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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Supreme Court has adopted its first code of ethics after a series of news stories documenting sitting justices accepting lavish gifts from Republican donors.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The new ethics rules are similar to those that already apply to lower court judges, except they're missing one important feature, only someone to enforce them.

FADEL: We're joined now by Justin Elliott. He's a reporter with ProPublica, and he's been covering this story. Good morning, Justin.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Good morning.

FADEL: OK, so we're going to get into the lack of an enforcement mechanism. But first, if you could just tell us what this code of ethics actually says.

ELLIOTT: Sure. So the code itself runs about nine pages, and it covers a range of topics from when a justice has to recuse himself or herself from a case - for example, when they might have a financial stake in the outcome - to a prohibition on soliciting gifts to sort of more general principles, like the fact that a justice should not engage in political activity, although that term is not defined in the code.

FADEL: So if there isn't a way to enforce this, then why would justices follow it?

ELLIOTT: It's a good question. I mean, it's sort of the honor system. I mean, judges and other legal observers we talked to said this is significant because lower court judges for a century now have had some sort of written ethics code. So having something explicit in writing that the media and the public can look at and measure justices' conduct against is meaningful, even though, as you said, there's no actual way to enforce it that's laid out in the code.

FADEL: Now, this is all happening because of accountability reporting that ProPublica and others did on Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito failing to disclose expensive gifts from benefactors. Would something have been different if these rules existed before?

ELLIOTT: It's a good question. In some ways, no, because there is a separate federal law that this does not change that requires justices to report most gifts. And what we reported is that Justice Thomas and Alito, you know, had failed to follow that law by not disclosing these gifts. In other cases, this code could come into play. We reported, for example, that Justice Thomas was flown a few years ago to be the speaker at a fundraiser for the Koch political network of groups. So the question would be, well, this code of conduct says justices can't engage in political activity. And, you know, to a lot of people, speaking at a fundraiser for a political group would count as political activity. So then the question would be, well, who determines whether Justice Thomas violated the code? And, you know, as I mentioned, the code is silent on that question.

FADEL: OK, so the U.S. Senate continues to investigate ethical lapses on the court, and Congress could still pass ethics legislation if Democrats get their way. Does the adoption of this new code of ethics have any impact on any of those efforts?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, we're still watching what's happening at the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Democrats have been talking about issuing subpoenas to some of Justice Thomas's benefactors to try to get the full picture on gifts, and they have not said they're backing down, but we'll see what happens.

FADEL: Reporter Justin Elliot with ProPublica. Thanks, Justin.

ELLIOTT: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Israel claims it has evidence of a Hamas military compound beneath a hospital in Gaza City.

MARTÍNEZ: This comes as Israel's military says it's asking everyone at hospitals in northern Gaza to evacuate in its pursuit of Hamas. These hospitals, though, are in desperate conditions. They've essentially stopped functioning. Staff there say patients, including newborn babies, are dying because of a lack of treatment and that there's no safe way out despite evacuation orders.

FADEL: For the latest, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So what exactly is Israel saying it found underneath this hospital in Gaza City? And have you been able to independently confirm any of it?

MYRE: So Israel is saying it uncovered this Hamas compound underneath the Al-Rantisi children's hospital in Gaza City. Israel forced this hospital to evacuate over the weekend, and now it has entered it. Israel's main military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, went to the hospital, and he appears in a video showing a tunnel just outside the hospital and weapons in a room beneath the hospital. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL HAGARI: Underneath the hospital, in the basement, we found a Hamas command and control center, suicide bomb vests, grenades, AK-47 assault rifles, explosive devices, RPGs and other weapons.

MYRE: So, Leila, we can't independently confirm these details, and Hamas is saying they didn't operate there, that this is not real. But Israel says this is why it is evacuating hospitals and that it expects to find more Hamas compounds under other hospitals.

FADEL: Now, some hospitals have been evacuated, but others have not. What are the conditions in the hospitals that still have staff and patients?

MYRE: They're just absolutely desperate. The two largest hospitals in Gaza City, Al-Shifa and Al-Quds, say they've really stopped functioning as hospitals. They don't have electricity. They can't provide any real treatment. They say patients are dying from a lack of care. Al-Shifa Hospital says it has about 100 decomposing bodies in the courtyard and the morgue. And we're hearing today the hospital is planning a mass grave in the courtyard. Now, Israeli tanks are just outside Al-Shifa and other hospitals in the northern part of Gaza. There are regular firefights with Hamas militants who are also nearby. Israel says it's allowing, even encouraging, people to evacuate. But the medical staff say it's simply too dangerous, and they aren't going to abandon their patients. So it's really just a horrific situation all around.

