Start Your Day Here: A Senate panel tackles TikTok; A former diplomat fears for Afghanistan; Springsteen and Obama on their collaboration

Published October 26, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT
A person walks into a building with TikTok's logo above the door.
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The TikTok office in Culver City, Calif. Executives from TikTok, YouTube and Snap will appear at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Social media and kids: Executives from YouTube, Snap and TikTok face questions from a Senate panel on whether their apps harm children.

Afghanistan: Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban during the Trump administration. He spoke with Morning Edition about what went wrong.

Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama: The Boss and the former president spoke with NPR about their hopes love for their country and their new book, Renegades: Born In The USA.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, U.S. aid to Sudan is suspended after a coup.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark, Joe Hernandez, Scott Neuman and Chris Hopkins)

Technology

Sen. Amy Klobuchar says Congress should do its job by overseeing social media giants

Posted October 26, 2021 at 11:01 AM EDT

The Wild West with over a billion people. That's how Senator Amy Klobuchar described Facebook and other apps during a recent interview on NPR.

Klobuchar is one of the senators putting questions to executives on kids and the health effects of social media use, privacy protections online and the integrity of social media algorithms. Leaders from Tiktok, Snap and YouTube will testify during today's Senate subcommittee hearing beginning at 10 a.m. ET.

She recently met with parents in her home state of Minnesota who say they're struggling to protect their young children online. She called the situation heartbreaking.

"This is some pretty serious stuff for parents trying their best to raise their kids in a really difficult world," she said.

Klobuchar joined host Rachel Martin on Morning Edition to discuss today's hearing. Listen to their conversation here or continue below for highlights, condensed for clarity and time.

"This is should not be the Wild West anymore when you have over a billion, a billion people on this platform," Sen. Klobuchar said about Facebook.

On what she expects to ask the tech executives

"Well, this is the first time we're going to hear, especially, from Snap and TikTok. And we've heard a bit from YouTube before, but this is our moment where we're going to say, "OK, we don't have all your documents like we've been seeing with Facebook, but we know it's the same kind of thing." And I was listening to a reporter talk about the lack of data that we have on kids on these platforms. So that's a good place to start, right? We know adults spend three to four hours a day on apps of some kind. And so my guess is these kids are in that realm. And so that's question one. What data do they collect on these kids? What do they know? How much money are they making off them? We know that Facebook makes 51 bucks a quarter off of every American user, and we're trying to dig deep into what they make off of kids. How are you amplifying this content? We know that kids get exposed to horrible content on eating disorders on TikTok, or we know with Snapchat, horrific stories, including my home state, of kids getting access to fentanyl-laced pills simply by getting on their site. And then what are the algorithms? Can you make those transparent? You must. We're going to do something about this. What are you going to give us even before we pass a law on this so we understand what you're doing to our children?

On Congress' role in regulating social media companies

Congress should do its job. And as I said during the Facebook hearing, the problem is tech companies have over 300 lobbyists, around literally every hallway of the Capitol. Everywhere you go, they found someone, they think they purchased the service of someone who influences someone. And we have to stand above this and get something done. It is 20 percent of the economy and we have no federal privacy law that would allow users a very clear decision, whether they want their data to be used. That's No. 1. No. 2, better protecting our kids online. And that means changes to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, something Sen. Markey has been working on for years. My piece of this is updating our competition policy. We'll never know what bells and whistles a different product could have had because the major platforms have bought many of them, and making sure that we have things in place that protect our competition, our economy actually can give us better products that users can go to. And then finally, as I mentioned, things unique to tech transparency on the algorithms, allowing researchers to study those algorithms and then developing policies around that. Finally, their immunity. If it's harmful content, should they really be immune?

On whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is too powerful

Yes. And one of the things he has done is resist every attempt, including when I first came out with disclaimers and disclosures for political ads, they later changed their position on it, but they were against that. They basically have said, "Mo apology." That's something they said a few weeks ago, by the way. And "e're going to do what we want." We know what their profit model any one of your listeners should read The Ugly Truth, a recent book that came out by two New York Times reporters, to understand that the model is just get more people on their side, expand, profit off of them at any cost."

