Start Your Week Here: Afghan Voices, Overwhelmed Hospitals And A Diamond On Beyoncé
We're starting off the week with a mix of breaking news and developing stories, including:
COVID-19 cases: Infections are rising among adults and kids. Most people who have been hospitalized — including young children — are not fully vaccinated. Plus: The FDA has given full approval to the Pfizer vaccine.
Afghanistan eyewitnesses: With evacuations still underway, there are some voices that you need hear to understand the scope of the crisis. For more background on the Taliban and Afghanistan, read this timeline on the country's history and this post on how the Taliban makes money.
Beyoncé shines: The singer is once again turning heads, becoming the first Black woman to wear the iconic Tiffany diamond — and raising funds for HBCUs while she's at it.
🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, hear more about the chaotic scene at the airport in Kabul.
— The Morning Edition live blog team
(Dana Farrington, Nicole Hernandez, Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Casey Noenickx)
Bush's Deputy Secretary Of State Says The U.S. Could Have Left Afghanistan In 2002
Richard Armitage, who served as the deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush, now says he wishes he had decided to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan during his tenure.
Armitage spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep about the cost of the country's 20-year involvement and the moments it could have withdrawn along the way. When asked, he said the first real opportunity for the U.S. to get out would have been in the winter of 2002. So why didn't his administration act?
"This is something that I ... bear on my conscience," Armitage says. "I think I'm one of those who are responsible there in the Bush administration for not having turned around and gotten us out of there. After all, I did visit Afghanistan on several different occasions, but from my point of view, my inbox was filling up and it was filling up primarily with Iraq.”
Listen to the interview here, and read excerpts below.
On when would have been the best time to withdraw: “I think when the death of Osama bin Laden was announced, that would have been a perfect time and perfectly reasonable.”
On why previous attempts to withdraw didn't stick: “Corruption stuck, and you couldn't put an overlay of professionalism on them. Does anyone doubt that the Afghans can shoot and fight? But the question is, is the sacrifice going to be worth it for a tribe? It is that they have shells for their tribe, for a man's family, it is. But for the government in Kabul, just like the government in Saigon before the fall of the corruption was so overwhelming and then it wasn't worth the sacrifice for the troops.”
On Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. troops: “I'm personally of the opinion that we should have gotten out and that Mr. Biden's choice was a correct one. However, it has been so hashed up that I think he brings to the fore a whole host of questions about the United States ... You've had two successive administrations, Biden's and Trump's, which couldn't handle the challenge of COVID. Then you bring to the fore the 6 January coup attempt. And now you've got what appears to be an inability to even run a two-car funeral. So I think that the correct decision was made, but the manner in which it's carried out is going to have long-lasting implications for the United States and our standing in the world.”
On Biden’s statement that chaos was inevitable regardless of when the U.S. withdrew: "We chose the date, the arbitrary date originally of 11 September, does that ring any bells with anybody? That was just waving a flag in front of the Taliban or anyone who wishes us ill. My preference would have been just to take the end of the year, make an announcement, 'We're going to get out,' and use all that time to process special immigration visas and other things. But the fact that even now, as I understand it, we're still to some extent trying to enforce some sort of bureaucracy on those leaving Afghanistan who are not American, it strikes me as insane. We ought to get them out and then sort them out after. I think we've already lost the opportunity to have sort of a cordon sanitaire around Kabul.”
6 Interviews About Afghanistan You Need To Read And Hear
Over the past week, Morning Edition has spoken with a number of people who have first-hand experience in Afghanistan — some are witnessing the chaotic withdrawal up close, others know the conflict intimately and are now watching from afar. Here are highlights described by NPR’s Steve Inskeep (see his Twitter thread here):
A U.S. interpreter: We interviewed “Reggie,” a former interpreter who was awaiting a U.S. visa. “Thank you,” he told Americans at the end, “for thinking of your old friend.” Read his story here.
A veteran: We heard U.S. veteran Kristen Rouse, now pushing to bring Afghans out. “While people are alive, we have to believe that we can keep them alive. We have to try. We owe it to them to try.” Here’s her perspective.
An activist: A Martinez spoke with Mahbooba Seraj, who is staying in Afghanistan. “I am responsible for a group of women and girls ... They have been under my protection. And I am still around because I don’t know what to do with them.” Read more on her struggle to protect women’s rights.
A Taliban spokesman: We questioned Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the newly victorious Taliban. “We have announced a general amnesty,” he said, and when asked about reports of reprisal killings claimed they were “fake videos.” Read a transcript of the interview.
