Nov 6, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Wednesday morning. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,380 words, 5 minutes.

1 big thing: The rising seas global warming has already locked in
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Data: Nature, Oct. 29, “New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding." Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

While debate rages about how to fight climate change, the impacts that rising temperatures have already locked in are getting worse, Axios' Amy Harder writes.

  • "Most sea level rise between now and 2050 is already baked in," said Benjamin Strauss, co-author of a peer-reviewed report by science organization Climate Central.
  • Why it matters: We’re learning more about how much of the damage is irreversible, like with rising sea levels — which means we need to think about not just stopping the problem, but also about adapting to what we can't stop.

Rising sea levels will threaten 40 million more people — three times that of previous estimates — over the next 30 years, according to research published last week by the journal Nature.

  • Poorer Asian countries are most at risk.
  • That's because "there is such high-population density and it is so concentrated in the lowest elevations toward the coast," Strauss said.

What we’re watching: Strauss hopes that this research galvanizes cities to better prepare for rising seas that are inevitably coming, but also provides momentum to cut emissions to limit the worst impacts by the end of this century.

  • His research suggests that if we continue business as usual — emissions left mostly unchecked — up to 200 million more people will be at risk by 2100.
2. Dems' huge night: Upset in Kentucky
Andy Beshear, with lieutenant governor candidate Jacqueline Coleman, in Louisville. Photo: Bryan Woolston/AP

In an upset in the Kentucky governor's race, Democratic challenger Andy Beshear declared victory over Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, who refused to concede but lagged, 49.2% to 48.8%, with 100% of the vote in.

Behind the scenes: Senior officials at the White House and Republican Governors Association thought Bevin would win, but nobody who was studying the race closely felt overly confident about that outcome, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.

  • Bevin was telling people he would win. But throughout the campaign, sources in the Trump political orbit expressed concerns about the poor quality of Bevin’s operation and about his weaknesses in public opinion.
  • The White House and Republican Party went all in to help Bevin: a Mike Pence bus tour, Trump trips, and major spending from national groups.

Trump said at a Kentucky rally on election eve: "[I]f you lose, they’re going to say, Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world."

  • But sources involved in the unsuccessful effort to help Bevin pointed to the rest of the Kentucky ballot — every other statewide Republican candidate in Kentucky won by a comfortable margin — as consolation.
  • They argued that Bevin was such a weak candidate that bigger 2020 lessons shouldn’t be drawn from his defeat.

Between the lines: Indeed, polling shows Bevin is the most unpopular governor in America, and other Kentucky results were solid for Republicans.

  • As U.Va.'s Larry Sabato told Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC: "When you're a Republican running statewide in Kentucky, you have to try to lose. And Bevin tried for four years, and he succeeded."

The takeaway: Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said on CNN that Beshear is a sign to Democrats nationally not to embrace plans like the Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, but to appeal to the middle and win as a moderate.

  • Kasich said Kentucky's message to 2020 Dems is to pick somebody who most of the country can look at and say: "That's reasonable."
3. Virginia: From red to purple to officially blue
A mobile billboard outside the polling place at Centreville High School in Clifton, in Fairfax County. Photo: Matthew Barakat/AP

Virginia, where Democrats will control both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion for the first time in 26 years (since 1993), was a different story.

  • Why it matters, from Axios' Margaret Talev: Dems' sweep of the Commonwealth reflects not just blue momentum in the state, but also organizing efforts by gun control groups, and unease about Trump among suburban voters.
  • The big picture, from WashPost: "The sweep completed a dramatic political conversion, from red to blue, of a Southern state on Washington’s doorstep."
via Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia Democrats flipped control of the state Senate and House of Delegates, gaining outright control of state government in a former battleground state that has quickly gone from red to purple to blue.

  • Dem pickups occurred in suburbs of Washington and Richmond that already had trended blue in recent years, AP reports.
  • "I'm here to officially declare today, November 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue," Gov. Ralph Northam told supporters in Richmond.
4. Nine U.S. citizens killed by drug cartel in Mexico
Chihuahua state police officers man a checkpoint in northern Mexico yesterday. Photo: Christian Chavez/AP

The eight children, some mere infants, who survived an ambush in northern Mexico not only escaped the drug cartel gunmen who killed their mothers but managed to hide in the brush, with some walking miles to get help despite grisly bullet wounds, AP reports.

