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News brief: COVID boosters, voting rights failure, Russia hosts Afghan talks

18 min 34 sec ago
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Long before Havana Syndrome, U.S. reported microwaves beamed at an embassy

1 hour 21 min ago
In 1996, Michael Beck and a colleague at the National Security Agency were sent to a "hostile country" on a brief assignment. After being detained at the airport for about an hour, they were allowed to go, but knew they were being closely watched. A few days into the assignment, Beck woke up at his hotel feeling terrible. "It was extreme fatigue and weakness. I was a bowl of jelly and couldn't get moving," said Beck. He was suspicious of the cause, but the symptoms went away. A full decade later, Beck was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease at age 46. At almost exactly the same time, his colleague from that trip, Chuck Gubete, received the very same diagnosis. Gubete, who died several years later, had a family history of Parkinson's, but Beck didn't. Beck came to believe his illness was caused while on that trip, and he filed a workman's compensation claim with the NSA. As part of the process, the NSA sent Beck a short but striking letter in 2014. "The National Security

The biggest push by Democrats for action on voting rights fails in the Senate

1 hour 21 min ago
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Why helping people pay rent can fight the pandemic

1 hour 26 min ago
Erica Cuellar's dad wasn't worried, even if she was. It was still the early days of the coronavirus pandemic — March 2020 — and Cuellar and her husband were becoming anxious about whether they could afford the $1,200 rent for their house in Houston. She'd lost her job as a home health aide for a boy with autism, and the news made it sound like most businesses were about to shut down, which would likely mean her husband would be getting fewer hours at the pipe yard where he works — or maybe even be laid off. "If there was going to be shutdowns, those shutdowns would be not paid," she says. And, of course, "working with pipes is not really something you can do at home." Her dad, on the other hand, lives in town, and owns his home. So he invited the couple and their toddler to move in with him — even though he was in his mid-60s and having a houseful of people could put him more at risk of getting COVID-19. This story of families moving in together when their rent became unaffordable

In Maine, a looming vaccine deadline for EMTs is stressing small-town ambulance crews

1 hour 26 min ago
On a recent morning, Jerrad Dinsmore and Kevin LeCaptain of Waldoboro EMS drove their ambulance to a secluded house near the ocean, to measure the clotting levels of a woman in her nineties. They told the woman, bundled under blankets to keep warm, that they'll contact her doctor with the result. "Is there anything else we can do?" Dinsmore asked. "No," she said, "I'm all set." This wellness check, which took about 10 minutes, is one of the duties Dinsmore and LeCaptain perform in addition to the emergency calls they respond to as staffers with Waldoboro's Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The EMS crews have been busier than ever this year, as people who delayed getting care during the pandemic grew progressively sicker. But there's limited workforce to meet the demand. Dinsmore and LeCaptain spend more than 20 hours a week working for Waldoboro, on top of their full-time EMS jobs in other towns. It's common in Maine for EMS staffers to work for multiple departments, because most EMS

With spotlight on Black maternal health crisis, efforts underway to eliminate disparities

1 hour 26 min ago
Just days after delivering her daughter at Highland Hospital four years ago, Tashe Brown-Sanders was in so much pain that she had to go back to its emergency room. “I told the doctor I'm in pain and he says, ‘Oh, you just had a baby.’ I'm like, ‘No, something's wrong,” Brown-Sanders said. Doctors checked her blood pressure. It was skyrocketing. Moments later, she flatlined. “It came to the doctor smacking me on the face, and the nurse on the other side of me crying saying, ‘I thought I lost you. I thought I lost you,’” Brown-Sanders said. She was suffering from post-partum preeclampsia – a potentially fatal condition that African American women are more at risk for, according to the National Institutes of Health. But Brown-Sanders said her troubles started in the beginning of her third trimester while getting prenatal care at a local public health clinic. “I would be sleeping and I couldn't breathe,” Brown-Sanders said. “I would tell my doctor about it and she would say, ‘You’re fine.’

CDC says toss onions if you don't know where they came from to avoid salmonella

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 7:55pm
Check your onions now: A salmonella outbreak impacting 37 states and sickening over 600 people in the U.S. is being linked to certain imported onions. A warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fresh whole red, white and yellow onions from Chihuahua, Mexico, were distributed to grocery stores and restaurants across the U.S. by ProSource Inc. They should be discarded. Officials also urge consumers not to buy any whole red, white or yellow onions without stickers or packaging that show where they're from, and to throw away any such onions that are already in the home. Salmonella traced to onions has sent 129 people to the hospital, the CDC says. Federal health investigators are working to determine if any additional onions and suppliers are linked to the outbreak. The onions were last imported on Aug. 27. However, officials say they can last in storage for up to three months. The CDC also advises that surfaces and containers that have been in contact with the

Parents of a 6-year-old girl killed at a theme park file a wrongful death lawsuit

