Archives for category: Stupid

Alexandra Petri is the brilliant satirist for The Washington Post. She wrote this column, titled: “The Greeks Are Gone from Troy, for Sure,” by Mike Pence.


“In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”

— Vice President Pence in “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave,’” Wall Street Journal

In recent days, Cassandra has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a “second wave” of Greek attack that will soon come sweeping over us like the wrath of Poseidon and leave our city in ruins. Such panic is overblown. (Although, technically, “panic” is fear induced by the god Pan, so really this is not even panic at all. But whatever it is, it is overblown.)

Thanks to the leadership of King Priam and the courage and compassion of the Trojan people, our walled city is far stronger and even less pregnable than it was nine years ago, and we have won the fight against the Greeks. And if you doubt that, just look at this enormous and beautifully constructed wooden horse they have left for us, which is definitely not hollow and will absolutely not be filled with handpicked soldiers ready to pour out and devastate our city.

The Laocoöns and Cassandras are full of negativity about this horse. At least, I think that was what Laocoön was saying before he was seized mid-sentence and crushed to death by sea serpents, along with his two sons! Probably a sign that what he was saying was not important. And when has Cassandra ever been right about anything?

The point is: The war has been a great success. And I can’t think of anyone better to have led us through it than King Priam. Yes, we have had losses, but ultimately we were victorious. That is what this horse means. We should seize it and be grateful.

Looking back, everything the king did was good. It was good, actually, that he put his sons in charge of everything, Hector, Paris — even Deiphobus. Hector was — how do I put this? — godlike. And so good at taming horses. We all miss him. And we even miss Paris, who actually turned out to be kind of helpful and, seemingly by random chance, managed to kill Achilles! I would think that shooting someone in the heel with an arrow would actually be a sign that you were just hitting body parts at random and not very good at what you were doing. But no, it was brilliant strategy! Which is what we have had throughout. And Deiphobus is here, too!

When King Priam asked me to chair our Get the Greeks to Leave and Destroy Their Champion Achilles Task Force nine years ago (Hector was busy), he directed us to pursue not only a Whole-of-the-House-of-Priam approach but a Whole-of-Troy approach. And now that the Greeks have left, spontaneously, I think, I can look back on that task force and see everything we did as a success. It must have been the partnerships I forged, or perhaps it was the weapons I forged. Maybe it was our alliance with the warlike Amazons, a match for men that put us over the top. (Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

We’ve also made great progress on developing a device that will keep the Greeks out of here forever. Operation Wind-Swift-Footed Iris is aiming to have a technology that will shroud our city in something even better than Apollo’s protection — though what, really, could be better than that? I hope this wasn’t blasphemy.
I know we have asked the Trojan people to make sacrifices, like not leaving this walled city because there were Greeks outside, something that, amazingly, a few people were unwilling to do but most of you have been great about. But the time for sacrifices is over, except in the sense that we need to make a literal sacrifice to thank the gods for their protection.

Now is the time to bring in the horse and commemorate this achievement. We have defeated this visible enemy, which was also sometimes invisible because the gods are tricky.

Look, we can test the horse, if you like, but I think testing just makes it more likely you will find out information that makes you unhappy, and that is the last thing we need in our moment of triumph. But sure, have Helen walk around the horse calling out in the voices of the Greeks’ loved ones, just in case! Knock yourself out! I am sure the worst is over.

This is a time of celebration, and I think we can all sleep soundly in our beds. And I, for one, will sleep better once we get that horse inside. Congratulations, people of Troy.

Trump is the biggest fool ever to be elected president. He says stupid things proudly. The number of coronavirus cases detected is surging, mostly in the south and west, and Trump says it’s because there’s is more testing. Other nations are testing and seeing a decline in cases.

Trump said in Wisconsin today:

“If we didn’t test, we wouldn’t have cases,” he said later at a shipyard in Marinette, Wis. “But we have cases because we test. We’ve done an incredible, historic job.”

No testing. No cases. Stupid.

Thanks to a complete absence of national leadership in the United States, the coronavirus is spreading. Other countries have shut it down. Not us! We are free to get diseased!

Dana Milbank writes here about what happens when a nation has leadership and what happens when it does not.


How nice it would be to be in Tokyo today.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government moved to its last stage of reopening on Thursday, allowing bars, amusement parks and karaoke joints to operate. The city of 14 million, in a metropolitan area of 38 million, has averaged just 18 new cases of covid-19 per day, most of which the government efficiently traces to known cases.

