Goodfellas

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 23: Senior advisor to the President of the United States, Jared Kushner, stands on stage at the TIME 100 Summit on April 23, 2019 in New York City. The day-long TIME 100 Summit showcases th... NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 23: Senior advisor to the President of the United States, Jared Kushner, stands on stage at the TIME 100 Summit on April 23, 2019 in New York City. The day-long TIME 100 Summit showcases the annual TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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April 9, 2020 5:05 p.m.

One of the big questions hovering over this medical supply and PPE shortage story is how much of this is just chaos and mismanagement versus some sort of more organized bad acting. It’s simply not clear. This morning I heard from a board member of a regional private hospital system who said these seizures aren’t just happening. They’re commonplace. Seemingly bordering on routine. To paraphrase this person’s account it’s searching high and low everywhere to find supplies and on those rare occasions when you strike gold the feds are likely to jump in and grab your stuff anyway. Hearing this my sense – not the source’s words – is that it’s almost like FEMA and whatever other agencies are doing this are using these desperate buyers as their involuntary lead generators. Let them find the stuff and when you see a shipping order surface, grab it.

But is this some big plan to bogart the supplies of the blue states and ship them to the red states? As of yet we haven’t seen clear and consistent evidence of that. Am I suspicious? Highly. And the folks getting their supplies grabbed are too. But we’ve yet to see the proof.

What seems just as likely, or perhaps a minimum version of the story is that the White House has created a highly chaotic and disorganized process and then Trump and Jared Kushner have layered over that a thin blanket of their own corruption, the commerce in favors and mutual back scratching and paydays that are the mother’s milk of Trumpism. Down at the level of FEMA and Customs we heard of one story that seemed highly suspicious at first but when we dug into it was more a story of chaos and craziness but where all the key players were acting reasonably enough in a situation that was highly unreasonable.

But again and again we hear of friends reaching out to Jared or Trump and suddenly getting a shipment. It’s worth noting that one of these cases was some unnamed friend of Trump reaching out about a shortage in the public hospital system in New York City. Trump gave it to Jared and suddenly a shipment was on the way. They talked up this story in that press briefing where Jared was the special guest.

In this case it was New York City – a bad guy city in the world of Trumpdom and also the epicenter of the crisis. So, great they got a delivery. But the way it happened illustrates the story. It seems similar to Rep. Zeldin on Long Island. He’s a top White House sycophant. That allows him to open up a channel directly to Jared and he gets stuff for his county.

Basically the White House won’t share anything about what framework is used on the confiscation or distribution side of this equation. The most they’ll say is that they’re using some version of ‘big data’ to do it in a totally coherent, awesome way. But the details we get make it sound like the oldest sort of system: distribution by friendship networks, patronage, the generosity of the powerful in exchange for future considerations. Who knows Jared? Who knows someone who knows Jared? Who’s Trump like? At minimum a significant amount of the lifesaving goods appear to be distributed on that basis.

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