Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules

A person visits a Covid-19 testing site along a Manhattan street on Friday in New York City. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 22 January 2022

Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules

  • Ducey's lawsuit said the Treasury Department created restrictions on spending the money Arizona receives under President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal mask-wearing in school settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19

PHOENIX: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sued the Biden administration on Friday over its demand that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don’t have mask requirements or that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Phoenix comes a week after the US Treasury Department demanded that Ducey either restructure the $163 million program to eliminate restrictions it says undermine public health recommendations or face a repayment demand.
The Treasury Department also wants changes to a $10 million program Ducey created that gives private school tuition money to parents if their children’s schools have mask mandates.
Ducey’s lawsuit said the Treasury Department created restrictions on spending the money Arizona receives under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act on its own and without legal authority. It asks a court to declare that the Treasury Department’s rules are illegal and permanently block enforcement and any demands that it pay back the $173 million it is spending on the two programs.
“Nothing in that underlying statute authorizes Treasury to condition the use of (ARPA) monies on following measures that, in the view of Treasury, stop the spread of COVID-19,” the lawsuit says. “If Congress had truly intended to give Treasury the power to dictate public health edicts to the States, and recoup or withhold (monies) ... it would have spoken clearly on the matter. It did not.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal mask-wearing in school settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“By discouraging families and school districts from following this guidance, the conditions referenced above undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the Treasury Department wrote in last week’s letter.
The Treasury Department started demanding that Ducey change the programs in October. It was part of a concerted effort to force Arizona and some other Republican-led states that have opposed mask mandates or were using pandemic funding to advance their own agendas to end those practices.
Ducey rejected Treasury’s request the following month, and last week the Biden administration followed up with a formal demand that it cease using the money for the disputed programs or face either repayment demands or withholding of additional money it is set to receive under Biden’s COVID relief bill.
Friday’s lawsuit said the Treasury Department initially recognized that states have “broad latitude to choose whether and how to use the (money) to respond to and address the negative economic impact” of COVID-19. But then it changed course, and created the new rules, the suit said.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new lawsuit.
At issue are two state programs the Republican governor created last summer meant to help schools and students.
Arizona’s Education Plus-Up Grant Program provides $163 million in funding to schools in higher-income areas that received less than $1,800 per student in federal virus aid. Districts that require face coverings or that have closed due to virus outbreaks are ineligible.
Another called the COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Program provides for up to $7,000 for parents if their child’s school requires face coverings or quarantines after exposure. It lets parents use the money for private school tuition or other education costs and its design mirrors the state’s existing school voucher program.
In a letter sent last week, the Treasury Department warned that the state has 60 days to remove the anti-masking provisions before the federal government moves to recover the relief money, and it threatened to withhold the next tranche of aid as well.
Ducey created the programs in part to up the pressure on school districts that had mask mandates or other COVID-19 restrictions, saying they were hurting children and parents who had endured more than a year of school shutdowns, remote learning and other restrictions. Provisions in the state budget that barred school mask mandates statewide were later thrown out by the Arizona Supreme Court because they were improperly adopted, but Ducey did not change the programs.
“Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged — mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t,” Ducey said in August. “These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona’s students.”
Arizona has received about half of the $4.2 billion awarded to it under the 2021 coronavirus relief bill, and the Treasury Department said it may withhold payments if Ducey failed to comply with its demands.


I need a shot of tequila for my knee pain, pope jokes

Updated 17 May 2022

I need a shot of tequila for my knee pain, pope jokes

  • The pope said: "Do you know what I need for my leg? A bit of tequila"
  • One of the seminarians posted the exchange, which took place at the general audience last Wednesday, on TikTok

