Feb 5, 2019

Axios AM

🐷 Happy Lunar New Year! It's the Year of the Pig.

  • "Chinese set off billions of fireworks to celebrate." (AP)

⚡ Breaking: President Trump tomorrow will nominate David Malpass, one of the World Bank’s sharpest critics within his administration, to be the bank's president. (WSJ)

1 big thing: Trump's 2019 foretold
Trump in Saudi Arabia in 2017. (Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Council via Getty Images)

Ahead of President Trump's State of the Union address tonight, we asked the Axios subject-matter experts the top trend they'll be watching this year:

  • Tech: Pressure will continue to build for federal action on consumer privacy. While administration officials may float recommendations, the ball is in Congress' court to pass legislation. And the new Democratic House considers it a priority. — Kim Hart
  • Future: We are on the cusp of a big, new antitrust push, analogous to the Progressive Era. It will stem from growing income inequality, and a building anger over excesses by big companies across industries. — Steve LeVine
  • Business: If big tax hikes are vote-winners not only among Democratic primary voters but even among Trump voters, that will increase market worry about a Dem president. And that will send stocks down. — Felix Salmon
  • Markets: Many analysts believe the Fed and Chair Jay Powell caved to Trump's demands for them to halt rate hikes this year. Will Trump continue his pressure? — Dion Rabouin
  • World: Two meetings tentatively scheduled for the end of this month — with China's Xi Jinping and North Korea's Kim Jong-un — should give us a sense whether the two confrontations that have defined much of Trump's foreign policy will ramp up or settle down. — Dave Lawler
  • China: Trump and Xi are likely to reach some sort of a trade deal ceasefire, but the broader geopolitical relationship may worsen. — Bill Bishop
  • Health care: The big issue will be drug prices. The administration has floated three controversial ideas: making drug companies put prices in their TV ads; importing European price controls for part of Medicare; and restructuring the role of industry middlemen. Democrats are largely on board. But the industry will lean hard on Republicans to block or water them down. — Sam Baker
  • Climate change: The Trump administration's hostile stance toward climate science will run headfirst into a brick wall in the House, where investigations are likely of any censorship of scientific reports. — Andrew Freedman
  • Energy: The administration will likely finalize some big-ticket items, including weakening Obama-era auto mileage rules and expanding offshore areas made available for oil-and-gas leasing. — Ben Geman
  • Science: The next year will take the Trump administration from slogan to implementation of the Space Force. It will also be a crucial period for building up the U.S. private space sector, and moving NASA toward once again launching humans to space, via SpaceX and Boeing. — Andrew Freedman
2. Insiders dish: the most alarming Trump leaks

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Trump White House was genuinely rattled and hacked off about the leak of three months of the president’s private schedule.

  • Given how rarely this administration reacts to the incessant leaking, we pinged several former and current White House insiders to find out which leaks of sensitive information had troubled Trump officials most.

Here’s their top 10 list, in chronological order:

  • "Sean Spicer is cracking down on leaks coming out of the West Wing, with ... random phone checks of White House staffers." (Feb. 26, 2017)
  • At a meeting with 30 staffers to discuss Trump's upcoming 100-day mark, Mike Dubke, then the communications director, pitches "the need for a 'rebranding' to get Trump back on track" and says: "There is no Trump doctrine," Politico scoops. (April 10, 2017)
  • The leak of the schedule for Trump's first foreign trip "was a hot one internally," a former White House official recalls. "Cuz it leaked as the team had all the top reporters sequestered in Roosevelt [Room] telling them about it." (May 4, 2017)
  • The WashPost posts transcripts of Trump calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. (Aug. 3, 2017)
  • Jonathan Swan reveals internal use of the term "executive time" in describing the president's "shrinking schedule." (Jan. 7, 2018)
  • Meeting lawmakers in the Oval Office, Trump derides protections for immigrants from "!@#$hole" countries"; suggests the U.S. bring more people from countries such as Norway, per WashPost. (Jan. 12, 2018)
  • A White House staffer mocks Sen. John McCain at an internal meeting: "It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway." (May 10, 2018)
  • Sarah Sanders tells the communications team: "I am sure this conversation is going to leak." Her prediction came true. (May 12, 2018)
  • "Stunning Oval Office leak: Aides fight in front of Trump — about leaks," per Swan. (May 27, 2018)
  • Axios posts 95 pages of Trump's private schedules. (Feb. 3, 2019)

Go deeper: "Inside the minds of White House leakers"

3. We may have done this before

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Forecasts of a grim future ahead from extreme weather have been at once so vague and frequent as to numb many people as to what's coming, but it turns out that this is the second incidence in history of climate change at least partly induced by humans, writes Axios future editor Steve LeVine.

