US inflation cooled in May in sign that price pressures may be easing 

WASHINGTON — Inflation in the United States eased in May for a second straight month, a hopeful sign that a pickup in prices that occurred early this year may have passed. The trend, if it holds, could move the Federal Reserve closer to cutting its benchmark interest rate from its 23-year peak.

Consumer prices excluding volatile food and energy costs — the closely watched “core” index — rose 0.2% from April to May, the government said Wednesday. That was down from 0.3% the previous month and was the smallest increase since October. Measured from a year earlier, core prices rose 3.4%, below last month’s 3.6% increase.

Fed officials are scrutinizing each month’s inflation data to assess their progress in their fight against rising prices. Even as overall inflation moderates, such necessities as groceries, rent and health care are much pricier than they were three years ago — a continuing source of public discontent and a political threat to President Joe Biden’s re-election bid. Most other measures suggest that the economy is healthy: Unemployment remains low, hiring is robust and consumers are traveling, eating out and spending on entertainment.

Overall inflation also slowed last month, with consumer prices unchanged from April to May, in part because of sharp falls in the cost of gasoline, air fares and new cars. Measured from a year earlier, consumer prices rose 3.3%, less than the 3.6% increase a month earlier.

The cost of auto insurance, which has soared in recent months, actually dipped from April to May, though it’s still up more than 20% from a year earlier. Grocery prices were unchanged last month, after declining slightly in April. They’re now up just 1% on a year-over-year basis.

The Fed has kept its key rate unchanged for nearly a year after having rapidly raised it in 2022 and 2023 to fight the worst bout of inflation in four decades. Those higher rates have led, in turn, to more expensive mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and other forms of consumer and business borrowing. Though inflation is now far below its peak of 9.1% in mid-2022, it remains above the Fed’s target level.

Persistently elevated inflation has posed a vexing challenge for the Fed, which raises interest rates — or keeps them high — to try to slow borrowing and spending, cool the economy and ease the pace of price increases.

The longer the Fed keeps borrowing costs high, the more it risks weakening the economy too much and causing a recession. Yet if it cuts rates too soon, it risks reigniting inflation. Most of the policymakers have said they think their rate policies are slowing growth and should curb inflation over time.

Inflation had fallen steadily in the second half of last year, raising hopes that the Fed could pull off a “soft landing,” whereby it manages to conquer inflation through higher interest rates without causing a recession. Such an outcome is difficult and rare.

But inflation came in unexpectedly high in the first three months of this year, delaying hoped-for Fed rate cuts and possibly imperiling a soft landing.

In early May, Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank needed more confidence that inflation was returning to its target before it would reduce its benchmark rate. Several Fed officials have said in recent weeks that they needed to see several consecutive months of lower inflation.

Some signs suggest that inflation will continue to cool in the coming months. Americans, particularly lower-income households, are pulling back on their spending. In response, several major retail and restaurant chains, including Walmart, Target, Walgreen’s, McDonald’s and Burger King, have responded by announcing price cuts or deals.

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At G7, Biden to push plans for frozen Russian assets, Chinese overcapacity

At the Group of Seven summit this week, U.S. President Joe Biden will seek agreement on using interest from frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine’s war effort. He will also push for unity in tackling global challenges such as infrastructure funding, artificial intelligence, and Chinese overcapacity in green technologies. However, as White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara reports, a shift right in the European political landscape could complicate his plans.

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UN Chief puts Israeli military, Hamas on blacklist for harming children

united nations — The United Nation’s secretary-general has included Israel’s military and Hamas on the annual blacklist of perpetrators who harm children.

“I am appalled by the dramatic increase and unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations against children in the Gaza Strip, Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” Antonio Guterres said in the report, which was sent to U.N. Security Council members on Tuesday but has not yet been published.

The annual Children and Armed Conflict report names and shames those who recruit, kill, maim or abduct children, commit sexual violence against them, deny them humanitarian assistance, or attack schools and hospitals. Guterres’ special representative Virginia Gamba is mandated by the Security Council to work to prevent and end these violations.

