World News

Detained since 2018, now Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is handed a 5-year sentence

By Tamara Qiblawi and Kara Fox, CNN

Ellen Britt for (CNT) City News And Talk 


(CNN)Loujain al-Hathloul, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists, has been sentenced to five years and eight months in prison by the kingdom’s special court for terrorism offenses, according to her family.

The sentence includes a two-year and 10-month suspension, in addition to time she has already served, paving the way for Hathloul to be released in two months’ time, according to a statement released by her family on Monday.

Hathloul, 31, was detained in May 2018 in a sweep that targeted prominent opponents of the kingdom’s former law barring women from driving. The crackdown happened just weeks before the ban was lifted, casting doubt on a series of reforms put forward by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.

Hathloul’s trial had been scheduled to begin in criminal court last month, where she faced charges including activism against the kingdom’s restrictive male guardianship laws and contact with foreign journalists and diplomats — an application for a job with the UN was used as evidence against her.

Instead, her case was transferred to the Specialized Criminal Court for terrorism and national security (SCC).

She was accused of using her relations with foreign governments and rights groups to “pressure the Kingdom to change its laws and systems,” according to a charge sheet her family published earlier in December.

The SCC was described by Amnesty International in November as an “an institution used to silence dissent and notorious for issuing lengthy prison sentences following seriously flawed trials.”

In a statement on Monday, her sister Lina said Hathloul had been charged, tried and convicted using counter-terrorism laws in a rushed trial that “failed to provide evidence beyond Loujain’s well noted activism and failed to properly investigate the torture Loujain endured in prison.”

Hathloul has told her family that she was sexually assaulted and tortured while in detention, including waterboarding, flogging and electrocution, according to multiple statements released by her family and supporters.

The Saudi government has previously denied allegations of torture, saying it does not “condone, promote, or allow the use of torture.”

The SCC judge also denied the torture allegations in his final report, according to the Hathloul family statement.

CNN has reached out to the Saudi government for comment on the case.

Hathloul has twice gone on hunger strike — in protest at her prison conditions, and because she was denied communication with her relatives — according to her family.

A 2019 American Bar Association Center for Human Rights report said the SCC was created in 2008 to prosecute terrorism detainees, but that the its “caseload was quickly expanded from alleged violent extremists to include political dissidents, religious minorities and human rights activists” and concluded that the “SCC routinely convicts individuals of terrorism charges without any meaningful evidence.”

Activist Hathloul will remain on probation for three years following her release, during which time she could be arrested for any perceived illegal activity, according to the family’s statement. She will also be banned from traveling for five years, it said.

Hathloul has 30 days to appeal the court’s verdict.

‘Activism is not a crime’

Three other women’s rights activists who were arrested alongside Hathloul — Nassima al-Sada, Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani — remain in detention, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

The case of another prominent activist, Samar Badawi, has now been referred to the special court. Badawi campaigned against the driving ban and against the imprisonment of her former husband, rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, as well as her brother, blogger Raif Badawi. 

Last month, seven European human rights ambassadors criticized Saudi Arabia over the continued detention of these activists and called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies in “reiterating our call for the release of all political detainees, including the women’s rights activists.”

“Peaceful activism, and advocating for women’s rights is not a crime. Human rights defenders can be a strong partner for governments in addressing concerns within society,” the ambassadors said.

On Monday, Hathloul’s sister Lina underlined that message, saying her sister is “not a terrorist, she is an activist.”

“To be sentenced for her activism for the very reforms that MBS and the Saudi Kingdom so proudly tout is the ultimate hypocrisy. My sister is the bravest person I know, and while we are devastated that she will have to spend even one more day in prison, our fight is far from over,” she said in a statement.

“We will not rest until Loujain is free.”

CNN’s Kareem Khadder and Sarah El Sirgany contributed to this report.


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Alfred Lucero for (CNT) City News Talk #tucson-az


4 bd | 3 ba | 2,660 sqft

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Unique brick construction Ranch style home. Located in a highly desirable Catalina Foothills location. Well maintained home features archways and many architectural details. City and mountain views. New carpet and padding in living areas and bedrooms. Spacious front living room. Fireplace in den. Kitchen features built in phone or computer area. Two car garage come with shelving and storage. Mature desert vegetation in front and rear yard. Covered back porch and sitting area off master bedroom. Sparking pool. Premium lot features city and mountain view. No HOA.

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US News

An El Paso teacher who taught her students kindness loses her battle with Covid-19

By Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

Ellen Britt for (CNT) City News And Talk 


(CNN) Her smile and positive attitude are what her family and school community are remembering as they mourn the loss of a beloved teacher.

Zelene Blancas, a first grade teacher at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary School in El Paso, Texas, died Monday, her family told CNN. She was 10 years into her career as a teacher.

Blancas tested positive for coronavirus October 20 and days later, she was hospitalized, her brother, Mario Blancas, told CNN. After weeks of showing signs of recovery and taking steps on her own, her oxygen levels dropped, and she was intubated November 22.

The otherwise healthy 35-year-old never came off the ventilator, her brother said. She spent two months in the hospital before dying of complications from Covid-19, her family said.

“She was like my Wonder Woman,” Blancas said. “She was my backbone, and she was like my second mother even though we are only four years apart.”

