Trump's playing some angle with medical supplies in the middle of a pandemic -- but what is it?
Jared Kushner and Donald Trump (Photo: White House)

Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.


Even in the midst of a historic public health crisis, Donald Trump remains as transactional as ever.

But that alone doesn't explain the regime's bizarre habit of seizing shipments of vitally important medical supplies on their way to hospitals and state and local health departments. Someone is obviously making a buck.

And part of the story is that Trump, a raging narcissist, likes being at the center of the action and requiring people to kiss his ring to get much-needed assistance. Trump has insisted that he alone would oversee the distribution of $2 trillion in relief funding, and investment firms and coal companies and everyone else is joining governors in personally reaching out to him for help. (This is almost certainly related to his decision to fire the inspector general who was supposed to act as a watchdog over that money.)

And no doubt, part of it is that Trump and his team of inexperienced loyalists are in way over their heads, and don't have the competence to set up an equitable distribution system for ventilators and masks and other supplies that prioritizes the neediest.

But the most disturbing possibility is that the federal government is hoarding supplies while the pandemic hits urban areas and blue states hard in order to distribute it to rural communities and red states later, when they experience severe outbreaks, as is widely expected among public health experts. (Veteran journalist David Cay Johnston talks about these possibilities on this week's podcast.)

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This feels related...

HHS confirmed Friday it would give hospitals and doctors money according to their historical share of revenue from the Medicare program for seniors — not according to their coronavirus burden.

That method is “woefully insufficient to address the financial challenges facing hospitals at this time, especially those located in ‘hot spot’ areas such as the New York City region,” Kenneth Raske, CEO of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said in a memo to association members.

States such as Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana, which the pandemic has touched relatively lightly, are getting more than $300,000 per reported COVID-19 case in the $30 billion, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. On the other hand, New York, the worst-hit state, would receive only $12,000 per case.

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CNN:

President Trump has been a cheerleader for the drug hydroxychloroquine, pointing in a tweet and in person to a French study as evidence that one particular drug combination might be "one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine."

But now the medical society that published the French research has issued a statement saying they're reviewing the study again and "a correction to the scientific record may be considered."

Dr. Kevin Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in New York City, gave an even more pointed assessment of the French research.

"The study was a complete failure," he said.

Here again, it's impossible to say for sure what Trump's motives for pushing the drug are. He is getting advice from all manner of crackpots, and no doubt wants to believe that there is some drug that can make this problem go away. At the same time, one of his big donors and a regular at Mar-a-Lago sells hydroxychloroquine, and Trump himself has a small stake in the company that produces it.

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The Washington Post reports that the Labor Department, headed by Antonin Scalia's son, Eugene, "is facing growing criticism over its response to the coronavirus pandemic as the agency plays a central role in ensuring that the tens of millions of workers affected by the crisis get assistance."

The criticism ranges from direct actions that the agency has taken to limit the scope of worker assistance programs to concerns that it has not been aggressive enough about protecting workers from health risks or supporting states scrambling to deliver billions in new aid.

In recent days..., Scalia, who has expressed concerns about unemployment insurance being too generous, has used his department’s authority over new laws enacted by Congress to limit who qualifies for joblessness assistance and to make it easier for small businesses not to pay family leave benefits. The new rules make it more difficult for gig workers such as Uber and Lyft drivers to get benefits, while making it easier for some companies to avoid paying their workers coronavirus-related sick and family leave.

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Sensing a theme here...

New White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to see how to reduce wage rates for foreign guest workers on American farms, in order to help U.S. farmers struggling during the coronavirus, according to U.S. officials and sources familiar with the plans.

Opponents of the plan argue it will hurt vulnerable workers and depress domestic wages. [NPR]

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Meanwhile...

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Prior to and during the 2016 campaign, Trump constantly called out Barack Obama for traveling, and promised that if he were president, he would rarely leave DC, so as you might expect, CREW reports that, "last fiscal year, the Trump family took more trips that required Secret Service protection than the Obama family took in seven."

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Trump got some good press when he announced that he'd struck a peace deal with the Taliban, but the Afghan government wasn't a party to those negotiations and the deal is preidctably unraveling. The Taliban now say they may walk away from the process as a result.

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Whatever....

The world may be racked by the coronavirus, but Donald Trump has less earthly concerns on his mind, too, after signing an executive order encouraging the US to mine the moon for minerals.

The executive order makes clear that the US doesn’t view space as a “global commons”, opening the way for the mining of the moon without any sort of international treaty.

“Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space,” the order states, noting that the US had never signed a 1979 agreement known as the moon treaty.