Spies Like Us
TikTok on The Clock, and Could You Land a Plane?
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: when they come for us, they’ll be performing short, comedic, lip-synched dance videos. Today, "in a rare bipartisan effort to reign in the power of a major social media platform, Republican and Democratic lawmakers pressed [Tik Tok CEO] Shou Zi Chew on a host of topics, ranging from TikTok’s content moderation practices, how the company plans to secure American data from Beijing, and its spying on journalists." The questioning focused on the Chinese ownership of the social network, but Congress hammered Chew about everything from Covid misinformation to suicides. Florida Rep Gus Bilirakis said of TikTok: "Your technology is literally leading to death."
My kids use TikTok. I have a DJI drone. And our family has a Volvo and Polestar, each of which are subsidiaries of Geely Auto, a Chinese company. At this point, I could probably be labeled as a Chinese spy. As I wrote in my book, Please Scream Inside Your Heart, two friends of mine, one at the CIA, one at the Pentagon, have advised me (and the rest of you) to delete TikTok. So I don’t want to position the concerns about TikTok as an extreme position. Having a Chinese-owned social media app embedding itself into our lives is not without risk. But it’s worth noting that the things we fear from Chinese software companies—privacy invasions, data selling, democracy disruptions—are things that American social media companies have already been doing with our full cooperation. So what to make of today's session? One irony is that Congress is holding these hearings for the same reason my 14 year-old daughter makes TikToks. They want to go viral.
+ Ian Bremmer on the pros and cons. Should the US ban TikTok?
+ 9 questions about the threats to ban TikTok, answered.
+ Vox: Is TikTok too big to ban? (I seriously doubt Congress could even ban just my two kids from TikTok. But I welcome any efforts to give it shot.)
2. Deposit Slip
"The fact that six weeks ago almost no one was talking about banks’ balance sheets, let alone bank runs, and today everyone is making it seem as though this crisis came out of nowhere. But its true origins go back almost exactly three years, to spring 2020. The banking system’s current woes are in a real sense a product of the pandemic." A very clear and interesting analysis of our current bank woes from James Surowiecki in The Atlantic.: What Really Broke the Banks. (Spoiler Alert: They had too much money.)
3. Nation State of Mind
"At this point, close to 30 U.S. cities have signed some sort of acknowledgement of Kailasa. The plan, in a basic sense, relies on the fact that most cities and government entities are pretty liberal in handing out proclamations, and Kailasa happily promotes its victories on social media. In 2021, the mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, signed a proclamation establishing a Kailasa Day on January 3, 2022 — with text of the letter written largely by the group itself. 'More often than not, requests are accommodated,' said Elaina Pevide, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. 'We probably do one to two dozen a month.'" NY Mag: How a Fake Hindu Nation Scammed Its Way Across America. "Newark was only the latest victim of the followers of a charismatic guru on the run from rape charges."
4. And Don't Call Me Shirley
"Picture this: You are on a flight when you learn that the pilots have fallen ill and can no longer fly the plane. A voice comes over the public address system, asking for a volunteer to help land the aircraft. You have no experience, but you have seen 'Airplane!' and 'Snakes on a Plane.' Maybe you’ve frittered away hours on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. You throw off your seat belt and march toward the cockpit, your cape rustling behind you. Hold on, hero. You might want to return to your seat for this reality check. There is a zero percent chance of someone pulling that off." WaPo (Gift Article): Think you could land a plane in an emergency? Here’s why you can’t. (If I heard a voice asking for volunteers to land the plane, I wouldn't even be able to stop shaking long enough to return my tray table to the upright position.)
5. Extra, Extra
From Enablers to Accomplices: "The New York District Attorney's office investigating former President Donald Trump called Republican requests for its documents and testimony 'an unprecedent inquiry into a pending local prosecution.'" Meanwhile, as WaPo reports, as the indictment looms, Trump criticizes calls for peace. These calls for violence and attacks on the legal system are reasons why he must be arrested.
+ Michelangelo Point: "For decades, reproductive rights groups have warily eyed so-called crisis pregnancy centers that often have the appearance of abortion clinics but in reality push women toward parenting or adoption. These centers also typically discourage the use of contraceptives." Florida Legislators Want to Vastly Expand State Funds for Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers. Also in Florida, DeSantis to expand ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law to all grades. Also in Florida, the "principal of Florida’s Tallahassee Classical School is out of a job after parents complained that their sixth-grade children were shown Michelangelo’s 16th century 'David' sculpture, with one parent calling it 'pornographic.'" Florida has chosen being nuts over seeing them.
+ Can't Stop, Won't Stop? "The US Federal Trade Commission is proposing a formal ban on subscriptions that are simple to start but difficult to stop ... That includes letting people use the same method for both actions — so a business can’t, for instance, let someone sign up for a service online but make them call a phone number to cancel."
+ Livin La Vida Loca: "At some point, the cartels began paying these low-level contractors in drugs. Many began selling that cocaine or turning it into cheap crack, creating local demand." WaPo: Costa Rica, laid-back land of ‘pura vida,’ succumbing to drug violence.
+ Unbreak My Heart: "We know that break-ups hurt. We want to support our young people to deal with the hurt and know that there is a way through without harming themselves or others." New Zealand is spending $4 million on a Love Better campaign to help teens deal with breakups. (In America, we generally just prescribe a Phoebe Bridgers playlist.)
6. Bottom of the News
"The mysterious reactivation of the long-moribund brand’s site, accompanied by a cryptic message, has fans asking if a mighty return is on the cards." Is Blockbuster video about to make a comeback? (Yeah, this time as a Chinese-owned social network...)
+ "A California assembly member has introduced legislation that would ban processed food items that contain potentially harmful ingredientsthat are used in several brands of fruit cups, chewy candies and cookies and cakes." (It might be a good time to hoard Skittles.)
+ Goalkeeper scores from a goal kick – it could set the record for the longest range goal in history.