Monday, April 13, 2020

What Did Trump Know And When Did He Know It?


No matter how many thousands-- or even millions-- of Americans die in the pandemic, Trump can't be prosecuted for his inadequate response. Even if the Trump Recession turned into the Trump Depression, don't imagine Trump's head on a pike or in a prison cell. Hopefully, though, he'll lose the November election (even to the corpse the Democratic establishment is determined to replace him with). It's been hard for Fauci to defend Trump's crazy rantings and disastrous behavior. Sunday on CNN he told Jake Tapper that calls to implement social distancing measures faced "a lot of pushback" early in the outbreak. "I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives," said Fauci on State of the Union when asked if social distancing and stay-at-home measures could have prevented deaths had they been put in place in February, instead of mid-March. "Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those decisions is complicated. But you're right, I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then... [A]s I have said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint. We make a recommendation. Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes it's not. But we... it is what it is. We are where we are right now."

Yesterday, Jonathan Lemire led a team of Associated Press reporters looking into the signs missed and steps slows in Señor Trumpanzee's pandemic response Citing Trump's infamous Davos quote-- memorialized by the DWT art department above-- Lemire's team noted that in the In the 11 weeks since that moronic and false pronouncement, "the coronavirus has reached every corner of the globe. It has infected more than 500,000 Americans and killed at least 20,000. It has rewritten the rules of society, isolated people in their homes, closed schools, devastated the economy and put millions out of work." How could electing a racist, mentally ill game show host end in any other way?
When Trump spoke in Switzerland, weeks’ worth of warning signs already had been raised. In the ensuing month, before the president first addressed the crisis from the White House, key steps to prepare the nation for the coming pandemic were not taken.

Life-saving medical equipment was not stockpiled. Travel largely continued unabated. Vital public health data from China was not provided or was deemed untrustworthy. A White House riven by rivalries and turnover was slow to act. Urgent warnings were ignored by a president consumed by his impeachment trial and intent on protecting a robust economy that he viewed as central to his reelection chances.

...On New Year’s Eve, China informed the World Health Organization of a “mysterious pneumonia outbreak” spreading through Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million.

The government closed a seafood market at the center of the outbreak, moved all patients with the virus to a specially designated hospital and collected test samples to send to government laboratories. Doctors were told to stay quiet; one who issued a warning online was punished. He later died of the virus.

The Pentagon first learned about the new coronavirus in December from open source reports emanating from China. By early January, warnings about the virus had made their way into intelligence reports circulating around the government. On Jan. 3, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, received a call from his Chinese counterpart with an official warning.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, was alerted to the virus around the same time-- and within two weeks was fearful it could bring global catastrophe.

Quickly, U.S. intelligence and public health officials began doubting China’s reported rates of infection and death toll. They pressed China to allow in U.S. epidemiologists-- both to assist the country in confronting the spread and to gain valuable insights that could help buy time for the U.S. response. U.S. officials also pressed China to send samples of the virus to U.S. labs for study and for vaccine and test development.

On Jan. 11, China shared the virus’ genetic sequence. That same day, the National Institutes of Health started working on a vaccine.

Ultimately, the U.S. was able to get China’s consent to send two people on the WHO team that traveled to China later in the month. But by then precious weeks had been lost and the virus had raced across Asia and had begun to escape the continent.

...While word of the virus was included in several of the president’s intelligence briefings, Trump wasn’t fully briefed on the threat until Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called with an update on Jan. 18 while the president was at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

Trump spent much of the conversation wanting to talk about vaping; he was considering a new policy restricting its use. White House officials now believe Trump didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the threat to the U.S. in part because Azar, who was feuding with several members of Trump’s inner circle, did a poor job communicating it. [Azar is being accused of using several words were more than two syllables and not have pictures for Trump to look at during the phone conversation.]

Azar was trying to walk a fine line between Trump’s upbeat statements and preparing the government for what might lie ahead. “America’s risk is low at the moment,” he later told House lawmakers. “That could change quickly.”

Moreover, the president was in the middle of his Senate impeachment trial and focused on little else, punctuating nearly every White House meeting with complaints about the Democrats out to get him, grievances he would continue late into the night on the phone from his private quarters.

