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January 16, 2023

Hello, Monday. Today is the federal holiday for the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was born 94 years ago.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,453 words ... 5½ minutes. Edited by Justin Green.

1 big thing: Business gains trust

Adapted from the Edelman Trust Barometer. Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from the Edelman Trust Barometer. Chart: Axios Visuals

Business continues to gain trust around the world, according to the new Edelman Trust Barometer.

  • Among respondents, "my employer" is 25 points more trusted than government or elected officials.
  • "Business is the sole institution seen as competent and ethical," Edelman CEO Richard Edelman says. "Business is expected to act."

Why it matters: CEOs are now under pressure to take the lead on a wide range of societal issues that government is no longer trusted to manage.

💡 The most reliable source of information, Edelman found: the company newsletter.

  • "We first saw data supporting the essential role of employer communications during the pandemic, when we found high demand for frequent communications about health-related topics," according to Edelman.
  • "Since then, we have asked about the relative credibility of employer communications across topics, and have found it is the most believable source — no matter which subject we ask about."

Government, by contrast, "is viewed as unethical and incompetent," Edelman — the global communications firm — writes in its 23rd annual Trust Barometer, released today to coincide with the opening of Davos.

  • Business holds a 54-point lead over government in competence — and 30 points in ethics.
  • "Low trust in government and media has ... aided the ascent of business," writes Dave Samson, Edelman's Vice Chairman, Global Corporate Practice and U.S. chief operating officer.

Societal leadership, Edelman argues, is now a core function of business.

  • "CEOs are expected to use resources to hold divisive forces accountable," the report says.
  • "72 percent want business to defend facts and expose questionable science being used to justify bad social policy .... 64 percent want companies to support politicians and media outlets that build consensus and cooperation."

🧠 How it works: The survey, conducted by the Edelman Trust Institute, used online interviews with 32,000+ adults in more than two dozen countries to gauge the credibility of various institutions.

  • For each, respondents are asked to indicate, on a 9-point scale, "how much you trust that institution to do what is right."

🧮 By the numbers: Since last year's survey, trust in business gained 6 points in the U.S.

  • Globally, 68% say "brands celebrating what brings us together and emphasizing our common interest would help increase civility and strengthen the social fabric," the report says.

Richard Edelman advises: "CEOs are expected to take a public stand and take business action on key issues, with 85% expected to play a role in strengthening our social fabric."

  • Individual companies are the best platform because they have a high level of trust.

Read the report ... Go deeper: Jim VandeHei, "CEOs are America's new politicians."

2. Polarization eats developed world

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economic fear is creating record levels of polarization around the globe, Axios' Sara Fischer and Eleanor Hawkins write from the annual Edelman Trust Barometer.

  • This is particularly acute in developed nations with slow-growth economies, including Spain and Japan.

Why it matters: Polarization leads to instability, creating uncertainty for business. That puts more pressure on CEOs to establish the trust among consumers that governments have failed to win.

Around the world, economic optimism has cratered due to rising inflation in the wake of the pandemic.

  • In 24 of the 28 countries surveyed, confidence in the economy has plummeted to all-time lows. Only respondents in China believe that they and their families will be better off in five years.
  • None of the 14 developed nations surveyed had more than 35% of its respondents saying they were confident that their families will be better off in five years.

Between the lines: Developing nations with slow-growth economies —including Argentina, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico — are seeing some of the largest trust gaps between business and government.

  • Fast-expanding economies — Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore — have the smallest.

Keep reading ... Read the report.

3. Weaponizing MLK's words

Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photos: Stephen Chernin, Mario Tama, Dia Dipasupil, Bettmann and Don Uhrbrock, via Getty Images

Words from Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech about a colorblind nation are repeated every MLK Day. But civil rights advocates say the now-frequent cherry-picking of quotes distorts his views and masks today's systemic racism, Axios' Russell Contreras writes.

  • Why it matters: The U.S. still faces a reckoning almost three years after the death of George Floyd — along with a conservative backlash. The divided nation is using King's words very differently.

King's "Dream" speech envisions a country that lives up to the promises of equality made in its founding documents.

