On Groundhog Day, two famous furry forecasters disagree on winter's end
We're following these stories today:
Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil ascended from a tree stump and placed his bet on six more weeks of winter. But if you prefer to believe a rodent named Chuck from Staten Island, spring is coming early.
Oil prices: Despite the pandemic, demand for oil is high and supply is not keeping pace. Political tensions in Eastern Europe and Saudi Arabia could complicate the supply even more.
The team formerly known as the Redskins: The Washington Football Team officially revealed its new name on Wednesday — the Washington Commanders.
🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, a class-action lawsuit filed against the NFL and three teams alleges racism in hiring practices.
— The Morning Edition live blog team
(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)
U.S. Army begins to discharge soldiers who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
U.S. Army soldiers who refuse to be vaccinated for COVID-19 will soon be discharged, the military branch announced Wednesday.
The Army said it will "immediately begin separating Soldiers from the service" who refuse to be vaccinated or who don't have an approved or pending request for exemption.
“Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. "Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness."
Soldiers who are discharged for refusing to be vaccinated "will not be eligible for involuntary separation pay" and may have to return any unearned special or incentive pay, the Army said.
As of Jan. 26, the Army said, 96% of active troops have been completely vaccinated, while 3,350 soldiers have refused to get the vaccine. Nearly 5,900 have received temporary exemptions.
Those who have asked for a medical exemption or religious accommodations are temporarily exempt from the vaccination requirement while their requests are being reviewed.
"To date, Army commanders have relieved a total of six Regular Army leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 3,073 general officer written reprimands to Soldiers for refusing the vaccination order," the Army said late last month.
The Pentagon began requiring members of the military to get vaccinated last summer.
Jeff Zucker resigns as president of CNN
Jeff Zucker has resigned as president of CNN U.S.
The charismatic and influential executive said he had failed to disclose a romantic relationship with a top CNN executive when it began, as he was required to do.
The relationship was with CNN Chief Marketing Officer Allison Gollust, who says she is staying at the network. She had been mentioned as a possible successor to Zucker, who had already said he would step down at the end of the year.
NASA will crash the International Space Station into the Pacific Ocean in 2031
Operations at the the International Space Station are expected to wind down at the end of the decade, when NASA will crash it in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, the space agency announced this week.
The ISS will continue to conduct research and develop technology through 2030 while NASA works on transitioning the capabilities of the station to commercially owned and operated entities.
According to the transition report sent to Congress, NASA operators will direct the ISS toward a region in the Pacific Ocean called the South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area – specifically around Point Nemo – in early 2031, when it will reenter the atmosphere and crash into the water.
“The report we have delivered to Congress describes, in detail, our comprehensive plan for ensuring a smooth transition to commercial destinations after retirement of the International Space Station in 2030,” Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.
Using private sector space companies will allow it to purchase “only the goods and services the agency needs” in the future, NASA said.
The first ISS crew – made up of NASA Astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev – took up residence on the station in 2000, more than two decades ago.
Here's how the Biden administration says it will halve cancer death rates by 2047
President Biden announced on Wednesday that he is reigniting "Cancer Moonshot," the project he spearheaded as vice president during the Obama administration.
The initiative aims to dramatically reduce the national death rate from cancer, as well as improve the experience of survivors and family members of those living with the disease. In a seven-page fact sheet announcing the relaunch, the White House outlined its goals and commitments and repeatedly pledged to "end cancer as we know it today."
"Working together over the next 25 years, we will cut today’s age-adjusted death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent," it said.
Former President Barack Obama put Biden in charge of the Moonshot Initiative in 2016, the year after Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer at age 46.
"It's personal for me. But it's also personal for nearly every American, and millions of people around the world," Biden wrote on Medium at the time. "We all know someone who has had cancer, or is fighting to beat it."
Indeed, the White House says First Lady Jill Biden got involved in cancer advocacy when four of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. And Vice President Harris' mom, Shyamala Gopalan, was a breast cancer research scientist who died of colon cancer in 2009.
The original project focused largely on improving therapeutics, prevention and early detection, citing its primary goals as accelerating scientific discovery, fostering greater collaboration and improving data sharing. Congress authorized nearly $2 billion in funding for the project, to be spread over seven years — which is set to end in 2023.
