Military Justice, Great Barrier Reef, Britney Spears In Court: The News You Need To Start Your Day

Published June 22, 2021 at 4:35 PM EDT
An underwater scene shows small yellow and blue fish swimming through green coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
William West
AFP via Getty Images
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee says climate change poses the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

Good morning! We hope everyone's having an excellent start to their day. Here are the major stories we're following:

— The Morning Edition live blog team
Emily Alfin Johnson, Rachel Treisman, Arielle Retting, Nell Clark, Casey Noenickx and William Jones

Behind The Scenes
Before You Go

No One Asked To Hear NPR Hosts Sing. But We Did It Anyway

Posted June 23, 2021 at 10:06 AM EDT

One last thing...

🎵”When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray.” 🎶

Now you have to listen to us sing.

Yes, that is Morning Edition host Rachel Martin (plus the dulcet tones of Joe Palca and Steve Inskeep from way back in 2007) with their parody of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.”

And yes, they changed the lyrics to sing about the digestive habits of a moray eel.

Because this is NPR. Science, puns ... we love 'em.

We're resurfacing this because yesterday The New York Timeswas inspired to apply a similar bit of wordplay in a headline that captured the internet's attention.The author and their 'meme-lord' editor explain with more background here.

NBD, NYT. Imitation is flattery.

Though, you do have to listen to us sing now☝️.

Just In

The White House Just Announced A Plan To Address Gun Violence

Posted June 23, 2021 at 9:25 AM EDT

2020 saw a spike in violent crime across the U.S., and that dramatic increase in shootings and murder has continued into this year.

Citing this uptick, today President Biden will share his five-point proposal to curb America's gun violence epidemic.

Here's what we know about Biden's proposal.


The Philippines Aims To Rebuild Its Tourism Sector, But Not Everyone Wants A Staycation

Posted June 23, 2021 at 9:07 AM EDT

The Philippines is one of many countries around the world attempting to restart their COVID-damaged tourism sectors by promoting domestic tourism. The push includes loosening some travel restrictions and certifying hotels to book “Staycation” guests.

In 2019, tourism made up more than 12% of the Philippines’ overall GDP – with more than 80% of that tourism being domestic travel, according to the Department of Tourism. Millions of Filipinos work for the industry.

Two people wearing face masks walk in the sand along a restaurant. It is night and there are neon signs lit up behind them.
Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Getty Images AsiaPac
Visitors walk along a beach in Boracay Island, Philippines.

While international tourists are still prohibited from entering the country, the department told NPR in an emailed statement that the proven strength of domestic travel will help restart the battered sector.

But many health experts disagree with this approach.

“Definitely there’s still a lot of cases in the provinces,” says Dr. Joshua San Pedro, a primary care provider. Even though COVID-19 cases have decreased since a spike in April and May, he notes that until there’s more testing available and more vaccines in arms, it’s still too risky to travel.

Lack of jabs isn’t the only thing keeping people at home: Money is also an issue for many. More than 4.5 million Filipinos lost their jobs in 2020 and unemployment grew to over 10%, the highest in 15 years, the Philippines Statistics Authority announced in December.

Listen to reporting from on the ground in Manila.


A Human Rights Defender Warns Nicaragua's Democracy Is In Trouble

Posted June 23, 2021 at 8:56 AM EDT
Protesters gather outside the Organization of American States building in Washington DC. They hold signs and Nicaragua's flag.
DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters gather in front of the Organization of American States building in Washington DC to demonstrate against President Daniel Ortega.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega has detained at least five of his main presidential rivals ahead of a November election. He’s also raided the homes of other opposition leaders, detaining some and putting others under house arrest. They face multiple charges, including being "traitors to the homeland.”

This latest crackdown follows a similar one three years ago, when Ortega repressed popular protests against his regime. But unlike in 2018, Ortega is now coming after former allies who helped him topple a dictator in 1979.

Two of those figures — Dora Maria Tellez and Hugo Torres — were "instrumental" in aiding Ortega previously, according to Bianca Jagger. Jagger grew up in Nicaragua but currently lives in the U.K. She's the founder of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation.

“If he puts in jail Dora Maria Tellez and General Hugo Torres who saved his life, who’s next?” Jagger asks.

Jagger traces Ortega’s political evolution back to his first election loss 30 years ago.

