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Thursday April 2: In which we enjoin a renewed fight against narcoterrorism; generals join the briefing; the Cuomo brothers are #winning


Yesterday’s White House briefing left me with my jaw on the floor, mostly because the first hour was spent with President Trump talking about narcoterrorism, with three generals in full dress regalia arrayed behind him. If you want to jump to the COVID part of this update, it’s below, this color.

You could tell right away this presser was going to be different by the way they walked in – none of the usual bumbling around as people try to fit themselves into a half moon behind the president. Everyone filed in quietly and assumed their position with no discussion. It was, in a word, military, though it must be noted that no one was properly socially distanced. For most of the first hour, a frowning William Barr stood with shoulders hunched and askew, as if an invisible puppeteer might jerk him upward into the rafters at any second.

The virus – which secretary general of the United Nations António Guterres called “the greatest test the world has seen since World War II” – was not mentioned for the first hour of the briefing, because first we had to hear about the danger the Mexican cartels and Colombian coca growers are to American lives, which begs the question: are drug lords immune from COVID-19? 

The president read from his notes and I jotted the words that jumped out: better, best, never before seen, terrorists, criminals, exploitation, aircraft, forces, troops, thousands of sailors, coast guardsmen, marines, safety measures. We were told, enhanced anti-narcotics operations in the west are underway as part of a “whole government approach to protect the American people from the scourge of the flow of illicit drugs”, and eradication efforts are going on at a record pace. 

Why now, you may be asking (a reporter did ask this). Because, we were told, last year 280 metric tons of drugs were stopped and there is more work to be done. We were told tens of thousands of Americans (with the number 70,000 repeated twice) die of drug overdoses, that corrupt actors rely on drugs to keep power, and that drug traffickers are increasing their illicit activities. The Sacklers weren’t mentioned. 

The president said, I see things nobody would believe so I met with the group behind me, we just wanna see if we can stop a good percentage of the drugs coming into our country.

“You are not going to get through to penetrate the US with illegal drugs.”
~Mark Esper

The generals were a little different than civilians in their remarks. No profuse thanking of the president for his leadership. “Thank you for those words,” said one general abruptly, before getting down to business. They said some things. They were strong sounding without being alarming. Nothing was said that made it clear why the expected surge in narcoterrorism. I would have thought people were too busy staying home in lockdown mode to be messing about with drugs. Maybe our president just wanted a photo op with uniformed generals, in an election year wanting to bring to bear every perk of the job. Speaking of which, no one is mentioning in these briefings what we will be doing this year for voting; seem to me that’s something we should be getting ahead of. I hope someone is.

The Attorney General gave thanks to the president with a sort of flowery professionalism that goes oddly with his unsmiling, droopy the dog face.  He sums up for us a meeting in December with the Mexican president  – it wasn’t clear if they talked about the virus. What they did, apparently was “worked to establish a more comprehensive and coordinated effort in confronting the cartels and have had successful visits and discussions and an array of activities underway that will bear fruit int he months ahead” a sentence that reminds me of the time I said something similarly wordy and a whole-lotta-nothing and a colleague burst into laughter, but in a nice way, because he knew I wasn’t really the know-nothing gaslighting jerkwad this kind of talk makes one sound like, I was just inexperienced (and maybe a bit of a jerk). 

 Thank you for your decisive leadership as we confront this unprecedented challenge.”   ~William Barr

It’s hard to follow the narrative line being laid down on the anti-narco-terrorism efforts. We were told that we know exactly where they, the drug runners are, but we’ve been hampered in our ability to interdict (def the word for the day), and that prior to today we could only intercept a fraction, but the new actions will now double our capacity, there are hundreds of tons of cocaine we are now in a position to seize. Also, the president assured us, any place you have the wall it is stopping people cold, no one has seen anything like it, it is having a tremendous impact.

In sum: we’re doing all of this to double our fraction of prior interceptions which will be hugely effective in bearing fruit in the future.

COVID-19 Update
Meanwhile, Cuba, Russia and China are sending convoys to Lombardy. Italy has extended its lockdown to April 13th. China reports no new community transmissions, but after one day of movie theaters being re-opened they shut again. There’s a lot of talk that the death toll in China has actually been much higher than reported.