Zelene Blancas was a first-grade teacher at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary School in El Paso, Texas.

The way she lived her life and how she spread a message of kindness to her students and everyone around her is how her family wants to remember Zelene, he said.

“Even though sometimes being a teacher is kind of tough … she always looked at the positive way,” Blancas said. “I didn’t know until now, but she was a walking angel.”

Zelene Blancas leaves behind her parents, Gloria Luna and Victor Blancas, her brother and her niece, Natalia. Her babies were her two dogs, Rocky and Chico.

The family set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her medical expenses during her extended hospital stay. The family plans to hold a funeral for Zelene on January 8, her brother said.

She taught her students to be kind

The bilingual teacher came to national attention two years ago when her video of students saying goodbye to each other earned more than 22 million views. She taught her students to be kind, the school’s principal, Cristina Sanchez-Chavira, told CNN.


Chavira said she remembers when Blancas captured the video just before the holiday break in November 2018. The video showed a line of students saying goodbye to a classmate, having picked a hug, handshake, high five or fist bump.

“That was her class every day. It wasn’t anything that she did special or anything new,” Chavira said. “The culture in her classroom was very caring, very loving. She taught her kids to be kind to each other and truly look at each other as a family.”

The video was a glimpse the type of classroom environment Blancas fostered and it represented who the teacher was.

“That in itself was her,” Chavira said. “That in itself tells you the culture she created in her classroom.”

Blancas was a bilingual teacher and most of her students were learning English, Chavira said. Some of her students were new to the country and others were new to the area. It was up to Blancas to make both the parents and the students feels comfortable.

“Teachers do more than teach,” she said. “The success that she had in her classroom, with her students, with her families, was because she had that passion to make a difference and to take it beyond academics for the students.”

Blancas was the first to help new colleagues and the first to help anyone who needed it, Chavira said.

“We are all hurting because we know what a great future she had ahead of her,” Chavira said. “She was a shining star. Our community, our students, her family, is short that smile, that love, that warmth that she contributed.”

Chavira said you could see Blancas’ passion “the moment that you would meet her.”

She spread love and kindness with pink socks

That passion spread to the world in Blancas’ many tweets about her students, her classroom and her work with a non-profit meant to spread kindness.

Nick Adkins met Blancas on Twitter in 2018 when he saw her video of her students hugging and leaving the classroom.

Adkins gave the teacher pink socks for all 32 students in her class, he said in a blog post. He is the co-founder of Pinksocks Life, a non-profit that promotes human connection and kindness, according to its website.

The idea is that anyone who gets the pink socks becomes a part of the mission to spread love and empathy and Blancas “lived the ethos of gifting every day,” he said.

“Zelene Blancas was the best of humanity,” Adkins wrote. “The ripple effect of love and kindness that she put out into the universe through teaching her kids through the years is immeasurable.”

Blancas lived the mission and her legacy is the mission, Adkins wrote to CNN.

“Ms. Blancas and the entire staff and students at Shook are what we should all strive for each and every day, each and every now. She lives on in the love that she taught and spread,” he wrote.

Blancas also helped her school move toward healing after the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in August 2019. She organized a big event at the school to get pink socks for every single student and staff member, her brother said.

Pinksocks Life raised the money and donated 1,337 pink socks to the school, Adkins wrote in a blog post.

“Her idea was basically to promote kindness because lately there has been a lot of bullying, so she wanted to flip that and make those students change and believe in kindness,” her brother said.

Blancas said his sister was working on a passion project of her own, one he hopes he can bring to light. She was writing a children’s book and had already drawn the illustrations, he said.

It was his sister who also inspired Blancas to become a teacher’s aide and follow in her footsteps, he said.

“She was a mentor to me in a personal and professional way,” Blancas said. “Thanks to her I’m going to follow her legacy and I’m going to become a teacher.”


US News

How Atlanta rappers helped flip the White House (and they’re hustling to flip the US Senate)

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN

Ellen Britt for (CNT) City News And Talk 


(CNN) Welcome to Atlanta, where the players politic.

Anger, fear, new voters, PAC money, minority turnout — these are often credited with shaping elections. What you don’t tend to hear is that rappers in hip-hop’s modern mecca educated voters and got them to the polls to help bounce an incumbent out of the White House.

That’s what happened in November. Atlanta’s hip-hop community hit the streets and beauty and barber shops, took to Instagram and YouTube, and helmed voter drives to help turn Georgia from red to blue — and they’re working to flip the US Senate in the state’s runoffs next week.

This isn’t to say Atlanta rappers alone secured President-elect Joe Biden’s big W, but when one considers Biden’s victory hinged on flipping a handful of states, and Georgia — which hadn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since 1992 — was decided by fewer than 13,000 of its 5 million ballots, the ATLiens’ impact feels undeniable.

2 Chainz hosts a food drive in September in which volunteers handed out PPE and registered voters.

“Minus the hip-hop involvement, we might have had a different outcome,” said Killer Mike, one half of Run the Jewels and a 20-year veteran of his hometown rap scene. “I don’t know of one person in hip-hop who did not do something, from Migos to Lil Baby. I’ve seen everyone from our community take part in some way.”

