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Trump signs extension of COVID-relief PPP fund for businesses

18 0 05 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday signed into law a temporary extension of a subsidy program for small businesses battered by the coronavirus.

The legislation extends the June 30 deadline for applying for the Paycheck Protection Program to Aug. 8. Lawmakers created the program in March and have modified it twice since, adding money on one occasion and more recently permitting more flexible use of the funding despite some grumbling among GOP conservatives.

About $130 billion of $660 billion approved for the program remains eligible for businesses to seek direct federal subsidies for payroll and other costs such as rent, though demand for the Paycheck Protection Program has pretty much dried up in recent weeks.

The Democratic-controlled House voted on Wednesday to approve the extension of the program after the Republican-controlled Senate did the same.

Trump had been expected to sign the measure.

In Independence Day address, Trump condemns left, media

13 0 05 Jul 2020

President Donald Trump on Saturday criticized American progressives, protesters and the media as he celebrated the Fourth of July with a “Salute to America” on the White House South Lawn.

He continued the attack he started Friday night at the foot of Mount Rushmore, portraying those protesting the death of George Floyd and toppling monuments as the nation’s enemies.

“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists the anarchists, the agitators, the looters and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” Trump said from a podium with first lady Melania Trump seated nearby.

The invite-only event came during some of the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic but did not have the crowd density of the Mount Rushmore speech. Saturday’s attendees included members of law enforcement, the military and their families and doctors and nurses.

Trump lashed out at the protests, which a majority of Americans support and that continue more than a month after Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody.

“We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statutes, erase our history, indoctrinate our children or trample our freedoms,” Trump said. “We will safeguard our values, traditions, customs and beliefs.”

Trump lashed out at the news media for what he said was slander against himself, the American people and “generations who gave their lives for America.”

Statues of Confederate leaders who fought for slavery have been a major target of demonstrators’ takedowns, and Trump said Saturday that the media has participated in desecration by slandering those who died fighting the Civil War.

“You slander their memory by insisting they fought for oppression and racism,” Trump said. “You slander people much braver and more principled than you.”

He recited the names of Americans he said would be honored in a National Garden of Statues that he announced on Friday by executive order. They include Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman.

“The patriots who built our country were not villains,” Trump said, “They were heroes.”

As calls for police reform continue across the country, he praised officers, saying many have been “facing down violent assaults by very bad people.”

He blamed China for the struggles with COVID-19 as the U.S. leads the world in cases at more than 2.8 million.

“China must be held fully accountable,” he said.

Trump promised a vaccine “long before the end of the year”—an optimistic estimate shared by few medical experts.

He wrapped up his address by saying, “Our country is in great shape.”

Winston Wilde contributed.

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Those most vulnerable to coronavirus urge public responsibility amid surge

14 0 04 Jul 2020

Casey Rogalski describes himself as a 38-year-old father of two with a full head of hair. But he was also diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in June of last year. Since then, he has had to undergo surgery and 12 rounds of chemotherapy, along with a liver operation in March and a spinal operation in May, all while living in Arizona, where coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging.

Now, every daily decision — whether he and his wife go to the grocery store or take their 9-year-old son or 7-year-old daughter out on a walk — takes on new meaning. Is it worth the risk?

“It is 100 percent life or death, whether you contract the disease and you get it or it affects how you receive one of your treatments or procedures. It is life and death,” Rogalski said in an interview.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been setting records in recent weeks in states like Arizona, Texas and Florida.

The data have shown that the spikes have been driven in large part by young people, while older people and those with compromised immune systems remain highly vulnerable.

Casey Rogalski and his wife, Megan.Courtesy Phoenix Cancer Support Network

“My message is be respectful of everyone around you. You might not think it’s going to affect you, but the person next to you, they could have something going on,” Rogalski said. “I hate to say it, but I’m a great example. If we met face to face, you would have no idea that I’m going through any of this.”

Elaine Ryan, vice president of state advocacy for AARP, said the underpinning emotion has been fear in tele-town halls and focus groups the organization is conducting with members.

She said people were asking: “How do I manage my health during this time? Is it safe to go to the doctor?”

Ryan implored younger people in states where cases are spiking to take the pandemic seriously.

“We are inextricably tied together, and it’s never more true than during this pandemic. You can see the pandemic has no borders. It doesn’t discriminate based on age. It doesn’t even let you know that you’re infected, and so at this time, at the height of pandemic, we really have to feel that common sense of responsibility to each other,” she said.