A retired Afghan air force colonel: Referred to as Mohammed for his own safety, the retired officer has lived through 40 years of war and fears what Taliban rule means for his children. Does he have hope? “Hope never works. The reality is different. Hope always stays just hope.” Listen to the conversation.
A man who was one email away: A former interpreter for the U.S. finally had a visa interview in Kabul just before the Taliban took over, seven years after he applied. Kabul fell while he was waiting for an email from the State Department. Listen to him describe his experience.
🎧 Plus: Listen to a special bonus episode of Up First on four voices from Afghanistan.
Beyoncé Just Became The First Black Woman To Wear The Iconic Tiffany Diamond
Good morning, BeyHive.
Singer Beyoncé and her rapper husband Jay-Z are once again turning heads. And this time, they're making history, too.
The powerhouse couple is the new face of a Tiffany & Co. ad campaign "celebrating modern love," the luxury jeweler announced today. Photos from the "ABOUT LOVE" campaign — including several shared on Beyoncé's Instagram — are drawing admiration across social media, both for the stunning images and the historic firsts they represent.
Beyoncé can be seen wearing a large yellow diamond necklace. That's the iconic 128-carat Tiffany Diamond, which the company acquired in 1878 and rarely puts on display (Audrey Hepburn famously wore it in publicity photos for Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Lady Gaga wore it to the 2019 Academy Awards).
Beyoncé is only the fourth woman, and first Black woman, to wear the diamond in more than a century.
That's not the only milestone. Some of the photos show the couple posed in front of a large, turquoise painting — Jean-Michel Basquiat's Equals Pi. The 1982 work came from a private collection and has never been seen before in public, according to Tiffany.
This is also a personal first for the Carters. It's the first campaign they've appeared in together, and Tiffany describes it as "an exploration of connection and vulnerability." Beyoncé and JAY-Z, who got married in 2008, have a well-documented history of ups and downs, which NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael walks us through here.
"Ushering in a new brand identity, this campaign embodies the beauty of love through time and all its diverse facets, forging a new vision of love today," the company said.
Tiffany & Co. is also pledging $2 million toward scholarship and internship programs for historically Black colleges and universities, with more details on the initiative to come. (Fans will remember that Beyoncé invoked an HBCU theme when she headlined Coachella in 2018 and awarded scholarships to students at four HBCUs that same year.)
And of course, there will be music. The company says it will release a film by director Emmanuel Adjei — who was also involved with Beyoncé's 2020 visual album Black Is King — that includes a rendition of "Moon River" "reimagined with vocals by Beyoncé." That song was written for Hepburn to perform in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
The film launches on Sept. 15, and the print campaign launches on Sept. 2, with additional films set for release later this year.
Sending Off NPR's Amazing Summer Interns
The virtual halls of NPR's newsroom feel a little emptier today now that its summer internships have wrapped up.
We're grateful to all the amazing interns who have contributed to the network in so many ways — including through this very live blog! Tori Dominguez is one of those people, and put together a tribute to some of her peers.
They reflected on their accomplishments here. Thank you for everything, and best of luck in your next chapter!
And, if you or someone you know might want to be an NPR intern, too ... here's more info.
The Biden Administration Has A Back-To-School Message For Trans Students
Students are returning to class during a record-breaking year for state-level anti-LGBTQ — especially anti-transgender — legislation, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
The Biden administration has a message for transgender youth: We have your backs.
In a YouTube video posted last week, leaders from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services offer support and resources for trans students.
"In some places, people in positions of authority are putting up obstacles that would keep you from playing on the sports field, accessing the bathroom and receiving the supportive and live-saving care you may need," said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.
"We're here to say that's wrong, and it's against the law," Clarke said.
Also speaking in the video were Suzanne Goldberg, acting assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department, and HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
The Education Department Is Set To Investigate Bans On Mask Mandates
The Department of Education is preparing its Office of Civil Rights to investigate school districts that have blocked school mask mandates and other efforts to try to keep students and educators safe from COVID-19.
Republican-led states like Florida and Texas have imposed rules that say school districts can’t impose mask mandates; the Department of Education argues that this could lead to discrimination against some students who cannot attend school because it becomes unsafe for their health.
“We are prepared to launch investigations with our Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education … We're going to use our Office for Civil Rights to investigate any claims that come forward to make sure that students' rights are kept,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
The news of possible investigations also comes as Republican leaders in Florida recently announced they would start withholding pay for superintendents who didn’t reverse their current mask mandate policy.
“We stand ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff,” Cardona said in a statement.
The FDA Just Granted Full Approval To Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine
The Food and Drug Administration has formally approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. The widely anticipated decision replaces the emergency use authorization granted by the agency last December.
This is the first COVID-19 vaccine to be subject to a full review by the U.S. regulator and to get an approval that puts the vaccine on par with other marketed vaccines.
The full approval could make it easier for employers, the military and universities to mandate vaccination and may reassure some people hesitant about the vaccine.
A Record Number Of Out LGBTQ Athletes Will Compete In The Tokyo Paralympics
When the Tokyo Paralympic Games get underway on Tuesday, they will have a record number of out LGBTQ athletes.
At least 28 publicly out Paralympians will be competing in the summer games in Tokyo, more than double the number that took part in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, according to Outsports.
The athletes on the list hail from at least eight countries and are mostly women. The only man on the list was Lee Pearson, an equestrian from Great Britain. There were also at least three nonbinary or neutral athletes participating in the games, according to the website.
The Paralympic Games are set to begin just weeks after the Tokyo Summer Olympics wrapped up.
That competition broke another record with at least 185 LGBTQ athletes in contention, Outsports said.
Examining Where The Taliban’s Money Comes From
Roughly 80% of Afghanistan’s official budget has been financed by the U.S. and other international donors. But as Taliban forces closed in on Kabul, the U.S. Treasury Department froze billions of dollars in Afghan government reserves, effectively cutting off the group’s access.
Now that the Taliban has seized control of the country, does it have enough money to actually run it?
The group is “awash with cash,” says Gretchen Peters, the executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime. She spoke with NPR's A Martínez about where this funding comes from.
“The Taliban has been earning far more from trafficking drugs and other illicit activity, ranging from extortion rackets to timber trafficking, artisanal mining, kidnapping schemes, for almost two decades now,” she explains. “And so they clearly have been earning more money from all these activities than they needed to run their insurgency.”
🎧 Click here to learn more about how the opium trade and other illicit activities helped fund the Taliban’s rise — plus what happens to the U.S. military equipment left behind.
The Taliban are not a monolith. Peters notes “there are more than one Taliban.” Certain factions — like those in Kandahar, Helmand and other areas in the south and west — are likely getting most of their revenue from the drug trade, while others make more of their money off of activities like kidnapping or timber trafficking.
The Taliban have “integrated vertically” throughout the opium trade over the last two decades. The Taliban initially made money by taxing activities (like shipping) in the areas it controlled, Peters explains. She says over time, it’s gotten more involved in the drug trade — from exporting shipments of drugs, to money laundering, to reportedly trafficking supply out of the country.
The Taliban now say they are willing to look into eradicating the poppy trade, but Peters is skeptical. She explains that the Taliban regime made money off of poppy farmers in the late 1990s, through taxes and production quotas. She doesn’t believe what Taliban spokesmen said last week about potentially ending the poppy trade.
“They pulled a maneuver like that back in the '90s,” she says. “They did actually succeed in banning farmers from growing poppy for a year. That caused incredible hardship in the countryside, in the Afghan countryside. But the secret was the Taliban were actually sitting on these huge, vast stores of opium. The price of opium went through the roof, and they sold it and made a lot more money than they had the year previous.”
There’s concern about how the group may benefit from existing state institutions and use military equipment that U.S. forces left behind. “I think that what's important to understand is that the Taliban now have the institutions of state to support them in drug trafficking and other illicit activities,” Peters adds. “So it won't just be the military planes. It'll be airplanes in general. It will be access to the Afghan banking system. Any time a state is involved in drug trafficking, all sorts of capacities and institutions of state really make that whole process a lot easier.”
Maya Rudolph Opens Up About Representation And Her Comedy Legacy
Maya Rudolph was always a performer — first putting on musical numbers in her living room with her dog, then dazzling on Saturday Night Live and other major movies and TV shows (including the animated hit Big Mouth, for which she won one of her two 2021 Emmy nominations).
But she didn't always feel like she belonged, in part because she never saw people who looked like her on TV when she was growing up. Now, she says, "It's wild to grow up and then realize, you can actually do that for someone else."
Rudolph spoke to Sam Sanders, host of NPR podcast It's Been A Minute With Sam Sanders, about her evolving comedy career, the importance of representation and what it was like to be on SNL before social media.
COVID-19 Cases Are Rising Among Adults And Kids
While the delta-driven surge in COVID-19 cases may have reached a peak in several Southern states, the virus continues to circulate widely throughout the U.S.
Cases hit a new high on Friday of 157,000 infections nationwide, NPR's Allison Aubrey tells Leila Fadel on Morning Edition. The average number of daily deaths is around 750, far short of the winter surge but more than double what it was just a month ago.
Most people who are hospitalized — including young children — are not fully vaccinated. Aubrey explains what this means and how families can stay safe. Listen here or read on for more.
