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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The leader of TikTok is coming to Washington.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, the company's boss is testifying before Congress, and the hearing focuses on whether the video-sharing app is a threat to national security. In a way, his company's on the line because many in the U.S. want TikTok taken away from its Chinese owners.

INSKEEP: NPR's Bobby Allyn has been covering TikTok and is on the line. Good morning.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Who is the CEO who's testifying today?

ALLYN: He's largely unknown. His name is Shou Chew. He is a 40-year-old executive who was born and raised in Singapore. He used to be an investment banker for Goldman Sachs. And, you know, he's got this kind of mix of giddy, youthful energy but also has a serious business background. And I think TikTok is hoping that the combination is going to charm lawmakers.

INSKEEP: Well, what is the basic concern that he's trying to address?

ALLYN: So he'll be defending against accusations that TikTok is a national security threat. And the reason why that is a concern is because TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is based in China, and there are intelligence laws in China which compel private companies to hand over personal information of a company's customers when they are asked. And the fear is, because of this corporate parent company, that the data of 150 million Americans who use TikTok could potentially be vulnerable to the Chinese Communist Party's prying eyes.

INSKEEP: Haven't you told us that TikTok claims to have a solution to this problem?

ALLYN: They do. They're calling it Project Texas, and it's a $1.5 billion restructuring plan. And essentially, what it does is cordon off all of Americans' data in the U.S. So it's called Project Texas because there's this company, Oracle - they're a software giant based in Austin, Texas, and they would be the ones hosting Americans' data. TikTok says this plan is going to ensure that any Beijing-based employees will not be able to get Americans' data, and the Chinese government, if they wanted to see what was going on with Americans' accounts, that they would not be able to. This is basically a very expensive firewall between the U.S. and China.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about what you're telling me here, Bobby. The Biden administration, of course, has said that ByteDance, the parent company, needs to sell TikTok or else TikTok is going to face severe restrictions in the United States, could even be put out of business. It sounds like the CEO is not trying to prove he is, in some way, loyal to the United States, but to say they will set up the architecture so that it doesn't matter if the parent company is loyal to one country or another.

ALLYN: No, that's exactly right. And the reason why they are spending more than $1 billion and hiring thousands of more employees and establishing a separate entity is to try to say to lawmakers and the American public that, hey, do you see that Chinese parent company over there, ByteDance? Don't worry about them 'cause if they come knocking on our door, it's going to be really hard for us to let them in. But the critics of TikTok say as long as the parent company exists, that door will still be there. And there are examples of ByteDance employees accessing the data of Americans. That has happened in the past and at least one very high-profile instance. So if the past is any guide, they could potentially do it again, at least that's according to people who are really skeptical about TikTok.

INSKEEP: NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thanks.

ALLYN: Thanks, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: President Biden visits Canada starting today. He will meet Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, and address Canada's Parliament.

FADEL: And here's one big thing they'll discuss - migration. The U.S. and Canada are leading nations in the Western Hemisphere, and both are talking about how to stabilize a neighbor, Haiti, which they care about in part because people flee that troubled country for both the U.S. and Canada.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez will be traveling with the president, and he's with us on this early morning. Franco, good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So when it comes to Haiti at least, what is the problem the U.S. and Canada are trying to address?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, it's a difficult situation in Haiti. There's - right now there's very little security apparatus, and gangs have essentially taken over Port-au-Prince. I mean, people are really living in fear. And Haiti and the United Nations, they want international peacekeepers to help bolster the police, and the U.S. agrees and has been pushing for a military force.

INSKEEP: OK, do they agree on how to deploy those militaries?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it doesn't look that way. I mean, the U.S. actually wants Canada to lead that effort. Canada has a long relationship with Haiti. And the U.S. is very interested in someone taking lead here (ph). There's a lot of concerns about United States overseeing some of these military forces. And Canada has this long-standing relationship, and they were actually, at first, open to that possibility. But Trudeau is now kind of pouring cold water over the idea. Last week he actually spoke out against it, saying outside intervention doesn't work. I talked with Henri-Paul Normandin. He's a former Canadian ambassador to Haiti. And he says the job is just so big, the chances of success are really uncertain, and the risks are too great.

HENRI-PAUL NORMANDIN: The political conditions on the ground to host such a mission are not there. So put all of that together, and Canada said, hmm, I'm not sure that we want to do this.