  • But King also brought up police brutality and systemic poverty hurting African Americans in the same address.
  • He told NBC News four years later: "I must confess, that dream that I had that day has, at many points, turned into a nightmare." King cited persistent discrimination, poverty and the Vietnam War for his pessimism.
U.S. National Guard troops block off Beale Street in Memphis as striking sanitation workers march on March 29, 1968. King was assassinated in Memphis the next week while supporting the workers. Photo: Bettmann Archives via Getty Images

What's happening: In recent years, some Republicans have selectively used King's colorblind words from the "Dream" speech to attack civil rights programs and initiatives.

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) invoked King when he proposed his "Stop Woke Act," aimed at limiting discussions around slavery and racism in public schools.
  • Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, now House Speaker, tweeted in 2021: "Critical Race Theory goes against everything Martin Luther King Jr. taught us — to not judge others by the color of their skin."

Reality check: King repeatedly brought up the legacy of enslavement and the need to address structural racism in 1967 — comments that scholars say were precursors to critical race theory.

  • King "said to us that we must address fully systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation and militarism," Rev. William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign tells Axios.
  • "It's dishonoring of the memory of King not to raise that full critique, no matter how unnerving, unsettling or uncomfortable it is."

Keep reading.

4. 📷 1,000 words

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) — senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor — welcomes President Biden to MLK Jr. Sunday at the church yesterday. Go deeper.

5. 🎞️ Oscar for A.I.

Images generated by Midjourney, with Johnny Darrell, for The New York Times. Used by kind permission

This gorgeous still is from a film that doesn't exist, Frank Pavich — director of "Jodorowsky’s Dune," a documentary about the Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky — writes for New York Times Opinion (subscription).

  • Canadian director Johnny Darrell generated it with an A.I. program called Midjourney, using a prompt that was roughly a "production still from 1976 of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Tron" — a made-up film.

"Is the training of this A.I. model the greatest art heist in history? How much of art-making is theft, anyway?" Pavich asks:

On the one hand, the software gives you a kind of turbocharged pastiche. But there’s still some fresh splendor in that imitation. It's succeeding at one of filmmaking's main jobs: transporting you to another time, to another world.
If A.I.s were eligible for the Academy Awards, I'd vote for "Jodorowsky’s Tron" for best A.I. costume design just for dreaming up such outrageous retro sci-fi hats and helmets.

See more images (free).

6. 🇨🇳 First look: Face-to-face China meeting

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen leaves her office last week. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Switzerland on Wednesday.

  • It's a short stop on her way to Africa, where she plans soft diplomacy + a hard sell on America's commitment to the continent, Axios' Hans Nichols writes.

Why it matters: The first face-to-face meeting between Yellen and a key figure in China's ruling Communist Party is part of the Biden administration's effort to reset — and stabilize — the U.S.-China relationship, a Treasury official tells us.

What's happening: Yellen last week officially set the clock for the U.S. debt ceiling debate, warning Congress the U.S. will be unable to pay its bills if Congress doesn't act by June 19.

  • Yellen will play a crucial role in working with Congress to raise the debt ceiling. Biden and Yellen agreed late last year she will stay on as Treasury secretary.

Keep reading.

7. 🤯 Still counting 2020

A Trump rally in Lycoming County on Nov. 1, 2020. Photo: Paul Weaver/Sipa USA via Reuters

A rural Pennsylvania county, pressured by conspiracy theorists, last week hand-recounted 60,000 ballots from 2020 — 793 days after President Trump lost, the New York Times' Trip Gabriel writes (subscription).

  • Spoiler alert: The results in Lycoming County (county seat: Williamsport) didn't change. But skeptics remained skeptical.

"You close one election-denying door, they’ll open a window," Forrest Lehman, the county's elections director, told The Times.

8. 🇺🇦 Rescue in the rubble

Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

In Dnipro, southeastern Ukraine, emergency personnel rescue a woman from an apartment building destroyed Saturday by a Russian missile.

The death toll makes it the deadliest attack in one place since a Sept. 30 strike in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, according to the AP-Frontline War Crimes Watch.

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