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L’Oreal workers are worried they could lose their jobs if they don’t return to the office

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The cosmetics giant, whose brands include Garnier, Lancôme, and Urban Decay, planned to increase its current maximum of 25% of employees at the office to 50%, according to a July email from Stephane Charbonnier, the cosmetics company’s chief human resources officer. Unless employees have approved paid-time off or a reason approved by the company, “you will be expected to be onsite if you are assigned by your manager to be onsite,” according to the email, which was obtained by CNN.

L’Oreal’s offices across the country are instituting similar plans, all of which entail safety protocols such as temperature checks and mandatory facial coverings, the company says.

Employees CNN spoke with, who work in office jobs at L’Oreal across the country, asked to remain anonymous out of fear of losing their jobs. The company says it employs more than 12,000 people in 13 states. The company’s website says it has five manufacturing facilities and 15 distribution facilities scattered across the country, but the employees who spoke to CNN are strictly part of the corporate side of the company.

The employees said they felt L’Oreal had been unsympathetic when they raised concerns about individual situations with managers and worried the company would retaliate if they didn’t show up. Five employees said they were told by either their manager or human resources that they’d be placed on a “non-compliant” list if they chose not to return.

An employee who works at a sales field office for L’Oreal in the Midwest said most of her high profile clients aren’t returning to their offices until after the New Year. “You feel like a peon, an ant being marched back to the office in order for HR to check a box to send it up the ladder to prove we’re doing as we’re instructed to do.”

The company said in a statement to CNN, “L’Oréal’s plan to cautiously return employees to worksites is guided by one fundamental principle: to protect the health and safety of our employees. Being together is a key ingredient to our culture and essential to the success of our business in a creative industry. As such, we have gradually returned employees to offices in locations around the world under a comprehensive safety plan only when permitted by local governments.”

Employees designated as essential workers in industries ranging from healthcare to retail have been reporting to work throughout the pandemic. Now, employers are considering if and how to bring a new wave of employees back into buildings: office workers who have been doing their jobs from home for months.

It’s a debate that isn’t just about individual offices but about public health. So far, more than 4.7 million Americans have been infected with coronavirus and at least 156,830 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

“Where there is widespread community transmission, it makes no sense for non-essential workers to return to the workplace, especially if it’s work that can be done remotely from home in order for everyone to be safe,” said Celine Gounder, CNN medical analyst and former assistant commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In bringing employees back to work, companies face a number of obstacles ranging from how to track who is going in and out of the building to what employees will eat for lunch. Some companies, particularly in the tech industry, have delayed bringing people back. Google, for instance, has said it will let employees work from home until next summer.

As corporate America weighs the impact of Covid-19 on return-to-work policies, L’Oreal, one of the world’s biggest cosmetic brands, has also been talking up what it plans to do to support Americans in the recovery from the pandemic. In a press release from the company in March it outlined the substantial financial and product donations they were making to various coronavirus relief efforts, including Feeding America and Feed the Children.

But L’Oreal’s return-to-work plans appear to be different than those of their immediate competitors.

Estée Lauder Companies, which owns cosmetics brands like Clinique and Bobbi Brown, says it will reopen its corporate and brand offices in the United States in October but that the date is subject to be pushed back to later in the year.

“We have made this decision in close partnership with our Medical Advisory Board for a variety of factors, including a desire to continue learning from [others] reopening and the safety of our employees as the utmost priority,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to CNN, adding that “as we approach the reopening date, we will continue to monitor how the situation evolves to inform whether we need to delay reopenings in any locations.”

A spokesperson for Coty, which recently acquired a majority stake in Kylie Cosmetics and owns brands like Clairol and Rimmel told CNN that employees are able to return to the office on a voluntary basis.

“Phase 1 of bringing non-essential workers has begun across our offices in the United States but on a voluntary basis. There is no date on when Phase 2 will begin, but it will also remain voluntary for our employees.”

Procter & Gamble, home to brands like Pantene, Crest and Olay, among others, told CNN in a statement it is currently beginning to bring back non-essential employees, but it plans to reevaluate after Labor Day.

“Employee health and safety is our top priority. We have gone above and beyond state and federal guidelines to ensure a safe workplace. It’s also why we are implementing a staged approach as we return, as well as having exception processes for those who can’t. For now, we are maintaining about a 20% capacity in our offices. We are managing our in-office presence proactively; organizing by work groups and location to ensure proper social distancing and safety. We will continue to utilize a one week in-office and one week work-from-home model, in order to reduce potential exposure. P&G will revisit this approach after Labor Day. For now, we are maintaining limited capacity in our offices, which is voluntary.”

But some companies are taking steps to cautiously reopen now, and in some cases, there’s not a lot employees can do about it if they want to keep their jobs. Helen Rella, a New York employment attorney at Wilk Auslander LLP, said that companies can legally “set the terms and conditions of employment.”

She has noticed an increase in terminations based on employees’ not returning to work.

“Employees who refuse to return to work may be deemed to have resigned from their positions and/or have their employment terminated,” she said. “Fear of contracting Covid-19 is not an excuse to fail to return to work.”

Rella said that while some large companies are bringing a portion of their office workforce back, many are now taking a “wait and see attitude” in deciding whether to bring employees back or delay a return.

We are not Google or Facebook

Not all employers view themselves as having a workplace culture that permits working from home in the long run. In emails obtained by CNN, in which a L’Oreal employee detailed the challenges members on their team faced with returning to the workplace, whether it be their commute or childcare, an HR representative responded saying not to compare themselves to that of Facebook and Google who have told employees they do not have to return to the office until July 2021 at the earliest.

The company says it is taking steps to try to ensure a smooth and safe transition back to the office for its workforce. In addition to requiring masks, temperature checks and workplace cleanings at least three times a day, L’Oreal said it has “made physical modifications to our worksites to reduce population density and allow for the required physical distance between employees working on-site.”

The company said it has proactively extended the option to work from home to employees with medical conditions that may make them more vulnerable to a Covid-19-related infection or complication, according to guidance from the CDC.

“To ensure that we are being sensitive to the experiences of our employees, we have also made accommodations and provided additional flexibility for those with personal circumstances such as childcare or eldercare obligations and employees living with a higher-risk household member,” the company said.

It has also asked managers not to organize meetings before 10 am and after 4 pm “to provide additional time for commuting and flexibility.”

In offices in the United States, L’Oreal says it is bringing back employees in two phases. The company’s plan includes dividing people into two groups that alternate their presence at the office weekly.

