Coronavirus Origins Investigation, San Jose Shooting, Big Oil: The News You Need To Start Your Day

Published May 27, 2021 at 8:01 AM EDT
A vigil is held following a mass shooting at the Valley Transportation Authority light-rail yard in San Jose, California.
Philip Pacheco/Getty Images
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A vigil is held following a mass shooting at the Valley Transportation Authority light-rail yard in San Jose, California.

Good morning. Rachel Treisman, Will Jones, Nell Clark and Emily Alfin Johnson here. We'll be guiding you through the news. Here's what we're watching:


President Biden Asked The Intelligence Community To Investigate The Pandemic's Origins

Posted May 27, 2021 at 8:02 AM EDT
An aerial view of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China.
An aerial view of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China.

Where exactly did COVID-19 come from?

Many scientists believe that like most viruses, it developed in animals and spread to humans. But new evidence has raised questions and stoked the theory that it may have escaped from a virology research lab in Wuhan, China.

On Wednesday, President Biden said he had asked the U.S. intelligence community to push for a definitive answer and report back within 90 days.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Céline Gounder, who served on Biden's COVID-19 advisory board, told NPR she believes it's worth investigating every possible explanation.

"Saying this needs more investigation doesn't mean the virus leaked from a lab," she said. "But we need to investigate that and figure that out, because it really does have implications for how we'll prevent the next pandemic."

Read on for details:

Why is President Biden asking for this now? The White House is only just telling us about it. Biden said that he had asked his advisers and the intelligence community to look into the virus' origins in March, and they pointed to two possible scenarios: transmission from animals to humans, or a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Didn't scientists already dismiss the idea of a lab leak? The theory emerged at the beginning of the pandemic, and picked up steam in conservative media and among Republicans, including then-President Donald Trump. Most scientists wrote off the idea, both because it was initially associated with China-bashing and because previous coronaviruses like SARS and MERS came from animals.

So what changed? The World Health Organization sent a team of researchers to Wuhan at the beginning of this year to investigate, but they weren't met with much cooperation or transparency — which helped fuel the push for more study. Plus, we know now that three researchers in the Wuhan lab were hospitalized with potentially COVID-19-like symptoms in November 2019.

How is China reacting? A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded to Biden's statement by painting the lab leak theory as a smear campaign, suggesting politics will complicate the search for answers. He accused the U.S. of being the source of COVID-19 and demanded international researchers be let into American labs.

From The Science Desk
Our Changing Climate

To Save The World's Coral Reefs We Have To Act Right Now

Posted May 27, 2021 at 8:02 AM EDT
Coral Kingdom, Pacific Reefs.
Kevin Lino
Coral Kingdom-Pacific Reefs-Invertebrates-

Coral reefs are suffering a climate triple whammy: Marine heat waves, ocean acidification and overall warming. The oceans have borne the brunt of climate change by absorbing the vast majority of heat caused by human impacts. But scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research have recently found a glimmer of hope — if we act now.

First, why worry about the world's coral reefs? Coral reefs are biodiversity hot spots, supporting around a quarter of all fish species. Over 500 million people around the world depend on the coral reefs for food, income and protection from flooding.
Corals live in a domestic partnership, of sorts, with microscopic algae. The algae provide food for corals, not to mention their vibrant colors. But under periods of intense heat stress, the corals expel the algae, leaving only white skeletons. Some reefs can recover over time but many die as a result.

So what's the good news? A variety of corals seem to be especially heat tolerant. Scientist Joanie Kleypas, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, is studying coral species that seem able to handle higher heat or higher acidity. At her field site in Costa Rica, she found a variety that seems especially good at surviving after major bleaching events. If scientists can breed this variety, we might be able to help coral reefs survive.

What do we need to do? While Kleypas and other scientists are searching for this variety of coral around the world, we need to bring carbon dioxide emissions way down. If we do, then there's a chance this coral can claw it's way back.

Plus, big oil companies have taken some big hits in the last few days when it comes to dealing with climate change. NPR's Camila Domonoske has the details.


The Creator Of 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' Has Died

Posted May 27, 2021 at 8:16 AM EDT

You may not know Eric Carle by name, but if you learned to read in the last 50 years, you know his very hungry caterpillar.