Diane Pope, a retired public health nurse in San Antonio, Texas, talked about the pain of no longer being able to visit her 95-year-old father Gerald who lives in a home for Alzheimer’s patients. Before the pandemic, she was able to take him out on long drives to keep his mind stimulated.

Now their interactions are limited to phone calls because of coronavirus safety concerns. Pope now has to explain to her father every time she calls him why she can no longer come to see him.

“Every time I talk to him, it’s a whole new thing, ‘Why can’t you come see me?'” Pope said. “We have to go through the process every single time and that just breaks my heart.”

While she is very happy with the care he is receiving at Brookdale Nacogdoches and says they have not had a case of a resident or staff member getting ill with coronavirus, she worries about the lack of human connection with her.

“When I look at people going out into the public now, what I see is the prolonged time that I’m not going to get to be with my dad while he is losing his memory,” she said.

Pope, 74, said that with her own age, “I had to make a commitment to follow the public health initiatives that we have here and that is for older people to stay home.”

She said, even before the recent spike in Texas, she only went out for doctor’s visits and an occasional drive.

As for those who are going out without precautions and potentially contributing to the spike in cases, “I would love to be able to say, think of your grandmother, think of your mother and father.”

“We have beautiful weather, people want to get outside, I understand, I do too, but I am willing to give that up to follow the health regulations that are being suggested strongly,” she said.

AARP has been calling for transparency in reporting of data on cases in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, access to personal protective equipment, staffing standards, mortgage foreclosure protections and eviction protections, Ryan said.

Nursing home residents account for nearly 1 in 10 of all the coronavirus cases in the United States and more than a quarter of the deaths, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data released last month. About 1.4 million older and medically frail people live in such facilities, according to the AP.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week during a news conference that “people are infecting other people, and ultimately you will infect someone who’s vulnerable.”

“You have an individual responsibility to yourself, but you have a societal responsibility, because if we want to end this outbreak, really end it … we’ve got to realize that we are part of the process,” he said.

Speaking before Congress on Tuesday, Fauci said the number of daily new infections could more than double unless the nation can control the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are now having [40,000+] new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around,” Fauci said. “Clearly we are not in total control.”

Meanwhile, states across the country have paused reopenings, with several closing businesses they had previously opened. Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and Michigan have either fully or partially shut down bars, theaters and gyms in parts of their states following the recent swell of cases.

Jenny Martin, founder of the Phoenix Cancer Support Network, said clients have needed more help to get to their treatments after the America Cancer Society stopped providing transportation through volunteers during the pandemic. Such costs had been about $2,000 a month. Now they are up to $5,000.

Martin said she founded the nonprofit after her sister Annie died of cancer at age 24. Rogalski is a client.

The group has also provided services like assistance with groceries and meals and help with copayments and cleaning services.

“I’m scared they won’t leave their house and get their scan and their cancer will progress and they’ll die,” she said. “There’s just this terrible choice for them to make.”

Download the NBC News app for full coverage and alerts about the coronavirus outbreak

Rogalski was hoping to start a new antibody treatment, which would be less invasive than the previous radiation treatment he had been getting. But all of that would depend on his staying healthy.

Given the rise in new cases, he urged everyone to practice personal responsibility and to be mindful of the people around them who might have health challenges that aren’t apparent.

“It’s just kind of crazy, this whole thing. You don’t realize how one little virus can affect your whole, entire world and everything around you,” he said.

“Any little hiccup in the plan can cause major issues,” he said, adding that his goal is to continue his treatment and get better for his family.

“I want to be here,” he said.

Almost inevitable: Why sports leagues cant avoid the reality of the coronavirus

10 0 04 Jul 2020

U.S. sports leagues working to resume play have devised elaborate plans in an effort to hold off the coronavirus: players living in isolated “bubble” communities, regular testing and even connected devices to monitor player health.

But there’s little hope of keeping the coronavirus out entirely. It’s a given that players will test positive, according to people from both the medical and the sports industries.

“Having a case is almost inevitable, so it’ll be about minimizing the chain reaction,” said a person who is familiar with the plans developed by the NBA and MLB, who was not authorized to discuss them publicly. “The whole strategy is to minimize the chance of being shut down again, but they’re fully prepared to have some players become infected.”

The surging coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow over once-optimistic plans for professional sports in the United States to resume as they have in some other parts of the world.

And while no league has yet backed off plans to restart, few signs are pointing in the right direction. New cases continue to crop up daily across nearly all professional and amateur sports, and some athletes have said they intend to sit out the season. Outbreaks in parts of the U.S. set to host the games are leading to renewed lockdowns.

