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Kevin Spacey to appear in first film since sexual assault scandal

Disgraced actor Kevin Spacey will appear in an Italian film directed by Franco Nero in his first acting role since multiple sexual assault allegations essentially ended his career four years ago.

“L’uomo Che Disegno Dio,” or “The Man Who Drew God,” will be filmed in Italy and will star Mr. Nero and his wife, Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave. 

Mr. Spacey will have a small role in the film as a police detective, Variety reported. It will be the two-time Oscar winner’s first acting gig since more than a dozen men came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and assault in 2017.

“I’m very happy Kevin agreed to participate in my film,” Mr. Nero, known for his roles in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” and “Django Unchained,” told ABC News. “I consider him a great actor and I can’t wait to start the movie.”

Mr. Spacey is not commenting on the role, ABC News reported.

According to the Filmitalia website, the film follows “the rise and fall of a blind artist who has the extraordinary gift of making true-to-life portraits just by listening to human voices.”

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Gretchen Whitmer caught violating own indoor dining rules: ‘I am human. I made a mistake’

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is in the hot seat again after a photo posted on Facebook showed her violating her own COVID-19 restrictions, which have been among the strictest in the country.

Ms. Whitmer said Sunday she “made a mistake” after a photo, first reported by Breitbart News, showed her sitting inside a restaurant among a group of at least twelve other people without masks on.

Current Michigan Department of Health and Human Services orders prohibit groups larger than six to dine together indoors and groups must be seated six feet apart.

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been committed to following public health protocols,” the governor said in a statement. “Yesterday, I went with friends to a local restaurant. As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it.

“In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize,” she said.

Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, has faced widespread criticism for her pro-lockdown approach over the course of the pandemic. Last April, in addition to her stay-at-home orders and closures of private businesses, Ms. Whitmer went a step further and banned Michiganders from traveling between two private residences and prohibited big-box stores from selling items deemed nonessential by the state.

Just two months ago, a western Michigan restaurant owner was jailed for operating her business in violation of COVID-19 orders.

Ms. Whitmer made headlines last month after it was revealed she took a private flight to visit her ailing father in Florida, just weeks after she warned the public against traveling to the Sunshine State amid a surge in coronavirus cases. She later defended the trip.

“For anyone to be surprised that I have a family member who’s been having a lot of health issues that I showed up to check in … they’re obviously not paying attention to who I am or what I do,” the governor said April 19.

Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, joked Sunday that she didn’t envy Ms. Whitmer’s press team.

“I have no problem with @GovWhitmer going out to a crowded bar without masks or distancing,” Ms. Pushaw tweeted. “The problem is that she makes Michiganders live under rules that she flouts. (She is vaccinated, so if she pretends she can’t go back to normal, she’s signaling that [vaccine] doesn’t work— bad!)”

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Stephen Colbert says he’s going back before live audiences

NEW YORK (AP) — CBS said Monday that Stephen Colbert‘s late-night show will return to doing live episodes on June 14, with a vaccinated audience in New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater.

The show produced 205 episodes without a live audience in more than a year because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Audience members will be required to show proof of vaccination before being allowed in Colbert‘s audience, CBS said. Face masks will be optional. Staff and crew members will be tested prior to coming back to work and monitored regularly for signs of symptoms.

Colbert did his first show remotely on March 16, 2020, with a monologue taped from his bathtub at home. The show has been done from the offices at his home theater lately.

“I look forward to once again doing show for an audience I can smell and touch,” Colbert said.

“The Late Show” is the top-rated late-night entertainment show.

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WHO chief: We must vaccinate 10% of the global population by September, 30% by December

The World Health Organization pushed member countries Monday to join a campaign to vaccinate 10% of the global population by September and 30% by December, dubbing the shortfall of COVID-19 shots in poorer places a “scandalous inequity” that is prolonging the pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the September goal translates to 250 million more vaccinations in low- and middle-income countries. 

The director-general said COVAX, a prominent vaccine-sharing alliance, is the main route for getting there. He said wealthier nations must ramp up donations by June and asked drugmakers to give COVAX the first right of refusal on 50% of their output this year.

“I understand that every government has a duty to protect its own people. I understand that every government wants to vaccinate its entire population,” Mr. Tedros said in remarks to the 74th World Health Assembly. “That’s what we want, too. And in time, there will be enough supply for everyone, including those at lower risk. But right now, there is not enough supply. Countries that vaccinate children and other low-risk groups now do so at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries. That’s the reality.”

