Tuesday Reads

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock

Good Morning!!

Today, members of the White House coronavirus task force will testify in the House of Representatives. The hearing starts at 11AM, and I expect it will be shown on the cable news channels. Here’s the C-Span link.

The Washington Post: Fauci, other health officials expected to caution at hearing that coronavirus could continue for ‘some time.’

With cases rising in nearly half of the states and a White House eager to return to normal, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, and three other key officials are scheduled to appear before a House panel overseeing the administration’s response.

The testimony will be Fauci’s first since a highly anticipated appearance a month ago, and it comes on the heels of President Trump’s comments at a controversial campaign rally over the weekend that he asked officials to slow testing to show fewer cases. Aides later said the comment was made in jest, but it prompted a fresh round of criticism that Trump is seeking to minimize the challenges that loom in recovering from the virus.

In a joint statement submitted on behalf of the four witnesses, the Department of Health and Human Services says “while it remains unclear how long the pandemic will last, COVID-19 activity will likely continue for some time.”

The statement warns that if coronavirus activity continues into the upcoming flu season, “this could place a tremendous burden on the health care system related to bed occupancy, laboratory testing needs, personal protective equipment and health care worker safety.”

The statement also calls testing “an essential component of our nation’s response” and says a “safe and effective vaccine” will be “essential to stopping the spread of infection, reducing rates of morbidity and mortality, and preventing future outbreaks.”

Fauci is scheduled to be joined before the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control; Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration; and Brett Giroir, head of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Meanwhile, Trump and his goons apparently plan to blame the CDC for the mess they made. Polico: Trump team weighs a CDC scrubbing to deflect mounting criticism.

White House officials are putting a target on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, positioning the agency as a coronavirus scapegoat as cases surge in many states and the U.S. falls behind other nations that are taming the pandemic.

Trump administration aides in recent weeks have seriously discussed launching an in-depth evaluation of the agency to chart what they view as its missteps in responding to the pandemic including an early failure to deploy working test kits, according to four senior administration officials. Part of that audit would include examining more closely the state-by-state death toll to tally only the Americans who died directly of Covid-19 rather than other factors. About 120,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus so far, according to the CDC’s official count.

Aides have also discussed narrowing the mission of the agency or trying to embed more political appointees within it, according to interviews with 10 current and former senior administration officials and Republicans close to the White House. One official said the overall goal would be to make the CDC nimble and more responsive.

Politically, Trump aides have also been looking for a person or entity outside of China to blame for the coronavirus response and have grown furious with the CDC, its public health guidance and its actions on testing, making it a prime target. But some wonder whether the wonky-sounding CDC, which the administration directly oversees, could be an effective fall guy on top of Trump’s efforts to blame the World Health Organization….

The moves are among the White House’s efforts to deflect attacks on President Donald Trump and place them elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy. Protecting the president is seen as increasingly important by political aides as the general election approaches in just over four months and criticism mounts from former Vice President Joe Biden, other Democrats and even former national security adviser John Bolton who say the blame rests squarely on Trump himself.

The U.S. is losing the battle against the virus, and the blame should fall on Trump’s shoulders. This monster has cast a pall over the country and the rolling health crisis and the accompanying economic disaster are likely to get much worse.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: America Is Too Broken to Fight the Coronavirus.

Graphs of the coronavirus curves in Britain, Canada, Germany and Italy look like mountains, with steep climbs up and then back down. The one for America shows a fast climb up to a plateau. For a while, the number of new cases in the U.S. was at least slowly declining. Now, according to The Times, it’s up a terrifying 22 percent over the last 14 days.

As Politico reported on Monday, Italy’s coronavirus catastrophe once looked to Americans like a worst-case scenario. Today, it said, “America’s new per capita cases remain on par with Italy’s worst day — and show signs of rising further.”

This is what American exceptionalism looks like under Donald Trump. It’s not just that the United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world. Republican political dysfunction has made a coherent campaign to fight the pandemic impossible.

At the federal level as well as in many states, we’re seeing a combination of the blustering contempt for science that marks the conservative approach to climate change and the high tolerance for carnage that makes American gun culture unique.

The rot starts at the top. At the beginning of the crisis Trump acted as if he could wish the coronavirus away, and after an interval when he at least pretended to take it seriously, his administration has resumed a posture of blithe denial.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest of this powerful piece.

Fallout continues after Trump’s disastrous rally in Tulsa on Saturday night, but he’s still planning to head to Arizona–another coronavirus hot spot–today.

Jonathan Lemire at AP: After Tulsa, Trump heads to virus hotspot Arizona and border.

Regrouping after a humbling weekend rally, President Donald Trump faces another test of his ability to draw a crowd during a pandemic Tuesday as he visits Arizona and tries to remind voters of one of his key 2016 campaign promises….

First, the president will travel to Yuma to mark the construction of more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, an issue that he built his campaign on four years ago. Later, he’ll address a group of young Republicans at a Phoenix megachurch, where event organizers have pledged thousands will attend.

Throughout the trip, the COVID-19 pandemic will shadow Trump. The Democratic mayor of Phoenix made clear that she does not believe the speech can be safely held in her city — and urged the president to wear a face mask.

“Everyone attending tomorrow’s event, particularly any elected official, should set an example to residents by wearing a mask,” said Mayor Kate Gallego. “This includes the President.”

