Start Your Day Here: Robert E. Lee Statue Comes Down, Howard Probes Cyberattack And More

Published September 8, 2021 at 7:42 AM EDT
Robert E. Lee statue is removed from its pedestal in Richmond, Va.
Ryan M. Kelly/AFP via Getty Images
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is removed in Richmond, Va., today.

Good morning,

Here are some of the stories we're following today:

Robert E. Lee statue: The monument to the Confederate general in Virginia came down today after a year of lawsuits and a reckoning over racial justice.

Texas pushback: Gov. Greg Abbott falsely said victims of rape have six weeks to get an abortion under the new state law — even though at that stage many people do not know they're pregnant yet.

Howard University cyberattack: The university in Washington, D.C., is partially reopening after a weekend ransomware attack forced it to cancel classes yesterday.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, Mexico's supreme court has effectively decriminalized abortion throughout the country.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Dana Farrington, Nell Clark, Rachel Treisman and Manuela López Restrepo)


Join NPR Music For A Virtual Roséwave Listening Party Tonight

Posted September 8, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT

Summer is on its way out, and so too is NPR Music's summer soundtrack series. And what better way to send them both off than with a listening party?

Tune into NPR Music's YouTube channel at 7 ET tonight for an hour of roséwave favorites, courtesy of DJ Cuzzin B (aka Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter).

You can RSVP right here. And remember, as NPR Music's Lars Gotrich writes, "Summer's never over if you have roséwave in your heart."

Fact Check

The Texas Governor's Misleading Abortion Comments And What The New Law Means

Posted September 8, 2021 at 10:49 AM EDT

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is again under fire for his state's restrictive new abortion law, after claiming it does not force victims of rape or incest to give birth even though it prohibits abortions at about six weeks — which is before many people even know they're pregnant.

At a bill signing for a different piece of legislation Tuesday, Abbott was asked about forcing a rape or incest victim to carry their pregnancy to term. He misleadingly replied that the law does not require that and went on to say that the state will "work tirelessly" to "eliminate all rapists."

"Obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion and so, for one, it doesn't provide that," Abbott said. "That said ... Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets."

When "six weeks" isn't six weeks

Abbott's latest comments are drawing a fresh round of criticism from opponents of the law, which bans abortion as soon as cardiac activity is detectable, or around six weeks. More on that here.

Many people don't yet know they're pregnant at that point, and those who do would have just days to make a decision, attend the state's requisite two clinic visits and undergo the procedure.

"Oh please," tweeted Planned Parenthood Action PAC, response to a video of Abbott's comments. "If you don’t understand many people don’t even know they’re pregnant until after 6 weeks, then you shouldn’t be restricting their options." (Planned Parenthood has said only about 10-15% of Texans who obtain abortions in the state are less than six weeks into pregnancy.)

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed Abbott in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday, saying he lacks basic knowledge of biology.

"I'm sorry we have to break down Biology 101 on national television, but in case no one has informed him before in his life, six weeks pregnant means two weeks late for your period," Ocasio-Cortez said. "And two weeks late on your period ... can happen if you're stressed, if your diet changes, or for really no reason at all. So you don't have six weeks."

As the 19th News puts it, "Six weeks of pregnancy does not mean six weeks to get an abortion."

It explains further: "Gestational age begins at the end of a previous period, and the first sign of pregnancy is often missing one’s period. A typical menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, or about four weeks. A person cannot get pregnant until after they have ovulated, which generally happens halfway through the cycle."

So if someone has a regular menstrual period, they may know they are pregnant as soon as four weeks into their pregnancy, leaving them two weeks to arrange an abortion. People with irregular periods may not know until later, or should take a test — and many tests can't detect pregnancy before a missed period. Plus, not all people are actively monitoring to see if they're pregnant, the 19th adds, with almost half of all pregnancies unplanned.

Backlash over Abbott's rape comments

Ocasio-Ortez also took issue with Abbott's comments on rape, noting that the majority of people who are raped and sexually assaulted are assaulted by someone that they know.

The anti-sexual violence nonprofit RAINN says 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

"These aren't just predators that are walking around the streets at night. They are peoples' uncles, they are teachers, they are family friends, and when something like that happens it takes a very long time, first of all, for any victim to come forward," Ocasio-Cortez added. "And second of all, when a victim comes forward, they don't necessarily want to bring their case into the carceral system."

Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas told MSNBC that Abbott's talk of eliminating rape is "magical thinking," saying his actions and priorities say otherwise.

She pointed to the state's backlog of untested rape kits, and said Texas had the highest number of rape cases reported in 2019 — noting that many go unreported — and that this number has gone up in recent years.


Ashraf Ghani Breaks His Silence, Defending His Escape From Afghanistan And Denying Corruption

Posted September 8, 2021 at 10:25 AM EDT

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attempted to explain his decision to leave Afghanistan as the Taliban took control of the country last month and defended himself against accusations of corruption.

He called the decision to leave on Aug. 15 "the most difficult decision of my life, but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her 6 million citizens." The United Arab Emirates confirmed it was sheltering Ghani three days later.

Ghani called allegations that he took millions of dollars with him upon departure "completely and categorically false."

"Corruption is a plague that has crippled our country for decades and fighting corruption has been a central focus of my efforts as president. I inherited a monster that could not easily or quickly be defeated."

In the end, he apologizes that his "own chapter ended in similar tragedy to my predecessors — without ensuring stability and prosperity."

The Taliban announced their own interim government yesterday.

Read Ghani's full statement below.

NPR Music

Get To Know The 2021 Tiny Desk Contest Community 🎶

Posted September 8, 2021 at 9:56 AM EDT

The reveal of this year's NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner is right around the corner!

In the meantime, check out this video weaving together some of the thousands of entries NPR received this year. You might find your new favorite artists (or your new favorite desk!):

The contest winner will obviously win the judges' hearts, plus also they'll get the official prize: They'll perform a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR in Washington, D.C. and be interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered.

Find more entries from this year's contest, and scroll through entries from previous year's contests, here.


19-Year-Old Leylah Fernandez Is Captivating U.S. Open Watchers

Posted September 8, 2021 at 9:41 AM EDT

Nineteen-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada is in the spotlight at the U.S. Open in New York. She’s headed to tomorrow's semifinals after beating yet another star player, Elina Svitolina, after besting Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.

Fernandez, who turned 19 on Monday, is the youngest U.S. Open semifinalist since Maria Sharapova in 2005.

A U.S. Open recap described Fernandez as having “a veteran-like ability to reset at the crucial moments.”

Watch highlights from the match here:

Folks are taking notice:


Watch The Moment The Statue Of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee Came Down

Posted September 8, 2021 at 9:34 AM EDT

The Robert E. Lee statue is no longer standing in Richmond, Va. The monument to the Confederate general came down this morning after a year of lawsuits and calls for its removal as part nationwide protests against racial inequality.

Here's the moment it was lifted off its pedestal:

Follow updates from the scene here, via Virginia Public Media.


Today In Celebrity Baby News

Posted September 8, 2021 at 9:30 AM EDT

It's been a buzzy few hours for people interested in celebrity news, pregnancy announcements, or both. Here are the quick hits:

John Mulaney and Olivia Munn

Emmy-winning comedian John Mulaney stopped by Late Night With Seth Meyers on Tuesday, where he spoke candidly about his eventful year (which included a divorce, relapse and rehabilitation) and announced that he's expecting a baby with actress Olivia Munn. The two — who, fun fact, initially met at Meyers' wedding— have been dating since this spring.

Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott

Reality star and makeup mogul Kylie Jenner confirmed that she is having her second child with rapper Travis Scott, in an Instagram video posted late Tuesday. It includes touching footage of Jenner's loved ones — like mom Kris Jenner and 3-year-old daughter Stormi Webster — reacting to the news.


Ride-Sharing Companies Are Responding To Texas' Near-Total Abortion Ban

Posted September 8, 2021 at 9:16 AM EDT

Uber and Lyft have announced they'll pay their drivers' legal fees if any of the drivers are sued under Texas' new abortion law, which bans abortions after about 6 weeks of pregnancy — before many people know they're pregnant.

Under Texas's new abortion law anyone can be sued if they aid a person who is trying to get an abortion in violation of the law. That means ride-share drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft could be at risk if they drive anyone to abortion services.

"We do not appreciate how this law pits citizens against citizens, and we do not appreciate how this law limits a woman's right to choose," Lyft CEO John Zimmer said in a conversation with NPR's A Martínez.

