Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus has been tempered by the fact that it disproportionately affects people of color and he doesn’t care about them. We can infer that he doesn’t care about the Indians in particular because he’s proclaimed himself a fan of Andrew Jackson, who followed by Martin Van Buren forced the Indians off their own land and into the death march known as the Trail of Tears. Trump has a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office and he has called him “a very tough person with a big heart.”
Trump is clueless about what Jackson actually did or the inhumane treatment of the American Indians, who are the Forgotten Americans, if anybody is. If any group of people is entitled to reparations it would be the the American Indians. History is rife with examples of them being sold flour with maggots in it, or rotten corn, and people have gotten away with it. That tradition continues today, where the Indian Health Services reveals that it purchased one million respirator masks from Zack Fuentes, Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, and the masks don’t meet FDA guidelines. Plus they cost $3.24 apiece, which is over market price. ProPublica:
IHS said it purchased the masks from Fuentes “under urgent and compelling authority to meet program needs. At the time, the IHS Navajo Area determined there was no availability of masks in the US, and limited vendors who could supply the masks. IHS solicited quotes from available vendors to determine a fair and reasonable price.” […]
The masks were purchased as part of a frantic agency push to supply Navajo hospitals with desperately needed protective equipment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Navajos and the IHS were desperate. And people who are desperate, unfortunately, frequently end up being conned by the unscrupulous and that is what happened here. Enter Zach Fuentes, Trump’s former deputy chief of staff under John Kelly, where his nickname was “Zotus” or “deputy president.” Now he’s a piece of work.
The New York Times reported on December 20, 2018 that Fuentes, an officer on active duty with the United States Coast Guard, had discussed inserting a provision into a House bill that would have allowed him to take advantage of a Coast Guard early retirement program that had previously expired. Homeland Security officials began pressing Congress to reinstate the provision in November 2018. It was abruptly withdrawn from a bill after reporters had inquired about it in December.
Grifting much? Personal interest much? Abuse of power? Oh, never mind. We’re talking about Trump world, where corruption is the norm and it would be banner headlines if somebody did something decent for a change.
ProPublica revealed last week that Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, formed a company in early April and 11 days later won a $3 million contract with IHS to provide specialized respirator masks to the agency for use in Navajo hospitals. The contract was granted with limited competitive bidding.
Now pause for a moment and stroll down memory lane. Do you recall reading a piece here the end of March, “GOP Fundraising Guru Leaves Politics To Cash In On Coronavirus Windfall?” That was the story of Mike Gula, who left Steve Daines, Tim Scott, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, Kevin Cramer and Martha McSally, in the dust, without notice, and scrambling to find a new political consultant. On a Monday, Gula formed Blue Flame Medical, LLC and he was in the medical supply business — with no previous background in that field — and by Thursday, moreover, he was going gangbusters. His partner, GOP strategist John Thomas, said that they had procured masks and testing kits that even hospitals couldn’t get, because of “relationships.” No doubt about that.
Now this very same week, Peter Navarro was threatening hoarders, “we will be coming for you” and William Barr put out a no hoarding edict.
The new company may draw scrutiny as the Trump administration has moved to crack down on the hoarding of critical medical supplies and the sale of supplies at above fair market value. President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Monday designed to combat price gouging and Attorney General William Barr told reporters this week that the Justice Department has set up a task force to stop people from “manipulating the market and ultimately deriving windfall profits.”
In an interview, Thomas said Blue Flame had already sold medical supplies to authorities in Georgia and other states. Police departments are “almost begging for supplies,” he said.
Everybody has gone begging for supplies. That is the tragedy of the dysfunctionality and chaos in Washington, and Republican grifters are on it. I’m not talking about grifters who happen to be registered Republican voters, I’m talking about government insiders, like Mike Gula and partner and Zach Fuentes, who just defrauded the Navajos. Back to ProPublica.
The masks provided by Fuentes “are not approved by the FDA or covered by an Emergency Use Authorization for use in healthcare settings by health care providers,” the agency said.
In addition, some of the masks have packaging stating that the product is a “non-medical device.” “These masks will not be used in a clinical setting,” the agency said.
Until now, it was unclear who had manufactured the masks that Fuentes’ firm had provided to IHS and thus impossible to know if they met FDA certifications. Contract data shows that IHS asked for KN95 respirator masks, a Chinese version of specialized N95 masks, which provide far greater protection from viruses than ordinary masks.
On Wednesday, IHS told ProPublica the masks sold by Fuentes were made by four Chinese manufacturers and are registered in an FDA database, but have not met the regulator’s relaxed pandemic-era standards for Chinese-made masks.
The four companies, all based in China, who made the masks are registered with the FDA, but a registration does not constitute approval or certification of any kind. The FDA makes that clear.
“Registration and Listing does not denote approval or clearance of a firm or their devices,” the FDA says on its website.
ProPublica says that FDA registration is more of a phone book to find manufacturers and that none of these companies appear on federal government lists of approved foreign-made respirator masks.
On Wednesday, Democratic senators and representatives from New Mexico and Arizona sent a letter to the head of the IHS asking for more information on Fuentes’ contract and the masks he provided, as well as the agency’s protocols in obtaining medical protective equipment.
Also on Wednesday, three Democratic representatives — Ruben Gallego and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and Deb Haaland of New Mexico — asked the Government Accountability Office to open its own investigation into the contract. A GAO spokesman, Chuck Young, said the office goes through an “internal review process” for every new congressional request before it decides on an investigation, which usually takes a couple weeks.
During a call on Saturday with Trump administration officials including IHS Director Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and other lawmakers pressed officials for contract details, a Democratic aide said on the condition of anonymity.
This is scandalous, but exactly where in the pecking order of news this story will come is anybody’s guess with the attorney general of the United States facing impeachment while the titular president is more concerned about the fact that Fox News is insufficiently deferential than that racial tensions are the highest they’ve been in fifty years, while the economy shudders and COVID-19 spikes.
We do not live in a normal world. The supply and demand issues posed by COVID-19, particularly in light of the fact that Trump knew about the coronavirus in November and chose to ignore it, created a gold rush kind of mentality when the Trump administration was finally compelled mid-March to admit the reality of the situation. You may recall Jared Kushner getting into the act with his brother, Joshua, who founded Oscar Health. And the Oscar Health website was in fact the website that Kushner lied to Trump about Google creating in order to provide a a testing center locator for Americans — and then Trump came out and rebroadcast that lie to the American people. Kushner ultimately was successful about getting information posted about four drive-thru facilities, one in Illinois and three in California.
When Donald Trump got elected it was like an Arabian Nights fairy tale where a giant rock moves away from the face of a cave and all manner is evil is let loose into the world. If Trump had done the only sane and responsible thing to do in November, which was to get this country prepared, we would not be looking at 120,000 dead, nor would the deaths be disproportionate to vulnerable people.
In early April the chief of the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma said, “We’re preparing for the worst.” And the Navajo nation was hard hit at that time as well — and that was before defective equipment was sold to them at above market price. Washington Post:
The coronavirus is ravaging the United States, but experts say more than 5 million people who identify as American Indian and Alaskan Native are especially vulnerable.
“When you look at the health disparities in Indian Country — high rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma and then you combine that with the overcrowded housing situation where you have a lot of people in homes with an elder population who may be exposed or carriers — this could be like a wildfire on a reservation and get out of control in a heartbeat,” said Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians.
“We could get wiped out,” Allis said.
I sincerely hope this story gets the coverage it deserves. Zach Fuentes selling the Indians defective PPE is adding insult to injury. This is so egregious. But yet, it is not the least bit surprising. This is what happens when you have a group of avaricious amateurs, all with their own agendas and money and power being their only goals, get hold of the levers of government.