Aug 9, 2020

Axios AM

🚨 With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 5 million today, by far the highest of any country, the failure of the most powerful nation in the world to contain the scourge has been met with astonishment and alarm in Europe.AP

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,185 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: Elevator anxiety stifles reopenings

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tens of billions of dollars — and the future of cities around the country — rest on a solution to workers' worries about packed elevators in office towers, chief financial correspondent Felix Salmon writes.

  • Why it matters: So long as workers remain unwilling to take elevators, hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of office real estate will remain vacant.

What's happening: Landlords and tenants are busy working out how many people to allow in an elevator at a time — with the dual goals of conveying people to their cubicles and keeping them safe at work.

  • Proposed tactics to reduce elevator crowding include staggered arrival times and catered lunches (which reduce the lunchtime rush down and up).
  • New York City's Department of Buildings has a COVID-19 task force, which has slashed in half the maximum capacity of all the elevators it oversees.
  • In practice, however, previous maximum capacity was generally so high that the new rule is unlikely to act as a real constraint.

The intrigue: The science of COVID-19 transmission in elevators is far from settled, but the consensus is that the risk is low.

  • "Most elevators are very well ventilated," Richard Corsi, the dean of the engineering school at Portland State University, tells Axios.
  • "The short duration of any exposure" helps to bring the risk down, Professor Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health adds.

Risk can be further reduced by implementing new rules:

  • Limiting capacity to three or four people per trip.
  • Ensuring that everybody wears a mask and doesn't speak.
  • Not pressing buttons with bare fingers.
  • Standing with your face to the walls of the elevator rather than to the door.

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2. Trump tries end-around to extend checks

President Trump signs executive orders at Bedminster yesterday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

After talks with congressional Democrats flopped, President Trump signed four executive actions that he said would extend unemployment benefits and provide tax relief. But they come with catches, and likely court challenges.

  • "I'm taking executive action. We've had it," Trump said at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., with members as a rooting section.
  • "If we get sued, it's somebody that doesn't want people to get money. OK? And that's not going to be a very popular thing."
  • Details.

The catches: The previous unemployment benefit, which expired Aug. 1, was fully funded by Washington. Trump is asking states to now cover 25% — because it's based on disaster aid, with state contribution. (AP)

  • Michele Evermore, an unemployment expert at the National Employment Law Project, told the WashPost that Trump’s action does not funnel additional money to the existing unemployment program, but instead creates a new program for “lost wages” that states will have to set up from scratch.

In a joint response, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called the actions "unworkable, weak and narrow."

  • Joe Biden called the measures "half-baked": "A real leader would go back to Washington, call together the leaders of the House and Senate, and negotiate a deal."

Schumer told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" about Republicans: "They don't want to meet halfway. They don't want to meet any way."

  • Larry Kudlow, Trump's economic adviser, said: "The president has said we can go back to the negotiating table. We've not said 'no' to that."

🥊CNN's John King: "If you read what he signed, it is not what he says it was. ... You cannot fool people about an unemployment check. They either get it or they don't."

3. "How Tim Cook Made Apple His Own"

Apple CEO Tim Cook waves to customers before they enter Apple's flagship Fifth Avenue store to purchase the iPhone 11 last September. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook "has turned Steve Jobs’s creation into a corporate colossus, ... delivering one of the most lucrative business successions in history through a triumph of method over magic," The Wall Street Journal's Tripp Mickle writes (subscription):

  • Why it matters: "Transitions from dominant leader to successor are seldom successful. Microsoft Corp. stumbled when Bill Gates ceded the reins and General Electric Co. sank after Jack Welch passed the baton."

Two holy-cow stats:

  • "The company’s market valuation is $1.9 trillion — bigger than the GDP of Canada, Russia or Spain."
  • "Since he started running the company in 2011, the year Mr. Jobs died, Apple’s revenue and profit have more than doubled, and Apple’s market value has soared from $348 billion to $1.9 trillion."
4. Pics du jour: Weaponized pool noodle
Photo: Portland Police Department via AP

Portland police say this pool noodle, filled with nails, was placed on a roadway in an effort to damage police vehicle tires during demonstrations.

  • Below, a police tire that officials say was punctured by a spiked pool noodle.
Photo: Portland Police Department via AP
5. Sasse-y: the new Mitt Romney

Sen. Ben Sasse walks to the Senate from the subway to vote in June. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has dialed up his spicy slams of President Trump, including this swipe at yesterday's signing ceremony: "The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop."

  • Why it matters: Trump increasingly looks — to business and to fellow Republicans — like a loser in November. So they're more likely to create distance to save their own skins.
  • Sasse won his May primary, further freeing him.

Earlier, Sasse had this to say as the White House and Democratic leaders negotiated a new coronavirus rescue package:

The swamp should stop pretending there’s some thoughtful negotiation happening here. ... The White House is trying to solve bad polling by agreeing to indefensibly bad debt. This proposal is not targeted to fix precise problems — it's about Democrats and Trumpers competing to outspend each other.

After the Lafayette Square fracas, Sasse said: "I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop."

6. Fox News tops broadcast TV

Screenshot via Fox News

Led by Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, Fox News was the highest rated channel in prime time in June and July, the N.Y. Times' Michael Grynbaum writes (subscription):

  • "Not just on cable. Not just among news networks. All of television."
  • The average Fox viewers from 8 to 11 p.m. ET outstripped CNN, MSNBC and ESPN, as well as the broadcast networks, according to Nielsen.

Why it matters: "That three-hour slot is a narrow but significant slice of TV real estate, and it is exceedingly rare for a basic-cable channel to outrank the Big Three broadcasters, which are available in more households."

GIF of Tucker saying: "Wow!" Via Twitter
7. New Swan this afternoon
Thank you, Twitter!

Support tough, sharp, FREE journalism: Sign up for the latest Jonathan Swan scoops in his Sunday newsletter, Sneak Peek.

8. 🏀 Sports talker I: NBA body clocks

San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV in a huddle before a game July 31 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Photo: Kim Klement/Pool via AP

The NBA bubble has burst the sport's finely tuned body clocks, AP's Tim Reynolds writes:

  • In normal times, game days are marked by a morning shootaround, afternoon nap and then the actual contest in early evening. Practice days feature a late-morning or midday workout.

But with 22 teams at Walt Disney World sharing facilities, the Toronto Raptors left an arena after midnight following one game, then showed up before noon for their next.

  • The L.A. Clippers and the Portland Trail Blazers played yesterday at 1 p.m. in Lake Buena Vista — 10 a.m. in their local markets.

Keep reading.

9. 🏒 Sports talker II: Hockey fights rise
Calgary Flames' Milan Lucic fights Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu in Edmonton on Thursday. Photo: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

NHL fighting had decreased drastically in recent years, but the tensions of hockey's restart — months off, empty arenas and best-of-five series — have ratcheted up the fisticuffs, AP's Stephen Whyno writes:

  • "Guys are full of energy, and there’s guys walking the line a little bit more,” New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "In a short series, I think guys are looking to change momentum."
  • "When a guy’s coming at you and intense, you’re being intense back, and when those two sparks collide, sometimes there’s fire. We’ve seen a couple of scraps and some have been game-changing."

Keep reading.

10. 1 smile to go: Sweatpants nation
Photograph by Stephanie Gonot for The New York Times

"Even before the pandemic, the whole fashion industry had started to unravel. What happens now that no one has a reason to dress up?" Irina Aleksander writes in the N.Y. Times Magazine:

  • "By June, U.S. clothing sales rebounded, but they were still down overall from the year before. ... The anomalies have been mostly athleisure companies, like Lululemon, the purveyor of bougie leggings, whose shares have surged in recent months."

Keep reading (subscription).

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