The 2020 election demonstrates every vote matters, said Derrick Darby, a Rutgers University philosophy professor who studies the intersection of hip-hop and politics and co-hosts “A Pod Called Quest.”

“What that means is in places like Atlanta, Georgia, and more broadly in places that were so closely contested, every single effort to get out the vote was absolutely essential for the outcome we got,” he said. “Artists like Killer Mike, like T.I., Usher, Janelle Monae, they appreciate the celebrity platform and the duties of citizenship that require them to be engaged in using their platform to transform politics.”

Feeding poll workers and voter drives

Atlanta has its way of doing things. The 2020 election was no exception.

Big Boi of OutKast sent meals to hungry poll workers, while Offset of Migos fed folks waiting in line to vote. 2 Chainz educated ex-convicts on their voting rights. T.I. lent his Trap Music Museum for a voter drive. EarthGang and Janelle Monae joined Michelle Obama for voting initiatives.

Even exotic dancers — not necessarily always aligned with hip-hop but who in Atlanta were integral to promoting the local rap scene before the city’s trap music carved out its own subgenre — got in on the politics. Director Angela Barnes saw her viral “Get Your Booty to the Poll” public service announcement as a means of addressing down-ballot issues and the marginalization of Black voters, she said.

Before their Verzuz battle in November, Jeezy, left, and Gucci Mane stand on stage at Magic City as Stacey Abrams urges the audience to vote.

“Turning the state blue went through the Blue Flame,” Killer Mike said, referring to one of the city’s famed adult clubs.

As President Donald Trump’s team boasted of meetings with Lil Wayne and Ice Cube, Atlanta’s Jermaine Dupri, Monica and Ludacris joined Biden’s get-out-the-vote efforts targeting Black voters in swing states. Ahead of a highly anticipated Verzuz battle, Jeezy and Gucci Mane lent Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams their stage and street cred for a message touting the importance of voting January 5.

The former gubernatorial candidate spoke about Covid-19 response, stimulus money and offering second chances to ex-convicts like her younger brother, Walter, before Gucci seamlessly flowed into one of his Jeezy dis records, “The dope game hard; the rap game easy …”

Killer Mike, a longtime backer of US Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, continued his political advocacy well after his candidate dropped out of the presidential race. He’s joined an incoming county prosecutor’s transition team, applauding her stance on restorative justice, and has been filming PSAs ahead of the Senate runoffs, following up on his work before the election.

While he’s happy to advocate for the Rev. Raphael Warnock and he appreciates Jon Ossoff’s team reaching out to him, he said, he’s not shy in letting the Democratic candidates know how they can best serve Black Georgians. (They face Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively.)

Killer Mike, right, and T.I., left, appear with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms during the George Floyd protests.

For the son of a policeman, that means reminding the Democrats that many Southerners, like him, are “fiercely pro-Second Amendment,” he said.

“It’s important to use every weapon at your disposal to fortify your community,” the Grammy-winning rhymesmith told CNN. “If I don’t like your policy, I’m going to call bulls**t, and I’m going to speak against you publicly.”

No one should be surprised. After Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May, propelling Atlanta and other cities into days of fiery protest, Killer Mike and T.I. appeared alongside Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to appeal for calm. Mike also tapped the platform for a broader message: It was time for Atlantans to “plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize” and take their anger to the polls to hold mayors, prosecutors and others accountable.

In the footsteps of Dead Prez, Public Enemy

Darby calls rap “a tool of empowerment,” and he credits numerous hip-hop artists with helping deliver him to Rutgers University from New York’s Queensbridge Houses, the project that also gave birth to Nas and Mobb Deep.

“I had (Nas’ debut) ‘Illmatic,’ Mobb Deep. I had Rakim. I had Wu-Tang. I had (Big Daddy Kane) — all of those voices that were giving me what I needed to get through it,” he said. “They were my inspiration.”

In 2016, Darby conducted a TED Talk on how mastering the fifth element of hip-hop — “doing the knowledge” — punched his ticket to higher education and the scholar’s life. He finds rap is an especially useful tool when it comes to amplifying oft-overlooked Black, brown and young voices, he said.

Killer Mike walks with Sen. Bernie Sanders before a campaign event in February, ahead of the presidential primary.

T.I. takes the responsibility of representation seriously. He understands why fellow Black Americans are weary and skeptical of the political machine. At the same time, he feels an obligation to extol the ways in which they can harness the rights they’ve been granted to improve their conditions.

“The system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. A lot of people say, ‘The system ain’t working,’ but it wasn’t meant to work for us. The Constitution wasn’t even written for us. They wrote that s**t for a bunch of White men, and they wasn’t thinking about us,” Tip said. “How we can impact that system and kind of turn it around and have it work more so in our favor is learn the rules of it — and the first rule of engagement is in the power of the vote.”

He’s teamed up with Warnock in the past on justice initiatives, and he’ll be weighing the best ways he can “galvanize and activate the culture on Rev. Warnock’s and Ossoff’s behalf” ahead of January 5, he said.

For Killer Mike, it’s not solely about showing support, but also about “getting the proletariat to think about how policy affects themselves” — building on the work of groups like Dead Prez, the first band to take him on tour.

