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Current Events in November 2007

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    White House Presents Its Consumer Safety Proposals Today

    Cool response to Bush plan on Capitol Hill, where rival measures are already pending

    By Truman Lewis

    November 6, 2007
    The Bush administration presented its plan to beef up product safety today, one week after a Senate committee passed a bill that would give the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) more power and money.

    But on Capitol Hill, there were complaints that Bush had omitted the most important part of the proposal: funding.

    "I am pleased the President finally recognizes the threat of tainted imports to consumers," said Rep. John D. Dingell, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. "Unfortunately, there is little new information in today's announcement. In fact, the critical issue of funding is curiously absent from the proposal."

    Noting that Congress is already considering legislation to provide increased funding and authority to the CPSC and other agencies, Dingell said his committee would soon hold hearings on Bush's proposals "to determine whether they respond to the problems our Committee has uncovered since the beginning of the year."

    Politicians of all stripes have been scrambling to appear concerned about consumer safety following a recent wave of revelations about lead paint on toys, pet food poisonings, unsafe baby seats and other hazards.

    It's a far cry from a few months ago, when no one on Capitol Hill or the White House could be bothered to talk about consumer safety. After they took control of Congress, Democrats brushed aside inquiries from consumer advocates about problems at the CPSC.

    One prominent Democrat waved off a ConsumerAffairs.com reporter. "Not now, son, we've got a war to deal with," he huffed.

    Now, with elections on the horizon and voters outraged about lax safety efforts, both Congress and the White House are hustling to look busy.

    The White House proposal calls for a prevention-based regulatory system, meaning that it targets the riskiest products while relying on industry to police itself. Congress is leaning towards a more proactive system that would include stepped-up inspections at ports.

    Bush's proposal would grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more power to require that importers certify their products meet U.S. standards and require them to take specified steps to prevent contamination.

    The CPSC, meanwhile, would be given the authority to require companies to conduct tests to certify that their products meet safety rules. Penalties for violators would be increased. The Department of Homeland Security would have the authority to require that importers post bonds.

    Senate action

    Last week, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation unanimously voted for the "Consumer Product Safety Reform Act of 2007" and all of its amendments. The bill would boost funds and staff while introducing sweeping reforms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's regulatory powers.

    I think it's a major victory that we finally after years and years and years are starting to take consumer issues more seriously, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the bill's outspoken co-sponsors. The agency's a shadow of its former self. Millions of toys have been recalled and kids have died and I think it's long overdue.

    While consumer advocates heralded the vote as a victory, industry leaders are not as pleased about an agency that may soon have enough bite to force manufacturers into stronger consumer protection standards.

    In its current form, we are unable to support (the bill) and urge you to make considerable changes to the bill at the mark-up, wrote a coalition of presidents and CEOs of 15 of the nation's largest industry lobbying organizations.

    The committee did not make any notable changes at today's mark-up and completely ignored the proposals which those lobbyists submitted.

    Those lobbyists are largely concerned with the whistleblower, increased fines and lead ban provisions.

    The House is working on a similar piece of legislation which is not as harsh. Most notably, it increases the fines to only $10 million instead of the Senate's $100 million. That bill's mark-up has not yet been scheduled but will likely be before the end of the year.

    White House Presents Its Consumer Safety Proposals Today...

    Aspirin May Reduce Parkinsons Risk

    Study finds NSAIDS may protective effect

    Like Cox-2 inhibitors, over-the-counter pain medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have become suspects in increasing risks of heart attacks and strokes.

    But researchers now think NSAIDs may have a beneficial effect too, reducing a persons risk of Parkinsons disease.

    The findings are in a study published in the November 6, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

    Given our results and the growing burden of Parkinsons disease as people age, theres a pressing need for further studies explaining why these drugs may play a protective role, said study author Angelika D. Wahner, PhD, with the UCLA School of Public Health in Los Angeles.

    The study involved 579 men and women, half of whom had Parkinsons disease. The participants were asked if they had taken aspirin and if they had taken non-aspirin NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, once a week or more at any point in their life for at least a month.

    Participants were considered regular users of aspirin or non-aspirin NSAIDs if they took two or more pills a week for at least one month. Non-regular users were those who took fewer pills.

    The study found regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs reduced their risk of Parkinsons disease by as much as 60 percent compared to non-regular users and non-users. Women who were regular users of aspirin reduced their risk of Parkinsons disease by 40 percent, especially among those who regularly used aspirin for more than two years.

    Our findings suggest NSAIDs are protective against Parkinsons disease, with a particularly strong protective effect among regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs, especially those who reported two or more years of use, said Wahner. Interestingly, aspirin only benefited women. It may be that men are taking lower doses of aspirin for heart problems, while women may be using higher doses for arthritis or headaches.

