Take Five (Déjà Vu All Over Again edition)

ONE: Hey, would you rather have fungus in your OJ?

Last week, Take Five coughed up a small hairball over the USDA’s recently announced downsizing, which will see 259 facilities and 7,000 employees slashed, a reduction Tom Vilsack was quick to claim “… will have no impact whatsoever on our ability to ensure food safety…”

Well, that’s very good news, Mr. Secretary. Just days after your announcement, the good people at PepsiCo Inc. noted that tests have found traces of carbendazim, a “potentially dangerous” fungicide, in their Tropicana brand orange juice. This follows rival Coca Cola’s announcement that shipments from Brazil intended for their Minute Maid brand juice had turned up carbendazim in quantities that were found to be below federal safety standards:

Carbendazim is used in Brazil to combat blossom blight and black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees.

But in the United States, its use is limited to non-food items such as paints, textiles and ornamental trees, although U.S. authorities allow trace amounts of carbendazim in 31 food types including grains, nuts and some non-citrus fruits.

The FDA said low levels of carbendazim are not dangerous and the agency had no plans for a recall.

So far so good, then. Thanks to a sound regulatory regime and admirable compliance from the corporations being regulated, we can assume that no consumer has found his sperm development compromised, or her chromosomes damaged, which is nice. As originally noted in Pesticides News No. 57 in September 2002, carbendazim is:

… of major concern due to its suspected hormone disrupting effects. It has been highlighted by Friends of the Earth as one of their ‘filthy four’ pesticides as it could be harmful to human health and the environment.

For good measure, let’s also assume that not a single one of those 7,000 positions or 259 facilities soon to be eliminated ever had to deal with carbendazim. Everyone can sleep better that way, and start tomorrow with a refreshing glass of fungus-free orange juice.

TWO: The Voting Dead

Last week, Take Five looked on in disgust as South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and his boss Nikki Haley announced a lawsuit against the DOJ for its refusal to rubberstamp the state’s new voter ID law. In an incredible (as in “not even a tiny bit credible”) coincidence, last week Wilson asked the State Law Enforcement Commission to investigate what he claims is:

… the fact that over 900 persons, who were deceased at the time of [recent] elections, appear to have “voted” in those elections.

Wilson purportedly bases this claim on data provided by DMV Director Kevin Shwedo.

Scott Keyes at Think Progress succinctly summarized what invariably occurs when such allegations arise:

… while salacious accusations like Wilson’s grab headlines, the subsequent investigations that find no voter fraud rarely get as much attention. Indeed, no election would be complete without allegations of dead voters; yet each time, officials perform the same Scooby-Doo routine, investigating wild accusations before discovering a much simpler explanation for the discrepancies.

Keyes goes on to quote some illustrative examples from a paper on voter fraud commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, but I recommend you read the whole thing (PDF here). It pretty much puts paid to the notion that such a thing as voter fraud exists in any statistically meaningful sense. Keyes concludes by saying:

Whether it’s a spelling error, a check-in error, or simply a death shortly after Election Day, minor discrepancies do pop up during elections; zombie voters, less so.

Officials like Wilson would do well to apply Occam’s Razor in matters like these before spinning wild accusations.

Yes, they would, but of course Wilson needs to spin these wild accusations if he hopes to implement the new voter ID law in time to suppress Democratic votes this November. Barack Obama got 44.9 percent of the South Carolina vote in 2008, and what few forecasts there are to suggest he’ll do better this year strike me as mostly wishful thinking, but – as that old skunk Karl Rove himself would no doubt agree – when it comes to elections there’s really no such thing as an abundance of caution.

THREE: Talking (and Talking and Talking) Book

The Romney campaign site is currently touting an endorsement from Senator John McCain, the last Republican candidate to have his butt kicked by Barack Obama:

“Governor Romney offers us the commonsense reforms of government policy that are necessary to turn around our economy,” said Senator McCain. “His record of accomplishment in government and business are a testament to his leadership abilities. His commitment to a strong defense and principled diplomacy will earn the world’s respect for American leadership.”

Strangely, however, McCain’s 2008 campaign team didn’t share the Senator’s seeming respect for Romney’s “record of accomplishment” or his “leadership abilities” or anything else about him. In fact, they appear to have regarded him as the transparently phony jackass that he actually is.

Andrew Kaczynski at BuzzFeed has posted what appears to be the McCain campaign’s opposition research book on Mitt Romney. Snippets have surfaced before, but this is the first time the entire thing has been made available. It was worth the wait. There’s so much juicy stuff in here it should inspire Newt Gingrich and Romney’s other remaining primary rivals to wet dreams.

If you’re pressed for time, head straight to the “Top Hits” section on page 7, but it’s worth poking around some more if the thought of reading so much about Mitt Romney doesn’t make you too queasy. You’ll find the biographical timeline beginning on page 3 quite informative, and there are handy executive summaries of Romney and social issues (page 13), economic issues (page 45), foreign policy (page 66), domestic policy (page 87), Romney’s business record (page 135), his flip-flops (page 168) and miscellaneous political issues, including campaign ethics and “questionable Republican credentials” (page 179). Each summary prefaces pages of carefully sourced excerpts from letters, transcripts and other primary documents, press releases, news stories, editorials, commentary and analysis. What follows are a few items I particularly enjoyed.

