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. Continue reading Take Five (Déjà Vu All Over Again edition)

Take Five (Iowa, O! Iowa edition)

ONE: Eight Votes and Counting

Know why Rick Santorum turned in such a strong performance in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses? The Duggars.

Yes, America’s favorite breeding pair recently took time out from their near-constant rutting to endorse the former Pennsylvania senator. This isn’t the first high-profile endorsement Santorum has picked up this year, of course. Nefarious supervillain Rupert Murdoch tweeted his endorsement Monday evening, while failed reality show star Sarah Palin more or less endorsed him immediately after saying she wasn’t going to be endorsing anyone.

With a mere seven children, Santorum is a comparative piker when it comes to “sowing the lower forty” yet Jim Bob Duggar still found much to admire:

“He’s somebody that doesn’t take a poll to know where he stands,” the Duggar patriarch told a crowd at a pizza restaurant north of Des Moines. “I’m asking families, Christians all over America, to get behind Rick Santorum for the next president of the United States.”

He later added, “[Santorum] is somebody that goes and really just votes from his heart and votes on his convictions, votes on things based on the Constitution of the United States and the Bible. And that’s the kind of man we want to support.”

With Jim Bob and his penis out stumping on the campaign trail, Michelle Duggar caught a rare break, and by way of thanks recorded some robocalls for Santorum, probably with tears in her eyes.

So why, after an endorsement as big as this, did Santorum ultimately fall eight votes short of Mitt Romney? Quite simply because the Duggars aren’t Iowa residents, that’s why. If they were, Jim Bob, Michelle and their voting-age children – Joshua James, Jana Marie, John-David, Jill Michelle, Jessa Lauren and Jinger Nicole – could have tied this up. Throw in another Santorum vote from Joshua James’ wife Anna and it would have been an embarrassing second place finish for Mitt.

TWO: Mysterious Ways

Pat Robertson believes God has shown him the identity of the next president, but he said he’s “not supposed to talk about that” as he talked about it on Tuesday. Despite refusing to come clean on who it will be, Robertson went on to share some notes he jotted down during his recent confab with the Almighty. It sounded pretty much like any bull session between two very, very old geezers around a cracker barrel, right down to the predictable “world is goin’ to hell” and “that Kenyan commie’s gonna be the ruination of the nation” sentiments, but at least the Maker didn’t mince His words:

Your country will be torn apart by internal stress. A house divided cannot stand. Your president holds a radical view of the direction of your country which is at odds with the majority. Expect chaos and paralysis.

Holy moly! I always suspected that the Lord watched Fox; I just didn’t realize he took it so seriously. Robertson gamely tried to guess the nature of the coming calamity. EMP blast? Nope. Cosmic or solar or radiation blast? No siree. Mayan galaxy alignment? Hell, no. Iranian or North Korean nuclear threat? Get serious. Earthquake or volcano? Nuh-uh. Massive power failure? Oh, pshaw. Finally, the Creator spat on the floor, squinted to the left and to the right, then leaned in low over the checkerboard and whispered hoarsely:

It’s an economic collapse. This is not my judgment. They are bringing it upon themselves.

All right. I made up the spitting and squinting and stuff, but just to give the story a little more oomph than Robertson’s clinical recitation. Robertson didn’t say whether God intends to head this disaster off, or whether He means to settle back in His rocker with wry satisfaction and maybe smoke His corncob pipe while the economy tanks. Nor did God tell his confidant when this is all going to happen, but since President Obama will be in office for another five years and has a successful track record battling economic collapse, I like our chances.

THREE: “Huge Political Consequences”

Speaking of omnipotent entities, the American Petroleum Institute threatened President Obama yesterday with “huge political consequences” if he fails to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands crude from Canada to Gulf of Mexico refineries (minus whatever amount gets spilled in transit across the US heartland).

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard urged Obama to quickly approve the pipeline…

“I think it would be a huge mistake on the part of the president of the United States to deny the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,” Gerard said during the powerful oil industry trade association’s annual “State of American Energy” event Wednesday.

“Clearly, the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. A determination to decide anything less than that I believe will have huge political consequences.”

Gerard’s threats might have been better directed toward Republicans in Congress, though, since they’re the ones who insisted on including a provision in December’s payroll tax cut extension:

… requiring the president to make a final decision on the pipeline within 60 days.

What Gerard and his Congressional marionettes have yet to realize is that this newest example of GOP overreach provides all the cover necessary for President Obama to kill the pipeline with complete political immunity, despite the inevitable howling it will prompt from the “drill, baby, drill” crowd:

Obama administration and White House officials have said that the 60-day timeline could force them to reject the project because the State Department will not have enough time to conduct the necessary reviews…

Environmental groups – who vehemently oppose the project, citing concerns about oil spills and greenhouse gas emissions – have said Obama has no choice but to reject the pipeline under the GOP-backed Keystone measure.

Should things unfold in this happy fashion, and I believe they will, it will be a splendid example of “huge political consequences.” Continue reading Take Five (Iowa, O! Iowa edition)