Feb 15, 2020

Axios AM

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  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,184 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: Recycling economics fall apart

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Unable to absorb new costs, cities are killing recycling programs just as public concerns about climate change ratchet up, Kim Hart and Erica Pandey report.

  • China, the biggest buyer of U.S. recycled materials, has closed its doors. Before the ban, the U.S. was exporting around 70% of its waste to China.
  • Changing consumer behavior has made the trash-sorting process more complex and expensive.

What we're seeing: Axios paid a visit to a major recycling center in exurban D.C.

The plant — operated by Republic Services in Manassas, Va., in the heart of Prince William County — runs up to 22 hours a day to process the 550 tons of paper, plastic, aluminum and glass that are delivered daily.

  • Despite the heavy machinery and increased automation, the process is still extremely dependent on humans.
  • On each shift, 28 "sorters" sift through the material as it rolls down a series of fast-moving conveyer belts. The workers spot and pull out non-recyclable trash from the stream so fast that they look like blackjack dealers.
  • People throw surprising things — Christmas trees, old carpet, shoes, diapers and even cinder blocks — into their recycling bins.

Many cities are struggling to make recycling work.

  • About 60 cities have canceled their programs, according to Waste Dive.
  • Others have stopped accepting certain items. Alexandria, Va., and Katy, Tex., no longer collect glass. Baltimore County recently admitted it hasn't recycled the glass it collected for the past 7 years.
  • Costs are skyrocketing: Omaha, Neb., received a single bid for recycling services for $4 million, twice the city's budget.

What's needed: Cities have to renegotiate their recycling contracts, many of which are 30 years old, to find a viable business model.

  • That includes charging consumers for curbside pickup.

What's next: Researchers are developing robots to more accurately and efficiently complete tedious, dangerous recycling tasks like sorting.

2. Shortage of dollars, not delegates, may sink Dems
Mike Bloomberg in Houston on Thursday. Photo: David J. Phillip/AP

"It’s tempting to follow this chapter of the Democratic race by watching the polls," trail veteran Peter Hamby writes for Vanity Fair. "But a grim truth is that ... another metric — money — ... says much more about where this race is going."

  • The big question: Who can scale up for Super Tuesday, March 3?

David Axelrod, President Obama's 2008 campaign manager, said: "The cost of competing across 14 states is astronomical ... For Bloomberg, the Super Tuesday ante is lunch money. He will be able to communicate at a high level everywhere."

  • "Bernie has a reliable, renewable war chest and universal recognition."
  • "[T]he others ... have to hope to catch a wave of publicity and dollars off of unexpected showings in Nevada and South Carolina."

Super Tuesday — essentially a national primary — is just three days after the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, the last of the early four.

  • Lily Adams, a former adviser to Sen. Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton said: "[I]f the Democrats are holding onto the precious myth that the first four states can somehow level the political playing field and lift up underdog campaigns ... they’re in for a brutal reality check..."
  • "To run a competent ballot chase program in say, California, you need real sustained money, not money you get from one good night."
  • Keep reading.

🗞️ Sunday paper: WashPost (reprising N.Y. Times and Business Insider from November): "Mike Bloomberg for years has battled women's allegations of profane, sexist comments."

3. Stuff you should know
Amy Klobuchar in Vegas yesterday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ahead of the Nevada caucuses a week from today, three candidates were asked during one-on-one interviews with Telemundo if they knew the Mexican president's name, AP reports.

  • Spoiler: Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018.

The answers:

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar: "No."
  • Tom Steyer: "I forgot."
  • Pete Buttigieg, with a smile: "López Obrador, I hope."
Bonus: Pic from the past
Photo: Jim Tiller/Daytona Beach News-Journal/Pool via AP

Tomorrow, President Trump will be grand marshal of the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., and will give the command: "Drivers, start your engines!"

  • Above: On Feb. 15, 2004, Air Force One buzzed the Daytona grandstands as President George W. Bush revved up his re-election race.
4. Border Patrol targets sanctuary cities
An agent with the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) in an armored vehicle during 2018 exercises in Mission, Texas. Photo: Adrees Latif/Reuters

"The Trump administration is deploying law enforcement tactical units from the southern border as part of a supercharged arrest operation in sanctuary cities across the country," the N.Y. Times reports.

  • Why it matters: It's an "escalation in the president’s battle against localities that refuse to participate in immigration enforcement."

The agents are being sent to New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark, per The Times.

5. Buffett's job will split. What about his company?
Courtesy Barron's

Warren Buffett turns 90 in August, and his holding company Berkshire Hathaway could be in for a stock-boosting makeover, Andrew Bary of Barron's writes (subscription).

  • "Many investors think new leadership could break up the conglomerate to unlock value — or at least be more amenable to an idea that Buffett opposes."

Why it matters: "In his 55 years at the helm as CEO, chairman, and investment chief, Buffett turned a struggling textile maker into a $555 billion conglomerate, using investment skills that became the envy of American business."

  • "An investor who put $1,000 — roughly 50 shares — in Berkshire in 1965 would now have $20 million, against $175,000 for a similar investment in the S&P 500."

What's next: Buffett's "job probably will be split in three, with a CEO, one or two investment chiefs, and a chairman, expected to be his elder son, Howard."

P.S. Howard Buffett, 65, Warren's son (below), is trying to help Colombia kick its cocaine curse — his most daunting project after nearly two decades of crisscrossing the world giving away part of the family fortune, AP reports.

Howard Buffett receives presents during a visit to a Colombia cocoa farm last month. Photo: Ivan Valencia/AP
6. 1 mock thing: Today is 27th running of a century-old tradition
The view from the prompter. Photos: Mike Allen/Axios

I visited my alma mater — Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. — this week for a sneak peek at today's 27th running of a 112-year tradition: The nation's best known mock political convention.

  • The students treasure their record for accuracy, despite having to make the pick early in the primary process: In 26 previous conventions, W&L has correctly predicted the out-of-party nominee 20 times (including the year I was Western regional chair, and Sen. Joe Biden was our keynoter).
  • Each state has a political research team that interviews superdelegates and works family contacts for insider buzz. This year, the students built a model that will spit out a prediction for all 435 congressional districts.
Every delegation designs its own shirts.

Almost every one of the 1,860 undergraduates has a role in the campus-wide party — whether you're a delegate or working security or selling memorabilia.

  • The convention kicks off with a parade through town. Davis White (W&L '03) tells me about a buddy whose job it was to follow the elephant and do cleanup — dressed as a clown. This year, of course, there were donkeys.

W&L students correctly forecast Donald Trump as the Republican nominee on Feb. 13, 2016 — long before it was obvious to their parents.

  • Trump called in to accept the nomination.

📱 Watch live. Roll call session begins 3 p.m. ET.

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