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World News

Lebanon not planning to negotiate with Iran on fuel imports: minister

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon currently has no plan to negotiate with Iran for the import of fuel, energy minister Raymond Ghajar said on Thursday, after the leader of the Tehran-backed Hezbollah group said it was talking to the Lebanese government about the idea.

Hezbollah’s Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Tuesday a “calm discussion” was underway with the government over the idea of Lebanon buying refined products from Iran in Lebanese pounds, easing the pressure on Beirut’s hard currency reserves.

Lebanon is suffering an acute financial crisis and hard currency liquidity crunch. The Lebanese pound has lost some 80% of its value since October, when the long-brewing crisis came to a head.

“There is no plan to negotiate with Iran at present about importing fuel and the current discussion is with Iraq,” Ghajar said, referring to talks with the Iraqi government over possible fuel supplies.

Referring to Nasrallah’s comments, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday taking oil from Iran would be unacceptable. “It would be sanctioned product for sure, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that Iran cannot continue to sell crude oil anywhere, including to Hezballah in the region…,” he said.

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U.S. affirms Lebanon support as Hezbollah steps up criticism

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A U.S. general voiced Washington’s backing for Lebanese stability on Wednesday on a visit that triggered a protest by demonstrators including supporters of the Iran-backed Hezbollah against U.S. policies in the country.

General Kenneth McKenzie’s visit to Beirut, a big recipient of U.S. military aid, comes after Hezbollah stepped up criticism of U.S. ambassador Dorothy Shea on Tuesday, accusing her of blatant interference in Lebanese affairs.

Lebanon is in throes of an acute financial crisis seen as the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.

The heavily armed Hezbollah, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, is classified as a terrorist group by the United States. It is also a major player in Lebanese politics and backs the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

A U.S. embassy statement said McKenzie “reaffirmed the importance of preserving Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty…”

Several dozen protesters, some waving Hezbollah flags, gathered at Beirut airport in a protest which the group’s al-Manar TV said carried several messages against Washington.

These included a rejection of a U.S. embassy plan to hold a memorial for 241 U.S. service personnel killed in 1983 by a bomb attack in Beirut during McKenzie’s visit, an al-Manar broadcaster said.

The U.S. embassy statement said McKenzie’s one-day visit included “a brief stop at memorials honouring the memory of those who have perished in service to their country”.

The United States says Hezbollah carried out the 1983 attack, which was preceded by the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech on Tuesday night, said Shea had intervened in official appointments at the central bank, calling this “colonial” behaviour.

Shea has said the appointments were a matter for Lebanon to decide and she tried her best to convey the importance of credible and internationally respected experts being appointed.

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Politics

Pandemic gives Colorado Gov. Jared Polis unprecedented power

Something unusual happened last week: The authority of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was overridden.

Polis had issued an executive order allowing petition signatures for proposed ballot measures to be collected remotely — a lifeline to issue campaigns staring down the prospect of not being able to qualify for the November ballot due to pandemic precautions. On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously ruled that no, Polis didn’t have the authority to do that.

It was the first major check on the governor’s power since March 10, when Polis, flanked by cabinet members, called the media to his office and declared a state of emergency in Colorado. Polis made clear through actions, if not words, early in the pandemic that he’d be the face of the state’s pandemic response, holding frequent press conferences — he rarely does so during normal times — that, for a period, were must-see TV broadcast throughout the state. He spoke for close to two hours at a time at various points, explaining data and strategy at length, attempting to convey optimism but also persuade residents to take precautions.

Since that March emergency declaration, the governor has had sweeping authority to control Colorado’s pandemic response path. He has issued more than 100 executive orders, according to a state tally, and led what at many points has been Colorado’s only fully functioning branch of government: The court system has dramatically scaled back proceedings, and the General Assembly has been in recess since mid-March except for a little over three weeks when lawmakers returned to finish their top priorities.

That has meant that enormous decisions have fallen largely to one man and his advisers. Which businesses can stay open? Who might face eviction, and when? Which freedoms and social norms are on pause? And, for a while, anyway: Which ballot measures might have a chance to qualify for November? With the state legislature having closed up shop for the year but the pandemic still far from over, that dynamic is likely to hold for months to come, with fewer checks and balances than exist in normal times.

It’s not atypical among the states, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego who has examined governors’ roles during the pandemic.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen all governors playing a role this prominent,” Kousser said. “What we see is a natural disaster hits a state, or another crisis, and suddenly a governor is elevated and appears on the national stage. What we’re seeing now is essentially a hurricane hitting every state at once, and that has elevated governors.

“A year ago, the story everybody was writing is why governors have disappeared from the national stage. I think the explanation was: They’re boring. They’re not polarizing. They’re not mobilizing. … The extent to which they have now risen above legislatures in prominence, and have risen above the president in approval ratings, is unprecedented.”

