Monday, April 13, 2020

Notes from the commentariat continued

Eli Valley's Passover cartoon (Gut yom tov!) featuring Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss.

Then there was Mr. Bret Stephens, complaining about how Big Government is stopping folks from feeding children ("Covid-19 and the Big Government Problem"):
Katie Wilson, a deputy under secretary at the Department of Agriculture in the Obama administration, is the executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit that works with the country’s largest school districts to improve the quality of student nutrition. Her topmost concern is with the millions of poorer children and their families for whom school meals are essential to diets and budgets alike.
In this pandemic, she has a message for government bureaucrats in Washington and every state capital: Stop getting in the way.
Note how he makes the Urban School Food Alliance sound like some nice little private thing, "a nonprofit", as opposed to a nonprofit institution that is a pretty big slice of government in its own right, a confederation of (not "with") the nation's 12 largest school districts with an almost billion-dollar budget used to "leverage our purchasing power to continue to drive food quality up and costs down while incorporating sound environmental practices."

And slices of government are on both sides of the problems he adduces; in one case it's Oregon trying to get waivers for innovative programs from Trump's USDA (run, as you'll recall, by Republican campaign workers instead of experts and gutted by the expedient of sending its research staff to exile in Missouri and so on), in another the public University of Washington and the state's government struggling with Trump's FDA for permission to develop a test for Covid-19 as reported by Julia Ioffe, but without noting Ioffe's setting of the context:
A large part of the blame lies with President Trump, who has not wanted widespread testing, apparently out of an obsession with keeping the number of confirmed COVID cases low. It’s why he waffled so long on whether to let the Grand Princess cruise liner, where COVID infections were spreading rapidly, dock in the United States. “I would rather have them stay on [the ship], personally,” Trump said earlier this month. “I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault.” His administration turned down tests provided by the World Health Organization and instead wasted precious time having the Centers for Disease Control create its own test.
Or for that matter FDA's own struggle with Trump's crazy demands that it issue a recommendation for a treating the disease with hydroxychloroqine before it had been properly tested, where the agency's regulatory instincts were clearly in the right. Or the remarkable degree to which FDA has stopped regulating in general over the past three years—
The agency’s “warning letters”—a key tool for keeping dangerous or ineffective drugs and devices and tainted foods off the market—have fallen by one-third, for example. Such letters typically demand swift corrections to protect public health and safety. FDA records from Trump’s inauguration through 22 May show the agency issued 1033 warning letters, compared with 1532 for the most recent equivalent period under former President Barack Obama. Compared with the start of the Obama presidency, Trump-era letters dropped by nearly half.
Warnings from the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health, which helps ensure the safety and quality of medical devices, and from some of the agency’s district offices—including Philadelphia, Florida, and New York—have dropped even more steeply, by more than two-thirds. Two district offices have not issued a warning in more than 2 years. The numbers don’t just reflect a new administration’s slow start. FDA sent significantly fewer warning letters in the second year of Trump’s presidency than in his first.
Making you wonder if they were so troublesome about regulating this particular thing on the basis of some kind of orders from above. We don't have any idea who at FDA is responsible for the lengthy failure to cooperate with U of W on the issue of test development, but we do know who is refusing to answer the question: Mike Pence.

While who's disrupting long-established local supply chains with a clueless from-the-top operation trying to distribute emergency medical supplies without finding out where they come from? Hi, Jared:
The supply chain task force leaders pushed aside federal emergency management response teams that had long-established methods for engaging assistance from the public and private sectors. Instead, they first reached out to personal contacts, according to people familiar with their operations. To the extent that they have absorbed some of the old practices over the course of time, with the help of career officials intent on bringing their actions in line with protocol, it has taken time to figure out their own system.
"Jared and his friends decided they were going to do their thing," said the senior government official involved in the response effort. "It cost weeks."...
In a wrinkle that has had repercussions for small businesses and communities around the country, the task force ended FEMA's long-running practice of using its regional offices to find, pay for and acquire goods from smaller local vendors in an emergency, preferring instead to contract with heavyweights.
That's just perfect. Jared and his friends and their Amazon and Facebook resources are tearing down mom-and-pop factories and Defense Department planes to turn over business to monopolists, like Dupont and Fedex, tripling the prices the government pays, and rerouting the stuff from the state or locality that ordered them to who knows where:
At the same time Trump and other White House officials are saying it is up to states, cities and hospitals to find and acquire their own medical supplies, the task force is undermining those efforts by cutting deals with companies to reroute equipment away from lower-level buyers.
Except as we've seen the process seems to be stiffing states with Democratic governors and heaping benefits on the Republican ones. The task force seems to think it's doing the work of the Lord as Mr. Bret would want it done, cutting all that red tape—
Rather than creating new layers of bureaucracy, members assigned to issues and data analysis for the supply-chain task force see their work as a vital tool to strip away obstacles.
But from outside the White House it looks like amateurism, and business and political favoritism:
The two priorities that officials say haven't been sacrificed by Trump or his supply chain task force, dubbed "the children" inside FEMA's headquarters, are private profit and the ability of the White House to choose where supplies go. 
Not that endless red tape is a good thing! But the way to get rid of it has to be good management, not turning it over to a pack of prep school gangsters.

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