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N.C. Gov.: ‘Very Unlikely’ GOP Convention Can Happen Without Social Distancing, Masks

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Charlotte’s Spectrum Center is scheduled to host the 2020 Republican National Convention, but GOP officials are insisting on a full arena while state public health officials say it’s not safe to have so many people together in a pandemic. Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Charlotte’s Spectrum Center is scheduled to host the 2020 Republican National Convention, but GOP officials are insisting on a full arena while state public health officials say it’s not safe to have so many people together in a pandemic.

Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Tuesday that it’s “very unlikely” the state can permit a packed Republican National Convention in Charlotte to go forward this summer.

“The people of North Carolina do not know what the status of COVID-19 will be in August, so planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity,” Cooper wrote Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

After President Trump threatened to move the convention last week, top GOP officials gave Cooper a deadline of Wednesday to specify the conditions under which the convention in the 19,000-seat Spectrum Arena could proceed.

The uncertainty over the convention’s fate comes less than three months before the gathering in a state that Trump won in 2016 and is crucial to his reelection effort.

“We are happy to continue talking with you about what a scaled-down convention would look like and still await your proposed plan for that,” continued Cooper, whose state is continuing to see an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

In a statement Tuesday, McDaniel said Cooper was “dragging his feet” and said RNC officials would begin visiting other cities and states that have offered to host the convention. Among the places that have been floated as potential replacements are Atlanta; Jacksonsville, Fla.; Orlando, Fla.; and Nashville, Tenn.

The back-and-forth between the GOP and Cooper’s administration is the latest turn in its two-year rocky relationship with the convention.

‘We would rather be incinerated than seem small-time’

The fast-growing city — one of the nation’s leading financial centers — bid on the convention because it wanted to be on the world stage.

The city’s longing to be recognized goes back decades, said Bob Morgan, a former leader of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve long been ambitious like that,” he said. “Someone once famously described us in the 1950s as saying that when the Russians launch missiles against the United States that if Charlotte’s not on the list, we would be very disappointed. Because we would rather be incinerated than seem small-time.”

That ambition — and insecurity — led to Charlotte hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and to bid on Trump’s renomination convention for this August.

But the mostly-Democratic city was embarrassed when it realized that no other municipality submitted a formal bid.

“I don’t know where the quote comes from, but I know somebody said, ‘There’s a fool in every room and if you look around and can’t find them, then maybe it’s you,’ ” former City Council member Justin Harlow said in 2018, when the City Council voted 6-5 in favor of hosting. “It’s important to ask why no other local government in America is bidding on this convention.”

At the time, the debate over the convention focused on whether the city wanted to share the spotlight with the president’s controversial policies, such as the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Now the city’s relationship with the GOP is further strained by the coronavirus pandemic and the sometimes-violent protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Charlotte has had three nights of demonstrations that have resulted in at least 75 arrests and property damage to stores and offices.

For much of April and May, top Republicans, including McDaniel, said they were willing to hold a convention in line with Cooper’s health mandates.

“Obviously we’re going to put the safety of the attendees and the president and the vice president first and foremost,” McDaniel said in May. “And if that means people wear masks, we’re going to have people wear masks.”

But Trump has expressed a desire for something different: a packed house with no face coverings or social distancing.

McDaniel shifted her position quickly, sending letters last week to the state’s top health official two letters saying the GOP wanted a more-or-less normal convention, even though the state’s current limit on indoor gatherings is 10 people.

The RNC has proposed that convention attendees pass a pre-convention health screening and have their temperature checked before entering the arena. It also proposed having hand sanitizer available and cleaning areas where people gather.

Mandy Cohen, the state’s top health official, indicated on Monday that the state will not green light a normal convention.

“What we know about the spread of this virus is if you are indoors, close together, without 6 feet apart and without face covering, then the virus spreads,” she said.

While the Republican National Committee has threatened to move the convention, a spokesperson for the committee, Rick Gorka, said last week that Charlotte will still be the host site – either with 19,000 people inside the arena or 100.

Republican Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, who supports bringing the convention here, said the two sides are far apart.

“I saw that letter from the RNC and I thought there is still a big gap,” Driggs said. “It really is a tough situation. You talk about a rock and a hard place. I don’t see any satisfactory way out.”

The city has already started buying police equipment to prepare for the RNC. The Justice Department is contractually obligated to reimburse the city from a $50 million security grant, but, as a businessman, Trump has a history of unpaid bills, while the Trump campaign has refused to pay police security costs in some cities where it has held rallies.

Driggs said the city would go to court if it’s not paid back.

Economic pain

The uncertainty around the convention comes as the city’s tourism and hospitality industries are suffering.

