Sep 19, 2021

Axios AM

Happy Sunday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,197 words ... 4½ minutes. Edited by Jennifer Koons.

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🚨 1 big thing — Scoop: Beto plans comeback run
Beto O'Rourke at the Texas Capitol in Austin in July. Photo: Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios' Hans Nichols.

  • Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. And it gives O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

State of play: Immigration is surging at the Southern border. Democrats at the national level are bracing for a brutal midterm election — and potentially losing the House of Representatives in 2022.

  • A new poll for The Dallas Morning News shows O'Rourke narrowing the gap with Abbott in a hypothetical matchup: Abbott 42, Beto, 37. In July, O'Rourke faced a 12-point deficit, 45-33.

Behind the scenes: O’Rourke has been calling political allies to solicit advice, leaving them with the impression that he’s made his decision.

  • "No decision has been made," said David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."

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2. Exvangelicals flee church

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Self-described "exvangelicals" are breaking away from evangelical Christian churches, and are using social media to engage tens of thousands of the former faithful, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Donald Trump's presidency — as well as movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter — drew more Americans into evangelical churches but pushed some existing members away.

Blake Chastain — host of the "Exvangelical" podcast, who's credited with the hashtag #exvangelical — tells Axios that people used to "meet at a bar and speak in hushed tones about 'how weird that church was.'"

  • Now, those discussions ripple across social media.

Instagram accounts including "Dirty Rotten Church Kids” and "Your Favorite Heretics" are providing an online community for those questioning or rejecting the evangelical tradition.

  • Google searches for "religious trauma" and "exvangelical" are on the rise, according to Google Trends.

🎧 Go deeper: In a 48-minute podcast, Jon Ward of Yahoo News interviews Christianity Today's Mike Cosper, host of a continuing podcast series about abuse at the Mars Hill megachurch in Seattle.

3. Splashdown: All-civilian crew launches new era
Photo: SpaceX via AP

"On behalf of SpaceX, welcome back to planet Earth," space operations director Kris Young said as the three-day Inspiration4 mission ended last evening.

  • "Thanks so much, SpaceX," mission commander Jared Isaacman replied after splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. "It was a heck of a ride for us."
  • 13-second video.

Why it matters: The success of this fully amateur space crew marks a changing of the guard, Axios Space author Miriam Kramer writes. Space flight, once the purview of government, now is led by companies.

Photo: SpaceX via AP

This split screen shows the crew as their capsule parachutes into the ocean.

Photo: SpaceX via AP

🎧 Go deeper: Hear Miriam Kramer's months of conversations with the Inspiration4 crew on Axios' podcast docu-series, "How it Happened: The Next Astronauts."

4. Never mind
National Mall during yesterday's rally in support of jailed Capitol rioters. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Lead story from today's Washington Post:

  • "Small crowd at Capitol protest — A WELCOME QUIET AFTER JAN. 6 BEDLAM: Many in attendance were journalists, bystanders."
Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

The bottom line: Police outnumbered protesters.

5. Axios interview: Facebook to try for more transparency

Nick Clegg last year. Photo: Matthew Sobocinski/USA Today via Reuters

Nick Clegg, Facebook's V.P. of global affairs, tells me the company will try to provide more data to outside researchers to scrutinize the health of activity on Facebook and Instagram, following The Wall Street Journal's brutal look at internal documents.

  • Clegg didn't say that in his public response to the series (subscription). So I called him to push for what Facebook will actually do differently given the new dangers raised by The Journal.

"We're not yet in the kind of sustainable, sensible place as far as how we make Facebook data available to external researchers," Clegg said.

  • "That's a journey we're on. We are keen that Facebook should try and make meaningful data available."

When I asked Clegg what he learned from the series, he said Facebook "gets no benefit of the doubt at all, fairly or unfairly." He pointed to the Journal account (subscription) of anti-vax activists flooding the site.

  • "We are told constantly and forcefully by experts that brushing all vaccine hesitancy content under the carpet ... would be counterproductive," Clegg said. "It fosters the idea amongst many Americans [of a] conspiracy. "

Clegg said Facebook won't "go into some sort of defensive crouch ... We need to be tough on ourselves. That's exactly why we commission this research."

6. Satellite image of border
Thousands of migrants sought refuge under the International Bridge near Del Rio, Texas, yesterday as more waded across the Rio Grande. Satellite image: Maxar Technologies via AP

The Department of Homeland Security said it's "immediately implementing a new, comprehensive strategy" to deal with the migrant influx overwhelming Del Rio, Texas.

  • Steps include airlifting border-crossers back to Haiti "and other destinations in the hemisphere within the next 72 hours" + sending 400 more agents and officers to the border.
Photo: Adrees Latif/Reuters

Above: A drone's-eye view of the International Bridge near Del Rio, where thousands of migrants are waiting to be processed.

7. Article of the day: Future of assassination

Israel used a remote-controlled model of a Belgian FN MAG machine gun, like this one, to assassinate Iran's top nuclear scientist. Photo: Darron Mark/Corbis, via Getty Images

Israeli agents killed Iran’s top nuclear scientist last year with no operatives present, The New York Times' Ronen Bergman and Farnaz Fassihi write in "The Scientist and the A.I.-Assisted, Remote-Control Killing Machine":

  • "Iranian agents working for the Mossad had parked a blue Nissan Zamyad pickup truck on the side of the road ... Hidden beneath tarpaulins and decoy construction material in the truck bed was a 7.62-mm sniper machine gun."
  • The sniper "was peering into a computer screen at an undisclosed location more than 1,000 miles away. ... The A.I. was programmed to compensate for the delay, the shake and the car’s speed."

Why it matters: "The souped-up, remote-controlled machine gun now joins the combat drone in the arsenal of high-tech weapons for remote targeted killing," The Times writes.

  • "But unlike a drone, the robotic machine gun draws no attention in the sky, where a drone could be shot down, and can be situated anywhere, qualities likely to reshape the worlds of security and espionage."

Keep reading (subscription).

8. COVID feet: Why we yearn to dance

Photograph by Maridelis Morales Rosado for The New York Times

Carina del Valle Schorske — a writer and translator living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and New York City — writes in The New York Times Magazine cover story, "Dancing Through New York in a Summer of Joy and Grief":

According to the French historian Philippe de Felicé, "Eras of greatest material and moral distress seem to be those during which people dance most." A medieval dancing mania swept through Europe following the height of the Black Death ...

This summer, the author writes, "seemed luxuriously long":

We were right to think it might be our only chance. ... At Coney Island in late July, the celebrated B-boy turned D.J. Tony Touch overstayed his boardwalk set and called out to his remaining audience: "If you’re still here, I want you to act like it. I want to see that."
We are still here. We are trying to find out what it means to act like it.

Keep reading (subscription).

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