Child Tax Credit's Future, Delta Variant Surges, South Africa Violence: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published July 16, 2021 at 6:01 AM EDT
People flee from police as they carry goods while looting and vandalizing a mall in Katlehong township, east of Johannesburg, on July 12.
PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images
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People flee from police as they carry goods while looting and vandalizing a mall in Katlehong township, east of Johannesburg, on Monday.

Good morning. We have an array of interviews and important stories to bring you today. Here's what we're following:

— The Morning Edition live blog team
Rachel Treisman, Arielle Retting, Carol Ritchie, Lilly Quiroz, Tori Dominguez and William Jones

Just In
International

'Climate Change Has Arrived In Germany' — Historic Floods Kill More Than 100

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A woman carries bags in a devastated street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, in western Germany.

More than 100 people have died after severe floods devastated parts of western Germany and Belgium.

Authorities have not been able to get in touch with hundreds more because mobile phone networks have collapsed in flooded areas of Germany. That also mean families can't track their loved ones.

The rising death toll marks Germany’s largest mass loss of life in years. As Esme Nicholson reports from Berlin, Germany's environment minister, Svenja Schulze, tweeted that “Climate Change has arrived in Germany,” in response to news footage showing destruction and desperate families perching on rooftops.

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An aerial view of destroyed houses along the river Ahr in the municipality of Schuld near Bad Neuenahr, in western Germany, after heavy rains and floods.

South of Cologne, in western Germany, police officer Patrick Reichelt told public broadcaster ARD that the rescue services are struggling to keep up.

"The current of the water running past the elementary school is too strong for our motor boats. We just managed to get the kids out but that was the last trip we’ll be making over that way today."
Patrick Reichelt - Police officer assisting rescue efforts near Cologne

An entire district of the ancient city of Trier was evacuated, including a hospital and its patients, some of whom were just out of surgery.

Some of the worst damage has occurred in the wine region of Ahrweiler, where entire villages have been cut off by torrents of floodwater.

Economy

Janet Yellen On Changing The Tax Code And When We’ll See Harriet Tubman On The $20 Bill

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, wearing a dark blue jacket, holds a pile of papers while sitting behind a microphone at a Senate subcommittee hearing.
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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, pictured at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in June, spoke to NPR's Noel King this week.

It’s been a busy week in economic news, from surging consumer prices to what the new child tax credit means for you.

NPR’s Noel King spoke with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about these and a slew of other topics. You can listen to their conversation here, and read excerpts below.

On how long the current period of inflation could last:

“I don’t think that this is a phenomenon that will continue over the medium term. We shouldn’t expect it to disappear next month, but certainly over the medium term, I don’t think it will continue. But of course, we need to watch inflation very, very carefully.”

On Biden's proposals to change the tax code to make sure wealthy households pay taxes:

“I'm encouraged by the news that I hear, that Congress is working toward drafting a budget resolution that will provide a roadmap for a reconciliation bill to be passed in the fall, and that the tax-writing committees will enact sufficient changes both on the corporate and individual side that we will be able to make the proposed changes we've been talking about."

On what the Biden administration is doing to support women in the labor force:

“In addition to the child tax credit, which particularly helps lower income families with children, the [American Rescue Plan] contains support for child care expenditures and for paid leave. And these are also things we hope the Congress will enact and continue beyond this year."

Yellen also called for the child tax credit should be made permanent. Read more about that here.

On when we will see Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

“As soon as possible. I'll do everything I can to expedite it."

Entertainment

A New Documentary Shows Us Who Anthony Bourdain Really Was

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Late chef and author Anthony Bourdain, pictured in May 2016 in New York City, died by suicide in 2018. A new documentary about his life and fame was released today.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain opens in theaters today.

In it, Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won't You Be My Neighbor?) explores two decades of the chef's stardom, through video footage and interviews with the people who knew him best.

