Jun 1, 2021

Axios AM

Welcome back, welcome to June and welcome to Pride Month.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,467 words ... 5½ minutes. Edited by Zachary Basu.
1 big thing: Biden's big decision

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The U.S. is about to pivot from hoarding vaccines to sharing them globally, and countries are scrambling to get in line, Axios World editor Dave Lawler writes.

  • Why it matters: President Biden has promised to donate 80 million doses by the end of June. With domestic demand waning, he’ll soon be able to offer far more. But the White House hasn't said how it will distribute the initial 80 million, or when it will feel comfortable truly opening its supply to the world.

The U.S. is currently second only to China in vaccine production, but until recently was the only major producer to keep virtually its entire supply at home.

  • While more than half of all Americans have had at least one dose and dozens of rich countries aren't far behind, fewer than 1% of people across the world's low-income countries have been vaccinated.
  • With the U.S. set to belatedly become a global vaccine powerhouse, Biden has some high-stakes decisions to make.

A European diplomat who spoke with Axios argued that the U.S. should reject "vaccine diplomacy" as practiced by Russia and China — and instead bolster multilateralism.

  • That would be done through the WHO-backed COVAX initiative, which aims to provide every participating country with enough doses to cover 20% of its population this year.
  • But while Biden has said the U.S. donations will be driven by science and not geopolitics, there are clear soft-power benefits to controlling distribution more directly.

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2. Biden vacancies delay Big Tech reckoning
Expand chart
Data: Axios research. Table: Axios Visuals

President Biden hasn't named permanent leaders at top agencies overseeing tech and telecom, giving him a late start confronting powerful U.S. companies, Axios' Kim Hart writes in her "Tech Agenda" column.

  • Why it matters: If Biden doesn't move quickly, there won't be time in this term to take on big targets and tackle thorny policy problems.

Biden's tech policy agenda will be largely shaped by the executive branch and regulatory agencies, rather than by a divided and distracted Congress.

  • But when compared to the previous four administrations, the Biden administration is roughly three months behind in naming leaders for the FTC, FCC and the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

Keep reading.

3. 🛸 What UFO videos can't tell us

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Proof of alien life is likely to come from decades of incremental scientific discoveries, not a blurry video of a UFO speeding through the atmosphere, Axios Space author Miriam Kramer writes.

  • More than any other time in history, researchers have access to huge amounts of data that get us closer to knowing whether life might thrive somewhere other than Earth.

Scientists searching the skies for radio signals from intelligent civilizations have gotten a boost in recent years with new funding.

  • Last year was a landmark moment for Venus research, with the discovery that there could be phosphine — an indicator of life — in the planet's clouds.

The intrigue: Videos of UFOs — or, to the Pentagon, UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena) — have captured the public and media imagination.

  • But some in the field want to reframe habitability as a continuum, rather than yes/no.

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4. Picturing America: Memorial Day, unmasked
Photo: David J. Phillip/AP

At the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park, Marwin González of the Red Sox joins a moment of silence for America's fallen heroes.

5. Harris steps up focus on small business
Courtesy Forbes

Vice President Harris is increasingly emphasizing policies supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship, from engaging bank CEOs to working with Treasury Secretary Yellen on increasing capital for underserved small-business owners, officials tell me.

  • Harris has crisscrossed the country to meet with small businesses to highlight the benefits in the American Rescue Plan, which allocated $60 billion to small businesses.

In an essay in Forbes' "50 Over 50" issue, out today, Harris (56) writes:

The pandemic has exposed the flaws and the fissures in our economy. … Today, our nation must reimagine our economy so that every American entrepreneur can launch and grow an enterprise. It is in this reimagining that we will remain competitive — and come out of this pandemic stronger.

📺 What we're watching: Harris will be on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" today for an interview with Mika Brzezinski. Harris shares this advice for women she mentors:

  • "I eat 'no' for breakfast. So have I been told, many times during my career, things from 'you are too young, it's not your turn, they are not ready for you, no one like you has done it before' — I have heard all of those things many times over the course of my career, but I didn't listen." Watch a preview.
6. U.S. Chamber: Worker shortage is "urgent crisis"
Graphic: U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today will launch America Works, a plan to mobilize industry and government to alleviate what the group calls "America's deepening worker shortage crisis."