Now, Biden says he is relaunching the Cancer Moonshot with "renewed White House leadership" and in a changed public health landscape. The new initiative doesn't ask for more funding, but it does set out new priorities.
According to the White House, recent progress in cancer therapeutics, diagnostics and patient-driven care — as well as the public health lessons and scientific advances of the COVID-19 pandemic — make it possible to set and achieve more ambitious goals.
"Over the first 20 years of this century, the age-adjusted death rate from cancer has fallen by about 25 percent, which means more people are surviving cancer and living longer after being diagnosed with cancer," it said. "That was enabled by progress on multiple fronts."
Of course, COVID-19 also forced many Americans to delay health care and check-up visits. Routine cancer screeningsdropped dramatically during the height of the pandemic, prompting worried experts to predict a rise in the number of cancers diagnosed or those that are caught at a later stage.
The White House said the president and first lady will deliver a call to action on this very topic, in an effort to "jumpstart progress on screenings that were missed as a result of the pandemic, and help ensure that everyone in the United States equitably benefits from the tools we have to prevent, detect, and diagnose cancer."
The new project's other goals include: diagnosing cancer sooner, preventing cancer, addressing inequities, targeting the right treatment for each patient, ramping up progress against rare and childhood cancers, supporting patients, caregivers and survivors, and learning from the experience and data of previous patients.
It's no small task, and the Biden administration is promising to mobilize the entire federal government in its efforts. Here's what it plans to do:
- Create a White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator in the Executive Office of the President.
- Form and convene a cancer cabinet with members from various government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Public Engagement.
- Issue a call to action on cancer screening and early detection, which includes developing a program to study and evaluate multicancer detection tests.
- Host a White House Cancer Moonshot summit involving research and healthcare communities, patient organizations, agency leadership, biopharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders.
- Expand an existing White House Cancer Roundtable Conversation Series with experts, patients, survivors and caregivers.
- Call on the private sector, healthcare providers, academic institutions, foundations and other Americans to see themselves as part of the mission to reduce deadly cancer and improve patient experiences.
Correction: A previous version of this headline misstated that the Biden administration aims to halve cancer rates by 2047. In fact, it aims to halve cancer death rates.
The Pentagon says thousands of U.S. troops will be dispatched to Eastern Europe
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby announced today that thousands of U.S. troops will be dispatched shortly to Eastern Europe.
The move comes amidst a major military buildup of Russian forces around Ukraine, and is expected to involve troops already stationed in Germany, and those based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
There are already some 60,000 US troops based in Europe. Some 1,000 service members based in Germany will be dispatched to Romania, and roughly 2,000 will be sent from Fort Bragg to Germany and Poland.
“These are not permanent moves,” Kirby said, emphasizing that these forces will not fight in Ukraine.
President Biden has ruled out any U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine, and the move is seen as more of a show of resolve at this point, underscoring Western unity in the face of Russian aggression. It does not include up to 8,500 US troops already put on heightened alert for possible deployment as well.
A positive COVID test means a different U.S. athlete will carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony
Ahead of the winter Olympic games in Beijing, team USA has announced the twoflag bearers for the Opening Ceremony on Friday.
Elana Meyers Taylor, a bobsledder and John Shuster, a curler, were elected by fellow U.S. athletes. But another athlete, speed skater Brittany Bowe, will walk on behalf of Meyers Taylor, who tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be able to attend the ceremony.
"Being voted by my peers as the flag bearer is the biggest honor of my career," Meyers Taylor, who has medaled at the Olympics three times, said. "While I cannot carry the flag and walk in with the rest of Team USA, Brittany is very deserving of the opportunity to lead our delegation on my behalf."
"Being elected as one of the flag bearers is a tremendous honor," Shuster said.
He is one of four five-time Olympians at the games this year, having competed since 2006. He's also making a bit of history — Shuster will be the first curling athlete to carry the flag in the opening ceremony.
Per Olympic tradition, Greece will be the first nation to march in the ceremony, and the procession will end with the host country, China. The U.S. will be the 56th nation to enter the stadium on Friday.
Unmarried, pregnant and offered protection by the Taliban
A pregnant, unmarried New Zealand journalist says the Taliban offered her sanctuary after she was stranded in Afghanistan by her home country’s COVID-19 border policy.
