Facebook has a secret app in China - Axios
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Facebook has a secret app in China

A computer screen displays the social media posting by Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook in Beijing, China, Friday, March 18, 2016. The photo of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg jogging in downtown Beijing's notorious smog has prompted a torrent of astonishment, mockery and amusement on Chinese social media. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Facebook is testing a photo-sharing app in China, called Colorful Balloons, that is similar to Facebook's Moments app, but isn't identified as linked to Facebook, the New York Times reports.

Why this matters: The release of a secret app shows, according to the Times, the "desperation — and frustration" among big tech companies to gain access to the tightly controlled Chinese internet market and its hundreds of millions of users.

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Ryan: Tax reform "far easier" than health care

Screengrab via CNN

At a CNN town hall Monday night, Paul Ryan said, "I believe it's going to be far easier for us to do tax reform than it was for, say, health care reform."

Our thought bubble: His rationale was that Senate rules won't present the kind of roadblocks they did on health care, but there's a reason comprehensive tax reform has repeatedly stalled, as Ryan well knows. It's a huge lift.
  • On Charlottesville: "He messed up on Tuesday." Ryan was hesitant to condemn Trump's response as anything more than "morally ambiguous" until pressed by Jake Tapper.
  • On Trump's Afghanistan plan: "I'm pleased with the decision. I'm actually pleased with the way he went about making this decision."
  • On Trump's tweets: "Do I wish there would be a little less tweeting? Of course I do. But I don't think it's going to change."
  • On the status of health care: "The House has done its job," and the Senate needs to "keep at it."
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CNN launches daily Snapchat show called "The Update"

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

CNN is launching a daily news show for Snapchat called "The Update." The show will include breaking news segments and highlight big stories from CNN reporters and staff around the world. It will air daily at 6 p.m. ET.

Why it matters: Snapchat is making major investments in news content. Not only do outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Mashable have Snapchat Discover channels, major networks are taking to the platform to create shows exclusively for Snapchat. Snapchat has also invested in an editorial staff to produce their own news content, with news veterans like former CNN correspondent Peter Hamby.

Will it work? Signs point to success. Axios reported last week that NBC News' Snapchat show has been posting monster numbers (29 million unique viewers in less than a month.) CNN's current Snapchat Discover channel gets roughly 12 million monthly uniques.

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Interior halts study on health risks of mountaintop coal mining

Jeff Gentner / AP

The Interior Department has ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to stop working on a study focused on the health risks of living near mountaintop coal mining sites in Central Appalachia. The National Academies made the announcement in a statement, and said it "believes this is an important study."

The reasoning: The department began reviewing grants and cooperative partnerships that exceeded $100,000 in April. Heather Swift, the press secretary for the Interior, told Axios that "The Trump Administration is dedicated to responsibly using taxpayer dollars and that includes the billions of dollars in grants that are doled out every year by the Department of the Interior."

The original request for the study came from the state of West Virginia in 2015.

This was updated to reflect the press secretary's statement.

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9% of Americans think it's OK to hold white supremacist or neo-Nazi views: poll

Steve Helber / AP

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 9% of Americans believe holding white supremacist or neo-Nazi views is acceptable. A majority of Americans, regardless of party, thinks it's unacceptable to hold such views (83% overall).

The poll was conducted following the violence in Charlottesville, and 56% said they disapproved of President Trump's response, with 28% approving.

  • 42% said Trump has been putting white supremacists on a "equal standing" with their opponents, while 35% said he has not.
  • Trump's overall approval rating stands at 37%, compared to 36% in July.
Why it matters: 9% of America is nearly 30 million people.

The poll reported a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It polled a random national sample of 1,014 adults.

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Paul Allen-led team locates U.S.S. Indianapolis wreck

U.S. Navy via AP

The remains of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which sunk in the Philippine Sea in 1945 after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, were discovered by a research team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Think back: The Indianapolis is famous for its catastrophic sinking — just days after delivering components used in the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima — that left hundreds of sailors dead and hundreds more adrift in shark-infested waters for five days. (You may recall it from a scene in Jaws).