Too many robocalls

A lost hiker ignored calls from rescuers because they came from an unknown number

Posted October 26, 2021 at 10:49 AM EDT
A wooden signpost reads "Mt. Elbert" with an arrow pointing left, on a rocky trail beneath tall green trees.
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Denver Post
A sign points towards the Mt. Elbert trail near the intersection of the Colorado Trail and the trail to the top of Mt. Elbert, pictured in July 2016.

A lost hiker spent a full day on Colorado's highest peak despite authorities' repeated efforts to locate and contact them.

The unidentified individual reportedly ignored rescuers' calls because they were coming from an unknown number.

The person set out to hike Mount Elbert on the morning of Oct. 18, and was reported overdue when they had not returned by that evening, according to Lake County Search and Rescue. At 14,433 feet, Mount Elbert is Colorado's highest peak, and the second-highest peak in the contiguous U.S.

Rescuers tried calling the hiker multiple times, with no luck. They also sent out two search teams — totaling eight people, nine hours apart — overnight and in the early morning hours to scour areas where hikers typically lose the trail. But no dice.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending: Authorities learned around 9:30 a.m. local time that the hiker had made it home.

"The subject stated they’d lost the trail around nightfall and spent the night searching for the trail, and once on the trail, bounced around onto different trails trying to locate the proper trailhead, finally reaching their car the next morning, approximately 24 hours after they’d started their hike," they said in a statement. "They had no idea that SAR was out looking for them."

Authorities said the hiker ignored "repeated" phone calls because they didn't recognize the number, and urged others venturing outdoors not to make the same mistake.

"If you’re overdue according to your itinerary, and you start getting repeated calls from an unknown number, please answer the phone," they added. "It may be a SAR team trying to confirm you’re safe!"

While the story may seem improbable, the search and rescue organization said in a comment the following day that "what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking."

If you've ever gotten a call (or more than one) from an unrecognized number and just let it ring — especially if you're planning any hikes this winter — we hope the moral of this story reaches you loud and clear.

The Audubon Naturalist Society will change its name, citing namesake’s racist history

Posted October 26, 2021 at 10:39 AM EDT
People visit the exhibition dedicated to ornithologist, naturalist and painter John James Audubon at the natural history museum, in La Rochelle, on January 10, 2018.
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People visit a 2018 exhibition dedicated to ornithologist, naturalist and painter John James Audubon at the natural history museum in La Rochelle , France.

The Audubon Naturalist Society, an environmental group based in Washington, D.C., has announced it will change its name to distance itself from its namesake, John James Audubon, a 19th-century painter who owned slaves and opposed the abolitionist movement.

“We can acknowledge that the art of John James Audubon was a catalyst for bird conservation in our nation, and that the Audubon community has achieved much together over the past century,” the group said in a statement posted on its website.

“But we also know that names matter and can cause harm and stress to many members of our community. Retaining the name Audubon without regard to the pain that John James Audubon inflicted on Black people and other people of color is a disservice to our community.”

The Audubon Naturalist Society, based in Chevy Chase, Md., says it is the oldest independent environmental organization in the Washington, D.C., area.

The larger National Audubon Society, which has state-level chapters across the U.S., is named after the same man.

Sports

Carli Lloyd plays her last soccer match tonight — at a tumultuous time for female athletes

Posted October 26, 2021 at 10:10 AM EDT
A white woman wearing a white jersey looks off-camera with both her arms outstretched above her head.
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Carli Lloyd celebrates after scoring her third of four goals during the first half against Paraguay on September 16 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Soccer star Carli Lloyd will play her final game in a U.S. uniform tonight when the women's national team takes the field against South Korea in St. Paul, Minn., just after 8 p.m. ET.

The 39-year-old is retiring after a legendary career that includes two World Cup titles, a pair of Olympic gold medals and many other accolades. (She spoke to NPR this summer about her career, including what it was like to be the oldest U.S. women's national team player to compete at the Olympics.)

Lloyd ranks second in the world for most-ever international appearances after playing 315 career games, and scored 134 goals with the U.S. — third in the team's history and fourth all-time in world history. She had been hinting for some time that she was nearing the end of her professional career, and is now switching gears ... in one sense.

"This next phase of mine, I think, is going to be no different. I'm going to find something that I'm passionate about and do it to the best of my ability," she told ESPN. "I want to eventually start a family with my husband and want to be the best mom and strive to be the best wife that I possibly can."

Her departure is coming at a tumultuous time for the National Women's Soccer League — and for female athletes more broadly, as NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman has reported.

Read or listen to the full story here.

National 🎃 Day

Here's why the smell of pumpkin spice moves us, according to science

Posted October 26, 2021 at 9:38 AM EDT
An aerial view of four large bins filled with mostly orange, and several white, pumpkins.
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Pumpkins stacked up at Tulleys farm in Crawley, England, on Friday.

Happy National Pumpkin Day! There's no time like the present to stock up on decorative gourds, carve a spooky jack-o-lantern or sip on a PSL (... at least according to the pumpkin lobby, aka Big Pumpkin, not to be confused with the Charlie Brown special).

Pumpkin spice everything has been everywhere sinceliterallyAugust. Whether you love it or hate it, you can't deny that it's a staple of autumn in America.

To find out why, Morning Edition spoke with Jason Fischer, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. His team has been researching the science behind pumpkin spice's appeal and found that it has a lot to do with how we associate smells and flavors with fall.

"Those associations, they form year after year, they also give us this sense of familiarity," Fischer said. "And so when you start to smell the pumpkin spice things in the stores again it gives you a little feeling of nostalgia."

And don't underestimate the power of the warm fuzzies.

Pumpkin spice flavoring can be so evocative that it throws people off the scent of a very important fact: It doesn't actually contain any pumpkin.

That aroma comes from things like nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice — which is why our brains can sometimes be tricked into mistaking pumpkin spice for apple pie.

"You can take those same spices and you can put different labels on them and make the experience kind of different, because you're calling up different sets of associations as well," Fischer said. "And, again, that's your brain kind of filling in the gaps."

The associations and labels attached to a smell can determine much of how we experience it, Fischer and his team found.

For instance, if someone is handed a pumpkin spice drink in a generic cup, they may recognize the smell but not quite be able to place it. But once they know what it is, they will perceive the taste and smell even more distinctly.

If you feel like testing out their theories, today's a great day to cozy up with a mug of something pumpkin spicey. Or, as NPR's Rachel Martin points out, "You could also just drink a regular cup of coffee, and light a candle that smells like pine."

Education

Confused about changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program? Read this

Posted October 26, 2021 at 9:36 AM EDT

There were so many borrowers. Dozens reached out to me via Twitter and desperate emails after I reported earlier this month that the U.S. Department of Education would be overhauling the troubled Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

They all wanted to know: What do we do now? Even after the Education Department released an FAQ attempting to answer that very question, borrowers continued coming to me, many of them confused, even frustrated because they were already getting wrong information from the companies that manage their federal student loans.

So, I decided to write a mammoth Twitter thread that could do a few things at once:

  1. Clearly walk folks through the basics of this fix and what they need to know.
  2. Pack it with useful links and ridiculous GIFs, medicine and sugar.
  3. @ the companies, agencies and officials involved in this overhaul, to thank or hold accountable, and
  4. Let borrowers know that I’ll be there with them, listening to their stories and continuing to report on this program until its cracks have been mended and the public servants it was meant to help have finally been helped.

Here it is:

Weather

N.Y. and N.J. see heavy rains and flash floods, prompting states of emergency

Posted October 26, 2021 at 8:57 AM EDT

The New York City metro area is waking up to heavy rains and flash flood warnings.

The National Weather Service predicts as much as 6 inches of rain in some areas, with flash flooding possible in urban settings as well as along small rivers and streams. Strong winds are expected, and moderate coastal flooding is also possible.

Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York and Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey declared states of emergency to prepare for the storm. Some schools in both states also closed for the weather.

Tuesday’s storm arrived one month after Hurricane Ida pummeled the Northeast, killing at least 25 people in New Jersey alone.

Asia

Japanese Princess Mako follows her heart and marries a commoner

Posted October 26, 2021 at 8:41 AM EDT
Japan's former princess Mako and her husband Kei Komuro pose at the start of a press conference to announce their marriage registration Tuesday in Tokyo
Nicolas Datiche/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Japan's former princess Mako and her husband Kei Komuro pose at the start of a press conference to announce their marriage registration Tuesday in Tokyo

Japan’s Princess Mako has married her college sweetheart, a commoner — a decision requiring her to give up her royal status but that she says was necessary “to live while cherishing our hearts.”