- More than 90% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, and many of them are regretful. Dr. Andy Little, who works in an emergency room in the Orlando, Fla., area, says roughly a third of his patients ask about getting the vaccine now:
"And then we have the discussion that that isn't how vaccines work, and they are overwhelmingly upset. They're upset knowing that this was preventable, that if they had just gotten their shot maybe this wouldn't be as bad, maybe they wouldn't have to stay in the hospital."- Dr. Andy Little
- Some 27% of U.S. adults still have not gotten their first shot. Full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine could help ease hesitancy among people who think it was rushed, and could also prompt schools and businesses across the country to mandate people get it.
- More than 120,000 cases were reported in kids in a single week earlier this month, and the numbers continue to rise — either because the delta variant may be more virulent or because young kids aren't able to get vaccinated (more on that here). While most kids experiencea mild form of illness, the uptick is straining health care providers. Pediatric deaths from COVID-19 do happen, but are rare: There have been about 350 in the U.S. so far.
- Experts say universal masking and more routine testing can help schools keep kids safe. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb says regular testing can help catch outbreaks early and limit quarantines, like the ones we're seeing in Hillsborough County, Fla.
Plus, member station KQED has this story on what to do if your kid brings COVID-19 home.
Key Dates From Afghanistan's 40 Years Of Crisis
Since 1979, Afghans have lived through foreign invasions, civil war, insurgency and a five-year period of oppressive Taliban rule. The government’s collapse and the Taliban's recapture of power this month came after a blitz by the militant group that stunned many Afghans and the world. It marks the start of a new era of uncertainty in the country's 40-plus years of instability and bitter conflict.
A timeline highlights some of the key dates leading up to the present day — and a few events you may not have known about:
- President Ronald Reagan welcomed Afghan mujahideen fighters to the White House in the 1980s.
- In 1999, the Taliban mediated between India’s government and the hijackers of an Indian Airlines passenger jet.
- The first time the U.S. signaled a possible end to its combat efforts in Afghanistan was in 2003, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: “We clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction and activities.”
Proud Boys Rally In Portland Descends Into Brawling And Gunfire
A Portland rally by the extremist group Proud Boys turned violent yesterday in a roving brawl with anti-fascist counter-protesters.
The far-right group gathered for an event they called "Summer of Love" on the anniversary of a violent protest last summer. Member station OPB reports that the Proud Boys and anti-fascists clashed after remaining separate for hours, leaving a spree of violence that stretched for blocks.
OPB's Ryan Haas and Jonathan Levinson say the sides exchanged paint balls, bear mace and mortar fireworks. Shots were fired, but no injuries were reported as a result.
As Haas and Levinson report, members of the antifascist crowd shouted at local journalists who were covering the clash. They then sprayed chemicals and paint at the journalists, injuring a freelance photographer.
Haas tweeted disturbing video of the event to give you a sense of what it was like
Survivors Of Catastrophic Flash Flooding In Tennessee Recount The Disaster
Some areas in Tennessee on Saturday saw almost a quarter of their average annual rainfall in only a few hours — and the rain brought devastating flash flooding too. Record-breaking storms dropped more than 9 inches of rain on areas of Middle Tennessee Saturday. At least 21 people are dead and dozens are still missing as residents continue to assess the damage.
Within a six-hour period, 9 to 17 inches of rain fell across a portion of Middle Tennessee. Once confirmed by researchers, that rainfall will likely top the state's record for most rainfall in 24 hours. In Dickson County, Chief Deputy Teddy Murphy reports flash flooding destroyed houses and washed away some major roadways.
Philip Albritton and his family were caught in the surge.
"There was water up to my knees at the front porch. And my brother-in-law had my daughter, one of my daughters in his arms, and he was waist-deep in water. My other daughter was climbing on my wife. And my dogs were swimming."Philip Albritton recounting Saturday's flash floods
By the time Hope Collier and her grandmother realized they needed to escape the waters, it was too late — their Jeep disappeared and was later found in a tree. The force of the water dragged Collier into the flood and the powerful current swept her for more than half a mile before she escaped. She says it was like, "a roller coaster with no rules.”
Collier and her grandmother survived, and Collier spoke with Caroline Eggers from NPR member station WPLN about the disaster. You can listen to her story here.
This is at least the second major flooding incident in Tennessee this year, after Nashville got hit in late March, and tracks with predictions of how climate change is shaping and will shape the state. The EPA has said there will be increased flooding, and a tool from Climate Central estimates that more than a quarter million Tennesseans live at greater risk of flooding as the climate heats up.
