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Trump says officials spent holiday working on census dispute

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said administration officials were working on Independence Day in hopes of finding a way to have the 2020 census include a citizenship question even though the government has begun the process of printing the questionnaire without it.

“So important for our Country that the very simple and basic ‘Are you a Citizen of the United States?’ question be allowed to be asked in the 2020 Census,” Trump wrote in his first tweet of the holiday.

Trump’s administration has faced numerous roadblocks to adding the question, including last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked its inclusion, at least temporarily. The U.S. Justice Department had insisted to the Supreme Court that it needed the matter resolved by the end of June because of a deadline to begin printing census forms and other materials.

But on Wednesday, agency officials told a federal judge in Maryland they think there could be a way to meet Trump’s demand.

“There may be a legally available path,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Joseph Hunt told U.S. District Judge George Hazel during a conference call with parties to one of three census-related lawsuits. The call was closed to reporters; a transcript was made available soon after.

A department spokeswoman had confirmed on Tuesday that there would be “no citizenship question on the 2020 census” amid signs that the administration was ending the legal fight. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that day that the “Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question.”

It was a Trump tweet on Wednesday — “We are absolutely moving forward” — that sowed enough confusion that Hazel and U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, overseeing a census lawsuit in New York, demanded clarification.

“I don’t know how many federal judges have Twitter accounts, but I happen to be one of them, and I follow the president, and so I saw a tweet that directly contradicted the position” that a Justice Department lawyer took in a hearing Tuesday, Hazel said.

Fear and confusion among immigrants might just be Trump’s aim, a lawyer for opponents of the question said, because the U.S. Census Bureau’s own experts have said that asking about citizenship would depress participation by immigrants and people who are in the country illegally.

“The president’s tweet has some of the same effects that the addition of the question would in the first place and some of the same effects on the 18-month battle that was just waged over the citizenship question,” Denise Hulett, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, told Hazel. “It leaves the immigrant communities to believe that the government is still after information that could endanger them.”

In the short term, work on the census probably won’t be affected. The company with a $114 million contract to print census questionnaires had been instructed to start printing forms without the citizenship question.

Joshua Gardner, a second Justice Department lawyer on the conference call, confirmed that “the Census Bureau is continuing with the process of printing the questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that process has not stopped.”

Gardner, a 16-year Justice Department lawyer, said he was as surprised by Trump’s Wednesday tweet as anyone.

“The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and your honor,” he said. “I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted.”

Hazel moved up to today from Monday a deadline for the government to stipulate that it is no longer attempting to put the question on the 2020 census form. Otherwise, he said, he would move ahead with reopening the case to pursue a new issue. Opponents of the question say evidence from the computer files of a Republican redistricting consultant who died last year shows that discrimination against Hispanics was behind the push for the citizenship question.

That might be a separate basis for blocking the citizenship question.

The Trump administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But in the Supreme Court’s decision last week, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s current justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

Opponents of the citizenship question said it would result in inaccurate figures for a count that determines the distribution of some $675 billion in federal spending and how many congressional districts each state gets.

Even though the Census Bureau is relying on most respondents to answer the questionnaire by the internet next year, hundreds of millions of printed postcards and letters will be sent out in March 2020 reminding people about the census, and those who don’t respond digitally will be mailed paper questionnaires.

Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press/  


Downtown vows: For nine couples, it was something borrowed, something red, white and blue at this wedding ceremony

Tasha Moore and Michael Morrison kiss after the are pronounced husband an wife at Fun Fourth Festival in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday, July 4, 2019.

GREENSBORO — “We celebrate this declaration of marriage on a day we celebrate this nation’s declaration of independence,” licensed wedding officiant Liz Grimes said to Evelyn Coreas and Teddy Horne.

Within a few minutes, the couple was pronounced husband and wife as hundreds cheered at the intersection of Elm and Washington streets.

Coreas and Horne were one of nine couples who exchanged vows during the “Red White and Say I Do” event held during downtown’s Fun Fourth Festival on Thursday.

Nine weddings in three and half hours. That’s not Vegas fast, but it’s still fast.

The wedding marathon was held on a stage in front of a red, white and blue backdrop made to resemble an American flag as crosswalk signs flickered.

Once they were declared husband and wife, Coreas and Horne were ushered off the stage to the embraces of loved ones before retiring to a swanky meal in a nearby tent.

The wedding event was put on by Sharpe Pursuits, a 20-year-old event and entertainment planning company which has worked with Downtown Greensboro Inc., the organizers of Fun Fourth.

Sharpe Pursuits used the weddings to promote a new division of the company called Altar Ego.