Last month’s revenue at the downtown DoubleTree hotel was $125,000, compared with $800,000 a year ago, said general manager Bill DeLoache.

He wants the RNC to come but is worried the two sides are too far apart.

“It was very disheartening, and I finally quit listening to the news because neither side really seemed to want to make it want to work,” he said.

Democratic city council member Malcolm Graham says most emails and phone calls he receives from constituents are against hosting.

“People are now voicing concerns not only about the public health, but they’re voicing concerns about the public safety — some of the inflammatory comments from the president over the past couple of days, rioting in the streets Charlotte,” Graham said.

Source: https://www.npr.org/2020/06/02/867937831/nc-gov-very-unlikely-rnc-can-proceed-without-social-distancing-masks?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

NPR

Eiffel Tower Reopens In Paris, After A 3-Month Shutdown

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A couple hugs each other as they visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Thursday. The iconic tower is reopening after the coronavirus forced its longest closure since World War II. Thibault Camus/AP hide caption

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Thibault Camus/AP

The Eiffel Tower reopened to visitors Thursday morning, after being shut down for more than three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the Paris landmark’s longest closure since World War II.

The reopening is a dramatic sign of people finally reclaiming public spaces in France, after more than 100 days of restrictions. But the tower’s highest point is still not open – and for now, visitors will need to take the stairs.

The stairs-only rule is one of several restrictions at the site, which draws millions of tourists during a normal year. Face masks are compulsory for all visitors over the age of 11, and physical distancing markers are in place.

To keep people from crossing paths on the stairs, visitors will ascend on the Eiffel Tower’s East pillar and descent on the West pillar, the Eiffel Tower website states.

The reopening took place on a sunny and clear morning, promising wide views of the city. The tower’s return was widely celebrated, with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo hailing the reopening. As the first visitors prepared to make their way up, a band of drummers performed in the plaza at the tower’s base.

Elevator service inside the monument is slated to return on July 1. For those who can’t wait, a ticket to walk up to the Eiffel Tower’s second floor – the wider area that cuts off just as the tower narrows toward its spire – costs 10.40 euros (about $11.65).

Tickets are being sold online, in 30-minute increments. Shortly after noon local time Thursday, spots were still open through the afternoon, although the evening tickets had all been claimed, presumably by people eager to see how the City of Lights comes to life in the night, even during a pandemic.

A French government official declared the coronavirus to be “under control” in early June. Days later, France joined the rest of the European Union in lifting many border restrictions within the bloc – part of a plan to salvage part of the summer tourism season.

There are signs that the virus is remaining under control. France’s positive test rate for the coronavirus is 1.5%, according to the most recent data from the national public health agency. Only two of its 104 departments are considered to be in a highly vulnerable situation – and those are in islands in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.

France has confirmed 161,348 coronavirus cases, including 29,731 deaths, according to government data.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/25/883270541/eiffel-tower-reopens-in-paris-after-a-3-month-shutdown?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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‘Gone With The Wind’ Returns To HBO Max With New Introduction

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The New York premiere of Gone With the Wind on Dec. 19, 1939, in the Astor Theater on Broadway. AP hide caption

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Gone With The Wind has returned to the streaming service HBO Max after it was removed earlier this month because of its benign portrayal of American slavery. The film now features a new introduction by film scholar and Turner Classic Movies host Jacqueline Stewart.

In the introduction, Stewart addresses the film’s problematic depiction of the Antebellum South.

“Eighty years after its initial release, ‘Gone With the Wind’ is a film of undeniable cultural significance,” she says. “It is not only a major document of Hollywood’s racist practices of the past but also an enduring work of popular culture that speaks directly to the racial inequalities that persist in media and society today.”

Stewart adds that the film depicts a “world of grace and beauty, without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery upon which this world is based.”

The streaming service also added two companion videos along with the return of the film. One video features a panel discussion on the film’s controversial legacy and another provides more information about Hattie McDaniel, who in 1940 became the first African American to win an Oscar for her portrayal of the enslaved “Mammy.”

Los Angeles school children attend a ceremony unveiling a commemorative U.S. Postal Service stamp for actor Hattie McDaniel in 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif. McDaniel, also a singer, radio and television personality, was the first African American to win an Oscar, for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind. DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP hide caption

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DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP

The 1939 film has long been the subject of criticism, with some saying it portrayed the Confederacy with sentimentality and fondness. Recent protests for racial justice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd renewed these concerns. Screenwriter, producer and director John Ridley wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times earlier this month calling on HBO Max to remove Gone With the Wind from its library.