Carle wrote 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' in 1969. It would become one of the best-selling children's books of all time. It's been translated into 66 languages to date.

Eric Carle stands with large cutout of the iconic image from his children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
Jonathan Wiggs
The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Eric Carle stands with large cutout of the iconic image from his children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

The author died on May 23, surrounded by his family at his summer home in Massachusetts. He was 91.

Before the colorful and friendly spiders, lady bugs, crickets and his hungry, iconic caterpillar, Carle survived a childhood in Germany during World War II.

"During the war, there were no colors," he told NPR in 2007. "Everything was gray and brown and the cities were all camouflaged with grays and greens."

His work stood in stark contrast. After art school he moved to the U.S. and was immediately hired by The New York Times.

It wasn't until he was nearly 40 that he started writing books for children. He would go on to illustrate more than 70 books.

Listen to our remembrance.

KQED Reports

At Least 10 Killed in Mass Shooting In San Jose, California

Updated May 27, 2021 at 9:34 AM EDT
Posted May 27, 2021 at 8:40 AM EDT

Here's what we know this morning:

A gunman opened fire early Wednesday morning at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose, California, killing at least nine VTA employees before turning the gun on himself.

  • The victims range in age from 29 to 63 years old
  • The suspect has been identified as a current employee and a motive is still unknown
  • Before the attack occurred, San Jose firefighters responded to a fire at a home about 9 miles away and authorities are investigating whether the incidents are related

California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed frustration that yet another shooting happened in his state:

“Looking at this scene, listening to governors, mayors, chiefs speaking similar tone and terms expressions of condolences. All the right emotions and perhaps the right words but it begs the damn question, what the hell is going on in the United States of America?”

"This is a horrifically uniquely an American institution," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in an interview this morning with NPR. "We suffer from [mass shootings] more than any other country, and it's not a secret as to why that is."

Liccardo says many of the victims were essential workers, helping to keep transportation in the region running.

This is the second mass shooting in that county since 2019. It's the 19th mass shooting in California so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive's calculation.

Follow member station KQED's reporting for the latest.

The shooting follows a spike in workplace shootings. NPR's Vanessa Romo has more on why.


6 Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As A Model Minority

Posted May 27, 2021 at 9:08 AM EDT

"Smart." "Hard-working." "Nice." Those were among the adjectives that respondents offered up in a recent poll when asked to describe Asian Americans.

The poll, conducted by the nonprofit Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH), was another all-too-familiar reminder that Asian Americans are still perceived as the "model minority."

Since the end of World War II, this myth about Asian Americans and their perceived collective success has been used as a racial wedge — to minimize the role racism plays in the struggles of other minority groups, such as Black Americans.

Characterizing Asian Americans as a model minority flattens the diverse experiences of Asian Americans into a singular, narrow narrative. And it paints a misleading picture about the community that doesn't align with current statistics.

Here's a look at some common misconceptions driven by the model minority myth.

Read the full story here.


Senate Republicans Are Expected To Block A Commission To Investigate The Jan. 6 Attack

Posted May 27, 2021 at 10:19 AM EDT
Many people cluster around the U.S. Capitol building. An American flag is held by some in the crowd.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Demonstrators breech security and attempt to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC

Senate Republicans are expected to block a proposal today to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Earlier this month the House approved the legislation, which is expected to be taken up for a Senate vote today, but the bill faces significant GOP opposition in the evenly divided Senate.

Here's what else you need to know:

Remind us, what would the commission do?

The panel would study the facts around the Jan. 6 attack and examine what factors may have caused it. It would be modeled after a similar commission established to investigate the 9/11 attacks and would include 10 members: five members appointed by the House speaker and the Senate majority leader; and five appointed by the minority leaders of the House and Senate. It could issue subpoenas and would be expected to release findings and recommendations by the end of the year.

Why are Senate Republicans against the plan?

GOP leaders and the majority of their party members in Congress have said they're opposed to the commission for several reasons. Republicans have said they're concerned the commission's finding could be used by Democrats in the midterm elections next year. Additionally, GOP lawmakers are wary of drawing criticism from former President Donald Trump, who opposes the commission, and whose supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Some Republicans argue the scope of the investigation isn't wide enough because it doesn't plan to study other instances of political violence.

So, what's next?

Democrats need at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate for the legislation to pass; so far only three GOP Senators are expected to vote yes. There are also ongoing congressional probes into the insurrection and the security failures at the Capitol.

And what's the status of the criminal cases around the Jan. 6 siege?

The government has brought charges against more than 450 individuals involved in the attack and is still investigating more possible cases. Read NPR's extensive reporting on those charged and their commonalities here.

And there's more on the Senate vote from NPR's congressional reporter Claudia Grisales on today's Morning Edition.


How Large Oil Companies Are Facing Pressure To Confront Climate Change

Posted May 27, 2021 at 9:38 AM EDT
The Exxon Mobil refinery in the Port of Rotterdam.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Getty Images Europe
The Exxon Mobil refinery in the Port of Rotterdam.

Some of the world's largest oil companies are facing unprecedented pressure this week to confront climate change.

ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell are at the center of this.

Here's a breakdown of what's happening, company by company.

In a dramatic boardroom battle, a tiny hedge fund fought with the energy giant and won. The activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1, successfully placed two new candidates on the board of directors. What's significant about these candidates is that they favor a shift toward renewable energy. The hedge fund is hoping they can use that position to push Exxon to take climate change more seriously.

Chevron & ConocoPhillips
Shareholders also voted in favor of climate proposals at Chevron and CononcoPhillips. These are investors asking these companies to fundamentally change their business models, in order to cut their contributions to climate change. Those votes weren't as dramatic as what happened at Exxon. But it's still a shift.

What's happening with Shell is really interesting. The company already has a plan to cut its emissions all the way to net zero by 2050. That's way more ambitious than other oil giants. But a Dutch court on Wednesday ruled that's not good enough and is ordering the company to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030. That decision shows how rapidly things are moving in this area.

So how could all of this change the future of the oil industry? You can listen to this explainer.


Interfaith Groups And Religious Leaders In The U.S. Are Grappling With Conflict In The Middle East

Posted May 27, 2021 at 10:04 AM EDT
Two women, one in a pink top and one in a black top, sit side-by-side at a table beneath a colorful chandelier. They are Sheryl Olitzky and Atiya Aftab, founders of the interfaith group the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.
Callie Barlow
Courtesy of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom
Sheryl Olitzky (left) and Atiya Aftab founded the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom in 2010. It has since grown to more than 150 chapters across the U.S. and in Berlin.

The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appears to be holding
but the conflict has taken lives, inflamed tensions and hampered hopes for peace.

And it's taken a toll on Jewish-Muslim interfaith groups in the U.S., testing the relationships they've spent years working to build.

Read or listen to the full story here.

Some interfaith group members are struggling to find common ground, while others continue to come together even as tensions remain high.

Aziza Hasan runs NewGround: A Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change. She's focusing on reaching out to participants individually, trying to rebuild relationships and make sure they feel heard.

It may sound simple, but she believes bringing people together can go a long way.

"When we stand together and we try to make the world see each other, maybe, just maybe, we can stop at least ourselves from hardening our hearts and allowing that cycle to continue."
- Aziza Hasan, leader of interfaith organization NewGround

The conflict is also prompting some American Jews to rethink their relationship with Israel.

That's something Rabbi Miriam Grossman, of Brooklyn-based congregation Kolot Chayeinu, has been doing for quite some time.

Grossman spoke to Steve Inskeep about the changing views of her congregants, why she no longer identifies as a Zionist herself and how she broke that news to her father — a rabbi heavily involved in the pro-Israel lobby.

Miriam Grossman

Listen to the full interview here.


Senate Republicans Drop $928 Billion Infrastructure Plan, Countering President Biden's

Posted May 27, 2021 at 9:54 AM EDT
Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV), pictured in the Oval Office with President Biden, is leading the GOP's infrastructure proposal.
Pool/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV), pictured in the Oval Office with President Biden, is leading the GOP's infrastructure proposal.

A group of Senate Republicans just unveiled their $928 billion counteroffer to Biden's $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan.

It's a significant increase from the GOP's most recent proposal, and includes more money for roads, bridges, water, rail and airports.

Republican lawmakers are pointing to the offer as proof that bipartisan compromise is possible. It comes just two days after Biden offered to cut $550 billion from his original proposal.

