Trending News for March 25:

Suez Canal Stays Blocked; Boulder, Colorado shooting: The terrifying hour as employees and shoppers hid when a gunman went on a shooting spree in King Soopers; Senate Armed Services deadlocks on embattled Pentagon policy nominee; Lightfoot proposes an anti-retaliation ordinance for employees getting COVID-19 vaccine; Chicago Loop Alliance to increase pedestrian traffic with summer programs.

Suez Canal Stays Blocked Despite Efforts to Free Stuck Ship

(Bloomberg) — Rescue teams are working to dislodge a giant vessel from the Suez Canal in an effort to get traffic moving again in one of the world’s most important waterways.

The Ever Given, a container ship longer than the Eiffel Tower that ran aground in the southern part of the canal in Egypt, is still stuck across the waterway despite efforts to release it with tugs and excavators. One port agent said earlier that traffic could resume by tomorrow, but the Suez Canal Authority hasn’t given a timetable.

The incident is a reminder of how much international trade is channeled through so-called chokepoints — geographically constrained waterways that include the Strait of Hormuz and Panama Canal. Dozens of vessels are already gridlocked at Suez and a lengthy halt could further stretch supply chains that have already been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Suez Canal blockage comes at a particularly unhelpful time,” said Greg Knowler, European editor at JOC Group, which is part of IHS Markit Ltd. “Even a two-day delay would further add to the supply chain disruption slowing the delivery of cargo to businesses across the U.K. and Europe.”

The 193-kilometer-long (120 miles) Suez Canal is among the most trafficked waterways in the world, used by tankers shipping crude from the Middle East to Europe and North America. About 12% of global trade and 8% of liquefied natural gas pass through the canal, as do around 1 million barrels of oil each day.

The disruption comes at a time when oil prices were already volatile. Crude surged above $70 a barrel earlier this month on Saudi production cuts, only to slump close to $60 this week due to setbacks in Europe’s coronavirus vaccine program. Brent crude rose 5.4% to $64.07 as of 4:26 p.m. in London.

Boulder, Colorado shooting: The terrifying hour as employees and shoppers hid when a gunman went on a shooting spree in King Soopers

The horror began in the parking lot. A gunman, wearing an armored or tactical vest, had just shot an elderly man outside the King Soopers on Monday afternoon in Boulder, Colorado. Inside the supermarket, staff watched in disbelief as the gunman stood over the man and fired again and again. The gunman turned around and entered the store. More shots rang out. Employees and some shoppers fled and hid — some to the back, some up the stairs to a room, some inside a pharmacy — as the suspect roamed aisles, according to witnesses and an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

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When shopper Ryan Borowski first heard a gunshot, it took a terrified woman running toward him for him to realize he should scatter, too.

“I turned and kept up with her, and we all ran down the aisle toward the back of the store together,” where they huddled with employees. “I saw a lot of very wide eyes. I’m sure my eyes were just as terrified as everybody else’s.”

Calls poured in to 911 dispatchers, the first around 2:30 p.m. local time, according to police. By 3:28 p.m. it was all over.

And what had been a regular day of errands and chores in this university town situated beside the Rocky Mountains northwest of Denver was shattered forever. While some shoppers and employees managed to hide in terror, 10 people were shot dead by a lone assailant.

Monday’s victims were: Boulder police Officer Eric Talley, 51; store manager Rikki Olds, 25; Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Jody Waters, 65.

A suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, was taken into custody at the store after a gunfire exchange with responding police, authorities said. He is facing 10 counts of murder in the first degree, and his first court appearance is scheduled for Thursday morning.

Inside the King Soopers, pharmacy technician Maggie Montoya heard the first shot and saw everyone around her scatter, she told CNN’s, Anderson Cooper. She hid under a desk while a pharmacist held a chair against the door. She heard a series of gunshots and screams — but then silence, broken only by the store music and ringing phones.

Eventually, she said, she heard the gunman give up, seemingly right outside her door, with him telling officers: “I surrender. I’m naked.”

