With Nation’s Eyes Elsewhere, President Obama Signs Monsanto Protection Act into Law. ~ Kevin Macku

Via elephant journal
on Mar 27, 2013
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Photo: Richard Masoner
Photo: Richard Masoner

Update: And here’s Waylon’s rebuttal, which includes Kevin’s response: Dear Liberals: it’s not “King” Obama’s fault—it’s ours. And also: the facts about the bill in question.

Meanwhile, at the White House…

While we were out changing our Facebook profile photos; while we were listening to every scrap of information from the Supreme Court like it was leaked from the last season of Girls or Downton Abbey; while we talked and debated and de-friended anyone with views opposing our own about gay marriage left after the Chik-fil-A Issue, President Obama signed into law HR 933, including the last minute amendments dubbed “The Monsanto Protection Act.”

In response to the Act’s passing in the House and Senate last week, 250,000 people signed a petition speaking out against Section 735, the eleventh-hour tacked-on provisions made to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill allowing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to overrule judicial rulings which may prevent the planting of a genetically-modified crop, even if that ruling is on a basis of potential health risks from the consumption or use of GMO produce or seeds coming to light.

This one snuck by me. No mention on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, not even the staunchly anti-Obama Fox News. In fact, in doing the research for this article, several of the reports suggest that many of the folks in Congress didn’t know the amendments existed, much less the American electorate. Furthermore, according to Salon, the Agriculture and Judiciary Committees weren’t even given proper time to adequately review the amendments; the implication is that Congress was simply voting to prevent government shutdown. For all we know, that’s just pleading ignorance.

This is not how we should be doing law at the highest level in this country.

I spent several months in college waiting until the last day before a big paper was due before writing it down half-assedly and shooting for a passing grade. I was a theater student; honestly, what did I care about my Astronomy mid-term exam so long as it didn’t wind up failing me? But I’m not paid Congress’s salary. So if I didn’t remember the dude with the silver nose, fine; I wasn’t putting potential health risks on the table by failing to do my job adequately or ethically.

congress dumb badSo the bill only lasts six months, yes, this is true, but we’re setting a dangerous precedent. With its passing in Congress and the President’s signature, our government is effectively saying to big businesses that consumer safety is a non-issue when Congress is on your side. Amid suspicions of corruption and lobbyist influence, this is a recipe for disaster.

And who among us can imagine what Congress is planning those next six months, or if they’ve even begun planning at all? First there was the potential government shutdown in 2011; then the fiscal cliff; then the financial sequester. Six months from now, we’re going to face the same situation yet again, and the media will be given a cute name to call it, and we’ll panic and listen to NPR and cower with our loved ones and fantasize about the absolutely worst-case scenario.

For every major civil liberty victory we achieve, we turn around and see that Wall Street is richer, the environment has taken another hit, we have to take another job or another loan, and how could it get any worse?

How could it get any worse?

There’s no point in fantasizing about it. Stop. It’s talking and dreaming about the worst-case scenario that got us into this mess in the first place.

Instead, share the message. A single presidential term ago, this option was not so widely available the way it is now. The way we fight back against the secrecy of back-room politics is by exposing them. Facebook is a new tool. Between cat videos and singles ads, we can share information faster than ever before.

In under a week, 250,000 signatures were gathered in what has turned out to be a futile attempt to get the President to side with the people instead of big business. But the President has shown that the promise of campaign funds and big business mean more to him than, let’s say, the protection of our children. Now we must call on him to hold up to his promises, the promises upon which we agreed to vote for his serving as our President.

Here is a link from Food Democracy Now allowing you to call upon the President to issue an executive order forcing America to join over 60 other nations in making the labeling of GMOs a mandatory practice.

If you changed your profile picture, you can share an article. If you have the time to tell someone why gay marriage should be changed or remain the same, you have the time to read about what Capitol Hill is doing when you’re not looking. If you have time to watch a clip on Youtube, you have time to sign a petition.

Of course, it’s always an option to do nothing as well, but let’s be honest; how good was that college paper you wrote last-minute, really?

I dare you to do better.

KevinMacku2Kevin Macku is a 20-something fledgeling yogi with a love of words. He is a trained actor who occasionally appears in local movies and on stage. His preferred methods of expression are based in movement: Suzuki’s Training for the Classical Actor, Viewpoints and Butoh to name a few, all of which benefit from the practice of yoga. In the midst of a rigorous physical practice, he discovered he was undergoing a spiritual transformation, and began to document the experience. These entries can be found at http://doafy.posterous.com/. Kevin himself can be reached at [email protected], or you can now “like” his page on Facebook!