I believe that Daniel Ortega will never participate in an election that he will lose. That’s why Daniel Ortega has changed the constitution so that he can be president for life. That’s why [he] has dismantled all of the legal institutions so he has total power in the country and now even with all of that, he feels that he probably cannot win the election.
Bianca Jagger - Founder of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation

Jagger adds that she believes Ortega to be a “traitor to the revolution” and underlines that “this is not an issue of left and right. This is an issue of right and wrong.” You can listen to her interview with Morning Edition host Noel King here.

As The Associated Press reports, Nicaragua's Foreign Affairs Minister Denis Moncada has said that the people arrested recently were not presidential candidates, but rather “leaders of nongovernmental organizations that receive financing from the United States and European Union and intend to destabilize the country.”


The Trial For The 'Capital Gazette' Shooter Starts Today

Posted June 23, 2021 at 8:37 AM EDT

On June 28, 2018, five employees were fatally shot at the Capital Gazette offices in Annapolis, Md., in one of the deadliest attacks on a journalism organization in modern U.S. history.

Now, days before the third anniversary of the shooting, jury selection finally begins after several delays from COVID-19, turnover in the public defender and state’s attorney’s offices and other rounds of court hearings.

The gunman has already pleaded guilty and the trial will determine whether he was criminally insane at the time of the shootings.

Hear more about how the community in Annapolis and the staff of the Gazette are bracing for the trial in this report from WAMU/DCist's Dominique Maria Bonessi.

And dive deeper into the story of the shooting — and its aftermath — with the Embeddedpodcast series on theGazette. Producer Chris Benderev spent two years with staffers as they've worked to rebuild their lives and their community paper.

The Great Outdoors

After A Year Away, Hikers Are Heading Back To The Appalachian Trail

Posted June 23, 2021 at 8:23 AM EDT
A hiker looks at a map as he walks part of the Appalachian trail in Shenandoah National park, Virginia on June 13, 2019.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
AFP via Getty Images
A hiker pauses on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, on June 13, 2019.

Spending time outside has been one of the safest activities during the pandemic. But last year, restrictions took thru-hikers off the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail which passes through 14 states and runs from Georgia to Maine.

But as restrictions have eased, the number of hikers taking on the roughly six-month adventure is likely to surpass pre-pandemic levels.

So WVTF's Jahd Khalil set off, microphone in hand, to hike part of the Appalachian Trail to see why so many have returned.

In Shenandoah National Park in Virginia he met a group of hikers having dinner near a fire. Among them was Stephen Rust. His trail name, "Second Chance", is particularly relevant.

"When I got off the trail last year, it felt like the right and wrong choice at the same time," he says. "And then this year, there was a determination mixed with a lot of apprehension."

Rust has hiked the trail before. And business owners are seeing not only people like him return but also a lot of new hikers. Hostel owners are estimating that traffic on the trail is as much as 30 to 50% more than pre-pandemic years.

🎧 Take a listen to the hikers and the business owners that Jahd Khalil met along the way.

National Security

A Big Change Could Be Coming To The Military Justice System

Posted June 23, 2021 at 8:10 AM EDT

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement late Tuesday that he will present President Joe Biden with a series of recommendations aiming to “finally end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.”

One Defense Department report indicates that reports of sexual assaults in the military doubled between 2013 and 2020, while the rate of prosecution and conviction were halved.

Under the current system, military commanders get to make the decisions about whether to take sexual assault and domestic violence cases to trial. For the first time, Austin's backing a plan to let independent military lawyers handle those cases instead.

Check out this story for more context on the proposed change and the problem it aims to address.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, wearing a black suit and navy tie, speaks into a microphone while seated at a Senate committee hearing.
Evelyn Hockstein
Getty Images North America
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says he will support removing sexual offense cases from military commanders, a major and long-debated change.

Why now? The change is one of the recommendations that the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military delivered on Monday. Setting up that panel was one of Austin's first directives in January.

What's next? Austin is testifying before the House Armed Services Committee this morning, where he is likely to face questions about this. It's worth noting that Congress would need to rewrite portions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make these changes.

New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand chairs the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. She has advocated for this reform for years and is the lead sponsor of a plan that would go even further by taking many felony prosecutions away from military commanders.

Gillibrand told Morning Edition that the recommendations are a step in the right direction, but that they don't go far enough.