Trump also had little desire to pressure Beijing or criticize its president, Xi Jinping, with whom he wanted to secure cooperation on ending a yearlong trade war before the reelection campaign kicked into high gear. When Trump fielded his first question about the virus in Davos, he enthusiastically praised Xi’s response, going well beyond the calibrated risk-reward messaging his aides were encouraging.

The West Wing was adrift.

By late January, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney held the post in name only as rumors swirled of his impending, post-impeachment departure. He was on the initial coronavirus task force, which was plagued with infighting. At the same time, the White House Office of Management and Budget was clashing with Azar’s HHS over money to combat the virus.

HHS wanted to send a special coronavirus funding request to Congress but the White House budget office resisted for weeks, insisting that HHS should instead repurpose $250 million of its existing budget to bolster the national stockpile by buying protective equipment. HHS, however, claimed that without congressional authorization it could not buy the needed quantities of masks, gowns and ventilators to rapidly bolster the national stockpile.

Eventually, an initial request went to Congress for $2.5 billion in virus aid, an amount that lawmakers of both parties dismissed as too low. The bill that Congress quickly passed and Trump signed-- the first of three so far-- was for $8 billion.

Even as the two agencies fought, there was no influential voice in Trump’s orbit pushing him to act swiftly on the pandemic. Trump had surrounded himself with loyalists and few in the administration, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien, were able to redirect the president’s attention. In mid-January, meetings were being held at the White House, but the focus was on getting U.S. government employees back from China, which was still playing down how contagious the virus was.

A Jan. 29 memo from senior White House aide Peter Navarro accurately predicted some of the challenges faced by the U.S. from what would become a pandemic, though he was hardly the first to sound the alarm. But he, like Pottinger, was viewed by others in the White House as a “China hawk” and their concerns were rejected by others in the administration who did not bring them to the president.

On Jan. 30, the WHO declared the virus a global health emergency while Trump held a packed campaign rally in Iowa. The next day, the Trump administration banned admittance to the United States by foreign nationals who had traveled to China in the past 14 days, excluding the immediate family members of American citizens or permanent residents.

Trump styled it as bold action, but continued to talk down the severity of the threat. Despite the ban, nearly 40,000 people have arrived in the United States on direct flights from China since that date, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

On Feb. 10, Trump stood before thousands of supporters packed into a New Hampshire rally and declared: “By April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

The crowd roared its approval at Trump’s unproven assertion. The Senate had acquitted Trump on the impeachment charges and the president shifted his focus toward reelection even as others in the administration keyed in on the virus.

Federal officials put the CDC solely in charge of developing a test for the virus and left out private interests, a choice that cost precious time when the resulting CDC test proved faulty.

Trump spent many weeks shuffling responsibility for leading his administration’s response to the crisis. He put Azar in charge of the administration’s virus task force before replacing him with Vice President Mike Pence toward the end of February. Even as the virus spread across the globe, prevailing voices in the White House, including senior adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, urged the president to avoid big steps that could roil financial markets.

The president had firmly linked his fate to Wall Street, and it took a tumble by the markets for Trump to ratchet up his response. In late February, while Trump was on a trip to India, the Dow Jones plummeted 1,000 points amid rising fears about the coronavirus.

Where It Hurts by Nancy Ohanian

Trump stewed about the collapse on his Feb. 26 flight back to Washington and lashed out at aides over comments made by a top CDC official, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, during a briefing the prior day, when she warned Americans that they would have to prepare for fairly severe social distancing.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” she said.

The White House announced that Pence would brief the media about the response that night. But Trump took the podium instead and has not relinquished the stage much since, belatedly making himself the face of the battle against the virus.

When Trump first took the lectern in the White House briefing room to speak about the virus, the U.S. had 15 coronavirus patients.

