Thursday, July 16, 2020

Last Call For Unseemaly Conduct

Another week, another Inspector General finds corruption in the Trump regime (well, an IG that Trump hasn't fired yet at any rate) and this time it involves the regime's top Medicare and Medicaid official, Seema Verma.

A top Trump administration health official violated federal contracting rules by steering millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts that ultimately benefited GOP-aligned communications consultants, according to an inspector general report set to be released today. 
The contracts, which were directed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief Seema Verma, were only halted after a POLITICO investigation raised questions about their legality and the agency had paid out more than $5 million to the contractors. 
The 70-page HHS inspector general report — the result of a 15-month audit — calls on HHS and CMS to take nine separate actions to address the "significant deficiencies" that it identified. Those actions include conducting a review of all the department's contracts, and making a closer examination of whether CMS overpaid several of its contractors. 
The report paints a detailed portrait of Verma's use of federal contracts to install allies who managed high-priority projects and exercised broad authority within CMS, while circumventing the agency's career officials and funding projects that ethics experts have said wasted taxpayers’ money. 
“CMS improperly administered the contracts and created improper employer-employee relationships between CMS and the contractors,” the inspector general wrote, detailing how Verma leaned on her hand-picked consultants rather than hundreds of civil servants in her communications department. “CMS’s administration of these contracts put the Government at increased risk for waste and abuse.” 
For instance, the report cites numerous examples across her first two years leading CMS of Verma personally directing contractors to craft her speeches and remarks, working with them to secure media appearances and even accompanying one for a “Girl’s Night Out” networking event. While the inspector general uses pseudonyms to describe individual contractors, POLITICO has previously identified the individuals cited in the report. 
Verma — a close ally of Vice President Mike Pence — has emerged as a key leader of the White House coronavirus task force, overseeing billions of dollars in emergency payments to doctors and hospitals, rolling out new rules affecting nursing homes and championing the use of telemedicine. She also runs the nation's largest health care safety-net programs — Medicare and Medicaid — in addition to overseeing Obamacare, as head of a trillion-dollar agency with sweeping regulatory authority over the U.S. health care system. 
Verma has spent more than a year defending the contracts, testifying to Congress that they were “consistent” with previous communications arrangements and focused on promoting the agency, not her. 
However, the inspector general concluded that Verma and her team “did not administer and manage the contracts in accordance with Federal requirements.” The watchdog also faulted the health department for failing to adequately manage the contracts, which auditors linked to potential duplicate spending and other “questionable costs,” such as a $150,000 payout for a canceled bus tour. 
At other times, Verma’s hand-picked contractors — including her former communications specialist, Marcus Barlow, who had worked as a spokesperson on behalf of Verma’s consulting firm but had been blocked from taking a job at CMS — personally steered federal staff and policies in ways that appeared to flout contracting rules, according to the inspector general.

Keep in mind being in charge of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, Verma controls more than a trillion dollars in federal funds every year.   So yeah, looking at her books a bit more closely is probably a good idea.

I like how she (so far) has avoided the obvious Medicare fraud angle which being watched more closely would have gotten her busted years ago and instead paid off GOP PR firms through the department's communications budget, that's pretty clever. Verma's clearly been at this game long enough to rip off Indiana taxpayers when working for Pence and figured she'd use the same tricks at the federal level.

That of course brings up two questions, one, who else is she paying off to when it comes to the big healthcare money, and two, what was Verma getting in return for these communications contracts?

My initial answers are "Whomever Pence told her to" and "She expected favors from these firms after leaving the Trump regime and going back to her consulting business".

Should be fun to find out.

Biden, His Time, Con't

Remember, the polls are just a snapshot, we cannot afford the luxury of thinking Biden is going to win.  We have to go make it happen in November.

Having said that, the latest Quinnipiac poll has Biden up by fifteen points.

As coronavirus cases surge and states rollback re-openings, former Vice President Joe Biden opens up his biggest lead this year over President Donald Trump in the race for the White House. Registered voters back Biden over Trump 52 - 37 percent, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University national poll released today. This compares to a June 18th national poll when Biden led Trump 49 - 41 percent. Since March, Biden's lead had ranged from 8 to 11 percentage points.

Independents are a key factor behind Biden's widening lead as they now back him 51 - 34 percent, while in June, independents were split with 43 percent for Biden and 40 percent for Trump. There is also some movement among Republicans as they back Trump 84 - 9 percent, compared to 92 - 7 percent in June. Democrats go to Biden 91 - 5 percent, little changed from 93 - 4 percent in June.

"Yes, there's still 16 weeks until Election Day, but this is a very unpleasant real time look at what the future could be for President Trump. There is no upside, no silver lining, no encouraging trend hidden somewhere in this survey for the president," said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.


Voters now give Biden a slight lead over Trump in a direct match up when it comes to handling the economy. Voters say 50 - 45 percent that Biden would do a better job handling the economy, a reversal from June when Trump held a slight lead 51 - 46 percent.

Asked about other key issues:

* On handling a crisis, Biden leads 57 - 38 percent;

* On handling health care, Biden leads 58 - 35 percent;

* On the coronavirus response, Biden leads 59 - 35 percent;

* On addressing racial inequality, Biden leads 62 - 30 percent.

 Two big observations, one, Trump is now losing on the economy to Biden and Trump's overall approval on handling of the economy has dropped to 44% with 53% disapproving, and two, Biden's margin with college-educated white voters is so large now (64%-31%, a 33 point edge) that he is ahead overall with white voters by a 49%-43% margin.  If that holds up through the election, Trump is absolutely through, and there is no saving him.

The one thing that worries me is this:

Biden's folks need to work on their outreach to Black and Hispanic voters, period.  Obama set the gold standard for that. I know Trump can't win if Biden beats him with white voters, but Biden can't afford to take Black and Hispanic voters for granted.  Asian either.

We brought you to this dance, Joe.  Remember that. 

The Cover-Up Goes Viral

The Trump regime plan to win in November is to scrub the nation's COVID-19 stats and make the pandemic disappear, and that starts with controlling all hospital data at the federal level, and cutting off federal funding from hospitals that don't comply.

Hospital data on coronavirus patients will now be rerouted to the Trump administration instead of first being sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to CNN on Tuesday. 
The move could make data less transparent to the public at a time when the administration is downplaying the spread of the pandemic, and threatens to undermine public confidence that medical data is being presented free of political interference. 
Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the department, confirmed the change first reported by The New York Times earlier in the day, saying in a statement that the "new faster and complete data system is what our nation needs to defeat the coronavirus and the CDC, an operating division of HHS, will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it." 
"The CDC's old hospital data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it's an inadequate system today," Caputo said in the statement.

The Times said hospitals are to begin reporting the data to HHS on Wednesday, noting also that the "database that will receive new information is not open to the public, which could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on C.D.C. data to make projections and crucial decisions."

This is the real issue: hiding data from the public and especially from news organizations.  We'll find out much later about "data corrections" but I nearly guarantee that we'll see a sudden total reversal of spike trends.

This is bad, folks.  Real bad.


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