Feb 17, 2021

Axios AM

✝️ Good morning. It's Ash Wednesday — for Christians, the first day of Lent.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 993 words ... 4 minutes.

🌟 Join Axios Des Moines reporters Jason Clayworth and Linh Ta tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. ET / 12:30 p.m. CT for a Smart Take event on the impact of the new administration on Iowa politics, featuring Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) and state Rep. Ross Wilburn, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. Register here.

1 big thing: New superstar cities
Data: Milken Institute. Chart: Axios Visuals

As the pandemic pushes people from pricey superstar cities to mid-tier ones where life is cheaper and easier, traditional powerhouses are being upstaged by smaller insurgents, Axios Cities author Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

  • San Francisco fell from No. 1 — supplanted by Provo, Utah! — in the Milken Institute's annual ranking of big metros with the best regional economies.

What a difference a (pandemic) year makes: The 2021 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index, out today, shows S.F., San Jose, Reno, Seattle and Dallas falling out of the top 10 places for job creation, wage growth and innovation.

  • "Large cities in the Intermountain West and South are outperforming many areas on the coasts," said the Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank.
  • "For instance, Salt Lake City moves up 21 spots to come in at No. 4, and Huntsville, Ala., has one of the largest jumps up in the rankings."

"Housing affordability" and "broadband access" were added as new index criteria this year.

  • The report calls Provo-Orem a "relatively new innovation center with significantly lower costs than Silicon Valley," and says the area has attracted tech firms including Qualtrics, Vivint and SmartCitizen.

The big picture: This seismic shift of people and power can be a boon to the smaller cities that prosper — attracting companies, capital and citizens. But it can hurt qualities people cherish, like affordability and middle-class values.

Large metros with the biggest gains in the Milken rankings include Wichita, Kansas; Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.; Madison, Wis., and Lincoln, Neb.

2. Perils of prolonged unemployment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nearly 4 million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer — trapped in a vicious cycle that makes it harder to get back to work, Axios @Work author Erica Pandey writes.

  • Long-term unemployment during a pandemic is a double whammy. Millions are experiencing food and housing insecurity and lack health care when they need it most.

Job-seeking is even more exhausting during a pandemic, says Tim Classen, an economist at the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.

  • To start, there are fewer jobs out there than there are unemployed people.
  • On top of that, people may be attempting to juggle job-hunting with parenting kids who are learning remotely.
  • Not everyone is comfortable interviewing over video calls, and not everyone has the broadband access required.

Share this story.

3. Extreme weather batters power grid

Customers use cellphone light to shop for meat in a Dallas grocery store yesterday. With no power, the store was open for cash-only sales. Photo: LM Otero/AP

This week's vast Texas power failures are connected to California's worsening fire crises: America's electrical grid is scarily outmoded for extreme weather, Ben Geman writes in Axios Generate.

  • The N.Y. Times' Brad Plumer writes (subscription): "While scientists are still analyzing what role human-caused climate change may have played in this week’s winter storms, ... global warming poses a barrage of additional threats to power systems nationwide, including fiercer heat waves and water shortages."

Go deeper ... "A complete bungle": Texas' energy pride goes out with cold (AP)

4. 🛰️ Satellite pic du jour

Photo: Maxar Technologies via Reuters

Satellite close-up of a street mural in Mandalay, the last royal capital of Myanmar (then Burma), where residents are protesting a military coup.

5. Biden hopes for new normal by Christmas

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden said at last night's town hall in Milwaukee, when Anderson Cooper asked when America will "get back to normal":

  • "[A]s my mother would say with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, ... by next Christmas, I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today."
  • "I think a year from now, ... there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask."
  • "I don't want to overpromise anything here," Biden added. "It matters whether you continue to wear that mask."

On schools, Biden said: "My guess is they're going to probably be pushing to open all summer, to continue like it’s a different semester and try to catch up. ... The goal will be five days a week."

6. White House memo: Obstruction will cost GOP

President Biden holds a mask at the town hall. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Mike Donilon, senior adviser to President Biden, argues in a memo to White House senior staff that GOP opposition to the COVID rescue package would shrink the party's already declining national support.

  • "There seems to be a growing conventional wisdom that it is either politically smart — or, at worst, cost-free — for the GOP to adopt an obstructionist, partisan, base-politics posture," Donilon writes in the two-page memo, obtained by Axios. "However, there is lots of evidence that the opposite is true: ... this approach has been quite damaging to them."

The memo cites a Morning Consult poll showing a Biden approval rating of 62% with registered voters. Just 23% of registered voters think the Republican Party is going in the right direction, while 63% say the party is on the wrong track.

  • Polls put support for Biden's American Rescue Plan at 68%+ (Quinnipiac).
  • Donilon called opposition to the plan "politically isolating."

Read the memo.

7. 📊 Teachers like being back
Data: AFT Members School Reopening Survey. Chart: Axios Visuals

Most teachers and school staff who are back in the classroom feel comfortable with the return, Axios' Marisa Fernandez writes from polling for the American Federation of Teachers.

8. Hedge funds gobble local news
Via Twitter

A Manhattan-based hedge fund known for cutting journalists agreed to buy local newspaper giant Tribune, creating one of the largest local publishing operators in America, Axios Media Trends author Sara Fischer writes.

  • Why it matters: The deal imperils the already decimated staffs of some of the country's classic papers, from the Chicago Tribune to New York Daily News.

Alden Global Capital already owns hundreds of local papers through its majority ownership of MNG (MediaNews Group) Enterprises, which controls papers like the Denver Post and the Boston Herald.

  • Alden agreed to sell the Baltimore Sun, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, and a few other smaller papers, to a Maryland-based nonprofit.

🤯 Alden's purchase valued Tribune Publishing at $630 million. Tribune rival McClatchy and its 30 titles sold last year for $312 million.

  • By comparison, the buzzy new audio app Clubhouse, which launched in September, is valued at $1 billion.
9. "Postwar thinking without the war"

Cover: Foreign Affairs

Jessica T. Matthews, former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs that "a return to the pre-Trump status quo" isn't possible:

Foreign governments understand that last year’s presidential election was not a repudiation of Trumpism. Even close allies have therefore been forced into a dangerous game of American roulette, dealing with a United States that can flip unpredictably from one foreign policy posture to its opposite.

Explore the issue.

10. ⚜️ Mardi Gras, then and now
Photos: Gerald Herbert, Rusty Costanza/AP

Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street — yesterday, and last year.

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