The suspect had removed all of his clothing down to his shorts and was bleeding from a “through and through” gunshot wound in his leg when he turned himself in to the police, the affidavit said.

Though the suspect is in custody, Colorado residents and officials are left to grapple with the violence that has impacted the community they felt so safe in.

“This is just where everybody goes to pick up groceries,” Gov. Jared Polis said. “Never ever does it cross your mind that that trip to the grocery store could be your last moments on earth.”

Questions that remain
The shooting in Boulder, which comes less than a week after eight people were killed in shootings at three Atlanta-area spas, has stoked fear and confusion.

“I promise that all of us here will work tirelessly … to make sure that the killer is held absolutely and fully accountable for what he did,” Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said Tuesday at a news conference.

The motive in the Boulder killings — one of several mass shootings in the US over the past week — isn’t immediately known.

There was no indication of alcohol or drug use, the affidavit said.

Senate Armed Services deadlocks on embattled Pentagon policy nominee

The Senate Armed Services Committee split evenly Wednesday on whether to advance Colin Kahl, the nominee for the Pentagon’s top policy job, leaving a rocky path for confirmation in the wider Senate.

The panel split in a 13-13 vote that broke entirely along party lines, according to a Senate Republican aide. A party-line tie vote was expected to be the best vote Kahl could achieve with GOP resistance to his nomination solidifying over his past partisan tweets and differences over Middle East policy.

Kahl can be confirmed if Democrats in the full Senate remain united, though the road ahead is arduous. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can move to discharge his nomination, another procedural hurdle that will add time and votes before he is confirmed and may require Vice President Kamala Harris to cast several tie-breaking votes in the evenly divided Senate.

His confirmation could be among the most difficult the Senate undertakes. Senate Democratic leaders had to discharge President Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra this month after a tie committee vote. But Becerra was ultimately confirmed with the support of one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, averting the need to lean on Harris to break a tie.

Kahl, a former Pentagon Middle East policy official and national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden, has been easily the most contentious of the three of Biden Pentagon nominees Armed Services has considered so far.

A planned committee vote on Kahl had been delayed for nearly two weeks as centrist Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, seen as the swing vote in committee and likely on the floor, remained publicly undecided. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin intervened on Kahl’s behalf, urging Manchin to support him.

At a confirmation hearing in early March, Kahl came under fire from Republican senators for his past tweets criticizing GOP lawmakers and former President Donald Trump’s national security policies.

A similar controversy over harsh tweets ultimately helped tank the nomination of Biden’s pick to lead the White House budget office, Neera Tanden.

GOP senators, led by Armed Services ranking member Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, have lined up in opposition to Kahl in the weeks since his confirmation hearing.

Republicans have also parted ways with Kahl on some policy areas, including his vocal advocacy for the 2015 agreement to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.

Democrats have largely backed him and extolled his qualifications for the top policy job. Allies in the national security and foreign policy world also came to his defense last week, arguing in a letter to Inhofe and Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that Kahl has been the target of a “smear campaign” and that his nomination is being used to relitigate the Iran deal.

Still, Democrats must hold the line with a narrow road to his confirmation. Some Democratic senators, such as moderate Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, could still defect on a final vote. Other senators to watch include Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who opposed the Iran nuclear agreement.

But Republican support for Kahl is increasingly less likely. Collins, who has broken with her party to support some of Biden’s nominees, announced last week she won’t support Kahl on the Senate floor.

Lightfoot proposes an anti-retaliation ordinance for employees getting COVID-19 vaccine

The ordinance would prohibit Chicago employers from taking “any adverse action — including termination demotion, layoff or punitive schedule changes” — against employees who take time off to get vaccinated.

City officials say they have no plans to open an around-the-clock COVID-19 vaccination site in Chicago. Employees should be able to take time to get vaccinated without worrying about being retaliated against by their employer, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Chicago employees who take time off to get the coronavirus vaccine would be shielded from retaliation — and employers who require it must compensate workers for up to two hours per dose — under a mayoral protection plan proposed Wednesday.

