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Incompetence and Corruption

Look, this is a murky, complicated issue. But this much we know: Kushner attended a secret meeting whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin effort to interfere in the U.S. election, he then failed to report it, and finally he sought a secret channel to communicate with the Kremlin.

One next step is clear: Take away Jared Kushner’s security clearance immediately.
- Nicholas Kristof, All Roads Now Lead to Kushner, NYT, JULY 13, 2017


President Trump’s plans to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic were disrupted on Monday as he came under pressure to abandon a nominee for drug czar who championed legislation undercutting the government’s power to go after pharmaceutical companies that contribute to the crisis. ...
The legislation pressed by Mr. Marino was the result of a concerted industry campaign to change the authority of the Drug Enforcement Administration in a way that would make it more difficult to stop the flow of painkillers to the black market. The law, passed last year, made it nearly impossible for the D.E.A. to freeze suspicious shipments of drugs, according to documents cited by The Post.

The law was a top priority of the drug industry, which spent $106 million lobbying Congress from 2014 to 2016. Mr. Marino, who received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees representing the industry, according to The Post, was one of the leaders in pushing the bill. Congress passed it with many legislators unaware of its real effect, and President Barack Obama signed it into law, also unaware of its import, according to former administration officials cited by The Post.
- PETER BAKER, Trump Says He’ll Consider Pulling Drug Czar Nomination, OCT. 16, 2017


Monday’s indictments offer evidence of things that Washington already knows but pretends to forget. Trump, more gangster than entrepreneur, has long surrounded himself with bottom-feeding scum, and for all his nationalist bluster, his campaign was a vehicle for Russian subversion.
- Michelle Goldberg, The Plot Against America, NYT, OCT. 30, 2017



In a 2017 Quinnipiac survey that asked 1,211 American voters for the first word that comes to mind when they think of president Trump, the top three responses were "idiot," "liar," and "incompetent".
- Quinnipiac Poll, December 12, 2017


Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate. He trusted his own expertise ­— no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do. It was, said Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.” ...
To Walsh, the proud political pro, the chaos, the rivalries, and the president’s own lack of focus were simply incomprehensible.
- MICHAEL WOLFF, Donald Trump Didn’t Want to Be President, New York Magazine, January 3, 2018


America’s voting systems, like all large and complex computerized systems, are highly vulnerable to cyberattack — whether by altering or deleting voter-registration data, or even by changing vote counts. “The vast majority of technical infrastructure for our voting is absolutely, without doubt, woefully insecure,” said Matt Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania computer-science professor who studies voting machine security. Both of the primary methods by which Americans cast their ballots — optical-scan machines and touch-screen monitors — can be tampered with fairly easily.
- The Editorial Board, America’s Elections Could Be Hacked. Go Vote Anyway., NYT, Oct. 19, 2018


On Nov. 12, 2016, Mr. Banks met President-elect Trump in Trump Tower. Upon his return to London, Mr. Banks had another lunch with the Russian ambassador where they discussed the Trump visit.

“From what we’ve seen, the parallels between the Russian intervention in Brexit and the Russian intervention in the Trump campaign appear to be extraordinary,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

“The Russians were apparently dangling gold mines and diamond mines and financial incentives behind one of the largest backers of Brexit,” he added.
- David D. Kirkpatrick and Matthew Rosenberg, Russians Offered Business Deals to Brexit’s Biggest Backer, NYT, June 29, 2018


Russians have long been doing favors for Mr. Trump. In the 1980s, a Russian criminal named David Bogatin bought five Trump Tower apartments with $6 million in laundered funds. In the 1990s, the Russian Mafia favored the Atlantic City Taj Mahal, in part, because of the casino’s lax money laundering controls. The Trump SoHo in Lower Manhattan, unveiled in 2006 on Mr. Trump’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” was reportedly developed with the help of an alleged gangster from the former Soviet Union.

Another favor, one involving Russia, is what landed Mr. Cohen at the center of Robert Mueller’s investigation. As Mr. Cohen knew, Mr. Trump had long sought — going back to the mid-1980s — to put his name on a building in Moscow. It’s no coincidence that the deal for Trump’s long-denied Moscow tower started to come together after he announced his run for the White House.

Mr. Mueller’s sentencing memorandum notes that in November 2015, Mr. Cohen was approached by a Russian who claimed to be a “trusted person” who offered the campaign “political synergy” with Russia and repeatedly proposed a meeting between Mr. Trump and Vladimir Putin. Such a meeting, Mr. Cohen was told, would have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.” Mr. Cohen passed because he was working with his old friend — and a business associate of Mr. Trump’s — Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant and convicted felon (he pleaded guilty in a stock-manipulation scheme) with deep ties to Russia.