The U.S. got off to a relatively fast start in its vaccination campaign, leveraging bilateral deals with drugmakers to get at least one dose into about half of the population. About 40% of the country has completed its vaccination course.

President Biden is under pressure to share U.S. vaccines with others, so he pledged to export 20 million doses of vaccines approved for emergency use in America and 60 million doses of AstraZeneca doses that aren’t approved and sitting on shelves. Experts said the commitment was a step in the right direction but short of what’s needed.

Mr. Tedros said more than 75% of all vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries, as places such as the United Kingdom and Israel pivot to normal, but many poor countries have barely begun their vaccination campaigns.

“There is no diplomatic way to say it: a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world,” Mr. Tedros said.
Beyond donations, he said, some factories can scale up manufacturing if originator companies are willing to share their technology and know-how, a so-called patent waiver.

“I find it difficult to understand why this has not happened yet,” Mr. Tedros said.

Mr. Biden endorsed the patent idea, but it ran into a wall of skepticism or opposition from Europe and congressional Republicans.

Mr. Tedros also said there is an $18.5 billion funding gap in the ACT Accelerator, a program that helps countries ramp up their local virus-fighting efforts.

In blunt terms, the director-general said the consequence of a slow vaccination effort could be a kind of never-ending pandemic in which the virus pings around the globe and evolves into something more dangerous.

“Almost 18 months into the defining health crisis of our age, the world remains in a very dangerous situation,” Mr. Tedros said. “As of today, more cases have been reported so far this year than in the whole of 2020. On current trends, the number of deaths will overtake last year’s total within the next three weeks.”

He said things are looking up in some countries, but no one should take a victory lap.

“No country should assume it is out of the woods, no matter its vaccination rate,” Mr. Tedros said. “So far, no variants have emerged that significantly undermine the efficacy of vaccines, diagnostics or therapeutics. But there is no guarantee that will remain the case. This virus is changing constantly. Future changes could render our tools ineffective and drag us back to square one. We must be very clear: The pandemic is not over, and it will not be over until and unless transmission is controlled in every last country.”

Taiwan, meanwhile, accused Mr. Tedros of not living up to his duties. The island country was not invited to the World Health Assembly despite support from the U.S. and many other nations.

Its foreign minister, Jaushieh Joseph Wu, issued a formal statement expressing “regret at the WHO Secretariat’s continued indifference to the health rights of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people.”

The snub will fuel claims WHO is far too deferential to Beijing — as calls grow for a truer probe into the virus’ origins in China — and does so at Taiwan’s expense. The communist government refuses to recognize the island’s sovereignty.

“The recent escalation of the pandemic in Taiwan further shows that viruses know no borders,” Mr. Wu said. “Taiwan cannot remain on the sidelines, and there should not be a gap in global disease prevention. The world needs to share all available information and expertise in a collective fight against disease. That Taiwan has not received an invitation to attend the WHA is not only a loss for Taiwan but also the rest of the world.” 

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Drake, Pink, The Weeknd win big at Billboard Music Awards

NEW YORK (AP) — It was a family affair at the Billboard Music Awards: Pink twirled in the air in a powerful performance with her daughter, and Drake was named artist of the decade, accepting the honor alongside his 3-year-old son.

Drake, who extended his record as the most decorated winner in the history of the awards show to 29 wins Sunday, was surrounded by family and friends who presented him with the Artist of the Decade Award. He walked onstage outside the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles with his son Adonis holding his hand.

“I wanna dedicate this award to my friends, to my longtime collaborators … to my beautiful family, and to you,” he said, looking to Adonis and picking him up to kiss him.

Drake placed his first song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2009, and since has logged the most songs ever on the chart, with 232 entrees. He’s also logged a record 45 Top 10 hits on the Hot 100 and a record 22 No. 1s on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart.

He was also named top streaming songs artist Sunday.

Pink received the Icon Award and was joined onstage by her 9-year-old daughter — showing off their powerful gymnastic skills as they spun in the air in a jaw-dropping performance.

Known for her signature aerial and acrobatic moves, Pink was matched by Willow Sage Hart as “Cover Me In Sunshine” played in the background, Pink’s song featuring vocals from her daughter.

