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Monday, April 6, 2020

Who is stealing millions of face masks. Spoiler: it’s NOT health care workers

Mark Sumner, Daily Kos Staff

Image may contain: 1 person, textOn a runway in China, French officials were preparing to load pallets of much-needed masks and other protective gear, but minutes later those masks took off for the United States after unnamed Americans pulled out wads of cash on the tarmac to buy the supplies away from the French. 

One day later, a shipment of 200,000 masks and other gear on its way to Germany was “confiscated” as it passed through Bangkok, Thailand. The German government called the actions “modern piracy.” 

And in the port of New York, 3 million masks purchased for the state of Massachusetts were taken away by an unnamed federal agency. In seizing the supplies, the government employed what state officials described as “force majeure” to breach existing contracts and carry off the goods.

But in Washington D.C., Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that the federal government is not a “shipping clerk” for the states, and both he and son-in-law Jared Kushner have made it clear that the federal stockpile of masks, ventilators, and other gear is just that—a federal stockpile. States be damned. 

Who is buying these supplies? And what the hell are they doing with them?

The astounding statement that the contents of the national stockpile don’t belong to the states, seems exactly like the sort of statement that would have raised a thousand conservative conspiracy theories had it been voiced by Barack Obama. But it’s not as if there aren’t some items being dispersed. 


As The Washington Post made clear earlier in the week, some red states are actually getting more supplies than they are requesting. In the meantime, what Trump has for the blue states currently at the heart of the storm is … disdain, sneers, and absolutely no promise to meet their needs.

Whoever is putting together the University of Washington model that has become so dominate when it comes to predictions about where the nation is going, needs to add a political adjustment to their numbers. 

Trump is making it blindingly clear that he’s willing to punish governors who don’t kiss his ass, or states that didn’t support him at the polls, to the tune of tens of thousands dead. He has absolutely no problem with ventilators sitting in a warehouse … so long as that warehouse is in Oklahoma.

But it seems unlikely that all the purloined protective gear is going to the national stockpile in the first place. 

Though, as the Boston Globe reports, Massachusetts officials managed to smuggle in vital supplies by hiding them in the New England Patriots team plane, that doesn’t explain why they had to do this. 

What happened in New York harbor goes beyond just the already incredible spectacle of the federal government outbidding the states in a pointless, uncoordinated free-for-all. 

They confiscated, seized, stole equipment that had already been purchased by the state. And all of this seems to have happened without explanation of the authority under which it was taking place, or the reason why those masks were more necessary … wherever they went. 

Why are states being forced to sneak in equipment under the threat that it might be taken away by a federal government that has simultaneously made it clear that states are not getting that equipment back? 

In the German case, it seems the masks had been manufactured by American company 3M—though a large number of 3M’s masks are being produced in Singapore or Mexico for markets outside the United States. 

Trump has recently been pointing at that company as a bad actor and used emergency authority to order it to stop shipping equipment overseas—even though Trump hasn’t implemented any general provisions that would prevent companies for fulfilling contracts for protective gear overseas. 

In fact, there has been a large and active market of U.S. equipment being shipped out of the country since the coronavirus crisis began. Also, the FDA has pointedly not used emergency authority to approve import of masks directly from the companies who actually make them for 3M. 

All of which seems like perfect chaos.

Where did the masks, which were intended for Germany’s police force, actually go? The BBC says they were “presumably diverted to the US.” 

Trump may have been discussing this same shipment when he said that the U.S. had “taken custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks and 600,000 gloves.” However, Trump didn’t say where this occurred, and the list doesn’t match what Germany says was taken.

To make sure they can get masks without interference, French officials have also had to go to alternate routes and move materials in secret. Who is buying up their supplies before they can be loaded on a plane? Are the “Americans” with piles of money spending government dollars, or are they private actors feeding the burgeoning market for pandemic profiteers? It’s all completely unclear. 

The French masks were being sought by an organization providing them for caregivers at nursing home, so they were especially vital. 

According to a French official, “Masks are becoming scarce, and Americans buy them everywhere they find them, no matter what the price, it was confirmed, on condition of anonymity, in one of the regions victims of the process. They pay double the cash before they even see the goods.”

Trump may say that he’s “not a shipping clerk” for the states, but he certainly seems to be collecting a lot of masks for … someone. Are they going to Galt’s GulchDavid Geffen’s yacht? Mar-a-Lago? Is Donald Trump taking the profit off those ads for protective gear that are probably bracketing your screen right this moment?

WTF is going on?