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.
"Leading epidemiologists" estimate "that 50 to 80 percent of covid-19 deaths in New York and approximately 90 percent of all American covid-19 deaths can now be attributed to the administration’s delay" issuing lockdown guidelines between March 2 and 16, writes Eugene Jarecki in The Washington Post. As of this writing, there have been 78,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US (an undercount), and if those epidemiologists' estimate remained constant, around 70,000 of those people would still be alive.
Umair Haque calls it a "crime against humanity."
Going forward, because no downward trend will be established, no curve flattened, more like 100% of deaths will be needless — somewhere between 200,000 and half a million people. Ultimately, America’s going to have hundreds of thousands of people needlessly dead. As a result of nothing but negligence, folly, and irresponsibility.America is engaging in self-inflicted catastrophe on a scale that beggars belief. It is about to embark on a course of disaster without parallel in modern history.
"No society should be as indifferent to death on an unthinkable scale as America appears to be, right now," writes Haque. "Why isn’t it common knowledge that 90% of Coronavirus deaths are needless? That they were avoidable? Are Americans clueless in a benign way — or clueless because they’re indifferent?"
Part of the answer is that we live in a polarized society and Democrats aren't shouting that Trump's incompetence and graft have killed tens of thousands of people. If a Democrat held the presidency, managed the pandemic as well as South Korea has and a few hundred Americans had died, Republicans would be united in calling for heads to roll, and Fox News and the rest of the conservative media would be hammering that epidemiological analysis home every hour. Meanwhile, House Democrats aren't even holding hearings on this epic and deadly disaster.
Say what you will about NeverTrump Republicans, they understand how to play this game in today's media environment. This week, the Lincoln Project, a Republican PAC opposing Trump, spent $5,000 to run a brutal ad titled "Mourning in America" on Fox News in DC. They managed to needle our thin-skinned Narcissist-in-Chief into a Twitter tantrum about the ad that resulted in it going massively viral and netted the group $2 million in donations.
Then, when Facebook put a warning on the ad, claiming it contained misleading information, they worked the refs, accusing “Trump allies at Facebook" of "censoring" them. That got their case against Trump into yet another news cycle.
Democrats could learn a thing or two.
Most of this week's roundup is devoted to COVID-19-related corruption, because that has basically become a secondary outbreak.
A company created just six weeks ago by a pair of Republican operatives received hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from desperate state and local governments for coronavirus supplies, but is now facing a federal criminal investigation and a rising chorus of complaints from customers who say their orders never arrived.
The company, Blue Flame Medical, had boasted that it could quickly obtain coveted test kits, N95 masks and other personal protective equipment through a Chinese government-owned company with which it had partnered, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
Blue Flame was started by a pair of Republican political consultants, Mike Gula and John Thomas, who did not have much experience in the medical supply field. Mr. Gula’s fund-raising firm has been paid more than $36 million since 2008 by a range of top Republican politicians and political committees, while Mr. Thomas has served as a general consultant to a number of campaigns.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that the regime is operating a Potemkin Village of pandemic responses called "Project Airbridge."
Almost six weeks after its launch, Project Airbridge has completed its 122nd flight, having cost taxpayers at least $91 million. But its impact on the pandemic is unclear and shrouded in secrecy: The White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the companies involved have declined to disclose where supplies have been delivered.
Administration officials, meanwhile, have pointed to the project as a signature initiative of their pandemic response. Broad and sweeping statistics about supplies procured through the project have been an almost daily fixture of White House press briefings...
But the White House has on several occasions overstated the amount of supplies the project has delivered... FEMA records, for example, show that Project Airbridge on average has delivered about 2.2 million surgical masks a day over the program’s span. Yet Vice President Pence claimed in a news briefing in April that the program delivered 22 million masks daily.
Propublica has a wild report about the same thing hobbling the VA's efforts to secure PPE. They accompanied a well-connected exec on a mad dash to find $34 million worth of masks for the the veterans' health service, "where 20 VA staff have died of COVID-19 while the agency waits for masks."
It’s also unclear why the VA gave [Federal Government Experts LLC CEO Robert] Stewart’s fledgling business — which had no experience selling medical equipment, no supply chain expertise and very little credit — an important contract. Or why the VA agreed to pay nearly $5.75 per mask, a 350% markup from the manufacturer’s list price.
Robert Kadlec was appointed by Donald Trump to oversee the Strategic National Stockpile. He has made preparation for a biological attack "a priority over preparing for a natural pandemic," according to The Washington Post. He may believe that we need to be ready for such an attack, but...
[Kadlec] began pressing to increase government stocks of a smallpox vaccine. His office ultimately made a deal to buy up to $2.8 billion of the vaccine from a company that once paid Kadlec as a consultant, a connection he did not disclose on a Senate questionnaire when he was nominated.
Under the agreement struck last year with Emergent BioSolutions, Kadlec’s office at the Department of Health and Human Services is paying more than double the price per dose it had previously paid for the drug. Because Emergent is the only licensed maker of the vaccine, Kadlec’s office arrived at the price through negotiations with the company rather than through bidding.
.@NewYorkFed confirms the radical misallocation of Paycheck Protection Program loans. States that suffered least go… https://t.co/uAfCKKGZvQ— David Frum (@David Frum) 1588766177.0
3 companies with ties to the Trump admin. received millions under the PPP program. Another got a loan from a bank t… https://t.co/mklzDvsGj6— NBC News (@NBC News) 1587788163.0
So last week @nytimes broke that CFPB political appointees manipulated research to justify the gutting of the payda… https://t.co/3TRslzw663— David Dayen (@David Dayen) 1588597600.0
A Fort Myers-based oncology network that was Florida’s largest recipient of federal coronavirus relief dollars for healthcare facilities admitted last week to participating in a criminal conspiracy that limited treatment options available to cancer patients in order to maximize profits.
Florida Cancer Specialists, which employs 250 doctors in 100 facilities across Florida, admitted in federal court on April 30 that it worked with unnamed co-conspirators to limit cancer treatment options for patients, agreeing to pay a $100 million federal fine — the largest amount allowed by law — along with a $20 million state fine.
This isn't the feds, but come on...
Mississippi sent $98m in welfare money to NFL players and pro wrestlers instead of the poor https://t.co/g9ZvTHIgbC— Bryce Covert (@Bryce Covert) 1588682369.0
Finally, in other news, Education secretary Betsy DeVos announced new Title IX federal regulations that were sold as giving those accused of sexual assault new due process protections. But according to Yahoo News, the new rules "change requirements on who must report sexual assault allegations and how institutions respond to those complaints. The adjustments, outlined in a 2,033-page document and set to go into effect Aug. 14, no longer require coaches and other employees at colleges and universities to report allegations to the Title IX office."