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The Morning Dispatch: TikTok Partners with Oracle
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The Morning Dispatch: TikTok Partners with Oracle

Plus, the NFL is back. Can it last?

Happy Tuesday! Today is both National Double Cheeseburger Day and National Felt Hat Day. Celebrate responsibly—and stylishly. And then join us for Dispatch Live at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT. RSVP here if you haven’t already.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 33,880 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 4.3 percent of the 783,827 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 426 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 194,467.

  • Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party selected Yoshihide Suga, retiring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s chief cabinet minister, as its new leader. He will almost certainly be elected prime minister by the parliament later this week.

  • The Centers for Disease Control published a report observing the transmission of COVID-19 from young children to adults in childcare settings in Utah.

  • Terry Branstad, former Iowa governor and current ambassador to China, is planning to leave his post in early October to aid President Trump’s re-election campaign. 

  • Astronomers have detected clouds of phosphine gas on Venus, which is not produced by any known chemical process on that planet—potentially a sign of extraterrestrial microorganisms.

  • In a show of protest against state-sponsored forced labor in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Regions, the Department of Homeland Security announced a ban on Xinjiang-sourced cotton, hair products, computer components, and apparel. 

  • The Justice Department’s internal watchdog may pursue an investigation into the department’s lighter sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone—a Republican strategist and longtime political ally of the president who was convicted of witness tampering, obstruction, and lying to Congress under oath.

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Green Party’s presidential ticket—Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker—is ineligible to appear on the state’s ballots this fall due to a filing error.

  • Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader allegedly poisoned by the Russian government, said Tuesday that his recovery has reached the point where he no longer needs mechanical assistance breathing. Navalny is being treated in Berlin, where officials say there is “unequivocal proof” his health issues were brought on by a nerve agent. Steven Hall, the former CIA chief of Russia operations, told NPR that “There’s no doubt whatsoever” that the Russian government was behind the poisoning.

TikTok’s Bidding Wars

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Monday that the White House will review Oracle’s proposed partnership with TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing platform that has raised national security concerns in recent months because of its ties to the nation’s ruling Communist Party. The deal concludes nearly six weeks of negotiations over the app, and took place just days before the White House’s September 20 deadline—issued via Trump’s August 6 executive order—which required ByteDance Ltd., TikTok’s China-based parent company, to sell the app under threat of complete shutdown in the United States. 

But the Oracle deal will take the form of a partnership rather than an outright acquisition, which tech policy experts warn is a clear attempt on behalf of the Chinese government to retain residual control over the app while the social media platform continues to operate in the United States. TikTok’s decision to partner with Oracle comes just two weeks after the Chinese government issued a new export control order prohibiting Chinese companies from selling technology to foreign buyers without express permission from Beijing.

Mnuchin confirmed yesterday the White House received a proposal over the weekend for Oracle to act as “the trusted technology partner” with TikTok moving forward. “There’s also a commitment to create TikTok Global as a U.S.-headquartered company with 20,000 new jobs,” he explained in an interview with CNBC. Mnuchin also said the deal will soon undergo review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) and then the president.

Skeptics warn that any deal permitting a continued partnership with ByteDance Ltd. or Beijing should be a nonstarter for the Trump administration. “I think that what we’re seeing right now is that the Chinese government scuttled the prospect of an outright sale to a U.S. company,” said Klon Kitchen, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Technology Policy, “because the Chinese government does not want to set the precedent of being forced to sell a marquee company to an American company.” Most of the details surrounding the partnership proposal remain unknown to the public, but the fact that it’s not an outright purchase seems to defeat the entire purpose of the deal in the first place, especially if Beijing maintains control over the app’s algorithm.

The Trump administration has pushed for TikTok’s sale for months, citing national security concerns that the Chinese Communist Party uses the app to harvest Americans’ personal data. “By law, the Chinese government has access to any and all data that is collected or processed by TikTok,” Kitchen explained. A cursory scroll through TikTok’s terms of service shows the company collects users’ GPS positions, contacts, and even online viewing and purchasing habits. It’s worth noting that TikTok—which currently boasts more than 100 million users in the U.S.—is just the American version of a Chinese app, meaning all of the application development takes place on Chinese soil.

Microsoft—in partnership with Walmart—also made a bid for the app, and one that would have alleviated these national security concerns by removing all American TikTok operations from Europe and Asia and completely severing ties with ByteDance. “We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” Microsoft said in a statement on Sunday after ByteDance rejected their offer. “To do this, we would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation, and we made these principles clear in our August statement.” Unlike Microsoft—which owns social networking site LinkedIn—Oracle has no experience in the social media space.

Oracle does, however, have several ties to the Trump administration. Company co-founder Larry Ellison hosted a fundraiser for Trump at his own house in February, and CEO Safra Catz was an executive member of the president’s transition team in 2016. Trump hasn’t been shy about his affinity for the tech giant. “Well I think Oracle is a great company and I think its owner is a tremendous guy, a tremendous person,” Trump said in August when asked about a potential TikTok deal with the company. “I think that Oracle would be certainly somebody that could handle it.”

Kitchen warned the Oracle deal may not be approved by the White House if it doesn’t fully relinquish the Chinese government’s stake in the company. “Anything short of what Microsoft was describing as the way forward just isn’t workable from the U.S.’ perspective.”

Football Returns

When the coronavirus first shut down sports—and, well, everything—back in March, the NFL seemed to be the league least affected by the stoppage. While the MLB season was just days from starting its season and the NBA and NHL playoffs were weeks away, the NFL was coasting, a month into its offseason following the Kansas City Chiefs’ February Super Bowl win. Sure, there were some transactional festivities on the calendar—the annual free agency period and the draft—but those could be shifted online. And they were; for the most part going off without a hitch.

But while the NFL had more time than other leagues to formulate a pandemic plan, that plan was ultimately going to have to be applied to a sport that, on the surface, seemed most likely to have difficulties with COVID-19. NBA and NHL roster sizes are small enough that a “bubble” approach was within the realm of possibility, and social distancing is all but built into the game of baseball. Football—with 32 teams of 53 players spread across the country that spend most of each game breathing in each others’ faces or tackling each other—seemed doomed.

Yet life finds a way. The NFL just completed its first slate of games last night after, miraculously, not a single player or coach tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday morning. From August 30 to September 5, the NFL administered 44,510 tests to 8,349 players and team personnel. One player and seven team officials (a combined 0.017 percent) tested positive.

Declan watched about 15 hours of football this week to, uh, prepare for this TMD update, and—aside from Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform—the games seemed normal, despite the season being anything but. The league, however, has instituted a plethora of changes behind the scenes in order for the product on Sundays (and Mondays, and Thursdays, and sometimes Saturdays) to maintain its ordinariness.

Perhaps the biggest shift, as we mentioned yesterday, is the lack of fans. Only a handful of stadiums are allowing non-team personnel on the premises, at least in the season’s early going. In their stead, broadcasts are piping in amalgamations of recorded crowd noise from the past four seasons, specific to each home team. Television ratings were down year-over-year for both Thursday and Sunday night’s primetime games, but Fox’s Sunday afternoon “Game of the Week” (between the Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints) drew its largest viewership since 2016.

Per an agreement between the league and the NFLPA, players had until August 6 to opt out of the season for coronavirus-related reasons. Sixty-six took the league up on its offer: A $350,000 salary if opting out because they are considered “high risk” for COVID-19, $150,000 if for any other reason. For the hundreds of players who forged ahead, strict health and safety protocols awaited.

Each team’s four customary preseason games were canceled, and team facilities have been rearranged so as to maximize social distancing. Most organized team activities (OTAs) over the summer shifted to Zoom, and larger team meetings are now required to be virtual unless they can be held “outdoors with participants sitting apart from one another and wearing masks.” Masks are mandated indoors, and players and coaches will receive PCR virus testing—managed by BioReference Laboratories—every day, save game day. A player testing positive will be sent home immediately and ineligible to return to the team until 10 days have passed since COVID symptoms first appeared (or since the first positive test if asymptomatic) and approval by the team’s physician.

