Friday’s top stories

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Feb 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

Coinbase valued above $100 billion, ahead of direct listing

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase was valued at just over $100 billion in a recent private market share sale ahead of its upcoming public listing, Axios has learned from multiple sources.

Why it matters: Coinbase could go public at a higher initial valuation than any other U.S. tech company since Facebook.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Feb 19, 2021 - Technology

Google fires another AI ethics leader

Photo: VCG / Getty Images

Margaret Mitchell, the co-lead of Google's Ethical AI team, says that the company has fired her following an investigation into her use of corporate email.

Why it matters: Google was already under fire for its ouster of Timnit Gebru, the other co-lead of the team. Mitchell has been locked out of the corporate email since last month after what a source says was her effort to search corporate correspondence for evidence to back up Gebru's claim of discrimination and harassment.

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Feb 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Manchin to vote “no” on Tanden’s nomination for White House budget office director

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin announced Friday that he will vote against Neera Tanden, President Biden's nominee to be director of the Office and Management and Budget.

Why it matters: Manchin's opposition seriously imperils Tanden's nomination, as she will now need at least one Republican vote to be confirmed.

Water crisis expands beyond Texas

Icicles hang off the State Highway 195 sign yesterday in Killeen, Texas. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Broken pumps, burst pipes and chemical shortages have left millions without potable water after this week's devastating winter storm.

The big picture: Millions of people across the South have been told to boil water, with thawing temperatures expected to reveal the extent of the damage to infrastructure.

White House waives ethics rules for first Biden official

Senior counselor to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Charanya Krishnaswami. Photo: Alli Jarrar / Amnesty International

The Biden administration has waived ethics rules to allow a top Department of Homeland Security official to make policy in areas on which she lobbied for her former employer, Amnesty International.

Why it matters: The waiver is the first granted under Biden's new ethics pledge, which allows the White House to shelve restrictions on former lobbyists in the administration if doing so is deemed in the national interest.

Feb 19, 2021 - Health

White House says vaccine weather delays will be resolved by next week

Vehicles are at a standstill southbound on Interstate Highway 35 in Killeen, Texas. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The extreme winter weather this week delayed the delivery of 6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, but the logistical hurdles are expected to be resolved by next week, the White House coronavirus task force said Friday.

The big picture: Transporters like FedEx, UPS and McKesson and others have faced challenges in all 50 states as the storms snowed in workers and forced roads to be closed. More than 2,000 vaccine sites experienced power outages and were rendered unable to receive doses due to fears of spoilage.

Texas water crisis: 13 million lack drinking water

Photo: Neill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The lights for many Texans are back on, but more than 13 million remain without access to drinkable water, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: "In many homes, taps were dry. Finding bottled water was nearly impossible. Some people resorted to boiling snow," CBS News writes.

Biden: "Democracy doesn't happen by accident"

President Biden committed the U.S. to "working in lockstep with our allies and partners" to protect democracy and promote prosperity, telling the Munich Security Conference on Friday: "Democracy doesn't happen by accident. We have to defend it. Fight for it. Strengthen it. Renew it."

Why it matters: In his first major speech to world leaders, Biden acknowledged that four years of former President Trump's "America First" foreign policy has left the transatlantic relationship in disrepair.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Feb 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

GameStop hearing paints Silicon Valley as public enemy #1

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Congress yesterday lived down to its reputation, uncovering little new information about the GameStop stock surge. But it did illustrate how Silicon Valley has overtaken Wall Street as public enemy number one, particularly among Democrats.

What happened: No one received more questions, and more rhetorical brickbats, than Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev, despite the presence of hedge fund titans Ken Griffin and Gabe Plotkin.

Feb 19, 2021 - Health

Data finds Pfizer vaccine highly effective after first dose, can be stored in normal freezers

Photo: Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images

Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine may be more effective after just one shot than researchers had previously realized, and can be stored for two weeks at standard temperatures typically found in pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators, according to new data.

Why it matters: The findings about first-dose efficacy, which appear in a new analysis published in The Lancet, appear to support a strategy of delaying second shots in order to make the most of limited supplies. That's what the U.K. has done, and some experts have called for a similar approach in the U.S.

Feb 19, 2021 - World

Israel sounds alarm after U.S. backs nuclear talks with Iran

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

The Israeli government has raised concerns about Secretary of State Tony Blinken's announcement on Thursday that the U.S. is willing to open discussions with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.

What they're saying: “Israel believes that going back to the old nuclear agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. We remain committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Feb 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

Short bets have dropped substantially since GameStop phenomenon

Screenshot via CNBC

Short positions in U.S. equities have declined significantly since "meme stocks" like GameStop exploded higher earlier this year, S&P Global Market Intelligence data show.

By the numbers: At the end of January, the percentage of outstanding shares of S&P 500 companies held by short sellers averaged 3.1%, down from 4.1% a year ago.

6 Capitol police officers suspended for alleged roles in Jan. 6 riot

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Six Capitol police officers have been suspended with pay and 29 are under investigation for alleged conduct related to the Jan. 6 insurrection by pro-Trump rioters, a spokesperson said Thursday.

