• Politics
    Bloomberg

    Stimulus Talks Quicken With Lawmakers, White House Feeling the Heat

    (Bloomberg) -- White House and Democratic negotiators driving toward a deal on a final massive virus relief package by the end of the week still must overcome a raw mix of election-year pressures, internal GOP splits and a profound lack of trust between the parties.President Donald Trump’s sinking poll ratings amid the virus’s resurgence have Democrats sensing they have leverage with 90 days to go before the November election and Republicans bickering over additional aid spending on top of the almost $3 trillion Congress previously approved.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer have been playing hardball, dismissing out of hand smaller-scale proposals floated last week by Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, as well as a $1 trillion plan cobbled together by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.Both sides declared they were making progress Tuesday as they started to exchange detailed offers and agreed on a goal of reaching a deal by the end of the week, teeing up possible votes next week. They are set to meet again Wednesday after Pelosi and Schumer meet with the postmaster general. Aid for the Postal Service and state governments to conduct vote-by-mail operations given the pandemic is a top Democratic priority that is opposed by Trump, who has blasted mail-in ballots for weeks.Some lawmakers are skeptical that legislation can be produced and voted on by next week given the differences that remain. But there may be added urgency to get something done with signs indicating the economy is being weighed down by the pandemic. ADP Research Institute data released Wednesday showed payroll gains at U.S. companies slowed sharply in July, suggesting the pickup in coronavirus cases is putting brakes on the job market.The talks got off to a late start. Democrats set out their $3.5 trillion proposal in May, but the White House and Senate Republicans delayed acting for months in hopes the economy would have reopened and the virus faded by now. McConnell released their plan as millions of Americans were about to receive their final $600 federal pandemic unemployment bonus checks.Republicans are riven by resistance to another big stimulus as some senators express alarm about federal debt. Among them are Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida, two potential presidential candidates in 2024. Unlike earlier this year, when financial markets and the economy were in free-fall, some of the GOP lawmakers want to focus on encouraging businesses and schools to reopen instead of delivering another expensive rescue.Other GOP lawmakers, facing re-election fights in November, are eager for a deal amid signs that the economy is faltering.That’s left McConnell, the party’s most accomplished and experienced negotiator, with a weak hand to play and outside the negotiating room looking in. The majority leader, who is up for re-election himself in Kentucky, acknowledged that the unanimity that marked passage of the $2.2 trillion rescue plan in March won’t be present this time around.“If you’re looking for a total consensus among Republicans, you’re not going to find it,” McConnell told reporters.Better DealWith Senate Republicans divided, Democrats apparently think they’ll get a better deal talking directly with the White House.“We have to have an agreement, and we will have an agreement,” Pelosi told PBS Tuesday. “But we’re not going to do it at the expense of American working families, on the basis that it is going to add to the national debt.”Instead of McConnell or Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has previously cut several deals with Democrats, Trump’s lead negotiator for this round is Meadows, the former House Freedom Caucus chairman who has had more experience in government shutdown confrontations than in cutting major bipartisan deals.Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby praised Meadows for being engaged with lawmakers but noted his inexperience in such talks.“This is his first deal,” Shelby said.Stripped DownMeadows initially proposed a stripped-down plan tying unemployment and school aid while negotiations continued, but Democrats are insisting on a bigger plan that they say meets the moment. In turn, he has floated potential executive actions Trump could take on his own if the talks break down.Among the sticking points are the size and length of unemployment payments, state and local aid, McConnell’s push for sweeping liability protections and the price tag, with Democrats’ opening offer the $3.5 trillion Heroes Act.Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and former White House budget director, said most Republicans want a deal and he has been working Democrats behind the scenes to try to find compromises on unemployment benefits and other issues.“I don’t think they are showing the kind of flexibility they have to show,” he told reporters. Portman said Democrats’ demands, which include continuing the $600-per-week unemployment benefit, are impossible for Republicans to support, and that Democrats have continued to ratchet up demands for school funding.Mnuchin, meanwhile, continues to play a major role but faces skepticism from conservative Senate Republicans who say he gave Democrats too much in past virus relief packages. Trump himself has said he wants a deal but some of his ideas, like a payroll tax cut, have little support on either side of the aisle and he’s yet to propose a complete, public plan of his own.One pessimistic GOP aide warned the talks could go on for weeks, and maybe end up including other issues as well, like a stopgap spending bill that will be needed to keep the government open past Sept. 30.(Updates with ADP data in fifth paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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  • Lifestyle
    MarketWatch

    ‘I can’t believe this is America.’ Confronted with unprecedented need, New York food pantries try to fill in the gaps

    Since coronavirus hit New York City in March, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen and organizations that serve people who are food insecure have been tasked with tackling an unprecedented level of need, supplementing a government response that has also surged. Several food pantries and community organizations in New York City that MarketWatch spoke with reported astronomical increases in the amount of groceries or meals they served before the pandemic hit. Many struggled early on with an elderly volunteer workforce, and the new world wrought by coronavirus has, in some cases, significantly changed their service model.

