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April 18, 2023

🧾 Good Tuesday morning, and "happy" Tax Day! Click here for a guide from Axios' Kelly Tyko on filing, extensions, refunds.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,891 words ... 6½ mins. Edited by Kate Nocera.

1 big thing — Bud Light: Microcosm of America, 2023

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Few events capture so perfectly the cultural, political and social toxicity of America as the Great Bud Light Debacle of 2023.

Why it matters: One transgender social-media influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, radically changed beer sales and stock prices — literally overnight — after a conservative backlash spread, bar to bar.

Catch up quick: On April 1, Bud Light sent Mulvaney an influencer package — a glorified swag bag — to celebrate the one-year mark of her coming out as trans.

  • The package featured bespoke Bud Light cans with illustrations of Mulvaney's face, which she showed off in an Instagram video.

That set conservative, anti-trans pockets of social media on fire — and left Republicans scrambling to protect a big donor from attacks by the right, Mike Allen and Eleanor Hawkins report.

  • 5,600 news articles were published about the controversy in two weeks. The news received over 6 million social interactions (likes, shares, comments), according to NewsWhip data.
  • The most-shared articles came from right-wing publications, including The Blaze, The Daily Wire and Ben Shapiro (5.5 million Twitter followers) and Kid Rock — who fired a rifle at cases of Bud Light — called for boycotts.

The fallout: Anheuser-Busch InBev shares momentarily dropped by 5%, leading to a loss of over $6 billion in market value.

  • A week into the inferno, Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth issued a vague statement — "Our Responsibility to America" — that danced around the backlash, further alienating the hard right and left.
  • But the statement seemed to appease shareholders. The company's stock began to rise after some conservative voices, including Donald Trump Jr. (9.8 million Twitter followers) called for the boycott to end.

What this captures:

  1. The inflamed politics around transgender rights.
  2. The lack of perspective or grace from vocal transgender opponents.
  3. The speed of viral vitriol.
  4. The speed of efforts to capitalize off viral vitriol.
  5. The unpreparedness of companies to respond to social-media uprisings.

Context: Anheuser-Busch and its employees overwhelmingly support Republicans through donations.

  • Yet the company also maintains a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, which measures inclusivity in the workplace.
  • An Anheuser-Busch executive didn't immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

Between the lines: Remember the power imbalance. Trans issues are talked about a lot now. But trans people remain a small, largely marginalized group.

The big picture: For trans people, political issues are a matter of life and death. Across the country, bills are being debated and passed that take away their rights to access health care.

  • For the right, it’s a wedge issue. A front-page New York Times story on Sunday reported that after the Supreme Court in 2015 declared a right to same-sex marriage, the religious right needed a new issue to "galvanize rank-and-file supporters and big donors."

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2. 📚 Scoop: Liz Cheney memoir carries "urgent warning"

Then-Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) poses for a photo before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint session of Congress, in the House chamber on Dec. 21. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — vice chair, and key driving force, of the House's Jan. 6 committee — will be out Nov. 14 with "Oath and Honor," which publisher Little, Brown calls a memoir, a call to action and "urgent warning."

  • "The last two years have shown us once again that our constitutional republic is not self-sustaining," Cheney, who calls herself a "constitutional conservative," said in a statement.
  • "It survives only because of the courage and honor of individual Americans. When history looks back on this time, each elected official will have to answer the questions: Did we do our duty? Were we faithful to our oath of office?"

Why it matters: Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, became a household name during the Jan. 6 hearings last summer — and wants to be sure the issues of principle/duty/obligation stay in the national debate.

Cheney's book "will take readers inside the rooms where congressional leaders grappled with the threat posed by Trump's efforts to overturn the election," the announcement says. "She will detail lessons learned — stories of leadership, of cowardice, and of courage."

  • "Cheney will explain why she decided to stand almost alone against her party; why she risked her career, her seat, and her position in leadership to do what she knew was right."

🔮 What's next: Cheney, 56, often mentioned as a future national candidate, has spoken at a handful of universities since leaving office, and periodically weighs in on major news on Twitter.

  • In March, she was named a professor of practice at the University of Virginia Center for Politics — running through the end of the 2023 fall semester, with an option to renew.

Cheney was represented by Robert Barnett.

3. 🐦 Musk blitz to win back Twitter ads

Tucker Carlson's two-part interview with Elon Musk began airing last night and concludes tonight. Photo: Fox News

Elon Musk is on a reputation-mending media tour as Twitter faces business challenges and advertiser skepticism tied to his erratic and controversial product and policy changes, Axios' Eleanor Hawkins and Sara Fischer report.

  • Why it matters: Musk claimed in an interview with BBC last week that most of Twitter's advertisers have returned. But analysts suggest Twitter's ad revenue is rapidly declining.

🧮 By the numbers: A March forecast from Insider Intelligence suggests Twitter will bring in roughly $2.9 billion in ad revenue for 2023, after initially forecasting in October that it would earn $4.74 billion.

  • An estimate from Sensor Tower suggests that Twitter's top 50 advertisers have slowed spending in the first two months of this year by nearly $20 million collectively, compared to the same time period in 2022.
  • Other data from Sensor Tower suggests Musk's attempt to charge users for verification hasn't led to huge revenue gains so far on mobile.

