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News brief: Midterm homestretch, climate summit begins, Twitter fallout

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The next two days of campaigning can shape the next two years of the Biden administration.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If Republicans win either chamber of Congress, they'll have much more power to block President Biden's agenda. Many Republicans are also talking on the record about investigations, impeachments and holding the economy hostage over the debt ceiling. The president spoke last night in New York, a state where some congressional Democrats and even the governor face tough races.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Our approach is working. Since I came to office, we've created 10 million brand-new jobs. The unemployment rate is at a historic low of 3.7%. And we're making things here in America again.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eric McDaniel was with the president yesterday. Eric, good morning.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning, my friend.

INSKEEP: What have these final days looked like for the president?

MCDANIEL: Well, he's gone to places with a lot of young people. I went with him yesterday to Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers. He'll head to Bowie State in Maryland today. And young people have helped Democrats a lot. They helped them win the House in 2018. They overwhelmingly supported the president in 2020. But, Steve, our polling shows that, by and large, they're just not as excited to vote as they have been in past years.

INSKEEP: And polling also shows voters of all ages concerned about the economy, despite that low unemployment rate. People are concerned about inflation. So what is the president saying to defend his record?

MCDANIEL: Well, he's mostly talking about fundamental rights instead. He's talking about access to abortion, access to the ballot. I mean, you did hear him defend the economy in that clip at the top. But these are fundamental big-D Democratic principles he hopes folks vote on, right? He's not saying - he's saying this isn't a referendum about his performance, but it's a choice, a choice young folks have to make between supporting Democrats who might not excite them and, you know, risking that some of the 300 Republicans up and down the ticket - these are folks Biden have called out - who have embraced conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, risking that they may win their races. But in a lot of ways, voters will see this as a referendum. You know, it's hard if you're having trouble making ends meet to worry about big-D Democracy.

INSKEEP: Aren't Maryland and New York, where the president campaigned, normally considered blue states?

MCDANIEL: Yeah. Yeah, they are. There's a couple reasons that Biden's going there, right? He's going where Democrats are in trouble, in places that it might be surprising for Democrats to lose. But, you know, the fact is folks in more traditional close races in swing states - I'm thinking the Senate race in Wisconsin, Senate race in North Carolina - they may just not want the president showing up. He's not the most popular man around. He has been to Pennsylvania a few times now. He won the state in 2020. He's got close ties there.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MCDANIEL: Also out on the trail and in more perilous places for Democrats is former President Barack Obama.

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BARACK OBAMA: And it has nothing to do, by the way, with political correctness or being too woke. It's about fundamental values that my grandparents from Kansas taught me...

(CHEERING)

OBAMA: ...Values I grew up with, values you grew up with, values we try to teach our kids, values we learn in churches and mosques and synagogues and temples - honesty, fairness, opportunity, hard work.

INSKEEP: OK, so a former president there evoking his Midwestern grandparents. But don't Republicans also have a former president campaigning?

MCDANIEL: Yeah, they do. Most Republicans are saying this is a referendum election on Biden's performance. But former President Trump has been campaigning across the country. He was in Iowa late last week. But he's been more focused on 2024 than he is on tomorrow's election.

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DONALD TRUMP: And now, in order to make our country successful and safe and glorious, I will very, very, very probably do it again, OK? OK?

INSKEEP: Donald Trump speaking in Pennsylvania as Election Day nears. Eric, thanks so much.

MCDANIEL: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric McDaniel.

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INSKEEP: International climate negotiations have begun in Egypt.

MARTIN: World leaders are meeting for the next two weeks to talk about reining in climate change and paying for its deadly effects.

INSKEEP: Rebecca Hersher of NPR's climate desk is covering the 27th annual United Nations Climate Summit. Rebecca, good morning.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How is this meeting different from the other 26?

HERSHER: Well, the calamities just keep piling up. You know, just this year, there was catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, heat waves in Europe and the U.S., Hurricane Ian. These are all supercharged by climate change. So these annual negotiations, they've taken on more and more urgency in recent years because, you know, climate change is killing people, and it's disrupting lives and economies around the world. So hundreds of top leaders from around the world will be in Egypt, in person. They'll be negotiating about the thorniest climate questions. You know, who should pay for the cost of a hotter Earth, how to stop burning fossil fuels, and how quickly - this the most important questions - can humans cut our greenhouse gas emissions?

INSKEEP: How quickly do humans need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions?

HERSHER: Extremely quickly. Basically, humans need to cut greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as humanly possible. That's what the science shows - every day and every bit of additional carbon in the atmosphere means the Earth gets hotter and that that happens faster. So one really interesting thing about this meeting, actually, is that in the last year, scientists published an incredibly detailed report on this question. And they did the math, you know, and they found that the big takeaway was that if humans cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half in the next decade, that it's possible to avoid really catastrophic warming later this century, like when today's schoolchildren are middle aged.

