U.S. Leaves Bagram Airfield, Exhausted Federal Firefighters: News You Need To Know

Published July 1, 2021 at 11:48 AM EDT
American soldiers approach the United Nations planes on the tarmac of the Bargam Airfield on January 15, 2002. After 20 years of war, U.S. troops have now vacated that airbase.
JIMIN LAI/AFP via Getty Images
American soldiers approach the United Nations planes on the tarmac of the Bargam Airfield on January 15, 2002.

Good morning. Hope you're well on this Friday morning. We're following a number of developing stories as we head in to the weekend:

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

    NPR Exclusive
    Foreign Policy

    U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield On America's Role In Global Humanitarian Crises

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 9:00 AM EDT
    Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks into a microphone while standing at a podium, with the blue U.N. flag behind her.
    Spencer Platt
    Getty Images
    U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, pictured in New York City in March, spoke to NPR about humanitarian crises in Ethiopia and Syria. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

    Let's check in on two humanitarian crises in different parts of the world, and what the U.S. is doing to help. NPR's Noel King spoke to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Here's what she had to say:


    Earlier this week, Ethiopia's government declared a temporary cease-fire with the Tigray People's Liberation Front after nearly eight months of a deadly civil war.

    Thousands of civilians have been killed in the Tigray region since November, and — as NPR's Eyder Peralta has reported — more than 350,000 people are now living in famine conditions.

    On the Biden administration's stance that war crimes are being committed in Ethiopia, an accusation that's been raised by groups including the U.N.'s refugee agency:

    "We are assessing the situation on the ground. We know that war crimes have been committed, we know that serious violations of human rights have been committed, we know that sexual violence against women has occurred."

    "I know that investigations are being completed, the human rights commission we're waiting for their report, but I think we have made very, very clear statements on the situation in Ethiopia that we do see war crimes being committed and we will be investigating who will be held accountable for those war crimes, and we will look for accountability."


    Meanwhile, in the Middle East, millions of displaced Syrians rely on United Nations aid that comes through a single border crossing point in Turkey. Approval for the route is temporary, and the U.N. Security Council needs to authorize it to stay open past July 10.

    The U.S. wants that crossing to stay open (and for others to be reinstated), but Russia — which has veto power on the council — has indicated it does not.

    On how the U.S. plans to negotiate with Russia over the Syria-Turkey border crossing:

    "We're negotiating in the security council to impress upon them how life-threatening closing the border is ... for millions of Syrians, this is their literal lifeline."

    "We are hopeful that the Russians will see that it is not necessary to use their veto power in this particular case. The people of Syria need humanitarian assistance and it is our hope that the Russian government will hear not just the voices of the members of the security council, but they will hear the voices of millions of Syrians who will be calling upon the security council to act in this case.

    🎧 Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield on the Biden administration's next steps.

    Plus, later today we'll hear from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield about American efforts to eradicate COVID-19. Make sure to follow NPR'sConsider This wherever you get your podcasts to be notified when that conversation is live.

    Before You Go
    July Fourth

    Grilling This Weekend? Don’t Forget These Safety Measures

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 10:51 AM EDT
    A brown charcoal grill is shown on a sunny day. Behind the grill is a waterfront and a blue cloudy sky.
    Catie Dull/NPR
    Keep in mind grilling dos and don'ts this Fourth of July weekend.

    As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, it’s important to remember grill safety.

    Many Americans let their guard down when grilling at home — after all, they’ve done it before, and feel safe. But this mindset can lead people to miscalculate the risks, resulting in thousands of hospitalizations a year for grilling-related injuries.

    NPR’s Daniel Lam spoke with experts, including Susan McKelvey of the National Fire Prevention Administration, about how to prevent fires and injuries while grilling.

    Here’s what they say you need to remember:

    • Check your grill for any pests or animals before firing it up, and grill at least 3 feet away from a structure.
    • Don’t wear loose-fitting clothes.
    • Never leave a grill unattended.
    • Using charcoal? When you’re done, close the grill lid so the embers die out.
    • Check for leaks in your propane tank by brushing on some soapy water onto the hose and turning the gas on. If the water starts to bubble, you’ve got a leak.
    • One non-negotiable tip: keep kids and pets at least 3 feet from the grill at all times.