“I’m hugely affected by Dead Prez and PE,” he said. “Listen to me: I am a student of Ice Cube, who is a student of (PE frontman) Chuck D. Ice-T challenged politicians during the L.A. riots. He always made you think. KRS-One down to Kilo, Goodie Mob. There have been tons. Most rappers have an opinion. … They have given something or spoke up on something.”

T.I.’s Trap Music Museum hosts a “Be Woke Vote” exhibit in Atlanta on October 17.

While Killer Mike, T.I. and Dupri will doubtless continue working to shape politics after the election — Mike’s mulling the creation of a “rap PAC” to lobby for hip-hop artists and businesspeople — there’s still plenty of work to do before the runoffs.

Dupri worries Georgians might not be as enthused as they were for the presidential election, when the state’s voters achieved record turnout. Not only are runoffs typically less of a draw than general elections, but he’s concerned people will still be in holiday mode come Tuesday.

“It’s not so easy to get people to move. Their focus is in other places,” he said. “I’m worried about turnout. A lot needs to be done.”

‘It’s in the grass, in the dirt of the city’

Atlanta is the perfect setting for Black entertainers to mold the political landscape.

In interviews with CNN, Dupri cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman John Lewis and the Freedom Riders, while T.I. mentioned King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, former Mayor cum Ambassador Andrew Young and the campaign by the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of Black colleges, to end apartheid in South Africa. Killer Mike, who as a kid campaigned for Young, spoke of almost five decades of Black mayors “who understand people who sing and dance don’t just sing and dance.”

The city is steeped in activism and uprising aimed at improving the plight of African Americans, so it’s natural that as their art became a juggernaut in the 1990s Atlanta rappers began carrying on the tradition.

“The whole us being a part of politics in this city, it’s in our blood. It’s in the grass, in the dirt of the city. It feels like something we want to be a part of,” Dupri said. “We’ve been a part of trying to make it better for us for a long time.”

Before the Olympics arrived in Atlanta in 1996, there were “big conversations” about whether the Black community would be left out, Darby recalled. OutKast and Goodie Mob spoke to those issues on their records, “leading to broader conversations about gentrification, which Atlanta was on the verge of,” Darby said.

Killer Mike points out Atlanta hip-hop’s socially conscious streak goes back to Kilo Ali, arguably the city’s first rap star, and his 1991 anthem, “America Has a Problem,” dealing with the pitfalls of cocaine. Nearly three decades later, Atlanta’s rappers are more than musicians; they’re businessmen and -women, job creators — voices that must be respected.

“Our culture runs this city. We make this city go,” T.I. told CNN. “You come here, our culture is going to take the lead, period. I can’t think of anything — from the film and TV industry to real estate to sports, whatever it is, bruh — our culture runs this town, and it must be acknowledged if anyone wants to have any significant influence.”

The three-time Grammy winner added, “What we love to do is use that influence as leverage to support the right people who have a genuine interest in helping the people in our communities.”

Took a while to get here, Dupri says

Dupri entered Atlanta’s hip-hop scene earlier than most, discovering Kris Kross and writing multiplatinum singles for the duo before opening his label, So So Def Recordings, in 1993. Because of that clout, he feels he can reach young and old — a privilege but also an obligation as he wishes he had had more mentors when he was coming up in the game.

Jermaine Dupri speaks during a campaign rally for US Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on December 5.

“You have to move the way you want the moves to be made,” he told CNN. “Me not doing it is me leaving people in the same space I was left in. That’s not my energy.”

Atlanta’s artists today have more influence than he or TLC or Goodie Mob had, owing largely to social media, he said.

“It makes things feel much more massive than times prior. If Kris Kross would’ve come out in this era and been as popular as they were, people would think Kris Kross was Drake. That’s how big they were,” Dupri said. “If OutKast would’ve come out now — man, they would be perceived as The Beatles.

“(Social media) allows the new rappers to have a bigger voice and be seen a lot more, and people are paying more attention to the culture.”

Hip-hop has long been the most influential export from a city that brought the world Coca-Cola and Tyler Perry, but Dupri doesn’t feel the city has always given the rap community its dap for “the energy we were putting out into the world.”

Dupri recalled having to “raise hell” to get Kris Kross a Sprite commercial. Even two years ago, when he included Abrams, then a gubernatorial candidate, in his all-star So So Def anniversary lineup for the first event in the Atlanta Hawks’ renovated State Farm Arena, it drew only a few headlines.

Then-gubernatorial contender Stacey Abrams appears with Dupri at 2018 concert in Atlanta.

Dupri found himself surprised last month when he saw a local news channel covering the American Music Awards nominations of Atlanta’s Future, Lil Baby and Summer Walker, he said. He doesn’t recall Luda or Usher getting much local coverage for their Grammys, or Mariah Carey, after she snared two gilded gramophones for “We Belong Together,” which was recorded in Atlanta and which Dupri co-wrote and co-produced.

That’s why Freaknik fizzled, he said. The city refused to embrace the spring break celebration for Black college students that exploded in the 1990s.

“They just thought Black kids were wiling out. It could’ve been our Taste of Chicago or Caribana to Toronto,” Dupri said. “The city did not understand that it was a cultural movement these kids started. They just said, ‘We don’t want it in the city anymore.'”

‘Hip-hop has been doing it’

Killer Mike says many Atlanta mayors, going back to Maynard Jackson’s 1975 charity fight with Muhammad Ali, have understood the importance of tapping the entertainer class, but it didn’t always garner the attention it deserved. Likewise, Atlanta rappers have long worked beneath the radar to better their hometown.

“Hip-hop has been doing it. The media just started to acknowledge it,” he said.

Tip concurs: “This ain’t nothing that Atlanta is new to.”

Killer Mike addresses a campaign rally ahead of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders in South Carolina on February 28.

Mike prefers influence to credit — “credit just means you in debt,” he quipped — but rap, in general, has had trouble wielding either over its relatively short history.

Going back to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 1982 hit, “The Message,” hip-hop has a storied lineage of rappers taking on society’s shortcomings — from Public Enemy and Dead Prez to J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar — yet critics more often home in on elements of the music they find objectionable, Darby said.

“People think about hip-hop — the vulgarity, the pants sagging, it’s all about wealth and shaking it up in the club — and that’s just an easy way to ignore the substance we find in serious artists,” the professor said.

This has always infuriated T.I., he said. To him, it feels like a cop-out. Rock ‘n’ roll is rarely held to the same standard, he said.

“Artists create art that is a reflection of their environment,” Tip said. “If you don’t like what rappers talk about, you should come see our humble beginnings. You should see what we made it out of. To fix what the artists are talking about, you have to fix their environment. That’s the whole reason (Public Enemy’s) ‘Fight the Power’ or (NWA’s) ‘F**k tha Police’ were made. It’s because they were making us aware of how atrocious their environments were.

T.I. speaks at a Las Vegas summit on race and policing in June, as activist Kyle West and comedian Lady A.K. McMorris look on.

eems to make “the same fuss” when Quentin Tarantino puts his spin on the world, Darby said. Meanwhile, rappers painting pictures of their communities, offering diagnoses and holding up mirrors so the country can better see its reflection are deemed problematic. It’s past time to rethink those attitudes, he said.

“They’re rich, complex people living in the world just like we all are,” the professor said. “They can teach us something about the problems we all live with, the dreams we have, a better world, a better Atlanta — and they can say something about what we need to do to get there.”


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Phoenix Home of the Day 1920 E Medlock Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85016

Alfred Lucero for (CNT) City News Talk #phoenix-az


2 bd | 2 ba | 1,622 sqft

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Learn more on Zillow.

World News

New Year is greeted in muted fashion as leaders warn, Covid loves a crowd

By Laura Smith-Spark and Ivana Kottasová, CNN

Ellen Britt for (CNT) City News And Talk 


London (CNN)Many people will want to put 2020 firmly behind them. But governments around the world have pleaded with people not to see in 2021 with traditional New Year’s Eve parties and street celebrations for fear of accelerating the spread of coronavirus.

The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, India and Australia are among the many nations where this year’s New Year festivities will be a muted affair.

Exactly a year has passed since mysterious cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, were first reported to the World Health Organization. Over the following 365 days, Covid-19 has extended its reach into every corner of the globe, infecting more than 82 million people and causing at least 1.8 million deaths.

Millions of people are under lockdown and many more face tough restrictions on everyday activities as governments battle to keep health care systems afloat until newly approved vaccines can be rolled out.

The Sydney Harbour fireworks display is seen over a near-empty Sydney Opera House.

In Australia, the traditional firework display lit up the skies above the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

But the display was shorter than usual and people were banned from gathering along the harbor unless they were in hospitality venues, where numbers were capped, the New South Wales government said.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian apologized Monday for the restrictions but said they were necessary to prevent a potential super-spreading event. “On New Year’s Eve, we don’t want any crowds on the foreshores around Sydney whatsoever,” Berejiklian said.

A mass gathering on Sydney’s Bronte Beach on Christmas Day, in breach of local anti-Covid-19 rules, caused public outcry at a time when authorities are tackling a cluster of infections in the city’s northern beaches area.

Meanwhile, the neighboring state of Victoria issued fresh coronavirus restrictions hours before New Year’s Eve celebrations were due to begin. Gatherings of more than 15 people are no longer allowed and masks are mandatory indoors.

The move came as Victoria reported three new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Thursday morning, breaking a 61-day streak of zero locally transmitted cases. There are currently 10 active cases in the state, according to Victoria’s Department of Health.

New Zealand’s widely envied success in stamping out coronavirus infections meant New Year’s Eve could be celebrated more or less as usual. Fireworks lit up the night sky above Auckland as the city welcomed in the New Year.

In Hong Kong, the traditional New Year’s celebrations were replaced by a virtual countdown with the Hong Kong Tourism Board live streaming a celebratory video to mark the arrival of the New Year.

In China, President Xi Jinping delivered a taped New Year speech on Thursday, praising the country for its response to the pandemic.

Fireworks went ahead as planned in Taiwan’s Taipei, although some restrictions were placed on those attending public viewing spots. According to the Taipei city government’s website, masks were mandatory and people were required to bring their cell phones for possible contact tracing. Food and drinks other than water were banned at the gatherings.