In the report, obtained by VOA, the United Nations said it has verified 8,009 grave violations against Israeli and Palestinian children, but the process is ongoing and slow due to the conflict. Of them, 113 were against Israeli children, and the rest were against Palestinian children in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The report says most child casualties in Gaza from October 7 to the end of last year were caused by “the use of explosive weapons in populated areas by Israeli armed and security forces.”

In addition to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad was also listed. Both groups are listed for the first time, accused of killing, maiming and abducting children.

The report covers the period from January to December 2023. Hamas carried out its terror attack in Israel on October 7, 2023, triggering the war that is now in its ninth month. The report covers only the casualties reported or verified in 2023.

This is the first time either Israel or Hamas has been included on the report’s blacklist, despite the killing and maiming of hundreds of children in at least three previous wars in Gaza.

Israel’s armed and security forces are listed for the killing and maiming of children and for attacks on schools and hospitals.

“The inclusion of Israeli forces on the U.N.’s ‘list of shame’ is long overdue and reflects overwhelming evidence of grave violations against children,” Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told VOA in an email.

Israeli officials have expressed outrage at being included on the list, which also includes the Taliban and terror groups al-Qaida and Islamic State.

A U.N. spokesperson said last week that Israel was notified of its inclusion “as a courtesy.” The country promptly sought to get ahead of the report’s publication, dismissing it as more anti-Israel action by the United Nations.

“Today, the U.N. added itself to the blacklist of history when it joined those who support the Hamas murderers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday. “The IDF is the most moral army in the world. No delusional U.N. decision will change that.”

His United Nations ambassador went further, publishing the video of part of his phone call with Guterres’ chief of staff.

“I’m utterly shocked and disgusted by this shameful decision of the secretary-general,” Gilad Erdan said in the call on Friday, adding that it would reward Hamas and extend the war.

Russia makes blacklist again

Last year, Russia’s armed forces landed on the blacklist for their war in Ukraine. This year, they remained listed despite a significant drop in the number of violations attributed to them. The United Nations verified the killing of 80 children and the maiming of 339 others attributed to Russian forces and affiliated groups.

A senior U.N. official said a decrease was not enough. Russia must continue this trend for at least a year and also sign a joint action plan with Gamba’s office to be delisted.

No party previously on the list was delisted this year.

Both sides in Sudan conflict make list 

The situation in Sudan, which devolved into brutal violence in April 2023 when two rival generals went to war in a power struggle that continues today, has seen the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces both land on this year’s blacklist.

The report found a dramatic increase in 2023 in the military recruitment and use of children in Sudan, as well as their killing, maiming and sexual abuse. Attacks on schools and hospitals were also reported.

“I urge all parties to take preventive and mitigating actions to avoid and minimize harm and better protect children, including to refrain from the use of explosive devices,” Guterres said in the report.

The 2023 report verified nearly 33,000 grave violations committed against the world’s children in several countries experiencing conflict — an increase of 21% over the previous year. There were 11,649 confirmed child killings and maimings. Recruitment is again on the rise, after trending downward for the past two years.

Grave violations were reported in countries including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Syria, among others.

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Former CENTCOM commander to VOA: President picked ‘worst’ choice in Afghanistan withdrawal

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Rev. James Lawson Jr., civil rights leader who preached nonviolent protest, dies at 95

Los Angeles — The Rev. James Lawson Jr., an apostle of nonviolent protest who schooled activists to withstand brutal reactions from white authorities as the Civil Rights Movement gained traction, has died, his family said Monday. He was 95.

His family said Lawson died on Sunday after a short illness in Los Angeles, where he spent decades working as a pastor, labor movement organizer and university professor.

Lawson was a close adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who called him “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

Lawson met King in 1957, after spending three years in India soaking up knowledge about Mohandas K. Gandhi’s independence movement. King would travel to India himself two years later, but at the time, he had only read about Gandhi in books.

The two Black pastors — both 28 years old — quickly bonded over their enthusiasm for the Indian leader’s ideas, and King urged Lawson to put them into action in the American South.

