Start your day here: The latest on the debt limit, California's oil spill and more

Published October 6, 2021 at 8:17 AM EDT
Environmental crews wear PPE as they walk on the beach to clean up debris after an oil spill in the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Tuesday.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Environmental crews wear PPE as they walk on the beach to clean up debris after an oil spill in the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Tuesday.

Good morning,

Here are the top stories we're watching today:

Debt ceiling standoff: Democrats are floating changes to Senate filibuster rules in order to raise the nation's debt limit without Republican support and avoid a consequential default. But the path ahead remains uncertain as both parties point fingers at each other for getting the country to this point.

Oil spill emergency: California has declared a state of emergency after this weekend's oil spill, which environmentalists warn could have disastrous long-term effects.

Best restaurants: Need a palate cleanser? The 2021 list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants has been released. Here are the U.S. restaurants that made the cut.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, takeaways from the Facebook whistleblower's testimony in Congress.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

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

Fat Bear Week 2021

Here he is America, your favorite fat bear for this year

Posted October 6, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT

After stocking up on calorie-rich sockeye salmon for months, Alaskan brown bear 480 can snuggle into hibernation victorious once again. Nicknamed Otis, he's the rotund winner of 2021's Fat Bear Week.

The competition is a celebration of the brown bears at Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska. Each year, the public votes for their favorited bulked-up bear based on images posted to Read more about the tradition here.

In this year'sfinal matchup, Otis came out on top with 51,230 votes to 151 Walker's 44,384.

Here's everything you might want to know about the very fat bear:

  • He's no stranger to the podium. He won the inaugural Fat Bear Tuesday competition in 2014 and was the champion again in 2016 and 2017. He's won the most out of the bear winners.
  • He's a "medium-large adult male with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear," according to Rangers also identify him by a patch of blondish fur on his right shoulder.
  • He's one of the older bears in the area and rangers in the park have been monitoring him since 2001.
  • Rather than chase after salmon like younger bears, he bides his time and takes advantage of opportunities when they come.
  • He has a relatively high salmon catch rate, even though sometimes he appears to be napping on the water, says.
  • His win is based on subjectivity. It's true: The rangers of Katmai National Park and Preserve are not hiking out to Brooks River with a tape measure to see just how big the bears have gotten. Instead, the public votes on picture comparisons and form their own opinions. Some voters factor in the bears' perceived personalities, their ages and genders, and others campaign online for their favorites.

Otis' weight gain isn't just impressive, he's also setting a good example for the rest of his species by bulking up well for hibernation.
During winter, bears enter their den and don't eat or drink until spring, so they essentially must eat a year's worth of food in six months in order to survive. When they emerge in spring, they can have lost up to one-third of their body weight.

Sweet dreams, Otis. We'll see you next spring.


Muhammad Ali's powerful paintings just sold for nearly $1 million at an auction

Posted October 6, 2021 at 11:53 AM EDT

It's been said that Muhammad Ali made boxing an art form. You may not know that the boxer and activist made actual artwork, too.

A rare collection of the late legend's original paintings went up for auction at Bonhams yesterday, and the auction house says the more than two dozen works fetched $945,524 altogether.

"Naturally, we are delighted with the phenomenal results of today's sale," Helen Hall, director of Bonhams Popular Culture Department, said in a statement. "The artworks depicting subjects close to his heart: boxing, civil rights, religion, world peace and humanitarianism were all treated with equal vigor by bidders, with 26 of the 28 original works selling."

The collection's centerpiece and top-selling item was a felt-and-acrylic painting called "Sting Like A Bee," which depicts a victorious Ali standing over an opponent in the ring as the referee flees and a crowd of (some) smiley faces watches.

Ali made the painting during the filming of Freedom Road in Mississippi in 1978, in preparation for a later screen print by the same name. Bonhams says it's the only artwork to include a complete Ali poem. It sold for $425,312 — over 10 times the low estimate.

Ali also drew inspiration from beyond the boxing ring, tackling subjects like religion and social justice. Other highlights from the lot include the 1979 painting "I Love You America," which sold for $150,312; and "The Starving Children of Mississippi" and "The Two Religions", both from 1967.

Ali "harbored a lifelong passion for the arts," according to the auction house, and first learned to paint from his father, professional artist Cassius Clay Sr. He continued to draw and paint informally over the years, and eventually took lessons from sports artist LeRoy Neiman.

Ali produced a series of drawings for Avant Garde magazine in 1967 and returned to the craft a decade later under the encouragement of his friend Rodney Hilton Brown.

The items put up for auction came directly from the personal collection of Brown, the author of Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story: Painter, Poet & Prophet.

As Brown explained to CBS News, he had acquired a "failing art gallery in Soho" and was looking for someone famous to create paintings, to be turned into limited edition prints and sold. Brown approached Ali, and the rest is (perhaps little-known) history.

"He never claimed to be a great artist," Brown said. "He knew he was the greatest boxer in the world, but when it came to art, he said to me, 'I paint pictures with meanings.' "


A Korean internet provider is suing Netflix, and Squid Game may be to blame

Posted October 6, 2021 at 10:21 AM EDT

The Korean-language drama Squid Game is winning over fans worldwide after its streaming debut on Netflix last month.

If you haven't made its acquaintance already: The show is about ordinary, cash-strapped people who are given the chance to repay their crushing debts by competing in a series of children's games (think "red light, green light") for elites to place bets on.

As University of Toronto professor Michelle Cho told All Things Considered yesterday, it speaks to specific issues in Korea, like the country's debt crisis. Listen to that interview here.

It evidently has universal appeal: It's ranked No. 1 in more than 90 countries, and is reportedly on track to become Netflix's biggest show ever.

In the wake of the show's popularity, Netflix is facingula a head-turning new lawsuit.

South Korean internet service provider SK Broadband is suing Netflix, claiming there has been a surge in traffic and asking it to pay for associated maintenance costs. The suit was first reported by Reuters on Friday.

"We will review the claim that SK Broadband has filed against us,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement emailed to several news outlets. “In the meantime, we continue to seek open dialogue and explore ways of working with SK Broadband in order to ensure a seamless streaming experience for our shared customers.”

The case is part of a broader legal battle brewing in South Korea.

A 2020 amendment to the South Korea's Telecommunications Business Act holds content providers (like Netflix and YouTube) liable to network issues related to high consumption — which some legal experts argue violates the principle of net neutrality, saying it will hamper smaller providers.

Netflix sued SK Broadband last year to test the question of fees, and a Seoul court ruled against it in June. The district court said Netflix should "reasonably" pay SK Broadband for network usage, arguing that the internet service provider is providing a service at a cost, and the streaming giant should pay "something in return." Netflix's appeal against that decision is coming up in December, Variety reports.

PS: If you haven't yet finished (or started) Squid Game, you still have some time to get streaming before NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour discusses it soon.


The National Cathedral's bells tolled 700 times to mark the enormous loss of life from COVID-19

Posted October 6, 2021 at 9:58 AM EDT

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., rang its massive bells 700 times this week in memory of the 700,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19.

“Every death, every person is worthy of our remembrance and our grieving,” Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope, the cathedral's provost, told Morning Edition.

Cope said the church has done this for every 100,000 confirmed U.S. deaths from the pandemic.

“We would never have imagined we would be here at 200,000; 300,000; 400,000; 500,000; 600,000; and today at 700,000. It's just heartbreaking,” she said.

The bells rang out across D.C. for more than an hour. A video from the cathedral shows a memorial on the National Mall that came down this weekend — more than 660,000 small white flags — with the sound of the bells tolling in the background.

“It's incredibly important that we not become numb to the magnitude of the loss of each individual life,” Cope said.

Listen to Cope's reflections, including the personal loss she has experienced and how the cathedral has received prayer requests from thousands of people.


A handful of the world's newly crowned 50 best restaurants are in the U.S.

Posted October 6, 2021 at 9:16 AM EDT
An airy kitchen with open floor-length windows and potted plants on wooden beams. A person wearing a face mask leans over a cutting board on a wooden table bearing a few plates of various sizes with different colored foods.
Thibault Savary/AFP via Getty Images
Mette Brink Soberg, R&D chief manager of the Danish restaurant Noma, at work on May 31 in Copenhagen. It was ranked the world's best restaurant on a list of 50 from across the world.

A prestigious panel of more than 1,000 culinary experts has released its annual list of the world's best restaurants, after a rigorous voting process that we can only hope involved a lot of taste-testing.

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 awards were handed out Tuesday at a ceremony in Antwerp, Belgium, which organizers called a "key milestone in the ongoing revival of the restaurant sector" after last year's pandemic-related hiatus. (Separately, its recovery program has raised some $1.29 million for the restaurant industry since it launched last May.)

The organization calls the ranking "more than just a list," rather a "celebration of the universality of cuisines." Though we're also very interested in who made the roster, which you can find here.

Denmark dominated, with the top two spots going to Copenhagen restaurants Noma and Geranium. The other top 10 eateries — mostly boasting one-word names and bright, abstract-looking dishes — are located in Spain, Peru, Sweden, Singapore, Mexico and Hong Kong.

Six American restaurants made the list, representing the apparent best of New York and California. They're led by New York City's Mexican-inspired Cosme, which ranks 22nd. Here are the other U.S. names:

  • Benu in San Francisco
  • SingleThread in Healdsburg, Calif.
  • Atomix in New York
  • Le Bernardin in New York
  • Atelier Crenn in San Francisco

The World's Best 50 Restaurants — despite its name — has also released a ranking of the next best 50 restaurants, bringing the total to 100. And it's bestowed a bunch of individual awards for specific chefs and establishments to watch.

Our dream post-pandemic bucket list just got a lot longer.


California's oil spill rises to a state of emergency

Posted October 6, 2021 at 9:00 AM EDT
In a view from above, two workers sit on a small boat and clean the water around them. The water is dark and has an oily sheen to it.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Crews clean up oil near the Talbert marsh and Santa Ana River mouth on Monday due to an oil spill off Huntington Beach, Calif.

Days after an oil pipeline off Huntington Beach, Calif., burst, officials have declared a state of emergency as crews continue to investigate what caused the disaster.

A gash in the pipeline has leaked as much as 144,000 gallons of crude oil onto the area's waters, threatening the health of marine life and the costal ecosystems.

NPR's Nathan Rott joined Rachel Martin on Morning Edition to discuss the spill.

Here are the updates:

California has issued an emergency declaration

Cleanup is ongoing from the spill. The crude oil threatens the delicate ecosystems of the area's marshes and wetlands, which are rare in Southern California already, and it could stagnate tourism. Experts warn the area could be dealing with the spill's consequences for years to come.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency declaration on Monday for Orange County. The designation frees up additional personnel and resources to undertake mitigation and cleanup of the oil spill.

At the announcement, Newsom tied the spill to the importance of fighting climate change.

“As California continues to lead the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and combating the climate crisis, this incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom

The state hasn't approved any new offshore leases for oil production in over 50 years and is at work on plans to phase out oil extraction by 2045, Newsom highlighted.

Experts are still searching for the cause

The U.S. Coast Guard and other officials haven't confirmed the cause and are still investigating, but some evidence suggests the spill may have been caused by a boat anchor snagging the pipeline. As Rott reports, this portion of the Southern California coast is extremely busy, often with container ships traveling between the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex.

Divers examining the oil pipeline found a section of the concrete-covered, 16-inch steel pipeline had moved more than 100 feet along the seafloor. Divers also found a split in the pipeline, likely where the oil spilled from.


Taiwan says tensions with Beijing are at their worst in decades

Posted October 6, 2021 at 8:34 AM EDT
Four helicopters, one carrying a red and blue flag, fly over gray high-rise buildings with green mountains and a hazy sky in the background.
Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images
A military helicopter carrying a tremendous Taiwan flag flies over near Taipei 101, as part of the rehearsal ahead of the Double-tenth national day celebration, amid China's growing military threats, in New Taipei, Taiwan, on Tuesday.

Tensions between Taipei and Beijing are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s defense minister says, citing a recent increase in incursions by Chinese military aircraft into the island’s air identification zone.

Although no shots have been fired, Taiwan says that nearly 150 aircraft belonging to China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force entered the zone in a four-day period beginning Friday, as part of what it calls a strategy of harassment.

Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng called the situation "the most serious” in the more than 40 years since he joined the military.

The Biden administration said this week that it is in contact with Taiwan over the incursions and is "conveying clear messages through diplomatic channels,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“We remain concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations and undermines regional peace and stability,” she said at a Monday press briefing, emphasizing that the U.S. commitment to Taipei is “rock solid.”

On Tuesday, President Biden said that he had spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan and they had agreed to abide by the "Taiwan agreement,” an apparent reference to the long-standing policy under which Washington recognizes Beijing over Taipei as long as China doesn’t attack the island.

Japan and Australia have also reportedly urged Taipei and Beijing to talk.

On Tuesday, Taiwan reported a record 56 Chinese aircraft flew into its air identification zone.

“Taiwan must be on alert. China is more and more over the top,” Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters in Taipei on Tuesday, adding that the island must “strengthen itself” against the external threat.

Citing a new internal report, defense minister Chiu warned on Wednesday that China could have the military capacity to blockade the Taiwan Strait as soon as 2025. Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said such a capability would pose a "grave challenge" to the self-governed island.

The report said that about 380 Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defense zone last year and that more than 600 such incursions have taken place so far this year. It also noted that Beijing now has two aircraft carriers, and is increasing production of submarines and destroyers while building up its amphibious assault capabilities.


Democrats and Republicans point fingers as the debt ceiling deadline looms

Posted October 6, 2021 at 8:17 AM EDT
A man with gray hair checks his watch as he walks across a carpeted floor towards a wooden podium, with a row of American and presidential flags against the wall.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
President Biden checks his watch as he walks into the State Dining Room before delivering remarks about the need for Congress to raise the debt limit at the White House on Monday.

Congress is running out of time to raise the debt ceiling — the limit on how much money the federal government is able to borrow — before Oct. 18, which is when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the country could run out of cash to pay its bills.

Here's everything you need to know about how the debt ceiling works (and what happens if efforts to raise it fail), courtesy of the NPR Politics team.

Behind the weeks-long stalemate

Senate Republicans know that a debt ceiling bill needs at least 10 GOP votes to pass, but have been saying for weeks that they will not support an increase.

"This year, with Democrats at least nominally in control of Congress and the White House, they are left holding the bag alone. Republicans know they don't have to help and they have signaled that they will not. This gives them another opportunity to castigate the Democratic budget proposals as too expensive."
Ron Elving, NPR Washington editor and correspondent

Republicans want Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own using the budget reconciliation process, a tactic Democrats separately plan to use to get a multi-trillion-dollar spending and tax plan through the Senate without any GOP support.

Democrats say the process is too convoluted and time-consuming, and have also noted that more than a quarter of the federal debt that the government needs to pay was accumulated under the Trump administration (during which congressional Republicans increased the debt ceiling three times, with Democratic support).

Biden and McConnell clash

The stalemate shows no signs of letting up. Democrats are set to hold a third vote in as many weeks to try and raise the debt ceiling, which Republicans are expected to block. And leaders from both parties are pointing fingers.

In a Monday letter to the president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Democrats for the impasse, saying the country is "sleepwalking toward significant and avoidable danger because of confusion and inaction from the Speaker of the House and the Senate Democratic Leader."

President Biden has called on Republicans to "stop playing Russian roulette" with the U.S. economy and allow a straight up-or-down vote to raise the debt ceiling, saying earlier this week that without it he could not guarantee the U.S. would not default on its obligations later in the month.

Potential filibuster change

Some Democrats have floated the idea of changing the Senate's filibuster rules in order to quickly approve a higher debt limit. Getting rid of the filibuster would lower the number of total votes needed from 60 to 50 and allow Vice President Harris to break a tie in an evenly split Senate. Biden told reporters yesterday that changing the rules specifically for the debt ceiling vote is "a real possibility."

But the prospects of that appear dim because at least one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, has said he opposes this path. Democrats would need all 50 members of their caucus to move ahead in that manner.

For context: A growing number of congressional Democrats support eliminating the filibuster more broadly, though the president has been slower to embrace potential changes.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith put the stalemate in perspective in a recent interview with PBS NewsHour. She noted that while the debt ceiling allows the country to pay its bills, and is not about future spending, Biden and McConnell "are both dug in" at this point.

"The question is, does the public care? Maybe not right now. If the U.S. defaults on its debt, the public will suddenly care a lot. And then they will start wondering whose fault it was. And, right now, they're pointing in opposite directions, trying to make sure that the other one gets the blame."
NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith

Economic consequences could be grave

Failure to reach a deal by the looming deadline would lead to the first default in U.S. history, which Yellen has described as "catastrophic" for the economy. Social Security benefits, child tax credits and military paychecks could be in jeopardy.

Biden has said "people would see the value of their retirement accounts shrink," the reserve status of the U.S. dollar would be threatened and interest rates could rise.

"A meteor is headed to crash into our economy," Biden said on Monday. "If you don't want to help save the country, get out of the way."