Mako, who is a niece of Emperor Naruhito, met her future husband, Kei Komuro, while the two attended Tokyo’s International Christian University.

Japanese law requires that female members of the imperial family relinquish their royal status if they marry a commoner. As a result, Mako and Kei were wed without the royal rituals.

“For me, Kei-san is a priceless person,” Mako said in a televised news conference, using the Japanese honorific to address her new husband. “For us, our marriage was a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts.”Komuro responded: “I love Mako. I live only once and I want to spend it with someone I love."

Komuro works at a law firm in New York and the couple is expected to live in the U.S. The two had planned to marry in 2018, but the wedding was put on hold after a financial dispute involving the future groom’s mother. The palace has denied that the finances of Komuro’s mother caused any delay in the marriage.

However, responding to a question at the news conference, Kei Komuro said he would do whatever he could to resolve his mother’s money trouble.

Some Japanese are not happy with the newlyweds and consider Kei Komuro unfit to wed a princess. A group of people even gathered on Tuesday in Tokyo to protest the marriage. The couple has also come in for criticism in the Japanese press, particularly since the financial problems became public.

In addition to giving up her monarchal status, Mako declined to accept a 140 million yen ($1.23 million) payment entitled to her for leaving the imperial family, according to the palace. The Associated Press says she is the first Japanese royal since World War II to do so.

Baseball

Why some fans say the 2021 World Series is a matchup of good vs. evil

Posted October 26, 2021 at 8:15 AM EDT
People paint the words "World Series" in block letters on a green baseball field, with an empty stadium and orange diamond in the background.
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The grounds crew prepares the field during a workout prior to the start of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park on Monday in Houston.

The World Series starts tonight with Game 1 in Houston, where the Astros will face off against the Atlanta Braves.

The stakes are high for fans of each team. The Braves haven't gotten this far since 1999, while the Astros have been in the series three of the past five years — including in 2017, when they cheated using an illegal, sign-stealing, trash can-banging system to call pitches.

The Astros have looked to put the scandal behind them, but many fans outside of Houston still see them as the bad guys.

"Many are painting this as good versus evil on the baseball diamond," NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman told Morning Edition.

It's not entirely black and white

The Astros faced punishment for the cheating scandal last year, even though they're still paying for it with a lot of fans.

Meanwhile, the Braves have an appealing underdog story: They overcame injuries to some of their best players this season. Plus two faces of the franchise — manager Brian Snitker and first baseman Freddie Freeman — are team lifers. "We like loyalty in sports," as Goldman put it.

On the other hand, some Braves fans still do the "tomahawk chop" arm gesture and chant, which are increasingly considered both offensive and outdated. Teams from the pro leagues to high school athletics are moving away from derogatory slogans and this particular expression of enthusiasm.

The teams took very different paths to the World Series

The Braves didn't have a winning record in their regular season until their 111th game in early August. at which point they surged. Goldman says that's the longest it's taken a team to get to a winning record and then make it to the World Series. So they were by no means a sure thing.

Notable players: Third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Eddie Rosario, who was traded to the team in July.

The Astros have consistently played well since their tarnished 2017 season — for instance, they've played in the American League Championship Series for five straight years.

Notable players: infielders Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, José Altuve and Yuli Gurriel; and powerful hitter Yordan Álvarez.

And a fun fact: Beloved Astros manager Dusty Baker started his MLB career playing for the Braves.

The oddsmakers favor the Astros

Goldman says fans could make the case for either team. Their pitching staffs are pretty even, and each is highly motivated, he notes. But Houston stands out on offense, plus has more recent experience playing in "the pressure cooker of the World Series."

Oddsmakers are leaning towards the Astros, and Goldman agrees. Hear the full interview here.

Technology

Do social media apps harm kids? Senators will grill Tiktok, YouTube and Snap today

Posted October 26, 2021 at 8:07 AM EDT
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building can be seen through pillars of the Supreme Court Building.
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The U.S. Capitol building. Senators will hear from leaders at YouTube, Snap and TikTok today on how their sites impact young users' mental and physical health

Social media company executives will testify on Capitol Hill today as senators look for answers to a big question in Washington lately: Does social media use harm kids?

