Protecting Voting Rights, J&J Vaccine Warning, Rising Prices: News You Need To Start Your Day

Texas Governor Abbott Convenes Special Session Of State Legislature
Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
Demonstrators gather outside of the Texas State Capitol during a voting rights rally on July 8. Dozens of the state's Democratic lawmakers left Texas on Monday in an effort to block controversial GOP legislation that critics call voter suppression.

Good morning. The issue of voting rights is top of mind for us this morning. Here's what we're following at this hour:

— The Morning Edition live blog team
Rachel Treisman, Arielle Retting and William Jones

Politics
What To Know Ahead Of Biden's Speech On Voting Rights Later Today
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President Biden is delivering a speech on voting rights in Philadelphia this afternoon — as red states like Texas seek to restrict ballot access and frustrated progressives push for federal protections.

The White House says Biden will decry voting restrictions and denounce the Republican stance on elections as driven by lies. But while strong language is expected, major actionable steps are not.

🎧 As NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow explains on Morning Edition:

  • The White House says Biden is using the visibility of the presidency to push for voting rights, but this particular speech has been promised for weeks. In the meantime, Biden has traveled overseas and negotiated infrastructure deals, signaling other priorities while putting Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of this issue.
  • Harris applauded Texas Democrats yesterday after they left the state to block new voting restrictions, and compared them to civil rights activists from the 1960s. But Democrats don't have the votes to block Republican efforts to make voting harder in many state capitols.
  • The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on voting restrictions in Arizona will impact such cases in the federal judiciary. Plus, even though Democrats control the U.S. House and Senate, they can't push bills through the Senate right now because of the filibuster.
  • Biden has been hesitant to endorse changes to the filibuster, despite pressure from members of his party. Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, a close Biden ally, recently made an argument for changing filibuster rules only for bills related to the constitution.
Business
The Economy Is Rebounding, And Things Are Getting More Expensive
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Consumer prices surged 5.4% in June from a year earlier, the highest in nearly 13 years, the Labor Department said this morning. That was higher than the 5% increase seen in May.

Supply chain disruptions and pent-up demand from Americans emerging from a pandemic have pushed prices sharply higher.

Although prices for a range of goods are likely to remain high for a while, there are also signs that some of the impact from inflation may start to ease.

For example used car prices again surged in June. But there are expectations prices could start to slip as wholesale prices — what car dealers pay to buy cars that they can then sell to you — are already easing. Lumber prices have also been rising and falling at unprecedented levels.

An easing of prices like used cars would bode well for the Federal Reserve, which has repeatedly argued inflation is being driven by “transitory” factors that will eventually settle down. However, not all are convinced. The danger is that expectations for higher inflation could become ingrained.

Entertainment
Predicting Today's Emmy Nominations, From A 'Pop Culture Happy Hour' Critic
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A gold Emmy statue is pictured in front of a pink and purple background.
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
The 2021 Emmy Awards will be held in September.

We all know which of the many TV shows out there have helped us through the pandemic, with their healthy doses of distraction or laughter. This morning, we'll find out which of them are up for Emmy Awards (and which ones we need to watch next).

The nominations will be revealed at 11:30 am ET via livestream. In the meantime, Glen Weldon of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast spoke to Steve Inskeep about what he's expecting — and hoping — to see on that list.

Take a listen here, or read on for predictions.

Dramas: Weldon predicts we'll see the "usual suspects" up for nominations, like The Crown, The Handmaid's Tale and This Is Us. He'd love to see shows that have just ended, like Pose and Lovecraft Country, get some love. And he's curious about how Emmy voters will treat fan favorites like Bridgerton, The Mandalorian and Marvel offerings from Disney+.

Comedy:Ted Lasso is a "stone-cold lock," Weldon says, and other likely nominees include Black-ish and The Kominsky Method. He hopes that Hacks and Girls5eva make it on there, too.

Limited series: Mare of Easttown is considered a strong contender, as are The Queen's Gambit and The Underground Railroad miniseries. Weldon is also rooting for I May Destroy You, adding: "More people need to see this show, and a nomination would help that."

The 73rd Annual Emmy Awards will take place on Sept. 19, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer.