Jason Sheehan, the restaurant critic at Philadelphia magazine, writes that the film "doesn't look away from much of anything." Instead, it honors its subject by presenting him as he was, including those very human moments of honesty, anger, exhaustion and cruelty.

He adds:

"There are no answers in Roadrunner. That's not its purpose. But Bourdain lived a remarkable, improbable life. He bore witness to things even when he knew they'd hurt him. He told the truth even when it was hard. Maybe he went too far, or maybe couldn't ever go far enough, but he went out to look at the world he'd been given and brought along every one of us who wanted to go with him. Roadrunner makes the point that the journey isn't about the destination, just like a story isn't all about its ending. You start dumb and you end wise, and everything that happens in between? It's all important. It all matters. And the best thing you can do is be honest about it no matter the cost."

Read the full review here.

The movie has already sparked debate, after the director admitted to using artificial intelligence to re-create Bourdain's voice in part of the narration.


If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Coronavirus

The Delta Variant Is Surging In Parts Of The U.S. Where Vaccination Rates Are Low

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First Lady Jill Biden speaks with a patient at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi on June 22. The Biden administration has been touting the vaccine in parts of the U.S. where vaccination rates are low.
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First Lady Jill Biden speaks with a patient at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi on June 22. The Biden administration has been touting the vaccine in parts of the U.S. where vaccination rates are low.

Cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. have doubled in just three weeks. The rise is being driven by the highly contagious delta variant. Los Angeles County is now requiring people to wear masks indoors, even if they're vaccinated.

Hot spots are emerging in parts of the country where vaccination rates are particularly low. That includes Missouri, Arkansas and all of the Gulf Coast states, where vaccination rates are below 40%.

Shalina Chatlani, with the Gulf States Newsroom in New Orleans, reports that we're seeing the start of a delta variant-driven surge in Mississippi and the Gulf. Hospitalizations there are up 36% in the past two weeks.

There have been outbreaks in summer camps, schools and churches, which means kids are getting the virus and are spreading it.

Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer in Mississippi, tells Chatlani that there's an increased sense of urgency.

"I don't think that we're going to have some miraculous increase in our vaccination rate over the next few weeks. So people are going to die needlessly."
- Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi State Health Officer

Meanwhile, in Missouri, reporter Rebecca Smith with member station KBIA is seeing similar trends. She reports that some of the biggest hospital systems are desperate for more ventilators and have been begging for more staff because their health care workers are so overworked.

One health official in Missouri tweeted that the new cases in Missouri are "Sicker, younger, quicker." That's also something Katie Towns, the acting director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in southwest Missouri, is seeing.

"The average age of our cases has come down into the 20s. We have seen infants in the hospital being treated for COVID. And we have had more children having contracted COVID over the past couple of weeks than we ever have."
- Katie Towns, acting director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in Missouri

Arkansas is also seeing a sharp surge. Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, an Arkansas Department of Health epidemiologist, said in a powerful interview with Morning Edition on Friday that large numbers of people still refuse to get vaccinated. She called the situation "very serious" and said some hospitals in Arkansas are full.

🎧 To find out more about how health officials in these states are trying desperately to get more people vaccinated, listen to Smith and Chatlani's reporting.

International

What's Behind South Africa's Deadliest Violence In Decades

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Dr. Pixley Ka Seme street in Durban, South Africa is littered with dirt and trash after days of looting damaged shops and infrastructure in the city.

South Africa just saw one of its most violent weeks since the end of apartheid, with more than 100 people killed and 1,000 arrested during riots and looting in two major cities.

The country is facing a number of challenges: It's in the peak of its third COVID-19 wave and lockdown, youth unemployment rates are skyrocketing and it was already one of the world's most unequal nations. On top of that, it's embroiled in a long-running legal battle with its charismatic former president, Jacob Zuma.

The government set up a commission to look into corruption allegations against the populist liberation hero, and since 2018 has called (unsuccessfully) on Zuma to testify. He was recently found guilty of contempt of court, and eventually turned himself over to authorities last week.

