WDET in the news

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The war in Afghanistan: Michigan experts weigh in on what could’ve been done differently

On Monday, President Joe Biden addressed the American people after the United States began evacuating Afghanistan. The Taliban now controls the country and Kabul, its capital city, for the first time since the U.S. invaded the country almost 20 years ago. Saeed Khan is a senior lecturer of Near East and Asian Studies at Wayne State University. Khan says American involvement in the region has a history of nation-building, and many Americans do not realize that the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan predates 9/11. “American involvement, to be accurate, is not just the last 20 years in Afghanistan. It actually goes back to 1979 in our efforts to fight a proxy war against the Soviet invasion there.” He thinks that the U.S. insisting the Taliban not be a part of the new government in any way was a mistake. “So here we find them without bringing the Taliban to the table earlier, understanding that they were not only going to have a seat at the table but that they were going to be dictating perhaps what was going to be on the menu, what needed to occur.”
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Flooding has become all too common in Southeast Michigan, but aging infrastructure remains the same

Across Southeast Michigan, communities are reeling from the destruction caused by severe storms over the weekend. Images of flooded basements and cars submerged in water under freeway underpasses served as a reminder of Detroit’s poorly adapted infrastructure to increased instances of environmental disasters. Bill Shuster is professor and chair of the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wayne State University. He says the storms that devastated Southeast Michigan over the weekend become more of a threat each year, but the aging infrastructure remains the same. “The burden just keeps getting larger and larger each time. It’s really about social and political will to make sure resources are available.” Shuster says fixing the state’s water infrastructure is doable from an engineering standpoint, but dependent on the resources given to communities by the government. “For any type of engineering design, we need the appropriate data to do this. This is not impossible, it’s not rocket science.” Shuster says improving infrastructure equitably in Southeast Michigan takes comprehension of its communities, and, “the way that we understand how water runs through American communities … so that we can then design the sustainability and resilience.” He says responding to climate change in infrastructure will take every aspect of environmental engineering, while arguably pulling in social work as well. “We’re training engineers for the future to take on these issues and we’re in the position of we need to pull together investment, infrastructure dollars that are guided by good data that’s translated by good contemporary engineering practice.”
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What to expect from the Biden and Putin summit

Wednesday marks the first time that President Joe Biden  met with Russian President Vladimir Putin since taking office. The summit happened in Geneva, and the discussions could set the course between the two adversaries as tensions continue to escalate between U.S. and Russia. Since Biden took office, he has significantly ramped up his rhetoric against Putin. His administration has twice imposed sanctions on Russia. In March, they sanctioned seven senior officials over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and in April, they imposed economic sanctions because of various cyberattacks. Aaron Retish is a professor of history at Wayne State University, with a specialization in Russian and Soviet history. He says while these meetings between world leaders are important, they are mostly “grand theater.” “What you want is to have two heads of state, shaking hands and speaking, that itself is important,” Retish says. “It’s actually essential in diplomatic relations to kind of show that the two are willing to be in the same room. It’s what happens behind the scenes, what happens on the sidelines that is really the most important.” 
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Wayne State University launches “holistic defense” pilot for criminal defendants

Wayne State University will implement a holistic defense partnership program in fall 2021. The program will pair social work and law students to assist clients in criminal defense offices in Detroit. The students will tackle systemic issues in the criminal justice system under the supervision of licensed attorneys and social workers. Administrators at the university believe that the holistic approach will spur criminal justice reforms and inspire change in their community. Dan Ellman is an externship professor at the Wayne State University Law School. “When people become enmeshed in the criminal justice system, they face a lot of consequences,” Ellman says. For some individuals, he explains, these consequences can include the deprivation of employment, parental rights and housing. Sheryl Kubiak is the dean of the Wayne State University School of Social Work. Kubiak says interdisciplinary partnerships are often fraught with misunderstandings about objectives. “In these offices, we hope to produce lawyers and social workers who are used to working together,” Kubiak says. Though this initiative may prove to be costly, Kubiak says it is a necessary investment to improve the livelihood of citizens. She explains, ”When you look at the unintended consequences of an individual who goes further and further into the criminal legal system, you have to think about what happened to their children, what about their lost revenue, what about the issues of family disruption, and what are those costs to our society?” 
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Rep. Tlaib on family in Palestine: “They just want to live”

