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Biden will skip his scheduled Amtrak ride at inauguration due to safety concerns.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has canceled plans to drive Amtrak to Washington for his inauguration next week, reflecting intense security concerns around the event in the wake of last week’s riot at the Capitol.

As a senator, Mr. Biden commuted the Amtrak train from his home state of Delaware for decades and became a public advocate for government-subsidized rail service. He kicked off his 1988 presidential campaign from the back of an Amtrak train and returned home on his last day as vice president in 2017.

He had hoped to recreate everyone’s journey once more for his swearing-in. But after a briefing to FBI and Secret Service officials on the inauguration’s security concerns, Mr Biden’s team agreed the 90-minute train ride should be canceled, according to a person familiar with the decision. .

“The country has continued to learn more about the threat to our democracy and the potential for further violence in the coming days, both in the national capital region and in cities across the country,” said the transition team in a statement after the briefing. Wednesday. “It’s a challenge that the president-elect and his team take incredibly seriously.”

Federal and local officials have warned of the prospect of extremist activity in Washington and the country in the coming days. Mr Biden had previously planned a muted inauguration given the public health risk of mass gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many traditional gatherings and festivities will take place digitally during the day, and a prime-time special will air on TV online Wednesday evening.

Mr. Biden is still considering taking the oath in front of Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, he said he was “not afraid” to do so.

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The Washington Monument was closed due to “credible threats”.

The National Park Service closed the Washington Monument, citing “credible threats to visitors and park resources” around the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Jeffrey P. Reinbold, the superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said those involved in the riots on Capitol Hill continue to threaten the upcoming inauguration, including the setting up and execution of events that take place occur in areas of the park.

As a result, the National Park Service has suspended tours of the Washington Monument from Monday through January 24, several days after dedication day, and may implement further temporary closures at the National Mall and Memorial Parks, Mr Reinbold said.

The announcement adds to what will be a highly unusual presidential inauguration, a historically charged celebration that was already on the verge of being blocked this year by the coronavirus pandemic. Far fewer tickets are available, and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington has asked people to stay home and participate virtually.

By permanently suspending President Trump from his platform, Twitter also noted that plans for future protests, including a secondary attack on the Capitol building on January 17, had already spread on and off the website.

The National Mall in Washington is one of the city’s most iconic sites, stretching from the foot of the Capitol Building – where Mr. Biden is set to be inaugurated – to the Potomac River behind the Lincoln Memorial.

Spectators have long descended on Washington to witness the presidential inauguration. The New York Times reported in 1861 that “the streets of the city were filled with people” when President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated.

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Why some states predict higher incomes due to job losses

As Congress has spent the past few weeks debating aid to states and local governments, a number of states have released startling news: their finances are no longer as bad as they had feared in the past. uncertain first days of the pandemic.

States are still largely suffering from the economic crisis. But California now expects a one-time windfall this year. Wisconsin said it may still be able to withdraw income from its fund for rainy days. Maryland increased its projected revenues for the second time this fall. And Minnesota is now forecasting a surplus.

This good news partly reflects the dire economic expectations of six months ago; even the modest numbers look good now compared to the worst fears written in state budgets in the spring. And state officials say they will always need federal help as they expect the effects of the pandemic to drag on for years and hit local governments. Federal aid, after all, is part of what has sustained them so far.

States with more optimistic forecasts are also complicating the political struggle in Washington over state aid, which has delayed agreement on a year-end stimulus deal. Republicans called state aid a bailout for debauched blue states. But many better-looking states now have some of the most progressive tax structures in the country, and that’s part of what saved them this year.

This recession, distinct from many before it, has stacked its worst effects on low-wage workers. This means that the budgets of the states that depend most on the wealthiest residents to fund government have not been hit as hard by an economic crisis that has left the well-to-do largely unscathed.

“We have a low-wage recession, and we just have a weird situation for everyone,” said Peter Franchot, the Maryland Comptroller, who last week announced a $ 64 million increase in estimated earnings this week. budget year, compared to September. estimates (which were up $ 1.4 billion from May).

Forecasters and state officials say they didn’t see this come back in May and June, when they drew up budgets imagining a severe recession that could look more like the Great Recession – with wide layoffs among workers in the manufacturing sector, with a declining stock market, with the pain spreading to white collar offices and bourgeois subdivisions.

In typical recessions, when unemployment rises sharply, government revenues also fall sharply. But the relationship between the two has been much weaker this year. Indeed, the inequality inherent in the Covid recession has isolated many states from the worst fiscal effects.

