He Went to Jared
Kushner's PPE Debacle, Carnival, Welfare Money, Ghost PAC, and Killing Your Husband
The Failson Army
America currently has an alarming shortage of PPE and other medical supplies. I’ve written about how our leaders in the US have been criminally negligent in their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Since the crisis is moving quickly, and constantly evolving, it takes investigative reporters time to figure out just what the hell is going on with our botched response. This week, the New York Times published a comprehensive look at why the federal government’s response in April was arguably the worst in the world, and which dipshit failson was responsible for it. Guess who:
Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks had longtime manufacturing contacts in China and a line on millions of masks from established suppliers.Instead of encountering seasoned FEMA procurement officials, his information was diverted to a team of roughly a dozen young volunteers, recruited by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and overseen by a former assistant to Mr. Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump.
Ah, yes. Of course it’s Jared. Our president can count on one hand the number of people he trusts with anything - byproduct having a paranoid narcissist in charge - and so he puts one of those people in charge of basically everything. So, how did it go?
In late March, according to emails obtained by The Times, two of the volunteers passed along procurement forms submitted by Yaron Oren-Pines, a Silicon Valley engineer who said he could provide more than 1,000 ventilators.
Mr. Kushner’s volunteers passed the tip to federal officials who then sent it to senior officials in New York, who assumed Mr. Oren-Pines had been vetted and awarded him an eye-popping $69 million contract.
Yeah! They were the ones who found that guy. Basically, what happened was Kushner brought in a bunch of 20-something consultants and recent college grads, and put them at the top of the funnel to vet leads for FEMA. Rather than doing so in an altruistic way, they were instructed to give VIP treatment to Trump allies:
Their temporary supervisor was Rachael Baitel, a 2014 Princeton graduate who had worked as a White House assistant to Ms. Trump before moving on to a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Ms. Baitel told volunteers to prioritize leads from the politically connected, according to the former volunteer and documents reviewed by The Times.
It wasn’t simply prioritizing leads on gear, it was also funneling said gear to specific hospitals on behalf of Fox News hosts:
In one case, Jeanine Pirro, the Trump stalwart and Fox host, repeatedly contacted task force members and FEMA officials until 100,000 masks were sent to a hospital she favored.
In case you needed a dose of But Her Emails, these freshman brainchildren also used personal email accounts and cel phones to conduct government business:
According to the whistle-blower, they were given little initial instruction. They used personal Gmail accounts, prompting suspicion from some prospective suppliers and brokers who questioned their bona fides.
All of this behavior was so egregious that someone involved in the effort filed a federal whistleblower complaint in an attempt to expose the gross incompetence. Really, none of this should surprise anyone. The rank corruption in the White House has been on full display for years now. Rather than being content to sit back and let the shambling corpse of the federal government run itself, up-jumped trust fund brats like Kushner have decided to insert themselves into complex, serious crises, and turn them into clown shows.
These peoples’ first instinct when confronted with a once-in-a-generation public health crisis is to prioritize personal requests from their cronies, and funnel money to their profiteering friends while front line health workers are dying trying to save lives without proper equipment. Jared Kushner is already rich and powerful. He doesn’t need to create more reasons for people to owe him favors. He seems to have a deep, pathological desire to be seen as smart and competent, and his hubris will cost some unknown number of human lives. I thought I had exhausted my reservoir of outrage at these corrupt ghouls, but I guess the pandemic is bringing out something new in all of us.
In case you haven’t heard, Carnival is starting up cruises again, maybe as early as August. They’re offering cut-rate prices as low as $28 in some cases, which seems like a deal if you’re a fan of deadly respiratory infections. Three weeks ago Bloomberg published a scathing piece on how incredibly irresponsible Carvnial’s corporate leadership was as the pandemic raged and its passengers got sick and died. There was some talk they might not get a government bailout because they are incorporated in Panama in order to avoid US taxes and laws, but fortunately the Federal Reserve stepped in at the last minute and they were able to raise money to stay afloat.
While they’ve decided to repay those new creditors by shoveling elderly passengers onto seagoing death traps, they’re also committed to aggressively fucking over the passengers they nearly killed during the spring:
The tickets that cruise passengers buy resemble legal contracts, and they generally contain language barring customers from filing class-action suits – lawsuits that allow one or more plaintiffs to act on behalf of a larger group. That’s just one of several built-in legal protections in cruise tickets meant to safeguard companies against a rash of litigation that’s already arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
Currently, no cruise company faces more claims related to the virus than Carnival, the industry’s largest operator. At least 22 lawsuits have been filed against Carnival-owned companies, seeking millions of dollars in damages.
Great! I can’t imagine a more compelling case for a class action lawsuit than a large group of people who were stuck on a cruise ship as a deadly disease ravaged it, while the company who owned the ship told them everything was fine.