Howard Lupovitch is an associate professor of history at Wayne State University and director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies. He says Israelis were trying to form a coalition government before the current conflict. ”We need to differentiate between the current Israeli government’s policies and what most Israelis actually think and feel.” He says he believes the state of Israel is necessary, but says it also created this conflict. ”Looking at both sides is very important … Zionism and the state of Israel solved a European problem and created an Asian or a Middle East problem … it was created to be not only a Jewish state but also a democratic state … both of those things are necessary.” Lupovitch says Hamas does not represent all Palestinians, and the same goes for the current Israeli leadership and citizens of Israel. ”If we could remove the Israeli right-wing extremists from this equation, the conflict could resolve itself very easily.” Saeed Khan is a lecturer of near east and Asian studies at Wayne State University. He says Palestinians are disenfranchised in multiple ways under Israeli occupation. ”Part of the way to understand what’s happening currently … is that Israel is moving farther and farther to the right.” He says with extremism from Hamas and the state of Israel, it’s becoming more difficult to resolve the conflict. ”We are finding that the space for some kind of return to negotiation is looking precarious because the [political] center is in jeopardy of no longer holding,” Khan says.
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CDC mask guidance is premature, Wayne State medical researcher says

If you’re fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask in most situations inside or outside. That’s the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which surprised regular folks and public health experts alike with the announcement last Thursday. Michigan followed suit, lifting the mask requirement for fully vaccinated people and said unvaccinated people do not need to wear one outdoors. The CDC notes people should continue to follow regulations from local governments and private entities. While some public health experts say the CDC is making the right decision, others are concerned that relaxing guidance is premature at this stage of the pandemic. Dr. Paul Kilgore is an associate professor and director of research at Wayne State University’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He says the new guidelines are premature. Kilgore cites Michigan’s current vaccination numbers. He says about 50% of the population has had at least one dose of a vaccine, and 42% are fully vaccinated. “When you look around the community or an environment — shopping, restaurant, wherever you are — you can’t assume that everyone is vaccinated,” says Kilgore. He says he has not changed his personal behaviors despite the new CDC guidelines. “Personally, I’m wearing a mask still inside the gym or if I go out shopping or to a restaurant, a grocery store, that kind of thing,” he says. Kilgore also recommends people who are either immunocompromised or around people who are immunocompromised should continue wearing masks, even if vaccinated.
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Census shows Michigan grows, still loses U.S. House seat

Michigan’s slow population growth over the past decade will cost the state a U.S. House seat, continuing a decades-long trend as job-seekers and retirees have fled to other states. The U.S. Census Bureau listed the state’s 2020 apportionment population at 10,084,442, leaving Michigan with 13 congressional seats. Michigan’s population grew for decades, from 7.8 million in 1960 to more than 9.9 million in 2000. It recorded a slight decline in the census 10 years ago, to 9.8 million. Over time, its congressional seats have been peeled off little by little by faster-growing states, mostly in the Sunbelt. “Those congressional districts are equal to political power in Washington,” said Timothy Bledsoe, professor of political science at Wayne State University in Detroit. “When it leaves Michigan and goes to Texas, it is a reflection of the loss of political power in Michigan and gain of political power that goes to Texas.” Dropping from 14 House seats to 13 also will mean the boundaries of some districts will have to change. But the job of drawing those districts will no longer be in the hands of the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.
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COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working. But some recent headlines lack context and cause confusion

COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working well in Michigan to prevent people from getting sick or dying. But some news consumers might be getting the wrong impression about how safe the vaccines really are. And many recent headlines — including from established and reputable news sources — aren’t helping. MichMash hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth discuss those headlines and why they might be misleading, and continue the conversation with Wayne State University Associate Professor of Journalism Fred Vultee, who wrote headlines for 25 years as a newspaper editor and now specializes in media framing and news practice. He noticed these headlines with concern. “I don’t want to say that this one headline is gonna make people say, ‘Bang. No vaccine.’ What this can do is maybe amplify or — ‘See, I told you so’ — or remind you that your initial idea, ‘I am scared of vaccines,’ might have been the right one to think about,” says Vultee. “We’re not going to say offhand that this media message makes people get up and walk across the room and turn off the TV. But we say that if it amplifies the wrong ideas, we’d rather have it steer in the direction of amplifying the right ideas.”    
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Wayne State University astrophysicist on why NASA’s Mars rover fascinates us

