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Far-right extremists blamed for surge in anti-Semitic crimes in Germany

7 0 27 May 2020

MUNICH — Right-wing extremists were to blame for a large rise in anti-Semitic crimes in Germany last year, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Wednesday following the release of the country’s annual crime report.

Jewish groups and politicians condemned the increase, which saw 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes recorded in 2019 — up 13 percent from the 1,768 crimes reported previous year.

“The biggest threat is still the threat from the right,” Seehofer said, adding that crimes by right-wing extremists accounted for more than half of all politically motivated crimes.

Right-wing extremists were responsible for more than 90 percent of the anti-Semitic crimes and a similar percentage of anti-Islamic crimes, he added.

“We must remain alert and tackle it,” Seehofer said, adding: “It is an order of magnitude that accompanies us with concern, with great concern.”

Overall, the number of politically motivated crimes rose by 14 percent last year to 41,177, more than half of which were committed by far-right radicals, the report showed, although Seehofer said crimes by left-wing radicals had also jumped by 23 percent.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, urged politicians and the public to do more to fight anti-Semitism, which he said had become “commonplace in Germany.”

He added that the kiling of two people by a gunman outside a synagogue in the city of Halle in October “was a signal.”

The coronavirus pandemic had an “intensifying effect,” he added. “Supporters of conspiracy myths and opponents of the measures against the pandemic do not even shy away from relativizing the Holocaust. Special attention must be paid to growing right-wing extremism.”

The attack in Halle was one of several high profile attacks in the last year.

In February a racist gunman murdered nine migrants near Frankfurt before killing his mother and himself.

In June 2019, pro-migrant politician Walter Luebcke was shot dead at close range at his home in Hesse state. A far-right radical confessed to the crime, though later retracted his statement.

Police in Germany have also warned that thousands of protesters at rallies opposing lockdown measures meant to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are in large part driven by far-right sympathizers.

George Floyd was very loving and a gentle giant, friends and family say

7 0 27 May 2020

Those who knew George Floyd, the man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him by the neck with his knee for more than eight minutes, say he was a “gentle giant” who was quick to help and easy to adore.

“If you got a chance to know him, you would have loved him,” said Floyd’s brother Rodney on MSNBC Wednesday. “You can’t name someone that never had a great experience around him.”

Rodney Floyd added that his brother was “very loving” and “trusting.”

Floyd, 46, a former high school football and basketball star, would coach kids in his spare time, Rodney Floyd said.

Floyd also loved to rap, his brother said. Christian hip-hop artists who knew Floyd shared stories on Twitter about him ministering to his community.

“He’d help us when we had church at the basketball court in the middle of the hood,” wrote musician Corey Paul on Twitter. “When we did community outreach in the hood he was a ‘person of peace.’ He wanted to see us come together as a people.”

An artist who goes by Reconcile on Twitter said Floyd had once helped him drag a pool to a basketball court in the projects “so we could baptize dudes in the hood.”

“The man that helped put down & clean up chairs at outreaches in the hood. A man of peace! A good man,” the musician wrote.

“I mean, he had a great understanding of life and [he was a] great people person — walk in a room and absorb the whole room,” Floyd said. “He was an all-around man, and good to his family, kids, mother, brothers, friends. He would help anyone who needed help.”

Jessi Zendejas can attest. She wrote on Facebook Tuesday that Floyd, who was a security guard at Conga Latin Bistro, would watch after her when she went to the Minneapolis restaurant and dance club. He would make sure no one got too close without her say so and would keep her jacket in his closet when she forget cash for the bar’s coat check.

George Floyd.Courtesy photo

“Everyone who knows him knew he loved his hugs from his regulars when working as a security guard and would be mad if you didn’t stop to greet him because he honestly loved seeing everyone and watching everyone have fun,” Zendejas wrote, adding that Floyd was a “gentle giant.”

Floyd’s other brother Phil also called him a “gentle giant” on CNN Tuesday night.

“I love my brother. Everybody loves my brother. Knowing my brother is to love my brother,” Phil Floyd said. “He was a very loving person. And he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”

Video of the Monday night incident showed a white police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck as Floyd pleaded, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe.”

Bystanders begged the officer to remove his knee, before and after Floyd became silent. The officer did not move for at least eight minutes, at which point paramedics carried Floyd away. He was later pronounced dead.

Minneapolis police said in a statement early Tuesday that the officers were responding to a report of a forgery when Floyd “physically resisted” and that he died after “suffering medical distress.”

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Floyd’s family, said he has received further footage from security cameras and bystanders, “and it doesn’t seem like he was posing a threat to police officers.”

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI are both independently investigating Floyd’s death.

The four officers involved in the incident were fired Tuesday night, but Floyd’s family is calling for them to be arrested and charged with murder. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Wednesday called for swift charges to be brought against the officer who pinned Floyd to the ground, and kept him there with his knee.