“Willow, you nailed it,” Pink said after the performance. “I love what I do and I love the people that I get to do it with, and we’re pretty good at what we do, but it wouldn’t matter if no one came to see us and play with us. So all you guys out there … thank you for coming out!”

Pink’s performance was one of several pre-taped moments at the awards show, which aired on NBC and was hosted by Nick Jonas. Live performances were held outdoors, in front of feverish audience members wearing masks.

The Weeknd was on hand to accept the most wins of the night — 10. He walked into the show with 16 nominations, winning honors like top artist, top male artist, top Hot 100 song for “Blinding Lights” and top R&B album for “After Hours.”

“I wanna take this opportunity to thank you, my parents,” he said. “I am the man I am today because of you. And thank you to my fans, of course. I do not take this for granted.”

The late rapper Pop Smoke was also a big winner: He posthumously earned five honors, including top new artist and top rap artist, while his debut — “Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon” — won top rap album and top Billboard 200 album, which his mother accepted onstage.

“Thank you to the fans for honoring the life and spirit of my son, so much that he continues to manifest as if he was still here in flesh,” Audrey Jackson said. 

Another late rapper was also honored during the show. Before presenting top rap song to DaBaby, Swizz Beatz dedicated a moment to those who have recently died in hip-hop, including his close friend and collaborator DMX. And Houston rapper and activist Trae Tha Truth, who earned the Change Maker Award, ended his speech with a powerful sentence: “We still gon’ need justice for Breonna Taylor.”

Other winners Sunday included Bad Bunny and BTS, who both won four awards and also performed. Breakthrough country singer Gabby Barrett won three awards, including top female country artist and top country song for the hit “I Hope.” The song’s remix featuring Charlie Puth won top collaboration.

“Oh my gosh. Thank y’all so much. This means so much to me,” Barrett said as she broke into tears. “I’ve been performing for 10 years really hard. …We’ve worked so hard to get here.”
Another country star also won big Sunday though he wasn’t allowed to participate in the show.

Morgan Wallen, who was caught on camera using a racial slur earlier this year, won three honors, including top country artist and top country album for “Dangerous: The Double Album,” which has had major success on the pop and country music charts despite his fallen moment.

Wallen was nominated for six awards, and Billboard Awards producer dick clark productions said it couldn’t prevent Wallen from earning nominations, or winning, because finalists are based on album and digital sales, streaming, radio airplay and social engagement. The producers did ban Wallen from performing or attending the show.

The Billboard Awards kicked off with a collaborative performance by DJ Khaled, H.E.R. and Migos, who brought the concert vibe back to life a year after live shows were in the dark because of the pandemic. Doja Cat and SZA — accompanied by futuristically dressed background dancers — sang their big hit “Kiss Me More” inside the venue, where the seats were empty. Alicia Keys, celebrating the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking debut “songs in A minor,” sang songs from the album including the hit “Fallin’.” The performance was introduced by former first lady Michelle Obama.

Other performers included Karol G, twenty one pilots, Duran Duran, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Jonas Brothers and Glass Animals.

Stars like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Kanye West won honors at the show though they didn’t attend. Machine Gun Kelly, who started in rap but has had recent success on the rock charts, won top rock artist and top rock album.

“I released my first mixtape 15 years ago and this is the first big stage I’ve ever been invited to accept an award on,” he said, kissing his actor-girlfriend Megan Fox before walking to the stage.

“To the box that society keeps trying to put me, you need stronger material because you can’t keep me in it,” he proclaimed.

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India virus death toll passes 300,000, 3rd highest in world

NEW DELHI (AP) — India crossed another grim milestone Monday of more than 300,000 people lost to the coronavirus as a devastating surge of new infections that exploded with fury has shown signs of easing.

The milestone, as recorded by India‘s health ministry, comes as slowed vaccine deliveries have marred the country’s fight against the pandemic, forcing many to miss their shots, and a rare but fatal fungal infection affecting COVID-19 patients has worried doctors.

India‘s death toll is the third-highest reported in the world, accounting for 8.6% of the nearly 34.7 million coronavirus fatalities globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater.

The health ministry Monday reported 4,454 new death in the last 24 hours, bringing India’s total fatalities to 303,720. It also reported 222,315 new infections, which raised the overall total to nearly 27 million. Both are almost certainly undercounts.

The first known COVID-19 death in India happened on March 12, 2020, in southern Karnataka state. It took seven months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in late April. The next 100,000 deaths were recorded in just 27 days after new infections tore through dense cities and rural areas alike and overwhelmed health care systems on the brink of collapse.

