Opioid Settlement, China Hacking Accusations, Bezos Space Launch: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published July 20, 2021 at 5:51 AM EDT
Terri Zaccone is comforted by sister Tina Rhatigan during a candlelight vigil on August 31, 2017, in Washington, D.C., as she holds a picture of her son Thomas DeVito who died from a drug overdose of fentanyl. The event was part of the annual International Overdose Awareness Day.
Alex Wong
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Getty Images North America
Terri Zaccone is comforted by sister Tina Rhatigan during a candlelight vigil on August 31, 2017, in Washington, D.C., as she holds a picture of her son Thomas DeVito who died from a drug overdose of fentanyl. The event was part of the annual International Overdose Awareness Day.

Good morning, hope everyone's well and wishing Eid Mubarak to our friends who celebrate. Here are the stories we're following for you today:

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

Before You Go
Summer Of Love

Nature Is Healing: U.S. Google Searches On Dating Just Hit A 5-Year High

Posted July 20, 2021 at 10:32 AM EDT
Dating A man and a woman share a large orange drink at an outdoor restaurant table, under yellow umbrellas draped in string lights.
Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
A couple drink at a restaurant in Miami Beach, Florida in June 2020. According to Google, search interest in dating recently reached its highest point in five years last week.

Single Americans are once again ready to mingle. Google announced last week that search interest in dating reached a five-year high.

(Fun Fact: The place googling "how to date" the most? Washington D.C.)

The data bear out what industry experts had been predicting: More people are thinking about doing things like getting on dating apps and going on virtual dates and meeting up IRL, especially in places with higher vaccination rates.

(A whole new chapter to last year's "nature is healing" meme.)

For example, searches for "top dating apps 2021" jumped 3,400% over the last month, while "dating apps for older people" rose 3,500%.

More from NPR's Josie Fischels here.

Just In
Space Travel

Scenes From Jeff Bezos' Brief Flight To Space

Posted July 20, 2021 at 10:13 AM EDT

As we mentioned this morning, Blue Origin, the company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, was set to send its first group of passengers into space around 9 a.m. ET.

Well, mission accomplished.

Passengers wearing blue space suits can be seen inside the rectangular windows of the Blue Origin capsule.
Blue Origin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Handout
The New Shepard Blue Origin rocket prepares to lift-off from its launch pad in Van Horn, Texas.

Bezos, his brother Mark, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen and 82-year-old Wally Funk made it to space and back in under 15 minutes.

A spacecraft lifts off from its launch pad, leaving a flume of flames beneath it.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
The New Shepard Blue Origin rocket lifted off from its launch site in Van Horn, Texas just after 9 a.m. ET. on Tuesday.

As NPR's Laurel Wamsley reports, the New Shepard rocket passed the Kármán Line, which is about 62 miles from Earth and considered the official boundary of space.

A white spacecraft flies upward in the blue sky, leaving a trail of pink underneath.
Blue Origin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Blue Origin
This was Blue Origin's first human spaceflight.

The booster crew separated from the capsule after about three minutes, then returned to Earth with a sonic boom. The capsule floated down with the help of parachutes, and landed gently in the West Texas desert.

Three round blue parachutes carry the New Shepard crew capsule downward through a cloudy sky.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
A parachute system carried the four-person crew back down to the ground.

After a few minutes, the passengers — who could be heard whooping and marveling at the view during their flight — stepped out off the capsule and into the embrace of their jubilant family and friends.

A still of a video reading "Successful first human flight" shows side by side images of the booster and capsule after landing in the desert.
Blue Origin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Blue Origin
The booster and capsule both made it back to Earth successfully.

Economy

Why Restaurant Workers Are Quitting At A Record Rate

Posted July 20, 2021 at 9:51 AM EDT

Around 5% of this massive workforce have called it quits each month this year. That was 706,000 people in May alone.

And as pandemic restrictions lift, even more customers are eager to eat out and socialize in person again.

As NPR's Alina Selyukh reports, a staggering 1.2 million jobs are currently unfilled in the restaurant industry.

