THE BLACK BOX OF REGULATION


If you are like me, you’ve been hanging out a lot in your own mind since last March, and potentially have had some cerebral DIY projects to undertake. There’s nothing like a good-ole deep dive into your life’s purpose during a paralyzing pandemic lockdown.  Of course, an alternative option would be to finally repaint the peeling crown molding in my front hall, which I notice daily now that I’m permanently at home. Every time I walk by, in fact. But fixing that would take a lot of physical exertion and I have some thinking to do. 

The flood of inspirational memes and quotes decorating my social media feed indicate that a lot of us are focussing on how to make the changes that will make our lives most meaningful. As I grappled with whether to pursue a new career opportunity, my 15-year-old son rather surprisingly offered me the advice “Life isn’t a board game, you shouldn’t wait your turn.” I think he even surprised himself with the pertinence of his words. 

In this era in which not much seems to make a lot of sense, it’s hard to find anything concrete and stable to which to set anchor. I’m preoccupied with questioning mainstream medicine, the Catholic Church, and whether Putin is really the bad guy. My post on Facebook was censored, an anti-pesticide “non-profit” is not non-profit at all, and I can’t even eat pig anymore since finding out they are as sweet as my two dogs. I can’t feed my dogs pig either, for fear of cannibalism just based on the shared species of personality. 

Perhaps the philosophical benefit of the lockdown has been exactly this – to break out of the black box. It’s an opportunity to finally question what is real or not, and determine why we continue blindly following the status quo. Like fixing the peeling paint, it takes some time and willingness to look just a bit deeper to find out the real story. In this way, we should all be investigative journalists, digging deeper into stories far beyond what’s suggested to us by Apple News.  

NEW ADMINISTRATION 

I’m peeking through my fingers at the news each day, as new appointments to key agricultural and regulatory positions are imminent. Mind you, three years ago I had no idea which regulators did what, or why exactly I should care. I visualized successful activists making sure that the regulators protected us as per their regulatory missions. And if you had told me that GMOs are going to help “feed the world,” I would have believed you. (Reminder – they don’t.) 

For those hoping that the Biden win means a new dawn of environmental regulation, the news hits painfully that the same industry-friendly people who are always appointed to key positions will likely have a job. Former Senator Heidi Heitkamp has been a favorite for selection as Agriculture Secretary – a move that has greatly upset progressive food and agriculture circles. And me. 

Heitkamp, like previous Ag Secretaries, is very cozy with corporate agribusiness and protected the soybean, sugarbeets and corn monocrop farms as North Dakota Senator. There are more progressive potential appointees like Senator Marcia Fudge, but her ability to make it through a confirmation hearing is questionable without industry support. 

The next few weeks will be very telling. 

BLACK BOX

As I was putzing around charts of the US regulatory system, I came across a small office that I had never heard of – The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). It turns out to be one of the most powerful offices in the federal government, yet very few people even know of its existence. 

“Through a series of executive orders, various Presidents authorized OIRA and its staff of economists to review most proposed and final agency regulations, making a tiny White House office the de facto gatekeeper for much of the federal regulatory system.”

The Center for Progressive Reform

Holy cow, so the final regulatory decisions don’t come out of our regulatory agencies – they come out of OIRA. Why are public open comment periods directed at the agencies – we should be petitioning OIRA economists with facts to include in their cost-benefit analyses!  

After reading several deep dives into OIRA, I noted some disturbing aspects of OIRA’s powers:

  • OIRA can expedite or permanently delay regulatory decisions 
  • Lobbyists and corporations know that OIRA is the critical spot of influence
  • There is absolutely ZERO transparency into this black box of an office under the executive branch
  • OIRA has the power to veto the scientific opinions and decisions of the agencies
  • Any decision that is made can be retroactively defended through ad hoc cost-benefit analyses of their staffed economists. These analyses rarely, if ever, take into account environmental or health costs. 

