards and posting of such material on a ftp site, manage the perpetual changing of tracking labels on product and packaging throughout the year (estimated to be not less than 20,000 product changes per year at our company - and that could be a low estimate), train and re-train dozens of people annually on a long list of crucial compliance issues, closely manage the evolving regulatory environment (with ever-changing rules, regulations, laws, FAQs, interpretations, seminars, webinars, postings, requests for comments, etc.), and so on. Please note that none of this has anything to do with designing our products, maintaining their basic saleability or safety (yes, safety), marketing our brands or products, investments in infrastructure or people, etc. It's a major diversion of resources to pure paper-pushing.

Why do you think we work so hard at being a great educational company? Why do you think we get up early and stay late, work weekends, go to tradeshows, take calls late into the night? It's not so we can keep busy. Our mission is not to stack paper to the Moon - we want to make the world a better place. I can tell you - the prospect of turning our company into a big CETA project, a bureaucractic branch of the U.S. government, is repellent to me. This vision of our company leaves me feeling short of breath. Can we be expected to keep working as hard or with as much commitment if this happens? I think we would find better things to do with our time and capital. Nothing is more chilling than the thought that our business would be ruined by this terrible diversion of resources and mission.

d. I Cannot Abide the Lack of Trust Implicit in the Law. The CPSIA brands all children's product companies as untrustworthy. We must prove that we comply with law before we enter the chain of commerce, and are never paroled from this over-reaching and terrible requirement. Put into a different context, that's like requiring all American businesses to be audited for compliance with labor laws before being allowed to transact business. Why stop there? Why not require that Starbucks have each cup of coffee tested before handing it over at the drive-through window? There is simply, plainly no reason to be so distrustful basically of ourselves. Who do you think the Children's Product Industry is? It's Wal-Mart and Target, it's Toys R Us, but it's also the local clothing store, the shoe store, the bike store, the ATV rental facility, the jeweler, the schools, the electronics store, many restaurants, the office supply store, the school supply store, and all of their suppliers, and many more institutions. Have I named the employer of 60% of your block yet? The Children's Product Industry is . . . YOU and ME and ALL OF YOUR NEIGHBORS. Are we all really that untrustworthy? I find this insulting and illogical. I bristle under the burden of that slur.

The impact of the CPSIA is far-reaching. The sound bites that sum it up neatly miss the point entirely. There is nothing neat about the law. It's impact will be felt for years in devastation that only slowly manifests itself. This is not an episode of CSI-Miami that gets resolved in 60 minutes. It's more like the slow destruction of an eco-system. That eco-system is your community. It's time to stand up for our rights - this can't happen on our watch!

See you at the April 1 Rally in Washington, D.C. You can get all the details on We also hope to have online streaming if you can't join us in person.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CPSIA - April 1 Rally UPDATE

I have reproduced the latest version of our Fact Sheet for the April 1 Rally below for your information. A few supplemental bits of info:

a. The Rally is expected to take place in the morning of April 1 from 10-11:30 AM. The location is expected to be the Congressional Visitors Center. The precise location will be confirmed shortly. The afternoon will feature visits to Capitol Hill to see members of Congress to lobby on amending the CPSIA.

TO PARTICIPATE IN A VISIT TO CAPITOL HILL, WE WILL NEED TO KNOW THAT YOU PLAN TO ATTEND, AS WELL AS YOUR ZIP CODE (NINE DIGITS IS BEST). Please email us at with this info ASAP. Thanks. We will then get back to you with details. It will be very helpful to know in advance how many people we should expect at the Rally.

b. We have established a special website for this event, We are creating it now and expect it to go live in a few days. The website is expected to be full of useful content, as well as information about the Rally and events of the day. We will also use the website to allow those of you who want to participate but cannot attend in person. I hope we will be able to announce some nifty democracy-in-action technology soon!

c. The best way to communicate with us is via email at We are interested in hearing from you and getting your ideas. Please support us by attending the Rally!

This is a fluid situation, please watch this space for updates. I expect to be able to make some announcements about special guests and speakers soon.






Washington, DC - April 1, 2009

Implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is following a worst-case scenario for manufacturers, retailers and charities. Thanks to the flaws in this law, millions of perfectly safe products are in the process of being destroyed, costing U.S. businesses billions of dollars in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in U.S. history. Charitable organizations and thrift stores are being forced to pull inventory from their shelves at a time when American families need them more than ever. The supply of science supplies to schools is being curtailed. Youth model ATV and dirt bikes are no longer available creating a safety issue because more than 90% of injuries to kids on ATVs occur on large adult size models. Even libraries are at risk of legal liability for lending children’s books. All of these violations of common sense are being done in the name of “safety”.

From unrealistic compliance deadlines that made it impossible for industry or the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adequately prepare before the law went into effect, to the unprecedented decision to retroactively apply the new lead standards and phthalates ban to inventory already sitting in stores and warehouses, CPSIA is causing massive disruptions to industries across the board, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.

So far, Congress has ignored the calls of thousands of small businesses, charities, parents and teachers to fix the flaws in this legislation, refusing even to hold public hearings on the problem. That’s why business and charitable groups are organizing a fly in, rally and Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress, provide information and bring attention to the CPSIA crisis. Wide participation is anticipated in this unique event to call upon Congress to urgently fix the CPSIA.

