For a few crucial weeks, the US COVID-19 response lay with a small-time Labradoodle breeder
273 days left in the cluster of incompetence that is the Trump regime. Was Trump and Fox News hyping hydroxychloroquine really a pump and dump scheme?
For a few critical weeks, the COVID-19 response lay in the hands of a small-time Labradoodle breeder.
As is now widely known, two agencies Azar oversaw as HHS secretary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, wouldn’t come up with viable tests for five and half weeks, even as other countries and the World Health Organization had already prepared their own.
Shortly after his televised comments, Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19. The aide, Brian Harrison, had joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years. Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him “the dog breeder.”
Azar’s optimistic public pronouncement and choice of an inexperienced manager are emblematic of his agency’s oft-troubled response to the crisis. His HHS is a behemoth department, overseeing almost every federal public health agency in the country, with a $1.3 trillion budget that exceeds the gross national product of most countries.
Azar and his top deputies oversaw health agencies that were slow to alert the public to the magnitude of the crisis, to produce a test to tell patients if they were sick, and to provide protective masks to hospitals even as physicians pleaded for them.
I don’t think this is incompetence. As I write in my book, Trump covers up crime with scandal and covers up malice with incompetence. His administration would like you to think that they’re inept, that they’re just stumbling into these situations. That’s not the case. And the key thing to remember is that it’s not Trump as some geopolitical mastermind; it’s an inner circle of Republican backers and ideological extremists, many of whom have massive financial interests and certainly their own agenda.
As for the current situation: There were measures they could have taken years in advance—just allowing the CDC to be fully funded, and allowing us to have the emergency equipment necessary to combat what was a predictable pandemic. And, of course, when we started to see these videos from Wuhan and Iran and Italy, of course they should have had a defensive reaction—they shouldn’t have had a mask shortage or a ventilator shortage. This seems very deliberate. And we’re also seeing Trump using classic mafia tactics. People like Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer for years, discussed these tactics under oath: He’s shaking down different governors, trying to weaponize this pandemic by making people from different cities and states resent each other and battle over resources like we’re on one of his TV game shows. He’s flaunting his power and bullying people. He doesn’t care if Americans live or die. And that might sound harsh and blunt, but that’s the truth of the matter.
The Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Sitglitz said: “The numbers turning to food banks are just enormous and beyond the capacity of them to supply. It is like a third world country. The public social safety net is not working.”
Stiglitz, a long-term critic of Trump, said 14% of the population was dependent on food stamps and predicted the social infrastructure could not cope with an unemployment rate that could hit 30% in the coming months.
“We have a safety net that is inadequate. The inequality in the US is so large. This disease has targeted those with the poorest health. In the advanced world, the US is one of the countries with the poorest health overall and the greatest health inequality.”
Stiglitz said Republicans had opposed proposals to give those affected by coronavirus 10 days’ sick leave, meaning many employees were going to work even while infected. “The Republicans said no because they said it would set a bad precedent. It is literally unbelievable.”
He added: “The safety net is not adequate and is propagating the disease. There is very weak unemployment insurance and people don’t think they can rely on it.”
During an interview with the Guardian to mark the paperback publication of his book People, Power, and Profits, Stiglitz was asked whether the US might be heading for a second Great Depression.
“Yes is the answer in short,” he said. “If you leave it to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell [the Republican Senate majority leader] we will have a Great Depression. If we had the right policy structure in place we could avoid it easily.”
Stiglitz said that as a result of Trump’s mismanagement, the White House office responsible for pandemics had been closed, funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been cut, and the US had gone into the crisis without enough testing kits, masks and protective gear. Encouraged by Trump, some parts of the US were determined to reopen in a way that would facilitate the transmission of the disease and lead to a fresh outbreak, he added.