Polis’ empowerment reflects not only the national trend but also that his most potent would-be antagonists in Colorado have mostly stepped aside or concurred with his approach. Though they sometimes clash over policy, Polis and the Democrats who control Colorado’s state legislature generally share a common vision, and interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers show generally strong reviews for his pandemic response.

Lawmakers closed the Capitol from March 14 to May 26, then reconvened for a few weeks, passed a slew of laws that Polis supports, and ended their session. Democrats were unsuccessful in their few efforts to take policy in a different direction than the governor wished. They couldn’t get majority support to extend Colorado’s eviction moratorium, so they left it to Polis to deliver lesser protection. They backed down on a bill to eliminate business tax breaks, compromising with Polis for a much less ambitious package.

And then lawmakers went home.

“Our job is to pass laws, change laws, pass a budget. And his job is to enact those,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “And in an emergency, our laws that we have passed give him certain powers. It’s not because we want to enrich him with more power. It’s because we want one person in charge of ensuring basic safety for all Coloradans. … If you have 100 cooks in the kitchen, it’s hard to move the state forward.”

Lawmakers have complained at various points that they’ve felt not only excluded from the kitchen, but from the whole house. A number of them have told The Denver Post they’ve learned of some executive orders through press releases and media reports, and that particularly early on in the pandemic, the governor’s office wouldn’t tell lawmakers much more than it told journalists.

“I do think there are bruised egos, the feeling of a diminished level of consideration for the legislative role, legislative authority. That absolutely exists,” said state Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, who noted that he does not personally feel that way.

The frustration was reflected in the passage of a bill, HB-1426, that requires the governor’s office to hold three public briefings every year with budget writers and the legislature’s executive committee. The bill also requires the General Assembly to “promptly” receive notice of any executive order issued “in connection with the disaster emergency.”

“Republicans kept talking about curtailing the governor’s authority,” said House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. “That was not something I was interested in. But having conversations publicly about what’s going on, where it’s not just happening through the press, but where legislators who represent entire communities can get more information — I think that’s important.”

Polis took feedback and has since changed how he runs briefings with the legislature, lawmakers said, though the passage of HB-1426 indicates they felt some need to ensure continued transparency.

“With this, as with all things, the legislature want to make sure they’re being consulted. That’s something I would urge going forward,” said Becker, who is term-limited from seeking re-election.

In other senses, though, lawmakers and the governor seem to be working in harmony, despite some reports to the contrary. For example, in May, Polis took some blowback for allocating about $1.7 billion in federal CARES Act money himself, when he had previously said he’d leave “the power of the purse” to lawmakers. Suggestions of a Polis power grab turned out to have been greatly exaggerated; he, in fact, had consulted closely with Democratic leaders on how the money would be spent, and most of them were comfortable letting him take charge.

“The money was spent on that timeline, in that manner, just to get it out the door as soon as possible,” Fenberg said. “He didn’t usurp us.”

Becker called it “an absolutely fair and appropriate way to do it.”

Republicans, unsurprisingly, do not share that view. There’s just not much they can do to alter the course, given their lack of power at the Capitol.

“I think Gov. Polis and his people are good people, and they’ve worked really hard,” said Moreno’s budget committee colleague, state Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale. “But the legislature’s not involved. Everything you read is, ‘the governor decides this’ or ‘the governor decides that,’ and it doesn’t look right to me.”

Polis has faced a lot of that criticism from Republicans during the pandemic. Many have accused him of “draconian” leadership, and one GOP leader famously compared his stay-at-home order to Nazism. He has also taken heat from progressives who say his responses to issues they care about — including coronavirus outbreaks in jails and prisons, the looming eviction crisis, and Black Lives Matter protests — have been insufficient.

But Coloradans mostly think Polis is doing a good job, according to polling that shows his approval rating rose from 50% last June to roughly two-thirds this May. He was one of the country’s first governors to begin reopening the economy, and Colorado has had relative success in containing the spread of the virus, even as surrounding states and others around the country are spiking and plunging back into crisis mode.

It’s a good thing they’re mostly satisfied with the product, because it’s what they’re likely to get — for the rest of this year, at least. The legislature isn’t due to return to the Capitol until January.

That’s not ideal, said Kousser, of UC San Diego.

“It’s is an arrangement and a style of governance that works in an emergency,” he said, “but it’s not empowering the districts that elected Republican legislators. It’s not providing the checks and balances inherent in the American system. And while we have laws that empower governors specifically in states of emergency, the long-term reaction, the rebuilding, that’s going to require three branches of government.”

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World News

Michigan gyms defy Gov. Whitmer's order to close, some hit with citations: Report

Gym that defied coronavirus lockdowns shut down by New Jersey Health Department

Atilis Gym Bellmawr co-owners Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith on defying state lockdown orders and being shut down by the New Jersey Heath Department.

