Aug 12, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Sunday morning.

1 big thing: How tech fuels authoritarians

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We always assumed technology and the naked transparency of social media would feed people’s taste for freedom and thirst for democracy.

  • But right now, that assumption looks flawed: Technology might actually solidify the standing of despots and provide them with a new way to exert their power. 

Ian Bremmer — political scientist, president and founder of Eurasia Group, and author of "Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism" — recently unpacked this issue in a letter to clients, and he was kind enough to give me permission to share it.

  • The backdrop: Through the Cold War and beyond, "the presumption was that the power of information — people with ideas — were ticking time bombs inside authoritarian regimes": That's why the Iron Curtain fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, why Tiananmen Square and the Arab Spring happened.
  • But as Bremmer was rethinking that, the tipping point came in Syria: The Russian government "provided a few hundred programmers to work with the [Syrian] military, with the intention of surveilling citizen communications through text monitoring and social media and identifying exactly who was a threat to the regime." Today, President Bashar Assad has all but won the war.
  • Why it matters: If "the world's most powerful authoritarian states can effectively marshal technologies that give them control over their people ... that's a much more geopolitically significant trade to keep favored despots in power than arms sales or even colonialism."

Bremmer says changing technology makes him think differently about political stability in China:

  • Advances "in facial recognition technology and big data possessed by [Chinese] authorities has dramatically reduced public demonstrations."
  • When everyone is registered in a public database and the Chinese government "can immediately determine who is an enemy of the people, you get fewer self-proclaimed enemies pretty quickly."

Be smart: Bremmer's takeaway isn't that authoritarianism wins. But more growing economies "will end up economically and politically (and eventually, militarily) aligning" with China — strengthening America's biggest rival.

2. Airplane theft exposes threat within

This is what the 76-seat plane looked like. (Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images)

The investigation of Friday night's aircraft theft in Seattle "will likely include a more detailed look at the scope of the screenings conducted on airline employees who have access to the ramps and also their ability to enter grounded aircraft," the Seattle Times reports:

  • "He was a 29-year-old ground-crew member, fully credentialed to be inside secure areas and certified to tow aircraft around the tarmac."
  • "But federal investigators, Sea-Tac officials and his employer are scrambling to figure out how Richard Russell managed to steal an empty 76-passenger Horizon Air turboprop plane, take off from one of the busiest airports in the country and fly it around the south Puget Sound area [doing aerial stunts] before a fiery twilight crash."
  • "It was not immediately known if Russell had ever taken flight lessons. At one point, when an air traffic controller tries to get a pilot to give Russell guidance on how to control the plane, Russell responds: 'Nah, I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before.' ... [He might have been] referring to ... flight simulators, which can be accessed by the  general public."

Who knew?

  • The Wall Street Journal reports: "Airliners generally don’t have locks on their doors or require keys to start."
  • "While there are procedures to secure aircraft, ... the U.S. aviation industry generally focuses on securing airfields and then authorizes employees with proper credentials to work there."
3. Charlottesville, 1 year on
Students Act Against White Supremacy speak at U.Va. yesterday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

"The president of the University of Virginia offered the first apology from that office for the tiki-torch march that injured UVa students and supporters one year ago," and was a prelude to deadly violence by white supremacists, The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress reports.

  • U.Va. President Jim Ryan said, speaking in Old Cabell Hall at "The Hope That Summons Us: A Morning of Reflection and Renewal": "I am sorry."
  • "Ryan called the marchers — led by UVa alumni Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer — 'white supremacists,' 'neo-Nazis' and 'lost souls.' The university previously had referred to the alt-right movement in more general terms."
  • The Progress notes that the university is still wrestling with First Amendment issues, and its own involvement with slavery and racism.

P.S. Hawes Spencer, a journalist who lives in Charlottesville and was on the U.Va. Lawn for the torch march that began the deadly weekend, is out with his first book, "Summer of Hate: Charlottesville, USA" (University of Virginia Press):

  • "Unite the Right would become the largest gathering of white nationalists in decades, and from the moment it began, ... it became clear that Charlottesville authorities were not ready for what was happening."
  • Worthy of your time.
4. Pic du jour: Close to the sun
John Raoux/AP

A Delta IV rocket, carrying the Parker Solar Probe, lifts off from launch complex 37 at the Kennedy Space Center this morning.

  • The Parker Solar Probe will venture closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft and is protected by a first-of-its-kind heat shield and other innovative technologies that will provide unprecedented information about the sun. (AP)
5. An American city
Two women cry outside Stroger Hospital in Chicago, a Cook County public hospital, after they were asked to leave last Sunday due to overwhelming crowds of family and friends of shooting victims. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via AP)

It's another tragic weekend in Chicago after last weekend's shocking toll. Last weekend, at least 74 people were shot between 3 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday, 12 of them fatally.