“We’re at that very low level, and we want to keep it that way,” Trump said. “We’re very, very ready for this.”
The incompetent and dysfunctional Trump regime was far from ready. Michael Shear summarized the exhaustive NY Times analysis that lays bare the deadly Trumpist shit-show. Shear wrote that while top White House advisers as well as experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies were sounding alarms and urging aggressive action to counter the threat from the coronavirus, Señor Trumpanzee Trump was basically locked inside his own narcissistic universe practicing the denialism that has made the U.S. the worst hit nation in the world. Shear wrote that Señor T's "views were colored by long-running disputes inside the administration over how to deal with China and his own suspicion of the motivations of officials inside what he viewed as the 'Deep State.' And recommendations from public health officials often competed with economic and political considerations in internal debates, slowing the path toward belated decisions."

Intelligence agencies and the N.S.C. produced early warnings.

National Security Council officials received the warnings in early January about the potential dangers from a new virus in Wuhan, China.

The State Department’s epidemiologist warned early that the virus could develop into a pandemic, while the National Center for Medical Intelligence, a small outpost of the Defense Intelligence Agency, reached the same conclusion. Weeks later, biodefense experts in the National Security Council office responsible for tracking pandemics looked at what was happening in Wuhan and started urging officials to think about what would be entailed in quarantining cities the size of Chicago and telling people to work at home.

But some of the earliest warnings came from national security hawks eager to blame China, and they often ran into opposition from the president’s economic advisers, who were concerned about upsetting relations with China at a time when Mr. Trump was negotiating a trade deal with Beijing.

Trump was told of a memo saying 500,000 “American souls” could die.

Peter Navarro, the president’s top trade adviser, wrote a searing memo at the end of January arguing that a pandemic caused by the virus could cost the United States dearly, producing as many as half a million deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses.

The memo, in which Mr. Navarro argued in favor of limits on travel from China, says that in a worst-case scenario, 30 percent of the population in the United States would be infected with the virus, leading to the deaths “on the order of a half a million American souls.”

In recent days, Mr. Trump has denied that he saw the memo at the time. But The Times report reveals that aides raised it with him at the time and that he was unhappy that Mr. Navarro had put his ideas in writing.

Three weeks were lost at a crucial time.

By the third week in February, the administration’s top public health officials had concluded that it was time to begin shifting to a more aggressive strategy to mitigate the spread of the virus, including social distancing, stay-at-home orders and school closures.

But they never got the chance to present the plan to the president. An official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went public with dire warnings too soon, sending stocks tumbling and angering Mr. Trump, who pushed aside his health and human services secretary and put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the response.

It would be three more weeks before Mr. Trump finally recommended aggressive social distancing guidelines, a period when the virus spread largely unimpeded and the task force was trying to avoid alarmist messages like the one that had angered the president.

Experts in and out of government were alarmed at the failure to take swifter action.

Throughout January and February, a group of academics, government physicians and infectious diseases doctors-- including Trump administration officials-- expressed alarm at the ferocity of the coronavirus in a lengthy email chain they called Red Dawn, an inside joke based on the 1984 movie about a band of Americans trying to save the country after a foreign invasion.

The officials repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of aggressive action to deal with the virus. They assailed the lack of testing and helped bring to the government’s attention concerns about the virus being spread by people without symptoms. They also tracked the global spread of the virus. At the end of February, a top Veterans Affairs Department doctor wrote, “So we have a relatively narrow window and we are flying blind. Looks like Italy missed it.”

The White House was divided over how to respond.

The president was surrounded by divided factions in March even as it became clearer that avoiding more aggressive steps to stop the spread of the virus was not tenable.

As he prepared to give an Oval Office address on the evening of March 11, Mr. Trump continued to resist calls for social distancing, school closures and other steps that would imperil the economy. Seeking to understand the potential effects on the stock market and the economy, he reached out to prominent investors like Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of Blackstone Group, a private equity firm.

During an Oval Office meeting, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stressed that the economy would be ravaged by such measures. Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, who had been worried about the virus for weeks, sounded exasperated as he told Mr. Mnuchin that the economy would be destroyed regardless if officials did nothing.