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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36 Responses to “With Nation’s Eyes Elsewhere, President Obama Signs Monsanto Protection Act into Law. ~ Kevin Macku”

  1. paul says:

    One of my senators sent an email epressing her annoyed relief that the bill passed. I think they are so frustrated with the deadlock (or whatever it actually is), having anything pass is a victory.

    As if the political opposition wasn't enough, legalese makes these bills unintelligible- how familiar is anyone with sections 411-414 of the Plant Protection Act? (and did you know there was such a thing?)
    the text from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr933/t… :
    Sec. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.

  2. This is what accompanied my repost: "Just like the NDAA being signed on New Year's Eve, Obama signed a law making food more unsafe yesterday, after receiving 1/4 million signatures against it & while progressives were busy listening to Supreme Court proceedings."

    Kind of fascinating timing, considering how excited many progressives were when Obama came out in support of gay marriage about 9 months ago. I guess standing for safe food doesn't get you as many votes… I said it then and I'll say it now, and keep saying it – until we have public funded elections, there is not one federal politician (ok a maybe besides senators Sanders and Warren) who actually understands the meaning of and operates as public servants – and has our backs.

  3. kmacku says:

    It took every ounce of my Shakespeare analyzation techniques to get through that paragraph, but as you pointed out, it still brings up things referenced outside the Act. Whew.

  4. paul says:

    Around my twelfth reading I realized that it is just one sentence. The PPA is more readable but as difficult to understand what is being said, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest… (pdf), and while there may be some loophole given by "nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority" Secretary Vilsack isn't exactly a GMO skeptic.

  5. meredithelise says:

    I agree with commenter Paul above. Having *any* bill actually go through must be a relief to lawmakers.

    And in many ways, this is just business as usual. Just watch "Food, Inc." for a primer on Monsanto's history of cozy government ties. The goop in HR 933 is nothing surprising, and I think it's easy to feel powerless as a consumer. You can sign your name on a petition, call your lawmakers, and try to speak with your dollars by buying organic. But then bills like this still get passed.

    But, what you've pointed out here is really interesting, Kevin. "If you changed your profile picture, you can share an article." Over the last several days, people HAVE been standing up (albeit mostly on facebook) for something they believe in. Congress may be operating "as usual," but I'd really, really like to believe that citizens AREN'T anymore. Some folks really are paying attention. As you said, our online media are tools, and maybe they can make activism easier for people, faster, and potentially more powerful.

    Here's hoping.

  6. kmacku says:

    Thank you for reading, and your thoughts.

    I'm elated that people are standing up for what they believe in with such force. As was pointed out, I do not believe changing profile photos is enough, but in the end, we do not have the physical raw power to elicit change, and it's certainly better than nothing.

    I don't know if the U.S. Government is used to reacting to people on a scale like this. What it proves to us the people is that we *can* unite against something this powerfully. We *can* use the internet as a tool for activism and change.

    Now we just have to see if those tools work.

    Here's hoping!

  7. Linda says:

    Vilsack doesn't really give a da-n as we know. He just goes along with the program. 🙁

  8. Linda says:

    His support of gun control is good, but the toxic food that results from his signing that monsatan is protected is sort of = to a gun to our health in this country. It's toxic and unhealthy for our children and ourselves, being conducive to helping big pharma and allopathic medicine only. Really skewed happening in our country……all messed up and geared only toward corporations and to hell with the citizens imo! 🙁

  9. Rebecca says:

    I always wonder, when these articles are written, how many naysayers and advocates for "safe food" actually understand the science they so vigorously protest. Having no data to confirm, I'm going to guess less than half truly understand what a GMO is, how its made and what implications it truly holds for human health when consumed. I really think there ought to be a requirement that you know those things before you spew. Monsanto may or may not be "Monsatan" (very clever, that one), but the technology is not and deserves a bit more of a chance than folks tend to give it.

  10. Tim says:

    The only problem with your point of President Obama taking money for political campaigns is that he is done campaigning, so what is the point in taking big business and special interest group money if he can't use it. Congress with unlimited terms is where this issue really lies, not POTUS

  11. paul says:

    I think 50% is an exaggeration, I suspect that even to say 5% understand the mechanisms behind GM innovations is a stretch. Most of the more prolific anti-GMOers however do have a sophisticated understanding of GM, but fortunately a person's understanding the technology (I, and I think most people, agree that the technology holds amazing promise) has nothing to do with their understanding the reality GMOs have in the world, namely their poisons and copyright.

