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Juneau fireworks show canceled after assembly fails to agree on masks

Tue, 2020-06-30 11:00

JUNEAU — Juneau’s fireworks show has been canceled after assembly members failed to agree on a masking requirement for spectators.

The assembly previously agreed to allow the show, which was scheduled to begin July 3 at 11:59 p.m. to celebrate Independence Day. But that vote was with the understanding the city would require people in attendance to wear masks, KTOO Public Media reported.

A mask mandate required passage of an ordinance, and the assembly on Monday did not have the votes needed for that measure to pass. The proposed ordinance stated that those who didn't wear a mask while outside to watch the show would be subject to a $25 fine.

The city released a statement Tuesday apologizing for any confusion after saying last week the show would take place.

Assembly member Maria Gladizewski last week voted to hold the fireworks show but on Monday voted against the mask order. She said she had changed her mind about encouraging the public to gather while the coronavirus remains a concern in Alaska.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Public process needed on Cook statue

Tue, 2020-06-30 10:10

In this Wednesday, June 17, 2020 photo, a statue of Captain James Cook stands on a plinth in Resolution Park overlooking the Cook Inlet near 3rd Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska. The mayor of Anchorage has asked the Native Village of Eklutna to determine what happens to a statue of a British explorer following calls for its removal. Native Village of Eklutna President Aaron Leggett says a decision has not yet been made on what will happen to the statue, but he would like to see modifications at the site that would include the history and voice of Alaska Natives. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP) (Bill Roth/)

Many residents are concerned with the lack of public process in the recent unilateral decision by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to leave the fate of the Captain Cook statue in Resolution Park to the Native Village of Eklutna. As former mayors of Anchorage, we share in that concern.

The statue was donated to Anchorage by the British Petroleum Corporation in 1975 and installed in 1976. Ironically, their gift was in celebration of the 200th anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence from England. It was designed by renowned sculptor Derek Freeborn and replicas of this same work appear in other areas where Captain Cook explored, including Hawaii, Australia, British Columbia and our sister city of Whitby, England, where Captain Cook began his naval career.

The sudden impetus to remove and/or relocate the statue seems to be an extension of similar actions throughout the country, where historical monuments that some people consider offensive are now targets of removal, often times through criminal vandalism and without a true public process.

While we are happy that the good citizens of Anchorage have not resorted to such acts, the lack of public input into any decision regarding the Captain Cook statue leaves us wondering: “What’s the rush?” The best public decisions are those that are thoughtful and inclusive.

Resolution Park is a dedicated municipal park and, as such, any decision altering the park should go before the Park and Recreation Advisory Commission. To our knowledge, that has not occurred. We would also think that the Historical Advisory Commission would want an opportunity to have input.

Perhaps a process similar to the one used to name public places would be appropriate. In that process, four citizens, two appointed by the mayor and two by the Assembly, meet, hold a public hearing and decide on naming recommendation based on a set of prescribed criteria. That recommendation then goes to the Assembly which also holds a public hearing and then makes the final decision.

We are encouraged by the comments of Eklutna Village Tribal President Aaron Leggett, also a curator at the Anchorage Museum. He suggested that the best course of action may be not to remove the statue, but to enhance the exhibit at Resolution Park to include historical information and recognition of the Dena’ina people who inhabited the Cook Inlet area when Captain Cook conducted his explorations.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy recently responded in a similar vein when the subject of removing historical monuments and works of art was discussed. He said it is important to retain our history but, where appropriate, to add additional works of art and/or historical information to enhance and to add context to what already has been displayed.

Captain Cook was one of the world’s greatest explorers and cartographers. The fact that his journeys brought him to Alaska is of great historical significance. He was not a political figure nor a colonialist. He justly deserves recognition, and any decisions regarding what form that recognition takes can only benefit from a robust and open public process.

We urge Mayor Berkowitz and the members of the Assembly to consider using something similar to the public facilities naming process and to follow the established lawful procedures regarding changes to our parks so that all voices in our community have an opportunity to be heard.

Dan Sulllivan, George Wuerch, Rick Mystrom and Tom Fink are former mayors of Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Golden State Killer pleads guilty to murders and other crimes that terrorized California

Tue, 2020-06-30 10:09

FILE - In this April 27, 2018 file photo Joseph James DeAngelo, is arraigned in Sacramento County Superior Court in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) (Rich Pedroncelli/)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In a moment his victims have long awaited, a 74-year-old former police officer who terrorized California as the Golden State Killer pleaded guilty to more than a dozen murders and a long list of other crimes Monday in a university ballroom turned courtroom.

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., clad in orange jail clothing and wearing a clear protective face shield, sat onstage at Cal State Sacramento, with cameras projecting his face onto the ballroom wall so all could see, bringing the guilt phase of the Golden State Killer case to a close.

DeAngelo scarcely spoke during the early part of the hearing, only answering questions from Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman in a hoarse “yes” or “no.”