Rodney Floyd said he saw the video of his brother being pinned to the ground early on Tuesday morning. He said he both immediately knew it was his brother and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “That’s not him,” he thought “I know he’s not no violent person like that, you know. And, I mean, it just, it just took me.”

Jovanni Thunstrom, the owner of Conga Latin Bistro, said when he realized the man in the harrowing video was his employee and his friend, he sobbed.

“My body is full of emotions, of questions without answer,” Thunstrom wrote on Facebook. “My employee George Floyd was murdered by a police officer that had no compassion, used his position to commit a murder of someone that was begging for his life.”

Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, says that the faith she shared with her brother leads her to believe justice will be done.

“Faith is something that me and my brother always talked about because he was a God-fearing man, regardless of what he does,” she said Wednesday in an interview with “TODAY.” “We all have our faults. We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. But I believe that justice will be served. I have enough faith to stand on it.”

Hong Kong no longer has autonomy under China, Pompeo says

6 0 27 May 2020

WASHINGTON — Hong Kong can no longer be regarded as autonomous from mainland China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a notification to Congress on Wednesday, setting the stage for sanctions against Beijing and the withdrawal of the former British colony’s preferential trading status.

“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” Pompeo said in a statement. “I certified to Congress today that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997.”

After it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong was supposed to enjoy significant autonomy from the communist government in Beijing for 50 years, under the terms of an agreement between China and the United Kingdom, known as the Sino–British Joint Declaration.

That autonomy was to have included protections for free speech and self-rule under what China has termed a “one country, two systems” policy.

NBC News has obtained Pompeo’s certification to Congress as required under the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act.

Although it was not accompanied by a revocation of any specific privileges, it said that “China has shed any pretense that the people of Hong Kong enjoy the high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties guaranteed to them by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.”

It added that instead of listening to the millions who turned out to protest “the Hong Kong government deployed tear gas and made mass arrests, including of peaceful demonstrators.”

President Donald Trump will now be required under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 and the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 to begin designating the Chinese officials responsible for the human rights abuses that undermine that autonomy.

These sanctions could include freezing Chinese assets based in the U.S. or banning Chinese officials from entering the country.

Under the Hong Kong Policy Act, Hong Kong is seen as “nonsovereign entity distinct from China,” and therefore not subject to the high tariffs Trump placed on mainland China, meaning the future of the special trade status granted the island is also uncertain.

Pompeo’s notification came after China’s move to impose national security laws over Hong Kong, which would allow it to sidestep the territory’s own legislative body to crack down on activity Beijing considers subversive.

The laws are widely expected to pass ending the unique model aimed at guaranteeing freedoms not granted on the mainland. A free press and an independent judiciary are among the things currently allowed in the semi-autonomous city.

There have been a number of protests in Hong Kong since the measures were proposed. Protesters took to the streets again Wednesday to demonstrate against another bill that would make it illegal to insult or abuse the Chinese national anthem.

Pro-democracy protesters and politicians say the bill, which carries penalties of up to three years in jail and fines of up to $50,000 Hong Kong dollars ($6,450), is yet another sign of increasing interference from Beijing. Police fired pepper pellets into the crowds of protesters and arrested more than 300 people after flooding central Hong Kong.

The proposed laws increased tensions between the U.S. and China. They were already high after the U.S. alleged that China covered up the coronavirus outbreak and pressured the World Health Organization from taking early action to combat it. That has added to long-standing tensions over trade, human rights, religious freedom and the status of Taiwan.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien previewed Pompeo’s decision to Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

“They`re going to basically take over Hong Kong,” O’Brien said, adding that it meant Pompeo “would likely be unable to certify that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy. And if that happens, there will be sanctions that will be imposed on Hong Kong and China.”

He added that it was “hard to see how Hong Kong could remain the Asian financial center that it’s become if China takes over. There was a free enterprise system, there was a capitalist system, there was democracy in local legislative elections. If all of those things go away, I’m not sure how the financial community can stay there.”

China reacted angrily to any suggestion that it be punished for what it considers to be a strictly domestic matter.

Asked about possible U.S. retaliation over the security legislation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing on Wednesday that China would take the necessary steps to fight back against what he called “erroneous foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.”

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Trumps treaty aversion is destroying Cold War safety nets and hastening a superpower crisis

8 0 27 May 2020

On May 22, the Friday before the long Memorial Day weekend, President Donald Trump’s administration announced the United States would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. Most Americans likely know very little about this nearly two-decades-old multilateral arms control agreement. Probably only a few noticed the announcement. Abandoning the treaty runs counter to U.S. national security interests and further alienates our NATO allies. Coupled with our withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as well as the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Agreement), this decision seems to be indicative of the administration’s desire to eliminate arms control as a tool of American national security policy.

