January 18, 2024

🎂 Good morning, and happy birthday to Axios.com, which launched seven years ago today! Thank you to our loyal, demanding, discerning readers: Without you, there'd be no Axios. You're the best audience in the world.

  • And we're so grateful to all the Axios colleagues — especially the ones who believed in our Smart Brevity™ breakthrough before Axios even had a name. Thank you for helping build something that matters, that helps our audience make better decisions ... and that will outlast us all.

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,377 words ... 5 mins. Thanks to Sam Baker for orchestrating. Edited by Emma Loop and Bryan McBournie.

1 big thing: America's startup engines

Change in new business applications
Data: Census Bureau. Map: Alice Feng/Axios

The Midwest and Mountain West are America's latest new-business hotspots, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Alice Feng report.

  • Why it matters: New business applications — which rose 7.4% nationally — are an excellent indicator of economic sentiment. Few people try to start a company when they foresee bad times ahead.

🏪 By the numbers: Colorado (+115%), North Dakota (+37.7%) and Iowa (+33.7%) saw the biggest jumps in new business applications last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The intrigue: Colorado temporarily lowered the cost of filing for a new business from $50 to $1 between mid-2022 and mid-2023 — in line with a broader billion-dollar statewide push to encourage new business creation and draw existing employers to the Centennial State.

What we're watching: New businesses with women, Black, Latino, Asian and LGBTQ owners all in January-July 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, Axios Closer co-author Hope King reports from separate Yelp data.

2. 🏛️ Dems weigh Johnson's fate

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Speaker Mike Johnson in November. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) stares down growing threats of removal from his rebellious right flank, Democrats are debating whether they would save him or give him the McCarthy treatment.

  • Why it matters: It would likely only take a handful of Democratic defections to rescue Johnson if one of the hardliners in his conference triggered a vote on ousting him, Axios' Andrew Solender writes.

💭 One House Democrat said that if Johnson "lives up to his deal" with Senate Democrats on spending, "I think you have a lot of Democrats protecting him who don't want to reward bad behavior from right-wing extremists."

  • Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) said Johnson "hasn't been speaker long enough for us to have the same sort of misgivings" they had with McCarthy. "I don't know that you would see the same kind of wholesale buy-in to a motion to vacate by the Democrats," she added.

Go deeper.

3. 🗞️📺 News biz faces '24 reckoning

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

A new report saying billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong has sunk hundreds of millions of his own money into an unprofitable Los Angeles Times underscores how desperate the news industry is to chart a plan for survival in the digital era, Axios Media Trends author Sara Fischer writes.

  • Why it matters: If billionaire owners can't make the L.A. Times or The Washington Post profitable, then the news industry has to ask itself: What can? 

A former top editor estimates the L.A. Times is losing $50 million a year, The Wrap's Sharon Waxman and Alexei Barrionuevo report.

  • Soon-Shiong has said in meetings that he had put nearly $1 billion into The Times: He paid $500 million for the paper and related assets, and has had to spend an estimated $300 million in additional cash over the last five years, according to The Wrap.
  • The Washington Post was set to lose $100 million last year.

🖼️ The big picture: Every news company is trying to dig out of this hole — even ones that are still minting money.

  • That includes CNN, where new CEO Mark Thompson unveiled his strategy in a memo yesterday that carried the rallying cry: "We need to organize around the future not the past. We need to recapture some of the swagger and innovation of the early CNN."

"CNN of today is no longer that buccaneering outsider but a tenured incumbent," Thompson acknowledged.

  • "Like so many other news players with a broadcast heritage, CNN's linear services and even its website can sometimes have an old-fashioned and unadventurous feel as if the world has changed and they haven't."

🥊 "Only legacy media organizations use the word 'digital,'" Thompson added.

  • "In start-ups and in Silicon Valley it doesn't need to be said because it's so central and so obvious. At CNN we also want to move as quickly as possible to a point where it becomes redundant."

Go deeper: Thompson's plan ... Full text of memo.

4. Border mess could get messier

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers take an immigrant child from her mother after they crossed the border from Mexico last month. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Stalled funding deals in Congress are threatening to make an already chaotic situation along the U.S.-Mexico border even worse.

  • Both Republicans and Democrats want to see more arrests and deportations. But border security agencies are already strapped for cash even without ramping up their enforcement activities, sources tell Axios' Stef Kight.

What's happening: If the standoff continues, "we're going to have to make tough business decisions on what we're going to cease and significantly slow down," a DHS official told Axios.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement is hundreds of millions of dollars in the hole: It's detaining more people than its budget anticipated, and spending more on deportation flights.

The bottom line: Without a significant influx of funds soon, at least one of those priorities will have to give. That could worsen an already chronically backlogged immigration system.

5. 💊 Mapped: Ozempic America

Rate of GLP-1 prescriptions dispensed to patients
Data: PurpleLab HealthNexus database. Map: Axios Visuals

New weight-loss drugs are especially popular in the South, Axios' Tina Reed writes from new insurance claims data provided by health analytics company PurpleLab.

  • 21 out of every 1,000 Kentuckians have been prescribed Ozempic or a similar weight-loss drug.

Explore the data.

6. 🚑 Austin aide sought quiet pickup

Austin's post when he was released on Monday. Via X

On a 911 call, an aide asked that the ambulance avoid lights and sirens when arriving at Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's Northern Virginia home after his complications from surgery for prostate cancer, AP reports.

  • Austin, 70, was hospitalized on New Year's Day after developing an infection a week after undergoing surgery. He was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday.

On the Jan. 1 call to the Fairfax County (Va.) Department of Public Safety, a man who identified himself as a government employee said Austin was alert.

  • "Can I ask, like, can the ambulance not show up with lights and sirens? We're trying to remain a little subtle," the aide said.
  • The dispatcher responded: "Usually when they turn into a residential neighborhood, they'll turn them off," the dispatcher said, adding that emergency sirens and lights are required by law on major roads when ambulances are responding to a call.
  • The recording was first obtained by the Daily Beast through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Austin is working from home as he recovers.

  • His doctors said he "progressed well throughout his stay and his strength is rebounding." They said in a statement the cancer was treated early and his prognosis is "excellent."

Hear the call.

7. Sandberg leaving Meta board

Sheryl Sandberg speaks at UN headquarters last month. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press via Getty Images

Former Meta chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg plans to leave Meta's board of directors, Axios Media Trends author Sara Fischer scooped.

  • Sandberg will become an informal adviser to the company in May.

📈 The big picture: Under Sandberg's business leadership, Meta's revenue grew 43,000% — from $272 million in 2008 to nearly $118 billion in 2021.

  • Sandberg's legacy as a business leader also includes her work advocating for workplace reform in Silicon Valley.
  • She played a key role in modernizing Meta's policies around issues like bereavement leave, paternity leave and family planning support. Those changes have since been adopted by most major U.S. tech firms.

8. 🤯 1 for the road: Crypto divorce nightmare

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Imagine having listened to your soon-to-be ex-spouse go on and on about bitcoin — only to hear them claim crypto poverty when divorce papers are served, Axios Crypto co-author Crystal Kim writes.

  • Why it matters: Crypto's unique nature makes it trickier to recover than typical assets in a marital split.

The big picture: The fact that crypto can be self-custodied or held on a USB drive doesn't change what spouses are legally entitled to, according to Citrin Cooperman Advisors' Mark DiMichael.

  • But the process of investigating what crypto assets a spouse might have could be extensive, even if those funds are sitting at an exchange like Coinbase or Kraken.

Keep reading.

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