INSKEEP: Oh, so possible to avoid catastrophe - that sounds good. Are we on track for that?

HERSHER: That's the good news, yeah. No. No, we're not. The way these negotiations work, each country makes its own promises about reducing emissions. So right now some of the biggest and fastest-growing economies, like China and India, say that their emissions won't peak until 2030. The good news is the U.S. is within striking distance of cutting its emissions in half this decade, but that's not enough on its own. So here's one way to think about it. The big Paris Climate Agreement from 2015, it set a goal of limiting overall global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Right now we're about halfway there. And right now, if countries just do what they've already promised, we're headed toward more like 3 degrees of warming. That is too much warming. So it's a crucial moment for world leaders to really do some serious talking.

INSKEEP: What are the most contentious topics in that talk?

HERSHER: Money and money. Money is the topic.

INSKEEP: OK.

HERSHER: There are a lot of low-income countries that are suffering really big damage from climate-driven storms, from rising seas, heat waves, droughts. And their leaders are increasingly frustrated because wealthy countries, countries like the U.S. that are overwhelmingly responsible for the emissions that caused current global warming, they are not helping to pay for the damage enough. That will be a really big and contentious topic at this meeting. And relatedly, rich countries have already pledged a lot of money to poorer countries to help with this kind of thing but haven't delivered, money that would help with things like transitioning away from fossil fuels - right? - for electricity and transportation. So that will be on the table at this meeting as well.

INSKEEP: For some reason, I'm reminded of that Seinfeld bit about, you know, the difference between making the reservation and keeping the reservation. So they've made the commitments, but you're saying they need to keep the commitments. That's the key.

HERSHER: Yes. Yes.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Rebecca Hersher with the update. Thanks so much.

HERSHER: All right. Thanks.

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MARTIN: Twitter has started advertising a new monthly subscription that includes a blue check mark, which is the symbol that indicates the platform has verified a user's identity.

INSKEEP: The notice reads, power to the people. It is the first major product launch under the social media company's new owner, Elon Musk. Musk has so far gutted Twitter's workforce and also promised over the weekend to permanently suspend anybody impersonating somebody else on Twitter. Many people on Twitter have been pretending to be Elon Musk.

MARTIN: NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon is here to tell us what all these changes could mean, especially so close to the end of the midterm elections. Good morning, Raquel.

RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: All right, so explain what this subscription service really is and how much users are going to have to pay for it.

DILLON: Right now, when you see a little check mark on Twitter, it means Twitter has verified the identity of the person behind that account, that they are who they say they are. So that's how we know @rachelnpr is really you, and you're tweeting on behalf of yourself and NPR.

MARTIN: Right.

DILLON: Very soon, anyone will be able to get a verification check mark if they pay $8 a month for the Twitter Blue subscription service. It would make your tweets more visible in other users' feeds as well. Elon Musk tweeted last night that, quote, "widespread verification will democratize journalism and empower the voice of the people." However, the new verification product isn't quite ready for prime time. The New York Times reported that Twitter Blue with verification won't roll out until after Election Day.

MARTIN: OK, so you have to pay for a verified check mark. But does that do anything to decrease fraud on the platform?

DILLON: Well, people are very concerned about that, especially at this moment. I've been speaking to civil rights activists and tech watchdog groups all weekend, and they are freaked out. One of them is a former product manager at Twitter. Eddie Perez left in September, and now he's on the board of the OSET Institute, which does nonpartisan research on election technology. He said Musk's idea of Twitter as a digital public square is quaint 'cause the stakes are just much higher.

EDDIE PEREZ: A social media platform like Twitter is a landscape for information warfare. It is adversarial. We know that there are nation-state actors that are trying to distort and manipulate the platform. They're trying to spread disinformation.

DILLON: Perez says content moderation is complicated, labor intensive, and at Twitter during elections, people from other teams pitch in, so you can't just cut staffing in half and maintain the same level of service.

PEREZ: Right. Thirty-seven hundred people - I mean, that's a lot of folks, many of whom, I assume, were in the business of content moderation.

DILLON: Well, it's too soon to say what the actual effects are. But here's just one observation from Common Cause, the nonpartisan government watchdog group. I spoke to an analyst there, and she said there is a lag lately when they report disinformation to Twitter. Usually Twitter staffers are responsive so close to elections, but now they've gone dark. Twitter's head of safety and security tweeted some reassurances. He said a smaller portion of content moderation staffers lost their jobs, 15% laid off in his department, as opposed to an average of 50% organizationwide. But, you know, this is Elon Musk here, so it does get weird. Multiple news outlets are reporting that Twitter is asking some folks they laid off on Friday to come back. It just goes to show how hasty this downsizing was.

MARTIN: Yeah. NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon. Thanks, Raquel.

DILLON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.