The plea hearing was scripted, allowing no room for ad-libbed confessions. DeAngelo admitted guilt to 13 murders, 13 charges of kidnapping for purposes of robbery — the only crimes he is charged with — as well as some 62 other crimes of rape and abduction for which the statutes of limitations long ago expired.

The crime series ran from at least 1973 to 1986 and involved attacks on 106 children, men and women in 11 counties ranging from Sacramento to Orange. Some 50 women and girls were raped.

Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho called the crimes “simply staggering” in scope.

“His monikers reflect the sweeping geographical impact of his crime,” Ho said, adding, “each time, he escaped — slipping away silently into the night, leaving communities terrified for years.”

Detectives did not have a final named suspect until 2018, when they used crime-scene DNA and genealogy services to identify the killer’s cousin and then, finally, DeAngelo.

Sitting in a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department interview room hours after his arrest, Ho said DeAngelo spoke to himself, saying: “I did all those things. I’ve destroyed all their lives. So now, I’ve got to pay the price.”


Gay and Bob Hardwick, who were attacked in their Stockton home in 1978 by Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, stand as the charges are read against DeAngelo during a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court in Sacramento, Calif. Monday June 29, 2020. DeAngelo, 74, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of murder and multiple other charges 40 years after a sadistic series of assaults and slayings in California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) (Rich Pedroncelli/)

Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty — the main request made by DeAngelo’s public defenders. In return for his guilty plea, DeAngelo will be sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.

The public will also be spared years of criminal proceedings, which prosecutors estimated could have cost more than $20 million. There will be no need for testimony by scores of rape victims, family members of those murdered and DeAngelo’s three daughters and ex-wife.

Representatives for the counties prosecuting DeAngelo took the stage Monday to read into the record descriptions of the crimes.

They recounted how he would tie his victims up with shoelaces and place dishes on their backs to make sure they didn’t move, the explicit threats and sexual demands he growled into their ears and how he would help himself to food or beer from his victims’ kitchens before or after raping them.

As details about the murders of Greg Sanchez and Cheri Domingo were read aloud, Cheri’s daughter, Debbie Domingo, stood to face DeAngelo.


Dave Domingo, left, and his sister, Debbi Domingo McMullan, listen as Joseph James DeAngelo is charged with the 1981 murder of their mother, Cheri Domingo, in Sacramento Superior Court in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) (Rich Pedroncelli/)
Joseph Cress, left, the public defender for Joseph James DeAngelo, charged with being the Golden State Killer, whispers to his client during a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court in Sacramento, Calif. Monday June 29, 2020. DeAngelo, 74, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of murder and multiple other charges 40 years after a sadistic series of assaults and slayings in California. Due to the large numbers of people attending, the hearing was held at a ballroom at California State University, Sacramento to allow for social distancing. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) (Rich Pedroncelli/)

Jennifer Carole also stood, hands gripped behind her back, as the 1980 bedroom killings of her father and stepmother, Lyman and Charlene Smith, were described. She took off her mask so she could be seen, but did not make eye contact with DeAngelo.

Afterward, retired Sacramento County sheriff’s Detective Carol Daly stepped up to give Carole a hug.

DeAngelo’s whispery voice and wheelchair did not evoke any sympathy from Carole.

“Rest assured, it’s still an act,” she said, echoing the opening statement by prosecutors who said DeAngelo briefly feigned insanity when arrested for shoplifting in 1979 and suggested his statements of an alter ego when he was arrested in 2018 were conjured.

Six family members of Janelle Cruz, DeAngelo’s last known victim, stood together to confront him as he pleaded guilty to murder and admitted raping the 18-year-old.

Cruz was bludgeoned to death in 1986 with what detectives believe was a pipe wrench that had been stolen from the family’s backyard days earlier.

DeAngelo appeared to look down, not returning their gaze.

He again looked down as four relatives of Brian and Katie Maggiore, chased down and shot while taking an evening stroll in Rancho Cordova, stood just feet away from the raised stage where DeAngelo and his lawyers sat.

“How do you plead to that sir?” the judge asked. DeAngelo turned to his lawyer for a prompt, paused briefly before answering, “Guilty.”

All the women who were raped were referred to as “Jane Doe,” a decision that was criticized before the hearing by some who seek to be shed of decades of social stigma over their attacks.

“I don’t want that,” said Kris Pedretti, who was 15 when she became the 10th victim of a serial predator operating in the suburbs of Sacramento and known then as the East Area Rapist. “I want to be seen as a real person that he did this to and not as some Jane Doe.”

The Sacramento County district attorney’s office told Pedretti the decision had been made for her, she said, but conceded her request to be allowed to stand during the hearing when her 1976 attack is mentioned.

“We don’t have anything to be ashamed of, so we can stand up and he can take a look at us,” Pedretti said. “We’re not afraid of him. I think that’s more powerful than us staying seated and being a Jane Doe. Because, if he looks out, he doesn’t know who is who. He will today.”


