By Robert A. Vella
In the news today, we’ll examine the absurd hospital medical supply war between the states and the federal government, the rush of governors in the South to unsafely reopen the economy, President Trump’s dog-whistle on immigration, a staggering crash in the oil market, and the increasingly common ritual of rich people fleeing in times of social upheaval.
Federal government departments and agencies under the Trump administration – specifically DHS, DOJ, FBI, FDA, and FEMA – are waging an apparent retributive war on states which are desperately trying to obtain badly needed medical supplies for hospitals being overstressed by the coronavirus pandemic. This war has developed in reaction to President Trump’s refusal to implement an effective national response to COVID-19. As states were forced to procure these supplies on the open market, federal agencies swooped in to either outbid them or to seize their shipments. To circumvent that obstruction, states began employing clandestine measures to conceal their efforts. Why is this war happening? FEMA officials won’t comment, and FBI officials insist they are just trying to prevent “hoarding.” Or, is the war being orchestrated from the White House as part of a larger scheme to serve Trump’s political interests?
Republican governors in the Confederacy South are rushing to reopen the economy despite strong indications that doing so will exacerbate the public health crisis by causing a deadly second wave of infections.
President Trump declared that he will sign an executive order soon to halt all immigration into the U.S. His announcement is nothing more than a dog-whistle to lather-up his xenophobic supporters because his administration had already effectively shut down immigration across the southern border. Furthermore, the farming industry – to which Trump proudly proclaims his support – is heavily dependent upon
slaves migrant workers. The Department of Homeland Security, which would be tasked to implement such an order, said that it wasn’t informed beforehand.
The global economic collapse resulting from the pandemic has cut economic demand so severely that the oil industry suffered its worst day ever yesterday when crude oil prices fell into negative territory. That happened because all the world’s storage capacity has been filled due to the glut of oil in the markets (despite OPEC’s and President Trump’s recent efforts to curb production). In other words, sellers are willing to pay anyone to take their oil! Many bankruptcies are likely, but at least there’s a lot less carbon dioxide and other manmade greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere right now.
Finally, very rich people – who’ve been building elaborate bunkers and other sanctuaries in remote areas since the Cold War and even more so because of Climate Change – are at it again. This time, they are running from fears that the “unwashed masses” will rise up in anger over coronavirus and cut off their privileged heads à la King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Guilt is a powerful motivator, I suppose. Anyway, New Zealand is their favorite destination. It is a thousand miles from the nearest continent, relatively peaceful, has a progressive government which quickly acted to contain the pandemic, and offers an “investor visa” allowing immigration for a price. Unfortunately for these wealthy elite, stumbling blocks stand in their way. The nation has closed its borders as part of its COVID-19 response, and New Zealanders aren’t too happy about outsiders coming in and buying up their land. One rich American businessman who was denied entry was overheard singing: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” That’s sarcasm, folks!
Hospital Supply war
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, called on his wife to get favorable deals to obtain more testing kits, which he views as essential for reopening the state. His wife, Yumi Hogan, a Korean immigrant who speaks fluent Korean, was on the phone in the middle of the night recently, he said, helping to secure the final deal with two South Korean labs.
“I was frosted because my team was saying that the F.D.A. approval was going to hold it up,” Mr. Hogan said of a shipment that arrived Saturday.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, who has expressed frustration about competing with other states, countries and even the federal government, this month announced a nearly $1 billion deal to buy hundreds of millions of masks from China.
He has refused to provide details of the contract even to state lawmakers amid reports of deals getting upended at the last minute, either from countries offering higher prices or from federal agencies stepping in and seizing goods.
In recent weeks, the city [L.A.] lost out on two deals it thought it had secured. In one case, it had reached an agreement to buy one million masks from one of its usual suppliers, and had even cut the check. At the last minute, the Federal Emergency Management Agency stepped in and bought the supplies, Mr. Garcetti said.
In another case, the city thought it had a deal to buy half a million masks that were sitting in a warehouse in Los Angeles. The next day, officials were told that a Russian entity had outbid them, and the supplies were suddenly on a flight out of the country.
