Today's News: Californians Side With The Governor, An Emergency Bus Driver Shortage And More

Published September 15, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT
Supporters cheer for California Gov. Gavin Newsom with signs saying "Vote No September 14th."
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Supporters cheer for California Gov. Gavin Newsom at Long Beach City College on Monday in Long Beach, Calif. In the recall election, Californians voted to keep Newsom in charge.

Good morning,

Here are some of the top stories we're following today:

California recall: Gov. Gavin Newsom will keep his job after voters rejected an effort to recall him. See the results here.

School bus emergency: The governor of Massachusetts is mobilizing the National Guard to address an urgent bus driver shortage in the state's public schools.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Today marks the start of a month-long celebration of these communities. Follow NPR's coverage— including stories, podcasts and a Tiny Desk takeover — here. Plus, here are some key facts and figures about the U.S. Latino population.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, a new book aboutTrump'spresidency details concernsfrom the topmilitary official of the U.S. Gen. Mark Milley reportedly made secret calls to Beijing to try to ease tensions.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Dana Farrington, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark, Chris Hopkins and Manuela López Restrepo)


The Central Gulf Coast Braces For Storm Nicholas While Still Recovering From Hurricane Ida

Posted September 15, 2021 at 10:55 AM EDT

The Central Gulf Coast is bracing for more rain and wind after Tropical Storm Nicholas made landfall in Texas.

The National Hurricane Center said this morning that the storm is moving slowly across southeastern Texas and that “life-threatening flash flooding is possible along portions of the Central Gulf Coast the next couple of days.”

“One of the most distressing parts of this is the heaviest rain is now expected to fall in areas that were most devastated by Hurricane Ida," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a press conference yesterday.

Read more about the storm’s threat to the Gulf here, via NPR member station WWNO.

Here's more on how climate is making weather-related disasters worse — as well as impacting our mental health.


NPR Went To Ted Lasso's Pub To Hear What Brits Think Of The Hit Show

Posted September 15, 2021 at 10:41 AM EDT

Are you still watching Ted Lasso? (If so, you're hopefully reading the delightful weekly reviews from Pop Culture Happy Hour's Linda Holmes.)

The beloved comedy-drama series is nominated for a whopping 20 Emmy awards at this Sunday's show. And it's certainly a fan favorite, having won the hearts and attention of many Americans during the pandemic.

To find out how the show's landed with locals, NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt went to the pub where many of its scenes are shot. Listen to the piece here and check out his Twitter thread for more.

Hispanic Heritage Month

Key Facts About U.S. Latinos To Kick Off Hispanic Heritage Month

Posted September 15, 2021 at 10:14 AM EDT

NPR will be covering and celebrating Latino culture and history throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins today.

You can find continued coverage here (and be sure to check out the "El Tiny" takeover of the Tiny Desk (home) concert series, kicking off with a performance from J Balvin).

Hispanic Heritage Month started as a week, and was expanded in 1988. It begins on Sept. 15 to coincide with the national independence days of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The Pew Research Center has been tracking key facts and figures on U.S. Latinos for years. Here are some of the latest highlights:

Note: Pew uses the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" interchangeably; read more about the uses and meanings of those labels here.

  • The U.S. Hispanic population has grown significantly in the last decade, from 50.5 million in 2010 to 62.1 million in 2020. Hispanics accounted for 51% of entire U.S. population growth during that period.
  • Four out of five Latinos are U.S. citizens. As of 2019, 80% of Latinos living in the U.S. are citizens. The number includes people born in the U.S. and its territories, those born abroad to American parents and immigrants who have become naturalized citizens.
  • The number of Latinos who identify as multiracial has also increased, from 3 million to more than 20 million. This is likely due in part to changes in the 2020 census form.
  • All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have seen growth in their Hispanic populations in the last decade. This is especially true for Florida, California and Texas, which saw increases of more than 1 million between 2010 and 2020. North Dakota and South Dakota have seen the fastest growth in their Hispanic populations during this time, though they are still among the smallest in the country.
  • Newborns are driving much of this Hispanic population growth, as immigration declined between 2010 and 2019. This is a reversal of historical trends.
  • The share of Latinos in the U.S. who speak English proficiently is also growing. Some 72% of Latinos ages 5 and older spoke English proficiently as of 2019. Meanwhile, the share of Latinos who speak Spanish at home has declined (but the actual number has grown).
  • The share of U.S. Hispanics with college experience has increased since 2010. The number of Latinos enrolled in college also increased from 2010 to 2019, from 2.9 million to 3.6 million.
  • People of Mexican origin made up almost 62% of the country's overall Hispanic population as of 2019. The next largest group is those of Puerto Rican origin. The fastest population growth among U.S. Latinos has come among those with origins in Venezuela, Guatemala and Honduras.

Massachusetts Calls On The National Guard To Help Alleviate School Bus Driver Shortage

Posted September 15, 2021 at 9:48 AM EDT
School buses seen at the Transdev headquarters in Dorchester, Mass., on Sept. 9.
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Boston Globe
With the major shortage of Boston Public School bus drivers, there were be delays in the very early morning at the Transdev headquarters on Freeport Way in Dorchester, Mass., on the first day of school for Boston students on Sept. 9.

National Guard troops are used to being activated during times of natural disaster or civil unrest — but in Massachusetts, they’re being called out to drive students to school.

The office of Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that as many as 250 Guard members would be made available “to address staffing shortages in certain districts,” according to a press release. It said that 90 would be training immediately for service in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn.

The Guard will take over driving duties on some 7D vehicles. Known as “school pupil transport vehicles,” 7D vehicles are generally vans.

The announcement comes amid a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers due to the ongoing pandemic, battles over masks and vaccines. As NPR reported earlier this month, in a recent nationwide survey, half of student-transportation coordinators described their school bus driver shortages as either "severe" or "desperate.”

Shortages have been reported in places such as New York state and Portland, Ore., and in Montana, a school district is offering $4,000 bonuses for new drivers.

The Massachusetts governor, discussing his state's shortage, said: “Once it became pretty clear that there were going to be some communities shorthanded — it wasn’t going to be a vehicle issue, it was going to be people with [commercial driver’s licenses] — we started talking to the Guard.”

Baker said his office had enlisted Guard members who already had such licenses for professional or Guard-related reasons.

“There are a bunch of communities who have said they’re interested in this, and we’re glad to be able to help because it’s important,” Baker said.


Comedians Pay Tribute To Beloved Ex-SNL Star Norm Macdonald

Posted September 15, 2021 at 9:26 AM EDT
A man wearing a white shirt and black jacket stands at a microphone speaking, in front of a red curtain.
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Norm Macdonald pictured performing at The Orleans Hotel & Casino July 9, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tributes are pouring in for Norm Macdonald, the Canadian comedian best known for anchoring Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segments in the 1990s.

Macdonald died at 61 on Tuesday, nearly a decade after a cancer diagnosis that he kept private (here's a clip of a stand-up performance where he derides the phrase "battling cancer").

NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this remembrance. Here's what some of his many colleagues and fans are saying:

Late-night host and former SNL cast member Seth Meyers (who also hosted "Weekend Update") honored Macdonald on his show, recalling some of his favorite jokes and shared memories.

"He was the gold standard, and he will continue to be the gold standard, and I would just suggest that everybody go watch him tell the moth story onConan," he said. "Go watch any number of Norm Macdonald things tonight because they are really, truly timeless."

Jimmy Fallon referred to Macdonald as "one of the greatest comedians ever," and "a friend of the show — family, really, to us." He recalled the first time he met Macdonald, shortly after being hired on SNL.

Stephen Colbert shared a story about how welcoming Macdonald was when he spent a few weeks on SNL as a guest writer.

“I wish I were a good enough comedian to come up with a joke right now about Norm Macdonald having died. But the only comedian I know who could get away with a ‘Norm Macdonald is dead joke,’ is Norm Macdonald,” Colbert said. “And I'm going to miss the fact that there's nobody left on the planet who can do that, and the comedy world is poorer for it today.”

James Corden said on his show: "All Norm ever wanted to do was to make us laugh, and he was absolutely brilliant at it. There was nobody quite like him. I felt privileged any time I got to be in his orbit. He leaves us as one of the all-time great comics, perhaps the single greatest guest in the history of late-night television, I think."

See more touching tributes from the likes of David Letterman, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogan (language warning here), Adam Sandler, Bob Saget and Jon Stewart (language warning here, too).


Pfizer Analysis Makes The Case For A COVID Booster Shot. The FDA's Stance Is Expected Today

Posted September 15, 2021 at 9:07 AM EDT
Pfizer vaccine prepared at a vaccination center.
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Medical Staff prepares a vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine against Covid-19 at a vaccination center on Wednesday in Erfurt, Germany.

The Food and Drug Administration has released an analysis by Pfizer on the need for a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The agency's own report on the issue is expected later today.

Pfizer’s analysis says data from Israel and the United States in the context of the delta variant “suggest that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.”

The company says the available data support its request for approval of a third dose of its COVID vaccine to be given at about six months after the second dose in people 16 years and older.

