Businesses, cities cashing in on total solar eclipse crowds

 Millions of eyes will be fixed on the sky when a total solar eclipse crosses the U.S. in August, and it’s likely many of them will be safely behind the special glasses churned out by a Tennessee company.

American Paper Optics ramped up production for this year’s eclipse and expects to make 50 million paper and plastic eclipse glasses. John Jerit, the company’s CEO and president, said they began preparing about two years ago. During his almost 27 years making safety glasses, he’s only seen one total solar eclipse, in France in 1999, but will be going to Nashville for this one.

“It’s a life experience,” Jerit said during an interview at his company’s office in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett. “When that two minutes is over, or however long you’ve got, the question that you really want to hear is, ‘When is the next one?'”

His company is one of many businesses – hotels, campgrounds and stores – taking advantage of the total solar eclipse – when the moon passes between Earth and the sun. The moon’s shadow will fall in a diagonal ribbon across the U.S., from Oregon to South Carolina. The rest of the U.S. will experience a partial eclipse, along with Canada, Central America and a bit of South America.

Cities and towns along the path of totality – where there will be about 2 ½ minutes of darkness – are gearing up for the crowds. St. Joseph, Missouri, population 76,000, is in a prime location and officials are bracing for tens of thousands of eclipse watchers to descend on the city, said Beth Conway, spokeswoman for the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The city’s restaurants, gas stations and stores are preparing for the onslaught – the city’s largest arts and music festival with the nickname “Total Eclipse of the Arts” is scheduled on the weekend leading up to the eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21.

“This is essentially our Super Bowl,” Conway said. “If we see anywhere near the amount of people that they’re telling us, it will probably be the biggest event in our history.”

The city has gotten into the act as well, selling eclipse glasses, posters and blue and yellow T-shirts decorated with a drawing of the city’s skyline and an iconic railroad bridge, and with the slogan “Right in the Middle of it All.”

Conway said a benefactor donated 100,000 safety glasses designed for the city and proceeds are going to local museums and charities.

Sales have been “amazing, phenomenal,” she said. “It’s just blown our minds.”

At the Tennessee factory, a constant whirring sound fills the factory as large sheets of paper are fed into machines. One cuts out the eyeholes in the pre-printed frames, another inserts the protective film lenses. Then the glasses are punched out of the sheets and packaged.

About 50,000 glasses can roll off the assembly line per hour, Jerit said. Paper glasses cost about 20 to 25 cents to make, and they are sold to distributors for about 45 cents, but prices vary depending on order size. They’re sold retail for about $2. The plastic versions are about $15.

Staring at the sun during an eclipse – or anytime – can cause eye damage. The only safe way is to protect your eyes with special filters in glasses or other devices. NASA lists four companies, including American Paper Optics, whose glasses meet international standards.

“It’s eye protection for enjoyment,” said Jerit, whose main business is making 3-D glasses.

Besides retail outlets, the company sells the glasses to cities, universities and space-related entities like NASA and the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. Some are custom-designed, like the ones for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which are decorated with children’s drawings. Under the wacky category: glasses to make the wearer look like an astronaut, space cowboy or a green alien.

Green Acres farm near Casper, Wyoming, is one of the many farms and parks welcoming eclipse watchers. The farm, which normally features a corn maze and other children’s activities, has been turned into a campground with 300 campsites in prime eclipse viewing territory.

“We have people coming from Australia, Belgium, several from Canada. I have a guy from England coming that’s seen 17 eclipses,” said manager Dwain Romsa. “We’re a little more remote than some areas. It takes more effort to travel here.”

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Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and Kristin M. Hall in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

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Twitter is now losing users in US

So much for the Trump bump.

Despite having the most powerful person in the world as a loyal user, Twitter failed to add any new monthly active users globally during the June quarter. Even worse, it’s now losing users in the U.S.

Twitter reported Thursday that its monthly user base in the U.S. declined to 68 million in the most recent quarter from 70 million in the previous quarter.

Its global user base was 328 million, unchanged from the prior quarter. Analysts had been expecting Twitter to add at least a few million users.

Twitter’s stock collapsed as much as 9% in pre-market trading Thursday following the earnings report. The stock had been on the rebound in recent months after Twitter posted surprisingly strong user growth in the first quarter.

In a letter to shareholders, Twitter said whatever “positive contributions” there were to user growth this quarter from making tweaks to the product were “offset… by lower seasonal benefits and other factors.”

The report spells trouble for President Trump’s favorite social network.

Twitter has been struggling to win more advertising dollars in the face of lackluster user growth. In the most recent quarter, the company’s revenue fell 5% from the same period a year earlier.

If Twitter can’t grow its user base at all, it will have an even harder time trying to grow its sales.

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Venezuela’s political crisis explained

Venezuelans have been summoned to the polls on Sunday to vote for a new lawmaking body, to be known as the Constituent Assembly.

There are 545 seats up for grabs and those elected would essentially replace the current National Assembly — which is controlled by opponents of President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The newly elected body would rewrite the 1999 constitution, the cornerstone of former President Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution,” which extended presidential term limits and allowed for indefinite re-elections.

The vote will be split into two categories — some voters will register by municipality, others based on the industry in which they are employed.

Opponents slam vote

Representatives of Venezuela’s opposition and leaders abroad have spoken out against the vote, saying it will erase the last remaining vestiges of democracy in the crisis-ridden country.

A two-day general strike was organized by the opposition in defiance of the vote. Businesses throughout Caracas were shuttered on the first day of the strike Wednesday, as barricades blocked the streets.

Maduro critics also held an unofficial vote on July 16 to demonstrate public opposition. More than 7 million Venezuelans — nearly 40% of the voting population — cast ballots against Maduro’s proposals in the non-binding referendum. They also announced a boycott of Sunday’s vote and said they would refuse to recognize its results.

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the vote, saying the White House would take “strong and swift economic actions” against “a bad leader.”

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on at least 13 current or former leaders in Maduro’s government who were suspected of violating human rights.

Tension got red hot starting in 2015

Opposition leaders won a majority of seats in Venezuela’s National Assembly in midterm elections in December 2015.

It seemed like a potential turning point — the National Assembly could vote to impeach Maduro, who had verbally clashed with opposition leaders since becoming president in 2013.

But before they were sworn into office, Maduro stacked the Supreme Court with his supporters to block any impeachment attempts. Political gridlock and tension brewed.

Things got worse in March

The Maduro-backed Supreme Court briefly attempted to dissolve the National Assembly, sparking a wave of nearly daily protests that have continued since March.

More than 100 people have been killed during the protests, including one person who died Wednesday in the western city of Merida.

The crisis sparked massive migration out of the country to neighboring Colombia and Brazil and other countries — including Canada and Spain.

Maduro: Vote is ‘democratic’

Despite the fierce criticism surrounding Sunday’s vote, Maduro claims the Constituent Assembly is democratic and that there was no need to hold a constitutional referendum, as Chavez did in 1999.

Maduro said the role of the new body will be to “perfect” the current constitution and promises that the changes will help the oil-rich nation climb out of its crippling economic crisis.

“We need order and peace, we need our country to reconnect to its identity. There is only one option and that is the Constituent Assembly,” Maduro said.

In addition to the strike, the opposition has vowed to continue to stage protests, including a massive march scheduled to take place in Caracas on Friday.

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3 civilians, 3 firefighters taken to hospital in southwest Miami-Dade

Three civilians and three firefighters were hospitalized Thursday morning after an unknown situation in southwest Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said.The incident was reported shortly before 5 a.m. on Southwest 103rd Court.A hazardous materi…

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