Start your day here: Cuba crushes protests; a friendly Biden-Xi meeting, an icon of Broadway is accused of abuse

Published November 16, 2021 at 7:54 AM EST
A police vehicle and few pedestrians on El Paseo del Prado street in Havana on Monday. Government authorities kept protest organizers from leaving their homes.
Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images
A police vehicle and few pedestrians on El Paseo del Prado street in Havana on Monday. Government authorities kept protest organizers from leaving their homes.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Cuba cracks down on dissent: Activists had planned another nationwide protest for more political freedoms and better economic conditions, but the government deployed police and state security agents to force activists to stay at home.

Virtual summit: President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi met for three and a half hours despite high tensions between their countries. The talk was "respectful and straightforward and it was open," according to a Biden administration official.

Abuse allegations on Broadway: Two men are accusing William Ivey Long of sexual abuse. The former Tony Awards chairman has designed costumes for shows such as Chicago and Diana: The Musical.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon threatens vengeance after surrendering on criminal contempt charges.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

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


Times Square will welcome back vaccinated revelers this New Year's Eve

Posted November 16, 2021 at 12:06 PM EST
Confetti flies against the dark sky and a billboard reading "Happy New Year" and "2021."
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The New Year's Eve ball drops in a mostly empty Times Square on January 1, 2021, in New York City.

New York City's Times Square rang in the year 2021 with a virtual ball-dropping celebration, as coronavirus cases climbed across the U.S.

Now the party's back on, thanks to COVID-19 vaccines. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday that Times Square will be open for celebrations this New Year's Eve — but only to fully vaccinated revelers.

"We are proud to announce the Times Square wonderful celebration, the ball drop, everything, coming back full strength, the way we love it," he said. "Hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate, we can finally get back together again. It's going to be amazing, it's going to be a joy for the city."

He certainly seemed joyful to deliver the news:

De Blasio stressed that the city is working with health officials to make the event a safe one. Attendees must show proof of vaccination and a valid photo ID.

Tom Harris, the president of the Times Square Alliance, appeared virtually at the press briefing to expand on the mayor's comment. He noted that Times Square is already attracting more visitors, with its pedestrian count up more than 50% in the last several months.

More than 270,000 people visited Times Square last Saturday alone, Harris said, and Broadway has already welcomed back more than a million visitors. He said that success is largely due to people being vaccinated and feeling confident in venturing back out.

Of course, you don't have to be in Manhattan to celebrate the start of 2022. The New Year's Eve festivities will also be broadcast for TV and internet audiences, the alliance says, including a "virtual multi-media experience." Read more about the plan here.

Rittenhouse trial

These are the charges the Rittenhouse jury will be deliberating

Posted November 16, 2021 at 11:36 AM EST
A young man in a suit and tie, sitting in a court room, reaches out a hand and sticks it in a brown raffle drum.
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Kyle Rittenhouse pulls numbers of jurors out of a tumbler during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on Tuesday in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The jury in Kyle Rittenhouse's homicide trial is set to begin deliberations today, after lawyers on both sides wrapped up weeks of evidence and testimony with closing arguments yesterday.

First, the jury had to be winnowed down from 18 to 12 members. And Rittenhouse himself had a direct — albeit random — hand in selecting the jurors who will deliberate his case.

At the direction of the judge, Rittenhouse's attorney placed numbered slips of paper into a raffle drum, and Rittenhouse picked out six. The jurors with the corresponding numbers were dismissed (but as ABC News reports, they're required to remain in the courthouse until a verdict is reached).

The remaining jurors must decide: Was Rittenhouse was defending himself when he shot three people — killing two — during police protests in Kenosha, Wis., last year, or was he acting as a vigilante responsible for needless deaths?

Here are the specific charges on the table, as explained by Corinne Hess at Wisconsin Public Radio:

  • Count 1: First-degree reckless homicide, use of a dangerous weapon. This felony charge is connected to the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man Rittenhouse shot.
  • Count 2: First-degree recklessly endangering safety, use of a dangerous weapon. This charge is connected to reporter Richie McGinnis, who was in the line of fire when Rosenbaum was shot.
  • Count 3: First-degree recklessly endangering safety, use of a dangerous weapon. Videos show Rittenhouse being kicked by an unknown man and then shooting at him. That is what this charge is related to.
  • Count 4: First-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon. This felony charge is connected to the death of Anthony Huber, the second man Rittenhouse shot. The judge ruled the lesser charges included are: second-degree intentional homicide; first-degree reckless homicide.
  • Count 5: Attempted first-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon. This charge is connected to the shooting of Grosskreutz. Grosskreutz is the third man Rittenhouse shot. The judge ruled the lesser charges included are: attempted second-degree intentional homicide; first-degree recklessly endangering safety.

Yer a relic, Harry: The first Harry Potter movie premiered 20 years ago today

Posted November 16, 2021 at 10:54 AM EST
A young Daniel Radcliffe, dressed as Harry Potter, looks at a white owl perched on his outstretched arm.
Peter Mountain/WireImage
A young Daniel Radcliffe stars as Harry Potter in "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone," which premiered in 2001.

The film that brought the wizarding world to life — from Hogwarts to Hedwig to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named — is 20 years old today.

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" premiered on Nov. 16, 2001, four years after the series' first book hit the shelves.

Seven books, eight movies, multiple theme parks, millions of book sales, a Broadway show and several spinoffs later, the beloved franchise has left its markon millions of muggles. It has influenced everything from popular culture to children's literature to classroom curriculums.

To celebrate, we're dusting off our Pensieve to revisit NPR's coverage of the very first movie.

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan offered a mixed but overall positive review, focused on the movie's extreme loyalty to the book.

"Like hulking NFL offensive linemen signed on to safeguard a valuable quarterback, every Harry Potter hire was made with an eye toward ensuring that hordes of fanatical fans won't be disappointed," he said.

A crowd of people stands in the street outside a movie theater with a big "Harry Potter" poster on the marquis.
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People lined up outside the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square in London's West End for the first public showing of the Harry Potter movie on November 12, 2001.

Turan described that as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, he said, "woe to those who would mess with that story." On the other, even an impressive replica doesn't leave much room for risk-taking, objection or celebration.

Still, he applauded the moviemakers for building a visually magical world and paring down the lengthy book without resorting to cliches or clunky dialogue. And he praised the leading trio of child actors as "excellent" (though mistakenly referred to Ron as Fred, and also saved his highest compliments for Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid).

"Despite its copycat nature, what finally saves 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' is what created it in the first place: [Author J.K.] Rowling's exceptional imagination," Turan concluded. "At those moments when the film allows us to share in Harry's wonder, it lets us recapture our own."

Listen to the full review here.

Critical acclaim isn't everything, of course. What did young Potterheads make of the movie?

The late NPR correspondent Margot Adler spoke to a bunch of kids and their parents as they left a Manhattan movie theater. She found that most loved the movie, but loved the book(s) more.

"I like the book," one young viewer said. "It explained more."

"I thought the book was very detailed and the movie was very good but it sort of just quickened it a little too much," said another.

Not everyone agreed.

"I like the movie better," offered a viewer. "It was kind of cool to get to see all the things you kind of imagined."

And many surveyed were impressed with the visuals: the wizarding chess game, the living pictures on Hogwarts' walls, and the actors bringing characters to life. One parent said Dumbledore looked exactly as expected, while a youngster said they had pictured Snape totally different. Some viewers weren't impressed with the music though, and Adler notes that makes sense: Most people didn't have music in their heads as they were reading the book.

As for parents in the audience, Adler said, the most common reaction was a sense of relief "that whatever Harry Potter the movie was about, whether it succeeded in portraying this or failed at portraying that, it was not going to do that thing that so many parents feared."

"It would not destroy the tender plant that the Potter phenomenon had helped cultivate," she explained. "Their children suddenly sitting on the sofa reading for hours, the family coming together, reading aloud."

And, if you're in the mood to take a spin even further down memory lane, listen to the first story NPR ever aired about Harry Potter. It's from Adler and aired on All Things Considered in 1998.

Among other gems, it includes a quote from a bookstore manager marveling at having sold "hundreds" of copies, and Adler's (accurate) prophecy that the word "muggle" would take off.


Meet Ji-Young, Sesame Street's first Asian American muppet

Posted November 16, 2021 at 10:20 AM EST

There will soon be a new kid on the block at Sesame Street — and she's the first Asian American muppet in the show's 52-year history.

Ji-Young, 7, is Korean American and has two passions: skateboarding and jamming on her electric guitar. She's looking forward to introducing her new neighbors to Korean culture and food, like the tteokbokki (chewy rice cakes) she cooks with her halmoni (grandmother).

