• Politics
    The Guardian

    'We won't see coronavirus here' ... and other gems from Trump's new press secretary

    Kayleigh McEnany, who replaces Stephanie Grisham, has embraced birtherism and claimed Democrats were rooting for the pandemicThe White House on Wednesday confirmed the appointment of Kayleigh McEnany as Donald Trump’s fourth press secretary – even as her long history of disturbing public statements came to light.McEnany, who turns 32 next week, worked for the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on his Fox News show and as a pro-Trump commentator on CNN during the 2016 presidential election. She became national spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, then for Trump’s re-election campaign.A survey of past remarks and tweets suggests she is perfectly qualified for the job of being his master’s voice – and attacking his nemesis, Barack Obama. For instance, she embraced the original sin of Trumpian politics: birtherism. It is the conspiracy theory that Obama, America’s first black president, was not born in the US but rather in Kenya.On 29 August 2012, McEnany tweeted: “How I Met Your Brother -- Never mind, forgot he’s still in that hut in Kenya. ObamaTVShows”.Along with the spurious dig at Obama, who was born in Hawaii, the tweet also traded on stereotypes of Africans living in huts. Highlighting the tweet on Tuesday, Richard Painter, a former White House chief ethics lawyer, wrote: “What is this? A KKK rally in the White House?”As president, Trump reportedly called African nations “shithole countries” and said of a deadly white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia: “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.” But McEnany told the Fox Business Network in May 2018: “The president has come out multiple times saying he denounces all racism. We all denounce racism, that would include the president.”In March 2017, she tried to defend Trump’s frequent golfing by turning the tables on Obama over the killing of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan.“You had President Obama, who after the – I believe it was the beheading of Daniel Pearl – spoke to how upset he was about that, then rushed off to a golf game,” she claimed on CNN. “I think when we’re in a state of war, when we’re in a state of mourning, you should take time off from the golf course.”But when Pearl died in 2002, Obama was still a state senator. McEnany subsequently apologised, explaining she meant to say James Foley, a photojournalist kidnapped in Syria and beheaded by the Islamic State in 2014.According to a Washington Post count, Trump made 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first three years in office. But on 28 August 2019, McEnany told CNN’s Chris Cuomo: “No. I don’t believe the president has lied.”And taking her cue from the president, McEnany played down the threat of the coronavirus. On Trish Regan’s Fox Business Network show in late February, she praised Trump’s partial Chinese travel ban and asserted: “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. And isn’t it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?”Regan later parted ways with the network after calling the coronavirus an “impeachment scam”. McEnany has been rewarded with a senior job at the White House.On 28 February, McEnany appeared on Fox News. “What is bad for America is good for Democrats. It’s incredible that they think this way. They root against the stock market. They root for this [coronavirus] to take hold. They have a demented dream of taking down President Trump. It doesn’t matter how many Americans they destroy in order to get there.”On 11 March, with the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and then candidate Bernie Sanders having cancelled campaign rallies, she was asked on the Fox Business Network whether Trump would follow suit. She wasn’t worried, she insisted. “Look, we have the commander-in-chief, we have the best health experts, we are taking it day by day, we are currently proceeding as normal,” McEnany said.“And look, Joe Biden, he’s suspending his rallies. He’s been dying to get off the campaign trail. The man can only speak for seven minutes … The media’s best hope is for Donald Trump to suspend his rallies … they know it’s his avenue to speak directly to the American people.”Later that day, the Trump campaign did cancel rallies.Meanwhile, when it comes to the climate crisis, McEnany has a history of denying the scientific consensus that humans are heating the planet, primarily by burning fossil fuels.In 2014, when climate protesters marched during a cold winter in Washington DC, McEnany told Fox News: “The science is not settled, so let’s stop the liberal hysteria, take a break from the protesting, go get some hot cocoa, sit inside.”The Fox host Neil Cavuto and McEnany laughed as an Occidental College professor explained that the vast majority of qualified climatologists agreed on the climate threat.McEnany countered that “in the 1970s it was global cooling” and “they always change the verbiage. It’s the verbiage to justify the liberal mechanisms that they would like to put in place.”McEnany also claimed corruption of the scientific process, saying: “Let’s be real. Who’s getting the grants? Who are the liberal universities giving the grants to? Of course it’s going to be people who buy into the fact that global warming does exist.”More recently, McEnany has shifted to focusing on the costs of addressing the climate crisis.In February, McEnany tweeted that the Democratic plan for climate change was “to eliminate more than 1 million jobs in America by eliminating the fossil fuel industry. Kill the economy!”Last July, she mocked the former 2020 candidates Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke for emphasizing the narrowing window for addressing the crisis.Trump’s first two press secretaries were caught in lies. Sean Spicer began by claiming about Trump’s inauguration: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe.” Sarah Sanders admitted that her claims that she personally communicated with “countless” FBI officials about Trump’s decision to fire James Comey was a “slip of the tongue”.Then came Stephanie Grisham, who became the press secretary and White House communications director last June but never gave a formal press briefing. Grisham will rejoin Melania Trump’s office in a new role as chief of staff.McEnany is a rising star in Trumpworld despite – or because of – her misstatements. Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, said: “Kayleigh McEnany is a first-class professional who will serve President Trump and the American people well. She has been one of the strongest assets to the president’s re-election campaign with her keen mind, positive attitude, strong faith, and tireless work ethic.”