Politics
Texas Democrats Could Be Gone Until August After Leaving The State To Block New Voting Restrictions
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A man in a cowboy hat reads a sign reading "Thanks Dems!" as he stands in a small crowd of people with cameras and signs, including another that says "Thank you, Texas Dems, for fighting to protect our voting rights!"
Sergio Flores/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
People show their support for the departing Texas Democrats outside the Austin Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas yesterday.

For the second time this year, Texas Democrats have staged a walkout in an effort to block Republicans from passing new voting restrictions.

In May, they walked out of the Capitol building. Yesterday, they left the state.

At least 50 of the 67 Democratic lawmakers flew to Washington, where they say they will meet with legislators to push for federal voting protections. President Biden is also making a much-anticipated speech on voting rights later today.

By leaving Texas, they deny the legislative special session the quorum of members it needs to pass new laws. As Ashley Lopez of member station KUT reports, the lawmakers may need to stay away for weeks. Listen here.

What bills are Republicans trying to pass? As Lopez told us last week, the new proposals would make it harder to vote and easier for people to get in serious legal trouble for minor mistakes. They include restrictions on voting by mail and voting hours.

Why did Democrats leave now? Two big voting bills were voted out of committee over the weekend and would have come to full chamber votes this week. Republicans have been passing voting restrictions for years, but Democrats say they are going too far in proposing massive changes based on lies about the 2020 presidential election.

And why did they have to leave the state? If Democrats set foot in Texas before the end of the special legislative session quorum is called, state police could arrest them and force them back in the legislature to vote. Lopez talked to Democrats who say they're prepared to stay away that whole time, as late as the first week of August.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to arrest the lawmakers upon their return. They defended their walkout at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday morning.

“At the outset of this legislative session, the process was poisoned,” said state Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchía, who serves as chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

“We’re not doing this for Democrats. We’re doing this for Republicans, we’re doing this for Independents," he said. "Anybody in the state of Texas who needs to exercise the right to vote should do so freely and we’re not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas. The big lie that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States.”

Coronavirus
The FDA Has Issued A New Warning For Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 Vaccine
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The FDA is requiring vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson to put a new warning label on its COVID-19 vaccine.

The warning concerns an increased risk of a rare neurological disorder in the 42 days following vaccination.

The single-dose vaccine has experienced production problems. It was also paused in April after a few recipients developed a rare cases of blood clots.

NPR's Joe Palca reports that:

The rare neurological disorder is called Guillain-Barré syndrome. The person's own immune system damages nerves, and it can cause muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Most people fully recover; some are permanently disabled, and some have even died.

Guillain-Barré has been associated with vaccines in the past, including the swine flu vaccine in the 1970s. In terms of COVID-19 vaccines, so far it's only been associated with the J&J vaccine.

Every COVID-19 expert that Palca spoke with says to take the vaccine, even with this development. They say the risk of getting Guillain-Barré syndrome is really small, and the risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 is much higher.

Of the more than 12 million vaccine doses administered in the U.S., there have been approximately 100 cases of people developing Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Race
This Canadian Parliament Member Says The Discovery Of Graves Is Not A Shock To Indigenous People
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Canadian MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says the discovery of hundreds of graves on the grounds of former residential schools did not come as a shock to her or other Indigenous Canadians.

“I think it's a shock to a lot of white individuals, not racialized individuals," she says. "When we're able to, though, have these kinds of things come to light, it pushes that conversation and forces that awareness of that darkness of the history.”

Qaqqaq is Inuk, like most residents of the territory she represents, Nunavut. She tells NPR’s Leila Fadel that she’s grown up facing racial profiling, even in the halls of Parliament.

It’s part of the reason she decided not to run for another term. Last month, she delivered a scathing farewell speech detailing how she felt unsafe there.

Listen to their powerful conversation here.

Qaqqaq wants an independent investigation into the residential school system. And she’s fed up with politicians who say nice things about helping the Indigenous population but don’t take action.

“When I campaigned, we didn't see the Liberal government in Nunavut very much until about two months [before the election was announced]. They were in the territory, I believe, seven times, making all different kinds of announcements and apologies. And it was like, well, where have you been for the past four years? We could have used you at the beginning of your term, not at the end of it.”