"South Africa is a fairly new democracy, and this was a huge post-apartheid test on whether big, powerful men like Jacob Zuma could be held to account," NPR East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta explains from his new base in Cape Town.

Zuma has decried the investigation as a political witch hunt, and called jail time in a pandemic a death sentence. His supporters are protesting the charges.

This week saw malls looted, shopkeepers killed in confrontations and people killed in stampedes. South Africans from all walks of life have participated in the looting, stealing everything from pigs to diapers to TVs.

South Africa sent its military into Durban and Johannesburg to calm things down, and they look a little more normal now: Highways are open and looters are off the street.

But, as Peralta points out, "all of the problems that ail South Africa are still here." Listen to his reporting on Morning Edition.

Politics

There May Be Consequences For Some Trump Lawyers Who Promoted False Election Claims In Court

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Some of the lawyers who promoted former President Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud are now facing scrutiny — and perhaps, accountability.

Lawyers aren't supposed to lie in court, and can face legal consequences if they do.

Several attorneys, including Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, appeared in a hearing in Michigan this week over a lawsuit they filed claiming irregularities in the presidential election. An attorney for the city of Detroit, which wants them to face sanctions, called the lawsuit sloppy, careless and "an embarrassment to the legal profession."

Meanwhile, authorities in New York and Washington have suspended the law license of Rudy Giuliani, Trump's former personal lawyer, over his attempts to overturn the election.

As NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports, some experts think that sending these individuals to court to defend their actions isn't enough. They'd like to see some deeper soul-searching within the profession, and more proactive efforts to counter what they say are widespread violations of rules and norms.

"I just think it's important, if we are to reset, that our profession is prepared to confront itself and make decisions about who we want to be, who we are and what it's going to require, which may be uncomfortable, to ensure that we hold our character."
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Read or listen to the full story here.

International

The Eiffel Tower Reopens Today Following Its Longest Closure Since World War II

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Two people play in a grassy park with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
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The Eiffel Tower in Paris will require visitors to show COVID-19 passes starting next week.

Paris' Eiffel Tower is reopening today, nine months after the pandemic closed it down.

It stayed shut for renovations even after many of France's tourist attractions began welcoming visitors back last month, as the Associated Press reports.

The public can finally access the tower's staircases and iconic views again, albeit with some restrictions.

The limit on daily visitors is reduced from 25,000 to 10,000, and all visitors 18 and older must present proof of vaccination starting Wednesday.

And it's not the only destination instituting new health requirements as the country seeks to fight another wave of infections. Less than half of its population has been vaccinated.

As NPR's Bill Chappell reported, French President Emmanuel Macron said that starting in August, anyone who wants to visit cafes, bars or shopping centers must show a pass certifying they have been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19.

A record number of French citizens booked their vaccines after that announcement.

Politics

Five Decades After the 26th Amendment Passed, Teens Are Fighting to Lower the Voting Age

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To celebrate of NPR’s 50th anniversary, we’re taking a look at the moments that defined 1971 — the year NPR first went on air.

Fifty years ago this month, President Nixon signed the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

Half a century later, a new movement is gaining steam. In school districts across the country, teens are fighting to lower the voting age again, to 16.

NPR’s Lilly Quiroz spoke with Anjuli Krishnamurti, a 16-year-old activist with VOTE16USA, an organization that advocates for lowering the voting age at all levels.

“We are involved in the issues that come across America,” Krishnamurti said. "And we have to sit there and watch it without any representation, even though we are so civically engaged.”

Krishnamurti notes the idea has gotten bipartisan support in the past. And this year, three members of Congress re-introduced a bill that would allow 16-year-olds to vote.

🎧 Learn more — and hear a snippet of how All Things Considered covered the amendment's passage in 1971 — right here.

International

The U.S. and China Come Out Swinging on the South China Sea

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Filipino fishermen prepare their boat to sail despite harassment by Chinese militia and coast guard in the disputed waters on May 18, 2021.
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Filipino fishermen prepare their boat to sail despite harassment by Chinese militia and coast guard in the disputed waters on May 18, 2021.

