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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Morocco's state-run television says the death toll from Friday's earthquake has now risen to more than 2,800 people.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In villages in the Atlas Mountains, some residents spent their fourth straight night sleeping outdoors or in tents. Even if their homes are standing, they worry about aftershocks. Search-and-rescue teams from several countries have now joined Moroccan crews trying to find survivors.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer has reached some of the hardest-hit areas, and she is with us now once again. Lauren, welcome again. Thank you so much for joining us.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So you've been reporting in the area for several days now. Where are you now, and what are you seeing?

FRAYER: Well, I've sort of left behind pretty much all modern construction on my way up into the Atlas Mountains. I've now reached towns that are basically only made of red clay, mud brick homes. I'm in a village called Imi n'Talat, where they pulled dozens of bodies from collapsed buildings last night. This is a town of maybe a thousand people, but, you know, it doesn't even look like a town. It looks like a big pile of stones and bricks. There's a pink blanket peeking out in one place, a blue water jug. There's a goat and chickens sort of roaming around atop - you know, unaware of the horror they're sort of roaming over. Survivors are camping in donated tents on the outskirts. Aid convoys did make it here. They dropped off garbage bags full of clothes and baby diapers, but then apparently drove on. And people have been spending the night next to what really feels like a mass gravesite here.

MARTIN: You know, I understand that access to some of the hardest-hit areas is a problem given the scale of the damage and given how hard it is to get there, you know, under the best of circumstances. But there have been questions raised about the government's response and its response to international offers of help. What are you hearing about that?

FRAYER: Well, yesterday morning, I was at a hospital in Marrakech where wounded people were camping outdoors and screaming at hospital officials saying, you know, please, like, why haven't you sent doctors to my village? But this terrain is really rough. Like, I've been driving dirt switchback roads all morning. There are landslides that have just been cleared. There are boulders in the road that you have to go around. The Moroccan military does have a visible presence here. They're handing out blankets, water, coordinating food aid. You know, as time passes, there will be those questions about whether the Moroccan government should have asked for more aid or quicker. But most Moroccans I've talked to bristle at that, and they're particularly skeptical of criticism coming from France, the former colonial power. And what I've seen is just an incredible public outpouring from blood banks to civilians, like, driving their own cars up to the mountains to deliver food themselves.

MARTIN: Given how much time has now passed, are workers saying anything about the chances of finding more people alive? Is there optimism still?

FRAYER: There is always hope. And so, yes, they continue to send sniffer dogs into these villages. I've talked to rescuers who deployed to the Turkey earthquake earlier this year, and they say this one is way harder because of these red clay brick buildings. There's an aid convoy actually pulling up right behind me now. The way these mud brick homes collapse - unlike cement and rebar, they don't leave air pockets. And so the hospital in the main town here is actually deemed unsafe. It's cracked. And they've built a tent next to it. But there are few medical cases here anymore. And people - the doctors are actually treating the flu, people sleeping outdoors in the cold. And so that's a sign of what could be to come here as it gets colder in these mountains, and people, you know, have nothing left.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Lauren Frayer. Lauren, thank you.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: A once-in-a-generation trial kicks off today in Washington, D.C.

INSKEEP: It is the Justice Department's lawsuit against one of the world's most influential companies, Google. If you haven't heard of them, search for it. The government says the company has abused its power to utterly dominate internet search.

MARTIN: NPR's tech correspondent Dara Kerr is here with us to tell us more about it. Good morning. Thank you for joining us.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So just set the table for me. How big of a deal is this trial?

KERR: Yeah. So we're living in a time where tech companies wield a massive amount of power and have a role in our lives in so many different ways. You know them - Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google. But we haven't seen a major trial where the government tries to rein in their power in a really long time. The last time we saw a case like this about corporate tech monopolies was back in the late '90s with Microsoft. That lawsuit centered on claims that Microsoft was bundling together its products to decimate its competition. And this case against Google is strikingly similar. With Microsoft, the judge ruled in favor of the Justice Department. Vanderbilt law professor Rebecca Haw Allensworth says it's going to be interesting to see if such a similar case works in the age of the modern internet.

REBECCA HAW ALLENSWORTH: Everybody has viewed that as a kind of blueprint for how we might enforce the laws against the current tech giants. And this is a real test of whether or not that theory works.

MARTIN: What exactly does the Justice Department say Google did, or did wrong?

KERR: Yeah. So Google search has become so pervasive in our lives that we use the word Google as a verb - you know, like, let's Google how big the Great Barrier Reef is.

MARTIN: You know, that's true. I think pretty much everybody does that.