📺 In an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson that began airing last night, Musk discussed everything from his plans to build a "truth-seeking" AI tool to his spat with The New York Times.

  • "[C]ertainly a path to A.I. dystopia is to train A.I. to be deceptive," Musk said. "I'm going to start something which you call TruthGPT — or a maximum truth-seeking AI that tries to understand the nature of the universe." (Go deeper.)
Worldwide Twitter ad revenue
Data: Insider Intelligence. Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Musk told Tucker Carlson that he got Twitter "for at least twice as much as it should have been bought for."

  • "But some things are priceless," he added. "And so whether I lose money or not, that is a secondary issue compared to ensuring the strength of democracy. And free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy."

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4. 🇮🇳 India's global corporate limelight

Illustration of eyes emoji with Ashoka Chakra wheels as the pupils.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Apple opened its first retail store in Mumbai today, with roughly 200 people gathered to greet CEO Tim Cook, who took selfies with Bollywood celebrities earlier, Axios Closer co-author Hope King reports.

  • Why it matters: The most profitable Fortune 500 company is deepening its commitment to India as it expands manufacturing in the country and develops greater ties to Indian consumers. And it isn't alone.

Fashion house Dior just hosted its first official show in the country.

  • Paris' iconic Galeries Lafayette department stores are set to land in India starting in 2024 and Boeing just struck a deal with Air India to supply at least 220 aircraft.

Context: India's economic development has been hindered by bureaucracy, but has recently benefited from internal reform as well as external forces.

  • Companies have been moving manufacturing out of China amid substantial wage growth as well as supply chain breakdowns throughout the pandemic.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Deirdre O'Brien, Apple's SVP of Retail + People, inaugurate India's first Apple retail store, in Mumbai, India, today. Photo: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

🖼️ The big picture: Name brand interest in India is the latest sign of the country's rise in the global economy.

  • India's population exceeded China's earlier this year, according to the World Population Review. And its economy could become the fastest growing in the world in 2023, according to Bloomberg — thanks in part to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitions.
  • In a speech last summer commemorating 75 years since India's independence, Modi told the country to settle for nothing less than to "dominate the world."

The bottom line: India's middle class is much smaller than China's — but India's wealthiest is expected to grow at a faster pace than any other country.

5. 🚀 SpaceX's Starship changes space industry

Illustration of a paper chain of rocket ships cut out of money.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If SpaceX's Starship program succeeds, it could revolutionize the space industry by dramatically lowering the cost of launching people and payloads to orbit and beyond, Axios Space author Miriam Kramer writes.

  • Why it matters: SpaceX and other companies want to make space travel more akin to air travel, with launches happening every day.

What's happening: In order to make that future a reality, launch costs need to get cheaper. That's where Starship comes in.

  • SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said a Starship launch could eventually cost just $10 million or less. By comparison, the company's Falcon 9 costs about $62 million today and has far less carrying capacity than Starship.

SpaceX was planning its first launch of the Starship with its Super Heavy booster yesterday. But liftoff was scuttled after a technical issue popped up deep into the countdown.

  • Musk says the company will reset and try to launch again in the next few days.

Keep reading ... Get Miriam's weekly Axios Space.

6. 🖊️ Ina Fried: Postcard from AI-centric TED

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

An AI-infused opera kicked off the annual TED conference kicked off in Vancouver yesterday, Axios' Ina Fried writes from Canada.

  • The first talks included a mix of deepfakes and using AI to hear animals whose sounds are too low or high for humans to hear.
  • And that was just Day 1, with artificial intelligence topics dominating this week's program and surrounding exhibits.

Why it matters: There's always a fair bit of tech talk at TED. But it's been a while since tech dominated the conversation the way it clearly is this year.

Metaphysic CEO Tom Graham showed how AI can be used to create videos of one person speaking in another person's voice, with or without the other person's face overlaid on theirs.

  • In one recorded example, a female singer did a cover of Aloe Blacc's hit "Wake Me Up" in Spanish — then the singer's face transformed into Blacc's, still producing the cover singer's voice. Ultimately it became an AI-generated video with the singing in Blacc's voice as well, even though he had never sung the number in Spanish.

In a live demo, Graham spoke onstage with TED curator Chris Anderson. On the video monitors, Graham's voice came out sounding like Anderson's — eventually, his face morphed into Anderson's, too.

7. 🇺🇦 First look: After Ukraine

Illustration: Ed Johnson for Foreign Affairs

New today from Foreign Affairs: "The unity among Washington’s closest partners has made clear just how differently much of the rest of the world sees not only the war in Ukraine but also the broader global landscape," says the introduction to the May/June issue, "The Nonaligned World."

  • Policymakers and scholars from Africa, Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia see "the dangers, as well as the new opportunities, that the war and the broader return of great-power conflict present for their countries and regions."

Why it matters: If unaddressed, these aftershocks "will become a source of even greater challenge and disorder in the years ahead, no matter what happens on the ground in Ukraine."

8. 📷 Parting shot: Tax Day edition

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In Miami yesterday, Gereon Moreno of Liberty Tax Services wears a Statue of Liberty outfit as he rests in the air-conditioned office before heading outside to warn of just one more day to file taxes.

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