How nice it would be to be in Auckland today.
New Zealand has suspended social distancing and has lifted limits on public gatherings, after it declared the virus eradicated for now; Australia is close behind.

How nice it would be to be in Paris or Berlin.
On Monday, France and Germany, enjoying low levels of the virus, opened up to travelers from within the European Union. German tourist attractions reopened, and Paris reopened restaurants. French President Emmanuel Macron said it’s time to “rediscover our taste for freedom.” But U.S. visitors won’t be allowed.

And how nice it would be to be in Athens.
Greece on Monday was set to welcome visitors from such nations as China, Japan, Israel, Australia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and North Macedonia because those countries have the virus in check. The virus-laden United States didn’t make the cut.

The world is reopening, safely in many places, because responsible governments made the right decisions about the pandemic. Life there is slowly returning to normal.

And then, there is the United States. We just regained our worldwide lead in reported new cases, passing Brazil, with nearly 24,000 per day. USA! USA! We have had a world-leading 2.1 million infected and 116,000 dead. Much of the world doesn’t want America’s infected hordes traveling there.

Who can blame them? Other governments took the pandemic seriously and responded competently. Ours didn’t, and doesn’t. The willy-nilly reopening here, with safety requirements ignored and inadequate contact tracing, has allowed the virus to spread in much of the country, particularly in states that were most reckless in their reopenings.

And President Trump undermines what few restraints there are, scheduling mass rallies, beginning with an indoor event this week in Tulsa against the pleading of the local health director. Trump won’t “give the press the pleasure” of wearing a mask (one of the most important factors in safe reopening), which ensures many of his supporters won’t, either.

The effects of the careless reopening are now becoming clear. Health-care investment-research firm Nephron, in a report Sunday, finds that the quartile of states that opened earliest has seen a 26 percent increase in cases, while the second-fastest quartile has seen a 7 percent increase. The third and fourth quartiles went down, 31 percent and 9 percent, respectively. “It is patently obvious that states that removed stay-at-home restrictions earlier are seeing worse trends in case growth this month,” Nephron concluded.

Among the 14 earliest states, many of which ignored public health recommendations, nine have seen increases: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Montana, Idaho and Alaska. In the second group, Arizona, California and North Carolina are particularly alarming.

In an interview with Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, top U.S. infectious-disease official Anthony Fauci said it’s an open question whether states will “have the capability to do the appropriate and effective isolation, and contact tracing, to prevent this increase from becoming a full-blown outbreak.” But The Post reports that contact tracing efforts are “way behind” in many hard-hit areas. And yet the reopening keeps expanding — sporting events, conventions, concerts — regardless of the growing threat.

It didn’t have to be this way. Japan, where subways are busy and nightclubs are hopping, benefits from a culture that embraces mask-wearing. Virus-free New Zealand, with back-to-normal sporting events and concerts, benefits from being an island nation. But what about Tunisia, Morocco, Chad, Dominica, Barbados, Uruguay, Cambodia, Thailand, Montenegro, Croatia, Fiji, Iceland and Australia? They’re also on the list of the 15 countries that a German data analysis company, Iunera, identified as being “on a successful path to recovery.” South Korea, the Czech Republic and others have also done well. Is America not as “great” as them?

“It’s just political will,” Andy Slavitt, a top health-care official in the Obama administration, told me Monday. “Are you willing to suffer short-term pain for a lot of long-term gain? Obviously, the president wasn’t.” The behavior of Trump, and of like-minded governors operating with his encouragement, is self-defeating, for it delays the restoration of commerce and the return to normal that countries around the world are now savoring.

The United States, long the envy of the world, now fumbles while others move ahead. A president who promised to put “America First” instead put us at the back of the line.

Politico Morning Education reports:

DEVOS’ INTERIM FINAL RULE: The rule carries out DeVos’ policy, first announced in April, that is being challenged by two lawsuits for restricting which students can receive CARES Act (H.R. 748 ) grants. It will take effect immediately after publication in the Federal Register, which the department said would happen on June 15.

— DeVos said in a statement that the rule was aimed at eliminating any “uncertainty” for colleges about how they must distribute the funds, while carrying out the department’s “responsibility to taxpayers to administer the CARES Act faithfully.”