    Click here to readmore BBQ tips, or hereforsome delicious grilling recipes from member station WBUR.


    'Shaft' And Its Blackxploitation Legacy 50 Years Later

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 10:41 AM EDT

    2021 marks 50 years since NPR’s first broadcast. We're using the occasion to look back at significant events that share the anniversary.

    Today we're looking at what made 1971's Shaft the genre-inspiring revelation and cultural touchstone it is.

    Up until 1971, movies had delivered plenty of spectacles. But in filmmaker Gordon Parks’ Shaft, the sight of a cool, confident black man strolling through New York City might have been cinema’s most spectacular effect yet.

    Shaft was a departure from Hollywood’s history of depicting meek or servile black men.

    Its eponymous character, played by cool and commanding Richard Roundtree, was a step forward from Sidney Poitier in the 1950s, who was dignified and graceful on screen but could never be as sexual and bold a presence as his white contemporaries.

    Shaft broke new ground, and in its footsteps came a number of films with similar attitude and swagger that catered to Black audiences and came to be called blaxploitation. Films like Trouble Man, Superfly and Foxy Brown told stories of Black characters facing urban decay, crime and fighting "the Man."

    “Blaxploitation came out of a need for Black images that just weren’t there. There just was a market that was totally untapped."
    Cultural critic Nelson George

    The films were criticized for their violent subject matter, but they opened the door for Black people both in front of and behind the camera. And their legacy looms largest in the music industry.

    Where Isaac Hayes’s iconic Oscar-winning music for Shaft and other soundtracks from artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield redefined what a movie score could be, and influenced generations of other musicians.

    🎧 Listen to the full story here.


    The Supreme Court Decision Hampers Challenges To State Voting Laws

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 10:22 AM EDT
    Red, white and blue "I Voted" stickers lay out on a tabletop during New York City's primary election in June.
    Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
    Getty Images
    A poll worker lays out "I Voted" stickers on a table at P.S. 249 The Caton School during New York City's primary election in June.

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday gutted most of what remains of the landmark Voting Rights Act, in a decision that could make it harder to challenge state-level voting restrictions in the future.

    As NPR’s Nina Totenberg reports, the conservative majority reinstated two Arizona laws previously struck down by a lower court, claiming that the impact on minority voters was small, that other states had similar laws and that states could enact laws to prevent fraud before any fraud actually occurred.

    At issue were two Arizona laws that banned the collection of absentee ballots by anyone other than a relative or caregiver and that threw out any ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

    The 6-3 ruling came along ideological lines, with the court’s liberal wing dissenting.

    Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that just because voting may be “inconvenient for some,” that doesn’t mean ballot access is unequal.

    But at least one voting rights expert disagreed. “We have a court here that is being less and less protective of voting rights and more and more protective of the ability of states to make it harder for people to vote,” said Richard Hasen, a law professor at University of California Irvine.

    A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that Americans were more concerned with ensuring ballot access than preventing voter fraud by a 56%-41% margin, though differences emerged based on political affiliation.

    Hear Nina explain the court’s decision in more depth on Morning Edition.


    No One Knew What To Make Of Her. Then She Changed How The U.S. Conducts Wars

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 10:03 AM EDT
    FILE - In this April 7, 2002 file photo, Marla Ruzicka leads a demonstration calling for U.S. compensation to victims of the recent U.S. led military campaign in Afghanistan, outside of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
    Suzanne Plunkett/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Marla Ruzicka, seen here in April 7, 2002, leads a demonstration calling for U.S. compensation to victims of the recent U.S. led military campaign in Afghanistan, outside of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

    The new season of NPR's Rough Translation — called Home/Front — focuses on the stories of ordinary people who show us what is possible when we cross the civilian-military divide.

    🎧 Start here with Episode 1, or skip ahead to this week's episode, where NPR's Quil Laurence tells the story of his friend Maria Ruzicka.

    As Quil shared withMorning Edition's Noel King, Ruzicka went to Afghanistan after 9/11. They met in Kabul that same year. According to Quil, she was maybe the only American anti-war protester there at the time and no one knew what to make of her. That was until she started to solve a problem that no one thought could be solved.