“What better way to kick it off than to give away nine weddings?” asked Shayla Sharpe, co-owner of the company.

With the help of sponsors, Sharpe Pursuits made all the arrangements, from getting an officiant to finding a photographer to planning a small reception for a few guests for each couple.

And the best part: It was free.

The couples were chosen from hundreds that applied online.

Each couple got a half-hour time slot with the actual ceremony lasting only about 10 minutes.

A sudden gust that came up just before the first wedding was to commence around 3 p.m. added some chaos to the event. But staff kept their cool and were able to keep things running.

“They caught the weddings up quickly because ours was scheduled at 5 and we were on the stage by 5:30,” Tasha Moore said.

Moore, 39, got hitched to Michael Morrison, 40. The couple have known each other since middle school, but had gone their separate ways until they reconnected again in 2006.

Three years ago, they started dating seriously and decided to tie the knot — on the Fourth of July no less.

“He works a lot and I’m in nursing school, so without this, we wouldn’t have had any other time to plan it,” Moore said.

Moore admitted she was nervous.

“It was very scary being in front of all the people that were at the Fun Fourth, but focusing on the guy that was doing the ceremony helped out,” Moore said. “He just kept saying ‘Breathe.’”

Following up the nuptials of Moore and Morrison were 27-year-old Coreas and 30-year-old Horne. They, too, have known each other since childhood before going their separate ways.

They reconnected in college and got engaged a year ago. They were in the middle of planning an October wedding when they decided to apply for the Fun Fourth event. Coreas had already gotten a dress and had reserved a venue.

“It was getting overwhelming and we’re not really planners. So this was nice that they organized everything for us,” Coreas said.

Instead of her gown, Coreas wore a simple cream-colored dress with short sleeves. She was the picture of calm standing opposite Horne, who seemed a bit nervous.

“We thought this was a good idea and memorable,” Coreas said.

What about that wedding gown?

Coreas said she still plans to wear it in October. The couple are planning a real reception at the venue they’ve already reserved.

Photos by Woody Marshall/News & Record  

Tasha Moore and Michael Morrison are married by Jac Grimes during the “Red White and Say I Do” event held during downtown’s Fun Fourth Festival on Thursday. Nine weddings were conducted in three and a half hours.

North Carolina proposes smokable hemp ban as demand grows

CLIMAX — North Carolina is the latest state considering a ban on smokable hemp, a product that’s exploding along with the health craze surrounding a compound in the plant known as CBD.

Besides federal regulations laid out in the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration has no additional regulations on smokable hemp, leaving states to figure out how to govern it themselves.

This year, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas banned smokable hemp entirely, while Kansas banned products including hemp cigarettes and cigars. Tennessee prohibited smokable hemp sales to minors.

North Carolina’s House is considering a smokable hemp ban after it recently passed the state Senate.

The legislation focuses primarily on expanding the state’s pilot hemp growing program, which has more than 1,000 licensed hemp growers and 600 registered hemp processors, to position it as a leader in the burgeoning industry. The bill would place more regulations on hemp but also create a hemp licensing commission and establish a fund for regulation, testing and marketing.

North Carolina law enforcement wants the ban, saying officers have no way of distinguishing smokable hemp from marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants. Dried, smokable hemp looks and smells the same as marijuana but contains less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound that gives marijuana its high. Hemp has cannabidiol, or CBD, which many believe helps with pain, anxiety and inflammation, though there’s limited scientific research to support those claims. It’s turning up in products ranging from lotions and cosmetics to diet pills and juices.

The proposed ban would impose a civil penalty of up to $2,500 for anyone who manufactures, sells or possesses smokable hemp.

But scores of farmers in the traditional tobacco state have told lawmakers a ban would hurt them as many deal with hurricane damage and decreased tobacco prices.

Three years ago, Shane Whitaker grew 275 acres of tobacco on his farm in Climax. This year, the second-generation tobacco farmer planted only 75 acres of his former cash crop and decided to grow hemp.

“We’re hoping for a lot of this hemp to replace tobacco,” he said. “I’m not for taking part of it off the market.”

So far, he said that hemp has been a good source of revenue to keep his farm running.

Second-year hemp farmer Lori Lacy, who has invested more than $190,000 on her 13-acre Franklin hemp farm, said she can make $1,000 for a pound of smokable hemp flower.

“I don’t want our infrastructure and everything that we have built up to this point to go away,” Lacy told lawmakers at a May hearing. “I will have to fire people.”

Smokable hemp is lucrative partly because farmers just need to dry the hemp flowers. Other products require a complicated, costly process for extracting CBD oil.