"We have been advocating that all serious crimes be taken out of the chain of command and given to trained military prosecutors, who are professional and unbiased," she said. "And the reason for this is because with the sexual assault cases, we're just not getting better. We're not convicting more predators, we're not taking enough cases, we're not taking the right cases. And in this issue of racial bias, we see that if you are a Black or brown service member, you are more likely to be punished."

Listen to the full interview here.

Our Changing Climate

The Great Barrier Reef Should Be Added To A Danger List, The U.N. Warns

Posted June 23, 2021 at 7:47 AM EDT

A ruling from a United Nations committee to place the Great Barrier Reef on their "in danger" list is receiving pushback from the Australian government.

Watch this video from NPR's Visual Newscast to find out why.

UNESCO declared the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage site in 1981. Now that classification is in jeopardy as the World Heritage Committee is recommending the reef be listed as in danger, citing climate change as its greatest threat.

For more from our Visual Newscast team, ask your smart device to "Play the news from NPR."

Music News

We Just Learned A Ton About Britney Spears' Conservatorship

Posted June 23, 2021 at 7:31 AM EDT
 Britney Spears poses for photos at a movie premiere. Her long blond hair is pulled into a pony tail and she wears a coral gown with a silver necklace.
Valerie Macon
AFP via Getty Images
Britney Spears, seen here in July 2019.

This afternoon, pop star Britney Spears is going to appear (remotely) in front of a Los Angeles judge to address her conservatorship.

Spears has not been in charge of her personal life or her finances for 13 years. Since 2008, she's been subject to a court-dictated legal arrangement that puts someone else — mostly her father, Jamie Spears — in control of those decisions.

The arrangement also controls her visitation agreement to see her two teenage sons (her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, has full custody.)

Yesterday, The New York Times published a report in which it said it had evidence that Spears has been resisting the conservatorship — and particularly her father's control — since at least 2014, and that she's made those points to both the judge and to a court investigator.

Here's what we know about what Britney Spears is expected to address in court this afternoon.

The New Normal

More Arts And Cultural Organizations Are Eligible For Federal Relief, But Individuals Aren't

Posted June 23, 2021 at 7:29 AM EDT

The pandemic hit artists especially hard.

Cultural organizations like theaters and concert halls were among the first to shut their doors. And at its worst, the unemployment rate for musicians, dancers and theater performers was about six times the national average.

Former President Donald Trump’s CARES Act included funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. In President Biden’s relief plan the amount for the NEA is nearly double, and the eligibility requirements are not as strict. So things look a little different this time around.

The NEA is announcing a new round of grants for arts and cultural organizations today, for a broader pool of applicants.

Groups no longer have to have received NEA funding within the past four years to be eligible. But they have to be just that: groups. Individuals still can’t apply for relief from the NEA directly.

This excludes a big portion of the arts community, including many vulnerable gig workers, explains Michelle Ramos. She’s a former dancer and the executive director of Alternate Roots, an art services organization based in the South.

Ramos believes it’s time to rethink the entire system of how artists are supported. And she says she’s not alone.

“And I think that what we’re seeing is a lot of reverberation of folks stepping up and saying, hey, we need to take care of all of our artists, not just the artists that are in the big white ivory towers.” - Michelle Ramos

Read or listen to the full story here.

Breaking News

Why A Major Pro-Democracy Newspaper In Hong Kong Is Shutting Down

Posted June 23, 2021 at 7:27 AM EDT
People in masks hold newspapers and a banner while protesting.
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Getty Images AsiaPac
Supporters hold banners and copies of the Apple Daily newspaper, as their top executives appeared in court on June 19 in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy newspaper announced it is shutting down.

Apple Daily had managed to make it through several big hurdles. Its billionaire founder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested and charged last year under a draconian national security law, along with its editor in chief and several top executives.

But this latest challenge is too big to get around. Last week the government froze its bank accounts, leaving the paper unable to operate.

Apple Daily will run its last edition this weekend, marking the end of a 26-year run. The investigative tabloid has been known for its brash style of coverage and unfettered reporting of Beijing.

The closure is another blow to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong as China tightens its grip on the territory. Critics say that the freedoms that were originally guaranteed when Hong Kong came under Chinese control in the '90s are diminishing.

NPR's Emily Feng has more on the paper's last days, here.