Thursday, May 19, 2022

Random thoughts in a weird week

 You may have been wondering where I’ve been this week. There are several ways to answer that question. Metaphorically speaking, my life has been extremely busy with my son’s graduation from high school, a round of home improvements, and one of the busiest work weeks that I’ve had since the onset of the pandemic. Literally speaking, I’m in Canada on a business trip.

It has been a really busy week with a lot of stuff that I would have loved to comment on if I had the time. Up until now, I haven’t, however, so I’m going to take the opportunity to make some quick hits now.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

The China East Airlines crash When China East Airlines Flight 5735 crashed back in March, I suggested foul play as a possibility. This week a Wall Street Journal report revealed that information from the flight data recorder indicated that the plane was intentionally placed into a nose dive into the ground. As I wrote at the time, “There are very few reasons that an airplane would fly straight into the ground,” but that catastrophic structural failure and foul play were the two most likely scenarios.

The Journal report doesn’t name the perpetrator or even confirm that it was a crewmember, citing the possibility that someone else might have gained entry into the cockpit and taken over the controls. Since 9/11, US airliners typically have hardened cockpit doors, but foreign carriers, especially those that fly domestic routes, may not have this protection.

The cockpit voice recorder, the other “black box” that records cockpit sounds, may hold the answer to these questions. The CVR was reported to be in the US in early April, but the Journal report does not indicate whether CVR data has been analyzed.

An AP report that China denies that US investigators leaked the FDR details is also worth noting, but I’m going to go with the leaker on this one.

This week’s elections Wow, what a mess. As Steve pointed out, voters fired Madison Cawthorn (who shouldn’t let the door hit him in the butt on the way out, at least partly because he might like it) by less than two percentage points. But at least North Carolina Republicans avoided the facepalm, even if it was a near thing.

Not so for Pennsylvania Republicans. They may have rejected Kathy Barnett, but they did give the nod to Doug Mastriano, who has been connected with QAnon and who marched at the “Steal the Vote” rally on January 6 and is being subpoenaed by the January 6 committee for his role in attempting to overturn Pennsylvania’s vote for Joe Biden.

This is not a good guy. If elected governor, Mastriano could conceivably use his authority to change Pennsylvania’s Electoral College selection by refusing to certify election results or seeking to throw out Democratic votes. This may not succeed in the end, but it would certainly provoke a constitutional crisis.

No one who was involved in Trump’s coup attempt should be trusted with any public office again. Unfortunately, many will be. At the very least, these people should be kept as backbenchers and not given executive power or positions of influence over administering elections.

There is some evidence that Republican leaders were against Mastriano and tried to favor other candidates, but Democrats hyped the radical that they thought would be easiest to beat. They may regret the strategy soon, but for now, the ball is in the GOP’s court.

Will Republicans coalesce behind a man who is a literal danger to democracy or will they do the right thing and abandon Mastriano to vote for Democrat Josh Shapiro, a third-party candidate, or just stay home? In the old days, principled Republicans would abandon the party when dangerously bad candidates were nominated, but these days that firewall too often fails amid “Flight 93” election rhetoric.

And speaking of bad Republican candidates, Dr. Oz’s Senate race is too close to call and The Former Guy is telling him to just declare victory anyway.

Baby formula blues You’ve undoubtedly heard about the baby formula shortage by now. The problem is primarily one of supply, some of which relates to pandemic disruptions but is primarily a factor of a recall by Abbott Laboratories. The Abbott factory that makes a large share of baby formula sold in the US was shut down after four infants were sickened in February and two died.

As Reuters explains, there seems to be no definitive link between the formula and the sickness, but federal regulators nonetheless shut down the plant citing other issues. Abbott and the FDA have agreed on steps to reopen the plant, but the company says that it will take six-to-eight weeks after the plant gets the okay to reopen to get new formula into stores.

In this case, the federal cure seems worse than the problem. Well-meaning regulators have created a crisis where there is no evidence that formula was part of the original infant deaths. In any case, four cases of illness is an extremely small share of the total number of American infants who were eating - and still need - baby formula. Millions of babies are now threatened by the FDA’s action.

The case reminds me of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine scare. Steve Berman pointed out back in April 2021 that a pause in the approval for the J&J COVID vaccine was due to an infinitesimal number of cases of severe side effects. The doubt that the pause sowed among a public already skeptical about COVID vaccines probably cost more lives than the vaccine itself would have.

Was Biden responsible for the baby formula crisis? No. At best, he might have been able to intervene to restart the plant earlier, but such interference in the government’s police powers is also frowned upon. From a limited government standpoint, I should also point out that the government is not responsible for ensuring an adequate supply of baby formula. However, given the fact that federal regulators did cause the crisis, Biden’s decision to invoke the Defense Production Act, which authorizes the president to expand production of basic resources, does make sense, as does increasing the importation of baby formula.

The saga is a cautionary tale about placing too many eggs in one basket, but the Wall Street Journal notes that the aforementioned oval objects were placed in the carrier at least partly by government policies. These include both a protective tariff of 17 percent on imported formula and government WIC contracts that allowed four manufacturers to dominate the US baby formula market.

Political extremism Finally, Tucker Carlson has been blamed by many for touting the anti-immigrant replacement theory that motivated the Buffalo murderer. While Carlson and the others who pushed this alarmist, racist worldview are not directly responsible for the killings, their hands are also not clean.

When you push the idea that the country is being destroyed from within night after night, the logical consequence of the dire predictions is that someone is going to take it seriously and take matters into their own hands. It’s the same as Trump’s admonition in January 6 to fight because they are stealing our country. That may be figurative language, but it’s also language that many take literally.

Right wing pundits and politicians are breeding a generation of extremists. And I mean that literally. The proof is in the mounting death toll and arrest statistics of right-wing and white nationalist agitators.

This is not going to end well.

From the Racket

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