AUSTIN, Texas -- In the Most Chilling Quote category, consider this gem from Mitchell Daniels, director of the office of Management and Budget, concerning the administration's ongoing campaign to deregulate everything in sight: "We must learn to speak the vocabulary of consumer protection."

Oooo, Grandma, what big teeth you have! The Wall Street Journal did an admiring profile this week of the "regulatory czar," John D. Graham, who works for Mitchell. Graham, you may recall, was the subject of a peppy confirmation fight on account of he founded Harvard's Center for Risk Analysis. The center is heavily funded by business and industry groups and by individual businesses. You will be amazed to learn that the center often criticizes regulations disliked by the very people who give it money! Graham once claimed that government regulations kill 60,000 Americans a year, a figure that turned out to be ... evanescent.

Graham said in a recent speech: "There is no grandiose plot to roll back safeguards. This administration is pursuing an agenda of smarter regulation." Ah, smarter regulation; well, that's different. The Journal appends a handy graph showing that on Czar Graham's watch, the Bush administration has rejected rules at the highest rate since President Reagan's first term.

Less than two weeks after Sept. 11, The Washington Post reported on an e-mail written by a lobbyist and circulated at Graham's request. Graham had asked her "to convene key lobbyists to identify and rank" the regulations business most wanted to target. Among the 57 listed were parts of the Family and Medical Leave Act, food-labeling requirements, reporting toxic emissions and mine-ventilation standards. That may sound to some like a grandiose plot, but here's the genius part of smart deregulation: Instead of doing this secretly (well, OK, the memo wasn't supposed to become public), the OMB now puts all the info about who meets with Graham right up on its website, The site offers a log of his meetings, letters he sends to agencies and general guidance he issues on rulemaking, says the WSJ.

As Izzy Stone used to say, "Who needs a conspiracy when what they're doing to you is right on the front page?"

OMB Watch, a public interest group, took a close look at Graham's performance on the problem of underinflated tires: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates hundreds of people die each year as a result of underinflated tires.

After the big flap over bad tires on SUVs, Congress told the highway safety people to fix the problem. The safety people were fixing to require a pressure sensor in each tire with a dashboard warning to tell the driver when one was dangerously low. But no new rules can be put in place without the OK from the rules czar, and Graham told the safety people to go back to the drawing board.

In rejecting the safety folks' plan, Graham argued that they should instead allow a cheaper "indirect system" favored by automobile manufacturers, which works with anti-lock brakes. Graham fully acknowledges that the "direct" system works better, but he claims the cheaper, less effective alternative would serve as incentive for manufacturers to install anti-lock brakes, and the brakes would save more lives than the tire pressure gizmo.

Now this might make sense if anti-lock brakes saved lives. But Graham cites a study whose own author contends it does not show that anti-lock brakes would save lives.

"This is hardly the first time Graham has implausibly interpreted evidence to fit his preconceived point of view against regulation," says the OMB Watch report. In 2000, while serving on the EPA's Science Advisory Board, he claimed studies showed low levels of dioxin can actually protect against cancer, that it is an "anti-carcinogen."

I always wonder if people like that would feed dioxin to their own children. According to the EPA, dioxin -- even at low levels -- is linked to cancer, infertility, immune system damage and learning disabilities. The Bush administration is dragging its feet on regulating the chemical.

Gary Bass, chair of Citizens for Sensible Safeguards, says Graham is "a nice guy doing enormous damage. He deserves credit for more transparency at OMB so we can see how he's gutting safety, health and environmental protections. He cloaks his actions under the guise of science, but it's mostly pseudo-science."

The OMB Watch report concludes: "By invoking anti-lock brakes, Graham gives the appearance of being chiefly driven by safety concerns -- although it should be remembered, this concern is expressed in the context of rejecting a safety standard. This is reminiscent of Graham's opposition to EPA's 1997 regulation to prevent against smog, which he argued would actually increase the rate of skin cancer. As with the tire pressure monitoring case, Graham did not attack the standard directly, as an industry lobbyist would, nor did he focus on costs alone. Instead, he cast himself as an advocate for greater public health while opposing the regulation. Ironically, when Graham expresses concern over health or safety, this is usually bad news.

"In playing this role, Graham frequently pits one possible health or safety measure against another, forcing an unnecessary trade-off to justify inaction, which has long been his hallmark."

I'd say Graham uses the vocabulary of consumer protection quite fluently.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.