This weekend, 20 people were shot Friday and early Saturday, two of them fatally, the Chicago Tribune reports:

  • Two cousins, 15 and 17, were standing on a sidewalk in the West Side’s Lawndale neighborhood when they heard gunfire. Their mom told the Trib they had gone out to get food before settling in for video games.
  • "The 15-year-old was grazed in the head, and the 17-year-old was shot in the abdomen. They took themselves to Mount Sinai Hospital where they were both in good condition."
  • "Three other juveniles were wounded in attacks in the city, including a 12-year-old girl."

Genice Hines, the mother of the 15-year-old: "Chicago is a scary place to be ... Even I’m scared to walk to the corner store."

6. Insane Trump news cycle: 2018 edition

Here are the 30 biggest Trump news events of 2018 so far, based on Google News Lab's data on what we're searching:

Expand chart
Data: Google News Lab. Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Axios' Stef Kight reports that the topics that received the greatest spikes of interest from Google users were:

  1. Government shutdown in January.
  2. National anthem saga.
  3. Russia-related news.

Share this graphic.

  • Go deeper: The insane Trump news cycle of 2017.
  • Bonus — you won't believe this list: All the Trump 2018 stuff we couldn't fit in our news cycle chart.
7. Perception/reality

"Americans’ perceptions of the economy’s prospects increasingly depend more on their political identity than statistics on output or stock markets," points out Patricia Cohen, who covers the national economy for the N.Y. Times:

  • Why it matters: "The same gauges that illustrate this administration’s economic successes also make clear that they are built on the achievements of the previous one, and that the economy is following the upward trajectory begun under President Barack Obama."

Watch this:

  • "In the 18 months before Mr. Trump moved into the White House, 3.7 million jobs were created, seven in 10 Americans said they were doing fine or living comfortably and the economy grew."
  • "In the 18 months since, 3.4 million jobs were created, seven in 10 Americans said they were doing fine or living comfortably and the economy grew."

Be smart: "Stubbornly slow wage growth and wide income gaps have spanned both periods."

8. Trump calls his attorney general "scared stiff"
President Trump stands in the rain with members of Bikers for Trump after saying the Pledge of Allegiance yesterday at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

As rain dumped on his golf club, President Trump lashed out at his Justice Department on Twitter before welcoming members of a "Bikers for Trump" fan group to the manicured grounds, AP's Jill Colvin reports from Bedminster, N.J.:

  • "Dozens and dozens of gleaming Harleys, Hondas and other motorcycles descended on the central New Jersey property ... It was a classic, chaotic Trump scene reminiscent of his ramshackle early campaign."
  • Earlier, Trump revived his frequent Twitter attacks on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, calling him "scared stiff and Missing in Action."
  • Trump marked the anniversary of deadly clashes in Charlottesville with this tweet: "The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"
9. Music festivals are a new #MeToo target

"[M]any music fans ... have spoken up about sexual harassment and groping at musical festivals recently as the #MeToo movement has emboldened more people to talk about harassment in public spaces," AP's Kristin Hall reports:

  • "With increased focus on the longstanding problem but little statistical data on how often it happens, music fans and even artists are asking the live music industry to make cultural changes."
  • "Some festivals are responding to these complaints by training festival staff and volunteers on how to respond to harassment, adding booths or signs with information on where to report sexual violence, and having clearly posted anti-harassment policies.

"Some artists have spoken out on stage to try to stop groping that they can see in the crowd."

  • "Sadie Dupuis, the lead singer of the indie rock band Speedy Ortiz, set up a hotline a couple of years ago for fans to text if they experienced harassment and didn’t know where to turn."
  • "She said the most recent example of someone using their hotline was when someone reported that a person in the crowd was using transphobic language and harassing someone."
10. 1 fake thing

"The Flourishing Business of Fake YouTube Views ... Plays can be bought for pennies and delivered in bulk, inflating videos’ popularity and making the social media giant vulnerable to manipulation," by the N.Y. Times' Michael Keller, with Nick Confessore:

  • A Times reporter "ordered thousands of views from nine companies. Nearly all of the purchases ... were fulfilled in about two weeks."
  • "Multiple musicians bought views to appear more popular: YouTube views factor into metrics from the ratings company Nielsen and song charts including Billboard’s Hot 100."
  • Why it matters: "While YouTube says fake views represent just a tiny fraction of the total, they still have a significant effect by misleading consumers and advertisers."

Go deeper.

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