Start your day here: Democracy under pressure; Instagram gets grilled; the vaccine and religious beliefs

Published December 9, 2021 at 8:13 AM EST
President Biden speaks to participants in the Summit for Democracy from a soundstage that the White House has set up for such virtual events.
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President Biden speaks to participants in the Summit for Democracy from a soundstage that the White House has set up for such virtual events.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Democracy summit: President Biden is virtually hosting representatives from more than 100 democracies worldwide. The White House is framing the summit as a chance to counter a rising tide of authoritarianism and focus on the most pressing global issue of our time.

Senators don't trust Instagram: At a hearing on Capitol Hill over Instagram's protections for young people, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who chairs the Senate's consumer protection subcommittee, told Instagram chief Adam Mosseri that "the time for big-tech self-regulation is over."

Vaccines and religion: Only 10 percent of Americans believe the COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with their religious beliefs. Plus, a majority of Americans, 60 percent, also say there is no valid religious reason to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, a new poll finds major warning signs for Biden and fellow Democrats.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Rachel Treisman, Carol Ritchie, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)


Mark Meadows is suing the Jan. 6 committee as it moves to hold him in contempt

Posted December 9, 2021 at 12:27 PM EST
A man wearing a black suit, red tie and black face mask stands next to a marble wall.
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Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pictured in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in 2020.

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is suing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House panel probing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The 43-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on Wednesday, asks a judge to block enforcement of the two subpoenas the committee had issued for himself and his telecom provider Verizon, calling them "overly broad and unduly burdensome" and saying the committee "lacks lawful authority" to obtain such information.

As NPR has reported, Meadows was one of the first Trump administration officials to be subpoenaed back in late September, though his deposition was delayed as he engaged with the committee.

Last week, he said he would provide documents and appear in front of the committee for an initial deposition. But he abruptly reversed course on Tuesday, a day before the scheduled deposition, saying he would no longer cooperate with the investigation.

His lawyer cited concerns about executive privilege, which former President Trump and his associates say should protect them from disclosing confidential communications — even though President Bidenwaived executive privilege claims in Meadows' case.

President Trump sued the committee in October to block the National Archives from releasing presidential records related to Jan. 6, and that case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit.

Meadows' lawsuit points to those conflicting claims:

"Mr. Meadows, a witness, has been put in the untenable position of choosing between conflicting privilege claims that are of constitutional origin and dimension and having to either risk enforcement of the subpoena issued to him, not merely by the House of Representatives, but through actions by the Executive and Judicial Branches, or, alternatively, unilaterally abandoning the former president's claims of privileges and immunities," it reads.

Separately, the committee says it has several questions about records that Meadows handed over to the committee with no claim of privilege (including about real-time communications with individuals as the events of Jan. 6 unfolded).

House Select Committee Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a statement that if Meadows failed to appear at Wednesday's deposition, it would have no option other than "to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution."

The committee doubled down in a statement on Wednesday night:

“Mr. Meadows’s flawed lawsuit won’t succeed at slowing down the Select Committee’s investigation or stopping us from getting the information we’re seeking," it wrote. "The Select Committee will meet next week to advance a report recommending that the House cite Mr. Meadows for contempt of Congress and refer him to the Department of Justice for prosecution.”

The committee has made two contempt referrals so far, for former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who was indicted last month on two counts of contempt of Congress. He has pleaded not guilty.

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The FDA has authorized Pfizer-BioNTech boosters for 16- and 17-year-olds

Posted December 9, 2021 at 11:49 AM EST
An overhead view of someone wearing blue gloves holding a bean-shaped tray of syringes.
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Prepared doses of Pfizer Covid-19 booster vaccines are pictured at a temporary vaccination centre set up inside St John's Church in west London on December 4, 2021.

The Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to cover the use of a single booster dose for people 16 and 17 years of age.

They would be eligible at least six months after completion of the initial two-shot vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“Vaccination and getting a booster when eligible, along with other preventive measures like masking and avoiding large crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, remain our most effective methods for fighting COVID-19,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in announcing the expansion. “As people gather indoors with family and friends for the holidays, we can’t let up on all the preventive public health measures that we have been taking during the pandemic. With both the delta and omicron variants continuing to spread, vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19.”