    Bt (the toxin many GMOs are sprayed with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiens… ) was found rampant in a small sampling of expectant mothers in the UK, (and slightly less rampant in women who weren't pregnant) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1388888… yet "industry has always argued that if these toxins were eaten by animals or humans they would be destroyed in the gut".

    Superweeds (plants that have developed resistance to the herbicides GM their own) are now commonplace, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/1210… or http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/10/19/he… (has a nice picture) for a more mainstream look and http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/02/rhttp://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/05/superweeds-a-long-predicted-problem-for-gm-crops-has-arrived/257187/ (has a nice chart) for a more impassioned take. Again, this is despite industry claims that such a thing would never ever ever happen.

    For Monsanto's litigiousness (comical if it didn't ruin lives destroy farms) and farmer suicides (more a result of a debt-cycle than the crops them selves (oversold though they were)), your favorite search engine will have to suffice for supplying evidence.

  12. paul says:

    I'm not sure to what you're replying, but political campaigning doesn't stop on election day, so while the latest presidential campaign is over, another one is just around the corner and democrats (and republicans) must still get favor with the monied, for whom favors already promised (and I wouldn't know if any were) would be expected to be paid before more money was given.

  13. Rebecca says:

    Wikipedia is not a source. Peer-reviewed scientific papers are sources. My favorite search engine will certainly NOT suffice, as science for the masses is usually incorrect.

  14. paul says:

    If you don't trust the science of the masses, do you trust the science of the industry? I understand the distrust of most news outlets (which is why I seperated the atlantic and mojo from the usnews and science daily), but I, my legislators, and likely everyone reading this post is not going to have the underlying knowledge to really understand studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals (more often than not behind paywalls), let alone have the time to dig into them. The legalese Sec. 735 tries to hide behind is worse, a single sentence free to the public but hidden in the shade of its own words.

    Is the use of 2,4-D incorrect? Are superweeds not a reality? I was wrong that the bt study was done in the UK, it was done in Canada http://somloquesembrem.files.wordpress.com/2010/0… (pdf)- but alas I must be the one to call myself on this.

    Wikipedia is a source, and oftentimes a bad one, but for general popular history and science (like bt), it is a decent starting place, and the bt article is pretty extensive with a lot of references.

    The Superweed articles I linked to all support their claims; check the Science Daily one if you can only read scientific studies (the link is there), that one is no behind a pay wall and is at http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24 in case you missed it at the end of the article. SD also has some articles on how useful these superweeds might be

    To Monsanto's litigiousness: it is an essential and necessary part of their business model (and why Sec. 735 is both curious and typical). I would be interested to see this disproved.

    To farmer suicides, here is a junky site with some good links and a video, http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-wh… If you could tell me what happens to these farms after the farmer dies, I'd appreciate it.

  15. Or maybe it's not what we think it is. Any legal scholars here? I haven't seen any comment on this bill at all yet, and I'm not convinced there is a "Monsanto Protection Act" in the bill.

    The bill was HR 933. It looks to be just about budgets: govtrack.us /congress/bills/113/hr933/text

    I'm not sure what the big deal is here.

    Section 735 is supposedly the rider that Sen Blunt from Missouri wrote with help from his buddies at Monsanto:

    "Sec. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act."

    I'm pretty sure this is the offending section. The rest of the document appears to be about budgets.

    My reading is that this section gives authority to the Secretary of Agriculture to give temporary permits for GMO crops if they want, not that Monsanto is protected from legal action. But again, I'm no legal scholar.

    This also makes me wonder in general about hysteria people have about laws and government, immediately jumping to conclusions about corruption and malice and the world going to hell in a handbasket.

    Is this corruption? I can't easily tell. It might be, but it might not be. Or it might be a sign of corruption, but it might be ineffective. Or it might be something else entirely.

    The fact is, these laws are really complex and even difficult to find the full text of in Google, let alone interpret the implications of without a deep understanding of federal law, which I certainly don't have.

    It also makes me have a lot of sympathy for Obama signing bills into laws. 99.9% of this bill is about budgets. It simply has to pass. And this section doesn't seem to imply any special harm at least to me in a quick reading. So of course he's going to sign the bill into law. If he vetoed every paragraph that might possibly be an abuse of power, no bills would ever get passed and our whole government would come to a screeching halt. I suspect he was briefed for less than 10 minutes on the whole thing.

    I'm no fan of Monsanto, but I'm also no fan of hysteria about things which might not be a big deal.