Date and Location: April 1, 2009, Capitol Hill [Room TBD]

Speakers will include Members of Congress and representatives from:

· Charitable Organizations
· National Association of Manufacturers
· Small Business owners from various industries affected by CPSIA
· Motorcycle and ATV dealerships
· Publishers and Library Associations
· Product safety and lead experts (to discuss science-based risk assessment)

Confirmed Participating Organizations (as of March 16, 2009)):

· Alliance for Children’s Product Safety
· American Apparel and Footwear Association
· American Motorcycle Association
· Fashion Jewelry Trade Association;
· Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association
· Handmade Toy Alliance
· International Sleep Products Association
· Motorcycle Industry Council
· National Association of Manufacturers
· National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops
· National Bulk Vendors Association
· Specialty Vehicle Institute of America
· Toy Industry Association

For additional information, please contact the Alliance for Children's Product Safety at 202-828-7637

Sunday, March 15, 2009

CPSIA - Caption Contest

Here are a couple lovely CPSIA images, please supply your best captions. Some ideas are shown below the images.

Image no. 1:
a. Bottom's up, Congress!
b. What! I'm not supposed to eat my bike parts?
c. The Axles go best with a nice Merlot. . . .
Image no. 2:

a. Another clear case of Lead Poisoning. Call the CPSC!
b. Tell me again, why are you so sure this is lead poisoning?
c. But the CPSIA wasn’t designed to protect you against freezing to death.

CPSIA - It's All in the Pleasure Centers!

I have received some thought-provoking responses to my posts. I recently posted a spread called our Future World Collection in a blogpost called "Visions of the Future", and much to my surprise, several people commented to me about the use of gloves in the photos illustrating the catalog spread. Of course, our idea is that children would not be sufficiently protected against "danger" unless we erect further barriers against pathogens, and what could be safer than elbow-length gloves (and masks, goggles and safety suits)? Nonetheless, concerned citizens expressed their worries that there might be phthalates in the gloves, and some even questioned my judgment in displaying something this "reckless".

Now, now - would I do something so terrible?! Come on, guys, give me a break. Let me explain - Congress has already sorted this out. Whew! At the Congressional Peer-Reviewed Scientific Study Skunkworks (CPRSSS), legions of serious Safety Scientists doing serious scientific things have determined that phthalates are ONLY worrisome if used in "toys" (and childcare items). "Toys" are defined under CPSIA Section 108(e)(1(B) as a consumer product designed or intended for a child 12 years old or younger for use when the child PLAYS. In other words, phthalates in an object pose NO danger unless a child is supposed to be playing with the object! The CPRSSS scientists were able to determine that phthalates apparently are only active when a child's pleasure centers are directly in use, and if the child is not having fun, phthalates pose no threat. That was a great clarification, I think.

Fortunately, as anyone can tell you that has cleaned out a garbage disposal trap or worked in a medical office, rubber gloves are no fun. You don't "play" with rubber gloves, so even if they are made of pure phthalates, they would be TOTALLY SAFE under the groundbreaking CPSIA! Even when used in conjunction with a real toy, the gloves themselves pose no health risk because they are not intended by the manufacturer to be used in play - the phthalates are rendered safe by the manufacturer's intent! Thank heavens that the law was cleared with the scientists at CPRSSS so that nothing got mucked up when the law was written. Finally, we are safe, safe, safe.

I hope this has reassured you. Guys, you can trust me. We would never portray our products in any dangerous way. The spread for our Future World Collection was carefully vetted for compliance with law and safety. With the CPSIA to guide us, there is nothing to worry about!


Friday, March 13, 2009

CPSIA - Letter to John Dingell re his March 4 Letter to CPSC

I sent the following letter to Chairman John Dingell of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce today in response to his March 4 letter on the CPSIA. We are also sending copies of all the letters sent to to Chairman Dingell. My letter was sent to my full list of Capitol Hill contacts, as well.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CPSIA - Rally and Open Hearing April 1 in Washington, D.C.

I am pleased to announce that on April 1 there will finally be an opportunity to go to Capitol Hill to tell Congress directly about the terrible impact of the CPSIA on our lives and businesses. Having been repeatedly denied the opportunity to explore the issues created by the CPSIA in public hearings by both the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Small Business since December, we have elected to organize our own rally and open hearings for this purpose. This unprecedented event is a true demonstration of democracy at work - the People will not be denied their say in this vitally important matter. The date - April Fool's Day - is ironic but the open hearing and rally are quite real and will be held on time with a full slate of speakers and a wide range of participants. This event will include support from numerous trade organizations and is expected to feature remarks by Members of Congress as well as scientists and representatives of various organizations affected by the legislation such as small businesses, libraries, charities and thrift stores. This event will also be open to the media.

The CPSIA was signed into law on August 14, 2008 and radically transformed the administration of children's product safety under U.S. law, converting a system based on risk assessment to one of precaution and fear of the unknown. The damaging unintended consequences of this change in law are being felt throughout the marketplace, and despite loud protests from many quarters, House and Senate leaders remain resolute in their support of an unmodified CPSIA. Public hearings on the negative impact of this law are long overdue, despite repeated requests for hearings from the CPSC, Members of Congress (including Reps. John Dingell, Joe Barton and George Radanovich of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Senators Bob Bennett, Carl Levin and Jim DeMint) and various other interested parties. The situation is intolerable and devastating. By calling this rally and open hearing, we are announcing an end to old school "closed door politics" and shining a light on a matter of critical public importance during a severe economic downturn.

The details of the rally and open hearing are still being finalized. The location is expected to be on Capitol Hill, and will include question and answer periods, as well as submission of written testimony. We will establish a website for this event, and will make the written materials available online. We hope to broadcast the hearings and rally live online and to provide interactive capabilities for public and media participation.

