Start Your Day Here: U.S. Special Envoy To Haiti Resigns, Florida Heats Up Abortion Debate And More

Published September 23, 2021 at 8:06 AM EDT
A gray-haired man wearing a suit and glasses looks up over a microphone while seated.
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Daniel Foote testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 2016, when he was the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

Good morning,

Here are the top stories we're following today:

Daniel Foote resigns: The U.S. special envoy to Haiti told Secretary of State Antony Blinken he no longer wants to be associated with the "inhumane" deportation of Haitians.

FDA on boosters: The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots for people 65 and older and others at risk for severe COVID-19. If The CDC approves the details, the extra shots could start rolling out this week.

Abortion bill: A lawmaker in Florida has introduced abortion legislation with similar restrictions to the controversial Texas law, raising the stakes in the fight over abortion rights.

Volcanic threat: Lava has been flowing for days in the Canary Islands, forcing thousands to evacuate. Here's what it looks like.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, why some Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are being deported and others released.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Rachel Treisman, Carol Ritchie, Dana Farrington, Chris Hopkins and Manuela López Restrepo)

Joy

'Swab Dogs' Make COVID Tests Less Ruff

Posted September 23, 2021 at 11:03 AM EDT

The pandemic has introduced a whole host of emotional and logistical challenges into our lives, and some people are seizing every opportunity they can to provide a little joy.

And is there a more reliable source of joy than man's best friend? Enter, the swab dogs.

Tiffany White, who works at several COVID-19 testing sites across Melbourne, Australia, told the BBCearlier this year that she was seeing many people pulling up with dogs in their cars, and was inspired to post a photo of one particularly beautiful Kelpie.

"And then I went: I'm going to post all the dogs on Instagram," she said.

White created the "swabdogsofinsta" account in January and it's still going strong. It now has more than 1,000 posts and 16,000 followers.

Its grid is a heart-warming collection of canine copilots, showcasing dogs of all colors, sizes, breeds and facial expressions in their humans' cars. Some are curled up on the seat, many have their heads (and paws) hanging out a window, a few are dressed up for the occasion (including donning face masks), some are eager to help and others look ready to drive away.

And the account isn't exclusively limited to dogs. Look closely and you'll spot at least one bird, several cats, a chicken and a bunny rabbit.

White said furry friends can make the stressful testing experience easier — and even exciting — for some patients.

"Everybody wants everyone in the world to know that they have the best dog," she said. "And by the time they get out of our tent, they're following us and sharing it with their friends. And then when their friends come in they bring their dogs too."

They also give the testers a boost, White added. She told ABC Melbourne back in May that working long days in full PPE could be a "pretty thankless task," made considerably brighter by meeting peoples' pets.

Testers at sites across Melbourne have been taking pictures of the dogs they see, and White is soliciting even more.

"London, send me yours, Paris send me yours," she said on video. "Wherever you are, so that everywhere can see the slobbery dog faces that bring us joy in the midst of what is really horrible to be honest."

See the account for yourself here.

Weather

Mid-Atlantic Faces Risk Of Flooding As A Cold Front Moves Up The Coast

Posted September 23, 2021 at 10:36 AM EDT

Heavy rains are hitting the Mid-Atlantic today, prompting flash flood watches and risk of strong thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service.

The cold front is expected to move on to New England tomorrow.

Here’s how to stay safe in flash floods, courtesy of KUT in Austin:

  • Avoid driving on flooded roads — even a little water can turn deadly fast. 
  • Leave your house as soon as possible once water begins to cover electrical outlets or submerges cords to avoid electrocution. 
  • Plan safe flood evacuation routes ahead of storms.
  • Have a safety hammer in your car in case water prevents you from opening your windows or doors and you need to break out.

The intensity and frequency of extreme weather is picking up because of climate change. Follow NPR’s climate coverage here.

