Tag: Public Citizen

In a Better World, Trial Lawyers Would Apologize to Toyota and the Public

We write often about the combine of trial lawyers, politicians, activists and PR flacks, aided by a sympathetic media, campaigning against companies in hopes of a cash payout and the expansion of the regulatory state. The attacks against Toyota provide a good example of this pernicious phenomenon.

Today, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration announced the results of an in-depth scientific study that found no basis for the claims that vehicles’ electronic systems produced unintended acceleration. (Toyota statement.) Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said: “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.”

Organizers of the corporate calumny against Toyota should be held accountable. The trial lawyers and their allies damaged the company’s reputation and sales, created unnecessary fears in the American public, and added to the “tort tax” that afflicts the U.S. economy.

Let’s start with the trial lawyers. The American Association for Justice, the main trial lawyer lobby, kept up a steady attack against Toyota, even dedicating the September 2010 cover of its monthly magazine, Trial, to the unfounded charges, “Toyota’s Deadly Secrets.” Just search the AAJ website for the term “Toyota” to see the unceasing promotion of litigation — class action suits, product liability suits, insurance complaints, even RICO claims.

The trial lawyer campaign was amplified last year by then-Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A subcommittee hearing in February 2010, “Response by Toyota and NHTSA to Incidents of Sudden Unintended Acceleration,” painted the company as an offender, failing to meet its corporate responsibilities. Another hearing in May repeated the allegations, complete with the release of subpoenaed documents that served the purposes of anti-Toyota litigation. The House Oversight Committee also promoted the charges, holding a hearing in February, “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?” The answer was no. (continue reading…)

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OSHA Withdraws Unworkable Occupational Noise Plan

From the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “US Department of Labor’s OSHA withdraws
proposed interpretation on occupational noise
“:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced that it is withdrawing its proposed interpretation titled “Interpretation of OSHA’s Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise.” The interpretation would have clarified the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” as used in OSHA’s noise standard. The proposed interpretation was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 19, 2010.

“Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “However, it is clear from the concerns raised about this proposal that addressing this problem requires much more public outreach and many more resources than we had originally anticipated. We are sensitive to the possible costs associated with improving worker protection and have decided to suspend work on this proposed modification while we study other approaches to abating workplace noise hazards.”

This is the right outcome, and OSHA is to be commended for reaching it. The National Association of Manufacturers had worked diligently on the issue, raising serious objections based on the proposal’s unworkability. (A formal statement from the NAM is coming.)

[UPDATE, 11:05 a.m.: The Wall Street Journal reports, "Workplace-Noise Rule Gets Shelved," citing the NAM: "Clearly the message has been heard by OSHA," said Joe Trauger, NAM vice president of human-resources policy."]

For more, see the NAM’s backgrounder on the OSHA noise proposal. The NAM’s ManuFact summarized the most serious objections, noting that the NAM successfully sought an extension in OSHA’s deliberations. Earlier blog posts:

The announcement is a pretty good way to reinforce President Obama’s new emphasis on reasonable regulation. Of course, this proposal’s excess was so obvious and simply to explain — even if ear plugs and individual noise-reducing earmuffs worked effectively, businesses would still have to redesign their operations — it was an easy one to back away from.

OSHA’s administrator, David Michaels, spoke Tuesday at Public Citizen, one of the leading advocacy groups for the expanded regulatory state. Judging by Public Citizen’s reporting (Tweeting) on the event, Michaels did not give the group a head’s up about the pending withdrawal. Boy, they must feel burned, especially as it came in the wake of President Obama’s executive order on regulations.

Interesting, too, that Reina Steinzor of the all-regulations, all-the-time Center for Progressive Reform decried the President’s regulatory announcement with this observation: “[The] President’s newly stated position diminishes EPA’s Lisa Jackson, FDA’s Margaret Hamburg, and OSHA’s David Michaels, siding instead with his regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, who has steadily pushed to issue an executive order that throws a net over his colleagues rather than helping them do their jobs.”

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To Export More Wisconsin Products, Paper, Enact U.S.-Korea Trade Pact

Lori Wallach, of the Public Citizen group, has played a cruel trick-or-treat joke on Wisconsin coated paper workers. And for this reason, it deserves a response as Ms. Wallach is misleading these workers and tricking them into supporting her biased view of trade agreements –- agreements that have allowed more made-in-Wisconsin products to be sold around the world.

In an October 27th report on the website of the Green Bay station, News Talk Radio WTAQ, Ms. Wallach blames trade agreements for layoffs in Wisconsin’s paper mills and claims government researchers say the Korea trade agreement would create more jobs lost and a greater U.S. deficit.