The two old friends sought to put together a deal for a Moscow tower that would reportedly have included a $50 million penthouse set aside for Russia’s president. The involvement of Russian government officials in the project suggests the Kremlin had a notion that the tower was the shiny bauble that Russia could use to draw Mr. Trump into a compromising position.

Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. lieutenant colonel skilled in the art of manipulation, certainly seems to understand that Mr. Trump’s world runs on favors. After all, the Russian president did Mr. Trump the biggest favor of them all. Mr. Putin turned his intelligence services into a virtual extension of the Trump campaign, hacking emails out of the Democratic Party’s computer networks. That, together with the finely tuned, voluminous social messaging pumped out by internet trolls in St. Petersburg, Russia, may have tipped the scales in a close election.
- Seth Hettena, The Dangers of Doing Favors for Donald Trump, NYT, Dec. 10, 2018


The man pivotal to Hitler’s appointment was Paul von Hindenburg. The ageing president had met Hitler for the first time in 1931 but was far from impressed with the NSDAP leader. This was partly due to simple class snobbery: Hindenburg was a Prussian general and a member of the Junker elite, while Hitler was a former corporal from a humble background, who spoke with a distinctive Austrian accent. Hindenburg nevertheless gave the Nazi leader a hearing but was decidedly unimpressed with his grandiose political ambitions and his vague plans. The president suggested Hitler might make a good postmaster, but that was about all. He scoffed at suggestions that Hitler might eventually lead the government. “Gentlemen,” he told political advisors, “I hope you will not hold me capable of appointing this Austrian corporal to be Reich chancellor.” ...
Also encouraging Hitler’s appointment behind the scenes was Franz von Papen. A conservative who had himself been chancellor until November, when he was dumped in favour of von Schleicher, von Papen was a self-interested intriguer, who saw in Hindenburg’s uncertainty an opportunity to restore his own influence. He urged the president to consider replacing von Schleicher with Hitler. He eased Hindenburg’s concerns about Nazi fanaticism by suggesting that Hitler, for all his grand intentions and personal intensity, was a political novice; once in power, he could be kept in check and easily controlled. ...
“In two months time we will have squeezed Hitler into a corner until he squeaks”, von Papen told a confidant.
- Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson, HITLER BECOMES CHANCELLOR, alpha history, 2018


In both crashes, the authorities suspect that faulty sensor data triggered the anti-stall system, revealing a single point of failure on the plane. Pilots weren’t informed about the system until after the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, and even then, Boeing didn’t fully explain or understand the risks. The government outsourced much of the certification to Boeing employees, creating a cozy relationship between the company and its regulator. ...
The spokesman said F.A.A. employees were following agency rules when they didn’t review the change. “The change to MCAS didn’t trigger an additional safety assessment because it did not affect the most critical phase of flight, considered to be higher cruise speeds,” an agency spokesman said. ...
Speed was a defining characteristic for the F.A.A. The agency’s rules require an additional review only if the changes affect how the plane operates in riskier phases of flight: at high speeds and altitudes. Because the changes to the anti-stall system affected how it operated at lower speeds and altitudes, F.A.A. employees didn’t need to take a closer look at them. ...
The missed risks, by the F.A.A. and Boeing, flowed to other decisions. A deep explanation of the system wasn’t included in the plane manual. The F.A.A. didn’t require training on it. Even Boeing test pilots weren’t fully briefed on MCAS.
- Jack Nicas, David Gelles and James Glanz, Changes to Flight Software on 737 Max Escaped F.A.A. Scrutiny, NYT, April 11, 2019


“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a retired three-star Army general who helped the White House oversee the war in Afghanistan in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

“What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking,” he told government interviewers in 2015.
- Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Documents Reveal Misleading Public Statements on War in Afghanistan, NYT, Dec. 9, 2019


In 2005, the George W. Bush administration called for the coordination of domestic production and stockpiling of protective gear in preparation for pandemic influenza. In 2006, Congress approved funds to add protective gear to a national strategic stockpile — among other things, the stockpile collected 52 million surgical face masks and 104 million N95 respirator masks.

But about 100 million masks in the stockpile were deployed in 2009 in the fight against the H1N1 flu pandemic, and the government never bothered to replace them. This month, Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services, testified that there are only about 40 million masks in the stockpile — around 1 percent of the projected national need. ...
Getting enough protective gear was among the cheapest, most effective things we could have done to slow down the pandemic. That we failed on such an obvious thing reveals an alarming national incapacity to imagine and prepare for the worst.
We will get enough masks in time for the next disaster. But wouldn’t it be nice, for once, if we prepared for trouble before it hit us in the face?
- Farhad Manjoo, How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask, NYT, March 25, 2020


[Heading:] Government exercises, including one last year, made clear that the U.S. was not ready for a pandemic like the coronavirus. But little was done. ...
Christopher Kirchhoff, a national security aide who moved from the Pentagon to the White House to deal with the Ebola crisis, was given the job of putting together a “lessons learned” report, with input from across the government.