Her character was created in response to the events of the last several years, like George Floyd's murder and the pandemic-fueled rise in anti-Asian sentiment. But her role on the show will go beyond addressing racial justice, executives tell the Associated Press, and she will appear on various live-action and animated programs.

Some of her personality also comes from her puppeteer, Kathleen Kim. Kim, who is also Korean American, got into puppetry in her 30s and became part of the Sesame Street team in 2014.

Kim told the AP it was important to her that the character be specifically Korean American, as opposed to "generically pan-Asian." She also noted the significance of Ji-Young's character in the fight against racism and for representation.

"I remember the Atlanta shootings and how terrifying that was for me," Kim said. "My one hope, obviously, is to actually help teach what racism is, help teach kids to be able to recognize it and then speak out against it. But then my other hope for Ji-Young is that she just normalizes seeing different kinds of looking kids on TV."

Ji-Young will make her official debut on Thanksgiving, in "See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special." The special features celebrities including Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka, and will be available on HBO Max, Sesame Street's social media accounts and local PBS stations.

Read more about Ji-Young's creation and her upcoming special, and get to know her in the video below.


No breakthroughs, but a cooperative tone was set at Biden and Xi's summit

Posted November 16, 2021 at 10:04 AM EST
President Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday.

The U.S. and China struck a conciliatory tone Monday as President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for more than three hours in a virtual summit.

Neither side claimed any breakthroughs other than nudging relations along — even as the countries are in a trade war and remain far apart on issues such as human rights.

NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez and Beijing correspondent Emily Feng joined Morning Edition to explain what was accomplished at the talks. Listen here.

Xi began by calling Biden an "old friend," despite high tensions between the two nations in recent years.

Biden stated one of the meeting's goals was to ensure the two countries' intense competition didn't veer into an unintended military conflict. The White House reported the two leaders discussed climate change, the pandemic and economic practices, among other topics. The two also spoke about Hong Kong and China's accused human rights abuses Xinjiang.

Although they touched on trade discussions, Ordoñez reports they gave no hint of ending Trump-era tariffs on Chinese businesses. The call indicates the two leaders would like to reduce tensions, but they will stay in disagreement on core issues such as human rights and tech competition, reports Feng.

Biden said the two leaders have a responsibility to "ensure that our competition between our countries does not veer into conflict."

Xi noted, "China and the U.S. should respect each other, coexist in peace and pursue win-win cooperation."

For more on the meeting, here's analysis by NPR's John Ruwitch.


Pfizer makes a deal that could expand global access to its COVID-19 pill

Posted November 16, 2021 at 9:10 AM EST
Pfizer headquarters in New York City this month.
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Pfizer headquarters in New York City this month.

Pfizer has signed a licensing deal to allow dozens of lower-income countries to benefit from generic versions of its new COVID-19 pill. The agreement covers 95 nations, but it omits some hard-hit countries.

The antiviral pill is not yet available — Pfizer said earlier this month that the medicine, called Paxlovid, had shown promising results in clinical trials and that it would be seeking federal authorization for emergency use in the U.S.

Effective COVID-19 pills are seen as potential game-changers in the pandemic, because they could be administered at home early after an infection, reducing both the coronavirus’ toll and the potential for a single patient to spread it.

“This license is so important because, if authorized or approved, this oral drug is particularly well-suited for low- and middle-income countries and could play a critical role in saving lives” and quelling the pandemic, Charles Gore, executive director of the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool organization, said in a joint news release with Pfizer.

The licensing deal applies to 95 countries, covering up to approximately 53% of the world’s population, according to Pfizer and the MPP.

The generic drug will be legal in many countries that are classified as either low-income, lower middle-income or upper middle-income territories. But it will not be available in Russia, Turkey, Brazil, or Romania — all of which are in the world’s top 10 countries for COVID-19 case numbers and are also considered upper middle-income countries by the World Bank.

And while the list includes many nations in Latin America, neither Mexico nor Argentina are among them.


A Russian missile creates enough space junk to pose risk to astronauts for years

Posted November 16, 2021 at 8:48 AM EST
The International Space Station in May. the crew was ordered to take shelter in two spacecraft that could return them to Earth in an emergency after the Russian missile test.
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The International Space Station in May. the crew was ordered to take shelter in two spacecraft that could return them to Earth in an emergency after the Russian missile test.

The U.S. is condemning a "dangerous and irresponsible" test of a Russian anti-satellite missile that blasted a cloud of debris into Earth orbit and forced astronauts aboard the International Space Station to briefly take shelter as a precaution.