The NBA’s plan, which may be the most extensive and viable, has received praise from several experts, including the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci. But it still may not work if cases spike within the league or to extreme levels in the host cities. That raises the question of just how feasible it is for sports to return, especially for leagues without the more than 100-page safety protocol being adopted by the NBA.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said repeatedly that even with a thorough plan, there’s no guarantee that play will resume.

“[It’s] never ‘full steam no matter what,’” he reiterated in an interview with Time on Tuesday. “One thing we’re learning about this virus is that much is unpredictable.”

Each league’s plan has vulnerabilities. With the bubble models being followed by the NBA, Major League Soccer and the NHL, there’s still the risk of outside infection from hotel and transportation staff. Models that don’t use a bubble, like those proposed by MLB and the NFL, rely on players self-isolating responsibly.

The NHL didn’t respond to a request for comment. When asked about the possibility of needing to suspend play again, spokespeople for MLB, the NFL, MLS and the NBA expressed confidence in their reopening plans.

All models face the possibility that so many players could test positive that a team or the league as a whole could be hobbled. The success of any model is also dependent on what’s happening in host cities since a severe spike in cases could affect the optics of continued play.

Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist who also works in the sports industry, said part of what has made it so challenging to bring back sports is the fact that the U.S. still doesn’t have the virus under control.

“The plan that you build has to work for the situation around you. If your country is doing worse at controlling the virus, then you need a stricter plan,” he said. “We’re reaping what we sowed in the U.S. Our response was late and weak, and we still haven’t gotten it under control in many areas, so that makes it harder for sports to come back.”

That includes Florida where MLS and the NBA are set to resume play this month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at the Walt Disney World Resort. On Saturday, Florida set a single-day record with more than 9,500 new cases.

MLS is set to resume play July 8. Nearly 400 players and staff members recently entered the league’s bubble in Orlando, Fla. On Tuesday, there were four new players who tested positive, making for a total of 30 cases among the players and the staff members. MLS said it will continue to test players every other day as well as the day before matches.

Binney said getting players into their “bubble” communities is a challenge.

“The transition into the bubble is the hardest part,” he said. “Before they’ve been in the bubble for five to seven days, I would expect that every round of testing yields at least one positive.”

A sign at the entrance to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World on June 3, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla.John Raoux / AP file

The NBA, which is scheduled to resume its season July 30, announced Friday that it had 16 new COVID-19 cases. Players and staff members have yet to enter the NBA’s bubble but when they do, they’ll face the most regulated set of guidelines yet defined by any league.

But there’s some question of whether all players will abide by the rules.

“It’s really hard to say whether athletes are more or less at risk in the environment the NBA is proposing,” Rachel Nichols, host of ESPN’s “The Jump,” said.

“It really depends on what they’re doing at home. Athletes Instagram everything and we see some of these guys in their normal lives,” she said. “Absolutely some of them may be taking the same level of precautions that will be in place in Orlando, but it’s possible that going into Orlando some athletes may be in a situation where they’re less at risk.”

The NHL, which is also planning to use a bubble model in two hub cities, hasn’t announced any formal dates for a return to play. On Monday, it confirmed 26 players tested positive.

MLB and the NFL are the only major sports leagues moving forward with plans that don’t involve keeping players in a bubble. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has expressed skepticism about play resuming successfully outside of a bubble scenario, but ultimately it’s up to the leagues.

The NFL referenced comments made in mid-June by its chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, in response to Fauci’s comments.

“Make no mistake, this is no easy task,” Sills said. “We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”

The NFL is set to start its season Sept. 10 and so far hasn’t announced any changes to its regular schedule.

“100 percent, they’re going to play games,” Marcellus Wiley, a former NFL player and co-host of “Speak for Yourself” on Fox Sports, said. “But 100 percent, a player or many players will test positive.”

With regard to the risks athletes face and the sacrifices they’ll have to make, he said those things come with the territory of being a professional athlete.

“From July through January, minus a trip here or there, I was always away from my family when I was playing,” Wiley said. “You get paid the big bucks to do the things you don’t want to do.”

However, he said, most of the concerns he’s hearing are selfless: players concerned about family members who are more susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 or have preexisting conditions.

Already numerous athletes across multiple sports have said they won’t be participating when their respective seasons resume over concerns about their safety and that of their loved ones.