    Its possible the anti-inflammatory agent in NSAIDs may contribute to the observed protective effect of the drugs, but the exact mechanism isnt clear and further research is needed, said the studys principal investigator Beate Ritz, MD, PhD, with UCLA School of Public Health.

    The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the American Parkinson Disease Association.

    The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 20,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Parkinsons disease, ALS (Lou Gehrigs disease), dementia, West Nile virus, and ataxia.

    The study found regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs reduced their risk of Parkinsons disease by as much as 60 percent compared to non-regular users and non...

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      Industry Paid For Safety Chiefs Trips

      Revelations add to pressure for Nord's resignation

      November 2, 2007
      Acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Nancy Nord is under more pressure today in the wake of revelations that industries regulated by her agency have paid for her travel.

      The Washington Post reports Nord has traveled to China and other destinations with various industries picking up the tab.

      According to the report, both Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, took dozens of trips paid for by the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate. The Post cited internal CPSC documents it said showed the connections.

      The records reportedly show that Stratton, and then Nord, made nearly 30 trips since 2002 that were at least partially paid by trade associations or manufacturers. In some cases, the Post reports, some industries paying for travel such as the toy industry have been involved in huge recalls of dangerous products.

      The Post revelations brought an angry response from Capitol Hill.

      Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said such arrangements should be illegal. He said he would introduce legislation that would "prohibit officials at federal regulating agencies from taking travel funded by the industries under their jurisdiction."

      Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) he will offer an amendment to a reform bill that would add provisions along the lines suggested by Menendez.

      "Regulators should not and must not accept travel from those they regulate -- period," Durbin said.

      The new revelations may increase calls for Nords resignation. A leading consumer group, along with the Speaker of the House, have said she should be fired or forced to step down.

      Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a member of the House committee with key oversight of CPSC, also called for an end to the practice of regulatory officials accepting travel from regulated industries.

      Under the Bush administration, the CPSC has become an industry lapdog, instead of an industry watchdog it is supposed to be, Markey said.

      Public Citizen, yesterday called on Nord to step down.

      Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said it's more than odd that, in a year that has seen an unprecedented number of recalls of unsafe products, the head of the agency designed to protect consumers is calling on lawmakers to reject legislation that would double its budget, beef up its authority and expand its staff.

      She also says the CPSCs problems are nothing new.

      For far too many years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has failed to properly protect consumers, hiding behind the excuse that it was underfunded and understaffed, Claybrook said. While there was some truth to that statement, it has been ineffective as a shield from criticism because of the very real connections between the CPSC and industry.

      Claybrook says the ties between the agency and the industries it regulates were underscored by the administrations recent nomination of Michael Baroody for the CPSCs top job. Baroody was then the executive vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers.

      The would-be new chairman had spent most of his professional life as a lobbyist and political operative on behalf of corporate interests, an unreasonable choice for a pro-consumer leadership position, Claybrook said.

      The long-time consumer advocate says its apparent to her that the agency is now avoiding any strengthening of the commission if it means that it will interfere with serving corporate interest groups.

      She points out that Nord was a corporate lawyer and an official at the United States Chamber of Commerce before joining the CPSC.

      Nord drew consumer fire this week when she testified before the Senate Commerce Committee and withheld her support for S. 2045, a measure Claybrook says would greatly strengthen the agency. Claybrook says its apparent the administration doesnt want that to happen.

      Nord has failed a critical litmus test by proving she is no friend to consumers, Claybrook said. She does not belong in a position of power and authority and should resign immediately or be relieved of her duties.

      Industry Paid For Safety Chiefs Trips...

      Santa's Feeling Pinched This Year

      Consumers say they'll shop later, many will spend less

      Tis the season to give, but thats not the case for all Americans this holiday season.

      According to a new Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll, nearly one-quarter (23%) of respondents anticipate they will spend less than last year.

      CRs poll also found that the shopping season may get off to a slower start this year. Only 22 percent of consumers anticipate finishing holiday shopping right after Thanksgiving, compared with 30 percent in 2006.

      Forty-five percent of those asked said they do not anticipate finishing their shopping until the second week of December, and 20 percent said they would be pushing it right to December 24th. Approximately 6 percent are resigned not to complete their shopping until after the holidays.

      Our findings suggest that consumers are tightening their wallets this year more so than last year, said Tod Marks, senior editor, Consumer Reports. The holiday shopping landscape is vast. Consumers need to make well informed decisions on their budget and on their purchases to alleviate the large bills and possibly disappointed gift recipients.

      The poll finds:

      Make a List and Check it Twice: Budgets

      • If you want to control your spending over the holidays, consider making a budget before you begin to shop. Among the 33 percent of consumers who made a budget for last year, 43 percent managed to stay on budget, with only 8 percent going way over budget.

