Jun 3, 2020

Axios AM

Good Wednesday morning. Situational awareness: Yesterday's massive protests (60,000 in Houston) were largely peaceful. Last night, the nation’s streets were the calmest they have been in five nights. Looting was vastly reduced in a boarded-up Manhattan.

  • AP tallies more than 9,000 arrests nationwide since unrest began Thursday.
  • Protests have been held in at least 140 U.S. cities, per the N.Y. Times.

🗳️ Breaking: "Republican voters ousted U.S. Rep. Steve King on Tuesday, delivering an end to the two decades of controversy [and racist remarks] he brought to his heavily conservative district." (Des Moines Register)

  • The establishment got him: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce helped build a coalition to pound the message that King had been ineffective.
1 big thing: The slippery slope of protest surveillance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. government is using the nationwide protests to justify high-tech surveillance, and the coronavirus has led to acceptance of tracing and tracking apps and other intrusive technology around the world.

  • Why it matters: As we saw in the aftermath of 9/11, Americans are willing to accept erosions of freedom during a national emergency that may not be fully rolled back when the crisis recedes.

In a two-page DEA memo posted by BuzzFeeed News yesterday, acting Administrator Timothy Shea requested two weeks of authority from Attorney General Bill Barr for "covert surveillance" and other techniques to investigate "any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd."

President Trump's tweet saying the administration will treat antifa (anti-fascist) activists like terrorists could be a green light to step up electronic monitoring of progressive activists' communications, Axios tech editor Kyle Daly points out.

  • That declaration gives law enforcement tacit approval to use a plethora of tech tools to monitor protesters and left-leaning activists. Antifa is so amorphous that authorities could take a free hand in deciding who to include.

P.S. With the coronavirus mostly under control in China, "officials are looking for new uses for the government software that’s now on many phones," the N.Y. Times reported last week.

2. The biggest crisis since 1968

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Underlying photo, showing civil rights activists and National Guardsmen in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

1968 has been on a lot of people's minds lately — another year of protests, violence and upheaval that tore America apart, Axios managing editor David Nather writes.

  • "Yes, this year is worse than 1968. Plus it’s not even half over!" said CFR President Richard Haass, author of the new book, "The World: A Brief Introduction."

The big picture: The demonstrations in the streets have a parallel in the mass demonstrations of 1968, as do the racism and police brutality.

  • We’ve seen cities burning in both years, and fearsome police crackdowns.
  • And both times, there was a "law and order" Republican promising to end the violence — back then, presidential candidate Richard Nixon.

What’s different this time:

  • We’re also in the middle of a pandemic, when everyone’s nerves are already frayed over the more than 100,000 Americans who have lost their lives — and over the skyrocketing unemployment set in motion by the lockdown. "Twice as many Americans died in the past four months of COVID-19 as did in the entire Vietnam War," Haass notes.
  • Everything is being captured in real time on social media as well as cable news.
  • Thankfully, 2020 has not been a year of war and assassinations — two key differences that have led some historians to conclude that 1968 was a bigger year of upheaval.

The bottom line ... Historian Jon Meacham told Axios: "In this convulsive moment, let's not say: 'This isn't who we are.' ... Who do we want to be?"

3. Soak this in
By permission of Martha Raddatz

Martha Raddatz, ABC News chief global affairs correspondent, tweeted this photo that she took at 6:45 p.m. yesterday: "Your Lincoln Memorial this evening."

4. Pics du jour

Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images

Above, a demonstrator hugs a member of the National Guard during a march yesterday in Los Angeles.

Below, the front page of today's N.Y. Post.

N.Y. Post
5. Smart Brevity on tear gas
Photo: @NathanBacaTV/Twitter

The U.S. Park Police released a statement yesterday saying that smoke canisters and pepper balls, but not tear gas, were used to clear demonstrators ahead of President Trump's walk to St. John's Church on Monday.

  • Why it matters: Some Trump supporters are using questions about what chemical agent was used to raise doubt about photographic and video evidence that peaceful protesters were violently ejected.

Nathan Baca — an investigative reporter for WUSA Channel 9, the CBS station in D.C. — tweeted that when the Park Police "says they didn’t use 'CS or CN' tear gas, technically that's correct. 'OC' gas canisters used instead. Causes same tears, tight breath and comes out green."

  • Baca wrote of the photo above: "This is not a smoke canister. I picked this off the street after it was launched at us Monday."
6. George W. Bush on America's "shocking failure"

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement:

Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country. Yet we have resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen. It is time for America to examine our tragic failures — and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths.

Keep reading.

7. RNC ISO new convention city

The RNC is scrambling for a new convention host after President Trump tweeted that North Carolina's coronavirus restrictions will make Charlotte unworkable, Axios' Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene report.

  • The organization still hopes to conduct the convention's "official business" in Charlotte, an RNC spokesperson said.
  • But the part that most Americans think about the convention — the spectacle of the speakers and the president accepting the Republican nomination itself — may be held in a different state with more relaxed COVID-19 laws.

🍊 Florida is the most likely new venue.

8. Coronavirus hospitalizations keep falling
Expand chart
Data: COVID Tracking Project, Harvard Global Health Institute. (Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee and Puerto Rico haven't reported hospitalizations consistently.) Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to decline, particularly in New York and other northeastern states that were among the hardest hit by the virus, Axios' Bob Herman and Andrew Witherspoon report.

  • Roughly 34,000 people diagnosed or being evaluated for COVID-19 were in the hospital at the beginning of June — down from 40,000 in the middle of May, according to state data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.

Share this graphic.

9. SoftBank to launch $100M fund backing companies led by people of color

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

SoftBank COO Marcelo Claure will say in a letter to employees later today that the global technology investment company, based in Japan, will create a $100 million fund that "will only invest in companies led by founders and entrepreneurs of color," Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • Claure writes: "When it comes to diversity, SoftBank absolutely has to do better as an employer, investor, and partner. Our leadership ranks and board aren’t diverse enough."

The big picture: The fund is part of a sea change from talk to action for well-heeled financial institutions.

  • Bank of America announced a $1 billion four-year program to "address economic and racial inequality," including funding for virus testing, support for minority-owned small businesses and investment in affordable housing.

P.S. First look ... The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business organization, today announces a national initiative on inequality of opportunity, launching with a town hall on June 25.

  • Chamber President Suzanne Clark said: "As a nation, we must address this issue with a robust plan of action." Go deeper.
10. Late-night hosts turn serious

Screenshot via YouTube

Six of America's late-night TV hosts — five of them white men — say they and others need to do more than talk about racism, AP's David Bauder writes.

  • It has become a ritual — a somewhat inexplicable one, as TBS' Conan O'Brien noted — for these comics to come on the air after acts of terrorism, school shootings or other national traumas to try and make sense of them.
  • "Today feels very different," O'Brien said Monday night. "It doesn't feel right to talk about my feelings of sadness and anger. That truly feels inadequate and somehow wrong."

Trevor Noah of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" grew up in South Africa with a white father and black mother.

  • "Try to imagine how it feels to be a black person when they watch themselves be looted every day," Noah said.

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