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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
“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.”
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.
Lucian Truscott IV at Salon (via Raw Story): Trump is preparing the ground for a totalitarian dictatorship.
Take care this weekend, Sky Dancers! Please let us know what’s happening where you are.
Yesterday the Trump administration announced two shocking new policies: destructive rules changes to both legal immigration and the Endangered Species Act. Rachel Maddow addressed these two stories last night.
Dakinikat addressed the immigration issue exhaustively in her post yesterday, so I’ll focus on the new endangered species issue; but here’s one important piece on immigration from a historian:
The Washington Post: The Danger of Vilifying Poor Immigrants, by Hidetaka Hirota
Supporters of the president’s immigration policies welcome this change because they think it targets undocumented immigrants, or “illegal aliens,” who they believe have no right to stay in the United States. Many who subscribe to this view are themselves descended from European immigrants. And in making their argument against undocumented immigrants, they emphasize that their European ancestors came legally and respected the law — in contrast to today’s immigrants. But they have gotten the history wrong, especially if their ancestors arrived in the United States during the 19th century.
This view of the past is shaped by two misconceptions: that Europeans who were admitted in the 19th century were “legal” and that unauthorized entry is a new problem caused by contemporary immigration, especially from Latin America. This misguided history has contributed to the vilification of today’s Latinx immigrants — resulting in such extreme enforcement policies as expedited removal, family separation and indefinite detention.
In reality, European immigrants in the 19th century were probably not as legal as their descendants think they were.
Hirota explains that in the 19th century, cities and states tried to keep poor immigrants out and deport those who were here, but “the scale of immigration was simply too large for local and state officials to strictly enforce the pauper exclusion provisions of the immigration law.” For example:
Between 1846 and 1855, about 1.5 million Irish men and women fled famine-stricken Ireland, migrating to the United States. This rapid migration of very impoverished immigrants overwhelmed the operation of state-level immigration control, allowing people to enter the United States without proper inspection and bonds.
There have always been nativists like Trump who tried to keep immigrants out of the U.S., but desperate people kept coming anyway–in massive numbers. I’d like to see Trump prove that his grandfather, grandmother, mother, first and third wives came here legally.
Trump’s attack on endangered species
National Geographic, May 6, 2019: One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns.
THE BONDS THAT hold nature together may be at risk of unraveling from deforestation, overfishing, development, and other human activities, a landmark United Nations report warns. Thanks to human pressures, one million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years, with serious consequences for human beings as well as the rest of life on Earth.
“The evidence is crystal clear: Nature is in trouble. Therefore we are in trouble,” said Sandra Díaz, one of the co-chairs of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. A 40-page “Summary for Policy Makers” of the forthcoming full report (expected to exceed 1,500 pages) was released May 6 in Paris.
Based on a review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources and compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the global report is the first comprehensive look in 15 years at the state of the planet’s biodiversity. This report includes, for the first time, indigenous and local knowledge as well as scientific studies. The authors say they found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline. They ranked the major drivers of species decline as land conversion, including deforestation; overfishing; bush meat hunting and poaching; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.
The tremendous variety of living species—at least 8.7 million, but possibly many more—that make up our “life-supporting safety net” provide our food, clean water, air, energy, and more, said Díaz, an ecologist at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina, in an interview. “Not only is our safety net shrinking, it’s becoming more threadbare and holes are appearing.”
Read more at the link. Also at National Geographic, see a slideshow of different endangered species in each of the 50 states.
On Monday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced they were pushing through changes to the Endangered Species Act that will, in effect, weaken protections for species, and possibly give industry more leeway to develop areas where threatened animals live. A draft proposal of these rule changes was announced last summer. And now the rules go into effect in 30 days after they are officially published in the federal register (which the New York Times expects will happen this week).
The Trump administration’s alterations don’t change the letter of the ESA, which was passed in 1973 during the Nixon administration. But they do change how the federal government will enforce it. Here are two of the biggest changes. (Read the full new finalized rules here.)
Currently, species that are listed as “threatened” are defined as “any species which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.” (Threatened is a designation that’s less severe than “endangered.”) The new rules constrain what is meant by “foreseeable future” and give significant discretion in interpreting what that means.
“The Services will describe the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis,” the new rule states. Discretion is not a problem per se, but as the Washington Post explained last year, this could mean that in determining protections for plants and animals, regulators could ignore the far-flung effects of climate change that may occur several decades from now. Polar bears are threatened now, but they’ll be in even more peril in the future, when there’s less and less sea ice. There’s now more leeway for the government to determine if disappearing ice 40 years from now contributes to the threat Arctic animals face today.
The second big change is more of a giveaway to industry.
Until now, the agencies that enforce the ESA have had to base their decisions of whether to protect a species solely on scientific data, “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.”
The new rule removes that phrase. “The Act does not prohibit the [government] from compiling economic information or presenting that information to the public,” the rule argues. It does clarify that it’s allowed to do so “as long as such information does not influence the listing determination.” (But that’s confusing: Why strike the phrase from the guidelines in that case?)
That change, conservation groups fear, opens the door to business interests coming into discussions of whether a species should be protected. The new rule also gives the agencies more leeway to determine if an area that’s unoccupied by a species (but where it could also conceivably live) should be protected.
Read the rest at Vox.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: Editorial: Trump guts the Endangered Species Act. Polar bears and bald eagles, take notice.
The Trump administration announced reckless and potentially devastating new rules Monday that will weaken the Endangered Species Act, which currently bestows a mantle of protection over 1,663 species of animals and plants. Of those, 1,275 are considered endangered and close to extinction. Another 388 are listed as threatened — the polar bear is one — and at risk of becoming endangered.
In the 46 years since it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, the Endangered Species Act has protected imperiled wildlife and brought many species back from the brink of extinction. The law is credited with saving such species as the bald eagle (which recovered sufficiently to be delisted), as well as the California condor and the grizzly bear, both of which are still considered endangered. So are the right whale, the San Joaquin kit fox, and the rusty patched bumblebee….
These irresponsible and short-sighted changes will lead to further extinctions, damage the ecosystem and set back the nation’s efforts to protect wildlife — all as a gift to industry, which finds the law costly and burdensome. The new rules will no doubt clear the way for building, mining and oil and gas drilling in sensitive areas.
The new rules come in the wake of a report from the United Nations earlier this year that more than 1 million plants and animals around the world face extinction, some within decades, owing to human development, climate change and other threats….
It’s unconscionable — and dangerous — to be removing protections at a time when scientists warn that a million species could become extinct. The new rules should be legally challenged and overturned. They undermine a progressive and far-sighted, environmentally conscious law that has worked well for nearly half a century.
Associated Press, via MSN: States vow suit over endangered species rollback.
California and Massachusetts say they’ll go to court to fight the Trump administration’s overhaul of the Endangered Species Act.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (hahv-YEHR’ beh-SEH’-rah) said Monday that they planned to sue. It came hours after the administration announced broad changes to the way the government would enforce endangered species protections.
Both Democratic state prosecutors pointed to a United Nations report earlier this year warning that more than 1 million species globally are in danger of extinction.
Becerra told reporters that “this is not the time to go low, go slow or go backward.”
Several conservation groups also have promised court fights. The administration says the changes will reduce regulatory burdens while still protecting struggling species.
I can only hope these lawsuits are successful, but if we want to save ourselves and our environment we are going to have to get rid of this evil, destructive administration.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?