Later, Mr. Trump reflected on that period of debate among his advisers, saying: “Everybody questioned it for a while, not everybody, but a good portion questioned it,” adding: “They said, let’s keep it open. Let’s ride it.”
So Trump wound up appointing his entirely unqualified and wholly arrogant son-in-law in charge of a shadow task force which has done-- and continues doing-- nothing but sow confusion. Reporting for NBC News, Jonathan Allen wrote that "The story of the supply-chain group, a power center within the larger task force run by Vice President Mike Pence, is one of chaos, secrecy and ineptitude... Governors, local officials and veterans of federal emergency response say it has deeply complicated the national fight against the pandemic... Pence tapped Kushner and his innovation team to help federal agencies increase the scale and expedite the acquisition and distribution of equipment."
The two priorities that officials say have not been sacrificed by Trump or his supply chain task force, dubbed “the children” inside FEMA’s headquarters, are private profit and the ability of the White House to choose where supplies go.

Members of the team include friends and close allies of Kushner, who is also the president’s son-in-law. Brad Smith, described as a “volunteer” because he is on loan from his job as deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is a Kushner friend who has been involved in its work.

The supply chain task force leaders pushed aside the existing federal emergency management response teams that had long-established methods for engaging assistance from the public and private sectors. Instead, they first reached out to personal contacts, according to people familiar with their operations. To the extent that they have absorbed some of the old practices over the course of time, with the help of career officials intent on bringing their actions in line with protocol, it has taken time to figure out their own system.

"Jared and his friends decided they were going to do their thing," said the senior government official involved in the response effort. "It cost weeks."

The senior administration official familiar with the task force’s work described a race to procure supplies of ventilators, test kits and protective equipment in the midst of a chaotic moment in which governors, mayors and hospital systems were demanding more than they needed. The supply-chain team had the ability to win bids and then either distribute the goods to directly, allocate them through the federal share of purchases or simply turn over contracts to states, this person said.

But when it comes to determining need, the source said, Kushner and his team have taken their time to require that governors and mayors have a handle on how much equipment they already have at their disposal and what they can get their hands on-- some governors are smarter and more resourceful than others, the source added.

In one wrinkle that has had repercussions for small businesses and communities around the country, the task force ended FEMA's long-running practice of using its regional offices to locate, pay for and acquire goods from smaller local vendors in an emergency, preferring instead to contract with heavyweights.

...The Defense Production Act, a law empowering the president to force companies to contribute to emergency response efforts, take control of assets and dictate prices, has been invoked by the administration and waved like a club to influence the actions of private companies. In one case, it was used to block 3M and other companies from exporting medical equipment overseas. That order cited the Trump administration's authority to determine which firms can transport which goods and when.

Controlling the flow of goods at a time of scarcity and need gives Trump tremendous leverage to reward allies and punish enemies, including governors, mayors and executives at companies. So far, most of the public pushback on him has come from governors, particularly Democrats, but there are signs that business leaders are concerned, too.

On Tuesday, the coronavirus supply chain task force, received an urgent message from top officials at the Department of Homeland Security seeking a list of “industry contacts” to be supplied within an hour, according to officials familiar with the request.

In what Trump calls the “war against the coronavirus,” wasted time can mean the loss of lives, money and opportunity to secure medical equipment, and DHS attached the one-hour deadline for the request that it pushed through FEMA lawyers.

But in the case of this 60-minute scramble, DHS officials weren't looking to move ventilators, masks or test kits to the front lines of the coronavirus effort. Instead, Acting General Counsel Chad Mizelle, one of the top officials in the nation's national security apparatus, wanted to put together a call sheet so he could calm the fears of major corporations, officials said.

Mizelle’s proposed presentation to address frequently asked questions regarding "some of the DPA-related concerns” of industry comes as Congress, governors, state and local officials, hospital systems and the media are putting pressure on the administration and some of the nation’s largest companies to detail why badly needed medical supplies are being re-routed at the last minute by the federal government, why the price of goods is skyrocketing and why Trump has chosen not to use all of his authority for the public benefit.

“We write with deep concerns about the lack of clear coordination to procure and prioritize necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, testing kits, and other critical medical resources to meet the United States’ need amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic,” three Democratic House committee chairs said in a letter to Trump Wednesday. “More can be done to leverage industry and researchers’ ability to help curb this pandemic.”