    Trump Organization And CFO Allen Weisselberg Plead Not Guilty To Tax Crimes

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 9:47 AM EDT
    Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, center, seen sitting in court Thursday, July 1, 2021, surrounded by law enforcement officers. His representation is standing in the foreground.
    SETH WENIG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
    Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, center, seen sitting at the criminal court in lower Manhattan in New York on July 1, 2021.

    The Manhattan district attorney's office charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allan Weisselberg, with an array of tax-related crimes late Thursday.

    Prosecutors unsealed the 15-count indictment yesterday, in which they say there was a 15-year scheme to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

    An attorney for the Trump Organization says the charges are "politically driven."

    Weisselberg has worked for Trump since 1973. He allegedly received indirect compensation, and is accused of evading hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, state and local taxes. In a particularly dramatic moment, he entered the courtroom Thursday in handcuffs — but was released on his own recognizance after surrendering his passport.

    Former President Donald Trump's alleged involvement

    NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the case and was in the courthouse yesterday. Here's what we know:

    • Trump personally signed a check for Weisselberg's grandchildren's tuition
    • Trump signed a lease on an apartment that Weisselberg used to avoid paying New York City taxes

    Trump has always denied wrongdoing in regards to tax payments, and his company and Weisselberg pleaded not guilty Thursday.

    What's next?

    Bernstein says there's a very strong hint that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is still digging.

    🎧She lays out what's ahead for the investigation withMorning Edition's Rachel Martin.

    Behind The Scenes
    An NPR Tradition

    Reflecting On The Less Notable Aspects Of The Declaration Of Independence

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 9:32 AM EDT

    Today, as we have for the past 32 years, NPR is marking Independence Day with a full reading of the Declaration of Independence.

    The reading of the declaration by NPR staff is a proud and durable tradition at Morning Edition and we are honored to carry it forward.

    This year, in addition to the customary reflections on the idea of freedom and liberty, our coverage will pay attention to some of the less noble aspects of the declaration: the hypocrisy, the racism, the disenfranchisement of large swaths of the population.

    An examination of these questions seems especially appropriate in this moment.

    — Terry Samuel is NPR's Managing Editor of News and Morning Edition's Acting Executive Producer

    Florida Condo Collapse

    An Update From Surfside, Where Search Efforts Are Back On

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 9:15 AM EDT

    Search and rescue operations have started up again in Surfside, Fla. after being suspended for 14 hours yesterday.

    Eighteen people are confirmed dead and more than 140 are missing. President Biden visited was in Surfside yesterday, where he spent a few hours with grieving families.

    As NPR’s Greg Allen reports:

    The president went from table to table, talking to each family, hearing about their loved ones and concerns. Biden said the families asked wrenching questions, including whether they would be able to recover remains for burial. The president was welcomed by Florida’s elected officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, who has been a vocal critic of the president, thanked him for recognizing the severity of the tragedy from day one.

    President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit a photo wall, the 'Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial', near the partially collapsed condo building.
    SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
    President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit a photo wall, the 'Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial', near the partially collapsed condo building.

    Search and rescue efforts are back on, after pausing yesterday because of concerns that the site had become unstable. On Thursday morning, rescue teams were pulled off the site after electronic monitors signaled that the building appeared to be shifting. Structural engineers say they later determined that it was mostly debris shifting. Crews are now back on the site but only working in areas considered to be safe. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says they’re now beginning to examine how best to demolish the part of the building that still remains standing. It's expected to be weeks before a demolition plan will be in place.

    Condominium association documents, including minutes from its meetings, show that the body had for years discussed the need to make repairs to the 40-year-old building without taking action. As recently as seven months before the collapse, residents and the condominium association board were sparring over expensive repairs needed.

    Breaking News

    U.S. Employers Added 850,000 Jobs In June, But Businesses Still Struggle To Find Enough Workers

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 8:48 AM EDT

    U.S. employers added 850,000 jobs in June, more than the approximately 700,000 jobs that economists expected. The unemployment rate was largely the same as in May, at 5.9%.


    The June labor data is strong – it’s just not as strong as many employers would have liked. Many sectors, including restaurants and factories, have struggled to find enough workers.

    Analysts cite a number of reasons, including health reasons, family obligations and concerns about vaccine rates. The enhanced unemployment benefits passed by Congress, which provide a financial cushion to millions of Americans, are also seen as a contributing factor.