Jane Carson-Sandler, a 1976 rape victim of Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo, stands and gives a double thumbs -up to agree with a prosecutor's statement about part of DeAngelo's anatomy, during a court hearing in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) (Rich Pedroncelli/)

While details about how DeAngelo had raped her were being read, Jane Carson-Sandler walked up to the edge of the stage to face DeAngelo squarely. He did not look at her.

Other victims silently cried, dabbing their eyes with tissue they had brought with them.

Because of COVID-19 spacing requirements, the proceeding was moved to the ballroom at Cal State Sacramento, the school from which DeAngelo received a criminal justice degree in 1972. The audience was composed almost entirely of victims and their families, with spaces awarded by lottery for 27 members of the media.

Unlike the mock court proceedings held in Sacramento school gymnasiums, the ballroom was not laid out to resemble a courtroom.

The judge, defendant and lawyers faced an audience of nearly 200 and banks of television cameras. Large projection screens displayed the faces of those at the podium, much like at a political rally. The hearing was livestreamed by Sacramento County Superior Court, a national true-crime entertainment network and multiple news programs.

“All that’s missing are the lions,” said one anonymous court official.

There was one notable empty chair in the ballroom — one for Phyllis Henneman, the first-recognized victim of the East Area Rapist. Henneman, who has been battling cancer for the past year, was admitted to the hospital over the weekend.

Nearly 40 victims and family members rose and stood silently to face DeAngelo when it came time to read the charges for the 1976 rape of Henneman.

From beginning to end, the crimes involving DeAngelo played out in the public eye.

The East Area Rapist drew so much media attention that he caused a public panic, prompting citizen patrols, bounties and a run on sales of guns, door locks and guard dogs. Midway through the series of rapes, detectives believe, the attacker began to feed off that public hysteria, and he began to instruct victims to pass on death threats to the police and future victims.

DeAngelo was fired from his Auburn, Calif., police job in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting. The murders that ensued as he and his wife moved to Southern California — again involving bedroom attacks and rapes — at first went unconnected. The unknown assailant was given new local nicknames: the Diamond-Knot Killer and the Night Stalker, later changed to Original Night Stalker after another serial killer took that sobriquet.

Advances in forensic DNA changed the case dramatically. In 2001, detectives were able to link the attacks up and down the state.

Homicide experts said serial killers themselves often have no insight into their crimes, and often blame them on external forces.

“At their core, serial killers are manipulative, egocentric, disingenuous, dysfunctional, unreliable and mean-spirited,” said Enzo Yaksic, founder of the Atypical Homicide Research Group, a national network of law enforcement, forensic psychiatrists and others who study serial killers. “It is their own personalities that lead others to ostracize them, which in turn urges the serial killer to adopt a negative worldview. Serial killers grow accustomed to being on the fringe of society and come to enjoy the duality of their lives.”

The crime spree became media fodder again as a television series, then was picked up by a Los Angeles writer, Michelle McNamara, who rebranded the perpetrator as the Golden State Killer and marketed a book on her attempts to chronicle, and perhaps solve, the crimes.

A 2016 decision by unnamed investigators at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to break the chain of custody and allow McNamara to take home 37 boxes of case files and two bins of evidence has now become fodder for legal challenges against the law enforcement agency. The defense lawyer for a man serving life in prison for another DNA-solved rape and murder cited the evidence breach to support his own allegations of laxity and misconduct within the county crime lab.

The defense lawyer said McNamara’s research assistant told him the case files were returned to Orange County after McNamara’s sudden death in April 2016, before the release of her book, which has been turned into an HBO series. The first episode aired Sunday, and the series is to conclude just before DeAngelo’s sentencing in August.

Victims have been told to prepare impact statements to be read aloud during proceedings expected to last a week before DeAngelo’s sentence is declared.

As virus roars back in US, so do signs of a new round of layoffs

Tue, 2020-06-30 09:59

FILE - In this June 27, 2020, file photo, medical personnel prepare to test hundreds of people lined up in vehicles in Phoenix's western neighborhood of Maryvale for free COVID-19 tests organized by Equality Health Foundation. (AP Photo/Matt York, File) (Matt York/)

WASHINGTON — The reopening of Tucson’s historic Hotel Congress lasted less than a month.

General manager Todd Hanley on June 4 ended a two-month coronavirus lockdown and reopened the 39-room hotel at half-capacity, along with an adjoining restaurant for outdoor dining. Yet with reported COVID-19 cases spiking across Arizona, Hanley made the painful decision last weekend to give up, for now.

“We are closing everything,‘' he said. “We are going to live to fight another day.‘'

The move means that once again, most of Hanley's employees will lose their jobs, at least temporarily. Except for roughly a dozen who are needed to maintain the century-old property, more than 50 workers he had recalled will be laid off for a second time.

A resurgence of confirmed COVID cases across the South and West — and the suspension or reversal of re-openings of bars, hotels, restaurants and other businesses — is endangering hopes for an economic rebound in the region and perhaps nationally. At stake are the jobs of millions of people who have clung to hopes that their layoffs from widespread business shutdowns this spring would prove short-lived.

On Thursday, the government is expected to issue another robust monthly jobs report. Economists have forecast that employers added 3 million jobs in June, on top of 2.5 million added in May, clawing back a portion of the record-high 21 million that vanished in April at the height of the viral shutdowns.

Yet any such news might already be outdated: The jobs report won’t fully capture the impact of the COVID upsurge in the South and West and the desperate steps being pursued to try to control it. The re-closings of restaurants and bars, and resulting job cuts, mark an about-face from what appear to have been premature efforts to restart the economy before the pandemic had been contained.

[States reverse openings, require masks amid virus resurgence]

“We’re still in a very deep hole,‘' said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the firm Grant Thornton. “This makes the June employment report backward-looking instead of forward-looking.‘'

Eager to jump-start their economies, governors in several states across the Sun Belt had lifted their lockdowns before their states had met reopening guidelines that were set — yet largely shrugged off — by the White House.

Reported infections quickly spiked. From April 9 to June 8, the five-day daily average of confirmed new cases had dropped from 32,150 to below 19,400. Then it began rising again, surging past the April level to nearly 42,100 on Sunday before dipping to 41,000 on Monday. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest that people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

The governors began to backtrack. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week ordered all bars closed. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told residents to stay home and declared that the state was “on pause'' as the COVID cases stacked up. Florida also banned alcohol consumption at its bars.


Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announces a new executive order in response to the rising COVID-19 cases in the state, during a news conference in Phoenix on Monday, June 29, 2020. The governor ordered bars, nightclubs and water parks to close again for at least a month starting Monday night — a dramatic about-face as coronavirus cases surge in the Sunbelt. (Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool) (Michael Chow/)

Kylie Davis, a 23-year-old bartender in Tampa, Florida, had returned to work May 23 after two months without a job, struggling to collect unemployment benefits from Florida’s backlogged system. The tips, she said, were good.

“People were so understanding,” she said, “that we had been out of work for a while and were extremely generous.”

Yet after a few weeks, Davis was coughing and exhausted and had lost her sense of taste and smell. On June 12, she tested positive for the virus and couldn’t return to work when Florida bars reopened. Neither, it turns out, could many others. As Florida’s reported cases spiked to record highs the past two weeks, with 9,000 cases recorded in one day last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered bars to shut down again.

And just like that, Davis and others found themselves unemployed for the second time this year.

The jarring reversal underscores what many economists had been stressing for months: That the economy and the job market can't regain their health until business shutdowns have lasted long enough to reduce infections and most Americans feel confident enough to return to restaurants, bars, hotels, shopping malls and airports.

In the meantime, a resurgence of cases and re-closings of businesses is increasingly evident. The data firm Womply found that the proportion of bars that are closed in Texas, Florida, Tennessee and some other states started climbing last week after having declined fairly steadily since April or early May.

In many cases, it seems, customers themselves, rather than government edict, have driven that trend. A study by Austan Goolsbee and Chad Syverson of the University of Chicago found that Americans chose to stay home or avoid crowded stores this spring not so much because authorities told them to as out of fear stemming from reports of COVID deaths. Their study used cellphone data to track consumer traffic.

“It is the virus, not lockdowns, that dictates the course of the economy,” said Yongseok Shin, an economist at Washington University and a research fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “We cannot have a full economic recovery without reining in the epidemic.

He added:

“We were worried about a second wave in the fall, but it now appears that we may have one very long wave. With the number of new cases high and rising, people will be slow to return to normal activities for fear of infection, and businesses will delay hiring and investment, lockdown or no lockdown.‘'

Even before Texas’s governor shut down bars in the states again last week, Michael Neff had decided to re-close his, the Cottonmouth Club in Houston. In March, Neff had initially closed the Cottonmouth and laid off his 10 employees. Late last month, he reopened. He brought back two employees with precautions — requiring customers to wear masks except when seated, eliminating bar seating, developing a contactless menu and erecting a barrier at the bar’s entrance.

It didn’t work. After being cooped up for months, bar-goers appeared in no mood for social distancing, especially when they could visit other bars with fewer restrictions. Employees at the Cottonmouth were spending most of their time monitoring customers’ behavior.

“You can’t create an environment people want to be in if you are scolding them the whole time,” Neff said.

Then he began hearing of bars where the entire staff had tested positive for the coronavirus. Two weeks ago, Neff decided to shut down again on his own.

“We couldn’t just be a magical COVID-free zone,” he said.

Financially, it has been difficult. But Neff said his landlord has allowed him to pay what he can so far.


A sign outside the West Alabama Icehouse shows the bar is closed Monday, June 29, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars again and scaled back restaurant dining on Friday as cases climbed to record levels after the state embarked on one of America's fastest reopenings. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (David J. Phillip/)

Likewise, Omar Yeefoon reopened his Dallas restaurant June 10 to “a pretty good reception,” after having been shuttered for three months. The comeback was fleeting. After four days, Yeefoon had to shut down again in the face of a COVID-19 resurgence in Texas and lay off two of the four workers he’d brought back.

