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Administration: Stonewalling Consumer Safety

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OCTOBER 31, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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ADMINISTRATION

Stonewalling Consumer Safety

Yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill strengthening the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) by raising its budget, increasing its staff, and granting it “broad new powers to police the marketplace” in the name of consumer safety. The vote came over the opposition of an unlikely foe: the head of the CPSC, Nancy Nord. The New York Times reported that Nord objected to “provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.” According to her spokesman, Nord worried that the new regulations would “put the agency in court” rather than strengthen enforcement. Nord’s opposition comes after half a million toys imported from China were recalled earlier this month, adding to the millions that have already been recalled for containing dangerous levels of lead and other safety concerns. Though parents are worried about their children’s safety, the CPSC brushed off the latest recall. “A lot of what is being recalled is because it violates the law, not that there is an imminent health risk,” CSPC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said. The CPSC’s stonewalling of effective reforms plays along with the White House’s determination to move towards even greater deregulation across government agencies at a time when the questionable safety of products demands increasing oversight. Straight from conservative ideology, Bush’s determination to “leave it to the market” — even at the expense of safety — has failed the American public.  

CRONIES IN POWER: Bush’s first CPSC chair, Harold Stratton, assured the business world that he would “break the barrier of fear” by making it more difficult to order product recalls. After Stratton stepped down last year, Bush nominated Michael Baroody, the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), to head the CPSC. NAM is “a trade group that opposes aggressive product safety regulation” and “has called for weakening the Consumer Product Safety Commission.” With NAM, Baroody opposed asbestos regulations, highway safety reform, and government action to combat global warming. Consumer groups, including Public Citizen, Consumers Union, and the Consumer Federation of America, cried foul, “saying he could not possibly be an advocate for consumer safety having represented industries the agency regulates.” “It’s sort of astonishing that the administration would pick someone from a regulated industry,” Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America said. Facing mounting criticism — which only increased when it was revealed Baroody would receive a $150,000 severance package from NAM upon taking up his new government post — Baroody was forced to withdraw his nomination on May 23, the day before his Senate confirmation hearing.

UNFIT FOR THE JOB: After Baroody’s withdrawal, Bush appointed Nancy Nord to serve as acting head of the CPSC. Unfortunately, Nord is cut from the same political cloth as Baroody. She had been a lobbyist for Eastman Kodak, the executive director of the American Corporate Counsel Association, and the Director of Consumer Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Given her background, it is unsurprising that Nord does not recognize the challenges facing her agency or the American consumer,” a report released yesterday by the Campaign for America’s Future noted. Nord’s current resistance to legislative reforms — which would increase the CPSC’s budget and staff — has perplexed lawmakers. Yesterday Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for Nord’s resignation. “Any commission chair who does not, in the face of the facts that are so clear, say we don’t need any more authority or any more resources to do our job, does not understand the gravity of the situation,” she said. “I call on the president of the United States to ask for her resignation.” This is not the first time Nord has rubbed lawmakers the wrong way. Last month, when she was asked to testify about the safety of toys imported from China, she said she would “rather go to the dentist.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank noted that “instead of showing contrition, Nord treated the lawmakers as if they were impertinent children.”

FAILURE OF CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: The politicization of the agency, coupled with the Bush administration’s adherence to a flawed conservative ideology, has crippled the CPSC. In its first year of operation in 1974, the CPSC had a staff of 786 and a budget equivalent to $146.6 million in today’s dollars. Today it operates with a budget of only $62.3 million and 420 full-time employees. Now is not the time to scale back regulation of product safety, as imports of consumer goods from overseas have reached an all-time high. For example, the Toy Industry Association estimates that 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are imported from China. Because of this deregulation, millions of children going trick-or-treating tonight to celebrate Halloween will be at greater risk than ever before from products made outside the United States, including tainted costumes and plastic candy buckets. Even when faced with safety risks to kids, conservatives would rather allow the markets to regulate themselves and consumers to fend for themselves. “As this point, when it comes to imported products, American are basically on their own,” notes the Campaign for America’s Future. “[T]hey can’t rely on what they need — active and efficient government regulation and inspection that can protect our children and insure that our safety standards are met. It is past time for that to change.”


UNDER THE RADAR

HUMAN RIGHTS — MUKASEY CALLS WATERBOARDING ‘HYPOTHETICAL,’ DODGES LEGAL QUESTION OF WHETHER IT IS TORTURE: In a written response to questions from Senate Democrats yesterday, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey refused to say explicitly whether he believed waterboarding to be torture. In the four-page letter, Mukasey called the interrogation technique “over the line” and “repugnant” on “a personal basis,” but added that he would need the “actual facts and circumstances” to strike a “legal opinion.” “Hypotheticals are different from real life and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical,” wrote Mukasey. CNN’s Ed Henry noted that with his “facts and circumstances” hedge, “essentially Michael Mukasey is dodging the question of whether legally waterboarding is torture.” In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he was “very concerned” that Mukasey was “unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal.” ”We asked Judge Mukasey a simple and straightforward question: Is waterboarding illegal?” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). “While this question has been answered clearly by many others…Judge Mukasey spent four pages responding and still didn’t provide an answer.” Time reported yesterday that if Mukasey “refuses to declare waterboarding expressly illegal, he looks likely to be rejected by the Judiciary Committee.”

