Sep 8, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🍂 Good Tuesday morning, and welcome back.

1 big thing: Why tech couldn't save us from COVID

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Tech's biggest, richest companies have proved powerless to stop or stem the pandemic — largely because the companies' own products have destabilized the public sphere, managing editor Scott Rosenberg writes from the Bay Area.

  • Why it matters: No one expects tech companies to develop vaccines or promulgate quarantine policy on their own. But in a crisis, U.S. leaders turn to the tech industry for resources, innovations and problem-solving muscle.

Flashback: Silicon Valley saw the crisis as a moment to shine.

  • The pandemic provided an opportunity to reverse years of negative publicity about data privacy, misinformation and hate speech, and charges of anti-competitive practices — and apply engineering prowess to a collective threat.
  • Tech's products and services became the backbones of our quarantined lives.

The industry's failures fall into three categories:

1. Data distrust. Tech's mindset is data-driven. But coronavirus data became a partisan flashpoint early on, as the Trump administration — fueled by a populist resentment of experts — sought to downplay the pandemic's impact.

2. Limits of incrementalism. Tech's preference is to break big, "hairy" projects down into small pieces and tackle those fast with "minimum viable products."

  • That doesn't work well with a problem like the pandemic, with its tangle of human factors.

3. Consensus-building blind spot: The social media universe built by Silicon Valley, with its libertarian-individualist roots, efficiently breaks the public down into targetable chunks and amplifies divisive voices.

2. Corporate America's virus trust crisis
Data: Edelman flash survey, Aug. 23-26. Graphic: Edelman

Companies around the world are trying to solve the back-to-work puzzle — but few workers trust their bosses to make the right decisions, Erica Pandey writes.

  • Just 14% of employees trust CEOs or senior managers to lead the return to work, according to a late August poll for an Edelman Trust Barometer special report, "Workplace Trust and the Coronavirus."
  • Only half believe their offices are safe.

CEO Richard Edelman said: "This return to workplace is huge for business, if done safely and well."

  • "If not, you’ll have a 2008 moment, when trust in business was really diminished."

Workers also expect their bosses to take a stand against systemic racism, according to another new Edelman report.

  • 61% of Americans expect corporations to publicly speak out against racial injustice.
  • Still, people have placed far more trust in companies to respond to racial injustice (71%) than in the government (36%).

The bottom line: Between navigating the return to work and responding to racial justice protests, businesses have an opportunity to distinguish themselves to workers and consumers alike.

3. How holiday shopping will change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This holiday shopping season will mean an avalanche of e-commerce deliveries, merchants running promotions earlier than ever, and tight crowd control on Black Friday, managing editor Jennifer Kingson writes from New York.

  • Why it matters: Retailers desperately need the revenue from this critical time of year — and they fear that overwhelmed package-delivery services will leave their customers high and dry (and angry).

More people than ever say they'll be buying most of their stuff online.

  • With Halloween expected to be a bit of a bust, more stores will put renewed emphasis on Christmas and other year-end holiday sales.
  • 2020 is expected to be the biggest year yet for a trend called "click and collect," or "BOPUS" (buy online, pick up in store).

🥃 Karl Haller, an IBM retail expert, says: "We’ve got a polarizing election that’s going to boost liquor sales."

4. College coronavirus meltdown

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tens of thousands of college students across the country have gotten infected with the coronavirus, and thousands more are being sent home to potentially spread the virus to their families and communities, Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: These concentrated outbreaks — and any subsequent mishandling of them — could fuel larger outbreaks across the country as we head into a fall that's already expected to be extremely difficult.

Colleges and universities have found at least 51,000 coronavirus cases already, according to a campus tracker the N.Y. Times built (subscription).

  • Each of these schools has reported more than 1,000 cases: Illinois State University, the University of South Carolina, Auburn University, the University of Alabama and UNC Chapel Hill.

Share this story.

5. 💰 Where Trump's money went
Lead story of today's New York Times

In a deeply reported article on "How Trump's Billion-Dollar Campaign Lost Its Cash Advantage," the N.Y. Times' Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman found this spending:

  • "Super Bowl ads that cost $11 million."
  • "$156,000 for planes to pull aerial banners in recent months."
  • "Hershey Company, the chocolate-maker ($337,000), which cover costs for items such as the White House-branded M&Ms given away by administrations of both parties."
  • Former campaign manager Brad Parscale "had a car and driver, an unusual expense for a campaign manager."

Keep reading (subscription).

6. U.S. stimulus skimps on green energy
Data: Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. has spent the largest share of its GDP on discretionary stimulus spending compared to other major economies, but it’s spent the smallest share on clean energy, Amy Harder writes from a new analysis by Rhodium Group.

  • Why it matters: To what degree the world invests in clean-energy technologies as it recovers from the pandemic-induced recession could go a long way toward reaching climate goals.

Go deeper.

7. First look: Biden's "fresh start"

Screenshot: YouTube

Joe Biden today launches an ad, "Fresh Start," in which a narrator says over a clip of President Trump brandishing the Bible, plus a glimpse of Charlottesville: "This is our chance to put the darkness of the last four years behind us."

  • "We've had four years of a president who brings out the worst in America. Isn't it time we had a president who brought out the best?"

The ad will run in all the core battleground states — Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

  • Plus Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio — and national cable.

See the ad.

8. New Trump ad: "Great American Comeback"

Screenshot: YouTube

President Trump launches a new ad this week promising: "In the race for a vaccine, the finish line is approaching."

  • The ad distorts a Joe Biden quote. "I would shut it down," Biden told ABC's David Muir in response to a question about what he would do if scientists recommended another shutdown. Biden's next sentence, not in the ad, was: "I would listen to the scientists."

Trump's ad will run in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as on national cable. 

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement that the ad strategy "reflects the unique 2020 campaign calendar."

  • The campaign points out that this year's calendar is radically different, and says buys will emphasize early-voting states as they come online.
9. Zoom founder joins list of richest Americans
Covers: Forbes

With so many of us spending so much of our day on Zoom calls, the pandemic has been a boon for Zoom.

  • Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom Video Communications, with a net worth of $11 billion, is among this year's newcomers to the Forbes 400, the magazine's 39th annual ranking of the richest Americans.

Also joining the Forbes 400: Jim Koch, co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company, producer of Sam Adams beer, with a net worth of $2.6 billion; and at age 38 the youngest newcomer ... Trevor Milton, founder of electric and hydrogen-electric truck maker Nikola.

  • President Trump dropped to No. 352 from 275 last year, and his estimated net worth fell to $2.5 billion from $3.1 billion, as the value of office buildings, hotels and resorts took a pandemic hit, Forbes says.

Covers, from left: Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings ... Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz ... entertainment mogul Tyler Perry ... biotech billionaire and L.A. Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong ... Aqua-Spark impact investor Amy Novogratz.

10. 🏀 College hoops floats "Battle in the Bubble"

The NBA, NHL, WNBA and MLS bubbles have all worked. So the NCAA is considering bubbles for the college basketball season, AP's John Marshall writes:

  • While football has been scattershot, a much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.
  • The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

The NCAA filed a trademark application for the phrase "Battle in the Bubble."

  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.
Mike Allen

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