The orbital test of the anti-satellite weapon, or ASAT, early Monday scattered hundreds of thousands of pieces, some 1,500 hundred of them big enough to track, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a news briefing on Monday.

"Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites," Price said.

"This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities," he said.

The current crew of the station — which includes four NASA astronauts, one from the European Space Agency and two cosmonauts — were ordered to shelter in the two spacecraft attached to the ISS that could return them home in an emergency — a Russian Soyuz capsule and the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that arrived at the station last week.

The crew spent about two hours in the capsules before emerging. Later, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei told mission control that it “was certainly a great way to bond as a crew, starting off our very first workday in space."

Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, tweeted that the threatening debris had “moved away from the ISS orbit” and that “[the] station is in the ‘green zone.’ ”

Read more for the U.S. response and past ASAT missile tests.

The head of the U.S. Space Command, Army Gen. James Dickinson, said in a statement that Russia had “demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, in his own statement, added that the test threatened even “the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.”

Russia's Defense Ministry on Tuesday confirmed it had destroyed one of its own defunct satellites in the test, but called U.S. remarks “hypocritical.”

“[The] U.S. knows for certain that the resulting fragments, in terms of test time and orbital parameters, did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities,” the ministry said, according to The Associated Press.

Russia isn’t the first country to develop and test ASATs — designed to knock out enemy satellites. In 2007, China tested a similar weapon to the one fired by Russia on Monday, with similar results. The U.S. and India have also tested such weapons in space.

A Pentagon report last year described Beijing’s ground-based ASAT capabilities as “operational” and said that “China probably intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites up to geosynchronous Earth orbit.”

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, such tests “can produce tremendous amounts of orbital debris: the destruction of a single large satellite such as a U.S. spy satellite could by itself double the total amount of large debris currently in low earth orbit (LEO), where nearly half of current satellites reside,” the group said, adding: “There are currently no international restrictions on the testing or use of military systems intended to destroy satellites.”


ABC’s Jonathan Karl details Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election in ‘Betrayal’

Posted November 16, 2021 at 8:24 AM EST
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces during the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces during the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

A new book about former President Donald Trump’s final months in office reveals more details about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

As ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl describes in Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show, Trump loyalists led a purge inside the administration.

“No disloyalty of the president would be tolerated. No dissent would be tolerated,” Karl tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition.

“In those final weeks of his administration, those final couple of months when he took his darkest turn, there was nobody around to rein him in or to question what he was doing.”

While the book’s main focus is on Trump’s efforts from inside the White House to overturn the election, it also follows the Trump rally at the Capitol that became a riot.

A House select committee is still investigating the riot. It has sent subpoenas to dozens of people, though only one, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, has so far appeared before the committee and he refused to cooperate.

Karl says it’s incredibly important to not downplay the significance of that day.

“There is an aggressive effort underway — and unfortunately it’s to some degree a successful effort — to erase the memory of Jan. 6 and to diminish its importance and to brush aside what this president did, what Donald Trump did to try to prevent what is the essence of democracy, American democracy: a peaceful transition of power.”

In the audio interview, Karl goes into more detail about the purges inside the White House and his conversations with senior Republicans. Listen here.

And for more on Betrayal, read a review from NPR’s Ron Elving here. Elving says that despite there being a plethora of books about the Trump administration already, “Enough of this material is new, or renewed in Karl's retelling, that it can all be compelling to read once again.”


After this summer's protests, Cuba's government is cracking down on plans for dissent

Posted November 16, 2021 at 7:58 AM EST
A line of four security personnel walk across a quiet street, with a Cuban flag hanging from a building and a gold-domed building in the background.
Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images
Police officers walk near the Havana Capitol on Monday, the day protesters planned to take to the streets.

Cubans took to the streets in unprecedented numbers over the summer, demanding more political freedoms, better economic conditions and less censorship.

They had been gearing up for another round of protests on Monday. But this time, the government had advance notice — and deployed its police officers and state security agents to crush plans for dissent. Authorities and mobs of pro-government civilians even blocked people in their homes.

"Unlike those spontaneous protests in July, the Cuban government knew when this protest would take place and who many of the people that were planning on going out and protesting were," CNN's Havana-based correspondent Patrick Oppmann told Morning Edition. "And that really allowed them to bring their many resources — this enormous state security apparatus that they've spend decades building — to ensure that the demonstrations that threaten the Communist Party's grip on power would not happen again."