The governor of Georgia gave a shelter in place order that one of his mayors immediately rescinded, posting a memo around the town of Cummings Ga. that reads “While the intent of the order was to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19, it is obvious that a large portion of our public doesn’t want government mandating the recommendations of public health officials.” 

OK then. Here in San Francisco everyone got a hanger on their door. It is huge, and cannot be missed, and unmistakable in its message: You, inside. Now.

In other news, there are cruise ships full of sick people that can’t find a place to dock. One of those ships is carrying four dead people already, which is awful to think about. 

Overnight, New York crossed the 400+ daily deaths milestone. This is scary news to read, once Italy and Spain entered that territory they have stayed there for weeks. They’ve opened mobile morgues. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city needs 3.3 million masks; in the same day, President Trump advises people to “make your own” as 28 million masks were sold overseas.

According to Cuomo, New York has six days of ventilator stockpile. We know where all of them are, by hospital, he tells us, so they will be ready to transport them upstate or downstate as needed.

brudders

Watching the New York briefing each day is bracing and infinitely reassuring, even in a tsunami of bad news – it is everything the White House briefing isn’t: data driven, detailed, direct. Without addressing the accusation by the President that New York is somehow dirty dealing on the amount of equipment it is requesting, Cuomo said with a faint New York burr of irritation in his voice “I have no desire to acquire more ventilators than we need – they are expensive and the state is broke! But, we need what we need.”

“My little brother tested positive,” the Governor told us, in his New York tender-tough way. He’s doing OK, the governor assures us. Then Chris Cuomo joined the briefing by video conference and the whole thing felt very family-like, because all of us are now dealing with our families the same way, remotely by video chat. “It’s tough,” Chris told us, wearing a baseball hat. “I had rigors like outta the movies, you came to me in a dream, dancing in an LA-type outfit,” he tells Andrew, which was meant to be very insulting, I”m sure.

“What a metaphoric reality,” Andrew says, not taking the brotherly bait. “Thank you for sharing that.”

“You look like you’ve been cutting your own hair,” Chris snarks, leading Andrew to speculate if Chris has a fever impacting his mental capacity. They bicker for awhile over who is the kinda guy who would kick someone when they’re down (“You’re the only guy I know who fishes dressed in all white,” says Chris. “I believe I can fish and stay neat and clean,” Andrew counters mildly), and the surge of love for New York could be felt all over the US like a little earthquake.

US Jobless claims are at 6.6 million. In the US if you make less than $75k a year, you might get one of the $1200 stimulus checks, but not if you’re a noncustodial parents who is behind in their child support – Congress members in their late seventies stayed up 24×7 to get us this relief package and someone in that group of millionaires with lifetime free healthcare was making sure that deadbeat parents aren’t getting away with getting something for nothing.

In other news, someone threatened Dr. Fauci because that’s what a certain faction of Americans do when they hear facts that don’t agree with their world view. At the briefing a reporter asked Dr. Fauci about his need for beefed up security, and Trump interrupted to say “he doesn’t need security” which is a statement not a single watching American would agree with. “Everybody loves him, besides they’d be in big trouble if they ever attacked him,” Trump joked and I have to say that is the first time I have ever vehemently agreed with the President. Strange times.

On the personal front, the job offer I had when the coronavirus first broke has been rescinded, and I bear no ill will but it’s not the best time to be looking for a job, with more than 6.6 million people to compete with. Luckily I’ve worked remotely for more than a decade, giving me a skill that is in high demand. Or so I tell myself. I run every night – daytime, the streets are too crowded with walkers, every intersection an intricate dance of who will break left and who will break right to maintain a six foot diameter. Yesterday I ran a sub 6:30 minute mile for the first time in awhile; being scared of coyotes helped a little.

Good things: This week Michael Moore’s podcast Rumble featured economist James K. Gallbraith, who said “We have to change the way we think about what is essential in our lives. The worst treated workers in our society – check out clerks, stockers, warehouse and shipping workers are now the most essential workers we have. We need to pay them more, protect them medically and pay their medical costs.” Amen to that.


See past entries in Coronavirus Event

 

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