Israeli Warplanes Strike Tunnels In Gaza, Some Unions Criticize CDC Mask Guidance, New NPR Poll On Policing And Race

Published May 17, 2021 at 8:26 AM EDT
An excavator clears the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City's Rimal residential district on May 16, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave. - Israeli strikes killed 40 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the worst reported daily death toll yet in the almost week-long clashes, as the UN Security Council prepared to meet amid global alarm at the escalating conflict. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
AFP via Getty Images
An excavator clears the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City's Rimal residential district on May 16, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave.

  • Israeli warplanes overnight attacked underground tunnels that they say Hamas uses to move its fighters and rockets in Gaza. Palestinian officials say the violence which has now entered a second week has killed 197 people. Israel says that eight Israelis are dead. Here's the latest.
  • More Americans started to bare their faces over the weekend after the CDC issued guidance that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most settings. The head of the union that represents frontline grocery and retail store workers is criticizing the decision, saying they don’t want to be policing the situation.
  • Exclusive: A new NPR poll details the starkly different views of Black and White Americans on race and policing. The findings underscore the sharp differences Americans have when it comes to policing.

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

Before You Go...
Check Out This Art

Meanwhile, A Good Kind Of Trolling

Posted May 17, 2021 at 10:46 AM EDT

That's all for today, but we'll leave you with this.

Dozens of ginormous troll sculptures made out of scrap wood have taken up residence in mountains, forests and parks around the world.

They've been seen in Belgium, China and the U.S. just to mention a few. It's all courtesy of artist Thomas Dambo.

This one in Breckenridge, Colorado, became such an attraction that the town council voted to take it down, after residents complained of too many tourists.

That decision prompted Dambo and his friends to write a mournful reggae song. The troll, named Isak Heartstone, was later rebuilt and reinstalled on a brand new trail.

Five more are coming to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this summer.

Isak Heartstone, a troll made of scrap wood, overlooking trees, mountains and a pink sunset from his rocky foreground perch in Breckenridge, Colo.
Isak Heartstone, a troll in Breckenridge, Colo., was ultimately a victim of his own success — the Breckenridge Town Council voted to dismantle him after locals got fed up with the thousands of tourists coming for troll selfies.


'A Monstrous Conglomerate': AT&T Plans To Merge With Discovery

Posted May 17, 2021 at 10:29 AM EDT

AT&T, which controls Warner Media, has just announced plans to merge its media assets with those of Discovery to create a standalone company. The $43 billion deal is anticipated to close in the middle of next year, subject to regulatory approval.

That means brands like HBO, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, Animal Planet, HGTV and Food Network will all be in one place (a "monstrous conglomerate," in Steve Inskeep's words).

The newly formed company will be led by David Zaslav, the president and CEO of Discovery. AT&T shareholders will hold 79% while Discovery shareholders will hold 21%.

As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik explains, it's a sign that AT&T is moving away from the media business rather than diving deeper into it.

Israeli-Palestinian Violence

United Nations Official Demands Immediate Ceasefire

Posted May 17, 2021 at 10:15 AM EDT

A top official from the United Nations agency tasked with helping Palestinian refugees tells NPR's Morning Edition that there must be an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is extremely alarming,” UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “What people on the ground express is a sense of terror and a nightmare that does not end.”

“Our teams on the ground are now struggling to provide clean drinking water and make sure that hospitals are able to operate because they have been targeted indirectly as a part of ongoing hostilities,” she said.

UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth during a recent visit to Damascus
Noorhan Abdulhafeez
UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth during a recent visit to Damascus

Stenseth said that both sides need to stop the fighting “immediately,” and work toward a political solution that not only ends this violence but sets the stage for a longer-term solution.

“Palestinian and Israeli civilians continue to suffer from a repeated cycle of violence and conflict, and this will only stop with a political resolution to the conflict,” Stenseth said.

You can listen to Steve Inskeep’s full interview with Leni Stenseth here.

