October 30, 2019

Good morning from Chicago, where I'll interview Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx and other guests at the Merchandise Mart at 8 a.m.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,185 words ... 4 minutes.

1 big thing: A world of rising risks and little leadership

Illustration: Axios Visuals

The era of American dominance is "definitively over," war with China is growing more likely, and world leaders are risking long-term security by refusing to face challenges like climate change, according to a new Atlantic Council report, "Global Risks 2035."

  • The takeaway, from Axios World editor Dave Lawler: Author Mathew Burrows, a CIA veteran who previously steered long-term risk forecasts for the U.S. intelligence community, writes that the world is slipping into a "new bipolarity" defined by competition between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Climate change, disruptive technologies and rising inequality feature prominently in Burrows' analysis of the greatest risks facing the world in the next 15 years.

  • But hanging over everything is the fundamental restructuring of global power as China grows more influential and seeks to redefine the world order to suit its interests.

The U.S. has so far been unwilling to adapt to the changing global reality, Burrows tells Axios.

  • No other country would imagine it could "only ensure national security through primacy," he says.
  • Meanwhile, most in China are convinced the U.S. will never accept China as an equal.
  • As walls go up between the countries, "misunderstandings can begin to develop," Burrows says.
  • A World War I scenario, in which neither side wants war but "there is also no one putting the brakes on," looks increasingly possible, according to Burrows.

What to watch: Burrows writes that a sliding China could actually be a bigger risk than a booming one.

  • A Chinese economic downturn could be destabilizing domestically, he says, because the Communist Party "has tied its legitimacy to year-after-year of increasing opportunities and very steady growth."
  • But given China's central role in the global economy, and the already rising tides of "protectionism and political destabilization," it could be a deeply destabilizing event globally, Burrows warns.

The big picture: Most of the worst-case scenarios Burrows envisions are based not on an unexpected event, but on failure to act on entirely foreseeable challenges like struggling middle classes in the West, growing mountains of debt and climate change.

2. Trump's transcript gaps

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council director for European Affairs. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

From the moment the White House released its partial transcript of President Trump's Ukraine call, a huge unknown was: What was said during the ellipses?

Multiple national security officials, and current and former administration officials, have told Axios White House editor Margaret Talev that they're concerned about the gaps.

  • Did some officials know what the fuller passages were, and were they instructed to leave those details out? That would mean a fuller record exists.
  • Or was the conversation going too fast, and the passages were lost?
  • Or was there disagreement over what was said? 

We now have an eye-opening answer: According to accounts of yesterday's impeachment testimony by a White House national security official, those passages included explosive topics — direct mentions of the Bidens and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that hired Hunter Biden.

  • Why it matters: This raises the importance of hearing from others on the call, and unpacking who made the decision to replace words with "..."

Alexander Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel and Purple Heart honoree now serving Trump's National Security Council, told House investigators yesterday that he tried to change the White House's rough transcript by filling in "Burisma."

  • "The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings," the N.Y. Times reports.

3. Dems race for 2019 impeachment finish

This eight-page resolution, released by the Democrats ahead of a Thursday vote, authorizes the next phase of the impeachment inquiry. Photo: Jon Elswick/AP

Axios' Alayna Treene reports from the Capitol that House Democrats hope to wrap up private impeachment depositions during a previously scheduled recess next week, then begin public hearings when they return Nov. 12.

  • Why it matters: House Democrats still hope to finish the process in 2019.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff emerged last night after Alexander Vindman's 10+ hours of testimony, and said the still-unknown whistleblower who touched off the probe has "the right to remain anonymous."

  • "They certainly should not be subject to these kind of vicious attacks and other words and actions that threaten their safety for doing their patriotic duty," Schiff said outside the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility).
  • "The president's allies would like nothing better than to out this whistleblower. Our committee will not be a part of that. We will not stand for that."

Trump and Republican lawmakers are complaining about that approach.

  • Trump tweeted: "[T]he Whistleblower disappeared after I released the transcript of the call. Where is the Whistleblower? That is why this is now called the Impeachment Hoax!"
  • Republicans on the House Oversight Committee tweeted a sign: "78 Days Since Adam Schiff Learned the Identity of the Whistleblower."

4. Two worlds

Prime time in America ... Both 9:07 last night:

Screenshots via Fox News and MSNBC

5. NYT: "Democrats Have the Most Racially Diverse Field Ever. The Top Tier Is All White"

Sen. Cory Booker takes a selfie during a town hall at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia on Monday. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

"Candidates of color are languishing in the low single digits, ... well behind the four leaders" among 2020 Dems — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the N.Y. Times' Astead Herndon and Jonathan Martin report.

  • Between the lines: "The divide could become even more pronounced in the coming months: Because of new, more rigorous thresholds for the Democratic debate in December, it is possible that only one nonwhite candidate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, will qualify."

Booker told the Times: "I’ve had lots of crazy things said to me, like, 'Is America ready for another black president?' And I’m confident it's never been asked of a white candidate, 'Is America ready for another white president?'"

6. 🎓 Student performance lags on Nation's Report Card

America's eighth graders are falling behind in math and reading, while fourth graders are doing slightly better in reading, according to the latest results from the Nation's Report Card, per AP.

  • Key stat: Nationwide, a little more than a third of eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. About a third of fourth graders are proficient in reading, while more than 40% of fourth graders are proficient in math.

The bright side: Mississippi and the District of Columbia showed gains.

7. 🏭 Signs of trouble build in manufacturing Midwest

An economic erosion in Wisconsin and neighboring states "is challenging President Trump’s signature promise to restore a lost era of American manufacturing greatness," the WashPost's David Lynch writes.

  • Why it matters: "Even as the $21 trillion U.S. economy continues growing, and unemployment hovers at a half-century low, factory activity has contracted for two consecutive months, according to the closely watched Institute for Supply Management index."

8. ⚾ Tonight: Game 7!

Nats starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg last night. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Pool via AP 

"Never before had the road teams won each of the first six games of a World Series," but the Washington Nationals' 7-2 victory last night in Houston forced a winner-take-all finale against the Astros, writes the N.Y. Times' Tyler Kepner.

  • "It all added up to produce the fifth Game 7 of the 2010s: more than the 1990s and the 2000s combined, and a fitting end to a decade of World Series joy for some starving franchises and painful near-misses for others."

9. "Captured by Coal"

A joint year-long investigation by Grist and the Texas Tribune examined how the coal industry lobbied Texas to lower land restoration standards, which require land used for mining to be returned to its previous state — often at great cost.

  • "The end result: Thousands of potentially contaminated acres across the state could be saturated with dangerous chemicals."

10. 1 "Thrones" thing

Image: HBO

HBO ordered a 10-episode "Game of Thrones" prequel, "House of the Dragon," set 300 years before the original series, AP reports.

  • The prequel is based on George R.R. Martin's "Fire & Blood," HBO said.
  • It will focus on House Targaryen, made famous in "Game of Thrones" by Emilia Clarke's Daenerys and her fearsome dragons.

Between the lines: "House of the Dragon" was announced during a presentation for HBO Max, the streaming service launching in May 2020.

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