Big Tech

The European Union Wants A Universal Charger For Cell Phones And Other Devices

Posted September 23, 2021 at 9:58 AM EDT
An employee works on smartphones reconditioning, mainly Iphones, at the Largo company headquarters which is a Back Market refurbishing company subcontractor, in Sainte-Luce-sur-Loire, outside Nantes, on January 26, 2021.
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An employee works on smartphones reconditioning, mainly iPhones, at the Largo company headquarters which is a Back Market refurbishing company subcontractor, in Sainte-Luce-sur-Loire, outside Nantes, on Jan. 26.

If you live in the European Union, your days of futzing around with a handful of chargers to find one that fits your latest gadget may be numbered.

Under a proposal released Thursday by the E.U., there would be one universal charger for all cell phones and other handheld electronic devices — no matter whether you have an iPhone or Kindle or anything else.

"European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers," Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president of A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said in a statement.

"We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger," she added.

Apple has spoken out against the move. "We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world," the company said in a statement.

Under the proposal, USB-C would become the standard charging port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles.

The commission also wants to "unbundle" the sale of chargers with their electronic devices, in part to cut down on environmental waste and standardize charging speeds.

If the European Parliament and the European Council adopt the proposal, it would take full effect after a 24-month transition period to give the technology industry time to prepare for the change. Apple says it is concerned about the proposed length of the transition.

According to the EU, 38% of consumers reported struggling at least once to charge their cell phones because they couldn't find a compatible charger.

Haiti

U.S. Special Envoy For Haiti Resigns Over Decision To Deport Thousands At Border

Posted September 23, 2021 at 9:35 AM EDT
Daniel Foote testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 2016.
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Daniel Foote testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 2016.

U.S. Special Envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote has handed his resignation to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, saying he "will not be associated with the United States' inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti" from the U.S. border.

Foote said the U.S. policy approach to the country is deeply flawed, and that Haitians shouldn't be sent back to "a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life."

The letter's contents were confirmed to NPR's Michele Kelemen by a Democratic congressional aide who asked not to be identified further.

The Biden administration is facing wide criticism for enforcing a Trump-era order of expelling migrants without giving them a chance to seek asylum, citing public health concerns.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have slammed the U.S. response to the migrant surge, particularly after agents on horseback were seen chasing and grabbing people who were carrying food back to their families.

Housing

Rep. Cori Bush Discusses The Difficult Push For An Eviction Ban And Police Reform

Posted September 23, 2021 at 9:29 AM EDT
A Black woman stands in front of the U.S. Capitol with two men behind her, at a podium with the sign "Save Lives. Stop Evictions."
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Rep. Cori Bush (R-Mo.) speaks during a news conference to introduce legislation that would give the Department of Health and Human Services the power to impose a federal eviction moratorium in the interest of public health, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on evictions nearly a month ago, dealing a blow to the roughly 8 million Americans who are behind on their rent and could risk losing their homes.

Several Democratic lawmakers are now proposing a bill that would authorize the government to reinstate that ban. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who has been a vocal supporter of the moratorium, is leading that push.

She spoke with NPR's All Things Considered about two of her legislative priorities — housing and police reform — and the steep challenges they face. Listen to that conversation and read highlights below.

On the push for another nationwide eviction ban

As Bush explains it, the Supreme Court said the Department of Health and Human Services didn't have the legal authority to mandate protections like the eviction ban. The "Keeping Renters Safe Act" would clarify that the HHS secretary has permanent authority to implement an eviction moratorium during public health emergencies.

The country's public health emergency may arguably be in a new phase, with COVID-19 vaccines widely available and the economy showing signs of an uptick. But Bush says protections for renters remain as crucial as ever.

"Right now we have people every single day that are being forced out of their homes," she says. "So we're not just talking about someone just going up to go get a job. Are people stable enough to be able to have the child care that they need to be able to go back to work? There are many reasons why this is still an issue. And we have so many people who have the back rent that even if they start a job today, that doesn't mean that they'll be able to pay the thousands of dollars that they still need to pay back."

