Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CPSIA - Save "Lost Souls", Vote for the Slanderbase!

The semi-religious mission of the safety zealots was on full display in today's New York Times. In an article entitled "Deep Divisions as Vote Nears on Product Safety Database", the Times profiled the controversy of the pending public database final rule approval (due on November 24th in a rubber stamp Commission session), highlighting the idealist objectives of the database supporters. As per its typical leftist slant, the Times article gives scant credence to the legitimate concerns of manufacturers or the demonstrable consequences of the unrealistic Utopian vision underlying the CPSIA. After all, we manufacturers only care about money, right?

Every drama needs a hero, villain and victim. The public database controversy has all the right elements - manufacturers and Republicans as "villains", consumer groups and Democrats as "heroes" and consumers as "victims". Positioned this way, why would anyone ever support manufacturers? Who would want to even listen to the black hats? Hmmm. Good strategy, Naderites!

Consider the illustration used in the article - Michele Witte suffered the unspeakable horror of losing her child in a crib death. She asserts that the database might have saved her child. Perhaps that is true, perhaps it is not. Nothing can salve the wounds she has suffered . . . but that does not make the database a good idea. [I might feel differently about the database if, for instance, it was limited to deaths.]

The implication that the database is necessary to protect consumers is not a well-examined assertion. There is already a lot of data available to consumers. For instance, the CPSC maintains a massive national injury database called NEISS. A search of crib injuries on the NEISS database for 2009 (classes 1543-1545) reveals 572 reports which extrapolates into a national injury estimate (for 2009 ALONE) of 16,537 incidents.

Here are a few representative NEISS entries (the first five in the above sample):


Did you learn a lot from this information? Can you verify that it's true? Can you see ANY issues with attaching (unverified) product identities to this unverified and uninvestigated data? Are you a plaintiff's attorney?

What are the zealots saying to justify their support of the database in the face of persistent and rational criticism of its design? Commissioner Bob Adler, former Henry Waxman staffer and longtime board member of Consumers Union, sums it up:

"Some folks are worried more about lost sales and not worried enough about lost souls."

So, in other words, Adler condescendingly asserts that people like me are only concerned with MONEY. Instead, he claims that what's really at stake here are "lost souls". What is Adler talking about? Here's what Wikipedia says about "souls":

"A soul, in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions, is the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing. Many philosophical and spiritual systems teach that humans are souls; some attribute souls to all living things and even to inanimate objects (such as rivers); this belief is commonly called animism. The soul is often believed to exit the body and live on after a person’s death, and some religions posit that God creates souls." [Emphasis added]

Mr. Adler's POV makes the question of having a federal database a moral imperative. Wow, now that's a heavy decision - souls are at stake! Furthermore, Mr. Adler positions those who support the database as moral people and those who oppose it as immoral money-grubbers who prize financial well-being over the safety of consumers. Ugh. I would hate to be a Republican Commissioner voting against the final public database rule with Mr. Adler's curse hanging over my head! Ouch.

Catching on to the theme, Ami Gadhia of Consumers Union, chimes in: "It’s a slow death . . . . [The] information never gets out in the public.” [Emphasis added] Death . . . souls . . . database! Do I hear a new slogan???

CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, ever sensitive to criticism, archly defends the agency's effort to dialogue with people like me. Please recall that part of their "outreach" was to ask me to spend our company's money to fly to Washington, D.C. to give testimony on the public database. Matt Howsare, Tenenbaum's then Counsel and now Chief of Staff, told me that they needed more perspective from manufacturers and kindly asked me to prepare testimony. As previously noted, NOTHING that I said in my testimony was adopted or used in any way apparent to me. The NYT notes:

"The commission chairwoman, Inez Tenenbaum, disputed the idea that manufacturers’ concerns had not been properly considered. She said the agency offered numerous forums for comment and some of those ideas were incorporated into the final proposal. 'We have been abundantly fair,' Ms. Tenenbaum said." [Emphasis added]

Apparently, testimony at a CPSC hearing is meant as an outlet for venting, not for listening. That's "abundantly fair", we are assured. Makes you wonder what "unfair" might look like . . . .

[A Senate Commerce Committee CPSC oversight hearing is said to be in the offing for next week. One fantasizes that they may take an interest in this issue, but the Senate is still a Dem stronghold. Don't hold your breath. Expect self-congratulatory positioning by the self-serving and deaf Dems.]

