Feb 12, 2021

Axios AM

❤️ Happy Friday! Sunday is Valentine's Day.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 949 words ... < 4 minutes.

🎣🧀 Happy 5-0 to Jim VandeHei, whose genius created Axios, and a better life for countless people. Jim has articulated a worthy aspiration, for business and for life: "getting the big things right."

  • Why it matters: Jim has nailed that. I hope his five magic words will serve you as a frame for big decisions and course-corrections, and for guiding and inspiring others.
1 big thing: Why vaccines are taking so long

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

COVID vaccine makers are under intense pressure to rev up production, but the demand is unprecedented — and the speed of production is limited, Axios' Joann Muller and Alison Snyder report.

  • Why it matters: Even with help from the federal government and outside companies, vaccine-making is a complex, time-consuming biological process. That limits how quickly companies like Pfizer and Moderna can accelerate their output even during a crisis.

What would normally take years to set up is being compressed into less than a year, leaving engineers to adapt manufacturing processes on the fly.

  • "The bottleneck keeps moving. It keeps changing," said Chaz Calitri, who leads the COVID-19 vaccine program at Pfizer's Kalamazoo, Mich., facility.
  • "It's a dream project, but at the same time, it’s the weight of the world," he tells Axios.

How it works: Axios got a deep dive into the making of Pfizer's vaccine, a three-phase process that takes weeks from start to finish and involves three different facilities.

2. Facebook weans off politics

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook is dialing back the volume of political content in users' news feeds — the latest lurch for the world's digital public square, Axios managing editor Scott Rosenberg writes from the Bay Area.

  • Facebook, having captured a vast chunk of the digital ad business and trained users to view its stream of posts as a one-stop shop for all their informational needs, now says it plans to limit its distribution of posts about politics and broaden its situational bans on political ads.

Facebook said Wednesday it'll "temporarily reduce the distribution of political content in News Feed for a small percentage of people in Canada, Brazil and Indonesia this week, and the U.S. in the coming weeks."

  • "One of the top pieces of feedback we're hearing from our community ... is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services," Mark Zuckerberg said on an earnings call last week.

Facebook says political content amounts to only 6% of posts.

3. Video vs. video as Trump begins defense

An exhibit yesterday for House impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) Photo: Senate TV via AP

Beginning their impeachment defense today, former President Trump's lawyers will rely on video, albeit far less graphic than the visceral case by House impeachment managers, Axios' Alayna Treene reports from the Capitol.

  • Trump's lawyers plan to show video of the certification process surrounding the 2016 election, when a handful of Democrats — including Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager — objected to the Electoral College results making Trump president.
  • The defense will also show video of Trump telling his supporters at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally to "peacefully and patriotically" make their way to the Capitol — a point the lawyers plan to reiterate throughout their presentation.
Graphic: CNN

Trump's team will point to a series of facts showing the pre-riot rally had been planned, something House managers did for different reasons.

  • They'll point out that pipe bombs were placed before the speech.
  • This evidence, the defense will say, shows Trump's words at the rally didn't directly incite the attack.

The bottom line: Republicans lawmakers — as well as Trump’s defense team — agree that they want to get the trial over as quickly as possible, given the beating they’re taking from the media and the strength of the Democrats' presentation.

Graphic: CNN
4. Happy Lunar New Year
Photo: Ore Huiying/Getty Images

In Singapore, people enjoy a light show at the River Hongbao festivities at the Gardens by the Bay after counting down to Lunar New Year.

  • The Chinese diaspora of Southeast Asia is celebrating a subdued Lunar New Year, as COVID restrictions cut into what is traditionally a time for people to travel to relatives and celebrate with extended families. — Getty
5. 🚨 DOJ criminal probe of GameStop frenzy

"Federal prosecutors are investigating whether market manipulation or other ... misconduct fueled the rapid rise last month" of stocks including GameStop and AMC, The Wall Street Journal's Dave Michaels reports (subscription).

  • "The Justice Department's fraud section and the San Francisco U.S. attorney's office have sought information ... from brokers and social-media companies that were hubs for the trading frenzy," including Robinhood.
6. What you don't see on TV: Inside the Capitol during trial
Photo: Kent Nishimura/L.A. Times via Getty Images

Journalists photograph David Schoen, defense attorney for former President Trump, in the Senate subway.

Photo: Kent Nishimura/L.A. Times via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer talks with reporters as he rolls.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney walks to the Senate chamber yesterday, after featuring in impeachment managers' presentation, which showed he was in greater danger during the siege than even his family realized.

7. 🎞️ Sneak peek at Sunday's "Axios on HBO"

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

The 51st state? Alexi McCammond travels to Puerto Rico, where Gov. Pedro Pierluisi is optimistic about statehood: "I don't want to compete with D.C. — I am all for D.C. statehood. So I just want the star. I don't care about the number."

  • Why it matters: With support from President Biden and a Democratic Senate, chances for a new state are the best in 62 years — since Hawaii joined in 1959.

Watch a clip.

  • Go deeper: The Lancet report we told you about yesterday has an on-point section, "A century of exploitation and neglect in Puerto Rico." (p. 6)
8. 🍽️ Indoor dining a puzzle for NYC
A waiter at Baby Brasa in Manhattan's West Village shields a glass of champagne from snow on Sunday. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

New York City reopens indoor dining today at 25% capacity. But some restaurants say that won’t yield enough sales to warrant the additional staffing, cleaning and operational costs, Bloomberg reports.

  • McDonald's and Chipotle "are opting to keep their tables cordoned off due to health and staffing concerns."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "surprise announcement on Jan. 29 that restaurants could host customers indoors in time for Valentine’s Day provided little time to prepare," Bloomberg notes: "[R]estaurants have to clean, line up waiters and kitchen staff and restock pantries."

9. 👀 Backlash over police use of facial recognition

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Minneapolis is poised to ban the city's police department from using facial recognition technology at a council meeting today, Nick Halter reports in Axios Twin Cities.

  • Why it matters: Opponents of the technology say it invades privacy, allows police to surveil activists and is far less accurate in identifying women and people of color, which leads to false arrests.

Sign up for Axios Local.

10. 🎾 Aussie Open bans fans after new lockdown

Australian Nick Kyrgios celebrates before hometown fans after winning a set yesterday. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Tennis fans will be prohibited from attending the Australian Open as the state of Victoria prepares for a five-day lockdown after an outbreak at a hotel used to quarantine travelers, Kendall Baker writes in Axios Sports.

  • Life had returned to near normalcy in Victoria, with packed bars full of unmasked patrons. But now, over 6 million Victorians will only be able to leave home for essential shopping, work, exercise and caregiving.
  • Tennis players, however, are classified as "workers" and will be permitted to continue their matches.

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