Feb 1, 2021

Axios AM

☃️ Good Monday morning. Welcome to February, and to Black History Month.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 995 words ... < 4 minutes.

💻 Please join Ben Geman and me tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. ET for an Axios Virtual Event on climate, featuring Microsoft chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa and Rockefeller Foundation president Raj Shah. Sign up here.

1 big thing ... Chilling trend: A longer, deadlier pandemic

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Mutated versions of the coronavirus threaten to prolong the pandemic, perhaps for years — killing more people and deepening the global economic crisis in the process, Axios health care editor Sam Baker writes.

The U.S. and the world are in a race to control the virus before these variants can gain a bigger foothold. But many experts say they already expect things to get worse before they get better.

  • “It may take four to five years before we finally see the end of the pandemic and the start of a post-COVID normal,” Singapore’s education minister told The Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip (subscription).

Dutch officials say there "are essentially two separate COVID-19 epidemics" — the original strain, and the burgeoning threat from mutated versions.

  • There’s light at the end of the tunnel for the first epidemic: Cases and hospitalizations are down from their peak, and vaccinations are increasing.
  • But a more transmissible virus means a greater share of the population — maybe as much as 85% — would have to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity. That’ll be a stretch, given widespread vaccine hesitancy.

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2. Life insurers screen for COVID

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

More people than ever are seeking out life insurance — just as insurers seek ways to identify people who have had COVID-19, and in some cases deny them coverage, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

  • Alarmed at clampdowns by underwriters in Europe, the Consumer Federation of America sent a letter to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, urging that U.S. insurers establish clear and transparent rules on life insurance eligibility and COVID-19.

Keep reading.

3. "Axios on HBO": Changing culture of Washington Football Team

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Washington Football Team president Jason Wright, the NFL's first Black team president, told Jim VandeHei on "Axios on HBO" that systemic racism exists everywhere but is "more obvious" in the NFL.

  • "I've experienced racial bias ... through high school, college, and definitely in my professional career," Wright, 38, said in the interview at FedEx Field.
  • "When you have any moment of accomplishment, accolade, appointment ... the first question in people's minds is, 'Is this tokenism? Is this a PR stunt?"

👀 Watch a clip of VandeHei asking Wright what it's like to work for Dan Snyder.

4. 🎧 Reddit CEO's advice to you


Reddit CEO Steve Huffman to Kara Swisher, on her N.Y. Times "Sway" podcast:

The advice that I think any savvy investor would give — the advice that Warren Buffett would give, for example — is: Do your own work. Do your own research. And if you don't do your own work, you are investing at your own risk, at your own peril. And most investors ... they're all lemmings. ...
The smart ones — they do their own work. Most of them do not.

Listen up.

5. 🔮 Fortune's most underrated CEOs

For FORTUNE, Korn Ferry polled 5,250 executives, directors and analysts on which CEOs deserve more attention:

  1. Microsoft's Satya Nadella, for "his ability to steer the company through a major reinvention while generating shockingly little drama. Tech analysts believe (though Microsoft won’t confirm) that the Azure cloud business Nadella has championed now accounts for as much revenue as ... Windows."
  2. GM's Mary Barra: "Last spring, GM was making PPE for health care workers; by fall, it was posting healthy profits."
  3. Apple's Tim Cook: "The pandemic barely slowed Apple’s rollout of new phones, watches, and services."
  4. Walmart's Doug McMillon: "Walmart has been a bulwark against COVID, keeping stores open and hiring widely."

Keep reading.

6. China sees edge in chip battle with U.S.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Warning bells are sounding for the U.S. semiconductor industry as Intel grapples with troubles that could imperil the future of domestic chipmaking, Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried writes from S.F.

  • Why it matters: Chips are some of the only strategic tech products that are actually manufactured in the U.S., accounting for a quarter-million U.S. jobs. They're also a key piece in the power struggle between the U.S. and China.

Intel is weighing whether to outsource some manufacturing after struggling mightily to get its next-generation chip production up and running.

  • The percentage of chips made in the U.S. has already declined from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

Beijing has grand designs on dominating the global chip market, which would in turn boost China's economic and technological might and could give the country an edge in A.I. and other next-generation technologies.

  • Both Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin talked about the strategic importance of the U.S. chip industry in their confirmation hearings.

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7. 🇷🇺 Russia arrests 5,100+
Protesters face police yesterday in Moscow. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin, tens of thousands took to the streets across Russia to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, AP reports.

  • Why it matters: It's the most widespread show of discontent Russia has seen in years. Despite threats of jail terms, warnings to social media groups and tight police cordons, protests engulfed cities across Russia's 11 time zones.
8. 🇲🇲 Aung San Suu Kyi detained in coup
Military supporters hold the national and army flags while shouting slogans as they take part in a rally in Yangon today. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Myanmar’s military seized power today in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained, Reuters reports.

  • Why it matters: "The coup derails years of Western-backed efforts to establish democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where neighboring China also has a powerful influence."
A soldier stands guard on a blockaded road to Myanmar's parliament in Naypyidaw today. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

It's President Biden's first new foreign-policy crisis.

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. is "alarmed" by the reports: "The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed."
9. "I'm on a break," the virtual kindergartener said
Courtesy New York Magazine

"The pandemic is pushing people — women overwhelmingly, most of them Black and brown, millions of them mothers — out of the workforce," Angela Garbes writes in the intro to a New York Magazine package:

As I was writing this, my virtual kindergartner flung open the door to my "office" without knocking. "I’m on a break," she declared, the first of five in her school day. I knew she expected me to navigate away from my Google doc and over to YouTube, where I'd open a video of Daddy Yankee's "Con Calma" so we could dance along. ...
I've learned the hard way that getting mad at her makes everything worse, that getting mad at my spouse makes everything worse, that I will get mad at myself for getting mad at them, and that my precious solo time will vanish in a mushroom cloud of frustration that ultimately has nothing to do with this moment and everything to do with the forces pummeling women and work right now.

Keep reading.

10. 1 smile to go

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

Washington got the most snow it has seen in two years.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

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