Jan 29, 2021

Axios AM

🧤 Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,188 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: Conservatives warn culture, political wars will worsen

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The verdict is clear: The vast majority of Republicans will stand firm with former President Trump, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei writes.

  • The next phase is clear, too: Republicans are rallying around a common grievance that big government, big media and big business are trying to shut them up, shut them out and shut them down. 

Why it matters: The post-Trump GOP, especially its most powerful media platforms, paint the new reality as an existential threat. This means political attacks are seen — or characterized — as assaults on their very being. 

Fox News' Tucker Carlson told us that many in Trump's base feel that the "combined forces of global power have turned on them and are cracking down hard — hilariously, in the name of democracy."

  • "Not a sustainable moment," Carlson added. "Something will break.”

Ben Shapiro, a media leader on the right, told us this sentiment "is widespread, and it grows more dominant with every NYT columnist calling for a social media crackdown, every WaPo columnist lumping in mainstream conservatives with Capitol rioters, every corporation mirroring woke priorities."

  • Shapiro created an internal and external firestorm at Politico when he guest-authored the franchise Playbook. Staff revolted, which Shapiro cites as another example of mainstream media trying to silence the right.

Conservatives were quick to try to move on from the mob storming the Capitol after incitement by Trump. Listen or watch conservative media, and claims of "silencing" are mounting by the day:

  • Trump was banned from Facebook and Twitter.
  • Facebook, a hotbed for conservative argument and misinformation, wants to downplay politics on its platform.
  • Google and others shut off money for Republicans who voted against certifying President Biden’s victory.

The big picture: Pay attention to this trend. The more personal and visceral politics becomes, the higher the chances for chaos and worse.

What we're watching: In a terrorism alert this week warning of continuing danger from anti-government extremists, the Department of Homeland Security pointed to "perceived grievances fueled by false narratives."

  • Axios Sneak Peek scooped last night that House Republican leaders ignored warnings last summer that QAnon-friendly conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, now a congresswoman from Georgia, would end up a flaming train wreck for the party.
  • Speaker Pelosi said yesterday, after warning about Greene: "[W]e will probably need a supplemental [funding bill] for more security for members when the enemy is within the House of Representatives."
2. Robinhood CEO: "I know how Clorox and Lysol felt"
Data: Bloomberg. Chart: Sara Wise and Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Yesterday was one of the crazier days in the history of financial news, Dion Rabouin writes in Axios Markets:

  • Robinhood, which has become synonymous with retail trading and the parabolic rise of stocks like GameStop and Tesla, shut down the ability of its users to buy (but not to sell) some of the platform's most popular names.

Where it stands: Robinhood became the top storyline throughout financial media and even a trending topic on Twitter. Disgruntled users, politicians, washed-up rappers and others accused the company of bowing to hedge fund pressure, turning against its retail clients and conspiring with regulators to stick it to the little guy.

At day's end, Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev told Andrew Ross Sorkin on CNBC: "We absolutely did not do this at the direction of any market maker or hedge fund ... In order to protect the firm and protect our customers, we had to limit buying in these stocks. ... There was no liquidity problem."

  • The Robinhood CEO added: "It pains us to have had to impose these restrictions ... I know how Clorox and Lysol felt [at the start of] the pandemic."

What's next: The incoming chairs of the House Committee on Financial Services, Maxine Waters, and the Senate Banking Committee, Sherrod Brown, announced they would be holding hearings on "the current state of the stock market."

  • Go deeper: "GameStop, AMC stocks bounce back after Robinhood says it will allow some buying Friday."
3. How Reddit fueled revolt

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Small-fry investors' battle against short sellers, who had bet against GameStop and AMC, shows what happens when Reddit culture spills into the real world, tech editor Kyle Daly writes.

  • Reddit is a microcosm of mainstream internet culture — a massive clearinghouse populated mostly by young men with a vaguely anti-establishment bent. They've propelled a populist-progressive unity movement that's rattling Wall Street.

Catch up quick: The run on troubled stocks with vintage appeal — first GameStop, then other 2000s mall staples like AMC, Nokia and BlackBerry — began with one man.

  • Roaring Kitty, as he's known on YouTube and Twitter, has been talking up GameStop stock since taking a long position in it a year ago, when he noticed it was among the most heavily shorted stocks on the market.
  • The roughly $754,000 he ultimately put into GameStop is now worth tens of millions of dollars.

What's next: At some point, the inflated prices, wildly decoupled from any underlying fundamentals, are bound to come crashing down.

4. 🇨🇳 Satellite pics du jour

Photo: European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 via AP

China again tackles the pandemic with mass construction:

  • These satellite images show a massive quarantine camp with more than 4,000 rooms in the northern city of Shijiazhuang — built from flat land over 10 days, a speed that's rarely seen in other countries. Go deeper.
5. Most teachers wait for vaccine

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Teachers in some large school districts don't want to return to the classroom without being vaccinated — which could mean several more months of virtual classes, Axios' Maria Fernandez writes.

  • Only 18 states have included teachers in the early priority groups that can get vaccinated now. And those teachers are competing for shots with other higher-risk populations, including the elderly.

Keep reading.

6. Big Tech punts to outside referees

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Faced with refereeing explosive content at scale, Big Tech companies are tossing their hardest decisions to outsiders, hoping to deflect some of the pressure, Axios' Ashley Gold writes.

The independent Facebook Oversight Board, in its first set of decisions, overturned the social network's decisions in four of its five first cases yesterday, meaning Facebook will have to restore four posts it previously took down.

  • Twitter this week introduced Birdwatch, a pilot program that allows users to add context to what they think are misleading tweets.

Keep reading.

7. App rush: Talent over trash
Data: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Amid the sea of pollution on social media, another class of apps is soaring in popularity: The creators are paid, putting a premium on talent instead of just noise, Sara Fischer and Ashley Gold write.

  • Why it matters: New data shows that the creator-economy apps are commanding much more user interest than traditional social media. Nearly every major app geared toward content creators saw significant increases in downloads during the pandemic.

Explore this graphic.

8. Cicely Tyson, purposeful pioneer
In 2000, Cicely Tyson visits a life-size bronze sculpture of Rosa Parks in the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala. Photo: Kevin Glackmeyer/AP

Cicely Tyson — the pioneering Black actress who died at 96 — was nominated for an Oscar as the sharecropper's wife in "Sounder," won a Tony at 88, and touched viewers' hearts in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," AP reports.

  • Tyson gained fame in the early 1970s, when Black women finally got starring roles. Tyson remained choosey, refusing to take parts simply for the paycheck.
  • Oprah Winfrey said Tyson "used her career to illuminate the humanity in Black people."

Tyson's memoir, "Just As I Am," was published Tuesday.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted: "A pioneer with purpose. Cicely Tyson’s talent redefined theater, film and television. Her courage, resilience and grace changed the entertainment landscape for generations to come."

Keep reading.

9. 35 years ago today
Via @NYTArchives
10. Flying taxis

Photo: Joby Aviation

The next big thing in transportation could be electric flying taxis — think of a drone crossed with a helicopter — that would ferry people and goods high above congested roadways, Axios Navigate author Joann Muller writes.

  • Why it matters: Air taxis are billed as a cheaper, faster, cleaner mode of transportation, and an important link between remote areas and population centers. But there are still technical and regulatory hurdles.

Test flights could begin as soon as 2023. Keep reading.

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