After traveling nearly 300 million miles for the last 6 months, NASA’s rover ‘Perseverance’ has landed safely on Mars. Shortly after its arrival on the Red Planet last month, it sent back its first images of the Martian atmosphere and landing site, setting off imaginations all over the country. So what does this mission mean in terms of exploring and learning about our solar system? Wayne State astrophysicist Edward Cackett explained that the arrival of the rover on the surface of Mars is reason to celebrate in itself. “There’s a small launch window of about one month every 24 months,” explains Cackett, who says that this means that NASA scientists had to prepare everything during the pandemic summer of 2020. As far as what the hope is for what the rover will uncover, Cackett says there are “a whole of firsts” in the goals of this mission. Some of the goals of the Perseverance mission include sending out a helicopter (that was sent with the rover) to test whether it’s possible for an aircraft to fly in the Martian atmosphere, collecting rock samples and sealing them in test tubes tubes that a future mission will be able to pick up and bring back to earth and an experiment that will test whether it’s possible to produce oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere, which is mostly CO2. On the topic of how far we are from sending a person to Mars, Cackett points to the Artemis program, which is to get humans back on the moon in preparation for eventually getting humans to Mars. Cackett says that the Artemis program is planning to have humans on the moon for a continued amount of time to develop a site to test advancements that would allow humans to get to Mars. Cackett says this initiative is one of the very few things that was supported by former President Donald Trump and continues to receive support under the Biden administration. 
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‘What’s new is the attention:’ Black women celebrated as ‘Backbone Of Democracy’ after 2020 election

During and after the 2020 election Black women were heralded as the, “backbone of democracy” by many Democrats. Their organizing efforts and the support they galvanized were crucial to President Joe Biden’s victory and Democrats regaining power in the U.S. Senate. Their efforts in Georgia gained national attention, but Black women also played an essential role leading up to and following Michigan’s 2020 election. Early on, the Biden Harris campaign zeroed in on the city of Detroit. Many believed President Trump’s narrowest nationwide margin of victory in 2016, was partially attributable to a depressed turnout in Wayne County—the state’s most populous and bluest county. Ronald Brown is an  Associate Professor of political science at Wayne State University and a member of Citizen Detroit, a voter education group based in Detroit. He says the role of Black women in Detroit politics blooms out of places like Black churches and other centers of religious and civiclife where women often outnumber men.  “They are the foundation in terms of mobilizing the vote and they’re the ones also…who turn out the meetings that we attend. This is a not random sample, but the meeting that I attend, it’s the same thing is like 66% women, 44% men,” said Brown. 
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DTE Energy Foundation donates over $300,000 to Wayne State’s Center for Latino and Latin-American Studies

The DTE Energy Foundation, through its partnership with the non-profit Michigan Hispanic Collaborative (MiHC), has donated $330,000 to Wayne State University’s Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies (LAS). The money will fund scholarships for underrepresented students who are a part of MiHC and students pursuing Latino Studies at Wayne State. “We’re excited because this fund will be able to continue to help students in perpetuity,  said Melissa Miranda Morse, LAS assistant director. “Last year was the first year that it was awarded last fall to students who received the award,” said Miranda Morse. “We help provide access for a student in Detroit and beyond of mostly first-generation and then help them with things like navigating the complex university environment and ultimately succeeding in college and beyond,”
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New podcast “Seizing Freedom” brings Black Americans’ Civil War stories to life

In recent months, the issue of social justice and its connection to systemic racism and oppression have led to significant shifts in our collective thinking about the ways white supremacy persists in so many aspects of American life. These important conversations have been long in the making. In addition to having frank discussions about biased policies and uprooting unconscious racism, this moment is also bringing to light the importance of narrative equity and having the kind of balance in storytelling that make audiences feel more connected to the media they consume. One new offering that is tied to this shifting media paradigm is the new podcast, “Seizing Freedom.” It takes listeners back to the lessons about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and into the work that Black Americans did to battle for and secure their own freedom. Kidada Williams is a Wayne State University professor, author and historian who studies what happened to African American survivors of racist violence. She’s also the host of the new podcast, “Seizing Freedom.” Williams says children are often not told about the role of African Americans in securing their own freedom. “If it’s not erased altogether, it’s distorted,” says Williams. “Coming up through school, we didn’t learn about Black people during the Civil War, we didn’t learn about Black people during Reconstruction,” she continues. “What was made clear to me when I raised questions was this was a White man’s war and a White man’s history of it.” She also shines light on the fact that the struggle for freedom didn’t come easy. ”Freedom isn’t something that’s given to African Americans. They had to seize it during the Civil War. And once they gained legal freedom, they had to work to make it real.”
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What it’s like to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Mustapha Al-shorbaji is a nursing student at Wayne State University. He sits in the lobby of the Campus Health Center with a black mask on, waiting to get a COVID-19 vaccine. “As soon as I was presented the opportunity, I took the first appointment I could get to come here,” says Al-shorbaji. Wayne State University began offering the vaccine to medical students and faculty with clinical rotations on January 7. That’s how Al-shorbaji found himself among the first people in the country to be given the chance to be inoculated against the coronavirus. In addition to frontline health care workers, vaccinations throughout Michigan have been given to some people in long-term care facilities, police officers, bus drivers, K-12 teachers, postal workers, people over the age of 65 and others. Eligibility varies depending on where people live, work, or go to the doctor. As of January 19, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, about 75,800 people in Michigan have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. In a state that’s estimated to have roughly 8 million people age 16 and up (according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey), that means less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated.
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The lessons other Democracies can teach our own

