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Disney Plans to Reopen Florida Parks July 11

Walt Disney World will reopen to the public in July, Disney company officials announced Wednesday.The Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks will resume business on July 11, followed by EPCOT and Hollywood Studios on July 15. The four theme parks are in Florida.In a presentation to an economic recovery task force, the multibillion-dollar entertainment company said that the moves will occur in stages to minimize health and safety risks.It is not clear when Disneyland, located in California, will reopen.Precautions approved by local governments in Florida and California include requiring that guests wear face masks, submit to temperature checks and comply with social distancing requirements. Reduced park capacity and cashless transactions will also be implemented. Disney closed its parks around the world after the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe but reopened its Shanghai amusement parks in early May. The location in China had been closed since January.Disney World in Florida employs about 77,000 people. According to CNN, the company’s theme parks accounted for 37% of its annual revenue in 2019. It says the forced closings caused an estimated 58% drop in profit for the parks and experiences unit of the company last quarter.”The theme parks define Disney for millions of its fans around the world,” Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, told CNN Business. “Returning its parks to operation signals that Disney is coming back to full speed as a company again.”

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Historic SpaceX Launch Postponed Because of Stormy Weather

The launch of a SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts on a history-making flight into orbit was called off with 16 minutes to go in the countdown Wednesday because of thunderclouds and the danger of lightning. Liftoff was rescheduled for Saturday afternoon.The commercially designed, built and owned spacecraft was set to blast off in the afternoon for the International Space Station, ushering in a new era in commercial spaceflight and putting NASA back in the business of launching astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade. But thunderstorms for much of the day threatened to force a postponement, and the word finally came down that the atmosphere was so electrically charged that the spacecraft with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard could get hit by a bolt of lightning.”No launch for today — safety for our crew members @Astro_Doug and @AstroBehnken is our top priority,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted, using a lightning emoji.The SpaceX Falcon 9, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of the rocket, sits on Launch Pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 27, 2020.The two men were scheduled to ride into orbit aboard the SpaceX’s bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, taking off from the same launch pad used during the Apollo moon missions a half-century ago. Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had arrived to watch.The flight — the long-held dream of SpaceX founder Elon Musk — would have marked the first time a private company sent humans into orbit.It would also have been the first time in nearly a decade that the United States launched astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil. Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.During the day, thunder could be heard as the astronauts made their way to the pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and a tornado warning was issued moments after they climbed into their capsule.The preparations took place in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed an estimated 100,000 Americans.”We’re launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. We haven’t done this really since 2011, so this is a unique moment in time,” Bridenstine said.With this launch, he said, “everybody can look up and say, ‘Look, the future is so much brighter than the present.’ And I really hope that this is an inspiration to the world.”The mission would put Musk and SpaceX in the same league as only three spacefaring countries — Russia, the U.S. and China, all of which gave sent astronauts into orbit.”What today is about is reigniting the dream of space and getting people fired up about the future,” he said in a NASA interview before the flight was scrubbed.A solemn-sounding Musk said he felt his responsibilities most strongly when he saw the astronauts’ wives and sons just before launch. He said he told them: “We’ve done everything we can to make sure your dads come back OK.”President Donald Trump looks at an area on a piece of equipment to sign during tour of NASA facilities before viewing the SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 Launch at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 27, 2020.NASA pushed ahead with the launch despite the viral outbreak but kept the guest list at Kennedy extremely limited and asked spectators to stay at home. Still, beaches and parks along Florida’s Space Coast are open again, and hours before the launch, cars and RVs already were lining the causeway in Cape Canaveral.The space agency also estimated 1.7 million people were watching the launch preparations online during the afternoon.Among the sightseers was Erin Gatz, who came prepared for both rain and pandemic. 
Accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, she brought face masks and a small tent to protect against the elements. She said the children had faint memories of watching in person one of the last shuttle launches almost a decade ago when they were preschoolers. “I wanted them to see the flip side and get to see the next era of space travel,” said Gatz, who lives in Deltona, Florida. “It’s exciting and hopeful.”NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to transport astronauts to the space station in a new kind of public-private partnership. Development of SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner capsules took longer than expected, however. Boeing’s ship is not expected to fly astronauts into space until early 2021.”We’re doing it differently than we’ve ever done it before,” Bridenstine said. “We’re transforming how we do spaceflight in the future.”

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Pre-Season Tropical Storm Bertha Hits Carolinas

With the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season days away, a tropical storm made landfall Wednesday on the coast of South Carolina and is expected to bring the threat of life-threatening floods as it tracks into North Carolina and Virginia, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Tropical Storm Bertha made landfall near Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, at 9:30 a.m. local time Wednesday, only an hour after forming off the coast. Bertha made landfall with maximum sustained winds of 80 kilometers per hour, said the NHC.  North Carolina and western Virginia are the next states in Bertha’s path as it tracks inland, bringing with it drenching rainfall and high winds. As it moves farther inland, it will weaken to a tropical depression and become a remnant low Wednesday night, predicted the NHC. The National Weather Service has issued flash flood watches for parts of central and eastern South Carolina, central North Carolina, and western Virginia, including the cities of Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, where the ground is already saturated by recent rainfall.  Heavy rains on soaked ground could produce dangerous flash flooding, aggravate and prolong ongoing river flooding, and produce sudden flooding of small rivers, according to the NHC. Bertha could also cause deadly rip currents along the Atlantic coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas, said the NHC. Tropical Storm Bertha is the second named tropical pre-season storm of 2020. Tropical Storm Arthur formed May 16 off the coast of Florida, continuing a six-year trend of named storms forming prior to the official June 1 start date of the Atlantic hurricane season.   This year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an abnormally severe season, with between 13 and 19 named storms, 6 to 10 hurricanes, and 3 to 6 major hurricanes.  

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US Priest Who Founded Knights of Columbus to be Beatified

The founder of the Knights of Colombus, the influential U.S.-based lay Catholic organization, is moving a step closer to possible sainthood.
Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of the Rev. Michael McGivney, a Connecticut priest who died at age 38 of pneumonia in 1890 during a pandemic similar to the current coronavirus outbreak.
He would be the first U.S. parish priest to be beatified, the first major step before canonization.
The Vatican said Wednesday that Francis had signed off on the miracle required. The Knights said it concerned the medically inexplicable cure of a baby with a life-threatening condition who was healed in utero in 2015 “after prayers by his family to Father McGivney.”
McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut, to encourage greater, active participation of lay Catholics in their faith and to care for families when the breadwinner died. Today the Knights are one of the biggest Catholic organizations in the world, known for their charitable efforts and counting about 2 million members in the Americas, Caribbean, Asia and Europe.
The organization is also an insurer, boasting more than $100 billion in financial protection for members and their families.  
No date has been set for the beatification, which the Knights said would be held in Connecticut.

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Trump Accuses Twitter of Election Interference After It Tags His Tweets with a Warning     

U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening unspecified retaliation against Twitter after the social media platform tagged a pair of his tweets on Tuesday with a fact-check warning.  The unprecedented alert on the @realDonaldTrump tweets about mail-in balloting prompted the president to accuse Twitter of interference in this year’s election and of “completely stifling” free speech.  “I, as President, will not allow it to happen,” he concluded.  .Fact checking needed, critics say
“Social media companies have been struggling with the spread of misinformation and the need for fact checking for years, most prominently in the last presidential election,” noted Marcus Messner, the  director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s school of media and culture.  “Twitter is right to flag incorrect information even when it involves tweets by President Trump,” Messner told VOA. The journalism professor noted the action “walks the fine between fact checking and being accused of censoring political speech through more drastic measures such as deleting posts and suspending accounts. But the question remains whether the fact tags with links to news articles will even be recognized by supporters of President Trump, who regularly dismiss all reporting from mainstream media. The effect of the fact tags in this heated partisan environment might be limited.”    Texas A&M Communications Assistant Professor Jennifer Mercieca, who refers to Trump as “an outrage president” who uses social media to “go around the news filter and speak directly with his supporters and set the nation’s news agenda” says Twitter’s strategy “allows Trump to communicate, but enables his audience to think more critically about the content of his message.” Mercieca, author of “2020: Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump,” accuses Trump of using his Twitter account irresponsibly to spread “conspiracy, racism and misinformation.” The president’s response to the action by the platform “is to further use outrage to condemn Twitter for the policy while vaguely threatening that he would do something to stop them,” she told VOA. It is unclear what legal leverage Trump has over Twitter, which does not need any government licenses to operate as do radio or television stations.Twitter stands by decision A Twitter spokesperson said the company took the unprecedented action, based on its new policy announced earlier this month, because Trump’s tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.” During an exchange with reporters in the White House Rose Garden earlier Tuesday, Trump, responding to journalist’s questions about his mail-in ballot accusations, claimed the state of California — the most populous in the country — would be sending out “millions and millions of ballots to anybody,” including those who “don’t have the right to vote.”  California is planning to send every registered voter a ballot by mail for the November 3 election, a plan that prompted the Republican National Committee to sue California Governor Gavin Newsom.  The action by Twitter to flag Trump’s tweets “is a small step in the right direction. But we can all do our part to call out the lies,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla tweeted on Tuesday evening. “The president is intentionally spreading false information about vote by mail and blatantly trying to suppress the vote.”  .@Twitter “fact-checking” @realDonaldTrump is a small step in the right direction. But we can all do our part to call out the lies. The president is intentionally spreading false information about vote by mail and blatantly trying to suppress the vote. RT the TRUTH. pic.twitter.com/oaJGH41K1I— Alex Padilla (@AlexPadilla4CA) May 26, 2020Calls to delete some tweets
Twitter has also been facing calls to remove Trump’s tweets that push an old conspiracy theory about the death of a congressional staffer.  The president has stopped short of directly accusing Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, who hosts a morning program on the MSNBC cable channel of killing a woman in 2001 even though the politician was 1,300 kilometers away at the time and authorities ruled her death an accident. Scarborough was once friendly with Trump but has become a fierce on-air critic of the president.  “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,” said a Twitter spokesperson on Tuesday. “We’ve been working to expand existing product features and features so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.” Timothy Klausutis, widower of Lori Klausutis, has written to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey claiming the president has violated the social media company’s erms of service and “has taken something that does not belong to him-the memory of my dead wife-and perverted it for perceived political gain.” Questioned by reporters in the Rose Garden about the tweets on Tuesday, Trump did not prevaricate.  “I’m sure that, ultimately, they want to get to the bottom of it and it’s a very serious situation,” the president said of the deceased woman’s relatives, calling for law enforcement to re-open the investigation. “As you know, there’s no statute of limitations. So, it would be a very good, very good thing to do.”    

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Coronavirus Deaths Top 350,000 Worldwide

The worldwide death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has surpassed 350,000. The milestone comes as South Korea announced Wednesday its highest number of new cases in 49 days. Authorities are focusing on testing workers from e-commerce giant Coupang after dozens of cases were linked to a company site outside of Seoul. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said all but four of its 40 new cases were in the Seoul area. The country was an early hotspot for the coronavirus outbreak, but now barely ranks in the top-50 in terms of confirmed infections, according to statistics compiled by the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University.“We will do our best to trace contacts and implement preventive measures, but there’s a limit to such efforts,” KCDC head Jeong Eun-kyeong said. “There’s a need to maximize social distancing in areas where the virus is circulating, to force people to avoid public facilities and other crowded spaces.”  Brazil, India, Mexico are cause for concern
Brazil has emerged as a major source of concern, trailing only the United States in the number of infections. On Tuesday it reported the most single day deaths in the world, with 1,039, its fifth consecutive day atop the grim list. India posted its record high of 6,000 new cases reported Wednesday, pushing its total above 150,000. Mexico also reported troubling escalations in its coronavirus outbreak, with a new high of 501 deaths and 3,455 new confirmed cases.Like many governments around the world, Mexico is weighing continuing stay-at-home and social distancing orders against the desire to resume economic activity.   President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told reporters his advisers were discussing possible reopening steps and could announce as early as this week plans to send kids back to school.  He also said he plans to tour different states and hold talks with local officials on easing restrictions. A child gets a meal from the mobile dining rooms program as people who have not been able to work because of the COVID-19 pandemic line up for a meal outside the Iztapalapa hospital in Mexico City, Wednesday, May 20, 2020.US easing restrictions
In the neighboring United States, governors continue to pull back on their lockdown orders, including in Nevada, where Governor Steve Sisolak announced casinos in Las Vegas can reopen June 4 after the key industry was shut down for 10 weeks. “We welcome the visitors from across the country to come here, to have a good time, no different than they did previously, but we’re gonna be cautious,” Sisolak said. No COVID patients in New Zealand
New Zealand reported a new milestone in its coronavirus recovery, saying Wednesday there were no more COVID-19 patients in the country’s hospitals. Health officials said there were only 21 active cases in New Zealand, which put in place a strict five-week lockdown before slowly easing the measures in late April. New Zealand and Australia are working on plans to amend their travel bans to allow people to move between the two countries, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a draft should be ready by early next month. And in Spain, a 10-day mourning period began Wednesday to honor the more than 27,000 people in the country who have died from COVID-19. 