It is not all that surprising that cruise companies - and, I’m sure, shipping companies - have been able to take advantage of byzantine maritime rules to skirt the law:
For example, judgments for deaths that occur far from U.S. ports are limited by the Death on the High Seas Act, enacted in 1920. Most ticket contracts limit any legal actions to select federal courts, predominantly in Florida or Los Angeles, no matter where the customers live. And most of them require passengers to notify a cruise operator within six months that they intend to sue.
Imagine having to explain to your kids that their grandparents died on their trip to Cozumel, and now you have to fly to Fort Lauderdale to pursue a Death on the High Seas Act case against the cruise line.
Joking aside, the way the cruise lines behaved during the early days of the pandemic were absolutely criminal:
Lawsuits filed by passengers of another Princess vessel, the Grand Princess, allege that the cruise line knew some people aboard had Covid-19 symptoms when the ship docked and boarded new passengers in San Francisco on Feb. 21 for a cruise to Hawaii. The two symptomatic passengers disembarked that day; one tested positive shortly afterward and died, prompting California officials to refuse to let the ship dock.
On March 4, Carnival’s Chief Medical Officer, Grant Tarling, notified passengers and crew on the Grand Princess that the CDC was investigating a cluster of coronavirus cases connected to the previous voyage, according to the Princess website. It warned the 60 or so guests who also had sailed on that trip that they “may have been exposed.” It was then – two weeks after the voyage began – that testing started, the suits allege.
Yeah, when newspapers are writing articles titled “The pandemic at sea” and your PR response is to say that you did a great job and plan on reopening your business in the summer, I’m not sure you’ve really learned the important lessons. However, because all these companies exist in states of legal limbo and have spent decades perfecting the art of avoiding responsibility for their horrific actions, it may be difficult for the people harmed to get any relief.
Full of Bad Ideas
I’ve been wondering lately - is investing a scam? The stock exchanges won’t police fraudulent companies. Financial advisors have work hard to ensure they don’t have a fiduciary duty to their clients. The TV hosts on the financial channels are outright market shills with no credibility. It’s just a big, legal, gambling ring, and the house is…banks, I guess?
So what about the supposed Market Geniuses, the guys who run hedge funds and make billions of dollars a year? Well, turns out those guys are full of shit, too:
When hedge fund stars such as Bill Ackman, Lee Ainslie or Keith Meister speak at conferences, stocks can jump or sink.
Yet managers’ highest-conviction ideas aren’t necessarily any better than those in the rest of their portfolio, according to a new report that analyzed the stock-picking of almost 1,500 hedge funds over 20 years.
It’s worse than that - these billionaires go to “ideas conferences” whatever the fuck those are, and try to pump their own portfolios on stage:
The study backs up what many industry participants have long thought: Conferences and idea dinners are often mainly an opportunity for managers to talk their book or goose returns in flagging positions.
Many industry participants have long thought this? I will say again - what the fuck is the point of the stock market? A friend of mine called it “a graph of rich peoples’ feelings” and you know what? I agree.
Don’t Steal the Welfare Money
The state of Mississippi released an audit showing that $94 million in welfare dollars - received through the TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program - was likely stolen and funneled to friends and family of the former head of the Department of Health Services, John Davis. Normally I don’t mugshot shame, but fuck people who steal welfare money from needy families:
Originally these assholes were indicted on a mere $4 million in embezzled funds, but now the state has uncovered another $90 million in potentially misspent cash. So, yeah, it doesn’t look good for these geniuses.
However, that’s not what brought me to this story. It was this piece in ESPN about how a million of the embezzled dollars somehow wound up in the pocket of NFL quarterback Brett Favre. The simplest explanation for why Favre took welfare money from the state to give no-show speeches was hey, he’s a wealthy, famous, busy guy. Sometimes things fall through the cracks? Maybe?
His behavior, however, raises…questions:
Favre's effort to repay the money came two days after White released an audit of spending
Not off to a good start. What did he have to say for himself?
In a Facebook post Wednesday night, Favre said he didn't know the payments he received came from welfare funds and noted his charity had provided millions of dollars to underprivileged children
I am not in public relations, but when you have to follow up your “I didn’t know the million dollars I got was for welfare kids” with an defensive explanation of how you also have a charitable foundation that helps kids, it doesn’t look great.
"My agent is often approached by different products or brands for me to appear in one way or another. This request was no different, and I did numerous ads for Family First,'' Favre wrote.