  • In a testament to a mother's devotion, one woman reportedly stashed her baby on the floor of her Suburban and got out of the vehicle, waving her arms to show the gunmen she wasn't a threat.

What happened: The gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering six children (including 8-month-old twins) and three women.

  • The victims lived in a remote farming community. They're descendants of former Mormons who fled the U.S. to escape the church's polygamy ban.
5. ⚖️ Breaking: Coming testimony on politics in the foreign service
"Read the Transcript!" was the new T-shirt slogan at President Trump's rally in Lexington, Ky., on Monday night. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

David Hale — the highest-ranking career diplomat in the foreign service, and the State Department's third-ranking official — plans to tell Congress that political considerations were behind the agency's refusal to defend Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from Trump allies, AP's Matt Lee reports.

  • Hale will say Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials determined that defending her would hurt the effort to free up U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.
  • Hale tried to distance himself by removing himself from email chains about Yovanovitch.
  • One official said Hale "tried to take himself out of the loop on Ukraine." But another official said Hale would defend Pompeo's actions as "politically smart" for the State Department and its employees.

Yesterday's stunner:

via N.Y. Times

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, "reversed himself this week and acknowledged to investigators that he had told a top Ukrainian official that the country would most likely have to give President Trump what he wanted ... in order to unlock military aid," the N.Y. Times' Mike Schmidt reports.

  • Why it matters: "That admission ... directly contradicted his testimony to investigators last month, when he said he 'never' thought there was any precondition on the aid."
6. 🎓 The SAT's hidden industry

The College Board, which owns the SAT, is using the standardized test as "the foundation for another business: selling test-takers' names and personal information to universities," writes the Wall Street Journal's Douglas Belkin (subscription).

  • Why it matters: By targeting potential students to raise applicant pools and rejection rates, the service has "amplified the perception of exclusivity that colleges are eager to reinforce, pushing students to invest more time and money in preparing for and retaking exams College Board sells."
7. Teens' vaping habits
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Data: Cullen, et. al, 2019, "e-Cigarette Use Among Youth in the United States, 2019"; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Juul's mint flavor has become the most popular e-cigarette flavor for teens in 12th and 10th grades and the second most popular in 8th grade, according to an NIH-funded study published in JAMA.

Editor's note: This item has been corrected to remove a statement that the Trump administration is considering exempting mint from its ban of flavored vaping products (it is only considering exempting tobacco and menthol).

8. 💰 SoftBank says "WeLost"

Softbank said it lost $4.7 billion on its investment in WeWork, marking down the office-sharing startup's value to $7.8 billion from a $47 billion pre-IPO valuation, reports the Wall Street Journal (subscription).

  • "My own investment judgment was really bad. I regret it in many ways," SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son told a Tokyo press conference after the announcement.
9. 🇨🇳 Legendary bookshop closes in Beijing

The Bookworm, a center of literary life in Beijing and a refuge for expats, will close, "unable to renew its lease amid crackdown on 'illegal structures,''' reports Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

Evan Osnos of The New Yorker — whose book, "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China," was based on eight years of living in Beijing — told me the closing is sad:

A true institution, and I mean that in every sense. It was a place where writing and truth-telling was celebrated. I can think of a half-dozen times I interviewed someone there, or was interviewed there. I stopped in there most recently a few weeks ago when I was in town, and I actually thought to myself, well, it's a good sign that it's still here, and books are on the shelves. I spoke too soon. A bad sign of the times.
10. 1 flavor thing: Plant-based meat

"Flavorists are the people who tinker with nacho cheese dust, Hot Pockets and pumpkin spice lattes ... driving consumer trends and making food craveable," writes the WashPost's Laura Reiley.

  • Many of them across the globe "are bringing their alchemy to plant-based meat."

Why it matters: "[T]he Swiss investment firm UBS predicts growth of plant-based protein and meat alternatives will increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion by 2030."

Mike Allen

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