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Data: Freedom House; Chart: Axios Visuals

A sobering "freeze frame" report was published by Freedom House, a watchdog group based in D.C., pulling together several factors that add up to "the retreat of the United States as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy." 

The global picture: Of 195 countries, 88 (45%) were rated Free, 58 (30%) Partly Free, and 49 (25%) Not Free.

  • The annual report finds "democracy is in retreat around the world" for the 12th year in a row.
  • "This year, this includes the United States, which in 2017, experienced [its] sharpest one-year drop since we began doing the survey more than 40 years ago."
  • "The United States has experienced a series of setbacks in the conduct of elections and criminal justice over the past decade — under leadership from both major political parties — but in 2017 its core institutions were attacked by an administration that rejects established norms of ethical conduct."
  • Go deeper: Their fuller U.S. scoring

Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily morning newsletter, Axios AM. 

Go deeper

Stephen Breyer formally announces retirement from Supreme Court

Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday sent a letter to President Biden formally announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court.

What he's saying: "I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system ... I have found the work challenging and meaningful," Breyer said.

COVID created an epic U.S. trade gap

Chart: Axios Visuals. Data: Census Bureau/Bureau of Economic Analysis

The details of the blockbuster fourth quarter GDP report released Thursday morning tell a vivid story of how the underpinnings of the world economy have been reshaped by the pandemic.

One example: In the arithmetic around U.S. economic output, trade acted as a more severe drag last year than it has in a generation.

Updated 1 hour ago - Technology

Pandemic gave cover to online dating scams

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Crooked Casanovas used online dating scams to steal an estimated $500 million from lonely victims last year, according to a new analysis of government fraud data by Atlas VPN, an internet security provider.

Why it matters: The isolation of the lingering pandemic provided cover to fraudulent suitors who had an excuse for not meeting up in person even as they fleeced their would-be lovers out of gift cards, money — even cryptocurrency.