Axios AM

An analog clock with only two symbols instead of twelve: the symbols read 'AM' and 'PM'.

August 29, 2017

1 big thing: Chance of preventive strike rises

With America rightly focused on the epic catastrophe in Texas, North Korea brazenly violated the sovereignty of Japan by firing a midrange ballistic missile, designed to carry a nuclear payload, over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

  • Investors were rattled; global stocks fell this morning.
  • AP says the launch was "likely the longest ever from the North — over the territory of a close U.S. ally [and sending] a clear message of defiance."
  • The N.Y. Times calls it "a direct challenge to Mr. Trump."

CFR President Richard Haass, author of the sadly apt "A World in Disarray," tweeted that the launch "will stimulate missile defense buildup as well as intensify consideration of preventive military action."

How to think about it ... Two experts email me:

  • Richard Haass I: "The fact that NK took the provocative step of launching a missile over Japan raises the possibility that it cannot be assumed to act responsibly vis-a-vis anyone, including ourselves. Such an assumption is essential if we are to place our faith in deterrence. If we cannot make such an assumption, and if arms control fails to deliver, then a preventive strike becomes a serious option, notwithstanding its high risks and potential costs."
  • Richard Haass II: "The fact that NK keeps testing with no let-up [shows] there is little to no chance it will give up its nuclear weapons and missiles; the only question to me is whether it might agree to some sort of cap or ceiling."
  • Ian Bremer, president and founder of Eurasia Group (in his signature style): "china knows that trump has been pushing for tariffs/trade war despite their recent improvements in cooperation on north korea ... so it's hard to see beijing taking a much harder line here."
  • Ian Bremer II: "few believe the us has a credible military option vs north korea. but us relations with china are set to deteriorate significantly. and a blow up with north korea will help bring that about."

Go deeper:

  • "The Deterrence War" — AP's Eric Talmadge: "Conventional knowledge says that if North Korea were ever to use its nuclear weapons, it would be an act of suicide. But brace yourself for what deterrence experts call the 'theory of victory.' To many who have studied how nuclear strategies actually work, it's conceivable Pyongyang could launch its nukes and still survive. Its most recent missile test suggests again it's racing to prepare itself to do just that — but only if forced into a corner."
  • Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesman in the Obama administration, argues for Foreign Policy ("Trump's Nuclear Crisis Was Of His Own Making") that Trump's "fire and fury" threat provoked "an entirely manufactured crisis magnified by an irrational response from an American president eager to display bravado and bluster on the world stage."
  • Catch up quick with Axios' Shannon Vavra.

2. Letter of intent

President Trump has heatedly denied campaign connections to Russia. But congressional investigators are looking into claims by one of his closest business associates that he briefed the candidate three times on a frantic effort to get a Trump Tower in Moscow.

The two key stories:

  • WashPost: "A top executive from Donald Trump's real estate company emailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin's personal spokesman ... last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow ... The request came in a mid-January 2016 email from Michael Cohen, one of Trump's closest business advisers.''
  • ''Cohen said that he discussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015. ... [H]e said that the project was abandoned 'for business reasons' when government permission was not secured."
  • N.Y. Times: "A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency."
  • "The associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which ... he predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Mr. Trump's savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy. 'Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.'"

Why it matters ... A Republican close to the White House tells Axios' Jonathan Swan: "It gives Mueller all the excuse he needs to open a full-blown investigation into Cohen. And it's worth noting that Cohen's financial affairs are inextricably intertwined with the president's."

3. A tragedy too vast to measure

President Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump will be on the ground in Texas today for five hours, with stops in Corpus Christi and Austin for briefings on Harvey relief and response. Your quick catch-up on one of the landmark human and economic tragedies of our lifetimes:

  • AP latest: "[O]fficials acknowledge the grim reality that fatalities linked to Harvey could soar once the devastating floodwaters recede from one of America's most sprawling metropolitan centers."
  • The scale — N.Y. Times: "Local, state and federal officials conceded that the scale of the crisis was so vast that they were nowhere near being able to measure it, much less fully address it ... just the start of a disaster that would take years to overcome."
  • The politics — AP's Julie Pace: "Trump ... has been particularly eager to seize the moment. He ... may return to the region again on Saturday. ... Trump sent about two dozen tweets about the storm since Friday, marveling at the size ... and cheering on ... responders: 'You are doing a great job — the world is watching!'"
  • A Katrina comparisonN.Y. Times' Shaila Dewan and John Schwartz: "The Gulf region's capacity as an oil and gas hub ... does not appear to have been seriously compromised, and economists were predicting that the storm's cost would be less than half that of Katrina's."
  • "Freight Firms Face Harvey Gridlock" — Wall Street Journal p. A1: "The gridlock will likely reverberate beyond Texas, threatening to snarl international trade routes. Houston is a key consolidation point for imports of vehicles and appliances made in Mexico ... The storm affected up to 10% of the U.S.'s trucking capacity."
  • N.Y. Times Quotation of the Day — FEMA Administrator Brock Long, who expects 450,000+ people to apply for federal assistance: "The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery housing missions the nation has ever seen."
  • Houston Chronicle banner, "UNCERTAINTY ENGULFS REGION." (Read the digital paper free.)
  • If you click only one thing: Where to donate.

