Headlines: August 5, 2020
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Lebanon is reeling from a massive explosion in the capital Beirut which has claimed more than 135 lives, injured more than 5,000, and displaced 300,000 people. So far the devastating blast at a port appears to have been the result of improperly stored explosive ammonium nitrate that was accidentally ignited and not a deliberate plot. The blast, which was felt more than 100 miles away, appears to have originated in a fireworks warehouse that had stored the highly explosive materials since 2013. Associated Press described the scene saying, “The sound of ambulance sirens and the shoveling of glass and rubble could be heard across the Lebanese capital. Almost nothing was left untouched by the blast, which obliterated the port and sent a tide of destruction through the city center. Elegant stone buildings, fashionable shopping districts and long stretches of the famed seaside promenade were reduced to rubble within seconds of Tuesday’s blast.” One man lamented, “Beirut is gone.” The number of fatalities is expected to rise as bodies are being pulled out of the rubble. Lebanese residents blamed their politicians as a retired school teacher told AP, “They are so irresponsible that they ended up destroying Beirut,” and added, “The political class must go. This country is becoming totally hopeless.” The Wall Street Journal reported that a ship carrying 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate docked in Beirut in 2013 and after the owners had technical problems they abandoned the ship. The material was then simply stored in a warehouse. There are protests planned on Wednesday over the government’s failure.
In spite of no evidence that the explosion was an “attack,” US President Donald Trump claimed that it was “a bomb of some kind,” and a “terrible attack.” The Lebanese government has put some port officials on house arrest while they investigate what led to the blast. Lebanon’s economy is likely to suffer deeply as one op-ed writer in the New York Times explained that on top of an already devastated economy, “The main grain silo, which holds some 85 percent of the country’s cereals, was destroyed. Even more, the port will no longer be able to receive goods. Lebanon imports 80 percent of what it consumes, including 90 percent of its wheat….The explosion may well put Lebanon on the path to a food and health catastrophe not seen in the worst of its wars.”
In other news, the states of Michigan, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and Washington held primary elections on Tuesday. The most prominent upset was that of long-time Democratic Representative William Lacy Clay losing his primary to a racial justice activist named Cori Bush 49% to 44% in Missouri. Ms. Bush is being compared to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Jamaal Bowman—both insurgent political candidates that have shaken up the establishment centrist wing of the Democratic Party in recent years. Also in Missouri, the St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner easily sailed to victory in her primary. Gardner had become a target of Trump and other rightwing extremists for charging a white couple after they pointed guns at peaceful protesters. Missourians also voted to expand their state’s Medicaid coverage to nearly half a million more people – in defiance of Republicans legislators.
In Kansas, Trump’s former voter fraud commission head Kris Kobach lost a GOP Senate primary to Representative Roger Marshall to replace a retiring Republican senator. Also in Kansas four native American candidates running for statewide and legislative seats won all their races including Representative Sharice Davids who in 2018 became one of the first two Native women ever to win a House seat. In Michigan, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who became in one of the two first Muslim American women in the House in 2018 won her primary with a decisive victory of 66% over opponent Brenda Jones who she narrowly beat two years ago. And in Arizona, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, considered the most notorious law enforcement officer in the US, could win back his old position after running once more to represent Maricopa County. So far Arpaio is neck-in-neck with his opponent.
Lawmakers have given themselves a deadline to reach an agreement on the next Covid-relief bill days after unemployment benefits for millions of Americans expired. Leaders from both major parties hope to have a deal by the end of the week as the White House put forth its own demands that included a reduced benefit of $400 a week for jobless Americans—down from $600 a week. A majority of Americans support keeping the benefits intact and economists warned of more economic damage if the payments are reduced or ended. Trump once more threatened to unilaterally cut payroll taxes.
The State Department’s Acting Inspector General Stephen Akard has announced his resignation – just weeks after he was installed to replace Steve Linnick who was effectively fired. Linnick, whose former office plays a crucial watchdog role, was investigating State Secretary Mike Pompeo over several issues including a misuse of department resources. After Linnick was replaced by Akard, Democratic lawmakers insisted that he recuse himself from any probe into Pompeo, which he agreed to. Now he too will be leaving, highlighting the immense turnover of federal officials playing watchdog roles under Trump.
In election news more voters oppose a delay in the November 3rd race as Trump has demanded. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found that two thirds of those surveyed oppose pushing back the election. Meanwhile Trump apparently wants to give his Convention victory speech from the White House lawn—a highly unusual move. Presidential candidates—even incumbents—give victory speeches at their party’s convention location and never from a government property in a bid to keep politics and governing separate. Meanwhile Trump’s rival Joe Biden will reportedly not travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the end of the Democratic convention to accept his presumed nomination for President. Biden will instead give a victory speech in his home state of Delaware in keeping with Covid-19 related precautions.
In spite of Covid-19 infections and deaths rising all over the U.S. Trump continues to downplay the virus saying in a Fox News interview on Wednesday morning, “My view is the schools should open. This thing is going away.” He added, “It will go away like things go away and my view is that schools should be open.” Trump also said in contrary to plenty of evidence that children are not affected by the virus: “It doesn’t have an impact on them and I have watched some doctors say they’re totally immune…The fact is that they are virtually immune from this problem and we have to open our schools.” Chicago, whose school district is the third largest in the nation, announced on Wednesday that all instruction this fall will resume online only.
The Trump administration’s decision to give the camera company Kodak a massive $765 million loan is being scrutinized by Democrats. The White House bizarrely gave Kodak a loan as part of a plan to stabilize the pharmaceutical industry even though Kodak has never had anything to do with drug manufacturing. Democrats have formed a committee to investigate the loan and Kodak has said it plans to cooperate.
The husband of Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is being charged with multiple assaults. Lacey, who faces a reelection challenge in November, has been targeted by Black Lives Matter activists for failing to hold violent and murderous police officers accountable. When activists gathered outside her home some months ago her husband David Lacey emerged with a gun threatening to shoot them.
And finally, at least six people have lost their lives as part of the damage from Tropical Storm Isaias. The deaths took place across several states including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York City.