David Greene

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It's been a brutal year for Americans.

The relentless spread of COVID-19, the ensuing economic crisis and the reckoning around social injustice has made this a year like none other.

NPR wanted to know how these cataclysmic, consequential events have affected American families and how those experiences might shape their political choices in the upcoming presidential election.

Makaya McCraven calls himself a beat scientist, so it's no surprise when you ask about his childhood, you hear he was pretty much surrounded by rhythm.

"Rehearsals at our house, banging on drums since I was able to hold a drumstick, sleeping in my dad's bass drum," he recalls. "There was no front head, and a little pillow in there. And you could just kinda go in and lay down if you're small enough."

The pandemic, a bad economy, police killings and a fight for racial equality: It's a lot of take in. For some, music has been a way to cope and try to make sense of it all and that is the premise behind the Morning Edition Song Project, in which we asked musicians to write and perform an original song about this moment.

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More than 100,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19.

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U.S. officials are publicly debating whether and how to open schools this fall. The testimony of Dr. Anthony Fauci is to be careful. Conditions around September will be far from ideal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

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Is it time for states to reopen their economies? President Trump really wants it to happen. But the question is whether or not it's safe.

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People around the world are reporting that birds are much louder these days.

But Sue Anne Zollinger, an ornithologist from Manchester Metropolitan University, cautions: Don't believe everything you hear.

With the decrease in traffic, there's less noise pollution. That means birds have less noise to compete with, she says. (Scroll down to the end of this story to listen for yourself.)

Many Americans are spending a lot more time with their partners these days.

And some of those relationships are being tested by the inevitable "pressure-cooker" moments that come with weeks of being confined to the home in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

"What we're seeing is that there's a clash between the terrible anxiety about catching the virus and having to stay sequestered 24/7," says relationship therapist Julie Gottman.

So if a relationship is already on the rocks that anxiety, Gottman says, "has nowhere to go but towards the partner."

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The White House and congressional leaders say they are getting close to agreeing on a new round of coronavirus relief funding.

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During the coronavirus pandemic, many hospitals have restricted family visits because the risk of infection is just too high.

For many families, the only connection they have to a loved one in their final moments in the ICU is through a hospital chaplain.

As New York City experiences a staggering loss of life this week, Rocky Walker, a chaplain at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, has been working outside the shut doors of patient rooms. There, while on the phone or video chat with a patient's family member, he'll describe what he's seeing in the room.

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It looks like we better get used to social distancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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One trillion dollars.

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When you collapse on the couch after a long workday and start scrolling through social media, you're not doing your tired brain any favors, says author Celeste Headlee.

"Your brain sees your phone as work," she explains. "To your brain, any time that phone is visible, part of your brain is expending part of its energy on preparing for a notification to come in. It's like a runner at the starting gate."

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U.S. and Taliban officials announced a major peace deal on Saturday, but today that agreement already seems to be in jeopardy. A Taliban spokesman said today that the group could resume attacks on targets in Afghanistan immediately.

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China's National Health Commission says there are currently 58,106 active cases of the coronavirus in China.

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Rachel and I are sitting with the morning crowd at Smokey Row - really cool coffee shop in Des Moines, Iowa. Good morning, everyone.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

GREENE: We are here because in the state of Iowa, it is caucus day.

Glenn Hurst didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a doctor. But eventually, he made his way into health care, taking a job placing doctors in small towns. Traveling farm country, he says, the work moved him in ways he didn't expect.

"To see the physicians in those communities helping those people stay in their fields, helping those people's families be safe ... I decided that I wanted to be part of something rural and I wanted to be part of health care," he says.

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We're about to bring you live remarks from President Trump, who is at an Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. We'll bring those remarks to you live, and, actually, we're hearing from the president right now, so let's go to him.

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It was handwritten on a piece of hotel stationery from the Ritz-Carlton in Vienna. It said get Zelenskiy to announce that the Biden case will be investigated.

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After nearly a month of waiting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is ending her hold on the articles of impeachment.

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For more than 30 years, Harry Connick Jr. has been putting out music that evokes the legacy of Frank Sinatra and other jazz icons. Now, he's back with a new album, True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter, and an accompanying Broadway show. NPR's David Greene visited the singer in Hollywood's Capitol Studios, where Connick demonstrated a few Cole Porter classics on the piano and talked about the musician's enduring influence.

If there were ever a person stuck in a place he never wanted to be, it's Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy had been in his post for only two months when he had that infamous July 25 phone call with President Trump — during which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to help investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. For Zelenskiy, the call made what was already a delicate diplomatic situation even more complicated.

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After weeks of raucous, jubilant protests and sometimes violent attempts to quell them, there was celebration in the streets of Beirut today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

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