  16. Rebecca says:

    I, fortunately, DO have the knowledge and scientific background to understand studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and I work at an institution that pays for me to have access to them. It is part of my job to dig through them and understand what I read. My issue with all of this is the complete failure of the general public to separate Monsanto's business practices, WHATEVER they may be, with the general goodness or lack thereof of GM crops. This amendement allows Monsanto (or anybody else) to plant GM crops, regardless of whether they are proven unsafe in future. If you couldn't do that, then kiss your poinsettias good-bye…and any number of other plants that are incredibly toxic (in very, very small amounts) to humans and other animals. I'm simply pointing out that there are multiple issues here, and they are all, unfortunately, lumped into the idea that "Monsanto is the devil", and quite frankly, its not that simple. I do plan to address this on my blog, so if you would really like the links and references, you can look there.

  17. Kallie says:

    I thought the passage was pretty scary. What I gleam out of it is that a farmer can darn well plant whatever plant he/she wants(GMO being the more obvious concern) and that "timeliness' can outweigh the health and safety concerns. It's not just Monsanto, we're talking about even organic farmers could, in theory, be affected by this…. Another red flag that you point out is the fact that most of the bill is about budgets… Why then is this passage in the budget? Seems out of place to me more about health and safety than budgets.

  18. kmacku says:

    Thank you both for this discussion. And thank you, Rebecca, for reading and your thoughts.

    I absolutely agree that bandwagons are dangerous, even among the wellness/green crowd. If I'm to use vernacular, Kool-aid is Kool-aid, even the tasty flavors.

    I first heard of Monsanto about a year ago, and chalked up what I heard about them to be largely over-exaggeration and conspiracy theory. To a degree, I'm sure a lot of it is still fearmongering and hype. But, like Paul, I've seen information out there that links Monsanto to crop failure and (more indirectly) farmer suicides, enough to cause concern in me (and condemnation in others).

    My father tells me stories of how, before I was born, he took naps on asbestos. Back then, it was just the stuff they used in insulation and baby clothes; it hadn't yet been directly linked to causing cancer. So I get why people are wary when it comes to GMs; the most researched of us I'd say aren't saying they're evil, we're simply saying there hasn't been enough testing done on them yet, and some of the testing that we do see is saying that consumption/use of GM seeds/produce *may* have adverse effects on our health and things like soil nutrient concentration.

    You're right, GM seeds/crops absolutely may have positive benefit. So can nuclear energy. Used improperly, we already know one of those can destroy cities. We just want more testing, and when those tests show us red flags, we want them addressed or corrected.

    Also, people do grow poinsettias, just not to be eaten.

    When you do finish your blog post, please link it back here; I'd love to get more information on the subject myself. And thank you in advance for your time and research!

  19. kmacku says:

    Yes. Monsanto is kind of taking the fall for this, and "Monsanto Protection Act" is merely what the critics of Section 735 have dubbed that one sentence. Yeah, it's one sentence, but man is it a doozie. In reality, it covers any and every farmer who wants to plant whatever the hell they want; as Kallie pointed out, GMOs are just our main concern. There are other major corporations who do this, too, but Monsanto is just the face the critics gave to "big evil GMO-profiting corporations."

    The question of corruption is the largest part of what concerns me here. Something isn't adding up: The bill lands on the President's desk coincidentally the day that maybe 90%+ of Americans are warring it out over the civil rights battle, is signed into law, and not a single mainstream media source breathes a word about it? Couple that with that (reportedly) Congress members apparently to some degree didn't know about the rider, it was added anonymously and with too little time to come under review on a bill that *had* to pass in order to prevent government shutdown? I mean, I'm still not swayed into the 9/11 truther camp, but something isn't being said here. Either the Mainstream Media knows something that we don't (and isn't even talking to shut us up), or there's something else going on.

    Is it corruption? I honestly don't know. But that's one implication. The facts are that we don't have all of the facts, and that's part of the concern; a government that's coming under scrutiny for being cheeky about its corruption is not aiding its own image here. I think Americans are getting tired of the excuse of, "Congress is corrupt, that's just the way it is, yay politics." So anything that even *looks* like corruption we're going to knee-jerk call out.

    I've done what I can to supply links to as many sources of information without making the entire article orange. And I have sympathy for Obama, too; I'd love to blame the anonymous author(s) of the rider, I'd love to blame Senator Mikulski, I'd love to blame Congress for not doing its job, but as has been pointed out (several times), this is an incredibly complex issue.

