Feb 24, 2017

Axios AM

1 big thing: We could lose Cold War II

A DEFCON warning in next week's issue of The New Yorker ... "Active Measures: Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War" — by Evan Osnos in D.C., Editor David Remnick in NYC and Joshua Yaffa in Moscow — on fears of the neutering of NATO and the decoupling of America from European security: "If that happens, it gives Putin all kinds of opportunities."

Strobe Talbott, who was President Bill Clinton's leading adviser on Russia and the region, and now is Brookings President: "There is a very real danger not only that we are going to lose a second Cold War — or have a redo and lose — but that the loss will be largely because of a perverse pal-ship, the almost unfathomable respect that Trump has for Putin."

  • Why it matters ... Talbott, on the consequences of "losing" such a conflict: "The not quite apocalyptic answer is that it is going to take years and years and years to get back to where we — we the United States and we the champions of the liberal world order — were as recently as five years ago."

"An even graver scenario, Talbott said, would be an 'unravelling,' in which we revert to 'a dog-eat-dog world with constant instability and conflict even if it doesn't go nuclear. But, with the proliferation of nuclear powers, it is easy to see it going that way, too.'"

The fantasy of a Hillary Clinton senior adviser: "[W]hat if Barack Obama had gone to the Oval Office, or the East Room of the White House, and said, 'I'm speaking to you tonight to inform you that the United States is under attack. The Russian government at the highest levels is trying to influence our most precious asset, our democracy, and I'm not going to let it happen.'"

Cover Story: "In a riff on the magazine's first cover, from 1925, by Rea Irvin, Blitt imagines a future in which The New Yorker's dandy mascot has become Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley and the lepidopteran under scrutiny is none other than a stunned Donald Trump."

David Ignatius column in WashPost: "We may be missing the forest for the trees in the Russia story: The Kremlin's attempt to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is part of a much bigger tale of Russian covert action — in which Donald Trump's campaign was perhaps a tool, witting or unwitting."

  • "This secret manipulation, if unchecked, could pose an 'existential threat' to Western democracy, argues Gérard Araud, France's ambassador to Washington."
  • "If the United States and its allies don't resist, a post-West era may indeed be next."

Will be big on Sunday shows ... "FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories" — CNN: "Priebus later reached out again to [FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories."

2. Coming attractions

Coming Monday, from VERY well-known names in Democratic politics, progressive activism, and academia, an effort to rebut Trump Administration tweets, statements and actions in real time:

"@ShadowingTrump is a 'Shadow Cabinet' of policy experts debunking POTUS 45 and his appointees ... Sort of an online 'Justice League.' ... [W]e'll be a comprehensive, one-portal stop of 'Citizen Secretaries' — ex-officials and scholars who will comment agency-by-agency ... on issues both in headlines & within the bureaucracy."

From the pitch: "Please follow us on twitter ... unless you think everything is ok."

The "Shadow Cabinet" Twitter feed is locked until Monday.

3. Obamacare getting MORE popular

David Nather points out that a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, out today, is "the latest evidence that the repeal threat is making Obamacare more popular":

  • KFF's monthly tracking poll shows the highest favorable rating the program has had since 2010, the year Obama signed it.
  • "It's not great — just 48 percent, which says a lot about how low the approval ratings were before. But it's clearly higher than the unfavorable ratings for the first time in more than a year."
4. Happy-hour helper: Stuff to talk about

"Subway Ridership Declines in New York. Is Uber to Blame?" by N.Y. Times' Emma Fitzsimmons: "[R]idership dropped last year [for the first time since 2009], and transit officials say the rise of Uber and other car service apps may be partly to blame ... Weekday ridership was at its highest level since 1948, but weekend ridership fell about 3 percent, suggesting that New Yorkers and tourists were finding other ways to get around."

"[I]f passengers continue to abandon the subway, it could have broad implications for the city and worsen traffic congestion. ... [T]he system is still teeming with more than six million riders on some weekdays. ... Bus ridership also dropped last year — part of a downward trend over the last decade."

"Few homes available for millennials ready to buy" — WashPost front-pager by Kathy Orton: "[A]s millennials find better-paying jobs, start families and begin searching for their first homes, they're encountering an unfortunate reality: Just as they're finally ready to buy, the housing market has the fewest homes available for sale on record. And those that are for sale are increasingly priced at values inaccessible to first-time buyers."

  • Why it matters: "Overall millennials are falling behind other generations in homeownership, with first-time home buyers, who usually consist of 40 percent of the market, stuck at 34 percent.That could become damaging to this generation's future prosperity."
5. Things you wouldn't see on Obama's desk

Papers — and cola!

This fascinating photo was taken during Trump's Oval Office interview yesterday with Reuters' Steve Holland. Key point:

"Trump ... spoke positively about a border adjustment tax being pushed by Republicans in Congress as a way to boost exports, but he did not specifically endorse the proposal."