Lawson soon led workshops in church basements in Nashville, Tennessee, that prepared John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry, the Freedom Riders and many others to peacefully withstand vicious responses to their challenges of racist laws and policies.

Lawson’s lessons led Nashville to become the first major city in the South to desegregate its downtown, on May 10, 1960, after hundreds of well-organized students staged lunch-counter sit-ins and boycotts of discriminatory businesses.

Lawson’s particular contribution was to introduce Gandhian principles to people more familiar with biblical teachings, showing how direct action could expose the immorality and fragility of racist white power structures.

Gandhi said “that we persons have the power to resist the racism in our own lives and souls,” Lawson told the AP. “We have the power to make choices and to say no to that wrong. That’s also Jesus.”

Years later, in 1968, it was Lawson who organized the sanitation workers strike that fatefully drew King to Memphis. Lawson said he was at first paralyzed and forever saddened by King’s assassination.

“I thought I would not live beyond 40, myself,” Lawson said. “The imminence of death was a part of the discipline we lived with, but no one as much as King.”

Still, Lawson made it his life’s mission to preach the power of nonviolent direct action.

“I’m still anxious and frustrated,” Lawson said as he marked the 50th anniversary of King’s death with a march in Memphis. “The task is unfinished.”

Civil rights activist Diane Nash was a 21-year-old college student when she began attending Lawson’s Nashville workshops, which she called life-changing.

“His passing constitutes a very great loss,” Nash said. “He bears, I think, more responsibility than any other single person for the civil rights movement of Blacks being nonviolent in this country.”

James Morris Lawson Jr., was born on Sept. 22, 1928, the son and grandson of ministers, and grew up in Massillon, Ohio, where he became ordained himself as a high school senior.

He told The Tennessean that his commitment to nonviolence began in elementary school, when he told his mother that he had slapped a boy who had used a racial slur against him.

“What good did that do, Jimmy?” his mother asked.

That simple question forever changed his life, Lawson said. He became a pacifist, refusing to serve when drafted for the Korean War, and spent a year in prison as a conscientious objector. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist group, sponsored his trip to India after he finished a sociology degree.

Gandhi had been assassinated by then, but Lawson met people who had worked with him and explained Gandhi’s concept of “satyagraha,” a relentless pursuit of Truth, which encouraged Indians to peacefully reject British rule. Lawson then saw how the Christian concept of turning the other cheek could be applied in collective actions to challenge morally indefensible laws.

Lawson was a divinity student at Oberlin College in Ohio when King spoke on campus about the Montgomery bus boycott. King told him, “You can’t wait, you need to come on South now,‘” Lawson recalled in an Associated Press interview.

Lawson soon enrolled in theology classes at Vanderbilt University, while leading younger activists through mock protests in which they practiced taking insults without reacting.

The technique swiftly proved its power at lunch counters and movie theaters in Nashville, where on May 10, 1960, businesses agreed to take down the “No Colored” signs that enforced white supremacy.

“It was the first major successful campaign to pull the signs down,” and it created a template for the sit-ins that began spreading across the South, Lawson said.

Lawson was called on to organize what became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which sought to organize the spontaneous efforts of tens of thousands of students who began challenging Jim Crow laws across the South.

Angry segregationists got Lawson expelled from Vanderbilt, but he said he never harbored hard feelings about the university, where he returned as a distinguished visiting professor in 2006, and eventually donated a significant portion of his papers.

Lawson earned that theology degree at Boston University and became a Methodist pastor in Memphis, where his wife Dorothy Wood Lawson worked as an NAACP organizer. They moved several years later to Los Angeles, where Lawson led the Holman United Methodist Church and taught at California State University, Northridge and the University of California, Los Angeles. They raised three sons, John, Morris and Seth. 

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said Lawson taught Southern California activists and organizers “and helped shape the civil rights and labor movement locally just as he did nationally.”

“Today Los Angeles joins the state, country and world in mourning the loss of a civil rights leader whose critical leadership, teachings, and mentorship confronted and crippled centuries of systemic oppression, racism and injustice,” Bass said in a statement.

Lawson remained active into his 90s, urging younger generations to leverage their power.

Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, called Lawson “the ultimate preacher, prophet, and activist.”

“In his senior years, I was privileged to spend time with him at his church in Los Angeles,” Sharpton said. “He would sit in his office and tell me inside stories of the battles of the 1950’s and 1960’s that he Dr. King and others engaged in. Lawson helped to change this nation — thank God the nation never changed him.”

Eulogizing the late Rep. John Lewis last year, he recalled how the young man he trained in Nashville grew lonely marches into multitudes, paving the way for major civil rights legislation.

“If we would honor and celebrate John Lewis’ life, let us then re-commit our souls, our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our strength to the continuing journey to dismantle the wrong in our midst,” Lawson said.

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Giuliani processed in Arizona in criminal case over 2020 fake electors scheme

phoenix — Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and Donald Trump attorney, was processed Monday in the criminal case over the effort to overturn Trump’s Arizona election loss to Joe Biden, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said. 

The sheriff’s office provided a mug shot but no other details. The office of the clerk of the Superior Court for Maricopa County said Giuliani posted bond of $10,000 in cash. 

“Mayor Rudy Giuliani — the most effective federal prosecutor in U.S. history — will be fully vindicated,” said his spokesperson, Ted Goodman. “This is yet another example of partisan actors weaponizing the criminal justice system to interfere with the 2024 presidential election through outlandish charges against President Trump and anyone willing to take on the permanent Washington political class.” 

Giuliani pleaded not guilty in May to nine felony charges stemming from his alleged role in the fake electors effort. He is among 18 people indicted in the Arizona case, including Trump attorneys John Eastman, Christina Bobb and Jenna Ellis. 

Former Trump presidential chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump 2020 Election Day operations director Michael Roman pleaded not guilty Friday in Phoenix to nine felony charges for their alleged roles in the scheme. 

The indictment alleges Meadows worked with other Trump campaign members to submit names of fake electors from Arizona and other states to Congress in a bid to keep Trump in office despite his November 2020 defeat. 

Other states where criminal charges have been filed related to the fake electors scheme are Michigan, Nevada and Georgia.

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Alzheimer’s drug that slows disease gets backing from FDA advisers

WASHINGTON — A closely watched Alzheimer’s drug from Eli Lilly won the backing of federal health advisers Monday, setting the stage for the treatment’s expected approval for people with mild dementia caused by the brain-robbing disease. 

Food and Drug Administration advisers voted unanimously that the drug’s ability to slow the disease outweighs its risks, including side effects like brain swelling and bleeding that will have to be monitored. 

“I thought the evidence was very strong in the trial showing the effectiveness of the drug,” said panel member Dean Follmann, a National Institutes of Health statistician. 

The FDA will make the final decision on approval later this year. If the agency agrees with the panel’s recommendation, the drug, donanemab, would only be the second Alzheimer’s drug cleared in the U.S. that’s been shown to convincingly slow cognitive decline and memory problems due to Alzheimer’s. The FDA approved a similar infused drug, Leqembi, from Japanese drugmaker Eisai last year. 

The slowdown seen with both drugs amounts to several months and experts disagree on whether patients or their loved ones will be able to detect the difference. 

But Lilly’s approach to studying its once-a-month treatment prompted questions from FDA reviewers. 

Patients in the company’s study were grouped based on their levels of a brain protein,  

called tau, that predicts severity of cognitive problems. That led the FDA to question whether patients might need to be screened via brain scans for tau before getting the drug. But most panelists thought there was enough evidence of the drug’s benefit to prescribe it broadly, without screening for the protein. 

“Imposing a requirement for tau imaging is not necessary and would raise serious practical and access concerns to the treatment,” said Dr. Thomas Montine of Stanford University, who chaired the panel and summarized its opinion. 

At a high level, Lilly’s results mirrored those of Leqembi, with both medications showing a modest slowing of cognitive problems in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s. The Indianapolis-based company conducted a 1,700-patient study showing patients who received monthly IV infusions of its drug declined about 35% more slowly than those who got a placebo treatment. 

The FDA had been widely expected to approve the drug in March. But instead, the agency said it would ask its panel of neurology experts to publicly review the company’s data, an unexpected delay that surprised analysts and investors. 

