Start Your Day Here: Biden Reboots COVID Efforts, Vaping Industry Awaits FDA Ruling And More

Published September 9, 2021 at 7:44 AM EDT
Students walk into Schoolcraft Elementary School in Schoolcraft, Mich., next to a table of masks.
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Face masks sit on a table outside of Schoolcraft Elementary for students and parents to wear when entering the building on the first day of school on Aug. 30 in Schoolcraft, Mich. The Biden administration is announcing the next phase of its plan to combat the delta variant today.

Good morning,

Here are some of the big stories we're following today:

Biden's COVID-19 plan: The president plans to lay out a refreshed approach to combatting the surging delta variant. Here's what to expect.

Major vaping decision: The FDA is expected to make an announcement that could limit or altogether block the sale of millions of e-cigarette products.

Theranos trial: Prosecutors called the onetime Silicon Valley star Elizabeth Holmes a liar and a cheat in their opening statement. Here are the highlights from Wednesday's court proceedings.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Dana Farrington, Nell Clark, Rachel Treisman and Manuela López Restrepo)


Motown Singer, Archbishop And HIV/AIDS Activist Carl Bean Has Died

Posted September 9, 2021 at 11:11 AM EDT

Pioneering LGBT advocate and Motown singer Carl Bean has died at age 77.

Bean was also an Archbishop who wove together spiritual work and community activism throughout his life. He founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church in Los Angeles, where he ministered to LGBT people.

Retired Bishop Zachary Jones remembers the way his friend inspired the Black gay community and welcomed those who felt turned away by religion.

"It was Archbishop Bean who invited other people of faith in all walks of life to rekindle their spiritual lives and their faith," Jones said. "After many people had been turned down and rejected by mainstream religion."

In 1985 he created the Minority Aids Project in Los Angeles, which helped offer support services and raise awareness during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and still operates today.

He also made a lasting impact with his music.

During the 1970s, Bean was approached by Motown to sing a song about self pride. It was called "I Was Born This Way" and included the lyrics "I'm happy - I'm carefree - I'm gay. I was born this way."

Bean said the song's lyrics felt natural to him because he'd always known he was gay.

Although the song was met with some opposition at the time, it has since been embraced as a gay anthem and has touched many people in the decades after its release. Pop star Lady Gaga used it as inspiration for her song "Born This Way."

BeantoldNPR in 2019 that he didn't hesitate when given the chance to perform the song.

"Human rights and civil rights and social justice was the heartbeat of who I was. So I couldn't think about money and being famous over the opportunity to speak out about wrongs in society."
Archbishop Carl Bean

Read more about Bean and the significance of "Born This Way" here.

Music News

Lorde Just Dropped A Surprise Mini-Album Of 'Solar Power' Tracks In The Māori Language

Posted September 9, 2021 at 10:25 AM EDT
A woman with dark hair, wearing a yellow crop top and bottoms, smiles with her arms outstretched while singing into a microphone.
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Lorde performs at "Good Morning America's" Summer Concert Series at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on August 20, 2021 in New York City.

The New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde has dropped a surprise EP of five tracks from her Solar Power album, re-recorded in the indigenous Māori language.

The EP is called "Te Ao Mārama," meaning “world of light." Its release comes just weeks after that of Lorde's latest studio album and days ahead of New Zealand's Māori Language Week.

Lorde acknowledged in a statement that while she is not Māori, one of her main realizations while making the album is that much of her value system around "caring for and listening to the natural world" comes from traditional Māori principles.

"I know I’m someone who represents New Zealand globally in a way, and in making an album about where I’m from, it was important to me to be able to say: this makes us who we are down here," she wrote. "It’s also just a crazy beautiful language — I loved singing in it. Even if you don’t understand te reo, I think you’ll get a kick out of how elegant my words sound in it."

You can find the new songs on Lorde's YouTube channel, with subtitles available in both English and Māori.

An attempt to counter a history of injustice

Lorde worked on the album with a wide roster of translators, elders and language experts including Sir Tīmoti Kāretu, Hana Mereraiha and Hēmi Kelly. Well-known Kiwi singers Bic Runga and Marlon Williams also contributed to the tracks.

Proceeds of the EP will go to two New Zealand-based charities, Forest And Bird and Te Hua Kawariki Charitable Trust.

