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What Happened: December 7, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Ukraine and the Nord Stream pipeline; Trump Media; Apple and China

The Scroll
December 07, 2021

The Big Story

Apple’s enormous growth in China was fueled by a secret $275 billion deal that CEO Tim Cook signed with the Chinese government in 2016, according to a new report from tech news site The Information. In April 2016, China, following new policies Beijing had set for online services the previous month, shut down Apple’s iTunes and blocked the company’s streaming music, film, and book services inside the country. Facing intense regulatory scrutiny, Cook personally lobbied officials in Beijing to ease restrictions by promising to train Chinese workers and develop China’s technology sector in return for getting a break from Chinese government regulators, the new report claims. At the heart of the deal, which followed Cook’s investment of $1 billion in Chinese ride-sharing app Didi Chuxing, was a 1,250-word memorandum of understanding in which Apple pledged to invest some $275 billion in China’s economy over a five-year period. In the five years since Apple signed the deal, the company has increased both its manufacturing operations in China and consumer sales to the Chinese market. This news explains how it is that, while other tech companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Linkedin have been pulling out of China or are scaling back their presence in the country due to strict regulations, Apple’s business there is booming. In the financial quarter that ended Sept. 25, the iPhone maker earned $14.6 billion in sales in greater China, an 83% increase from a year ago.

The original report at The Information is here but requires a subscription:
You can read a free summary here:

Today’s Back Pages: Trump’s Big Media Play

The Rest

→ After first giving the green light to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal that gives Russia control over Europe’s energy supply, over objections from members of Congress led by Sen. Ted Cruz, the United States is now threatening to block the deal, but only if Russia invades Ukraine. After a virtual meeting Tuesday between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Financial Times is reporting that the United States is pressuring Germany to block the pipeline deal as part of a package of potential economic sanctions aimed at Russia. It’s not clear why Germany, which favors the deal, would want to go along with this.

→Another federal judge has sided with Attorney General Alan Wilson Tuesday and blocked a mandate from the Biden administration that would require employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is now the third time that the courts have backed Wilson’s original lawsuit challenging the mandate as a violation of the Tenth Amendment and upheld an injunction blocking enforcement. The case was originally brought by officials from seven states: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, and West Virginia.
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→Amazon Web Services provides much of the invisible infrastructure that keeps the internet running, and today it faltered: Problems at the company’s U.S.-East-1 cloud region took down the web services of companies around the world. The outage started at around 10:45 a.m. ET and took down services including Coinbase, IMDB, and Disney+, as well as Amazon’s own Ring, Alexa AI assistant, and Kindle ebooks. Dozens of other major companies and web services reportedly experienced outages, slow loading, and problems connecting to Amazon’s servers. More than anything, what the episode illustrates is just how dependent the commercial web is on a single company—one that now controls something like a third of all cloud infrastructure across the world.

→It was not the finest moment for White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, whose snide response on Monday to a question from a reporter about why COVID-19 tests seem to be cheaper and more readily available in other countries was to ask, “Should we just send one to every American?” Well, yes, that would be a good idea, thanks, and it’s one that other countries have been more than capable of pulling off. As Boston Globe reporter Matt Karolian pointed out on Twitter, “In the UK you can order 1 pack (containing 7 tests) every day.”

→Council on American-Islamic Relations San Francisco Executive Director Zahra Billoo played all the hits of the delusional anti-Jewish worldview known as anti-Zionism in a speech to the annual convention for the American Muslims for Palestine. “Zionist synagogues, the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel, and other Jewish organizations are enemies who are part of a conspiracy behind Islamaphobia, American police brutality, and U.S. border control,” Billoo told the audience, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post that picked up on reporting originally published at the Israel Advocacy site Israellycool. A former board member of The Women’s March before she was kicked out for antisemitic tweets, Billoo included in her speech the myth that Israel trains U.S. police forces to “kill unarmed Black men, women and children,” among other conspiratorial canards.
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→Tuesday marked the 80th anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. The United States was technically a neutral country at the time of the attack, but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, following an address to Congress in which he uttered the memorable line that Dec. 7 was “a date which will live in infamy,” declared war on Japan the following day. The attack involved more than 350 Japanese airplanes, sunk eight battleships, destroyed 88 U.S. planes, and killed more than 2,400 people on and around the base.

→The mental wear of the pandemic and related lockdown policies is being felt most acutely by the members of Gen Z between the ages of 13 and 24. Published on Monday, a poll of 3,764 people between ages 13 and 56 from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research with funding from MTV found that roughly 45% of Gen Z respondents said that maintaining ties with their friends had gotten harder, while 40% said the same about their romantic relationships. Fewer Americans in older age groups reported the same difficulties, and they were less likely to say that the pandemic had disrupted their education or careers, according to the survey. “Uncertainty about the pandemic and fear of infection are among the top sources of stress for this generation,” according to the study.
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What a performance by the actor Jussie Smollett, whose commitment to never breaking character was on full view on Tuesday as he kept up his act as a righteous victim of racial injustice by reprimanding the prosecutor: “Can you spell or say the N-word out of respect for every African American in this room? You’ve been saying that word a lot.” The offending epithet was, in fact, being quoted aloud from Smollett’s Instagram messages. “I don’t intend to do that sir … You can read your messages aloud,” the prosecutor responded.

The Back Pages

backpages Trump’s Big Media Play

There’s a temptation to downplay the announcement Tuesday that Sen. Devin Nunes is leaving Congress to become the CEO of a new media company headed by ex-president Donald Trump. There have been numerous right-wing media and social media companies launched in the past year that were obvious cash grabs or publicity spectacles, and there are plenty of people who see the new Trump venture, Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG)—which includes a social media platform called “TRUTH”—in that vein, but my sense is that it’s something different and worth taking seriously.

For one thing, the venture announced a distribution partnership with the new media company Rumble, which hasn’t been on the scene long but has already made an impact. Rumble is a YouTube-like streaming video service, but unlike the Google-owned YouTube, it has positioned itself as a free-speech haven, inviting in iconoclastic journalists such as Glenn Greenwald. The reward has been rapid growth over the past year. That gives the Trump company both a built-in infrastructure and potentially some crossover audience that could move it out of the ideological ghetto.

Then there is the historic weakness and vulnerability of the establishment media, which has primed the market for outside challengers. The outrage and hysteria generated by new independent publishing platforms such as Substack is a direct reflection of the weakness of the traditional media, which tends to respond to new challengers by denouncing them as fascists, appealing to the government to regulate them out of existence, or both.

But media profits have tanked over the past year as ratings and readerships have collapsed without the 24/7 drama of the Trump presidency. Now you have Trump himself, the guy who was driving those ratings, returning to the field. Complications will abound, especially if he chooses to run for president again in 2024, but it’s hard to see how the Trump name alone doesn’t at least provide an initial user base that could threaten more established media players.

Of course, it’s possible this really is just a money play. The TMTG special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC—which Trump established in October for the purpose of launching his new media company to “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech”—announced over the weekend that it had raised $1 billion in capital from an unnamed “diverse group of institutional investors.” Then, on Monday, the company disclosed that it’s being looked into by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it seems unlikely that money would be the motivation for Nunes, who certainly has easier ways to cash in as an ex-senator, such as by going into the lobbying world. Nunes was instrumental in revealing the Russiagate hoax, so maybe it’s only fitting that the same person who helped destroy the media’s credibility by exposing its complicity is now coming to try and take its place.

Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to [email protected].

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel and Park MacDougald.

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