Several unusual approaches in how Lilly tested its drug led to the meeting. 

One change was measuring patients’ tau — and excluding patients with very low or no levels of the protein. But panelists said there was enough data from other measures to feel confident that nearly all patients could benefit from the drug, regardless of their levels. 

In another key difference, Lilly studied taking patients off its drug when they reached very low levels of amyloid, a sticky brain plaque that’s a contributor to Alzheimer’s. 

Lilly scientists suggested stopping treatment is a key advantage for its drug, which could reduce side effects and costs. But FDA staff said Lilly provided little data supporting the optimal time to stop or how quickly patients might need to restart treatment. 

Despite those questions, many panelists thought the possibility of stopping doses held promise. 

“It’s a huge cost savings for the society, we’re talking about expensive treatment, expensive surveillance,” said Dr. Tanya Simuni of Northwestern University. She and other experts said patients would need to be tracked and tested to see how they fare and whether they need to resume treatment. 

The main safety issue with donanemab was brain swelling and bleeding, a problem common to all amyloid-targeting drugs. Most cases identified in Lilly’s trial were mild. 

Three deaths in the donanemab study were linked to the drug, according to the FDA, all involving brain swelling or bleeding. One of the deaths was caused by a stroke, a life-threatening complication that occurs more frequently among Alzheimer’s patients. 

The FDA’s panel agreed those risks could be addressed by warning labels and education for doctors and medical scans to identify patients at greater risk of stroke.

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Salt Lake City Olympic bid projects $4 billion in total costs to stage 2034 Winter Games

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Hunter Biden’s gun trial enters its final stretch after deeply personal testimony about his drug use 

WILMINGTON, Del. — The criminal trial of President Joe Biden’s son heads into its final stretch Monday as the defense tries to chip away at prosecutors’ case laying bare some of the darkest moments of Hunter Biden’s drug-fueled past.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers could call at least one more witness in the case — the first of two trials he’s facing in the midst of his father’s reelection campaign. It’s unclear whether prosecutors will call any rebuttal witnesses before the case goes to closing arguments, and then to the jury.

Hunter Biden hugged his uncle James Biden before entering the Wilmington, Delaware, courthouse Monday. First Lady Jill Biden arrived shortly after and was seated in the front row of the courtroom with other family members, including James, Hunter’s sister Ashley and the president’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens.

As court began, the two sides argued over instructions that will be given to the jury before deliberations. The lawyers also discussed how jurors can request to see certain physical exhibits, including the gun, in the jury room.

Hunter Biden is charged with three felonies stemming from the October 2018 purchase of a gun he had for about 11 days. Prosecutors say he lied on a mandatory gun-purchase form by saying he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty and has accused the Justice Department of bending to political pressure from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to bring the gun case and separate tax charges after a deal with prosecutors fell apart last year. Hunter Biden has said he has been sober since 2019, but his attorneys have said he did not consider himself an “addict” when he filled out the form.

The case has put a spotlight on a turbulent time in Hunter Biden’s life after the death of his brother, Beau, in 2015.

Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction before getting sober more than five years ago are well documented. But defense lawyers argue there’s no evidence he was actually using drugs in the 11 days that he possessed the gun. He had completed a rehab program weeks earlier.

Jurors have heard emotional testimony from Hunter Biden’s former romantic partners and read personal text messages. They’ve seen photos of Hunter Biden holding a crack pipe and partly clothed, and video from his phone of crack cocaine weighed on a scale.

His ex-wife and two former girlfriends testified for prosecutors about his habitual crack use and their failed efforts to help him get clean. One woman, who met Hunter Biden in 2017 at a strip club where she worked, described him smoking crack every 20 minutes or so while she stayed with him at a hotel.

Hunter Biden has not taken the witness stand, and it’s unclear if he will. But jurors have heard him describe at length his descent into addiction through audio excerpts played in court of his 2021 memoir, “Beautiful Things.” The book, written after he got sober, covers the period he had the gun but doesn’t mention it specifically.