But that doesn’t mean all is well.

“Despite the progressive tax structure, despite the wealth that we have in Maryland, despite the fact that we are back in a safe area of ​​collecting tax revenue, the suffering is simply unacceptable,” said Mr. Franchot, who called on Maryland to adopt its own stimulus outside of Congress.

In California, which has a graduated income tax, state revenues collected this year through October have declined only slightly from that same schedule in 2019. Texas, which has no tax on income and which is considered one of the least fair tax systems in the country, has been in a more precarious position.

While Texas doesn’t depend on unstable energy sector taxes to fund its core budget, declining oil and gas production and falling prices have also contributed to lower overall tax revenues.

Florida and Nevada, which rely heavily on tourism (which has been hit by the pandemic), also have no income tax. And Florida is among the few states that never made a decision to collect sales taxes on online transactions after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling extended that power to states. (In Texas, the ability to tax e-commerce has been a balm right now, adding around $ 1.3 billion last year.)

From the start of the pandemic in March to October, tax revenues in 38 states fell 5% or less from the same period the year before, according to data from the Urban Institute. When states gave much more serious projections in the spring, they had no past experiences to draw on and tried to be cautious in their estimates, said Lucy Dadayan, senior research associate at Urban- Brookings Tax Policy Center.

“To be honest, they had no information,” Ms. Dadayan said. “Yes, the revenues are higher than compared to the initial forecasts prepared just after the spring pandemic. But that doesn’t mean the income is working out well. “

In all of these states, federal stimulus played an important role. It is not that the crisis has been exaggerated; it’s that federal aid has really worked.

Stimulus checks and extra unemployment dollars increased consumption by laid-off workers, which bolstered sales tax revenue. Most states also collect income tax on unemployment benefits. And all of that federal support has eased the burden on states to provide a safety net for struggling families, even as federal dollars have helped cover many Covid expenses.

States that depend on high-income taxpayers have been helped by other unexpected ways in which this recession has differed from previous ones. Consumption has shifted from services, which are difficult to consume in person in a pandemic, to goods, which are taxed much more heavily (you pay taxes when you buy a lawn mower, for example, but usually don’t pay taxes). taxes if you pay someone to mow your lawn).

In California, forecasters for March never expected the stock market to take off like it did. This increased capital gains, which are taxed as regular income in the state. And a string of lucrative IPOs – another unexpected trend in the midst of a recession – also added to the state’s revenue.

From August to October, California’s personal income, sales and corporate tax collections rose 9% from the same window last year, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. It is a reflection of how the well-to-do have behaved this year. But the resulting fiscal windfall also exists because the state budgeted in June for hard times.

“It’s really a temporary situation,” said Gabriel Petek, an analyst at the California legislative office who prepared the latest budget outlook. The fiscal effects of this slowdown have just been pushed back for years to come, he said, as the state expects deficits that could put additional pressure on services.

“There was a little story that emerged that the state is doing well financially, and it is true that our income picture is better than we thought,” Petek said. “But the only reason we’re in a better budget situation is this one-time difference between what we collect this year and what we assumed in the budget we would collect.

California, like other states, still doesn’t know how bad the winter wave of the pandemic will be. In the short term, states will no longer be able to tap into one-off pots such as funds for rainy days. Eventually, when the public health emergency ends, the federal government will reduce additional payments to states to cover Medicaid. And local governments will continue to struggle, as they depend on even less stable sources of revenue like parking fees, public transportation fees and hotel taxes.

States still face both sides of the inherent inequality of the pandemic – well-to-do residents who have been sitting tight, buying stocks and new cars, but also low-wage workers who are struggling.

“Even states that have a lot of rich people often also have a lot of low-income people,” said Tracy Gordon, senior researcher at the Tax Policy Center. State and local governments will be ultimately responsible for the safety net, she added, “and they are not designed to absorb that risk.”

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Even when the music returns, pay cuts due to pandemic will continue

When the coronavirus epidemic brought performances to a screeching halt across the United States, many of the country’s leading orchestras, dance companies and opera houses temporarily cut their workers’ wages and some stopped paying them.

Now, hopes that vaccines will restore performance next fall are tempered by fears that hibernating box offices will take years to rebound, and many battered institutions are looking to their unions to negotiate cuts. longer term than they deem necessary to survive.

The crisis poses a major challenge to performing arts unions, which over the past decades have been among the most powerful in the country. While musicians from some major ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, have accepted steep cuts that would have been unthinkable under normal circumstances, others are resisting. Some unions fear that the concessions sought will last longer than the pandemic and restore the balance of power between management and workers.

