Apr 23, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

😎 Good Tuesday morning.

Situational awareness: The Supreme Court yesterday accepted three cases involving gay and transgender employees, for the term beginning in October.

  • Why it matters, from WashPost: "This means election-year rulings on one of the nation's most consequential and unsettled civil rights issues: whether anti-discrimination laws prevent employers from firing workers because of sexual orientation or gender identity."

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1 big thing: China's road to global dominance

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Later this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping will show the world how far he's come in his 30-year plan to make his country the world's supreme power, Axios World editor Dave Lawler writes.

  • Upwards of 40 world leaders will join him in Beijing for the second international gathering on his Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to build a massive network of ports, roads and railways across some 65 countries.
  • Why it matters: When you can get that many powerful people to come to you in Beijing, you're starting to look a lot like a superpower.

Authoritarians will take center stage (Vladimir Putin is the guest of honor).

  • But liberal democracies will also be well represented: The U.K. is sending a delegation led by Chancellor Philip Hammond, the country's top finance minister, in a move that is likely to rankle Washington.
  • The U.S. attended Xi's first conference, in 2017, but isn't sending a high-level delegate this year.

The big picture: Belt and Road is just one element of China's plan to supplant the U.S. as the dominant global superpower within the next three decades.

  • Xi has set a target date for China to cement its dominance: 2049, the centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
  • By the time Beijing's ambitions were widely understood in Washington, China’s success had already begun to feel inevitable.

Jonathan Ward, author of "China's Vision of Victory," says Xi has simply "taken off the mask" of a decades-long plan.

  • Ward says Belt and Road is intended to impose the "coercive force of the Chinese economy to build strategic beachheads" around the world: "In the 19th century we'd understand that as empire building."
  • Meanwhile, "it's full steam ahead on pretty much every human activity, from space to seabed, with the objective of becoming the world’s leader in all of these things."
  • "And with that, you build a foundation of power that is absolutely beyond what can be achieved by any other nation."

Chris Johnson, a former top CIA China analyst who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Belt and Road is a series of pricey bets that might prove unsustainable.

  • Johnson says the U.S. should be paying more attention to the race for the technologies of the future: 5G networks, artificial intelligence, quantum computing.
  • "The risk is that we’re busy chasing Belt and Road, concerns over influence building and an ideological death struggle, when this is really where we should be placing our limited resources," he says.

The bottom line: The U.S. remains the world's leading economic, military and technological power. But with Beijing’s investments, massive market and willingness to work with democrats and dictators, when Xi calls, much of the world is willing to come.

2. Scoop: Biden's announcement message
Screenshot via CNN

When Joe Biden announces for president later this week, he'll open his campaign with a "climate of the nation" message that takes on President Trump but doesn't directly attack any of the other 2020 Democrats, advisers tell me.

  • Biden will spell out the stakes for the country, and talk about what kind of people we're going to be.
  • He'll emphasize the kind of politics he's running against, and what kind of leadership the moment calls for.

Some key Democrats are bearish on the 76-year-old's chances, with one of them calling it "a third Obama term, a second Hillary term — take your pick."

  • But Biden will project a "determined" air, advisers say.
  • Friends say Biden has been personally making fundraising calls, a sign of his new focus on a race where he let much of the field form ahead of him.

Biden expects the rest of the field to cut him up, including attacks on his family.

  • But Biden is saying behind the scenes that he's been hurt enough in his life, and this field can't hurt him.
  • "His antenna is up," a friend said. "He's ready for it."
  • And Biden is saying he's more convinced that he can beat Trump than he has been of anything in his political life.

What's next: Look for Biden to announce with a video tomorrow or Thursday, then headline a fundraiser being held by Comcast's David Cohen in Philadelphia.

  • Then expect Biden to hit Pittsburgh early next week.

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3. Scoop: Billionaire digital ad wars
Expand chart
Data: Tech for Campaigns. (Facebook data is from Nov. 11, 2018, to April 20, 2019. Google data is from Nov. 11, 2018, to April 13, 2019.) Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Sara Fischer has a first look at data showing that the two biggest spenders on digital ads between the midterms and now are — by far — Donald Trump and billionaire progressive activist Tom Steyer, according to data from Tech for Campaigns, a digital arm for progressive and centrist campaigns.

  • Why it matters: We know a lot more about digital spending in real time now that Facebook and Google post political ad data. That started last year, with more detail beginning in March.

Most of Steyer's messaging is around his Need to Impeach campaign, a key part of his more than $100 million in spending on the midterms.

  • Many of Trump's Facebook ads are focused on immigration and aimed at seniors, Axios reported earlier this month.

Other billionaires are also pouring money into 2020:

  • Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity both make the top-spenders list. 

The billionaire trend was also apparent in the midterms:

  • Of the top 15 spenders overall on political/advocacy ads in 2018, five had links to billionaires — including Trump, Steyer, J.B. Pritzker, and Reid Hoffman, according to Tech for Campaign's 2018 Political Digital report.
4. Pic du jour
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump colors with crayons on pages from a coloring book with children during the 141st Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House.

5. The Democratic argument against impeachment

Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, writes for the N.Y. Times under the headline, "There’s a Bigger Prize Than Impeachment":

  • "Nothing will unite an increasingly fraying Republican Party more than trying to remove the president anywhere but at the ballot box."
  • "Democrats risk the kind of overreach that doomed the Republicans 20 years ago."
  • "And in any case Democrats are not likely to succeed in getting votes in the Senate to convict the president. And in politics, a loss is a loss — there are no moral victories."

⚡ Breaking: Speaker Pelosi told House Democrats on a conference call last night that there are no immediate plans to start impeachment, per the WashPost.

  • Instead, the House will investigate President Trump and see where the inquiries lead.

P.S. ... A Groundhog Day headline from CNN:

SOURCES: TRUMP FUMING OVER MUELLER REPORT.
6. Sri Lanka alleges New Zealand connection

"Sri Lanka’s government has information indicating the plotters of Easter bombings that killed more than 300 people were reacting to the New Zealand shootings that left 50 Muslims dead in March, the country’s defense minister said," writes The Wall Street Journal (subscription):

  • "Minister Ruwan Wijewardene, who made the statement in Parliament, didn’t elaborate or provide any details about the nature of the government’s information."
  • "The sophistication of the Easter-morning attacks indicated to Sri Lankan and international terror experts that whoever carried them out likely had help from experienced international terrorists, perhaps even al Qaeda or Islamic State, Sri Lankan officials said."
7. San Francisco on edge
A man reads the Bible while sitting across from the proposed site of a homeless shelter in San Francisco. Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

"San Francisco’s renowned waterfront hosts joggers, admiring tourists and towering condos with impressive views. It could also become the site of a new homeless shelter for up to 200 people," writes AP's Janie Har.

  • Angry residents "say they were blindsided and argue billionaire Twitter executive Jack Dorsey and other tech executives who support the idea should lobby city officials to build a shelter by their homes."
  • "Pinterest and Lyft recently went public, and Uber and Slack are coming soon, driving fears that newly minted millionaires will snap up the few family homes left for under $2 million."

The bottom line: "A family of four earning $117,400 a year is considered low-income in San Francisco, where the median sale price of a two-bedroom is $1.3 million. Yet every night, the city of 885,000 also has about 4,400 people sleeping unsheltered, in alleys and doorways and tucked away in Golden Gate Park."

8. Tech tackles date rape

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech companies are stepping in to help people identify and handle the problem of drug-facilitated sexual assault, otherwise known as date rape, writes Axios' Alexi McCammond.

  • Numerous companies are offering devices to detect a contaminated drink. They market straws, drink stirrers, coasters, and strip tests, among other products, to test on the spot whether their drinks have been spiked with drugs.
  • The products aren't perfect. They're single-use, have an expiration date, and don't say what exactly (or how much) is in your drink.

By the numbers: In the U.S., 37 states require schools to teach abstinence as part of sex-education. Zero states mandate that they address date rape.

  • Be smart: Until schools implement better education and these tech products are more available, a lot of the advice on how to handle being drugged relies on gut instincts.
9. Harassment at the company that sells love
Courtesy The New York Times

In the new N.Y. Times Magazine cover story, Taffy Brodesser-Akner reports a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination at the nation’s largest jewelry-store conglomerate, Sterling Jewelers, and its Kay and Jared jewelry brands:

According to my interviews, to be a good old boy, you didn’t have to have achieved a specific position or have been particularly good at jewelry sales or management. You didn’t even have to be a boy (though it helped). It was a state of mind, an acquiescence to a culture and the mission to do what you could to perpetuate it.
This played out through a system in which men were consistently paid more than women and promoted more quickly; a promotions system in which men received, as many I spoke to described it, a "tap on the shoulder" for advancement instead of being rewarded through any kind of predictable, fair system ...

A statement from Signet Jewelers:

"We’re disappointed that The New York Times decided to publish an article primarily based on decades-old allegations, and we believe casts our company unfairly. Signet is a recognized leader among companies for gender diversity, with women making up 74% of store management positions and full gender parity in both the C-Suite and Board of Directors. Under the leadership of our CEO Gina Drosos, we are undeterred in our ongoing mission to champion diversity and inclusion as a strategic priority and in our multi-year business transformation plan."

This item has been updated with a statement from Signet Jewelers.

10. 1 small thing

Alex Kalman is the curator of one of the smallest museum spaces in New York City — "all 36 square feet of it. That is one eighteen-thousandth the size of the Met. The only thing that is oversized about it is the name: Mmuseumm, with a couple of extra 'm’s,'" writes the N.Y. Times' James Barron.

  • The museum "occupies what used to be a freight elevator that opened directly onto the street."
  • Kalman "believes that small objects — things that museumgoers could miss in a large setting like the Met or the Modern — can tell important stories."

The museum's 2019 exhibition opens this week and includes "a display about fake American fast-food in Iran. 'It’s the story of how the universal love of a cheeseburger overpowers international embargoes,' Mr. Kalman said."

  • "Another collection of objects at Mmuseumm tells stories that are disturbing in a way that pictures at an exhibition might not be: things that people, mostly people of color, were carrying when they were shot and killed by the police."
Mike Allen

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