Pfizer asked the FDA to expand boosters for this age group at the end of November, saying it wanted to provide as much protection for as many people as possible especially given the emergence of the highly transmissable omicron variant.

In October, Pfizer and BioNTech announced the resultsof a randomized study of 10,000 people 16 years of age and older that the company says showed a booster dose "restored vaccine protection against COVID-19 to the high levels achieved after the second dose."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still has to review expansion of the booster for this age group and make a formal recommendation on its use.


Michigan shooting victim’s family files $100 million lawsuits against school

Posted December 9, 2021 at 11:46 AM EST
A makeshift memorial sits outside of Oxford High School on Dec. 1 in Oxford, Mich.
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A makeshift memorial sits outside of Oxford High School on Dec. 1 in Oxford, Mich.

The family of Riley Franz, a student who was shot in the neck at Oxford High School last week, is suing the school district and school officials in Oxford, Mich., saying they failed to prevent the mass shooting that killed four students and injured seven people, despite multiple warnings and signs for concern.

A federal lawsuit for $100 million, filed on Thursday by attorney Geoffrey Fieger, accuses school officials of dismissing violent threats -- in the hours and days immediately before Ethan Crumbley’s shooting rampage, but also two weeks earlier, when students and parents raised their concerns.

In addition to the federal lawsuit, Fieger said on Thursday that he's preparing to file a similar suit in state court. By naming a high price in the suit, he said, his goal is “to compel people to do something” to prevent school shootings, saying that a sense of moral responsibility has not prevailed in the years since the 1999 Columbine shooting in Colorado. Fieger also represented a family in that school shooting.

Riley Franz, 17, is a senior at the high school. Her sister Bella, 14, is a freshman. The lawsuit says the two were together when Riley and other students were shot. In the days since, both girls have suffered from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with physical and/or emotional injuries, the suit states.

In the lawsuit’s timeline, school officials were alerted to the potential for violence in the middle of November, when “multiple concerned parents provided communications” to Oxford Principal Steven Wolf about threats to students on social media.

“I know it’s been investigated but my kid doesn’t feel safe at school," one parent told Wolf on Nov. 16, according to the suit. "He didn’t even want to go back to school today."

Replying to parents on the same day, the lawsuit says, Wolf wrote, "I know I'm being redundant here, but there is absolutely no threat at the HS... large assumptions were made from a few social media posts, then the assumptions evolved into exaggerated rumors."

After those exchanges, district superintendent Timothy Throne used a loudspeaker at Oxford High School to deliver a message to students in which he warned them “to stop spreading information over social media and to stop relying on information on social media, reiterating that there were no threats that posed any danger to students at Oxford High School,” the suit states.

Days before the Nov. 30 attack, Crumbley “acted in such a way that would lead a reasonable observer to know and/or believe that he was planning to cause great bodily harm,” the lawsuit states. It accuses school officials of increasing the danger to students, from allowing Crumbley to stay at the school to repeatedly failing to inform the school safety liaison officer about Crumbley’s behavior and excluding him from a meeting with Crumbley’s parents.

In the days leading up to the shooting, the suit says, Crumbley “posted countdowns and threats of bodily harm, including death, on his social media accounts, warning of violent tendencies and murderous ideology prior to actually coming to school with the handgun and ammunition to perpetuate the slaughter.”

The night before the shooting, for instance, Crumbley said on Twitter, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow Oxford.”

The suit also notes, “Ethan Crumbley’s Instagram and other social media accounts were not set to private and were available to the public,” adding that his mother’s post about her son’s new gun was also public.

Defendants in the suit include Throne and Wolf. It also targets two teachers, two counselors and a staff member, although it does not identify them by name. Saying that their “conduct was outrageous and shocks the conscience,” the suit argues that the officials should not be protected by governmental or qualified immunity


It's sweater weather season for a giant animatronic T.rex

Posted December 9, 2021 at 11:29 AM EST

Scientists now have evidence T.rexes look good in holiday turtlenecks.