“Historically, collective agreements in the performing arts have evolved into more money and better terms,” said Thomas W. Morris, who has conducted major orchestras in the United States for more than three decades. “And all of a sudden, that’s not an option. It’s a fundamental change in the model. “

Nowhere is the tension between unions and management more intense than at the Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts organization in the country. Its artists and other workers, many of whom have been on unpaid leave since April, are resisting management’s offer to resume receiving reduced wages of up to $ 1,500 per week in exchange for long-term pay cuts and rule changes. of work. After failing to come to an agreement with its technicians, the company locked them out last week, shortly before others returned to work to start building sets for next season.

But musicians in a growing number of orchestras are accepting long-term cuts, recognizing that it would take years for audiences and philanthropy to bounce back from this long period of dark concert halls and theaters.

The New York Philharmonic last week announced a new contract that will cut musicians’ base salaries by 25% through mid-2023, and let players earn less than before the pandemic when it expires in 2024. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of the richest ensembles in the country, accepted a new three-year contract slashing wages by 37% on average in the first year, gradually increasing in subsequent years, but only fully recovering if the orchestra meets at least one of the three financial benchmarks. The San Francisco Opera has agreed to a new deal that cuts the orchestra’s salary in half this season, but later catches up.

Unions play a major role behind the scenes of many arts organizations. The contracts they negotiate not only fix compensation, but also help establish a wide range of working conditions, from the number of permanent members an orchestra should have to the number of stagehands needed behind the scenes for each performance, and so on. by the fact that Sunday performances require additional remuneration. It is not uncommon to see large orchestras abruptly ending rehearsals in the middle of a sentence – even when a famous maestro is conducting – when the digital rehearsal clock indicates they are about to work overtime. .

Workers and performers say many of these rules have improved health and safety and increased the quality of performances; management often got angry at the expense.

Many nonprofit arts organizations, including the Met, faced real financial challenges even before the pandemic hit. Now, they say, they are fighting for their survival, firing or firing administrative staff and seeking relief from unions.

“The unions are very reluctant to make concessions; it goes against everything union strategy has been telling them for over 100 years, ”said Susan J. Schurman, professor of labor and labor relations studies at Rutgers University. “But they clearly understand that this is an unprecedented situation.”

But in some institutions, notably the Met and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, workers accuse management of trying to take advantage of the crisis to push for their long-standing union contracts to be changed.

Peter Gelb, the chief executive of the Met, wants to cut workers’ wages by 30% and only restore half of those cuts when box office revenues recover. He hopes to achieve most of the cuts by changing the work rules. In a letter last month to the union representing the 300 or so technicians at the Met, Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Employees, he wrote that “the health crisis has exacerbated the Met’s previous financial fragility, threatening our very existence. He also wrote that the average full-time machinist cost the Met $ 260,000 last year, including perks.

“For the Met to get back on its feet, we’re all going to have to make financial concessions and sacrifices,” Gelb told employees during a video call last month.

There are 15 unions at the Met, and while executives from several of the biggest have said they are ready to agree to some cuts, they are pushing back changes that would survive the pandemic and redefining the working rules they’ve signed up for. long beaten. – especially after so many workers, including the orchestra, choir and legions of backstage workers, endured many months without pay. The Met Orchestra, which is represented by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, said in a statement that management “was exploiting this temporary situation to permanently empty the contracts of the same workers who create the shows on their world stage. “.

Leonard Egert, national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents choir members, soloists, dancers, stage managers and others at the Met, said the unions recognize the harsh reality and are ready to make changes. compromise. “It’s just that no one wants to sell the future,” he says.

In Washington, the Kennedy Center machinists are waging a similar battle. David McIntyre, president of the alliance’s Local 22, said he had been in controversial negotiations with the Kennedy Center for months over their demand for a 25% pay cut, which members of the union find it hard to bear after many of them have left. without pay since March.

Management is also asking for concessions such as the elimination of time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, he said, a change that would be permanent rather than limited to the pandemic. Labor workers are particularly outraged because the Kennedy Center received $ 25 million from the federal stimulus bill passed in March.

“They’re just trying to get us concessions by taking advantage of a pandemic when neither of us are working,” McIntyre said.

Kennedy Center spokeswoman Eileen Andrews said several of the unions he works with with already agreed pay cuts, including musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra, and the resumption of the pandemic must be accomplished thanks to “shared sacrifices. “

Organizations have lost tens of millions of dollars in ticket revenue, and the prospects for the philanthropy they rely on for their survival remain uncertain. As union negotiations unfold in video call grids rather than the typical stifling board tables, both sides are acknowledging financial fragility.