Average daily deaths and cases have slightly decreased in the past few weeks and the government on Sunday said it is conducting the highest number of COVID-19 tests, with more than 2.1 million samples tested in the previous 24 hours.

Megacities such as Mumbai and New Delhi, the worst affected by the latest surge, are also experiencing signs of improvement in recent days. But the virus isn’t finished with India by any means and there are some early indications that it has already taken a ghastly toll in the country’s vast rural areas where a majority of the people live and where health care is limited.

In recent weeks, hundreds of bodies have washed up on the banks of the Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh state. Many others have been found buried in shallow graves along its sandy banks. It has prompted concerns that they’re the remains of COVID-19 victims.

India’s vaccination drive has also slowed recently, and many states say they don’t have enough vaccines to administer.

The world’s largest vaccine-producing nation has fully vaccinated just over 41.6 million people, or only 3.8% of its nearly 1.4 billion population.

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Italy probes cable car crash as lone child survivor recovers

ROME (AP) — Italy’s transport minister was heading Monday to the scene of a cable car disaster that killed 14 people when the lead cable apparently snapped and the cabin careened back down the mountain until it pulled off the line and crashed to the ground.

The lone survivor of Sunday’s horrific incident, a 5-year-old Israeli boy living in Italy, remained hospitalized in Turin Monday with multiple broken bones.

The Israeli foreign ministry identified him as Eitan Biran. His parents, younger brother and two great-grandparents were among the dead, the ministry said, correcting an earlier statement that had included Eitan among the victims.

Italian media identified all the other victims as Italians.

The disaster, in one of the most picturesque spots in northern Italy – the Mottarone mountaintop overlooking Lake Maggiore and other lakes near Switzerland – raised questions anew about the quality and safety of Italy’s transport infrastructure.

Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini announced a commission of inquiry had already been formed to investigate the “technical and organizational causes” of the accident, while prosecutors will focus on any criminal blame. Giovannini was heading to the site Monday along with the civil protection chief to inspect the damage.

The transport ministry said a preliminary check of the cable line’s safety and maintenance record show that the whole lift structure underwent a renovation in August 2016, and that a maintenance check was performed in 2017.

Late last year, inspections were performed on the cables themselves, including magnetic inspections on the primary cables of the lift: the cable that pulls the cabin up the mountain, the support cable that holds the car and the rescue cables. In December another visual check was performed, the ministry said.

The mayor of Stresa, Marcella Severino, quoted witnesses as saying they heard a “loud hiss,” apparently when the lead cable snapped. She said the cabin reeled back down the line until it apparently hit a pylon and then plummeted to the ground. It rolled over two or three times before crashing into trees, she said.

It wasn’t immediately clear why a brake had not engaged.

Some of the bodies were thrown from the car and were found amid the trees, she said.

The funicular line is popular with tourists and locals alike to scale Mottarone, which reaches a height of 1,491 meters (4,900 feet) and overlooks several picturesque lakes and the surrounding Alps of Italy’s Piedmont region.

The mountain hosts a small amusement park, Alpyland, that has a children’s rollercoaster, and the area also has mountain bike paths and hiking trails.

It only reopened a few weeks ago after Italy’s wintertime coronavirus lockdowns lifted, and officials hypothesized that families were taking advantage of a sunny Sunday to visit the peak and take in the view.

The Israeli foreign ministry identified the five Israelis killed as Eitan’s parents, Amit Biran and Tal Peleg-Biran, an Israeli-born couple studying and working in Pavia. Biran’s Facebook page identifies him as a medical student at the University of Pavia.

Their 2-year-old son, Tom Biran, was killed at the scene, as were Peleg-Biran’s grandparents, Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen. The ministry said they had arrived in Italy on May 19 to visit their granddaughter and great-grandchildren.

Amit Biran’s sister, Aya, was not involved in the crash and was at the bedside of Eitan at Turin’s Regina Margherita hospital, the foreign ministry said, adding that other family members were flying to Italy from Israel to join her.

The Israeli embassy was working to help repatriate the bodies to Israel, it said.

___

AP reporter Laurie Kellman contributed from Jerusalem.

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Benjamin Storey asks French philosophers why we are restless

Americans remain unhappy despite surviving 2020’s global pandemic and a tumultuous election. Why?