In New York, L’Oreal first started bringing back office workers on June 29, according to emails the company sent to employees. The second phase of the plan entailed bringing back up to half of its workers to the office starting early August, according to Charbonnier’s email in July. (Employees in other states say they were given a similar timeline and target). L’Oreal said they are adjusting their plans based on the conditions in each state and as circumstances evolve.

The company has given employees its reasons on why they should return. Charbonnier’s email last month said that being in the office “will provide more opportunities for reuniting and collaborating.”

Separately, a “return to office” list of facts and questions that was also sent to employees by Human Resource and obtained by CNN states that “Now that authorities have been lifting the stay-at-home orders, it is important that we stand in solidarity with our colleagues. We are strongest when united in purpose and practice.”

Employees who spoke to CNN had a different perspective on whether the company’s plans are achieving their desired outcome.

“Pointless to put us in jeopardy”

One manager for L’Oreal USA says she was part of the first phase of employees to return to the New York offices. This employee says when she arrived on her floor she was “surprised” to not see other members of her team, who were in a group scheduled to report to the office at a different time. Instead of reuniting with her colleagues, she found herself sitting at her desk in the open floor plan alone, wearing a mask for 8 hours.

Later that evening she contacted her manager, and then eventually human resources, to voice concerns that she was putting her health at risk in part because her commute entailed getting on a crowded subway. But she said that an HR representative told her that if she did not return to the office she would need to use her remaining PTO and would subsequently be placed on a “non-compliant list.” In an effort to keep her job amid the pandemic she acquiesced and continued to return to the office.

“The rotations don’t make sense and we’re not getting face time with our team members,” she said. “I didn’t end up seeing anyone I normally work with so it seems pointless to put us in jeopardy.”

L’Oreal didn’t comment on the “non-complaint” list or what the implications would be to be on it.

One assistant vice president who was scheduled to return to the office on Monday questioned the benefit of being in the office when meetings still take place online.

“I want to do the work, but there is no logical reason in making us come into the office when we still will continue to have virtual meetings – especially when we’ve been working harder while remote to make sure that business continues as usual,” the person said.

Many said that getting to the office was a daunting task itself. The company provides a daily allowance for commuting for New York employees. An assistant vice president who spoke to CNN called the amount, $35, “flawed.”

“For those with commutes, it was very noticeable for those who live in outerboroughs that the shuttle locations were being prioritized to upper level management living upstate or in New Jersey. Employees living in outerboroughs would have no choice but to commute an hour plus on underground mass transit. A $35 stipend is not enough for even a one-way trip.”

Employees at L’Oreal say that they could request to work from home if they or a loved one had a medical reason approved by the company. But even making certain exceptions has proven complicated.

Employees who do want to request to work remotely have to fill out what is known internally as a “high-risk accommodation request form.” The form, obtained by CNN, requires a certification letter by the employee’s doctor, along with the release of private medical information that will then be approved or denied based on 18 high-risk categories outlined by the Centers for Disease Control.

What about my mental health?

Two employees said they were disappointed to see that mental health issues were not among those listed on the form.

An employee said that when he told his manager about his anxiety, he was met with the response that “if it’s not on the form unfortunately you’re going to have to use your vacation days.”

Another employee at the New York offices, who is a manager, stated that after submitting a doctor’s note to Human Resources regarding her medical condition, she was told it was “not sufficient” and that she needed to release her medical records before her request to continue working from home would be considered. But she pushed back, telling HR she “didn’t feel comfortable sharing her personal medical information, not knowing where that would be living and who would have access to it.”

“Once it was clear I was standing my ground, I was told I would be put on a non-compliant list. When I asked what that meant, my manager told me that the long-term professional ramifications were unclear but it wasn’t good.”

But L’Oreal denies asking employees to release their medical records, despite CNN obtaining the forms and L’Oreal saying in their statement that any employee seeking a medical exemption from returning to the office is required to provide verification from their physician.

“In most instances, a doctor’s note is a sufficient verification. In line with normal business practices for employees who request a medical accommodation in the workplace, any confidential information shared by employees is managed by a third-party provider in conjunction with HIPAA-trained HR professionals who determine eligibility for medical exemptions from returning to in-office work,” the company said.

Difficulties with childcare

Multiple employees at L’Oreal expressed their concerns for not having been given a clear path forward for those with childcare issues. Although New York schools plan to be open this fall, many parents are concerned that they may follow suit like other schools across the country that are turning to virtual learning.

Employees told CNN that they were able to obtain permission to work from home if they had childcare issues during the first phase of the company’s reopening plans, but managers aren’t granting such accommodations anymore. The company does have a “Special Circumstance Accommodation Request Form – Child or Elder Care,” which CNN has obtained, but it specifically relates to those who have a child or loved one who have a medical condition.

One employee, spoke to CNN about the difficulty of balancing a full-time job, along with having children. She says on a call last month with employees, she asked about those who have childcare issues and a company official allegedly responded, “L’Oreal pays employees to work, not to educate their children.” She said she was “shocked” and although she didn’t push back she felt it was “disgusting.”

“In a world where parents have had to struggle through school and working and working mothers face falling behind in their careers, this is disgusting,” she said.

The company said that statement “does not accurately reflect the sentiment of L’Oréal” and referred CNN to the steps they are taking to accommodate “employees with personal circumstances like childcare needs.”

The company is advising managers on how to deal with such situations. An email sent to executive level leadership and obtained by CNN via two top level executives states that “as executives of the company we expect VPs and above to lead and set the example. If someone refuses to come back, we should engage in some serious one on one dialogue.”

In its statement to CNN L’Oreal said that “we have empowered our people managers to be sensitive and accommodating to the unique circumstances of the individuals on their teams while also balancing the needs of the business. This is a time of great uncertainty and anxiety and we will continue to coach our people managers through this challenging moment so they can be responsive to employee concerns.”

“Risking my life for company culture”

There are signs that L’Oreal’s plans are hurting morale. An employee who has been at the company for several years said that he and several of his colleagues are considering resigning.

“I feel like I’m being asked to risk my life for company culture,” he said. “They just don’t seem to want to listen to it and the flogging will continue until morale improves. If people are doing their jobs what’s the difference of where we are.”

Adds another employee “L’Oreal puts out a mantra of ‘Because you’re worth it,’ but does not treat their employees with the same marketing strategy as their customers.”



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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tests positive for coronavirus

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The announcement came shortly before DeWine, a Republican, was scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump in Cleveland.

DeWine was tested as part of the “standard protocol” to greet Trump on the tarmac at Burke Lakefront Airport, the governor’s office said in a statement. He is returning to Columbus, where he and his wife Fran will both be tested.

