How the gang that could not shoot straight killed 200,000 Americans. And counting.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/09/jared-kushner-let-the-markets-decide-covid-19-fate

When the political season is over there needs to be an honest assessment of why Americans suffered from the pandemic so much more than people in other countries. What went wrong? This article is a good place to start. It is long and detailed but well worth the effort to read.

The short version – a toxic mix of libertarian philosophy, worship of free markets, inept wheeling and dealing and outlandish cronyism kept the government from ever getting its act together. The central figure in all of this was not Trump but his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on whom Trump laid grave responsibilities that he was simply not capable of handling.

10 thoughts on “How the gang that could not shoot straight killed 200,000 Americans. And counting.

  1. The Vanity Fair piece, overwrought as it is, does not support you headline,

    It’s claim that invoking the Defense Production Act might have produced PPEs and ventilators marginally faster would hardly have saved the whole 200,000 lives.

    Aside from which, you can’t prove a negative. The article simply postulates that a command driven response using DPA would have produced a more robust response to the PPE shortage.I do not agree. Markets respond to shortages quite well. Command economies result in hoarding and resistance. Ask the Soviets.

    Consider medical grade masks, for example. There were millions of N-95 and KN-95 medical grade masks in the inventory of dental and veterinary offices and suppliers. But there were hundreds of millions of the same masks not packaged for medical use in paint and industrial supply warehouses. Simply allowing hospitals to purchase those masks and allowing the price to rise brought those masks to market immediately, and made production of more appealing to manufacturers, and the shortage disappeared. I buy KN-95 masks for my family(they are more protective than cloth masks) and the last batch I bought cost less than half the what I paid for the first batch, as the shortage faded.

    Had instead the government simply ordered supplies go to hospitals the supplies would have been quietly hoarded, as was routine in the USSR.

    In any case, Trump did use the DPA, and more importantly, the threat of the DPA, when appropriate.

    There was one mistake made that could have saved significant lives, and that would have been to embrace the use of the HCQ cocktail for early, outpatient use, back in March.

    https://hcqtrial.com/

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  2. I will cop to hyperbole in the headline. Nobody can say for certain how many deaths can be attributed to Trump’s lies, indifference and mis-management. Comparison with other countries facing the same threat with the same information suggest that it is already or will certainly end up being in six figures.

    I will admit also that issues around procurement, infighting, failure to mobilize the private sector and the reliance on amateurs in crucial roles which most of this article are about are not the main driver of this catastrophe. It was, IMHO, Trump’s failure to describe the threat honestly and his failure to get the nation serious about social distancing. The chaos described in the article only exacerbated the failure.

    We all know – and some of us will admit – that Trump is a lousy manager. I found this piece interesting because it makes that fact more concrete with many examples of shitty thinking, lousy performance and dysfunction swirling around the greatest test of Trump’s Presidency. Trump promised us the “best people.” These, lead by Kushner, are not them.

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    1. You write a lot about “leadership” from government, but I find that more often the government serves us best by getting out of the way.

      BTW were you troubled with insomnia last night?

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      1. No, I am fine. Yes, I posted some articles pretty early this morning. I also often go to bed early. I actually slept for at least six or seven hours. Thanks for your apparently genuine concern.

        I will not argue against the idea that the markets can address many – even most – needs efficiently. But the threat of this pandemic is similar to an act of war such as Pearl Harbor or 9-11. It is an attack on our safety by an alien invader that does not respect state boundaries. It does not care if you live in a city or in the country. It can ruin or take your life. It is a threat that demands leadership by the government for an effective response. Leadership that has been sorely lacking.

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        1. Government can also lead by staying out of the way the 99% of the time it is unneeded.

          For example, when GM wanted too much for ventilators in the midst of the perceived shortage, Trump threatened the use of the DPA and in weeks we were exporting ventilators.

          The trick is knowing what 1% of the time intervention is warranted.

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  3. The Vanity Fair story strikes me as extraordinarily shallow and unreliable.

    As a proposal manager in defense contracting for many years I often was the Jared Kushner of the project. My assignments were much smaller in scale and much less significant in human impact, but I recognize the patterns Kushner dealt with: the inevitable chaos; the conflict and competition among powerful interests and “wannabe” powerful interests; the constantly shifting priorities, deadlines and resources; the impossible task that nevertheless must be completed on time and perfectly.

    If Kushner began his assignment by enforcing a libertarian, federalist, market-based approach, more power to him. It was the right thing to do to set forth an operational philosophy. I always did the same at the beginning of my projects.

    Beyond all that, it is easy to spin negative narratives about any high-pressure assignment after the fact. There are always people who get their feelings hurt and there are always some who love to talk about their disagreements with the leadership. The truth of events becomes almost impossible to reconstruct.

    Reconstruction is what Vanity Fair attempts to do. I don’t fault them for it, except to say there is another word for the effort: gossip.

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      1. RE: “It was only the results that were pitiful.”

        What results are you referring to? You have already admitted that your headline is non-factual; Kushner didn’t kill 200,000 people.

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        1. Uh, read the story. The results were pitiful in every thing that they tried or were supposed to do. There is no point in me repeating what is well-documented there.

          The headline was – I admit it – hyperbole. “Clickbait” if you will. So, I agree that it was not the Kushner cluster-duck that killed so many Americans. I lay that on Trump’s policy of lies, misinformation and his failure to unite and lead the nation to follow the science. He tried to play “war time President” on TV for a few weeks but gave it up pretty quickly when even he realized that he was blowing it.

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        2. RE: “Uh, read the story. The results were pitiful in every thing that they tried or were supposed to do.”

          I read it. Nothing in it contradicts my own recollection of events:

          • The ventilator shortage was quickly reversed.
          • There were almost NO shortages of PPE in practice (there were projected shortages based on physical inventories and there were some mashups between local, state and federal buyers, but on the whole people who needed PPE got it).

          • The administration produced a surplus of hospital beds wherever they were needed.

          • The social distancing policies the scientists wanted were implemented.

          • Vaccines were developed in record time.

          • Despite bureaucratic missteps at CDC, the administration massively expanded capacity for surveillance testing.

          All in all, I believe the administration did a remarkable job in responding to the virus.

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