Dec 11, 2019

Axios AM

Good Wednesday morning. Smart Brevity™ count: 955 words ... 4 minutes.

  • 🥣 D.C., you're invited: We're serving coffee-and-gingerbread oats (and tasty conversations about health care) at 8 a.m. today at my last event of the year, at The Showroom, 14th and L. RSVP here.
1 big thing ... Scoop: China tried to get World Bank to fund surveillance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Chinese schools receiving World Bank loans wanted to buy facial recognition technology for use against Muslims in Xinjiang, according to documents obtained by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios' new China expert.

  • Why it matters: The World Bank loan program in Xinjiang shows the extreme moral hazard facing organizations operating in the region, where China has built a surveillance state and detained more than 1 million ethnic minorities.

A World Bank-funded school unsuccessfully requested a facial-recognition software system to create a "blacklist face database that can be set and armed."

  • The purpose: "[W]hen blacklisted individuals pass through," the images could be sent directly to Chinese police.

In more than 8,000 pages of World Bank Chinese-language procurement documents dated June 2017, participants in the loan program requested tens of thousands of dollars to buy facial recognition cameras and software, night-vision cameras, and other surveillance technology for Xinjiang schools.

  • The World Bank told Axios those funds were not provided.
  • A World Bank spokesperson said: "[I]nclusive societies are key to sustainable development, and we take a strong line against discrimination of any kind."

What happened: In 2015, the World Bank began a loan program providing $50 million over five years to five Xinjiang vocational schools.

  • By 2017, China had blanketed Xinjiang with surveillance tech that it used to force Uighurs and other ethnic minorities into internment camps Beijing calls "vocational training centers."
  • The World Bank didn't review or scale back the program at that time.

In August, the loan program came under congressional scrutiny for possible complicity in China’s repression.

  • In November, the World Bank announced it was scaling back the program.
  • But the five original schools continue to receive World Bank funding.

A World Bank spokesperson told Axios that procurement documents had not been translated into English, making oversight difficult because only Chinese-speaking staff could read them.

Go deeper: Read the procurement documents.

2. ⚖️ Impeachment articles: Trump "betrayed" U.S.
Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters

House Democrats set up a historic pre-Christmas vote by announcing two articles of impeachment against President Trump: "Abuse of Power" and "Obstruction of Congress," Axios' Alayna Treene writes.

  • Why it matters, via AP: After internal debate in their caucus, Democrats opted to focus narrowly on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, leaving out any direct mention of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Key passage: "Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States."

For history ...

The Washington Post
The New York Times

Read the lead of Axios PM, "Trump's Christmas gift to America":

  • President Trump looks highly likely to head into Christmas impeached but riding high with record-low unemployment, a surging stock market and a bipartisan trade deal to replace NAFTA.
  • Why it matters: This will fittingly stuff every partisan's stockings with reasons to tell family he's the greatest or worst president in American history.
  • Share this story.
3. Flashback du jour
Left: L.A. Times. Right: Twitter

Hat tip: Vox's Aaron Rupar

4. Mayor says Jewish market targeted in hours-long Jersey gun battle
Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

Jersey City's mayor tweeted that a kosher market was targeted in an hours-long standoff that began after two suspects fatally shot a police officer, reports's Noah Cohen.

  • But the city's police chief had said earlier that there was "no inkling" about a motive for the attack, which also left three civilians dead and locked down schools in the area for hours.

Why it matters: The conflicting stories "added to confusion while many details surrounding the attack remained unclear," especially because city officials had stated previously that the attack was not linked to terrorism.

5. World's biggest IPO
Aramco and stock-market officials celebrate in Riyadh today. Photo: Amr Nabil/AP

"Saudi Aramco shares surged after the initial public offering, valuing the [state-owned] oil producer at a record $1.88 trillion and lifting Saudi Arabia’s stock market into the ranks of the world’s largest," Bloomberg reports.

  • Why it matters: Aramco overtakes Microsoft and Apple as the most valuable public company.
6. 2020 Attention Tracker: Tulsi Gabbard is Dems' lightning rod
Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Stories about Tulsi Gabbard are averaging 858 social-media interactions (likes, comments, shares) — more than any other 2020 Democrat, according to NewsWhip data from the past three months that was provided exclusively to Axios' Neal Rothschild.

  • The big picture: Gabbard's war of words with Hillary Clinton in October and her appeal to viral, right-wing media have driven outsized interest in stories about her.

The other leaders are the field's front-runners.

  • Only Joe Biden (851) comes close.
  • Many of the biggest articles about him are related to Trump, Ukraine and impeachment.

See the 5 most viral Gabbard stories.

7. Combo pic du jour
Photos: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, during Monday's impeachment hearing.

8. GM doubles down on big SUVs
2021 Chevrolet Tahoe RST is unveiled in Detroit yesterday. Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

"GM, which controls about 70% of the large sport utility market in North America with six models, unveiled the redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the first of a new generation of large SUVs," Reuters reports from Detroit.

  • "The 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe is 6.7 inches longer than the current Tahoe."
  • Why it matters: The profits "will help fund development of electric vehicles that the automaker promises for the future."

Between the lines, from AP: "Global concerns about climate change are not stopping General Motors from making hulking SUVs for U.S. drivers."

9. Sign of our times
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph separated and caged, as asylum seekers detained by ICE.

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
10. 1 ⚾ thing: Biggest pitcher contract

As a Houston Astro, Gerrit Cole warms up at Yankee Stadium in October. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

The Yankees' Gerrit Cole quickly ended Stephen Strasburg's tenure as baseball's highest-paid pitcher, agreeing to a $324 million, nine-year contract, per AP.

  • Cole topped the $245 million, seven-year contract Strasburg finalized a day earlier to remain with the world champion Washington Nationals.

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