The “Students for Trump” event will be held at the Dream City Church and broadcast to groups across the nation. Students for Trump is a special project of Turning Point Action, a grouped chaired by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, which is hosting the president for his address. Organizers said health and safety measures still were being finalized and it was unclear if attendees would be asked to wear masks or keep socially distant.

More on the rally from NPR:

The church, which can hold about 3,000 people, released a statement saying it only found out that Trump would be speaking at the event after it agreed to rent its facilities.

“Dream City’s facility rental does not constitute endorsement of the opinions of its renters,” the statement said….

Students for Trump includes a waiver similar to the one the Trump campaign gave to attendees of the Tulsa rally, acknowledging the health risks.

“By attending this convention, you and any guest voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Turning Point Action, their affiliates, Dream City Church, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,” it reads.

Three articles on the fallout from Tulsa and other problems with the Trump campaign, including lackluster fund-raising:

The Washington Post: Trump’s anger over Tulsa rally underscores growing problems within his campaign.

A sea of empty seats in a Tulsa arena on Saturday set off a furious round of finger-pointing and recriminations around President Trump’s campaign that continued through Monday, amplifying the president and his team’s struggle to find their footing amid national and political crises.

Trump has fumed about his campaign manager Brad Parscale over the half-empty arena, campaign officials are engaged in whisper campaigns against their colleagues, and some Trump allies are calling for a dramatic reorganization of the reelection machine, according to several current and former administration and campaign officials.

On Monday, the campaign announced that two additional staff members tested positive for the novel coronavirus after attending the Tulsa rally. Six members of the campaign advance team tested positive before the rally.

Publicly, the White House and Trump campaign declared the rally a success and denied claims that Trump — who has long fixated on crowd size — was upset about the crowd of 6,200 at the 19,000-seat arena in Tulsa. Before the event, Trump said he expected tens of thousands of supporters to be there.

The Daily Beast: Trump’s Rally Was a ‘Disaster.’ But It Wasn’t Even His Biggest One.

President Trump complained to top advisers about being put in a position where the media could mock him. He ordered his team to immediately find out what went wrong. And two of the sources said the president suggested there would be major consequences for campaign staff if this wasn’t “fixed” and if he saw too many empty seats at his next coronavirus-era mega-rally.

Among various Trump associates and staff—as well as GOP veterans—the blame was directed at Michael Glassner, the campaign’s chief operating officer, and Brad Parscale, the campaign manager….

the lackluster rally attendance came as cracks appear to be forming in one of the president’s key political assets—his formidable, and for a time unmatched, grassroots appeal—and as his Democratic rival overtakes him in an area dominated by Trump in 2016: small-dollar fundraising.

As Trump was on stage in Tulsa, his campaign filed its most recent financial report with the Federal Election Commission, revealing that it had brought in just under $25 million last month, well short of the nearly $37 million in receipts reported by the Biden campaign. The real concerns for the Trump campaign, though, were in the details. For the second time in three months, Biden’s campaign reported beating Trump’s in small dollar donations, both in terms of gross receipts—Biden more than tripled the $5.4 million that Trump brought in in May from donations of under $200—and as a share of total individual contributions. All told, 38.2 percent of individual donations to the Trump campaign in May came via contributions of less than $200, compared to 47.2 percent for Biden.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “Brad Really S–t the Bed Saturday Night”: After Tulsa Catastrophe, Parscale–and Kushner–is at the Top of Trump’s Hit List.

Donald Trump’s exhausted trudge from Marine One toward the White House after his botched rally in Tulsa, his red tie undone, a grim look on his face, a crumpled MAGA hat in his hand, is now an iconic image of his presidency. And as always with Trump, he’s already looking for someone to blame. The most obvious candidate, according to sources, is his embattled campaign manager, Brad Parscale. “Brad really shit the bed Saturday night. You have to remember, execution is 95% of presidential politics,” a Republican close to the White House told me over the weekend. Parscale committed a cascade of errors, from overhyping expected turnout to blaming the half-filled arena on protesters. Trump was so furious when he saw how thin the crowd was that he threatened to not go onstage, two sources briefed on the discussions told me. The sources said that Parscale, reading the tea leaves, is planning to step down. “He knows he can’t survive,” one source told me.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said Parscale is safe. “Brad is the campaign manager, and he’s the one in charge,” Miller said.

But one thing is for sure: The blame game has shifted into high gear. Trump insiders told me Trump was presented with five options of where to hold his rally. “The president chose Tulsa,” a source said. Sources also told me that if Parscale is forced out, he likely won’t be the only casualty of the rally fiasco. Trump is debating revoking his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s control over the campaign, sources said. As I previously reported, Trump has been frustrated with Kushner’s oversight of the campaign in light of polling that consistently shows Trump losing to Joe Biden. Another source of friction has been campaign spending and reports Trump has gotten that Parscale is making millions of dollars. “Did Jared allow this?” Trump asked advisers recently, according to a source. (Kushner declined to comment.)

More gossip at the link.

There is much more news today; I’ll add some links in the comment thread. What stories have you been following? Please share.


Tuesday Reads: Follow the Money

Marguerite Thompson Zoorach, 1887-1968, The Picnic, 1920s

Good Morning!!

Just as I suspected, Trump has financial motives for pushing an unproven drug with dangerous side effects during a global pandemic.

The New York Times reported yesterday:

If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine….

Some associates of Mr. Trump’s have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the investment company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump. A spokesman for Mr. Fisher declined to comment.

Claude Monet. Luncheon on the Grass

Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. Mr. Ross said in a statement Monday that he “was not aware that Invesco has any investments in companies producing” the drug, “nor do I have any involvement in the decision to explore this as a treatment.”

As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.

Ashleigh Koss, a Sanofi spokeswoman, said the company no longer sells or distributes Plaquenil in the United States, although it does sell it internationally.

And of course Jared is involved. I wonder if he stands to gain financial from this drug pushing?

Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Mr. Trump at least twice since he became president, according to a person who saw them.

Mr. Patel, whose company is based in Bridgewater, N.J., did not respond to a request for comment. Amneal announced last month that it would increase production of the drug and donate millions of pills to New York and other states. Other generic drugmakers are ramping up production, including Mylan and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

Roberto Mignone, a Teva board member, reached out to the team of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, through Nitin Saigal, who used to work for Mr. Mignone and is a friend of Mr. Kushner’s, according to people informed about the discussions.

Luncheon on the Grass, Pablo Picasso

Mr. Kushner’s team referred him to the White House task force and Mr. Mignone asked for help getting India to ease export restrictions, which have since been relaxed, allowing Teva to bring more pills into the United States. Mr. Mignone, who is also a vice chairman of NYU Langone Health, which is running a clinical study of hydroxychloroquine, confirmed on Monday that he has spoken with the administration about getting more medicine into the country.

Yesterday we also learned that Peter Navarro, Trump’s wacky trade adviser was warning about a pandemic back in January. Axios: Navarro memos warning of mass coronavirus death circulated in January.

In late January, President Trump’s economic adviser Peter Navarro warned his White House colleagues the novel coronavirus could take more than half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, according to memos obtained by Axios.
The state of play: By late February, Navarro was even more alarmed, and he warned his colleagues, in another memo, that up to two million Americans could die of the virus.

Navarro’s grim estimates are set out in two memos — one dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the National Security Council, the other dated Feb. 23 and addressed to the president. The NSC circulated both memos around the White House and multiple agencies.

In the first memo, which the New York Times was first to report on, Navarro makes his case for “an immediate travel ban on China.”

The second lays the groundwork for supplemental requests from Congress, with the warning: “This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill.”

Why it matters: The president quickly restricted travel from China, moved to delay re-entry of American travelers who could be infected, and dispatched his team to work with Congress on stimulus funds.

But Trump was far slower to publicly acknowledge the sort of scenarios Navarro had put in writing.

A couple of interesting psychological analyses of Trump catastrophic performance:

At the New York Times, Jennifer Senior writes: This Is What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis.

Picnic (1989), Fernando Botero

Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.

Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.

But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest.

Alternet: Leading psychologists explain how Trump’s self-delusions and narcissism make him uniquely effective at predatory deception.

In practicing the art of lying while retaining a hold on the allegiance of his base, Trump utilizes a propaganda principle—the Big Lie—best explained by Hitler.  Now, please note that we are not equating Trump and Hitler; they are very different people.  However, like Hitler, Trump is involved in the business of selling himself as an angry, righteous savior to the masses, resulting in a growing number of cultic devotees.  So, it may behoove us to consider Hitler’s explanation of why the Big Lie is more successful than mere untruths. Here’s his explanation of the principle in Mein Kampf:

Francisco de Goya’s Picnic En La Ribera Del Manzanares (Picnic on the Banks of the Manzanares), 1776

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

Consider just two of many possible examples of the Big Lie:  Trump’s bizarre claim that the military was out of ammunition when he took office and his equally bizarre claim that the father of Ted Cruz was involved with the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, adding, “It’s horrible.”  It is the outrageousness of the Big Lie that a listener normally expects would create self-conscious awkwardness in the liar.  In turn, this results in a need for a great liar to hide any nervousness that might give away the fact that he is attempting to deceive his audience.  In poker, the failure to hide completely the lie inherent in a bluff is called a “tell,” the subtle behavior unwittingly exhibited when bluffing.

Click the link to read the rest. It’s a really interesting piece.

Republicans in Wisconsin have been working overtime to undermine democracy, and yesterday the Supreme Court gave them a big assist.

Slate: By a 5–4 Vote, SCOTUS L.ets Wisconsin Throw Out Tens of Thousands of Ballots.

On Monday, by a 5–4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court approved one of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern history. The court will nullify the votes of citizens who mailed in their ballots late—not because they forgot, but because they did not receive ballots until after Election Day due to the coronavirus pandemic. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent, the court’s order “will result in massive disenfranchisement.” The conservative majority claimed that its decision would help protect “the integrity of the election process.” In reality, it calls into question the legitimacy of the election itself.

Still Life with Peonies and Seven Lovely Ladies by David Elsea – 2018

Wisconsin has long been scheduled to hold an election on April 7. There are more than 3,800 seats on the ballot, and a crucial state Supreme Court race. But the state’s ability to conduct in-person voting is imperiled by COVID-19. Thousands of poll workers have dropped out for fear of contracting the virus, forcing cities to shutter dozens of polling places. Milwaukee, for example, consolidated its polling locations from 182 to five, while Green Bay consolidated its polling locations from 31 to two. Gov. Tony Evers asked the Republican-controlled legislature to postpone the election, but it refused. So he tried to delay it himself in an executive order on Monday. But the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court reinstated the election, thereby forcing voters to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.

Because voters are rightfully afraid of COVID-19, Wisconsin has been caught off guard by a surge in requests for absentee ballots. Election officials simply do not have time, resources, or staff to process all those requests. As a result, a large number of voters—at least tens of thousands—won’t get their ballot until after Election Day. And Wisconsin law disqualifies ballots received after that date. In response, last Thursday, a federal district court ordered the state to extend the absentee ballot deadline. It directed officials to count votes mailed after Election Day so long as they were returned by April 13. A conservative appeals court upheld his decision.

Now the Supreme Court has reversed that order. It allowed Wisconsin to throw out ballots postmarked and received after Election Day, even if voters were entirely blameless for the delay. (Thankfully, ballots postmarked by Election Day but received by April 13 still count, because the legislature didn’t challenge that extension.) In an unsigned opinion, the majority cited the Purcell principle, which cautions courts against altering voting laws shortly before an election. It criticized the district court for “fundamentally alter[ing] the nature of the election by permitting voting for six additional days after the election.” And it insisted that the plaintiffs did not actually request that relief—which, as Ginsburg notes in her dissent, is simply false.

Read more:

Vox: The Supreme Court’s disturbing order to effectively disenfranchise thousands of Wisconsin voters.

PoliticusUSA: Brett Kavanaugh Leads Conservative SCOTUS Majority In Blocking Extended Voting In Wisconsin.

According to the Roberts court, voters should have to choose between voting and possibly dying and protecting their health. And of course the Republican primary is meaningless, so only Democrats have to worry about that.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump Is Killing Americans

By Sara Barnes

Good Morning!!

Is Trump deliberately letting Americans die? It certainly appears that he is directing scarce medical supplies to red states like Florida while actively trying to prevent deliveries of such equipment to blue states.

On Thursday I posted about a massive shipment of N95 masks that was delivered to Massachusetts through the intervention of the Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots. The Krafts arranged to have the Patriots plane fly to China and back to pick up more than a million masks. Another shipment will follow later. The Krafts also donated $2 million toward the cost of the masks. From The Boston Globe:

The news, which broke early Thursday, resembled a plot pulled straight out of a summer blockbuster: The Kraft family had deployed a New England Patriots team plane to China to deliver about one million desperately needed N95 respirator masks to health care workers in Massachusetts.

By Rudi Herzimeier

Yet the story is as alarming as it is heartwarming, underscoring a harsh reality as the coronavirus pandemic spreads ever faster around the United States. Governor Charlie Baker and his counterparts throughout the country are forced to go to extraordinary lengths to secure life-saving medical equipment in the absence of a coordinated federal response.

“This is not how it is supposed to work,” said Representative Katherine Clark of Melrose, a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team. She described herself as “very grateful” for the Kraft family’s generosity and help getting the critical gear, but said “what we need is a coordinated federal system.”

Why was such a dramatic effort necessary? Because Trump has been actively preventing Massachusetts from purchasing medical supplies.

The journey began, in the governor’s telling, roughly two weeks ago, when the federal government confiscated a shipment of more than 3 million N95 masks at the Port of New York and New Jersey that Massachusetts had arranged to buy….

Baker’s victory in the state’s intense hunt for masks and other protective gear, or PPE, follows weeks of increasingly public frustration from the normally even-keeled governor. His administration has hit numerous roadblocks thrown up by the federal government, which has repeatedly snatched supplies from the states’ hands and directed governors to find their own source.

Very Introvert Cat Sitting on a Red Chair, by Nastya Ozozo

Even now, Baker administration officials are still waiting on the federal government to deliver promised help. Earlier this week, Baker announced that the state had ordered 1,000 ventilators from the federal government and that he expected the delivery by the end of this week. On Thursday, Baker said Massachusetts still hasn’t gotten any of the equipment and he no longer expects them by the end of the week.

Normally calm and matter-of-fact, Baker choked back tears when he spoke at Logan Airport after meeting he Patriots plane.

The Chicago Sun-Times has a story about another crazy situation in Illinois: Illinois adjusts on the fly to meet medical supply needs in a coronavirus ‘Wild West.’

About two weeks ago, Illinois officials tracked down a supply of 1.5 million potentially life-saving N95 respirator masks in China through a middleman in the Chicago area and negotiated a deal to buy them.

One day before they were expecting to complete the purchase, they got a call in the morning from the supplier informing them he had to get a check to the bank by 2 p.m. that day, or the deal was off. Other bidders had surfaced.

Realizing there was no way the supplier could get to Springfield and back by the deadline, Illinois assistant comptroller Ellen Andres jumped in her car and raced north on I-55 with a check for $3,469,600.

By Shozo Ozaki.

From the other end, Jeffrey Polen, president of The Moving Concierge in Lemont, drove south. Polen isn’t in the medical supply business, but he “knows a guy,” an old friend who specializes in working with China’s factories.

As they drove, Andres and Polen arranged to meet in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant just off the interstate in Dwight. They made the handoff there.

Polen made it back to his bank with 20 minutes to spare. Illinois already has received part of the mask shipment. There’s more on the way.

That’s just a taste of the “Wild West” world of emergency procurement taking place over the past several weeks as the state fights for equipment and supplies to protect frontline workers and patients in the battle against COVID-19.

Why is this chaos necessary? Because Trump refuses to allow the federal government to organize the pandemic response.

Now Trump is angering America’s foreign allies by commandeering medical supplies their governments are trying to buy.

Kaiser Health News: Trump Administration Uses Wartime Powers To Be First In Line On Medical Supplies.

The Trump administration quietly invoked the Defense Production Act to force medical suppliers in Texas and Colorado to sell to it first — ahead of states, hospitals or foreign countries.

It took this action more than a week before it announced Thursday that it would use the little-known aspect of the law to force 3M to fill its contract to the U.S. first. Firms face fines or jail time if they don’t comply.

Terry Runyan, Yellow Cat

The Cold War-era law gives federal officials the power to edge out the competition and force contractors to provide supplies to them before filling orders for other customers.

While it’s unclear how many times the power has been used during the coronavirus pandemic, federal contracting records examined by Kaiser Health News show that federal authorities staked first rights to $137 million in medical supplies. The orders in late March flew under the radar, even as dog-eat-dog bidding wars raged among states and nations for desperately needed medical protective gear.

“It’s like ‘Lord of the Flies’ out there for states and hospitals as they bid against each other for critical medical supplies and equipment,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a statement to KHN. “Plus, there’s no transparency about what the federal government is doing with the equipment that they purchase when they outbid states and hospitals.”

Read more:

Reuters: Canada blasts U.S. block on 3M exports of masks as coronavirus cases set to soar.

CNBC: 3M warns Trump: Halting exports under Defense Production Act would reduce number of masks available to US.

At the Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Thursday, we learned that, instead of sending medical supplies controlled by the Pentagon (paid for by taxpayers) directly to states, the administration is handing the equipment over to private companies to resell to the highest bidder. Here’s what Lt. Katrina recovery hero Gen. Russell Honore had to say about that.

Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote about the insanity of putting failson-in-law Jared Kusher in charge of the federal pandemic response. We learned about that at the Thursday briefing too. From The Daily Beast:

President Donald Trump’s top adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner insisted on Thursday that the government had not built up a national stockpile of medical equipment for states to use during threats like the coronavirus since those states have strategic reserves of their own.

The remark drew raised eyebrows from experts, considering presidents have dispersed supplies from the national strategic stockpiles for use by states dozens of times over the last twenty years.

In fact, the Trump administration itself has dipped into the federal reserves to help states in need…

Malarstwo Japońskie

“He doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about. He has no idea,” said Gen. Russel Honore, a retired military general who helped direct the response on the ground during Hurricane Katrina. “He must have remembered something from some slide or some speech. But that’s why people created the national strategic stockpile in the first place. It’s for those days when we can’t predict what we need. What I see is a total misunderstanding by the White House that they have a responsibility to help maintain the stockpile and help states.” [….]

While state governments do possess their own stockpiles of equipment and supplies, the national strategic stockpile was originally designed in 1999 to help states fill the gaps when facing things like natural or health disasters. The role of the stockpile has expanded dramatically in recent years amid more frequent natural disasters.

But the Trump White House’s approach to filling the supply chain gaps has been slapstick at best, officials say, in part because it was unprepared for taking the lead in responding to a global pandemic. For weeks, the administration struggled to understand which agency was responsible for studying the supply chain breakdown and which was in charge of fixing not only the dwindling medical supplies in hospitals, but also the shortages of products like toilet paper and paper towels in grocery stores.

“We missed dealing with this disaster because for weeks, the White House said it was a hoax,” Honore said. “So we missed at least four weeks of anticipation and preparation on the logistics side because of our leadership.” [….]

“It shouldn’t be this complicated,” said Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “It’s supposed to happen like a light switch you flip on. And this should have happened a month ago. This is not inventing a vaccine, this is just shipping stuff. In these situations you want a light White House touch and you want the subject matter experts to take the lead.”

By Saul Steinberg

More important stories to check out:

The New York Times: Coronavirus in N.Y.: Toll Soars to Nearly 3,000 as State Pleads for Aid.

The Washington Post: The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged.

The Washington Post: Inside the coronavirus testing failure: Alarm and dismay among the scientists who sought to help.

Yahoo News: Coronavirus may cause some food shortages, warns government task force.

ProPublica: How Tea Party Budget Battles Left the National Emergency Medical Stockpile Unprepared for Coronavirus.

Raw Story: Trump administration quietly guts COVID-19 paid leave provision that already excluded 75 percent of workers.

Lucian Truscott IV at Salon (via Raw Story): Trump is preparing the ground for a totalitarian dictatorship.

Business Insider: The US Postal Service is on track to run out of money by June, and it could be a disaster for states trying to expand voting by mail.

Take care this weekend, Sky Dancers! Please let us know what’s happening where you are.

 

 


Lazy Caturday Reads: “Coronavirus is Unlike Anything in Our Lifetime”

Painting by Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura

Good Morning!!

Trump gave another train wreck of a press conference yesterday during which he lied, obfuscated, and set a terrible example for his followers by shaking hands with all and sundry, touching the microphone, and refusing to self quarantine or get tested for the COVID19, despite multiple exposures. He is a danger to everyone in the White House and at his private businesses.

At one point during the question and answer session, Trump suggested that he probably would get tested, but last night the White House released a letter from his “doctor” saying he doesn’t need to. The New York Times reports:

As Mr. Trump introduced a line of chief executives and public health officials, praising their efforts and those of his administration, the mystery was the president’s own health. Would Mr. Trump, 73, be tested after interacting with a Brazilian official who tested positive for the virus just days after meeting with him in Florida?

On an issue that seemed cut and dry, yes or no, Mr. Trump hedged.

First he insisted that he did not have any symptoms, and noted that getting tested might set a bad example. “We don’t want people without symptoms to go and do the test,” he said.

By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura

Then a reporter questioned whether Mr. Trump was disregarding the advice of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the public health official standing directly to his right, who has recommended tests and self-quarantining for anyone who stood next to someone who had tested positive….

But hours later, just before midnight, the White House physician released a statement saying Mr. Trump would not be tested — nor would he self-quarantine — even as it became apparent that he had interacted with not one but with at least two infected members of the Brazilian delegation that visited his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last weekend.

Mr. Trump’s interactions with the infected individuals qualified as “LOW risk,” wrote Sean P. Conley, the White House physician, so quarantine was not recommended. He added that because the president continued to show no symptoms of the virus, “testing for Covid-19 is not currently indicated.” Other medical experts have recommended testing for asymptomatic people who could still spread the virus to others.

Now it turns out that a third person who was with Trump at Mar-a-Lago has tested positive. Trump’s private club is quite a coronavirus hot spot. The Washington Post: Trump defiant on testing and handshakes even as third Mar-a-Lago case emerges.

On Friday, the Brazilian Embassy in Washington said that its ambassador, Nestor Forster — who sat at Trump’s table during a dinner Saturday night at Mar-a-Lago — had tested positive for the coronavirus. Forster is the second Brazilian official who visited Mar-a-Lago that night and then was diagnosed with the fast-spreading virus: Fabio Wajngarten, the communications secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive on Wednesday. Wajngarten had posed for a photo with Trump; Forster, the newly diagnosed ambassador, seems to have been in even more prolonged close contact with the president.

By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura

On Friday, Republican officials also said a guest of a donor who attended a Sunday luncheon at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club had later tested positive for the virus.

“As you may have had contact with this individual, please contact your medical provider if you or any of your loved ones is ill” or shows symptoms like fever or shortness of breath, donors were told, according to a copy of the warning obtained by The Washington Post.

At Slate, Ashley Feinberg enumerates the multiple times Trump could have contracted the virus at the CPAC meeting or at Mar-a-Lago. And from Buzzfeed: A Map Of The Coronavirus Exposures In Trump’s Orbit In Just Two Weeks. See also The New York Times: Trump’s False Claims About His Response to the Coronavirus.

But Trump doesn’t care if he infects hundreds of people in the government. He’s not going to practice social distancing or isolation because he apparently thinks he’s immortal.

Perhaps one reason Trump is so unconcerned about getting sick is that his top adviser on the pandemic is none other than Jared Kushner. Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: Great News: Jared Kushner Doesn’t Think the Coronavirus Is a “Health Reality.”

Earlier this week a disturbing new development occurred on the coronavirus front when it was reported that Jared Kushner had paused his efforts solving the opioid crisis, bringing peace to the Middle East, and “reinventing the entire government” to work on the administration’s response to the crisis. While you might not know it based on the many top-level assignments Donald Trump has entrusted his son-in-law with, Kushner is not actually a boy genius capable of succeeding where others have failed. He’s neither a public health expert nor a doctor. In fact, some might argue that he’s a barely functioning adult. Still, perhaps we were being too hard on the guy? Maybe he would be the one to finally get it through to Trump that this is an extremely serious issue? And that the government needs to get its act together, and fast? And that we’re literally talking about a matter of life and death here?

By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura

Of course, as it turns out, that hasn’t happened at all, and Kushner, if anything, is reportedly making the situation worse by feeding into the president’s impression that this whole thing is much ado about nothing….

According to the Wall Street Journal, despite the fact that Kushner was in charge of Trump’s Wednesday prime-time address to the nation, he hasn’t “attended a single task force meeting,” where he might’ve, y’know, gleaned some insight on the issue. (The task force, you may recall, is waiting for Kushner to finish his own “research” on the virus before making a recommendation to the president re: declaring a national emergency.)

To be fair, Kushner apparently is consulting with experts…via Facebook.

Read more at Vanity Fair.

The most blatant lie that Trump told yesterday is that he had nothing to do with getting rid of the White House pandemic preparedness office. Raw Story: How we know Trump was lying when he said ‘I didn’t do it’ and ‘I don’t know anything about’ closing the pandemic office.

Focus for a moment on this extremely important fact: President Donald Trump shut down the White House Pandemic Office in 2018, and less than two years later America and the world are struggling through a global health emergency that Trump’s own administration says could kill 5.1 million people in this country alone.

Friday afternoon PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked President Trump about shutting down that office.

His response was not just offensive and unpresidential, it was filled with lies.

By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura

“You said you don’t take responsibility [for slow response to coronavirus] but you did disband the White House Pandemic Office,” Alcindor asked President Trump. “So, what responsibility do you take to that? And the officials that worked in that office said that you — that the White House lost valuable time because that office was disbanded? What do you make of that?”

“Well, I just think it’s a nasty question,” Trump responded, weaponizing a word he regularly uses when speaking about women. “What we’ve done is — and Tony had said numerous times that we saved thousands of lives because of the quick closing. And when you say me, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people.”

“It’s your administration,” Alcindor reminded the president.

“I could ask, perhaps — my administration, but I could perhaps ask Tony about that, because I don’t know anything about it,” Trump claimed. “I mean, you say we did that. I don’t know anything about it.”

Here’s a video of Trump admitting that he did it.

Here’s Sherrod Brown explaining what Trump destroyed our ability to prepare for this health crisis.

Another big lie from Trump’s clusterfuck appearance yesterday: he falsely claimed Google was setting up a national website to help people get information on coronavirus testing. Wired: Trump Caught Google Off Guard With a Bogus Coronavirus Site Announcement.

