Axios AM

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October 01, 2017

Good Sunday morning. An upbeat O.J. Simpson was picked up by a friend when he walked out of prison in Nevada just after midnight, after serving 9 years for kidnapping and armed robbery. A corrections official told CNN: "I told him, 'Don't come back,' and he responded, 'I don't intend to' ... He was upbeat, personable and seemed happy to get on with his life."

1 big thing: White House spins sunny recovery

President Trump digs in this morning, tweeting: "We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates, ... people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military."

In contrast to dire reports from the island, White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert sent West Wing colleagues an unusually upbeat update — leaked to Axios — that points to a rapid recovery no one on the ground is witnessing.

Bossert, back from a trip to Puerto Rico earlier in the week, says it's "still an urgent situation," but that the administration has "a strong ground game in place on the island with military leadership":

  • "I hope to turn the corner on our public communications ... I recommend that [this weekend] we use the general theme of supporting the governor and standing with the people of Puerto Rico to get them food, water, shelter and emergency medical care."
  • "Monday and Tuesday we can pivot hopefully to a theme of stabilizing as we address temporary housing and sustaining the flow of commodities and basic government services, including temporary power. After that we focus on restoration of basic services throughout next week and next weekend."
  • "Then we start a theme of recovery planning for the bright future that lies ahead for Puerto Rico. Planned hits, tweets, tv bookings and other work will limit the need for reactionary efforts."
  • "The storm caused these problems, not our response to it. We have pushed about as much stuff and people through a tiny hole in as short a timeframe as possible."
  • Full text here.

The White House's sunny plan comes as TV reports "increasingly echo those after Katrina a dozen years ago in sounding the alarm for a desperate population frustrated by the pace of relief efforts," AP's David Bauder points out:

  • "The words were blunt by the usually easygoing Bill Weir on CNN: 'This is a humanitarian crisis the likes of which we have not seen for a long time.'"
  • "With each day, reporters are questioning the effectiveness of relief efforts that U.S. officials say are going well. Several news organizations showed truckloads of emergency supplies sitting in a port because drivers couldn't be located to distribute them."
  • "NBC's Gadi Schwartz told Rachel Maddow of hundreds of officials milling around an air conditioned convention center, seemingly unsure what to do."
  • CBS News' David Begnaud, who has been in Puerto Rico since before Maria hit on Sept. 20: "I'm tired of going to press conferences where officials give credit to other officials for being involved."
  • Begnaud and CNN's Leyla Santiago "both said they receive hundreds of messages a day from people on the mainland, asking them to check on relatives."

Be smart: President Trump's tweets blame Puerto Rico for its straits (WashPost lead story: "Trump's newest target? A mayor" ... L.A. Times lead story: "Trump lashes out at Puerto Ricans"), and try to undermine skeptical coverage ("Because of #FakeNews my people are not getting the credit they deserve for doing a great job").

  • But having failed to bank credibility of his own, Trump looks out of touch as he heads to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

2. On the ground, a stunned start

"I was stunned as I walked through the darkened and humid arrivals terminal at San Juan's International Airport two days after Hurricane Maria blasted its way across Puerto Rico," AP's Chris Gillette writes in a "Reporter's Notebook":

  • "It was quiet. No military air traffic control units on the tarmac directing planeloads of aid supplies, no bustling command center sending convoys of trucks to hard-hit areas."
  • "I covered Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake of 2010, among many natural disasters over the course of 30 years in journalism."
  • "Disasters on the scale of Hurricane Maria are usually marked by the inspiring sight of thousands of military and federal emergency personnel flooding into the affected area. Navy ships offshore, dozens of helicopters and cargo planes flying overhead, military convoys heading into affected areas."
  • "Twenty-thousand troops were sent into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city and surrounding areas. Thousands of foreign aid workers rushed into Haiti after the earthquake there leveled Port-Au-Prince, the capital. Within three days of that quake, the U.S. had dispatched some half-dozen ships and 5,500 soldiers and Marines.
  • "In San Juan on Sept. 22, the only sign of relief efforts were beleaguered Puerto Rican government employees struggling to address the multitude of problems confronting the devastated island, while coping with their own losses from the storm."

Go deeper ... Fascinating N.Y. Times photos and gritty reporting, "Enduring a Day of Misery in Puerto Rico's Ruins: 24 Hours of Despair And Determination On a Battered Island."

3. Zuck asks forgiveness

Mark Zuckerberg posts a message that refers to use of Facebook in last year's election:

Tonight concludes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews when we reflect on the past year and ask forgiveness for our mistakes. For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better.

For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better. May we all be better in the year ahead, and may you all be inscribed in the book of life.

Bonus: Doc of the week

Shortly after Friday's resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney issued this new policy on Executive Branch aircraft use:

  • "[W]ith few exceptions, the commercial air system used by millions of Americans every day is appropriate, even for very senior officials."
  • "Therefore, all travel on Government-owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft, except space­ available travel and travel to meet mission requirements (as those situations are defined in Circular A-126) shall require prior approval from the White House Chief of Staff.

See the full document here.

4. Data du jour

"The new reality of old age in America," from a series by the WashPost's Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, "The Forgotten":

  • "People are living longer, more expensive lives, often without much of a safety net. As a result, record numbers of Americans older than 65 are working — now nearly 1 in 5."
  • "Today, 9 million senior citizens work, compared with 4 million in 2000."
  • Why it matters: "Polls show that most older people are more worried about running out of money than dying."

5. Future threats

"Topping the list of emerging threats? Drones" ... Counter-terrorism experts warn that ISIS' innovative use of inexpensive drone technology may spur aerial attacks around the globe, per L.A. Times' W.J. Hennigan:

  • What's new: "A specially trained unit of Islamic State pilots flew small quadcopters and model-plane-sized drones, sometimes a dozen or more at a time, to stream live video of U.S.-backed ground forces and to drop crude munitions on them in both Iraq and Syria."
  • Why it matters: "By evading ground defenses with remote-controlled devices purchased on the internet, the militants pioneered an asymmetric but successful tactic on the battlefield, much as the growing U.S. fleet of missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones has dramatically changed modern warfare."
  • What's next: "The threat spurred the Army to issue a handbook in April to urge commanders to assign dedicated observers to track small drones, and to train soldiers in what it called 'Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Techniques.'"

6. 1 fun thing

"Saturday Night Live" premiered its 43rd season with a cold open of "The Chaos President":

  • When "Sarah Huckabee" tells "President Trump" (Alec Baldwin) that San Juan Mayor Cruz is on the line: "I was expecting this phone call. I'm sure she wants to tell me what a great job I'm doing."
  • Then he tells the mayor: "You should have paid your bills. FEMA takes a few days unless you join FEMA Prime."
  • "Ma'am, I don't know if you know this, but you're in an island in the water the ocean water big ocean, with fishies and bubbles and turtles that bite. We want to help you, but we have to take care of America first."
  • See the YouTube.

"Weekend Update" on Hurricane Maria, with a drop-by by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Kate McKinnon).