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[00:00:02]

What caused two horrific explosions in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Lebanese officials say highly explosive material was stored at the site.

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The blast killed dozens of people and thousands more were hurt. I'm Rachel Martin, along with Noel King. And this is up first from NPR News.

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In St. Louis, a Black Lives Matter activist named Corey Bush won a House primary election, she beat out a 20 year political veteran.

[00:00:28]

He decided that we were going to wait any longer for change. What does she mean by change and what does that mean for the Democratic Party? And stimulus checks to help people get through this economic catastrophe were supposed to go to U.S. citizens and permanent residents only. But an NPR investigation finds that foreign workers mistakenly got checks, too. So what happened? Stick with us.

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We've got the news you need to start your day support for this NPR podcast. And the following message come from Better Help. Online counseling by licensed professional counselors specializing in isolation, depression, stress and anxiety. Visit better help dotcom up first to learn more and get 10 percent off your first month.

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There were two explosions on Beirut's waterfront yesterday.

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The first, which was smaller, may have triggered the second, which was enormous. Right.

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And just to give you a sense, the AP is reporting that that second explosion had the force of a three point five magnitude earthquake. People living on the island of Cyprus, 150 miles away in the Mediterranean felt this.

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It was harrowing to watch if you saw this video circulating, Lebanese officials say highly explosive material was being stored at this warehouse on the waterfront and that the material wasn't being stored properly.

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Leila Moulana Allen is a correspondent for France 24. She lives less than a mile away from where the blast happened.

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Hi, Leila.

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Hi. How are you doing this morning or today where you are?

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I'm fine. Incredibly lucky. I was injured and I was blown apart by the blast less than a mile away from the port. I can see it from the step outside the apartment, but I was incredibly lucky. I happened to be away from the glass windows when it happened. And so the injuries he sustained was just the injury that he would get stitched up at the hospital this morning. How many was injuries? People on me.

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I understand that people have had trouble getting to doctors. I was reading reports yesterday about hospitals just being completely overcrowded. It sounds like things worked out OK for you, though.

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Well, the initial concern was almost immediately I mean, you know, from the moment it happened, there were injuries everywhere. And what we were hearing was that hospitals were completely overburdened, hundreds of people turning up local hospital. Things like these don't come if you don't need to. Well, that also doesn't have its own ambulance that is run by hospitals. And the government is one a volunteer service by by the Lebanese Red Cross. And they were completely overwhelmed to and please don't call us if it's not life threatening.

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They set up triage stations in downtown and so there is not enough flesh wound that could wait, just try to get hold of first aid equipment to do what we could until things started to calm down in hospitals. I did eventually find a hospital outside of Beirut at about three a.m. that will quiet your anxiety by going back. I wouldn't be talking to somebody with a much more serious injury when I got there. They were wonderful. And it's been like how I've treated hundreds of cases.

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I stitched up my foot and they were telling me they had 300 people in this tiny little hospital in the mountains in just the last three hours who've come in. They've run out of many, many things they need. They couldn't get a tetanus shot because they'd run out of those as well, because that's what you need from all these debris injuries. There's one out, not the quantity that they need, the blood all over the sheets in the E.R. they were able to atheism.

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They apologized. They were all running and on my feet and just without supplies that they needed.

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Leila, what are officials in Lebanon saying about what happened here? It was all very confusing yesterday when it happened. I was in the back and it sounded like a jet flying overhead, which is something we experience here fairly regularly. I sound like a jet fly very low overhead. And so when the explosion happened just a couple of seconds later and people had heard that loud thud, which we now think was the initial sound of that second explosion, everyone came running out thinking that it was an attack.

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I don't know much later, but it now looks like it was this enormous amount of ammonia that was left in this area in the port, ready to explode, essentially when it was fired for six years. Incredibly dangerous material. And it looked like it was simply government ineptitude that left it, that people incredibly angry.

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They are going to be a lot of questions as we move forward. France 24 correspondent Leila Moulana. Alan, thank you so much and stay safe.

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Thank you, Corey.

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Bush is a Black Lives Matter activist and she's a newcomer to politics. Right. And in a Missouri Democratic primary held yesterday, Bush was up against a 20 year political veteran, William Lacy Clay.

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Clay's dad had held the seat before him. Despite that long legacy or maybe even because of it, Cory Bush pulled out a surprise win.

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Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio has been following this race. Jason, good morning.

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Thank you for having me. Tell me about Cory Bush. Who is she? Cory Bush is a single mother. She's a nurse. And this is her second time running against Lacy Clay, her first campaign. She lost pretty soundly. But this time around, she had a lot more money. She had a much more disciplined campaign around her. And she also had the help of people like Jamal Bowman, the New York congressman elect, basically, who also unseated a longtime Democratic incumbent.

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This is especially notable, though, because in the case of Eliot Engel and Joseph Crowley, those were two white congressmen who were representing rapidly diversifying districts. This is a plurality African-American district and this is a defeat of a black congressman by another black candidate. This is just a seismic day for St. Louis politics.