MLB is planning to return July 23 or 24 with a 60-game regular season but Minor League Baseball was forced to cancel its entire 2020 season Tuesday. When MLB returns, it will do so with changes such as a ban on spitting and an effort to prevent pitchers from licking their fingers before throwing the ball.

The 2020 MLB Operations Manual notes that its plan has received approval from the commissioner and the players association and was made in consultation with experts. It will include “interlocking safeguards from the community to the ballpark to maintain the health and safety of all personnel.”

But the person familiar with MLB’s plan said the league was “much less knowledgeable” about how to handle resuming play than the NBA. The person said the league hadn’t “thought through the issues at all by comparison” and was “far away from coming up with a strategy that will work.”

A spokesperson for MLB directed NBC News to its reopening manual, which said the league and club medical staff consulted with outside infectious disease experts and also reviewed the reopening plans from sports leagues around the world.

Binney also said he didn’t think its plan could work because it revolves around playing in home markets where people will be exposed to others.

He also takes issue with comments made by some MLB owners, who are looking to allow fans into their ballparks. But MLB isn’t the only sport considering admitting fans. The NASCAR All-Star Open, Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500 are all currently selling tickets for people to attend their events.

“You lose me completely when you talk about sports with fans. I think it’s ridiculous,” Binney said. “That is something we have not put in the work for. Any number of fans is begging for a superspreading event only to line the pockets of an owner or stadium authority … It genuinely blows my mind.”

Binney said that overwhelmed hospitals also pose a risk to player safety if there’s an emergency and a local hospital is full of COVID-19 patients. But one of his biggest concerns as cases spike in certain areas is actually related to the frequent testing that leagues are proposing.

“If you’re sitting there on a pile of tests, testing all of your players and staff every day while around you the city does not have enough tests for the people who need them … it becomes a question of humanity and morality, even in sports I think it does,” he said.

Pubs in England reopen despite lingering coronavirus fears

10 0 04 Jul 2020

LONDON — Perhaps nothing is as quintessential to British culture as a pub.

Beer-guzzling Brits have been deprived of their regular haunts since the country shut down abruptly in March, as the coronavirus pandemic spread.

Dotted on almost every street corner, pubs are part of the fabric of British life — a place to gather, chat and imbibe. But for the last few months, Britons have been forced to drink at home.

That will change Saturday, when pubs in England are officially allowed to reopen — a date already dubbed “Independence Day” by many revelers and referred to in the tabloid press as “Super Saturday.”

Pubs in Scotland and Wales are expected to reopen later this month, while they reopened Friday in Northern Ireland.

Bar stools will be dusted off, counters wiped with sanitizer and hearths re-lit, as pubs prepare to open their doors — with many parched pubgoers delighted.

“We want to get back to being human,” Ian Snowball, a bar owner, told NBC News.

“There is a genuine excitement,” he said. “They want to let their hair down.”

Snowball, the proprietor of the Showtime bar in the northern English city of Huddersfield, is wasting no time, reopening early Saturday morning.

His establishment can normally hold around 500 people but due to restrictions, with people needing to stay at least 3ft apart, he expects to squeeze in about 175 customers.

Drinkers at his family-run establishment, opened in 2018, will need to register their names and addresses with reception on entering — to be tracked and traced should the virus later be detected — and have their temperatures taken before going into the main bar.

They will then be led to a numbered table with floor markings creating clear one-way paths. Although toilets will be open, cameras will be used throughout the building to make sure crowds don’t build up.

Snowball admits the atmosphere may feel “subdued” compared to life before the virus but says he expects people will be happy to be out again.

“There’s going to be a massive demand,” he predicts, cheerfully, adding that the local police had already promised to provide extra patrols in the area over the weekend, should the merriment spill over into anti-social behavior.

Police forces across England have warned partygoers to drink sensibly and be mindful of social distancing restrictions still in place. Authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of scenes last month when thousands disregarded safety guidelines and flocked to the English coast during the hot weather.

Britain’s National Health Service, still feeling the strain of the coronavirus, is worried that heavy-drinkers may stretch services.

“It would be heartbreaking to see Emergency Departments overwhelmed on the first post-lockdown evening by people who have gotten too drunk or been in a fight,” Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned in a statement.

Owner Are Kjetil Kolltveit places markers for social distancing on the front of the bar at the Chandos Arms pub in London, Wednesday.Frank Augstein / AP

About 80 percent of the 37,500 pubs in England will likely reopen, according to the British Beer and Pub Association, a trade body.

But despite being venerated within British society, pubs have dwindled in recent years, closing up as rents rise, supermarkets heavily discount beers and health-conscious younger generations turn away from alcohol.