      • Two-thirds of consumers (66%) did not make a budget last year nor do they plan on making one for this year (57%). The most likely candidates for making those budgets are women (47%) and households with young children (53%)

      Do You Really Want to Buy That?

      • The number one gift consumers are planning to buy for the 2007 holiday season is clothing (71%). That was the category of gifts received in 2006 that triggered the most disappointment among recipients (38%). Fifty percent of men said they were disappointed to receive various types of clothing for the 2006 holidays including socks, sweaters and shirts.

      • The number two gift consumers are planning to buy for 2007 is gift cards (62%), followed by electronics (53%)

      • This year, the Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll results suggest that gift-givers may want to opt for electronics. The poll found that consumers would most like to receive electronics gifts (19%), followed by gift cards (12%). Men, by far, wanted electronics the most (25%). The top gifts women want are gift cards (15%) and electronics (13%).

      • Consumers should look closely at the gifts they receive this holiday they may have been re-gifted. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed (24%) admitted to re-gifting a present for the 2006 holidays. The most likely suspects are women (27%). Only 21% of men admitted to ever re-gifting.

      The Cyber Consumer

      • Online shopping this season will continue to be a well-utilized alternative to going to a traditional brick-and-mortar store. The majority of consumers (65%) plan to do at least some holiday shopping online.

      • Men (23%) are more likely than women (13%) to do more of their shopping online this holiday season.

      Saying No to Extended Warranties Continues

      • When buying home electronics or major appliances, 37 percent of consumers will opt for an extended warranty. This percentage is down 5 percent from 2006 when 42 percent of consumers said they would purchase one.

      • Consistent with last years findings, shoppers aged 18-34 are more likely to opt for an extended warranty (69%) than others. Thirty-six percent of consumers aged 35-54 said they would purchase an extended warranty, while only 27% of those 55 and older said they would do so.

      Santa's Feeling Pinched This Year...

      Consumer Energy Costs Skyrocketing

      Poll shows strong support for Congressional action

      As the price of oil rockets past $90 a barrel, consumers face the energy crunch on two fronts: typical winter relief at the gas pump is nowhere in sight, while home heating costs are increasing rapidly.

      A new report from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) details the alarming costs that consumers and the country are bearing as Americas energy situation deteriorates.

      CFA also released a new poll revealing deep concern among consumers about the worsening energy situation and strong support for three key policies to begin addressing it, including higher passenger vehicle fuel economy standards, the purchase of renewable energy by electric utilities and increased production of biofuels.

      While politicians keep important solutions to our urgent energy problems bottled up in Washington, consumers are paying the price, said Mark Cooper, author of No Time to Waste, an economic analysis of three energy provisions passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Our analysis is that the public has good reason to support these policies.

      The report's findings include:

      • Over the last five years, household energy expenditures (home heating and gasoline) have nearly doubled, and are now 50 percent more than health care expenditures and 23 percent more than spending on food.

      • Americas energy situation has deteriorated dramatically over the past two decades increasing our reliance on hostile nations, and vulnerability to price spikes while U.S. energy policy has remained stagnant, failing to address these urgent problems.

      • Three key energy provisions bottled up in Washington could save consumers more than $180 billion between now and 2020.

      • Substitute amendment backed by the automobile lobby would achieve only one-quarter of the oil savings provided by the Senate-approved fuel economy provision, which translates into a delay of two vital decades.

      The direct consumer pocketbook savings are the largest benefit, but national security and environmental benefits are substantial as well, Cooper added. Taken together, the value of these policies would be well over $400 billion between now and 2020.

      The report finds that the public understands the nations dire energy circumstances and supports urgent and aggressive action to address the problem, according to CFA consumer attitude research, undertaken by Opinion Research Corporation in October.

      Survey findings include:

      • Concern over U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East has grown dramatically and now almost equals concern about prices. Seventy-six percent of those asked express concern over imports (56 percent express great concern). This is almost equal to the 78 percent who express concern about prices (63 percent express great concern).

      • An overwhelming majority (84 percent) supports three requirements in Congressional energy legislation: l) higher fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles; 2) the purchase of renewable energy by electric utilities, and 3) expanded production of biofuels.

      • An overwhelming majority (75 percent) still supports these proposals after hearing arguments from opponents of the legislation.

      • Opposition to these policies is meager (between 13 and 22 percent).

      Efforts to weaken or block these policies waste the most critical asset we have to solve our complex energy problem -- time, Cooper concluded. Consumers and the nation cannot afford the go low and slow approach being pushed by the auto manufacturers and electric utilities.

      Consumer Energy Costs Skyrocketing...