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Morning news brief


Israel is now engaged in conflicts on three separate fronts.


They're waging war against Hamas in Gaza, they're trading rocket fire with Hezbollah in Lebanon and they've been attacked directly by Iran. Now they're facing pressure from the U.S. and other countries to avoid escalating these conflicts. How does Israel intend to handle all three of these foes at once?

MARTÍNEZ: Here to find out, we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, fair to say all three of those conflicts are linked?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Yes, A, absolutely. And it's really taken us into uncharted territory. The Hamas attack on October 7 ignited the war in Gaza. The Gaza war then prompted Hezbollah to start firing rockets into northern Israel in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians. And Iran's ongoing support for a number of proxy groups, Hezbollah in particular, led Israel to strike Iran's diplomatic compound in Syria, which in turn led to Iran's big strike over the weekend against Israel. Now, Norm Roule is a former U.S. intelligence official who spent decades focused on Iran in the Middle East. He blames this regional escalation on Iran.

NORMAN ROULE: I think more broadly what we're looking at is a collapse of deterrence against Iran. You have basically a sense of, there are no red lines that Iran is unwilling to cross. And the international community's response to this has generally been symbolic or ineffective sanctions.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, Greg, so let's break down each of these conflicts. Is Israel likely to strike back against Iran?

MYRE: Well, Israel's war cabinet has been holding multiple meetings, debating a possible response - could be anything from a direct attack on Iran in the coming days, perhaps even a covert operation that would be carried out months from now. But the signals are something is in the works, something is coming. We know U.S. and European countries are telling Israel the successful defense against this Iranian air strike was a win. Take the win in deescalate. Here's how Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute, puts it.

ALEX VATANKA: They are saying to Israel politely, probably somewhat also firmly, that, look, nobody wants a regional war. It's not just the Iranians that don't want a regional war. We, the United States, the Europeans, don't want a regional war. So go about, seek your retaliation, but do it in a manner that doesn't result in further escalation.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, the Israel-Hezbollah confrontation on Israel's northern border, bring us up to date there.

MYRE: Yeah, just yesterday, more than a dozen Israeli soldiers were wounded in a Hezbollah strike, one of the most serious strikes recently. And this is really part of a pattern where this cross-border exchange of fire heats up for a few days, and then it calms down a bit. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah appear interested in a full-scale battle. Civilians on both sides have emptied out of the regions. And these concerns have helped restrain the conflict so far, but Hezbollah does have this huge arsenal supplied by Iran. So the potential for escalation remains.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. And lastly, Gaza, where do things stand?

MYRE: Well, the war is ongoing and evolving. We're seeing mostly Israeli airstrikes. Israel has pulled out most of its ground troops. Most ground combat has stopped. But we should stress that Israel is still deeply enmeshed in Gaza with no resolution in sight. And for Israel, all three of these conflicts date back decades, but what makes this moment particularly challenging is that all three are burning at the same time.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks.

MYRE: Sure thing, A.


MARTÍNEZ: Hawaii's attorney general has released the first findings from an investigation into last year's wildfires on Maui.

FADEL: We're learning more about the timeline of how the fire killed more than 100 people and destroyed the historic town of Lahaina. It lays out the challenges first responders faced and suggests some local officials were slow to respond.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Greg Allen has been going through the 375-page report. He joins us now. Greg, that's a lot of pages to get through. Anything new in those pages?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, yes, A. This is the first phase of an investigation by the Fire Safety Research Institute. Hawaii's attorney general Anne Lopez retained the group to do the investigation. And it gives a real detailed timeline of the events that began early on August 8 of last year. It confirms information that the fire started near the Lahaina Intermediate School around 6:30 in the morning that day. You know, fire crews responded quickly, and a little after 2 p.m., they reported it was extinguished.

MARTÍNEZ: So for at least a second, the fire was out?

ALLEN: Right. Within the hour, though, it did flare up again. And it spread to the town of Lahaina, driven by high winds from a passing hurricane. The head of the Fire Safety Research Institute, Steve Kerber, who's leading the investigation, says it moved very quickly.

ALLEN: We saw spot fires at the oceanfront within about 90 minutes. Traveling over a mile in about 90 minutes is incredibly fast.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, a mile in 90 minutes. Wow. Now, what about the failure in getting people out as this fire approached? I mean, does this report address that?

ALLEN: Well, the investigators say the critique of what went wrong in the prevention and response to the fire won't come until later this year when they released their next report. But the timeline they prepared shows there were some significant failures in communication that cost lives.

MARTÍNEZ: What kind of failures?

MYRE: Well, high winds knocked out cell towers early in the day, leaving cellphones useless in Lahaina. Residents and tourists were unable to get any information that way, and it also caused major problems for first responders. Fire investigator Steve Alcona (ph) says when people tried to get out because of high winds, many roads were already blocked.

STEVE ALCONA: These winds were enough to topple utility poles, trees, rip roofs off of structures. And it created a challenge with the traffic going in and out of Lahaina.

MARTÍNEZ: What about local officials? What did that timeline lay out about how they responded?

ALLEN: Well, it does raise questions about Maui's Emergency Management Agency. Officials there seemed unaware of the severity of the fire for most of the day. They didn't send out an evacuation order for Lahaina until after 4 p.m., more than an hour after the fire had spread into the town. The agency's administrator, Herman Andaya, was at a conference on Oahu and didn't make the decision to return to Maui until late in the evening after he learned that Lahaina had been destroyed.

MARTÍNEZ: Maui's Emergency Management Agency, will there be any consequences if they're found negligent?

MYRE: Well, the fire investigators say a lot of the information about the agency's response that day is missing, and they had to use subpoenas to gather the data they did get. Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen also does not come off well in this report. He resisted suggestions that he issue an emergency declaration. He also declined offers of assistance later from Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency. He just didn't seem to understand how bad things really were. But Attorney General Anne Lopez says a critique of those actions won't happen until the investigation's next phase.


ANNE LOPEZ: The underlying foundation of this report is not to place blame on anybody. This is about never letting this happen again.

MARTÍNEZ: And any clarity yet on how the fire started?

ALLEN: Well, there are more than a thousand lawsuits that have been filed against the county and Hawaiian Electric, whose downed power lines that day may have started the fire. But examination of the cause of the fire will have to wait for a report expected to be out later this year by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, that's NPR's Greg Allen. Greg, thanks.

MARTÍNEZ: You're welcome.


FADEL: Inflation is proving more stubborn than expected so far this year.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, one reason is rising rents. The high cost of housing was one of the biggest drivers of inflation last month, but real estate experts say those official government figures are somewhat inflated.

FADEL: NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now to explain. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So the government's inflation tally shows housing costs jumped by almost 6% over the last 12 months. But I gather you're hearing a somewhat different story?

HORSLEY: That's right. If you look at what's happening right now in the rental housing market, rents are not going up that fast. The real estate company Redfin says the average rent across the country in March was just under $2,000. That's up less than 1% from a year ago. Now, of course, there's lots of regional variation. Daryl Fairweather, who's chief economist at Redfin, says the cost of keeping a roof over your head depends a lot on where you live.

DARYL FAIRWEATHER: The South is a place where a lot of people moved in during the pandemic. Think Austin, for example. But then there was a construction boom because in the South it's pretty easy to build. But in the Midwest, it's been more slow and steady.

FADEL: So it's the old adage - location, location, location.

HORSLEY: That's right. Sunbelt cities saw a big rent increase a couple of years ago. Now, thanks to the resulting building boom, rents are leveling off or even coming down a bit in that area. In the Midwest where there's been less construction, rents are still climbing. They're up about 5% over the last year. But even with that increase, rents in the Midwest are still some of the most affordable in the country, averaging a little under $1,500 a month.

Now, it's harder for the government to measure these changes in housing costs than, say, the cost of hamburger. For hamburger, you just go to the supermarket, you see what it sells for. With annual leases and so forth, housing costs don't change minute by minute or even month by month. There's sort of a lag. Over time, the official inflation data should start to reflect this slowdown in national rent increases, even though housing costs will be higher than they were before the pandemic.

FADEL: What's keeping housing prices high?

HORSLEY: Fundamentally, we haven't built enough of it. The boom in apartment construction over the last couple of years is helping. But now that rents are going up more slowly, that boom may not last. Construction figures out this week show that builders broke ground on about 40% fewer new apartments in March than they did last year at this time. We've also got lots of demand. There's a big population of people in their 20s and early 30s right now who are in their prime renting years. And a lot of people might have to keep renting longer because with these high mortgage rates, it's very expensive to buy a home right now.

FADEL: Speaking of homebuyers, what's happening with mortgage rates?

HORSLEY: They're still inching up, and that's keeping a wet blanket on the overall housing market. There had been some hope interest rates would come down a bit in time for the spring and summer homebuying season.

FADEL: Yeah.

HORSLEY: But just this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said he and his colleagues may have to keep rates higher for longer in order to be confident that inflation is under control.


JEROME POWELL: The recent data have clearly not given us greater confidence and instead indicate that it's likely to take longer than expected to achieve that confidence.

HORSLEY: Right now, financial markets are betting it will be early fall before the central bank is ready to start cutting interest rates.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: And finally today, an update on a story we brought you yesterday. We previewed the Senate impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and added that if you blinked, you might miss it.

FADEL: Turns out that was true. In a matter of hours, senators voted along party lines to dismiss the two charges against Mayorkas.

MARTÍNEZ: The House Republicans who impeached the secretary argued he is refusing to enforce immigration laws. Democrats criticized it as an inappropriate response to a policy dispute.

FADEL: Mayorkas is only the second sitting cabinet member ever to be impeached. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.