The startling story underscores the hardship New Zealand citizens abroad face in returning home through the pandemic. But it’s also angered Afghan feminists who accuse her of whitewashing the Taliban’s treatment of local women.
Charlotte Bellis, a former Afghanistan correspondent for Qatar-based Al Jazeera, says she unexpectedly became pregnant by her partner, Belgian freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek. In an essay she wrote for the New Zealand Herald, Bellis, 35, says she left Qatar, because it is illegal to be unmarried and pregnant there. She went to Belgium, but risked overstaying her visa while she applied for residency.
She tried to get to New Zealand, where returning citizens must undertake quarantine in military-run hotels, but space is tightly limited and allocated by lottery. Her application for an emergency slot was rejected.
So she went to the one country where she had a visa and a place to stay: Afghanistan, where her partner is also based. There, she says she met senior Taliban contacts and told them of her plight.
“Don't worry. Everything will be fine,” she writes that one official told her.
She continues: “When the Taliban offers you - a pregnant, unmarried woman - safe haven, you know your situation is messed up."
After her story went viral, Bellis said on Tuesday in a statement that she was offered space in a New Zealand quarantine hotel on the basis that she’s in a dangerous country. She said in a statement on Instagram that she would return in early March.
But some Afghan feminists say Bellis acted irresponsibly by not noting how the Taliban treat local women, who struggle to attend school, work and leave their homes. “It was a stab in the chest,” says Friba Rezayee, an Afghan-Canadian feminist.
She says there’s still no word on two Afghan women’s rights activists who went missing some two weeks ago. And she asks: “Would the Taliban help a young unmarried pregnant Afghan woman on the run? We know what her fate would be. They would stone her to death.”
Punxsutawney Phil predicts more winter, while Staten Island Chuck sees early spring
On the day when America puts its faith in the paws of furry forecasters, two of the country's most prominent groundhogs offered dueling predictions for what the weather has in store.
In Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil ascended from a tree stump and placed his bet on six more weeks of winter. In New York, Charles G. Hogg — aka Staten Island Chuck — emerged from his burrow to see no shadow and an early spring.
Both have long histories and mixed track records when it comes to predicting the weather. While Punxsutawney Phil's handlers — a group of top hat-clad gentlemen known as the Inner Circle — say he's always right (and that he is the "only true weather forecasting groundhog"), data from the Stormfax Almanac puts that number closer to 39%. The Staten Island Zoo says its star groundhog has an 85% accuracy rate.
Each groundhog made the same prediction as they did last year, when the U.S. experienced an unusually frigid February and a warmer-than-average March, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So, glass half full, they were both kind of right.
Either way, sunshine and flowers aren't exactly imminent this year: The Groundhog Day ceremonies happen to be sandwiched between two major winter storms in a single week. A major blizzard brought up to 2 feet of snow to some places in the Northeast over the weekend, while states from Texas to Maine are bracing for another storm in the days ahead.
We watched the ceremonies so you don't have to (but they're fun, if you want to)
Punxsutawny Phil's forecast followed a significant amount of pomp, circumstance and techno music.
This is the 136th year that the so-called "Seer of Seers, the Prognosticator of Prognosticators" made his famous prediction at Gobbler's Knob. It also marked a triumphant return from last year's virtual pandemic ceremony, with the video stream panning over a massive crowd of chilly-looking spectators. Some were holding "PHIL" signs and others were wearing hedgehog hats.
The crowd bundled up and bobbed along to the music (either to stay warm or to dance), which included an EDM remix of "Uptown Funk" and a lively rendition of "I Got Bills" with reimagined lyrics about, you guessed it, Phil. ("I got Phil, it's Groundhog Day, so we're gonna dance, dance, dance the night away.")
Onstage, a group of sweatshirt-clad girls — introduced as the Philettes Featured Dancers — performed for the crowd, as several Inner Circle members emceed and Miss Pennsylvania danced in a furry coat and sash.
As the sun rose through the bare trees, the performers left the stage and cleared a path through the crowd for current and former Inner Circle members to walk through. The crowd, presumably fully warmed up, chanted things like Phil's name and "Six more weeks."