On police reform's future after months of bipartisan negotiations collapsed

Bush says she was "disgusted" to hear that talks had fallen apart, noting that her home of St. Louis has been No. 1 for years for killings by police.

"In order for us to be able to get to a place where we can save lives, we have to have some change," she adds. "And so the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — it may not have been everything that we wanted it to be, but we need to get something. We need to make sure that ending qualified immunity happens in our communities."

Qualified immunity — or legal protection from civil lawsuits for police officers — was one of the key issues on which lawmakers could not reach an agreement.

Bush makes clear she's not "coming against anybody who was at the table," noting that she herself was not. But she says adding people to that table could have changed the outcome.

"We've had many conversations with the White House," she says. "I look forward to being able to one day have a conversation with our president again."

Racial Justice

10 Black Female Officers Sue D.C. Police, Claiming Racial And Sexual Discrimination

Posted September 23, 2021 at 9:16 AM EDT
Two white police vans face away from each other, blocking off an empty street against a dark night sky.
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Police cars block a street near the Nationals Park stadium after a shooting in Washington, DC, on July 17, 2021.

Ten current and former members of the Washington, D.C. police force — all Black women — have filed a class-action lawsuit against the department, alleging racial discrimination, sexual harassment and a pattern of bullying and retaliation against those who complain about it.

The 208-page suit details multiple allegations, including racist remarks and unwanted sexual advances, the DCist reports.

The group of current and retired officers includes a current assistant chief of police, Chanel Dickerson, who is the highest-ranking plaintiff.

The suit asks for an overhaul of the department’s Equal Employment Office and $250,000 damages for each of the plaintiffs.

One plaintiff claims a fellow officer urinated in front of her inside a police van. Another plaintiff said a fellow officer tried to kiss her, then retaliated when she rejected his advance.

Plaintiff Tabitha Knight, who retired from the department early this year,spoke at a press conference about the suit on Wednesday.

"We were labeled as troublemakers, angry Black women, and I'm here to say that we are not angry Black women," Knight said. "We are tired women and no one should have to endure what we did."

The Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment to DCist on the allegations, but emailed a statement saying it was committed to treating members fairly and equitably.

“We take these allegations seriously and we will be reviewing them thoroughly and responding accordingly," it said.

At an unrelated press conference, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she could not comment on the suit, but added, "We will certainly take any claims very seriously and investigate any issues that we deem need to be investigated and take appropriate actions."

Climate

Boris Johnson Warns The World Is At A Turning Point Over Climate Change

Posted September 23, 2021 at 9:00 AM EDT

It's time for the global community to "grow up" and deal with the climate change crisis, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told United Nations representatives, urging nations to "listen to the warnings of the scientists," in remarks at odds with some of his past statements.

Speaking in New York on Wednesday, Johnson said that countries need to take responsibility for "the destruction we are inflicting, not just upon our planet, but ourselves."

"We still cling with parts of our minds to the infantile belief that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure," he told delegates at the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly. "And we combine this narcissism with an assumption of our own immortality."

"We believe that someone else will clear up the mess, because that is what someone else has always done," Johnson said.

He said that an upcoming U.N. climate change conference in Scotland in November would be a "turning point for humanity."

Along with climate change, Johnson pointed to COVID-19 as another "example of gloomy scientists being proved right."

But trumpeting the scientific consensus on climate change is a somewhat recent position for Johnson.

Since becoming prime minister two years ago, he has sounded a largely mainstream message on the issue, promising in April, for instance, to "build back greener" after the coronavirus pandemic. But in years previous, Johnson has supported conspiracy theorists who deny a link between human activity and climate change.

Immigration

How Haitian Migrants Are Getting To The U.S., And Where They May Go Next

Posted September 23, 2021 at 8:45 AM EDT
An aerial view of about a dozen people holding onto a yellow rope, crossing a blue river near the green banks.
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Haitian migrants cross the Rio Grande river to get food and water in Mexico, as seen from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila state, Mexico on Wednesday.

We've been following the story of thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, camping out under a bridge in a Texas border town. That crowd is looking a little smaller today.

U.S. border agents are allowing some into the country, with instructions to appear before an immigration office within 60 days. Others are being sent back to Haiti, or they're heading back over the border to Mexico — where NPR's Carrie Kahn brings us these updates. Listen to the full conversation here.

The numbers: Kahn says there appear to be between 5,000 and 6,000 migrants in the makeshift camp, but media is not allowed in to confirm. Hundreds of migrants have been released into the U.S. and are being bussed to other Texas cities, many heading to stay with relatives. The Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition says it's helped more than 1,000 people board buses north in the last three days.

Who gets to stay? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security isn't explaining how they're making that determination, but Kahn says it seems like families with children are the ones being allowed into the U.S.

What is Mexico doing? Mexican immigration officials have started removing people from their side of the border in Ciudad Acuña, conducting pre-dawn raids of hotels and parks. Authorities are sending migrants out of town to southern Mexico and as far away as Guatemala.

Why now? As NPR's Steve Inskeep points out, Haiti is in a tough spot dealing with the aftermath of a presidential assassination and natural disaster — but many of the migrants now at the border were not in Haiti for those events, making it all the more surprising that so many people abruptly showed up in the same area.

Kahn calls it "really quite a stunning logistical feat that all these migrants, mostly Haitians, suddenly traveled 1,500 miles from southern Mexico ... in dozens of busses and arrived here within days of each other." She notes that many are using social media to learn how to make their way there.

What are Haitians saying? Kahn spoke to 29-year-old Jean Baptiste as he boarded a bus headed for Houston (where his uncle lives) with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. He left Haiti in 2017 and, while his goal was to come to the U.S., he spent the last four years in Chile "barely eking out a living." He says he heard about Del Rio and decided to come — and that he's telling his friends now it's worth a try.

Europe

See The Dramatic Images As A Wall Of Lava Engulfs Homes On The Canary Islands

Posted September 23, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT
Lava from a volcano eruption flows on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, on Wednesday.
Emilio Morenatti/AP
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AP
Lava from a volcano eruption flows on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, on Wednesday.

A volcano on the Canary Islands, off the coast of Spain, has swallowed homes and forced thousands to evacuate since it began erupting on Sunday.

Smoke rises from cooling lava after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the Canary Island of La Palma on Tuesday.
Jose Maria Montesdeoca/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Smoke rises from cooling lava as it approaches homes on the Canary Island of La Palma on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that the lava has slowed significantly this morning, giving residents more time to pack up and prepare to leave. As it slowed, the lava flow rose to 50 feet in some places.

Lava and ash spew from the volcano Wednesday night
Europa Press News/Europa Press via Getty Images
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Europa Press
Lava and ash spew from the volcano Wednesday night.

There are questions over whether the slowing lava will continue to widen and bury more homes. Scientists are also unsure when the lava will reach the ocean, where it could trigger explosions and landslides and produce clouds of toxic gas.  

The lava now covers about 410 acres of the island of La Palma. It has destroyed about 350 homes and is already throwing out thousands of tons of sulfur a day, according to The Canary News.

The Canary News said that gases were responsible for the only reported death during the last eruption, in 1971. In that case, a fisherman inhaled toxic gases more than a mile from the site where the lava met the sea.

Rural agents help residents to collect their belongings from their home on Wednesday in Los Llanos de Aridane to flee to the volcano.
Desiree Martin/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Rural agents help residents to collect their belongings from their home on Wednesday in Los Llanos de Aridane to flee to the volcano.

Spain's tourism minister suggested on Monday that the eruption is a potential tourist attraction, sparking outrage among political opponents and warnings from local officials to stay away.

The Canary Island Volcanology Institute said the eruption and its aftermath could last almost three months, based on previous eruptions on the archipelago, the AP reported.