The pressure on social media companies is intense right now, particularly after a series of scandals involving secretive social tech giant Facebook. Congress recently heard from whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, who testified that the company harms children and pursues growth and profits above safety. And a release this week of thousands of internal Facebook documents reviewed by NPR and other outlets brought a bevy of new scrutiny to the company.

Now, the senators will hear from leaders at YouTube, Snap and TikTok on how their sites impact young users' mental and physical health as well.

The subcommittee says the purpose of the hearing is to "examine how tech companies treat young audiences, including how algorithms and product design choices can amplify harms, addiction, and intrusions into privacy," as well as look into what laws can be put in place to better protect kids and teens online.

NPR's Miles Parks reports the issue of kid's safety and tech giants is a unifying topic for this Congress, but the science around whether social media harms or helps kids isn't easily generalized. A recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder found kids are alright if they have a few hours of screen time a day, but as Parks notes, many of Facebook's recently leaked internal files point to the company's data on things like the app's use and negative body image in teens.

Parks has reviewed the planned opening statements from Youtube and Snap and reports the companies will push back on the idea that their business models put profits over kids' wellness.

The hearing will be livestreamed on the committee's website here beginning at 10 a.m. ET.

Interview
World

The former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan reflects on the result of 20 years of war

Posted October 26, 2021 at 7:52 AM EDT
Afghan women chant slogans and hold placard during a women's rights protest in Kabul on October 21, 2021.
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AFP
Afghan women chant slogans and hold placards during a women's rights protest in Kabul last week. The Taliban violently cracked down on media coverage of a women's rights protest in Kabul on Oct. 21, beating several journalists.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, helped negotiate the peace deal with the Taliban during the Trump administration and worked with President Biden during the withdrawal of American troops over the summer.

In an interview with Morning Edition, Khalilzad acknowledged that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan hasn’t always worked perfectly but insisted that 20 years of war in that country weren’t for nothing.

“We succeeded in overthrowing the Taliban. We succeeded in decimating Al Qaeda,” he said.

“But in building a democratic Afghanistan and defeating the Talibs, empowering more secular and democratic forces, there were shortcomings. We didn’t succeed. And we need to learn lessons from that,” he added.

Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan and negotiated with the Taliban in their native language, defended the violent military withdrawal over the summer in which U.S. service members and Afghan civilians died.

The former envoy also suggested there has been some social progress — if marginal. When the Taliban took power following the U.S. withdrawal, they restricted women’s rights more than many had hoped. “But compared to the Taliban of the 90s, now women are allowed to go to private universities … High schools, in several provinces, they’re open,” Khalilzad said.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Zalmay Khalilzad on Morning Edition.

NPR Exclusive
Author Interviews

A new book from Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen drops today

Posted October 26, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT
Barack Obama (L) and Bruce Springsteen (R) stand overlooking buildings and a crowd waving signs and an American flag. Springsteen has one arm around Obama's back and each has one hand raised in the air.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
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AP
Then-President Barack Obama and singer Bruce Springsteen wave to the crowd at a campaign event in downtown Madison, Wis., in Nov. 2012.

Former President Barack Obama and iconic musician Bruce Springsteen have turned their pandemic podcast into a book.

Renegades: Born In The USA combines their candid conversations with powerful photos and personal items like handwritten notes. And it hits shelves today.

Obama and Springsteen spoke with Audie Cornish — co-host of NPR's All Things Considered — from Springsteen's New Jersey farm ahead of the book's release. The dynamic duo reflected on a number of topics: race, their childhoods, the podcast, their hopes for the country, the importance of taking action and why Springsteen believes "Born in the U.S.A." is being misinterpreted.

Their podcast conversations aimed to find unifying stories, for themselves and for the country, as Cornish explained onMorning Edition. Searching for commonality is something Obama did as a presidential candidate, and also how Springsteen sees his work as a musician.

"I think our general attitude was, America was going through a reckoning, we had to figure out who we were, and part of the goal of the podcast and now the book was to maybe offer — with some humility — the sense that there is a common American story to be had under all of the polarization and division and anger and resentment that had been fanned during that year," Obama said.

Listen to the full conversation and read excerpts here. Plus, there are videos!

'A Fighting Optimism': Bruce Springsteen And Barack Obama On Politics In 2021 | NPR