Aug 13, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,445 words ... ~ 6 minutes.

  • Do your closest coworkers get Axios AM and PM? Invite 'em to sign up!
1 big thing: The great global decoupling

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

All signs point to a decades-long cold war with China, one reshaping global alliances, politics and economies, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei reports.

  • Why it matters: The trade war is but a very small skirmish in a much bigger and wider battle for global dominance. It’s easier to see this cold war turn hot than turn off. And, for the first time, you can see the possibility of China and America decoupling — creating two distinct, rival global systems and power structures. 

The big picture: Beyond trade, the two superpowers are competing on intellectual property and technological mastery, political influence across the developing world via economic assistance (China's Belt and Road Initiative), diplomatic agreements, multinational institutions (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank) and military sales (missiles, subs, drones, training).

  • Collectively, this translates to a competition of political systems — a new Cold War.
  • One of the clearest manifestations of this is in tech: The internet is "splitting in two," as The Wall Street Journal put it, and giant companies from the U.S. and China are racing for advantages, hidden and overt, around the world.

Between the lines ... Bill Bishop of Sinocism tells me that President Xi Jinping and his team have concluded that China is far too reliant on the U.S. for technology and agriculture.

  • So they have accelerated efforts to become self-sufficient, while also diversifying their reliance away from the U.S.
  • Even if there is a trade deal, that shift will not reverse.

Now, China is blaming Washington for its own economic and internal strains:

  • The N.Y. Times reports from Beijing that "hostility toward America," by Chinese officials and state-run news organizations, "has escalated ... in tandem with two of China’s big problems: a slowing economy complicated by trade tensions and turbulence in Hong Kong that has no end in sight."
  • "Beijing also does not appear to see an end to its differences with Washington over the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which was blacklisted by the Trump administration as a security threat," The Times added.

What's next: In November, it'll be 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989. For most of that time, the U.S. had no real rival for global supremacy. Now, America is in a fight it could lose.

  • "All roads used to lead to Rome. Now they lead to Beijing," Oxford professor of global history Peter Frankopan writes in "The New Silk Roads," out in March.
  • "We are living in the Asian century already."

The bottom line: The U.S. lost its way after the Cold War, creating a crossroads similar to the one after World War II: a multi-decade civilizational struggle.

2. U.S. weakens endangered-species law
Sage grouse roosters challenge each other for hens in Rockland, Idaho. Photo: Bill Schaefer/The Idaho State Journal via AP

"The Trump administration ... announced that it would change the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, significantly weakening the nation’s bedrock conservation law," the N.Y. Times' Lisa Friedman reports.

  • "[F]or the first time, regulators would be allowed to conduct economic assessments — for instance, estimating lost revenue from a prohibition on logging in a critical habitat — when deciding whether a species warrants protection."
  • "[T]he changes would also make it more difficult for regulators to factor in the effects of climate change on wildlife when making those decisions because those threats tend to be decades away, not immediate."
3. Placido Domingo accused of sexual harassment

Placido Domingo performs "Spanish Night" in Orange, France, last month. Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Opera legend Placido Domingo has tried for decades to pressure women into sexual relationships by dangling jobs and then sometimes punishing them professionally when they refused his advances, AP's Jocelyn Gecker reports.

  • At 78, Domingo still attracts sellout crowds around the globe and continues adding to the 150 roles he has sung in 4,000-plus performances, more than any opera singer in history.

But his accusers and others in the industry say there is a troubling side to Domingo — one they say has long been an open secret in the opera world.

  • Eight singers and a dancer have told the AP that they were sexually harassed by the long-married, Spanish-born superstar in encounters that took place over three decades beginning in the late 1980s, at venues that included opera companies where he held top managerial positions.

Keep reading.

4. Trail pic du jour
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) poses for selfies with supporters of his presidential campaign last night at a $25-per-person campaign fundraiser at the nightclub Slate in Manhattan.