But the pandemic has been fatal for many pubs, with owners across the country forced to pour away and discard at least 70 million pints of beer since the lockdown began, the British Beer and Pub Association estimates.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was himself hospitalized with the coronavirus in April, has urged the country not to overdo it this weekend when the lockdown eases.

Meanwhile, as a show of support, Prince William headed to his local pub in Norfolk on Friday, close to the Royal Sandringham Estate, to sip cider and chat to the bar’s staff about their experiences during the pandemic.

Hair salons, restaurants and museums will also be reopening Saturday as Britain’s hard-hit economy begins to feel its way out of the public health crisis, which has killed almost 44,000 people, according to official figures.

The U.K. has one of the highest death tolls from COVID-19 in the world.

While Leicester, a city in the middle of England, has had its lockdown restrictions reimposed after a local flare-up this week, proof that the deadly virus still lurks.

A worker serves a beer at London’s Holland Tringham pub after it reopened following the coronavirus outbreak on Saturday.HANNAH MCKAY / Reuters

Not all pubs are keen to dip their toes in this weekend.

The Red Lion and Sun, a pub in north London, has decided to keep its doors closed to customers but will serve takeaway drinks.

“No one wants to open pubs more than me, but we must do it safely for you our customers, and our staff,” its owner Heath Ball wrote on Instagram. “We won’t jump back in on the 4th of July … people over pound notes.”

Lawrence Ambrose, 51, is savoring a pint of Guinness at his local London pub. But said he expects Saturday to be “a melee of madness” with large drunken crowds and busy public transport — and still fears the virus.

“I’m not going to rush out on Saturday, it’s going to be bedlam,” he told NBC News.

The America of Hamilton, not Trump, is the one I chose to become a citizen of this year

7 0 04 Jul 2020

“Boy, did you pick a time to become an American citizen! Are you sure you made the right decision?” My friends from abroad have recently asked these questions, with varying degrees of sarcasm and concern.

They are valid questions.

The United States has suffered social and political division since its inception, but lately it seems like the fabric of American democracy is stretching thinner and thinner, torn apart by three parallel epidemics: COVID-19, a fast-growing recession and racial strife flaring across the country.

My country of origin was torn apart by corruption, division and lack of leadership. We cannot let that happen — let alone encourage it — here.

It was only a few months back, on Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day, no less — that I declared my love to this country by becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in one of the last swearing-in ceremonies before the coronavirus halted that tradition, and everyday life for that matter. I was exhilarated! Getting to this point was challenging emotionally and financially. I had been waiting in line, albeit not always patiently, for over 11 years to take my oath of allegiance.

As I pushed back tears after singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving a pint-sized flag, I hastily opened the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services packet handed to me. There it was: not a love letter, but a pact.

“Dear Fellow American,” President Donald J. Trump wrote. “No matter where you come from … you share the sacred rights, responsibilities, and duties that unite us as one people.”

Being a journalist who is originally from Venezuela, where an op-ed questioning the government can put your life at risk, I feel compelled to take Trump at his word, put in the work and exercise my newly acquired First Amendment rights.

As an official member of this nation, I humbly ask the president to take a moment to listen to all sides — without taking sides — in the debate over the inequality and division fracturing America and then create a plan to tackle police brutality, the coronavirus and the looming economic crisis from all angles: legal, social, economic, ecological and, most importantly, human. That’s the only way we will get out of this mess in the best possible shape.

I’ve experienced the frustration of fighting to restore democracy in Venezuela and having the government respond with authoritarianism and tear gas. Even after what happened during the now-infamous Bible photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington — where protesters peacefully demonstrating against racial injustice across from the White House were hit with flash-bang grenades and showered with tear gas because the president wanted to clear the crowd to have his picture taken at a church across the street — I’d like to think Trump is not like Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro’s government has thrown tear gas canisters from choppers to disperse crowds, ordered armed vehicles to run over protesters and essentially starved his people to line his family’s pockets. Whatever the ideology — and I don’t condone Maduro’s — totalitarianism is equally destructive coming from the left or the right.

My country of origin was torn apart by corruption, division and lack of leadership. We cannot let that happen — let alone encourage it — here. You could say I come from the future and know what pandering and misleading tactics can do to a prosperous, democratic nation, like Venezuela used to be.

We don’t need a president who tosses paper towels and poses with a Bible, but one that provides precise information and solutions and promotes empathy. During my reporting trips, I’ve seen Trump be insensitive, like on his visit to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, but I’ve also seen him be comforting, as he did in going to the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael.

