Start your day here: The Biden administration will give out 400 million free N95 masks

Published January 19, 2022 at 8:11 AM EST
N95 masks
Rogelio V. Solis
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AP
The Biden administration announced that it is giving away 400 million N95s.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Free N95 face masks: The administration is sending the high-quality masks topharmacies and community health centers starting this week in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

Antony Blinken on a mission in Ukraine: With Russian troops and tanks massing at the border with Ukraine, the U.S. secretary of state traveled to the region in a bid to defuse the crisis.

Presidential press conference: Joe Biden will hold a news conference to mark the first year of his presidency.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, New York Attorney General Letitia James is accusing former President Donald Trump’s family business of inflating its property values.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

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

Real Estate

No one bid on this Italian villa with the world's only known Caravaggio ceiling mural

Posted January 19, 2022 at 12:35 PM EST

The Villa Aurora in Rome is on the market and almost has it all: lush gardens dotted with statues of Roman deities, more than one colorful fresco and the only known ceiling mural painted by Baroque master Caravaggio. The only thing it doesn't have? A bidder.

The 30,000-square-foot, 16th-century villa made waves after it was listed on the market for a starting price of $534 million Tuesday, making it potentially the most expensive home in the world. But despite its extravagant masterpieces of Western art and location of historical significance, the villa neglected to get any offers.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the villa will soon be put up for auction again, this time at a lower price.

The property ended up at auction after a tumultuous inheritance battle between its current occupant, Texas-born Princess Rita Boncompagni-Ludovisi, and her stepsons. Built in 1570, the villa has been in the Boncompagni-Ludovisi family for 400 years and has never been open to the public.

A video on the court website shows some of the ornate artworks of the property and its holdings, set to a boppy musical composition.

The grounds are also home to a statue, attributed to Michelangelo, of the Greek god of nature Pan. In 2010,a box of letters was found at the villathat included the writings of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and a number of former popes.

T. Corey Brennan, a professor of classics at Rutgers, has studied the villa and believes there is more art to be discovered inside and on its extensive grounds (which are also home to the ruins of an ancient Roman villa that may have belonged to Caesar.)

"I guarantee the next owner, there's going to be enormous discoveries," Brennan said.

But with history from antiquity to the Renaissance comes with the need for restorations as well, possibly as much as €10 million worth (or $11 million).

"You have to have a billionaire; a millionaire is not enough for this. It needs someone with deep pockets, (who) doesn't care if you have to spend 10 thousand on a water leak or something," Princess Rita told NPR.

Alessandro Zuccari, a professor at Sapienza University in Rome, who helped with the valuation of parts of the villa,wasn't surprised that no one bid. “I would have been amazed if a buyer had come forward. The price is too high. Let’s see what happens in April, but I doubt anyone will come forward then — what would someone like Bill Gates do with Villa Aurora, especially with all the extra costs?” Zuccari said, according to the Guardian.

The villa will be put up for auction again on April 7, with its starting bid cut by up to 25%, reports Poggioli. By Italian law, the state has a right to step in after a final bid is accepted and buy the Villa Aurora. But experts say it isn't likely the Italian government will purchase the estate, historic for its art — and price tag.

Law

New York attorney general alleges financial irregularities in Trump's business

Posted January 19, 2022 at 11:50 AM EST
A Black woman stands against a blue background near a podium with the New York attorney general's office seal.
David Dee Delgado
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Getty Images North America
In the nearly 160-page filing, New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges that the Trump Organization inflated the value of his properties and personal worth in representations made to lenders, insurance brokers, tax officials and others.

The New York Attorney General's Office says it has uncovered evidence that former President Donald Trump's company misrepresented the value of his properties and personal worth to get financial benefits like loans and tax deductions.

Attorney General Letitia James detailed investigators' findings in a court document filed Tuesday night. She says she has yet to decide whether to pursue a civil lawsuit but says investigators need to question Trump and his two oldest children — Donald Jr. and Ivanka — as part of the probe.