New Zealand-based pop publication The Spinoff spoke with the "powerhouse team of language experts" behind the album, and Lorde herself.

The interview provides crucial context, noting the long history of injustices that Maori language and culture has suffered and the inequities that persist today, specifically in New Zealand's music industry. Māori musicians are paid less on average than their non-Māori counterparts — despite huge streaming success and large followings — and the language is rarely heard on commercial radio.

The Spinoff also notes that some indigenous people believe "te reo Māori" should only be spoken by the Māori after so many decades of New Zealand's government trying to eradicate it.

Lorde is open to your criticism

Lorde told the publication about all of the measures she and her team took to try to get the project right, though is the first to admit she is a "little bit out of my depth."

“I’m white — however you want to interpret me wanting to engage with our Indigenous culture, that’s fair enough," she said. "I totally accept that, because it is really complicated."

As she sees it, doing the project — and opening herself up to potential criticism — was preferable than being too scared to engage with it at all. Lorde described the writing and recording experience as "really emotional" and "really powerful."

“It’s kind of scary to start any journey, but I guess that’s my thing; I am at the very beginning, and this project is a starting point," she said.

Lorde spoke to Morning Edition during Solar Power's release in August about the evolution of her music and where her journey might take her next. Listen to that conversation or read highlights here.


Sen. Klobuchar Says She Was Treated For Breast Cancer Earlier This Year

Posted September 9, 2021 at 9:42 AM EDT
Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. speaks during a hearing with a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in June. Klobuchar said today she was treated for breast cancer earlier this year.
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Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. speaks during a hearing with a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in June. Klobuchar said today she was treated for breast cancer earlier this year.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., announced today that she underwent radiation treatment for breast cancer earlier this year and recently confirmed the treatment went well.

"Of course this has been scary at times, since cancer is the word all of us fear, but at this point my doctors believe that my chances of developing cancer again are no greater than the average person," Klobuchar said in a post on Medium.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Klobuchar, 61, "was sitting in her apartment in Washington, D.C. waiting to cast a vote on the pandemic federal stimulus package when she got the news."

A mammogram in February alerted Klobuchar to a possible issue, and a biopsy later confirmed it was Stage 1A breast cancer. In her post, Klobuchar noted that many people have delayed routine exams because of the pandemic — including her.

"It’s easy to put off health screenings, just like I did. But I hope my experience is a reminder for everyone of the value of routine health checkups, exams, and follow-through," she wrote. "I am so fortunate to have caught the cancer at an early enough stage and to not need chemotherapy or other extensive treatments, which unfortunately is not the case for so many others."


Alabama’s 1st Black Poet Laureate Says Reparations Are Personal

Posted September 9, 2021 at 9:10 AM EDT
A Black woman looks into the camera with her chin on her hand.
Ashley M. Jones
Ashley M. Jones is Alabama's first Black poet laureate and also the youngest. She says her book Reparations Now! is about more than financial reparations.

The state of Alabama has a new poet laureate: Ashley M. Jones is the first Black poet to claim the title, and at 31, also the youngest.

But even though the poet is honored, she told me about her long-standing love-hate relationship with her hometown, Birmingham.

Growing up, she had a visible reminder of the racism that permeates much of Birmingham's history. Her high school was "just steps away" from the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

"And knowing that this place was a place where Black people were killed and terrorized and not allowed to live full lives under the law tainted [the city] a little bit," she says.

Here's an excerpt from her poem "All Y'all Really From Alabama":

...we the scapegoat in a land built

from death. no longitude or latitude disproves

the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:

we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,

Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.

This poem appears in Jones’ new collection Reparations Now!, out this week.

The book takes a personal approach to reparations by dissecting the discrimination Jones has faced in her own life and placing them against examples of historic violence against Black people.

"What I mean when I say reparations is that I want what we are owed," she says. "Which means for me as a Black person, I want to be able to walk into a room with my hair however it is fixed, with my skin as dark or as light as it is, and not feel immediately targeted."

Hear Jones talk about her book, and read more about it here.


Elizabeth Holmes' Trial Is Underway. Here's What It Could Mean For Silicon Valley

Posted September 9, 2021 at 8:57 AM EDT

The much-anticipated fraud trial of Theranos ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes is ongoing, as the prosecution and defense present dueling narratives of deceitful actions and honest mistakes. As NPR business reporter Bobby Allyn reports, its outcome may bring changes to Silicon Valley's law-skirting culture.