While the two sides are getting closer to a deal, several sticking points remain, especially over what constitutes infrastructure and where the spending will come from.

Here's more on what's in the proposal and how it differs from Biden's.

I'm Lovin' It

BTS And McDonald's Just Launched An Exclusive Meal And Clothing Line

Posted May 27, 2021 at 9:46 AM EDT

The "BTS Meal" went on sale Wednesday and includes 10-piece Chicken McNuggets, a medium order of french fries, a medium Coke and sweet chili and Cajun dipping sauces – two new flavors inspired by McDonald's South Korea.

A commercial featuring the group's latest single, "Butter," aired Wednesday night.

Last year, the band broke an NPR record — in just 25 minutes — for Tiny Desk Concert views.

This is just the latest celebrity collaboration for McDonald's, some more successful than others. More on reaction from BTS and McDonald's enthusiasts on the new meal, here.

Race In America

Black OB/GYNs Are In High Demand. Medical Schools Can Help

Posted May 27, 2021 at 8:44 AM EDT

When Dr. Nelson Adams, a Black OB/GYN in Miami, did his residency in the early 1980s medical schools were still teaching racist diagnostic practices, like:

If a black woman came in with pelvic pain, Adams says the assumption was it was an STI. A white woman? Endometriosis.

We now know, one in 10 menstruating people suffer from Endometriosis — and it's not sexually transmitted.

Michelle Wilson just graduated from medical school at Florida Atlantic University and specializes in family medicine, which will also allow her to deliver babies.

"I didn't have a Black doctor growing up," says Wilson. "I'm kind of paving the way for other little Black girls that look like me, that want to be a doctor. I can let them know like it's possible."

But boosting the number of Black doctors, Adams says, wont be enough. Doctors are still bring unconscious racial bias to their patient encounters. He’s calling on medical schools to teach all students to treat patients as they would want to be treated themselves.

The good news: Change is happening.

After George Floyd’s death, The University of Miami revamped its entire four-year medical school curriculum to incorporate anti-racism training.

Florida Atlantic, where Wilson graduated from, is now teaching future doctors to talk to Black patients about their entire lives, not just their bodies, but questions like: Have you ever felt discriminated against? Do you feel safe communicating your needs?

As a Black provider, Wilson told WLRN the way she’ll talk to patients also matters. More here.


Amazon Just Bought MGM Studios. Here's What That Means For Movie Watchers

Posted May 27, 2021 at 10:51 AM EDT

So yesterday, Amazon purchased MGM Studios (of roaring lion fame) for $8.45 billon. To make sense of the deal, we checked in with Hollywood, The Sequel host, John Horn about what we should now expect from MGM (and Amazon) movies.

Why purchase MGM Studios, when Amazon has their own entertainment arm already? Horn says subscribers to Amazon Prime spend twice as much on, as those people who aren't Prime members. "So I think in the thinking of Amazon, if you have good content on your streaming platform (like the latest James Bond movie,) you sign people up and they stick around and spend money."

What's MGM Studios bringing to the table? Over the years, the studio sold a number of its properties (think "The Wizard Of Oz", "Singing In The Rain") to other studios, so it's less about back catalogue and more about experience and capacity creating major productions.

So what does this all mean for folks hoping to get their big break? Click play below for more from KPCC's John Horn.

Before You Go

Tiny Desk (Home) Concert of the Day: Karol G

Posted May 27, 2021 at 10:54 AM EDT

That's all for today, but before you go check out the latest Tiny Desk (Home) Concert with Columbian reggaetonera Karol G.

Karol G floats between styles on this wistful Miami set with the breeziness of a pop star who knows no boundaries – or maybe it's the calculus of an artist who has built a career on subverting them.

Her personal, unapologetic flourish has allowed her to top the Billboard charts of a genre with limited female participation, and even less superstardom.

Her signature bichota energy is subtle, yet pervasive in her stripped-down Tiny Desk (home) concert. Flanked by an illuminated all-women band, Karol G's authentic command of the intimate moment and its intended audience is unmistakable.

She's stepping down from atop the glossy sets and sparkly stages to share secrets — lessons learned during her sudden ascent about humility, grace and empowerment — with the millions of niñitas who will watch this concert, enraptured by her effortless confidence and smooth Spanish bars.