— Democratic lawmakers have pushed back, saying the rule violates the intent of the CARES Act. “As students across the country are struggling to make ends meet in the face of unprecedented financial challenges, Secretary DeVos’ efforts to deny some much-needed aid is cruel,” said Senate HELP ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “These extreme eligibility requirements will not only harm students, but they are also contrary to Congressional intent.” Read more from Michael Stratford.

TRUMP TO CONGRESS: ENACT SCHOOL CHOICE: President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is renewing his call on Congress to “finally enact school choice now.” During his State of the Union Address earlier this year, Trump promoted his administration’s proposal to create a new $5 billion federal tax credit to expand school choice. The Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, introduced in the House as H.R. 1434 (116) and the Senate as S. 634 (116), has no Democratic cosponsors in either chamber. “School choice is a big deal,” he told his audience during a “Transition to Greatness” roundtable in Texas.

— Trump said unions and “others” are against school choice for the wrong reasons. “Access to education is the civil rights issue of our time,” he said, adding that he has heard that for “the last, I would say year, but it really is.” He said, “And it creates competition and other schools fight harder because all of a sudden they say, ‘Wow, we’re losing it, we have to fight hard.’”

— DeVos tweeted a video clip of Trump’s statement and wrote, “Education is the pathway to a stronger tomorrow and a stronger America for all. Thankful for @realdonaldtrump’s unwavering commitment to ALL our nation’s students and their success.

The editorial board of the Washington Post denounced Trump for abruptly withdrawing one-third of American troops from Germany, in retaliation for Chancellor Merkel’s rejection of his invitation to have a snap summit.

IN A transparent attempt to boost his sagging political fortunes, President Trump proposed to stage a summit meeting of the Group of Seven nations in Washington this month, with Vladimir Putin among the special guests. In a May 30 phone call that reportedly turned testy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel demurred, citing the continuing threat of the covid-19 pandemic as well as the lack of preparation for such a meeting.

One week later, Trump’s riposte to Ms. Merkel surfaced: a vindictive and, for U.S. national security, deeply damaging decision to withdraw nearly a third of the American troops stationed in Germany. The move was made without consultation with the Germans, other NATO allies or even senior U.S. military officers in Europe, who were taken by surprise when the story emerged on Friday.
The pullout, which Mr. Trump arrived at in the absence of any National Security Council deliberation, could substantially weaken U.S. ability to deter Russian aggression in Europe or respond to other foreign crises. However, shortly after speaking with Ms. Merkel, Mr. Trump initiated a phone call with Mr. Putin, who will be thrilled by the president’s unilateral disarmament and exacerbation of a rift with a key ally.

Mr. Trump appears to believe he is punishing Ms. Merkel by removing forces that nominally defend Germany. The sycophant whom the president installed as ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has been arguing publicly that Germany doesn’t merit U.S. bases when it fails to meet NATO defense spending guidelines. What he and the president fail to understand is that the 34,500 U.S. personnel in Germany — down from 235,000 during the Cold War — primarily bolster U.S. defense. The Ramstein Air Base is vital to operations in the Middle East and Africa, and the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center provides critical care to wounded American soldiers medevaced from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump has been impervious to serial attempts over the past three years by his national security advisers and senior military commanders to explain such basics to him. Instead, conceiving U.S. troops as mercenary forces who should be deployed only when host countries offer compensation he regards as adequate, he also has been threatening to pull troops out of South Korea — which would delight another dictator, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Further, Mr. Trump is reportedly contemplating accelerating a withdrawal of the remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan, so that it can be carried out in advance of the November election, rather than sometime next year. Never mind that this would likely short-circuit nascent talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and leave the latter in position to restore a theocratic dictatorship.
If the past is any guide, there will now be a scramble within the Pentagon or by Trump-friendly congressional Republicans to reverse or water down the president’s decision — which as of late Monday had still not been formally announced. In the meantime, it should be clearer than ever why former senior military leaders such as Jim Mattis and Colin Powell have taken the lead in publicly repudiating the president. He is, as they have said, a liar who divides the country. He is also, increasingly, a threat to national security.

Dana Milbank writes a regular opinion column for the Washington Post.

Today, he lacerated Trump for what must be a new low, a speech so disgusting that it is incomprehensible that any sane person would say what Trump proudly said. While the nation is reeling and convulsed by protests because of the murder of George Floyd while in police custody, Trump claimed that the new jobs number made the recently deceased Mr. Floyd happy. This murdered man , Trump imagines, is smiling because Trump is happy.