As MLB has already seen with the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, one or two players breaking protocols can endanger an entire team. NFL squads are about 90 percent bigger than baseball ones; there’s ample opportunity for an accidental contraction or poor decision to spiral out of control. But it hasn’t happened yet, and football fans are sleeping a little easier knowing the odds that someone—anyone—will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa Bay on February 7 are creeping back up.

Worth Your Time

  • In many portions of the country, this week will feature the final post-7 p.m. sunset until March 2021. In a piece for Time Magazine, Orrin Hatch—who served as a Republican senator from Utah from 1977 to 2019—argues Congress should make Daylight Saving Time permanent. “Each year, we see higher rates of depression associated with less exposure to sunlight; higher energy consumption across the country; higher traffic fatalities with more Americans driving in the dark; higher incidence of crime; and a steep decline in retail sales with fewer consumers willing to shop at night,” he writes. “Why would we change our clocks this November knowing it will only make the situation worse? Here’s a radical idea: Maybe we shouldn’t.”

  • BuzzFeed News scooped a 6,600-word memo by former Facebook employee Sophie Zhang, written after she was fired from the company. In it, she describes her role monitoring fake political accounts as a data scientist for Facebook’s Site Integrity Team, outlining a worldwide problem of false or misleading posts often made by bots, connected to politicians and political parties from Ukraine to Honduras. “In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook,” Zhang wrote, “I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions.” As the three BuzzFeed reporters who collaborated on the piece write, the memo tells “the story of a junior employee wielding extraordinary moderation powers that affected millions of people without any real institutional support, and the personal torment that followed.” Zhang describes sleepless nights and crushing guilt caused by watching countries descend into corruption and instability, and thinking that her own decisions played a part in the chaos.

  • “Progress hides itself,” which is why Reason Magazine’s Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy of HumanProgress.org wrote a book to draw attention to humankind’s many under-reported and ignored achievements of the past few centuries. In Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know, the two analyze the many long term positive trends that began with the Enlightenment and have rapidly accelerated into modern day, despite the increasingly dismal national news cycle. From forest expansion to rising living standards across the globe, people are generally safer and more prosperous than ever before in human history. Check out this preview by Reason for a pick-me-up.

Something Fun

A few weeks back, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl found himself locked in an internet drum battle with 10-year-old musician Nandi Bushell. Yesterday, he wrote a song about her, challenging her to round two.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On Monday’s campaign update episode, our Advisory Opinions podcast hosts discuss both candidates’ August fundraising efforts, Trump’s surprising lead with Hispanic voters, and the usefulness of yard signs, door knocking, and phone banking to a campaign’s overall success. Stick around for a discussion about the newest additions to Trump’s Supreme Court list and a deep dive into David’s French Press on the use and abuse of critical race theory.

  • Did former acting director of the FBI Andy McCabe and his wife accept a political donation of $700,000 from Hillary Clinton while she was under investigation by the Bureau for her private email server, per Trump’s recent tweet? The answer, according to Alec, is a flat no. Though Dr. Jill McCabe did indeed accept campaign money from organizations associated with Clinton ally Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the donations were neither illegal nor made during McCabe’s tenure as FBI director. Look to the latest Dispatch Fact Check for more details.

  • In the latest installment of our “Biden Agenda” series, Ramesh Ponnuru writes about how abortion policy could change under a President Biden, and suggests there could be sweeping changes if the Democrats control Congress He’s particularly concerned about the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions. “Pro-life researcher Michael J. New has concluded that the amendment saves 60,000 lives a year. If such findings are in the ballpark of the truth, it follows that in the years since Roe v. Wade, no public policy has been more effective than the Hyde Amendment in reducing the number of abortions.”

  • Audrey goes back down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, this time looking at what it is about theories like QAnon and 9/11 trutherism that draws people in. Researchers suggest that, “Conspiracy theories therefore become a vehicle through which people who feel they have lost a sense of control in their lives can channel their fear and uncertainty of the future into something productive.”

Let Us Know

We have a feeling this could get contentious. Extending Daylight Saving Time: brilliant antidote to all that ails us, or an unnecessary break from a century-long tradition?

Plus: Any Dispatch Live discussion topic requests for tonight’s session?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

The Dispatch Staff's Headshot

The Dispatch Staff