DeWine tweeted Thursday that he’s not experiencing symptoms at this time.
“As part of the standard protocol to greet President Trump on the tarmac in Cleveland, I took a COVID test. I tested positive. I have no symptoms at this time. I’m following protocol and will quarantine at home for the next 14 days,” he wrote.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted was also tested for coronavirus Thursday ahead of Trump’s visit and tested negative, DeWine’s office said.

Landing in Cleveland shortly after the news broke, Trump wished DeWine well in light of his diagnosis and told the crowd gathered at the airport that DeWine is a “great guy” who has “done a fantastic job.”

“We want to wish him the best, he’ll be fine,” Trump said.

DeWine is the latest politician to test positive for coronavirus shortly before they were scheduled to meet with Trump. Last week, GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert, who has frequently refused to wear a mask, tested positive for the virus shortly before he was scheduled to fly aboard Air Force One with Trump to Texas. He is the second known governor to test positive for coronavirus, after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced in July he had contracted Covid-19.
DeWine’s diagnosis is particularly notable as he has taken aggressive measures to slow the spread of coronavirus in his state, including issuing a stay-at-home order, a mask mandate, closing schools and postponing the state primary. His warnings about the seriousness of the pandemic early on and following the advice of health experts have differed from Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus and propensity to contradict the doctors on his coronavirus task force. DeWine has also taken a slower approach than other Republican governors in reopening his state.

The Ohio Democratic Party said it is saddened to hear about DeWine’s positive coronavirus test result and offered support for the governor.

“We know how hard he’s been working to keep Ohioans safe, and this is just one more reminder that this virus can impact everyone,” the party’s chairman David Pepper said in a statement. “As fellow Ohioans, we stand with and support our governor and his family at this time.”

This story has been updated with additional background information and reaction.

CNN’s Liz Stark and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.





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Ethiopian art secured its spot on the world’s stage

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Written by Ginanne Brownell, CNN

Over the last five years contemporary Ethiopian artists have been making a name for themselves on the global art market, but it’s been a long time coming.

After almost four decades of political turmoil, famine and wars, the East African country has found increasing social and economic stability, with a growing middle class and investment in large-scale infrastructure projects. Since coming into power in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has followed a wide-reaching reform agenda including initiatives to bolster culture.

Founded in 1958, the Ale School of Fine Art and Design in Addis Ababa is one of the oldest fine art schools in Africa, and it was at the heart of Ethiopia’s modernist art movement. The vast majority of the country’s modernist artists trained or taught there — Including the painter and poet Gebre Kristos Desta, who is considered the grandfather of this movement, and Wosene Kosrof, who emigrated to the US and whose work is in the Smithsonian and the UN’s New York headquarters.

Today, many of the school’s former students are the country’s art stars, including Dawit Abebe, whose dramatic paintings often feature foreboding figures with their backs to the world. And Wendimagegn Belete, who specializes in textile and paint collages, or Ephrem Solomon, whose powerful woodcut-inspired paintings have been collected by institutions across the globe, including The Studio Museum in Harlem.

"Pillars of Life: Expectations II" by Tadesse Mesfin, 2020

“Pillars of Life: Expectations II” by Tadesse Mesfin, 2020 Credit: Tadesse Mesfin/Eyerusalem Jiregna/Addis Fine Art

Kristin Hjellegjerde, who runs her eponymous galleries in London and Berlin, represents Abebe, Belete and Solomon, and says that Ethiopian artists have a specific aesthetic. “They tell stories,” she said over the phone, “they have a unique language that talks to you.”

That “language” is informed not only by the country’s vast art lineage, which dates back to 4th century church paintings, but also by the fact that Ethiopia was so insular for so long, with local practices remaining largely unaffected by wider art-world trends.

Now, though, artists are in a better position to share their aesthetics and narratives with the world. And as Ethiopia opens up, a fledgling collector base is developing. “We have been telling people ‘You guys have a goldmine here and you need to take notice’ because once the world gets a hold of this, it is going to be unaffordable here,” said Rakeb Sile, co-founder of Addis Fine Arts, iwhich has galleries in both Addis and London, over the phone.

"Untitled XLIV" by Merikokeb Berhanu, 2020

“Untitled XLIV” by Merikokeb Berhanu, 2020 Credit: Merikokeb Berhanu/Dawn Whitmore/Addis Fine Art

Work by Elias Sime, a multidisciplinary artist known for his relief sculptures — and another Ale alumnus — has already found a global audience. Last year he was one of two artists to win the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art Award, and this year he has been shortlisted for the Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Prize. Back in 2002, he co-founded the Zoma Contemporary Art Center (ZCAC) in Addis, with curator Meskerem Assegued, and last year the duo opened the Zoma Museum, a privately-run museum and arts space. They also recently completed sculptures for the Unity Park sculpture garden within the National Palace compound in Addis Ababa, on invitation from Prime Minister Ahmed.

"Earth Series (18)" by Ephrem Solomon, 2019

“Earth Series (18)” by Ephrem Solomon, 2019
Credit: Ephrem Solomon/Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery

“Artists do not have the intention to leave the country as much as they used to because they can do well by being positioned here,” said Assegued. “The last few years, artists have been motivated to experiment with different work and they have been mobilizing, which is very good news.”

Recent examples include the communal space Mount Entoto Studio, atop a mountain overlooking the capital city, which was set up by artists Henok Melkamzer Yihun and Eyob Kitaba, and the artistic collective Gize, which was recently launched by a group of artists and educators, including multimedia artist Robel Temesgen. “Gize has been established to be an alternative space in the city,” he wrote in an email. “We are currently planning and developing projects for later this year.”

"The City of Saints IV" by Eyerusalem Jiregna, 2017

“The City of Saints IV” by Eyerusalem Jiregna, 2017 Credit: Eyerusalem Jiregna/Addis Fine Art

In addition to creating these non-commercial or non-government run spaces, a new generation of artists is also going beyond painting, once the country’s mainstay medium, to experiment with photography, video, installation and performance art. Video artist Ezra Wube established the Addis Video Art Festival in 2015, and since 2010, celebrated photographer Aida Muluneh has spearheaded Addis Foto Fest, which showcases the work of Ethiopian photographers alongside that of photographers from around the globe.

Though the commercial art gallery scene is small and remains challenging (Asni Gallery, one of Addis’ stalwarts, recently shuttered), the growing local and international exposure is starting to pay off. “It’s important that we have a younger generation of Ethiopian artists at the auctions because we are attracting a lot of new buyers,” said Danda Jarolimek, a Nairobi-based curator who runs the annual East Africa Auction. “Those who have been collecting Nigerian, South African or Ghanaian art may not know huge amounts about East Africa, so it can be a starting point to learn about a new market,” she said over a phone call.

"Moment (18)" by Wendimagegn Belete, 2020

“Moment (18)” by Wendimagegn Belete, 2020
Credit: Wendimagegn Belete/Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery

Sile finds this encouraging. “When you look at the quality of art, then yes this could be the new epicenter. There is so much more talent and we are just scratching the surface,” she said.

But, according to Elizabeth W. Giorgis, author of “Modernist Art in Ethiopia,” the lack of critics and art historians in Ethiopia has “really marginalized the field.” Konjit Seyoum, who founded Asni Gallery in 1996 and has been a huge influence on the country’s art scene, agrees. “There is still a lot to do in terms of developing all the different components for the promotion of contemporary Ethiopian art,” she wrote in an email, referring to the lack of publications, archives and public art museums.

“It is clear that in the absence of this proper infrastructure, it is small private initiatives that are making contributions to putting the country’s art on the global map.”

"Mutual Identity 33" by Dawit Abebe, 2020

“Mutual Identity 33” by Dawit Abebe, 2020
Credit: Dawit Abebe/Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery

Another reason Seyoum belives that Ethiopia has taken a while to get a noticeable role on the global art stage, is because alongside the country’s insularity the wider art world wasn’t looking in either — for many years, there wasn’t much attention paid to the country’s artistic output.

“Ethiopia had to wait [for] its time to shine,” she said. And, thanks to the number of artists, curators, gallerists and art practitioners promoting Ethiopian contemporary art in a number of ways, now is proving to be a truly inspiring moment.”

Top photo: “The City of Saints X” by Eyerusalem Jiregna, 2017



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Lebanon explosion: Chants of ‘revolution’ on streets of devastated Beirut amid visit by France’s Macron

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Macron told a crowd of reporters and angry people that he would propose a “new political pact” to Lebanon’s embattled political class during his visit to a predominantly Christian quarter of the city.

“The people want the fall of the regime,” the protesters shouted, echoing calls for the downfall of Lebanon’s long-time political elite that were popularized during a nationwide uprising late last year. “Michel Aoun is a terrorist! Help us,” one man pleaded, referring to the Lebanese president. One woman screamed inaudible words inches away from Macron’s face. “They are terrorists,” came the repeated cries.

Most people were masked, including the French president, who removed his face covering to speak to the press. There was no social distancing.

An Elysée Palace spokesperson told CNN that Macron said to Lebanese protesters: “I am here and it’s my duty to help you, as a whole population, to bring medication and food.

“This aid, I guarantee it, won’t end up in corrupt hands. I will speak to all political forces to ask for a new pact,” Macron said, adding: “I am here today to propose a new political pact. If they [the political forces] are not able to keep this pact, I will take my responsibilities.”

This was one of the first major displays of public disgruntlement after an explosion ripped through the city, damaging many of its buildings, and leaving neighborhoods in tatters.

There is a growing body of evidence, including emails and public court documents, that officials knew about a shipment of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate — once described as a “floating bomb” — that had been confiscated by Lebanese authorities and was being stored in a warehouse at the port for the past six years, but had failed to act.
The revelation that the blast could be attributed to government negligence has reignited long-held frustration at Lebanon’s political class, which sunk the country deep into debt, and at endemic corruption that lined the pockets of the wealthy elite at the expense of basic public services and infrastructure.

The country was already seeing rising unemployment, soaring prices and a currency in free fall — for many, the explosion is further proof of government ineptitude and corruption.

Macron, surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits Beirut's devastated port.

Massive clean-up effort

Tuesday’s explosion destroyed much of the Lebanese capital’s main coastal port, leaving at least 137 people dead, 5,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless. The area in the immediate vicinity of the blast resembled a smoking wasteland with a 400-foot-wide crater, and the empty shells of apartment buildings scarring the city skyline.

On Thursday, groups of young volunteers carrying brooms and shovels filled the streets of some of the worst affected areas to clear the rubble. Some arrived from faraway Lebanese towns.

In downtown Beirut, an army of volunteers launched into a massive clean-up effort Thursday, with people coming from all over city to help sweep streets, pulling debris off cars, or handing out food and water, as residents picked through the rubble of their homes and businesses, trying to salvage what they could.

Lebanon’s Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said that every apartment and business in the city has been impacted in some way by the blast, and state-run media said 90% of the hotels in the Lebanese capital had been damaged.

The number of deaths is expected to climb amid ongoing search and rescue efforts. Many people were still missing two days after the blast, and 300,000 have been displaced from their homes.

The city’s emergency services, already under strain due to the Covid-19 pandemic, were operating at decreased capacity after four hospitals were damaged in the explosion, which sent a shock wave that was felt 150 miles away in Cyprus and damaged buildings 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.

It’s still not exactly clear what led to the ignition that wiped out entire streets, but questions swirled Wednesday over whether the authorities had failed to act on those warning signs.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab confirmed that 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate — typically used as an agricultural fertilizer and in explosives for mining — had been stored for six years at a warehouse in the Beirut port without safety measures, “endangering the safety of citizens,” according to a statement.

The Lebanese cabinet has ordered an unknown number of port officials to be placed under house arrest in the coming days, pending the results of an investigation into the blast, according to Ghada Shreim, the minister for displaced people. Those involved in “the storage, guarding and investigating of Hangar 12 from 2014 until today” will be included in the arrests, Shreim said.

‘Criminal attack’

Lebanese President Michel Aoun promised a transparent investigation into the causes of the explosion, vowing Wednesday that those responsible would be held accountable and face “severe punishment.”

But years of government corruption has left little hope among those on the streets that the investigation will get to the truth of why such large quantities of the dangerous chemical were allowed to be stored in the middle of the city without adequate safety measures — and who is responsible.

“This accident here, this crisis, for 20 years they’re going to talk about it. The investigation, it’s never going to end. No conclusion, no results,” said one resident in downtown Beirut.

Jad Chaaban, associate professor of economics at the American University of Beirut, said “this is a criminal attack by the ruling state.”

“They have committed a crime by storing these nitrates for more than a decade there, with no accountability,” Chaaban said, adding that there is a rising anger among the people.

The cash-strapped country has been ravaged by economic and political turmoil exacerbated by the fallout from the Covid-19 outbreak. Violent protests have erupted over rising hunger and poverty, which has soared to over 50%, and power outages are common across the city. Banks have imposed capital controls limiting how much money people can withdraw and scenes of people scavenging garbage dumps for basic necessities have become commonplace.

Chaaban asked how the city can rebuild under such circumstances.

“People will go up to their destroyed homes, to shattered glass, destroyed trucks and cars, they have no dollars because the banks have blocked their dollar account to pay for any imports. Prices have more than quadrupled in the past few months, so nobody can afford to build anything. There is exasperation on the street, and there is a lot of anger,” he said.

Political aftershocks

Initial reports in state media blamed the blast on a major fire at a firecrackers warehouse near the port. Later, the country’s general security chief Abbas Ibrahim said a “highly explosive material” had been confiscated years earlier and stored in the warehouse, just minutes’ walk from Beirut’s shopping and nightlife districts.

The director-general of Beirut Port Hassan Kraytem said Wednesday he knew the materials stored “in warehouse number 12” were dangerous, “but not to that extent.” Maintenance was conducted on Warehouse 12’s door hours before the blast on Tuesday, according to Kraytem.

The director of Lebanese Customs, Badri Daher, told CNN that officials had written to legal authorities six times calling for that cargo be removed from the port, but the requests went unheeded despite repeated warnings by him and others that the cargo was the equivalent of “a floating bomb.”

Maritime traffic services and documents obtained by CNN describe a shipment of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that was detained in Beirut in 2013. The Russian-owned ship, named the MV Rhosus, was destined for Mozambique but stopped in Beirut due to financial difficulties that also created unrest with the ship’s Russian and Ukrainian crew.

On Wednesday, Lebanese Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad Najd said there are papers and documents dating back to 2014 proving the existence of an exchange of information about the “material” confiscated by Lebanese authorities. She told Jordan’s state-owned channel Al Mamlaka that the exchange is being considered in relation to the potential cause of the deadly Beirut blast.

Asked in a telephone interview if there are any early findings in the investigations related to the cause of the explosion, she said, “There are no preliminary results or clarification.”

Calls have been growing for an international investigation into the blast. “Former Prime Ministers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora, Saad Hariri, and Tammam Salam find it necessary to ask the United Nations or the Arab League to form an international or Arab investigation committee,” according to a joint statement released by Hariri’s office.

Rami Khouri, adjunct professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut and senior fellow at Harvard University, said, “My expectation is that the political aftershocks will be as great as the explosion itself.”

“This explosion was the culmination of decades of poor governance that has shattered almost every aspect of the lives of some people in Lebanon. And all they want is to get these people who are running the country out of their lives,” he said.

Food and medical supplies hit

There are also growing fears of food and medicine shortages, as the port where the explosion occurred is the main maritime hub for a nation heavily dependent on goods from abroad, with 60% of all imports passing through it.

Beirut’s main grain silo, located at the port, was heavily damaged in the blast and the grain supply stored there was either destroyed or rendered unusable as a result of the chemicals released into the air in the explosion, Economy Minister Nehme said. He added that there are additional grain stores in mills and other ports in the country.

Tuesday’s explosion resulted in an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion worth of damage, Beirut governor Marwan Abboud told reporters Wednesday. Though Nehme said “no one can know the numbers right now” but “it’s very high and more than our capacity.”

The economy minister said the government’s priority was to secure people’s basic necessities — mainly food but also supplies to help repair the extensive damage to homes and infrastructure across the city.

“We need glass, we need aluminum, we need wood, we need doors … everything was damaged,” he said.

World leaders, including from Israel, the United Kingdom, United States, France, Turkey, UAE, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Russia and Spain have offered support and humanitarian medical assistance to Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that an emergency plan was in place with field hospitals being sent from Qatar, Iran, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan. Hassan estimates that six to eight field hospitals will be ready “soon.”

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina, Katie Polglase, Isaac Yee, Charbel Mayo, Jessie Yeung, Raja Razek, Samantha Beech, Mostafa Salem, Kareem Khadder, Schams Elwazer, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Tara John, Alessandria Masi, Nada AlTaher, Hamdi Alkhshali, Amir Tal, Andrew Carey, Jennifer Hansler and Paul Murphy contributed to this report.



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CNN investigates Russia's claim of cutting-edge virus response

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CNN gains exclusive access to a new coronavirus testing facility in Moscow, which Russia is promoting as more effective than Western counterparts. CNN’s Matthew Chance reports.




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Keilar debunks Trump official: You've got to shovel B.S.

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CNN’s Brianna Keilar fact checks Trump 2020 campaign official Mercedes Schlapp’s claim that a Nevada law allows people to send in their votes after the polls close.





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For dramatic Iceland scenes, thank this daring helicopter pilot

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(CNN) — Ancient tales of trolls and magic live on in Iceland, an island nation of volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers and ice caves.

To fully explore every corner of the dynamic landscape, unravel local folklore and battle the natural elements, one must take to the skies.

Enter Jón Kjartan Björnsson, the pilot with a mission to show the real Iceland.

Björnsson, a helicopter pilot for 35 years, has taken camera crews, directors and actors to some of the most stunning spots in the country.

A helicopter can go places in Iceland most people cannot.

A helicopter can go places in Iceland most people cannot.

FlyOver Iceland

The thundering waterfalls and deep valley gorges seen in TV’s “Game of Thrones” and the movies “Oblivion” and “Flags of Our Fathers” are thanks to Björnsson’s expert navigation skills.

Björnssons’ explains that since you cannot use a zoom on the wide-angle camera, the trick to getting that intimate feel is moving the actual helicopter close to the shot: “If it feels like you’re close, you are close,” he says.

Iceland, the alien planet

Although Björnsson loves to showcase his strikingly dramatic country, many of the shots he enables filmmakers to create are not presented as Iceland at all.

In fact, Björnsson says, “Whenever directors want to show somewhere on another planet, they shoot in Iceland!”

The aerial filming world is small, explains Björnsson, who describes it as a big family.

The desolate volcanic deserts, glaciers and lush mossy valleys seen on the planets of Eadu and Hoth in “Star Wars,” in “Game of Throne’s” Land Beyond the Wall, and in Thor’s home of Asgard were all filmed in Iceland.

From fast-rushing waterfalls to steep mountain peaks, Iceland's scenery has made it a favorite among filmmakers.

From fast-rushing waterfalls to steep mountain peaks, Iceland’s scenery has made it a favorite among filmmakers.

FlyOver Iceland

Iceland also stands in for an alien planet in the movie “Interstellar,” where astronauts travel through a wormhole to find another home after Earth becomes uninhabitable.

And in the post-apocalyptic film “Oblivion,” Iceland features as both a war-torn and ravaged Earth as well as its potential replacement, the planet of Titan.

Iceland immersion

In addition to work on feature films and television series, Björnsson is also responsible for getting the director and filming crew in the right spot for the FlyOver Iceland video used in the exhilarating experience based in Reykjavík.

The FlyOver exhibit, currently in Vancouver and Iceland and soon in Las Vegas and Toronto, takes visitors on a sensory ride suspended over a 20-meter (65.6-foot) screen. The experience blends some of those amazing sights depicted on film with the physical sensation of flying, including an actual mist falling on your face from a waterfall.

FlyOver Iceland is an immersive film experience that takes viewers through the otherworldly landscape.

FlyOver Iceland is an immersive film experience that takes viewers through the otherworldly landscape.

FlyOver Iceland

You might even get a whiff of fresh mountain flowers as you glide over a meadow.

In one stunning sequence in the Iceland film, Björnsson flies right through an impossibly narrow arch that has the whole audience gasping and holding their breath as they feel themselves trying to make it through the arch.

In fact, he tells CNN Travel the width was very comfortable at about 50 meters, but it sure looks and feels narrow as you embody the role of the silent passenger, sitting beside Björnsson, trusting Björnsson.

The finished footage from FlyOver and Björnsson’s other projects — full films and shows — creates the impression that the audience is right there with him. It’s as close as most people can hope to get to many of Iceland’s otherwise inaccessible territory.

Remoter still

Remarkably for a man who has been flying professionally for over three decades, Björnsson says he is actually scared of heights and prefers low-level flying.

One scene in the eight-and-a-half-minute minimovie takes place at Iceland’s highest peak, at 7,000 plus feet (2,134 meters) above sea level. “I almost had to close my eyes sometimes!” Björnsson quips.

Björnsson routinely has the opportunity to fly over places most Icelanders will never visit.

“Most of those sites in FlyOver are pretty difficult to get to unless you have a helicopter. The little lighthouse just south of Iceland is probably the most difficult one. But when you have the helicopter, you can go wherever you like to go!”

That remote and lonely little lighthouse is known as The Þrídrangaviti lighthouse and is located on the Westman Islands, about five miles off the coast of mainland Iceland.

The making of the movie

Some parts of the island do not feature in the final cut of director Dave Mossop’s 2019 FlyOver Iceland video because weather conditions posed insurmountable obstacles.

Filming took place over a year and a half in all seasons. Mossop says that they were stranded for days in the northern part of the island when bad weather, including sideways snowstorms and zero light, made it impossible to film or to leave.

This part of the country seldom sees tourists and locals had warned Mossop that flying and filming would be difficult.

Jon Kjartan Bjornsson has been a helicopter pilot for 35 years taking camera crews, directors and actors to some of the most stunning spots in Iceland.

Jon Kjartan Bjornsson has been a helicopter pilot for 35 years taking camera crews, directors and actors to some of the most stunning spots in Iceland.

FlyOver Iceland

The challenging shoots, nonetheless, reaped great rewards: The helicopter’s positioning gives viewers a grasp of the sheer scale of Iceland’s glaciers, not visible in this way by land — or even accessible.

Black sands, lava fields and deep green valleys look like a series of dramatic canvas landscapes stitched together into one true masterpiece.

“One of the most remote places that we got to visit and one that you would never be able to experience in its full effect from the ground is called the Tungnaa river, and I think it’s one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s just the most beautiful, wild, unbelievable river flowing from a glacier and spreading out over this silt sand,” Mossop says.

When viewed from above in Björnsson’s helicopter, Mossop says it looks like a three-dimensional Georgia O’Keeffe abstract painting, created by nature.

Directing danger

One of the most dramatic moments Mossop filmed in Iceland for FlyOver was a scene where kayakers come careening down the Goðafoss waterfall.

Mossop describes this as a “genuinely dangerous stunt.” Although it wasn’t the highest drop these adventure sports experts had navigated, it certainly was high stakes because of the sheer volume of water.

“The whole river channels into this notch and just piles off of this beautiful basalt column amphitheater and creates incredible impact at the bottom of the waterfall … if it goes wrong, you’re going to be buried under this mountain of water for minutes. And you could definitely, possibly, die,” Mossop says.

Like much of the action filmed for this mini-movie, timing was everything.

“We were really fortunate we got a take that worked. And it’s in the film and I think it’s one of the most extreme and impressive shots I’ve ever worked on. It’s such a beautiful location and such an impressive athletic stunt by both the pilot and the kayakers,” Mossop says.

Mossop and Björnsson have captured something far more thrilling and dramatic than an alien planet or a fictional and magical world — they have served up Iceland in all its rugged, other worldly beauty.

Thankfully for those of us who want to see it for ourselves, despite appearances, Iceland is actually located on our planet.

If you go

Small group tour companies such as Hidden Iceland organize trips to many of the amazing filming locations across the country including glacial hikes over Vatnajökull where you can visit the startling blue ice caves.
To see the country from Björnsson’s point of view, however, you need to book a chopper. You can arrange a tour with the man himself through Nordurflug Helicopter Tours.

For the true Icelandic experience, choose a glacial landing, which costs around $725 USD per person.



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Top Senate Republican pushes back against Trump’s unsubstantiated claims mail-in-voting leads to mass fraud

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“Mail-in voting has been used in a lot of places for a long time,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said in the Capitol. “And honestly, we got a lot of folks, as you know, who are investing heavily to try to win that war, it’s always a war too for mail-in ballots. Both sides compete and it’s always an area where I think our side — at least in my experience — has done pretty well.”

The South Dakota Republican added, “I don’t want to discourage — I think we want to assure people it’s going to work. It’s secure and if they vote that way, it’s going to count.”

The comments come as a range of Republican officials throughout the country have reacted with growing alarm to the President’s attacks on mail-in ballots, saying his unsubstantiated claims of mass voting fraud are already corroding the views of GOP voters, who may ultimately choose not to vote at all if they can’t make it to the polls come November.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has the potential to worsen in the fall, voting by mail is becoming an increasingly popular option since many voters may prefer not to wait in long lines at polling stations. Democrats could be handed a major advantage if their voters send their ballots by mail while Republican voters forgo that option because they are listening to the concerns of the President.

Asked by CNN if he’s worried Trump will depress the GOP vote if he continues to make the claims, Thune said: “I think it’s been expressed to him already in some states — and I hope that message has been well received.”

In recent days, Trump has continued to draw a misleading distinction between absentee voting and mail-in-voting — which experts say are essentially the same — and has repeated unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud, despite the fact that there is no widespread fraud in US elections.

In apparent reversal, Trump encourages Floridians to vote by mail
The President repeated those claims last week while suggesting that the date of the election should be delayed — something that the President does not have the authority to do and an idea that was met with swift pushback from congressional Republicans.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Trump tweeted.

This week, the President has been training his attention on the battleground states of Florida and Nevada, urging voters in Florida, a state he won in 2016, to vote by mail, while arguing that Nevada, a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016, is unprepared for mail-in-voting.

“Nevada has ZERO infrastructure for Mail-In Voting. It will be a corrupt disaster if not ended by the Courts. It will take months, or years, to figure out. Florida has built a great infrastructure, over years, with two great Republican Governors. Florida, send in your Ballots!,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.



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Muslims are being blamed for England’s coronavirus outbreaks, in the latest sign of Covid-19-related racism

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Muslims were caught off guard last week, when the UK government suddenly announced local lockdowns in a slew of areas in northern England where cases have spiked. The announcement came just hours before Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in Islam.

The restrictions — published late last Thursday evening — banned people in the named areas from mixing with other households.

Local politicians and Muslim leaders criticized the timing of the announcement.

A volunteer uses hand sanitizer as he enters Minhaj-ul-Quran Mosque in London on July 31.

“The timing … it focused people’s minds [on Muslims],” Rabnawaz Akbar, a Labour Party councilor in Manchester, told CNN.

The government “have done it on the eve of Eid,” leading people to think “it must be the Muslim community’s fault,” Akbar said. “You see how people would have come to the assumption. [The government] have done it without thinking but of course, they’re highlighting a particular demographic. And people are angry and now that anger is focused on a particular community.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement to CNN: “Decisions on lockdowns are based solely on scientific advice and the latest data. Where there are local outbreaks, our priority will remain taking whatever steps are necessary to protect people.”

Akbar also criticized Craig Whittaker, a Conservative MP who suggested that England’s ethnic minorities were not adhering to pandemic guidelines.

“What I have seen in my constituency is that we have areas of our community … that are just not taking the pandemic seriously enough,” Whittaker said Friday, when asked about the local lockdowns during an interview with LBC radio.

When asked if he was talking about the Muslim population, Whittaker replied: “Of course.”

“If you look at the areas where we’ve seen rises and cases the vast majority — not, by any stretch of the imagination, all areas — but it is the BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] communities that are not taking it seriously enough,” he added.

Whittaker’s comments were met with an outcry and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked about them at a press briefing on Friday.

The British leader did not condemn the MP, and said: “Well, I think it’s up to all of us in government to make sure that the message is being heard loud and clear by everybody across the country, and to make sure that everybody is complying with the guidance.”

The UK's troubled coronavirus response becomes more complicated

This week, the Downing Street spokesperson told CNN: “At Friday’s press conference the Prime Minister apologized to all those who could not celebrate Eid in the way they had wished, and thanked the work of mosques and imams in getting the message out about the importance of following safety guidance.

“And he set out in his Eid message that he is hugely grateful to the Muslim community for their efforts and sacrifices throughout this pandemic.”

Tell MAMA, a group which monitors anti-Muslim incidents in the UK, has called on Whittaker to apologize for his comments.

“To single out one community this way is wholly wrong, stigmatizing and unbecoming of an MP,” the group said in a statement.

Following the controversy, Whittaker said his evidence was based on data from local officials at Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire.

“Calderdale Council has not only identified a causal correlation between the locations of a high concentration of our ethnic Asian residents and that of COVID 19 infections, but has also formed the opinion that behaviour in these areas needs to be addressed through engagement in order to reduce the infection rate in these communities,” Whittaker said in a statement on his website.

“In an age where authenticity is a behaviour scarcely exhibited by public figures, I am glad that I have chosen open, honest and frank discussion over political expediency and … I make no apology for my comments,” he added.

Tell MAMA director Iman Atta told CNN that far-right extremists had been blaming Muslims for the pandemic since the beginning of the UK’s lockdown in March.

“In March, April, May, we saw a lot of conspiracy theories floating around,” she said. “The far right were sharing photos of Muslims congregating and flouting the rules at mosques which were, in reality, shut down and not functioning. The photos were from last year,” she said.

“And they have spread rumors online about how BAME communities are the ones spreading the virus, so [people] should not be interacting with them.”

Atta’s findings are echoed by those of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which represents several UK mosques and Muslim organizations.

Earlier in the lockdown “there were theories spreading that Muslims would gather secretly during Ramadan, that mosques were secretly open — none of that was true and there was no evidence,” Zainab Gulamali, a spokesperson for the organization, told CNN.

Gulamali added that she was disappointed that Johnson and his Conservative Party colleagues had failed to condemn Whittaker’s comments on BAME people.

The UK has an Islamophobia problem. Muslims want to know what Boris Johnson is going to do about it

Johnson himself has repeatedly been accused of Islamophobia. He drew sharp rebukes from Muslim communities in 2018 over an article he wrote about Muslim women wearing burqas. The politician said women who wore the veil resembled “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”

He later offered a partial apology, saying: “In so far as my words have given offense over the last twenty or thirty years when I’ve been a journalist and people have taken those words out of my articles and escalated them, of course, I am sorry for the offense they have caused.”

Crime figures suggest that the UK has become a more hostile place for Muslims in recent years. Despite accounting for less than 5% of the UK’s 66 million-strong population, 52% of religious hate crime offenses committed in England and Wales between 2017 and 2018 targeted Muslims.

Much of the recent blame placed on Muslims appears to be driven by the fact that Covid-19 has hit the country’s ethnic minorities hard.

According to Public Health England (PHE), those of Bangladeshi heritage who tested positive for coronavirus were twice as likely to die as their white counterparts. PHE found that the discrepancy was caused by a complex of range of factors, including the fact that BAME people were more likely to live in overcrowded and urban areas, and to work in jobs that put them at risk of catching Covid-19.
People wearing face masks have their temperatures checked before being allowed to go into Manchester Central Mosque on July 31.
In June, an academic paper considered by the government’s scientific advisers warned that an earlier local lockdown in the city of Leicester had caused a rise in racial tension. The city has a large British Asian population.

“There is extensive racist commentary on social media,” the researchers wrote. “Videos have also been circulated on social media showing the South Asian community flouting social distancing in an attempt to stir conflict.”

“We don’t want to sweep under the carpet the issues that [Muslim communities] do face,” Rabnawaz Akbar said.

“A lot of people live in densely-populated terraced housing,” he said, explaining that many Muslims “live with their parents or their grandparents, so you have multigenerational households. A lot of people work in low income and frontline jobs — they’re taxi drivers or health care [workers] … they’re inevitably going to be at risk of catching the virus.”

“But rather than blame them, the solution is that local and central government should work with the communities to take extra precautions,” he said.