Lyft co-founder and CEO Logan Green announced the plans to cover fees on Twitter.

Uber is taking action, too. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi retweeted Green's tweet and responded, "Right on @logangreen- drivers shouldn’t be put at risk for getting people where they want to go. Team @Uber is in too and will cover legal fees in the same way. Thanks for the push."

Further explaining his company's decision, Lyft's Zimmer told NPR, “No. 1, the law threatens to punish drivers for getting people where they need to go."

"You know, if you imagine being a driver and not knowing if you're breaking the law or giving someone a ride. Imagine if you're a woman in need of a health care appointment and not knowing if your driver will cancel on you. Both of these situations are completely unacceptable."

Zimmer also said Lyft plans to also donate $1 million Planned Parenthood to "help ensure that transportation is never a barrier to health care access."

Listen to the full conversation here.

Elsewhere in Texas, large companies have been relatively mum on the new law.

NPR Newscast

A Strong Earthquake Hit Mexico's Pacific Coast

Posted September 8, 2021 at 8:25 AM EDT
Damaged cars are seen outside a hotel after a quake in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico on Wednesday.
Francisco Robles/AFP via Getty Images
Damaged cars are seen outside a hotel after a quake in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico on Wednesday.

A powerful earthquake hit Mexico last night, centered about 10 miles northeast of Acapulco on the country’s Pacific coast. The 7.0 temblor was felt in several states and Mexico City.

Media reports from the Pacific Coast city showed crumbled walls, rubble in the streets and several fallen pillars at a beachfront hotel.

The governor of the state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, told the news outlet Milenio that the quake had caused much alarm but not a lot of damage.

Some 200 miles away, the quake shook for nearly a minute in Mexico City, sending residents into the street.

Mexico City's Mayor tweeted there was no grave damage but that several neighborhoods had lost power.

In a video, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in the four states that felt the quake strongest, authorities reported some collapsed walls and falling rocks.

Music News

Britney Spears' Dad Is Asking The Court To End Her Conservatorship. Here's What's Next

Posted September 8, 2021 at 8:12 AM EDT
A woman with long blond hair, wearing a sparkly black outfit with feathery sleeves and a microphone attached to her ear, smiles off-camera while posing with her hands on her hips.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Britney Spears performs in 2016 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Britney Spears' father, Jamie, just petitioned a court to end the legal arrangement that has enabled him to control all aspects of her life for the last 13 years.

It's the latest twist in a long-running controversy, which has seen celebrities, elected officials and Britney herself speaking out against the conservatorship in recent months.

(Learn more about how the conservatorship works and the growing activist movement to #FreeBritney.)

NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas has been following this story, and explains what's changed and what might happen next. Take a listen.

Why now?

There's been a lot of public pressure to give Britney back some personal autonomy, including from the pop singer herself. For example, she repeatedly accused her father of financial abuse in a court statement that leaked and went viral earlier this summer. She has also refused to perform as long as he retains any control over her and her finances.

What next?

Judge Brenda Penny, who oversees the case, will need to approve the removal — and ultimately, decide whether Britney needs to remain under a conservatorship at all. She is supposed to hold a hearing at the end of September, so unless that's expedited we may not get updates for a few weeks.

It's worth noting that co-conservator Jodi Montgomery, who has looked after Britney's health decisions and personal life since 2019, remains in place.

Is this a victory for Britney?

Partially. Spears' new attorney, Mathew Rosengart, told NPR in a statement yesterday that the move is in some ways a vindication.

But he also accused Jamie Spears of trying to "avoid accountability and justice," and said he will continue to investigate his handling of his daughter's money no matter what.

Investigative reporting from outlets like The New York Times and The New Yorker have recently shed light on the singer's financial situation, revealing for example that Jamie pays himself a percentage of all her live show earnings despite not doing the work of a traditional manager or agent.


Howard University Partially Reopens As It Investigates A Cyberattack

Posted September 8, 2021 at 7:48 AM EDT
Howard University campus is pictured in Washington, D.C., on July 6.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Howard University in Washington, D.C., pictured on July 6, was the target of a cyberattack over the weekend.

Howard University in Washington, D.C., is partially reopening today after a ransomware cyberattack forced the university to cancel Tuesday’s classes.

