Le Chantage

     The Bush chickens are coming home to roost.
     It isn’t just the financial markets that were not regulated, it’s all kinds of stuff.
     I’ve talked here about the car market and mileage requirements in the U.S. that are about half what they are in the EU and far below those in China, notorious for its high pollution levels.
     But the same populist ideology against regulation, stoked by business interests and carried to an extreme in the Bush years, applies to the little things too.
     And just as the lax supervision of the financial market endangers the savings of regular folks and lax regulation of the automakers endangers the health of the globe, so lax supervision of standards for consumer products, such as baby furniture, endangers the health of average families.
     My nephew Nick who is a senior at UCLA was writing stories for our webpage during the summer and came up with a quote from a prosecutor that surprised him, and me much less.
     It started with a press release from the California Attorney General’s office about baby furniture emitting formaldehyde fumes. I assigned the story to Nick.
     The AG was pursuing five crib makers because the cribs have way too much formaldehyde in them. California’ Proposition 65, passed decades ago, requires disclosure of toxic chemicals in consumer products.
     Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and can also cause breathing difficulties, such as asthma, when the exposure to formaldehyde fumes is too high.
     When Nick reached the prosecutor in the case, Deputy Attorney General Susan Fiering, she told him the larger problem is that national regulation in the area is so weak.
     “The real problem is this country hasn’t had emissions standards,” said Fiering. “Europe and China have tougher emissions standards than us.”
     Interesting, just as they do with cars.
     But here is what floored Nick and, I admit, surprised me a little.
“In China,” Fiering told him, “they are able to manufacture and export to the United States products which fail Chinese standards but not American ones.”
     And this is for stuff that affects the youngest children.
     The Chinese who are in the middle of a melamine meltdown in the milk market can export baby furniture that fails their own standards, that cannot be sold in China they can legally ship those formaldehyde-ridden cribs to the U.S. market and legally sell them to clueless American consumers in most of the United States.
     I was thinking about all this walking to work, how it is that a total package of dangers and insecurities and general degradation in American life has been brought to the fore by the financial meltdown.
     People live their lives, work day-in, day-out for years and years, and then get a pathetic amount of social security and depend on what for their old age money invested in the stock market. (Plus they generally get bad medical care, like Kaiser.)
     So it makes everybody nervous, like fundamentally nervous, as in what they worked for their whole lives is going up in smoke and they know they sure as hell cannot depend on the society, in its organized form as our government, to help them in their decrepitude.
     Which is why, it seems to me, that the average folks are saying to hell with the bailout. They don’t see themselves getting any help from the government, and they are largely right, and so they figure why should the fat cats get help.
     Unfortunately, we are, as I was telling the broker who handles the CNS pension fund, stuck.
     A full-on economic collapse would really and truly affect just about everybody.
     It is just another bitter pill for the regular folks including all those who vote for the nutty right that the Republicans in Congress want, as the price of their bailout “aye,” to tack on more tax breaks for business, a tactic that is what the French call “chantage,” which can be translated as “making somebody sing,” and which means extortion.

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