4. What the president is reading

5. In his own words

President Trump to Fox's John Roberts, at a joint press conference in the East Room with President Niinistö of Finland, on the thinking in pardoning Joe Arpaio just before Harvey's landfall:

"[A]ctually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know the hurricane was just starting, and I put it out that I had pardoned, as we say, Sheriff Joe."

6. Apple's Tim Cook on "moral responsibility"

In another sign of corporations' rising voice amid frustration with President Trump, Apple CEO Tim Cook tells the N.Y. Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin: "I think we have a moral responsibility to help grow the economy, to help grow jobs, to contribute to this country and to contribute to the other countries that we do business in."

  • Sorkin ate breakfast with Cook in Austin during the CEO's "mini-tour across the country during which he focused on topics usually reserved for politicians: manufacturing, jobs and education."
  • Sorkin writes in his "DealBook" column: "Watching Mr. Cook over the years, I've been fascinated to see how he has become as animated when talking about big issues like education and climate change as he is when talking about Apple. ... Cook is most passionate when he talks about education."
  • Key fact: "Over the past several years, Mr. Cook has gotten all of the company's corporate facilities in the United States to run on wind and solar energy — in their entirety."
  • Sorkin's kicker hints at a political role for Cook: "Is his focus on jobs and speeches in front of American flags a hint at something bigger? After all, Mark Zuckerberg's name is now regularly bandied about in discussions of potential presidential candidates. 'I have a full-time job,' Mr. Cook said. 'I appreciate the compliment ... if it is a compliment."
  • Why it matters: Tim Cook, an Alabama native who came up through the industry's operations and engineering side, has kept a mostly low profile during his six years as CEO. That makes these comments quite telling, both about his rising comfort in the spotlight, and his embrace of a more public face for the world's most profitable company.

7. What we lose with automation

"It's an increasingly common scene as companies from Amazon to Little Caesars and Uber introduce more ways to go about daily tasks while avoiding face-to-face contact," USA Today's Katharine Lackey writes in a front-pager:

  • "Uber is testing self-driving cars in a handful of cities."
  • "Amazon opened an automated grocery store late last year, still in beta testing, where customers (currently only its employees) can grab items and go ... All that's needed is a smartphone, which tracks the items carted out the door."
  • "Little Caesars unveiled The Pizza Portal, a machine that lets you buy and grab your pie without a cashier."
  • Why it matters: "As technology leaves out the human element, some worry that we're 'walling ourselves off.'"

8. Hillary's book tour

"Hillary Clinton's most personal memoir yet" — "What Happened," out Sept. 12 — will be accompanied by a three-month tour, from Washington's Politics & Prose on Sept. 18 to Vancouver, Canada, on Dec. 13.

And this time, she'll go to Wisconsin (Milwaukee's Riverside Theater on Nov. 9).

  • The publisher's announcement: "Come join Hillary as she lets loose about her experience as a woman in politics, and other topics, in a way she never has before. Visit ... to see what cities she will be visiting and how to get tickets. ... Appearances in Fort Lauderdale, New York and Canada, are on sale [now]. Washington, DC, will go on pre-sale [today] and on sale to the public" tomorrow.
  • See list of book signings here.

9. Remembering Michael Cromartie

"The Church's Ambassador to Washington" ... "Michael Cromartie, a Washington networker who helped rebrand America's image of Christian political engagement, has died of cancer at age 67," Christianity Today reported. "Cromartie had surgery last September for stomach cancer."

  • Cromartie served more than 30 years at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a D.C.-based conservative think tank.
  • He brought Christian thought leaders and secular journalists together with his Faith Angle Forum conference, held every year since 1999 — in Key West and then Miami.

I was privileged to attend several of Cromartie's Faith Angle conferences, and asked three of my fellow students for their recollections:

  • ABC's Dan Harris: "Panels on Mormonism, Islam, and the culture wars have informed and deepened my reporting until this day. Invariably, though, the highlight was the casual, interpersonal interactions over meals and cocktails. For reporters who spend much of their time in the Beltway or, like me, on the Upper West Side, the opportunity to break bread, off the record, with faith leaders and scholars was invaluable."
  • Carl Cannon I (Washington editor of Real Clear Politics): "Cromartie and I would arise before dawn and ride rental bicycles all over [Key West]. ... He'd keep a running commentary the whole time about things on his mind ... It reminded me of that line in the 98th Psalm, 'Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.'"
  • Carl Cannon II: "Tonight, the many journalists whose hearts and minds were opened by this man are saying a prayer for him, too, the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, even the agnostics. He would have liked that."
  • Barbara Bradley Hagerty: "Mike, an evangelical Christian, sought out and earned the trust of some of the most secular professionals in America: journalists. ... When I was covering religion for NPR, Mike was on my speed dial, because he could make faith seem reasonable even to a skeptic, and could bring his intellectual acuity to explain religious arguments better than any pastor or theology professor in the land. I know. I've called them. I always circled back to Mike."

10. 1 sweet deal

"Matthew Stafford will become the highest-paid player in NFL history with the five-year deal he has agreed to with the Detroit Lions," per ESPN:

  • "The deal will have an average annual value of $27 million, ... putting Stafford ahead of the five-year contract that pays $25 million annually to Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, which Carr signed last month."
  • "ESPN's Adam Scheffer [says] Stafford's deal is expected to guarantee him a record $92 million, including a $50 million signing bonus. The previous record for guaranteed money issued to an NFL player was $87 million for Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts."