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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After more than a week of silence, President Biden addressed the pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses yesterday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And he tried for a balanced approach to a divisive issue.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I understand people have strong feelings and deep convictions. In America, we respect the right and protect the right for them to express that. But it doesn't mean anything goes. It needs to be done without violence, without destruction.

INSKEEP: Now, when he said strong feelings, the president meant about Israel's war against Hamas. Many protesters have blamed Biden for supporting Israel, and some students want their colleges to divest from companies that relate in some way to Israel. On the same day the president spoke, police broke up a protest camp at UCLA and cleared protesters from a library at Portland State.

MARTIN: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now to tell us more about all this Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: How would you sum up the president's message?

KEITH: The remarks were only about three minutes long, and the central point was that there has to be balance between free speech and rule of law. There's a right to protest, he said, but not to cause chaos. And he also spoke to the concerns of Jewish students and others who've been verbally attacked or otherwise felt unsafe on their campuses. He said, antisemitism is wrong, but so is Islamophobia. Both have been on the rise in the U.S. since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and the war in Gaza that has dragged on since then.

MARTIN: So a lot of ideas coexisting here, and this is in a political environment quite obviously dominated by a lot of loud voices and a lot of strong views. Can that work for the president and his fellow Democrats?

KEITH: I talked to Mallory McMorrow about this. She's a Michigan state senator, a Democrat, who understands the dynamics very well in her swing state.

MALLORY MCMORROW: There is space for us to reject the binary that I think Republicans are trying to paint us into and take back the idea that Joe Biden and Democrats are the ones protecting your right to free speech and your right to be safe on a college campus.

KEITH: That does not fit on a bumper sticker or a hat, but it does reflect where Democrats find themselves.

MARTIN: Can I fact-check something with you? Was this really the first time Biden has spoken about this since the protests started kind of really dominating news coverage?

KEITH: You know, he very briefly answered a question about the protest almost two weeks ago, and he said he condemned antisemitic protests but also people who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians. And that was fodder for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Hard not to see this mealy-mouthed equivocation for what it is, the president prioritizing the feelings of his political supporters over moral clarity.

KEITH: McConnell was essentially accusing Biden of pulling punches because the protesters are by and large left-leaning. And Biden very clearly does have a lot of work to do to win over young progressive voters who are disappointed with his approach to the war. But that did not appear to be the goal of his remarks yesterday. At the end, he was asked whether the protests have forced him to reconsider his Mideast policy, and his answer was a hard no.

MARTIN: OK, so briefly, though, Democrats in several primaries, including swing states - a lot of them in numbers voted uncommitted, apparently to protest that policy. So what might this all mean for the presidential campaign going forward?

KEITH: Republicans have the easier task here, and they have stayed on message. They can just point to the chaos, say all the protesters are antisemitic and call Biden weak. And images of chaos are not great for a reelection bid. Democrats are divided over the war in Gaza, but Biden's campaign believes that most voters won't be making their choice based on that one issue alone. The campaign is continuing to do all it can to amplify former President Donald Trump's incendiary statements and hope that these protests quiet down when college students go home for the summer.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Google has been its own verb for years now. The federal government says that's illegal.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, not the verb itself, but the search engine. The government's antitrust lawsuit accuses Google of creating an illegal monopoly. You could easily Google the company's response or, for that matter, find it on Bing. The company says they simply have the best search engine.

MARTIN: Closing arguments wrap up today, and NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr has been following the trial, and she's here to tell us more about it. Good morning.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: Could you just start by reminding us of what this antitrust lawsuit is all about?

KERR: Yeah. It's hard to downplay just how popular Google search is, right? The company controls about 90% of the global search engine market, so there's no dispute that Google is a monopoly. That in itself is not illegal. But what is illegal is when companies engage in certain practices that ensure no rivals enter the market. And the Justice Department says that is exactly what Google did.

MARTIN: What specifically does the government say Google did to hold onto this monopoly?

KERR: Their case hinges on these exclusive agreements that Google made with device makers like Apple and Samsung and web browser companies like Mozilla, which runs Firefox. Google pays these companies billions of dollars a year to be the default search engine on their devices. And a lot of people don't even realize Google is the default. The government says these deals make it impossible for competitors to get a leg up. And what that means for consumers like you and me is that we're left with few choices, and Google isn't forced to innovate and make a better product because it's already at the top.

MARTIN: And what does Google say?

KERR: Throughout the course of the trial, which lasted 10 weeks, Google said its search engine is superior to all others and that's why it dominates the industry. It also said that if people want to switch to another search engine, they can. They just go into their device's settings and with a few clicks and swipes, they can change the default to DuckDuckGo or Bing or Yahoo.

MARTIN: And tell us about the closing arguments. What have those been like?

KERR: What's been really interesting is that it's not like your courtroom TV drama with lawyers making long speeches. Instead, the judge is going back and forth between the lawyers, asking really pointed questions. He's asking about the technology and legal explanations on how Google is or is not violating the law. The judge also seemed to be trying to poke holes in both sides' arguments. So when Google said a site like Amazon is its competitor when people search for products to buy, the judge made it clear he didn't think Google and Amazon were comparable. And when the government said Google hasn't kept up with innovating its search engine, the judge disagreed. So the judge has really given no indication on which way he'll side.

MARTIN: Has the judge given any indication or do we have any sense of when the judge might issue his decision?

KERR: Yeah, that is expected in a few months. And if he finds that Google acted illegally, there will be a separate hearing on how he'd sanction the company. That could be anything from fines to restructuring Google, such as breaking up the company. So this decision has the real potential to change how we experience the internet.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Dara Kerr. Dara, thank you.

KERR: Thanks so much.

MARTIN: And here's where I want to let you know Google is a corporate sponsor of NPR, although we cover them like any other company.

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MARTIN: For the past several weeks, protests have engulfed the nation of Georgia. That's a former Soviet republic that borders the Black Sea and sits between Russia and Turkey.

INSKEEP: The protesters are rejecting a so-called foreign agents law that the country's parliament is considering. This bill may undermine Georgia's prospects to join Western clubs like the European Union or NATO, and that has prompted speculation that Russia is pushing it.

MARTIN: NPR's Charles Maynes is with us from Moscow, but he's just back from Georgia. Good morning, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So these protests have been going on for several weeks. Would you just tell us what you've been seeing?

MAYNES: Well, first of all, last night, protesters blocked major roads again in the capital of Tbilisi. They were gathering in the central square, and again, there were skirmishes with police. But this followed protests that turned violent earlier this week when huge crowds gathered outside the gates of the parliament. I was there, and the government response on that night was very aggressive.

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MAYNES: So here you can hear riot troops firing rubber bullets. There were stun grenades, water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Some protesters were beaten. Georgia's interior ministry says 65 people were detained. Protesters say more than a dozen demonstrators were injured, and the government says so were several riot troops. And yet it appears neither side is backing down. Lawmakers in parliament pushed this draft law through a second round of voting on Wednesday. A final third vote is expected later this month, and opponents of the law vow they'll keep fighting against it.

MARTIN: Would you tell us more about the law? Like, what does it propose to do, and why are we seeing such firm opposition to it?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, this law is supported by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, and it would make NGOs and media organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to declare themselves essentially as foreign agents. Supporters make the argument, you know, what do you have to hide? This is about transparency. It's about sovereignty. Other countries have some version of this, including, by the way, the U.S. Yet opponents say this bill more resembles a Russian foreign agents law that the Kremlin has used to crush civil society here in Moscow in particular. They also say it's intended to derail Georgia's ambitions to join Western clubs, which would push Georgia back into Russia's orbit. Certainly, that's the view of Giorgi Gzirishvili, a 29-year-old IT specialist I met who's been out protesting the law for weeks.

GIORGI GZIRISHVILI: We are in this crossroads right now. We either have to ensure our future by becoming member of NATO and European Union or we will not exist in 10 to 15 years.

MAYNES: So clearly, he's not alone in thinking these protests are about much more than the law itself. They're about whether Georgia's future lies with Russia or the West.

MARTIN: What about the West? What has been the response from, you know, Western entities, Europe, the U.S.?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, European officials and the U.S., Georgia's allies, have all urged Georgia's government to reconsider this law. They've warned it will damage Georgia's long-term prospects to join the EU and NATO. The problem is the government backed off this law after mass protests broke out against its passage last year. So this is try No. 2, and they are determined not to bow to public pressure a second time. And so, for example, I was at another large rally this week in support of this law, one where the government clearly bussed in people from across Georgia to attend. But further raising the stakes here are internal politics. You know, pulling back now would make the government look weak ahead of fall elections. And that's where the ruling party claims Western-backed NGOs and independent media seek to topple them from power.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Charles Maynes. Charles, thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.