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►  Minnesota, Poland and Argentina compete to host World’s Fair

Minnesota is hoping to host the first World’s Fair on U.S. soil in nearly 40 years, but it will have to overcome bids by Poland’s third-largest city, Lodz, and the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires when a winner is selected in the coming days.

The events that introduced the world to the Eiffel Tower, Space Needle and Ferris Wheel have lost some of their cultural relevance in an age of globalization and cheap air travel. But World’s Fairs — now referred to as World Expos for the largest events held every five years and as specialized expos for smaller ones in other years — still draw millions of visitors and allow hosts to show off.

The Bureau of International Expositions will choose the site of the 2022 or 2023 specialized expo on Wednesday in Paris. Minnesota’s theme is health and wellness, Lodz’s is the reinvention of cities and Buenos Aires’ highlights creative industries in the digital era.

Here’s a closer look:

WHAT ARE EXPOS?

According to the BIE, expos are global events aimed at “educating the public, sharing innovations, promoting progress and fostering cooperation.” They’re meant to bring the world together to find solutions to some fundamental challenge of humanity. Visitors tour pavilions where participating countries and organizations showcase their contributions on the theme, while experts and diplomats attend conferences on the sidelines.

Six-month-long world expos are held every five years, while smaller, three-month “specialized expos” on specific themes, which are what the BIE is currently considering, fall in between. World leaders often visit.

“Expos remind us that there is much more that binds us together than separates us,” Jim Core, director of the International Expositions Unit at the U.S. State Department, told The Associated Press by phone from Paris on Friday.

Many Americans have lost sight of how big these events are because the U.S. hasn’t hosted one since New Orleans did so in 1984, but the Milan World Expo in 2015 drew around 20 million visitors, according to the BIE. This summer’s specialized expo on Future Energy in Astana, Kazakhstan, drew 4 million people, and the 2020 Dubai World Expo is expected to draw about 25 million, the BIE says.

HEALTHY MINNESOTA

Minnesota has proposed a specialized expo for 2023 on the theme “Healthy People, Healthy Planet.” It would trade on the state’s reputation as a center of innovation and excellence in health and wellness, the leader of the bid committee, former Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, said from Paris. Minnesota is home to world-class health care institutions including the Mayo Clinic, medical device makers such as Medtronic, and insurers such as UnitedHealth.

The site would be near the Mall of America, one of the country’s biggest shopping centers, which is located in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. The committee projects that it will draw around 12 million visitors, including nearly 220,000 international visitors, with a total impact on the local economy of $1.5 billion.

The State Department is vigorously lobbying on Minnesota’s behalf, a bigger diplomatic effort than Poland’s or Argentina’s, Ritchie said. It has hosted events in Washington, Paris and other cities, while its embassies and consulates around the world are promoting the bid. It also brought foreign ambassadors to Minnesota. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will be in Paris to cast the U.S. vote.

The U.S. left the Bureau of International Expositions in 2001 as congressional interest waned following the end of the Cold War, said Matthew Asada, the State Department’s expo program officer. But Donald Trump signed a bill in May, the “U.S. Wants to Compete for a World Expo Act,” to rejoin and put the U.S. back in the game.

REVITALIZED POLAND

The bid theme of the central Polish city of Lodz for 2022 is “City Re: Invented” and focuses the revitalization of post-industrial cities. The city’s expo website says the event would kick-start a second wave of modernization and share Poland’s expertise in “urban regeneration” with the rest of the world.

“Lodz is writing an extraordinary story of how to successfully combat a permanent social and infrastructural crisis,” the website states. The city expects about 8 million visitors.

Lodz is Poland’s third-largest city, an hour away from the capital Warsaw. It became a thriving industrial city in the 19th century but lost momentum after communist rule ended in 1989. The demise of its big textile plants fueled unemployment and decay. But the city says it has undergone a rebirth lately, including the restoration of many of the inner city’s richly decorated tenement houses from the late 1800s and revitalization around the main railroad station.

CREATIVE ARGENTINA

Buenos Aires has offered a 2023 expo on “Creative Industries in Digital Convergence.” If approved, it would be the first expo in Latin America under the auspices of the BIE, which began operations in 1931. Several were held in Latin America before then, though.

“It will be a celebration of human creativity, in which no one should be left out,” Argentine government minister Gabriela Ricardes said last month in a presentation to the Organization of American States.

Buenos Aires expects over 6 million visitors, including 250,000 international tourists. “They will be able to discover the latest innovations in the technological industries, the newest proposals from the world of creativity, and multimedia, artistic, scientific and technological content from Argentina and the participating countries,” its expo website says.


►  Trump names former drug exec as new health secretary

Turning to an industry he’s rebuked, Donald Trump on Monday picked a former top pharmaceutical and government executive be his health and human services secretary, overseeing a $1 trillion department responsible for major health insurance programs, medical research, food and drug safety, and public health.