George Floyd died in police custody nearly two weeks ago, leaving a fatherless 6-year-old girl. The video of an officer’s knee on his neck set off international protests. The nation still convulses with unrest and violence, and unidentified military personnel brutalize peaceful protesters.


But no worries: It’s all good!


“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, ‘There’s a great thing that’s happening for our country,’” President Trump said in the Rose Garden Friday, celebrating a May unemployment report that showed “only” 21 million people — 13.3 percent of the workforce — out of work.


“This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody,” Trump continued. “This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”


For about the millionth time in the past four years, America asks: What the hell is he talking about?


Trump has long presumed to speak for the dead and their thoughts as they “look down” at us.

But implying, as Trump appeared to do, that George Floyd is having “a great day” in the afterlife because of the May jobs report? Trump’s effrontery has no end.


His racism and encouragement of strong-arm police tactics contributed heavily to the rage now gripping the nation — but he has the gall to suggest that the slain Floyd would see an unemployment report showing black joblessness rising to a decade-high 16.8 percent as a “tremendous tribute to equality”?


There are no words.


PBS White House reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who is black, asked Trump about his plan to combat racism.
He replied that a strong economy is “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African American community.”


NBC’s Peter Alexander asked: “How would a better economy have protected George Floyd?”
Trump didn’t answer.


Alcindor pointed out that black unemployment had increased in May. “How is that a victory?”


Trump waved his hand dismissively. “You are something,” he said.

How could he be so crass, crude, self-aggrandizing, and downright vile?

There are no words.

Robert Shepherd writes comments on the blog frequently, and he also writes his own blog. He is a recently retired teacher in Florida who spent decades as a writer, editor, and developer of curriculum and assessments in the education publishing industry.

Since he has often expresssed his views of the current occupant of the White House, I invited him to assemble a Trump glossary.

He did.

Some people respond to crises with focused, quiet intensity. Not our 73-year-old President in the orange clown makeup. He can’t stop tweeting and blabbering randomly and profusely. And what does he tweet and blab about? Well, he suggests holding events at his resorts, he attacks perceived enemies, and he praises himself. And then on Memorial Day, while others are laying a wreath on the grave of Uncle Javier who died in Vietnam, Trump accuses a journalist of murder and goes golfing.

This demonstrated lack of concern for others (for victims and survivors of natural disasters and war and disease, for example) shows that Donald Trump doesn’t give a microbe on a nit on a rat’s tushy about anything but Donald Trump. Obviously, he cares only about money (sorry, Evangelicals, his only God is Mammon) and about himself.

But hey, Trump’s a romantic figure, a man in love. This must be his appeal. And when he speaks, in his toddler English, about the love of his life, Donald Trump, you can be certain that he will use terms like “a winner,” “the greatest,” “the best,” and so on. He will tell you about his “great genes” and his uncle who was “a super genius [which is a lot better than an ordinary genius] at MIT.”

OK, over the years, I’ve had my disagreements with the man to whom I variously refer as Moscow’s Asset Governing America (MAGA); Don the Con; IQ 45; The Don, Cheeto “Little Fingers” Trumpbalone; Vlad’s Agent Orange; the Iota; our Child-Man in the Promised Land; our Vandal in Chief; Dog-Whistle Don; The Man with No Plan and the Tan in the Can; President Pinocchio; Trump on the Stump with His Chumps; Jabba the Trump; Don the Demented; King Con; Donnie DoLittle; the Stabul Jenius; Scrotus Potus; The Mornavirus trumpinski orangii; Ethelorange the Unready; our First Part-time President, now become, in his nonresponse to the pandemic, Donnie Death. However, I do agree with him that in descriptions of Trump, SUPERLATIVES ARE IN ORDER.

The British writer Nate White wisely observed, in a post that Diane Ravitch shared on her indispensable blog, that Donald Trump’s “faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws.” Trump is a one-person compendium of human vices and failings. In this respect, truly, HE HAS NO EQUAL. And so I offer here an ABECEDARIUM of adjectives, each of which demonstrably describes the occupant of the now Offal Office in the now Whiter House, the fellow who has shamed us before the world, made us a laughing stock, and led the now Repugnican Party in an unprecedented Limbo Dance (“how low, how low, how low can we go?).

