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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Israel again today after stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's response to Hamas in Gaza has killed tens of thousands of people, and now hunger is killing people, too. The United Nations and independent experts say famine is imminent in Gaza, where people have already starved to death. Here's Blinken last night in Cairo.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: Children should not be dying of malnutrition in Gaza - or anywhere else, for that matter. A hundred percent of the population of Gaza is experiencing severe levels of acute food insecurity. We cannot, we must not allow that to continue.

MARTIN: We're joined now by NPR international correspondent Aya Batrawy in Dubai. Aya, good morning.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So we heard from Mr. Blinken saying children shouldn't be dying of hunger in Gaza, but as we just said, doctors and aid workers say many already have. Is that the focus of this trip? And I want to mention that this is Mr. Blinken's sixth visit since the October 7 attacks by Hamas that killed, you know, 1,200 people and hostages were taken and so forth. Is that the focus of this trip?

BATRAWY: Well, I mean, with each trip, he's come with a new message. And the message this time does highlight this rift that's growing between the Biden administration and Israel's government, which is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, what the White House is doing is it's throwing its weight behind cease-fire talks being mediated by Qatar and Egypt for Hamas to release some of the hostages taken on October 7 in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian captives and to flood Gaza with aid to stave off looming famine there. Now, Biden says he hopes the six-week truce could then be extended, so basically wind down this war that's decimated Gaza and killed more than 32,000 people there, according to the health ministry.

But Israel's government says Hamas operates in Rafah - that's the southern town where most of Gaza's population have been displaced - and they've planned a ground operation there. So another point of Blinken's message is to say this would be a mistake. And he says this is something the U.S. cannot support.

MARTIN: Aya, what about those cease-fire talks? Where do they stand now?

BATRAWY: Blinken said yesterday in Cairo there are still serious gaps between Hamas and Israel on the terms of this truce, and the heads of the CIA, Egyptian and Israeli intelligence are supposed to be meeting again today in Qatar to talk about that. Now, Israel says it launched a raid on a key hospital in Gaza City this week, where Hamas had regrouped, to pressure those talks. But regardless, Blinken says a cease-fire cannot be the only way to get aid in to people who need it in Gaza. And he said, quote, "Israel needs to do more."

MARTIN: So the U.S. continues to ramp up the pressure. What has Israel's response been to U.S. calls to do more?

BATRAWY: Israel says it is allowing in aid, but it's very limited because they don't want Hamas to benefit from it. Aid groups, though, say it is not nearly enough to feed the population. And now the White House is urging Israel to loosen its border controls to get that aid that's sitting on trucks and in warehouses to people starving to death just a few miles away across the border.

MARTIN: And, Aya, before we let you go, what can you tell us about the latest on the situation on the ground now in Gaza?

BATRAWY: I mean, look. We've seen images of these desperate crowds grabbing aid off trucks - you know, bags of flour - and children just wasting away in hospitals, literally dying of hunger, especially in the north of Gaza. The U.N. is looking for better ways to distribute that aid with the help of local police in Gaza and community leaders - or what they're known as clans or popular committees. Now, these clans say they're willing to help, but they don't intend to replace Hamas on the ground and have denounced Israel. But this week, we saw a string of Israeli attacks on these guys, from clan members to senior police officers whose job it is to oversee the distribution in the north. Israel says the police are an arm of Hamas, and they didn't respond to our request for comment on those airstrikes.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Aya Batrawy in Dubai. Aya, thank you.

BATRAWY: Thanks, Michel.

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MARTIN: First this week, Reddit went public. And as soon as today, Truth Social might be next.

INSKEEP: Donald Trump's social media platform is seeking to merge with a little-known public company. That company's shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger later this morning, and if it goes through, it sets the stage for stock sales, and Trump stands to make a lot of money just as he really needs it.

MARTIN: NPR's Rafael Nam is here with us to bring us up to speed. Good morning.

RAFAEL NAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: Rafael, I understand that this is not the same process for going public that Reddit used yesterday. Can you explain what's happening here?

NAM: So this is supposed to be a simple vote, but the whole process has been so convoluted. It's a shell company. It was specifically created to merge with Trump's company. In markets it's called a backdoor listing. It's a way to go public in a different way from a traditional IPO. And later this morning, shareholders need to actually approve the merger. The big question is if we're going to see enough shareholders show up to vote.

If that goes through, though, that would be fantastic news for President Trump. He would own over 50% of the new company. That would be worth over $3 billion - that's three with a B, a huge chunk of change.

MARTIN: OK. So $3 billion - like you said, a huge chunk of change. Is Truth Social worth that much?

NAM: No, it is not. I mean, let's look at the numbers. This is a company that only had over $3 million in sales for the first nine months of last year - that's three with an M this time - and he lost nearly $50 million. Nonetheless, the value here is President Trump. Without Trump, there is no Truth Social. He has millions of supporters. And right now, a lot of the shareholders in the deal are believed to be Trump supporters. They are the true believers. They are people who want to support Trump no matter what, and they will happily buy the shares.

And then there are the professional investors like Matthew Tuttle, who runs his own investment firm. I reached out to him yesterday to see why he's investing in the company, and he was upfront about it. He thinks he can make a quick buck.

MATTHEW TUTTLE: While fundamentally I don't get it, I'm going to trade it because it's going to move. It's going to have a rabid following, and it's going to be a fun stock.

NAM: But of course, like I was saying, nobody stands to gain more than Trump.

MARTIN: So can the former president dump his shares immediately and also make a quick buck?

NAM: So this is where Trump could run into a problem. That's because under the merger, he has to hold on to his shares for another six months. But this is Donald Trump, so, I mean, who knows? He could work out a side deal with the other shareholders because the bottom line is that he needs to raise money immediately for all his legal cases. He does have the clock ticking. This Monday, he has to come up with over $400 million to post bond. That's for New York's fraud case against him, his family and The Trump Organization.

MARTIN: How soon will those shares start trading?

NAM: Well, if the shareholders do approve the deal today, it would start trading as a new company by next week. It could be very volatile, I'm told, but, hey, it would now be officially called Trump Media & Technology Group with a new stock symbol, DJT - Donald J. Trump.

MARTIN: That was Rafael Nam from NPR News here with us in the studio. Rafael, thank you.

NAM: Thank you, Michel.

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MARTIN: For years now, Apple has portrayed itself as the responsible corporate citizen with beloved product designs.

INSKEEP: Now, the Justice Department and 16 states are suing Apple, saying its smartphones were designed to limit competition. Attorney General Merrick Garland says Apple profits not by making its own products better, but by making other products worse.

MARTIN: Wendy Lee covers entertainment and business for the Los Angeles Times, and she's with us now from the San Francisco Bay Area to tell us more about it. Good morning, Wendy.

WENDY LEE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So obviously, it's a big deal when the Justice Department takes on one of the world's biggest companies, but how big of a deal could this be for consumers?

LEE: This could be a really big deal for consumers because Apple owns the hardware, the iPhone, the software behind it. And also, all the apps on the iPhone have to go through the App Store, which Apple controls. So if the DOJ succeeds in this lawsuit, that could dramatically change how Apple does business, which could theoretically cause prices to be less for consumers.

MARTIN: So in his remarks, Attorney General Garland made his case for how he said consumers are suffering from this alleged monopoly. This is what he said.

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MERRICK GARLAND: Fewer choices, higher prices and fees, lower-quality smartphones, apps and accessories, and less innovation from Apple and its competitors.

MARTIN: A lot of consumers get their smartphones through companies like AT&T or Verizon, who offer discounts and even free phone upgrades with contracts. I mean, anytime you turn on the television, you see those. So how does the DOJ argue that we're actually paying more money for their iPhones because of Apple's business practices?

LEE: Because Apple owns, you know, the iPhone as well as the software and the App Store - that Apple also sells all these accessories with the phone. So if you're an Apple user and you're going to use a smartwatch, you probably are going to buy an Apple Watch. And Apple Watches only work with iPhones. So if one wanted to buy a Google phone, all of a sudden, you have to buy a new smartwatch because your Apple Watch won't work with the Google phone. And so I think that's one way in which the DOJ is arguing that stifles competition.

The other way is in the App Store itself, that Apple takes a up to 30% cut of the App Store subscriptions and in-app purchases, and many developers pass on that cost to consumers.

MARTIN: So how is the company responding?

LEE: Well, the company disagrees with the lawsuit. And also, the company believes that it threatens how Apple does business and also says it could hinder its ability to create the type of technology that people expect from Apple.

MARTIN: So if this lawsuit does force Apple to change its behavior, can you just give us a sense of how consumers might benefit?

LEE: Yeah. I mean, I think that some of the ways that consumers could benefit is lower prices on apps. Also, that some of the functionality between iPhone users and Android users, such as when Apple users use iMessage to message Android users, that green message that you get on your iMessage - that might change. That functionality might improve. And it's also possible that Apple might open up its App Store to other types of apps that the DOJ is alleging that it hasn't really been open to.

MARTIN: All right, so potentially some big changes. And here's where I want to mention Apple is a financial supporter of NPR, but we very obviously cover them as we cover any other company.

That is LA Times reporter Wendy Lee. Wendy, thank you so much.

LEE: Thank you. 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.
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