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Walt Disney World Presenting Plans for Reopening Parks

Walt Disney World is presenting its plans for reopening after being shuttered along with Florida’s other theme parks since mid-March because of the new coronavirus.Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando will present their proposals for phased reopenings before an Orange County task force on Wednesday, said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. If Demings signs off on them, the plans will be sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval.With 77,000 workers, Disney World is central Florida’s biggest employer.Last week, Disney World allowed third-party businesses at its Disney Springs dining and shopping complex to open with new restrictions.All workers and visitors older than 2 at Disney Springs must wear masks, temperatures are checked at entrances to keep out anyone with a temperature 100.4 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) or higher, and a limited number of people are admitted to allow social distancing at the high-end outdoor shopping area with restaurants, movie theaters, a bowling alley and a Cirque du Soleil theater.Crosstown rival, Universal Orlando, presented its reopening proposal last week to county officials, saying it was aiming to reopen June 5. Officials approved those plans and sent them to the governor. Universal also has opened up its dining and entertainment complex with restrictions similar to Disney Springs.Earlier this month, Shanghai Disneyland became the first of Disney’s theme park resorts to reopen, with severe limits on the number of visitors allowed in, mandatory masks and temperature checks. 

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As South Koreans Reexamine a 1980 Massacre, Some Ask US to Do the Same

