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The Morning Dispatch: Is TikTok Running Out of Time?
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The Morning Dispatch: Is TikTok Running Out of Time?

Plus, an analysis of the Supreme Court term.

Happy Wednesday! Your Morning Dispatchers have never related to anything more than Kanye West making a big pronouncement (that he was running for president), finding out actual work was involved (gathering enough signatures to qualify for state ballots), and immediately giving up (announcing, via a spokesman, that “he’s out” of the race).

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Tuesday night, 3,431,574 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 68,518 from yesterday) and 136,466 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 861 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 41,764,557 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (761,681 conducted since yesterday), 8.2 percent have come back positive.

  • A study run by the National Institutes of Health found that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine “induced anti–SARS-CoV-2 immune responses in all participants, and no trial-limiting safety concerns were identified.” Moderna plans to begin a Phase 3 trial with 30,000 patients on July 27.

  • Following a lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT, the Trump administration reversed itself on a recently announced rule that would have required international students on visas to leave the country if their schools offered only online courses in the fall.

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital yesterday morning “for treatment of a possible infection.” A Supreme Court spokeswoman said Ginsburg is “resting comfortably and will stay in the hospital for a few days to receive intravenous antibiotic treatment.”

  • The British government announced on Tuesday that the U.K. will reverse course and ban Huawei equipment from the country’s 5G wireless network.

  • Jeff Sessions—longtime Republican senator from Alabama, early Donald Trump endorser, and erstwhile attorney general—was defeated in his quest to regain his senate seat by former college football coach Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville, who Trump backed in the primary, will face Democratic incumbent Doug Jones in November.

  • Joe Biden signaled openness to the elimination of the Senate filibuster if he is elected in November, which would allow legislation to pass through the chamber with a simple majority vote. “I think it’s gonna depend on how obstreperous [senate Republicans] become,” he said. The decision, ultimately, would have to be made by a simple majority of senators.

  • Biden also unveiled a $2 trillion plan to expand clean energy and revitalize the country’s infrastructure on Tuesday. The plan will “mobilize millions of jobs by building sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future,” Biden claimed.

  • Rep. Steve Watkins, a Republican freshman from Kansas, was charged on Tuesday with three felonies: Voting without being qualified, knowingly marking/transmitting more than one advance ballot, and interfering with law enforcement.

  • Death row inmate Daniel Lee Lewis was administered a lethal injection of pentobarbital yesterday morning, marking the first federal execution since 2003.

  • Two weeks after the Chinese government’s new national security law targeting dissent in Hong Kong went into effect, President Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Sanctions Act, which will impose sanctions on Chinese officials and companies complicit in the crackdown on dissent within the formerly autonomous region.

TikTok: Chinese Tech May Be Running Out of Time in the U.S.

Tensions between China and the U.S. have grown following military movement in the South China Sea, several rounds of a trade war, and, most recently, mounting evidence that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) malpractice and dishonesty in dealing with the COVID-19 virus—which likely originated in Wuhan—contributed significantly to its global spread.

One of the Trump administration’s justifications for its trade war with China has been forced technology transfer: The process by which “a domestic government forces foreign businesses to share their tech in exchange for market access.” The two countries struck a preliminary deal back in January that would theoretically limit this practice, but to quote Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, “Life, uh, finds a way.” China’s mercantilist economy means that most major Chinese companies answer—in one way or another—to the CCP. And U.S. officials have long raised a number of alarms regarding Chinese information technology and social media companies, citing concerns they might spread propaganda or steal Americans intellectual property.

The full extent to which the CCP has weaponized its control over Chinese companies remains ambiguous, but many in the West aren’t waiting for metaphysical certitude. President Trump signed an executive order in May 2019 essentially preventing Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei—a major Chinese telecommunications company that’s been widely accused of stealing intellectual property from Western companies and engaging in illegal surveillance at the behest of the CCP—from doing business in the United States. Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially reversed course and banned Huawei from helping to build the U.K.’s new 5G wireless network.

Many national security experts applauded the move, citing the Chinese government’s control over its multinational corporations as reason to restrict their presence in the West. “Huawei has no ability to prevent the Communist Party from taking part in its business activities,” said Zack Cooper, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “Most large businesses in China have a Communist Party cell within them. It’s mandated. And the cell is somewhat powerful, although it changes depending on the specific company.”

“Very glad to see our closest ally move to secure their telecommunications networks,” Sen. Marco Rubio—chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee—said Tuesday.

Huawei isn’t the only Chinese company that has come under scrutiny of late. The United States military banned TikTok—a Chinese social media app that has become increasingly popular with American high schoolers (and Steve, of course)—back in January, and major American companies are beginning to follow suit. Wells Fargo told its employees to delete the app from company devices on Monday. Amazon briefly did the same last Friday, but backtracked a few hours later saying the message was sent to employees “in error.”

The idea of a national TikTok ban—akin to the one on Huawei—has been floated by U.S. policymakers in recent days. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Laura Ingraham last week the Trump administration is “certainly looking at” a blanket prohibition of the app, a sentiment that President Trump echoed in an interview the next day. “TikTok is a massive data mine for the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Ben Sasse told The Dispatch yesterday. “There’s nothing private about the Chinese private sector—companies are required to give data to the government and TikTok is just another data mining operation for Chairman Xi.”

