Axios AM

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October 20, 2017

Happy Friday! What time is it? It's nine months to the day since President Trump was inaugurated. "A month after Hurricane Maria rolled across the center of Puerto Rico, the power is still out for [78% of people as the island works] to restore hundreds of miles of transmission lines and thousands of miles of distribution lines ... under a blazing tropical sun," AP reports.

Trump, appearing in the Oval Office yesterday with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, was asked to grade the White House response: "I'd say it was a 10. ... I think [the storm damage] was worse than Katrina. ... I give ourselves a 10."

1 big thing: Moral clarity in amoral times

Sexual abuse in Hollywood. Social media abuse in Silicon Valley. Political abuse in the White House.

Dive into Twitter for a few minutes, and these can feel like the worst of times.

So everyone, and the GOP establishment in particular, seems hungry for moral clarity:

  • White House aides, beaten down by criticism from friends and beleaguered by the words and actions of the boss, got a rare moral boost from Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly as he offered a highly emotional and highly personal explanation/defense of Trump's outreach to families who lost young men in Niger.
  • Per Jonathan Swan, some White House aides teared up as Kelly described, during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, what it was like for a fallen soldier to return home. Other aides stood watching him on TV, in stunned silence.
  • "Kelly has managed to make himself the moral core of the Trump administration," a top White House official told us. "He just has so much credibility right now ... And he's in the best possible position, because he doesn't have to go out there and face the press every day. If he picks his spots he is now an extraordinarily credible and effective spokesperson on issues that need some moral clarity to them."
  • Left unspoken: Trump rarely leaves staff feeling this way.

An implicit rebuke of the Republican president was the focus of blunt remarks this week by Sen. John McCain ("half-baked, spurious nationalism") and George W. Bush ("Bigotry seems emboldened").

  • David Brooks writes in today's column: "Books will someday be written on how Trump, this wounded and twisted man, became morally acceptable to tens of millions of Americans."

Be smart: McCain and Bush have nothing to lose, and see themselves in the twilight of their closing careers. But it's stunning how few in power — and who want to stay in power — say anything like this in public.

2. Ultimate sacrifice, in Niger

These images provided by the U.S. Army show, from left, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga.

  • What happened: A joint patrol of American and Niger forces was ambushed Oct. 4 by militants believed linked to the Islamic State group.
  • Go deeper with Axios' Shane Savitsky.

3. Pollution deadlier than war, disaster, hunger

"Pollution kills at least nine million people and costs trillions of dollars every year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which warns the crisis 'threatens the continuing survival of human societies,'" The Guardian writes of the study, released by The Lancet medical journal:

  • "Toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill one in every six people around the world."
  • "The deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined."
  • "The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies."
  • Go deeper.

4. "Who in the world is telling you that stuff?"

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "expressed confusion about rumors of his departure" during an interview with The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender and Felicia Schwartz:

  • "Who in the world is telling you that stuff?" he said. He said he would remain in the job "as long as the president thinks I'm useful."
  • On contrasting styles with Trump: "I see those differences in how we think ... Most of the things he would do would be done on very short time frames. Everything I spent my life doing was done on 10- to 20-year time frames, so I am quite comfortable thinking in those terms."
  • Asked if Trump should be reelected, "Tillerson paused for a beat, then said, 'Well, of course. ... I mean, I don't think about it, quite frankly, right now ... We've got these things we're dealing with, but yeah.'"

5. Breaking: Momentum for tax cuts

"The Senate adopted a fiscal 2018 budget resolution ... that House GOP leaders agreed to accept, a show of unity aimed at speeding consideration of President Donald Trump's plan to enact tax cuts," Bloomberg reports:

  • "The budget cleared the Senate 51-49, with all Democrats and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky voting against it."
  • Trump tweets this a.m.: "This now allows for the passage of large scale Tax Cuts (and Reform), which will be the biggest in the history of our country!"

