Briefs: Vastly different styles on the presidential campaign trail; Disney's Mulan faces backlash

A man stands in a set promoting the Disney movie Mulan in Beijing on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Disney is under fire for filming part of its live-action reboot “Mulan” in Xinjiang, the region in China where the government has been accused of human rights abuses against Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Associated Press

News headlines for September 9

The Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — North Carolina caps outdoor gatherings at 50 people to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but don't tell that to President Donald Trump. He basked in a largely maskless crowd of several thousand supporters during a Tuesday rally in this critical battleground state.

"As far as the eye can see," Trump said, reveling at the sight of people flouting public health guidelines. "I really believe that these crowds are bigger than they were four years ago."

A day earlier in Pennsylvania, Trump's Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, held a socially distanced meeting in a backyard. His team has been so attentive to local regulations that some staffers have left the room if they risked breaking the rules on crowd limits. 

"I really miss being able to, you know, grab hands and shake hands," Biden recently told supporters. "You can't do that now." 

With less than eight weeks until Election Day, Trump and Biden are taking diametrically opposite approaches to campaigning during a pandemic — and the differences amount to more than political theater. The candidates are effectively staking out different visions for the country with Biden emphasizing guidelines supported by local health officials while Trump rails against restrictions that he argues — without evidence — are politically motivated.

In 3 big states, Biden looks to rebuild Democrats' Blue Wall

LANSING, Mich. — In 2016, Donald Trump tore down Democrats' "blue wall," winning the White House with surprise victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

This year, Joe Biden is trying to rebuild.

The Democratic presidential nominee's first pandemic-era campaign trips beyond his home in Delaware are taking him to all three states, an indication of how closely Biden's electoral prospects are tied to his ability to flip those political battlegrounds. 

Last week, Biden traveled to Wisconsin and was followed quickly by running mate Kamala Harris, who held her own events there on Labor Day. On Wednesday, Biden heads to Michigan to tout a plan for boosting U.S. manufacturing. He also has two stops scheduled this week in Pennsylvania. 

Though the Biden campaign often emphasizes that it sees multiple ways to secure the 270 Electoral College votes it needs to win in November, the quickest path runs through Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

Gusty winds pose continued wildfire threats in California

SHAVER LAKE, Calif. — Wildfires raged unchecked throughout California Wednesday, and gusty winds could drive flames into new ferocity, authorities warned.

Diablo winds in the north and Santa Ana winds in the south were forecast into Wednesday at a time when existing wildfires already have grown explosively.

On Tuesday, 14 firefighters were forced to deploy emergency shelters as flames overtook them and destroyed the Nacimiento Station, a fire station in the Los Padres National Forest on the state's central coast, the U.S. Forest Service said. They suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, and three were flown to a hospital in Fresno, where one was in critical condition.

In the past two days, helicopters were used to rescue hundreds of people stranded in the burning Sierra National Forest, where the Creek Fire has destroyed 365 buildings, including at least 45 homes, and 5,000 structures were threatened, fire officials said.

Flames threatened the foothill community of Auberry between Shaver Lake and Fresno.

DOJ asks to defend Trump in rape accuser's defamation suit 

NEW YORK — The Justice Department is asking to take over President Donald Trump's defense in a defamation lawsuit from a writer who accused him of rape, and federal lawyers asked a court Tuesday to allow a move that could put the American people on the hook for any money she might be awarded.After New York state courts turned down Trump's request to delay E. Jean Carroll's suit, Justice Department lawyers filed court papers aiming to shift the case into federal court and to substitute the U.S. for Trump as the defendant. That means the federal government, rather than Trump himself, might have to pay damages if any are awarded.

The move to intervene is in keeping with a Justice Department that time and again has advanced a broad vision of executive power and has moved to shield Trump from legal exposure, most notably by arguing that actions taken to choke off the Russia investigation fell within the scope of his constitutional authorities and were therefore permissible. It also comes amid concerns that Attorney General William Barr has gone out of his way to intervene in other legal cases involving Trump or his allies. Barr tried to decrease the amount of prison time his office sought for Trump ally Roger Stone following a criminal trial where he was found guilty. (Stone's sentence was later commuted by Trump.) Barr's Justice Department has acted to dismiss its own case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. 

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine study paused after one illness

Late-stage studies of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine candidate are on temporary hold while the company investigates whether a recipient's "potentially unexplained" illness is a side effect of the shot.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, the company said its "standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data."