The weaknesses Mr. Kirchhoff identified were early warning signals of what has unfolded in the past three months. ...
What is striking in reading Mr. Kirchhoff’s account today, however, is how few of the major faults he found in the American response resulted in action — even though the report was filled with department-by-department recommendations. ...
But one big change did come out of the study: The creation of a dedicated office at the National Security Council to coordinate responses and raise the alarm early.
“What I learned most is that we had to stand up a global biosecurity and health directorate, and get it enshrined for the next administration,” said Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser.
After Mr. Trump’s election, Ms. Monaco arranged an extensive exercise for high-level incoming officials — including Rex W. Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state; John F. Kelly, designated to become homeland security secretary; and Rick Perry, who would become energy secretary — gaming out the response to a deadly flu outbreak.

She asked Tom Bossert, who was preparing to come in as Mr. Trump’s homeland security adviser, to run the event alongside her.

“We modeled a new strain of flu in the exercise precisely because it’s so communicable,” Ms. Monaco said. “There is no vaccine, and you would get issues like nursing homes being particularly vulnerable, shortages of ventilators.”

Ms. Monaco was impressed by how seriously Mr. Bossert, her successor, appeared to take the threat, as did many of the 30 or so Trump team members who participated in the exercise, details of which were reported by Politico.

But by the time the current crisis hit, almost all of the leaders at the table — Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Perry among them — had been fired or moved on.
In 2018, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, John R. Bolton, ousted Mr. Bossert and eliminated the National Security Council directorate, folding it into an office dedicated to weapons of mass destruction in what Trump officials called a logical consolidation.
- David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton, Eileen Sullivan and Michael Crowley, Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded, NYT, Published March 19, 2020, Updated March 22, 2020


Thirteen years ago, a group of U.S. public health officials came up with a plan to address what they regarded as one of the medical system’s crucial vulnerabilities: a shortage of ventilators. ...
Money was budgeted. A federal contract was signed. Work got underway.

And then things suddenly veered off course. A multibillion-dollar maker of medical devices bought the small California company that had been hired to design the new machines. The project ultimately produced zero ventilators. ...
In April 2012, a senior Health and Human Services official testified before Congress that the program was “on schedule to file for market approval in September 2013.” After that, the machines would go into production.

Then everything changed. ...
Government officials and executives at rival ventilator companies said they suspected that Covidien had acquired Newport to prevent it from building a cheaper product that would undermine Covidien’s profits from its existing ventilator business. ...
As the extent of the spread of the new coronavirus in the United States became clear, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, revealed on March 15 that the stockpile had 12,700 ventilators ready to deploy. The government has since sped up maintenance to increase the number available to 16,660 — still fewer than a quarter of what officials years earlier had estimated would be required in a moderate flu pandemic.
- Nicholas Kulish, Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, The U.S. Tried to Build a New Fleet of Ventilators. The Mission Failed., NYT, March 29, 2020


But as the deadly virus spread from China with ferocity across the United States between late January and early March, large-scale testing of people who might have been infected did not happen — because of technical flaws, regulatory hurdles, business-as-usual bureaucracies and lack of leadership at multiple levels, according to interviews with more than 50 current and former public health officials, administration officials, senior scientists and company executives.

The result was a lost month, when the world’s richest country — armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus’s spread. Instead, Americans were left largely blind to the scale of a looming public health catastrophe. ...
Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, said the Trump administration had “incredibly limited” views of the pathogen’s potential impact. ...
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, 68, a former military doctor and prominent AIDS researcher who directs the C.D.C., trusted his veteran scientists to create the world’s most precise test for the coronavirus and share it with state laboratories. When flaws in the test became apparent in February, he promised a quick fix, though it took weeks to settle on a solution.
The C.D.C. also tightly restricted who could get tested and was slow to conduct “community-based surveillance,” a standard screening practice to detect the virus’s reach. Had the United States been able to track its earliest movements and identify hidden hot spots, local quarantines might have confined the disease.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, 60, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, enforced regulations that paradoxically made it tougher for hospitals, private clinics and companies to deploy diagnostic tests in an emergency. Other countries that had mobilized businesses were performing tens of thousands of tests daily, compared with fewer than 100 on average in the United States, frustrating local health officials, lawmakers and desperate Americans. ...
Without high-level interest — or demands for action — the testing issue festered.
At the start of that crucial lost month, when his government could have rallied, the president was distracted by impeachment and dismissive of the threat to the public’s health or the nation’s economy. By the end of the month, Mr. Trump claimed the virus was about to dissipate in the United States, saying: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” ...
Now, the United States has more than 100,000 coronavirus cases, the most of any country in the world. Deaths are rising, cities are shuttered, the economy is sputtering and everyday life is upended. And still, many Americans sickened by the virus cannot get tested.