The senior administration officials said that most companies working with the federal government aren’t partnering up because they’re looking to make a profit and that the government isn’t going to ask them to take a loss, adding that it would be a mistake to abuse the powers of the defense production law.

This on-the-fly redesign of American emergency management has produced marquee announcements by Trump about the speed and size of deliveries of goods.

“Our sweeping airlift operation to get doctors and nurses supplied with protective equipment, it continues to expand with more than 24 flights already completed and 49 additional flights now scheduled in the near future,” Trump said at a White House coronavirus task force briefing Thursday. “So that’s been very successful in that gear and those outfits are being handed out.”

But the model, which critics inside the federal government say values self-assurance and patronage over experience and expertise, can only be measured against itself both because it is unprecedented and because it has drawn resources away from the response apparatus put into place by law.

Trump considers himself the consummate deal-maker, but it’s clear that he’s reluctant to use his full authority to lean on industry for a better set of terms. Business owners and local officials, in many cases, simply don't know how the system is supposed to work and are clamoring for more information so that they can fully participate.

On Thursday, Pence announced that his task force was reversing its decision to stop providing federal support for community testing sites. He said that it would be an option for states to take over, which he described as an attempt to give them greater “flexibility” to choose locations and “style” them.

"We will continue to resource them with personnel, supplies and any other support they need going forward," he said.

For Robinson, the Somerset County, N.J., official, it seemed like the response strategy was lacking in the area of strategic response.

"To have a long-term game plan, and not just immediate, would serve us better,” she said.

Right now, what the public is getting from its money is a process that state and local officials, along with the frontline hospitals and medical personnel, have been forced to spend valuable time trying to figure out. In some cases, they have wasted that time bidding against the federal government for supplies.

The only people who claim to understand what’s going on are political officials who work closely with Trump, Pence and Kushner-- and representatives of some of the companies in the supply chain.

...Testing still isn’t widely available, Americans are still dying in hospitals and at home, and medical personnel are still struggling to find enough protective equipment.

"Good crisis management requires a single unified chain of command and accountability. When you have multiple competing factions with unclear division of labor between them, then it’s a recipe for chaos," said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who led the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. "That’s just 101 level management."

It has always been inevitable that Trump would fire Fauci

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At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know you don't want to hear this because you have deeply felt biases... but trump in this crisis is a much lesser evil TO DEMOCRACY than Cuomo would be.

Here we have one of those disasters that Naomi Klein writes about. The kind that someone with even a modicum of intellect and a skosh of ambition could turn into a greased chute toward autocracy.

He's abdicated to states; refused to consolidate a response; refused to fully invoke the federal option to direct corporations to serve... and so on.

A clever guy, a Cuomo say, might have started consolidating power in January using this as his excuse. Certainly americans, biggest cowards on earth, would never dare stand in the way of someone saving their lives...

How long would it take Cuomo to translate dictatorial powers into application against his favorite punching bags (Medicaid, Medicare and SSI)? It would probably already be happening -- to pay for PPE, tests and respirators, natch. Again, americans would give him a parade.

Trump and his various teams' indifferent spastic disjointed inept idiotic responses HAVE and will continue to kill people. But some vestige of democracy might survive.

Maybe if the democraps weasel Cuomo as their nom (or veep), we can finally lose our democracy for good still. who knows.

At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What 2:20 writes is a real concern.

But leaving Cuomo aside for the moment, just WHO is going to do something about Trump before there MIGHT be an election? To begin with, there is no rule of law. There is no effective opposition party to do anything about Trump, demonstrated by three wasted years chasing after spectral Russian hackers and a deliberately botched impeachment.

It isn't clear yet where the military stands with regard to Trump, so it's logical to assume for the sake of discussion that they will obey the Commander-in-Chief, even against their fellow citizens.

This becomes important if Trump decides that it's time to realize his personal goal of being dictator. In doing so, he would terminate the electoral process as unnecessary. Therefore, even if the greenhouse should become suddenly sentient, what is posed as the final barrier to Trump remaining in power is easily toppled - just like Trump's border wall in the wind.

Heck of a job, "Democrats"!

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nodding and sobbing in agreement with 2:58.


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