This is simply not so. First, imports of coated paper into the United States are already duty-free –- meaning there is no tax on the product. Thus, there is no advantage with the Korean trade agreement for more Korean coated paper to be imported to the United States. And while Wallach claimed the U.S. Government said the agreement would cost jobs and increase the U.S. trade deficit — the “official” U.S. government International Trade Commission analysis says the Korea agreement will increase U.S. exports more than imports, shrink the trade deficit, and generate over $11 billion in added economic growth for the United States – thus creating most needed jobs.

The paper industry’s problem isn’t trade agreements – it is unfair imports from China. While coated paper imports from Korea are only half as large as five years ago, they have doubled from China because of unfair trade practices. Only last week, the U.S. Government put tariffs as high as 170 percent on dumped and subsidized exports from China. Had Wallach raised her voice against these unfair trade practices instead of misleading American workers about trade agreements maybe the government would have acted faster.

I hope these paper mill workers will not allow themselves to be tricked into supporting someone’s failed biases. They should demand the facts and decide for themselves what is needed to boost U.S. manufacturing. For example, consider NAFTA. It is now Wisconsin’s largest export market, buying over $8 billion of Wisconsin’s production in 2008 – more than twice as much as Wisconsin’s number two market, the European Union.

Korea’s import tariffs on U.S.-made manufactured goods average 8 percent, while U.S. import tariffs on Korean-made manufactured goods average 2 percent – and most U.S. manufactured imports from Korea are already duty-free. I think it is clear who will be the winner from the Korea trade agreement. Too bad Ms. Wallach can’t see it.

Frank Vargo is vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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Happy Fifth Birthday, CAFTA!

The Central-American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, was signed into law five years ago today, August 2, 2005, (later expanded to include the Dominican Republic to become CAFTA-DR). Facing vicious opposition from labor, the anti-trade Global Trade Watch, and others, the agreement had passed Congress by just two votes. Opponents vilified the agreement, predicting it would hurt American manufacturing.

Global Trade Watch’s Lori Wallach, for instance, called CAFTA a “catastrophe”, “a moldering corpse waiting to be buried,” and confidently predicted U.S. deficits and job losses. The U.S. International Trade Commission, the National Association of Manufacturers and other responsible organizations, on the other hand, predicted the agreement would spur U.S. exports and result in significantly stronger growth.

The record shows how wrong Wallach and other trade detractors were. As is clearly shown in the inserted graph, far from greater deficits, the CAFTA-DR agreement has changed deficits to surpluses. In the years prior to CAFTA, American manufacturers ran deficits with the CAFTA countries averaging $1.1 billion a year. After CAFTA went into effect, those deficits quickly turned to surpluses that have averaged $3.5 billion a year.

The improvement in the trade balance with CAFTA-DR occurred because the dollar value of U.S. manufactured goods exports grew faster than imports. In the years prior to the agreement, U.S. manufactured goods exports to the region grew less than 5 percent a year. In the years immediately after the agreement, they soared almost 14 percent a year.  And even after the global trade collapse in 2009, manufactured goods exports to CAFTA-DR so far this year have boomed 30 percent, much faster than the 22 percent increase of U.S manufactured goods globally.

It is time for Lori Wallach to stop talking about a “failed CAFTA trade policy.”  The only thing that is failing here is her rhetoric.

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After Citizens United v. FEC, More Polling

Matt Sundquist of the legal affairs blog, Scotusblog, examines two public opinion surveys taken after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that incorporated entities—businesses, unions and nonprofit advocacy groups—have a First Amendment right to spend money from their general treasuries to fund independent advertisements urging people to vote for or against candidates for public office.

We had already critiqued one, a Washington Post/ABC survey, for the tendentious phrasing of its questions. The other survey Sunquist writes about was conducted for the self-styled campaign finance reform advocates, Common Cause, Change Congress, and the Public Campaign Action Fund, which seek to limit campaign spending and abridge First Amendment Rights.

[Neither] of the surveys mentions important distinctions between federal laws, which previously banned corporate contributions, and state laws, which in many cases have permitted it for years.  And in all three of the questions, the broad language seems to affirmatively mislead respondents.  Although respondents would assume that the survey used accurate, clear language and provided all of the information needed to form an opinion, the survey did neither.

Although the language of these polls is flawed, it is possible to design an improved poll.  Future Citizens United polls ought to distinguish between state and federal laws and eschew mistaken categorical claims.  Knowing that respondents will apply conversational definitions to words, the polls’ creators should use precise language, clarify what types of corporate and union spending are permitted, and accurately contrast the new scope of campaign laws with previous laws.