To put it simply, our gatekeeper on environmental regulation lies in an office that is non-transparent, beholden to the whims of presidential staff and industry lobbyists. The hidden, dark room of wheeling and dealing happens here, and it is a corrupt load of BS. It makes me emphatically question – what again is the point of our enormous regulatory agencies, if they can’t even regulate if they wanted to? Presumably, it is in their interest to present highly watered-down regulation to OIRA, if they want anything to pass into law. 

Who Biden appoints to head OIRA will likely be the most important appointee in determining the future of environment and agriculture regulation.

TRIAL UPDATES

  • Last month, the California Supreme Court rejected Monsanto’s attempt to overturn the appellate court’s ruling to uphold Lee Johnson’s verdict. The case will likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court next.
  • As settlement discussions continue, and seem to be taking too tediously long, Judge Chhabria gave the green light to restarting jury trials as early as 2021. There was a look of exhaustion on the faces of Bayer attorneys, but not on the face of Chhabria! New trials could make 2021 very busy for me and AOJ. 
  • Ken Feinberg is such a brilliant hoot. He remains very optimistic that settlement of individual cases will continue to make strong progress over the next few months.

THE DEFENDER

Plaintiff Attorney Robert F Kennedy Jr and his organization Children’s Health Defense launched a newsletter to allow communication and discussion of facts and issues that are regularly censored, manipulated or ignored in mainstream media coverage. It’s well worth a read

FINAL NOTES

Oreo announced that they will be soon offering a Gluten Free option!! Yes, it is full of all kinds of awful, and I mean horrible, toxins. But it’s nice to know it is there if I need a fix. 

I read that US sausage makers often import their casings from other countries because the animal intestines in the US are so wrecked from GMOs and pesticides. I’m going to look into this more. I believe it, given the heinous state of human intestines in this country. And Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer said that the destruction of animal intestines upon Roundup exposure is indeed a problem. 

3 Comments

  1. Hi, good to see you are still activating. I too have been in a Covid coma and everything has become manana. Household maintenance waits until it collapses – what’s the point?
    Anyway that’s not what concerns us all. I thought that the sausage skin thing was really old hat – it was shortly after they started to feed GM soya to the pigs that they found the guts wouldn’t hold together, and glyphosate was the likely suspect.
    And now there’s even more trouble for Bayer with their sterilisation product ‘Essure’. After all the fuss with the coil in the 60s/70s, why would anyone pursue the the same type of product but placed even deeper. Their strategy thinkers are definitely a bit wobbly – couldn’t see the glyphosate issues coming, and now this.
    Didn’t know about OIRA – but only to be expected in the era of centralised control. It’s the same in the UK – put your own people in post, and then parachute some more in to those departments who think your way. We have a central department called the Cabinet Office which checks everything, and runs policy. It was formed in 2016 and now employs over 7,000.
    Look forward to reading your reports in 2021.

  2. GG, don’t panic yet. The Biden Admin deserves a chance to convince people that the federal gov’t can do some good, that science matters, and that policy change can steer big ships away from troubled waters. There is reason to hope the new EPA will do what is right in year 1 on the the three REALLY BIG pesticide issues that the Trump team made a mess of — chlorpyrifos, dicamba, and your favorite, and namesake. Re OIRA, that office, and others like in OMB and other corners of the Executive Office of the President, work to achieve the goals of the Admin, not the lobbyist swarming around them like bees to honey. If the White House wants OIRA to be a tight funnel or a dam, it will be. If they want it to move things along, it will, but hopefully in accord with the administrative procedures act and the, you know, or might remember, the rule of law. I know good people are going to be appointed to multiple cabinet and sub-cabinet levels. It is also super important for the Biden team to move fast in filling the gazzilion empty chairs in agencies and other gov’t bodies, while also politely but firmly showing the Trump crew the door (think Patrick Swayze in “Roadhouse”). A solid dose of Chuck Healy blues is great for getting through the afternoon blahhs.

GG loves comments!! Let me know your thoughts!