Start your day here: India's climate change emergency; Pete Buttigieg's infrastructure tour; Puerto Rico and religious rights at the Supreme Court

Published November 9, 2021 at 8:14 AM EST
A woman holds an umbrella as she wades through a flooded street after heavy monsoon rains in Chennai, India, on Monday.
Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images
A woman holds an umbrella as she wades through a flooded street after heavy monsoon rains in Chennai, India, on Monday.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Catastrophic weather in India: Erratic rains. Deadly floods. Toxic smog. The country's rapid development has left it with a host of environmental challenges — made worse by climate change.

Spending new infrastructure funds: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told NPR that the newly approved package includes plans to "reconnect communities that have been divided by sometimes discriminatory construction in the past." His comments acknowledge a history of systemic racism in the construction of America's roadways and cities.

At the Supreme Court: Justices hear arguments over whether federal disability benefits should be applied equally in Puerto Rico as on the mainland, and whether prayer and touch can be allowed in an execution chamber.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, the Jan. 6 House panel issues more subpoenas for ex-Trump officials, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)


Rep. Paul Gosar shared an anime video of himself killing AOC. Here's how she responded

Posted November 9, 2021 at 11:22 AM EST
The side view of a man wearing a suit and yellow tie, looking forward as he sits near a microphone.
Bill Clark/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-AZ, pictured during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on July 28, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Critics are slamming Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for sharing an altered anime video in which he kills Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and swings swords at President Biden.

Gosar shared the video from both his personal and professional Twitter accounts Sunday, writing "Any anime fans out there?" in the latter. Twitter has not removed the tweets but instead hid them from view, with users required to click on the screen in order to see it.

"This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about hateful conduct," reads the label. "However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."

The 92-second clip appears to be an edited version of the opening credits of the Japanese manga series Attack on Titan. It intersperses clips of migrants and border patrol agents, images of Democratic leaders and animation of Republican politicians — including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado — on the attack. Blood spatters and words like drugs, crime, murder, poverty, gangs, violence and trafficking also flash on the screen at points.

The Phoenix New Times reports that the plot of Attack on Titan is seen by some as an allegory for immigration and white nationalists' extinction theory, and that its anime has faced criticism for antisemitic, pro-fascist and pro-genocidal themes (which the show's creator denies).

It seems as though the video was done in-house, as Gosar wrote on his personal Twitter that "the creativity of my team is off the hook." His press secretary has not responded to NPR's request for comment, though told theWashington Post that “everyone needs to relax."

Ocasio-Cortez castigated Gosar in a series of tweets on Monday, spanning the personal and the political. She slammed Gosar's video as just one of several incidents of harassment she's faced on the job, arguing that institutions — Congress included — fail to protect women of color.

"So while I was en route to Glasgow, a creepy member I work with who fundraises for Neo-Nazi groups shared a fantasy video of him killing me," she wrote. "And he’ll face no consequences bc [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy] cheers him on with excuses. Fun Monday! Well, back to work bc institutions don’t protect woc."

Ocasio-Cortez recalled when Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., called her a "f****** b****" on the steps of the Capitol and when Greene "stalked my office the 1st time w/ insurrectionists & ppl locked inside," adding that all of these incidents happened while she was at work and with no consequences.

She promised to go back to business, but not before taking one final dig at Gosar:

Other Democratic representatives took to Twitter to condemn Gosar's behavior, which California Rep. Ted Lieu called "sick."

"In any workplace in America, if a coworker made an anime video killing another coworker, that person would be fired," he added.

"These blood thirsty losers are more comfortable with violence than voting. Keep exposing them," tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, also of California.

Gosar, an ally of former President Donald Trump, has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the Capitol insurrection and has spread misinformation about what happened on Jan. 6. Earlier this year, he denounced "white racism" after speaking at a far-right conference whose organizer spoke approvingly of the storming of the Capitol and white nationalism, the Washington Postreported.

And Gosar was among the lawmakers whose phone or computer records a House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection asked social media and telecommunications companies to preserve, as those lawmakers were potentially involved with efforts to “challenge, delay or interfere” with the certification or otherwise try to overturn the results of the 2020 election, the Associated Press notes.


Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland dies at 79

Posted November 9, 2021 at 10:54 AM EST
Former Sen. Max Cleland at a "Salute to Those Who Have Served & Sacrificed" at the Bunker Hill Monument in 2004 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Former Sen. Max Cleland at a "Salute to Those Who Have Served & Sacrificed" at the Bunker Hill Monument in 2004 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland has died. He was 79 years old.

Cleland, a moderate senator, was elected to the Senate in 1996 and served one term in the chamber before losing to Republican Saxby Chambliss. The Republicans questioned Cleland’s commitment to the defense of the U.S after voting against homeland security measures.

Cleland volunteered to serve during the Vietnam War. Injuries sustained there from a dropped grenade left him a triple amputee and left him a strong advocate for veterans. He would serve as VA Administrator under the Carter Administration from 1977 to 1981.

President Biden issued a statement praising his former Senate colleague: “He was a man of unflinching patriotism, boundless courage, and rare character.”

And he credited Cleland’s leadership as “the essential driving force behind the creation of the modern VA health system.”

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, also praised Cleland’s public service and thanked him for “invaluable” advice Cleland offered him in the early months of his Senate tenure.

Cleland also served 14 years as Georgia Secretary of State from 1982 to 1996.

Member station WABE in Atlanta has more on Cleland's life and legacy.


Senators launch a bipartisan caucus for women and girls in STEM

Posted November 9, 2021 at 10:17 AM EST

Two U.S. senators have launched a bipartisan caucus to help women and girls pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev), a former computer programmer, and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va), a former college counselor, said they hope to create more pathways for this historically underrepresented group to work in STEM fields.

“This is where the innovation is going to be in the next workforce, in the next century,” Capito said in their joint Tweet.

Though progress has been made in bridging the gender gap within these industries, those who got their start in STEM, like Rosen, with a background in computer programming, feel like it hasn’t been enough.

The lawmakers said they expect bipartisan support and the addition of other senators to the group as their plans roll out.

The new Senate caucus follows a House caucus for women and girls in STEM that was formed last year. That initiative was launched by Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Penn.; Haley Stevens, D-Mich.; and Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.


Singapore will stop covering the medical bills of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients

Posted November 9, 2021 at 9:41 AM EST
People wearing face masks and looking at their phones ride public transit, seated on the sides of a train with no one standing in the middle.
Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images
People ride on a mass rapid transit train in Singapore on Friday.

Singapore's government has been covering the medical bills of COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic. But it says unvaccinated people will soon be on their own.

Those who are "unvaccinated by choice" will have to start paying for their own COVID-19 treatment effective Dec. 8, the Ministry of Health announced on Monday, citing the strain they are putting on the nation's healthcare system.

"Currently, unvaccinated persons make up a sizeable majority of those who require intensive inpatient care, and disproportionately contribute to the strain on our healthcare resources," it said in a statement.

Until now, the government has been covering the cost of COVID-19 care for all Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders, excluding those who tested positive after returning from overseas travel.

"This was to avoid financial considerations adding to public uncertainty and concern when COVID-19 was an emergent and unfamiliar disease," it explained, adding that this system will continue to apply to "the majority who are vaccinated ... until the COVID-19 situation is more stable."

The policy change means the government will start charging all unvaccinated COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals and designated "COVID-19 Treatment Facilities" on or after Dec. 8. Those patients can still use their regular healthcare financing arrangements to pay their bills where applicable.

There are a few exceptions. People who aren't eligible for vaccination — like children under 12 and people with medical exemptions — will still have their medical bills covered by the government. And people who are partially vaccinated won't be charged until Dec. 31, to give them time to complete the full series.

Specifically, starting on Jan. 1, the government will only foot the bill for those Singaporeans (including permanent residents and long-term pass holders) who are fully vaccinated and have not recently traveled.

"Our hospitals really much prefer not to have to bill these patients at all, but we have to send this important signal, to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible," Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday.

Much of Singapore's population is vaccinated

Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. As of Sunday, 85% of its population wass fully vaccinated, and 18% received booster shots, according to health ministry data.

The health minister credited the hard work of vaccination teams with reducing the number of unvaccinated seniors from 175,000 in early August to below 64,000.

