Start Your Day Here: Afghan President Is Sheltering In UAE, Booster Shots Expected Soon

Published August 18, 2021 at 7:48 AM EDT
Two men walk past a mural of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on Saturday.
Rahmat Gul/AP
A mural of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hangs at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Saturday. Ghani fled the country and is now in the United Arab Emirates.

Good morning.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is in the United Arab Emirates after fleeing his own country.

Here are more stories to start your day:

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, how the Taliban are handling airport security as people flee.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

Nell Clark, Sneha Dey, Tori Dominguez, Dana Farrington, Rachel Treisman, Nicole Hernandez, Emily Alfin Johnson, Casey Noenickx and Carol Ritchie


Some Florida School Boards Are Defying Their Governor's Ban On Mask Mandates

Posted August 18, 2021 at 11:41 AM EDT
Students wear face masks, uniforms, and set behind plastic shields in a classroom.
Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
The Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Miami, Jim Rigg (behind) visits students at the St. Lawrence Catholic School in north of Miami, on Wednesday.

School boards in Florida are wrestling with whether to require students to wear face masks. The Centers forDiseaseControl andPreventionrecommends all students and staff wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but in Florida, counties that require masks could face consequences from the state government.

In late July, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order barring school districts from issuing mask mandates. But some local school boards, worried about the surge of thedelta variant, may choose not to comply.

In Miami-Dade County, where classes will resume next week, the school board will vote today on whether to defy the governor's order and require masks.

And in the Tampa Bay area, where schools opened last week, the Hillsborough County School Board has called an emergency meeting to discuss masks after hundreds of students tested positive for COVID-19 and over 8,000 were quarantined.

Most school districts in Florida have complied with the governor's order, but not all of them, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said at a state Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately ... we have districts that are picking and choosing what law they want to follow,” Corcoran said.

Two counties, Alachua and Broward, have already defied the governor's orders. The state Board of Education voted to begin the process of taking punitive action, which could mean withholding the salaries of school district officials or removing them from their positions.

Carlee Simon is the superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools. She told the board that she believes her district’s policies comply with state rules, because parents can opt out by submitting a doctor’s note or applying for a state-directed voucher for their child to attend a private school.

“Our goal is to keep our schools open," Simon said. "The masks are a safety device that we use to reduce the spread of COVID and reduce the need to quarantine."

President Biden has encouraged school districts in Florida to follow CDC guidance. The White House sent a letter to districts last week promising to provide federal funds to make up any money withheld by the state.

Hearmorefrom NPR'sGreg Allen in Miami.

Performing Arts

These Broadway Shows Went Dark, But You Can Still Go See The Costumes

Posted August 18, 2021 at 11:23 AM EDT
 Can't Let It Go: Two looks from Disney's Frozen, by Christopher Oram, including Elsa's ice dress are on display at the exhibition "Showstoppers!"
Rebecca J. Michelson/Grapevine Public Relations
Can't Let It Go: Two looks from Disney's Frozen, by Christopher Oram, including Elsa's ice dress are on display at the exhibition "Showstoppers!"

Disney's Broadway production of Frozen shut down last year due to the pandemic. Six, a musical about the wives of Henry VIII, seemed poised as an instant hit when it closed on opening night.

But now you can at least see the costumes up close — along with the costumes from other iconic productions, including Hamilton, Wicked and TV's Mrs. Maisel.

The exhibition Showstoppers!: Spectacular Costumes from Stage and Screen opened on 42nd Street in the heart of the theater district to show off the work of costumers who were left without work for months during the coronavirus shutdown.

NPR's Jeff Lunden says you can also watch costumers at work — when he visited, he saw a draper, a glovemaker, embroiderers and a milliner.

The show is housed in a former sporting goods store, which went belly-up during the pandemic.

Gillian Conahan works at the Showstoppers! exhibition on Aug. 4 in New York City.
Arturo Holmes/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Gillian Conahan works at the Showstoppers! exhibition on Aug. 4 in New York City.

Read and see pictures of the exhibit, or 🎧 listen to Lunden's Morning Edition story here.

Just In

Pfizer And Moderna Booster Shots Are Set To Start Sept. 20 In The U.S.

Posted August 18, 2021 at 10:53 AM EDT

Federal officials say they plan to begin offering COVID-19 booster shots in September, subject to Food and Drug Administration review and concurrence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The shots would be offered beginning the week of Sept. 20, to start 8 months after an individual’s second dose.

“At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster,” a statement says.

The statement cited data that “make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination.” The rise of the delta variant is another factor, they said, in a reduction in protection against mild and moderate disease.

The initial rollout applies to those people who received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The statement says boosters are anticipated for people who got the J&J vaccine and will update plans as more data become available.

Read more here.


As The Taliban Take Over, An Afghan Journalist Says 'Afghans Are Hopeless'

Posted August 18, 2021 at 10:35 AM EDT

Many Afghan journalists are especially concerned about the Taliban's return to power, since many have been targeted — or killed — in the group's attacks over the years.

Zubair Babakarkhail has been a journalist for nearly two decades, and worked for the U.S. Department of Defense-funded newspaper Stars and Stripes for about half of his career.

He told NPR's A Martínez that he is definitely worried about his safety now that the Taliban are taking control. He's starting doing his work from home, opting yesterday to avoid covering the Taliban's first press conference in person.

"Once they have a government and put specific people responsible for specific areas, I believe they'll go house-to-house, door-to-door asking people who they are," Babakarkhail says. "I believe even if the Taliban government say there is free speech in Afghanistan and media can work, the local fighters when you're interacting with them on a daily basis they'll call you different names, because of my background. I see myself not being happy anymore here, I'll have problems."

When asked what Afghans need from the U.S. and its allies, Babakarkhail responded that "Afghans are hopeless," with many desperately trying to flee the country.

He said he doubts the international community will want to get involved after spending so much money to help Afghanistan rebuild its infrastructure, education and health care systems only to see its army and police "run away like that" as the Taliban advanced.

🎧 Listen to their conversation here.


The United Arab Emirates Says It’s Sheltering Afghanistan’s Ousted President Ashraf Ghani

Posted August 18, 2021 at 10:23 AM EDT
Two men stand next to a large, torn down black-and-white photo of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, hanging at street-level from a building.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
Afghan men stand next to the a torn poster of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Kabul airport on Monday.

Ousted Afghan president Ashraf Ghani is now in the United Arab Emirates, the country confirmed in a brief statement on Wednesday.

“The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds," it wrote.

Ghani left Afghanistan over the weekend as Taliban forces advanced on the capital of Kabul, prompting much speculation about his whereabouts. In his first public comments on Sunday, he said he had left the country to avoid further bloodshed.

Journalist George Packer profiled Ghani for The New Yorker in 2016, and spoke to NPR about his governing style over the weekend. Listen to that here.


How Housing Bubbles Work And Why It's Happening Again

Posted August 18, 2021 at 10:14 AM EDT
Soap bubbles float around a crowded outdoor street.
TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images
Bubbles float through the air near the Pantheon on March 22, 2014 in Rome.

From 2012 to 2019, the housing market experienced its third biggest boom in history. Then the pandemic came with a buying frenzy and selling freeze — a supply-demand situation that made prices skyrocket. Now that house prices are above the peak of the 2000s housing bubble, people are worried that another crash is on the horizon. But how do bubbles and crashes work?

Bubbles 101

Housing bubbles happen when the price of homes depart from what they’re actually worth. The actual worth of a house is called a "fundamental," and it’s determined by a lot of factors, like proximity to good jobs or supply-and-demand of houses in an area.

This is what happened in the 2000s — the tech boom made cities like San Francisco and Boston coveted places to live, because they had lots of jobs but a limited supply of homes. This was a real change, and caused the fundamental value of homes there to rise.

But people also go over-excited about that, causing prices to rise above fundamentals. This became a serious problem because of the role that mortgages play in financing homes. When prices started to dip, many people started to owe more on their mortgage than their house was really worth. That, together with the recession, caused a boom in foreclosures. The large number of foreclosed houses on the market made prices plummet below fundamentals.

What Happens Now?

The pandemic has upended the housing market in two ways: Demand for houses are higher than supply, and the shift to remote work is making suburbs, not large cities, more desirable to homebuyers — but the future of remote work is still to be determined.

Learn more about the housing market from NPR's Planet Money here.


Kanye's New Album Is Delayed, Again. But Maybe That's The Point

Posted August 18, 2021 at 9:30 AM EDT
West is seen in the spotlight onstage wearing a bright red outfit. The stands are filled with people and lights.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Universal Music
Getty Images North America
Kanye West onstage at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 22, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia during a listening party for his forthcoming album 'DONDA'.

Kanye West’s newest album, DONDA, was supposed to be released in late July.

He hosted multiple listening parties for the album.

He moved into a stadium with his team to finish the album.

But three weeks later... still no album.