On this Inauguration Day, all Americans are faced with some grave questions about the past four years and where we’re headed as a nation deeply divided. So many of us are learning just how fragile democracy can be. But clearly, we’re not the first country to learn these lessons. Former Wayne State University President Irvin D. Reid has been exploring democracies in Africa, what sustains them, and what threatens them. He’s the producer and narrator of the upcoming documentary, “African Democracy: Hopes and Challenges.” He’ll be talking about his work on this subject Thursday at 6 p.m. as part of a Wayne State University virtual Knowledge on Tap event, which will be moderated by Wayne State University Irvin D. Reid Honors College Dean John Corvino. Reid says the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol represents a grave challenge for democracy here in America. But he says other countries have demonstrated ways we can work toward addressing the issues that led to the riot. “We need to have a commission after what happened two weeks ago,” he says. “Somebody has to do some sort of reconciliation, some sort of truth-telling about how did that come about.” Corvino will moderate Thursday’s event. He says it’s a timely discussion as Americans realize that a functioning democracy is not guaranteed. “We think we’re so advanced,” says Corvino. “Democracy is a fragile thing, and I think we’re realizing that now.”
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Vaccinations begin at Wayne State University

Wayne State University has begun issuing COVID-19 vaccines to medical students and faculty who work on the frontlines. The plan is to inoculate 120 people per day with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines which are being supplied by the Detroit Health Department. “Right now we have people who have been categorized as essential. Those are individuals who are actually touching patients in the hospital,” says Dr. Toni Grant, the Chief Nursing Officer at the Wayne State University Campus Health Center, where the vaccinations are taking place. Grant says these essential workers were emailed a survey to see if they were interested in receiving the vaccination. Those who said they wanted the shot and are eligible for it are being emailed specific instructions on how to schedule an appointment. These emails are coming out in batches, so some may not be able to make their appointment for a couple of weeks. Bill Fulson is a clinical nursing instructor with Wayne State who came into the Health Center to get the vaccine. He says he doesn’t feel any anxiety about receiving the vaccine. “I have no reason to feel not confident,” says Fulson. “I’ve been nursing for 40-something years. So you know when to do things and when not to do things. And this is a must-do for a medical professional.” Grant says the vaccinations are a great opportunity for the Wayne State community. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic but this is also something that none of us have ever gone through before,” she says. ”And to actually see what research and science can do in order to get us through to this particular point, it’s exciting because it’s students, faculty and staff together and able to experience it firsthand.”
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Wayne State Word Warriors present list of long-lost words to revive in 2021

What would you call someone who gives you their opinion on something about which they know… nothing? While a few expletives may come to mind, you can say this about them: They are being ultracrepidarian. That adjective — it’s also a noun — is one of ten words compiled by Wayne State University’s Word Warriors, whose mission is to revive English words that have fallen out of usage over time. Chris Williams is the assistant director for editorial services for WSU’s Office of Marketing and Communications. He’s also the chief Word Warrior. He says his team regularly sifts through words submitted by people around the world. “People who follow us on Facebook or just know of the website can submit a word,” Williams says. “We look at that word and see if it meets our criteria.” And what are the criteria? “They need to be words that have fallen out of use,” he says. “If we see that trend has gone down in the last 50 to 100 years, that’s a nice note that this a word worth recognizing.” Williams says they prefer not to highlight slang words, and they must be English. When they find one that meets the criteria, he says it’s a good feeling. “There’s almost like a little tingle,” he says. “Like, that’s a good word, I haven’t heard it before or heard it in a long time.”
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The do’s and don’ts to celebrating Thanksgiving safely in 2020

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across the country, including here in Michigan. The healthcare system is once again overwhelmed, with some hospitals nearing capacity. This fact is complicated by the impending holiday season. Families are assessing the safety of their typical celebratory gatherings and discussing how to adapt. Public health officials say these small gatherings are dangerous at this stage in the pandemic. Dr. Paul Kilgore is an associate professor and director of research at Wayne State University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He is also the principal investigator at Henry Ford Health System’s novel coronavirus vaccine trial. Kilgore spoke with Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today about how to keep safe during the holidays. “With more extended family gatherings, there’s always a risk of transmission…there is a chance that there could be someone there who is asymptomatic who could spread (COVID-19).” Do keep in mind that the virus travels differently indoors and in cooler air. “We know as people come indoors and as the proximity of individuals becomes closer, it’s much easier for the droplets… to move from one person to another,” says Kilgore. He adds, “In the wintertime with the lower humidity… the respiratory droplets can travel farther than they would in the warmer summer months when there is higher humidity.”
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Trials underway in Detroit for potential Covid antibody treatment

With the recent uptick in cases of COVID-19 in Michigan and throughout much of the country, Detroit Today’s coverage about this moment of the pandemic is a top priority. There’s reason to be at least cautiously hopeful about the recent news of potential vaccines for the virus, but there’s still a real need for continued research for alternative treatments. One such effort involves the use of convalescent blood plasma through trials being led locally by Wayne State University and Johns Hopkins researchers. Dr. James Paxton is the leader of the Detroit branch of the trial. He’s also the Director of Clinical Research for Detroit Receiving Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine, and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. He explains that convalescent blood plasma therapy is really just using antibodies found in the blood of people who have previously had COVID-19. ”Antibodies are essential to fighting any infection… and your body retains the antibodies so that it can remember how it defeated [the virus] before in case it needs to defeat it again in the future.” Paxton says that his work at the Detroit trial site involves matching processed plasma with those who need to receive it. “We think it will work,” he says of the plasma transfusion pointing to the history of this kind of medical intervention.
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Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is promising, but experts urge patience

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced this week that their vaccine trial is more than 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, based on early data. That’s far above the standard set by the Food and Drug Administration, which set the bar at 50% effectiveness for emergency use. This is the first vaccine for the novel coronavirus to exceed the mark, raising hopes that a return to relative normality could be on the horizon. Experts, while optimistic about the development, urge caution as COVID-19 cases surge across the county, and widespread distribution of any vaccine is still months away. Dr. Teena Chopra, professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Wayne State University School of Medicine says the new development in the quest for a vaccine is very encouraging. “It’s a testament to how quickly research is moving,” says Chopra of Pfizer’s vaccine trial. Manufacturing a potential vaccine will be another hurdle, something Chopra says Pfizer is already tackling. “Pfizer applied for an emergency use authorization… and claims they have started manufacturing millions of doses.” After manufacturing comes the widespread distribution of a vaccine, another challenge for pharmaceutical companies. This particular vaccine needs to be refrigerated and stored at a very cold temperature, complicating the task. According to Chopra, distribution will rely on collaboration. “We don’t just need one kind of vaccine… that’s not enough to be distributed globally. We need tons, we will look at all the vaccines… there should be heavy emphasis on the data.”
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A look at the most contentious presidential elections in history

It’s Election Day 2020 and after a long and contentious campaign, tensions are running high. It feels like the country is the most divided it has been since the Civil War. Some are worried that the current climate of political instability could jeopardize the country’s democratic process. Though this election cycle is certainly unprecedented, it isn’t the first contentious election in America’s history. What can we learn from previous fraught elections and how the country endured after them? Marc Kruman, founding director of the Center for the Study of Citizenship and professor of history, says that the current election feels very different and is different from those in recent history. “This is the most contentious presidential election of my lifetime,” says Kruman. He adds that the erosion of trust evidenced throughout this election cycle makes it a uniquely anxious event. “I think that if we are going to compare it, it would probably be to the election of 1876,” says Kruman, adding the caveat that the 1876 election was far tenser than the lead up to 2020. The current climate of division, though anxiety-inducing, may actually be necessary according to Kruman. “Contentiousness actually has led to greater voter participation and greater enthusiasm and that speaks to the health of our democracy,” says Kruman.