The big picture: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said earlier this month that Congress plans to establish a "9/11-type commission" to investigate the siege and report on "the preparedness and response of the United States Capitol Police and other federal, state, and local law enforcement."

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Feb 19, 2021 - Health

Vaccine supply expected to surge soon

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The U.S. supply of coronavirus vaccines is expected to significantly expand over the next few months, with more than enough doses available to vaccinate all U.S. adults before the end of July, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: If manufacturing goes according to plan, the intense competition for shots will end relatively soon, and attention will turn instead to increasing vaccine uptake.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 19, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Living with climate catastrophe

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

From stronger storms to Arctic warming to California fires, rising atmospheric carbon levels mean there's no escaping the fallout from global warming. Now, we're plunged into a new world of managing the consequences.

Why it matters: Some regions will require power grids more prepared for extreme heat and cold. But the needs go far beyond power systems to building codes, workplace regulations and design and placement of infrastructure.

Gerrymandering is about to get even more chaotic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The next round of congressional redistricting is shaping up to be a mess, beset by even more complications and lawsuits than usual.

Why it matters: This process will likely help Republicans pick up seats in the House in 2022. Beyond that, though, the pandemic and the Trump administration's handling of the Census have made this round of redistricting especially fraught — and states will be locked into the results for a decade.

Feb 19, 2021 - Technology

"Vaccine hunters" turn to social media in the scramble to find shots

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

People who haven't been able to secure appointments for a coronavirus vaccine are turning to Facebook groups and other online forums to find cancelled slots, figure out where to go, or simply to find information local health authorities have not provided.

Why it matters: These ad-hoc online communities have helped people get vaccinated and helped keep doses of the vaccine from going to waste. But they also underscore the confusion and frustration of the U.S. vaccine rollout, and the risk of misinformation is real.

Feb 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

The Prius of airplanes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Hybrid-electric aircraft will soon kick off a new era of cleaner air travel, just as the pioneering Toyota Prius heralded the start of the electric car movement 20 years ago.

Why it matters: Replacing small regional planes that run on fossil fuels with hybrid or electric aircraft would help reduce climate-damaging CO2 emissions. It could also make air travel easier and cheaper for people living in smaller cities not served by major airlines.

U.K. Supreme Court rules Uber drivers are "workers," not independent contractors

Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Supreme Court ruled Friday that Uber drivers should be classified as "workers" and not self-employed independent contractors, dealing a major blow to the ride-hailing giant's business model.

Why it matters: Uber has 65,000 active drivers in the U.K., according to the AP. The ruling could have major implications for the gig economy in Britain writ large.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 19, 2021 - Science

Mars is coming into focus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Three new missions that just arrived at Mars — including the latest U.S. rover that landed Thursday — will help paint a brand new picture of the Red Planet.

Why it matters: Scientists think that Mars was once a relatively warm and habitable world. These missions from China, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. will help researchers get a more holistic view of what the planet was like billions of years ago, with an eye toward past life — if the countries collaborate scientifically.

Feb 19, 2021 - Health

Texas hospitals evacuate patients, conserve resources amid outages

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The deadly winter storm in Texas has bombarded hospitals throughout the state.

Why it matters: Doctors have been working to conserve resources, pause non-emergency surgeries, evacuate patients and push back coronavirus vaccine shots.

Feb 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to defend democracies in security meeting speech

Joe Biden at the 2015 Munich Security Conference. Photo: Timm Schamberger/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

President Biden will deliver a robust defense of America’s own democracy, and the broader power of democracies to face autocratic threats from China and Russia, during a virtual address Friday to the Munich Security Conference.

Why it matters: Biden is seeking to repair the transatlantic alliance after four years of President Trump, who harangued allies about their defense spending and questioned America’s commitment to NATO.

"Obviously a mistake": Ted Cruz back in Texas after outrage over Cancún trip

Cruz at the airport in Cancún returning to Texas. Photo: MEGA/GC Images

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) flew to Cancún, Mexico, on Wednesday with plans to "stay through the weekend," as hundreds of thousands of his constituents went without power and heat in Texas after a winter storm caused deadly outages.

The latest: Addressing reporters outside his Houston home on Thursday, Cruz admitted his original intentions, but claimed he started having second thoughts "almost the moment I sat down on the plane."

Dave Lawler, author of World
Feb 19, 2021 - World

What to make of the Biden administration's first overseas calls

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to wait a month for a call from President Biden, and while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman got a call Thursday, it came not from Biden but from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The big picture: Biden, Austin, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have together called officials from at least 43 countries, with Blinken alone calling 39 (there’s considerable overlap between their call lists).

Dave Lawler, author of World
Feb 19, 2021 - World

U.S. commits $4 billion to COVAX vaccine initiative

Biden. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty

The U.S. is committing $2 billion for the global COVAX vaccine initiative within days (using funds already allocated by Congress), plus an additional $2 billion over the next two years, the White House announced ahead of Friday's virtual G7 summit.

Why it matters: Senior administration officials told reporters Thursday evening that they'll use those commitments to "call on G7 partners Friday both to make good on the pledges that are already out there" and to make further investments in global vaccine manufacturing and distribution.