Now more than ever, we need that comfort — and a message of unity. That means not referring to COVID-19 as a “Chinese virus” or “kung flu,” since that term could encourage hate crimes against Asian Americans; surreptitiously enacting rules that will hurt refugees and immigrants; and calling protesters “thugs,” which literally means “ruffian” or “criminal” and is considered code for a racial slur.

Despite all of these actions and the crises this country is going through, I still decided to become an American because I know this nation is bigger than any of these ills. I am choosing to live under Trump, even though he’s so disparaging of immigrants, because we are more than four or eight years of turmoil. America is still very young!

I have seen the hope the United States inspires in the eyes of all the immigrants I’ve met throughout the years who have come here in search of a better future and found it — immigrants like Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, the 6-year-old girl whose devastating cries from a detention center put a face to the family-separation crisis at the border. I later interviewed her as she was going to school and putting up her first Christmas tree, instead of hiding from the menace of gang violence in her home country.

In my case, I was born with the waters of the Caribbean Sea grazing my feet, just like a certain Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, who grew up to be a hero and scholar. Like him, I came to America on a scholarship to Columbia University. For me, this is the country of Hamilton, of the American promise — not of Trump. I believe it will be immigrants and people from other historically marginalized groups who bring forth the new ideas and renewed optimism this nation needs to move forward.

I pledged allegiance to the flag that day in February surrounded by people from all over the world, people whose differences became blurred in a common cause in that moment: our loyalty to the United States. In retrospect, it seemed like a different country — full of hope and promise (and no face masks!) — than the one we’re living in right now.

But if I dug deeper, I would have seen the cracks; they have been there for centuries — as has the resilience of the American people.

I was in New York City when 9/11 happened. At 17 years old, I saw the bravery, the kindness and the strength pierce through the clouds of debris, hatred and terror. It drove me to choose and love this country more and more every day.

The most powerful part of Trump’s letter states, “Although you and your fellow naturalized citizens hail from many places and come from many backgrounds, as Americans, you all now bear the torch of American history.”

It is immigrants and those from other historically marginalized groups that will bring forth the new ideas and renewed optimism this nation needs to move forward.

In a time when Black Americans are watching their loved ones die in the streets and in their homes, when Latinx families are concerned for the health and safety of those service workers risking their lives to put food on our tables, when the entire world is looking for leadership, let’s light the torch! We can once again, as President Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address, be the “shining city upon a hill.” It is our destiny as Americans.

On this first Independence Day as a U.S. citizen, the immediate answer to my friends’ question is undoubtedly: yes. I’m glad I’ve become an American during this convulsive time, because I’m well aware of what’s at stake. In fact, I’m ready to make an informed decision this November at the polls and fight for the American spirit. I understand it is ours to lose.

Trump steps back, done with being daily voice of coronavirus response

11 0 04 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON — As the country is hit with record numbers of coronavirus cases, some states are halting their reopenings and hospitals in hot spots are becoming overwhelmed, President Donald Trump has largely stayed in a place you don’t often find him: the sidelines.

The president’s lower profile is by design, a senior administration official said.

The latest hope among top aides is that by keeping Trump distanced from the day to day, the administration can depoliticize the virus response, the official said. Trump’s comments on everything from masks to taking an experimental drug have ignited controversy and drawn him into battles with Democrats and public health experts. One outside adviser said he has cautioned for months that there is only downside in having Trump as the public face of the response.

The president made only a few passing references to the surging number of cases this week, saying during a speech on the economy that there are “some areas where we’re putting out the flames or the fires and that’s working out well.” In an interview with Fox Business Network on Wednesday, Trump said of the virus, “I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”

Instead, the president focused most of his firepower on defending monuments and military bases honoring Confederate leaders, touting the economy, making unsubstantiated allegations over mail-in voting and attacking the media. During a speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday, he attacked people who want to remove Confederate, patriarchal and colonial monuments as a threat to the country’s existence, only briefly mentioning the virus that has killed more than 129,000 Americans.

Behind the scenes, Trump has also taken a mostly hands-off approach. He is briefed at least once daily on the number of cases and latest efforts on a vaccine and treatment, but he hasn’t been attending the coronavirus task force meetings, traveling to the most affected states or strongly urging Americans to change their behavior.

Trump will likely give an update to the country on where things stand with the pandemic next week, but “he isn’t going to be the daily voice on this,” the senior administration official said. In his place, the White House is sending Vice President Mike Pence on the road to meet with governors and take questions from reporters while Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar do more media interviews.