6. The ex-presidents

"In separate and unrelated appearances," the N.Y. Times' Peter Baker writes atop A1, "former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both warned that the United States was being torn apart by ancient hatreds that should have been consigned to history long ago and called for addressing economic anxiety through common purpose."

They didn't name Trump; didn't need to:

  • Bush: "We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America ... We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We've seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places."
  • Obama: "Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That has folks looking 50 years back. It's the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on!"

Bonus pic 1

Former President Obama laughs with Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, during a rally last night in Richmond.

Bonus pic 2

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (left), U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley (center), and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice join a panel discussion at a forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute in New York yesterday.

7. Before media firestorms, decades of assaults

One trait shared by recent sexual-assault scandals is that it took a major media event for many of the women to come forward with their stories — many decades after the fact, Axios graphic geniuses Rebecca Zisser and Lazaro Gamio write in their narrative with this stunning visual.

  • How they collected the data: Take a look at the underlying data and find the links to the news sources here.

Go deeper, and share the graphic.

8. The talk of tech: WeWork

"A $20 Billion Startup Fueled By Silicon Valley Pixie Dust ... WeWork CEO Adam Neumann sells investors on his vision for communal workplaces — critics say it's an overvalued real-estate play," by Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown, on A1:

  • The promise: "Neumann has propelled the New York-based office-space provider into being one of the world's richest startups. With a valuation of more than $20 billion, or about 20 times annualized revenue, it is the fourth most valuable U.S. startup after Uber Technologies Inc., Airbnb Inc. and ... SpaceX."
  • The problems: "WeWork's strategy carries the costs and risks associated with traditional real estate. Its client list is heavily weighted toward startups that may or may not be around for long. WeWork is on the hook for long-term leases, and it doesn't own its own buildings. Vacancy rates have risen recently, and the company is increasing incentives to draw tenants."
  • "Fun" fact: "Colleagues say [Neumann] holds late-night meetings that can start at 11 p.m. and run for hours."

9. "The place age": Globalization's losers

"The right way to help declining places: Time for fresh thinking about the changing economics of geography" — The Economist's lead editorial:

  • "Populism's wave has yet to crest. That is the sobering lesson of recent elections in Germany and Austria, where the success of anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation parties showed that a message of hostility to elites and outsiders resonates as strongly as ever among those fed up with the status quo."
  • "It is also the lesson from America, where Donald Trump is doubling down on gestures to his angry base, most recently by adopting a negotiating position on NAFTA that is more likely to wreck than remake the trade agreement."
  • Be smart: "The demise of NAFTA will disproportionately hurt the blue-collar workers who back Mr Trump."
  • "Welcome to the place age. ... Mainstream parties must offer voters who feel left behind a better vision of the future, one that takes greater account of the geographical reality behind the politics of anger."
  • Politicians need "to focus on speeding up the diffusion of technology and business practices from high-performing places. ... Bolder still would be to expand the mission of local colleges."

10. 1 fun thing: Ryan jabs Trump

Speaker Paul Ryan, during last night's 72nd annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation white-tie dinner, which always draws top politicians, and includes a comedy routine for New York elite (via AP and NYT):

  • "Enough with the applause ... You sound like the Cabinet when Donald Trump walks into the room."
  • "I don't think I've seen this many New York liberals, this many Wall Street CEOs in one room since my last visit to the White House."
  • "I know why Chuck [Schumer] has been so hard on President Trump. It's not ideological; Chuck is just mad he lost his top donor."
  • On Trump's remarks to the dinner last year: "Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and they said that his comments were offensive. Well, thank God he's learned his lesson."
  • "The truth is, the press absolutely misunderstands and never records the big accomplishments of the White House ... Look at all the new jobs the president has created — just among the White House staff."
  • "Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend I didn't see later on."
  • "Every afternoon former Speaker John Boehner calls me up, not to give advice, just to laugh."