After introductions, Jeff Lundy, a Punxsutawney Groundhog Club member and Inner Circle president — and the only person who can speak "Groundhoguese," thanks to magical powers passed down through a wooden cane reportedly whittled by Phil himself more than a century ago — made brief remarks.
"When I got up this morning, my comment was going to be that this is the largest increase in one year we've ever had, but when I got here and I looked out, I'm going to tell you this is the largest midweek crowd in the history of Groundhog Day," he said, adding that multiple countries and every U.S. state were most likely represented in the crowd.
After leading the spectators in a toast to Phil, Lundy retrieved the groundhog from inside his iconic stump, hoisted him up for all to see, and placed him on the top, where there were two scrolls each representing winter and spring. The groundhog chose one, which was then read out loud.
"Winter has been bleak, dark and bereft of hope, yet winter is just another step in the cycle of life," the scroll said (sounds familiar). "As I look over the faces of the true believers from around the world, I bask in the warmth of your hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate with my shadow I have cast than a long, lustrious six more weeks of winter."
Over at the Staten Island Zoo, a small group of zoo and borough (burrow?) officials hosted a virtual ceremony, featuring a sizeable number of groundhog puns and a pre-recorded video message from New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
The hosts also noted that Staten Island Chuck has traditionally had a rocky relationship with mayors — the mascot famously bit Michael Bloombergin 2009 and was fatally dropped by Bill de Blasio in 2014.
"I think I can speak for all New Yorkers when I say, Chuck, please don't see your shadow," Adams said from City Hall. "Bring on the sunny days."
Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon — Staten Island's chief law enforcement officer — led the proceedings, which included paying tribute to the city police officers recently killed in action.
He and zoo officials coaxed Chuck out from his house, where the groundhog stood in the doorway for a few moments. His observations, and the cloudy sky, led McMahon to announce that Chuck had seen his shadow and was predicting an early spring.
There are plenty of other animal prognosticators in the U.S.
Groundhogs as a species are — surprise — not the most reliable meteorologists, as recent research confirms.
A study published last summer in a journal of the American Meteorological Society analyzed 530 unique groundhog predictions across 33 locations and found that spring onset was correctly predicted exactly 50% of the time.
"Using a novel phenological indicator of spring, this study determined, without a shadow of a doubt, that groundhog prognosticating abilities for the arrival of spring are no better than chance," researchers wrote.
They added that no one groundhog predicted the timing of spring "with any statistical significance," some stood out for their records both successful and unsuccessful. For instance, Connecticut's Essex Ed and New Jersey's Stonewall Jackson were among those who made accurate predictions more than 70% of the time. Ohio's Buckeye Chuck and New York's Dunkirk Dave were among those who were wrong more than 70% of the time.
So while the battle between Phil and Chuck plays out for another year, it's worth noting that they're far from the only furry forecasters out there — and not all are groundhogs.
Tragically, as NPR reported yesterday, New Jersey's famous "Milltown Mel" died just before Groundhog Day.
But many others are still doing their thing. Here's a non-exhaustive list:
- Georgia's General Beau Lee
- Ohio's Buckeye Chuck
- Raleigh's Sir Walter Wally
- Alabama's Birmingham Bill
- Washington, D.C.'s taxidermied Potomac Phil
- Portland's Fufu the Hedgehog
- Connecticut's Scramble the Duck
- Texas' Bee Cave Bob the Armadillo
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Staten Island Chuck predicted an early spring because he had seen his shadow. In fact, he predicted an early spring because he had not seen his shadow.
OPEC members will meet today as crude oil prices stay at a 7-year high
The price of crude oil stands at around $90 a barrel as representatives of OPEC get ready to meet today to discuss supply and omicron's influence on the industry.
Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet today along with allies from non-OPEC countries, including Russia.
NPR's Camila Domonoske will be watching the meeting and joined Morning Edition to explain what to expect. Listen here.
Lots of factors play into crude oil's current high rate, including geopolitical tensions and slow supply that hasn't caught up with consumers' strong demand despite omicron, reports Domonoske.
OPEC's meeting today could offer insight into whetherenergy prices will continue to surgefor a while.
It's unclear if OPEC countries will decide to increase supply. Some member countries can't produce more, and others may be enjoying the high price for now. Increasing supply would drive that price down, making those nations less money.