🎧 NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has the details on Morning Edition.

What is James alleging?

In the nearly 160-page filing, James alleges that the Trump Organization inflated the value of his properties and personal worth in representations made to lenders, insurance brokers, tax officials and others. This was allegedly for the purpose of obtaining financial benefits like loans, insurance coverage and tax officials.

The filing includes examples of Trump allegedly lending his signature to financial statements that inflated the worth of properties in the Trump Organization portfolio and the value of Trump's own fortune. It also alleges that the company overstated the value of land donations made in New York and California in paperwork submitted to the IRS to justify several million dollars in tax deductions.

How is Trump responding?

The former president has not responded to this specific filing and its allegations but has long maintained that the attorney general's investigation is politically motivated. His own attorney has previously described James' efforts as a witch hunt and has said Trump plans to continue fighting it in court.

James' investigation is separate and parallel to the criminal probe being led by the Manhattan district attorney. That investigation has led to charges against a pair of Trump business entities and the Trump Organization's CEO, all of whom have pleaded not guilty.

What's the bigger picture?

James has been looking into whether Trump's companies routinely lied about the value of their properties. Lucas notes that the public got a sense of the investigation in the fall of 2020, when James' office went to court to compel the testimony of Eric Trump, an executive at the organization. He ultimately testified after a judge ordered him to do so, and last night's filing says he repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.

Investigators went back to court last summer when the Trump Organization again had to be compelled to comply with investigators over a request to provide internal documents. They're looking to speak with the man at the very top, which Lucas says is typically the last step in any legal investigation. But he stresses James has yet to make a decision on whether she will bring a civil suit.

Read more here.

Education

Oklahoma will allow state employees to work as substitute teachers as schools faces shortages

Posted January 19, 2022 at 11:47 AM EST
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Oklahoma City.
Sue Ogrocki
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AP
Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order on Tuesday that permits state employees to work as substitute teachers while retaining their regular jobs with no reduction in pay or benefits.

Oklahoma will allow state employees to work as substitute teachers as it attempts to keep schools open for in-person learning in the face of widespread staffing shortages.

It’s the latest state to float an unorthodox solution to the problem of teachers and school staff calling out sick in high numbers because of an omicron-driven spike in COVID-19 infections across the country.

California is expediting the hiring process for new substitute teachers and allowing their contracts to be extended. Kansas will allow people with no college credit to become subs.

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order on Tuesday that permits state employees to work as substitute teachers while retaining their regular jobs with no reduction in pay or benefits.

“I've said from the beginning that our students deserve an in-person education and our schools need to stay open. The state has a responsibility to do what we can to help make that happen, which is why I have signed this executive order to help schools suffering from staffing shortages,” Stitt said in a statement.

More than half of Oklahoma’s schools have had to close or switch to distance learning so far this semester because of staffing shortages created by the pandemic, NPR member station KOSU reported.

National

New Yorkers mourn Michelle Go, who was pushed in front of a subway Saturday

Posted January 19, 2022 at 11:13 AM EST

Large crowds gathered Tuesday in Times Square in New York City to honor Michelle Go, who was killed Saturday when she was pushed in front of a subway train.

New York police Commissioner Keechant Sewell labeled the incident “unprovoked" and said Go did not appear to have any interaction with the person who pushed her.

Simon Martial, 61, was arrested and charged in Go’s death after he turned himself in to police, according to the NYPD.

This footage, filmed by Ben Von Klemperer, shows an image of Go projected onto a billboard as crowds and speakers gather around the Times Square red stairs.

Go’s family released a statement Monday saying, “We are in a state of shock and grieving the loss of our daughter, sister, and friend. We hope Michelle will be remembered for how she lived and not just how she died,” according to ABC 7 News,

“She was a beautiful, brilliant, kind, and intelligent woman who loved her family and friends, loved to travel the world and to help others. Her life was taken too soon in a senseless act of violence, and we pray that she gets the justice she deserves. Thank you for your condolences.”

Legend

Remembering legend Lusia Harris, the only woman to be officially drafted by the NBA

Posted January 19, 2022 at 10:57 AM EST

Athletes and admirers are paying tribute to Lusia Harris, the women's basketball legend who died Tuesday at age 66.

Harris may not be a household name, but her credentials speak for themselves: She led her college team to three championships in the 1970s, scored the first points in the history of Olympics women's basketball and was the first woman to be officially drafted by the NBA.

"We are deeply saddened to share the news that our angel, matriarch, sister, mother, grandmother, Olympic medalist, The Queen of Basketball, Lusia Harris has passed away unexpectedly today in Mississippi," the family said in a statement shared by Delta State University, her alma mater. "The recent months brought Ms. Harris great joy, including the news of the upcoming wedding of her youngest son and the outpouring of recognition received by a recent documentary that brought worldwide attention to her story."

Harris grew up the daughter of sharecroppers in Minter City, Miss. She recalled, in a 2021 New York Timesdocumentary, staying up past her bedtime to watch basketball, draping a quilt over herself and the TV to watch Bill Russel, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and her other heroes.

"I wanted to grow up and have my own family, and I wanted to shoot that ball just like they were shooting," she said.

Harris was the tallest in her class at 6'3", and remembered being teased for her height. But as soon as she started playing basketball, she began to see it as her asset.

She matriculated to Delta State because — thanks to the passage of Title IX — it had a basketball program. She was the only Black member of the team and quickly became one of its stars.

"One of the greatest centers ever to play women's basketball, Lusia Harris-Stewart was big, relentless, and dominated the painted area like no woman before her," says her entry in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame website. "During her four-year career at Delta State University ... Harris-Stewart changed the face of women's basketball. Opponents called her unstoppable but even that barely described her approach to the game."

Harris averaged 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game in her 115 collegiate games, according to Delta State, and shot "an astonishing 63.6 percent from the field." She was part of three AIAW National Championship-winning teams in 1975, 1976 and 1977. And she remains the school's career record-holder in points (2,891) and rebounds (1,662).

Harris collected Kodak All-American honors in 1975, 1976, and 1977, and was the Mississippi Sportsperson of the Year in 1976.

She went on to represent Team USA at the 1976 Olympics, the first games to feature women's basketball. There she made the first basket of the first match, putting her team on the scoreboard and her name in the history books.

"I wanted to keep playing, but there was no place to go," she told filmmakers. "There was no WNBA when I came along. It didn't exist."

With her collegiate career over, Harris got engaged to her high school sweetheart and set out to start a family. In 1977, however, she got a call from the New Orleans Jazz asking her to try out for the team.

Only one woman had ever been drafted by the NBA before: Denise Long was selected by the San Francisco Warriors in 1969, but the pick was vacated by the league. Harris wasn't sure the opportunity was right for her.

"I just thought it was a publicity stunt, and I felt like I didn't think I was good enough," Harris said. "Competing against a woman, yes. It's a different story competing against a man. So I decided not to go."

In the short film, Harris described struggling with her mental health, returning home to take a coaching job at her old high school and raising her kids. But she didn't regret turning down the NBA.

"Not even a little bit," she said. When asked why, she pointed to the accomplishments of her children: One is a lawyer, one has a master's, two have their doctorates. All are athletes.

Harris cemented her place in history long after her playing career was over.

She was inducted into the Delta State Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, and is also a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1992 she became the first female collegiate player and first Black woman inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — and was escorted at the ceremony by Oscar Robertson, her childhood idol.

"If I was a man there would have been options for me to go further and play," she told the filmmakers. "I would have had money, would have been able to do a lot of things that I would have wanted to do. Yeah, they're millionaires, famous. But I wanted to grow up and shoot that ball just like they would shoot it, and I did."