Consumer groups are portraying manufacturers demands for Constitutionally-guaranteed due process and other appropriate procedural safeguards as a grab for "advantage". In other words, procedural safeguards for manufacturers are not legitimate protectible interests in light of the POSSIBILITY that consumers may glean some useful information among the garbage that will accumulate in the "post-it-and-forget-it" slanderbase being put up by the agency. Again, the NYT provides the bully pulpit for the zealots:

"Consumer advocates suggested the opponents were trying to weaken the database to protect business interests. 'They have a great deal now, and I think they are trying to maintain the status quo by levying these unfounded arguments,' said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the Consumer Federation of America." [Emphasis added]

If ever-disingenuous Rachel Weintraub is saying that we Americans have a "great deal" because we enjoy the protections of the Bill of Rights and other Constitutionally-guaranteed rights protecting groups and individuals against persecution and excessive governmental power, I agree. I agree heartily - and don't want to lose those essential legal protections that form an important basis for our investments. Please REMEMBER, everyone loses something when ANYONE loses their legitimate legal protections. Btw, Bob Adler is a lawyer and a former Scholar in Ethics and Law at the business school at UNC Chapel Hill . . . .

Mr. Adler plays a little fast and loose with his database concepts. Apparently, it's okay to put garbage into the database because the government "disclaims" its accuracy:

"Mr. Adler, the Democratic commissioner, said the database was not meant to be a legal forum like a court but more like a catalog of consumer experiences. He noted that a disclaimer on the database said the commission did not guarantee its accuracy. ‘"I put my baby in a diaper and my baby developed a rash." That goes up. It’s an early warning system to alert other consumers,' Mr. Adler said."

Ahem: "But Ms. Nord said the proposal remained far too vague. She cited the recent case of Pampers Dry Max, made by Procter & Gamble, in which thousands of parents asserted that the diapers were causing their babies to get a rash. A commission investigation found no link between the diapers and the rashes. 'We would have posted all these complaints about them even though they proved to be wrong,' Ms. Nord said."

Any idea why the CPSC "must" put up such a controversial database? The zealots know that there is legal risk in hosting a database that may include erroneous information or information that might slander manufacturers or tortiously interfere with commerce. They know this might violate manufacturers' legal rights and could lead to lawsuits - and don't want the legal liability or the hassle. How to get the data and avoid the legal problems? Get the government to host the legally-dubious information! Clever - but not necessarily in the interests of consumers or American markets.

Is the CPSC supposed to provide Mr. Adler's catalog of "consumer experiences"? Is that part of its mission? [Readers of my blog know that] I realize we have a right of Freedom of Speech (check out the Bill of Rights), but is the federal government really supposed to foster that Freedom of Speech? I appreciate that Mr. Adler thinks a consumer "experiences" database is a really good idea (I disagree) but since when do our tax dollars need to be used to provide it? Is that the only option that makes sense? And that goes double for such a dangerous proposal that presents the realistic prospect of discouraging investment and other economic activity.

So many words wasted on people who won't listen. Expect a "spirited" debate on the database as foreplay followed by the 3-2 partisan screwing that masquerades as safety administration these days. The song plays on . . . .


Anonymous said...

The issue today is not about whether to have a database--the question is whether to make it as fair and accurate as possible. Since the Democrats and consumer groups cannot say they are in favor of an unfair process and a database that is as inaccurate as possible, they keep trying to reargue the existence of the database itself and position themselves as defenders of the database. That is an unbelievably cynical and dishonest approach. It demeans them as individuals and it undercuts the seriousness of the agency.

I have to admit that I have been tremendously disappointed in people who I believe know better and can do better.

Anonymous said...

I have spent many hours of my time (and dollars of my employer's money), drafting carefully considered comments every time they have been requested. NONE of these comments have been "whining" about the content of CPSIA but rather constructive attempts to see CPSIA implemented in a manner that would be sustainable and truly contribute to safer products. By allowing the database to move forward as they have, we will spend many hours reviewing incomplete complaints to get a response within the time period allowed. Yes the timing was specified by congress but CPSC had the FULL authority to set a reasonable standard for data to at least give us a chance to investigate. The time that we have to spend doing this will be taken away from educating factories and reviewing designs and manufacturing processes. Activities that have been shown to be proactive in providing safer products. At the end of the day, the database will be so garbage filled it will be of use to no one and all of those agency (our) dollars and time will have not improved safety an inch. Bob Adler knows better and should stand up and work to true safety. I hold him to a higher standard than the politicos around him.

halojones-fan said...

I'm kind of left wondering whether someone shouldn't troll the database...submit dozens of bogus reports for popular products and then sue the manufacturer. Then reveal that the reports were fabrications.

Geoff Jones said...

I believe that it was Mr. Adler who asserted something to the effect that 'anecdotal evidence is not data', yet he chooses to accept a database full of anecdotal evidence. I find his moral compass to be a little off center when he makes a statement like that only when it suits him or his agenda. I find that to be disingenuous and self-serving instead of serving ALL the people as he is required.

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

Geoff -