Please watch this space for updates. If you would like to help the team organizing this event, please write me at this special email address: [This email address may not be active for a day or two, so please resend your message if it does not go through.]

I hope you will join us at the rally and open hearings on April 1. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the statement to Congress. It’s time to openly discuss the problems in the CPSIA – see you in Washington in April!

Your Friend,

Rick Woldenberg
Alliance for Children’s Product Safety

CPSIA - Letter of Etienne Veber to Rep. John Dingell

Dear Chairman Emeritus Dingell,

Thank you very much for showing true political leadership in asking that many serious CPSIA issues be addressed urgently. I hope that your recent letter to the CPSC will lead to prompt action to correct the excessive reach of this law and to reinvigorate a productive dialogue with the children’s product industry.

I am the President/CEO of Learning Resources, Inc. and Educational Insights, Inc., global leaders in hands-on learning educational toys and educational materials for children between the ages of 2-13. At our companies, we create engaging products in the subject areas of Reading/Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies for use at home and at school. Our products are used in almost every pre-K – 5 classroom in the United States, as well as in more than 80 countries around the world. While our main focus is on the school market, we also sell into the Toy market. I recently joined the Board of the Toy Industry Association (May 2008).

As a senior executive of a small educational products business (less than 150 employees), I am deeply concerned about the many unintended and devastating consequences of the CPSIA. Our Chairman, Rick Woldenberg, has taken a public stance on this issue for several months. For that reason, I would like to offer a different perspective based upon my own professional experience of 20+ years. Before joining Learning Resources in 2005, I worked for a number of years in the food industry, first as the President of NutraSweet (a subsidiary of the Monsanto Corporation) and later as CEO of Merisant, Inc. (maker of the Equal/Canderel brand sweetener). As a leader within that industry, I gained first-hand management experience of how highly-regulated (artificial sweeteners, biotechnology) as well as mass market-driven industries function.

The CPSIA imposes a regulatory burden on the children’s product industry that is as unmerited as it is excessive. While health issues related to biotech or food products are rather obvious, the risk of injury from the use of children’s products is not nearly so clear. Owing to the breadth of the definition of “children’s products” or even “toys” subject to the phthalates ban, the sweep of items included in the restrictions encompasses many items or categories of items that have never presented any risk of injury from poisons. A good example is books. The burden thus imposed is excessive (unrelated to risk) and unmerited (won’t improve safety if there was never an issue with safety). Both the lead and phthalates bans need to be carefully constrained to avoid unnecessary harm to commerce.

The children’s product industry is not prepared for the sudden imposition of heavy regulatory burdens. These changes will definitely lead to business closures and severe job losses. My experience at highly regulated industries is that their products must generate a lot of gross profit to cover high compliance costs. For instance, it can cost hundreds of million of dollars to take a drug or a food additive through the FDA approval process. Clearly, any manufacturer or marketer needs to achieve a reasonable return on such a massive investment to make the risk, effort and investment worthwhile. Children’s products are typically commodities and are priced low in a very competitive marketplace. The overhead and infrastructure needed to comply with the CPSIA is more than all but a tiny percentage of American children’s products businesses could handle. Compliance activities under the CPSIA are completely unreasonable for small manufacturers, single location stores or even small retail chains. By placing this burden (and the associated risk of civil and criminal penalties) on companies in this space, the new law will certainly foster and accelerate a transformation of the business community toward mass consolidation. This pressure is why there are no small drug or food ingredient companies anymore, and that’s why the CPSIA will make small children’s products companies an endangered species, too.

In a highly regulated industry, it is absolutely critical to capitalize on all of your investments. Products are simply too expensive to develop and obtain permission to sell, to be allowed to fail. It is therefore likely that highly regulated industries will concentrate on very few items after a Darwinian selection process. At my former company Merisant, we had two basic product lines, Equal (little Blue packets of sweeteners) and Canderel. These two items produced several hundred million dollars in annual revenue alone. By contrast, Learning Resources and Educational Insights have about 2000 items in their product lines and introduce as many as 200 new items each year. Despite our large product portfolio, our total annual revenues are substantially lower than that of Merisant. Do you think we can afford to run our companies the same way after the CPSIA? Certainly not – many of these items will quickly die because of the regulatory change. The kids and schools that need them will suffer, and because there was no quantifiable risk of injury from our products previously, it cannot be argued that anyone will actually be safer after we transform our company into its post-CPSIA form. This is a “lose-lose” proposition for our society.

Here are several comments that Congress needs to consider seriously to ensure the safety of our children without destroying law-abiding companies that are already suffering greatly in a depressed economic environment:

1/ Create an adequate transition period for new standards. There is virtually no precedent in CPSC history for a retroactive ban on anything, much less where there is no apparent public health crisis. It is unconscionable to impose "economic death" to good corporate citizens by labeling many of their assets as dangerous when in fact the products present no quantifiable risk of injury. Even the Prohibition gave industry years to clear out its supply chain. The timetable of implementation needs to be spread out over a much longer time to give companies time to absorb and adjust to the new rules, as well to foster a more effective partnership between the regulators and the industries being regulated.

2/ Sharply restrict use of the heavy penalties in the CPSIA. No one running a legitimate business with due care for their consumers should be exposed to the same remedies as "drug dealers". This is one of the most outrageous elements of the current version of the CPSIA and insults a broad swath of American society. The current law provides broad discretion to the CPSC to impose “instant death” remedies like million dollar fines, criminal charges and even asset forfeiture! These remedies should be extraordinary, not ordinary, and the law should specifically restrict their use. Otherwise, who would want or risk doing business under these conditions? The whistleblower provision is another highly coercive provision in the CPSIA that should be sharply curtailed or eliminated. It is utterly inappropriate in this law and under these circumstances.