IRAQ — GAO: REDUCTION IN VIOLENCE DUE TO ‘ETHICALLY CLEANSED NEIGHBORHOODS’:
The Bush administration has been quick to jump on reports of reduced violence in Iraq, with President Bush declaring that violence is “down significantly from last year.” In a hearing yesterday before the House Appropriations Committee, however, Joe Christoff of the Government Accountability Office stated that recent reductions in violence should be taken with a grain of salt, as they coincide with increased sectarian cleansing and massive refugee displacement. “You know, we look at the attack data going down, but it’s not taking into consideration that there might be fewer attacks because you have ethnically cleansed neighborhoods, particularly in the Baghdad area,” Christoff said. His comments confirm the conclusions of ret. Gen. James Jones, whose report depicted the reality of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad in a stark visual presentation. A report released yesterday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction confirmed that sectarian strife still reigns throughout Iraq, noting, “Despite reduced violence, [Provincial Reconstruction Team] officials are pessimistic that lasting reconciliation is occurring.”

MEDIA — CLEAR CHANNEL REFUSES TO AIR SPRINGSTEEN’S ANTI-WAR ALBUM: Bruce Springsteen’s new album, “Magic,” became the number one selling album in America when it was released three weeks ago, and his current U.S. tour is selling out stadiums across the country. But despite the album’s popularity, Clear Channel Communications, which owns over 1,100 radio stations in the United States, has refused to air any of its songs. Clear Channel recently circulated a memo to its classic rock stations “not to play tracks from ‘Magic.’ But it’s OK to play old Springsteen tracks such as ‘Dancing in the Dark,’ ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Born in the USA.’ Springsteen, whose songs have consistently contained anti-war messages, is more explicit in “Magic” about his opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The album includes a song entitled “Last To Die” which features the lyrics: “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake/The last to die for a mistake/Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break/Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake.” Last month, Clear Channel also refused to air a commercial by a veteran critical of the Iraq war during Rush Limbaugh’s program because the ad presented information that “would conflict with the listeners who have chosen to listen to Rush Limbaugh.” Clear Channel is also the company responsible for ostracizing the Dixie Chicks after they made comments critical of President Bush in 2003.




THINK FAST

One in eight: Number of veterans under the age of 65 who are uninsured, “a finding that contradicts the assumption many have that all vets qualify for free health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Approximately 1.8 million veterans overall lack health coverage, a jump of 290,000 since 2000.

“Preliminary Veterans Affairs Department research obtained by The Associated Press reveals for the first time that there were at least 283 suicides among veterans who left the military between the start of the war in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001 and the end of 2005.”

“Twenty-one states will run out of money for children’s health insurance in the coming year, and at least nine of those states will exhaust their allotments in March if Congress simply continues spending at current levels.” President Bush yesterday threatened to veto Congress’s SCHIP legislation.

Lawmakers have increasingly steered federal funds to “overtly religious organizations — many of which claim proselytizing or religious conversions as their primary function” — using earmarks. For instance, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) tried to earmark $100,000 for a creationist organization.

“In a shift of strategy that indicates an increasingly weakened political position, President Bush has included at least $2.51 billion for projects unrelated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in his latest ‘emergency’ supplemental request.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agreed yesterday that “all State Department security convoys in Iraq will now fall under military control.” The move is the latest effort “to bring Blackwater Worldwide and other armed contractors under tighter supervision.”

“Draft legislation that lifts immunity for foreign private security companies gained the consent of the Iraqi cabinet on Tuesday and was sent to Parliament for approval.” Under the approved version, security companies must have “all their weapons be licensed by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.”

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair “turned down a last-minute offer from President George Bush for Britain to stay out of the Iraq war because he thought it would look ‘pathetic,’” according to a new book on Blair’s tenure.

And finally: “There’s a new birthday card on the market showing President Bush, white earphones in his ears, showing off a new IPod,” called the “I-Pres.” Among the selections on the playlist: “Iraq Around the Clock,” “Knockin’ on Iran’s Door,” “Oil Fields Forever,” and “Cheney’s Got a Gun.”

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GOOD NEWS

MSN “has rolled out” a “green-themed media venture” called MSN Green, “a new channel consisting of environmental news and information aimed at the masses.”

STATE WATCH

OREGON: Portland boasts “the second highest rate of bloggers in the nation.”

MISSOURI: The first commercial wind farm in the state is pumping “tax revenue, tourism dollars and civic pride” into a Missouri town.

ENVIRONMENT: “Mountaintop removal and strip mining are decimating the majestic Appalachian Mountains.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Vice President Cheney visits a hunting lodge that hangs the confederate flag.

DANGER ROOM: Blackwater has its own “special edition” pistol complete with the Blackwater logo on the grip.

HUFFINGTON POST: Conservative candidates postpone yet another minority-focused debate.

THE MIDDLE CLASS: The Drum Institute launches a new resource for keeping Congress accountable.

DAILY GRILL

“‘If he does not believe that waterboarding is illegal, then that would really put doubts in my own mind because I don’t think you have to have a lot of knowledge about the law to understand this technique violates’ the Geneva Convention and other statutes.”
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), 10/28/07, on Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey

VERSUS

“The letter shows that he understands mainstream legal reasoning. There’s nothing off base here.”
— Graham, 10/30/07, after Mukasey again refused to state that waterboarding is illegal

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