In a statement, Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said that “any suggestion that President Trump did not take the threat of Covid-19 seriously or that the United States was not prepared is false.” He added that at Mr. Trump’s direction, the administration had “expanded testing capacities.” ...
By Jan. 20, just two weeks after Chinese scientists shared the genetic sequence of the virus, the C.D.C. had developed its own test, as usual, and deployed it to detect the country’s first coronavirus case. ...
But soon after the F.D.A. cleared the C.D.C. to share its test kits with state health department labs, some discovered a problem. The third sequence, or “probe,” gave inconclusive results. While the C.D.C. explored the cause — contamination or a design issue — it told those state labs to stop testing.

The startling setback stalled the C.D.C.’s efforts to track the virus when it mattered most. By mid-February, the nation was testing only about 100 samples per day, according to the C.D.C.’s website. ...
The lack of tests in the states also meant local public health officials could not use another essential epidemiological tool: surveillance testing. ...
The consequences became clear by the end of February. For the first time, someone with no known exposure to the virus or history of travel tested positive, in the Seattle area, where the U.S.’s first case had been detected more than a month earlier. The virus had probably been spreading there and elsewhere for weeks, researchers later concluded. ...
Under scrutiny from Congress, Dr. Redfield offered reassurances. Responding on Feb. 24 to a letter from 49 members of Congress about the need for testing in the states, he wrote, “CDC’s aggressive response enables us to identify potential cases early and make sure that they are properly handled.”

Days later, his agency provided a workaround, telling state and local health department labs that they could finally begin testing. Rather than awaiting replacements, they should use their C.D.C. test kits and leave out the problematic third probe.

Meanwhile, the agency’s epidemiologists were growing more concerned as the virus spread in South Korea and Italy. On Feb. 25, Dr. Messonnier gave a briefing with a much blunter warning than usual. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” she said.
Mr. Trump, returning from a trip to India, was furious, according to senior administration officials. ...
Dr. Stephen Hahn’s first day as F.D.A. commissioner came just six weeks before Mr. Azar declared a public health emergency on Jan. 31. ...
It would fall to the newly arrived Dr. Hahn to help build a huge national capacity for testing by academic and private labs. ...

Instead, under his leadership, the F.D.A. became a significant roadblock, according to current and former officials as well as researchers and doctors at laboratories around the country. ...
Even though researchers around the country quickly began creating tests that could diagnose Covid-19, many said they were hindered by the F.D.A.’s approval process. The new tests sat unused at labs around the country.
Stanford was one of them. Researchers at the world-renowned university had a working test by February.... ...
But in the face of what he called “relatively tight” rules at the F.D.A., Dr. Pinsky and his colleagues decided against even trying to win permission. The Stanford clinical lab would not begin testing coronavirus samples until early March, when Dr. Hahn finally relaxed the rules. ...
But even in the face of a crescendo of complaints from doctors and health care researchers around the country, Mr. Azar failed to push those under him to do the one thing that could have helped: broader testing. ...
Previous presidents have moved quickly to confront disease threats from inside the White House by installing a “czar” to manage the effort. ...
“If you look historically in the United States when it is challenged with something like this — whether it’s H.I.V. crises, whether it’s pandemic, whether it’s whatever — man, they pull out all the stops across the system and they make it work,” said Dr. Aylward, the W.H.O. epidemiologist.

But faced with the coronavirus, Mr. Trump chose not to have the White House lead the planning until nearly two months after it began. Mr. Obama’s global health office had been disbanded a year earlier. And until Mr. Pence took charge, the task force lacked a single White House official with the power to compel action. ...
The president boasted on Tuesday that the United States had “created a new system that now we are doing unbelievably big numbers” of tests for the virus. ...
Yet hospitals and clinics across the country still must deny tests to those with milder symptoms, trying to save them for the most serious cases, and they often wait a week for results.

- Michael D. Shear, Abby Goodnough, Sheila Kaplan, Sheri Fink, Katie Thomas and Noah Weiland, The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S> to Covid-19, NYT, Published March 28, 2020, Updated March 29, 2020


But Dr. Wang says the proactive approach that Taiwan took to the virus, including aggressive tracing of cases, has helped keep the total number of confirmed infections — 283 on Saturday — much lower than experts initially expected. By comparison, the borough of Queens in New York City, with one-tenth the population of Taiwan, has 10,000 cases.
- Thomas Fuller, How Much Should the Public Know About Who Has the Coronavirus?, NYT, Published March 28, 2020, Updated March 30, 2020



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