Vaccines In The South, LGBTQ Athletes, The View From Space: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published June 23, 2021 at 11:25 AM EDT
A girl wearing a face mask is seated at an outdoor wooden table while she gets vaccinated by a woman in a white coat. Her face is turned toward that of First Lady Jill Biden, who is learning down with her hands on her knees to make eye contact with the girl. Another woman and a man in a cowboy hat watch from the side.
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Singer and songwriter Brad Paisley, Kimberly Williams-Paisley and First Lady Jill Biden visited a pop-up vaccination site in Nashville, Tenn. this week, as the Biden administration continues its campaign to get shots into arms.

Good morning. The week is almost over, but the news keeps coming. Here’s what we’re watching today:

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

Before You Go

Monks Are Now Helping Fight A Wildfire In California

Posted June 24, 2021 at 10:19 AM EDT
 Firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service work in the Ventana Wilderness as they battle the Willow Fire on June 21, 2021. Firefighting monks are joining the effort to combat the fire.
Los Padres National Forest/Twitter
Firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service work in the Ventana Wilderness as they battle the Willow Fire on June 21, 2021. Firefighting monks are joining the effort to combat the fire.

Before we wrap things up, you have to check out this story about firefighting monks from Jaclyn Diaz.

Emergency crews are working hard to contain the Willow Fire, which broke out in a remote area of Big Sur, Calif. last week.

And now they have backup: monks from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center monastery. The group of professionally-trained firefighting monks have been busting blazes since 2008, when a wildfire spread to the Tassajara monastery.

They even inspired a book: Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara.

Click over to Jaclyn's piece for more on the monks and the latest on the Willow Fire.

Just In
OPB Reports

Oregon Officials Canceled A Park Permit For Proud Boys After They Clashed With Antifascists

Posted June 24, 2021 at 9:56 AM EDT

Officials in Oregon City, Ore., are trying to prevent further violence after a voter drive organized by the extremist group the Proud Boys turned violent.

Last Friday, local law enforcement declared a riot after the group clashed with antifascists at a community park.

The same person who reserved the park for Friday's event also made a reservation for tomorrow. Change of plans, however: City officials have announced that they are canceling the permit in order to avoid further conflict.

The Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of extremist rhetoric and street violence, has clashed with counterprotesters in the past.

At least 30 of those charged in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol appear to have links to the Proud Boys.

Here's the latest from OPB's Ryan Haas.

NPR Music Playlists

NPR's 'Young, Sexy And Black' Is The Only Playlist You'll Need For A Hot Girl Summer

Posted June 24, 2021 at 9:23 AM EDT
A young woman with curly hair lounges on a yellow pool float
Kara Frame
Whether you're a tote bag or Telfie babe, the spirit of roséwave lives in us all.

After a year of fear and isolation, many of us are ready to shed our comfy clothes and mingle again.

NPR has curated a playlist spanning decades of Black artists' work for just that occasion. Young, Sexy and Black is your soundtrack for being fun, carefree, dynamic, fresh, vibrant, confident, cute, loving and loved.

It celebrates the everlasting presence of vivacious souls, those who embrace the erotic on a daily basis by creating space for the power of their creativity energy.

Luda preaches about the underrated pleasure of stumbling into mayhem on a regular-degular Saturday while Yung Baby Tate shares the affirmations that keep her healthy and protected. Janet takes a page out of Megan Thee Stallion's book (note, her thesis is doing whatever she wants to do) with plans to dance all night. From Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder to KAYTRANADA, Solange and Janelle Monáe — the allure of feeling yourself can't be contained.

Press play and get out there now. ⤵️


The Southern Baptist Convention Has A New Leader

Posted June 24, 2021 at 9:10 AM EDT
Pastor Ed Litton, center, of Saraland, Ala., attends the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/AP
Pastor Ed Litton, center, of Saraland, Ala., attends the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.

The Southern Baptist Convention has elected a new president. Pastor Ed Litton of Mobile, Ala., will lead the nation’s largest protestant denomination, with over 14 million members.

Earlier this year, evangelical heavy-hitters Beth Moore and Russell Moore (no relation) both left the denomination professionally and personally. And sex abuse survivors have gone public with allegations that the SBC’s Executive Committee bullied them and mishandled their claims.

Litton spoke with NPR’s Rachel Martin about the challenges he and the denomination face. After being elected at the convention last week, Litton says that issue is a priority.

“What’s real clear leaving the convention in Nashville is that Southern Baptists have spoken plainly and clearly, almost unanimously, that they want this investigated properly through a third party,” he says.

We want to look at it honestly and transparently because we have to deal with this for the sake of the survivors. But also we really at the same time need to lead our churches to be serious about creating safe places for people. That people do not have to fear that they’re going to molested, abused or taken advantage of. That’s our challenge.
Ed Litton - President of the Southern Baptist Convention

The convention is also facing serious questions about its stance on critical race theory and that’s something Litton addresses in the interview with Morning Edition.