Trump is. . . .

abhorrent, amoral, anti-democratic, arrogant, authoritarian, autocratic, avaricious, backward, base, benighted, bloated, blubbering, blundering, bogus, bombastic, boorish, bullying, bungling, cheap, childish, clownish, clueless, common, confused, conniving, corrupt, cowardly, crass, creepy, cretinous, criminal, crowing, crude, cruel, dangerous, delusional, demagogic, depraved, devious, dim, disgraceful, dishonest, disloyal, disreputable, dissembling, dog-whistling, doltish, dull, elitist, embarrassing, erratic, fascist, foolish, gauche, gluttonous, greedy, grudging, hate-filled, hateful, haughty, heedless, homophobic, humorless, hypocritical, idiotic, ignoble, ignominious, ignorant, immature, inarticulate, indolent, inept, inferior, insane, intemperate, irresponsible, kakistocratic, kleptocratic, laughable, loathsome, loud-mouthed, low-life, lying, mendacious, meretricious, monstrous, moronic, narcissistic, needy, oafish, odious, orange, outrageous, pampered, pandering, perverse, petty, predatory, puffed-up, racist, repulsive, rude, sanctimonious, semi-literate, senile, senseless, sexist, shady, shameless, sheltered, slimy, sluglike, sniveling, squeamish, stupid, swaggering, tacky, thick, thin-skinned, thuggish, toadying, transphobic, trashy, treasonous, twisted, ugly, unappealing, uncultured, uninformed, unprincipled, unread, unrefined, vain, venal, vicious, vile, and vulgar.

Aside from those peccadilloes (we all have our faults, don’t we?), I have no problem with the guy.

Salvador Rizzo of the Washington Post writes about a letter sent by Trump to the World Health Organization, in which he made false claims.

Trump is poorly staffed. He is ignorant and he is surrounded by sycophants who are dumber than he is.

He is an international laughing stock.

Rizzo writes:

Any letter signed by the U.S. president and sent to an international organization would have gotten a thorough scrubbing in previous administrations: research, vetting, fact-checking, multiple layers of review, the works.

It’s fair to say President Trump’s letter this week to the head of the World Health Organization got a much lighter touch. We found several false or misleading statements to fact check. And we weren’t the only ones who noticed. The editor of the Lancet, the British medical journal, issued a response accusing Trump of being “factually inaccurate.”

Here’s a sample of fishy claims in Trump’s letter dated May 18 to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:

“The World Health Organization consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal. The World Health Organization failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts, even those that came from sources within Wuhan itself.”

Richard Horton, the Lancet’s editor in chief, issued a statement on Twitter pointing out no such study existed: “Please let me correct the record. The Lancet did not publish any report in early December, 2019, about a virus spreading in Wuhan. The first reports we published were from Chinese scientists on Jan 24, 2020.”

The Jan. 24 Lancet study says “the symptom onset date of the first patient identified was Dec. 1, 2019,” with patients in the study hospitalized between Dec. 16 and Jan. 2. The White House did not respond to a request for an explanation.

“On March 3, 2020, the World Health Organization cited official Chinese data to downplay the very serious risk of asymptomatic spread, telling the world that ‘COVID-19 does not transmit as efficiently as influenza’ and that unlike influenza this disease was not primarily driven by ‘people who are infected but not yet sick.’ China’s evidence, the World Health Organization told the world, ‘showed that only one percent of reported cases do not have symptoms, and most of those cases develop symptoms within two days.’”

Tedros did say this at a March 3 briefing, as part of a presentation on the ways covid-19 was different from the seasonal flu. But he also said “covid-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza. … Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported covid-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.” He urged governments to expand contact tracing because it would slow the spread of infections. “We can’t treat covid-19 exactly the same way we treat flu,” Tedros said, noting there would be no vaccine for some time.

For the full fact check, click here.

Michael A. Cohen is a regular columnist for the Boston Globe.

He has determined that the current era will henceforth be called “the Era of Stupid.”


President Trump’s moronic behavior is the defining feature of American life.

Americans have long divided our nearly 244-year history into eras. There was the Era of Good Feelings in the 1810s and 1820s; the Gilded Age in the late 19th century; the New Deal Era in the 1930s; the Reagan Era in the 1980s; and, more recently, the era of the War on Terror.

I have a suggestion for how we should define the Trump Years: The Era of Stupid.