Still, she’s optimistic for the future of her people, especially those who have “accomplished so much” despite the obstacles.

Qaqqaq.mp4

The Animal Kingdom
🦈 Shark Week Is Fin-Ally Here 🦈
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A black-tip shark swims underwater.
Michele Spatari/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
A black-tip shark is seen swimming near Durban, South Africa, in December 2020.

You may remember this iconic piece of advice, offered up by Tracy Morgan's character on 30 Rock more than a decade ago: "Live every week like it's Shark Week."

Well, the time is now. Shark Week 2021 kicked off on Discovery and discovery+ on Sunday night.

This year’s schedule is packed with dramatic-sounding shows ("Spawn of El Diablo," "Mystery of The Black Demon Shark") and celebrity guests (Tiffany Haddish, Braid Paisley, Dr. Pimple Popper).

And what better way to honor TV’s longest-running programming event than by reading a sharp (toothed) commentary from Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Linda Holmes?

As Holmes notes, Shark Week has been a highly-anticipated tradition — and reliable ratings bonanza — for more than three decades. It's also gotten in hot water for straying from science at times: It wasn't too long ago that the network pledged to do better after a famously disastrous fictionalized "documentary" about the long-extinct Megalodon shark damaged its credibility in 2013. So you might want to tune in with a grain of salt (water).

Holmes lays out the case for why you may not want to live every week like it’s Shark Week after all. Read "The Whole Tooth About The Real Meaning Of Shark Week" here.

Climate Change
The Colorado River Has Long Watered The West. Now, It's Running Dry
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A white bath tub ring lines the redrock walls of Lake Powell. The reservoir is approaching a historic low.
Luke Runyon, KUNC
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A white bath tub ring lines the redrock walls of Lake Powell. The reservoir is approaching a historic low.

The Colorado River is hurting. The 1,450-mile long river acts as a drinking water supply, a hydroelectric power generator, and an irrigator of crop fields across seven Western states and two in Mexico. And for the first time ever the federal government will declare a shortage in the river basin this summer.

A prolonged 21-year warming and drying trend has pushed the nation’s two largest reservoirs situated along the river to record lows.

“You’re looking at a serious loss of equity in rural America, in the rural West.”
rancher Brackett Pollard

Luke Runyon from member station KUNC traveled the river talking to some of the 40 million people whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the health of the Colorado River basin.

🎧 Here's what he heard from folks.

Politics
Students In Georgia Are Making Sure Their Voices Are Heard On Redistricting
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In Georgia and around the country, a surge in younger turnout had a tangible impact on 2020, especially in flipping control of the U.S. Senate.

Now as Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler reports, young activists have set their sights on a new target: redistricting. The once-a-decade map-making process will affect power for future generations, and these voters are trying to ensure their input is considered.

One of them is Alex Ames. She's a student at Georgia Tech and the head of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. Ames says many of the state’s college and university students were disenfranchised by local boundaries that minimized the voting power of a growing demographic.

"We’re asking for small-d democratic treatment, which is that every vote and every person’s voice should matter equally, even if they do live in a bubble that your party thinks is unfavorable to be giving a voice to."
Alex Ames - Georgia Tech Student

Ames' school straddles two state House districts in Atlanta. Meanwhile, at Berry College in Northwest Georgia, you’ll have a different representative than your friend across the street. Then there's the University of Georgia where students can walk through three different districts in between classes.

So when it comes to political representation, what are the consequences of living in student communities that are split like this? Click here to listen and find out.

Before You Go
Tiny Desk Concerts
Get Close To Bleachers At Their Tiny Desk (Home) Concert
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We're closing out the morning with some tunes, and you can, too.

Check out this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert from Bleachers, which NPR Music's Lyndsey McKenna writes "puts a premium on proximity, both emotionally and spatially."

She adds: "Both as producer extraordinaire and artist in his own right, [vocalist and pianist] Jack Antonoff has had an outsized impact on the past decade in pop. And yet, even with such maximalist aims, Antonoff clearly understands the effectiveness of scale: that the most enduring tracks are often intimate portraits."

See for yourself:

Bleachers: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert