Biden Backs Gaza Ceasefire, Supreme Court To Hear Abortion Case, DHS Capitol Riot Failures

Published May 18, 2021 at 8:00 AM EDT
A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Khalil Hamra/AP
A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

Good morning.

Here are the major stories we're following for you on Morning Edition. Rachel Treisman, Emily Alfin Johnson and William Jones are leading our coverage.

  • President Biden backed a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in a phone call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the fighting continues, with Israel carrying out another round of strikes on targets in Gaza this morning and Hamas firing dozens of rockets into Israel, according to the Israeli military
  • The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging Mississippi’s bans on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the majority-conservative court, upholds the law, there’s no reason why other states couldn’t pass similar abortion restrictions.
  • A report obtained by NPR finds that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis didn’t offer a threat assessment ahead of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. There were warnings from intelligence agencies and social media, but the office didn't analyze them. .

🎧 Catch up while you get ready,listen to today's Up First


Meet The Man Who Sounded The Alarm On the AIDS Epidemic

Posted May 18, 2021 at 10:06 AM EDT

40 years ago today Dr. Lawrence Mass published an article in a paper called the New York Native. The headline was “Disease Rumors Largely Unfounded.”

At the time gay men were just starting to show up in hospitals with a mysterious illness that seemed to be a result of compromised immune systems. That illness would become to be known as AIDS.

Some months back I had the opportunity to work on an interview about a television show about the AIDS crisis called It’s a Sin. After that interview aired, I still found myself thinking about what it must’ve been like to be a newly-out gay man as such a devastating disease took hold. That’s when I first came across Dr. Mass.

Dr. Mass and gay activist and author Vito Russo, who died of AIDS in 1990
Dr. Lawrence Mass
Dr. Mass and gay activist and author Vito Russo, who died of AIDS in 1990

Mass was a co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis with legendary AIDS activist Larry Kramer. I was surprised to see that his contributions were nowhere near as widely known as Kramer's. Mass had not only been an early pioneer in fighting anti-gay stigma in Psychiatry but he made history by writing the first news report about AIDS in a U.S. publication.

I wanted to find out more about how Dr. Mass got the lead on that story four decades ago. So we connected with him recently and he remembers getting a call from a friend who worked in an emergency room.

She was very concerned and she said there's gay men in New York City, intensive care units.
Dr. Lawrence Mass

Dr. Mass wrote the piece and it was published well before anyone knew what was causing the disease that disproportionately impacted gay men.

It took three years from then for the origins of AIDS to be discovered. During that time, denialism of its origins mushroomed among some people in the medical field and some government leaders.

Michael Spector is a reporter for the New Yorker and he’s covered the global AIDS epidemic for years. He believes the impact of this particular denialism is profound.

I think the legacy of AIDS denialism is that it raised doubts in a lot of people's minds about whether the consensus that had been arrived at by 99.6% of all scientists was necessarily something they had to listen to.
Michael Spector, New Yorker Reporter

I wanted to examine how this denialism came to be and how it’s carried over into the mistrust of science today. You can hear my reporting with Noel King on today’s Morning Edition.

Before You Go

iSpy: A Bunch Of Ships On Their Way To The Black Sea

Posted May 18, 2021 at 11:05 AM EDT

Yörük Işık was trained in international relations and makes his living as a marine consultant. But his true love is ship spotting (i.e. watching ships as they sail by). Işık lives in Istanbul, next to one of the world's busiest waterways: The Bosphorus Strait. Every year, tens of thousands of ships pass through, right under his apartment actually, on their way to and from the Black Sea.

Işık started posting photos of the passing ships to Twitter, attracting over 40,000 followers.

Naturally, a lot of people are interested when warships from Russia, Turkey and even the United States travel through this waterway. But with so many vessels traveling through the Bosporous Strait, inevitably Işık misses the odd one. But he makes up for that with some unexpected surprises.