    My goal isn't to generate hysteria; it's to bring in information and collect several voices, and encourage people to act in their own interest. My own rider, the Food Democracy Now petition, is so far the only action I know what can be immediately taken, and it's only peripherally related—we've been asking for GMO labeling for a while now, well before this bill was introduced. Now we're just asking harder.

    Here's another article on the subject, but remember that it's heavily slanted one direction and so far I cannot follow back all of their sources: http://www.ibtimes.com/monsanto-protection-act-5-

    Thanks for reading, and for your reply!

  20. paul says:

    I agree, let us not mistake the fantasy of future innovations for the reality of an abusive industry.

    Sec 735 is not only about subverting public safety in favor of the status quo, but also moves a power of the courts to the executive, removing the power of the courts to regulate, where if a judge rules a plant (or herbicide, etc) should be regulated, the Agriculture Secretary will issue permits to anyone requesting one to continue growing or introducing new species while the Secretary reviews the merits of regulation. So, if (in exaggerated example) a judge says poinsettias should be regulated, if I haven't requested a permit cops raid my poinsettias operation at the suggestion of my permitted competitor. In less exaggerated example, if a judge were to determine roundup ready soybeans (whose patent expires in a year and a half) is something that should be regulated, Vilsack can deny (or delay) my permit to distribute while expediting another's, say Monsanto's, driving me out of the market and further solidifying a monopoly. Yes, that is all a bit far-fetched and the bill itself expires in 6 months, but that is what 735 is for.

    I will keep an eye out for your post, I'm sure ej would be happy to publish it too. I hope you'll address water use (ie. golden rice) and soil depletion (ie intensive (industrial) agriculture), and the reality of what GMOs are and can be in our world run by patents and corporations.

  21. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for your comments and thoughts! In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I know all this because my PhD dissertation was on the development of immunomodulatory proteins (vaccines and therapeutic targets) in GM soybeans. No, my Gm plants were not for eating, but they are why I'm so interested in all of this. Feel free to head over to the blog for part I and II of the great GM debate….nothing controversial yet, just laying out the science of how its done. I'll be happy to link back when I finish the rest of it…and yes, Paul, I will touch on the issues you raise (water usage and soil depletion). http://rebeccabee.blogspot.com/2013/02/gmo-or-gm-http://www.rebeccabee.blogspot.com/2013/03/gmo-or

  22. Rebecca says:

    *I should clarify….my GM plants were not for everyday eating. They WERE definitely designed to be drug therapeutics delivered orally.

  23. Anon says:

    Bullshit they did not know the rider was in the bill — bullshit

  24. Anon says:

    Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri helped write the rider and another Senator submitted an ammendment to take the rider out http://intellihub.com/2013/03/28/surprised-monsan

  25. Hey Duff, writing it up right now. The biggest concern (to me) with this is that Monsanto et al are not only protected from legal action associated with the deregulation, but they are protected against legal action should the GMOs be found to cause health or environmental issues down the road. It limits the Secretary of Agriculture's ability to take action should there be health or environmental ramification to using these GMO seeds or their plants.

    The precedent giving corporate entities (not small farmers as the name implies) this kind of immunity is a dangerous one in my book.

  26. It explicitly does *not* limit the Secretary of Agriculture's ability.

    This is why I find it not concerning at all.

  27. paul says:

    Do you mind the erosion of the branches of government, shadily written, placed and passed?

  28. It gives the Secretary 6 months to examine and do research, but limits any action during the deregulation period. The Plant Protection Act gives more specifics. It explicitly allows the Secretary to deal with anything that falls under 3 sections of the Plant Protection Act, yet nothing else.

  29. Carol says:

    Hi, Rebecca, I have been aware for 20 years that the GMO industry got a good deal when it got to say something was unique enough to patent, but not different enough to need to be labeled. Even if people do not know what a GMO is – and I think many more do these days – they and all of us deserve the right to know what is in our food. The movie Genetic Roulette points out many health implications of GMO foods.

  30. Carol says:

    A section about agricultural policy DID NOT belong in this appropriations bill. Why was it put there?

  31. Howie says:

    Because it never would have stood on its own merits.

  32. Rebecca says:

    Hi Carol,

    I have not seen the movie you reference, and I kind of make it a point to avoid "documentaries" like that, where the bias is obvious from the title. I would encourage you to read through the scientific literature and do your own research. It may reinforce what the film says, or it might give you additional perspective. I always prefer getting first hand knowledge if I possibly can. Just something to consider.

  33. It was put here because they knew Obama needed to pass the other parts of the bill.

  34. That's exactly right. Within the timeline, any recourse to deal with any problems that come up is very limited.