Granted, “stupid” is not a highbrow word, and I’m dubious that it will catch on in the same way as the “Jazz Age.” But in its simplicity and crudeness, it vividly captures the absurdity of our times.

There are so many “stupid” examples one can choose from: Sharpie-gate; the president’s talk of buying Greenland; his musing on whether it’s possible to nuke a hurricane or inject people with disinfectants; his refusal, aped by many of his followers, to wear a mask in the midst of a global pandemic. The list goes on and on.

But the president’s latest fixation is perhaps Peak Stupid — “Obamagate.”

I should say from the outset that writing about Obamagate raises a tricky question: How does one pass judgment on something that doesn’t actually exist?

As best I can tell, Obamagate refers to a charge that former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden knew in advance about, or perhaps conspired in plotting, the FBI interview of former national security adviser Michael Flynn that led to his prosecution. It also appears to refer to efforts in late 2016 to “unmask” Flynn, which describes a routine national security process to reveal the identity of Americans mentioned in National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence reports.

The problem with these accusations is that they elide some rather pertinent facts.

For example, the FBI interview of Flynn happened after Trump took office in January 2017. And how exactly was the Obama Administration targeting Flynn for unmasking when they could not have known Flynn’s identity before the unmasking? (I feel stupid even writing this question.)

All of this is somehow connected to the Russia investigation, Trump suggests. But many of the unmasking requests from Obama administration officials appeared to revolve around Flynn’s shady dealings with the Turkish government, for whom he was lobbying. And the vast majority came before he got entangled in the Russia affair with his controversial call to Sergei Kisylak, the Russian ambassador to the United States — a call he lied about to the FBI. That lie was a crime, to which he later pleaded guilty.

Far be it from me to inject facts into the Obamagate fever swamp, but there does seem to be a simple reason Flynn was regularly being unmasked by Obama administration officials — he was engaging in behavior that merited unmasking requests.

Of course, facts don’t really matter here because trying to untangle the web of inanity at the core of Obamagate is like trying to debate molecular biology with a 2-year-old. Indeed, when pushed at a White House press conference to identify what crime former President Obama allegedly committed, Trump answered, “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody, all you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”

These are words. Any connection to reality is purely coincidental.

This is a story of staggering, incomprehensible incompetence. In the early days of the coronavirus, the nation’s only manufacturer of the high-quality N-95 face masks used by medical professionals offered to produce millions of them but was turned down by high-level federal officials.

It was Jan. 22, a day after the first case of covid-19 was detected in the United States, and orders were pouring into Michael Bowen’s company outside Fort Worth, some from as far away as Hong Kong.


Bowen’s medical supply company, Prestige Ameritech, could ramp up production to make an additional 1.7 million N95 masks a week. He viewed the shrinking domestic production of medical masks as a national security issue, though, and he wanted to give the federal government first dibs.


“We still have four like-new N95 manufacturing lines,” Bowen wrote that day in an email to top administrators in the Department of Health and Human Services. “Reactivating these machines would be very difficult and very expensive but could be achieved in a dire situation.”


But communications over several days with senior agency officials — including Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and emergency response — left Bowen with the clear impression that there was little immediate interest in his offer.


“I don’t believe we as an government are anywhere near answering those questions for you yet,” Laura Wolf, director of the agency’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection, responded that same day.


Bowen persisted.



“We are the last major domestic mask company,” he wrote on Jan. 23. “My phones are ringing now, so I don’t ‘need’ government business. I’m just letting you know that I can help you preserve our infrastructure if things ever get really bad. I’m a patriot first, businessman second.”

In the end, the government did not take Bowen up on his offer. Even today, production lines that could be making more than 7 million masks a month sit dormant.


Bowen’s overture was described briefly in an 89-page whistleblower complaint filed this week by Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Bright alleges he was retaliated against by Kadlec and other officials — including being reassigned to a lesser post — because he tried to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency.” HHS has disputed his allegations.



Emails show Bright pressed Kadlec and other agency leaders on the issue of mask shortages — and Bowen’s proposal specifically — to no avail. On Jan. 26, Bright wrote to a deputy that Bowen’s warnings “seem to be falling on deaf ears.”


That day, Bowen sent Bright a more direct warning.

“
U.S. mask supply is at imminent risk,” he wrote. “Rick, I think we’re in deep s—,” he wrote a day later.