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  • Business

    Amazon Warehouse Warned Staff Not to Touch Shipments for 24 Hours

    (Bloomberg) -- Last week, a manager at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in eastern Pennsylvania issued a stark warning to his team on how to handle shipments from another Amazon facility afflicted with the coronavirus: Don’t touch them for 24 hours. “As a precaution surrounding Covid-19 concerns, a directive came in today to let ALL loads from AVP1 sit for 24 hours prior to opening/receiving,” the manager said in an email reviewed by Bloomberg. “Please do not process any AVP1 trailers before the 24-hour mark.”The AVP1 warehouse in Hazle Township is among dozens of Amazon facilities where employees have been diagnosed with Covid-19, including a warehouse on Staten Island that has been roiled by worker protests. But the cluster of at least 21 positive tests at AVP1 appears to be one of the most severe in Amazon’s sprawling logistics network. With many workers now afraid to come to work, employees said the company is struggling to keep the facility open and orders flowing, which an Amazon spokeswoman disputed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday that it is opening an investigation into working conditions at AVP1. One of 10 such warehouses in Amazon’s U.S. fulfillment network, AVP1 is an important cog in the smooth functioning of the online retailer’s logistics machine, according to Marc Wulfraat, a consultant who studies the company’s operations. Extended closures of Amazon facilities could fracture the company’s finely tuned network, delaying deliveries to customers who would rather avoid stores and shop online instead.Employees at AVP1 were informed of at least 21 cases in their ranks, according to voicemails and text messages from the facility’s management reviewed by Bloomberg. Three employees said more cases disclosed in meetings may not be included in the tally of 21. The employees, two of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from their employer, said paranoia is rife that the virus is spreading from employee to employee in the building, though they have no hard evidence to back up that suggestion. In the meantime, absenteeism has surged, the employees said.  “It’s kind of a Petri dish,” said Andrea Houtsch, who last worked March 27 and has been taking unpaid time off so she doesn’t catch the virus. “Any time you’ve got hundreds of people in the same building, breathing the same air, no matter how far you stay apart, there’s that chance.” She added: “Amazon is not responsible for this pandemic, nobody was prepared for this. They just need to be realistic about what’s happening here. Once things get better, I have no problem going back.”Amazon said the guidance about goods coming from AVP1 was a mistake. “This was an error in communication made locally with positive intentions but was misinformed—it has since been corrected,” Kristen Kish, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. “Based on guidance from the CDC, the WHO, and the Surgeon General, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through packages. It’s a belief within the infectious disease community that if there was transmission through packages there would have been immediate global spread early in the outbreak, that did not happen and it confirms the risk as incredibly low.”Kish declined to provide a complete count of Covid-19 cases at AVP1 or comment on the OSHA investigation. Amazon says it has stepped up cleaning measures at all of its facilities, in line with federal guidance for employers allowed to stay open as state orders close many businesses. The Seattle company has staggered shift start times, reorganized break rooms and repositioned workstations to prevent employees from congregating.This week, Amazon is rolling out temperature screenings and a limited supply of masks for employees to wear during their shifts. The company has also offered temporary raises and more lucrative overtime to people who keep working, and said it will give two weeks of sick pay to those diagnosed with Covid-19 or quarantined after being exposed to someone with the disease.Still, concerns about getting sick, or infecting loved ones, continue to fester. Hazleton, home to about 25,000 people, has been hit hard by the coronavirus. It is in Luzerne County, which has the third most cases per capita in Pennsylvania, behind nearby Lehigh and Monroe