Alina looked into why. Here's what she found:

  • Low wages are the most common reason people cite for leaving food service work.
  • The high-stress culture forces many to leave the industry: exhausting work, unreliable hours, no benefits and so many rude customers. But in one recent survey, more than half of hospitality workers who have quit said no amount of pay would get them to return.

So what are businesses — and workers — doing? What can customers do to help? Click through to the full story.

Just In
International

China Is Responding To U.S. Cyberattack Allegations With Its Own Accusations of Cybercrime

Posted July 20, 2021 at 9:37 AM EDT

China is responding to cyberattack allegations today and pushing back with an accusation of its own. This happened a day after the U.S. came out and publicly accused China of hacking at least 30,000 Microsoft Exchange email accounts.

  • China said all these accusations are “baseless” and a “political smear.” They then turned the tables, saying it was the victim of global cybercrime, calling the U.S. the global leader in cyberattacks.
  • A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson cited a report released by a previously unheard of Chinese security firm called 360, which accuses the U.S. of targeting Chinese aviation firms, technology companies, the oil sector and other critical industries for the past 11 years.
  • That report cites a 2017 criminal case of a former CIA employee which was well covered in U.S. media at the time. But the report also offers no evidence of how the CIA is connected to cyberattacks or whether these attacks even happened.
  • China’s accusations today are notable because they are calibrated to be reciprocal. They perfectly mirror a separate action taken yesterday by the Justice Department, which charged four Chinese nationals with working for China’s Ministry of State Security to hack U.S. universities, technology companies and government agencies.

Whether or not these allegations flying around from both sides are true, what we can take away is that cybersecurity is now another big rift between the U.S. and China.

Review
Books

'Intimacies' Is A Raw, Compelling Novel About Human Relationships

Posted July 20, 2021 at 9:31 AM EDT
"Intimacies" is Katie Kitamura’s fourth novel
"Intimacies" is Katie Kitamura’s fourth novel

Katie Kitamura writes novels about slippery people. Individuals who tend to slide across borders and through cities. Her latest novel, Intimacies, is centered around an unnamed narrator, an interpreter for the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Kitamura is adept at making nearly every exchange emotionally intense, whether it's the narrator worrying about the fidelity of her boyfriend, the loyalty of her accomplished art curator friend, the lewdness of a successful bookstore owner or her interactions with a former president and alleged war criminal.

Nothing about the people who come into the interpreter's life is necessarily as it seems and it makes her question the choices she is making about her own life. There is mystery. There is crime. There is violence. There is so much moral ambiguity but there is also so much possibility.

And by the way, this book made former President Obama's summer reading list.

You can listen 🎧 to Kitamura's conversation with Noel King.

Guns In America

Guns From One State Are Driving Gun Violence In Another. So Cities Are Cracking Down

Posted July 20, 2021 at 8:51 AM EDT

Gun violence continues to plague communities across the country. And while gun laws vary from states-to-state, firearms move easily across state lines.

That's certainly the case in Chicago, where there are no gun stores and police recover a higher number of illegal guns than they do in New York or Los Angeles.

As NPR Cheryl Corley reports, there's a renewed push by federal law enforcement and community residents to get illegal guns off the streets.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab works with police to identify the source of guns at crime scenes .They reported in 2017 that about 40% of the weapons came from other parts of Illinois, while the remainder came from states with less regulation of firearms, like Indiana and Mississippi. Just one of them can cause a lot of damage.

Here’s what that looks like: One 9 millimeter Glock handgun was recovered in Hammond, Ind., about 30 miles outside of Chicago. Police then matched it to shell casings found last year at several shooting scenes in three different Chicago police districts.

And earlier this year, shell casings recovered from another homicide matched this same gun. A few days later, shell casings from a drive-by shooting and another murder in the same area were a match too.

“It’s really, really important that we not wait until the gun is in the city of Chicago, in someone’s hands, and the trigger has been pulled. And it’s great there are efforts now to focus on not just the person caught with the gun but who put the gun into the hands of the person.”
Roseanna Ander - Executive Director, University of Chicago's Crime Lab

Firearm trafficking strike forces are beginning their work in Chicago as well as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.

These aren’t the first such efforts, but they place a new emphasis on addressing poverty and the other factors that contribute to violent crime. For example, they now include funding for jobs, intervention and outreach.

For more on where these illegal guns are coming from and what's being done to fight them, listen to the full story.

Space

Meet Wally Funk, Set To Become The Oldest Person To Fly In Space

Posted July 20, 2021 at 8:33 AM EDT
In a black and white photo, a woman leans out of a small plane cockpit to look over her shoulder.
Don Cravens/Getty Images
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The Chronicle Collection
Wally Funk, sitting in the cockpit of an AT-6 training plane at Hawthorne airport.

Today, at 82, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk is expected to become the oldest person to reach space. She'll do it aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle during an 11-minute suborbital flight.

In the 1960s, she passed many of the same tests that qualified men to be astronauts, but she was denied from NASA four times. Funk never gave up on her dream of going to space.

"I never let anything stop me. I know that my body and my mind can take anything that any space outfit wants to give me."
Wally Funk in 2017

In 2017, Funk came to StoryCorp with her flight student, Mary Holsenbeck, to talk about Funk's astronaut training and their bond. You can read or listen to their conversation here.

Economy

Wall Street Looks Set To Rebound After Tough Day

Posted July 20, 2021 at 8:18 AM EDT

Confidence is returning back to stock markets the day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell — more than 700 points — to its biggest one-day loss this year over fears of the spreading delta variant.

Stock futures are pointing to a higher open, with the Dow tipped to open up around 200 points, or about 0.6%.

Markets have been on a dizzying run that has seen all three major indexes, including the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, set a series of ever-climbing record highs amid optimism over the improving economy.

Analysts say the falls on Monday were a good reminder that the fight against the pandemic is far from over, and that unpredictable factors can still very well ruin the best of expectations as the delta variant continues to spread around the world.

Here are three things to know about yesterday's drop.

Just In
Space Travel

Jeff Bezos, Wally Funk And Others Are Jetting To Space

Posted July 20, 2021 at 7:46 AM EDT

The spaceflight company Blue Origin, founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, is heading to space with passengers for the first time this morning.

It's expected to be a brief trip, but a big milestone for the Amazon founder's space tourism ambitions.

The New Shepard is scheduled to take off from Blue Origin's West Texas facility at 9 a.m. ET. You can follow along with livestream coverage starting at 7:30 a.m.

Brendan Byrne, who covers space at member station WMFE, walked us through what to expect today and for the future of the space tourism industry more broadly.

  • The plan: As the rocket reaches the boundary of space, a small capsule carrying the four-person crew will break off, giving the passengers about four minutes of weightlessness. The capsule will fall back to earth and land in the Texas desert with the help of parachutes. The whole process is expected to take less than 11 minutes.
  • The team: Bezos will be joined by three other passengers: his brother Mark, and the youngest and oldest humans to travel to space. They are 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, the spacecraft's first paying customer, and 82-year-old Wally Funk, a pilot and lifelong aspiring astronaut.
  • The market: It appears there is some demand for commercial space flight. Blue Origin is planning more flights this year and half a dozen next year, with the long-term goal of flying as often as once every two years. Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's company, says it already has some 600 reservations for spacecraft flights. As flights become more available and prices drop, they'll still hover around a few hundred thousand dollars — so space remains a far reach for most ordinary people.

Speaking of Richard Branson: The British billionaire made it to the edge of space earlier this month, in a historic first. Bezos is set to go even further (more on that here).

Haiti

Haiti Has A New Prime Minister And Elections Planned

Posted July 20, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT

It appears an agreement has been worked out over who will take charge of Haiti's government in the wake of the assassination of the Caribbean nation's president.

Since the murder of President Jovenel Moïse nearly two weeks ago, two men have said they were running the country: acting prime minister Claude Joseph and Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and public official who had been appointed by Moïse two days before the assassination but not yet sworn in to the position.The new deal would put Henry in charge and has the backing of the international community.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has been covering developments in Haiti and says a swearing-in ceremony could happen as soon as today.

Haiti's election minister, Matias Pierre, says the goal of all in the government is to hold elections for a new president possibly as soon as September.

🎧 Hear more from Kahn.

Fashion

Sustainable Fashion Is Having A Moment This Eid — And Likely For Years To Come

Posted July 20, 2021 at 7:35 AM EDT

Today is the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday marking the culmination of the Hajj pilgrimage.

And as NPR's Dalia Faheid reports: "This week, Muslims around the world will finally be able to debut their finest abayas, salwar kameezes, kaftans and thobes they've been saving in the backs of their closets for three pandemic Eids. For a growing number who have rethought their fashion choices during that time, those glitzy, intricately woven pieces will be more sustainable."

Many Muslim designers launched eco-friendly pieces leading up to the holiday to meet increased demand for sustainable fashion. For example:

The market for modest fashion is projected to keep growing, and experts predict an even bigger shift towards sustainability in the years ahead.

Meet some of these designers here.

Untangling Disinformation

Down The Misinformation Rabbit Hole: How A COVID-19 Vaccine Lie Is Made

Posted July 20, 2021 at 7:31 AM EDT
A red-tinted photo shows discarded Moderna COVID-19 vaccine vials and syringes inside of a waste container.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
Despite a large and growing body of evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, misinformation persists.

The sheer volume of online misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is overwhelming. To make sense of it all and understand how lies like these evolve, we had to start at the beginning.

Science editor and correspondent Geoff Brumfiel bravely went down the rabbit hole of one of these myths, to see how a “kernel of truth” can spark a long chain of lies.

The full story is incredible —read or listen here— but here are the highlights. ⤵

The lie: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect female fertility

  • How it started: Some women noted unusually heavy periods after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this spring. Researchers say a connection is plausible, but can’t be certain because clinical trials didn’t ask women about menstruation.
  • That lack of data created an opening for anti-vaccine activists: Stories on the subject cropped up in online forums and Facebook groups.
  • Scientists have made clear that vaccinated people cannot spread side effects to unvaccinated people. But anti-vaccine activist Naomi Wolf, a member of one of those groups, tweeted that “hundreds of women” said they had bleeding or clotting after vaccination, or bled oddly “around” vaccinated women.
  • Wolf continued posting about vaccines causing infertility and miscarriages, though there have been no such scientific reports. Still, the tweets were amplified by highly-followed influencers and some clickbait websites.
  • Before long, a Miami private school announced it wouldn’t employ teachers or staff who got vaccinated, citing questions about whether the vaccine could spread to others. That story sparked global news coverage, bringing the lies along with it.
  • Two months after it started, the misinformation had reached as far as France and Brazil. And then it faded away. That’s partly because social media companies got stricter (Wolf was banned from Twitter in June). And partly because, as Brumfiel explains, “They grab the attention, but there's no substance there. So once they've shocked those they're meant to engage, they disappear. Or more properly, they're replaced by a new, incredible story.”

Check out the full story here.

Just In
Opioid Epidemic

A $26 Billion Opioid Settlement Involving A Number Of Major Drug Companies Is Close

Posted July 20, 2021 at 7:31 AM EDT

Negotiators appear to be close to a final opioid settlement that's meant to resolve a tsunami of lawsuits against some of the biggest drug companies and distributors in the country.

The deal will likely mean the companies pay about $26 billion.

This deal involves Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. These are all companies that have made or distributed opioids. Tthis deal has been in the works for two years.

Sources in the offices of two state Attorneys General tell NPR a national deal is very close and is expected this week. Johnson & Johnson also sent a statement to us which they've issued before saying "there continues to be progress toward finalizing this agreement."

Most of the money would be used for drug treatment programs and other social services. That would be a game-changer for communities scrambling to fund addiction care at a time when overdose deaths are at record levels. There were more than 93,000 drug fatalities last year, many of them from opioids.

We're getting word of this deal at the same time that the Justice Department is condemning a proposed bankruptcy settlement for Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin. In court filings on Monday, two divisions of the DOJ described the plan as fatally flawed.