“The movie had the very best talents in Hollywood at that time working together to sentimentalize a history that never was,” Ridley wrote. “And it continues to give cover to those who falsely claim that clinging to the iconography of the plantation era is a matter of ‘heritage, not hate.’ “

A spokesperson for the streaming service told NPR in a statement at the time of the film’s removal that the “racist depictions” in the film were “wrong then and wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”

The spokesperson added that aside from the new introduction, the movie itself would not be altered once it returned, “because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

Stewart reiterated those sentiments in her introduction, acknowledging that while watching Gone With The Wind and other classic films could be uncomfortable or painful, the films should be available in their original form to “invite viewers to reflect on their own beliefs when watching them now.”

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/06/25/883216627/gone-with-the-wind-returns-to-hbo-max-with-new-introduction?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Both Chambers Of Congress Back For First Time During Pandemic Amid Questions On Tests

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Lawmakers are directed to practice social distancing for debates and votes on the floor of the House of Representatives. AP hide caption

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On Thursday, the House and Senate will be in session at the same time, for the first time, since the pandemic began more than three months ago.

While the 100-member Senate resumed its regular floor business in May, the much larger House of Representatives has met sparingly. With more than 430 members, the lower chamber faces higher risks for an outbreak.

And like many other workplaces around the country, Congress has had to ration tests for the coronavirus. Much of the work by employees, aides and lawmakers is being done remotely. Last month, the House approved new rules allowing proxy voting and hearings by video conference.

“Rationing tests for members of Congress … to me, it’s maddening,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “Like, this is no way to run a country.”

But there have been some improvements. The attending physician to Congress can now test asymptomatic members, a senior Democratic aide told NPR. Previously, only some sick members could access tests.

Meanwhile, the Capitol remains closed to the general public for tours and visits. And those still meeting there largely adhere to the attending physician’s guidance to maintain social distancing and wear masks.

“Everyone should just wear a damn mask, like you guys are, like I am right now,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters Wednesday.

Members of Congress saw a spike in cases at the start of the pandemic but have largely flattened their curve, with a total of nine cases.

But Capitol workers — which include staff members, Capitol Police officers and those who maintain operations — have seen a larger influx of cases, with more than 60 by mid-June, according to a congressional aide.

“Those are the ones that we should be concerned about developing some long-term testing protocols for, because it’s not just about the members,” Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., ranking member on the House Administration Committee, told NPR recently.

Davis has been on the hunt for a new testing program for Congress. This month, he wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asking for the attending physician to partner with the military or a private vendor to test 2,000 people or more a week.

But so far Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said Congress shouldn’t get prioritized testing ahead of essential workers.

The chair of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., agrees with that plan — for now.

“I think until the country is in better shape, we’re not going to be in a position to test everybody who comes into the Capitol,” Lofgren said.

Experts such as Jha say national testing still hasn’t reached recommended levels. Among those showing little interest in boosting it is President Trump, who told a rally last weekend in Tulsa, Okla., that he asked for testing to be slowed.

On Tuesday, Trump told reporters he wasn’t kidding when he made the comments.

“Testing is a double-edged sword,” he said.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/25/883028666/both-chambers-of-congress-back-for-first-time-during-pandemic-amid-questions-on-?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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On The COVID-19 Campaign Trail, Montana’s Gov. Steve Bullock May Be Getting A Boost

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Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), left, gets an update on coronavirus testing from councilman Martin Charlo of Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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At a free, mass testing site on Montana’s Flathead Reservation, hundreds of people are queued up in idling cars. They’re waiting an hour or more for the irritating nose swab test for COVID-19, but most like Francine Van Maanen are just grateful to finally get one.

“We enjoyed the fact that they had this testing available to us so why not get checked,” she says, while waiting in line with her husband.

Nurses wearing face shields put the swabs in plastic tubes while busily scribbling notes on clipboards. This “mass surveillance” testing event was part of Gov. Steve Bullock’s recent goal to do community surveillance testing of 60,000 Montanans a month ⁠— the state has yet to come close to hitting that.

“This is big, this is overwhelming,” Bullock told tribal and county health officials working the recent Flathead event. “Now let’s start talking about when we’re going to do it again.”

Under Bullock’s watch, Montana now has the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the nation, and among its lowest hospitalizations and deaths. Daily new case numbers have been going up for the last two weeks, but only by single or double digits. The pandemic ⁠— and Bullock’s handling of it as the state’s top leader ⁠— is fast becoming a central issue in his campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

The race is one of a few around the country that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate next year. It’s also expected to be one of the most expensive in the nation, and likely the most expensive in Montana’s history.