The agency posted the briefing document and data ahead of a public advisory committee meeting Friday. The committee is the same one that voted in support of emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last December.

Read more about the announcement and next steps here.


An Immigration Lawyer Explains Just How Difficult It Is For Afghan Allies Of The U.S. To Get Here

Posted September 15, 2021 at 8:58 AM EDT
People leave to board on a Pakistan International Airlines plane at the airport in Kabul on Monday.
Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images
People leave to board on a Pakistan International Airlines plane at the airport in Kabul on Monday.

Many Afghans who worked with the U.S. during the 20-year war remain in the country, now with few options for escape after the U.S. exit.

Estimating their numbers is difficult, ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands who worked with either the U.S. military or with U.S.-funded organizations.

The special immigrant visa and the P-2 program are the two primary legal paths for these Afghans hoping to immigrate to the U.S.

Part of the lengthy process involves going to a U.S. Embassy for an in-person interview.

One man, Khan, told NPR in August that he was able to do that interview before the Taliban took over last month. But he’s since had to return home to wait on an email and has heard nothing. He was an interpreter for the U.S. military from late 2004 to mid 2008. He embedded with U.S. troops at several forward operating bases and says he routinely went on combat missions in Taliban-controlled areas.

“There’s no one else I can call, I can email, I can contact — no one else, no one. I just have to keep praying, see what happens,” he tells Rachel Martin on Morning Edition.

Others who didn’t reach the in-person interview part of the process are now stuck. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is gone. They can do the interview at a U.S. Embassy in another country, but first they have to have documents allowing them to leave Afghanistan. It might be possible for some to get to Pakistan without a U.S. visa.

A State Department official told NPR that for many it’s a Catch-22: "You can't get approved until you get out of Afghanistan and you can't get out of Afghanistan until you have paperwork showing you've been approved."

Mariam Masumi is an immigration lawyer in Virginia who’s been working with clients in Afghanistan. She spoke with Morning Edition about the very complex and lengthy process for Afghans trying to get to the U.S. who have been caught up in a bureaucratic backlog for years.


Dueling Missile Launches Show Heightened Arms Race Between North And South Korea

Posted September 15, 2021 at 8:25 AM EDT

North Korea test-launching ballistic missiles frequently makes the headlines. It’s not so often that both North and South Korea conduct ballistic missile tests on the same day, within hours of each other.

South Korea’s military says the North launched two short-range missiles Wednesday, which landed in the sea some 500 miles to the east. Hours later, the South launched its first ballistic missile from a submarine, the 7th nation to do so, and the only non-nuclear one.

Seoul says it was not retaliating for the North’s launch. But it suggests it does intend to use increasingly lethal conventional weapons to deter the nuclear-armed North from staging further provocations.

It is also developing military capabilities independent of its U.S. allies. The U.S. has green-lighted the South’s missile development by removing in May restrictions on the South’s missile ranges and payloads.

In an accelerating inter-Korean arms race, North Korea test-fired two long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. The South revealed today it has recently developed supersonic cruise missiles, and long-range air-to-surface missiles.

The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific command said the North’s tests posed no immediate threat to the U.S., its military, territory or allies. But South Korea’s National Security Council expressed grave concern at the test, and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga condemned what he said was a threat to the security of Japan and the region.


The First All-Civilian Crew Is Set To Blast Into Space Tonight. Here's How To Watch

Posted September 15, 2021 at 8:15 AM EDT

A SpaceX mission carrying four private citizens — and no professional astronauts — is set to launch tonight from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It will orbit the Earth and splash down off the Florida coast after approximately three days.

The history-making mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is the latest step in the commercialization of space. It's also raising funds to help cure children's cancer.

Jared Isaacman, the flight's commander, is the founder and billionaire CEO of Shift4 Payments (he hasn't disclosed how much exactly he paid SpaceX for the mission).

The other crew members are Chris Sembroski, an aerospace data engineer; pilot and geoscientist Sian Proctor and Hayley Arceneaux, a pediatric bone cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Arceneaux, 29, will become the youngest American — and first with a prosthesis — to orbit Earth. She will serve as the crew's medical officer, and plans to devote much of her time on board to interacting with hospital patients through video chats and messages.

Arceneaux has said her battle with cancer prepared her for space travel, and hopes her experience will show other survivors that "the sky's not even the limit, that they can do anything." Here's an in-depth profile of Arceneaux from earlier this year.

Plus, NPR's Deepa Shivaram has moreon how the crew members trained and what they're bringing on board.