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  • World
    The Daily Beast

    Beirut Ignored Public Warning There Was a Russian ‘Bomb’ at the Port

    Years before a devastating blast killed at least 100 people and injured more than 4,000 in Beirut Tuesday, a maritime analyst issued a public warning that a Russian “floating bomb” was languishing in the city’s docks.Maritime monitoring systems tracked the Rhosus into port in Beirut in September 2013. The ship, which was flagged in Moldova, listed its official cargo as “agricultural commodities.” The 2,750 metric ton cargo of ammonium nitrate would primarily be used for fertilizers or high power explosives. To put it in context, less than two metric tons of ammonium nitrate was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The Russian-owned cargo ship called into port in Beirut for reasons unknown, possibly after running into trouble at sea en route from Georgia to Mozambique. Beirut authorities blocked it from leaving and the dangerous cargo was offloaded and stored in Hanger 12 in the port a year later, according to the maritime monitoring website Fleetmon. Mikhail Voytenko, a Russian maritime analyst based in Thailand, warned in July 2014 that the ship, which he said was owned by a Russian operator, was effectively a “floating bomb.” Voytenko said the ship’s owners had abandoned the ship and its crew, and the Lebanese authorities had failed to protect the deadly cargo. “There are a lot of restrictions, regulations and rules to stick to when talking about storing explosives like ammonium but they just stored it in a warehouse and forgot about it,” he told The Daily Beast by phone from close to the Laem Chabang port in Thailand where he works.The Russian captain of the abandoned ship, Boris Prokoshev, and three Ukrainian crew members Valery Lupol, 3rd mechanic Andrey Golovyoshkin and boatswain Boris Musinchak, were made to stay on the ship with the deadly cargo after the other six crew members were released. They launched an appeal to get out, writing to Russian and Ukrainian journalists and to a group that supports seamen.“The shipowner abandoned the vessel. The cargo owner has ammonium nitrate in the hold,” Musinchak wrote in an email to both the Assol Seamen Aid Foundation and the diplomatic services of Ukraine. “It is an explosive substance... This is how we live for free on a powder keg for 10 months.”A Lebanese court then reportedly gave permission to unload the cargo, but not before asking the sailors to find a buyer for it themselves, which they claimed in the email they could not because all communication was stripped from the ship. On Wednesday, Prokoshev appeared on Russian television, insisting that even the lawyer who tried to free them was corrupt and not concerned about the fate of the ammonium nitrate. “For some reason, the consignee did not lift a finger to get his cargo out,” he said.The ship was owned and operated by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian, who now moved to Cyprus, according to the stranded sailors. Calls to Grechushkin were not immediately answered.As well as the public warning, Lebanese officials had repeatedly ignored warnings by port authorities about the ammonium nitrate that sparked the devastating explosion.Badri Daher, the current head of Lebanon’s customs authority, told reporters on the scene that the explosion was linked to the ammonium nitrate. Several people in the open source intelligence community later tweeted photos of loosely packed bags of white powder, assumed to be the substance. The Daily Beast has not verified the authenticity of the photos.On June 27, 2014, Shafik Merhi, then head of the Lebanese Customs Authority wrote to Lebanese officials under the heading “urgent matters,” asking for help to secure the explosives, according to a copy of the letter shared on Twitter by human rights activist Wadih Al Asmar. Merhi then reportedly sent five more letters, in December 5, 2014, May 6, 2015, May 20, 2016, October 13, 2016, and October 27, 2017, pleading for help, according to Al Jazeera, which reports one as saying, “In view of the serious danger of keeping these goods in the hangar in unsuitable climatic conditions, we reaffirm our request to please request the marine agency to re-export these goods immediately to preserve the safety of the port and those working in it, or to look into agreeing to sell this amount.”Another letter, this time written by Daher, the incoming head of Lebanese Customs Authority reiterated the warning of “the danger of leaving these goods in the place they are, and to those working there.”Lebanon’s new prime minister Hassan Diab, who came to the job in January 2020, alluded to the theory that the devastation could have been avoided, promising that “all those responsible for this catastrophe will pay a price.”President Donald Trump referred to the explosion as an attack, though local authorities say it was likely set off by a welder working nearby. “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that . . . this was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event,” Trump said at a White House briefing. “They seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.”On Wednesday, hundreds were still reported missing from the massive explosion, which generated seismic waves similar to a 3.3 magnitude earthquake. Beirut port, which is dubiously nicknamed the Cave of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves because of the alleged corruption tied to its management, has been under intense scrutiny in recent months after the October Revolution began last fall. Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

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