People enjoy the music in the Americas Cup Village during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Auckland, New Zealand, on December 31, 2020.

Several major cities in India issued restrictions on New Year’s celebrations. Authorities in Delhi limited public gatherings to five people and imposed an overnight curfew between 11 p.m. on December 31 and 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Restrictions were also imposed in Mumbai and Bengaluru. “After 11 p.m., no parties — whether they are in restaurants, bars, pubs, the beach or on rooftops will be allowed… And we will be monitoring all this through drones,” S. Chaitanya, a spokesperson for Mumbai Police, told local media.

The rate of coronavirus infections has declined steadily in India since October. The country has registered a total of 10.26 million cases, with more than 148,000 deaths.

Fireworks are launched from the Taipei 101 commercial building to celebrate the New Year in Taipei.

‘Leave the parties till later’

In Europe, where cases have risen sharply in recent months, the usual end-of-year festivities have been heavily restricted in many countries.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to “see in the New Year safely at home” at a Downing Street press briefing Wednesday, as he said there had been a 40% increase in cases in England in the past week.

The UK recorded 964 coronavirus deaths and 55,892 new cases on Thursday, government figures show, as the country grapples with the rapid spread of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant.

“Covid loves a crowd so please leave the parties till later,” said the National Medical Director of NHS England, Stephen Powis, as he too urged people to stay at home on New Year’s Eve.

As of Thursday, more than three-quarters of the English population are now living under the country’s toughest “tier 4” restrictions, which require people to stay at home except for work, education, exercise or essential activities. No household mixing is allowed indoors, while outside, one person from each household can meet with just one person from another household.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service issued a warning to potential party-goers to “celebrate the New Year in the comfort of their own homes, not the homes of family and friends.”

For the first time since he was elected in 2013, Pope Francis will not lead the traditional New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations due to sciatic pain, the Vatican said in a statement Thursday.

Ireland situation ‘extremely serious’

Ireland’s Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, announced a full national lockdown Wednesday for “at least” a month. The step followed confirmation that the new, more virulent strain of coronavirus first discovered in the UK was now in Ireland, he said, fueling a 61% increase in confirmed coronavirus cases on the previous week.

The restrictions, which came into force Thursday, include a ban on household visits and the closure of non-essential shops. Schools will remain closed until January 11. No social or family gatherings are allowed in any setting, with an exception for very small wedding and funeral groups.

Martin described the situation as “extremely serious.”

In France, a strict 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is in place in a bid to stem rising coronavirus infections, curtailing public New Year’s Eve celebrations across the country.

Health Minister Olivier Véran warned Tuesday that the country could adopt an earlier curfew — starting from 6 p.m. — from January 2 in the areas where the virus is spreading fastest. The 20 or more “departments” affected do not include Paris.

Under government guidelines, gatherings are limited to six adults, although any number of children can be present. Restaurants are closed except for takeaway and cafés are closed, although shops, including non-essential shops, are open. Cinemas, museums and theaters are all closed.

Tough restrictions are also in place across Germany to limit the spread of coronavirus.

‘Super-spreader events’ fear

South Africa, too, faces a less than festive New Year period. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced tougher restrictions Monday as new coronavirus infections climbed at what he described as an “unprecedented rate.”

Under the tougher regulations, which are in place until mid-January, all indoor and outdoor gatherings are banned, the nationwide curfew has been extended from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and alcohol sales are banned. Mask wearing was also made a legal requirement.

The move came after a new Covid-19 variant was detected in South Africa and cases surged during the festive season. More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve, Ramaphosa said.

“The rapid rise in infections is being fueled by so-called super-spreader events, including end-of-year functions, family and social gatherings, and music and cultural events,” Ramaphosa said.

Some leaders have also urged caution in the United States as coronavirus cases soar in many parts of the country.

No crowds will be allowed to enter New York City’s Times Square this year for the famous “ball drop” celebration, usually witnessed by thousands of revelers.

The New Year’s Eve Times Square event “will look completely different than it has any other time in history,” New York Police Department chief Terence A. Monahan said Wednesday.

“We could all agree that 2020 has been a year unlike anything else we’ve experienced,” he told a briefing, as he urged people to stay at home with their families. “Don’t come,” he said. “If you think you’re going to be able to stand there and watch the ball, you’re mistaken.”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on Wednesday urged people to “reconsider” going out to celebrate New Year’s Eve to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the state.

“It’s not lost on me that Las Vegas is known for being one of the best places in the world to ring in the new year. But this year, we must look different,” Sisolak said during a news briefing.

“I know people want to celebrate the end of 2020, and I don’t blame them. But if we don’t start making smart choices at the start of 2021, we will look a lot and feel a lot more like 2020 than any of us want it to be.”

CNN’s Sarah Dean, Swati Gupta, Gisela Crespo, Pauline Lockwood and Ben Westcott contributed to this report.


HT Local News

After a year like this, expect a strange New Year’s Eve

By Jennifer Peltz 

Elexus Lopez for (CNT) City News and Talk #local-all

NEW YORK (AP) — If ever a year’s end seemed like cause for celebration, 2020 might be it.

Yet the coronavirus scourge that dominated the year is also looming over New Year’s festivities and forcing officials worldwide to tone them down.