3/ The lot traceability provisions of the CPSIA should be scrapped. Absolute traceability of individual production lots is not practicable (nor frankly justified) in the world of specialty products. The key concern is that a manufacturer must be able to efficiently identify a recalled product if indeed an issue arises. Many companies have demonstrated in the past that this can be achieved without lot markings. In addition, any company not marking by lot would always be able to retrieve all items from the market that cannot otherwise be specifically identified. The economics of lot markings are easy to assess for any manufacturer. If it is cheaper to mark by lot than suffer the open-ended economic consequences of a product failure, then manufacturers will mark their products. In this case, where public health risks are very remote, it does not make economic sense to require markings.

4/ The law should not require recall insurance nor give the CPSC the ability to create such a rule. The cost of such insurance would be absolutely prohibitive for small companies to bear. In addition, there is no market for recall insurance right now. Who is going to provide the insurance? AIG? This provision is yet another element of the CPSIA that punishes the many to get at the few. The failure of Simplicity to provide adequately for a recall of its cribs after bankruptcy is no justification to punish all who dare make children’s products in the future.

5/ The funding of the CPSC is inadequate and needs to be fixed. The CPSC is a good organization made up of talented folks who are highly committed to serving our government and country. The agency is clearly under-funded and under-staffed for the mandate they have under the CPSIA and other safety laws. Blaming the CPSC for CPSIA implementation problems is not justified and does not address the fundamental issue of inadequate resources. Funding for the CPSC needs to be considerably enhanced to facilitate a smoother implementation of the CPSIA.

As a highly responsible and law-abiding manufacturer of children’s products, we urge Congress to implement reasonable and common sense amendments to the CPSIA to fix its many serious flaws. Congress’ failure to act would have disastrous implications for the many industries involved, our economy as a whole, our education system and our children. We cannot afford to take that kind of risk. As the impact of the CPSIA is already starting to cripple many companies, there is a great deal of urgency in acting both sensibly and quickly.

I am happy to participate in any meeting, hearing, roundtable or discussion to help reach an acceptable outcome for all parties. Learning Resources has had an outstanding track record in safety for 25 years and we take these matters very seriously.


Etienne Veber
Learning Resources, Inc.
Educational Insights, Inc.
380 N. Fairway Drive
Vernon Hills, Illinois 60061
W (847) 573-8422
C (312) 493-8985

Monday, March 9, 2009

CPSIA - My First Response to Rep. Dingell (re 3-4-09 Letter)

Dear Rep. Dingell,

In response to your letter of March 4 to the Commissioners of the CPSC, I wanted you to see the following policy of Toys R Us. This directive is Toys R Us' new safety procedure and testing requirement. This policy, which has no basis in safety management, is borne of lead mania and TRU's strong interest to avoid possible liability under the CPSIA. The new policy by TRU likely means that our company will have to STOP doing business with them once implemented. These rules are utterly unaffordable and divorced from the safety reality of our products. Were we to attempt to comply with the TRU requirements, we would lose so much money that we would have to drop the items involved. All roads lead to Rome, this new set of rules will force us to abandon the TRU marketplace.

The CPSIA and the mania that drove it is destroying the children's product marketplace. The rampant fear of liability, driven by shocking CPSIA penalty provisions (civil and criminal, not to mention asset forfeiture and whistleblower provisions), has created an economic incentive for mass market players like TRU to take extreme positions to protect themselves. They feel that they have a target painted on their backs anyhow - in a post-CPSIA world, these highly-leveraged private equity-owned companies no doubt feel there is no choice but to eliminate ANY possible risk of liability. This is not a pro-consumer, pro-safety position - it is an anti-commerce position. It all flows from the CPSIA.

What will a TRU marketplace look like without a specialty manufacturer presence? This is what I think:

a. Far fewer specialty items. That is, very little that is not TV advertised. Lots of classic mass market items, little else. Products serving niche markets like education and special needs will disappear or will become so high-priced that they will be dropped.

b. Much less product diversity. Lots of mass and generic toys, few products of substance. It will be like 31 Flavors reduced down to Vanilla, Chocolate and Stawberry. Great if that's what you want. Not so great if you have your own taste buds.

c. Weakened small business community. Volume purchases by TRU and companies like TRU are both a sweetener for small businesses, and often a growth stimulus. This market will essentially be closed for all "small" products. The cost of entering the market will be quite high.

It is also worth noting that the divide between companies serving the mass market and specialty markets also extends to factory sources. Yes, Mattel uses a different grade of factory than we do. Not necessarily more sophisticated or safety-conscious, but scaled for much larger volumes. We are too small for their manufacturing base, and they are too large for our factory partners. When TRU creates a rule to deprive us of a valuable market, we are not the only small business losers. Our factories eat from the same trough as we do. The ripple effect of these rules will only deepen the distress in the supply chain, and will topple more dominoes up the chain and around the world. It's not a pretty picture.

d. Weakened mass market companies. A fear-driven economy is not a growth economy. If TRU thinks the right way to plan its business is to structure around minimizing liability, I predict their offerings will disappoint. Tickle Me Elmo cannot satisfy every need, and eventually a weakened market will wither. This is the danger in a law which adds so much liability exposure - all over nothing. The case for mass exposure lead poisoning is imaginary.

I don't want to live in a plain vanilla world. I am a mocha chip man, myself. Please help us restore our technocolor world by scrapping the CPSIA and replacing it with a more balanced, economically-sensitive bill. Congress can achieve great things in a true partnership with industry.

