Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Your FUBAR government at work

If Joe the Congressman can't screw over poor people, non-profits, small-business people and Grandma when hard times are at hand, why, it's hardly worth the effort of getting elected.

And a screw job, according to the Los Angeles Times, is just what's about to happen in a month, when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act goes into effect:

Barring a reprieve, regulations set to take effect next month could force thousands of clothing retailers and thrift stores to throw away trunkloads of children's clothing.

The law, aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products sold for those age 12 and younger -- including clothing -- be tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable. Those that haven't been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of whether they actually contain lead.

"They'll all have to go to the landfill," said Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Assn. of Resale and Thrift Shops.

The new regulations take effect Feb. 10 under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which was passed by Congress last year in response to widespread recalls of products that posed a threat to children, including toys made with lead or lead-based paint.

Supporters say the measure is sorely needed. One health advocacy group said it found high levels of lead in dozens of products purchased around the country, including children's jewelry, backpacks and ponchos.

Lead can also be found in buttons or charms on clothing and on appliques that have been added to fabric, said Charles Margulis, communications director for the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland. A child in Minnesota died a few years ago after swallowing a lead charm on his sneaker, he said.

But others say the measure was written too broadly. Among the most vocal critics to emerge in recent weeks are U.S.-based makers of handcrafted toys and handmade clothes, as well as thrift and consignment shops that sell children's clothing.

"We will have to lock our doors and file for bankruptcy," said Shauna Sloan, founder of Salt Lake City-based franchise Kid to Kid, which sells used children's clothing in 75 stores across the country and had planned to open a store in Santa Clara, Calif., this year.

There is the possibility of a partial reprieve. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the law, on Monday will consider exempting clothing and toys made of natural materials such as wool or wood. The commission does not have the authority to change the law but can decide how to interpret it.

But exempting natural materials does not go far enough, said Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel and Footwear Assn. Clothes made of cotton but with dyes or non-cotton yarn, for example, might still have to be tested, as would clothes that are cotton-polyester blends, he said.

"The law introduces an extraordinarily large number of testing requirements for products for which everyone knows there's no lead," he said.

Clothing and thrift trade groups say the law is flawed because it went through Congress too quickly. By deeming that any product not tested for lead content by Feb. 10 be considered hazardous waste, they contend, stores will have to tell customers that clothing they were allowed to sell Feb. 9 became banned overnight.

THIS THING is either going to bankrupt or make crooks out of more Americans than anything since Prohibition. And it continues a disturbing trend toward benefiting big business at the expense of the little guy through Congress' efforts to "reform" something or another.

See the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for just a couple of examples.

But the real victim of such idiotic government overreach -- particularly overreach that serves to make earning one's keep (or, now, keeping one's kids clothed) prohibitive for average citizens will be government itself. With every intervention that makes life harder for Joe the (fill in the blank), with every slick new law that lessens competition for the captains of industry, ordinary people believe just a little more that they just can't win.

And they come to think that, indeed, there's just no percentage in obeying the law at all because the law has just become another tool the rich use to screw the hoi polloi. Bottom line: The federal government begins to lose legitimacy.

Great timing, too. Just when the funding for bread and circuses starts to dry up.

No one ever learns that the Bolshevik Revolution happened for a reason.

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