Axios
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The Mooch 😘 emoji

A White House official, who shall remain nameless, has minted an emoji shorthand to refer to Anthony Scaramucci in the official's text message conversations with outside advisers. They now refer to him as: 😘 . (It commemorates the kiss he blew to the White House press corps after his debut briefing.)

Scaramucci has plenty of company. Bannon allies have long referred to Gary Cohn as "Globalist Gary" or in text chains they use the emoji shorthand: 🌎. Some use a reindeer shorthand — 🦌— for Reince Priebus, whom they call "the prancer." (I've never quite understood that one.)

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Why the Senate GOP's motion-to-proceed vote could succeed

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Senate Republicans are (finally) expected to vote this week for the motion to take up the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

  • Watch for a Tuesday afternoon vote, though that timing could shift.
  • The situation looks dicey for Mitch McConnell and the Trump administration. They're still shy of the 50 votes they need to even get the Senate to debate the health care bill.
  • But after talking to Senate and White House sources through the weekend, here's why I think there's a chance that the motion-to-proceed vote succeeds:
  • It's a herculean task, but we shouldn't assume the margin for error is one vote. Don't count out John McCain, who is fighting brain cancer, showing up for a dramatic moment.
  • McConnell and the White House have been offering more money for moderates, so we'd be surprised if senators Portman, Hoeven, Murkowski, and Capito vote against the motion to allow the bill to be debated. Mike Pence spent time with Portman in Ohio on Saturday and Trump will spend time with Capito on Monday in West Virginia.
  • That leaves Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Susan Collins and Dean Heller as the four toughest votes. (The reason I think it's possible the two conservatives, Lee and Paul, vote to put the bill on the floor is because they could say they'll vote for the motion to proceed so long as the first vote after that is on the 2015 repeal bill. They could then say that under no circumstances will they vote for a watered-down bill.)
  • Susan Collins will be very tough to get, perhaps impossible. Heller is considered gettable.
  • Anti-abortion measures will likely stay in the bill, despite the Senate parliamentarian ruling them out last week. Social conservative groups still back the vote to proceed on the bill because the White House has told them they have replacement language ready that solves the parliamentarian's concerns.
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China declares AI war with U.S.

Go. (Sean Welton / Creative Commons)

Beijing responded its usual way when, one after the other, Google's AlphaGo beat first a South Korean master of the board game Go, and then China's Ke Jie, the world's top player: It blocked live coverage of its champion's humiliation.

  • But now that Go debacle has led China to a Sputnik moment, per the NYT.
  • In a plan released Thursday, China declared that it will catch up to the U.S. in AI research by 2020, and a decade later, "become the world's premier artificial intelligence innovation center."
  • Why it matters: For years, technologists and geo-strategists have called AI a turning point in tech, economics and society. Although comprehensive numbers aren't out there, the indication is that China intends to spend much, much more on AI research than the U.S. in coming years, in addition to the colossal foothold already grabbed by Chinese giants Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba.

A level deeper: Just nine months ago, the Obama Administration itself put down U.S. chips on AI in a 58-page white paper issued on White House stationary. The study counted up back-to-back years of $1 billion in unclassified U.S. government investment in AI research in 2015 and 2016, in addition to billions more by the U.S. tech giants every year and smaller companies.

But the Trump administration is trying to dial back on government science spending. Add in China's suggestion of multiples of U.S. spending in the coming decade and a half, the colossal foothold already grabbed by Chinese giants Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, the discouragement that Trump has instilled in foreign science and tech students to stay in the U.S., and Chinese investment in U.S. AI startups, and you start to understand why U.S. experts are concerned.

The big problem is geopolitical power, Architecht's Derrick Harris writes in a blog post. The commercial pie is big enough for U.S. and Chinese all to do pretty well, but geopolitics "is a different story." Power could be decided by spending. Harris writes, "Chinese spending on AI for things like military, surveillance and core scientific research should make other countries think about whether they're doing enough to remain competitive on that very large stage."

As of now, though, the U.S. is mostly wringing its hands: Topbots' Adelyn Zhou tells Axios, "Some government departments in the U.S. are getting worried about Chinese investments in U.S. AI startups, but worrying won't do you any good if you cut financial support while the capital is freely flowing from another country."

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E-commerce's next victim: commercial real estate

Creative Commons

The shift to on-line shopping is now striking at the underlying value of malls, and commercial real estate as a whole.

  • About $120 billion in U.S. commercial mortgages mature this year: Borrowers went delinquent on about $2.4 billion of it in June alone, according to Trepp, a real estate data provider, quoted by the WSJ.
  • It was the largest rise in delinquencies in six years, according to Fitch, the rating agency. Fitch's silver lining: it's not as bad as it expected at the beginning of the year.
  • Still, more defaults are coming: The credit industry expects delinquencies on such debt to escalate over the coming year, according to a new poll of portfolio managers, and to spread globally.

