Using tech to fight injustice
Darren Walker is calling on young techies to resist the allure of big companies
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios
America's liberal leaders are torn between fighting climate change and resisting nuclear power.
Why it matters now: The nuclear power industry, which provides the U.S. nearly two-thirds of its carbon-free electricity, is reaching an inflection point. Several power plants are shutting down under economic duress, which is putting pressure on Congress and state legislatures to keep them open, while a new generation of advanced nuclear technologies need government backing to get off the ground.
Some Democratic politicians and prominent scientists have come out to back nuclear in recent years because of climate change despite, but most of the biggest environmental groups and influential leaders remain opposed. In interview after interview at a United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany, I noticed a trend: Politicians would cite the many challenges facing nuclear power, such as safety, how to store radioactive waste and the economics, as reasons their positions didn't matter. Those more inclined to support the fuel would cite the challenges as hurdles to overcome. Three examples:
Many of America's largest environmental groups, which have influence over liberal politicians, are doubling down on their opposition to nuclear power. They argue plummeting prices of wind and solar make nuclear power unnecessary.
Democratic senators who traveled to the Bonn conference indicated an increased albeit cautious openness to nuclear power, but this rhetoric was not matched by any sense of urgency to press for action in Congress or otherwise.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said there's bipartisan support to pass a pair of measures boosting advanced nuclear technologies and helping keep open existing reactors facing economic challenges. On the latter point, he was talking about a bill he authored that puts a price on carbon emissions. That would help nuclear power because it would monetize its carbon-free attribute, but Republicans, most of whom don't acknowledge climate change is a problem but do back nuclear power, don't support that bill.
Meanwhile, smaller policies seem poised to pass. The tax overhaul bill the House just approved extends a production tax credit for nuclear energy, which industry executives say is critical to both existing reactors and advanced technologies still in planning phases.
"It is shifting in a sensible direction, but slower than it needs to," Hansen said.
The Harder Line will be off next week and back Dec. 4.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios
As of now, no one knows how to break the grip of low incomes, blighted towns and popular anger in the U.S. and elsewhere. But a Venezuelan economist named Carlota Perez says that, if history is correct, things only look uniquely tough. In her view, government needs to step in now, trigger serious market demand, and dampen financial excess in order to ignite a new golden economic age.
Why it matters: According to Perez, the last couple of centuries have been cycles of such maladies, each time leading to a decades-long period of broad prosperity. If she is right, the question is: How and when do we get to the golden age part?
The background: Lots of scholars resist the notion of cycles — that the arc of history repeats itself, or at least rhymes. The rap against such theory is that human behavior is not a hard science like physics, and thus it's impossible to reliably forecast the next big thing.
But, in American politics, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. found traction among peers with his theory of a repeating cycle of idealism and pragmatism. The message is that, yes, human history is not science. But neither is it chaos, and picking out repeating trendlines helps us figure out how to react to the crisis of the day.
In her work, Perez divides the last two centuries into five technological "surges," the first four of which led to golden economic ages, per a debate at Strategy + Business. They start with the industrial revolution, beginning in the 18th century; and are followed decades later by the age of steam and railways; then of steel and electricity; the age of oil, the car and mass production; and finally the information age, which began in the 1970s and continues today.
In interviews, economists said a burst of state-prompted demand is probably not all that is required. Michael Gapen, chief economist at Barclays, tells Axios that something must be done about a concentration of economic power, including in Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
"They have amassed a tremendous amount of concentration. There is general economic angst that the benefit is not as diffuse as we need," Gapen said.
Lee Branstetter, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of a recent paper on lagging productivity in the U.S., said it's not even clear that the technological and financial pieces are in place for a new golden age. He said artificial intelligence may be the bridge to the next economic burst, but that investment in AI hardware and software is relatively weak.
"I want to believe that we are powering growth for the next several decades, but the dispositive evidence we'd want is not there," he said. "It's possible that slow growth is masking a great economic dawn. It's also possible that that we'll have to wait awhile till we can reorder and substantially impact the economy."
Simone Askew of Fairfax, Va., one of the new Rhodes scholars, answers questions in West Point, N.Y., in August after being selected first captain of the U.S. Military Academy Corps of Cadets. Photo: Richard Drew / AP
"Among them: the first black woman to lead the Corps of Cadets at West Point; a wrestler at [MIT] who's helping develop a prosthetic knee for use in the developing world; and a Portland, Oregon, man who has studied gaps in his hometown's 'sanctuary city' policy protecting immigrants."
Robert S. Mueller speaks to a convention of campus law enforcement officials in Hartford Conn. in 2008. Photo: Bob Child / AP
"Witnesses questioned by Mueller's team warn that investigators are asking about ... foreign contacts and meetings that have not yet become public, and to expect a series of new revelations," the WashPost's Ashley Parker and Carol Leonnig write atop column 1:
What we're hearing: I'm told that Mueller's team is rooting around inside Trump world more deeply than is publicly known. Outside West Wing advisers tell me that may create a showdown.
More from WaPo:
A White House official tells me: "The only people focused on or consumed by this are the press. The White House staff are working to carry out the President's agenda on behalf of the American people."
Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment in the Sharon Tate murder case in 1969. Photo: AP
Charles Manson, leader of the cultish Manson Family and one of the most famous serial killers in American history, died yesterday at the age of 83, per The New York Times. Imprisoned since 1971 for the brutal murders of Sharon Tate — the wife of director Roman Polanski — and four others, he died of natural causes in a hospital.
Why it matters: Manson became one of the most inscrutable murderers in history — though he was never actually present when his family killed — and retained a hold on American popular culture through the years for his wild ideology. He never expressed guilt or remorse for his role in at least nine killings, which he had hoped would bring about an apocalyptic race war that he termed Helter Skelter.
Experts almost universally agree repealing the individual mandate is bad for the marketplace. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP
Experts across the political spectrum generally agree that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is both necessary for market stability, and probably not working as well as its authors intended.
The bottom line: Almost everyone agrees that repealing the mandate now, without a replacement, will make insurance markets function substantially worse than they are today. But many experts believe other policies might be just as effective, if not more so, at getting healthy people into the system and thus moderating premium increases.
Mary Schwalm / AP
Steve Bannon is setting up a new 501(c)(4) — aka a "tax-exempt social welfare organization" — to promote his agenda, and, he argues, the president's.
Bannon first publicly mentioned his new plans on billionaire John Catsimatidis' Sunday morning radio show, "Cat's Roundtable."
I asked a source close to Bannon to tell me more about the group. Here's what they told me:
Why it matters: For all the speculation about Bannon's relationships with donors he's had no fundraising apparatus to date.
What we don't know: Which donors will fund the group. And we may never know because, under the law, Bannon won't have to tell us.
Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Photo: Senior Airman Ian Dudley/U.S. Air Force via AP
I spent two days last week traveling with Defense Secretary James Mattis. The most memorable moment: inside Cheyenne Mountain, a Cold War-era fortress dug into the Rocky Mountains, and built to withstand nuclear attacks.
But the most illuminating session happened inside the Peterson Air Force Base, the hub for monitoring threats to the homeland. Colonel Todd Moore, who commands the 21st Space Wing, and his colleagues, told us about the escalating military space battle with China.
As one officer put it to us: America's superiority in space is why the 170 pound U.S. solider in Afghanistan is so much more lethal than the 170 pound enemy soldier he faces. The American soldier can look down at a screen and see the enemy on the other side of the mountain. The U.S. military has so much more information than its adversaries — provided by satellites, GPS, and other sophisticated systems.
Why this matters: A senior military officer summed it up in his briefing: "Our adversaries see space as a potential war fighting domain" and while Russia has always understood the importance of space, "it's really China that's growing incredibly [fast]."
What's next: America's adversaries are rapidly developing their military space capabilities. China is determined to dominate space, and is investing gobsmacking amounts of money to get the edge on the U.S. In 2007, China tested its first anti-satellite weapon, and its military space capabilities have grown substantially since then. These concerns will grow ever-louder as the Pentagon fights for a larger budget.
Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP
Members of Congress with histories of mistreating women should be extremely nervous. Major outlets, including CNN, are dedicating substantial newsroom resources to investigating sexual harassment allegations against numerous lawmakers. A Republican source told me he's gotten calls from well-known D.C. reporters who are gathering stories about sleazy members.
