A frustrating look inside the White House's utter failure at coronavirus testing, led by Jared Kushner

Over at Vanity Fair, Katherine Eban goes behind the scenes of the Trump administration's abject failure at coordinating mass testing for coronavirus — and perhaps unsurprisingly, in all connects back to Jared Kushner empowering all his trustfund baby friends, and Donald Trump's precious ego crushing every opportunity just to make some political gains:

The plan called for the federal government to coordinate distribution of test kits, so they could be surged to heavily affected areas, and oversee a national contact-tracing infrastructure. It also proposed lifting contract restrictions on where doctors and hospitals send tests, allowing any laboratory with capacity to test any sample. It proposed a massive scale-up of antibody testing to facilitate a return to work. It called for mandating that all COVID-19 test results from any kind of testing, taken anywhere, be reported to a national repository as well as to state and local health departments.

And it proposed establishing “a national Sentinel Surveillance System” with “real-time intelligence capabilities to understand leading indicators where hot spots are arising and where the risks are high vs. where people can get back to work.”

[…]

But the effort ran headlong into shifting sentiment at the White House.

[…]

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

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Trump administration gave a $700M bailout to a $70M truck company after it allegedly defrauded the Pentagon

The Washington Post reports:

The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it will loan $700 million to a trucking firm that ships military equipment, in exchange for having U.S. taxpayers acquire an almost 30 percent stake in the company.

Under the unusual arrangement, the Treasury Department will provide the emergency loan to YRC Worldwide, while taking a 29.6 percent equity stake in the company. The U.S. government does not typically take ownership stakes in companies but was given permission to do so by Congress as a way to ensure taxpayer funds are not misspent.

That lede alone should be enough to raise an eyebrow. But it gets even more suspicious: YRC Worldwide's stock had already plunged 27 percent this year, and was down 85 percent over the last five years. The day before the deal was finalized, the company was only valued at $70 million.

Yet somehow, the company finagled a rare deal for a government loan worth 10 times more than the company itself. To hear Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tell it, that's because the company is very, very important:

YRC is a leading provider of critical military transportation and other hauling services to the U.S. government and provides 68% of less-than-truckload services to the Department of Defense. This loan will enable YRC to maintain approximately 30,000 trucking jobs and continue to support essential military supply chain operations and the transport of industrial, commercial, and retail goods to more than 200,000 corporate customers across North America.

That argument might make sense on the surface, until you factor the part where YRC Worldwide is also being sued by the federal government for defrauding the Department of Defense out of millions of dollars. Read the rest

Trump suggested using the flu vaccine to cure coronavirus

I'm gonna need some pepto bismol to cure the headache that I have from trying to think about this logic.

The crucial part:

You take a solid flu vaccine, you don't think that would have an impact or much have an impact on corona?

Speaking of coronavirus and vaccines, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has claimed that US medical will have performed close to a million coronavirus tests by the end of this week. That's good news! What's not good news is that some test kits have already been contaminated, after the CDC had already sent out hundreds of flawed test kits in the first place. So far, the US has tested has tested about 500 people total; according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories (via Politico), we'd still only be able to run about 10,000 tests per day across the country under ideal conditions. As such, it's not clear how Hahn reached that conclusion of one million test kits. Maybe he was using Trump inauguration math?

FDA chief's claim of 1M coronavirus tests by end of week stirs controversy [David Lim / Politico]

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Read Mitch McConnell's proposed rules for the Trump impeachment trial

CNN has the full 4-page organizing resolution for the Trump impeachment trial that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent to the Senate on Monday.

As CNN notes, the impeachment trial for President Bill Clinton gave the defense and the House prosecution committee each 24-hours — spread out over a maximum of 4 days — to make their opening statements. For the Trump trial, however, each side only gets 2 days to make their statements. But on any given day, the hearings don't begin until 1pm, and will thus drag on late into the night.

After the opening statements, the Senate will have a total of 16 hours to question the House Committee or the White House Defense. Only then will the Senate vote on whether or not to subpoena witnesses or other evidence.

The GOP's defense strategy becomes painfully clear in the structure set forward on those pages: make sure no one has a chance to say or reveal anything beyond what's already known by the public, then force a vote as soon as possible. Which is why I'm expecting the White House's opening statement to be a full-on Chewbacca Defense but with Bidens instead of Wookies.

Impeachment resolution shortens trial's opening arguments to two days per side [Lauren Fox, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb /  CNN]

Image via the White House / Flickr Read the rest

With state secrets privilege, U.S. ends challenge by journalist over drone ‘kill list’

A U.S. judge today dismissed a lawsuit by an American journalist who sought to challenge his placement on a drone “kill list” by U.S. authorities in Syria. Read the rest

Trump administration considering deep background checks on Chinese students

If you want an example of how big of a problem Chinese espionage is, you needn't look any further than the warnings that Canada and the United States have been throwing at corporations and governmental organizations about the use of gear built by tech companies with ties to the Chinese government.

Apparently, the issue extends beyond the use of smartphones and cellular networking hardware built by Huawei and ZTE: the US Government is thinking about conducting deep background checks on Chinese nationals coming to the United States in pursuit of their education. Spies! They're everywhere!

From IntelNews.Org:

...the Trump administration is reportedly considering the possibility of imposing deeper background checks and additional vetting on all Chinese nationals wishing to study in the US. Citing “a US official and three congressional and university sources”, Reuters said on Thursday that the measures would apply to all Chinese students wishing to register in undergraduate and graduate academic programs in the US. The news agency quoted a “senior US official” as saying that “no Chinese student who’s coming [to the US] is untethered from the state […. They all have] to go through a party and government approval process”. Reuters reported that the proposed plan includes a comprehensive examination of the applicants’ phone records and their presence on social media platforms. The goal would be to verify that the applicants are not connected with Chinese government agencies. As part of the proposed plan, US law enforcement and intelligence agencies would provide counterintelligence training to university officials.

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