Holmes is accused of 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, she could face up to two decades in prison.

A debate over Silicon Valley's culture

Holmes became the world's youngest self-made billionaire as the CEO and founder of Theranos, a biotech company that promised revolutionary technology for blood tests. But it did not in fact contain the innovative capabilities Holmes had claimed, and the company shuttered, leaving both investors and patients feeling duped.

As Allyn reports, her trial has sparked a debate within the tech industry, where bending the law is sometimes perceived as a necessary element of innovation. That culture could change its tune depending on the trial's verdict.

"Look, millionaires are minted all the time in Silicon Valley. And many who are chasing that kind of money do it by telling a story," notes Allyn. "So there's a debate raging out here in Silicon Valley now as people watch this trial, and it's: When does a start-up's exaggerated claims potentially veer into the land of being illegal?"

Competing opening statements

In opening statements, Holmes' defense team described her as a hard-working startup CEO, and said others held more oversight over the more dubious parts of her company.

One of her defense lawyers, Lance Wade, told the court, "Ms. Holmes made mistakes, but mistakes are not crimes. A failed business does not make a CEO a criminal."

The prosecution team will try to paint a different portrait of Holmes: That of a CEO on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate enough to break the law. Prosecutors said she forged a fake report from the drug company Pfizer, on a fake letterhead, in order to drum up money and support for Theranos.

"This is a case about fraud, about lying and cheating to get money," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Leach. "It's a crime on Main Street, and it's a crime in Silicon Valley."

The judge told the jury to expect the trial to continue for the next three months.

Read more takeaways from the first day, and follow Allyn on Twitter for updates.

Music News

Here's What John Lennon's Son Thinks About 'Imagine,' 50 Years After The Song's Release

Posted September 9, 2021 at 8:45 AM EDT
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Iain Macmillan via Universal Music Group
John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Today marks 50 years since John Lennon asked the world to “imagine.”

His album by that name came out in 1971, a few years after the Beatles broke up. It featured some of the most memorable songs of his solo career, including, Jealous Guy, Gimme Some Truth, Oh Yoko!, and of course, the title track, Imagine.

The song Imagine remains one of Lennon’s most popular. Sean Ono Lennon, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, says it’s still difficult for him to pinpoint what makes it so special. (Ono was recently given a writing credit on the song.)

“It's really hard to nail exactly why this song occupies this place on a shelf alone. I don't think there's any other song that's sort of like it,” he told NPR.

“It's a mood. It's a performance. It's how the lyrics sort of, talk about big ideas without a lot of pressure and a certain kind of simplicity and kindness,” he added.

“It's sort of like a hug, so it doesn't feel like you're being lectured.”
Sean Lennon

It’s also one of the first songs that Sean, a musician in his own right, learned to play on the piano.

The album came out almost four years before Sean was born, and just nine years before his father was shot and killed in front of their apartment in New York City.

John, Yoko and Sean Ono Lennon pose for a family photo in Karuizawa, Japan, in the summer of 1979.
Photo by Nishi F. Samaru © Yoko Ono Lennon
John, Yoko and Sean Ono Lennon pose for a family photo in Karuizawa, Japan, in the summer of 1979.

In the eyes of his son, John Lennon’s Imagine passes a test most political songs can’t.

“Frankly, most songs that try to be political, fail,” Sean Ono Lennon said, because they feel “preachy, you feel like you’re being condescended to.”

But Sean believes his dad “nailed it” with Imagine.

“I think there's a sense, at least in his voice, that we're listening to somebody who isn't naive and isn't saying these things from a kind of arrogance or, you know, ignorance,” he said, adding, “It sounds like somebody who thinks deeply but is speaking simply. And I think there's a power in that.”

Chad Campbell produced the audio of this piece for air.


Trump Loyalists Push Back As Biden Administration Pulls Them From Military Academy Boards

Posted September 9, 2021 at 8:25 AM EDT
A blonde woman wearing a red jacket looks off-camera while speaking, in front of a blue White House background.
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Former White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, pictured on Jan. 10, 2020, is one of several Trump administration officials asked to resign from a military academy board.