The project is named after his mother who passed away in 2007, and it has set Kanye's fanbase ablaze. Some listeners who have heard early cuts say it's up there with the best music of Kanye's storied career. Fans and critics alike continue to wait for the project's full release.

But what if the delays are part of Kanye’s process of grief over his mother?

NPR's A Martínez called up Buzzfeed culture writer Elamin Abdelmahmoud to discuss Kanye's path to releasing the album.

“How could DONDA the album be finished if you're having a hard time acknowledging that Donda the person is finished?”
Elamin Abdelmahmoud

🎧 Listen to the full conversation here. And check out these stories below for more context on Kanye as an artist and persona:


The Digital 'Museum Of Black Joy' Turns Ordinary Moments Into An Exhibition

Posted August 18, 2021 at 9:20 AM EDT

We know the news cycle has been heavy lately — and it's moments like these where it's extra important to seek out little bits of levity (speaking of which, have you checked NPR's Joy Generator?).

Poet and photographer Andrea Walls was feeling that way, too, in Jan. 2020, when headlines blared with news of violence against minorities and people of color.

"It was really starting to impact my emotional self, and became so psychically overwhelming," she told NPR's Neda Ulaby. "So I just saw the power of shifting the lens, making a conscious decision to pay attention to the joy."

Walls created the digital Museum of Black Joy, a "borderless exhibition" that features of Black people in what she calls "ordinary moments of grace and kindness and non-traumatic breath."

The exhibit only features Walls' own photography at the moment, though she credits a wide range of inspirations and collaborators, and hopes to expand it with grant funding from several sources. She's also started digging into local archives in Philadelphia for more photos.

"The way they've arranged the history of Black people in America — it hasn't centered joy," she says. "But we've always lived it."

Click here to read Ulaby's story, complete with stunning photos from the museum. And visit the Museum of Black Joy here.


A Texas School Made Masks Part Of Its Dress Code To Get Around Gov. Abbott’s Ban

Posted August 18, 2021 at 9:05 AM EDT
A student holds a backpack and a mask.
mixetto/Getty Images
In this stock image, a student is ready for school with a backpack and a mask.

A school district in northeast Texas has found a creative way to get around Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates.

The Paris Independent School District will now require students to wear masks as part of its dress code.

The Paris ISD board of trustees said in a statement that it "believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues," and amended it accordingly to protect its students and employees.

"The Texas Governor does not have the authority to usurp the Board of Trustees’ exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district," it continued. "Nothing in the Governor’s Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority."

The board made its decision after an emergency meeting on Tuesday, when parents, district employees and local doctors discussed the subject for more than an hour, according to The Paris News. The change to the dress code is not permanent and will be revisited at each monthly board meeting.

Abbott — who announced yesterday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated — has been fighting with local governments over masks for months.

In July, he extended an executive order that prohibits government entities (including school districts) from requiring face coverings. Local leaders in cities including Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin have defied the order and left their mask mandates in place.

"Now you have officials at the local level saying, at least if you're not going to help us, get out of the way, but that doesn't seem to be where we're headed," Scott Braddock, the editor of statewide political newsletter the Quorum Report, told NPR.

The Texas Supreme Court handed Abbott his first legal victory over the weekend when it struck down temporary restraining orders that enabled two counties to institute mask requirements (more from Texas Public Radio).

Music News

R. Kelly's Trial Is Starting In New York Today

Posted August 18, 2021 at 8:52 AM EDT
Singer R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in September 2019 in Chicago. A separate case in New York is going to trial on Wednesday.
Antonio Perez/Pool via Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Singer R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in September 2019 in Chicago. A separate case in New York is going to trial on Wednesday.

The first of two federal trials against R&B singer R. Kelly begins today in New York. Kelly is accused of luring young girls and women, sexual exploitation of a child, sex trafficking and more.

Federal prosecutors are structuring their case similar to that of an organized crime case, with charges including racketeering.

Kelly has been in custody since July 2019 for this delayed New York trial to begin, as NPR’s Anastasia Tsioulcas and Andrew Limbong report.

Catch up on the most important developments that led to today with this timeline on the charges against R. Kelly.


Pope Francis Calls COVID Vaccines An 'Act Of Love'

Posted August 18, 2021 at 8:40 AM EDT
Pope Francis delivers his message during his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.
Gregorio Borgia/AP
Pope Francis delivers his message during his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.

Pope Francis is adding his voice to a campaign to overcome vaccine skepticism, issuing a public service announcement insisting that vaccines are safe, effective and an “act of love.”

The video message released Wednesday is aimed at a global audience but directed particularly at the Americas. It features six cardinals and archbishops from North, Central and South America as well as the Argentine-born pope. It was produced by the Vatican and the Ad Council, which has produced a series of pro-vaccine ads in a bid to get more people vaccinated.

In his comments, Francis said: “Being vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities is an act of love. And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love.”

He added: “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”

Francis had emphasized at the start of the pandemic the need to ensure equal access to the vaccine, especially for the poor. But faced with increasing skepticism about vaccines especially among religious conservatives, the Vatican has vowed an all-out effort to overcome hesitancy and encourage widespread vaccination.

The Vatican has declared that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines, including those based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses.


The Virus Rages In Florida, And Changes Some Vaccine Skeptics' Minds

Posted August 18, 2021 at 8:16 AM EDT

While the delta variant drives up COVID-19 cases across the country, some states are seeing more dramatic numbers than others.

📈 Check NPR's vaccine tracker and case tracker to see how your state is doing. Plus, see where hospitals are filling up.

One of those states is Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is expanding monoclonal antibody treatments as cases surge. DeSantis has also threatened to withhold salaries from school leaders who require masks (and in Broward County, three educators died of COVID-19 within 24 hours over the weekend as schools prepared to reopen).

And within the state, the inland area of Nassau County is especially hard-hit: For the week ending July 29, the 89,000-person county recorded 810 new cases, the highest rate in Florida at the time.

The Associated Press takes us inside the county to Callahan, a rural town of about 1,000 people where the virus' dramatic resurgence is convincing some longtime vaccine skeptics to roll up their sleeves.

Roger West (right) columnist of the Westside Journal in northeast Florida, looks over news copy with his wife Dawn, owner and publisher, in the newspaper office on Aug. 10 in Callahan, Fla. Outspoken as he had been in opposing COVID-19 vaccines, he reconsidered after the virus returned with a deadly vengeance in mid-July.
John Raoux/AP
Roger West (right) columnist of the Westside Journal in northeast Florida, looks over news copy with his wife Dawn, owner and publisher, in the newspaper office on Aug. 10 in Callahan, Fla. Outspoken as he had been in opposing COVID-19 vaccines, he reconsidered after the virus returned with a deadly vengeance in mid-July.

One woman lost her fiancé, mother and grandmother to COVID-19 in a single week. A columnist at a weekly newspaper who described himself as "adamantly anti-vaccination" decided to get vaccinated after two of his friends got sick, and one died.

"I've seen fear grip people like never before," said Dwight Allen, pastor at The Anchor Church of God.

Read the full story here. Plus, read these heart wrenching letters from NPR readers to their loved ones who are hesitant about getting vaccinated.

More from NPR Member stations:


Haiti's New Prime Minister Takes On Recovery Role. Haitians Say Relief Is Too Slow

Posted August 18, 2021 at 7:31 AM EDT
Temporary homes made out of sticks for families who survived the earthquake are seen before the rain began in Les Cayes.
Octavio Jones for NPR
Temporary homes made out of sticks for families who survived the earthquake are seen before the rain began in Les Cayes.

The devastating earthquake that has staggered Haitians is only the second shock to the nation in two months.

The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July left a power struggle in the government: The interim prime minister refused to step aside to allow Ariel Henry, appointed by Moïse just two days before he was shot dead, to take over.

That dispute ended soon after, and Henry, a neurosurgeon and public official, took office. Now he has been forced into a sudden new role: disaster manager.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Haiti and reports that Henry has directed government agencies to get moving, directed international aid through the Haitian office of civil protection and spent time in the streets talking to injured Haitians waiting outside hospitals.

"He'll be judged later on how successful the government's response is to this crisis," Beaubien says. "But at least for now, when the country definitely needs a leader, Henry is doing that job. And it's really a good thing that the leadership fight was resolved before this natural disaster hit."

Many Haitians, now homeless and jobless, are still waiting for aid and say they are frustrated.

🎧 Listen for more on how Haitians are coping after a tropical storm ripped through makeshift shelters yesterday.


A Taliban Spokesman Says The Group Has Changed. The World Is Waiting For Proof

Posted August 18, 2021 at 7:27 AM EDT
Taliban fighters patrol along a road in Kabul on Tuesday.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
Taliban fighters patrol along a road in Kabul on Tuesday.

The Taliban are “on a bit of a charm offensive right now,” NPR’s Jacki Northam reports.

The group now in control of Afghanistan says it has changed since it ruled the country in the 1990s, when it was known for brutal violence and the repression of women and girls.