"If not for this reduction, our hospitals and ICUs today would have been already overwhelmed," he added.

Singapore had 1,725 recorded hospitalizations as of Monday, with an intensive care unit utilization rate of 68.5%. The health ministry also looked at the difference in cases between those who are fully vaccinated and partially or not at all vaccinated.

Over the last seven days, it said, the number of critically ill cases who were fully vaccinated and non-fully vaccinated were at 0.5 and 5.2 per 100,000 population, respectively. Over that same period, the number of fully vaccinated and non-fully vaccinated cases who died were 0.1 and 0.9 per 100,000 population, respectively. Those numbers were considerably larger for seniors.

It's part of a larger shift in Singapore's COVID strategy

Singapore has seen a surge in cases over the last few months, and decided in October to abandon its "zero COVID strategy" in favor of learning to coexist with the virus.

Officials said on Oct. 20 that they would extend their plan for another month, with a mid-point review. Their Monday announcement about COVID-19 medical coverage also said that the growth in new cases had slowed and eased certain restrictions as a result.

For example, it will allow up to five fully vaccinated people from the same household to eat together at a dining establishment, and take steps to simplify travel protocols.

The government also said it would "pilot the resumption of more activities" like sports, meetings and conferences for those who are fully vaccinated, subject to additional rapid testing requirements.

Unvaccinated people are not offered those same options.

"As for individuals who do not want to take any of the vaccines, we will need to have Safe Management Measures which differentiate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated," the health ministry explained. "This is in order to protect the unvaccinated, and also to preserve our healthcare capacity."


On SCOTUS' agenda today: SSI benefits in Puerto Rico and religious rights at an execution

Posted November 9, 2021 at 9:17 AM EST

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether federal disability benefits should be applied equally in Puerto Rico as on the mainland, and whether prayer and touch can be allowed in an execution chamber.
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether federal disability benefits should be applied equally in Puerto Rico as on the mainland, and whether prayer and touch can be allowed in an execution chamber.

Does U.S. law apply equally to Puerto Rico?

The highest court in the nation will weigh that question today when it considers restraints on what federal benefits U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are entitled to.

The Supreme Court will hear the case of United States v. Vaello-Madero. Jose Luis Vaello-Madero moved from New York to Puerto Rico and continued receiving disability benefits for a year from the Social Security Administration while living on the island. Then, the government sued him to get the money back — $28,081 worth, arguing that in Puerto Rico, the family was no longer entitled to get the same benefits they had in New York.

The law says only residents of the 50 states, D.C. and the Northern Mariana Islands are eligible for the program the family was receiving benefits under. But is that law constitutional? Arguments begin today in the case.

Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court journalist who joined NPR's Up First podcast to lay out the legal questions of the case. You can listen here.

The Trump administration claimed the government has a right to exclude Puerto Rico residents from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

"And although the Justice Department could have taken a different position from the Trump administration — as happened in several other cases — it chose not to do so and now it will be at the Supreme Court today defending the SSI exclusion," Geidner explains.

The Supreme Court's decision in this case could mean changes for the roughly 700,000 people in Puerto Rico who are now excluded from SSI benefits.

"Notably, there were nearly two dozen briefs filed at the Supreme Court by groups and individuals in support of Puerto Rico's request — and none supporting the federal government's position," Geidner says.

Citizens of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens but the government has long freely chosen which areas of the constitution apply to the U.S. territory.

Garrett Epps, a law professor and legal affairs editor of the Washington Monthly, spoke to Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep on how the U.S. has historically treated Puerto Rico.

"When the United States took over Puerto after the Spanish American War, the courts struggled mightily to decide what was the right way to treat them," Epps says. "And [the courts were] very frank and said 'These people speak Spanish, they're not like us, they don't have the same background and we can't really make them part of the United States.' And so they created in essence this sort of second class status called denizenship, which was later made into citizenship.

"But the idea still is that the federal government can treat Puerto Rico differently in all kinds of ways. And the question, in this case, is: Does that extend to treating individuals differently or does the Equal Protection Clause [of the constitution] protect Mr. Vaello-Madero," Epps notes. He estimates if the government were to begin paying the eligible Puerto Rico residents SSI benefits, it could be as much as $23 billion over a 10 year-span.