Former Trump officials are pushing back after the Biden administration sought their removal from military academy boards.

The White House sent letters to 18 people who were named to the boards of visitors for the Air Force Academy, Military Academy and Naval Academy, calling on them to resign by close of business on Wednesday or be terminated, the Associated Press reports. Former President Donald Trump made the appointments during his final months in office.

The list of names includes former Trump White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, press secretary Sean Spicer and national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Russell Vought, formerly the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on these boards,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. “But the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration. They are whether you’re qualified to serve and whether you are aligned with the values of this administration.”

A number of Trump loyalists publicly pushed back, with some flat-out refusing to resign.

"No," Vought tweeted. "It's a three year term."

"President Biden, I'm not resigning, but you should," wrote Conway.

Spicer, who now works for the conservative TV channel Newsmax, responded to the White House's letter on his show Wednesday evening. He questioned the Biden administration's motives, accusing them of wanting to remove oversight from military boards in order to "inject liberal ideology like critical race theory into the curriculum" without pushback.

Spicer defended his qualifications, saying he's served under five presidents of both parties and that "politics has never entered into my service." He said he plans to take legal action against Biden's decision.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stripped several hundred appointees — including some who took office at the end of Trump's term — of their posts on 42 Pentagon advisory boards. Reuters reported at the time that military academy positions like Conway's and Spicer's were "outside the scope of Defense Department actions."


When Fiction Captures The Enormity Of 9/11

Posted September 9, 2021 at 8:08 AM EDT
A Black man with dreadlocks and a beard, wearing a leather jacket, faces to the side while turning to look at the camera.
Mark Seliger
Author Marlon James spoke to NPR about how novelists have approached writing about the September 11th attacks.

You may know Marlon James for his 2015 Man Booker prize-winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. It's based on the 1976 real-life assassination attempt on reggae singer Bob Marley.

James is the writer-in-residence at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn. He once taught a class there called "9/11 and The Novel." So Morning Edition called him up to ask about novels that he considers part of our post-9/11 reality.

High on his list: Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel, The Road. It’s a dark story about a father and son's journey after an apocalyptic event.

“Before The Road, a lot of our dystopian and our post-apocalyptic fiction and film appeared in the shadow of nuclear war,” James says. “The Road was a novel that said 'apocalypse came out of nowhere.' ”

James believes the finest post-9/11 fiction was captured in Twilight of the Superheroes, by Deborah Eisenberg. Her short stories are set against the backdrop of 9/11 and “reflect the personal costs of something so quickly devastating.”

Then there’s Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a novel that looks at 9/11 from an immigrant’s perspective. James says that in the days and weeks that followed the terror attacks, a lot of immigrants suddenly felt unmoored with “9/11 making them a suspect, 9/11 making them interred, sent to Guantanamo without warning or just beaten somewhere in the street because they just have the wrong color.”

One of his favorite novels is The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, where he says “9/11 becomes almost the ultimate disrupter. It showed how an event can immediately disrupt, turn around, unmoor people and almost every trajectory that that novel is going gets fundamentally disrupted and it goes in another direction after it.”

Also on his list is a book you might not expect: Colum McCann’s Let The Great World Spin. It’s set in 1974 and it’s about a tightrope walk across the twin towers.

🎧 Hear more from James here.

📚 NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has his own list of three books — and three lessons — 20 years after 9/11.


Jamie Lee Curtis Just Won A Lifetime Achievement Award, With Another 'Halloween' Film On The Way

Posted September 9, 2021 at 7:49 AM EDT
A woman with short white hair, wearing a red leopard-print dress with long sleeves, smiles on a stage while holding a gold statuette.
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Jamie Lee Curtis is awarded with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award Ceremony during the 78th Venice International Film Festival in Venice, Italy, on Wednesday.

Iconic American actress Jamie Lee Curtis has won the "Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement" at the Venice International Film Festival.

Curtis accepted her award Wednesday just before the premiere of her new movie Halloween Kills, in which she reprises her longtime role as beloved protagonist Laurie Strode. The film, which comes out next month, is the sequel to 2018's Halloween and the 12th movie in the horror franchise.

Curtis said in a statement that she is "incredibly humbled" by the honor.