As we noted in a Saturday post, a survey conducted by the Center for Competitive Politics — which supported the Citizens United ruling — posed specific questions that elicited more informative responses.

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Green with Rage

Time to catch up with the crash-and-trade legislation being worked out behind closed doors on the House side.

CQ Politics, “Waxman Reaches Deal on Emissions“:

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have agreed to soften their short-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as they work to write a bill that can move to the House floor.

Chairman Henry A. Waxman , D-Calif., said Tuesday evening that Democrats have resolved most of the core issues that were in dispute over draft legislation he released several weeks ago. He plans to release the text of the bill Thursday, begin a markup on May 18 and get committee approval by the end of next week.

Joint Statement From Greenpeace, FOE, and Public Citizen on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Climate and Energy Bill:

We are extremely troubled by the reports coming out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last night on additional compromises to the already flawed American Clean Energy & Security Act. The world needs real leadership from Congress and the Administration to address global warming – action that will enable us to transform our economy with clean, renewable energy technology, new green jobs and show leadership internationally. If reports are true, the compromises being struck on the bill undermine these goals.

Reuters, “Republicans push changes to U.S. climate bill“:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday vowed to push for major changes to a climate change bill that could move through a key committee next week, including a proposal to count nuclear power as a clean energy alternative….

Representative Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the House panel, predicted he would prevail with an amendment to include nuclear power and “clean coal” as alternative sources of energy that will have to be used more by electric utilities under the bill.

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In Congress, More Efforts to Gut Arbitration, Raise Legal Costs

A refresher: Two types of arbitration are subject of policy discussions these days in Congress and on this blog.

  • Binding arbitration: As proposed in the Employee Free Choice Act, binding arbitration would impose the equivalent of a two-contract — work rules, salaries, benefits — on businesses and unions if negotiations over first contract negotiations continue past 120 days. These terms would be mandated by a government-appointed, outside arbitrator.
  • Pre-dispute arbitration: The common practice, including in many consumer contracts, that provide for non-judicial venues for resolving contract disputes. Business groups generally support this sort of arbitration, because it leads to quicker and less expensive outcomes by keeping the disputes out of the courtroom, away from attorneys whose seek to ring up billings, awards and settlements.

The American Association for Justice — the trial lawyers lobby — HATES pre-dispute arbitration, and has made killing it one of their lobbying priorities. Accordingly, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) last week introduced S. 931, the Arbitration Fairness Act, a bill that bans predispute arbitration in business contracts with consumers. (Opening statement, text.) The legislation is the Senate companion to H.R. 1020 introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). (More rom the Green Bay Press-Gazette)

Just in time for the Senate bill, the American Association for Justice released a new opinion survey claiming that the public dislikes binding arbitration. The AAJ-led Fair Arbitration Now Coalition also held a news conference announcing the survey conducted by the Democratic polling outfit, Lake Research Partners, but it’s a laughable example of a survey that found what it set out to find. From the news release:

“The findings show clearly that Americans strongly oppose forced arbitration, and they see the Arbitration Fairness Act as a remedy. Not only is there real intensity to this view, but it traverses traditional partisan divides,” said Lake Research Partners President Celinda Lake. “Forced arbitration clauses – which are buried in the fine print of employment and consumer contracts – are another example of corporations taking advantage of ordinary Americans. The public supports the Arbitration Fairness Act because equal justice under the law is a core American value.”

Our emphasis.
(continue reading…)

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A Vast Wealth of Broad Experience, Except in the Private Sector

The head of the Federal Trade Commission has announced new senior positions in the FTC, including a top post for a former top lawyer with the anti-business Naderite group, Public Citizen, who then migrated to the legal professoriat at Georgetown Law. No practical experience in business? Become a business regulator!

From the FTC, a news release, “FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz Appoints Senior Staff“:

David C. Vladeck, who will serve as Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, has been a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, teaching federal courts, government processes, civil procedure, and First Amendment litigation. He co-directed the Center’s Institute for Public Representation, a clinical law program for civil rights, civil liberties, First Amendment, open government, and regulatory litigation. Vladeck previously spent almost 30 years with Public Citizen Litigation Group, including 10 years as Director. He has argued a number of First Amendment and civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and more than 60 cases before the federal courts of appeal and state courts of last resort.