It’s a stark contrast from the approach taken by past presidents who used times of crisis to present themselves as commanders in chief leading the country through disaster, like Presidents George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks and Barack Obama during the financial crisis.

Trump’s attempt to take center stage as cases surged in April backfired and led to sinking poll numbers as his freewheeling coronavirus press briefings spiraled off topic and turned into jousting sessions with reporters. After a briefing where he mused from the White House podium about whether bleach could be injected into the body to kill the virus, advisers said they were able to convince him to curtail the events.

Despite efforts by aides to highlight his response, like sending Trump to tour plants making protective equipment and ventilators, just 38 percent of Americans said they approve of his handling of the crisis while 58 percent disapprove, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released June 24. And Joe Biden has begun to step up his attacks on the president’s handling of the pandemic.

As the administration resumed coronavirus press briefings this week amid the spike in new infections, it moved the events out of the White House to make them appear less political and prevent Trump from making a cameo, officials said.

Now the administration is back to where it initially was in March, with Pence taking the lead in public and behind the scenes.

As Pence traveled Sunday to Texas to meet with the state’s governor about the staggering number of cases there, Trump stayed in Washington, making a trip to his Virginia golf course. Pence traveled Wednesday to Arizona, where the state reported a record number of infections and deaths, while Trump had no public events that day. On Thursday, Pence was in Florida urging younger residents to step up precautions as Trump gave a speech to business leaders in Washington, touching on the coronavirus to blame China for the pandemic and tout treatments.

“The president is in a ‘darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t’ position here. No matter what he says, it will be politicized,” said Seth Denson, president of GDP Advisors, who has been working with health care companies responding to the pandemic. “He’s in a no-win situation. Better to put those out there that seem to be more specific to the issue at hand.”

Trump erodes Americas foundation. This Fourth of July, I pledge to rebuild it.

9 0 04 Jul 2020

The Fourth of July commemorates a courageous, extraordinary day, when the architects of our nation laid the first stone in the foundation of American democracy. In the nearly two and a half centuries since, our Independence Day has come to stand not only for that timeless bedrock, but also for every brick, beam and pillar Americans have marched and bled to build atop it.

Our Independence Day has come to stand not only for that timeless bedrock, but also for every brick, beam and pillar Americans have marched and bled to build atop it.

Our democracy rose up from the ground when we ended slavery and ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. It rose higher when women fought for suffrage — and won. It was fortified when a lawyer named Thurgood Marshall persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down “separate but equal” and blaze a trail for opportunity in Brown v. Board of Education. And when our nation opened its eyes to the viciousness of Bull Connor and the righteousness of the Freedom Riders — and responded with outrage, and a new Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act — we built it stronger still.

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Title IX. The Indian Self-Determination Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act. Marriage equality. DACA. Black Lives Matter. Brick by brick — and, all too often, against long odds and violent opposition — the American people have labored to expand the scope, strength and meaning of American democracy. There has always been a push and a pull between our founding ideals and the forces of inequality. But Independence Day is a celebration of our persistent march toward greater justice — the natural expansion of our founding notion from “all men are created equal” to “all people are created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives.”

That pursuit of a more perfect union has been thrown off course in recent years — and no one bears more responsibility than President Donald Trump. Every day, he finds new ways to tarnish and dismantle our democracy — from baseless attacks on our voting rights to the use of military force against Americans protesting peacefully for racial justice. He has systematically gone after the guardrails of our democracy: the free press, the courts, and our fundamental belief that no one in America — not even the president — is above the law. He has made it clear time and again that he won’t hesitate to tear apart our most cherished democratic structures for an ounce of personal gain. And that corruption of our founding principles threatens everything this nation has worked so hard to build, blighting our ability not only to elevate our values, but also to lead the world.

Democracy, after all, is more than just the foundation of our society — it is the wellspring of our power. It is the defining American quality, the one which sustains our moral authority to keep the peace, drive progress, and marshal nations to work together to take on global threats. Rebuilding and expanding our democracy are essential to the long-term vitality of our nation. That’s why, as president, I will take immediate action to reverse the damage Donald Trump has done to our core democratic rights and institutions.

That starts by protecting our most sacred right: the right to vote. I will restore the Voting Rights Act — and fight to eliminate shameful barriers to voting that the Republicans have put up in recent years, ensuring that Americans in every neighborhood can participate in person or by mail on Election Day or during early voting windows. I will pursue new laws to safeguard our elections from malicious foreign actors. And I will seek to root out once and for all the corrupting influence of dark money by calling for a constitutional amendment to eliminate private dollars from federal elections.

To ensure that our democratic values are able to rise to new heights, I will take decisive steps to strengthen our foundation. That means immediately reversing Trump’s cruel and counterproductive asylum, travel ban, and family separation policies — and reaffirming our innate identity, reflected in our Constitution and emblazoned in the Statue of Liberty, as a nation of immigrants. It means fighting for — not conspiring against — the independence of our judiciary and the freedom of our press. It means rooting out systemic racism from every area of society it infects — from unfairly administered COVID-19 recovery funds, to laws that perpetuate racial wealth gaps, to health disparities, to housing policy, to policing, to our justice system and everywhere in between.

We must demonstrate to the world that the United States stands ready to lead again, not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. That example — of a broad and broadening commitment to democracy — can and must be the most powerful force of influence in the world. November’s election will decide whether we will leave the house of democracy built by generations of architects and activists to decay, or whether we will come together as one nation to build it up, stronger and higher than it has ever been before.

NBC News THINK has also offered the Trump campaign the opportunity to write an op-ed ahead of Election Day.

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Home Depots Fourth of July sale: Shop the 10 best deals

10 0 04 Jul 2020

Fourth of July sales are being offered by retailers big and small this weekend, but Home Depot’s sale is especially expansive. It features items that can upgrade your home workstation like desks, file cabinets and ergonomic chairs. Home Depot also has a variety of savings on outdoor items to help you enjoy the summer, with up to 50 percent off some patio furniture and up to $100 off select grills. Here are 10 can’t miss deals Home Depot is offering during its July 4th sale.

1. Dyson Cordless Stick Vacuum

This cordless vacuum is great to use in homes with pets, as its high suction power gets rid of hair or fur in even the hardest to reach places. It also transforms into a handheld vacuum for spot cleaning and you can use it to tidy up your car. The vacuum automatically changes its motor speed between carpet and hard floors.

2. ErgoMax Ergonomic Office Chair

Support your back while working from home with this ergonomic office chair. It has a headrest that helps posture and its height is adjustable. You can lock the back of the chair while tilting in different directions, as well as swivel around to reach different parts of your desk.

3. Hampton Bay 3-Piece Outdoor Patio Dining Set

Enjoy your meals alfresco this season while sitting at this comfortable dining set. It includes two bar-height chairs and a table, as well as covers to protect the cushions from bad weather. The chair cushions come in a variety of colors, like Chili, Graphite and Toffee.

4. Home Decorators Collection Desk with Wheels

This wood desk can fit your desktop comfortably, has a metal frame that gives it an industrial look and three draws that provide enough storage for your array of cables and portable chargers. There are also accent wheels on the legs of your new work from home desk.

5. Home Decorators Collection File Cabinet

The elegant design of this file cabinet makes it blend into any room of the house, so it’s not just a piece of furniture for your work station. It features four draws with plenty of storage, each of which can hold letter- and legal-sized documents.

6. Home Decorators Collection Linen Arm Chair

Relax in this plush armchair after a long day. It’s covered in soft linen fabric and has wheels on the feet so you can move it between rooms with ease. The chair features piping details and ball front legs, too.

7. Lifesmart Ceramic Grill and Smoker Value Bundle

Cook burgers or bake pizza outdoors throughout the summer with this grill and smoker combo. It has five cooking styles that users can choose from, including roasting and searing and is fueled by lump charcoal. The grill comes with a ceramic stone for convection cooking and baking, as well as a cover.

8. Progressive Furniture Distressed Nightstand

Store glasses, books and other items next to your bed in this nightstand for easy access. It has three draws that provide lots of space to organize your belongings and comes in two colors: Distressed Dark Grey and Gray Chalk.

9. Ring Outdoor Wi-Fi Cam Floodlight

Protect your home with this security camera that comes with built-in floodlights and a siren alarm. It starts recording as soon as motion is detected, and you get alerts on your phone or tablet to warn you. When you open the Ring app after receiving an alert, you can instantly see, hear and speak to whomever is on your property.

10. Sealy Premium Hybrid Pillow Top Mattress

Sealy’s supportive mattress is made with durable and breathable fabric that allows for a comfortable night’s sleep. The fabric also protects the mattress from common allergens like dust mites. The mattress has cool gel memory foam to help regulate body temperature and it comes in six sizes, ranging from twin to California king.

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