Some waited for more than an hour to get tested at a recent free coronavirus testing event on the Flathead Reservation. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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Kirk Siegler/NPR

COVID-19 campaigning

Bullock, citing advice from local public health officials, implemented a statewide stay-at-home order and closed most schools down earlier than some neighboring states on March 28. Montana also began a phased reopening earlier than most, around the middle of last month. By June 1, citing the low number of cases, Bullock lifted a 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers, saying there is ample contact tracing now.

“We may see positive cases,” he says. “But we’ll also identify those positive cases before they start spreading.”

On the Flathead, the one-time presidential candidate was in his element, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, his Ray-Bans shielding against the glare from the sun hitting the late season snow high on the Mission Mountains.

Bullock is termed out as governor after this year. After months of insisting he wouldn’t run for Senate, just before the filing deadline, he changed his mind in March. Then a few days later, the pandemic hit.

“I think there’ll be a time for the campaigning side of that,” he says. “But that hasn’t been where I’ve really been putting the time.”

But the pandemic is in the news every day, which so far hasn’t exactly hurt Bullock who until recently had been seen as the underdog.

“He’s dominating the airwaves, you can’t turn around without seeing a story about the governor,” says Chris Mehl, the non-partisan mayor of Bozeman.

Bozeman is the state’s fastest growing city. It’s swung blue lately, in part due to a wave of newcomers attracted by the area’s outdoor and recreation amenities and the increased ability to telecommute. The university town near to ski resorts and Yellowstone National Park was also Montana’s initial hotspot for cases.

“It’s in a sense become what he’s tied to,” Mehl says. “The issue for him is the competency of handling the pandemic, both on a health side but also on an economic recovery side.”

Bozeman Mayor Chris Mehl’s city lies at the heart of Montana’s fastest growing region. It was also an early hotspot for coronavirus cases in the West. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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Kirk Siegler/NPR

‘Jobs and economy’ election

Bozeman is also the hometown of Republican Steve Daines. Lately Daines has struggled to get into the local news as much as Bullock even after he helped pass a sweeping public lands conservation bill. If these were normal times, that would have been big news considering the growing influence of the outdoor recreation economy in the state.

Nevertheless, in a phone interview, the senator says he doesn’t think the public health crisis itself will be much of a factor come Fall.

“I think by the time voters start to cast their ballots, this election is going to be a jobs and economy election,” Daines says.

Daines touted his experience helping small businesses, and he predicted unemployment claims will continue to mount if the pandemic continues to hamper economic recovery.

But in Montana right now, Daines’ reelection chances may depend mostly on President Trump remaining popular here.

Daines has positioned himself as one of the president’s staunch supporters. When Trump tweeted the so-called “squad” should go back where they came from, Daines doubled down in support. He was also one of the few Republican senators to publicly praise the president when peaceful protesters were cleared out from in front of the White House so Trump could pose holding a bible.

“Montanans are going to vote for President Trump, he’s going to win Montana,” Daines says. “They’re going to be glad that he’s coming here.”

Trump also came to Montana four times in 2018, failing to unseat the state’s other senator, Democrat Jon Tester. While no dates have been set, his return on behalf of Daines is widely expected and that’s prompting the same public health concerns as at recent rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix.

“That bridge will be crossed when there is a decision made to have a rally,” Daines says.

Montana ticket splitting

Montana is famously all over the map politically. When Daines was elected in 2014, he took over a Senate seat that Democrats had held for 100 years. In 2016, when Trump won Montana by nearly 20 points, Steve Bullock was re-elected as governor.

Just like during his long-shot presidential bid, Bullock is touting his bipartisan record from COVID-19, to Medicaid expansion and showing support for the Keystone pipeline which crosses the state.

Look, I stood up to President Obama multiple times,” Bullock says. “I’ll work with whoever it is when it’s in the best interest of Montana.

One place Bullock has taken some heat for his handling of the pandemic is in national park gateway towns like West Yellowstone. Montana’s entrance gates opened three weeks after Wyoming’s, as per Bullock’s order.

“I would have loved to have seen us open earlier,” says Travis Watt, general manager for a hotel and a couple other businesses in the tourist-dependent town. “I’m glad he didn’t wait till longer, I know there was a lot of pressure to push until later.”

Watt didn’t vote for Bullock for Governor but he says he likes how he’s managed the pandemic so far.

“It’s a unique situation and you look at some of the things going around in the country and I think Montana sits pretty good,” Watt says.

While Sen. Daines can probably win Montana with a big turnout from Trump’s base and rural voters, Bullock will need people like Watt to consider crossing over, just as he needs coronavirus cases to stay low and the economy to rebound.

Source: https://www.npr.org/2020/06/25/882311863/on-the-covid-19-campaign-trail-montanas-gov-steve-bullock-may-be-getting-a-boost?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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