From the Public Citizen blog, Consumer Law and Public Policy:

Needless to say, we think this is really terrific news. David is a tenacious advocate for consumers and is taking up this important post at a time when strong leadership and enforcement on consumer protection issues is sorely needed. Congratulations to David!  The full announcement–listing the other five appointees, including the heads of the agency’s antitrust, economics, and policy planning divisions–is posted after the jump.

From the US PIRG Consumer Blog, “Vladeck to FTC, great choice.”

Great news. New FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz has selected constitutional scholar and consumer advocate David Vladeck to head the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. David’s been teaching at Georgetown Law for a while and before that was a longtime public interest attorney at Public Citizen. This is great news for consumers who want a fair marketplace and bad news for corporate criminals and those who support lax enforcement of the consumer laws. I will do a longer blog from a real computer. — From the Blackberry, in Baltimore.

From AdAge, “FTC Names Consumer Advocate to Lead Consumer Protection Bureau“:

“We expect Mr. Vladeck will vigorously pursue, with Chairman Leibowitz’s support, a serious consumer-protection agenda,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Digital Democracy, said in an e-mail and blog post. He cited financial products, privacy, online advertising, and food marketing to children and adolescents as areas that “will now get the intellectual and strategic attention they deserve” at the FTC.

Unfortunately, the various “consumer groups” make no distinction between a “consumer protection” agenda and a “business is nefarious” and “let’s raise costs to the consumers” agenda.

The Center for Progressive Reform has the fullest biography we’ve seen of Professor Vladeck, “one the nation’s foremost public interest litigators.”

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CPSIA Update: Activist Groups Actually Think the Law’s Working

Incredible. And how arrogant. Despite thousands of first-person reports of businesses closing up shop, children’s books being destroyed, thrift stores deprived of used clothes and toys, mini-bikes and kids bikes being made illegal, some “consumer activists” regard the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act as a success.

From The National Law Journal, “Consumer bill sets off a furor“:

“Any legislative fixes at this point would be very premature,” said Public Citizen’s [Christine] Hines. “The most important issue right now is for Nancy Nord to be replaced. She was never a huge supporter of the law from the time of the year-long negotiations.”

Hines said the other commissioner, [Thomas] Moore, agrees that congressional intervention now would be premature.

“At this point, because there is so much difficulty at the agency in terms of agreement, the agency has taken a strict constructionist view of some of the language in the law,” said Hines. “I believe the new law gives the agency the authority to issue reasonable regulations. We still feel it has enough authority to address business concerns and to ensure that products are safe. The 2007 recalls and the uproar about unsafe products on the market tend to get lost in this debate.”

So nice that Public Citizen is now the official spokesman for Commissioner Moore.

But Nord and Moore have voted the same way on the last 23 votes. Replace Nord with a permanent chairman — as she herself has requested — and there’s no indication the commission will do anything differently.

Rick Woldenberg of Learning Resources Inc., a forceful advocate for CPSIA reform, responded recently to a hatchet job in ConsumerReports.org, which misrepresented a pro-reform rally and made the same, weak case as the Naderites at Public Citizen. Rick wrote:

Finally, you also mischaracterize the remarks of the Rally speakers as endorsing YOUR view that Nancy Nord is at fault for the delays and failures to issue exemptions that you assert. I do not recall Ms. Nord’s name or role being mentioned during any speech, and she was certainly not a focus of the day’s events. Speaking for myself, I do not agree with your statement at all, and would observe that the data shows that Acting Chairman Nord and Comm. Moore have voted 2-0 in their last 23 decisions. It is hard to understand the reasons behind the finger pointing at Ms. Nord or at Republicans in general if the Commissioners are apparently acting in bipartisan unison. Is it because attacks on Ms. Nord make a nice diversion from an examination of the law itself?

Yes. Yes it is.

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CPSIA Update: Public Citizen Hails Victory

A news release from Public Citizen, advocates of the full-bore implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Their headline: “Attack on New Product Safety Law Fails; Lawmakers Should Block Future Attempts to Weaken Measure

Our version: “Attack on Small Business, Thrift Stores, Children’s Books and Economic Activity Succeeds; Lawmakers Should Block Future Attempts to Change Jobs-Killing Law.”

Sub-hed: “No More Dirt Bikes for Kids — Good! Why Should They Have Any Fun?”

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Thrift stores clear their shelves.


Hat tip, Walter Olson at Overlawyered, “Thrift stores, the day after,” which recounts similar reaction all across the country.

We anxiously await the news release, “Public Citizen hails removal of children’s coats from cold-weather thrift stores.”

UPDATE Fixed the real/fake headlines. Bad editing.

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