Another case before the court today considers what religious rights a person has at their execution. For more on that case, Ramirez v. Collier, listen here. Live oral arguments can be heard on the Supreme Court's websitebeginning at 10 a.m. eastern.

This term the Supreme Court has already heard cases regarding gun rights and the FBI's surveillance of a mosque in California.


Buttigieg says the spending bill will address infrastructure issues like racist highway design

Posted November 9, 2021 at 8:12 AM EST
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stands in a suit and blue tie at a wooden podium reading "The White House", with the blue White House logo and an American flag behind him.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks during the daily briefing at the White House on Monday.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is among the Biden administration officials touting the newly passed spending bill, which includes billions of dollars of investment in roads, bridges and other transportation programs.

"We had the New Deal under FDR, the Square Deal under Teddy Roosevelt; I think the Biden-Harris Administration is delivering a big deal for the American people," he told NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.

He explained that the funding will help get existing projects out the door in the immediate term, and help stand up new programs in the years to come, such as funding to set up a nationwide electric vehicle charging infrastructure and "reconnect communities that have been divided by sometimes discriminatory construction in the past."

Buttigieg touched on that subject again at a White House press briefing Monday. April D. Ryan, a reporter for theGrio, asked him about comments he made earlier this year about racism being literally built into the country's roadways (NPR has more here on how racism shaped interstate highways.)

"I'm still surprised that some people were surprised when I pointed to the fact that if a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach — or would have been — in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, but that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices," he said. "I don't think we have anything to lose by confronting that simple reality, and I think we have everything to gain by acknowledging it and then dealing with it."

His answer, which circulated widely in a Twitter video, sent parts of the internet into a frenzy. Republican commentators and politicians — including Sens. Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — widely mocked and disputed those claims.

Other users jumped to Buttigieg's defense, praising him for acknowledging this history and calling attention to systemic racism.

Indeed, as many pointed out, Buttigieg appeared to be referencing The Power Broker, the famous Robert Caro biography of New York urban planner Robert Moses.

As NPR has reported, Starting in the 1920s, Moses bulldozed Black and Latino neighborhoods to make way for parks and built highways through the middle of minority neighborhoods. He reportedly made sure that bridges on parkways connecting New York City to Long Island beaches were so low that they prevented city buses (and their likely minority passengers) from getting through.

And Moses wasn't unique. Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, spoke to NPR last year about how race has played a central role in the development and growth of American cities. Read more here.

International Dispatch
From Mumbai

How climate change is exacerbating India's environmental issues

Posted November 9, 2021 at 7:58 AM EST
People wade through a flooded street after heavy monsoon rains in Chennai on Monday.
Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images
People wade through a flooded street after heavy monsoon rains in Chennai on Monday.

Erratic rains. Deadly floods. Toxic smog. Poisoned rivers.

This is not a cautionary tale about what could happen if the world doesn’t react quickly to climate change. It’s what’s happening right now in India. The country's rapid development has left it with a host of environmental challenges — made worse, by climate change.

This week, huge swaths of the southern Indian city of Chennai are underwater. It’s normal for the city of about 10 million to get hit by monsoon rains at this time of year. But the volume has been extreme.

Buses have been submerged, trees uprooted and thousands of people forced to flee their homes. The city is India’s car manufacturing hub, and business has ground to a halt. Schools are closed too. Video shows desperate evacuees fighting over relief supplies.

Meanwhile, in the capital New Delhi, ammonia has poisoned the water supply, and toxic foam is bubbling up from the Yamuna River. The river is holy to Hindus, and despite the pollution, some faithful have been taking ritual baths there.

The country’s most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, is barely visible from afar, shrouded in smog. Air quality across northern India this week has hit the "severe" category — four times what scientists say is safe.

“We live in a dystopian nightmare,” says Sherry Frosh, a mother of two in suburban New Delhi and activist with Warrior Moms, a group that campaigns for clean air. “We see these bad movies about how people are living in these gray cities and people choking and they can't survive — and we're living in that right now!"

Hear more from Frosh, as well as a climate scientist, about India’s environmental woes — and how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledges at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow might help, on Up First and Morning Edition.