NPR Poll

Americans' Views On Race And Policing By The Numbers

Posted May 17, 2021 at 10:03 AM EDT
Shannon Haynes talks to her son Ronald Haynes, 9, about George Floyd in front of a memorial following the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Nathan Howard/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Three-quarters of American adults agree with the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released nearly a year after Floyd's killing.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll — released a week ahead of the anniversary of George Floyd's murder — shows the differing perspectives and experiences of Black and white Americans when it comes to race, discrimination and policing. It reveals considerable gaps along partisan and racial lines but also offers a dose of optimism.

Get the full story here or read on for highlights.

  • Racial discrimination: 15% of white Americans and 39% of Latinos said they have experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly based on their race, compared to 61% of Black Americans.
  • Policing: White Americans, Latinos and Republicans had much more confidence than Black Americans in the ability of police to gain the trust of residents in their communities. Some 61% of Black Americans, and just a quarter of whites, said they think local police treat people of color more harshly than white people.
  • Chauvin verdict: Three-quarters of Americans agree with the unanimous jury verdict that found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of Floyd's murder, though roughly half of Republicans and Trump supporters either disagree or are unsure.
  • Police reform: Two-thirds of respondents are in favor of reforming police use-of-force policies, though there is a sharp divide among party lines. Still, about 9 in 10 people support police wearing body cameras.
  • Optimism: Nearly 6 in 10 respondents said they are hopeful that race relations for future generations will be better than they are now.
Podcast Prodigies

Meet The Middle School Winners of This Year's Student Podcast Challenge

Posted May 17, 2021 at 9:51 AM EDT
Sayre School seventh graders Braeden Collett (left), Bo Porter, Brennan Williams and Dominique Jannat at Sayre School on May 5, 2021 in Lexington, Ky.
Arden Barnes
Sayre School seventh graders Braeden Collett (left), Bo Porter, Brennan Williams and Dominique Jannat at Sayre School on May 5, 2021 in Lexington, Ky.

This year's Student Podcast Challenge received more than 2,600 entries from students across the country, with judges selecting about a dozen finalists for each category. Today, we find out who took the top prizes.

The winners in the middle school category are a team of seventh graders from the Sayre School in Lexington, Kentucky. Their sound-rich podcast, titled "WhoDunnit?," celebrates the unsung maintenance crew that keeps their K-12 school running. Here's the backstory.

Braeden Collett, Brennan Williams, Bo Porter and Dominique Jann explore all of the tasks that the buildings and ground staff take care of behind the scenes, showing the ways in which they are simultaneously "fixers, protectors ... and teachers."

They even surveyed their classmates for their guesses as to how many people it takes to keep the campus in tip-top shape, and answers ranged from 15 to 50. Members of the mighty five-person team that judged the entries say they were taken aback by the students' interest, and by their winning podcast.

Check out the full episode here.

The high school winners will be announced this afternoon on All Things Considered. You can tune in through your local station, the NPR One app or

The New Normal

Houses Of Worship Navigate Reopening

Posted May 17, 2021 at 9:44 AM EDT
Pastor J.P. Conway leads the Acklen Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville. When members started telling him they got vaccinated, he began keeping track. Now, he says 99% have been immunized.
Blake Farmer
Pastor J.P. Conway leads the Acklen Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville. When members started telling him they got vaccinated, he began keeping track. Now, he says 99% have been immunized.

Houses of worship are looking to return to in-person gatherings, from services to summer camps. And while many religious leaders are encouraging their communities to get vaccinated in order for that to happen, some are hesitant about asking people for their vaccination status.

Like Jeffrey Leath, the bishop overseeing African Methodist Episcopal churches in Tennessee and Kentucky. He says doing so may encourage deception, as he doesn't want to induce anyone to lie.

Others have taken a more subtle approach. JP Conway, a Nashville-based preacher, starting giving weekly updates from the pulpit about the percentage of congregants who have been vaccinated, which he calls "an indirect way of saying, 'We think you should all do this.'"

Here's the story:


Retail Union Leader Criticizes CDC Mask Guidance

Posted May 17, 2021 at 9:29 AM EDT

This weekend felt like an abrupt departure from the last 14 months, as many Americans ventured out mask-free for the first time following the CDC's new guidance that fully vaccinated people can go unmasked in most settings. That guidance isn’t pleasing everyone. Here’s what we’re watching on the NPR Science Desk this Monday morning.

  • Major retailers including Trader Joe’s, Starbucks and Walmart are all dropping their mask requirements
  • The head of the union that represents 1.3 million Americans that work in the retail industry criticized the CDC’s guidance, telling NPR that it lacks clarity and risks exposing essential workers
UFCW's President On CDC's New Mask Guidance

  • The CDC’s director, Rochelle Walensky, attempted to clarify the guidance over the weekend. She confirmed that masks will still be with us for a while and reiterated the guidance to wear them in schools and when on public transport

The new mask guidance comes as 123 million people in the United States are now fully vaccinated. That’s about 37% of the population.


Microsoft Board Probed Bill Gates' Relationship With Employee Before He Resigned

Posted May 17, 2021 at 9:25 AM EDT

In the months before Bill Gates resigned from Microsoft's board of directors last year, the body hired a private law firm to investigate an "intimate relationship" he had with an employee in 2000, a company spokesman confirmed.

Read the story here.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the board decided Gates should step down while the romantic relationship, which was deemed "inappropriate," was under review. But a spokesman for Gates told NPR that his decision to leave the board was "in no way related to this matter" and that he had wanted to spend more time on his philanthropic work for years.

Gates, the company's co-founder and one of the wealthiest people in the world, has attracted renewed scrutiny in the wake of his divorce from Melinda Gates, his wife of 27 years.

Editor's note: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is among NPR's financial supporters.

From The Science Desk

President Of Teachers' Union Believes Schools Are Safe To Reopen

Posted May 17, 2021 at 8:25 AM EDT
A teacher wearing a protective mask walks around the classroom during a lesson at an elementary school in San Francisco in October 2020.
David Paul Morris
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A teacher wearing a protective mask walks around the classroom during a lesson at an elementary school in San Francisco in October 2020.

Randi Weingarten says she's seeing a big shift in how the 1.7 million educators she represents feel about going back to in-person learning. The president of the nation's second-largest teachers' union believes there's one driving factor.

"The game changer has been the vaccine," the president of the American Federation of Teaches told Rachel Martin. "89% of our members have the vaccine or want to get the vaccine. They have seen for themselves a huge decrease not only in COVID transmission among adults but also people are not getting as sick."

Weingarten says that schools should fully reopen this fall. Her remarks come at a time when about half of the nation’s public schools are offering five days per week of in-person learning to all students.

She spoke to Morning Edition the same day the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can go unmasked in doors. That's something Weingarten supports with provisions when it comes to teachers.

"It's gong to take us a minute to figure out how this works in schools because there will be a bunch of questions, including does this mean that everybody in a class has to be vaccinated in order to do this? Does it mean that a teacher can take off a mask even if kids still have to wear their masks? So we just have to figure out some protocols."
-- Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

You can listen to Randi Weingarten's full interview with Rachel Martin:

Israeli-Palestinian Violence

Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Intensify Overnight

Posted May 17, 2021 at 8:03 AM EDT

Israeli warplanes overnight struck Hamas tunnels in Gaza, as the violence entered a second week. Both sides seem unwilling to deescalate currently despite mounting international calls for a ceasefire.

Israeli air strikes have destroyed buildings and infrastructure in densely-populated areas and killed at least 197 Palestinians. Hamas continues to fire rockets out of Gaza, killing at least eight Israelis.

Here's the latest:

  • The biggest strike so far happened in Gaza on Sunday, when several residential buildings collapsed and 42 people, including many young children, were killed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the strikes in an interview with CBS News, claiming Hamas keeps rockets in those civilian areas.
  • Also on Sunday, an Israeli air strike destroyed the high-rise building that housed media outlets including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, though employees were able to evacuate. Israeli officials have said Hamas was using the building for military intelligence but have not provided evidence.
  • Israeli attacks continued overnight in to Monday morning. Israel says it bombed nine miles of the tunnel system that it says Hamas uses to move fighters and rockets underground.
  • Both sides have indicated they are unlikely to back down yet, as the international community ramps up calls for peace. The United States, Qatar and Egypt are involved in mediation efforts. Members of the United Nations Security Council met virtually on Sunday to discuss the conflict, and European Union foreign ministers are expected to do the same on Tuesday.