Thursday morning news – August 6, 2020

Rescuers search for survivors, investigators hunt for clues in Beirut » Rescuers in Beirut were still digging through piles of twisted steel and concrete Wednesday, looking for more survivors of Tuesday’s massive explosions. 

AUDIO: [Sound from Beirut]

Meantime, investigators began searching through the wreckage of the port. They’re looking for clues to the cause of the blasts that killed well over 100 people and injured some 5,000 others. 

Buildings are damaged or destroyed for miles, and hospitals have been overwhelmed. 

Sami Nader leads a think tank called the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. He’s based in Lebanon and said he’s never seen anything like it. 

NADER: I went through the civil war in Lebanon. I was witness to Hariri bombing, to other bombings that targeted politicians, but nothing on this scale I have seen in my life. 

Nader said “The whole city of Beirut was built economically and urbanistically around this port.” And he said when “you add this cataclysm to the Covid[-19] and financial crises” it will likely take more than a decade to recover. 

U.S. intelligence officials say there were no indications the explosions were the result of a terrorist attack.

Investigators are now focusing on 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at a warehouse in Beirut for years. That’s a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers. Officials want to know how that much of the volatile substance came to be stored there, and why nothing was done about it. 

Businesses slash hiring but stocks surge » U.S. businesses slashed hiring last month, suggesting the recent COVID-19 resurgence has slowed the economic recovery. WORLD’s Leigh Jones reports. 

LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: Payroll processor ADP reported Wednesday that U.S. firms added just 167,000 jobs in July. That’s a stark contrast to June’s gain of 4.3 million and May’s increase of 3.3 million. 

ADP says July’s limited hiring means the economy still has 13 million fewer jobs than it did in February.

Hiring collapsed among companies of all sizes and in nearly all industries. A category that mostly includes restaurants, bars, and hotels added just 38,000 jobs last month, after gaining more than 3 million in May and June combined.

In spite of that report, stocks surged on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial rose 1.4 percent and the Nasdaq hit another record high closing almost 11,000. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leigh Jones. 

Trump says he may act alone to suspend federal payroll tax » With negotiations over a new coronavirus relief bill moving very slowly, President Trump said Wednesday he might act alone. 

The White House has pushed for a payroll tax break in the next stimulus bill, something many Democrats have rejected. And Trump told Fox News…

TRUMP: Well I may do it myself. We’re negotiating right now. I have the right to suspend it, and I may do it myself. I have the absolute right to suspend the payroll. 

One of Trump’s economic advisers, Stephen Moore, wrote an op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal. He said the president could order the Treasury Department to temporarily stop collecting the tax using the same provision of the tax code used to delay the due date for 2019 taxes earlier this year. 

The move would be a tax deferral, but Moore said the intention would be for “the next president, [Joe] Biden or Trump, [to] forgive the tax payment.”

But the president said he’s still hopeful the White House and GOP lawmakers can strike a deal with Democratic leaders on a new relief bill. 

Trump campaign sues Nevada over mail-in ballot law » And with the election less than three months away, the Trump campaign is suing the state of Nevada. The lawsuit seeks to halt a new measure Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak signed into law that sends mail-in ballots to all registered voters. President Trump said Wednesday: 

TRUMP: Absentee voting, great. But this mail-in voting where they mail indiscriminately millions and millions of ballots to people, you’re never going to know who won the election. You can’t have that. 

Republicans argue the law will allow for so-called ‘ballot harvesting’ since it expands who gets to collect and hand in ballots. They say volunteers working for political groups can easily hold back or turn in large quantities of votes to sway the election. 

Democrats charge that Republicans are trying to silence the voices of voters who don’t have safe access to polling stations during the pandemic. 

USDA investigating mysterious shipments of seeds » Americans in at least 22 states recently received mysterious packages of seeds in the mail sent from overseas. And the U.S. government is now investigating. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The Department of Agriculture says the unsolicited packages many Americans received include a variety of seeds: Cabbage, lavender, mint, mustard, rose, sage, and others. 

The USDA is working with other agencies to investigate the packages. But it has no evidence that they’re an act of eco-terrorism or a health threat. 

The agency said the seeds were likely part of a “brushing scam” to generate fake reviews and boost online sales.

Still, authorities are warning people against opening the packages or planting the seeds. The USDA recommended recipients mail them to their state plant regulatory authorities or state plant health director.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.

(AP Photo/Hussein Malla) Extensive damage shows at the site of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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