Politics

EMILY's List rules out endorsing Sinema unless she changes her stance on the filibuster

Posted January 19, 2022 at 10:39 AM EST

EMILY's List, a group that supports Democratic women who support abortion rights, announced that it will not be endorsing Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema if she continues to withhold support of changing the filibuster to pass the party's voting rights legislation, the organization's president, Laphonza Butler, said in a statement Tuesday.

Senate Democrats are pushing forward with the two pieces of legislation on voting rights. But both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are expected to fail without support from Republican senators or with continued opposition to change the filibuster.

Butler said the group has pressed Sinema on the importance of the voting rights bill held up in the Senate, but "those concerns have not been addressed."

"Electing Democratic pro-choice women is not possible without free and fair elections. Protecting the right to choose is not possible without access to the ballot box. So, we want to make it clear: If Sen. Sinema can not support a path forward for the passage of this legislation, we believe she undermines the foundations of our democracy, her own path to victory and also the mission of EMILY’s List, and we will be unable to endorse her moving forward," Butler said.

EMILY's List says they have not endorsed or contributed to Sinema since she was elected in 2018. The Arizona senator won't be up for reelection until 2024, but there are already questions about whether she'll face a primary challenge.

"Right now, Sen. Sinema’s decision to reject the voices of allies, partners and constituents who believe the importance of voting rights outweighs that of an arcane process means she will find herself standing alone in the next election," Butler said.

Britain's Johnson fends off growing calls for him to quit after throwing parties during pandemic

Posted January 19, 2022 at 10:21 AM EST
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London on Wednesday. Johnson faces MPs in the House Of Commons as speculation over a vote of no confidence in his leadership mounts.
Dan Kitwood
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Getty Images Europe
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing St. in London on Wednesday. Speculation over a vote of no confidence in his leadership mounts.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is weathering ever-louder calls to step down — coming even from within his own party — amid a scandal over events he hosted while the rest of the U.K. was on COVID-19 lockdown.

Johnson at first said that no rules were broken by the parties held at the prime minister’s London residence in 2020 and 2021, some of which were advertised as “bring your own booze” and called “work events.”

On Tuesday, Johnson, speaking to Sky News, further inflamed the situation by suggesting he wasn’t aware the parties were against the social distancing protocols that his own government had drafted.

“Nobody told me and nobody, nobody said that this was something that was against the rules,” he said.

A former top adviser to Johnson, Dominic Cummings, has said he warned Johnson in May 2020 against having a party in the back garden of No. 10 Downing St.

But Johnson, who has steadfastly rebuffed calls for his resignation, denies the conversation with Cummings took place. Nearly a year later, two other parties — one on the eve of last April's funeral of Prince Philip — were held at the prime minister's residence. On Sky, the prime minister said he “deeply and bitterly” regrets what happened and reiterated his apology “to Her Majesty and to the country.”

For weeks, the opposition has been calling for Johnson's resignation, but on Wednesday, the chorus was joined by a few members of the prime minister's own party — though not enough to trigger a leadership struggle.

On Wednesday, Conservative Party MP Christian Wakeford defected to the Labour Party. In a letter to Johnson explaining his move, Wakeford told the prime minister, "You and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.”

Wakeford’s departure came as Conservative member of Parliament David Davis said he had spent weeks defending Johnson to “angry constituents” but was done with the exercise. “I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that,” Davis said Wednesday in reference to Johnson's Sky News interview.

Davis then raised a quote that had been directed against Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was forced to resign in 1940 after the failure of his government’s policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany.

“You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go,” Davis said.

Willie O’Ree’s hockey jersey is retired, 64 years after he broke the color barrier

Posted January 19, 2022 at 10:06 AM EST
A banner with Boston Bruins player Willie O'Ree's number is carried to the ice as O'Ree/s No. 22 jersey is retired before a game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Bruins in Boston.
Rich Gagnon
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Getty Images North America
A banner with Boston Bruins player Willie O'Ree's number is carried to the ice as his No. 22 jersey is retired before a game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Bruins in Boston.

