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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We've reached the end of the week, and just so you know, Donald Trump has not been indicted. We'll let you know if that changes. Meanwhile, we're following plenty of news. Some of it...

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some of it...

FADEL: Some of it is from France...

INSKEEP: Go on, Leila.

FADEL: ...Where people are still protesting an increase in the retirement age.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing in French).

INSKEEP: The French government says more than 1 million people came out to protest on Thursday. Labor unions estimated 3 million trains came to a halt. The road to one airport was blockaded. Strikes at oil refineries have caused shortages at some gas stations, all after President Emmanuel Macron raised the retirement age from 62 to 64.

FADEL: For the latest, we're joined now by reporter Lisa Bryant in Paris. Hi, Lisa.

LISA BRYANT: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So, I mean, these protests have been going on for some three months now, but they've really intensified in the last few days. What's going on?

BRYANT: Well, you know, you're absolutely right. Yesterday saw one of the biggest protests over the pension reform so far. And it shows that anger remains high over President Macron's reform, which was rammed through lower house without a vote, using a special constitutional measure. And violence and vandalism are growing. Yesterday's protests saw dozens of police injured and people arrested. And people I talked to out on the streets yesterday say they'll keep protesting. They want to force Macron to repeal his reform through the street.

FADEL: Well, has Macron given any indication that he's willing to do that?

BRYANT: No, he's not. He hasn't given a - he's basically saying he shows no sign so far of giving up, even though his government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote this week by just nine votes. He spoke on television Wednesday, saying that pension reform is necessary to save this system from going broke. He says he's ready to pay the price of unpopularity, and he wants the reform to become law by year's end. He's also in his second and last term in office, so he doesn't have to worry about getting reelected. Macron also says he respects the right to peaceful protest. And Wednesday, he appeared to offer an opening to unions, but on other issues.

FADEL: So what is the opposition saying?

BRYANT: Well, the opposition says Macron isn't listening to the street and that he's scorning the voice of the people. They're looking for other ways to stop the reform becoming law, including by petitioning the Constitutional Council - that's the highest constitutional authority - or organizing a referendum. Both options could take months, and it's not at all certain that either could succeed.

FADEL: Now, you mentioned him surviving this no-confidence vote this week, but barely. And these protests aren't slowing down. So how does this end?

BRYANT: That's the million-dollar question. Nobody really knows how this will end. It's affecting France's image abroad. The strikes have briefly closed tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower, and Britain's King Charles makes his first state visit here next week. French authorities say he'll be welcomed well, but striking workers are reportedly refusing to roll out a red carpet for the monarch. And his visit coincides with another nationwide protest set for Tuesday. For example, Charles is supposed to go to Bordeaux that day, and protesters yesterday briefly set its city hall on fire. Some are worried unions are losing control of the protests and that they could turn into another chaotic yellow-vest-type movement that we saw in France a few years ago.

FADEL: That's reporter Lisa Bryant in Paris. Thanks, Lisa.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: This next story clashes with many Americans' idea of their country. It's the wealthiest nation in history, the home of scientific excellence.

INSKEEP: And also a place where life expectancy is dropping. Americans are dying younger. They die sooner than in other countries, despite higher spending on health care. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control confirm this.

FADEL: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has done a deep dive on a report that predicted this 10 years ago. Hi, Selena.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So tell us about this study.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, this was a panel of researchers brought together by the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Sciences, and they were tasked with trying to understand this. Why does living in America make you more likely to die younger than if you lived in a country like the U.K., Switzerland or Japan? In 2013, a report came out. Its title is "Shorter Lives, Poorer Health," and it made a splash.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Americans under 50 are dying earlier and live with worse health than their counterparts in over 16...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...Of a blue-ribbon panel at the National Academy of Sciences.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: ...Drags down the overall American life expectancy.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: It was full of eye-popping details like American children are less likely to live to age 5 than children in other high-income countries. It found that even Americans who don't smoke and aren't overweight have higher rates of diseases than their peers in other countries.

FADEL: But why, Selena? I mean, this is a rich country. Why? What are the conclusions of the report?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, there's no magic reason. It's actually a long list. Steven Woolf, who chaired the 2013 panel, is professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University.

STEVEN WOOLF: So Americans indeed have more caloric intake than people in other countries. We are more likely to own guns. There's higher rates of drug abuse now with the opioid epidemic.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: But there's also more car accidents and child poverty and income inequality and social isolation. To be fair, though, they didn't just list a bunch of horrible things and hang up their hats. There were plenty of things for the National Institutes of Health to research next to act on these findings.