Bottom line: Democratic Sen. Al Franken is the very tip of the congressional iceberg. Many more stories are coming and we wouldn't be surprised if they end several careers.
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Tax reform and the end of year spending deal will consume all of Washington's oxygen until the end of the year. But quietly, a potentially far more important, though far less sexy story is unfolding.
If Mitch McConnell's schedule goes to plan, the week after Thanksgiving the Senate Majority Leader will confirm his ninth federal judge. That would beat President Reagan's eight in his first year — the most in recent history. And it triples the three federal judges President Obama appointed in his first year in office.
Why this matters: The federal courts affect almost every area of policy: gun rights, presidential executive orders like Trump's travel ban, social policy issues like abortion and freedom of religion, and tensions between regulation, litigation and private enterprise. McConnell's judges — who passed through a well-funded and organized conservative pipeline — will shape the U.S. over many decades in ways we can't yet imagine.
Inside McConnell's head: Leonard Leo, a top outside adviser on judicial appointments for President Trump and Republican leaders, told me McConnell places "an enormously high priority on the confirmation of judges" and has throughout his career. "His thinking behind that is that the federal judiciary has an enormous impact on the future direction of our country in ways that many pieces of legislation and public policy initiatives don't."
Robert Lighthizer, center, arrives for a news conference at the start of NAFTA renegotiations in Washington. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP
You won't see him on cable news, but President Trump's hardline trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer is wielding extraordinary — and growing — influence inside the White House.
Why this matters: Lighthizer makes the pro-trade community nervous. He agrees with Trump that the mounting trade deficits with China are unacceptable. And he's staking out such hardline negotiating positions with South Korea (on the KORUS trade deal) and Canada and Mexico (on NAFTA) that top Republicans on the Hill and in Washington's business community fear he will torpedo both deals.
Behind-the-scenes: Shortly before Trump left for Asia, Lighthizer met with the entire economic team in the White House to discuss the U.S.-China relationship. If the Trump administration takes the hardline actions we expect them to eventually take on China, historians will look back on this meeting as a seminal moment.
The scene — these details were described to people outside of the White House and weren't disputed by Lighthizer's spokeswoman or the White House:
Lighthizer — in front of the whole economic team including Cohn, Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue — described the U.S.-China economic relationship as "bullshit." Lighthizer laid out the history of the last 25 years of U.S.-China relations. He went through what each "dialogue" was called under presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. His point: every administration comes up with a new catchword and strategic framework to describe the U.S.-China relationship, but the trade deficit with China just keeps ballooning by the billions.
I'm told many in the group — which includes officials like Cohn who often disagree with Lighthizer philosophically — found Lighthizer's presentation compelling.
Why he's gaining influence: There aren't many senior officials in this administration who share Trump's hardline / protectionist views on trade. Steve Bannon did — but he's gone and not missed by his colleagues. Then there's Peter Navarro — but his colleagues have little respect for him, frequently marginalize him and accuse him of leaking stories to the press. That leaves Lighthizer, whose views cannot be dismissed because he's been a major figure in U.S. trade policy since the Reagan administration. He wins internal arguments with his colleagues by swamping them with his historical knowledge.
Worth noting: Avowed free-traders in the administration didn't even push back against this narrative when I reached out to them.
What's next: The Trump administration has been very secretive about its next moves on trade policy. You won't see anything aggressive before tax reform is done. But people on the Hill and in the business community — who worry about this administration taking harsh economic actions against China — shouldn't be lulled by Trump's public praise of President Xi. Behind the scenes, Lighthizer's arguments are winning the day.
Two turkeys arrived in D.C. today ahead of the 70th annual turkey pardon. According to the White House, the two turkeys were raised in Western Minnesota, and after the pardon will join turkeys pardoned by Obama at Virginia Tech's "Gobblers Rest" exhibit. They will be staying in style at the Willard Hotel, as is tradition.
President Barack Obama with his nephews Aaron Robinson and Austin Robinson, and National Turkey Federation Chairman John Reicks.Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
President Bush lets children from Campfire USA pet May,the National Thanksgiving Turkey, as he pardons the bird.Photo: Gerald Herbert / AP
President Clinton admires a 45-pound turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House.Photo: Doug Mills / AP