  • Driving the news: In the first, a half-millennium ago, humans made the Earth cooler, which contributed to famine, disease, and popular uprisings in Europe, experts say. In much-discussed new research, U.K. scientists say the 16th century exploration of the Americas by Europeans led to a cascade of disaster.

Our thought bubble, via Axios science editor Andrew Freedman: Assuming the new study is correct, it indicates that the era of human-engineering of the climate system started much earlier than the Industrial Revolution.

4. Democracy's "consistent and ominous" decline
Expand chart
Reproduced from a Freedom House report; Chart: Axios Visuals

The slow, steady erosion of democracy around the world continued for the 13th consecutive year, according to the latest annual "Freedom in the World" report by Freedom House, a watchdog group that advocates for democracy and human rights, reports Axios world editor Dave Lawler.

  • By the numbers: Political rights and civil liberties became weaker in 68 countries since last year's report, and improved in only 50 countries.

A warning about the United States ... The report says the U.S. freedom score has declined by 8 points (from 94 to 86) over the past eight years. It's still firmly in the "free category," but it's falling behind counterparts like the U.K., Canada, France, Australia, Germany and Japan.

5. "The Trump era could last 30 years"

That's the arresting headline on Gideon Rachman's column in the Financial Times today (subscription):

  • What's new: "In the years since 'Brexit-and-Trump,' a global populist movement has gathered momentum. The fact that Mr Trump is despised by much of the western establishment and media can obscure this point. But the US president has many admirers, some of them running governments around the world."
  • Why it matters: "Past precedent suggests that if a 'populist era' takes hold, it might last as long as three decades."
  • Wait! What? "[I]t already seems likely that future historians will look upon the events of 2016 as marking the beginning of a new cycle in international history. The bad news for anguished liberals is that these cycles can last quite a long time — 30 years seems to be about average."
6. A Super Bowl snooze
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Data: Kantar Media; Chart: Axios Visuals

By all accounts, Super Bowl LIII was a snoozer, and its ratings reflected that perception as the broadcast was seen by a total of 98.2 million people, according to preliminary ratings from Nielsen, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.

Why it matters: Overall, ratings for the big game were the lowest they've been in a decade. By contrast, ratings during the regular season last year were up about 5% — with most analysts citing more points being scored overall as the reason.

7. Graphic du jour
Screenshot via MSNBC
8. Trump era's biggest winner

The man who has profited most from the Trump era is his foremost nemesis in the business world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Bloomberg's Justin Sink reports:

  • "Since the election, Bezos has become the world’s richest person, his net worth swelling by $66.8 billion."
  • "Bezos’s wealth was valued at $135.4 billion, making his fortune a third bigger than Bill Gates’s, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index."
  • "Within the U.S., the closest anyone has come to the Amazon chief’s Trump era gains is investor Warren Buffett — who added $19.2 billion."
9. Home buyers from high-tax states flock to Miami

"Residents of high-tax states — including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and Maryland — are increasingly drawn to South Florida after last year’s tax law capped deductions," The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription):

  • "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo became the latest [yesterday] when he blamed a $2.3 billion state shortfall on the new federal tax law."
  • "Cuomo ... mentioned Florida as an attractive option for New Yorkers who are unhappy with the change in the tax law."
10. 1 pooch thing

Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

"Animal lovers in Lithuania have created a mobile application inspired by the popular dating app Tinder to match up dogs in local shelters with new owners," per the AP's Liudas Dapkus.

  • "Called GetPet, the app was launched last month and is getting hundreds of new users daily and already has made a few matches."
  • "The app features profiles of furry four-legged creatures looking up with soft yearning eyes. Scrolling down reveals more information about the pup, and those interested can then swipe right."