The story of Bowen’s offer illustrates a missed opportunity in the early days of the pandemic, one laid out in Bright’s whistleblower complaint, interviews with Bowen and emails provided by both men.


Within weeks, a shortage of masks was endangering health-care workers in hard-hit areas across the country, and the Trump administration was scrambling to buy more masks — sometimes placing bulk orders with third-party distributors for many times the standard price. President Trump came under pressure to use extraordinary government powers to force private industry to ramp up production.





In a statement, White House economic adviser and coronavirus task force member Peter Navarro said: “The company was just extremely difficult to work and communicate with. This was in sharp contrast to groups like the National Council of Textile Organizations and companies like Honeywell and Parkdale Mills, which have helped America very rapidly build up cost effective domestic mask capacity measuring in the hundreds of millions.”


Carol Danko, an HHS spokeswoman, declined to comment on the offer by Bowen and other allegations raised in the whistleblower complaint. Wolf also declined to comment on the whistleblower complaint.


A senior U.S. government official with knowledge of the offer said Bowen, 62, has a “legitimate beef.”
“He was prescient, really,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations. “But the reality is [HHS] didn’t have the money to do it at that time.”


Another HHS official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “There is a process for putting out contracts. It wasn’t as fast as anyone wanted it to be.”


A voice in the wilderness


Two decades ago, the low-slung factory in Texas was part of a supply conglomerate that produced almost 9 in 10 medical and surgical masks used in the United States.



Bowen was a new product specialist at the plant back then, and he watched as industry consolidations and outsourcing shifted control of the plant from Tecnol Medical Products to Kimberly-Clark and then shuttered it altogether. In less than a decade, almost 90 percent of all U.S. mask production had moved out of the country, according to government reports at the time.


Bowen and Dan Reese, a former executive at Tecnol, went into business together in 2005 and eventually bought the plant, believing a market remained for a dedicated domestic manufacturer of protective gear.


In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress appropriated $6 billion to buy antidotes to bioweapons and the medical supplies the country would need in public health disasters. An obscure new government organization called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, was among the agencies purchasing material for what would become the Strategic National Stockpile.


Bowen began studying BARDA, attending its industry conferences and searching for a way in to press his case.


In the parlance of BARDA, Bowen was seeking a “warm base” contract. The government would pay a premium to have masks manufactured domestically, but his company would keep its extra factory lines in working order, meaning production could be ramped up in an emergency.


Bowen said he soon concluded that BARDA’s focus was trained elsewhere, on billion-dollar deals to induce manufacturing of vaccines for the most exotic disasters, such as weaponized attacks with anthrax or smallpox.


Still, as Bowen moved down the supply chain, appealing directly to hospitals to buy his domestic-made masks, his sales pitch often ended with a plea to call BARDA.


Bowen often carried PowerPoint slides from a 2007 presentation by BARDA and its parent division at HHS, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. One had a table showing that, in the event of a pandemic, the country would need 5.3 billion N95 respirator masks, 50 times more than the number in the stockpile. The presentation concluded: “Industrial surge capacity of [respiratory protection devices] will not be able to meet need and supplies will be short during a pandemic.”


Bowen said he felt like a voice in the wilderness.
“The world just looked at me as a mask salesman who was saying the sky was falling,” he said, “and they would say, ‘Your competitors aren’t saying that in China.’ ”

After Trump’s election, Bowen hoped the new president’s America-first mentality might trickle down to operations like his. He wrote a letter to Trump and addressed it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: “90% of the United States protective mask supply is currently FOREIGN MADE!” it began.
“

I didn’t think Trump would read it, but I thought someone would and take note,” Bowen said.



He also called Bright, who had been appointed to lead BARDA just before Trump took office. “In 14 years of doing this, there have been maybe four people in government who I felt like really understood this issue,” Bowen said. “Rick was one of them.”



In Trump’s first year, however, Bowen grew newly disillusioned. During a week that the White House touted its “Buy American, Hire American” initiative, Bowen lost a military contract worth up to $1 million, to a supplier that would make many of the masks in Mexico, he said.


“Shame on the Department of Defense! One of these days the US military will need America’s manufacturers to help win another war or fight another pandemic — and they will not exist,” Bowen wrote on Aug. 17, 2017, to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Clark, a senior official with the Pentagon’s Defense Health Agency.


Clark, who retired last year, did not respond to a message seeking comment.