Muslims are far from alone in shouldering increased racial resentment during the Covid-19 crisis.

Coronavirus has fueled xenophobia against those of East Asian descent worldwide, and lockdown measures have triggered an explosion of online anti-Semitic hate incidents.

For many minorities the new threat of the pandemic has only intensified the age-old danger of bigotry.



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Trump’s mail-in voting falsehoods are part of a wide campaign to discredit the election

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“I’m doing our country a big favor by bringing it up, and you know, from a common sense standpoint, if you look at it just out of common sense and pure basic beautiful intelligence — you know it can’t work,” Trump said Wednesday.

Now the President says he may deliver his speech to the virtual Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House, obliterating the tradition of presidents seeking to safeguard their office from politicization.

Some of these steps, like trying to shape the conditions of mail-in voting, are not necessarily sinister and fall more into the category of legal challenges frequently made by both parties to win advantage within the structure of elections. But others come across as the actions of a campaign that believes its own claims it is winning.

Visit CNN’s Election Center for full coverage of the 2020 race

Demanding more debates — as Trump is doing — is a time-honored tactic of a trailing candidate needing a game-changer. The upshot of Trump’s complaints on mail-in voting often appears to be an attempt to limit the number of people can vote — when they may fear showing up to a polling place during a pandemic exacerbated by his own mistakes. There is also a key attempt by the Trump campaign to lay the groundwork for legal and political challenges that could discredit Biden’s victory if he wins and to give Trump’s ego an out if voters reject him.

None of this is surprising. After all, the President made inaccurate claims of massive voter fraud in the popular vote in the election that he won in 2016.

The evidence in the impeachment trial strongly suggested that the President used his power in an attempt to coerce a foreign power into interfering in the election based on false claims of corruption against Biden.

And as President, Trump has relentlessly attacked institutions that have held him to account and countered his false narratives, including the courts, the press, US intelligence agencies and independent government watchdogs. Casting doubt on election institutions is consistent with his normal behavior.

For his entire life in business before he entered politics, Trump bent rules, laws, traditions and ethics. His willingness to do so now signals that he is prepared to do anything within his power to win the election. And it suggests that he’s also willing to drag the country through a corrosive period of legal and political brinkmanship if the election is close.

If he loses power in such circumstances, Trump’s tactics could sow a sense of grievance and disenfranchisement among his voters that would shatter his successors’ attempts to forge unity and could damage US democracy for years ahead.

A politically motivated reversal

In apparent reversal, Trump encourages Floridians to vote by mail

The President introduced a new caveat to his opposition to mail-in voting on Wednesday that may reflect concern among Republicans that he risks suppressing his own vote in several tight swing states.

If the system is up and running in a state with a Republican, and presumably pro-Trump governor, it’s fine. Elsewhere, it’s mired in fraud.

“In Florida, they’ve done a very good job with it. In Nevada, it would be a disaster. In New York, it’s been a disaster. In many other places, it’s been a total catastrophe,” Trump claimed on Wednesday in one of those rare flashes of candor that perfectly reveals his true motives.

Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey walked a fine line when he met Trump at the White House.

“In Arizona, we’re going to do it right. It will be free and fair. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to cheat. And it will be easy to vote,” he said, noting that 78% of Grand Canyon Staters already voted by mail.

But he also warned: “This is no time to experiment. This is a time to go with the tried and true, and in Arizona, our system works very well.”

The President has made multiple false claims about fraud in mail-in voting. He has warned that the process is vulnerable to forgery and that ballots will be illegally printed and fraudulently signed and that foreign powers will find it easy to inject millions of false voting papers into the system.

US intelligence officials last week discounted the possibility that foreign nations could flood the election with fake ballots.
There is little evidence that mail-in voting is any more susceptible to fraud than any other kind of voting. And irregularities remain exceedingly rare in US elections, according to multiple academic studies.
View 2020 presidential election polling
Trump also makes a flawed distinction between absentee ballots and mail-in ballots. And he claimed on “Fox and Friends” Wednesday for instance that in Nevada “anybody that ever walked” will get a ballot. That’s not true — the state plans to send out ballots to all active registered voters who can only be adult citizens of the United States. The President is making claims of fraud in New York primary elections in which counting has been slow. But there’s no evidence there’s cheating.

Like all the conspiracy theories that he’s advanced in office, it doesn’t matter from his point of view if he is being truthful. Trump’s goal is to create uncertainty and doubt among voters about the election in order to advance his political goals and destroy any objective view of reality.

If the President was really concerned about the efficiency of the election machinery, he could do something about it. Instead, it has been congressional Democrats along with a few Republicans who have pushed to increase funding for the election in stimulus bills.

The President has tweeted that there is no way that the Post Office could “handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation.”
But the agency said in a statement on Monday that it had “ample” capacity to meet projected election demand.

The appointment of a Trump loyalist, Louis DeJoy, to head the agency was a warning flare for Democrats. A slowing of delivery times by new procedures has sparked so far unproven accusations of a deliberate effort to delay the distribution of mail-in ballots. And Trump has resisted efforts to offer more funding to the USPS, with which he has held a long-term grudge.

Debate maneuvering

Trump campaign calls for a fourth presidential debate, citing early voting

Trump, as he trails Biden in most polls, has a strong incentive to maximize the televised chances for him to goad his opponent into a disastrous mistake. His campaign on Wednesday asked the Commission on Presidential Debates for a fourth encounter — in a legitimate attempt to press for changes.

But its motives are questionable since pro-Trump figures on conservative media have launched a baseless campaign to portray Biden as running away from debates.

“Joe Biden will be there. We await Donald Trump’s decision — and perhaps the president should put as much time into managing COVID as does into this,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Wednesday.

Campaigns often squabble about moderators. But the Trump campaign is again pushing boundaries.

On Wednesday, the President’s camp released a list of suggested moderators including down-the-line journalists such as Norah O’Donnell and Major Garrett of CBS. But it also featured several Fox anchors known for friendly treatment of the President, such as Maria Bartiromo and radio host Hugh Hewitt, who just penned a strongly pro-Trump op-ed in The Washington Post.

This gambit prepared the way to falsely paint other potential mainstream moderators who have exposed Trump’s lies as biased — and to therefore lessen the possibility the President will be held accountable in debates.

Once, again, as with the campaign against mail-in voting, and the potential use of the people’s house — the White House — as a political backdrop, the Trump campaign appears to be pushing for advantage outside reasonable limits.

There is a clear attempt to erode the arrangements that have guaranteed a peaceful transfer of power for generations, and to offer him a way out should his own hyperbolic predictions of success not materialize.





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