Jul 19, 2021

Axios AM

Good Monday morning from Norfolk — off to Chicago. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,169 words ... 4½ minutes. Edited by Zachary Basu.

1 big thing: Rural Dems run from party

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A growing swath of House Democratic candidates says the party needs to radically improve its heartland appeal to have any hope of keeping power in Washington, Axios' Alexi McCammond writes in the debut of "Swing Country," her reported series on the 2022 midterms.

  • Why it matters: With control of the House and Senate on the bubble, many ambitious Democrats — from the South to the Midwest to the Rockies — are running against their own national party's image.

What's happening: After four years of listening to President Trump, many rural voters are reflexively distrustful of progressive solutions to everything from the pandemic to infrastructure.

  • In a 3-min. ad for his Senate campaign, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio never says he's a Democrat.

What we're hearing: Democratic strategists are advising candidates in states like these to refrain from "fancy" language, and to focus on populist economic policies.

  • Several consultants insisted that Democratic policies — on labor rights, broadband, climate and infrastructure — are popular in rural areas. It's the messaging that's causing heartburn.

Keep reading.

2. "Pandemic of the unvaccinated"
Data: Our World in Data. Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are back on the rise in the U.S. as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads across the country, Axios' Sam Baker writes.

  • This is happening almost exclusively to people who aren’t vaccinated, and it’s worse in places where overall vaccination rates are low.

The U.S. is now averaging about 26,000 new cases per day — up 70% from the previous week, the CDC says. Hospitalizations are up 36%, and deaths are up 26%, to an average of 211 per day.

  • Two-thirds of eligible Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and about 57% are fully vaccinated.
  • Over 97% of the people currently hospitalized for severe COVID-19 infections were unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

A handful of states with low vaccination rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada — are driving a plurality of new cases.

  • One in five new infections comes from Florida alone, per the CDC.

The good news: The vaccines work, even against the Delta variant.

3. You're being scanned as you shop

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Retailers' use of face-recognition tech, which can scan or store facial images of shoppers and workers, has accelerated during the pandemic, Axios' Kim Hart writes in her "Tech Agenda" column.

  • Why it matters: Retailers were looking for ways to track foot traffic with fewer employees, and offer contactless payments. Now, of course, they're keeping this new power.

Where it stands: Stores including Walmart, Kroger, Home Depot and Target have said they won't use facial recognition technologies, according to a list by an advocacy group, Fight for the Future.

  • But Albertsons, Macy's and Apple Stores do use the tech, per the list. Their privacy policies say they use it for security and to prevent fraud.
  • Portland, Ore., last year became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition by retail stores, hotels and restaurants.

How it works: Facial recognition tools are primarily used by retailers for security reasons — chiefly, to prevent shoplifting — and they usually don't link images to personally identifiable information, says Brenda Leong of the Future of Privacy Foundation. She said there are plenty of other ways stores would like to use the technology, including:

  • Identifying loyalty club members the minute they enter a store to send them push alerts and text messages about deals.
  • Knowing exactly how long a customer is in the store to help tailor their experience in future visits.
  • Using biometric systems for employees to clock in and out, and track workers' whereabouts and monitor productivity.

Keep reading.

4. Pics du jour: Athletes' village

Photos: Toru Hanai/Getty Images (3), Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters (Japan)

At the Olympic athletes' village in Tokyo, teams decorate their balconies on the waterfront high-rise ahead of Friday's opening ceremony.

5. New fears of climate blind spot

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The rapid succession of precedent-shattering extreme weather events in North America and Europe has some scientists saying climate extremes are worsening faster than expected, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

  • Why it matters: Extreme weather is the deadliest, most expensive and most immediate manifestation of climate change. Any miscalculations could make communities more vulnerable.

Axios spoke to nine leading scientists involved in extreme event research. The Pacific Northwest heat wave is being viewed with more suspicion than the European floods as a possible indicator of something new and more dangerous.

  • Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M, said he's no longer sure if climate models are accurately capturing how global warming is playing out.
  • "Perhaps we've just been very unlucky, but I think this is an open scientific question," he said.

Keep reading.

6. 🗳️ Nick Kristof tests waters for Oregon governor
Nick Kristoff returns to his Oregon hometown in the documentary "Tightrope."

N.Y. Times columnist Nick Kristof, known for on-the-ground reporting about humanity around the world, tells two Oregon newspapers that he's considering entering the Democratic primary for governor next year.

  • Kristof, 62, whose Twitter bio calls himself "Oregon farmboy turned NY Times columnist," told Willamette Week: "I have friends trying to convince me that here in Oregon, we need new leadership from outside the broken political system. ... I'm honestly interested in what my fellow Oregonians have to say about that."

The seat will be open: Gov. Kate Brown (D) is term-limited.

  • "All I know for sure is that we need someone with leadership and vision so that folks from all over the state can come together to get us back on track," the columnist added in his statement, later shared with The (Portland) Oregonian.

For at least two years, Kristof has been visiting his family farm in Yamhill, Ore., "removing the cherry orchard to make way for cider apples," Willamette Week reports.

  • In 2020, he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, wrote "Tightrope," a book about strains in working-class America, including Yamhill.
  • A February column (subscription), datelined Yamhill, told the moving story of a childhood pal — who became homeless and didn't make it.
  • An April column (subscription) was headlined: "Lessons for America From a Weird Portland."

Video: Kristof returns to his rural hometown. ... Read "The Kids on the Number 6 School Bus" (Click "Read an excerpt.")

7. 📈 Some used cars worth more than new
Expand chart
Data: Cox Automotive. Chart: Axios Visuals

Normally the ultimate depreciating asset, cars are defying economic gravity: Some vehicles are now worth more than the original sticker price, The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription):

  • "[C]ertain popular preowned models, such as the Kia Telluride and Toyota Tundra, are regularly selling for thousands of dollars more than the list prices of the brand-new versions as auto retailers run historically low on preowned vehicle inventory."

Prices are even rising above 100,000 miles: "Car-shopping website Edmunds.com found that the average selling price for a used car with between 100,000 and 110,000 miles on it was $16,489 in June, the highest ever recorded and up from $12,626 a year ago," per The Journal.

8. 1 fun thing: Psaki's strike
Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, wearing a Max Scherzer jersey, threw out the first pitch at Nats Park yesterday — across home plate and into the mitt of Nationals relief pitcher Kyle Finnegan. (WTOP)

Photo: Brad Mills/USA Today Sports via Getty Images

Watch the video.

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