Proposal to produce goes nowhere


For Bowen, the first signs of trouble came in mid-January. Online orders through his company’s website, typically totaling maybe $2,000 a year and accounting for only a fraction of his business, suddenly skyrocketed to almost $700,000 in a few days.


On Jan. 20, Bowen also fielded a call from the Department of Homeland Security, urgently seeking masks for airport screeners. Bowen said he did not have masks in stock to fill the order, but the call led him to contact Bright to tell him about the surge in demand for masks. “Is this virus going to be problematic?” Bowen wrote.


Inside HHS, Bright quickly passed Bowen’s on-the-ground observations to a group that included Wolf, the director of the agency’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection.
“

Can you please reach out to Mike Bowen below? He is a great partner and a really good source for helpful information,” Bright wrote on Jan. 21.


“Thanks Rick,” she replied. “We are tracking and have begun to coordinate with fda, niosh, and manufacturers today. More to follow tomorrow. Thinking about masks, gowns (inc those in shortage), gloves, and eye protection.”


Within a day, Bowen sent an email to Wolf laying out what Prestige could do. The company’s four mothballed manufacturing lines could be restarted with large noncancelable orders, he wrote.


“This is NOT something we would ever wish to do and have NO plans to do it on our own,” he wrote. “I’m simply letting you know that in a dire situation, it could be done.”



Over the next three days, Bowen kept HHS officials informed as orders for a million masks came in from intermediaries for buyers in China and Hong Kong. On Jan. 26, he sent the email warning that the U.S. mask supply was at “imminent risk.”


Bright forwarded it that day to Kadlec and others, urging action: “We have been watching and receiving warnings on this for over a week,” he wrote.


The next day, Bright wrote to his deputy asking him to explore whether BARDA could divert money earmarked for vaccines and other biodefense measures to instead buy masks.




From his end, Bowen said his proposal seemed to be going nowhere. “No one at HHS ever did get back to me in a substantive way,” Bowen said.


The senior U.S. official said Bowen’s idea was considered, but funding could not easily be obtained without diverting it from other projects.


Bowen started talking to reporters about the mask shortage in general terms. He was soon invited to appear on former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast: “War Room: Pandemic.”


On the Feb. 12 podcast, the two commiserated over the beleaguered state of U.S. manufacturing. “What I’ve been saying since 2007 is, ‘Guys, I’m warning you, here’s what is going to happen, let’s prepare,’ ” Bowen said on the program. “Because if you call me after it starts, I can’t help everybody.”


Bowen said Bannon put him in touch with Navarro, the White House economic adviser.


Navarro was quick to see the problem, Bowen said. After talking with Navarro, Bowen wrote to Bright that he should soon expect a call from the White House, “I’m pretty sure that my mask supply message will be heard by President Trump this week,” Bowen wrote. “Trump insider reading yesterday’s Wired.com article, the ball is screaming toward your court.”


According to Bright’s complaint, he soon began attending White House meetings and helping Navarro write memos describing the supply of masks as a top issue. Emails and memos attached to the complaint show Bright reporting back to Kadlec and others about his work with Navarro.

None of it turned the tide for Bowen.


Nearly a month after his emailed offer, Bowen received his first formal communication about possibly helping to bolster the U.S. supply. The five-page form letter from the Food and Drug Administration — one Bowen said he suspected was sent to many manufacturers — asked how his company could help with what was by then a “national emergency response” to the shortage of protective gear.


Bowen responded on Feb. 16, by firing off a terse email to FDA and HHS officials. He directed the agencies to a U.S. government website listing approved foreign manufacturers of medical masks. “There you’ll find a long list of . . . approved Chinese respirator companies,” he wrote. “Please send your long list of questions to them.”


In March, Bowen submitted a bid to supply masks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which by then had taken over purchasing.


The government soon spent over $600 million on contracts involving masks. Big companies like Honeywell and 3M were each awarded contracts totaling for over $170 million for protective gear. One distributor of tactical gear — a company with no history of procuring medical equipment — was awarded a $55 million deal to provide masks for as much as $5.50 a piece, eight times what the government was paying months earlier.


On April 7, FEMA awarded Prestige a $9.5 million contract to provide a million N95 masks a month for one year, an order the company could fulfill without activating its dormant manufacturing lines. For the masks, Prestige charged the government 79 cents a piece.


Jon Swaine, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Rachel Siegel contributed to this report.