The Boston Bruins have a new number hanging over their home ice after Willie O'Ree’s No. 22 was lifted to the rafters Tuesday night. O'Ree broke hockey's color barrier with the Bruins, becoming the first Black man to play in the NHL in 1958. And he did it while keeping a secret: He could only see out of one eye.

“I will never forget how my teammates in the Bruins locker room accepted me as one of their own,” O’Ree said as he accepted the honor. “This was a time when some of the fans and opposing players were not ready to see a Black man in the NHL.”

O’Ree has acknowledged those were rough times, citing the racial slurs shouted at him in cities such as Chicago, Detroit and New York.

“But, you know, I had geared myself up for that and I told myself, 'Willie, you're a Black man and be proud of who you are,' ” he told NPR in 2008. “Just go out and play hockey and try to represent the hockey club to the best of your ability.”

O'Ree grew up skating in New Brunswick in Canada, and he decided early on that he would play in the NHL. But then, during a junior league game, a puck hit him hard in the eye. At the time, players didn’t generally wear face masks — or helmets, for that matter. The injury required an operation.

“I'm in my recovery room, and the doctor comes in and says, ‘Mr. O'Ree, as I'm sorry to inform you, the impact of the puck completely shattered the retina in your right eye and you're going to be blind and you'll never play hockey again,’ “ O’Ree said in 2008.

“I was a left-hand shot, playing left wing,” he said. “So to compensate, I had to turn my head all the way around to the right to pick the puck up with my left eye because I couldn't see out of my right eye. You know, the 21 years I played professional, I played with one eye.”

O’Ree has said he didn’t tell coaches or teams about his eyesight, relying on his skills to keep him on rosters. He was known for his speed and ability to score. And luckily for O’Ree, none of his clubs gave him an eye exam.

O’Ree didn’t have a long NHL career, but it included two stints with the Bruins. And because of his love for the game, he worked as the NHL’s diversity ambassador for more than two decades. O'Ree was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

Willie O'Ree puts on the commemorative jacket as he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.
Bruce Bennett
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Getty Images North America
Willie O'Ree puts on the commemorative jacket as he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

The Bruins retired O’Ree’s number on the anniversary of the night in 1958 when he first skated onto the ice for the team. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn’t attend the ceremony in person, appearing instead on the massive scoreboard screen.

O’Ree said he and his family were “overwhelmed and thrilled,” in a video call with current Bruins players and coaches.

“When I scored my first goal in the Garden, they gave me a two-minute standing ovation. I’ll never forget it,” he added.

Law enforcement

3 Pennsylvania police officers are charged in the shooting death of an 8-year-old

Posted January 19, 2022 at 9:46 AM EST
Protesters at the Delaware County Courthouse in Media, Pa., call for police accountability in the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility who was fatally shot outside a high school football game in August.
Matt Rourke/AP
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AP
Protesters at the Delaware County Courthouse in Media, Pa., call for police accountability in the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility who was fatally shot outside a high school football game in August.

Three Pennsylvania police officers are being charged in the shooting death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility and the wounding of three others after a high school football game last summer.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer announced on Tuesday that he had approved new charges recommended by a grand jury.

“From the moment the call came in on August 27th, my team of investigators and prosecutors has worked tirelessly to achieve justice for Fanta and the other victims of that tragic night. Today’s charges are a big step forward in that process,” Stollsteimer said in a statement.

The bloodshed that would ultimately unfold that night in the Philadelphia suburb of Sharon Hill began with an argument between 16-year-old Angelo “AJ” Ford and 18-year-old Hasein Strand.

The argument resulted in gunfire toward police officers who were monitoring the crowd exiting the football game. Three Sharon Hill police officers — Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith — then fired their weapons in the direction of the football field.