In-person classes are resuming today, while online and hybrid undergraduate courses remain suspended, according to a statement from the university.

Howard is still investigating the attack, which happened over the weekend, in coordination with forensic experts and law enforcement.

“To date, there has been no evidence of personal information being accessed or exfiltrated; however, our investigation remains ongoing, and we continue to work toward clarifying the facts surrounding what happened and what information has been accessed,” the university’s statement said.

Cyber-risk consultants say there has been an uptick in the number of ransom attacks across the U.S. in recent years — and they’re increasingly sophisticated, as NPR’s David Gura reported in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline attack. In many cases, these cybercriminals have the upper hand, often getting the payments they demand, NPR’s Greg Myre notes.

The specific circumstances around the attack on Howard are still unclear.

International Dispatch
From Deoband, India

The Surprising Origin Of The Taliban's Ideology

Posted September 8, 2021 at 7:34 AM EDT
A cream-colored building with turquoise doors and a dome stands against a blue sky, with smaller buildings behind it and a gray shape around it.
Lauren Frayer/NPR
Buildings on the campus of the Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband, India.

The Taliban’s austere version of Islam is reflected in some of its policies: Burkas for women. Less schooling for girls. Attacks on minority faiths.

But the origin of the Taliban's ideology may surprise you. It’s not from Afghanistan originally. Nor the Middle East. Not even from a Muslim-majority country.

It's from a scruffy town of rickshaws, tea stalls and open sewers in northern India.

In the 19th century, Muslim scholars founded a seminary in Deoband, India — which became entwined in the politics of that era. It taught that by returning to the core principles of Islam, Indian Muslims could resist British colonial rule. The British had recently taken control of India. Its previous Mughal — Muslim — rulers had been vanquished.

“The British have taken over. The Muslim glory has faded away. So there comes a kind of state of despondency within the Muslims,” says researcher Luv Puri. “Then they decide it's time to get back the glory of Islam. And let's start a movement.”

The movement they started became known as Deobandi Islam. Adherents later joined Mahatma Gandhi's freedom struggle. They fanned out across South Asia teaching a strict form of Islam, particularly along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

And that’s where they educated their most infamous students: the Taliban.

NPR’s Lauren Frayer traveled to Deoband to meet the Taliban’s ideological ancestors, who’ve existed overwhelmingly peacefully in India for more than 150 years. Read and listen here.

Racial Justice

Virginia's Statue Of Robert E. Lee Comes Down Today, And You Can Stream It Live

Posted September 8, 2021 at 7:24 AM EDT
A statue of a man riding a horse sits atop a large base covered in colorful graffiti.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., is covered in graffiti, memorials and artwork calling for racial equity and justice.

One of the largest Confederate monuments in the U.S. is coming down today.

The statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., has been at the heart of the city's protests over racial injustice — as well as a prolonged legal battle between some residents and the state's governor.

Contractors will disassemble the massive statue (it's 60 feet tall on its pedestal) today, and the event will be hard to miss: Roads are closed, there's a designated public viewing area and the governor will be livestreaming video on social media.

You can follow this Twitter account for regular updates, and tune into the official livestream between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET.

Learn more about the statue's past and future from VPM's Whittney Evans, who spoke to Morning Edition from Richmond:

The statue (one of two Confederate statues left in Richmond) has been standing since the late 19th century, but the attitudes toward it, and the area around it, have changed considerably in recent years and even months. The statue and its surrounding traffic circle were reclaimed by protesters during the racial injustice demonstrations of 2020, Evans explains:

"This monument became a destination for a lot of people, a community gathering place for people who may not have ever stepped foot on the property had it not been for these protests. The statue's become more of an afterthought at this point, when you consider how the pedestal and the property's been transformed."

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the statue's removal in June 2020, prompting a lawsuit from several local residents who questioned his authority to do so. A descendant of the family, who gave the statue to the state, also came forward with a lawsuit claiming the statue's removal violates the original deeds.

Virginia's Supreme Court tossed out those arguments last week, saying the documents represent a period in history and value system that Virginians no longer identify with.

The 12-ton statue is expected to be broken into three pieces, and the state will store it somewhere until the legislature decides what to do with it. Its iconic, now-graffiti-covered pedestal will stay put for the time being.