The nomination of Alex Azar is unusual because HHS secretaries have tended to come from the ranks of elected officials such as governors, leaders in academia, or top executive branch managers — not industries regulated by the department.

“He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!” Trump tweeted in announcing the nomination Monday morning.

Azar, 50, a lawyer by training, has spent most of the last 10 years with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, rising to president of its key U.S. affiliate before leaving in January to start his own consulting firm. He’s seen as an expert on government health care regulation.

As HHS secretary, Azar would have to scrupulously avoid conflicts with Lilly’s far-reaching interests, from drug approval to Medicare reimbursement. The drugmaker has drawn criticism from patient advocacy groups for price increases to one of its biggest products: insulin.

Americans consistently rank the high cost of prescription drugs as one of their top health care priorities, putting it ahead of divisive issues like repealing “Obamacare” in public opinion polls.

Trump has been a sharp critic of the industry. “The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder,” the president said at a Cabinet meeting this fall. Prices are “out of control” and “have gone through the roof,” Trump said.

In the spring, a Trump tweet sent drug stocks tumbling after the president said he was working on a new system that would foster competition and lead to much lower prices. In meetings with industry executives, however, Trump has focused on speeding up drug approvals, a cost-reducing tactic they would back.

Professionally, Azar has another set of skills that may be valuable to the president.

As a top HHS official during the George W. Bush administration, the Yale law graduate developed an insider’s familiarity with the complex world of federal health care regulation, serving first as the department’s chief lawyer and later as deputy secretary.

Frustrated by fruitless efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in Congress, Trump might see the regulatory route as his best chance to make a mark on health care.

Congressional Democrats are likely to pounce on Azar’s drug ties, reminding Trump of his promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington influence peddling.

Azar admirers say his industry experience should be considered an asset, not a liability.

“To the extent that the Trump administration has talked about lowering drug prices, here’s a guy who understands how it works,” said Tevi Troy, who served with Azar in the Bush administration and now leads the American Health Policy Institute, a think tank focused on employer health insurance.

“Would (Azar) have been better off if he had been meditating in an ashram after serving as deputy secretary?” asked Troy.

Azar spent his formative years in Maryland. He got his bachelor’s degree in government and economics from another Ivy League institution, Dartmouth. He once clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a revered figure for conservatives. During the Bill Clinton years, he served a stint with independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

If confirmed, Azar would be Trump’s second HHS secretary, replacing former Georgia congressman Tom Price, who stepped down after just seven months, when his use of private charter planes for government travel created a public controversy that displeased the president.


►  Judge questions Menendez jurors over what they read in news

The judge in Senator Bob Menendez’s bribery trial questioned jurors Monday about comments made last week by a dismissed juror that defense attorneys say could have contaminated the deliberations.

Four jurors and three alternate jurors told U.S. District Judge William Walls they had heard or read something about the trial over the weekend, and he began questioning them individually in his chambers.

Jurors have been told repeatedly not to read reports about the case.

The dismissed juror told reporters on Thursday she anticipated a hung jury and that she would have voted for acquitting the Democratic senator on all counts. She also said some jurors told her that her vote “didn’t count” because she had to leave by Thursday for a previously scheduled vacation.

The panel is set to start over Monday with an alternate juror in her place.

Defense attorneys argued Monday that Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby’s comments that she was told she couldn’t send the judge a note last Wednesday could represent a breach of protocol. Walls downplayed any intimations that the jury had been compromised and accused defense attorney Abbe Lowell of making an issue of it because “she was on your side.”

“My way of looking at things is, it’s nothing more than what she said to them inside the deliberation room,” Walls said, referring to Arroyo-Maultsby’s public comments. “Juror no. 8 is no longer with us, an alternate is taking her place and in effect we’re having a new jury with instructions to start from scratch and forget about last week. That we have a disgruntled juror, from a practical sense, is really of no moment to me.”

Prosecutors alleged Menendez and wealthy Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen engaged in a bribery scheme between 2006 and 2013 in which Menendez traded his political influence for luxury vacations and flights on the doctor’s private plane.

They each face about a dozen counts including bribery, fraud and conspiracy. Menendez also is charged with making false statements for failing to report Melgen’s gifts on Senate disclosure forms.

Both men deny the allegations. Defense attorneys have sought to show jurors that the two men are longtime friends who exchanged gifts out of friendship. They also contend Menendez’s meetings with government officials were focused on broad policy issues.

Arroyo-Maultsby’s comments appeared to indicate at least some, and possibly a majority, of the jurors may believe the defense’s theory.

The jury has deliberated roughly 15 hours over three full days and part of last Monday. If the newly constituted panel fails to reach a verdict over the next several days, Walls would have to weigh how long to let them continue before declaring a mistrial.

The government then would choose whether to retry the pair.

If Menendez is acquitted, it would reinforce the view that official bribery cases have become more difficult to prosecute, a trend traced to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the bribery conviction of former Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. That ruling played a significant role in how the jury was instructed in the Menendez trial.

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