Editor’s Note: This was excerpted from the August 4 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
Could the first shots of a new Cold War be fired over teen dance videos?
President Donald Trump’s threat to ban the app TikTok adds up to more than a grumpy 70-something spoiling the kids’ fun – it could herald a new hi-tech iron curtain that divides the world. Silly videos of kids lip-syncing pop songs seem harmless enough. But the app’s critics warn that because it is owned by a Chinese company, Beijing could force it to turn over data on millions of American users and even infiltrate US corporations.
Those cybersecurity concerns are not unfounded – Chinese law requires local companies to cooperate with government intelligence-gathering. But there’s also plenty of room for skepticism over Trump’s motives: Teenage trolls used the app to register fake signs-up for his low-turnout rally in Oklahoma in June. Comedian Sarah Cooper TikToks her videos mercilessly lampooning his speeches. And the President hasn’t shown the same interest in issues connected to US-based Facebook, which has served as a platform for his disinformation.
TikTok could be the biggest casualty yet of the crossfire unleashed when Trump turned on Beijing to boost his reelection effort. “I know TikTok’s fun. But it’s dangerous,” Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro told Fox News. “Does the Chinese Communist Party know where your children are? And the answer could be yeah.” (Here’s some free intel for the Chinese: The kids are all at home instead of school or college because of the botched US handling of Covid-19).
Trump, as usual, is sowing confusion and chaos. He wants TikTok’s US operations to be sold to a non-Chinese company – possibly Microsoft – by September 15, but is also demanding a pile of cash for the US Treasury.
TikTok may be just the start. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who leads the US march to eradicate Chinese giant Huawei from the West, has warned of wider action, accusing Middle Kingdom tech firms of “feeding data directly into the Chinese Communist Party.” Since China is unlikely to spike its guns, we could see the global tech sector split into dueling Western and Chinese firms and applications, in a splintering that could reshape the whole internet.
‘Very serious. A lot of water. A lot of water coming from that storm’
As if the pandemic and attendant crushing economic pressure weren’t enough, America was sandwiched by natural disasters this week. To the West, the Apple Fire near Los Angeles, California, forced thousands to evacuate. On the other side of the country, fierce wind and rain thrashed the East coast. “Very serious. A lot of water. A lot of water coming from that storm,” Trump noted during a press briefing on Monday.
The Apple Fire burning parts of Riverside and San Bernardino reached at least 20,516 acres, according to the California Interagency Incident Management Team, and forced more than 7,000 people to evacuate.
Meanwhile, tropical storm Isaias briefly strengthened into a hurricane as it traveled north toward the US.
‘The Postal Service has ample capacity’
Of course the US Postal Service can handle a largely mail-in election this November, the agency said Monday. “The Postal Service has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected Election and Political Mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in a statement. Earlier that day, Trump had attacked mail-in voting and cast doubt on USPS’ capacity to deliver all the ballots, tweeting: “Post Office could never handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation.”