Richard Woldenberg
Learning Resources, Inc.
Vernon Hills, IL
Tel 224 436 0265

Sent: 3/2/2009 4:15:33 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: Important Notice - Changes in Quality Assurance Programs for 2009

February 23, 2009

Dear Valued Partner:

As you are aware, Toys “R” Us, Inc. maintains an uncompromising commitment to product safety. We recently conducted seminars in Hong Kong, Toronto, and New Jersey to explain some changes in our Quality Assurance Programs for 2009.

Some of these modifications are summarized below for vendors that were not able to attend the seminar.

Our Product Standards Are Unchanged

· Total lead standard for surface coatings continues at 90ppm.
· Total lead standard for substrates continues at 300ppm (more stringent requirements for selected categories such as PVC shoes/raincoats, jewelry, etc.)
· We will test in accordance with regulatory guidelines regarding accessibility and exceptions.
· All items within scope of AB 1108, CPSIA, or EU phthalate directive must be “P4” compliant (i.e. not contain greater than 0.1% w/w of DEHP, DBP, BBP, or DnHP). Mouthable items must additionally not contain >0.1% DnOP, DIOP, or DINP (“P7” compliant).
· Phthalates will be tested in surface coatings; also inaccessible components may be tested under certain circumstances.
· Packages used for children’s items that are intended – as determined by the lab- to store the product and/or be used by the child with the product will be subjected to use and abuse and the same analytical testing requirements as apply to the product.
· R Us direction is that we will continue to reduce the PVC in our packaging. PVC Packaging should not be used if there is a viable feasible alternative. Vendors should work with the Buyers and Sourcing Departments to determine feasibility and develop alternative packaging.

Program Highlights

· Third party sample selection continues.
· Test frequency change – full testing 2x/yr, more frequently if failures are found; less frequently for private label items if test history is good and facility is certified to ISO 9000 or TSCP Tier 1.
· If last full COC testing was conducted prior to November 1, 2008, samples will be tested to the full COC test requirement under the 2009 program (“Batch” testing no longer applies).
· Items designated as Global which have had a Global Design Review or Product Development Evaluation will be COC tested to global standards. (US, Canada, Europe, and Australia)
· Regional items such as EPB will be tested initially in the EU to EN standards, and an LOE will be issued upon successful completion of this testing and the technical file; items will also be tested once in HK under COC program for second six-month period.
· Date coding is required for all products – product, packaging, and master carton.

If you have any questions about this process please contact me at:

Thank you again for your continued support and partnership.

Alan P. Kaufman
VP, Quality Assurance, Safety & Packaging

Sunday, March 8, 2009

CPSIA - Stupider and Stupider

Check out the TV coverage we saw while in Dallas this week: The CBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth rightly points out that the CPSIA could require libraries to test every book printed before 1985. In our office, the joke making the rounds is that this is a tacit ban of George Orwell's "1984", a rich irony don't you think? Mr. Orwell would LOVE it. More profoundly, it also tacitly bans old copies of Goodnight Moon and Cat In the Hat. I rather doubt Dr. Seuss would like this one bit.

Let's stop and think for a moment (this is what distinguishes us from Congress). Consumer products intended children under 12 years old - that includes books, right? Lending and selling are the same thing under the law, for good reason. Ergo, libraries are in. Hence, libraries have the same problems under the CPSIA as ATV dealers, thrift stores, toy companies, clothing manufacturers, and so on. My question is - why should the law apply to libraries at all? Is it sensible for our country to pass a law, chock-a-block with criminal penalties, state enforcement, whistleblowers, even asset forfeiture (you know, like you are a drug dealer, yes that makes a lot of sense), that even for one short second gives any credibility to the notion that books are or even might be poisonous?

Where did this clunker idea come from? It came from the basic notion in the CPSIA that the right way to organize our society is to take NO CHANCES. NONE - the law weights all risk equally. Think of balancing the risk that you will spill your coffee in your car on the way to work with the risk that that you will be struck by a meteor during the same trip - that's equal weighting of unlike risks. If you buy this, it makes "sense" to deem everything dangerous, and let the manufacturers fight to get the right to sell their products. And, yeah, to make things even more secure, make the manufacturers prove and re-prove this safety and document their every manufacturing and distribution step, as though they are handling nuclear waste. . . . Under this world view, it is far too costly to take a chance with any of this.

Thus, the entire law is wrong-headed as it starts with the premise that everything is dangerous unless proven otherwise. This notion does not come from the real world. Is this really your everyday experience? I know my wife feels that milk past its sell date is some kind of public health hazard (we disagree on this point) but is danger really lurking everywhere, in every crevice and behind every corner?

Let's not let opinion or taste dictate the course of this debate. I say we should let the data decide this matter. So where's the record of harm that we are trying to avoid? I know that there were many lead-in-paint recalls from 1/07-1/09 (125 to be precise) but only one documented claim of injury (not a death). Yes, there was also one death from a child in Minnesota swallowing a lead bangle from a bracelet. Does this mean that books, clothing snaps and zippers, ATVs and dirt bikes, pens, and so on are all bad unless proven otherwise? Is there ANY reason to suspect that there is ANY nexus between the use of or exposure to these items and injury? The answer is a resounding NO. Even the consumer groups are quite unable to make this connection, relying on the pablum that lead is bad for you (well-accepted and well-known), and then pointing out that there is trace amounts of lead in consumer products. They have no way to demonstrate that leapin' lead is responsible for any harm.

Even the lead-in-paint cases are questionable in their own way. Remember the Mattel recall of Sarge, the character from Pixar's Toys movie? See In this case, Mattel recalled 436,000 units of this product (253,000 in the U.S.). I know it's impolitic to talk about this . . . but it is my understanding that the offending paint was a highlight on the wheel hubcaps, and came from TWO CANS OF BAD PAINT. Yes, Mattel burned through heaven knows how much money recalling this item because of TWO CANS OF PAINT slipped through its safety systems, and were spread ratably over 436,000 units. Hmmm - how dangerous do you think one Sarge car would be with 1/218,000th of a can of paint on it? This event was one of the sparks that triggered the mania leading to the CPSIA - the same mania that now sweeps up libraries.

This is something more than just transformation of our society into a bubblewrap culture. It is the overlawyering of all that we do (a tip of the hat to Walter Olson), with new liability popping up everywhere. Look at the media coverage of this issue - you see again and again merchants stating that the prospect of liability is driving them out of the market or away from the children's market. Is this a good trade-off for our society? No, of course not. It might be GREAT for the trial bar, insurance companies, testing and equipment companies and other organizations primed to bottom feed on the paranoia and liabilities of this law, but for the rest of us, it's death. No one can deal with the new risks and inflexibility of the law. I also happen to think that a Mother-May-I form of law will never work, can never work. It is inconsistent with commerce in low-priced products like most children's products. If we want that for our society, kiss specialty markets like education goodbye.

Please take a moment and write Mr. Dingell this week. It's very important.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

CPSIA - Address for Responses to Dingell Letter

To avoid deluging Rep. Dingell and the CPSC with emails and to assure that our responses are seen, we have established an email address for responses to Mr. Dingell's March 4th letter to the Commissioners of the CPSC asking for information relating to the need to amend the CPSIA. In my blogpost of March 6, I called for responses to his request for information about the CPSIA. See the following link for his letter and my call for responses:

Please send your letters to Mr. Dingell to:

We will pull together all the responses and deliver them to the CPSC and to Rep. Dingell's office.

Thanks again. Your participation in this process will make a big difference.


Friday, March 6, 2009

CPSIA - Barton and Radanovich Letter to Waxman 3-6-09

Washington, Mar 6 -

A letter sent today to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, (D-CA), renews a request by leading committee Republicans for a hearing into the problems being experienced by small businesses under the Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act.

March 6, 2009

The Honorable Henry Waxman
Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Waxman:

Since we last corresponded with you on the matter of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has postponed enforcement of some provisions related to the law’s lead standard as it was to apply to toys, apparel and a universe of other goods meant for kids. Largely unnoticed, however, is the fact that the legal requirement to meet the standard remains in full force.

That leaves everyone from city libraries to home businesses on the hook, since the only way to know that even Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys meet the standard is to test them. So until February of next year, America’s safety policy is this: “We won’t ask; don’t you sell.”

We had written you on January 21 to request a hearing, and we await your response. It seems to Republicans that it is as important to start fixing this problem now as it was then, when the weight of a gargantuan unforeseen consequence promised to crush the work of artisans, booksellers and others for whom pricy testing of inherently blameless items meant going broke.

An example is Janet Littlecrow, who runs the Littlecrow Trading Post in Red Rock, Oklahoma, (580-723-9244, and sells the Native American clothing that she and her seamstresses sew. Here is part of what she told us:

“Our income for February dropped to nearly ZERO, when sales in January were over $2000, even in this bad economy. That’s not a lot of money in your world, but it’s economic survival in rural Oklahoma. Like many skilled & educated workers today, prolonged unemployment after 9/11 forced us from our middle-class existence into poverty. We moved to a poor tribal community under the looming threat of homelessness, & started our business to avoid bankruptcy. We serve as an example of hard work & determination to our community, proof that an education can help anyone start a business with almost nothing. But this law is pushing us beyond our capability to pay bills, let alone growing our business. Our contract labor employees depend on our business income for much of their income. One partially-disabled seamstress who sews children’s clothes for us has finished over half of her service hours for a Habitat for Humanity house, but needs our income to qualify. I’ve invested 18 months into developing patterns & production standards for children’s outfits, and planned to put some unemployed seamstresses to work part-time. Now that investment in developing our children’s lines may be worthless, and it’s doubtful that I can expand operations to employ more people. We may not even survive the loss of children’s business in a prolonged economic downturn, which will force us into bankruptcy and out of business.”

Similarly, we’ve heard from Brent Taylor, owner of TreeHouse Toys & Books in Lansing, Michigan, (517-367-7703; who wrote this:

“What seems to be a lack of action (or possibly even acknowledgement) on the part of many who have the voice to impact this legislation leads me to wonder if we've spent too much time talking about the adverse effects on our businesses, and not enough time talking about the impact on our lives. Please understand that for many of us, losing our business means more than bankruptcy and financial hardship. It also means losing the health insurance that covers our families, the prospect of burning through our savings and our already shrunken 401K's to survive a period of unemployment, potentially trying to sell our homes in a market that does not bode well for sellers...and the list goes on and on. This is not just about putting people out of business (which is easy to ignore because it has become so common) but rather it's about disrupting lives and doing enormous harm to hardworking Americans and their families. We are not looking for a bailout, but only a voice of reason to hear our concerns and repeal this law before literally hundreds of thousands of lives are thrown into chaos and hardship….”