“People’s minds — they still don’t feel comfortable,” Yeefoon said. “Psychologically, forcing this reopening and forcing everyone to go out -- I don’t know how it is playing out ... We in Texas have not been doing this right.‘'

Some business people have voiced frustration over the often contradictory and evolving directives from government authorities and by the impossible situation the virus has put them in.

“You open too soon, and people die,‘' said Dawn Nielsen, chief operating officer at Kolache Factory, which has 27 bakeries mostly around Houston. “You don’t open soon enough, and businesses die.‘'

Kolache Factory had reopened dining rooms for two weeks, then shut them back down on June 19 and returned to takeout and delivery only.

The re-closings are complicating prospects for a enduring economic recovery from the sudden and deep U.S. economic downturn. In a worst-case scenario, economists at IHS Markit warn, after a brief rebound, the economy could slip back into recession by the end of the year.

Economists Mark Vitner and Charlie Dougherty at Wells Fargo Securities note that the uptick in reported viral cases is occurring in cities like Dallas, Houston and Atlanta that have accounted for a disproportionate share of economic growth in recent years.

“The second-half economic recovery will be weaker and more sluggish than what we hoped for,‘' Shin of Washington University said, “precisely because we failed to contain the epidemic as effectively as we should have.‘'

___

Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee, and Kennedy from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. AP Business Writer Tali Arbel contributed to this report from New York.

Europe restricts visitors from the US amid virus resurgence

Tue, 2020-06-30 09:50

Passengers arrive at the Barcelona airport in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (EMILIO MORENATTI/)

The European Continent on Tuesday decided to reopen to visitors from 14 countries but not the U.S., where some of the states that pushed hardest and earliest to reopen their economies are now in retreat because of an alarming surge in confirmed coronavirus infections.

The European Union’s decision came a day after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey closed bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks, and officials in Republican and Democratic strongholds alike mandated the wearing of masks.

“We have to remain vigilant and keep our most vulnerable safe,” tweeted European Council President Charles Michel.

The EU extended its ban on visitors not just from the U.S. but from China and from countries such as Russia, Brazil and India where infections are running high. Britain dropped out of the EU in January and maintains its own rules, requiring arriving travelers to go into 14-day self-quarantine.

President Donald Trump suspended the entry of most Europeans in March.

[Coronavirus mutation has taken over the world. Scientists are trying to understand why.]

Americans make up a big share of Europe's tourism industry, and summer is a key period. More than 15 million Americans travel to Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans head across the Atlantic.

The news was a blow to struggling shopkeepers hoping for a summertime boom.

“Americans were 50% of my clientele,” said Paola Pellizzari, who owns a mask and jewelry shop on the Saint-Louis island in the heart of Paris and heads its business association. “We can’t substitute that clientele with another.”

The Louvre museum is scheduled to reopen July 6. Americans used to be the largest single group of foreign visitors to the home of the “Mona Lisa.”

“When I returned after lockdown, five businesses had closed,” Pellizzari said. “As days go by, and I listen to the business owners, it gets worse.”

Sharmaigne Shives, an American who lives in Paris, said she hopes her countrymen can turn things around soon.

“Paris isn’t Paris when there aren’t people who really appreciate it and marvel at everything,” she said. “I miss that. Seriously, I feel the emotion welling up. It’s so sad here.”


FILE - In this Tuesday, April 7, 2020 file photo, a woman walks her dog on a Paris bridge, with the Eiffel tower in background, during a nationwide confinement to counter the COVID-19. The European Union announced Tuesday, June 30, 2020 that it will reopen its borders to travelers from 14 countries, but most Americans have been refused entry for at least another two weeks due to soaring coronavirus infections in the U.S. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File) (Christophe Ena/)

Across the English Channel, things are also headed in reverse in places.

Britain reimposed a lockdown in Leicester, a city of 330,000 people that officials said accounted for 10% of all new coronavirus cases in the nation last week. Stores closed their doors, and schools prepared to send children home.

“I opened my shop last week for the first time and saw an instant increase in orders, and now I worry this change will go back to no orders,” said James West, who runs a design and printing business in Thurmaston, just outside Leicester.

The coronavirus has been blamed for over a half-million deaths worldwide, including about 130,000 in the U.S., where the number of confirmed infections has rocketed over the past month to around 40,000 per day, primarily in the South and West. A large share of the cases are among young people who are going out again to bars and restaurants.

On Capitol Hill, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warned: “I would not be surprised if we go up to to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned.” He cited scenes of people socializing in crowds, often without masks.

States such as Texas, Florida and California are backtracking, closing beaches and bars or rolling back restaurant capacity in some cases.

“Our expectation is that our numbers next week will be worse,” Ducey said in Arizona, where for seven times in 10 days, the number of new cases per day has surpassed the 3,000 mark.

Also Monday, Los Angeles announced it will close beaches and ban fireworks displays over the Fourth of July. And New Jersey's governor said he is postponing the restarting of indoor dining because people have not been wearing masks or complying with other social-distancing rules.

In Florida, Walt Disney World forged ahead with plans to reopen on July 11, despite a spike in confirmed cases in the past week.

The state on Tuesday reported more than 6,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 8,000 new cases were recorded on each of three days late last week. Florida has seen more than 3,500 deaths.

Hospital intensive care units are starting to fill up. Miami's Baptist Hospital had only six of its 82 ICU beds available, state officials said.

On Monday, the city of Jacksonville, where President Donald Trump is expected to accept the Republican nomination in August, required the wearing of masks. Florida Republicans said they will adopt safety precaution for the event, including their own special mask design.

“I think we can do it in a way where you can follow the social guidelines that are in place but still have a successful event,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, Florida GOP chairman.

Van Johnson, mayor of the tourism-dependent city of Savannah, Georgia, population 145,000, announced he is requiring the wearing of masks, with violators subject to $500 fines.

Savannah becomes one of the first cities in Georgia to take such a step. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has largely prohibited local governments from imposing rules stricter than the state's.

___

Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.

Supreme Court lifts ban on state aid to religious schooling

Tue, 2020-06-30 09:37

In this June 29, 2020, photo, the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

WASHINGTON — States can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education, a divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

By a 5-4 vote with the conservatives in the majority, the justices upheld a Montana scholarship program that allows state tax credits for private schooling in which almost all the recipients attend religious schools.

The Montana Supreme Court had struck down the K-12 private education scholarship program that was created by the Legislature in 2015 to make donors eligible for up to $150 in state tax credits. The state court had ruled that the tax credit violated the Montana constitution’s ban on state aid to religious schools.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion that said the state ruling itself ran afoul of the religious freedom, embodied in the U.S. Constitution, of parents who want the scholarships to help pay for their children’s private education. “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Roberts wrote.

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the ruling as “perverse.”

“Without any need or power to do so, the Court appears to require a State to reinstate a tax-credit program that the Constitution did not demand in the first place,” she said.

Parents whose children attend religious schools sued to preserve the program. The high court decision upholds families’ rights “to exercise our religion as we see fit,” said Kendra Espinoza, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit whose two daughters attend the Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Montana, near Glacier National Park.

Roughly three-dozen states have similar no-aid provisions in their constitutions. Courts in some states have relied on those provisions to strike down religious-school funding.

Two states with existing private education programs, Maine and Vermont, could see quick efforts to force them to allow religious schools to participate.

Attorney General William Barr praised the ruling as “an important victory for religious liberty and religious equality in the United States.” The Trump administration supported the parents’ Supreme Court appeal.

Advocates for allowing state money to be used in private schooling said the court recognized in its decision that parents should not be penalized for sending their children to schools that are a better fit than the public schools.

“This opinion will pave the way for more states to pass school choice programs that allow parents to choose a school that best meets their child’s individual needs, regardless of whether those schools are religious or nonreligious,” said Erica Smith, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented the parents in their court fight.

But the president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, which counts more than 12,000 teachers and other school workers as union members, called the decision “a slap in the face” to its members and the communities they serve.

“Today’s decision violates Montana’s commitment to public education, our children, and our constitution. Extremist special interests are manipulating our tax code to rob Montana children of quality education while padding the pockets of those who run exclusive, discriminatory private schools,” union president Amanda Curtis said.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito pointed to evidence of anti-Catholic bigotry that he said motivated the original adoption of the Montana provision and others like it in the 1800s, although Montana’s constitution was redone in 1972 with the provision intact. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose two daughters attend Catholic schools, made a similar point during arguments in January when he talked about the “grotesque religious bigotry” against Catholics that underlay the amendment.

The decision was the latest in a line of decisions from the Supreme Court, which now includes Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, that have favored religion-based discrimination claims. In 2014, the justices allowed family-held, for-profit businesses with religious objections to get out from under a requirement to pay for contraceptives for women covered under their health insurance plans. In 2017, the court ruled for a Missouri church that had been excluded from state grants to put softer surfaces in playgrounds.

The high court also is weighing a Trump administration policy that would make it easier for employers to claim a religious or moral exemption and avoid paying for contraceptives for women covered by their health plans. Still another case would shield religious institutions from more employment discrimination claims.

The Supreme Court also has upheld some school voucher programs and state courts have ratified others.

McGrath wins Kentucky Dem primary; McConnell showdown awaits

Tue, 2020-06-30 08:57

FILE - In this June 22, 2020, file photo, Amy McGrath, a candidate for the Democratic nomination to U.S. Senate, speaks to people during a visit to Thankful Hearts Food Pantry in Pikeville, Ky. One of Kentucky’s most unpredictable political races in years is headed toward a possible photo finish Tuesday. That's when results from the primary will be announced after a week of counting absentee ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic. Early results showed progressive candidate Charles Booker and establishment-backed McGrath almost neck-and-neck as of late Monday afternoon. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP, File) (Ryan C. Hermens/)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Former Marine pilot Amy McGrath overcame a bumpier-than-expected Kentucky primary to win the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination Tuesday, fending off progressive Charles Booker to set up a bruising, big-spending showdown with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Voting ended June 23, but it took a week until McGrath could be declared the winner due to the race’s tight margins and a deluge of mail-in ballots. The outcome seemed a certainty early in the campaign but became tenuous as Booker’s profile surged as the Black state lawmaker highlighted protests against the deaths of African Americans in encounters with police.

