Jan 31, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕ Good Thursday morning.

1 big thing: Reining in "deepfakes"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Deepfakes — digitally forged videos that can be impossible to detect — are the sudden target of legislation in Congress and several states, Axios' Kaveh Wadell reports from Silicon Valley.

  • Why it matters: AI-altered videos and audio have been called the end of truth, a threat to democracy and a potential disruption to society.
  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told Axios: "Deepfakes — video of things that were never done with audio of things that were never said — can be tailor-made to drive Americans apart and pour gasoline on just about any culture war fire."
  • Sasse added: "Even though this is something that keeps our intelligence community up at night, Washington isn’t really discussing the problem."

Driving the news:

  • Last month, Sasse introduced a bill to criminalize the malicious creation and distribution of deepfakes — the first of its kind. Introduced a day before the shutdown, the bill flew under the radar and expired when the year ended. But Sasse intends to reintroduce it.
  • In New York, a controversial state bill would punish people who knowingly make digital videos, photos and audio of others — including deepfakes — without their consent.

Other lawmakers are looking into the subject: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) have invited legal scholars to privately brief their staff on deepfakes, and experts tell Axios they're fielding calls from state policymakers.

  • Spokespeople for Warner and Schiff said both are considering deepfakes legislation.

The other side: David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says making malicious deepfakes a federal crime may hamper protected speech — like the creation of parody videos.

  • Be smart: The holy grail, a system that can automatically detect forgeries, is still well out of reach.
2. AOC plunges into policy: Green New Deal coming

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are set to unveil legislation laying out a "Green New Deal" as soon as next week, Axios' Amy Harder scoops.

  • A Markey spokeswoman confirmed the offices are working on legislation, but said there is no final text and timing isn't final.

The Green New Deal is a set of vague, but broad, progressive policy goals seeking to transform the economy in the name of fighting climate change.

  • It has risen from obscurity to prominence since the November election, with Ocasio-Cortez leading the charge.
  • Democrats eyeing presidential runs — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — are backing the general concept of the Green New Deal.

It’s unclear to what extent the proposal will adhere to a draft legislative document circulating that describes the policy, which dates back to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign website.

  • That document includes a goal of 100% renewable electricity within 10 years (up from 17% today), a federal jobs guarantee for people working in the low-carbon transition, and universal health care.

Between the lines: The two Democrats leading the proposal represent a bridge between the old and new guard progressives.

  • Markey was co-author of the last big climate-change legislation Congress considered a decade ago, while Ocasio-Cortez is the highest profile member of a new crop of House progressives.
3. Despite scandals, Facebook gets bigger

Facebook reported stellar earnings yesterday, despite a scandal-ridden end to 2018, Axios' Sara Fischer reports:

  • It beat estimates on revenue, earnings and user growth, and said it's making far more money per user than analysts expected — much more than it ever has before.
  • Why it matters: The company is facing unprecedented scrutiny from policymakers, business partners and privacy advocates. But strong growth — particularly overseas — demonstrates that users and advertisers are largely unfazed by the corporate drama.

The new numbers:

  • 2.7 billion monthly active users across all of its apps.
  • 2 billion daily active users across all of its apps.
  • 66% of Facebook core app users also are daily active users.
  • 500 million daily active users of Instagram Stories.
  • 7 million total advertisers across all apps.
  • 2 million total businesses active on Stories.

The big takeaways:

  • The Asia-Pacific region is booming. The company added more daily active users and monthly active users across every region in the world, including North America, which is largely saturated.
  • It posted a record $6.8 billion in profits, despite executives' assurance that investments in safety and security on its platform have been so costly that they have affected its bottom line.
  • Facebook warned revenue growth would slow.
  • Messaging is a massive priority: Executives spoke at length about the importance of monetizing and improving Facebook's messaging services. The company has made plans to integrate the workings of its messaging apps.

Behind the curtain ... The company took P.R. around earnings seriously:

  • Executives called reporters with prepared talking points as soon as the earnings were released. COO Sheryl Sandberg did a few television interviews.
4. Pic du jour
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A man walks along the lakefront in Chicago yesterday, where temperatures hovered around minus 20 degrees.

5. Trump plan to reshape Latin America

"U.S. Push to Oust Venezuela’s Maduro Marks First Shot in Plan to Reshape Latin America," write the Wall Street Journal's Jessica Donati, Vivian Salama, and Ian Talley:

  • While Maduro "and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, have long drawn Washington’s condemnation, the Trump administration is stocked with officials who have long believed Cuba to be the more serious national-security threat."
  • As Cuba and Venezuela have "become more isolated, they have strengthened ties with Moscow, Tehran and Beijing."

Flashback: Bolton to praise Bolsonaro, declare "Troika of Tyranny" in Latin America speech

6. Coups are becoming a thing of the past
Expand chart
Data: Powell and Thyne, 2019, "Coups d'état, 1950 to Present." Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

If the Venezuelan military deposes Nicolas Maduro amid pressure from the streets and foreign capitals, it will be a truly anomalous event, Axios World editor David Lawler writes.

  • Coups are becoming far rarer — particularly in Latin America, where there hasn't even been an attempt in nearly a decade, according to data compiled by Jonathan Powell of the University of Central Florida and Clayton Thyne of the University of Kentucky.
  • "Coups have become almost extinct in Latin America since the end of the Cold War," Powell says. They’re also becoming extremely rare in Africa.