Domonoske reports that climate change may also be a factor driving prices higher in some places, but likely isn't the primary force contributing to the price surge everywhere.
"If companies are being pressured by government and investors to pump less oil, and that happens before the world is actually using less oil, then that widens this gap between supply and demand," Domonoske says.
Companies are also being pressured to pass the extra money they're making from high demand and high crude oil prices on to their shareholders.
"Instead of spending it on new production, which would push prices down, or on green investments, which would have big implications for the climate, we're seeing companies like Exxon and Chevron making massive profits, and so far they're put most of them toward big fat dividends for shareholders," Domonoske reports.
High crude oil prices drive up the cost of gasoline and end up contributing to higher prices of everything, adding to the serious inflation the U.S. economy is experiencing.
The Federal Reserve recently announced they'll take tougher steps to fight inflation in the U.S. soon, including raising interest rates.
The Washington Football Team's new name is the Washington Commanders
After 18 months of speculation (and internet sleuthing), the Washington Football Team officially revealed its new name on Wednesday — the Washington Commanders.
Wednesday's big announcement ends months of research, focus groups and fan submissions for the WFT, which scrapped its previous name — the Washington Redskins — in July 2020 after years of pressure to do away with it because of its racist connotations against Native Americans, a name it had for 87 years.
Last August, the team banned fans from wearing "Native American-inspired" dresses inside its home stadium, such as headdresses and face paint. The new guideline was announced in a stadium policy and protocol update ahead of the 2021 NFL season.
Team president Jason Wright said in a statementlast month that one option was off the table when it came to the team's new name: anything to do with "Wolves" or "Red Wolves."
While the "Red Wolves" was a fan favorite, Wright said "trademarks held by other teams would limit our ability to make the name our own. And without Wolves, variations like RedWolves wouldn't have been viable either for these and other reasons."
In July 2021, Wright canceled out another possible choice of the team's name — the Warriors — "with the clear acknowledgment that it too closely aligns with Native American themes."
For the longest time, the team's owner — Dan Snyder — had brushed off lobbying efforts by activists and Native American groups to change the franchise's name.
"We'll never change the name," he told USA Today in 2013. "It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."
But seven years later, the push for the team's name change resurfaced after the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide outcry regarding racial and social injustices of people of color.
American soccer players give hope to an El Salvador World Cup placement — and a new era
No one is kidding themselves about what a long shot it is for this scrappy team from the tiny Central American country of El Salvador to qualify for the World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar this year. But hey, there is still hope. Wednesday night’s game in San Salvador, pitting La Selecta, as the men’s national soccer team is known here, against Canada is a make-or-break match.
And El Salvador is banking on a new crop of American players, and coaches, to secure them a spot on the international stage.
“I was born here … I wanted to help,” says El Salvador’s new head coach, Hugo Pérez, in an interview with NPR at the soccer league’s federation headquarters. Pérez was born in El Salvador, but moved, to the United States when he was 11 and went on to play for the U.S. on both the 1984 Olympic and 1994 World Cup teams. He moved back to El Salvador to take up the head coaching spot this spring. His son, also American, became assistant coach.
Pérez convinced many American players to come, too. All were either born in El Salvador but left as small children, or have at least one Salvadoran parent.
New team captain Alex Roldan, who plays for Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, says he decided to play for El Salvador to get a chance to go to the World Cup.
Roldan’s mother is from El Salvador and his dad is from Guatemala. Both national teams recruited him. “I was going to choose one or the other and one parent was going to be happy and the other disappointed,” he says jokingly. “But no, no, both are proud of me and as far as I’ve come.”
While it’s not a new thing for international athletes to switch national allegiances, especially during the Olympics, accepting players not born and raised in El Salvador until recently has been a tough sell.
Head Coach Pérez should know. Back when he was a young soccer athlete playing in U.S. circles, he tried to get El Salvador’s national team to take him, but was told no.
What a difference a few decades make.
Fans in El Salvador are grateful for the influx of U.S. talent.
“We need these elite players,” says fan Yovani Martínez, watching at a San Salvador sports bar as the U.S. beat El Salvador 1-0 last week. “El Salvador deserves this support … so we can go far in the future,” he adds. It’s been 40 years since El Salvador qualified for the World Cup.
The match between El Salvador and Canada begins Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.