Also pleading for help was Heather Flottmann, who runs “liliputians” on Staten Island, New York, (917-796-3472;

“As it stands currently,” she said, “the CPSIA requires that by August of 2009 all items will need to be unit tested by a certified government lab. The cost quotes given to test in the manner laid out in the law will range from $500-$1500 per style depending on the number of substrates with the lowest price I could find being $75 a substrate. The attached image of one of my hand appliqué 100% cotton shirts would cost me exactly $1425. to test (I obtained quotes solely from US-based labs such as Lab Cor, Intertek, ETC and STR) just to show that same documentation as the XRF scanning as well as the documentation provided by my vendors showing that the components have already also been tested and meet lead guidelines. The redundancy of the testing is unnecessary as allowing component testing and XRF will ensure safe products. Without that allowance my company will go out of business. NOT because of the economy, but solely because of CPSIA. Small micro manufacturers such as myself have no way of absorbing the price. There is no economic recovery from it.”

There are many more such reports in the news: A shop owner in Portland, Oregon., who told a reporter that "I'd never called a congressman's office in my life, and I'm bawling to these 20-year-old (congressional aides) in Washington;” a Nebraska City, Nebraska, librarian who quarantined 1,000 children’s books behind orange plastic sheeting. The list goes on and on. Congressional offices have heard directly from hundreds or even thousands of people who sent us distress-filled communications asking for help because Congress didn’t get the toy safety bill right.

Mr. Chairman, not a lot has changed since we contacted you to make the case for a hearing. We still need to learn how to achieve what we’d all intended to achieve in the first place -- protecting kids -- and how to do it without fueling the recession that is claiming thousands of their parents’ jobs. The commission has only suspended the axe over the heads of people like Ms. Flottman, Ms. Littlecrow and Mr. Taylor, not removed the threat of it falling on their necks. That is because the intentional, built-in rigidity of our law won’t let the CPSC do much more now than wait until time runs out and the blade falls.

Nothing about this should be partisan. It should be an issue that the Republicans and the Democrats on our committee confront together, especially as it entails repairing a legislative job that was botched in the Capitol. We continue to believe that a necessary first step involves convening a hearing in which the committee can examine the facts and start to coalesce around a solution. Doing so should be an Energy and Commerce Committee priority.

Mr. Chairman, we are asking you to please find a way that our committee can spend a morning listening for the first time to honest people who don’t belong to influential organizations and who can’t afford to hire lobbyists, experts or spokespeople, and whose very real concerns were not noticed until it was almost too late.


Joe Barton George Radanovich
Ranking Member Ranking Member
Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and
Consumer Protection

cc: The Honorable Bobby L. Rush
Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection

CPSIA - Visions of the Future!

From: Rick Woldenberg

Sent: Fri 3/6/2009 6:06 PM

To: ''; '';;

Cc: ''; ''; ''; ''; Etienne Veber; ''; ''; 'Stephen Lamar ('; 'Nancy Nord ('; 'Joe Martyak ('; 'Mary Toro ('; ''; 'Patrick Magnuson ('; 'Carter Keithley ('; 'Rick Locker ('; 'Desmond, Edward'; 'David Callet ('; ''; 'Pamela Gilbert ('; 'Robert Adler'; 'Dan Marshall ('; ''; ''; Judy Bailey (;;;;; ''; ''; '';;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; Kerrie Campbell (;;;; Lisa Brown (;;;;;; Lyndsay Austin (

Subject: CPSIA - Visions of our Future!

As we prepare for the post-CPSIA world, we have come to realize that our products may become obsolete because of a Congressionally-inspired need to keep children and classrooms ultra-safe. Obviously, times have changed, and our virtually spotless 25-year record of safety and concern for consumers is just not good enough anymore. The CPSIA rocked the market with its innovative new safety standard for children's products in 2008. Okay, it's arbitrary and unrelated to risk of injury, but boy-oh-boy is it safe! Because of the CPSIA, products that were considered safe on February 9 suddenly became extremely dangerous on February 10 (now THAT'S an innovation!). While our "old" products (those dating back to, oh, four weeks ago) were simply colorful, content-rich and engaging, drawing children into a love of learning with hands-on experiences, we know now that no one would be crazy enough to hold counting blocks in their hands or directly experience the world these days.

What will teachers and parents expect from a responsible children's products company in the future? Inspired by the example set by Congress, we are certain that tomorrow's consumers will not want to take a chance of ANY possible injury, heck even a hypothetical or imaginary one. As some friendly consumer groups have taught us, there is no reason to take a chance because we're talking about safety. What a great lesson for us manufacturers! A truly modern design of cutting edge children's products will need to reflect this shift in favor of a "no risk" bubblewrap childhood. We, for one, contend that fun can still be part of the equation - just no touching.

So, drum roll please!, we are here today introducing our fabulous new Future World Collection of exciting educational materials for the post-CPSIA world. See Our products will be lead-free and phthalates-free and in the case of most products, entirely play value-free. [Ed. Note: As required by Federal Law, the Constitution and certain Congressional staffers, I must remind you that lead is a well-established neurological toxin, and phthalates have been linked to developmental disorders. Please go wash your hands now.] Explore the world at arm's length with our new Hands-off Learning toys! Extra extra safe because that's how Congress wants it.

For sales or other inquiries, please feel free to contact us at

Richard Woldenberg
Learning Resources, Inc.
Follow my blog at or

CPSIA - Important Letter to CPSC by Rep. John Dingell

In a remarkable turn of events, Representative John Dingell, the former Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent a letter to the Commissioners of the CPSC dated March 4th. I have reproduced the letter below for your reading pleasure. In this letter, Rep. Dingell acknowledges the need to amend the CPSIA, using common sense as a guide. This is progress - somebody's listening!