FADEL: And did NIH act on the findings?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, the short answer is not really. Those who work in this field tell me there was a little more research, but not much, and all of the trends in the 2013 panel documented have gotten worse since the study came out. American life expectancy is now 76. That's two years shorter than it was in 2013. The pandemic obviously took a horrible toll, but other countries' life expectancy rebounded in 2021. In the U.S., it did not. In country ratings, America is lower than Slovenia and Lebanon. And this month, new studies show that U.S. maternal mortality hit a near record, and child and adolescent mortality is on the rise in America too.

FADEL: So this report makes a big splash about health and life expectancy, and then nothing's done. But it also seems kind of daunting to try to fix all of the stuff that you describe.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, it's true. It's a big-picture problem. My sources tell me, though, there's huge potential for progress here because other rich countries have cracked the code. Here's Woolf again.

WOOLF: If a Martian came down to Earth and saw this situation, it would be very intuitive that you look at other countries that have been able to solve this problem and apply the lessons learned.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: He says there are policy ideas that are working in other countries, and he says they can work in America, too.

FADEL: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. You can hear more of her reporting on life expectancy on Monday's MORNING EDITION.

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FADEL: Former President Trump holds his first campaign rally of the year tomorrow in Waco, Texas.

INSKEEP: Waco - near the site of a standoff in the 1990s. Federal law enforcement confronted an anti-government cult 30 years ago. Eighty-six people died at the Branch Davidian compound. Trump's campaign dismissed any connection with extremists, saying the site was chosen because it is close to Texas population centers - about 100 miles from Dallas, 100 miles from Austin, so Texas close.

FADEL: For more on the rally, we're joined by Jason Whitely, senior political reporter at WFAA in Dallas. Good morning, Jason.

JASON WHITELY, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's talk about the symbolism of Waco. I mean, it's not going unnoticed that Trump chose to kick off his campaign near a place that represents, for many far-right groups, government violence and overreach, right?

WHITELY: Yeah, no doubt there is symbolism. You know, 30 years ago, Steve just mentioned, just outside Waco is really where the modern-day radical right was born here in this country after that federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound. But, you know, was that the reason for the Trump campaign selecting Waco? The campaign denies it. Look, in Texas, Republicans here have never held up what happened to David Koresh and his followers as some kind of rallying cry. Trump still needs those traditional Republicans in Texas to vote for him, and there are lots of them, believe it or not, still here.

FADEL: Now, organizers are expecting 15,000 people to attend. Do you think he'll draw that kind of a crowd?

WHITELY: Leila, that's something I'm really going to be watching for tomorrow night. Fifteen thousand is about the size of the NBA arena in Dallas. I remember during the 2016 campaign, Trump did not fill that completely. I'll say this - it's more difficult to determine the attendance of people standing in an airplane hangar than it is a large venue with seats where you know exactly how many there are. And the Trump campaign has always been very sensitive to reports of how many people attend his events.

FADEL: Yeah. Now, Trump is the Republican front-runner in Texas. Does he still have the support of GOP leaders there?

WHITELY: Well, this is interesting 'cause I've been asking this question the last six months or so to lawmakers that I've talked to. The governor here, Greg Abbott, has said that he will support the Republican nominee, whomever that is. Other state leaders, all Republican, have said the same thing.

The Texas lieutenant governor - his name is Dan Patrick. He's very popular on the right. He's the only one that I've spoken with who, without hesitation, has said that he will support Donald Trump. Now, Patrick did chair Trump's campaign here in 2016 and in 2020. One other note about tomorrow's visit - a few other notable Republicans, members of Congress, told us that their schedule prevents them from attending Donald Trump's event tomorrow night. Read into that what you may.

FADEL: Interesting. Now, Texas has trended toward Democrats in recent elections, but how blue is it, really?

WHITELY: Well, Democrats like to say Texas is not a red state. It's a nonvoting state. And they're right in a sense there. Seventeen million registered voters are in Texas. That's a little more than half of the population of 30 million here, but less than half of the 17 million registered voters, about 45%, cast ballots during last November's midterm election. You know, Republicans have had a majority control in Texas in the last two decades. It has gotten harder, not easier, to vote in this state in recent years. But when it comes to choosing president, Democrats have been closing the gap every year. Trump defeated Joe Biden here, but it was by the smallest margin in years for Republicans. That said, though, the last time Texas elected a Democrat was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

FADEL: That's Jason Whitley, senior political reporter at WFAA in Dallas.

Thanks for being here, Jason.

WHITELY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.