More than 9,000 health-care workers in the United States have tested positive for the novel virus, according to recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as The Washington Post’s Ariana Eunjung Cha reported, the numbers are “believed to be a gross undercount of infections due to the continuing lack of available tests in many areas” with some regions and facilities choosing not to test health-care workers in favor of saving kits for their sickest patients.
Among nurses, frustration over being forced to choose between doing their jobs and risking exposure to a potentially deadly virus appears to be reaching a tipping point this week. Beyond taking legal action, as in the case of New York’s caregivers, members of National Nurses United, the country’s largest union of registered nurses, have planned a protest outside the White House on Tuesday morning to raise awareness of their plight and demand federal funding for the mass production of personal protective equipment.
Across the country, governors have been weighing steps toward lifting orders and reviving their stalled economies. A lack of sufficient widespread testing has been seen as one of the main obstacles.
At the White House’s coronavirus briefing on Monday, President Trump reacted dismissively to governors who said they had scrambled to access testing materials, such as nasal swabs and chemical reagents.
Significant workplace-based clusters of known infections have been reported in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and other states, suggesting that the pandemic is just beginning to sink into some communities.
Nursing homes and prisons also continue to be hot spots.
Related story: Officials link 7 Wisconsin virus cases to in-person voting
Trump, who is running for reelection on his immigration record and his effort to build a wall on the Mexico border, has long been frustrated with the limits on his ability to seal off the United States by decree. An executive order suspending all immigration to the country would take the president’s impulses to an untested extreme.
Two White House officials said an executive order is being drafted and that Trump could sign it as soon as Tuesday. The order, which was discussed among senior staff members Monday, would suspend nearly all immigration under the rationale of preventing the spread of infection by foreigners arriving from abroad.
The president’s announcement caught some senior Department of Homeland Security officials off guard, and the agency did not respond to questions and requests to explain Trump’s plan late Monday.
The American oil industry is facing a doomsday scenario.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused oil demand to drop so rapidly that the world is running out of room to store barrels. At the same time, Russia and Saudi Arabia flooded the world with excess supply.
That double black swan has caused oil prices to collapse to levels that make it impossible for US shale oil companies to make money. US crude for May delivery turned negative on Monday — something that has never happened since NYMEX oil futures began trading in 1983. It was easily the oil market’s worst day on record.
Many oil companies took on too much debt during the good times. Some of them won’t be able to survive this historic downturn.
The most stunning part of the record low in oil prices is that it comes after Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to end their epic price war after President Donald Trump intervened. OPEC+ agreed to cut oil production by a record amount.
Trump said the OPEC+ agreement would save countless jobs and much-needed stability to the oil patch.
For years, New Zealand has featured prominently in the doomsday survival plans of wealthy Americans worried that, say, a killer germ might paralyze the world. Isolated at the edge of the earth, more than 1,000 miles off the southern coast of Australia, New Zealand is home to about 4.9 million people, about a fifth as many as the New York metro area. The clean, green, island nation is known for its natural beauty, laid-back politicians and premier health facilities.
In recent weeks, the country has been lauded for its response to the pandemic. It enforced a four-week lockdown early, and today has more recoveries than cases. Only 12 people have died from the disease. The U.S. death toll stands at more than 39,000, meaning that country’s death rate per capita is about 50 times higher.
The underground global shelter network Vivos already has installed a 300-person bunker in the South Island, north of Christchurch, said Robert Vicino, the founder of the California-based company. He’s fielded two calls in the past week from prospective clients eager to build additional shelters on the island. In the U.S., two dozen families have moved into a 5,000-person Vivos shelter in South Dakota, he said, where they’re occupying a bunker on a former military base that’s about three-quarters the size of Manhattan. Vivos has also built an 80-person bunker in Indiana, and is developing a 1000-person shelter in Germany.
Notably, New Zealand does offer an investor visa for about $6 million for three years.
The current travel restrictions complement another order, passed in August 2018, banning foreigners from buying Kiwi homes, partly in response to Americans gobbling up swaths of the country’s prime real estate.