Most Americans likely know very little about this nearly two-decades-old multilateral arms control agreement.

Opponents of the treaty are correct that arms control is a means to enhance American security and cannot be considered a policy goal or end state. The Trump administration’s pivot, however, may encourage the American people to consider a critical question that has largely been ignored since the end of the Cold War: What is the role of arms control as part of U.S. national security strategy?

The New START Treaty between Washington and Moscow that limits American and Russian strategic nuclear weapons is the last major arms control agreement between the two countries. It is scheduled to expire in early 2021, and many experts fear the Trump administration is not vigorously pursuing renegotiations or an extension. Recent revelations that the U.S. is also discussing whether to conduct the first American nuclear test since 1992 are further cause for concern. Even the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which is due for review later this year or early in 2021, could be in jeopardy. Its collapse could result in the rapid proliferation of nuclear weaponry around the globe.

The original point of Open Skies was to add another square to the global patchwork of treaties keeping superpowers, and their allies, from doing something dangerous, avoiding miscalculations and enhancing crisis management. These were the primary reasons President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed that the U.S. and the USSR accept aerial reconnaissance flights over their respective territories in 1955.

Moscow rejected the proposal, arguing that the U.S. would exploit flights for espionage purposes. But President George H.W. Bush resurrected the idea in May 1989 to reduce tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Negotiations began in February 1990 and an agreement was signed in 1992. The treaty was subsequently ratified by 27 nations from both alliances and entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002.

The Treaty on Open Skies created a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its now 34 signatories to collect data on military forces or activities. Any resulting imagery is shared with all nations. The goal of the treaty is to reduce the possibility of conflict by enhancing mutual understanding, transparency and confidence.

All participating states can conduct aerial reconnaissance over the territory of any other state or participate in joint flights that might include representatives from several countries. Open Skies has been described as “one of the most wide-ranging international arms control efforts to date to promote openness” in military forces and activities. Since its inception, over 1,500 flights have been conducted, with the U.S. flying three times as many flights annually over Russian territory as the Russians have flown over the U.S.

In his formal statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Russia of “flagrantly and continuously” violating the treaty. Still, the fact that no other ally joined America in pulling out of the treaty weakens Washington’s case significantly; indeed, many allies immediately announced their continued support for the agreement.

Pompeo argued that Russia had refused to accept flights near the border with the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia or over Crimea. This is true, but both are diplomatic issues stemming from Moscow’s occupation of territory following the Russia-Georgian War in 2008 and the illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014. The treaty cannot resolve these issues. Pompeo further pointed to restrictions imposed by Moscow on flights over Kaliningrad and “unjustifiably denying a “shared U.S./Canada observation flight over a Russian military exercise.” These accusations are also valid, but Russia recently accepted a flight over Kaliningrad without restrictions, and announced it would no longer raise objections to U.S. or allied flights over major exercises.

Clearly, the Russian Federation has consistently sought to stretch its interpretation of commitments under this treaty (and others) in often outrageous ways. Compliance issues exist, and the United States, in concert with allies, should always vigorously and publicly condemn Moscow for any treaty violation and use the Open Skies Consultative Commission in Vienna to air grievances.

It is also interesting to note how Trump administration officials have, in the past, described the value of Open Skies. In May 2018 then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before Congress that the U.S. should stay in the Open Skies Treaty as it is “in our nation’s best interest.” Mattis described it as a source of “greater transparency and stability” and a valuable “mechanism of engagement” with the other nations involved. This was subsequently illustrated in December 2018 when the U.S. and its allies conducted an Open Skies flight to demonstrate their commitments to Ukraine following Russian seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels near the Kerch Straits.

Finally, withdrawal raises serious operational difficulties as well as allied questions about Washington’s commitment to NATO. It does guarantee that Russia can no longer conduct flights over U.S. territory, and Washington can still rely on its vast array of spy satellites to gather intelligence. But since U.S. allies remain committed to the agreement, Moscow (if it remains in the treaty) will still be able to conduct flights over all NATO territory, including NATO territory that is being used by American forces.

In May 2018 then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before Congress that the U.S. should stay in the Open Skies Treaty as it is “in our nation’s best interest.”

Meanwhile, smaller allies such as the Baltic Republics will lose substantial access to Open Skies intelligence about Russian activities near their borders. Many do not have an Open Skies aircraft and have been dependent on the U.S. or other NATO partners for joint flights. Furthermore, the American intelligence community is historically reluctant to fully share similar intelligence gained from U.S. satellites or other sources due to its classification and the associated technologies used.