A key witness for prosecutors is Beau’s widow, Hallie, who had a brief troubled relationship with Hunter after his brother died of brain cancer. She found the unloaded gun in Hunter’s truck on Oct. 23, 2018, panicked and tossed it into a garbage can at a grocery store in Wilmington, where a man inadvertently fished it out of the trash.

“I didn’t want him to hurt himself, and I didn’t want my kids to find it and hurt themselves,” Hallie Biden told jurors.

From the time Hunter returned to Delaware from a 2018 trip to California until she threw his gun away, she did not see him using drugs, Hallie told jurors. That time period included the day he bought the weapon. But jurors also saw text messages Hunter sent to Hallie in October 2018 saying he was waiting for a dealer and smoking crack. The first message was sent the day after he bought the gun. The second was sent the following day.

The defense has suggested Hunter Biden had been trying to turn his life around at the time of the gun purchase, having completed a detoxification and rehabilitation program at the end of August 2018.

“There is no evidence of contemporaneous drug use and a gun possession,” defense lawyer Abbe Lowell wrote in court papers filed Friday. “It was only after the gun was thrown away and the ensuing stress … that the government was able to then find the same type of evidence of his use [e.g., photos, use of drug lingo] that he relapsed with drugs.”

Hunter Biden’s daughter Naomi took the stand for the defense Friday, telling jurors about visiting her father while he was at a California rehab center weeks before he bought the gun. She told jurors that he seemed “hopeful” and to be improving, and she told him she was proud of him. As she was dismissed from the stand, she paused to hug her dad before leaving the courtroom.

The defense on Friday did not rule out calling one more witness, but it was unclear who that could be. Hunter’s lawyers previously said they planned to call as a witness Joe Biden’s brother, James and he was at the courthouse on Friday. Testimony from other family members could open the door for more deeply personal messages to be introduced to the jury.

President Joe Biden said last week that he would accept the jury’s verdict and has ruled out a pardon for his son. After flying back from France, President Biden was at his home in Wilmington for the day and was expected in Washington in the evening for a Juneteenth concert. He was scheduled to travel to Italy later this week for the Group of Seven leaders conference.

Last summer, it looked as if Hunter Biden would avoid prosecution in the gun case altogether, but a deal with prosecutors imploded after U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was nominated to the bench by Republican former President Donald Trump, raised concerns about it. Hunter Biden was subsequently indicted on three felony gun charges. He also faces a trial scheduled for September on felony charges alleging he failed to pay at least $1.4 million in taxes over four years.

If convicted in the gun case, he faces up to 25 years in prison, though first-time offenders do not get anywhere near the maximum, and it’s unclear whether the judge would give him time behind bars.

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Thousands turn out for LA Pride Parade, events

LOS ANGELES — Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Hollywood on Sunday for the L.A. Pride Parade, one of the biggest events during a month of celebrations honoring the LGBTQ+ community in and around Los Angeles. 

Rainbow flags ruled the day as revelers cheered the lively procession that featured “Star Trek” star and activist George Takei as the Icon Grand Marshal. 

“As someone who has witnessed the struggles and triumphs of our community over the years, I am filled with gratitude for the progress we have made and inspired to continue the fight for full acceptance and equality for all,” Takei said in a statement. 

The parade’s Community Grand Marshal was L.A. Fire Department Chief Kristin Crowley. The department’s first openly gay chief said she was “overjoyed” by the honor. 

Following the parade, the L.A. Pride Block Party offered DJs, live performances, food trucks and a beer garden. 

On Saturday night, Latin pop superstar Ricky Martin headlined a concert dubbed Pride in the Park at Los Angeles State Historic Park. 

Other events scheduled for Pride Month include celebrations at Dodger Stadium and Universal Studios Hollywood. 

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US presidential candidates contrast sharply on LGBTQ rights

The number of adults in the United States identifying as something other than heterosexual is holding steady at about 7.2%, and the two presidential candidates are taking note. VOA senior Washington correspondent Carolyn Presutti tells us how they are trying to attract that population.