INSKEEP: I'm glad that he mentions the political conditions. He's, of course, talking about the political conditions in Haiti. Would people be receptive to an outside Canadian-led force? But I want to ask about political conditions in two other countries, the United States and Canada, where migration and immigration are constantly hot-button issues. How much is the concern in the U.S. and Canada driven by the fact that people flee Haiti and come to the U.S. and Canada?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, Steve, I mean, the concern is about instability in Haiti, especially Canada. You know, we talked a little bit about the links. They share French as a language. There's this strong Haitian diaspora in Canada. You know, as the ambassador told me, Canada cares about Haiti. But no question that immigration plays a role and a big role. And as you note, it's a big political challenge for both leaders. You know, we've talked many times about Haitian migrants being part of this new wave of migration to the southern border of the United States. The administration has unveiled some new policies that allow some Haitians to arrive illegally, but can still turn away most who don't apply for asylum in other countries. We talked about also how Republicans love to attack Biden on immigration. You know, and opposition politicians are doing the same in Canada now, as they experience a dramatic surge.

I spoke with Eric Miller, who is an adviser to the Canadian government. He says the problems at the Canadian border have fueled all kinds of rumors and uncomfortable accusations.

ERIC MILLER: The migration crisis is something which is roiling Canada at the moment, and this is starting to impact the political support for a pragmatic immigration system in Canada.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and they want Trudeau, when he speaks with Biden, to renegotiate a treaty that they say has driven more immigration. And he's expected to bring that up when he talks with Biden.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks so much for coming by. Really appreciate it.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: March Madness - the NCAA basketball tournament began last week with the chaos of 68 teams.

FADEL: Just 16 teams are left in both the men's and women's Division I college basketball tournaments. The Sweet 16 begin today for the men, tomorrow for the women. And it's still wide open.

INSKEEP: Which is why we have called up NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, who's been watching. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. The men's tournament - we're down to 16. Normally, you would have a good sense of who's favored to win at this point.

GOLDMAN: Normally. But this year is kind of hard to pin down. There are two No. 1 seeds left in the last 16 - Alabama and Houston. Neither has looked like the hands-down best team. Two other No. 1, Purdue and defending champion Kansas, are out, as are two No. 2 seeds. That opens things up for teams not used to getting this far. Eleven conferences are represented in the Sweet 16. That's a lot. And some blue-bloods of men's college hoops are no-shows - Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky. This is the second time in the last three years not one of them got to the Sweet 16. Before that, from 1980 to 2019, at least one got this far each of those years.

INSKEEP: Oh, which implies the talent is more spread out among other teams. Why would it be more spread out than in the past?

GOLDMAN: It does imply that. I think certainly the transfer portal system is having an impact. Since 2021, it has allowed athletes to switch schools and play immediately. Last year, about 1,650 Division I men's college basketball players went into the portal. It had a big impact on spreading talent among schools. This week, Tom Izzo, the longtime Michigan State head coach and transfer portal critic, talked about the pluses and minuses. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM IZZO: The portal is not all bad. I mean, you have to - every place isn't for everybody. But to me, what's bad about it is the fact that every kid who has a bad day just thinks about leaving. And at this level, if you're half in, you're nowhere.

GOLDMAN: And despite this criticism, Izzo has taken advantage and benefited this tournament. He's gotten big contributions from a couple of players who transferred from other schools.

INSKEEP: OK, so a shifting talent pool. Which teams might surprise us in this final 16?

GOLDMAN: Princeton is your main Cinderella story as a 15 seed. I was at the Tigers' first two tournament wins, and they are not your old-fashioned Princeton from yesteryear. They play the modern game well. In their win over Missouri, they shot the lights out, outrebounded Missouri with a shorter, ultra-aggressive team. Then there's Florida Atlantic, another lower-seeded underdog in their first men's tournament since 2002. A lot of fans calling FAU a Cinderella team, but they're not having it. They say they're better than people think, and their next chance to prove it is today against a very good and physical defensive team, Tennessee.

INSKEEP: OK. What are you looking for on the women's side, the final 16?

GOLDMAN: You know, we've got parity, which is great. For too long, the women's game has been defined by the best players and teams at the top, without much depth in the game. But again, thanks to the transfer portal, thanks to the women's game growing in popularity, more good players are emerging. You're seeing the results. Two No. 1 seeds, Stanford and Indiana, lost before the Sweet 16. That's the first time that's happened since 1998. Defending champion South Carolina still is the heavyweight. The Gamecocks so far are rolling. But there are some worthy challengers remaining - perennial power UConn, LSU powered by forward Angel Reese, Iowa with guard Caitlin Clark. There's enough skill out there, Steve, to catch South Carolina, but it's going to be tough.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks. It's always good to talk with you.

GOLDMAN: Good to talk to you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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