It was a narrow victory for McGrath. With 89% of precincts reporting Tuesday afternoon, she had a nearly 9,500-vote advantage over Booker.

Kentucky switched to widespread absentee voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, and election officials needed days to count ballots. McConnell, a key ally to President Donald Trump, already breezed to victory in the GOP primary in his bid for a seventh term.

Since last summer, McConnell and McGrath looked past their primaries to skirmish with each other, and now those attacks are expected to intensify as they head into the fall campaign.

McGrath was backed by the Democratic establishment looking for a challenger to keep McConnell tied down in Kentucky as the GOP tries to hold its Senate majority. She raised prodigious amounts of campaign cash that put her on equal footing with the always-well-funded McConnell.

Despite her advantages, McGrath sweated out her primary victory against the hard-charging Booker.

Booker’s long-shot Senate bid surged amid the national eruption of protests against police brutality. He joined demonstrations in his hometown of Louisville to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by Louisville police in her own home. Booker gained the backing of leading national progressives as he supported a universal basic income and Medicare for All — ideas that McGrath resisted.

McGrath charted a more moderate course inside Democratic politics. She supports adding a public health insurance option as part of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and supports expanded access to Medicare for people 55 and older.

She portrays McConnell as an overly partisan, Washington insider who exemplifies what’s wrong with national politics. She accuses McConnell of undermining labor unions, awarding tax cuts for the wealthy and cozying up to pharmaceutical companies while people struggle to afford prescription drugs.

McConnell accuses her of being too liberal for Kentucky on issues ranging from abortion to border security. He promotes his work with President Donald Trump — who remains popular in Kentucky — to appoint conservatives to fill federal court seats. McConnell also plays up his Senate leadership role and his ability to steer federal money back to the Bluegrass State.

Trump could turn into a focal point in the Senate race.

McConnell led the effort to defend the president after House Democrats impeached him. McGrath has said she would have voted to convict Trump on both impeachment counts. She accused of the GOP-led Senate of lacking “the guts” to put a check on “out-of-control presidential power.”

In initial step, Alaska approves chunk of BP’s $5.6 billion deal with Hilcorp

Tue, 2020-06-30 07:13

Hilcorp Alaska is one of the occupants at the JL Tower office building at 3800 Centerpoint Drive in Midtown Anchorage. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Alaska agencies have approved the sale of BP Alaska’s oil field assets to Hilcorp Energy, completing a major portion of the $5.6 billion transaction announced by the two companies last August.

Still incomplete is a separate review by another state agency, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, involving BP’s stake in the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline and associated infrastructure to help transport the produced oil to market.

“Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in the BP-Hilcorp review process,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement to reporters on Monday.

The approval on Monday by the state Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Conservation permits BP to transfer its interest in 176 oil and gas leases on the North Slope, and in more than 250 surface-use permits, the agencies said in a statement.

The Department of Environmental Conservation approved the transfer of environmental safety permits and response plans, and established Hilcorp’s responsibility for existing contaminated sites.

Hilcorp will take over operation of the giant Prudhoe Bay oil field from BP Alaska, the statement said.

The approval will allow the companies to close on the portion of the sale involving oil and gas production, called “upstream” activity in industry jargon.

“We are on track to close on the upstream portion of the sale today,” said Megan Baldino, a BP spokeswoman, on Tuesday.

The announcement followed a months-long review by state officials of Hilcorp’s finances and agreements underpinning the deal, the statement from the agencies said.

The state also hired outside experts to review Hilcorp’s financial reports, the statement said.

The agencies obtained financial assurances from Hilcorp for the increased duties it will take on in Alaska, the statement said. The agencies also secured an agreement from BP to guarantee secondary liability for future costs of removing equipment and restoring the land, the statement said.

A governor’s oversight committee, consisting of state officials who helped analyze the transaction, released a report on Monday summarizing the review efforts.

Skeptics have questioned privately owned Hilcorp’s relatively small size and safety record, asking whether it has the financial capability to cover critical costs, including for a major oil spill should one occur.

Supporters have praised Hilcorp’s innovative approach, including its $90 million upgrade of the oil and gas delivery system in Cook Inlet in 2018 to reduce the risk of an oil and gas leak.

[Related: BP will sell all its Alaska assets to Hilcorp]

Natural Resources commissioner Corri Feige said the state conducted 10 months of analysis and stress-testing of Hilcorp’s ability to take over BP’s role.

“I am confident that the transfer of these leases and facilities both protects and advances Alaska’s interests,” Feige said in the statement.

The companies had hoped to fully complete the deal by Tuesday.

But the Regulatory Commission of Alaska in April increased its scrutiny of Hilcorp’s finances following the oil-price plunge sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the drop in prices, BP accepted lower payment this year from Hilcorp, although the companies retained the original transaction price.