Clearly, the emerging security environment is fraught with great uncertainty and potential instabilities. New offensive capabilities such as cyberweapons, hypersonic systems, counter-space weaponry, and the impact of artificial intelligence will force policymakers to modify existing agreements and seek new mechanisms. Washington must also deal with apparent Chinese interest in expanding its nuclear arsenal, increased nuclear weaponry in South Asia, and the lingering question of North Korea.

Open Skies was not a panacea, but leaving the treaty demolishes another piece of the framework designed during the Cold War to encourage de-escalation and avoid a major crisis between the superpowers. At best, the withdrawal further isolates the U.S. and puts Washington on a path to an ever-spiraling arms race. At worst it increases the possibility of a nuclear conflict. Supporters as well as opponents of withdrawal would all likely agree — the world just became a little more dangerous.

George Floyds death is why Kaepernick kneeled, LeBron James says: Do you understand now?

7 0 27 May 2020

The death of George Floyd, a black man, while in custody of Minneapolis police prompted celebrities such as NBA star LeBron James, director Ava DuVernay and rapper Meek Mill to express their outrage on social media.

James posted a photo of an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck next to a picture of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeling on the sidelines during the National Anthem at a game.

“This is why,” the image was titled, in an apparent reference to the heated controversy over Kaepernick’s silent protests during the 2016 season against police brutality and racism.

“Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you??” James wrote in the caption.

Floyd died on Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee onto his neck for at least eight minutes while Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. The incident was captured on video.

“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe,” Floyd begged. “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can’t breathe.”

Rapper Snoop Dogg posted the same images of Floyd and Kaepernick, writing: “no justice just us.”

George Floyd.Courtesy photo

Duvernay posted a lengthy message on Twitter that was apparently addressed to Floyd. “You deserved your breath, your dignity, your life. Not to die in the street, murdered by a white cop’s knee on your neck. You deserve our tears, our prayers, our rage, our action. We must act – for you – and for all of those were no cameras are present.

Minneapolis police said early Tuesday that officers were responding to a report of a forgery when they tried to detain Floyd, who officers said “physically resisted.” He died after “suffering medical distress,” the police department said.

The four officers involved have been fired, and Minnesota governor Tim Walz vowed to get answers and seek justice.

The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI are both independently investigating Floyd’s death. The Minneapolis Police Department said it is cooperating with the investigations.

Meek Mill said that after repeated videos of police officers “beating us like slaves” there still isn’t protection for black people. “Nobody haven’t issued a order for the police to stop killing us! Is that not possible? Or they just saying protect yourself???” he tweeted.

Some celebs called for justice, while others such as Common tweeted the words “#ICantBreathe,” the words Floyd said to the officer as he was pinned to the ground.

“#BlackLivesMatter and now is the perfect time for a revolution,” Chance The Rapper wrote on Twitter, writing in a second tweet: “Its gotta be an awesome privilege to be able to defend racism every day.”

“Enough is enough! What will it take? A civil war? A new president? Violent riots?” rapper Cardi B wrote on Instagram, adding, “You don’t put fear in people when you do this you just show how coward YOU ARE! And how America is really not the land of the free!”

Basketball star Isaiah Thomas said he was scared for himself and his black children. “I hope to God they don’t get into some stuff and the cops come and possibly KILL them,” he wrote.

Demarcus Lawrence, a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, said it’s hard to feel safe when minorities are being killed by the people who are meant to protect them.

“WHEN WILL MINORITIES BE FREE TO BE AMERICANS IN AMERICA!?” he tweeted.

Head coach for the Golden State Warriors Steve Kerr called Floyd’s death a murder. “Seriously, what the hell is wrong with US????” Kerr, who is white, wrote on Twitter.

Actress Debra Messing said the video of Floyd being detained “f—ed me up,” while Justin Bieber called for racism to end.

“THIS MUST STOP. This makes me absolutely sick,” the singer wrote in part on Instagram.

When to start a diet: 7 reasons why now is a good time from a dietitian

5 0 27 May 2020

Dealing with a lot of change right now? That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As a registered dietitian, I know that a new routine can help create positive lifestyle changes. Even though life is crazy and stressful at the moment, it’s still a good time to focus on your health.

In fact, it’s more important than ever to eat a balanced diet and exercise. Such healthy habits not only strengthen your immune system, but they also help you maintain a healthy weight and stay physically fit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that individuals with severe obesity are at a higher risk for complications of the coronavirus.

This is a difficult time for a lot of people. Many of my patients are struggling with getting access to healthy foods, either because they’re trying to eat on a reduced budget or simply because they can’t get the ingredients from the store. But there are ways to eat healthy on a tight budget — and there are a few advantages to being stuck at home. Here are some tips on why now is the perfect time to focus on eating more fruits and veggies.