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 6:59pm
The parents of the 6-year-old Colorado girl who fell to her death at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs in September have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the amusement park. In a copy of the lawsuit obtained by NPR, the family of 6-year-old Wongel Estifanos alleges there were at least two prior incidents at the amusement park where the ride operators failed to properly secure passengers on the Haunted Mine Drop: one in July 2018 and another in August 2019. In both cases, operators were alerted by passengers and returned to buckle the belts. The suit says the park owners didn't inform the family about the previous incidents but they found out from news reports. According to the lawsuit, the family says Wongel's uncle accompanied her and other family members on the ride, in which the uncle "specifically observed" the ride operators interacting with her. The lawsuit says the uncle "trusted" ride operators were properly securing the girl on the ride. However

Climate change is bad for your health. And plans to boost economies may make it worse

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 6:31pm
It may seem obvious: Heat kills. Wildfires burn. Flooding drowns. But the sprawling health effects of a rapidly warming world can also be subtle. Heat sparks violence and disrupts sleep. Wildfire smoke can trigger respiratory events thousands of miles away. Flooding can increase rates of suicide and mental health problems . Warmer winters expand the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks . A new report from the medical journal The Lancet finds that human-caused climate change is worsening human health in just about every measurable way, and world leaders are missing an opportunity to address it. Trillions of dollars are being spent worldwide to help economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but less than 1 in 5 of those dollars are expected to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the overall impact of those recovery plans is likely to be negative for the world's climate, says Marina Romanello, the lead author of the annual report. "We are recovering

NFL agrees to race-based brain testing in $1B settlement on concussions

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 6:07pm
Updated October 20, 2021 at 10:14 PM ET PHILADELPHIA — The NFL agreed to end race-based adjustments in dementia testing that critics said made it difficult for Black retirees to qualify for awards in the $1 billion settlement of concussion claims, according to a proposed deal filed Wednesday in federal court. The revised testing plan follows public outrage over the use of "race-norming," a practice that came to light only after two former NFL players filed a civil rights lawsuit over it in 2019. The adjustments, critics say, may have prevented hundreds of Black players suffering from dementia to win awards that average $500,000 or more. The Black retirees will now have the chance to have their tests rescored or, in some cases, seek a new round of cognitive testing, according to the settlement, details of which were first reported in The New York Times on Wednesday. "We look forward to the court's prompt approval of the agreement, which provides for a race-neutral evaluation process

The Trump Organization faces a new criminal inquiry tied to a New York golf club

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 5:42pm
A New York prosecutor has opened up a previously unreported criminal probe of Trump Organization finances, NPR has confirmed. The investigation by Westchester District Attorney Miriam E. "Mimi" Rocah is examining property valuations at Trump National Golf Club Westchester, north of New York City. A source with knowledge of the investigation has confirmed that the town that collects local taxes from the course, Ossining, has received a subpoena from Rocah's office for documents. The investigation was first reported by The New York Times. The Times also reports that Rocah has subpoenaed records from the golf club. Rocah's office declined to comment on the case. Trump and the town of Ossining have tussled for years over property tax assessments. In a 2018 interview with WNYC and ProPublica, Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg noted that Trump once claimed a value for tax purposes that was less than a tenth of what the town believed the property was worth. After Trump was sworn in, his business

The FBI is still looking for a trove of nuclear sub secrets in an espionage case

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 5:36pm
The FBI has not recovered the vast majority of secret documents related to nuclear submarines that a U.S. naval engineer is accused of trying to sell to a foreign power, an FBI agent testified Wednesday. Special Agent Peter Olinits said the FBI also hasn't been able to find the $100,000 in cryptocurrency that it gave the defendants — Jonathan Toebbe, who worked on nuclear propulsion for the Navy, and his wife Diana — as part of the sting operation that led to the Maryland couple's arrest. The Toebbes, who were arrested earlier this month , have been indicted on espionage charges — one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted material and two counts of communicating restricted data. Prosecutors say Jonathan Toebbe tried to sell thousands of pages of documents containing secrets about the U.S. Virginia-class nuclear submarine to an unnamed foreign country. The U.S. government says Diana Toebbe acted as a lookout when her husband left information at so-called "dead drops" for someone

What Colin Powell's death can and can't tell us about COVID breakthrough cases

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 5:11pm
When Colin Powell died this week from complications related to COVID-19, it was a shock to many Americans. Though scientists and federal health officials are adamant that the vaccines work well to protect against hospitalization and death, it's unnerving to hear of fully vaccinated people like Powell, or perhaps your own friends and neighbors, falling severely ill with COVID-19. So how well do the vaccines work? How serious is the risk of a serious breakthrough infection, one that could land you in the hospital? In Powell's case, of course, there are several reasons he was at higher risk. He was 84 and had been treated in recent years for multiple myeloma — a blood cancer that forms in plasma cells, which are critical for the immune system. These facts alone would put him at very high risk for a breakthrough illness, says Dr. Rachel Bender Ignacio , who directs COVID-19 clinical research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. "We shouldn't change our risk estimation on one good

From bankruptcy to IPO in a year? It's a tune Guitar Center might play

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 4:54pm
Mattress Firm, Claire's, Guitar Center — they're all recent bankruptcy survivors whose stores you might have passed in a mall, perhaps with their doors shuttered early in the pandemic. But this year brought an unexpected, dramatic reversal, as these chains join a surprisingly long list of retailers who aim to find new life on the stock market, looking to go public. No turnaround has been more rapid than Guitar Center, which reportedly filed confidential paperwork for an initial public offering, or IPO, less than a year after emerging from bankruptcy . The company's representatives did not respond to NPR's inquiries. Guitar Center started out selling home organs in California in the 1950s. But when the British Invasion hit the U.S., the founder heard the driving guitar riffs of the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and went all in on rock and roll. First came guitars and amplifiers, then drums, keyboards and gear. By the 1990s, Guitar Center blanketed the country as the largest

A pediatrician weighs in on the White House's vaccine plan for young kids

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 4:54pm
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: If you're the parent of a 5- to 11-year-old, you may be anxiously waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for your children. Well, you might not have to wait much longer. Meetings of the FDA and CDC at the end of this month and beginning of next could lead to emergency use authorization, and the Biden administration announced plans this morning to try to make sure those shots are available to kids as quickly as possible. SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST: Specifically, they're looking at making sure there's enough supply, that the vaccine is available in a variety of places, including pediatricians offices, hospitals, pharmacies and other health clinics. There are also specific plans in place about communication, making sure parents have answers to their questions and accurate scientific information. Dr. Rhea Boyd is a pediatrician and a public health advocate, and she joins me now to talk more

The Freedom To Vote Act is the latest fight in a bitter battle over voting rights

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 4:54pm
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST: Across the country, the laws governing how Americans elect their public officials have become the focus of bitter partisan battles. (SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Georgia lawmakers have continued to receive backlash for the new law that overhauls elections in the state. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The justices upheld help voting restrictions in Arizona. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Florida's Republican majority has passed legislation to make significant changes to mail-in voting procedures. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The bill to overhaul state elections is now law, despite protests that it will suppress minority turnout. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: And it's no different here in Washington, where Democrats, from the president on down, have made this issue a priority and have been ringing the alarm bell for months. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Twenty-first century Jim Crow assault is real. It's

Rahm Emanuel addresses handling of Chicago police shooting during ambassador hearing

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 4:54pm
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: The Black Lives Matter movement and police reform aren't usually the kind of topics that come up in a Senate hearing for a U.S. ambassador. But Biden's pick to serve in Japan is former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and his confirmation hearing coincided with the anniversary of a fatal police shooting of a Black teenager while he was mayor. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports. MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Seven years ago today, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was killed as he ran away from police in Chicago. Some Democrats on Capitol Hill argue that Rahm Emanuel's handling of that case when he was mayor should disqualify him to serve as America's top diplomat in Japan. His administration refused to make public the police dashcam video of the killing for more than a year until compelled by a court. Emanuel told senators that was the protocol at the time. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) RAHM EMANUEL: A grave tragedy occurred seven years ago to

Ogden kidnapping calls attention to dangers of domestic violence

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 4:47pm
Ogden police say a woman who was abducted overnight drove herself to safety on Wednesday morning. Local law enforcement say Jessica Northrup had last been seen with her former domestic partner, Paul Collen before she disappeared. The case has sparked conversations around domestic abuse, and what bystanders can do to help. Ogden police chief Chris Mears told reporters on Wednesday that Northrup’s case sheds light on the dangers of domestic violence. “This lady is very lucky to be a survivor. I believe that in my heart. She’s very fortunate to be alive today,” he says.. A man’s body was found near where Northrup was held against her will. Ogden police have identified the body as Northrup’s former partner and alleged kidnapper, Collen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Meaghan de Chateauvieux with Willow domestic violence center says

Rochester City School unions ask district to address safety concerns with police, parents balk

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 4:03pm
Days after leaders from four Rochester City School unions asked the district to address growing security concerns – including an incident when someone fired a gun outside All City High -- residents spoke out at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. One of the unions’ requests was to end the ban of school resource officers, but resident Carly Fox said she doesn’t trust Rochester Police around schools. “I believe that entering into a contractual agreement with RPD is not a good idea,” Fox said. “I say that as a parent, as an alumni and an aspiring teacher.” Another resident said bringing police back won’t change things. “There is all sorts of data, because we all like to be data-driven, that demonstrates that police in schools do not make students safer,” Victoria Robinson said. Eammon Scanlon with the Children’s Agenda agreed, citing extensive research. “Police in schools do not make them safer,” Scanlon said. “There’s no conclusive evidence of this from multiple studies, but what