    More Americans are expected to rejoin the labor force as the impacts from these factors ease. That’s especially likely after early September, when the extra unemployment benefits are expected to expire across the country.


    In 'Where We Come From,' Immigrants Of Color Answer That Question On Their Terms

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 8:35 AM EDT

    “No, but where are you really from?”

    Anjuli Sastry hears that question a lot, but figuring out how to respond to it hasn’t gotten any easier.

    For Sastry, the answer isn’t always about a place on a map. As a first-generation immigrant whose parents have lived in the U.S. longer than they did in South India, Sastry says it’s more so a feeling about her cultural identity and the people who raised her. And she believes that’s often the case for many other immigrant families.

    “The answer often involves a longer story, one passed down from generation to generation,” she explains. “The story might start in a different language and then be translated into English, depending on who is telling it. It could be about food, family, career, language, immigration and so much more. It's oral history. It's a life experience.”

    Sastry knows more than a little something about telling stories: She’s a producer on It’s Been A Minute With Sam Sanders and a Nieman Journalism Foundation Visiting Fellow. So last winter, she posted a callout for family histories from immigrant communities of color — and was flooded with replies from people across the U.S.

    The result is “Where We Come From,” an immersive audio-visual series focused on the experiences of immigrants of color and their descendants, told in their own words and intergenerational conversations.

    Some of the storytellers are ordinary people, others you may already know. Each explores a different topic, and, through conversations with loved ones and experts, answers that age-old question on their own terms.

    “I hope (and I've heard) that this series allows people to ask the difficult (or fun) questions and provide a bonding opportunity to learn more about our own histories and where we come from,” Sastry writes.

    The powerful short-run series weaves together podcast episodes, articles, radio segments and videos. You can find them all in one place: right here.


    J&J Vaccine Protects Against The Delta Variant, Research Shows

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 8:18 AM EDT
    A man wearing a face mask and sunglasses holds a small white dog on his lap as he gets a COVID-19 vaccine at an outdoor clinic.
    Chip Somodevilla
    Getty Images
    A man holds his emotional support dog, Rhea, as he receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine during a walk-up clinic outside the Kennedy Center in May in Washington, D.C.

    Good news for people who got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine:

    Two pre-print studies that have been submitted for review show that J&J’s one-shot inoculation offers strong protection against the delta variant, the highly contagious coronavirus strain that is surging across the world.

    NPR health correspondent Rob Stein reports:

    • Immune responses against the delta variant were strong in both studies. Researchers found that antibodies and immune system cells in the blood of patients who got the vaccine were highly effective at neutralizing the coronavirus in the lab.
    • Protection is long-lasting. The studies found that the immune response lasted eight months and appears to grow stronger over time. That means people who got the J&J vaccine are unlikely to need a booster shot anytime soon.
    • The other vaccines have already been shown to protect against the delta variant. Scientists previously produced evidence demonstrating that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines shield against the new strain.

    Listen to Rob explain the new research about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

    Florida Condo Collapse

    After The Florida Condo Tragedy, Latino Neighbors Find Support In Each Other

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 7:59 AM EDT
    Two people lean on each other while looking at a makeshift memorial for victims. The memorial is a fence filled with flowers, signs and photos.
    CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images
    People visit the makeshift memorial for the victims of the building collapse, near the site of the accident in Surfside, Florida, north of Miami Beach on June 30, 2021.

    In a local barbershop and over pastelitos de guava, neighbors in the Miami area are processing tragedy and frustration more than a week after the Champlain Towers South collapse.

    NPR's Jasmine Garsd spoke with members of the area's large Latino and immigrant population about how the tragedy is impacting them, as well as their loved ones in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    Romer Cantillo, who is originally from Cuba, co-owns Rolling Pin Bakery, a shop a few blocks away from the condo. He trembles as he remembers a recent conversation with a regular, who came into the bakery with her young daughter the day before the condo collapse.

    He recalls, in Spanish: "El miércoles estuve conversando con ella y...venía todos los días en la mañana con su niña. Ella pedía tres challah rolls, y la niña pedía un bagelito con semillas."

    In English: "On Wednesday, we were talking. She came every morning with her daughter. She'd ask for three challah rolls, and her daughter would ask for a bagel with seeds."

    Cantillo just found out the woman and her daughter are among the more than 140 people still missing.

    He says "Tuve que seguir trabajando. Porque si me sentaba, me ponía a llorar. Seguir haciendo pan."

    Which means: "I had to keep working. Because if I sat down, I would've started crying. Kept making bread."

    Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Evelina Lowenthal is haunted by the thought of 23-year-old Leidy Luna Villalba, who is also missing. Both of them share roots in Paraguay, and Lowenthal says Luna's story has captivated the Paraguayan community across the U.S.

    Lowenthal started a fundraising campaign to help Luna's family back in Paraguay, and contacted an airline about flying her family to Miami as well.

    "We're all the same. We came because of a purpose. They came because they had to come to help their families," Lowenthal says.

    Listen to more of Jasmine Garsd's reporting on the community here.

    With editing help from NPR's Fernando Pizarro.

    Colorado Public Radio Reports

    As Wildfires Get Worse, Federal Firefighters Say They're Exhausted And Underpaid

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 7:27 AM EDT
     Eagle County worker Flavio Cerna guards a roadblock leading to the Sylvan fire near Eagle, Colo., on June 22, 2021.
    Joe Wertz/CPR News
    Eagle County worker Flavio Cerna guards a roadblock leading to the Sylvan fire near Eagle, Colo., on June 22, 2021.

    President Biden said this week that he's increasing pay for federal firefighters — to $15 an hour — and hiring more of them. It’s part of a broader proposal, as the administration says climate change is making the battle against wildfires a “year-round mission.”

    The federal firefighting force has been struggling with staffing shortages and low morale. That's playing out in Colorado right now, where hundreds of federal firefighters are working to contain blazes burning through tens of thousands of acres.

    Most are temporary employees who only work through the summer. Their starting pay is around $13 per hour. Even with overtime and hazard pay, that's much lower than they'd make at local, state or private fire departments.

    And they aren't actually considered firefighters on paper. Chris Ives, a squad leader for one of these "hotshot crews," says they're actually classified as forestry technicians.

    "It’s just a convenient bureaucratic sidestep of just labeling us forestry technicians so that they don’t have to give us the same benefits," he says.

    This is Ives’ 10th season with the U.S. Forest Service. During that time, climate change has increased the size, duration and complexity of wildfires — making the job a lot more challenging.

    "Not being able to take time off unless it’s a funeral or a wedding, and just having that every year it gets more and more tiring and taxing on your psyche."
    Chris Ives , squad leader of a hotshot crew in southwestern Colorado

    Ives isn't alone. A number of other firefighters told NPR all this leaves them feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and unsupported.

    Some of them have spent time living in their cars or trucks. One woman says she lives in an insulated shed because it’s the only shelter she can afford.

    You can read more about their experiences or listen to their stories here.

    Breaking News

    U.S. Troops Leave Bagram Airbase, A Turning Point In The War In Afghanistan

    Posted July 2, 2021 at 7:27 AM EDT
    A US Air Force transport plane lands at the Bagram Air Base in Bagram on July 1, 2021.
    Wakil Kohsar
    AFP via Getty Images
    A U.S. Air Force transport plane lands at the Bagram Airbase in Bagram on July 1, 2021.

    The U.S. military has pulled out of one its largest military base in Afghanistan after two decades of war.

    A senior U.S. defense official and an Afghan defense official have confirmed to NPR that coalition forces have left Bagram Airfield.

    Winding up Bagram is a turning point in the U.S. involvement in the war. It means that the bulk of American troops have left the country well ahead of President Biden’s planned withdrawal by the symbolic date of 9/11.

    Forty miles north of the capital Kabul, the sprawling military installation contained American fast food chains inside its gates as well as Afghan shops just outside catering to the U.S. troops and locals who work there. A string of U.S. presidents and other dignitaries have visited it over the years.

    Bagram also holds major strategic significance: The U.S. used the base to move equipment and personnel in and out of the country, and command over Bagram has long signaled U.S. control in Afghanistan.

    The base was the epicenter of the fight against the Taliban, who have been surging across Afghanistan again as foreign troops exit. In recent weeks, they've doubled the number of districts they hold.

    Most other NATO allies have also quietly withdrawn their forces in recent days.