You think you miss an important ship. One hour later a ship passes, which doesn’t look necessarily so interesting but that is the ship that is maybe carrying the undeclared wheat to Maduro, to Venezuela. And they are out of wheat and here is a ship passing. It’s like, you don’t know what is the next actually so-important ship.
Yoruk Isik, Bosphorus Ship Observer

I met up with Işık to find out why he’s so fascinated by all these ships passing by. Take a listen.


Millions Of Surplus Coronavirus Vaccines Will Be Sent Abroad

Posted May 18, 2021 at 10:59 AM EDT

The Biden administration is planning to ship 20 million surplus doses of the coronavirus vaccine abroad to needy nations.

The U.S.-authorized Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be among the stockpile but the majority of the planned shipments will be of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which does not yet have authorization.

The move comes as demand for the vaccine is waning in major parts of the country.

Gayle Smith is the Coordinator for Global COVID Response and Health Security at the State Department and she spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin on the distribution. Read highlights from their conversation below.

  • On why June is the right time to send the vaccine surplus: "Well, I think our aim is to do this as quickly as possible. The need for vaccines globally is very, very, very high," she said. "We hope also that this will lead to other countries stepping up and doing more to share their vaccine so that we can start to get the coverage we need."
  • On how the U.S. will select which countries will get the doses: "We will be working very closely with COVAX, which is the international entity that handles vaccine delivery, including for the world's poorest countries, and with other partners so that we can see a steady supply in as many places as possible."

Listen to the full interview here.


Facebook Doesn't See Links To Declining Mental Health But Many Researchers Do

Posted May 18, 2021 at 10:54 AM EDT

Researchers, lawmakers and parents have for years worried about the rising rate of depression among American teenagers, which many believe is associated at least in part with social media platforms.


Critics have been focusing on Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp. The company recently attracted a wave of bipartisan backlash over plans to create a version of Instagram for children under 13.

When asked at a Capitol Hill hearing this March whether he acknowledged a connection between social media and children's declining mental health, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he didn't think the research on that was "conclusive."

But mental health researchers who spoke to NPR disagree, saying there is an increasingly clear connection between poor mental health outcomes and social media use.

"The largest and most well-conducted studies that we have all show that teens who spend more time on social media are more likely to be depressed or unhappy."
- Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University

Correlation is not causation, and experts agree further study is needed in various areas. But many researchers worry not enough government funding is being allocated for these efforts.

And in the meantime, they believe Facebook knows more about how its products affect people than it's letting on.

Read the full story here.

Israel-Hamas Conflict

How A Former Middle East Envoy Views The U.S. Role In The Israel-Hamas Conflict

Posted May 18, 2021 at 10:30 AM EDT

Dennis Ross was the U.S. point person on the Middle East peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

He spoke to Steve Inskeep this morning about the current violence and the role he believes the United States should be taking. You can listen to the conversation here or read the highlights below:

Ross believes America's most immediate interest is humanitarian: seeing the suffering stop while preserving the "possibility of trying to build peace again."

While the Biden administration has approved the sale of weapons to Israel and restored aid to Palestinians, Ross says the U.S. does not actually have much leverage. He believes leverage on Palestinians is limited because of Hamas, and Israel ultimately makes its own decisions on matters of self defense.

Does the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians mean that the U.S.' decades-old approach isn't working? "I think you could say that," Ross says.

I think one thing we could do in the aftermath of this as it relates to Gaza: We should mobilize the whole world, major international participation, to reconstruct Gaza, to do the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for Gaza, on one condition ... Hamas has to give up its rockets."
- Ambassador Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy


What The New Monthly Child Tax Credits Means For You

Posted May 18, 2021 at 10:13 AM EDT

One of the many talked-about components of the Biden administration's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is the child tax credit. Researchers are saying that it has the potential to cut child poverty in half.

It increases the existing tax benefit from $2,000 to $3,600 for younger kids and $3,000 for older ones, for the 2021 tax year. Officials confirmed yesterday that some 39 million American families will be eligible for monthly payments of up to $300 starting on July 15.

How does that work? Who is eligible? And can you opt out? We've answered your questions here.

You can also check out what the child benefit means for three different families living across the country. NPR spoke to mothers about their needs and hopes for their children back in March.

Christina Holley of Philadelphia says the first word the child benefit brings to mind is "sovereignty." She'll use it to upgrade her Internet access and provide social outlets like gymnastics classes and a new bike for her kids, ages 8, 10 and 12.
LA Johnson
Christina Holley of Philadelphia says the first word the child benefit brings to mind is "sovereignty." She'll use it to upgrade her Internet access and provide social outlets like gymnastics classes and a new bike for her kids, ages 8, 10 and 12.

NPR Life

What Morning Edition Staffers Get Up To While You're Likely Fast Asleep

Posted May 18, 2021 at 9:43 AM EDT

It’s an early wake up call to get Morning Edition on the air. Editors, producers, hosts and engineers roll in to their shifts all night long.

Audio engineer Stu Rushfield takes advantage of the quiet, peaceful mornings before getting into the bustling newsroom.

It’s easy to feel relaxed when his commute is lined with memorials and monuments here in Washington, D.C.

We wanted to share some of his amazing photography.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court's Reviewing A Mississippi Abortion Law That Seeks To Roll Back Roe v. Wade

Posted May 18, 2021 at 9:29 AM EDT

It’s been barely six months since Republicans installed a super-majority of conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

The court has now agreed to review a Mississippi state law that bans some abortions based on gestation period, essentially agreeing to consider a major rollback of abortion rights.

What’s this case about? It deals with a 2018 Mississippi law, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement of the law, finding it in conflict with Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions. That's where the Supreme Court comes in.

And what’s the Supreme Court signaling by taking up this case? By taking the case, it appears that some justices may be ready to allow states to pass much more restrictive limits on abortion. Or they're at least willing to hear arguments to that end.

What could be the implications for the rest of the country? If the court upholds this law, there's no reason why other states couldn't pass laws like Mississippi's, limiting abortion after 15 weeks. More broadly, the Center for Reproductive Rights estimates that if Roe V. Wade were to be overturned, about 20 states could ban abortion altogether in short order.

How are the plaintiffs in this case responding? NPR connected with Shannon Brewer who’s a plaintiff in this case. She’s the director of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is the only abortion clinic in Mississippi. She think this could be absolutely devastating and have national ramifications.

Shannon Brewer: 'Devastating Impact'

NPR Reportable

Florida Rep. Val Demings Planning Run For U.S. Senate

Posted May 18, 2021 at 9:24 AM EDT
Florida Rep. Val Demings is said to be planning a run for the U.S. Senate. It would pit her against incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio.
Kisha Ravi/NPR
Florida Rep. Val Demings is said to be planning a run for the U.S. Senate. It would pit her against incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rep. Val Demings is reportedly planning a run for the U.S. Senate, two people with knowledge of her plans confirmed to NPR.

The Florida Democrat served as Orlando's first female police chief before being elected to the House in 2016. She played a prominent role in former President Donald Trump's first impeachment trial and was on President Joe Biden's short list for a running mate in last year's election.

A national Democrat with knowledge of the party's strategy on Senate races confirmed to NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales that Demings is "strongly considering a Senate run." Another source close to Demings said she "is planning a run with an announcement coming soon."

The news was first reported by Politico. It pits Demings against Sen. Marco Rubio — one of the few Republican senators to refer to Biden as "president-elect" in the weeks after the 2020 election.

Must Listen

A Searing Account Of Growing Up Black And Gay In Ohio

Posted May 18, 2021 at 8:44 AM EDT
Author Brian Broome (courtesy of the author)
Andy Johanson/courtesy
Author Brian Broome

As a kid, Brian Broome rarely felt understood by his parents, or his friends. He didn’t exhibit typical masculine behavior. It was the late 1970s and early ‘80s and he knew he was different.

In the opening pages of his new memoir, Punch Me Up To The Gods, he writes why his peers picked on him: “I had failed to display the proper balance of nonchalance and boisterousness appropriate for a boy. They discussed my cursed bookishness; my disinterest and ineptitude at sports, my inability to lean against buildings, telephone poles and cars; and the fact that I played with girls.”

"I think that there's a legacy of what might be termed emasculation with Black men throughout history ... Black men have an extra responsibility to prove that we are manly in many ways. And that's usually by dominating something or being emotionless and stoic.”
-- Brian Broome

Three-plus decades later, Broome is now an instructor in the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh. He showed flair for writing and storytelling from his youth but told Steve Inskeep that back then he had no support: “The reason I stopped writing when I was a kid was because my cousin told me it was 'it was girly', 'You shouldn't do that.' That's not what men do.'"

"All these things were taken away because you just have to continually play this role of being the toughest guy in the room," Broome says."It feels like something distinctively Black to me because of the history of racism in America."

More from Broome's conversation with Morning Edition, below:

National Security

Expect To Hear A Lot More About The DHS Office Of Intelligence And Analysis

Posted May 18, 2021 at 8:24 AM EDT

A little-known office within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is facing a lot of scrutiny in the aftermath of the U.S. Capitol insurrection. It's called the Office of Intelligence and Analysis and it's charged with gathering information from within the government to warn of domestic threats.

It produced threat assessment warnings ahead of events like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Kentucky Derby. But it did not for the Trump rally that led to the Jan. 6 riots, despite warnings from intelligence agencies and social media.

NPR has obtained a copy of an upcoming report by a former New York Police Department intelligence chief about why the department failed to connect the dots. Get the full story here.

Former DHS officials and intelligence analysts blame a few factors. One is pressure from the Trump administration, as the I&A's priorities are traditionally set by the White House. The office is also not seen as a plum assignment, despite its critical role — one former assistant DHS secretary said other agencies saw it not as an equal partner but a "distant friend that you tolerated who showed up to the party."

A Congressional hearing this morning will look at exactly what went wrong.

Israel-Hamas Conflict

Biden Supports Ceasefire But Fighting Between Israel And Hamas Continues

Posted May 18, 2021 at 8:07 AM EDT
Palestinians look at an unexploded bomb dropped by an Israeli F-16 warplane on Gaza City's Rimal neighbourhood on Tuesday.
NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Palestinians look at an unexploded bomb dropped by an Israeli F-16 warplane on Gaza City's Rimal neighbourhood on Tuesday.

The fighting in Israel has continued in to this morning. Israel carried out another round of strikes against targets in Gaza and the Israeli military says Hamas fired dozens of rockets in to Israel. Meanwhile, residents in Gaza are trying to dig out after a number of attacks yesterday.

"The situation is terrifying, we cannot go even to the garden or the yard of the house, it's scary and dangerous," said Gaza resident Jamal Al Sharif. "You feel that the drones will think that you are doing something wrong."

Health officials in Gaza say that at least 200 people have been killed, including many children. Israeli air strikes have damaged underground tunnels as well as businesses and roads.

There are shortages of water and electricity, as well as mounting concerns about the impact of the damage on Gaza's economy and the ability to get humanitarian aid into the region.

And Palestinian government offices, banks and businesses are shut today as part of a general strike to protest the Israeli attacks.

The Israeli military says that Hamas has fired some 3,500 rockets into Israel since the fighting started — more than in any previous conflict — and killed at least 12 people.

The international community is watching. President Biden spoke to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, after which the White House released a carefully-worded statement saying Biden "expressed support for a ceasefire."

But he stopped short of demanding one, and the U.S. has notably blocked efforts by the U.N. Security Council to issue a statement calling for a halt to the violence.

Will Biden's statement make a difference? As NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Jerusalem, "It's hard to say whether there's going to be a ceasefire now or not. It's not looking very promising."

This story has been updated to reflect the latest death toll as confirmed by Israeli officials.