Showing posts with label screw up. Show all posts
Showing posts with label screw up. Show all posts

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.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The third hosing is the charm

First comes Katrina and a demonstration of just how well the feds build levees and floodwalls.

Then comes the unending bureaucratic nightmare involved in trying to rebuild what Uncle Sam destroyed.

And just when you think you see that light at the end of the tunnel . . . it turns out to be the 8:15 to Houston, it has a full head of steam, and the engineer is drunk at the throttle.

That's right boys and girls, the Road Home program bites Louisianians in the ass yet again, as reported here by The Associated Press:
Imagine that your home was reduced to mold-covered wood framing by Hurricane Katrina. Desperate for money to rebuild, you engage in a frustrating bureaucratic process, and after months of living in a government provided-trailer that gives off formaldehyde fumes you finally win a federal grant.

Then a collector announces that you have to pay back thousands of dollars.

For thousands of Katrina victims, this may be a reality.

A private contractor under investigation for the compensation it received to run the Road Home grant program for Katrina victims says that in the rush to deliver aid to homeowners in need some people got too much. Now it wants to hire a separate company to collect millions in grant overpayments.

The contractor, ICF International of Fairfax, Va., revealed the extent of the overpayments when it issued a March 11 request for bids from companies willing to handle "approximately 1,000 to 5,000 cases that will necessitate collection effort."

The bid invitation said: "The average amount to be collected is estimated to be approximately $35,000, but in some cases may be as high as $100,000 to $150,000."

The biggest grant amount allowed by the Road Home program is $150,000, so ICF believes it paid some recipients the maximum when they should not have received a penny. If ICF's highest estimate of 5,000 collection cases — overpaid by an average of $35,000 — proves to be true, that means applicants will have to pay back a total of $175 million.

One-third of qualified applicants for Road Home help had yet to receive any rebuilding check as of this past week. The program, which has come to symbolize the lurching Katrina recovery effort, has $11 billion in federal funds.

ICF spokeswoman Gentry Brann said in an e-mail Friday that the overpayment recovery effort was made inevitable when insurance and other aid to Katrina victims was eventually measured against what an applicant received from the Road Home program.

Brann said there was a sense of urgency in paying Road Home applicants, and ICF knew applicants might eventually have to return some money.

"The choice was either to process grants immediately or wait until the March 2008 deadline (for submitting Road Home applications) before disbursing any funds," Brann said in her e-mail.

Brann pointed out that 5,000 collections cases would represent a 4-percent error rate for the Road Home that is "quite good for large federal programs."
EVERY TIME I try to formulate a comment on this, I just keep falling into black-hearted, seeing-red fury and thoughts that mass violence might be an appropriate response, given that this follows nearly two years of red tape, bureaucratic bungling and extreme delays in getting compensation for anyone.

James Kunstler would name -- has named, actually -- a blog after just the sort of mess contractor ICF has made the Road Home program into. And now this.

And the hell of it is, professional liars (or so it would seem, at least) employed by the contractor expect us to believe the company has done a bang-up job with the whole thing.

If I'm Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, here's my response: I call all the top ICF executives to Baton Rouge for "urgent consultations" on the program. Make it mandatory that all the top executives of the company attend to "hash things out."

When they arrive at the governor's office for the meeting, state troopers immediately take them into custody. Fraud charges are filed. Bail is denied.

And then the state prosecutes with all the speed ICF has exhibited in paying out awards to flooded-out Louisiana homeowners. As those execs sit in the general population of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Justice requires it.