Stollsteimer said Tuesday that investigators have concluded “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it was gunfire from the officers that killed Fanta Bility and injured the three other bystanders. Devaney, Dolan and Smith will each face 12 criminal counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

Stollsteimer had previously charged Ford and Strand with first-degree murder and other offenses for Bility’s death and the other injuries that night, but in an about-face on Tuesday, he announced that he was directing his office to withdraw the murder charges against them.

“While I believe these defendants should be held accountable for starting the series of events that ultimately led to Fanta Bility’s death, developments during the grand jury investigation render it appropriate to withdraw these charges at this time,” Stollsteimer said.

Ford is still charged with attempting to kill Strand, and Strand has pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and illegal possession of a firearm.

Remembrance

A look back at the life of fashion editor and icon André Leon Talley

Posted January 19, 2022 at 9:35 AM EST
A Black man in a dark shirt and cape, with a large necklace, smiles while standing at a podium.
Jerod Harris
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Getty Images North America
Andre Leon Talley attends the launch of i.amPULS at Dreamforce 2014 in 2014 in San Francisco.

We learned overnight of the death of André Leon Talley, the longtime Vogue editor and runway-side fixture who was for many years considered the most influential Black person in American fashion.

Talley died on Tuesday at age 73 after a decades-long career in which he worked for multiple fashion publications, became a close confidant of industry legends and nurtured upcoming designers. He is best known for his long reign as the creative director and editor-at-large of Vogue, aka the fashion Bible.

He was hard to ignore, with his 6' 6" frame, big voice and penchant for bespoke suits, robes, capes and caftans.

A Black man in a fur coat and a white woman in a dress and fur scarf smile while sitting and looking off-camera.
Brad Barket
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Getty Images North America
Talley and Anna Wintour at the Calvin Klein Fall 2007 fashion in New York City.

Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR's Code Switch podcast interviewed Talley several years ago and offers this appreciation on Morning Edition. Plus, read this remembrance from NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

Talley was raised by his grandmother — a domestic worker who kept an immaculate house and insisted Talley be immaculate, too — in segregated Durham, N.C. He said his first understanding of style came from his family and from the beautiful outfits he saw at church.

Bates notes that Talley's childhood was full of happy memories, but also haunting ones — he was abused by a man he knew in his neighborhood for several years starting from age 9, but didn't talk about it until he was 70.

Talley majored in French literature at North Carolina Central University and spoke the language fluently, which got him an assignment from Women's Wear Daily to cover major shows in Paris (he later worked as its Paris bureau chief). He also worked at W and The New York Times before heading to Vogue.

A row of several white blonde women and one Black man sit watching a runway.
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
Talley with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and editor Virginia Smith at Oscar De La Renta's Resort Show in 2009 in New York City.

At Vogue, he encouraged editor-in-chief Anna Wintour to put stars like Beyonce and Rihanna on the cover, and was very proud of writing the magazine's first profile of Michelle Obama.

"Because he was a first, his presence opened the door for others," Bates says. "And he was proud of the success of other Black people who came after."

She says in some ways he also paved the way for Black men in fashion, like Edward Enninful, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue and Virgil Abloh, the artistic director for Louis Vuitton menswear, who died in November.

Padma Lakshmi (L) and Andre Leon Talley (R) sit onstage in colorful yellow and red outfits.
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
Talley appeared with Author Padma Lakshmi at Tina Brown's 7th Annual Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center in 2016.

He faced "slings and arrows from some who thought he didn't belong," she adds, but he held his head high and kept working hard.

Here's how del Barco describes his legacy:

"His impact was felt at Met galas, where he was a red carpet correspondent, and on America's Next Top Model, where he was a judge. His impact was felt at Vogue, where he wrote about Michelle Obama and the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover. Talley's impact was also felt on the fashion runways, where he pushed to include more Black designers and models."

A Black man wears a volumnious ivory cape while sitting on a red velvet couch onstage.
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD
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Getty Images North America
Talley, seen here at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival in 2018, was for many years considered the most influential Black person in American fashion.

Politics

Here's what Biden will likely highlight today at his first news conference in a while

Posted January 19, 2022 at 9:10 AM EST
Biden stands at a podium and speaks to press. The presidential seal is on the floor.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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President Biden delivers remarks on his administration's work implementing the bipartisan infrastructure law at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building last week.

Almost one year since his inauguration, President Biden is holding a rare formal news conference. He'll likely be pressed by reporters on Congress' stalemate over voting rights legislation and his administration's response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The news conference Wednesday will be Biden's first formal meeting with press in months. It'll begin at 4 p.m., and you can watch a livestream on NPR.org. It will also be broadcast live from the White House on YouTube.

NPR's Domenico Montanaro joinedMorning Edition to lay out what the president is expected to highlight from his first year in office.

Montanaro predicts Biden will note the passage of his massive infrastructure law, which other presidents have tried and failed to do. The administration is also proud of the American Rescue Plan and will likely highlight its results, which gave individual Americans money to weather the pandemic and boosted state and local funds to respond to the crisis.

Many cities have spent that money in unexpected ways, both to respond to the pandemic and to societal inequities the pandemic has further exposed. Some of the American Rescue Plan funds for Dayton, Ohio, went to hiring nearly 90 public school teachers so the school district could put two teachers in each first-, second- and third-grade classroom — to help students catch up after sporadic remote learning in 2020.

But Biden has also faced significant challenges in his first year as president. Inflation is at a multi-decade high, and hospitals are flooded with patients positive for the omicron coronavirus variant. Reporters from various outlets could also question Biden on where his administration has struggled to make headway in some of the nation's dire issues such as climate change.

News organizations and White House reporters have pushed for more formal avenues for questions, such as today's conference. While Biden regularly responds to press questions in informal encounters, those settings often require questions to be shouted and have limited opportunities for follow-ups. White House press secretary Jen Psaki also holds regular press briefings.

According to The American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara, Biden held nine news conferences last year, while President Donald Trump held 21 in his first year in office, and President Barack Obama held 27 in 2009.

As tension over Ukraine continues, Russia insists it is 'not going to attack anyone'

Posted January 19, 2022 at 8:46 AM EST
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov speaks at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington, D.C., in November.
Mark Wilson
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Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov speaks at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington, D.C., in November.

Amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at preventing a feared Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s embassy in Washington tweeted out a call to "end the hysteria,” reiterating that Moscow planned no such military move.

“We stress once again: [Russia] is not going to attack anyone,” the embassy said in a tweet Tuesday night ET.

An estimated 100,000 Russian troops, backed by tanks and artillery, have been deployed for weeks near the border with Ukraine, conducting provocative live-fire drills. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pressed a series of demands on the West, key among them that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it was providing an additional $200 million in military aid to Ukraine to help it defend itself against a possible Russian move.

In its tweet, the Russian Embassy said: “The practice of moving troops on our own soil is a sovereign right.”

“We call to end the hysteria and not to pile on tension around the #Donbass problem,” it said in reference to the region in eastern Ukraine where the Kremlin has backed separatists since 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed Crimea.

Last week, the White House said U.S. intelligence believed that Moscow was preparing a “false flag” operation and waging a disinformation campaign on social media as a pretext for invasion should diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukraine crisis fail. Speaking on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissedthat assertion as “total disinformation.”

A series of diplomatic talks last week did not produce any meaningful progress to breach the impasse.

The additional aid to Ukraine was approved in late December, but only announced on Wednesday, a senior State Department official told The Associated Press. It follows a visit to Kyiv by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

During his visit, Blinken said the administration was aware of “plans to increase” the Russian force at the border “on very short notice.”

“And that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” he said.

Blinken is expected to meet with Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

Music

Remembering Mac Miller on what would have been his 30th birthday

Posted January 19, 2022 at 8:20 AM EST

Today we're remembering Mac Miller.