During the early days of the pandemic, the City Council moved to protect employees from retaliation for absences tied to the coronavirus.

The earlier anti-retaliation ordinance prevented employers from firing, suspending, transferring or reducing the pay of workers who stay home because they have COVID-19 symptoms, have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus, or their business is deemed nonessential by statewide stay-at-home order.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a new anti-retaliation ordinance — this time aimed at employers who dare to penalize workers for taking time off to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The new ordinance would prohibit Chicago employers from taking “any adverse action — including termination demotion, layoff or punitive schedule changes” — against employees who take time off to get vaccinated.

If an employee has paid sick leave or time accrued, employers would be required to let them use that time to get vaccinated. And if the employer makes it a requirement for workers to get the coronavirus vaccine, employees must be compensated for the time taken “if it is during a shift, up to two hours per dose.”

Lightfoot moved to broaden the employee protection umbrella as the city prepares to move Monday into Phase 1c of its vaccine distribution plan, which will make all essential workers eligible for the vaccine.

In a press release, the mayor noted essential workers have “kept this city running” throughout the year-long pandemic.

“As we near the end of the crisis, no worker should have to choose between keeping their job and getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying.

“This measure will ensure that every eligible worker can receive this life-saving vaccine without fear of retaliation and will further Chicago’s reputation as a City for Workers.”

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said Chicago will “get through this pandemic, only when we effectively deliver the COVID-19 vaccine to critical workers” citywide.

“This ordinance will ensure that Chicago’s most vulnerable workers can access the vaccine without fear,” Escareno was quoted as saying in the news release.

Chicago Loop Alliance plans to increase pedestrian traffic with summer programs

The Chicago Loop Alliance announced Tuesday its Back In The Loop campaign to help Loop businesses recover from the pandemic as foot traffic downtown increases. Provided

As the weather has begun warming up and more Chicagoans get vaccinated for COVID-19, pedestrian traffic to the Loop has been on the rise.

To capitalize on this, the Chicago Loop Alliance announced in its annual meeting Tuesday that it would be introducing several events as part of their Back In The Loop program to accelerate the economic recovery of the Loop.

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of people are not visiting, for either business or leisure,“ CLA President and CEO Michael Edwards said. “Our arts and culture community has been devastated.”

In the meeting, which was held both remotely and in-person for a limited number of seats, CLA discussed its plans for three major cultural programs to bring foot traffic back downtown — a self-guided mural walk, a weekly event called Sundays on State, and pop-up activations at retail locations that have become vacant since the pandemic.

The mural walk, which is being created by the Chicago Loop Alliance, will take pedestrians to over 20 murals in the Loop area in “reasonable” walking time, according to CLA planning director Kalindi Parikh.

The group is in the early stages of planning Sundays on State, an event that will shut off State Street traffic from Lake Street to Madison Street for outdoor performances and outdoor recreation to encourage pedestrians to shop in the Loop. Sundays on State will take place in July, August and September from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parikh said plans were subject to change based on public health guidance as CLA gets closer to summer.

During the pandemic, several Loop retailers went out of business and their stores went vacant. To utilize this space, the alliance will be encouraging local arts groups and performers to open pop-ups in some of these spaces.

“It seems that as the vaccination effort ramps up, people are wanting to return downtown, and that is really encouraging,” Parikh said. “We’re hoping to build on that excitement and capitalize on it when we can.”

CLA is already working with several Loop businesses to schedule future events. The Joffrey Ballet has been in contact with the organization and plans to host performances at Sundays on State events.

“We want people to fall back in love with State Street and come down and explore what the street has to offer,” Joffrey Ballet president and CEO and State Street Commission member Greg Cameron said.

As a part of Tuesday’s meeting, CLA also updated its mission statement to read, “Chicago Loop Alliance creates, manages and promotes positive and inclusive programs that attract people to the Loop and accelerate economic recovery.” They also announced their new board of directors.

Edwards also said they plan to host Arts in the Dark again this fall and to bring back their Downtown Future Series of webinars.