Last year, the United States dropped one place on the list of world’s happiest nations, according to Gallup World Poll results analyzed for the 2021 Word Happiness Report. 

And Washington is the 51st happiest city in the U.S., trailing far behind Plano, Texas, at No. 1, according to a new WalletHub.com survey.

This springtime of our national discontent stems from a lack of spiritual awareness, according to Benjamin Storey, co-author with his wife Jenna Silber Storey, of “Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment.”

The duo, who both teach at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, are set to present their views at an American Enterprise Institute forum on May 24.

“What Jen and I really know about is old books and young souls: we spent a lot of time with college students, both at Furman and at other universities,” Mr. Storey said in a telephone interview. “I think that there’s a lot of focus on the anger of this generation. We want to draw some attention to the deep discontent,” he added.

The discontentment comes from “their educational institutions are steering them toward a vision of happiness that is not actually satisfying,” said Mr. Storey, who teaches the history of political philosophy. 

Though not as literate in religious thinking as their predecessors, he said today’s students manifest a “spiritual hunger” he finds encouraging.

“One of the things that’s troubling us because we have a deep sense of guilt but we don’t really have much of a sense of the possibility of forgiveness or redemption,” Mr. Storey said. “And that is, I think, one of the sources of our troubles.”

To solve that, today’s discontented can look to the lives and works of four French philosophers, men whose careers spanned three centuries: French Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne; mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal; Swiss-born political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and Alexis de Tocqueville, whose best-known work chronicled America in the first part of the 19th century.

Having lived through France’s “wars of religion” in the 1500s, Montaigne saw neighbors “willing to burn each other alive over the fine points of religious difference,” Mr. Storey said. 

Instead, Montaigne urges people away towards “immanent contentment,” in which individuals cultivate “this virtue of nonchalance, of not taking anything too seriously,” Mr. Storey explained, since no one can “know the answer to the question of the human good.”

Pascal, whose work in logic led to an early computer programming language being named in his honor, was also a spiritual thinker who countered Montaigne’s “nonchalance” by goading his contemporaries — and us — to ponder existential questions.

“There’re really three kinds of human beings, as Pascal puts it,” Mr. Storey said. “Those who have found God and served him. Those who have not found God but are looking for him. And those who are neither looking for God, nor have found him.”

Pascal maps that typology onto human happiness, Mr. Storey says.

“He thinks those who aren’t looking and haven’t found, are unhappy and unreasonable. He thinks those who have found God are happy and reasonable. And he thinks that those in the middle are unhappy but reasonable, that is those who haven’t found God but are looking.”

Pascal aims his message at the middle group, because they might be persuaded to consider spiritual questions, where those who aren’t searching might not: Pascal “wants to turn us into what he calls seekers in anguish,” Mr. Storey said.

While recognizing that Pascal was onto something in his analysis of society, Rousseau embraced Montaigne’s nonchalance so forcefully, the Storeys write in their book published this year by Princeton University Press, that it influenced, for good and ill, the generation that led the anti-clerical, Bastille-storming French Revolution.

Fleeing the after-effects of that Revolution, Tocqueville finds a very young United States that is largely middle class — and yet also discontented. 

Mr. Storey said the American experiment deeply impressed the French thinker — to a point.

“He looked around and he saw a functional and very impressive democracy … he made it the work of his life to bring it back to France, as a model for them and all the travails that followed upon the French Revolution,” Mr. Storey said of Tocqueville. “But then he said, these Americans they’re restless even in the midst of their prosperity. He thought that was in part because we spend so much time pursuing the material conditions for the kind of human flourishing that modern peoples tend to aim at … But that quest leaves a large part of us unsatisfied.”

That dissatisfaction, Mr. Storey asserted, “is one of the things that’s troubling us because we have a deep sense of guilt but we don’t really have much of a sense of the possibility of forgiveness or redemption. And that is, I think, one of the sources of our troubles.”

He said he hopes the book will let thinkers of the past such as Pascal speak to today’s ill-at-ease society and provoke a spiritual quest.

According to Catholic theology teacher Dawn Eden Goldstein, there may be something to the Storeys/ argument.

Ms. Goldstein, a onetime rock-music journalist who has written several Christian-themed books including “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints,” said both Montaigne and Pascal have lessons for today’s seekers.

