May 8, 2019

Axios AM

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Breaking: Ride-hailing drivers in more than a dozen cities plan to strike [today] ahead of Uber's highly anticipated Wall Street debut." (CNN)

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1 big thing: Scoop! Philly may stop charging drug users as criminals

Screenshot via "Axios on HBO"

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the country's most progressive prosecutors, told "Axios on HBO" that he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws.

  • Why it matters: This would be a first-of-its-kind policy in the U.S.
  • If it leads to more cities adopting similar policies that address drug-possession offenses with treatment instead of incarceration, it could fundamentally change the nation's approach to addiction and the war on drugs.
  • "Possession is different than dealing," Krasner told Axios' Stef Kight. "We are talking about people who are using drugs. The vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that."

How it would work: The Philadelphia policy has not been finalized, and there is no timeline yet for rolling it out. The plan is for a diversion system, which means anyone arrested or charged for having small amounts of illicit substances would not face incarceration or a criminal record.

  • Instead, they may have to attend a treatment program or potentially participate in community service, according to Krasner's office.
  • As district attorney, Krasner has the power to decide when to charge someone with a crime, to determine the severity of the charges and suggest prison terms.

Philadelphia's policy would not shield offenders from federal law enforcement agents, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Widney Brown, managing director of policy at Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for decriminalization in the U.S.

  • And the policy could be done away with under a new district attorney.

Between the lines: Krasner said the criminalization of drug possession makes it harder for people to get educational loans, buy homes and get a job.

  • In Pennsylvania, a first-time offense of possession of small amounts of heroin or cocaine can result in a year behind bars and thousands of dollars in fines.

The big picture: Marijuana legalization is being increasingly debated, and now — amid the opioid crisis — the conversation is starting to turn to new ways to handle all illegal drug possession.

See a clip.

  • The full interview with Larry Krasner will be part of the new season of "Axios on HBO," premiering June 2.
2. American inequality: Pregnancy edition
Graphic: AP

Pregnancy-related deaths are rising in the U.S. and the main risk factor is being black, AP's Mike Stobbe and Marilynn Marchione report:

  • Black women, along with Native Americans and Alaska natives, are three times more likely to die before, during or after having a baby, yesterday's report from the CDC concludes.
  • More than half of these deaths are preventable.
  • These deaths are rare — about 700 a year — but have been rising for decades.

"An American mom today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was," said Dr. Neel Shah, a Harvard Medical School obstetrician.

3. The art of losing money: Trump's decade in red
Donald Trump in 1989, aboard one of his Trump Shuttle planes. Photo: Larry Morris/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Donald Trump’s businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings — ran up $1.17 billion in losses from 1985 t0 1994, the N.Y. Times' Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig report.

  • "[Y]ear after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer."
  • "Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years."

The data seen by The Times includes printouts of Mr. Trump's "official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts," with the figures from his 1040 for 1985 to 1994.

  • For each of those years, Trump reported a negative adjusted gross income.

Why it matters: The report "represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view."

4. School shooting near Columbine
Officials guide students off a bus and into a recreation center where they were reunited with their parents. Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

Two students opened fire inside the STEM K-12 charter school they attend in an affluent suburb of Denver, killing a teenager, wounding eight and spreading terror before they were taken into custody, AP reports.

  • As the gunfire rang out, students ran through the halls of STEM School Highlands Ranch in Highlands Ranch, Colo., shouting "School shooter!"
  • Some wondered at first if it was a joke or a drill.

"The male suspects, an 18-year-old and a juvenile, were taken into custody by Douglas County sheriff’s deputies within two minutes of a 1:53 p.m. report of shots fired," per the Denver Post.

  • The context: "It was the fourth school shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre 20 years ago."
5. Trump wants longtime friend investigated
Graphic: Harry Stevens/Axios

President Trump's longtime friend and close adviser, David Bossie, is, for now at least, a persona non grata in Trumpworld, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.

