Posts Tagged ‘safety’

The trouble with Nicholas Kristof, cont’d

The other day the Chicago Tribune documented a longstanding campaign (see Friday link) to get government bodies to adopt standards requiring flameproofing of furniture upholstery, carpets and other household materials. Turns out key actors in that campaign were companies that make the chemicals used in flameproofing, which thereby guaranteed themselves a giant market for their products, as well as cigarette companies that worried that they would face regulatory and legal pressure over fires caused by careless smoking and decided to pursue a strategy of turning the issue into someone else’s problem.

Unfortunately, according to the Tribune series, the supposedly flameproof furnishings 1) aren’t necessarily very good at reducing fire risk and 2) are doused with chemicals that one might not want rubbing off on one’s family and pets. That’s aside from the regulations’ obvious cost in making furnishings more expensive and narrowing consumer choice by excluding producers unable or unwilling to use the chemical treatments. Whether or not you accept the series’ interpretation in all respects — the authors tend to taken an alarmist line, for example, on the chemicals’ environmental dangers — it’s useful as reminder #83,951 that government regulation often is driven by motives quite different from those advertised, and in particular by business lobbies whose interest is frequently squarely opposed to laissez-faire.

On Sunday, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, criticized lately in this space for his views on supposed Big Beer responsibility for Indian reservation alcoholism, addressed the flameproofing story in his column. After reciting the controversy — laying a particular emphasis on chemical alarmism, long a specialty of his — Kristof concludes as follows:

This campaign season, you’ll hear fervent denunciations of “burdensome government regulation.” When you do, think of the other side of the story: your home is filled with toxic flame retardants that serve no higher purpose than enriching three companies. The lesson is that we need not only safer couches but also a political system less distorted by toxic money.

Which affords James Taranto of the WSJ’s “Best of the Web” this response:

The guy is so blinded by ideology that he fails to notice he has just given an example of burdensome government regulation.

EEOC: Employers have no right to ask what prescription drugs employees are on

Even if they’re operating heavy machinery, and even if the drugs are of the type that make users drowsy, twitchy or agitated. It’s all part of the ban on employee medical inquiries under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Eighth Circuit has backed up the agency’s position that questions do not become permissible until the employer has in hand objective evidence of impairment, the sort you can take to a judge. Evidence like, you know, there having been a serious accident. I explain at Cato at Liberty.

Restricting helium sales to prevent squeaky-voice foolery?

A group called the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, with support from federal agencies SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), held a press conference yesterday to promote wider restrictions on the sale and use of helium, the familiar balloon-filling gas that as most people know will make one’s voice squeaky if inhaled. Although helium has low toxicity, it can pose dangers to the user, especially when inhaled directly from a pressurized container, the dangers “mostly related to the mechanical damage of introducing a highly compressed gas into your lungs,” as a doctor put it in a 1997 publication from NIPC (“Helium: Not a Laughing Matter”). The Washington Times reports on the coalition’s demands and quotes me for balance: “Small risk is worth knowing about, but it’s not worth rearranging our whole lives around.” It’s one thing to make sure kids know it’s unacceptably dangerous to breathe gases from pressurized containers, and another to make it unlawful for responsible 17-year-olds to pick up the balloon supplies for the family wedding.

P.S. Several readers wrote to say that because of current federal policy helium winds up artificially underpriced, encouraging its use for frivolous purposes; more on that here.

January 3 roundup

  • Popehat’s Ken to the rescue after Maine lawyer/lawmaker assists naturopath in bullying critical blogger [Popehat]
  • Newt’s “patriotism made me stray” among highlights of the year in blame-shifting [Jacob Sullum]
  • Nifong sidekick, now in a spot of legal bother himself, hits back with lawsuit [K C Johnson, Durham in Wonderland]
  • Shareholder action: “Delaware approves $285 Million in Plaintiffs’ Lawyers’ Fees” [Bainbridge, WSJ Deal Journal, WSJ Law Blog]
  • “Even one death is too many — WE MUST BAN NETI POTS!” [NYDN via Christopher Tozzo]
  • Debatable premise of Joe Nocera analysis on Stephen Glass case: bar admission turn-down = “rest of his life … destroyed” [NYT, Howard Wasserman/Prawfs, earlier]
  • Who says Connecticut never reforms liability? Towns won protection last year from some recreation-land tort exposure [CFPA, earlier here, here]

Hands off that handsfree phone!

As Washington launches a new crusade against “cognitive distraction” behind the wheel, it no longer seems to matter whether your eyes and hands are in correct driving position. I explain in a new Cato post.

More: Glenn Reynolds (NTSB “distracted” by its own pre-existing agenda and oversimplifying causes of Missouri accident) and more, Chapman, Marc Scribner/CEI (even bans on texting don’t seem to have worked as intended), Amy Alkon, (two years back) Radley Balko, and Ira Stoll (per IIHS, quoted on NPR, “states with cellphone bans have seen no real decrease in accident rates”). And: drivers’ use of portable GPS and MP3 devices to be included in contemplated ban? [NMA]