But…that’s…not what you were paid to do? You were supposed to give three speeches? Also, can we pause for a minute and talk about why an NFL quarterback was being paid $300,000 per speech by the state to, uh, raise money for the poor? This seems like the sort of thing a wealthy athlete could do for free? What is the potential return on investment from paying a heavily concussed athlete to say a few words at a charity ball? I can’t imagine his presence is going to generate $300,001 worth of donations.
The Internet says Brett Favre’s net worth is $100 million dollars, which I assume is mostly from Wrangler commercials. Even so, a million dollars is a lot of money, probably enough to notice, especially if you have to pay taxes on it. Favre doesn’t seem to be all that liquid, though, judging by the fact he has to pay back some of it in installments:
Auditor Shad White said his office received $500,000 from Favre on Wednesday, plus a commitment that Favre will repay the other $600,000 in installments over the next few months.
I don’t have some greater point here, other than to emphasize that public corruption always seems to hurt the most vulnerable, and rich celebrities do not give a shit about where their cash comes from. So, yeah, don’t steal welfare money, and maybe say something if you see someone else doing it.
Stop. Writing. About. Your. Crimes.
I don’t often write about violent crimes, especially murder, because they are typically very sad stories and there is no reason to make light of tragedy. However, sometimes people do murder - or attempt to do it - in ways that violate one of my cardinal rules of Crime Doing, and I can’t resist.
In November 2011, amateur romance novelist Nancy Crampton-Brophy wrote a blog post:
In a wry tone, in which she assumes the persona of a woman who wants to murder her husband, Nancy wrote, “Divorce is expensive, and do you really want to split your possessions?”
She added, “Or if you married for money, aren’t you entitled to all of it? The drawback is the police aren’t stupid. They are looking at you first. So you have to be organized, ruthless and very clever.”
Well. I think you know where this is going. Crampton-Brophy is accused of shooting her husband, then attempting to conceal the murder by swapping components in the gun she (allegedly!) used with a set she bought on eBay, so police could not trace the ballistics.
Police found out about the eBay purchase, though they have not yet found the parts. Nancy was also the sole beneficiary of a large life insurance policy on her husband. They also have video potentially placing her at the scene of the crime. By these standards, she appears to have failed her own criteria for husband murdering. 0 for 3, Nance.
Political advertising is a uniquely shitty element of the American electoral system. Unlike all other developed countries, we decided it would be a good idea to waste billions of dollars every election cycle, funneling donor money to ad agencies, consultants, and media companies. The money we spend on elections could be used to, I don’t know, do just about anything else that would be a net positive for our society. But, instead, we get to pick from a bunch of bland, shitty politicians who regularly use their elected office to get rich themselves.
When political spending happens, it’s supposed to be reported to the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, which tracks and publishes the data. It’s one of the ways journalists are able to find out who is spending what, where. Typically, when political operatives get up to no good it’s by forming scam PACs - political action committees - and raising money under false pretenses, just to put it in their own pockets. What they don’t typically do is create a PAC and file a bunch of spending reports for money that never existed:
A new super PAC made a splashy entrance onto the Senate battleground scene last week, reporting millions in spending backing Democrats in key races. There’s just one problem: The ads don't exist.
Unexpected! If I had to guess, I’d say that someone had the brilliant idea to claim they’d run a successful PAC, spending money to help Democrats, with the goal of landing a job at another PAC, spending money to help Democrats. The problem, in this case, was that journalists decided to call the ad networks and companies they claimed to have spent money with, and it turned out they hadn’t spent the money. Whoops!
The FEC could investigate this and file a complaint, since it does fit their definition of filing false information. The FEC, however, has its own problems, since it has lacked a quorum to vote on anything important for over eight months now, because the White House won’t nominate anyone to it. Working as intended!
“I got the AirPods from Amazon last month,” said Aleezay in Twitter post last week. “I knew they were fake because Amazon sells weird stuff, and it wasn’t expensive. I was shocked not going to lie, but we move on.”
More Corona Stuff
There is…a lot of coronavirus fraud going on, so rather than try to shoehorn it into Short Cons, I’ll just list a few highlights each week:
Feds seized 900 bottles of diluted Clorox in Arizona. Canada has taken down over 1,500 COVID scam sites. Chicago student accused of online toilet paper scam. Herbalife distributors are caught making virus claims. Pizza Hut warns customers about fake scam sites set up during pandemic.
ProPublica - “Federal agencies have hired contractors with no experience to find respirators and masks, fueling a black market filled with price gouging and multiple layers of profiteering brokers.”
NY Times - “The tripling in price of a dozen regular eggs in many parts of the country — to an excess of $3 — has prompted various lawsuits aimed at egg producers and sellers.”
Gizmodo - “In the weeks following the ban, browsers were still reporting seeing facemask-related ads being served through Google’s ad systems.”
Tips, investing advice, and cruise vouchers to firstname.lastname@example.org