The RCA’s review of the pipeline deal is expected to be completed by Sept. 28, the statement said.

The office of the State Pipeline Coordinator is also evaluating Hilcorp’s capability for taking over BP’s role in the trans-Alaska pipeline and related pipelines.

Hilcorp has previously said it will hire about half of BP’s former workforce of 1,500 employees to run the North Slope fields, while adding other workers. Hilcorp, based in Houston, Texas, has grown rapidly in Alaska since arriving about a decade ago.

The sale, once fully complete, will mark the end of BP’s presence in Alaska. The company has worked in the state for more than 60 years, playing a pioneering role in the North Slope oil fields that helped build the state’s economy.

[Related: Hilcorp wants finances kept private in Alaska deal with BP, leading to calls for transparency]

[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]

White House aware of Russian bounties in 2019

Tue, 2020-06-30 06:09

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2017 file photo, American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan. Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File) (Rahmat Gul/)

Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence.

The assessment was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials. Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues at the time that he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.

The White House didn’t respond to questions about Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019. The White House has said Trump wasn’t — and still hasn’t been — briefed on the intelligence assessments because they haven’t been fully verified. However, it’s rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.

Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked by the AP if he’d briefed Trump about the matter in 2019. On Sunday, he suggested to NBC that Trump was claiming ignorance of Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of response.

“He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said.

The revelations cast new doubt on the White House’s efforts to distance Trump from the Russian intelligence assessments. The AP reported Sunday that concerns about Russian bounties also were in a second written presidential daily briefing this year and that current national security adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump. O’Brien denies doing that.

On Monday, O’Brien said that while the intelligence assessments regarding Russian bounties “have not been verified,” the administration has “been preparing should the situation warrant action.”

The administration’s earlier awareness of the Russian efforts raises additional questions about why Trump didn’t take punitive action against Moscow for efforts that put the lives of American service members at risk. Trump has sought throughout his time in office to improve relations with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, moving this year to try to reinstate Russia as part of a group of world leaders it had been kicked out of.

Officials said they didn’t consider the intelligence assessments in 2019 to be particularly urgent, given Russian meddling in Afghanistan isn’t a new occurrence. The officials with knowledge of Bolton’s apparent briefing for Trump said it contained no “actionable intelligence,” meaning the intelligence community didn’t have enough information to form a strategic plan or response. However, the classified assessment of Russian bounties was the sole purpose of the meeting.

The officials insisted on anonymity because they weren't authorized to disclose the highly sensitive information.

The intelligence that surfaced in early 2019 indicated Russian operatives had become more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2012 during the Obama administration.

The National Security Council and the undersecretary of defense for intelligence held meetings regarding the intelligence. The NSC didn't respond to questions about the meetings.

Late Monday, the Pentagon issued a statement saying it was evaluating the intelligence but so far had “no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations.”

“Regardless, we always take the safety and security of our forces in Afghanistan — and around the world — most seriously and therefore continuously adopt measures to prevent harm from potential threats,” said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

Concerns about Russian bounties flared anew this year after members of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known to the public as SEAL Team Six, raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500,000 in U.S. currency. The funds bolstered the suspicions of the American intelligence community that Russians had offered money to Taliban militants and linked associations.

The White House contends the president was unaware of this development, too.

The officials told the AP that career government officials developed potential options for the White House to respond to the Russian aggression in Afghanistan, which was first reported by The New York Times. However, the Trump administration has yet to authorize any action.

The intelligence in 2019 and 2020 surrounding Russian bounties was derived in part from debriefings of captured Taliban militants. Officials with knowledge of the matter told the AP that Taliban operatives from opposite ends of the country and from separate tribes offered similar accounts.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Russian intelligence officers had offered payments to the Taliban in exchange for targeting U.S. and coalition forces.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Taliban’s chief negotiator, a spokesman for the insurgents said Tuesday, but it was unknown whether there was any mention during their conversation of allegations about Russian bounties. Pompeo pressed the insurgents to reduce violence in Afghanistan and discussed ways of advancing a U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February, the Taliban spokesman tweeted.

The U.S. is investigating whether Americans died because of the Russian bounties. Officials are focused on an April 2019 attack on an American convoy. Three U.S. Marines were killed after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department identified them as Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, of Newark, Delaware; Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, of York, Pennsylvania; and Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, New York. They were infantrymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve infantry unit headquartered out of Garden City, New York.

Hendriks' father told the AP that even a rumor of Russian bounties should have been immediately addressed.

“If this was kind of swept under the carpet as to not make it a bigger issue with Russia, and one ounce of blood was spilled when they knew this, I lost all respect for this administration and everything,” Erik Hendriks said.

Three other service members and an Afghan contractor were wounded in the attack. As of April 2019, the attack was under a separate investigation, unrelated to the Russian bounties.

The officials who spoke to the AP also said they were looking closely at insider attacks from 2019 to determine if they were linked to Russian bounties.

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