KERR: Yeah. Yeah, we all do. And the Justice Department says that's no accident. Google has paid billions of dollars each year to phone makers like Apple and Samsung and to web browsers. Those payments are for exclusive agreements to be the default search engine on those company's products. The government says this means it's near impossible for a new search engine company to enter the market, and that stifles innovation, competition and makes Google an illegal monopoly. Google is worth nearly $2 trillion, and it controls about 90% of the U.S. search engine market. And internationally, it controls about 94%.

MARTIN: How does Google respond to this?

KERR: Yeah, so Google has put together a massive legal team to fight this court battle. The crux of its argument is that its search engine is simply superior to its competitors, and that's why it dominates the market, because people prefer it. The company also says if people want to use another search engine, they can. Despite Google being the default search engine on most devices, it doesn't mean people are forced to use it. In a statement to NPR, one of Google's top lawyers, Kent Walker, called the Justice Department's case backwards looking. So it's going to be really interesting to see how the two sides adjust to this very rapid evolution of artificial intelligence and how that plays into competition and search.

MARTIN: If the Justice Department wins, what's the potential impact?

KERR: So this is going to be a really long trial. It's expected to last about three months. We'll likely hear from top tech executives like Google CEO Sundar Pichai. And it's going to be a bench trial, which means there's no jury and the judge will give the final verdict. If the judge rules in favor of the Justice Department, it's still unclear how he'd sanction Google. It could be anything from fines to a complete restructuring of the company, and that would really affect how we experience the internet. Either way, however the judge rules, the trial will have ripple effects across the industry and how these companies do their business.

MARTIN: Wow, this is really fascinating. Dara Kerr is NPR tech correspondent. Dara, thank you so much.

KERR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The U.S. House returns from recess today, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy is once again under pressure from all sides in his own party.

INSKEEP: Congress has a lot to do. It needs to pass spending bills to avoid a government shutdown. President Biden wants more aid for Ukraine and disaster relief for states. And the most right-wing Republicans want McCarthy to resist the White House or risk his job.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, moderates in McCarthy's caucus worry he will give into the far right on spending levels and on greenlighting an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. So where does this internal fight leave the House GOP weeks away from a potential government shutdown? Politico's Sarah Ferris has been covering this story, and she's with us now. Good morning.

SARAH FERRIS: Good morning.

MARTIN: So government funding expires September 30. Congress needs to pass its spending bills before then, or the government would shut down. As briefly as you can, Sarah, what are the sticking points?

FERRIS: Well, there are plenty of them, but the biggest disagreement so far is that Republicans and Democrats have not decided on how much to actually spend. The hard-liners in the Republican conference want to cut over $100 billion from the spring's debt deal that McCarthy and Biden have already agreed to. But it's a lot more than that, though. A lot of these conservatives have had six weeks away from the Capitol to talk to each other, toughen their positions, and they say they haven't heard a whole lot from leadership.

MARTIN: Do the hard-line members - the most hard-line members - have any specific or kind of bottom line, red line or whatever you want to call it?

FERRIS: Well, they want McCarthy to stand up to Democrats on spending, on border demands, on slashing money from the Department of Justice as it investigates former President Donald Trump. And they don't think that Republicans should fear a shutdown. And several of them told me that most people wouldn't notice if the government did shut down for a couple of days. And they're really not talking subtly about what will happen to McCarthy if he doesn't meet their expectations, which means they are willing to go after his job.

MARTIN: What do you think McCarthy thinks about all this?

FERRIS: Well, I've been covering spending for about nine years on Capitol Hill. I've never quite seen a situation this primed for a shutdown because there really is no way to keep the government open if you're refusing to work with Democrats. Some McCarthy supporters have even privately told us they think the only way out of this is by shutting down the government, showing the conservatives that he's willing to fight for them even if there is no clear path to reopening it.

MARTIN: But is then - isn't there a cost to that for the Republicans and for McCarthy?

FERRIS: Of course. And I think most of the Republican conference knows that. Most of them have been here before, have seen these fights before, have lived through shutdowns and taken the blame for it. So a lot of those are ready for McCarthy to stand up to the hard-liners, not the Democrats. They're tired of being held hostage to this small group.

MARTIN: In just the 30 seconds left here, it took McCarthy 15 rounds of votes just to become speaker. How has he managed to hold on this long?

FERRIS: He's held on a lot longer than - even his critics have been pretty mystified at his ability to do so. I think he's someone who survives until tomorrow. This is what he's really good at. He has this persistence in winning over his critics. He has a lot of allies in the party that have kept him alive. And the question is whether this will continue through one of the biggest fights that we've seen this year.

MARTIN: That is Sarah Ferris of Politico. Sarah, thank you so much.

FERRIS: 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.