Although it should be noted, the research had a very limited sample size of one.

The stylish Tyrannosaurus rex involved is a replica animatronic dinosaur at the Natural History Museum of London, which was recently decked out in a custom-made holiday sweater.

The museum posted a video on YouTube explaining how teams got the outfit onto the almost life-size T.rex.

The theropod's sweater was created by the company British Christmas Jumpers and was made entirely out of recycled materials.

The sweater features images of T.rexes and other dinosaurs and had to be custom knit for the museum's T.rex, possibly because human arm proportions don't correlate well to T.rex arms.

The museum offers in its online store a matching sweater in human child size.

Tyrannosaurus rexes lived during the Late Cretaceous period about 90 to 66 million years ago. Although the climate was warmer than today and the poles had no continental ice sheets, snow still fell in some areas of the world.

The "Ty-santa-saurus rex,: as the museum called it on Twitter, is available for viewing in the museum's dinosaurs gallery until Christmas Eve.


Bob Dole lies in state at the Capitol; Biden and others pay tribute

Posted December 9, 2021 at 11:15 AM EST
Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole touches her husband's casket as former Sen. Bob Dole lies in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole touches her husband's casket as former Sen. Bob Dole lies in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Former Senator and Congressman Robert Dole is lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, in the building where he served more than three decades as a lawmaker from Kansas. At a ceremony this morning, President Biden, who served with Dole for 25 years in the Senate, remembered his former colleague as a great friend, and as “a giant of our history,” and a hero of democracy.

Dole died Dec.5 at age 98.

With his widow, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, and his daughter Robin looking on, Biden praised Dole for putting principle over party, saying the only way forward for democracy is through unity and consensus. “May we follow his wisdom and his timeless truth,” Biden said.

President Biden delivers remarks as the casket of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole lies in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
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President Biden delivers remarks as the casket of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole lies in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Congressional leaders also praised Dole. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell called him the last of the greatest generation to run for President, something he did, unsuccessfully, three times. He said Dole, severely wounded in World War II, “spent decades carrying fellow veterans and Americans with disabilities on his shoulders.”

Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer called Dole “a champion of those whose lives were marked by struggle.”

Dole will lie in state through the day. A funeral service for him takes place Friday at the Washington National Cathedral. There will also be a ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, and then Dole’s remains will be flown to his home state of Kansas for ceremonies there.

Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole rests her head on her husband's casket.
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Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole rests her head on her husband's casket.


A Capitol Hill staffer was arrested for bringing a gun to work in his bag

Posted December 9, 2021 at 10:58 AM EST
The metal detectors at the doors of the House of Representatives.
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The metal detectors at the doors of the House of Representatives.

A Capitol Hill staffer was arrested Thursday for showing up to work with a gun in his bag.

U.S. Capitol Police says it is charging 57-year-old Jeffrey Allsbrooks with carrying a pistol without a license after officers in the Longworth Building spotted the image of a handgun in a bag on the x-ray screen at around 7:40 a.m. ET.

Four minutes later, officers tracked Allsbrooks down and arrested him. He told them he forgot the gun was in the bag, according to police.

The case remains under investigation, and the department says it is looking into "what happened before, during and after those four minutes."

Police said Allsbrooks is a staffer with the House Chief Administrative Office. The office describes itself as a non-partisan, non-legislative office of about 700 employees that provide support services and business solutions to House members and staff.

This is the latest in a series of recent security breaches near the Capitol, where scrutiny on security protocol has been heightened following the Jan. 6 insurrection. In August, a man claiming to have a bombparked his pickup truck outside the Library of Congress, and police arrested a man with a bayonet and machete outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in September.


After getting an affordable degree in Europe, this American encourages others to take the leap

Posted December 9, 2021 at 10:35 AM EST

In 2015, Liza Miezejeski was a Connecticut high school student listening to the radio when she heard a story that changed the course of her education.