  • Look at this number: In the FT, Blackstone executive Nadeem Meghji said the value of regional malls in smaller cities may be down 40% on average over the last two years.
  • We are only seven months into the year: Retailers have announced plans to close 76 million square feet of store space already this year, according to CoStar, a data provider, almost as much as that announced in the whole of 2016.

"Second-order effects": Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, an auditing firm, tells Axios that the plunge in valuations is likely to spread to office buildings and other commercial real estate. That will then affect surrounding communities. "They won't have those property taxes," he said.

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A much-lambasted forecast proves out

AT&T Tech Channel

In 1995, Clifford Stoll, an infectiously enthusiastic astronomer who mildly resembles Emmet Brown, Marty McFly's wild-haired scientist friend in Back to the Future, forecast our Internet miasma, one not of carefree democracy but "handles, harassment, and anonymous threats." For that, he was sent into scientific purgatory, forever to be mocked and trolled. As we know now from fake news bots, the 2016 U.S. election, and the fully-blocked Chinese internet, Stole was right, per Rob Howard at Medium.

Not entirely right, mind you: Stoll, for instance, could not foresee the reasonably safe transfer of money through cyberspace, or the cratering of malls. But he was sufficiently accurate to deserve a massive apology from the scientific and tech community, including:

  • "A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee."
  • "Who'd prefer cybersex to the real thing?"
  • "What's missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact."
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Trump blasts "phony Russian Witch Hunt," calls out Republicans for not protecting him

A late-afternoon series of tweets from the president:

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We've made 9 billion tons of plastic since 1950

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Humans have produced 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950, and most of it is sitting in our environment, per a new study in Science Advances.

Why it matters: Plastic production is rapidly rising around the world, with China putting out the most per year. In 2015, the worldwide production of plastic was 448 million tons, the study found — that's twice the amount of plastic produced in 1998. And methods to handle plastic waste sustainably have not caught up to production rates: Despite the international push to reuse and recycle, we continue to dump about 60% of plastic waste in the environment.

  • All of the plastic that's no longer in use goes one of three ways, says Roland Geyer, the study's lead researcher. It's either recycled, incinerated, or dumped in landfills or the natural environment. Rates of recycling and incineration — the sustainable methods for handling plastic waste — are steadily climbing, but scientists estimate we still throw 5 to 14 million tons of plastic into oceans annually.
  • The big players: The U.S. throws out 75% of plastic waste. For comparison, Europe dumps only 31% — in part due to EU regulations, Geyer says — and China throws out 45% of its plastic trash. Worldwide, plastic makes up of 58% of discarded waste, per study results.

Bottom line: The most effective way to reduce the Earth's plastic footprint is simply to use less and produce less, but recycling is not the catch-all solution: "We don't understand very well the extent to which recycling reduces primary production," Geyer told the New York Times.

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Police discover trailer with 8 dead in San Antonio

Eric Gay / AP

AP/San Antonio: "Eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in Texas' stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case. The driver was arrested."
  • "Twenty other people in extremely critical or serious condition and eight more with lesser injuries including heat stroke and dehydration were found inside the truck, which didn't have a working air conditioning system despite blistering temperatures that topped 100 degrees."
  • "A person from the truck initially approached a Walmart employee in a parking lot and asked for water late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, said police in San Antonio, where temperatures on Saturday reached 101 degrees. The employee gave the person the water and then called police, and when officers arrived they found the eight people dead in the back of the trailer and 30 other survivors inside."
  • "Investigators checked store surveillance video, which showed vehicles had arrived and picked up other people from the tractor-trailer. ... [M]any of those inside the truck appeared to be adults in their 20s and 30s but also apparently two school-age children."
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Scaramucci's feisty exchange with Jake Tapper over deleted tweets

New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci has been deleteting some of his old tweets, including comments on topics like climate change and guns.

Below is his Sunday exchange with CNN host Jake Tapper on the topic:

A sampling:

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Trump's mini-me

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Look for Anthony Scaramucci, the incoming White House communications director, to take the White House podium more often than his predecessors. In past administrations, it has been a largely behind-the-scenes position, with the press secretary doing the daily on-camera talking.

  • "He's good at it and he's competitive," one friend said. "He's going to want to be out there on the days with the biggest sh--storms. He likes the game. He likes to spar, but he's not nasty about it. And he likes the controversy — he's a typical Wall Street guy."
  • Nevertheless, Mooch plans to elevate the cachet of the new press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Expect her to do the vast bulk of on-camera briefings.
  • He's been deleting lots of old tweets, but here they are.

Talker column by Maureen Dowd on "The Mooch And the Mogul":

"A wealthy mini-me Manhattan bro with wolfy smile and slick coif who will say anything and flip any position. A self-promoter extraordinaire and master salesman who doesn't mind pushing a bad product — and probably sees it as more fun. ... The Mogul and the Mooch is a tender love story with dramatic implications for the imploding White House.
"Both enjoy stirring the pot ... They savor counterpunching ... But a change in communications personnel will not solve the central problem for President Trump. He doesn't understand that Robert Mueller is not a contractor he's in a civil litigation dispute with, someone he can intimidate and wear down and threaten and bleed out."