About those business accomplishments:

Bain Capital financed 1988 buyout with junk bonds issued by Drexel Burnham – when SEC filed charges against the firm and CEO Michael Milken, Bain Capital maintained their business relationship; Romney later reminisced about “the glorious days of Drexel Burnham.” (page 135)

Romney has been criticized by experts for failing to deliver on issues of business development and economic growth after selling himself as the “CEO governor.” (page 8 )

Bain Capital owned company named Ampad that purchased an Indiana paper plant, fired its workers and offered to bring them back at drastically reduced salary and benefits – the firings became an issue in the 1994 Senate race when workers blamed Romney for their situation and appeared in Kennedy campaign ads. (page 135)

About those accomplishments in government:

In 1994, Romney opposed the Contract with America without even reading it. (page 179)

Romney’s spending decisions as chairman of the Republican Governors Association during 2006 election cycle “raised eyebrows” in light of his presidential aspirations. (page 179)

Romney took no position on estate tax issue in 2002 and signed 50% increase in state cremation fee, which observers call “hidden tax on the dead.” (page 9)

There’s even a fun section about Romney’s, um, consistent values and steadfast positions:

ABORTION: Romney Was Pro-Choice. Then Not Pro-Choice. Then Pro-Choice Again. Then Pro-Life (page 168)

SECOND AMENDMENT: Romney Once Bragged Of Opposing NRA. Promised Not To “Chip Away” At Tough Gun Laws But Now Seeks NRA Endorsement (page 171)

OWNING A GUN. Romney Said He Owned A Gun Himself. Then Admitted It Was Not His Gun (page 171)

CLIMATE CHANGE: Romney Once Claimed Global Warming Debate Was “Pretty Much Over” But Now Expresses Skepticism And Attacks His Opponents (page 172)

GAY MARRIAGE: In 2002, Romney Refused To Endorse Constitutional Amendment Banning Gay Marriage, Saying It Was Too Extreme, But Later Endorsed Amendment Banning Gay Marriage In 2006 (page 173)

STEM CELL RESEARCH: Romney Once Endorsed Embryonic Stem Cell Research And Promised To “Work and Fight” For It Before Changing His Position (page 174)

And the book doesn’t overlook the kind of stuff that’s really important to today’s voters:

FAVORITE BOOK: Romney Insisted L. Ron Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth” Was His Favorite Novel, Then Said Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” Was His Favorite (page 174)

FAVORITE MOVIE: Romney Has Changed Positions On His Favorite Film In Recent Years (page 175)

Keep in mind that this happy compendium was put together four years ago, so it’s missing almost half a decade of new policy reversals, contradictions, exaggerations, lies, duplicity, scuzzy business dealings and miscellaneous Mittery. If the other remaining Republican candidates have a lick of sense (which I doubt) they’ve got their campaigns working overtime on the sequel to this blockbuster.

FOUR: Put that in your pipeline and smoke it.

It’s a shame that science hasn’t yet figured out a way to harness power from hubris; if it ever does, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard alone could fulfill the nation’s energy needs in perpetuity. Two weeks ago, Take Five commented on Gerard’s recent threat of “huge political consequences” should the Obama Administration reject the API’s cherished Keystone XL Pipeline. Big Oil had already directed their faithful servants in the Republican Congressional Caucus to insist on a White House decision on the pipeline by February 21, in exchange for an extension of the payroll tax cut.

Yesterday, Gerard and his ilk got their own lesson in consequences when the project was shot down:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday rejected a Canadian company’s plan to build a U.S.-spanning, 1,700-mile (2,700 kilometer) pipeline to carry oil across six U.S. states to Texas refineries, raising the stakes on a bitter election year fight with Republicans.

… Obama said a February deadline set by Congress would not allow for a proper review of potential harm from the $7 billion Keystone XL project.

Watch for a raft of advertising sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute and their oily corporate peers decrying President Obama’s “job-killing agenda” and “refusal to seek alternatives to our dependence on Middle Eastern oil” and whatever similar bilge might convince low-information voters that they’d better vote for Mitt Romney this November, even though:

… the State Department said the decision was made “without prejudice,” meaning TransCanada can submit a new application once a route through environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska is established.

Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said the company plans to do exactly that. If approved, the pipeline could begin operation as soon as 2014, Girling said.

As to the “tens of thousands” or even, as former GOP candidate Jon Huntsman claimed, “more than 100,000″ jobs the Keystone XL pipeline would supposedly create, while Glen “The Fact Checker” Kessler at the Washington Post is too polite to call such claims bullshit, he demonstrated weeks ago that that’s what they are, though he awarded them only a disappointing two Pinocchios. Other sources, however, were even more skeptical.

FIVE: Scott Walker, recall for you on line one!

Speaking of déjà vu, 1,128,941 votes made Scott Walker Wisconsin’s new governor 14 months ago; two days ago, anti-Walker activists filed a similar number of signatures to recall him from office. 540,000 would have been enough to trigger a recall, but as noted above, when it comes to elections there’s really no such thing as an abundance of caution. For good measure, 845,000 signatures were collected to recall Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and sufficient numbers of Wisconsinites also endorsed recall petitions against four Republican state senators.

Former assistant attorney general and Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, a Democrat with a solid record of environmental advocacy, announced yesterday that she will challenge Walker (and wasted no time getting her campaign site up). Other challengers are expected, including Milwaukee’s mayor, Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010.

The signatures won’t be verified for another eight weeks, and legal challenges could postpone setting a spring election date, but this is an enormous victory for grassroots democracy. As Wisconsin’s state motto says: Forward.