“We have the perspective in Ecclesiastes that it’s important to appreciate this life, and we also have the perspective of Pascal that we have a King, Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world,” she said. 

“In the Old Testament, too, in the prophets and elsewhere, there’s plenty that says this world is not all that there is. I believe that the reason why we can and should enjoy this life in a good and responsible way is that God has shown us that this life is important to Him,” Ms. Goldstein explained.

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Rand Paul to pass on COVID-19 vaccine

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said on a radio show he won’t be getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but that he might change his mind if people who previously contracted the disease are getting reinfected at a greater rate than those who are vaccinated.

The Republican – more than a year after contracting COVID-19 – said on a podcast released Sunday on WABC-AM in New York that he doesn’t want the federal government ordering him around.

“In a free country you would think people would honor the idea that each individual would get to make their medical decisions,” Paul said. “Are they going to also tell me I can’t have a cheeseburger for lunch? Are they going to tell me I have to eat carrots only and cut my calories? All that would probably be good for me. But I don’t think `Big Brother’ ought to tell me to do it.”

Paul claimed that he has “natural immunity,” but research suggests having COVID-19 may not protect against getting infected again. And in cases where reinfection causes no symptoms or just mild ones, people might still spread the virus. That’s why health officials have urged vaccination as a longer-term solution.

Paul announced in March 2020 that he had tested positive for the virus, becoming the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. Senate. At the time it raised fears about further transmission of the virus among senators, including more than two dozen who are in their 70’s or 80’s.

Paul said he continued working at the U.S. Capitol after being tested for coronavirus because he had no symptoms of the illness and believed it was “highly unlikely” he was sick. Paul also said he did not have direct contact with anyone who tested positive for the virus or was sick.

Paul‘s refusal to self-quarantine after being tested sparked bipartisan outrage, including from some of his colleagues.

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Kennedy Center honorees still relish slimmed-down tribute

WASHINGTON (AP) — This year’s Kennedy Center Honors may be a slimmed-down affair as the nation emerges from the coronavirus pandemic — but honoree Dick Van Dyke still says it’s “the capper on my career.”

The 43rd class of honorees also includes country music legend Garth Brooks, dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, singer-songwriter Joan Baez and violinist Midori. They were honored Friday night at a medallion ceremony that had been delayed from December 2020.

All the honorees called the lifetime artistic achievement award a unique honor, even for an accomplished artist.

Brooks joked: “I don’t mind being the weak link on the chain. I’m in the chain!”

Normally the medallion ceremony is held at the State Department, but this year it was moved to the Kennedy Center’s opera house, with about 120 people spread out at tables on the stage and backstage area looking out at the empty rows of seats. Singer Gloria Estefan hosted the ceremony and cellist Yo Yo Ma performed; both are previous Kennedy Center Honors recipients.

The recipients received short tributes and spoke after getting the iconic medallion placed around their necks. Several of the artists said they hoped their modified ceremony would be one of a series of benchmarks in the country’s cultural reopening.

Midori said it made her happy, “coming out of these very dark times, to be able to see the arts coming back.”

Allen is a veteran of tribute programs for previous Kennedy Center Honors recipients. She said this year’s process was uniquely intimate. “We’re spending a lot more time together than other groups of honorees,” she said.

Baez brought an unexpected guest: Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Baez paints portraits and posts them online, and she painted one of Fauci last year. They started talking and “struck up a mutual fan-ship,” Baez said.

Prior to the ceremony Friday evening, several attendees visibly scrambled to put on their masks properly when Baez and the masked Fauci entered together.

Instead of the usual several-hour black-tie event, followed by dinner, Friday’s festivities ran just 90 minutes with a limited audience. The musical performances and tributes – traditionally the centerpiece of the event – were split into two other nights; one took place Thursday and the second is scheduled for Saturday.

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter Rutter told reporters they “had been filming tributes all over campus.” All the events will be edited into a television special, which will be broadcast on CBS on June 6.

The honorees met with President Biden on Thursday, marking a return to tradition after former President Trump avoided the celebration during his tenure. Trump’s presence in the White House hung over the annual events from the start, with several 2017 honorees threatening to boycott if he attended.

Trump chose to stay away for the entirety of his time in office, to the quiet relief of administrators who otherwise may have faced an uprising from the artists.

The performing arts center is planning a full-scale reopening in September with events slowly ramping up until then. The 44th Kennedy Center Honors program should take place, back on its usual schedule, in December.

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