In some ways, the pandemic has changed the negotiating landscape. Unions, which normally carry enormous weight because strikes stop performance, have less at the moment, when there is no performance to stop. The leverage of management has also changed. While the Met’s threat to lock out its machinists unless they take cuts was less threatening at a time when most employees were not working anyway, its offer to start paying workers who went without. paycheck since April in exchange for long-term agreements. can be hard to resist.

In some institutions, memories of the destructiveness of recent labor disputes have helped foster cooperation during this crisis. At the Minnesota Orchestra, where a bitter lockout kept the concert hall dark for 16 months from 2012, the management and musicians agreed to a 25% pay cut until August.

And the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which experienced its own hard-fought labor dispute last year, came to an agreement on a five-year contract this summer, drastically slashing players’ wages at the start before increasing it. gradually again.

The last time a national crisis of this magnitude hit every performing arts organization in the country was during the Great Recession, when organizations sought cuts to offset the decline in philanthropy and sales. of tickets, triggering strikes, lockouts and bitter conflicts.

Meredith Snow, president of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents the players, said the unions and management mostly seemed to be working together more amicably than they were then – at least for now. .

“There’s more recognition that we have to be a united face for the community,” said Ms. Snow, violist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, “and that we can’t bicker or we’ll both go down. . “

“You meet,” she said, “or you sink.

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New Orleans Cancels 2021 Mardi Gras Celebration Due to COVID-19

Government officials in New Orleans announced that the 2021 edition of the annual Mardi Gras celebration has been canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

According to The Associated Press, New Orleans city spokesman Beau Tidwell revealed Tuesday that annual parades had to be canceled based on a 250-person limit in outdoor crowds approved by the local government.


Being a trend now

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

The Carnival and Mardi Gras season are the biggest tourist attraction in New Orleans.

“You can’t have traditional parades with such a small group,” Tidwell told the AP. “We have had almost 1,000 new cases in the last 10 days.”

While some groups have canceled their Mardi Gras plans, others in New Orleans are seeking to circumvent regulations and are developing ideas to continue the party under current pandemic restrictions.

Mardi Gras parades are also frequent in the areas surrounding New Orleans, and the nearby Jefferson Parish parade is one of the best in the state. Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said they are trying to find a way to hold the event safely but did not rule out a total cancellation.

“Today, I am concerned about your dining room on Thanksgiving,” Sheng said. “So it’s hard for me to imagine inviting large crowds unless something changes dramatically with the numbers. And I don’t want to kill hope. I have to be honest. Nor do I want to make false promises. “


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Smithsonian Museums Last To Close Due To Rise In Viruses

As coronavirus cases increase across the country, the Smithsonian will once again temporarily shut down eight of its Washington-area institutions on Monday.

“The establishment’s top priority is to protect the health and safety of its visitors and staff,” the Smithsonian said in a statement. “We will use this time to reassess, monitor and explore other risk mitigation measures.”

Seven museums and the National Zoo, which had all reopened on September 25, will close again, the statement said.

No reopening date has been announced.

The decision came as a second wave of closures was announced by museums in a number of states across the country. In recent days, officials in Oregon, Illinois and several other states have announced new virus restrictions that will force museums to close again, and several of Philadelphia’s top institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum. of Art, announced this week their intention to close again.

The Smithsonian Museums in New York, the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center, have been closed to the public since March 14.

The Smithsonian had gradually reopened eight of its Washington-area institutions this summer, starting with the National Zoo and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Va., On July 24.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Renwick Gallery followed later, on September 18. “We haven’t had any staff infections, which means our security protocols are working,” Smithsonian secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III told the Washington Post at the time.

The National Museum of American History and the National Museum of American Indian reopened on September 25.

Like the rest of the country, the nation’s capital has seen an increase in the number of cases in recent weeks: 156 new cases of the coronavirus were reported in Washington on Wednesday, and the average of 155 daily cases was a 73% increase from at the figure of two weeks. earlier.

As of Thursday afternoon, at least 19,678 cases of coronavirus had been reported and at least 667 people had died in Washington since the start of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.

The closures are the latest setback in a dark time for museums nationwide. An American Alliance of Museums survey released Tuesday found that nearly one in three museums in the United States remains closed due to the pandemic, and most of them have never reopened since the initial closure in March.

“The financial situation of American museums is going from bad to worse,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, in a statement announcing the results of the investigation.

