Jun 17, 2018

Axios AM

Good Sunday morning, and happy Father's Day!

Situational awareness: House GOP members were told yesterday that they're meeting "w/ Special Guest President Donald J. Trump" Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. "Topic is immigration."

1 big thing: Trump's go-to excuse

Translation of cover line: "I am the people" / Der Spiegel

Last week's cover of Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, shows a smug President Trump — backed by Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Xi Jinping and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and proclaims "Das Zeitalter der Autokraten," the age of the autocrats.

It's a common enough perception of Trump. So his description of North Korea's Kim Jong-un to Fox News' Steve Doocy on Friday got lots of coverage:

  • "Hey, he’s the head of a country. And I mean he is the strong head. ... He speaks and his people sit up at attention. [Pointing to the West Wing.] I want my people to do the same."
  • Asked about the comment a few minutes later during his first-ever gaggle on the North Lawn, Trump said: "I’m kidding. You don’t understand sarcasm. Who are you with? Wait, wait, who are you with? Who are you with? ... You’re with CNN!  Hey, you are the worst."

Rewind some tape, and you find that this White House has used the "just kidding — you don't get it" response before:

  • When Trump suggested to laughter by supporters that it was "treasonous" that Democrats were so stone-faced during his State of the Union address, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said he was "clearly joking."
  • Asked during the campaign about his suggestion that Russia help Hillary Clinton find her emails, Trump said: "Of course I'm being sarcastic."
  • When Trump was criticized even by law enforcement for telling officers they shouldn't "be too nice" to suspects ("Like, don't hit their head, and they just killed somebody"), Sanders said: "I believe he was making a joke at the time."
  • After Trump called it "great" that Xi is "now president for life" ("Maybe we’ll give that a shot someday"), he said at a rally: "I'm joking about being president for life."
  • When asked about Trump's remark that he'd like to "compare IQ tests" with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who had called his boss a moron), Sanders said Trump "made a joke — nothing more than that."

Trump used the line in real time to take the edge off a tweet he clearly believes: "Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore - except your President (just kidding, of course)!"

A couple of reactions to this defense:

  • Max Boot, WashPost national security columnist, after the Xi remark: "The president’s comments are no laughing matter even if they were intended humorously, which is far from clear. ... That there is truth in wit as well as wine is now widely recognized."
  • David Litt, a speechwriter for former President Barack Obama, told Reuters' Roberta Rampton after the "sit up at attention" comment: “Maybe Donald Trump is the kind of dry, deadpan humorist who does great material about how terrific dictators are - but if that’s the case, he should wait until he retires as president to start breaking out that particular part of his act."

Be smart: Jokes are funnier if you don't have to say they're jokes.

2. Trump lawyers prepare for "war"

Special counsel Robert Mueller is "pushing to write up his findings by summer’s end and Trump’s lawyers [are] strategizing how to rebut a report that could spur impeachment hearings," the WashPost's Carol Leonnig and Bob Costa report:

  • "Trump must decide whether to do a face-to-face interview with Mueller’s team — an answer the president’s legal team expects to have in the next two weeks."
  • "If the president agreed to a sit-down, the special counsel has told Trump’s lawyers that he could finish within roughly 90 days a report on whether Trump sought to obstruct a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign."
  • "A separate report outlining Mueller’s broader findings on Russian attempts to bolster Trump’s candidacy is expected to take longer."
  • The takeaway: "The confidential obstruction report, which would be delivered to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, ... could trigger a political firestorm over whether to make the special counsel’s findings public — just as this fall’s midterm campaign season kicks off."
3. Fears of trade war strain global economy

"As the Trump administration imposes tariffs on allies and rivals alike, provoking broad retaliation, global commerce is suffering disruption, flashing signs of strains that could hamper economic growth," the N.Y. Times' Peter Goodman, Ian Austen and Elisabeth Malkin write:

  • What's new: "As the conflict broadens, shipments are slowing at ports and airfreight terminals around the world. Prices for crucial raw materials are rising. At factories from Germany to Mexico, orders are being cut and investments delayed. American farmers are losing sales as trading partners hit back with duties of their own."
  • Why it matters: "Fears are deepening that the current outbreak of antagonism could drag down the rest of the world."
Bonus 1: Pic of the week
Xin Li/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal celebrates his hat trick (three goals in one game), as he brought the score to 3-3 against Spain on Friday — a "Draw for the Ages" (so soccer!) that N.Y. Times chief soccer correspondent Rory Smith called one of the greatest World Cup group games ever played.

  • At 33, Ronaldo became the oldest World Cup player to score a hat trick.
  • The Times of London rendered the score as: Ronaldo 3, Spain 3.
  • Referring to an Adidas ad showing Lionel Messi holding a goat ("greatest of all time"), Ronaldo stroked his chin in celebration, saying he's the real GOAT.
Bonus 2: Father's Day video

Writer and educator Clint Smith talks to the Axios video team about fatherhood through the lens of racial bias:

  • "How does one grow up in a home in which you feel loved, affirmed and celebrated, and then go out into a world where you are rendered a caricature of someone else’s fear?”
  • “A white kid running around with a water gun is not the same as a black child. Tamir Rice is the case study in that."
  • See the video.
4. Digitalization in a box: China's tiny shops get AI
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Alibaba, China's e-commerce giant, has transformed 1 million mom-and-pop shops into state-of-the-art, digitalized stores with artificial intelligence-backed apps and heat sensors to track foot traffic — all under Alibaba’s Tmall brand.

Axios Future editor Steve LeVine visited one of those shops when he was in China last week — An Huang's little family grocery in Hangzhou, a three-hour drive east of Shanghai:

  • Big and small, these outlets buy all their goods through Alibaba's platform and pay using its affiliate Alipay app.
  • Why it matters: These stores are part of an expanding battleground among China’s cutthroat tech giants, and petri-dishes of the future of business around the world.
  • What Alibaba and rivals like Tencent and JD.com are doing is corralling businesses into branded, self-contained, AI-infused universes in which only their affiliates capture the profit.

Amazing stat: Around 42% of global e-commerce transactions took place in China last year, more than France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. combined, according to McKinsey Global Institute.

5. A dinosaur tries a physical move to chase the digital age

"Biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong [tomorrow] will take control of the Los Angeles Times," the L.A. Times' Meg James writes:

  • "Soon-Shiong is spending $500 million to acquire [The Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune] from Chicago-based Tronc."
  • Why it matters: "The deal, which was announced Feb. 7, returns The Times to local ownership after 18 turbulent years under Chicago control."

A humbling new home: "Soon-Shiong ... plans to relocate most of the 800 employees to El Segundo [in a building he owns near LAX] by the end of July, vacating the paper’s iconic Art Deco headquarters in downtown Los Angeles — The Times’ home since 1935."

  • Previous corporate owners sold it, and the lease is up.
  • "Soon-Shiong ... spent millions creating a 21st-century newsroom that encourages collaboration."
  • "The Times once boasted one of the world’s largest newsrooms, with more than 1,200 journalists and more than 25 foreign bureaus ... Now it employs about 400 journalists."
6. 1 wizard thing

"Warner Bros. is cracking down on local Harry Potter fan festivals around the country, saying it’s necessary to halt unauthorized commercial activity. Fans, ... liken the move to Dementors," AP's Kristen De Groot writes:

  • "Festival directors around the country, including [Chestnut Hill in suburban Philadelphia,] Aurora, Illinois, and Ithaca, New York, were ... told ... new guidelines [meant to protect the trademark] would prohibit much of the Potter-themed activities."
  • Sarah Jo Tucker, a 21-year-old junior at Chestnut Hill College, which hosts a Quidditch tournament that coincides with the annual suburban Philadelphia festival, said: "It’s almost as if Warner Bros. has been taken over by Voldemort, trying to use dark magic to destroy the light of a little town."

Going generic: The new rules end Chestnut Hill's meet-and-greet with Dumbledore and Defense Against the Dark Arts classes.

  • "The late October festival drew about 45,000 fans last year to the historic neighborhood’s cobblestone streets. This year, [organizers] will instead have a 'wands and wizards' family night and pub crawl."

Thanks for reading. See you this afternoon for Sneak Peek.