Now, at 22, she’s finishing a master’s degree in Brussels and set to graduate debt-free — unlike many of her American friends who stayed in the U.S.

The story she heard in 2015 was an NPRMorning Editionreport on a growing number of Americans looking to go to European universities in search of cheaper degrees, as she explained in a viral TikTok video.

"Once it came to high school and everybody was looking at university, I didn't have that same excitement, I think, as most people for university until I heard this interview,” Miezejeski recalled. “And I was like, ‘Wow, that is totally something that I would do.’"

Miezejeski considered schools in America. She almost chose a Maryland university because it offered study abroad every semester if she wanted, but she realized an international program might be the better option.

Miezejeski did worry about missing out on some traditional U.S. college experiences, such as frat parties and football games.

“I've kind of been doing that in high school anyway. And it's not that different, as much fun as it sounds,” Miezejeski said. “[In Europe] I could also get an education that's affordable and unique and will make me stand out, and will give me an experience that, for me, was just way beyond what I would get in the U.S."

Using a program called Beyond the States, Miezejeski moved to Prague to study humanities, society and culture before working towards her master’s degree in Brussels.

Miezejeski has become an online advocate for international education. She started blogging about her experience for students interested in studying abroad. Her biggest piece of advice for high school and college students: “Do lots of research and take the leap.”

"You're moving to a country and you don't know everything about [it], or maybe don't know the language, but there are English-taught programs all over the world,” Miezejeski said. “So, if you choose a country that you're, like, ‘This is where I want to live,’ or if you choose a school that you're, like, ‘This is the program,’ just do as much research as you can and early on."


After two failed attempts, Canada bans conversion therapy

Posted December 9, 2021 at 10:13 AM EST
Two rows of people walk on the street carrying a large rainbow-striped flag above their heads.
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People carry a rainbow flag at the WorldPride 2014 Parade in Toronto, Canada on June 29, 2014.

Canada has formally banned conversion therapy, the widely discredited practice aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Legislation that makes it illegal to provide, promote and profit off conversion therapy was officially approved on Wednesday and will take effect in 30 days, on Jan. 7.

"It's official: Our government’s legislation banning the despicable and degrading practice of conversion therapy has received Royal Assent - meaning it is now law," tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "LGBTQ2 Canadians, we’ll always stand up for you and your rights."

(The Canadian government utilizes the acronym "LGBTQ2" to include Two-Spirit, a term that some Indigenous people use to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.)

The bill defines conversion therapy as any practice, treatment or service designed to change or repress a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Those techniques can range from talk and behavioral therapy to medical treatments, and have been discredited by major medical associations in many countries (including the U.S.) as well as the United Nations, World Health Organization, Amnesty International and other groups. Critics say the practice causes harm to its victims and is based on the false premise that sexual orientation and gender identity can or should be "cured."

As many as one in 10gay, bi, trans and queer men and Two-Spirit and nonbinary people in Canada have experienced conversion therapy, according to recent findings of a study by the Community-Based Research Centre. Among them, 72% started before the age of 20. Lower-income, Indigenous and other marginalized groups are disproportionately represented, according to Canada's Justice Department.

The Justice Department notes that some jurisdictions, like Ontario and Québec, have enacted legislation addressing different aspects of conversion therapy, while certain municipalities have banned the practice and promotion within their city limits.

This was Canada's third attempt at banning the practice nationally, with the Toronto Star noting that the bill went farther than previous versions by making it a crime to have anyone to undergo conversion therapy, regardless of whether they consent. This time, the bill was unanimously approved in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

"The consensus demonstrated by Parliamentarians in Canada is a part of an emerging global consensus surrounding the real and life - long harms for conversion therapy victims and survivors," Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement cheering the bill's passage. "In fact, with these changes to the Criminal Code, Canada’s criminal laws on conversion therapy are among the most comprehensive in the world."

The text of the bill says it harms society because "it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions."

It makes it a criminal offense to cause someone to undergo conversion therapy, promote or advertise the practice, receive financial or other material benefits from providing it and do anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention of making them undergo conversion therapy in another country.

It also authorizes courts to order the removal of advertisements for conversion therapy .

"This legislation represents an important milestone in the Government’s commitment to protecting the dignity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit communities, by criminalizing a shameful, unscientific, and destructive practice," Lametti said, adding that more work must be done to protect LGBTQ2 people.

Many politicians and LGBTQ2 rights advocates are applauding the bill's passage, and crediting the activists who shared their personal stories with making it possible.

"It's hard to describe how significant this is to so many survivors, but beyond the LGBTQ2+ community, all Canadians should be proud of this historic moment of nonpartisanship to do the right thing," tweeted Nick Schiavo, one of those activists. "This matters. This sends a clear message. This is Canada at its best."

There's been a growing push to ban conversion therapy around the world.

In the U.S., 20 states and some 100 municipalities have banned the practice, according to a tracker from the National Center for Lesbian Rights' Born Perfect campaign.

Three European countries have outlawed conversion therapy: Malta, Germany and Albania. And there could soon be a fourth, as France's Senate voted to criminalize it this week.


A record number of journalists were jailed in 2021, press freedom group says

Posted December 9, 2021 at 9:44 AM EST
The director of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, second from left, poses with a photo of detained Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich while other activists pose with photos of other detained Belarus journalists in May. Protasevich is one of the detained journalists named in the Committee to Protect Journalists report.
Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images
The director of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, second from left, poses with a photo of detained Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich while other activists pose with photos of other detained Belarus journalists in May. Protasevich is one of the detained journalists named in the Committee to Protect Journalists report.

More journalists were jailed in 2021 than in any other year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In the group’s new year-end review, China again tops the list of countries that put the most journalists in jail, with 50.

Worldwide, 293 journalists were jailed this year and 24 were killed because of the work they were doing, CPJ Editorial Director Arlene Getz wrote. Another 18 journalists died in situations where it wasn’t clear if they were intentionally targeted.

After China, the countries that jailed the most journalists are Myanmar, Egypt, Vietnam, and Belarus.

It’s the sixth year in a row that the CPJ’s global census found more than 250 journalists were jailed. It’s important to note that the list is a snapshot taken in December of each year —- it’s not a compendium of all arrests or brief detentions over 12 months. Some of the journalists are serving years-long jail terms; others face life sentences.

The circumstances around the detentions vary by country. Myanmar arrested more than two dozen journalists and forced more to flee after a military coup, for instance. And China has cracked down on press freedoms and free speech around a range of issues, from its handling of COVID-19 to Hong Kong’s fight for democratic rights and the central government’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

Getz warns that she sees a concerning trend: “a growing intolerance of independent reporting,” particularly by autocrats who are willing to breach international norms.

“In a world preoccupied with COVID-19 and trying to prioritize issues like climate change,” she wrote, “repressive governments are clearly aware that public outrage at human rights abuses is blunted and democratic governments have less appetite for political or economic retaliation.”

The CPJ says press freedoms are suffering a large setback in Ethiopia, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has made the country “the second-worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, after Eritrea.”

The year-end report also highlights Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenko, whose regime forced a commercial Ryanair jet that was flying from Greece to Lithuania to instead land in Belarus — so authorities could arrest journalist Roman Protasevich. The CPJ notes that Protasevich is not alone, with at least 19 journalists behind bars in Belarus.

The review also singles out two U.S. allies.

“India has the highest number of journalists – four – confirmed to have been murdered in retaliation for their work,” the CPJ said. “A fifth was killed while covering a protest.”

The group says three journalists were also killed in Mexico over their reporting. Another six killings in the country are still under investigation to learn whether the journalists died due to retaliation for their work.

“No journalists were jailed in North America at the time of the census deadline,” the CPJ said. “However, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a partner of CPJ,recorded 56 arrests and detentions of journalists across the U.S. during 2021. Eighty-six percent occurred during protests.”

The report notes that many authoritarian regimes are using technology to control information, from internet shutdowns to sophisticated spyware that in some cases was originally hailed as a new tool for fighting crime.


A father and son have been arrested in connection with California's massive Caldor Fire

Posted December 9, 2021 at 9:15 AM EST
A plume of orange fire rises above the black silhouette of pine trees against a red sky.
Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images
Flames and embers tower into the sky as firefighters work to protect homes from the Caldor fire in Twin Bridges, California on August 29.

A father and son have been arrested on suspicion of starting the Caldor Fire, which burned hundreds of thousands of acres in Northern California over the course of more than two months this fall.

David Scott Smith, 66, and Travis Shane Smith, 32, are accused of "reckless arson" but have not yet been formally charged with a crime, the El Dorado County District Attorney's office announced on Wednesday. They are being held in the El Dorado County Jail with bail set at $1 million each.

The DA's office did not elaborate on how the fire was started, but said the men's alleged actions "caused inhabited properties to burn and resulted in great bodily injury to multiple victims."

The Smiths' attorney, Mark Reichel, told NPR by phone that they "have no idea what the DA's theory is whatsoever on how or why they started the fire," which began in mid-August. He emphasized that no one is accusing the men of acting intentionally, with the DA saying it was accidental but in a reckless manner — and refusing to elaborate even as the family is getting threats online.

He said the men were out in the Eldorado National Forest "enjoying the area like everyone else" when they spotted the blaze and reported it to 911, calling in multiple times because their calls kept dropping. They retained his services later that month after being asked what Reichel described as "probing questions" by the U.S. Forest Service and DA's office.

Reichel said once charges are formally filed there will be an arraignment, likely tomorrow. He anticipates that his clients will be charged with felonies and that it will be a "very serious charge."

"It doesn’t matter whether it’s a serious charge or a minor charge, we’re going to fight it 100 percent," he said.

The Caldor Fire was the 15th-largestwildfire recorded in California's history.

It burned 221,835 acres across El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties between Aug. 14 and Oct. 21, according to Cal Fire. By the time it was contained it had destroyed than 1,000 structures, damaged 81, injured at least five people and forced some 50,000 people to evacuate from the Lake Tahoe area.

Here's more from CapRadio on how climate change is making "megafires" like Caldor worse.


Senators send a message to Instagram: Our kids aren't cash cows

Posted December 9, 2021 at 8:53 AM EST
Mosseri testifies in front of a microphone. He sits at a table and orders papers as press look on.
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Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testifies during a Senate hearing Wednesday.

Does Instagram do enough to protect kids and teens?

That question was at the root of a Senate hearing yesterday looking into the app's effects on children and young teens and exploring potential reforms. It was one of a series of hearings in recent months as Congress tries to agree on regulations for Big Tech.

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri defended the company, pointing to existing safeguards and plans to roll out more tools soon, such as automatic reminders to step away from the app and new parental controls.

But some senators weren't convinced as they pushed for commitments from the company to make the platform safer for young users.

"I think that we are in diametrically opposed goals, the goals of parents out there and the goals of your company. Our kids aren't cash cows," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Senators leveled their complaints at Instagram and its parent company, Meta, formerly Facebook, during the hearing held by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security.

On Twitter, Sen. Richard Blumenthal,who chairs the subcommittee, warned the days of Big Tech's powerful self-regulation would soon be gone.

"Companies like Instagram said ‘trust us,’ but that trust is gone. We're here to do more than shake fists. The resounding bipartisan message from this subcommittee is: legislation is coming. It’s what parents & our kids are demanding," he wrote on Twitter.

But for that to happen, Congress will have to agree. And as NPR's NPR's Vanessa Romo reports, even with bipartisan frustrations, it has been a challenge to form a consensus on what limits to impose.

In October, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, provided whistleblower testimony to Congress alleging Facebook harms kids and undermines democracy in the name of profits, and that the company's executives hide research about the social network's risks to keep their business growing.

NPR's Shannon Bond joined Morning Edition to cover what else was discussed at the hearing. Listen here.

Mosseri testified that the research showing Instagram exacerbated body image issues was more nuanced than it had been portrayed and pushed back on the idea that Instagram is bad for kids, Bond reports.

His solution would be for Instagram and other tech companies to come together and propose safety standards themselves.

Meta pays NPR to license NPR content.


Just 1 in 10 Americans say the COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with religious beliefs

Posted December 9, 2021 at 8:17 AM EST
Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears, pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church in Washington, gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during a gathering of a group of interfaith clergy members, community leaders and officials at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. in March.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears, pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church in Washington, gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during a gathering of a group of interfaith clergy members, community leaders and officials at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. in March.

Only 10% of Americans believe that getting COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with their religious beliefs, and 59% of Americans say too many people are using religious beliefs as an excuse not to get vaccinated, a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) shows.

A majority of Americans, 60%, also say there is no valid religious reason to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine – but the number changes when it comes to white evangelicals. While a majority of every other major religious group says their faith doesn’t include a valid reason to refuse the vaccine, just 41% of white evangelicals believe the same.

The findings in the survey – the largest one that tracks the intersection of the pandemic and religious beliefs -- could be crucial to understanding ways to get more people in the U.S. vaccinated, especially as vaccines become more available to children. PRRI CEO and founder Robert Jones says the results show that many Americans believe religious liberty is not an “absolute” and there should be a balance when it comes to the health of communities.

The survey also shows that it is quite effective when religious leaders speak up about vaccines. More than 50% of those who said they attend religious services regularly also said that a faith-based approach encouraged them to get vaccinated.

“When pastors encourage vaccination and mosques hold vaccine clinics, more people get vaccinated. Faith-based groups remain ready to play our role, but we need partners,” IFYC president and founder Eboo Patel said.


Biden's two-day, 100-country democracy summit kicks off this morning

Posted December 9, 2021 at 8:04 AM EST
President Biden walks off a helicopter  with an American flag on the side.
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President Biden walks off Marine One on the South Lawn after returning to the White House last Thursday.

President Biden is hosting representatives from more than 100 of the world's democracies at a summit in solidarity against a rising tide of authoritarianism.

The White House is framing the summit as a chance to focus on the most pressing global issue of our time. Indeed, democratic practices are under pressure in countries around the world, and the U.S. witnessed an effort to overturn the results of our last presidential election almost a year ago.

The two-day event, which begins this morning, will be held virtually because of the pandemic. And, like many Zooms, this gathering is unlikely to have the breakout conversations, energy and impact Biden had hoped. Read more about it here.

NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez spoke to Morning Edition about what to know and expect heading into the summit:

Why now?

Part of the reason is to fulfill a campaign promise, as Biden previously committed to holding a democracy summit in his first year in office.

"There is some symbolism here," Ordoñez says. "It's a chance to plant a flag and declare that this is an important issue."

But there's more to it than that.

Ordoñez notes that the president talks "all the time" about democracy being under attack, and believes the world is at an inflection point in a global struggle between democracy and autocracy. He has long argued that that the U.S. and other countries need to show they have a better model than places like China and Russia.

Who's invited, and who isn't?

Not China and Russia (though the president has spent a lot of time this week dealing with the buildup of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine). And Ordoñez says the summit is clearly getting under their skin.

He also notes that the ambassadors of China and Russia to the U.S. wrote an op-ed blasting the summit as being undemocratic, arguing it represents a Cold War mentality and will widen ideological rifts in the world.

Taiwan is also on the guest list. Ordoñez says that's a big deal because of the impact it could have on U.S. relations with China, which views Taiwan as part of its territory.

Another notable — and surprising — inclusion is Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. An administration official told reporters that "democracy is about more than just a single leader or a single party or a single moment in time" but rather "entire societies."

What's on the agenda?

Ordoñez says the focus is rather broad, though senior officials tell him the summit will have three themes: strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights.

The White House says it's expecting world leaders to use this summit to announce new commitments in these areas.

"These are all noble and ambitious things of course, but really, much of this can be written in a statement without taking much concrete action," Ordoñez notes.

And given the U.S.' own struggles, Ordoñez adds, officials say that Biden won't shy away from talking about issues like election integrity and voting rights protections.