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that there will be no reprisals for those who worked with foreign troops prior to the takeover. But when asked directly about previous punishments used by the Taliban, including cutting off hands for stealing, Shaheen did not give a straight answer. Instead, he said that judges will determine the appropriate consequences, following their interpretation of Islamic law.

🎧 Listen to the interview with Shaheen about the Taliban here.

Al Jazeera journalist Charlotte Bellis, who is in Kabul, has seen this tension over appearances up close. The Taliban is controlling the perimeter of the international airport in Kabul, where Afghans and foreign nationals are attempting to leave the country. Bellis has witnessed Taliban security help Americans and even government leaders make their flights. But she’s also seen them push people with paperwork back.

“So I think there’s an element of chaos and kind of anarchy at the moment as the Taliban want to look like they’re in control ... that security’s improved under them and that they’re facilitating this, but at the same time trying to deal with crowds and just feeling I think pretty overwhelmed with the thousands of people who are making a run for the airport,” Bellis said on NPR’s Up First podcast.

As for women, Shaheen of the Taliban said, “The women, they have a right to education and to work.” He said doctors, teachers and journalists are all back to work, with a caveat — they are “observing hijab.”

In the 1990s, women were not allowed to go to school or to work, and they had to be covered from head to toe when they went out in public.

“Women’s rights in Afghanistan have come a long way since then and it will be very tough for women if they have to revert to life as it was back in the ‘90s,” Northam says. Several women’s rights activists who have spoken with NPRover the last week have expressed skepticism about any Taliban promises of change, and are defiant against attempts to silence them.


Here's How You Can Help Afghan Refugees Right Now

Posted August 18, 2021 at 7:21 AM EDT
A line of people stand outside a wire barricade.
Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.

In the days after Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul, thousands have attempted to flee the country.

United Nations groups have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe. Women's rights groups, in particular, are uncertain of what Taliban rule will mean for the future of women and girls.

Afghans who are arriving in the U.S. will be coming to the Washington, D.C., area; Houston and Fort Worth, Texas; and Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.

Here's how you can help them and organizations on the ground in Afghanistan.

➡️Volunteer to help resettled refugees: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is asking for volunteers to help refugees upon arrival with airport pickups, meal assistance, mentorship, tutoring and more. You can participate if you're in one of the areas where refugees are arriving, and there's a standby list to join for other areas too. You can also donate.

➡️Take up a challenge: Women for Women International says a "generous member of our community" will match up to $500,000 in donations for its Afghanistan program.

➡️Open your wallet: Consider donating to Women for Afghan Women, which says it is the largest women's group in Afghanistan; the International Refugee Assistance Project; and the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, which works to protect journalists on the ground.

➡️Email the White House: The International Rescue Committee has an email form through which you can urge the Biden administration to take immediate steps to ensure "vulnerable Afghans have pathways to safety." The group is also asking for donations.


An Announcement Could Come Today On COVID-19 Booster Shots For Most Americans

Posted August 18, 2021 at 7:16 AM EDT

The Biden administration is reportedly on the verge of advising Americans who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to get a COVID-19 booster shot eight months after their last dose.

And that announcement could come today. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday that the White House COVID-19 Response Team will discuss boosters at its 11 a.m. ET briefing, which will be followed by remarks from President Biden.

The possibility of boosters — which would need to be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration — has been part of the administration's planning, Psaki added.

A source familiar with discussions among White House health experts said the administration of boosters could begin as early as mid-September, pending FDA authorization. Read more about that here.

Booster doses would aim to protect against the delta variant, which is sending case counts skyrocketing. Plus, a third dose could help with any waning effectiveness.

A person with a clipboard talks to a girl wearing a tie-dye hoodie and black face mask, behind a propped up sign that reads "COVID-19 Vaccines Here" and shows an illustration of a dripping syringe and vial. Another group of people stand on the other side.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
People wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine at a baseball game in Springfield, Mo., on Aug. 5.

This latest development comes just days after federal agencies recommended booster shots for immunocompromised people. Here are six things to know if you're in this group and considering a third shot.

Just a month ago, federal health officials were saying most fully vaccinated Americans would not need another dose. So what changed?

Dr. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told NPR's Steve Inskeep this morning that officials are looking at unpublished Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, as well as data coming out of Israel that seem to show early vaccine recipients now have less protection against the virus.

Most of these studies have been focused on the two mRNA vaccines, Omer said, but he acknowledges that people who got the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine have questions and hopes they will get guidance too.

🎧 Listen to hisMorning Editioninterview.