Police officers and municipal workers look as lava from a volcano eruption flows on the island of La Palma in the Canaries on Wednesday
Emilio Morenatti/AP
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AP
Police officers and municipal workers look as lava from a volcano eruption flows on the island of La Palma in the Canaries on Wednesday

Coronavirus

The FDA Authorizes Targeted COVID-19 Booster Shots. Here's Who's Eligible

Posted September 23, 2021 at 8:08 AM EDT

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people over 65 and others at risk of getting severe COVID-19.

People ages 18-64 would be eligible for the booster shot if they are at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 because of their job or institutional exposure to the virus. That could include health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and people in homeless shelters or prisons, according to the FDA's release on its booster authorization.

Advisers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are meeting for a second day today, and if the CDC signs off on the details of the boosters, shots could be rolled out in days.

Read more about the FDA’s decision here from NPR’s Scott Hensley.

Meanwhile, the FDA remains without a permanent leader, as Kaiser Health News reports. President Biden has yet to nominate a commissioner, flummoxing public health officials. Biden has to walk a tight line with any nominee given the split Senate, which would need to confirm the person.

Abortion

A Florida Lawmaker Has Introduced A Texas-Style Abortion Bill

Posted September 23, 2021 at 8:06 AM EDT
A wide building with a tall tower in the center is seen from below, against a blue and white sky.
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A view of the Florida state Capitol building in Tallahassee.

A Republican state lawmaker in Florida is proposing a bill that would ban most abortions as early as around 6 weeks, allow citizens to sue anyone who helps end a pregnancy and fine physicians $10,000 for each abortion they perform.

Republican state Rep. Webster Barnaby filed the proposal — called the "Florida Heartbeat Act" — on Wednesday. It would prevent physicians from performing abortions if there is a "detectable fetal heartbeat," effectively banning abortions after about six weeks into pregnancy, before many people even know they are pregnant.

Reproductive health experts have explained that the term "fetal heartbeat" is misleading and not actually based on science, as NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffins reports. At six weeks, the ultrasound machine is detecting electrical activity from cells that aren't yet a heart, and the "sound" is actually manufactured by the machine.

The word "fetus" itself isn't technically accurate until at least eight weeks into the pregnancy; rather "embryo" is the scientific term at that stage of development. Despite this, Barnaby's proposed bill would change all references to "fetus" to "unborn child" in the state's abortion legislation. (NPR's own language guidance notes that "incorrectly calling a fetus a 'baby' or 'the unborn' is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion.")

The proposed bill would require physicians to test for "fetal heartbeats," and says they can not "knowingly perform or induce an abortion" if one is detected.

The measure is drawing comparisons to the restrictive abortion law recently passed in Texas, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block. Texas' ban is among the most restrictive in the nation, and has sowed fears that other states will follow suit.

"This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear. If it prevails, it may become a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents," said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland when announcing a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Texas earlier this month.

At the time, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled he might support similar legislation in his own state, telling reporters that he wanted to pass stronger laws against abortion but needed more information about the Texas law.

When asked about his bill at the State Capitol on Wednesday, Barnaby said he had "no comments at this time." In the meantime, Florida Democrats are slamming his proposal.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani issued a statement calling it "a gross excuse of a bill," saying it "attacks women and birthing people who are seeking an abortion" and "attempts to mimic Texas" by creating a process for civil action against those that help people obtain abortions.

"Abortion is healthcare, abortion is a private medical decision, abortion is personal — and there should be no politicians getting involved between a person and their doctor," she wrote. "I'll add that this is an economic issue too: we are already seeing businesses in Texas consider relocating and/or allow their staff relocate to states that are more welcoming towards reproductive health. We can't attract a talented, diverse workforce when we attack their rights."

Nikki Fried, Florida's commissioner of agriculture and Democratic candidate for governor, said in a fundraising pitch that in addition to banning abortions before most people know they're pregnant, the proposal "turns Floridians against one another by asking citizens to enforce this extreme law."