Tension in U.S.-China relations erupted this week with unusually antagonistic rhetoric over the South China Sea.

The spark was the 5th anniversary of a contentious international legal ruling that said China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea was baseless. The Philippines, vexed by China’s encroachment into their territorial waters, had brought the case.

In recent months China incensed the Philippines by massing hundreds of Chinese fishing trawlers at a reef that lies in Philippine-claimed waters in the Spratly Island.

The Philippine defense establishment made a point of starting the week with an emphatic nod to the decision the country had won against Beijing in 2016.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken seized the occasion to extend unequivocal support to the Philippines, one of the oldest allies of the U.S., reaffirming that if the Philippines were attacked, the U.S. would defend it.

Security analyst Gregory Poling said the stark-sounding statement was meant to both reassure the Philippines and warn China.

"You want China to understand very, very clearly what would happen if it did use force against the Philippines. So while, yes, the rhetoric can be alarming, it makes very clear to China that there is a third rail here it must not touch."
Gregory Poling, Senior Fellow and Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

China was not happy to be reminded of the South China Sea judgement, and its foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian scorned it Monday as “nothing more than a piece of waste paper.” Zhao called it a “political farce” manipulated by the United States “to smear and suppress” China.

To learn more about how experts in the region are interpreting the provocative rhetoric and what it may mean for hostilities in the South China Sea, listen here.

Coronavirus

How Canadians On The Border With The U.S. Feel About Travel Restrictions Possibly Being Lifted

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now says Canada may start letting fully vaccinated travelers cross the border from the U.S. by the middle of August, if vaccination rates keep improving.

Restrictions on “non-essential” travel across the border between the U.S. and Canada have been in place for more than 15 months.

As Emma Jacobs reports, the partial closure reassured Canadians during the first year of the pandemic, as the rate of infection in the U.S. was much higher. But vaccination rates have risen in both countries over time, as have calls for changes at the border.

Among those that want to see an easing of restrictions for those that are fully vaccinated is Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor, Ontario.

"The impact of the border closure really is amplified in border cities," he says.

Trudeau Gets Leeway From Voters On Slower U.S. Border Reopening
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A person takes a photo of the Detroit skyline from the waterfront in Windsor, Ontario. The two cities are separated by the Detroit River.

He can see the Detroit skyline from his window in city hall. His brother lives in Michigan and they haven't seen each other in a long time. That family separation is top of mind for him.

"Those who are separated and need to reunite for funerals for births of the first grandchild for all sorts of life events that happen if you're fully vaccinated, now, it's becoming less acceptable to have the border closed for fully vaccinated people."
Drew Dilkens, mayor of Windsor, Ontario

But even though the infection rate in the U.S. has dropped significantly, the partial border closure still remains popular with many Canadians.

Here's how this debate is playing out along the U.S.-Canada border.

Before You Go
Life Kit

Hosting A Gathering For The First Time In A While? Life Kit Has Some Tips

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As we head into the weekend:

Have you been thinking about hosting a get-together for the first time in a while? A lot of us are out of practice. Thankfully, NPR's Life Kit has some advice.

The team spoke with conflict resolution facilitator Priya Parker, who wrote the book The Art of Gathering. She offers these key pointers:

Give your gathering a specific purpose. Before hosting, figure out your reason for gathering. Ask yourself how you actually want to spend your time and with whom.

Think about your guest list. Group size matters. It can impact people's behavior, and there's actual science to it, too.

Set expectations in your invite. That prepares your guests, so they know how to show up and what to show up with.

Practice generous authority, and don't under-host. When it comes to the event itself, a host should absolutely be able to enjoy themselves, but that doesn't mean stepping back entirely.

The generous host does three things: protects, connects and temporarily equalizes their guests. What does that mean, exactly? Head on over to Life Kit to find out, and discover more tips on how to host that next party.