Grifts in the Time of Pandemics

The Congresswoman is pissed.

Yes, Trump sent 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China early in 2020.

I foresee investigations to come. But with the Trumpers, it’s hard to know where the grift ends and sheer incompetence begins. This is from Politico, yesterday:

Last week, a Trump administration official working to secure much-needed protective gear for doctors and nurses in the United States had a startling encounter with counterparts in Thailand.

The official asked the Thais for help—only to be informed by the puzzled voices on the other side of the line that a U.S. shipment of the same supplies, the second of two so far, was already on its way to Bangkok.

The official then went to Mike Pence, who didn’t know about the assistance to Thailand, either. The shipments of supplies to other countries were initiated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an independent government agency with a budget of over $27 billion. It is part of our government’s foreign policy apparatus and is supposed to be overseen by the State Department. The USAID website brags about the assistance U.S. taxpayers are providing to help other countries fight the pandemic. And, really, we should be helping other countries fight the pandemic; this needs to be an internationally coordinated effort and not every country for itself.

But I’m not seeing any coordinating going on. It’s just chaos.

There’s currently a hold on USAID shipments as Trumpers try to figure out what’s going on. Back to Politico:

President Donald Trump seems attuned to the political hazards. During Monday’s task force briefing, he emphasized that the U.S. was sending only “things that we don’t need” to other countries. “We’re going to be sending approximately $100 million worth of things – of surgical and medical and hospital things to Italy,” he announced.

The Politico reporting suggests that the “medical things” really are things we need here, though.

“The problem is, there’s not one person who’s in charge of this, which is why we’re instituting a review process that is led by the White House coronavirus task force,” a person directly involved with the review said.

Officials close to USAID say the ongoing review is more akin to a hold, as the task force examines the aid agency’s procurement of supplies and asks aid officials to alert them if there are other such shipments in the works.

But then if you keep reading the Politico article, it turns out that the State Department knew all about it.

America’s diplomats are also grappling with China’s attempts to exploit the shortages by supplying aid to Western countries, keenly aware of Beijing’s interest in showing it is supplanting the United States as a global leader.

Just days before a load of medical supplies from China arrived in the U.S. for distribution in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the State Department boasted in a press release that the United States was “Leading the Humanitarian and Health Assistance Response to COVID-19.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the aid in a press conference on Tuesday, noting, “We’ve now made available a total of $274 million in funding to as many as 64 countries,” money he said “would go to some of the world’s most at-risk peoples.”

In the last two months, at least five U.S. embassies, including in MyanmarTajikistanUzbekistanKyrgyzstan and Laos, all announced in press releases that the U.S. government had given protective gear to their host countries, sometimes including pictures of boxes of the donations.

So at least some Trumpers did know that these much-needed resources were going overseas, and mostly this was being done so that China couldn’t make us look bad.

It’s crazy out there. There are reports a company in Texas is sitting on 2 million N95 masks and is ready to sell them — at six times the normal price. Meanwhile, medical personnel around the country are reporting that they are risking their lives caring for coronavirus patients without enough personal protection equipment. Hospitals are threatening to fire these same people if they keep talking to reporters. Vox reports that a huge gray market in medical supplies has emerged as all sorts of random people — some hoping to do good, some hoping to make a quick buck — jump into the medical supplies business.

Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a single entity coordinating all this stuff? Like, you know, a government?

And this takes us to Charles Pierce and his must-read All the President*’s Excuses for Not Using the Defense Production Act Were Absolute Moonshine. Pierce begins by pointing to a New York Times report saying that the dreaded Defense Production Act is used all the time.

Chemicals used to construct military missiles. Materials needed to build drones. Body armor for agents patrolling the southwest border. Equipment for natural disaster response.

A Korean War-era law called the Defense Production Act has been used to place hundreds of thousands of orders by President Trump and his administration to ensure the procurement of vital equipment, according to reports submitted to Congress and interviews with former government officials.

Yet as governors and members of Congress plead with the president to use the law to force the production of ventilators and other medical equipment to combat the coronavirus pandemic, he has for weeks treated it like a “break the glass” last resort, to be invoked only when all else fails.

“You know, we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Mr. Trump said earlier this month. “Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.”

To which Charles Pierce responds,

Therefore, all the excuses that the president* has used for not using the DPA more widely in response to this pandemic, and in response to desperate pleas from the country’s governors, are absolute moonshine. He prefers the way things are working now. He wants governors to compete against FEMA, lose, and then have to beg for ventilators and PPE, which he can dole out like pork-barrel projects to help his re-election campaign.

Yep, one suspects that’s exactly the scam he’s planning. Because Trump doesn’t know how to do anything else.

See also:

Desperate lawmakers hunt for medical supplies as Trump takes hands-off approach, posted today in Politico.

History’s verdict on Trump will be devastating by Michael D’Antonio at CNN.

Greg Sargent, A White House report blows up Trump’s latest coronavirus defense

10 thoughts on “Grifts in the Time of Pandemics

  1. I am guessing that the plane that delivered supplies to Thailand then flew over China to pick up supplies from South Korea to bring here (USA).  Via Google Translate: 

    "To be honest, the reason China agreed to borrow [lend] airspace to allow U.S. military planes to pass is also based on a realistic background. As the U.S. epidemic continued to worsen, President Trump transformed from a diplomatic war that previously called the virus the "China virus," and made more objective comments on multiple occasions. On the 23rd of this month, Trump in his tweet changed the virus from the former "Chinese virus" to the official title of COVID-19. Later, in an interview with reporters, he expressed his hope to unite Asian people in the country to fight the epidemic. At the same time, U.S. Vice President Pence also praised China's transparency in the response to the epidemic and released some goodwill. The existence of these positive factors has led to the US military C-17 entering our country to South Korea to receive epidemic prevention supplies."

  2. At least many of the "medicines" Dr. Potter sold had opiates like Laudanom them, or cocaine, or even marijuana, in them.  Or all of them in one.

    Oh, for those days NOW!  At least one could "enjoy" something during a pandemic.  I'm kidding, of course.

    Leave it tRUMP and his maladministration to have one hand  not know what the OTHER HANDS are doing!

    Those grifters have more appendages than Octupi, and more fingers on each, than millipedes and centipedes have leg, combined!

    After the tRUMP maladministration is finally booted out, we need to have more Congressional investigations into tRUMP and his cronies, than a thousand, "Benghazi's!!!!!"

  3. Well, one thing I think we can all agree on is the fact that Trump thrives in chaos. He can belt out lies faster than the average person can process and expose those lies. That's the reason why his revisionist tales gain a footing. He provides a blitzkrieg of lies to the point where in order to just keep up you have to abandon the idea of challenging the lies he's previously told. It's like sweeping back the ocean.

  4. Desantis is basing his decisions on Trump's 'demeanor'. Alot of people will die in Florida due to gross mismanagement, criminal management. The federal government forces governors to call and shop onlinre for supplies with inflated prices. They dont want the american people to see that government could do a better job of supply and logistics. Pretending private sector will save you, while the 'invisible' hand of capitalism crony capitalism and wishfull thinking is murdering.

  5. Like sweeping back the ocean for sure, Swami, in a Tsunami.  I used to deal with a person who created chaos, and they could never figure out why things always went amok.  In reflection, the chaos happened because  they had said something wrong.  The truth was normally that they had done something wrong, or more usually had not done something that needed to be done.  Trump has the same characteristics.  

    Spin it, lie about it, fix the blame somewhere else are the method they use.  None of this makes up for the lost time and the errors in judgement.  Except now we have to get things done in the middle of a pandemic and an economic meltdown which should have been done or not been done months ago.  Have the five or most times six P's been forgotten?  Prior Planning Prevents (Piss) Poor Performance.  They seem more on the one P model in an echo chamber – Profit, Profit, Profit and more Profit.  For most people this looks like a Lose, Lose, Lose situation that may last way too long.  Gail Collins, commented in her recent column in the Times, that she has never seen a bad situation that Trump could not make worse.   I'd call that an honest appraisal.   

  6. Bernie,

    Let's hope we can add another "P":

    Prison!  Prison!!  PRISON!!!


  7. Off topic, but I thought I'd share a lovely sentiment that came to my remembrance when reading Maha's title to this post. It's a Chinese proverb and it goes out with a personal dedication to all of you Mahabloggers.

    In time of drought, we know the good fountains. And in time of hardship we know the good friends.


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