This fascinating letter includes ten separate questions for the CPSC to answer urgently by March 13, and calls upon Reps. Waxman and Rush to hold hearings. [Maybe this time they will call me.]

There is a CLEAR OPPORTUNITY HERE - we MUST RESPOND to Rep. Dingell's request for comments. Although the letter is addressed to the Commissioners, the data and the pain is yours. Please do not hesitate to contact Rep. Dingell with your reply to his questions within the next week. I will attempt to obtain an appropriate email address for this purpose, and post it here shortly.

This is our chance - let's take advantage of it.


March 4, 2009

The Honorable Nancy A. Nord
Acting Chairman
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

The Honorable Thomas Hill Moore
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Dear Acting Chairman Nord and Commissioner Moore:

As an author of the original Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972 and a long-standing advocate for better protections for our Nation’s consumers, I wholeheartedly support a stronger regulatory framework to ensure the safety of children’s products. Nevertheless, I share the reasoned concerns of my colleagues, House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Waxman, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Chairman Rush, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman Rockefeller, and Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Insurance, and Automotive Safety Chairman Pryor, about the implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (PL 110-314, “the Act”). In particular, I am troubled that the Act includes unrealistic deadlines for rulemakings and compliance, as well as too little implementation discretion for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), both of which are exacerbated by CPSC’s lack of adequate resources, both in terms of funding and staff.

In describing the implementation of the Act, Acting Chairman Nord’s January 30, 2009, letter to the Congress maintains, “the timelines in the law are proving to be unrealistic, and [CPSC] will not be able to continue at this pace without a real risk of promulgating regulations that have not been thoroughly considered.” Moreover, the letter states, “Although [CPSC] staff has been directed to move as quickly as possible to complete its work, short-circuiting the rulemaking process gives short shrift to the analytical discipline contemplated by the statute.” In light of these statements, I would appreciate your candid responses to the following questions, which will assist me and my colleagues in our consideration of common-sense and workable solutions to some of the more pressing problems that have arisen during the Act’s implementation:

1. To what extent has robust implementation of the Act been hampered by CPSC’s lack of resources? What levels of funding and staffing does CPSC believe necessary for proper implementation of the Act?

2. Given the paramount importance of ensuring children’s safety and the overall mission of CPSC, to what extent are the deadlines in the Act practicable for CPSC and industry to meet acting with all deliberate speed? If these deadlines are not practicable, what revisions to them does CPSC suggest?

3. Does CPSC have quantitative data concerning any negative impact of the Act (i.e., the lead and phthalate limits and testing requirements) on small manufacturers of children’s products, and if so, would CPSC please provide them? What information does CPSC have on any such negative impact of a more anecdotal nature?

4. Does CPSC have any suggestion for how to mitigate any such economic impact of the Act on small manufacturers of children’s products (e.g., component testing for lead and phthalate content) that, in accordance with the intent of the Act and the CPSC’s mission, will not compromise the health and safety of children using them?

5. What information has CPSC received about the impact of the Act on the availability of second-hand products for children, especially clothing? It is my understanding that many second-hand stores now refuse to sell children’s products. Does CPSC have any suggestions for how to mitigate any negative effects of the Act on second-hand stores for children’s products, especially in light of the recent economic downturn and the consequent increased need for low-cost sources of children’s clothing?

6. Does CPSC believe that the age limit contained in the Act’s definition of “children’s products” (i.e., 12 years and under) is appropriate? If not, what should the age limit be? Further, should CPSC have the discretion to lower the age limit for certain groups of children’s products for which the risk of harm from lead or phthalate exposure is remote to non-existent (e.g., snaps or zippers on children’s clothing)?

7. Although some youth all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and youth motorcycles are intended for use by children under 12 years of age, does CPSC believe it is necessary that these products be tested for lead and phthalate content? Similarly, does CPSC believe that these products present a risk to children for the absorption of phthalates or lead?

8. In light of recent court decisions that the lead and phthalate content restrictions are retroactively applicable, does CPSC have concerns about the effect on the environment of the disposal of inventories of non-compliant children’s products?

9. I understand that, since early December 2008, CPSC has had access to a large number of lead content test results for finished “ordinary books” (i.e., books published in cardboard or paper by conventional methods and intended to be read by or to children age 12 or under) and their component materials (i.e., paper, paperboard, ink, adhesives, laminates, and bindings). Have CPSC staff reviewed those test results? What do those test results indicate about such ordinary books and component materials in connection with the statutory lead limits prescribed in Section 101(a) of the Act? Does CPSC have any recommendations regarding how to mitigate the burdens that the testing and certification requirements of the Act, and especially the retroactive applicability of those requirements to inventory, could otherwise impose on publishers, printers, and retail sellers of such ordinary books, as well as on libraries, schools, charities and other second-hand distributors of such ordinary books, including those published before 1985?

10. In general, does CPSC believe that the Act was written with too little implementation discretion for the Commission? If this is the case, for which issues (e.g., third party testing requirements) does CPSC require more discretion?

Please provide your responses to my office by no later than the close of business on Friday, March 13, 2009. I intend to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to resolve these issues, as well as call on Chairman Waxman and Chairman Rush to hold hearings on problems arising from Act’s implementation. Your responses to these questions will be invaluable in preparing Members of Congress for a frank discussion about several of the Act’s apparent shortcomings. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or Andrew Woelfling on my staff at 202-225-4071.

With every good wish,

Sincerely yours,

John D. Dingell
Chairman Emeritus
Committee on Energy and Commerce