It was the most notorious moment in South Korea’s turbulent path to democracy: the May 1980 military crackdown on a student-led protest in the southwestern city of Gwangju.  The Gwangju Uprising, as it would later become known, began as a demonstration against South Korea’s brutal military leaders, who had recently expanded martial law.  Shortly after the protest began, elite paratroopers attacked the students with batons, rifles and bayonets. But as the crackdown escalated, so did the citizens’ resistance. Eventually Gwangju erupted into open rebellion, with residents raiding a local armory, seizing weapons and driving the military out of the city. A few days later, the military returned, crushing the civilian militia.  The Gwangju violence marked a pivotal moment in South Korean history. Not only did it rekindle a nationwide pro-democracy movement, the violence also unleashed a wave of anger at the United States, which had long backed the country’s military rulers as a way to counter North Korea. Though May 18, the day the protest began, is now celebrated as an unofficial memorial day in South Korea, the incident is still a major source of polarization. Far-right conservatives continue to insist, without providing evidence, that North Korea was behind the protests, which they characterize as riots.  But amid a leftward shift in South Korea’s political landscape, the country is making a fresh effort to find a common narrative about Gwangju.  Uncovering hidden truths Newly empowered after a landslide legislative election win last month, the left-leaning government of President Moon Jae-in has prioritized the Gwangju issue, especially during this month’s 40th anniversary of the movement. Standing in front of the former provincial government building in downtown Gwangju where the 1980 civilian militia made its final stand, Moon earlier this month promised full support for a new, independent fact-finding committee to look into the crackdown. Many details about the incident remain unknown, including the death toll (the official count at the time was around 200, but independent groups say the actual number is much higher), as well as who ordered the use of helicopters that eyewitnesses say fired on civilians. Moon is also pushing to recognize the “May 18 Democratization Movement” in the preamble of South Korea’s constitution, formally enshrining it as part of South Korea’s long fight for democracy.The Gwangju plaza that saw bloody battles between protesters and military forces in May, 1980. In the background is the former provincial government building where the civilian militia made its last stand. May 20, 2020. (W. Gallo)Conservative apology Some conservatives are even changing their tone. Ahead of the 40th anniversary, South Korea’s main conservative party apologized for its past members who “defamed” and “insulted” the Gwangju movement. “In the future, the May Uprising will no longer become a political issue, and it should not be the subject of social conflict,” said the Women whose families were killed, wounded, or arrested during the Gwangju Uprising sing songs at the May Mothers House community center in Gwangju, South Korea. May 20, 2020. (W. Gallo)Military strongman Chun Doo-hwan was sentenced to death in 1996, in part because of his role in the massacre, but was later pardoned. Now 89 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, Chun remains defiant and defends his actions. In 2018, South Korea’s defense ministry issued its first-ever apology for the massacre, following a five-month investigation.  US apology? But many in Gwangju also want an apology from the United States, which at the time had operational control of all South Korean military units.  Specifically, many Gwangju residents feel the U.S. could and should have done more to restrain their allies, especially after the South Korean military notified Washington it was moving an elite military unit away from U.S. control to deal with the unrest.  U.S. military and diplomatic officials have long insisted they did not have enough influence to stop South Korea from deploying the troops. Once the troops were deployed, U.S. officials say they did not have adequate real-time info about the crackdown.  “The U.S. government didn’t have a clear picture,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, then a 26-year-old junior foreign service officer at the U.S. embassy in Seoul. “And I don’t think (U.S. officials) had leverage sufficient to prevent the South Korean government from putting down an uprising they saw as an existential threat.”  At the time, Fitzpatrick served as an assistant to U.S. Ambassador William Gleysteen. The title of Gleysteen’s 1999 memoir – Massive Entanglement, Marginal Influence – concisely summarizes the challenges the U.S. faced in simultaneously supporting South Korea’s authoritarian leaders while also pushing for democracy.  “We were always encouraging reform, but there was a higher priority on deterring North Korea,” said Fitzpatrick, now retired after serving 26 years as a foreign service officer and later a U.S. nuclear policy expert. “Given the U.S. military presence and the overriding need to deter North Korea and to keep the South Korean military strong, human rights took a backseat.”  Since 2004, U.S. ambassadors to South Korea have occasionally visited Gwangju, where they praise South Korea’s democracy movement. But notably, they do not issue formal apologies.  “We have asked many times for the U.S. government to apologize … but they haven’t done that so far,” said Lee Jae-eui, who took part in the uprising and later co-authored an influential book on the uprising. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul did not release a statement on the 40th anniversary of Gwangju, and the State Department did not reply to VOA’s request for comment. But earlier this month, the State Department released a batch of newly declassified documents, many of which contain contemporary observations about Gwangju by Ambassador Gleysteen. Ben Engel, who researches U.S. policy in South Korea during the 1970s and 80s, said publicly available U.S. records don’t reveal a “smoking gun” that proves the U.S. knew and approved of what Chun was doing.  But Gleysteen clearly thought the protests needed to be subdued, even if he had reservations about using the military or violence to suppress the protests, Engel said. “It’s almost like he doesn’t want to admit to himself that he knew what Chun was doing,” Engel said. “He knew it was wrong, but that it would achieve the result that his government wanted.”  ‘Crucible’ for US policy Even four decades later, the incident stirs strong emotions among U.S. officials who were in Seoul during the time. Some still won’t talk about it on the record.  Kathleen Stephens, U.S. ambassador from 2008 to 2011, says the period surrounding the Gwangju Uprising served as a “crucible” for U.S. policy toward the South. “Those who were in Seoul during that period carried that with them for a long time,” said Stephens, who also served from 1983 to 1989 at the U.S. embassy in Seoul as a political officer.  “The experience led U.S. policymakers to take a somewhat different approach to South Korea” later in the 1980s, when the country moved decisively toward democracy, she said.  South Korea’s democracy may still be relatively young, but it is one of Asia’s healthiest. And while anti-U.S. sentiment still exists, it is largely confined to the fringes of South Korean politics and society. But many Koreans, especially in Gwangju, feel that a full accounting of the past is still necessary.  “Punishment is not the goal,” President Moon said on the Gwangju anniversary this month. “It is about documenting history accurately. If you have courage to confess the truth now, then the path of forgiveness and reconciliation will open.”  

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