VATICAN CITY: His doctors probably don’t agree but Pope Francis thinks a shot of tequila just might help his painful knee.
While his popemobile stopped in St. Peter’s Square at his last general audience, a group of Mexican seminarians shouted out to him, asking how his leg was doing.
“It’s being naughty,” the Argentine pope replied in Spanish. A flare up of pain in his knee and existing leg problems have forced the pope to use a wheelchair at times recently.
One of seminarians then thanked the seated pope for continuing to carry out his duties despite the pain, telling the 85-year-old Francis that his persistence was an example for them as future priests.
Noting that they were Mexican because of the flag they were carrying, the pope said: “Do you know what I need for my leg? A bit of tequila.”
After much laughter, one of them shouted back: “If one day we go to Santa Marta, we’ll bring you a bottle,” referring to the guest house where Francis lives in the Vatican.
One of the seminarians, Rodrigo Fernández de Castro, posted the exchange, which took place at the general audience last Wednesday, on TikTok.

Related


Lebanese activists launch mock ‘lollar’ currency

Updated 13 May 2022

Lebanese activists launch mock ‘lollar’ currency

  • The Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) decided to take the joke to the streets, with a stunt encouraging people to use “lollars” for the day
  • The “monetary disobedience” campaign, entitled “Currency of Corruption,” encourages people to print their own “funny money” at home

BEIRUT: Lebanese activists Friday rolled out mock banknotes featuring paintings of a gutted central bank or the Beirut port explosion to denounce high-level corruption that has helped to wreck the country.
The collapse of the Lebanese pound and frozen bank accounts have left Lebanon with a confusing currency system, with a multitude of exchange rates applying to various situations in daily life.
The dollars stuck in accounts that citizens can only withdraw in Lebanese pounds at a fraction of their original value are known locally as “lollars.”
With parliamentary elections two days away, the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) decided to take the joke to the streets, with a stunt encouraging people to use “lollars” for the day.
The “monetary disobedience” campaign, entitled “Currency of Corruption,” encourages people to print their own “funny money” at home and try to use it as a means of raising awareness.
“We will not adapt to this mockery anymore, we are #NotPayingThePrice,” the LTA said in a statement unveiling the campaign and its hashtag.
The mock banknotes feature paintings by acclaimed Lebanon-based artist Tom Young depicting calamities that have hit Lebanon in recent years, from the deadly August 2020 port blast to forest fires, solid waste pollution and shortages.
On one of Beirut’s main squares Friday, organizers installed a fake ATM from which passers-by could withdraw “lollars.”
LTA communications officer Hazar Assi said the campaign was aimed at reminding voters that their current plight was to blame on the country’s corrupt hereditary leaders.
“When people vote, they should make a choice based on accountability and rejecting the corruption that is affecting all of our lives,” she said.
Lebanon’s traditional sectarian parties will seek extend their stranglehold on power in parliamentary elections on Sunday but a new generation of independent candidates are hoping for a breakthrough.


Movie critics gush over Tom Cruise’s return in ‘Top Gun’ sequel

Updated 12 May 2022

Movie critics gush over Tom Cruise’s return in ‘Top Gun’ sequel

  • "Top Gun: Maverick" earned a 96% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation website among 57 reviews as of Thursday
  • The movie debuts in theaters on May 27

LOS ANGELES: It took Tom Cruise 36 years to head back to the danger zone to bring a “Top Gun” sequel to the screen, and the first reviews from movie critics said it was well worth the wait.
“Top Gun: Maverick” earned a 96 percent positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation website among 57 reviews as of Thursday. The movie debuts in theaters on May 27.
Cruise returns in the film as Pete Mitchell, the cocky Navy pilot, codenamed Maverick, who has never risen through the ranks because of his penchant for bucking authority.
Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press called the movie “a textbook example of how to make a sequel.”
“The movie satisfies with one foot in the past by hitting all the touchstones of the first film,” Kennedy said, “and yet stands on its own.”
Box office analysts project the movie from Paramount Pictures will rank as one of the biggest box office hits of the summer.
The movie had been scheduled for release in June 2020, but Paramount delayed its debut multiple times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Critics said the movie offers thrilling flight scenes, an emotional story and strong performances by supporting cast including Miles Teller, who plays the son of Goose, Maverick’s partner who died in the original 1986 film.
But most of the praise was reserved for Cruise.
“It’s a fresh-faced gloss on the original ... powered, like the original, by a star who’ll simply never stop being a star,” wrote K. Austin Collins of Rolling Stone.
Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly said the movie “belongs in almost every scene to Cruise.”
“At this point in his career, he’s not really playing characters so much as variations on a theme — the theme being, perhaps, The Last Movie Star,” she said. “And in the air up there, he stands alone.”


Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra seek to lift spirits at Eurovision

Updated 12 May 2022

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra seek to lift spirits at Eurovision

  • Their entry "Stefania", sung in Ukrainian, fuses rap with traditional folk music and is a tribute to frontman Oleh Psiuk's mother
  • The bookmakers have made it the clear favourite for the annual contest based on the plight of Ukraine following Russia's invasion in February

TURIN, Italy: Kalush Orchestra are aiming to “lift the spirits” of their fellow Ukrainians by riding a wave of public support to win the Eurovision Song Contest in the Italian city of Turin on Saturday night.
Their entry “Stefania,” sung in Ukrainian, fuses rap with traditional folk music and is a tribute to frontman Oleh Psiuk’s mother.
The bookmakers have made it the clear favorite for the annual contest, which normally draws a television audience of close to 200 million, based on the plight of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February.
“Any victory in any aspect is very important for Ukraine these days, so winning the Eurovision Song Contest of course would lift the spirits of so many Ukrainians while we don’t have much good news these days,” Psiuk told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
The band takes its name from the Western Ukrainian city of Kalush. It finished second in the country’s national song contest but replaced winner Alina Pash after controversy over a visit she made to Crimea in 2015, a year after it was annexed by Russia.
“We are here to showcase Ukrainian culture because attempts are being made these days to kill Ukrainian culture, and we want to show that Ukrainian culture is alive, it’s unique, and it has its own beautiful signature,” Psiuk added.
One of the regular band members has stayed behind in Ukraine to help defend Kyiv, according to Psiuk, who added that he planned to return home after Eurovision and resume work with a volunteer group trying to find accommodation and medicine for his compatriots.
“Even here, outside Ukraine, we are worried about our family members that stay there, and you wake up every morning without being sure whether everyone you love is still alive and where another missile could hit,” he added.
Russia, which says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine, has been excluded from the contest this year.
Italy is hosting after winning last year with Maneskin’s rocky “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut Up and Behave).
The contest is decided by a combination of votes by the official jury and viewers from participating nations.
Eurovision fans, converging on Turin for an event that combines glitz, energy and a fair dollop of eccentricity, welcome the chance to let their hair down.
“Eurovision is like a bridge to that normal life we had before the war started,” Vitalii Lirnyk, a member of the official Ukrainian Eurovision fan club, said in Turin.
“And maybe, for like a couple of minutes, for an hour a day, we can just feel safe and normal,” added Lirnyk, who has lived in the United States for the past few years.


Astronomers capture 1st image of Milky Way’s huge black hole

Updated 12 May 2022

Astronomers capture 1st image of Milky Way’s huge black hole

  • Astronomers believe nearly all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes at their center
  • The colorized image unveiled Thursday is from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope

WASHINGTON: The world got a look Thursday at the first wild but fuzzy image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers believe nearly all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes at their center, where light and matter cannot escape, making it extremely hard to get images of them. Light gets chaotically bent and twisted around by gravity as it gets sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust.
The colorized image unveiled Thursday is from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world. Previous efforts had found the black hole in the center of our galaxy too jumpy to get a good picture.
The University of Arizona’s Feryal Ozel called the black hole “the gentle giant in the center of our galaxy” while announcing the new image.
The Milky Way black hole is called Sagittarius A(asterisk), near the border of Sagittarius and Scorpius constellations. It is 4 million times more massive than our sun.
This is not the first black hole image. The same group released the first one in 2019 and it was from a galaxy 53 million light-years away. The Milky Way black hole is much closer, about 27,000 light-years away. A light year is 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers).
The project cost nearly $60 million with $28 million coming from the US National Science Foundation.