AstraZeneca didn't reveal any information about the possible side effect except to call it "a potentially unexplained illness." The health news site STAT first reported the pause in testing, saying the possible side effect occurred in the United Kingdom.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson confirmed the pause in vaccinations covers studies in the U.S. and other countries. Late last month, AstraZeneca began recruiting 30,000 people in the U.S. for its largest study of the vaccine. It also is testing the vaccine, developed by Oxford University, in thousands of people in Britain, and in smaller studies in Brazil and South Africa.

Two other vaccines are in huge, final-stage tests in the United States, one made by Moderna Inc. and the other by Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech. Those two vaccines work differently than AstraZeneca's, and the studies already have recruited about two-thirds of the needed volunteers. 

Wall Street's 3-day skid a reality check for runaway market

Wall Street's summer-long party fueled by investors' appetite for some of the world's best-known technology companies has come to an abrupt, if not entirely unexpected, halt. 

The sharp sell-off that began last Thursday has wiped out nearly 7.1% from the S&P 500 as of Tuesday, its first three-day skid in nearly three months. 

The Nasdaq composite, home to Apple, Amazon, Zoom, Tesla and many other tech stocks that led the market's remarkable five-month comeback from its lows in March, has lost more than 10 percent after setting an all-time high just four days ago — a decline known in the market as a correction. 

Call the last three trading sessions a reality check after what many analysts say was an overdone push by traders into technology companies, especially in August.

"The bottom line is that this correction was long overdue and likely has more downside over the next few weeks (and) months as these positions are cleared out," Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a research note Tuesday, noting technology stocks had a "parabolic move" last month. Tech stocks jumped 11.8 percent in August, the sector's best month since a 13.7 percent surge in April. 

English warned limits on gatherings may last til Christmas

LONDON — New limits on social gatherings in England to six people are set to stay in place for the "foreseeable future," potentially until or even through Christmas, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday.

Hancock said the new limit for both indoor and outdoor gatherings, which will come into force and be enforceable by law from Monday, will provide "more clarity" to people and should help keep a lid on a recent sharp spike in new coronavirus cases.

One of the reasons for the pick-up in cases is that many people have been confused over the past few months as lockdown restrictions have been eased, notably over how they relate to gatherings both in and out of the home. Scientists say a clear message is crucial in containing pandemics.

Though there are exemptions, such as for schools, workplaces and "life events" like funerals and weddings, the government is clearly hoping that the new limits will be easily understood and followed.

"It's super simple," Hancock told BBC radio.

Disney criticized for filming 'Mulan' in China's Xinjiang 

SEOUL, South Korea — Disney is under fire for filming part of its live-action reboot "Mulan" in Xinjiang, the region in China where the government has been accused of human rights abuses against Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.

The final credits in the film, which was released on Disney Plus last week and is being rolled out in several countries this month, thank propaganda departments in Xinjiang and the public security bureau of Turpan, a Uighur-majority city in the region. 

Human rights activists and some China experts have taken to social media to condemn Disney for turning a blind eye to alleged abuses in Xinjiang. They accuse the American enterprise of kowtowing to China for access to its lucrative movie market, the second-largest in the world.

Amnesty International tweeted a link to a media report on the controversy and asked Disney, "Can you show us your human rights due diligence report?" A Washington Post opinion contributor called the movie a scandal, and one widely shared tweet suggested the Mulan crew would have seen "reeducation camps" for Uighurs en route to filming locations.

Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the remote Xinjiang region have been locked up in camps as part of a government assimilation campaign launched in response to decades of sometimes violent struggle against Chinese rule. Some have been subjected to forced sterilization and abortion, and in recent months, ordered to drink traditional Chinese medicines to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Chinese authorities defend the camps as job training centers, though former detainees describe them as prison-like facilities where they were humiliated, beaten and deprived of food.

The film, which is a remake of the popular 1998 animation, is based on the ancient Chinese tale of Hua Mulan, a young woman who takes her father's place in the army by dressing as a man.

The remake was no stranger to controversies even before its release.

Last year, a boycott movement was sparked when the lead actor, Liu Yifei, a Chinese-American originally from Wuhan, publicly supported Hong Kong police when they were accused of using excessive force against Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.

Donnie Yen, a renowned Hong Kong star who plays Mulan's regiment leader Commander Tung, also drew ire from Hong Kong protesters for his pro-China stance. 

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted, "Now, when you watch #Mulan, not only are you turning a blind eye to police brutality and racial injustice ... you're also potentially complicit in the mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs."

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