PHILADELPHIA–Philadelphians have a new epithet when encountering fraudulent or defective merchandise: “Throw it in Denenberg’s Dump,” they exclaim.
It is astonishing but true! A major television station, WCAU-TV, is letting Herb Denenberg, Pennsylvania’s former insurance commissioner and consumer advocate extraordinaire, tell it like it is, complete with brand name denunciations. Dressed in the white coveralls and hard hat of a sanitation worker, Denenberg (two law degrees and a Ph.D in economics) completes his rebuke of the product by heaving it into Denenberg’s Dump–a large trash can.
Recently, Horrible Herb took his road show to Washington and tried to bring his dump truck full of harmful or improperly labeled products to the front of the White House to use it as a background for his TV show. The Secret Service said no. Which prompted Denenberg to quip: “The Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and U. S. Consumer Products Safety Commission couldn’t tell whether or not the stuff was junk. The Secret Service at least knows dangerous junk when it sees it.”
One of Denenberg’s major admonitions to his faithful audience (he now has a two-hour daily radio show called “In Your Corner”) is to read the label. He once went through supermarket, with the manager’s permission, and threw one deceptively labeled food and over-the-counter drug product after another into his trash can. His Dump Can is pasted with the double-speak of what labels say is contained or not contained in the product compared with what actually is the case. “Natural is Artificial, Sugarless is Sugar, Genuine is False, Unscented is Perfumed, Country Style means City Style, Homemade means Factory Made” and so on.
Two of the products on Denenberg’s “don’t buy list” are Velamints, which can give users diarrhea as well as sweeten their breath, and Pop Rocks, the carbonated candy that can fly several feet and go off in the children’s mouth or even in their lungs. Pop Rocks producer General Foods then popped off letters to school principals around the East Coast defending their creation. This giant corporation tells us something about what school principals are expected to be concerned with these days.
The professions–lawyers, physicians, dentists and professors–long have been a topic of Denenberg’s corrosive observations. In February he told an audience that most universities today are “great intellectual whorehouses because so many of their professors have been bought out by the food industry.” Formerly an insurance professor at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, he saw how the insurance industry co-opted many of his insurance colleagues there.
The ABC-TV network is looking for a consumer reporter to inform millions of their viewers how to fight back against rip-offs and product hazards. Executives have viewed clips of local TV consumer reporters from various cities, including a lengthy clip from Denenberg’s show. It is not known who will be selected. But if you want to see the unvarnished truth on your nightly ABC news, let your local station know that Denenberg is in demand.
CONGRESSIONAL BULLETIN: Your senators are playing the perquisite again without disclosing their vote on the record. On March 8, 1979, without a recorded vote or a debate, the Senate whooped through an end to the limitations it placed in 1977 on senators’ outside income in return for getting a large salary raise–from $44,600 to $57,500. Now senators also can earn up to $25,000 a year, instead of $8,625, moonlighting with generous special interest groups or clients.
If you want to have some constructive fun, write your senator and ask why he or she does not go to the Senate floor and demand a roll call vote on the outside income issue. Many senators will respond by telling you that they were really against lifting the limit. If so, why are they reluctant to demand a record vote so that voters can see where each senator stands? It only takes one senator to get the Senate to record the votes. It could be your senator if you write that letter.