5. Inside Google

Courtesy WIRED

The cover story of the September issue of WIRED is senior writer Nitasha Tiku's 11,000-word (!) look at Google's changing culture:

[I]n many respects, Google’s most vexing threats ... came from inside the company itself. ... [T]he company [found] itself in the same position over and over again: a nearly $800 billion planetary force seemingly powerless against groups of employees — on the left and the right alike — who could hold the company hostage to its own public image. ...
Google found itself and its culture deeply maladapted to a new set of political, social, and business imperatives. To invent products like Gmail, Earth, and Translate, you need coddled geniuses free to let their minds run wild. But to lock down lucrative government contracts or expand into coveted foreign markets, as Google increasingly needed to do, you need to be able to issue orders and give clients what they want.

Keep reading.

6. Poll du jour: Support for border refugees edges up

Americans are slightly more likely now (57%) than in December (51%) to support allowing refugees from Central America into the U.S., Gallup's Justin McCarthy writes.

  • Why it matters: "Support for allowing Central American refugees entry is now higher than Gallup has found for most refugee cases it has polled on historically."
7. Ivanka tests waters on guns

Ivanka Trump at a workforce development event in Iowa last week. Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via Reuters

Ivanka Trump has quietly been calling lawmakers since the El Paso and Dayton massacres to gauge their openness to movement on gun legislation when Congress returns, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

  • Why it matters: This is another sign that President Trump might support new gun control measures, despite the opposition of conservatives in his orbit.
  • Trump has been probing his aides and making calls to lawmakers about what strategy he should adopt on guns, and how it will play with his base.

Behind the scenes: Ivanka Trump spoke last Wednesday to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), while he was vacationing in Hawaii, to get an update on the bipartisan background checks bill he proposed with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).

  • The measure, which was initially introduced in 2013 after the Sandy Hook shooting, would expand background checks to nearly all commercial firearm sales.
  • "She called Manchin and said she was trying to get a sense of what bills are out there," a Manchin aide told Axios. "She had him explain how they drafted the bill, where it stands and what changes needed to be made in order for it to pass."
  • But she didn't signal a White House position.
  • The call followed President Trump's own conversations with Manchin last Monday and Tuesday, first reported by the WashPost, in which he told the senator that he wanted legislation before the Senate returns from recess in September.

The backdrop: Following the mass shootings, Ivanka Trump posted a note on her Instagram story calling on Congress to "enact Red Flag laws/Extreme Risk Protection Orders in every state, increase resources dedicated to mental health support nationwide and close background check loopholes."

  • "You can strongly support and defend the 2nd Amendment while calling for these common sense, and long-overdue reforms," she concluded.
  • She later reiterated that call to action on Twitter.

A White House official said Ivanka "has trusted relationships on both sides of the aisle and she is working in concert with the White House policy and legislative teams."

8. 2020 attention tracker: Web pummels Biden
Expand chart
Credit: Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Articles about Joe Biden generated 3.8 million interactions on social media last week — more than any other candidate since June — but they were overwhelmingly about his recent blunders, Axios' Neal Rothschild writes from exclusive NewsWhip data.

  • Among the 100 stories about Biden last week that generated the most interactions (retweets, likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter, 67% of the interactions (1.78 million) were on stories about his gaffes.
  • That was more than all of Biden's 2020 rivals except Beto O'Rourke.
9. First look: The age of dictators
Courtesy Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose writes in the September/October issue that the leaders of Russia, China, Turkey, the Philippines and Hungary all "fought their way from obscurity to the throne and then took a hard authoritarian turn":

Historical eras tend to have characteristic leadership types: the fledgling democrats of the 1920s, the dictators of the 1930s and 1940s, the nationalist anticolonialists of the 1950s and 1960s, the gerontocrats of the 1970s, the fledgling democrats (again) of the 1980s and 1990s. Now we’re back to dictators.
The leading figures on the world stage today practice a brutal, smash- mouth politics, a personalized authoritarianism. Old-school strongmen, they do whatever is needed to grasp and hold on to power.

Read the five profiles.

10. 1 car thing

Once on the cutting edge, hybrids are losing favor with some automakers, The Wall Street Journal's Mike Colias reports (subscription):

  • GM and VW "are abandoning hybrid production — which they view only as 'a bridge to meeting tougher tailpipe-emissions requirements, particularly in China and Europe — to focus on fully electric vehicles."

But Ford plans to add a hybrid version of its F-150 pickup.

Mike Allen

📱 Thanks for reading Axios AM. Invite your friends, relatives, co-workers to sign up here.