The five-hour launch window begins at 8:02 p.m. ET. You can tune into SpaceX's live webcast starting at 3:45 p.m. ET.


Boston Is Poised To Elect A Woman And Person Of Color As Mayor For The 1st Time

Posted September 15, 2021 at 8:04 AM EDT
Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu stands behind a podium to answer questions from the press on Monday in Boston.
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Boston mayoral candidate and City Councilwoman Michelle Wu answers questions during a press conference outside of her campaign headquarters on Monday in Boston.

City Councilor Michelle Wu will be one of two mayoral candidates in Boston’s November election. The other looks to be fellow City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, though the Associated Press has not officially called the race for her.

With these results, Boston is poised to elect its first mayor who is a woman and a person of color.

In a speech Wednesday night, Wu told supporters that while the final results were not yet in, "We already know what the choice is. The city of Boston is about a choice for our future."

Acting Mayor Kim Janey — who became Boston's first female and non-white mayor in March after her predecessor resigned to join the Biden administration — fell short of making it to the November election.

NPR member station WBUR notes the challenges ahead for the next mayor:

“The mayoral election comes as the city faces the daunting challenges of containing the pandemic, rebuilding the economy and persuading people of the value of living in Boston when some employers have closed their offices and welcomed remote workers.

“Like many big cities, Boston also faces challenges improving policing, education and transportation. But voters have consistently named the high price of housing as their top concern, aside from the pandemic.”

Read more from WBUR about the race so far and what happens next.


Comedian Neal Brennan's New Show Explores Feeling Unacceptable

Posted September 15, 2021 at 7:51 AM EDT
Neal Brennan sits on the floor wearing dark clothing. A metal chair is nearby.
Matt Murphy
"Neal Brennan: Unacceptable" will run in New York City through November.

Comedian Neal Brennan has thought a lot about whether he's accepted in comedy — and whether or not he even should be. Now, he's tackling those feelings of self-criticism, harsh inner-monologues, and mental health in a new comedy show.

He’s best known for co-creating Chappelle's Show with Dave Chappelle, a critically acclaimed comedy sketch show rooted in Black culture.

But these days, Brennan is wondering whether he, a white man, is helping or hurting America when he makes those racial jokes.

“The tension is that it's unknowable whether I'm making fun of stereotypes or encouraging them,” he tells Morning Edition host A Martínez. “People don't know your intentions. And then people will take the joke and put their intentions on it.”

Brennan has spent north of two decades in comedy, writing for, producing and directing with some of the biggest names in the industry.

He's now performing a theatrical comedy show off-Broadway titled Neal Brennan: Unacceptable, in which he explores why he feels like something is wrong with him. The show will run in New York City through Nov. 21. You can listen to the full interview here.

Brennan acknowledges that using the word "unacceptable" may be a little harsh on himself.

“My inner monologue can just be rough. I've never walked past the mirror and been like, ‘There's my guy.’ You know, it's all just sort of like, 'OK, all right.' ”
Comedian Neal Brennan

Brennan has also been very open about his struggles with mental health. He says he has no shame about it.

“It's like having plantar fasciitis or something,” he says. “It's not my fault. I don't know. My foot just started being weird.”

Brennan’s outspoken nature has opened eyes. On an appearance on The Breakfast Club, a radio show with millions of listeners both through broadcast and their online presence, host Charlamagne tha God told Brennan that Brennan inspired him to learn more about mental health. Charlamagne now advocates heavily for education on mental health.

“I might be proud of that. Can you believe it?” Brennan says. “Take that, that inner monologue. We might have done some good.”


California Gov. Gavin Newsom Will Keep His Job. See The Election Recall Results

Posted September 15, 2021 at 7:38 AM EDT
A man stands with his hands gripping a podium, with his face turned toward the camera, smiling. A blurry crowd is behind him.
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the crowd before being joined by President Joe Biden at Long Beach City College on Monday, the eve of the last day of the recall election.

The attempt to recall Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom has failed. The unsuccessful recall appears to vindicate his leadership of the state during the pandemic, and offers some signals about the state of national politics and future off-year elections.

Read more here about how the recall went down and why it matters.


What about his opponents?

There were 46 candidates vying for Newsom's job. Since the recall vote was unsuccessful, the Associated Press is not declaring a winner among them. But thanks to NPR's Aly Hurt, Ruth Talbot and Arnie Seipel, you can see how they did by toggling the graphic on this page.

What's next?

Counties must finish counting ballots and certify their results by Oct. 14. California's secretary of state will certify the results on Oct. 22.

Newsom can stay in office until 2023, but will have to hit the campaign trail again relatively soon if he wants to win another term.