From New York’s Times Square to Sydney Harbor, big public blowouts are being turned into TV-only shows and digital events. Fireworks displays have been canceled from the Las Vegas Strip to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Even private parties in some places are restricted.

The occasion stirs mixed feelings for people like Cesar Soltero, who was taking photos, and taking stock, in Times Square this week.

“I’m going to celebrate that I’m alive, but I’m not precisely too happy for this year,” said Soltero, 36, an engineer visiting from Orlando, Florida, after forgoing his usual holiday trip to see family in Mexico.

Simona Faidiga and Alessandro Nunziata strolled through Times Square with their Labrador retriever puppy, Maggie, who has given Faidiga a lift after she lost her tour guide job.

The Italian couple moved to Miami for new jobs in March, just as the pandemic froze tourism. He is working as a sales representative, but she is not back at work yet. And they’re not ready to declare 2021 will be better, not wanting to jinx it.

“I mean, I don’t think it could be worse than 2020,” said Nunziata, 27.

Days ahead of the ball drop in Times Square, it clearly wasn’t New Year’s as usual at the Crossroads of the World. There was room to roam on sidewalks that would normally be all but impassable.

Vendors’ carts and window displays at the area’s struggling gift shops flaunted few 2021-themed souvenirs as workers set up a stage for a celebration that will unfold this year without the usual throngs of cheering, kissing revelers. Police will block off the area so spectators can’t get a glimpse.

“It’s almost like a ‘Seinfeld’ episode,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said, invoking the 1990s “show about nothing.” “This is a ball drop about nothing, where you can’t see, so you may as well stay home.”

The event’s special guests will be first responders and essential workers. But they won’t be joining the mayor on stage to lead the countdown. Instead, each guest will watch from a private, well-spaced area.

The night’s performances — including disco diva Gloria Gaynor’s singing of the apt-for-2020 anthem “I Will Survive” — will be aimed at TV audiences.

New Year’s Eve will look different around the world after a year in which the virus killed an estimated 1.8 million people, including more than 330,000 in the U.S.

Germany banned the sale of fireworks, which residents usually set off in on the streets, and a pyrotechnics show at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate is off.

So, too, are the fireworks over the River Thames in locked-down London, where New Year’s Eve also marks Britain’s final economic split from the European Union. However, Big Ben, which has been largely silent since 2017 while its clock tower is restored, will sound 12 bongs at midnight.

The Netherlands moved the national countdown from an Amsterdam park to a soccer stadium, where spectators won’t be allowed in and pyrotechnics will be replaced with “electric fireworks.”

In Rome, the fireworks are still on, but customary concerts in public plazas have been scrapped in favor of livestreamed performances and art installations. Pope Francis will skip his typical Dec. 31 visit to the Vatican’s life-sized Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square and plans to deliver his New Year’s Day blessing indoors, to prevent crowds from gathering.

Rio de Janeiro nixed the fireworks, open-air concerts and rooftop parties that draw crowds of white-clad revelers in the Copacabana neighborhood, where only residents will be allowed in.

New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest days of the year at Paulo Roberto Senna’s Copacabana beach stand, but the 57-year-old said he was OK with the shutdown: “No money can buy our health!”

Hot dog vendor Fabio Henrique saw it differently.

“They tell us to stay home, but for those who don’t have money, where are we going to get the means to live?” asked Henrique, 39.

In Russia, New Year’s Eve has been more widely celebrated than Christmas, which is marked on Jan. 7 by the country’s Orthodox Christian majority. Public events have been banned or restricted in many regions. But the country’s so-called New Year’s Eve capital, the city of Kaluga, is luring tourists with a week of festivities, despite pleas from residents to cancel. Officials in Kaluga, 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Moscow, said virus precautions will be taken.

Poland has told residents not to circulate between 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 until 6 a.m. on Jan. 1. Turkey declared a four-day lockdown starting on New Year’s Eve, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that security forces will inspect hotels for illicit parties.

In the U.S., the Christmas morning bombing of the downtown tourist district in Nashville, Tennessee, led the city to cancel its plan to light fireworks and blow up a 2020 sign.

“To say it would have been tone deaf would be an understatement,” said Bruce Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

In Las Vegas, casino capacity is being limited to 25% and public gatherings are capped by the governor at 50 people. But despite the rules and the risk of COVID-19, tens of thousands of people are expected to mark the new year on the Strip or downtown. Police said their best guess is for 200,000 revelers.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa suggested a new way of observing the holiday by lighting candles to honor COVID-19 victims and front-line workers and to hope for a healthy 2021.

Back in New York, yoga and stress-management instructor Allison Richard, 39, wrote up a few New Year’s wishes on confetti that will be dropped at midnight in Times Square.

“Freedom,” she wrote, and “contentment,” “commitment,” “connection,” “prosperity” and “love.”




Travel News

America’s ‘worst’ airport tries to reinvent itself

Julia Buckley, CNN

Ellen Britt for (CNT) City News And Talk #travel-all 

(CNN) — It’s long been the bane of traveling New Yorkers’ lives, and incoming president Joe Biden once described it as “third world.”

But while the aviation industry has been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic, LaGuardia Airport has been quietly undergoing major renovations.

And now, $8 billion later, the new Terminal B is almost finished.

“New Yorkers love to criticize, and they love to hate. I think if you looked at every single passenger survey, LaGuardia was always the worst,” says Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“Our challenge was to take it from worst to first,” he tells CNN.

Today, filled with art installations including one of the largest mosaic walls in the US, and even a breathtaking water feature which projects images of New York icons such as the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge onto a cascading fountain, LaGuardia is a very different place.

Passengers for Air Canada, American Airlines, Southwest and United — which are all housed at the new terminal — have been enjoying the new public spaces since the summer.

From worst to… best?

It was Joe Biden’s comments in 2015 that sparked the renovation effort.

New York authorities green-lit the works after the then-Vice President said, “If I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York you’d think I must be in some third-world country.”

The central terminal, B, was built in 1964, and had barely changed since then.

And LaGuardia was, according to travelers, among the most outdated, noisiest and least accessible airports in the country. Not to mention its on-time record, which was one of the worst in the United States.

The redevelopment is the largest public-private partnership in US aviation history, and is still only 80% complete — there are still some last gates to demolish and reopen. The project will be fully completed in 2022, and will see three out of the four terminals completely redeveloped.

But for now, travelers in Terminal B can enjoy the new breezy, light-flooded departures hall, its entire back wall covered in Laura Owens’ colossal, 25,000-square-foot mosaic mural, “I NY,” in which NYC icons, such as signs for the Stonewall Inn, Apollo Theater, and Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster, are depicted against a background of blue skies and fluffy white clouds. It’s accompanied by a monumental aviation-themed sculpture by Sarah Sze, “Shorter than the Day,” hanging in mid-air.

In the Connector area is Sabine Hornig’s “La Guardia Vistas,” a modern stained glass installation (of latex ink and vinyl mounted on glass) pairing over 1,100 photos of New York City into a cityscape in honor of the airport founder and former NYC mayor, Fiorello La Guardia.

Jeppe Hein’s 70 steel balloons dangle from the ceiling throughout the terminal, and his bench sculptures provide photo-friendly seating.

Free Covid tests for all

2020 isn’t the best year to be relaunching an airport.

When New York was the US center of the epidemic in March, passenger numbers across the city’s three airports plummeted by an astonishing 98%. Numbers are still down 75-80%, according to Cotton.

But the airport is offering free Covid tests, alongside the art, to attract passengers back.

Cotton thinks the offering — which spans 840,000 square feet and four floors — is now “best in class.”

The Port Authority will be hoping that more travelers get to experience it in 2021.


HT Real Estate

Chandler Home of the Day 4261 S Thistle Pl, Chandler, AZ 85248

Alfred Lucero for (CNT) City News Talk #chandler-az



4 bd | 3 ba | 2,948 sqft

4261 S Thistle Pl, Chandler, AZ 85248

Beautiful, highly upgraded home in coveted Echelon in Ocotillo. Wood-tile flooring, plantation shutters, shiplap, board and baton, reclaimed wood decorator walls, barn doors, lots of custom touches. Great room with formal dining, family room open to kitchen. Kitchen has oversized island for family gatherings, quartz tops, SS appliances, 5 burner gas cooktop, upgraded sink, large walk-in pantry. Bedroom/full bath down, loft, 3 beds/2 baths up with laundry room. Granite tops in all bathrooms, tile surrounds at showers, and upgraded lighting. Generous size master suite and secondary rooms with walk in closets. Master bath has garden tub, walk-in shower, double raised vanities and walk-in closet. Backyard has pavered patio, green grass with flagstone fire pit, and privacy palms. Garage has extra storage space with barn door and slate flooring. Laundry offers storage cabinets and sink pre-plumb. Surround pre-wire at covered patio. Too many upgrades to name. Truly a must see!

Learn more on Zillow.

US News

Fact checking Ossoff’s false claim that Loeffler ‘has been campaigning with a klansman’

By Holmes Lybrand

Ellen Britt for (CNT) City News And Talk  


Washington (CNN)The Senate runoff races in Georgia that will decide party control of the Senate have been filled with false and misleading claims and attacks between candidates, and with five days left the trend shows no sign of slowing.

When asked Wednesday about recent remarks Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler made against her Democratic opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock, Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff went on the offensive, claiming Loeffler was campaigning with a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

“[H]ere’s the bottom line, Kelly Loeffler has been campaigning with a klansman,” Ossoff told Fox News Wednesday. “Kelly Loeffler has been campaigning with a klansman,” he repeated, “and so she is stooping to these vicious personal attacks to distract from the fact that she’s been campaigning with a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Ossoff tweeted the video from Fox News, writing again that “Kelly Loeffler campaigned with a klansman.”

Facts First: This is false. A former member of the KKK took a photo with Loeffler while she was campaigning earlier this month. Loeffler’s campaign said the senator did not know who the man was and would have removed him from the event had she known. This is not, at all, the same as “campaigning with a klansman,” as Ossoff claimed. Politicians often take pictures with people they don’t know.

The photo, taken at a December 11 campaign event, shows Loeffler posing with Chester Doles, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance who was sentenced to prison in the 1990s for assaulting a Black man in Maryland.