Cubans are increasingly angry about economic conditions and personal freedoms

Oppman says protesters in July were expressing their frustration at decades of Community Party rule. While the Cuban government claims the demonstrations were plotted by the U.S. and the result of U.S. economic sanctions, Oppman says the protesters he spoke to at the time "simply said they had gotten completely fed up and had nothing left to lose."

Complaints from Cuba about living conditions and personal freedoms have been heard for decades, as NPR's Carrie Kahn toldWeekend Edition Sunday.

"But the pandemic has battered the economy," she added. "Cuba lost vital tourism dollars, and tough Trump-era sanctions are still in place. Cubans are struggling to get the basics needed for daily life. They're frustrated and increasingly more willing to speak out."

Organizers hoped to duplicate the summer's protests, but this time was different

July's protests were the largest since the Cuban Revolution and evidently caught the government off-guard. Oppman recalls Cuba's president getting on TV and issuing a "combat order" as the demonstrations unfolded. This time, he said, the order was issued well in advance.

Organizers tried to get permission for their demonstration — which Oppman says is allowed under the Cuban constitution — but the government took notice and sent police and plainclothes state security agents across the island.

And he says the crackdown was well-organized. Mobs of angry government supporters kept activists from leaving their homes, and authorities blocked traffic and made arrests.

One playwright is at the center of this story

Yunior Garcia Aguilera is a prominent actor and playwright who has come to embody the dissident movement.

Until recently, he was winning awards from the government and having his work promoted. Now, the government is preventing him from leaving his home.

He's a critic of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, but also believes Cubans have a right to demand changes of their government and peacefully express dissent to those in power.

Oppman spoke to Garcia Aguilera at his apartment several weeks ago — and notes that despite the Cuban government's claims that he is a "mercenary" bankrolled by the U.S., the playwright actually lives in a rather rundown area of Havana.

He told Oppman that he's holding up a mirror to the government, and sees its actions as the best evidence to support his argument about the Cuban system.

He was one of the people who were prevented from leaving their homes on Monday. Even though the government managed to crack down on demonstrators' plans, Oppman says, the tension that's pervasive in Cuba is not going anywhere.


Two men accuse a prominent Broadway costume designer of sexual abuse

Posted November 16, 2021 at 7:51 AM EST
A man wearing a suit, tie and glasses stands at a podium labeled "Tony Awards" surrounded by seven screens displaying the Tony Awards logo.
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Costume designer William Ivey Long, then chairman of the American Theatre Wing, speaks at the Tony Awards nominations ceremony in 2014.

William Ivey Long is one of the most powerful figures on Broadway. A past president of the Tony Awards, he has designed the costumes for dozens of shows, including Chicago, Hairspray and Diana: The Musical, which opens Wednesday on Broadway.

Two men have told NPR that Long sexually abused them both while they were working under his tutelage as college students in North Carolina.

The men, Court Watson and Michael Martin, allege that Long abused them between 1996 and 2002 at a summer production called The Lost Colony, a show that has an outsize influence in the American theater community. Watson says that Long had sex with him while Watson was drunk and could not consent. Martin, who first came forward publicly in 2018, alleges that Long touched him inappropriately on about 10 occasions.

NPR has corroborated their accusations with peers, a former teacher and family members. Additionally, NPR has unearthed a 2002 lawsuit and related materials against The Lost Colony, filed by a former employee, that includes several other serious allegations of sexual misconduct against Long.

The accusations in the 2002 lawsuit include Long allegedly compelling one young man to have sex with another at Long's direction while a board member watched, and forcing the man to allow Long to perform oral sex on him.

In a lengthy statement to NPR, Long “emphatically denies” both Martin and Watson’s allegations. He also says that he did not know about the 2002 suit until the summer of 2020, but that those accusations are also false.

While Watson's and Martin's allegations go back about two decades, they each say that the climate of #MeToo over the last few years has changed the conversation around sexual misconduct and power dynamics and propelled them to come forward. They both also say that the atmosphere at The Lost Colony was one in which they felt they couldn't assert themselves, and that Long was so revered there that there was no point in trying.

In the summer of 2020, Long parted ways with both The Lost Colony and Diana — but both Watson and Martin believe that Broadway (and theater overall) hasn't really grappled with how to ensure the safety of performers, artists and workers, despite some very public reckonings in the film and television world. They both hope that a new time of reckoning has arrived.

Read the full story here.