The Pittsburgh-born rapper and producer developed a devoted following over the course of his five chart-topping albums, winning over fans with his arrangement skills and vulnerable lyrics. He openly struggled with substance abuse and died of an overdose involving fentanyl in September 2018, when he was just 26.

In honor of what would have been his 30th birthday, we're revisiting the epic and emotional Tiny Desk Concert that dropped just a month before his death:

Mac Miller Tiny Desk Concert

For more:

International

What to know about Blinken's Ukraine visit, per the NPR reporter traveling with him

Posted January 19, 2022 at 8:08 AM EST
Two men wearing suits and face masks gesture to each other while talking and standing in a gilded room.
Alex Brandon/AP
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Pool AP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, shares a word with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday.

With tensions between Russia and Ukraine on the rise, the Biden administration has dispatched Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region on a mission to defuse the crisis.

He's visiting Ukraine today to speak with its president and foreign minister. In the coming days, he will meet with allies in Germany and Russia's foreign minister in Geneva.

NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is traveling with Blinken and spoke to Morning Edition from Kyiv. Here's what we learned:

  • In remarks at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Blinken expressed concern over Russia's maneuvering at the border and discussed contingency plans in case Russia escalates further.
    • The buildup of Russian troops and tanks at the border with Ukraine is continuing, and Russia moved troops into Belarus over the weekend.
    • Blinken said he hopes Russia will take a diplomatic approach, but the U.S. and its partners have to be prepared for anything.
    • "We know there are plans to increase that force even more on short notice, and that gives [Russian President Vladimir Putin] the capacity, also on short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine," Blinken said.
  • The U.S. is providing defensive weapons and diplomatic backing to Ukraine. Blinken isn't the only one making the case — a bipartisan congressional delegation visited Ukraine earlier this week and the CIA director quietly visited last week.
    • An official told reporters today that the Biden administration recently approved another $200 million in security assistance.
    • Britain is also sending weapons. Kelemen notes that a British cargo plane was on the tarmac when the U.S. delegation arrived in Ukraine.
    • The U.S. is also trying to help in areas like pushing back on Russian disinformation and beefing up cybersecurity.
    • "A lot of this ... is about deterrence, but so far the Russians don't seem very deterred," Kelemen says.
  • A series of diplomatic talks last week didn't produce any meaningful results. Blinken's Friday meeting with Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov is a good sign that "diplomacy is not dead yet," according to Kelemen.
    • Russia has been demanding written responses to the ideas it has laid out, including a promise that Ukraine will never be part of NATO. Blinken is not expected to deliver on that, Kelemen says, but the very fact that they agreed to talk is encouraging.
    • For its part, Ukraine wants the U.S. to keep its promise that it won't negotiate with Russia about Ukraine without Ukraine's participation. It wants military and diplomatic support from the U.S. and other NATO countries, and says its military is not the same as it was in 2014 when Russia seized Ukraine and stirred up a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.
Coronavirus

The Biden administration is giving out free N95 masks in addition to COVID tests

Posted January 19, 2022 at 8:03 AM EST
A person holds an N95 mask in one hand and a bag of masks in the other, above a table holding a box that says N95.
Charles Krupa
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AP
The government will ship masks from its stockpile starting at the end of the week to pharmacies and health centers.

The Biden administration plans to send 400 million N95 face masks to give out free through pharmacies and community health centers, part of an effort to increase access to high-quality masks to control the spread of COVID-19.

The government will ship masks from its stockpile starting at the end of the week. Some will be available late next week, with more available in early February, the White House told reporters. The move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance last week to emphasize N95s — and as the government starts to send at-home test kits to Americans by mail.

The masks will be available through pharmacies in the federal retail pharmacy program — which includes major grocery stores and retail pharmacy chains.

If you're also shopping for your own, here's how to find high-quality N95s that fit.

PLUS: The federal government website offering free at-home COVID-19 tests is now live. Click here to order your four free tests per household — the process takes just seconds, and the tests will ship out via the U.S. Postal Service within 7 to 12 days.