Just In

Search And Rescue Efforts Are Underway After A Building Collapsed Near Miami Beach

Posted June 24, 2021 at 8:48 AM EDT

Get the latest on this developing story here.

This post was last updated at 9:56 a.m. ET

Authorities say at least one person is dead and fire rescue crews are still searching for survivors after a building collapsed overnight near Miami.

The 12-story condominium building collapsed around 2 a.m. ET. It's part of the Champlain Tower condo complex in Surfside, just north of Miami Beach.

There were more than 150 units in the condo tower. Many residents were awakened by the rumbling and rushed to safety, and rescue crews have pulled at least one survivor from the rubble.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava spoke to Morning Edition about what we know so far. Listen to the wide-ranging interview here.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told NBC's Today show that residents of 15 units have been taken to a family reunification center, and that other buildings nearby have been evacuated out of fear that they could be in danger of collapsing.

He said there's still no indication of what caused the collapse.

"It's very difficult for us to imagine what could have happened," he said. "But obviously the foundation somehow was undermined and the whole thing came down. I mean it looks like a bomb went off, but we're pretty sure a bomb didn't go off. So it's something else."


‘I’m Tired Of Feeling Alone’: Britney Spears Weighs In On Her Conservatorship

Posted June 24, 2021 at 8:34 AM EDT
A man waves a flag bearing Britney Spears' face as he stands on the sidewalk in front of a crowd of men and women. They are holding signs with slogans like "This Is Toxic!" and "Free Britney."
Matt Winkelmeyer
Getty Images North America
Some Spears' fans — like these pictured in California in April — have campaigned publicly for her conservatorship to end, as part of a movement called #FreeBritney.

We gave you a heads up yesterday that Britney Spears would be (virtually) speaking in court about her much-talked-about conservatorship.

Well yesterday afternoon she gave her most public statement yet, and it was chock full of upsetting revelations.

"I feel ganged up on, I feel bullied and I feel left out and alone," Spears said to an Los Angeles judge. "And I'm tired of feeling alone."

This may be the last time we hear from Spears directly on the matter. She asked the judge for the conservatorship to end, and for any future legal proceedings to be sealed.

So what's next with her conservatorship? NPR's Andrew Limbong breaks down what we know.


Former NFL player Wade Davis Jr. Says LGBTQ Representation On The Field Matters

Posted June 24, 2021 at 8:18 AM EDT

When Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders came out in a short video on Instagram earlier this week, he made history: He became the first active NFL player to announce he's gay.

One of the first to congratulate him was former NFL player Wade Davis Jr., who came out as gay after leaving the NFL.

Davis Jr. was particularly happy that Nassib mentioned the importance of representation in his video announcement. (You can watch Nassib's full video, here.)

Former NFL player Wade Davis Jr. became the NFL's first LGBT inclusion consultant.
Katie Simmons-Barth
Former NFL player Wade Davis Jr. became the NFL's first LGBT inclusion consultant.

In a conversation with Morning Edition's Rachel Martin, Davis Jr. said that LGBTQ visibility and representation played a huge part in the reception to Nassib’s announcement.

LGBTQ folks have been just so visible, so courageous and sort of present that Carl’s announcement felt different. It didn't feel like that this was the first or the last time that this is going to happen.
Wade Davis Jr. - Former NFL Player, LGBTQ Activist

Davis Jr. recalls his own experience being very different. In our conversation, there's a particularly powerful moment where he describes the constant fear of being outed. You can listen to that here ⤵️

Audiogram LB 6.24

Davis Jr. feels the NFL has a responsibility to ensure that locker rooms and sports facilities are less homophobic and sexist.

But the issues are societal, he says. One of the bigger Davis Jr is the sexism that he says is at the root of homophobia.

“We have structured many of our institutions where women aren’t seen as competition and that boys grow up believing that we need to have dominion over women in order to prove our manhood and masculinity,” Davis Jr. says. “It creates the conditions for [us] to also think of gay folks as less-than.”

You can listen to Wade Davis Jr.'s full interview with Rachel Martin by heading here.

Outer Space

Are Aliens Watching Us? Some Other Planets Have A Good View Of Earth

Posted June 24, 2021 at 8:03 AM EDT
An illustrated view centered on Earth as it orbits the sun, seen in the top left. Thousands of stars create a line in the distance across the image.
OpenSpace/American Museum of Natural History
OpenSpace/American Museum of Natural History
An illustrated view of the Earth moving around our sun, and the stars that have the right vantage point to view that transit — if anyone's out there looking.