Driving the news ... Two men now claim to be Venezuela’s president: Maduro and Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly leader whose rationale is that Maduro lacks a democratic mandate and he is next in the line of succession. Guaidó's claim is backed by the U.S. and more than 20 other countries.

  • The kingmaker here is the military. Simply naming oneself president does not constitute a coup, Thyne says. But if the military brass ultimately sides with Guaidó and removes Maduro by force, that would qualify.

Three reasons for the coup decline:

  1. The end of the Cold War meant not only that global powers were less likely to be actively fomenting coups, Powell says, but also that would-be coup plotters couldn’t bank on assistance after taking power.
  2. Democratic and economic development changed the calculus. "Coups are expensive, they’re dangerous," Thyne says. "Particularly if you can just wait for the next election."
  3. International organizations like the Organization of American States and the African Union have "set strong precedents that this stuff is not going to be tolerated," Powell says.

What to watch: Extreme circumstances typically involve an economic collapse, or crisis of legitimacy. "Venezuela has a lot of the conditions we’d expect if a coup were going to occur," Powell says.

7. Barrier-breaker at 100
Courtesy The New York Times

The New York Times today has a 24-page special section celebrating the life of Jackie Robinson, who was born Jan. 31, 1919, and broke major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947: "His impact has yet to fade."

  • The 100 photos are "designed to capture the determined path he took as an athlete and an advocate, as a public figure who choose not to yield even as illness increasingly weakened him from within, and as an American whose fight for equality remains a touchstone."
  • Worthy of your $3, for sure. I'm using the section as a gift.
  • See 100 pics here.
Jackie Robinson greets New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in 1968. (Don Hogan Charles/ The New York Times. By kind permission of The New York Times)
8. Blast from past

"Lorena is very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. There, she said as she drove us around in her Kia on a recent afternoon, was the hospital where surgeons reattached John Wayne Bobbitt’s penis after she cut it off with a kitchen knife as he slept on the night of June 23, 1993," writes the New York Times' Amy Chozick in a killer lede.

  • "These are the details everyone knows … It’s the actual story, she said — the one about a young immigrant who endured years of domestic violence, was raped by her husband that night, had nowhere to go and finally snapped — that she wanted to talk to me about."
  • "That is the story she tells in 'Lorena,' a four-part, Jordan Peele-produced documentary that will debut on Amazon Prime Video on Feb. 15."

"I loved the way [ESPN's 'O.J.: Made in America'] used 25 years of hindsight to look at this case that we thought we all knew and I thought this spoke to gender dynamics in the way 'O.J.' peeled back the layers of racial dynamics," the "Get Out" director told the Times.

9. The Clintons' "Comeback Foundation"
Photo: Adam Schultz via Clinton Foundation

Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, visiting Puerto Rico for the Clinton Foundation, join José Andrés to greet Franco and Natalia Marcano Medina at their Cosechas Tierra Viva farm.

  • The farm highlights the potential for small farmers to increase their outputs through sustainable farming practices and cutting-edge technology.
  • This is one of the local farms that supplies food to Jose Andrés' World Central Kitchen.

This week, the Clintons brought together hundreds of corporate, NGO and government leaders for the Clinton Foundation’s CGI meeting in San Juan.

  • The mission was to help Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the rest of the region continue to recover from last year’s hurricanes and build capacity to become more resilient. Read more about the week here.
  • CGI announced 39 new commitments and partnerships on food security, access to health care, small business support, sustainable tourism, the opioid epidemic and renewable energy.

The Comeback Foundation ... Undeterred by false claims that the Clinton Foundation had shut down after the 2016 election, officials say they have expanded its work with fresh momentum and more support.

  • An official told me: "Very few leaders know how to get people to work together as effectively as Bill Clinton, and hundreds of millions of people around the world are still benefiting from the thousands of CGI commitments launched since 2005."
10. 🏈 1 ad thing
A Super Bowl ad for Toyota North America features Antoinette "Toni" Harris, a female football player at a California community college. (AP)

Star power abounds in this year’s Super Bowl ads, AP's Mae Anderson reports:

  • "Advertisers are hoping to provide some welcome distraction and entertainment as economic fears persist and the nation’s political climate remains sharply divided."
  • "The big theme is a return to light-hearted humor," University of Virginia professor Kim Whitler said. "There’s an acknowledgement the Super Bowl is about entertainment."

What we'll be watching (with YouTube links):

  • Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker revisit old characters to tout Stella Artois.
  • Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales pull a dalmatian, with ears blown back, through a field of windmills to the tune of Bob Dylan’s "Blowin' in the Wind," to promote the idea that Budweiser is brewed with energy from wind power.
  • Jason Bateman appears as an affable elevator operator to showcase Hyundai’s Shopper Assurance program.
  • Colgate Total’s ad features Luke Wilson as a close talker.
  • Toyota is highlighting the perseverance of Antoinette "Toni" Harris, a female football player at a California community college.
  • Michelob Ultra has robots beating humans at sports like running and spinning. But then one robot looks longingly in a bar where people are enjoying a post-workout beer. "It’s only worth it, if you can enjoy it," an on-screen message reads.
  • In an ad for Pringles, a smart speaker laments not being able to taste the snack.
Mike Allen