  • "This is Operation Warp Speed for jobs," said Suzanne Clark, the Chamber's president and CEO. "As we stand on the cusp of what could be a great American resurgence, a worker shortage is holding back job creators across the country."

Read the full report.

7. Biden's plan to narrow racial wealth gap

President Biden salutes at yesterday's National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

As President Biden heads to Tulsa today on the 100th anniversary of the racist massacre, he's announcing plans to bolster homeownership and small businesses in communities of color.

  • Why it matters: The White House says the post-riot experiences of Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood, once known as Black Wall Street — redlining, denial of credit, new highways that cut off opportunity — "have echoes in countless Black communities across the country."

Biden's plans include an "interagency effort to address inequity in home appraisals, and conducting rule-making to aggressively combat housing discrimination."

  • Biden also plans to use "the federal government's purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent, translating to an additional $100 billion over five years."

Go deeper: Read the fact sheet.

8. Reconstructing Greenwood in 3-D
Graphic: The New York Times. Used by kind permission

A huge team from The New York Times built an interactive model of Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood as it was before it was destroyed in the racist massacre that ended 100 years ago today.

  • The Times pieced together archival maps and photos, and analyzed census data, city directories, newspaper articles, and survivor tapes and testimonies "to show the types of people who made up the neighborhood and contributed to its vibrancy."

Take the virtual tour (with 9 bylines).

Between the lines: A "Times Insider" article says that over a dozen journalists on the Graphics desk worked on the project for the last few months:

To generate an aerial view of the neighborhood, Lingdong Huang used machine learning to read flat maps of Tulsa and translate them into 3-D buildings. He also wrote a computer program that let the team manually input accurate heights of buildings using data on the insurance maps. ...
To determine where individuals lived and worked, the team analyzed census data from Ancestry.com, and it wrote software to convert text from the digitized 1921 Tulsa city directory to a searchable database. ... Audra D.S. Burch, a National correspondent, spent a week in Tulsa and met people whose grandparents and great-grandparents survived the massacre.

Read the article.

9. Out today: 26 years with 41

Cover: Twelve

Jean Becker, who was President George H. W. Bush's gatekeeper and chief of staff for the last 25 years of his life, is out today with a memoir, "The Man I Knew: The Amazing Story of George H. W. Bush's Post-Presidency."

  • Becker recalls his first words to her, in 1987:
He was vice president of the United States and running for president. I was a reporter for USA Today ... I was assigned to travel with the vice president on a trip to South Dakota and had been asking the press staff all day for a short interview. Finally, late at night on the long flight back to Washington, they said I could have five minutes.
I was scared to death. He was by far the most important person I had interviewed, unless you count a phone interview with Billy Joel. I made my way to the front of Air Force Two, introduced myself, and sat across from him with my notebook in hand. He gave me an exhausted — and slightly exasperated — look. "What do you got?" he asked.
And we were off and running.

🥊 My favorite sentence: "Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, DC, are not bothered by heavy traffic!"

Bush's life was so full that the book includes a cast of characters: "Meacham, Jon" falls between "Major, John" and "Mulroney, Brian."

  • Read comments about the book by James A. Baker III, Dana Carvey, Valerie Jarrett, Mary Matalin, Michael Duffy and more.
10. 1 film thing: Movies make comeback
Emma Stone in "Cruella." Photo: Laurie Sparham/Disney via AP

The holiday weekend brought a box-office resurgence, breathing new life into an industry that barely survived the pandemic, Axios Media Trends author Sara Fischer writes.

  • "There may not be enough adjectives to describe the importance of this weekend’s box office performance to movie theaters," Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian tells Axios.

Paramount's horror-thriller "A Quiet Place Part II" blew past expectations over the four-day weekend, bringing in an estimated $57 million from box-office ticket sales across North America, per Comscore.

  • Disney's "Cruella" also did well, considering that viewers could stream the film online on Disney+ for $30 the same day it opened in theaters.

72% of North American theaters are now open.

  • While the Memorial Day weekend set a pandemic record, it still brought in about half of the $230 million in box-office sales in 2019.

The big picture: It seems unlikely that the box office will ever fully return to pre-pandemic highs, given how much movie consumption habits and business models have changed.

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