Dec 10, 2019

Axios AM

Good Tuesday morning. Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,189 words ... 4½ minutes.

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1 big thing: Trump vs. the world, again

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Internationalists always dreamed of a court with jurisdiction over every country. For 350 years — from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which marked the beginning of the modern system of nation-states — no such court existed.

  • Then in 1995, the World Trade Organization was created — allowing the world's nations to press claims against one another for the first time.
  • That era lasted just 25 years. As of today, the Trump administration has, for all intents and purposes, brought it to an end, Axios' Felix Salmon reports.

By blocking all new appointments to the WTO's dispute-resolution court, President Trump has allowed it to decline from seven members to three.

  • After two more terms expire today, the court will be left with just one remaining judge.
  • That's not enough for the court to issue a binding ruling.
  • From now on, countries will be able to appeal any ruling they don't like to the WTO's highest court. Since that court will have no power to rule against them, they'll be left free to continue infringing any WTO rule they want.

Between the lines: "America First" implies an expansion of unilateralism at the expense of the kind of multilateralism exemplified by the WTO, which marked a post-Cold War high point of international cooperation.

  • The U.S. trade representative's office, part of the White House, referred Axios to a statement yesterday by Dennis Shea, U.S. ambassador to the WTO.
  • Shea complains that the WTO court hasn't been abiding by its own rules.

Winners: Donald "Tariff Man" Trump (his words) can now impose whatever tariffs he likes, without fear that the WTO might find them to be illegal.

  • Losers: Britain, in particular, stands to be a big loser post-Brexit, since WTO rules are the backstop default option in the event of a "hard Brexit."

Reality check: As Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer tells Axios, "multilateral institutions really resist dismantling."

  • When Americans see that other countries — like Germany and Canada — have preferential access to Japan's markets while they don't, they'll demand a leveling of the playing field.
2. ⚖️ Dems plan two impeachment articles
Screenshot via CNN

House Democrats are expected to unveil two articles of impeachment against President Trump today — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, sources tell Axios and other news organizations.

  • Several officials told the N.Y. Times that House Democrats are "now focused on two charges: that Mr. Trump violated his oath of office by putting his political concerns over the national interest and that he stonewalled congressional attempts to investigate."

Speaker Pelosi convened a meeting of the impeachment committee chairmen at her office in the Capitol late yesterday following an acrimonious, nearly 10-hour hearing of the Judiciary Committee, which could vote this week, per AP.

  • Pelosi is facing the legal and political challenge of balancing the views of her majority while hitting the Constitution's bar of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
  • Some liberal lawmakers wanted more expansive charges encompassing the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Centrist Democrats preferred to keep the impeachment articles more focused on Trump's actions toward Ukraine.
House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler yesterday. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Pool via Getty Images
3. Climate thins reindeer
Reindeer in a Swedish corral wait to be released onto winter pastures on Nov. 30. Photo: Malin Moberg/AP

Reindeer in Sweden's Arctic are hungry, AP's David Keyton reports.

  • Why it matters: Climate change is altering weather patterns, choking off herds' food supply.

What's happening: The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

  • Unusually early snowfall in autumn was followed by rain that froze, trapping food under a thick layer of ice.
  • "Rain-on-snow" events are having devastating effects: The food is still there, but the reindeer can't reach it.
  • The animals grow weaker, and females sometimes abort their calves.
  • Some retreat to the mountains where predators abound, and the risk of avalanches is great.

Elderly herders recall that they once had bad winters every decade or so.

  • But Niila Inga, whose community herds about 8,000 reindeer year-round, said that "extreme and strange weather are getting more and more normal, it happens several times a year."
4. "Equal pay!" chants ricochet around the world
Courtesy Sports Illustrated

Megan Rapinoe, captain of the world champion U.S. women's soccer team, is named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated.

  • Why she matters: "Playing the world’s game, on the world’s stage, under attack by a world leader, she dominated. And in doing so without fear, Megan Rapinoe became a voice for so many across the world."
  • Keep reading.
5. Choose your news
Photo: Jon Elswick/AP

The long-awaited Justice Department inspector general's report about the FBI's counterintelligence investigation during the 2016 election, Crossfire Hurricane, undercut President Trump's claim of a "witch hunt."

  • But it found "serious performance failures” up the bureau’s chain of command, which Republicans are citing as evidence that Trump was targeted, AP writes.

The all-over-the-place headlines are a sign of our times:

  • N.Y. Times, 2-col. lead story of the paper: "REPORT DEBUNKS ANTI-TRUMP PLOT IN RUSSIA INQUIRY."
  • WashPost: "FBI probe of Trump not biased, report says."
  • Wall Street Journal: "Report Points to FBI Failures, Sees No Bias in Russia Probe."
  • USA Today banner: "Faults found in FBI's surveillance."

Go deeper: See the findings, read the report.

Courtesy N.Y. Post
6. Biden puts "Laughed At" ad on TV after online spike
Screenshot via Biden campaign

Joe Biden's campaign is now running a TV version of a viral digital ad showing other world leaders laughing at President Trump at NATO last week, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

  • Why it matters: The former vice president is leaning heavily on foreign policy to pitch his electability and contrast himself with Trump.

"Laughed At" — which the campaign released last week targeting likely caucus-goers in Iowa on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Hulu — has racked up nearly 12 million views.

  • Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that it's "[o]ne of the strongest ads of the 2020 campaign" — "both mortifying & powerful to watch."
  • The TV ad, running in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, is part of a $4 million Biden buy in Iowa that started Nov. 1 and runs through caucus day, Feb. 3.

Between the lines: Running ads on social media before going up on TV lets campaigns test messages for a fraction of the cost.

7. 2019 word of the year: "They"

Merriam-Webster declared the personal pronoun "they" as word of the year, with a 313% increase in lookups over 2018, AP reports.

  • Why it matters: Merriam-Webster recently added a new definition to its online dictionary to reflect use of "they" as relating to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary.

In October, the American Psychological Association endorsed "they" as a singular third-person pronoun in its style guide for scholarly writing.

  • "We believe writers should try to use a person's self-identified pronoun whenever feasible," said Jasper Simons, chief publishing officer for the APA.
  • "The singular 'they' is a way for writers to avoid making assumptions about gender when it is not known."

Flashback: The American Dialect Society, which is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, named "they" its word of the year for 2015, in recognition of its emergence among people who reject "he" and "she."

8. 1 🏈 thing
Graphic via Heisman Trophy

The four finalists for the 85th annual Heisman Trophy — to be presented Dec. 14 — are: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow ... Ohio State QB Justin Fields ... Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts ... and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.

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