President Donald Trump announced Friday that the US government’s coronavirus testing apparatus, which has lagged badly behind other developed nations, would soon get an assist from Google. The search and advertising giant will create a website, Trump said, that would help Americans figure out if they need a test for the virus, and if so where they can find one.

The only problem: There is no nationwide site like the one Trump described. And Google had no idea the president was going to mention one.

By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura

A source at Google tells WIRED that company leadership was surprised that Trump announced anything about the initiative at the press conference. What he did say was also almost entirely wrong. There will be a coronavirus testing site, not from Google but from Alphabet sister company Verily. “We are developing a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing,” Google tweeted in a statement. “Verily is in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time.”

Even that, though, was not the original plan. The Verge reported Friday afternoon that Verily had intended the site for health care workers only. After Trump unexpectedly publicized the effort, Verily decided it will let anyone visit it, but can still only provide people with testing site information in the San Francisco area.

Read more at Wired.

For some serious coverage of the global pandemic, read this piece by Charles Ornstein at ProPublica: This Coronavirus Is Unlike Anything in Our Lifetime, and We Have to Stop Comparing It to the Flu.

As a longtime health care reporter, the unfolding coronavirus pandemic represents everything I’ve read about — from the early days of epidemiology to the staggering toll of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic — but had not covered in my lifetime.

And still, I have been caught off guard by the pushback from top elected officials and even some friends and acquaintances who keep comparing it to the flu.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on March 9. “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura

By Friday, Trump had declared coronavirus a national emergency, freeing up resources and removing hurdles for a faster response.

In the meantime, not one public health expert I trust — not one — has said this flu comparison is valid or that we’re overdoing it. Every single one, from former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to Harvard professor Ashish Jha, has said we’re not doing enough, that this is far more serious than it is being taken.

Click on the link above and read the rest.

At Vanity Fair, Joe Pompeo writes about how the pandemic is transforming the media: “The Biggest Story Since 9/11″ How Covid-19 is Rewriting the Rules of Media.

Around mid-afternoon on Wednesday, CBS News executives got word that two of their employees had tested positive for COVID-19. A little after 3 p.m., the information was shared widely within the company, and employees were instructed to evacuate the network’s Manhattan headquarters so they could be disinfected. New York–based producers who were working on that night’s installment of the CBS Evening News, which is broadcast out of Washington, cleared out, and the team in D.C. scrambled to produce the show entirely out of the bureau. Meanwhile, Anthony Mason, Tony Dokoupil, and several other members of CBS This Morning raced down to Washington so they could air the following morning’s show out of the bureau as well, while the CBS Broadcast Center was being scrubbed down.

Back in New York, and now working from home, news division president Susan Zirinsky got on the Thursday morning editorial call and informed her team that a third employee, someone who worked closely with the other two, had also tested positive. Then, working with her leadership team and parent company ViacomCBS, she spent most of the day communicating with staff, putting together employee health guidance, determining who needed to be quarantined and informed of possible exposure, devising contingency plans for where people would work, and figuring out where the news broadcasts would originate from for as long as the New York building was shut down. As one person involved

Please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Joe Biden Is Not An Ally To Women (And Other News)

Good Morning!!

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Biden, so maybe I’ve just ignored his stance on reproductive rights. I did not know Biden was wobbly on the issue. I had even forgotten that Biden is a Catholic.

I couldn’t find anything recent on Biden’s abortion stance, except this piece at HuffPost from March 6: Biden In 1974: Women Don’t Have Sole Right To Say What Should Happen To Their Bodies.

When former Vice President Joe Biden was a freshman senator he said in a 1974 interview with Washingtonian that he believed the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling clearing the way for legal first-trimester abortions “went too far,” and that he didn’t “think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

In the interview, which took place just two years after Biden’s wife and two-year-old were killed in a car accident, Biden — then the youngest senator in U.S. history — said his anti-abortion views were part of his “socially conservative” outlook.

“My wife said I was the most socially conservative man she had ever known,” he said. “When it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother.”

Biden claims his remarks were “taken out of context.”

But Biden didn’t limit his anti-abortion views to rhetoric. He also advanced legislation on the subject.

In 1981, for example, Biden proposed the Foreign Assistance Act, which barred U.S. aid from being used for any medical research on abortion. It’s still in effect to this day. He has also voted in support of the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion procedures.

Joe Biden interview with American Magazine, September 2015

“Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994.

He also supported former President Ronald Reagan’s “Global Gag Rule,” which prohibits the U.S. funding any nongovernmental organizations that offer or advise on reproductive health care if they also offer abortion. President Trump was quick to revive it in 2017.

Biden’s approval rating from the pro-choice activist group NARAL has fluctuated throughout his career. In the 1990s, his score wavered between 34 and 46 percent ― a pretty abysmal scorecard for a Democrat. In recent years, however, it’s shot up to 100 percent.

Biden has also consistently voted in support of banning so-called “partial-birth” abortions ― the medical term for which is “dilation and extraction.” These procedures are often politicized despite heart-wrenching stories from women whose lives were saved because of them.

Two articles on Biden and abortion from 2015:

America Magazine: Vice President Biden’s comments about abortion in America interview kick off new conversations.

In an exclusive interview with America released at the beginning of this week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. affirmed that pro-life people “absolutely, positively” are welcome in the Democratic party and that he believes, as a Catholic, that “abortion is always wrong.” His comments, very different from most contributions to the political conversation about abortion, are blurring some long-established lines in the culture wars and generating significant interest in the media and among commentators….

“It has been hard…I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God­-fearing [and] non­-God­-fearing people that have a different view,” Biden said. He continued, “Abortion is always wrong…But I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of [the country].” (See the exchange, which begins at the 13:30 mark, in the full interview embedded at the bottom of this post.)

Fr. Malone also asked Mr. Biden if there was room for people who are pro-life in the Democratic party. The Vice President responded resolutely: “Absolutely. Absolutely, positively. And that’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged.”

No. Just no. Anyone who is “pro-life” in the sense of opposing women’s reproductive rights should not be welcome in the Democratic Party.

Mother Jones: Biden’s Abortion Record Could Cause Him Problems in a Presidential Bid.

Biden has been an inconsistent supporter of reproductive rights, sometimes backing the legal right of women to choose how to handle a pregnancy, while often hewing to his Catholic faith and moralizing against all abortions. Even today, when he and Clinton would most likely agree on most of the policy substance of ensuring access to abortion clinics, Biden sticks to a pro-life view in his personal politics.

Biden the gaffe machine

During the early part of his career, abortion rights groups griped about Biden as an unreliable ally. “Joe Biden moans a lot and then usually votes against us,” a Planned Parenthood official said in 1986.

When he first entered national politics, Biden was willing to stand alongside politicians who wanted to make abortion illegal. In a Washingtonian profilepublished the year after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a nationwide right to abortion, Biden unequivocally criticized the ruling. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion,” he said. “I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

He put that view into practice in 1982, voting in the Judiciary Committee for a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overturned Roe v. Wade by declaring that the Constitution offered women no inherent right to abortion, and that the federal government and states would be free to regulate or ban abortion as they pleased. Under that amendment, state laws that restricted abortions would have superseded more permissive federal laws.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

As Biden continues to agonize about getting into the 2020 presidential race, this is something that needs to be spread far and wide among Democrats. With Roe v. Wade likely to be overturned soon, Women cannot accept a candidate who doesn’t wholeheartedly support women’s right to control their own bodies.

The Kushners and the Trumps

Charles and Jared Kushner

I’m reading the new book by Vicky Ward, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. I can tell you that the Kushner family can definitely compete with the Trump’s in terms of corruption. Until now I had no idea just how much of a monster Charles Kushner is. No wonder Trump likes Jared so much. Ward was interviewed on Democracy Now this morning.

The New York Times has a story on the Kushners this morning: The Kingdom and the Kushners: Jared Went to Riyadh. So Did His Brother.

In late October 2017, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, dropped into Saudi Arabia for an unannounced visit to the desert retreat of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was in the process of consolidating his power. The two men talked privately late into the night.

Just a day earlier, Mr. Kushner’s younger brother, Josh, then 32, was flying out of the kingdom.

Jared came to talk policy, but Josh was there on business.

The founder of an eight-year-old venture capital firm, Josh Kushner had spent the three days before his brother’s arrival at an investor conference, where Prince Mohammed had promised to spend billions of dollars on a high-tech future for Saudi Arabia.

As others sat through speeches in a gilded conference hall, several participants said, the younger Mr. Kushner frequently ducked out for more exclusive conversations with Saudi officials.

Some government ethics lawyers say those conversations — never hidden, but not previously reported — create the appearance of a potential conflict of interest. Although Jared Kushner severed his ties with his brother’s company and divested his interest in his brother’s funds around the time he entered the White House, he was nonetheless discussing American policy with the rulers of the kingdom at virtually the same time that his brother was talking business with their top aides.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Mike Pence and Russia?

Franklin Graham and Mike Pence

Check out this creepy scoop from Think Progress: Why was Franklin Graham schmoozing with a sanctioned Russian official this month?

Franklin Graham, America’s most prominent evangelical leader, says Vice President Mike Pence signed off on his trip to Russia earlier this month. While there, Graham met with sanctioned Kremlin officials — even as U.S. investigations ramped up into Moscow’s election interference efforts. One official Russian governmental social media account touted the meeting as a way to “[intensify] contacts between the State Duma and the U.S. Congress.”

In an interview with RIA Novosti, a major Russian state-run outlet, Graham said he called Pence directly to tell him of the trip. “He was very happy to hear the news,” Graham said. “And he admitted that he fully supported my decision.”

Neither Pence’s office nor the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association responded to ThinkProgress’s requests for comment.

According to interviews in Russian media and photos on his own social media accounts, Graham, currently the chair of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveled to Moscow earlier this month to meet with a number of prominent Russian figures. Most notably, Graham had a sit-down meeting with Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, who is close to President Vladimir Putin and who has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2014 for his role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Click on the link to read the rest.

More stories to check out, links only:

The New Republic: Nihilist In Chief: The Banal, Evil, All-Destructive Reign of Mitch McConnell.

Fast Company: Amazon could soon force you to go on a diet,according to one futurist.

Palm Beach Post: Not just Cindy Yang: Royals, felon, pop stars, others got access to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.

Seattle Times: FBI joining criminal investigation into certification of Boeing 737 MAX.

The New York Times: Doomed Boeing Jets Lacked 2 Safety Features That Company Sold Only as Extras.

Miami Herald: Two mystery parties try to restrict release of documents in Jeffrey Epstein civil suit.

Trump Inc: Trump’s Moscow Tower Problem.

Politico: Aides struggle to see strategy in Trump’s Conway, McCain fights.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?