It would be a shame if something happened to them.
Photo: Sean Gallup / Getty Images
Whenever you start to think that the federal government under Donald Trump has reached a moral bottom, it finds a new way to shock and horrify.
In recent weeks, it has started to appear as if, in addition to abandoning states to their own devices in times of national emergency, the federal government had actually erected a blockade – like the one the Union had habit of suffocation. Confederation supply chains during the Civil War – to prevent the delivery of essential medical equipment to states that desperately need it. At the very least, federal officials have operated governors and hospital directors across the country for fear that supplies of needed supplies may be seized en route. In a pandemic, having evacuated federal responsibility, the White House functionally waged a war against state leadership and the initiative of local hospitals to guarantee what they needed to provide sufficient treatment.
A letter from New England yesterday Journal of Medicine pointed out the extraordinary measures which had to be taken to guarantee the delivery in Massachusetts of the material purchased and paid for. The NEJM, which presented the letter in its COVID-19 Notes series, is far from being a platform for partisan alarming or hysteria – it is among the most sober and lucid professional journals in the country. It is worth reading the correspondence, written by an executive running a small health system, at some length:
Our supply chain group worked around the clock to secure gowns, gloves, face masks, goggles, face shields and N95 respirators. These employees have adapted to a new normal, exploring every avenue, however unusual it may be. Transactions, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outperformed, sometimes by the federal government. Then we were lucky, but it was not easy to get the supplies.
A lead came from an acquaintance of a friend of a team member. After several hours of verification, we have gained confidence in the professional pedigree of the broker and the possibility of securing a large quantity of three-ply face masks and N95 respirators. These were KN95 respirators, N95s made in China. We have received samples to confirm that they can be successfully tested. Although we have removed this obstacle, we remain concerned that the samples may not be representative of the bulk of the products we purchase. After acquiring the necessary funds – more than five times the amount we would normally pay for a similar shipment, but still less than what was requested by other brokers – we started the plan. Three supply chain team members and a fit tester were flown to a small airport near an industrial warehouse in the central Atlantic region. I arrived by car to make the final call on whether to execute the agreement. Two semi-trailer trucks, skillfully marked as catering vehicles, met us at the warehouse. Once fully loaded, the trucks would resume two separate routes to Massachusetts to minimize the risk of their contents being detained or redirected.
A few hours before our scheduled departure, we were told to wait for only a quarter of our initial order. We went there anyway, because we desperately needed all the supplies we could get. Upon arrival, we were delighted to see pallets of KN95 respirators and face masks being unloaded. We opened several boxes, looked at their contents and hoped that this random sample would be representative of the entire shipment. Before being able to send the funds by bank transfer, two agents from the Federal Office of Investigation arrived, showed their badges and started questioning me. No, this shipment was not intended for resale or the black market. The officers checked my credentials and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was intended for hospitals. After receiving my assurances and hearing about the urgent needs of our health care system, the officers let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded onto the trucks. But I was quickly shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering reorienting our PPE. Only a few quick calls leading to the intervention of our congressional representative prevented his seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not subside until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secure in our warehouse.
In this case, the executive managed to secure the supplies, but what is most horrible about his account is that this experience was not so surprising for him – he expected interference from federal officials and did everything he could (including arranging shipment of food service trucks to avoid detection) to work around this interference.
These measures do not seem unusual, quite horrible. Last month, 3 million masks ordered by the state of Massachusetts were seized by the federal government. Last week the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker was organizing covert charter flights to thwart federal interference. “The governor has clearly described the challenges this administration has faced as we work tirelessly to purchase PPE for our healthcare workers and first responders,” a governor spokesperson told the newspaper. “The supply chain has been compared to the Wild West, and once you’ve bought supplies, making sure they get to the state is another Herculean feat,” he said. “These flights carry millions of masks and gloves that our employees need. They are scheduled to land in Illinois in the coming weeks, and the state is working to ensure these essential supplies are protected and ready for distribution throughout the state. A source “knowledgeable about thefts” told the newspaper that the governor did not want to be more open about shipments “because we have heard reports that Trump is trying to take PPE in China and when he arrives in the United States.” United “.
It’s not just the federal government that is telling states that they are alone, as has been done repeatedly in recent weeks – a sign that the president, often seen as the bearer of authoritarian impulse, will invariably choose to discharge its responsibilities even during the seizure. he would offer remarkable new powers, and himself a moral outrage demonstrating incredible political sadism, since states do not have the resources of the federal government to pay for this kind of thing. This is partly due to the fact that in many cases states are legally prohibited from deficit spending, which means that in times of crisis, especially those that produce huge budget deficits by the collapse of tax revenues , they are not functionally able to respond at all. In such situations, the federal government is designed to serve as a safety net, but time and again throughout this crisis, the White House has said that states will get little or no help – they are fully autonomous. (The federal drug supply is not for the states, as Jared Kushner said, as if the country is more than its states.)
In addition to this outrage, federal authorities bid against states that try to buy their own supplies and refuse to interfere in those interstate auctions, which have driven prices up ten or more times. But while you might think it was as bad as the federal management of this crisis could be, it is not. This new outrage is deeper: even states that try to manage their own resources, buying equipment themselves with incredibly scarce resources to help in times of crisis, are arrested and these resources seized on the way to delivery.
You could call this hack. You could call it sanctions. The federal government is choking state supply chains like it is choking the supply chains of Iran and North Korea. These blockages are not as complete as those surrounding sanctioned diets, of course, and a certain amount of disruption can be honest confusion in times of crisis. But the disruption is caused by federal interference, and unlike the type of disruption you would want to cause against opposing states, the goal seems completely blurred – indeed, the policy is inexplicable and untenable.
This may be one of the reasons why no explanation has been given. We do not know where these supplies are going. We do not know on what grounds they are seized or threatened with seizure. What activity do DHS and FEMA have with ventilators and PPE purchases by local governors and hospitals? “It’s like a story from the last days of the Soviet Union”, David Frum wrote on Twitter, from NEJM letter. “This is what it means to be a bankrupt state”, wrote the essayist Umair Haque, echoing him. Without an explanation, it is difficult to draw a conclusion other than this: it is simply a mafia government, exercising control for control, not because of the demand induced by the crisis , but because of it, and by crushing the American people. , while they die in hospital beds and treat – with insufficient protection – the sick and frightened.