A November report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to be working closely with the CCP to spread propaganda regarding China’s human rights abuses of the Uighur minority in its Xinjiang province. The social media app has had to apologize to users for deleting videos critical of the CCP, even when the videos are posted in countries like the U.S.

TikTok hired Kevin Mayer—formerly head of streaming at Disney—in mid-May as CEO, ostensibly looking to further fence off its American operations from ByteDance’s other products and companies in China. The move didn’t necessarily appease lawmakers, though.

We will likely see more restrictions imposed by Western liberal democracies on Chinese companies like Huawei and TikTok as the distance between China and the West continues to grow. Recent reports of an economic and military partnership between China and Iran exacerbate the U.S.-China tensions.

Takeaways From the SCOTUS Term

The first full Supreme Court term featuring both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh is in the books. For some conservatives who entered the year with a lengthy judicial wish list, it was a more frustrating term than expected, with the court seeming to favor the “progressive” cause in several high-profile cases. Sen. Josh Hawley is a bombastic orator, but plenty of social conservatives nodded along when he decried the court’s decision in Bostock to extend Title VII protections to gay and transgender Americans as “the end of the conservative legal movement.”

For Hawley and others, the story of the term was frustrated expectations. The replacement of Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh did not bring about the conservative stranglehold on the court that was supposed to be a primary payoff of the Trump presidency. Instead, Chief Justice John Roberts slid into Kennedy’s old role as the court’s powerful swing vote, creating a new court alignment whose philosophical contours were a little trickier to grasp.

Over at the site today, Sarah’s written a piece looking back over the term in order to sketch out those contours. If legal conservatism prizes process over outcome, she contends that the term wasn’t as disappointing for conservatives as the headlines made it seem. The biggest winner was religious liberty, which the court took steps to protect in several key opinions while signaling that more of the same may be coming down the road. Even Bostock showed that textualism will remain a force to be reckoned with at the court for years to come:

The majority opinion written by Justice Gorsuch claimed the mantle of textualism, the dissent by Justice Alito argued that originalism ought to win the day, and the other dissent by Kavanaugh argued that a better form of textualism existed. Regardless of outcome, a court that is only arguing over which method of conservative interpretation to apply would surely be a victory in process.

That isn’t to say there weren’t reasons for liberals to smile this term too. Beyond Bostock, the court surprisingly opted not to take up a number of pending gun rights cases that might have expanded the reach of Heller, a key second amendment decision from 2008. And it leaned into the doctrine of “severability”—the notion that the court can simply carve unconstitutional chunks out of statutes rather than throwing them out whole—in a case involving the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which bodes well for the Affordable Care Act to survive yet another legal challenge in the fall.

On the process side, it’s becoming clear that textualism isn’t just a conservative tool anymore: “Time and again, Justice Kagan in particular has shown a knack for using conservative interpretative methods like textualism while reaching progressive outcomes.” 

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for The New Republic, Ari Schulman looks at the claim that Trumpian Republicans reject scientific authority. The right has slowly adopted a class of alternative experts to legitimize their positioning on the outside of the current scientific establishment, Schulman argues, and dishonest and misleading statements from mainstream public health officials at the start of the coronavirus outbreak made it easier for them to do so. “Where trust declines, debunkers abound,” he writes. And the mobilization of science toward political ends while claiming neutrality also results in a justified sense of skepticism from conservatives: “The perverse result of passing a political judgment off as a neutral interpretation of expertise is that it actually undermines the legitimacy of the judgment and damages the credibility of the experts.”

  • Margaret Sullivan’s latest piece in The Atlantic grieves the recent decline of local news across the country. “The framers of the Constitution understood just how important local news would be to the success of their ambitious American experiment,” she writes, citing Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 84. She cites a study that found citizens in areas without a strong local news presence are “less likely to vote, less politically informed, and less likely to run for office.”

  • A little more than a month after James Bennett resigned his post as New York Times opinion editor over the Tom Cotton op-ed saga, opinion columnist Bari Weiss is stepping down from the paper because of what she deems its “illiberal environment.” Weiss published her resignation letter, and took aim at her former employer. “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions,” she writes. “I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • When David French was president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 2005, he wrote a letter defending former Columbia student Bari Weiss, who came under fire for challenging the anti-Semitic remarks of some her professors. Fast forward 15 years. Weiss announced her resignation from the New York Times on Twitter yesterday, citing the paper’s acquiescence to bullying, toxic culture, and abandonment of editorial diversity. David wrote his French Press (🔒)about her resignation, reminding us that cancel culture “will continue so long as good men and women continue to praise courage in private and maintain silence in public.”

  • With Jonah traipsing about in the Alaskan wilderness, David took over hosting duties to welcome David Bahnsen back to the Remnant. David and David talk COVID, policy, and faith. After a jab at Jonah—will he really write a book on Bigfoot erotica?—the Davids discuss team good vs. team lesser evil, noting that while Scripture anticipated the Assyrians, it didn’t predict Hillary Clinton.

  • What are the real statistics surrounding black vs. white violence and police shootings? Viral memes offer one answer, but the Dispatch Fact Check reminds us that FBI data say otherwise.

Let Us Know

We all make tradeoffs with our privacy in order to function in everyday life, to the point that many of us have simply thrown up our hands and accepted that our internet history, location, etc. is probably in a million different government and corporate databases at this point. How seriously do you take your online privacy? Does it make a difference to you whether your data is being schlepped off to American companies or Chinese ones?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images.