Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CPSIA - ICPHSO Update -Remarks of Chairman Inez Tenenbaum

Inez Tenenbaum gave a keynote address at lunch at ICPHSO today. I would have preferred to rely on the actual text of the speech before writing about it (not yet available online at the CPSC website), but wanted to give you my impressions quickly. If I took erroneous notes, I apologize and will correct errors, if any, later.

Critical points from the speech:
  • The speech was tough and hostile to "uncooperative" businesses.
  • She gave plugs to Consumers Union, PIRG and CEH. Draw your own conclusions. She balanced those plugs with a hearty pat on the back for RILA which she said has proposed its own uniform testing "problem". Oops, Freudian slip . . . she corrected herself to clarify that it is actually a uniform testing program. Program, problem - these are synonyms at the new CPSC.
  • She wants to dispel the "rumor" that the agency is overwhelmed by mandates and is distracted from its mission. Further to this point, with regard to Internet "rumors" like the foregoing, she recommends that you only believe websites that end in "dot gov".

Let me repeat that last one: Tenenbaum says you should ONLY believe websites that end in "dot gov". That means you shouldn't believe me, just her. Don't be cynical, guys. Speaking for myself, when a high public official tells me not to believe the media chatter, just to believe them, I always take the heartfelt advice. After all, they only mean to protect me from scurrilous gossip that I am too dumb to figure out for myself. For instance, I still believe everything John Edwards says . . . .

  • Regarding recalls involving a death, Tenenbaum warned companies NOT to blame parents in the press even if they are involved in litigation with the family. If they do, Tenenbaum promised (in strong terms) to "call [them] out". I was floored by this. Is she our mother now? Our mother government, perhaps.
  • She urged us to "stop fighting old battles" and get prepared. She was referring to the new era of the Public Database. Hmmm. We are to stop fighting old battles. Okay, everyone, put down your arms!
  • She reiterated that the CPSIA was the "most substantial and positive" development in the CPSC's (recent) history. She noted her love of the tracking labels provision and the removal of lead from zippers. Apparently my many comments and objections to tracking labels were ALL wrong. Darn! I must learn to love tracking labels. Repeat five hundred times, I must learn to love . . . .
  • On the subject of voluntary standards, she emphasized that if industry doesn't move fast to do it the CPSC's way, the agency will just put out mandatory standards more to its liking. She specifically cited the JPMA and ASTM on the crib standards. She sounds really open-minded on that one. Tenenbaum also recommends that industries proactively make their standards more stringent so the agency can make them MANDATORY. Or . . . the agency will just do it itself. Nice! I feel trust building, building, building.
  • She noted that the law applies to big and small companies ALIKE "for good reason". Hey, crafters, get the message - there will no free pass for you. Of course, this actually makes sense because product injuries should not be okay simply because the manufacturer is small. The way to fix things for small companies is to rework the definition of hazard to be limited to ACTUAL hazards only, which will focus safety efforts in a logical fashion, thereby helping out the small guys. The crafters are a victim not of fair rules that are blind to small business interests - but instead of a terrible law that is so fatally flawed that no business can deal with it.

Here's the best part:

  1. Chairman Tenenbaum said that she won't tolerate resistance to recalls that the agency wants to make. If you do dare resist, the agency will use its many tools to force the "right" outcome. Chairman of the CPSC or Chairman of the Politburo? Individual rights and due process are apparently a secondary consideration now, to judge from Tenenbaum's fiery speech. There's a big incentive to invest, right?
  2. Tenenbaum cited Toyota as an example of how "this government" will NOT tolerate slow recalls. Oh boy. Think of the Toyota food fight when you imagine the future of CPSIA enforcement. Recall first, ask questions later and let the media sort out the details. And be sure to bring the mighty down low. That sounds so fair!

There are many industries that are going to be victimized by this new enforcement regime. The list will be LONG.

Lots of tough talk, saber rattling and scare tactics. Of particular concern is the implicit erosion in corporate legal rights and the continuing demonization of businesses and business people. The Obamist populist rhetoric was quite recognizable, and one must wonder who Tenenbaum really intended to reach with the speech. Whoever they are, I hope they were happy. As for me, I got the willies and thought that whatever progress I sensed earlier today was an illusion.

Will the Dems ever learn?


Anonymous said...

As one of those criminal resellers who is not officially a non-profit business, I am counting the days until my lease is up. If the great and powerful CPSC could only get me out of my lease now, I would fire my employees and close my doors today. This environment is absolutely impossible to do business in with no signs of improvement. As a consumer I can only lament all the other small businesses that will be no more. I shudder to think that anyone can propose that only websites ending in should be believed. What an absolute joke.

Anonymous said...

This is almost beyond believable--but I know you are speaking the truth. (Oh wait--no--your website doesn't end in dot gov so I guess you are full of hot air . . .) Bleech!!!

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious.

Woldenberg wrongly alleged that Tenenbaum "recommends that you only believe websites that end in "dot gov"."

What she actually said was "don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, except what you read on Web sites that end in dot gov."

"Don't believe everything" is not the same as "only believe."

Woldenberg got it wrong, making Tenenbaum right to say, "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."

Verify Tenenbaums quotation at

Anonymous said...

So, anon @ 4:27, she declared the CPSC sacrosanct and perfect and cast his aspersions on the lesser plebes that inhabit sites like this. Yes, that's MUCH better.

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Thanks for the clarification, "Anonymous". I don't actually feel I got it wrong, but was working off notes, as I clealy stated in the beginning of the post. She was saying that the government is always a trustworthy source of information but other sources are not. You know, trustworthy just like our ex-Vice Presidential candidate and ex-Senator John Edwards or New York Governor and ex-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer or sitting South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford or - shall I go on?

I felt strongly from the presentation at the time that she was attempting to generally discredit other sources of information, not unlike this blog or even the blogs of individual CPSC Commissioners. Some of these independent voices can be darned inconvenient. Perhaps they would like you to stop reading me, and just read OnSafety as your sole source of information on the CPSIA. Rumor has it that the author of the speech is also the author of OnSafety. Hmmmm - the competition!

So why didn't you sign your name? Are you more credible as "Anonymous"? We'd certainly believe you if you were a government employee - come on, share with us!

I sign my name with pride and make considerable efforts to get it right in this space. I hope I have not let my readers down with my interpretation of Tenenbaum's remarks.

i am not done with this subject, you will hear from me again about government officials attempting to discredit opposing viewpoints.

Anonymous said...

Actually, fellow anon, what Tenenbaum said and what Rick recounts are logically equivalent, separated by a matter of degree at best. She might have put slightly more charitably, but that was undoubtedly her message and definitely the tone she gave it in: .gov you can believe, elsewhere, nope.