The Smithsonian said visitors who booked timed entry tickets would be contacted directly. Its outdoor gardens will remain open, no passes required.

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No, judges do not cancel elections due to isolated irregularities.

“The dominant view today is that courts should not overturn election results because of problems, unless it is shown that the problems were of such magnitude as to negate the validity of the candidate who has prevailed, ”said Edward B. Foley, director of electoral law at the Ohio State Moritz College of Law at the University. This is inherently difficult to do, he added, given the difficulty of providing proof that disputed votes have been cast in favor of a particular candidate.

Professor Foley, whose book “Ballot Battles” presents a history of contested elections in the United States, described an example that illustrates how difficult it will be for the president to succeed in his demands. In an election with a victory margin of 10,000, it would not be enough to show that there were 11,000 invalid votes, he said, “because those invalid votes could have been divided by 50 to 50. , without making any difference in the result. (In Arizona, the closest to the main swing states, Mr. Trump trails Mr. Biden by about 10,000 votes.)

Mr Trump cited instances where irregularities and fraud have led to new elections. But his most recent examples take isolated incidents of small-scale error or fraud and mistakenly apply them to a national election in which more than 150 million votes were cast. There was the case in Paterson, NJ, earlier this year, for example, in which a judge recommended a replacement election for a city council seat after evidence surfaced that the mail ballots had been tampered with. (Only 240 votes separated the first and second place candidates.)

And this week in Clark County, Nevada, local officials voted to restart a race for a county commission seat by a margin of just 10 votes in what Trump falsely called a “big win.” Even though he lost the county by more than 90,000 votes.

Professor Foley traces the country’s first major ballot counting dispute to Philadelphia, the site of some of today’s legal wrangling. In 1781, the election results of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, the executive branch of the state at the time, were challenged after allegations that soldiers were taken to the polls by their commanders and forced to vote. for a particular candidate.

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Nearly a third of U.S. museums remain closed due to pandemic, survey finds

At the San Diego Museum of Natural History and similar institutions across the country, exhibit halls remain dark, atriums empty, frontline workers on leave.

Judy Gradwohl, the museum’s president and CEO, decided in August to close for the rest of the year – and she said in an interview on Tuesday that she thought she made the right call.

“We’re finding great ways to channel our energy into online programming and move forward on a number of projects,” Ms. Gradwohl said, “rather than spending all of our time trying to figure out how to stay open safely. .

Today, a survey by the American Alliance of Museums released on Tuesday clearly shows that nearly one in three museums in the United States remains closed due to the pandemic, and most of these have never reopened since. the initial closure in March.

The San Diego Museum is an active scientific research center that is not as dependent as other museums on ticket revenue. But, for others, financial problems are becoming critical.

Of the 850 museum directors who responded to the survey, which was conducted in the second half of October, just over half said their institutions had six months or less of their financial exploitation reserve. . Eighty-two percent said they were 12 months or younger.

These numbers are similar to the results of the group’s first survey in June, indicating that, for museums that have reopened, a few months of limited-capacity operations haven’t made much of a difference.

“The financial situation of American museums is going from bad to worse,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, in a statement announcing the results of the investigation. “Those who have served their communities safely this summer do not have enough income to offset higher costs, especially during a possible winter lockdown.

Establishments that have reopened are only operating at about a third of their capacity, according to the survey. Just over half have laid off or laid off staff since March, with nearly 70% of frontline workers, including those working in customer services, admissions and retail, affected.

American museums, which receive smaller government grants than European institutions, have been particularly affected by the pandemic. They rely on donations and ticket sales to keep their doors open, but these have declined or have dried up since March. Museum directors said that on average they expected to lose about a third of their institution’s budgeted operating profit in 2020.

Nearly one in three museum directors said their establishment was at risk of closing for good if they did not find additional funding in the next 12 months. Twelve percent of administrators rated their facility as “significant risk,” and 17% said they “didn’t know” if they would survive.

Some museums have tried to put their annual fundraising galas online, but virtual events, on average, fall short of targets institutions had projected before the pandemic, according to the survey, reporting only about the two third of expected donations.

A number of smaller museums have been unable to hang on due to a lack of a solid donor base or new financial support from the government. The World of Speed ​​Motorsports Museum in Wilsonville, Ore., Announced in May that it would not reopen; the Tahoe Maritime Museum in California closed in July; and the KGB Museum in Manhattan closed last month,

“Without financial support, we could see thousands of museums shut down forever,” Ms. Lott said.