- NPR Member station WPLN in Nashville has more coverage of the historic floods.
- The Tennessean is on the ground in Middle Tennessee covering the aftermath. See their reporting here.
- And here's how you can help those impacted by the floods.
3 Stories You May Have Missed This Weekend
Welcome to Monday. We hope you had a safe and restful weekend — though the news didn't quite take a break.
Here are some of the big stories we're catching up on, from natural disasters at home to continuing turmoil in Kabul.
1. Chaotic evacuations from Afghanistan continue
President Biden said in remarks yesterday that the U.S. has evacuated nearly 28,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, and reiterated that "any American who wants to get home will get home." He also acknowledged the difficulty of the operation, adding that there "is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss." Thousands of Afghans are crowding outside the Kabul airport despite the risk of suffocation, trampling and Taliban beatings. The U.S. has extended the "safe zone" around the airport, according to Biden, in coordination with the Taliban. Read more about the process here.
Plus, the Pentagon is seeking help with the evacuation from six U.S. airlines, through an effort known as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program. It's the third time the program has been activated.
2. Record-breaking rainfall killed at least 22 people in Middle Tennessee
At least 22 people are dead and dozens remain missing after devastating floods in Humphreys County, Tenn., which was drenched by up to 17 inches of rain on Saturday. Here's more on the destruction and ongoing rescue efforts.
Storms moved over the area for hours, a phenomenon scientists say we're likely to see more of going forward because of global warming. Read more from NPR's climate team on the connection between man-made climate change and extreme weather events, including flash floods.
3. Tropical Depression Henri is lingering in the Northeast
After making landfall in Rhode Island yesterday as a tropical storm, Henri has since been downgraded to a tropical depression and continues churning its way inland. More rainfall and floods are expected in the region. Here's what else you need to know.
The storm triggered flooding and knocked out power to thousands in Rhode Island and Connecticut, though the damage was less than officials expected. Many New Englanders were dreading much worse, as they scrambled to prepare for what could have been the region's first direct hurricane in 30 years.
Biden addressed the storm in remarks yesterday, urging those in the Northeast to monitor updates, gather supplies in case of extended power outages and prepare to seek shelter if necessary — even as the delta variant prompts a surge in COVID-19 cases. People staying at shelters should wear a mask and try to practice social distancing, he added.
"And to everyone across the country, don’t get caught by the next storm," Biden said. "Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated now. Protect yourself and your family against COVID-19. It’s going to be a vital part of emergency preparedness this year."
Andrew Cuomo's Final Day As New York Governor Is Here
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 10 years in control of the New York governor's office comes to a close today. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will be sworn in as governor just after midnight.
Cuomo announced his resignation on Aug. 10 under threat of impeachment after an investigation found he sexually harassed multiple women.
Over his 10 years in office, Cuomo became a national leader in his party. He emerged as a high-profile opponent of former President Donald Trump, especially during the height of the pandemic when his daily updates on the coronavirus were watched by people all over the U.S.
NPR's Brian Mann says that even now that the impeachment process has halted, Cuomo faces numerous investigations into whether any of his alleged misconduct was criminal.
Hochul, who will become the state's first female chief executive, has pledged to return civility to the governor's office. In the two weeks since Cuomo announced he would resign, Hochul has barnstormed around the state meeting with leaders, promising she'd be ready to lead.
She also promised that anyone entangled in Cuomo's scandals will be gone.
🎧 Listen for more on Gov. Cuomo's record in office and his defense against harassment charges.
More Flooding Expected As Tropical Depression Henri Lingers Over The Northeast
While Henri has been downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, it's lingering over the Northeast today — bringing even more rain and possible flooding to parts of New York and southern New England.
The storm made landfall on the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut yesterday, overflowing local rivers and knocking out power to thousands of households. But the damage wasn't as severe as many local officials expected, Frankie Graziano of Connecticut Public Radio told Morning Edition.
Rhode Island was hit harder than Connecticut. Connecticut was on the wet side of the storm, while Rhode Island saw heavier winds — with peak gusts of up to 70 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service — and more power outages. Graziano said most of the remaining outages in Rhode Island should be restored by the end of this week.
Connecticut saw significant flooding. Local roads were saturated and more ripe for flooding, Graziano explained. Flooding from the Connecticut River prompted a shutdown on part of Interstate 91, while various brooks and streams throughout the state overflowed.
Power outages were lower than expected. Connecticut's electric utility, Eversource, initially predicted that 69% of its customers could be without power for weeks. But at the peak of the storm on Sunday, that number was closer to 2.5% — and Graziano says the majority of those still in the dark should be back online soon.