Gyms in Michigan are defying closures put in place by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Detroit Free Press.

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"We're open because I think it's unconstitutional," Don Larson, owner of a Gold's Gym in Warren, told the outlet. “My members need a place to be to stay strong and healthy, and it keeps their immune systems high.”

Owners of reopened gyms in the state reportedly insist their businesses are not a public health threat, citing a recent study conducted in Norway that found no link between gyms and transmission of the coronavirus. They argue that they can operate safely with social distancing and enhanced cleaning measures in place.

LA GYM DEBUTS CORONAVIRUS-SAFE WORKOUT PODS

"We are definitely not trying to be adversarial," James Wiese, co-owner of the Crunch Michigan franchise locations, told the Press. "We are just trying to give the community what they’re asking for. And if they don’t feel comfortable coming, we don’t want them to come.”

Wiese said his attorneys do not consider the governor's order to be a straightforward closure.

"If it were the law, we definitely would not be open," Wiese added. "We would not be doing this."

ARIZONA GOVERNOR SUED BY GYM OVER CORONAVIRUS CLOSURE

In addition to risking the potential spread of a second wave of coronavirus cases in the state, Michigan officials warn that ignoring the order puts the gyms and their employees at risk of criminal citations.

However, enforcement of Whitmer's order is up to local police and county prosecutors, as the executive order does not give law enforcement any direct authority to “shut down” a business, according to a statement to the Free Press by state Attorney General spokesman Ryan Jarvi.

Warren Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer said officers have issued citations to the Gold's Gym for disobeying Whitmer's order, but not the Crunch gym, which has been referred to the Macomb County prosecutor's office, according to the Press.

MICHIGAN JUDGES KEEP INDOOR GYMS CLOSED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS, SIDING WITH GOVERNOR

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel told the Press all gyms should be following Whitmer's orders.

“I’m a gym-goer myself, but haven’t gone since the beginning of this shutdown," Hackel said. "As frustrating as that is, it is still the law, whether you like it or not."

While Wiese's gym was not issued a citation, another Crunch Michigan location in East Lansing received a 93-day misdemeanor citation for reopening, according to a statement to the Detroit Free Press from Randall Chioini, an attorney for the franchise group.

FOX Business' inquiries on the report to Larson, Wiese, Jarvi, Dwyer, Hackel and Chioini were not immediately answered.

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Lower Michigan gyms were just hours away from legally reopening last week before an 11th-hour ruling on June 25 from a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals siding with Whitmer's executive order.

"Crises like COVID-19 can call for quick, decisive measures to save lives," the judges said in their ruling. "Yet those measures can have extreme costs — costs that often are not borne evenly. The decision to impose those costs rests with the political branches of government, in this case, Governor Whitmer."

Whitmer lifted the order on June 10 for gyms in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, according to the Detroit Free Press. Michigan gyms given the green light to reopen are allowed to host outdoor exercise classes if participants follow social distancing guidelines.

In Michigan, there are more than 64,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 6,000 deaths, according to the latest update by the state's health department.

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Health

Gov. Jared Polis closes bars again after coronavirus cases increase

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday closed Colorado bars for in-person service — after allowing them to reopen at limited capacity on June 19 — due to the increasing spread of the novel coronavirus.

The move comes as Colorado has seen COVID-19 cases increase in the past two weeks. Other states experiencing surges in infections have also shut down bars. Polis announced the move during an afternoon press conference.

“Whether you personally go to bars or not, just understand that they are important for many people in our state… but there is not a way that we have found for them to be a reasonably safe part of people’s lives during the month of July in our state,” Polis said.

Bars will have 48 hours to close but can continue to sell alcohol to-go or by delivery. Bars that also sell food “and function as restaurants,” according to the Governor, can stay open for in-person service so long as they keep patrons seated at tables spaced six feet apart, without mingling.

Justin Anthony, who owns multiple Denver bars, had just finished putting the final touches on a patio expansion for one of his Larimer Street businesses, American Bonded, when he found out that bars and clubs would be closing again.

While some of his spots offer food and won’t be affected by the new round of closures, others will need to change their business model yet again to stay open.

“It is a daunting prospect to go through all of the planning… to set up something that is not just inviting but safe. All of the considerations that you’ve never had before, and what happens if the plug is pulled?” Anthony asked.

Over the nearly two weeks that bars and clubs have been allowed to reopen for in-person service, Anthony said he’s watched some fellow operators break the rules consistently.

“It’s so unbelievably frustrating to see some of my peers jamming people in, not paying attention to this stuff,” Anthony said. “I don’t think it occurs to these people, if they are just chasing the maximum profit… they are doing their colleagues in the industry a great disservice. It’s so shortsighted. And if you’ve got a patron base that is totally disregarding (rules)… it is going to prevent them from having places to go out to.”

“You are ruining it for the rest of us,” he said of these businesses and their customers.

This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.  

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