“It seems impossible to me that I’ve been in this industry long enough to be receiving ‘Lifetime Achievement’ recognition, and to have it happen now, with Halloween Kills, is particularly meaningful to me," Curtis said. "Halloween —and my partnership with Laurie Strode — launched and sustained my career, and to have these films evolve into a new franchise that is beloved by audiences around the world was, and remains, a gift.

"Italian Cinema has always honored and heralded the genre that gave me my career, so I couldn’t be more proud and happy to accept this award from the Venice International Film Festival on behalf of Laurie and all the courageous heroines of the world who stand tall in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and refuse to yield.”

In true horror heroine fashion, here she is slipping off her heels to hustle onstage:

Curtis spoke to NPR in 2018 — four decades after the original Halloween — about the franchise, her character and her career.

"I've worked hard, but I don't expect it — and that's what a gift is, when you don't expect something, and then it's given to you, and you open it and go, 'Wow, thank you!'" she said. "That's incredible, and that's what I feel David Gordon Green and Danny McBride gave me when they allowed me to go where we had to go with the movie, Halloween, to explain and honor the courage and tenacity of Laurie Strode, who represents all women who've been aggressed, all women who've had to fight back, all women who've survived, and that's a privilege, and not something I take lightly."

Listen to the full conversation here.


What You Need To Know About The FDA's Expected Vaping Announcement

Posted September 9, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT
Shelves hold colorful boxes of e-cigarette products.
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Vaping and e-cigarette products are displayed in a store in December 2019 in New York City.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to weigh in today on which e-cigarette products are safe for the public. Its decision could limit or block the sale of millions of products from hundreds of companies, and potentially reshape the entire industry for years to come.

What is the FDA deciding?

The agency has already blocked the sale of some flavored vaping products, which are popular with teens. Now regulators are considering a broader question: whether the benefits of e-cigarettes for adults trying to quit smoking outweigh the risk of addiction for teens.

Why now?

A federal judge ordered e-cigarette makers to submit applications to the FDA by 2020, with those products allowed to remain on the market for exactly one year while under review. That deadline is up today. The agency will not respond to every application immediately, and has said it will prioritize companies with the largest market share, like Juul and Imperial Brands.

How many people vape?

As NPR's Allison Aubrey explained on Morning Edition, the original justification for e-cigarettes was that they were reportedly less harmful than traditional tobacco products and might even help people quit smoking. But the rise of vaping has led young people to pick up smoking, and addictive nicotine makes the habit hard to stop.

More than 6% of American adults — and 1 in 5 high school students — say they vape, and the industry has ballooned to $6 billion in size.

What's next?

What might today's decisions mean for these products, the people who use them and the companies that make them?

The FDA could issue a major crackdown on virtually all vape products or take a more targeted approach, perhaps blocking the sale of flavored products or disposable e-cigarettes, or creating marketing rules similar to those that govern traditional cigarettes.

Read more on the potential impact of the FDA's decision here from NPR's Becky Sullivan.


Biden Will Call For More COVID Testing In A Refreshed Plan To Fight The Delta Variant

Posted September 9, 2021 at 7:35 AM EDT
President Biden wears a mask and carries a binder next to an American flag on Aug. 23.
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President Biden arrives to speak about COVID-19 vaccines at the White House on Aug. 23. Biden is giving an address tonight about his administration's plan to combat the surging delta variant.

President Biden plans to call for increased COVID-19 testing in a speech Thursday about combating the delta variant, a source familiar with the announcement tells NPR’s Tamara Keith. The testing is part of a six-part plan that Biden is expected to outline at 5 p.m. ET.

The areas of focus for the administration will be:

  • Vaccinating the unvaccinated
  • Furthering protection for people who are vaccinated
  • Keeping schools safely open
  • Increasing testing and requiring masks
  • Protecting the economy
  • Improving care for people with COVID-19

Biden’s handling of the pandemic has always been a strength in polling, but as cases and hospitalizations surge, his approval is dropping.

Some public health experts say the decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to drop masking requirements in May contributed to the current phase of the pandemic. NPR’s Rob Stein says the seemingly mixed messages on booster shots isn’t helping, either.

“People hope the administration’s new plan will help get the country back on track," Stein says. "But they're worried, especially because of the unrelenting resistance to masks from so many Republican governors and widespread misinformation about the vaccines.”