1. The pressure to be perfect is off.

This is a time to focus on progress, not perfection. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as healthy as their fresh counterparts and can easily be added to other frozen options, like chicken breast or fish. Canned beans and legumes can be used as a protein or carbohydrate source for meals and snacks. Staples such as brown rice can easily add a budget-friendly source of fiber. The key here is not overthinking your meals. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef.

2. You have more control over when you eat.

Dietary habits have been found to improve once a temptation is removed. Think about the progress and change you can implement simply from being home more. The lure of the fast food option at every corner, the temptation to order a pastry with your coffee because it just looks so good and the dinners out during the weekend can all be left in the past (for now, anyway).

If you’re struggling with changing the types of foods you’re eating, perhaps you can focus on the frequency. Time-restricted eating, a form of intermittent fasting, has been shown in multiple studies to benefit health. Reductions of cravings and hunger, weight loss and even improvements in blood sugar and lipid profile have all been demonstrated. Time-restricted eating involves eating during a “feeding window” of eight or 10 hours a day. One study, in fact, showed that delaying breakfast by 90 minutes and eating dinner 90 minutes early helped to reduce overall fat mass in participants — regardless of what they ate.

3. You can sit wherever you want.

If you’re now working from home, you have control over your physical location. Move your place of work to an area of the home not associated with food. Consider working outside if you can. Scheduling your trips to the kitchen can also help create a positive new routine.

4. Cooking your own meals has benefits.

Supporting local business is important, but now is not the time to be eating takeout every night. Focus on what you have in the house. Have some frozen broccoli, brown rice and canned chicken? You have a meal. Whole-wheat spaghetti and tomato sauce? Another meal. Don’t overthink your kitchen creations. Focus on nutrient density, which means colorful produce, healthy fats, fiber and lean sources of protein. Many chefs, both professional and amateur, have taken to social media to show quick and easy meals as well. Use them as examples of how to be creative with ingredients.

5. You aren’t socializing as much.

In your typical everyday life, you have happy hours and dinners out with friends. Now, most of us are connecting over Zoom or FaceTime — but not every virtual interaction needs to include alcohol.

Excess alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, making you more likely to make poor dietary choices the following day. Further, it can increase your risk for disease and obesity — both of which have been shown to make you more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Finally, studies show that binge drinking can weaken the immune system. A glass of wine at the end of the day is fine, but keep your intake within the CDC guidelines.

6. You have more time to spend outdoors.

The silver lining to being stuck at home is the fact that it may make you want to get outside more. If you have a neighborhood or park close to your home where you can engage in walking, do it. A recent study found that getting outside for just 20 minutes helped in lowering stress hormones which in turn, can help in making better dietary choices.

Binging all day on TV may sound like a way to pass the time, but it will most likely result in poorer mental health outcomes and an inability to fit into your pants once you get back to work.

7. You can rethink toxic relationships.

When it comes to changes in diet and weight loss, community can be a blessing or a curse. Find individuals who share your desire to adopt a healthier lifestyle and connect with them through socially distant means of communication. Alternatively, rethink relationships that are surrounded by overeating and excess alcohol.

Use this time to change habits so that you can live longer and better.

As Starbucks locations reopen nationwide, workers question why they should risk their life for a frappuccino

5 0 27 May 2020

Restless coffee addicts emerging from lockdowns are doubtlessly cheering the return of some normalcy, after Starbucks said it would be reopening almost 90 percent of its locations by June 1.

But many employees are questioning why a company known for its highly personalized drinks is opting for a one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to nationwide reopenings amid a public health crisis.

“It seems to be bad to reopen when you have an ongoing worsening pandemic,” said one barista in Chicago who is currently on quarantine after his manager came down with a fever.

At a time when few other companies have made a definitive public statement about their timeline, Starbucks began reopening stores May 4, with new sanitation and safety protocols that include worker temperature and health checks, required masks, closed seating areas and only drive-thru or mobile orders.

But even with these precautions, workers are terrified of going to work and say it is difficult to stay safe among eager customers, some of whom do not follow health protocols.

Just weeks into reopening stores, workers are already going into quarantine with suspected or positive coronavirus infections, according to NBC News interviews with more than a dozen Starbucks managers and baristas who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. At one central Jersey store, the Starbucks team switched to block scheduling in which the morning shifts and the afternoon shifts never cross, to decrease chances of spreading the virus. The company rolled out the new scheduling strategy after someone at a nearby store tested positive for the virus, the store’s barista said.

Starbucks said that while it can’t speak to individual store formats because the situation is fluid, changes in scheduling are being considered and discussed with local leadership in markets where applicable.

“I don’t think any store should have been open until we had a better handle as a nation on this outbreak. I think opening right now is a risk to employees and the public,” one manager in southeastern Massachusetts said.

“We are borrowing strongly from our lessons navigating this in China,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson wrote in a blog post Thursday. “We have stood strong, together — ALL of us — and made a commitment to do our part to keep partners’ care front and center as we weather the storm.”

The company said that its decisions to support its frontline store employees go back more than three months and include extending child care benefits, mental health benefits and catastrophe pay.

But Max, a barista in Chicago who asked to only be identified by a first name out of fear of retaliation, said workers are still at risk.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

“Why are we putting out all the people at Starbucks, many of whom are parents and care workers, making them decide to risk their own life to serve someone who thinks they’re helping the economy by ordering a frappuccino?” Max asked.

The pandemic pummeled the retail and the restaurant industries as states announced stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Starbucks kept about half of its 15,000 U.S. stores open during the pandemic. But its sales still plunged 25 percent during the first three months of the year compared to the same time last year, “related to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the company reported last month.

Starbucks workers, referred to as “partners,” said that when their stores open, they can either go back to work or use accrued sick time. They also have the option to take unpaid leave through September, but may not qualify for state unemployment benefits. The company’s catastrophe pay, which is an average of a worker’s usual pay, ends May 31. However, Starbucks will cover the health care premiums for eligible workers on COVID-19 leave.

“It felt like an ultimatum to me,” one barista in Phoenix said. “It felt like any way I go, I am screwed.”

More than a dozen Starbucks workers interviewed said they felt they had to choose between returning to work or losing income.

“I just wonder if it’s worth it. Most of us working at Starbucks are working because we need a paycheck.”

Every day, workers get their temperature checked and use an iPad app called “Covid Coach” that takes them through a list of symptoms of the virus, including questions about recent travel or contact with anyone who has been exposed to the virus. The survey is confirmed by the store manager and sent to the district manager, according to one barista in central Jersey.

Yet even though some employees say the policy is “one of the most effective in the market, supplying us with masks, disinfectants and regular washing procedures,” they still ask themselves if it’s worth it.

“Right now I need a paycheck, I need benefits. Most of us working at Starbucks are working because we need a paycheck,” one manager said.

Already, some workers have refused to go back to work or are planning to leave out of fear for their health. A barista in South Carolina said that she plans to quit her job at the end of the month when the hazard pay ends. One store manager said five workers quit, which amounts to about 22 percent of her team not returning to work.

“We’re not forcing anyone to come back, but it is a managed risk,” one Starbucks manager said. “We have no idea which customers have been following procedures or who has been in hospitals.”

“We’re not forcing anyone to come back, but it is a managed risk,” she said. “We have no idea which customers have been following procedures or who has been in hospitals.”

If any store has a suspected case of the coronavirus, Starbucks closes the store and sends a third-party work crew to do a deep clean, according to multiple workers. The company said that infected person and anyone who has been in contact with the person is quarantined with pay for two weeks, while the rest of the workers are asked to return to the store after it is cleaned. The store will not reopen if there is not adequate staffing, the company added.

A barista in Fremont, Nebraska, said the store closed after the district manager came into a meeting with a fever. The store hadn’t even opened yet. A shift supervisor at a Starbucks in Anaheim, California, said that a worker showed coronavirus symptoms just two days after the store reopened. The store closed for two days for deep cleaning and reopened with reduced hours because only four workers did not come into contact with the symptomatic person, according to the supervisor.

Some workers have started online petitions on the nonprofit website Coworker.org calling on the company to close stores, require customers to wear masks or continue pay boosts for working through the pandemic that is set to expire at the end of May. Starbucks did not specifically respond to questions about the petitions.

“Not only should every grocery and retail company mandate the wearing of masks and social distancing, our state and local governments must establish these uniform safety standards,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which does not represent any Starbucks workers, said in an emailed statement. “For as long as this pandemic endures, companies must implement and enforce store safety measures, and customers must be encouraged to shop smart.”

Starbucks employees are just some of the workers across the country who are dealing with issues around safety protections, low pay, and contact with angry or overbearing customers.

Many businesses that stayed open through stay-at-home orders offered workers hazard pay in the form of an hourly pay boost. The Kroger grocery chain announced employees would receive a one-time $400 bonus after outcry that it planned to cut its hazard pay. Target extended its $2 an hour hazard pay through July 4.

Masks have become a political issue, pushing some companies to avoid insisting upon face coverings, while others make it a rule. President Donald Trump has refused to wear one in public, leading some of his supporters to also refuse to wear any face covering.

In one recent incident posted to Twitter, a Costco employee was berated by a customer who refused to wear a mask. It’s a reality for many retail workers who find themselves having to enforce store rules and public health guidelines on masks.

Several Starbucks workers interviewed said customers are often aggressive when staff try to encourage social distancing at the stores. One barista in Arizona said he’s heard customers say they don’t believe in masks and they don’t think COVID-19 is “a big deal.”