FADEL: Now, international pressure is mounting on Israel because of these horrific conditions at the hospitals, because hospitals are in the midst of war, facing attacks - human rights groups, the World Health Organization, pointing out that international law requires that health care workers, patients who need care in the midst of war should be protected. Is this impacting Israel's calculation here as it moves forward?

MYRE: Well, outwardly, no. Israel is pressing ahead with this military campaign against Hamas, despite this growing calls internationally for a cease-fire, and Israel is even getting pressure from allies. Now, President Biden just said yesterday that hospitals must be protected, and he hopes to see less intrusive action at the hospitals. Meanwhile, many Israelis are demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu do more to win the release of some 240 hostages held by Hamas. Talks are ongoing, but there's no clear or imminent deal right now. And there have been large marches outside Netanyahu's office and home. So Netanyahu and the Israeli government are facing pressure from all directions.

FADEL: Now, the stated goal of this war is to eradicate Hamas. It's over a month into this war. What is Israel saying about that goal?

MYRE: Well, Israel's military has been able to go almost anywhere it wants to in northern Gaza, but it hasn't defeated or destroyed Hamas as it seeks to do, not by a long shot. So all that suggests that we're looking at an extended conflict, unless there can be some sort of cease-fire negotiated.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Thanks, Greg.

MYRE: Sure thing, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Climate change is affecting every part of Americans' lives, with huge impacts on the economy and people's health.

MARTÍNEZ: And now we know more about those impacts and what they hold for the future thanks to a new report out this morning. It's the federal government's latest National Climate Assessment.

FADEL: It lays out how climate change is altering our lives and who is paying the biggest price. Rebecca Hersher from NPR's Climate Desk is here with more. Good morning.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So this is the most important climate report the federal government does. The last one came out five years ago. What's new this time?

HERSHER: Well, we have a much better handle on how expensive climate change is. And the numbers here are huge. So, for example, the cost of disasters - severe hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves, droughts - they cause at least $150 billion in damage every year. That's according to the report. That is a lot of money. It's equal to the total budget of the Department of Energy every year. The report also estimates the less tangible costs, though, in our daily lives, like the mental health toll of surviving a disaster or just the cost of wildfire smoke. These are wild. The report estimates that there are billions of dollars in lost wages every year when it's too smoky for people to safely work outside.

FADEL: Billions of dollars in lost wages - who's bearing most of the cost, according to this report?

HERSHER: You know, the big one is that, you know, climate change has these unequal effects. That's what the report says. Some people do suffer more than others. So, for example, people of color in the U.S., they are disproportionately affected by heat. Temperatures are higher in neighborhoods that were subject to federal housing discrimination in the 20th century. It's also true that poor Americans are at higher risk from climate change. For example, you know, if you can't afford to run your air conditioner during a heat wave, that can be dangerous. Farm workers and construction workers, they're more likely to face deadly heat at their work. Katharine Hayhoe is one of the lead authors of the report, and this is how she puts it.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Climate change disproportionately affects those who've done the least to cause the problem.

HERSHER: Because, of course, climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, you know, mostly from burning fossil fuels like oil and gas at huge scale. But the people who are most affected by climate change usually aren't responsible for the most emissions. And one thing that this report lays out, really for the first time in a document with this much influence, is that America's fossil-fuel-powered society is profoundly unjust.

FADEL: Now, you called this report influential. Why does this one carry more weight than other assessments?

HERSHER: You know, it's because it affects things that are just in our daily lives all around us. This information is what governments use to make concrete decisions about, like, where to build houses or build a new highway or how to regulate what comes out of car tailpipes. It's really sophisticated. It's the most complete picture of how climate change affects the U.S. So it's a really big deal.

FADEL: So you mentioned a lot of problems. Do the scientists who wrote this report offer any solutions?

HERSHER: They don't prescribe specific policies, but they do lay out some facts, like addressing climate change can make the U.S. a fairer place to live. So for example, right now, if you're poor or if you're not poor but you're Black or Hispanic or Indigenous, you're more likely to live in a place with polluted air. And as we move away from fossil fuels, that means less air pollution, so two birds, one stone. But concrete policy decisions, they're really up to people with power - right? - not scientists.

FADEL: Rebecca Hersher from NPR's Climate Desk. Thanks, Rebecca.

HERSHER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.

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