Just a dozen light years away from Earth is a star called Teegarden's Star — and it has a couple of orbiting planets cozy enough that they could be home to aliens or intelligent life.

Right now, scientists say if there is anyone on those planets, they probably don't know we're out here. But they could find out in 29 years, assuming they have the right technology.

Here's how:

Stars are constantly moving, and Teegarden's Star will soon slip into the right place to watch our sun. Once positioned, aliens there could notice a slight dimming when Earth passes in front of it, according to a new Nature report. That's the technique scientists on our planet have used to spot and track over 4,400 other planets in other solar systems.

"While we were working, we had this fun idea — if someone else out there is trying to make the same with their sky maps, and whether they would be knowing that we were making sky maps of them. We were trying to turn the tables, in our heads."
René Heller, astrophysicist at Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research

If alien planet-trackers have used the same strategy, then around 1,715 stars may have been able to see Earth at some point in the last 5,000 years. In the next 5,000 years, 319 new stars will move into the right position to get a good view — including Teegarden's Star.

For now, with our telescopes pointed at outer space, we can imagine aliens pointing theirs right back at us. NPR's Science Correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce has more details on this story here.

The Coronavirus

We're Going To Miss Biden's July Fourth Vaccination Goal

Posted June 24, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT
 Together Louisiana volunteers Pestalozzy Montero de Quevedo (left) and Hugo Martinez (right) discuss their door-to-door knocking efforts in a New Orleans neighborhood, June 16, 2021. Shalina Chatlani/ Gulf States Newsroom.
Shalina Chatlani/Gulf States Newsroom
Gulf States Newsroom
Volunteers Pestalozzy Montero de Quevedo (left) and Hugo Martinez (right) discuss their door-to-door knocking efforts in a New Orleans neighborhood, June 16, 2021.

President Biden is heading to North Carolina today to urge people to get their COVID-19 shots.

Vaccination rates have slowed down nationally, and we’re set to narrowly miss Biden’s goal of having 70% of the U.S. adult population at least partially vaccinated by July.

And as the vaccination rates slow, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health officials have raised new concerns about the threat to unvaccinated populations as the more dangerous Delta variant takes hold in the U.S.

Some parts of the country are doing better than others
Surveys have found that states Biden won in 2020 have the highest rates of vaccination. More on that here.

In Louisiana, where less than 35% of the population is fully vaccinated, neighbors are going door-to-door to encourage folks to get their shots.

Shalina Chatlani, a reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, spoke with the state's regional medical director Shantel Hébert-Magee.

Magee says they've already done a lot to try to boost the vaccination rate, including announcing a million-dollar lottery last week.

"We have had a number of hyper local events," she says. "We’ve expanded to shopping malls. Working with the National Guard, we have sent our team to several businesses.

But despite that, even those who lost a loved one to COVID-19, remained hesitant to get the vaccine.

How is the vaccination campaign going in your state? Here’s what we know.


There Could Be A Breakthrough On Infrastructure Talks

Posted June 24, 2021 at 7:22 AM EDT
A group of bipartisan Senators leave a meeting with White House officials as they attempt to come to a deal on the Biden administration's infrastructure plan.
Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
A group of bipartisan Senators leave a meeting with White House officials as they attempt to come to a deal on the Biden administration's infrastructure plan.

The White House is signaling a potential breakthrough on an infrastructure bill. President Biden has invited a bipartisan group of negotiators to the White House today to discuss a potential outline for an agreement.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said senior officials had two productive meetings with a bipartisan group of senators. They've been negotiating a package that would include hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending.

President Biden had been under pressure to end bipartisan talks as divisions remained over the scope of the proposal and how to pay for it.

But Psaki now says the group has made progress toward an outline of a potential agreement and some of the senators involved in the talks have told reporters they've agreed to the framework of a deal.

If a deal is struck, it would mark a significant victory for President Biden on of one of his biggest domestic policy goals.


A Study Shows That Life Expectancy In The U.S. Is Dropping Significantly

Posted June 24, 2021 at 7:21 AM EDT

Americans on average are living shorter lives than a few years ago. The pandemic drove down average life expectancy in the U.S. by almost two years — the biggest decrease since World War II.

The decline is even more pronounced among Black and Hispanic Americans. Minority groups were hit hardest by the pandemic and its disruptions, like lack of access to healthcare and chronic disease management.

The findings are part of a new study published in the British Medical Journal. Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Average life expectancy in the U.S. was about 79 years in 2018. By the end of 2020, this had declined to about 77 years.
  • Average life expectancy dropped nearly 3.9 years for Hispanics and about 3.3 years for Black Americans.
  • The numbers reflect systemic inequalities that predate the pandemic, but the gap had been narrowing in recent years. So the pandemic has wiped out these gains.

You can read more about the findings from this study and the prognosis going forward.