  • Trump's "most approving language to date on the proposal": "It could lead to a lot more jobs in the United States."
  • Trump sent conflicting signals about his position ... in separate media interviews in January, saying in one interview that it was 'too complicated' and in another that it was still on the table.
  • Sean Spicer also came to the defense of border adjustment on Thursday, disputing the claim that it could lead to higher consumer prices.
  • Stocks of retailers, which could be hurt by border adjustment, weakened on Wall Street after Trump's remarks."

Trump on corporate tax cut: "We're going to have a corporate tax cut ... anywhere from 15 to 20 percent (as a target for the corporate tax rate).

The backdrop ... "Manufacturing CEOs Push Border Tax During Meeting With Trump" — Bloomberg: "Just after meeting with the CEOs of Dow Chemical Co., General Electric Co. and other industrial giants, the president told Reuters he would 'support a form of tax on the border."

6. Bannon vows "deconstruction of the administrative state"

Steve Banon, Trump's chief strategist, made it clear during an appearance yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., that he hasn't softened one bit:

  • On the West Wing suite he shares with Priebus: "I have a little thing called the war room. He has a fireplace with nice sofas."
  • On the media: "[I]f you look at the opposition party and how they portray the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now they're portraying the administration, it's always wrong. ... They're corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed — adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has."
  • On the Trump administration's three "lines of work": "The first is kind of national security and sovereignty and that's your intelligence, the Defense Department, Homeland Security. The second ... is what I refer to as economic nationalism and that is Wilbur Ross at Commerce, Steven Mnuchin at Treasury, [Robert] Lighthizer [nominated as Trade Rep], Peter Navarro [Director of Trade and Industrial Policy], Stephen Miller — these people that are rethinking how we're gonna reconstruct ... our trade arrangements around the world. The third, broadly, line of work is what is deconstruction of the administrative state."
  • On his personality: "I can run a little hot on occasions."
  • On how Trump fits into the conservative movement: "[T]here's a new political order that's being formed out of this. ... [T]he center core of what we believe: that we're a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being. And I think that is what unites us and I think that is what is going to unite this movement going forward."

Vice President Pence at CPAC last night: " [T]he president and I have become good friends. ... Now, some people have remarked that we're a little bit different. You know, I'm a small town guy. He's big city. I'm Midwest; he's Manhattan Island. He's known for his bigger than life personality, his charm, and his charisma. And I'm, like, not." Laughter.

7. The family business

In a week when Ivanka and Jared Kushner have been showing their clout on a host of issues (including yesterday's presidential listening session on domestic and international human trafficking), BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie has an intriguing connect-the-dots on help the family has given in smoothing over relations with China:

"Before Mr Trump ... or senior members of his administration talked to key players in China, and while China's internet was full of mutterings about why Mr Trump had delivered no goodwill message over Chinese New Year, Beijing's man in Washington, Ambassador Cui Tiankai, deftly reached out to President Trump's daughter Ivanka.

"She bridged the official divide with a well-publicised appearance at a Chinese New Year function at Beijing's embassy in Washington.

"Ivanka's husband Jared Kushner also has lines of communication to Beijing through his Chinese business partners. And President Trump's other daughter Tiffany made a point of sitting in the front row of the New York Fashion Week show of Chinese designer Taoray Wang."

8. Axios interview

Dan Primack interviews Jack Dorsey, best known as co-founder and CEO of Twitter: "[B]ut it's his other company ― Square ― that set Wall Street tongues wagging this week with better-than-expected earnings ... closed trading yesterday at an all-time high.

Sign of our times that one of Dan's questions was: Does profitability matter?

Dorsey: "It's important to get to that milestone, and it's one we've really set ourselves against. It's important to build a company where you have control, so you can choose to either invest in the growth of the company or more in profitability. So we're building something that can really reach that level."

9. Tucker's restoration

Tucker Carlson ("The Bow-Tied Bard of Populism"), whose new 9 p.m. show on Fox has been a ratings and echo-chamber hit, to McKay Coppins, now a staff writer for The Atlantic:

"The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever. ...

"But the problem with the meritocracy ... [is that it] leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid — I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is."

A keeper: "He recalls receiving a text message on election night from a stunned Democratic friend declaring his intention to flee the country with his family. Carlson replied by asking if he could use their pool while they were gone."

One quibble: McKay calls The Monocle, where he had lunch with Tucker, "upscale" when he meant "old-school."

10. 1 fun thing

"Virtual-Reality Goggles Come With a Hitch: Real Reality" -- Wall Street Journal A-Hed by Cat Zakrzewski: "[E]arly adopters are encountering ... challenges, from coffee spills to missed train stops to nausea and 'goggle face' — marks that the snug headsets leave around the eyes after extended use."

  • "The popularity of Pokémon Go last summer showed the dangers of operating in the real world while staring at 'augmented reality' on a smartphone. Players sprained ankles, walked into fire hydrants and fell off bikes while their eyes were glued to their phone screens."
  • AR vs. VR: "Augmented reality puts digital objects on images of the real world — so it looks like a Pokémon character is standing in your driveway. Virtual reality cuts out the real world entirely. Such full immersion can be so intense that users experience motion sickness or fear of falling."