Another barista in Arlington, Virginia, said she has received complaints from customers who feel the social distancing measures were “unnecessary.” She said the most frequent question customers have is “Why can’t I come in?”

A barista in Phoenix said that during training on the new protocol, the store’s crew of 15 had to huddle together with no room for social distancing — and not everyone wore a mask.

“They kept stressing that we’re still a part of the community and part of the reason we’re an essential business is because we’re trying to bring normalcy and joy to people,” he said. “They say partners are the biggest priority — but they’re not showing that.”

Larry Kramer, longtime AIDS activist, dies at 84

6 0 27 May 2020

The longtime AIDS activist and author Larry Kramer died Wednesday morning in Manhattan, his publisher confirmed. He was 84.

The cause of death was pneumonia, according to The New York Times.

Kramer was an American playwright, screenwriter and gay rights pioneer and is widely credited with catalyzing the early response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States.

American author, AIDS campaigner and gay rights activist Larry Kramer, founder of ACT-UP and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group in his home in New York on Dec. 20, 1989.Sara Krulwich / The New York Times via Getty Images file

Born in 1935, he grew up in and around Washington, D.C. He graduated from Yale University in 1957 and served in the U.S. Army Reserve, before working in film production in London for Columbia Pictures.

In August 1981, following the announcement of an outbreak of Kaposi sarcoma, Kramer formed a group that eventually became the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first AIDS service organization in the world. Later, in 1987, fed up with federal government inaction, he and other activists formed ACT UP — The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power — a radical AIDS organization that staged dramatic protests and public interventions for years to force officials to spend more money and include more activists in AIDS research.

Kramer’s career as a playwright earned him wide accolades for the off-Broadway play “The Normal Heart,” a semi-autobiographical reflection on the immense human toll of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The play was later made into a HBO miniseries and revived on Broadway. In 1996, Kramer received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature.

He was also a prolific author of novels, writing one book — “Faggots,” first published in 1978 — that provoked polarized reactions from the New York City gay communities it shone an unflattering light on.

Kramer married his partner, architect David Webster, in a 2013 ceremony. Kramer survived a liver transplant, abdominal surgery and over three decades of HIV infection.

Following news of his death, ACT UP shared a message for their fallen AIDS warrior.

“Rest in power to our fighter Larry Kramer. Your rage helped inspire a movement. We will keep honoring your name and spirit with action,” the group wrote on Twitter.

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Cynthia McFadden and Carol Eggers contributed.

Coronavirus live updates: U.S. death toll tops 99,500

6 0 27 May 2020

Louisiana cop fired for saying ‘unfortunate’ more black people didn’t die of coronavirus

A Louisiana police officer was fired over a Facebook comment that said it was “unfortunate” more black people did not die of the coronavirus.

The chief of police in Kaplan, about 87 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, said Officer Steven Aucoin commented under a local news station’s live feed of the governor’s news conference on May 15. Aucoin was fired later that day.

CBS affiliate KLFY in Lafayette, Louisiana, reported that Aucoin’s post was made on its Facebook page in response to another commenter who wrote,”virus that was created to kill all the BLACKS is death.”

“Well it didn’t work,” Aucoin wrote, “how unfortunate,” according to screenshots shown by KLFY.

Read the full story here

Animated map: See the U.S. coronavirus death toll hit 100,000 across the U.S.

From the first reported COVID-19 fatality March 1 to the 100,000th death, every U.S. state and territory, except American Samoa, has lost a resident to the coronavirus pandemic. Watch the day-by-day rise in reported deaths in this animated map:

See NBC News’ charts of reported deaths in U.S. states per day, and a timeline of the coronavirus pandemic.

Disney announces plans to reopen in mid-July

The Walt Disney Company announced plans Wednesday to begin a phased reopening of some of its Orlando, Florida, parks later this summer. 

The plans have been approved by the Orange County Recovery Taskforce but must still be endorsed by the mayor of Orange County and approved by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are planning to open July 11. Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are set to open July 15. That’s more than one month after other Orlando-based parks such as SeaWorld, which is planning to open for staff on June 10 and June 11 for the public.

The parks will have “substantially lower numbers of guests” when they first open, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told CNBC in an interview Wednesday morning. While he did not give a specific number for capacity, he said “the number of people we put in the park” will be a “function of the six-foot social distancing guidance that we have from the CDC.”

There will be temperature checks for guests and employees, and masks will be required throughout the park for everyone over the age of three. 

Some Disney attractions that draw large group gatherings, such as parades and nighttime events, won’t return when the parks first reopen. High-touch experiences such as playgrounds and character meet-and-greets will also be temporarily unavailable. 

Half of Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccine, AP-NORC poll finds

Only about half of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if the scientists working furiously to create one succeed, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

That’s surprisingly low considering the effort going into the global race for a vaccine against the coronavirus that has sparked a pandemic since first emerging from China late last year. But more people might eventually roll up their sleeves: The poll, released Wednesday, found 31 percent simply weren’t sure if they’d get vaccinated. Another 1 in 5 said they’d refuse.

Read more. 

Federal remdesivir trial enters second phase. Here’s what’s next.

A large federal trial of remdesivir has entered its next phase, in which researchers will test the effects of combining the antiviral drug with a pill to bring down inflammation.

The pill, called baricitinib, was approved in 2018 to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Remdesivir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, is the only treatment that’s been shown in a clinical trial to have an effect on COVID-19 so far. Preliminary results from that trial, which included sites worldwide, published Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that the drug reduced patients’ length of hospital stay by about four days, from 15 days, on average, to 11 days. More than 1,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 received either remdesivir or a placebo.

Read more here.

Boeing to lay off almost 7,000 workers this week

Boeing announced plans to lay off 6,770 workers this week, as the coronavirus crisis continues to hammer the aircraft manufacturer.

“We have come to the unfortunate moment of having to start involuntary layoffs. We’re notifying the first 6,770 of our U.S. team members this week that they will be affected,” Boeing CEO David Calhoun wrote Wednesday in a letter to employees he called an “update on workforce actions.”

Citing the “whipsawing” of the global pandemic, Calhoun said “it will take some years” for the airline industry to “return to what it was just two months ago.”

Air travel has seen a 95 percent decline in traffic since the coronavirus hit, with major airlines canceling flights, pulling out of airports, and laying off large swaths of their staff. 

In March, Chicago-based Boeing saw a near-record number of order cancellations for its passenger jets, and zero new orders in April, exacerbating the company’s financial woes. The troubled 737 Max aircraft has been grounded worldwide since last March, following two fatal crashes.

Feds’ response to Native Americans is another ‘broken promise,’ Warren, Haaland say

Two Democratic lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are asking the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to update its 2018 report on how the federal government has failed to sufficiently fund Native American communities in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The report, “Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans,” described vast health care, housing and educational disparities and stated that “the efforts undertaken by the federal government in the past 15 years have resulted in only minor improvements, at best, for the Native population as a whole.”

“The Administration’s failure to uphold the trust responsibility to provide adequate relief, health services, and public safety resources to tribal communities has exacerbated the pandemic’s impact. This failure requires the Commission’s voice,” Warren and Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico wrote in their request to the commission, which makes recommendations to the administration.

The lawmakers noted that promised federal funding to tribal nations and urban Indian organizations was significantly delayed from the onset of the pandemic. The issue of funding disbursement remains an ongoing problem, tribal leaders have said.

NYC hopes to do 50K coronavirus tests per day by Aug. 1

New York City, now doing about 20,000 coronavirus per day, hopes to have that rate up to 50,000 a day by Aug. 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

The country’s largest city has the capacity to conduct 27,000 tests a day at more than 180 sites that are open now or will be operating shortly, according to the mayor.

“It’s getting easier and easier for more and more New Yorkers to get testing,” the mayor told reporters during his daily briefly on the city’s efforts to fight the global pandemic. “And that’s going to help us move forward.” 

New York City has been the nation’s epicenter for the coronavirus, with over 21,300 deaths.

 

Charts: COVID-19 cases in Alabama, California and Virginia are surging

As the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the U.S. inches toward 1.7 million, certain states are seeing case numbers surge.

California’s had 15,000 new cases since last Thursday and will likely count its 100,000th confirmed COVID-19 case Wednesday.

Alabama, where no more than 500 new cases had been reported in a day, has now reported 500-plus cases four of the previous five days according to an analysis of NBC News COVID-19 case data.

Virginia, which has close to 40,000 cases, set new one-day highs for confirmed cases Monday and then again Tuesday, with 1,615.

See NBC News’ coverage of the coronavirus, read a timeline of the spread of the coronavirus, see a map of U.S. coronavirus cases, a map of U.S. deaths, and a map of coronavirus cases around the world.

Egypt’s doctors union warns health care system could collapse due to lack of PPE

Egypt’s main doctors union has warned that the country’s health system could “completely collapse” if the government continues to provide inadequate personal protective equipment to health care workers.

In a statement posted on their website, the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, which has more than 200,000 members, said the government had failed to provide enough PPE, had not made early detection tests available to workers and had not properly trained hospital staff who were working closely with COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Mohamed Abdel Hamid, treasurer of the organization, told NBC News that 19 doctors had died since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. The Egyptian minister of health and population, Dr. Hala Zayed, disputed this figure and said 11 doctors had died and 291 had been infected. She defended the government’s management of the pandemic and said the ministry had taken “all precautions and procedures to protect its medical staff.”