Jamie Schau, who analyzes CBD markets for the research firm Brightfield Group, said the market for smokable hemp flower is projected to grow to $70.6 million in 2019, up from $11.7 million in 2018. However, she said stigmas around smoking help keep smokable hemp at only about 1.4 percent of the overall market.

Smokable hemp is especially popular in the South, where no states have legalized recreational marijuana and many haven’t legalized medicinal marijuana, said Eric Steenstra, president of advocacy group Vote Hemp. Still, its popularity has been a surprise, he said: “Nobody really anticipated that anybody would want to smoke (hemp).”

North Carolina’s Senate voted to delay the ban until December 2020 to allow more time to figure out regulation, but a House committee subsequently moved the date a year sooner. That version is continuing to move through the House.

Bill co-sponsor Republican Sen. Brent Jackson of Sampson County prefers the later effective date because he thinks portable tests will be available soon to differentiate hemp from marijuana.

The State Bureau of Investigation and the North Carolina Association Chiefs of Police say delaying the ban would be a “de facto” legalization of marijuana, since people could disguise marijuana as hemp.

Last month, police in Four Oaks charged Amanda Furstonberg, 32, with marijuana possession after they saw her smoking what she says was hemp.

“They had me in tears,” she said.

Furstonberg started smoking hemp after a February car accident left her with chronic back pain. To avoid opioids, she tried taking CBD-infused gummies as a pain reliever but wanted something stronger and turned to smokable hemp.

“Within three and five seconds of being able to smoke it, I could tell that my body was starting to feel so much better —the throbbing was going away,” she said.

Police Chief Stephen Anderson defended his officers, saying he believed Furstonberg disguised marijuana as hemp. Her case is pending.

For now, farmers continue to grow smokable hemp.

This year, Whitaker will plant roughly 30 acres of organic hemp with about 2,400 plants per acre, along with another 800 in a greenhouse.

Driving past empty greenhouses that once held tobacco, Whitaker said farming requires adapting to constant changes.

“It’s the Wild West right now,” Whitaker said.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

No joke: After 67 years and a lot of parodies, MAD magazine is leaving newsstands in August. Page B6

New York Times spotlights High Point redevelopment

Just as sparking downtown High Point’s revitalization was a group effort, landing a big story in the New York Times took a little long-term cooperation as well.

Tuesday’s Times featured an in-depth article about the city’s new downtown ballpark and plans for other development, including a co-working and makerspace in an old textile plant downtown.

City leaders said Wednesday that a story in arguably the nation’s most influential newspaper is always welcome, but it isn’t a substitute for the work being done to attract growth to the city, which is hoping to add year-round vitality to an economy dominated by a semiannual furniture market.

“A story does not success or failure make ... but the awareness it creates may focus more people on the important work that’s being done in High Point,” Nido Qubein, High Point University’s president and the leader of an effort to raise tens of millions of dollars for the ballpark and surrounding projects, wrote in an email.

“Any story that features the transformation of our city is a good thing,” Qubein wrote. “The NYT story does a good job in outlining a few of the projects that create tax base increases, open opportunities for more jobs, and creates both positive energy and economic impact in our community.”

A couple of groups worked to get the attention of Times writer Jane Margolies, who came to High Point a week ago to meet with business and civic leaders, said Patrick Chapin, who runs Business High Point — Chamber of Commerce.

Chapin wrote in an email that the DaDa Goldberg public relations firm has been successfully pitching stories about the Plant Seven co-working center and makerspace that’s being developed downtown.

“DaDa, working on behalf of Plant Seven, Business High Point — Chamber of Commerce, and together with leadership across the High Point community worked to pitch, land, and execute on this piece,” Chapin wrote.

In the story, Margolies wrote about the new 11-acre downtown district that features the ballpark for the High Point Rockers minor-league baseball team and land for mixed-use development.

“That might sound ambitious for a small city, but there’s considerable money behind the projects,” she wrote. “Nido Qubein, the president of High Point University, said he had raised $63 million from private sources, some of which went to equip the stadium and pay for a team to play in it.”

Loren Hill, president of High Point Economic Development Corp. and a leading regional economic development official, said the region has hired an agency to draw media attention to the Greensboro-High Point area’s economy.

The company, Development Counsellors International, was in touch with Margolies months ago about the region, he said.

Qubein said later in his email that Margolies didn’t quite capture one facet of the story he’s especially proud of.

“The writer did not emphasize the powerful energy in our city that’s being created with the private-public partnership that’s more positive than I’ve ever seen it,” Qubein wrote.