Two days after Axios published an investigation of Bossie's fundraising, the president personally authorized the Trump campaign to issue an extraordinary statement that, without naming Bossie, effectively called for the authorities to investigate Bossie's group, the Presidential Coalition. 

President Trump’s campaign condemns any organization that deceptively uses the President’s name, likeness, trademarks, or branding and confuses voters.
There is no excuse for any group, including ones run by people who claim to be part of our "coalition," to suggest they directly support President Trump’s re-election or any other candidates, when in fact their actions show they are interested in filling their own pockets with money from innocent Americans’ paychecks, and sadly, retirements.
We encourage the appropriate authorities to investigate all alleged scam groups for potential illegal activities.

Axios revealed in Sunday's Sneak Peek that Bossie used Trump's name to raise $18.5 million for the stated purpose of supporting Trump-aligned candidates. But just $425,442 (or 3%) of the $15.4 million it spent during 2017 and 2018 went to supporting candidates.

  • The rest of the money went to more fundraising, book purchases (including Bossie's own book), and administrative costs including Bossie's salary.

After we published the story including quotes from elderly Bossie donors saying they thought they were giving to Trump — a number of people close to the president reached out to say they were disgusted with what Bossie did.

  • "There’s nothing the president likes less than somebody profiting off him by using his name and likeness," said a source familiar with Trump’s thinking.
6. Contempt threat rises

Shot: The White House "stepped in to stop Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel, ... from handing over documents subpoenaed by House investigators because Mr. Trump may want to assert executive privilege," per the N.Y. Times.

  • Speaker Pelosi at a Cornell University event in Manhattan: "Trump is goading us to impeach him."

Chaser: "Watchdog Probes FBI Reliance on Dossier ... Justice Department official looks at handling of Christopher Steele’s dossier in applications to surveil Carter Page." (WSJ)

7. Iran threatens higher uranium enrichment

On today's one-year anniversary of the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran ratcheted up tensions with Washington by saying it had started scaling back its commitments under the deal, Reuters reports.

  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: "After a year of patience, Iran stops measures that US has made impossible to continue."

Why it matters: Paul Pillar, a Georgetown professor and former CIA officer, told Bloomberg the Trump administration "will argue that Iran's moves support the administration’s assertions that Iran is still trying to build a nuclear weapon."

8. Georgia governor signs "heartbeat" abortion ban
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signs "heartbeat" legislation yesterday. Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion bills into law, setting "the stage for a legal battle that the legislation’s critics hope will spill over to the polls in 2020," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

  • The bill "outlaws most abortions once a doctor can detect a fetus' 'heartbeat' — usually about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant."

Why it matters: "Georgia’s law is one of several moving through Republican-run state governments across the country with the express purpose of challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision."

9. Google promises more privacy, smarter Assistant
Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote at yesterday's developer conference in Mountain View, Calif. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google is speeding up Google Assistant for smartphones with more AI processing, Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried reports:

  • Assistant will let you make assignable reminders so you can tell your partner to pick up the kids or remind your daughter to take out the trash.
  • Starting now, you can stop a timer or alarm by saying "stop" without having to say "Hey Google" first.
  • Go deeper.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai writes in a N.Y. Times op-ed: "[P]rivacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services."

Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP
10. 1 spy thing
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

James Bond's shiny silver sports car — with its JB007 rotating license plate — greets visitors in the lobby of the new, improved International Spy Museum, which opens Sunday at L'Enfant Plaza in D.C., AP's Deb Riechmann writes.

  • The old, cramped museum focused on human collection of intelligence.
  • The new one offers a window into covert operations, counterterrorism, intelligence analysis, cyber espionage, intelligence failures and even highly debated legal and ethical issues, such as waterboarding.
  • The old museum, which closed in 2018, had about 3,000 artifacts and could display about 600 of them at a time. The new spy museum has 10,000.

Visitors can climb inside a replica "stress position" interrogation box that's too narrow to sit down in and too low to stand up in.

  • Or you can get a cover identity and mission, along with a radio-frequency badge that recognizes you as you walk up to interactive exhibits.

Go undercover.

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