Google Vs. The "Free World"

Google boss Sundar Pichai trekked to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to answer questions from lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. It was the Indian-born CEO's first public appearance before Congress, after he declined an earlier invitation to testify on foreign election interference alongside executives from Facebook and Twitter before the Senate Intelligence Committee in September. You can catch Pichai's full three and a half hours in the hot seat here.

Lawmakers from both parties peppered Pichai with questions about privacy and Google's plans to reenter the search market in China. They sparred with one another over whether Republicans' allegations of an anti-conservative political bias in Google's search algorithms were worth dwelling on.

Perhaps the most significant moment of the hearing came before Pichai was even sworn in, when Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy laid bare the growing chasm between Silicon Valley and Washington: "We need to know that Google is on the side of the free world," he declared.

It was a sharp distillation of the twin political risks facing America's biggest tech companies heading into 2019.

  • A steady sting of data breaches, swirling privacy concerns, and allegations of biased search results have eroded public trust in companies that millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide rely on to access news and information.
  • At the same time, Silicon Valley has become a strategically important asset in the US pushback against China and other authoritarian countries' use of technology as a tool for political control. That's a particular problem for Google, whose designs on re-entering China – potentially with a search engine that complies with Chinese censors – led to some tough questions on Tuesday.

It leaves Silicon Valley as a whole more vulnerable to some form of regulatory crackdown next year while simultaneously making it harder for the sector's most important global companies to push back against Washington's growing calls to put "America First."

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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