counties, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health data. Commodities giant Cargill Inc. this week idled a beef plant located near AVP1 after workers there tested positive for Covid-19. “People are scared to death,” said another employee at AVP1. One worker, afraid of spreading the disease to family members at home, last week broke down and started crying in the break room, two colleagues said.The Hazle Township facility, west of the town of Hazleton, opened in 2008, one of the first in a decade-long expansion from a handful of warehouses to hundreds across the U.S. AVP1 is the anchor of a cluster of depots Amazon built in Pennsylvania to take advantage of cheap real estate, a workforce reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs and a relatively short trip to major cities like New York and Philadelphia. Amazon’s warehouses are best known for orange robots zipping around, ferrying products to workers who place them in bins and send them along a conveyor belt to be shipped out. AVP1 is different. Called an inbound cross-dock, it receives pallets of goods from manufacturers, many of them overseas, breaks them down and then ships them on to Amazon warehouses. The facility handles all manner of goods, and shipments in recent weeks included sought-after items such as Lysol wipes, as well as bedsheets, books and toys, workers said.On March 26, AVP1 staff were informed of the first Covid-19 cases and quickly shared the information with the Hazelton News 1 website. More people began calling in sick, or staying home, in the following days as managers disclosed more cases at impromptu meetings, the employees said. Some people, worried they weren’t being informed of cases from other shifts or departments, started comparing notes on social media and sharing contact details of local and federal authorities. Amazon said it’s informing all workers as new cases are confirmed.The next week, dozens of new staffers arrived at AVP1, according to two employees, part of a hiring surge Amazon has unleashed to keep warehouses open and meet rising demand. Workers said Amazon is using the new hires to fill gaps left by employees who have chosen to stay away to avoid being exposed or to take care of children whose schools have closed.Trainers at AVP1, worried about working with people they don’t know or who hail from from the hard-hit New York area, refused to train the new hires, according to two employees. Instead of six hours of supervised, hands-on work in small groups, the batch of recruits spent last Monday in the break room watching instructional videos before a question and answer session with a manager.Early last week, more than half of one shift’s 500 or so workers didn’t show up, according to an employee briefed on the numbers. Then about 30 minutes before the end of the shift, managers announced there were seven additional Covid-19 cases among their coworkers. That prompted all but a handful of the more than 100 workers in the shipping department to leave rather than finish their shift, said one employee who was there. Before long, products started backing up, triggering an alarm and halting the conveyors, the employee said, and managers had to help clear the backlog and send out the final shipments. Amazon says it has adjusted staffing at its facilities to make it possible for employees to practice social distancing. Meanwhile, workers at a warehouse in nearby Pittston were told to let goods coming from the warehouse sit for at least 24 hours. “It just made us more anxious,” said an employee at the Pittston warehouse. The employee said the guidance was still in effect as of Tuesday.Workers at AVP1 last weekend were told by automated text message and voice call of four additional Covid-19 cases. On Monday evening, they were informed of nine more. The messages said the site had undergone “enhanced cleanings” since the sick employees last worked and that Amazon would send home, with pay, those who have been in close contact with the sick. The company this week also began encouraging employees to wear face masks, in line with updated federal health guidance. Employees were welcome to bring their own, and Amazon will also have “limited quantities” on site, the messages said. (Amazon on Wednesday said it had enough masks for all employees in its facilities.)“We understand the risk of exposure is low for those who weren’t in close contact with the affected associate,” the message said.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.