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Howard University cuts ties with Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs after video of attack on ex-girlfriend

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‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ boosts Will Smith’s comeback with $56M opening

New York — “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” the fourth installment in the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence action-comedy series, opened with an estimated $56 million in theaters over the weekend, handing Hollywood a much-needed summer hit and Smith his biggest success since he slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards.

Expectations were all over the map for “Ride or Die” given the dismal moviegoing market thus far this summer and Smith’s less certain box-office clout. In the end, though, the Sony Pictures release came in very close to, or slightly above, its tracking forecast.

“Ride or Die,” produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, is Smith’s first theatrical test since his 2022 slap of Rock earned him a 10-year Oscar ban. The “Bad Boys” film was in development at the time and was momentarily put on hold, but ultimately went forward with about a $100 million production budget.

Smith starred in the Apple release “Emancipation,” but that film — released in late 2022 — was shot before the slap and received only a modest theatrical release before streaming.

This time around, Smith largely avoided soul-searching interviews looking back on the Oscars and instead went on a whistle-stop publicity tour of red carpets from Mexico to Saudi Arabia, where he attended what was billed as the country’s first Hollywood premiere. The 55-year-old Smith, who for years was one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” the YouTube series “Hot Ones” and Friday, made a surprise appearance at a Los Angeles movie theater.

Given that “Bad Boys” trailed May disappointments like “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “The Fall Guy” – both of which struggled to pop with ticket buyers despite very good reviews – the “Ride or Die” opening counts as a critical weekend win for the movie business.

“The fact that a movie overperformed is the best possible news,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. “It seems like all we’ve been doing over the past few weeks and almost since the beginning of the year, with a couple of exceptions, is try to figure out why seemingly well-marketed, well-reviewed movies have underperformed. This ignites the spark that the industry has been waiting for.”

“Ride or Die” still didn’t quite manage to match the opening of the previous “Bad Boys” film: 2020’s “Bad Boys for Life.” That movie, released in January 2020, debuted with $62.5 million. After the pandemic shut down theaters, it was the highest grossing North American release of that year, with $204 million domestically.

“Ride or Die” added $48.6 million internationally. Though reviews were mixed (64% on Rotten Tomatoes), audiences gave the film a high grade with an “A-” CinemaScore.

Black moviegoers accounted for 44% of ticket buyers, the largest demographic.

In the film, which comes 29 years after the original, Smith and Lawrence reprise their roles as Miami detectives. The plot revolves around uncovering a scheme to frame their late police captain (Joe Pantoliano). In one of the movie’s most notable scenes, Lawrence slaps Smith and calls him a “bad boy.”

Movie theaters will need a lot more than “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” though, to right the ship. Ticket sales are down 26% from last year and more than 40% below pre-pandemic totals, according to Comscore. A big test comes next weekend with the release of Pixar’s “Inside Out 2.” After sending several Pixar releases straight to Disney+, the studio has vowed a lengthy, traditional theatrical rollout this time.

Last weekend’s top film “The Garfield Movie,” slid to second place. Also from Sony, the family animated comedy collected $10 million in ticket sales over its third weekend, bringing its domestic gross to $68.6 million.

The weekend’s other new wide release, “The Watchers,” failed to click with moviegoers. The horror film, directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan, daughter of M. Night Shyamalan, is about a stranded 28-year-old artist in Ireland. Following poor reviews, the Warner Bros. release grossed $7 million in 3,351 theaters.

That allowed “If,” the Ryan Reynolds imaginary friend fantasy, to grab third place in its fourth weekend of release, bringing the Paramount Pictures cumulative domestic total to $93.5 million. Rounding out the top five was “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” which added $5.4 million in its fifth weekend of release. It has grossed $150 million domestically and $360 million worldwide.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” $56 million.

  2. ”The Garfield Movie,” $10 million.

  3. “If,” $8 million.

  4. “The Watchers,” $7 million.

  5. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” $5.4 million.

  6. “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” $4.2 million.

  7. “The Fall Guy,” $2.7 million.

  8. “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” $2.4 million.

  9. “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” $1.9 million.

  10. “The Strangers: Chapter 1,” $1.8 million.

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