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There are certainly echoes here of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. What did Cory Bush say in her victory speech last night? Is she telegraphing the same kind of progressive values, progressive attitude? Pushing the party forward in her victory speech and in her campaign, she was supporting things that Okatsu of Cortez's talked about, like the Green New Deal and Medicare for all. But in this particular clip, she also talked about how the economic decline of St. Louis and also the pandemic may have affected people's attitudes toward this race as we face down unprecedented crises from covid-19 to police brutality to out of control climate change.

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And we've decided how to move forward. Well, tonight, Missouri's forest has decided that it's incremental approach. Is it going to work any longer?

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Now, what does this mean for a Democratic Party that is being pulled between these super progressive candidates, some of whom are now being elected, and more traditional Democrats? What do you think?

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I think that, as I mentioned before, this is the first time that a black incumbent has been defeated by the so-called justice Democrats. It's a big deal for St. Louis, too, because this will be the first time somebody named Clay hasn't represented the first congressional district in 52 years. As I said, seismic change in St. Louis.

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Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio, that is extraordinary. Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

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Thank you very much. OK, so remember back in June when we found out that there had been a big mistake with the covid-19 stimulus checks, about one point four billion dollars mistakenly went to people who were dead. All right.

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So that alone a very big mistake. Now we've learned about another error. Stimulus checks were also sent to workers who are not American and actually live overseas.

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And we're talking about possibly tens of millions of dollars here.

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Sacha Pfeiffer of NPR's investigations team broke this story. Hi, Sasha.

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I know. Well, who got checks that wasn't supposed to get checks?

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These are often college students from Eastern Europe and South and Central America who do seasonal jobs in the U.S. like waiters, lifeguards, hotel housekeepers. I'll give you a real life example. I spoke with a 24 year old citizen of the Dominican Republic who worked in a grocery store on Cape Cod last summer. He's now back in the D.R. into his great surprise. Got a 100 dollar check, but he should not have received that money because he does not meet eligibility standards.

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Only U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents are eligible. Now, we're not identifying the Dominican man because he's afraid having gotten the money could put him at odds with the U.S. government.

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But here he is talking about other foreign workers who receive payments, even though they weren't eligible either.

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A couple of friends told me from the other countries like Darians, Jamaica, Colombia and Montenegro, they get the money. Also depends on how many other people do you think you talk to? Who did the summer work with you, who also kind of check? I can say that almost, oh, you get the money, almost all the people that I know, like 100 like 100 people that he knows got the money and should not have.

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How did this happen? It seems to have happened because many foreign workers, whether accidentally or on purpose, file incorrect tax returns that make them appear to be U.S. residents.

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And some workers are now trying to give the checks back because they're concerned about jeopardizing a green card or Visa or their ability to return to the U.S..

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In fact, one tax preparation firm told me it has clients from 129 countries who mistakenly receive stimulus checks Zimbabwe, Brazil, China, Nigeria, Vietnam, Nepal.

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That's just a sampling. How much money are we talking about? The total amount is difficult to measure, but that same tax firm, Sprint Tax did about 400 amended returns last year for people who mistakenly filed as U.S. residents. So far this year, it's done 5000. That's almost five percent of the total federal tax returns it filed last year. And if just five percent of last year's more than 700000 student and seasonal workers with EF1 and J1 visas received a stimulus check, an error that would total 43 million dollars.

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Oh, yeah.

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Now, a lot of these workers are now back living in their home countries. So that's where they're spending the money.

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And even if they wanted to spend it in the U.S., the Trump administration put a freeze on foreign work visas. So that's preventing seasonal workers from coming here. I spoke with the Georgia attorney named Clayton Cartwright, who specializes in immigration tax law.

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He said Congress was in panic mode in March as the U.S. economy was shutting down due to the pandemic. So it rushed stimulus funding out the door.

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Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead. We've got to get the money out so they just do it and just live with the consequences.

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That does make sense. I mean, the country was in a panic when all of this happened. That's why checks also were sent to people who were deceased. I guess the big question, Sasha, is what can the IRS do about this now?

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Right, exactly. You know, the IRS says nonresidents who mistakenly received stimulus money should return it kind of an honor system.

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But one tax specialist told me that if more stimulus gets distributed, which is as planned, some foreign workers who sent back their first 100 dollar check will probably get a second one.

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Oh, dear. NPR Sacha Pfeiffer from our investigations unit. Thanks, Sasa.

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You're welcome. And that's a first for Wednesday, August 5th, I'm Noel King. And I'm Rachel Martin. Start your day with us right back here tomorrow. And you know this by now, the news does not stop when this podcast ends.

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We're only months away from Election Day and every week or even every few hours, there's a new twist that could affect who will win the White House. To keep up with the latest, tune into the NPR Politics podcast every day to find out what happened and what it means for the election.