The reaction: From Capt. William Toti (Ret.), the spokesperson for the Indianapolis survivors' association: "They all know this is now a war memorial, and are grateful for the respect and dignity that Paul Allen and his team have paid to one of the most tangible manifestations of the pain and sacrifice of our World War II veterans."

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U.S. troops and contractors in Afghanistan by year

President Trump will address the nation regarding his strategy in Afghanistan tonight. Here's how many U.S. troops and contractors were in the country through as of late-2016, and the 8 years prior, according to an April report from the Congressional Research Service.

Data: Congressional Research Service; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Some takeaways from the report:

  • The latest available figures from Q4 of FY2016 show 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, down from about 100,000 in 2011.
  • Contractors have frequently made up over half of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan — in Q4 of FY2016, 72 percent of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan consisted of contractors.
  • About 3 percent of these contractors were armed private security contractors.
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U.S. to temporarily stop issuing tourist visas to Russians

Pavel Golovkin / AP

The U.S. Embassy in Russia announced Monday it will stop issuing nonimmigrant visas to Russians for 8 days from Wednesday. A State Department official told Axios "we are forced to suspend" them as "a result of the Russian government-imposed cap" on U.S. embassy staff in Russia.

The U.S. State Department said this is not retaliation for that cap, per the AP, it is just a reflection of the fact that fewer employees on the ground leads to a reduction in capacity. A quarter of a million Russian tourists visited the U.S. last year, Russian tourism officials reported.

For consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekatinburg, and Vladivostok, the suspension is in place "until further notice," the official said.

The backdrop: In July, Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. to cut its embassy staff by 755 in response to a fresh round of sanctions passed by Congress over Russia's election meddling.

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Photos: Trump family, administration take in the eclipse

Here's how members of the Trump family and administration watched the 2017 eclipse:

A delightfully Trumpian moment, captured by White House pool reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian:

"At approximately 2:39, the President initially gesticulated to the crowd below and pointed at the sky. As he did so, one of the White House aides standing beneath the Blue Room Balcony shouted 'Don't look.'"

Andrew Harnik / AP


President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and Barron Trump at the White House

Andrew Harnik / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at the White House

Andrew Harnik / AP

Vice President Mike Pence with students from Cornerstone Schools

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Ivanka Trump at the White House

Andrew Harnik / AP

Tiffany Trump and her mother, Marla Maples in D.C.

And a bonus: The Bush family, in Texas

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Google economist: tech will help workers get new skills

AP

Google's chief economist says that technology will help people transition into new roles, even as it changes the nature of jobs. Hal Varian noted that technology has made it easier for people to learn crucial job skills — while on the job. Drivers, he noted, no longer need to have a perfect grasp of a city's geography; they can learn as they go because technology exists to help with navigation. Online content, such as Khan Academy, can help teach new skills.

"This cognitive assist is really a big deal because it allows for the kind of on the job training you're talking about," he said Monday at the Technology Policy Institute's annual conference.

Why it matters: Some argue that the tech industry has a responsibility to help workers who are impacted by automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. Varian told Axios that helping people pick up new skills is also good for business.

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Trump's years of tweets calling for U.S. to leave Afghanistan

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Today, President Trump is expected to announce his plan to send more troops to Afghanistan to help push back the Taliban and ISIS groups.

Why it matters: The decision is a loss for the "America-first" element of the Trump administration. Now-departed Steve Bannon was strongly opposed to sending more troops, even suggesting private contractors, according to NYT. And Jonathan Swan points out, "Trump has been reluctantly open to the generals' opinion, and I'm told he doesn't want to be the president who loses the country to the terrorists."

Exactly 5 years ago, Trump tweeted: "Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!"

Here's what else Trump has had to say about sending troops to Afghanistan in the past:

Starting as early as 2011, Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants troops to be brought back from Afghanistan, not sent out: