Thursday’s top stories

Jul 22, 2021 - World

Interview: Belarus opposition leader calls on U.S. to be "braver"

Tsikhanouskaya gives a speech last month in Warsaw. Photo: Omar Marques/Getty Images

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya asked top U.S. officials this week to be "braver" and "stronger" in challenging Aleksandr Lukashenko's regime, she told Axios in an interview on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Tsikhanouskaya met with officials including Secretary of State Tony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan, urging them to apply new sectoral sanctions and attempting to revive some international momentum nearly a year after massive protests first broke out in Belarus.

Capitol Police Board names new USCP chief

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Former Maryland police chief Tom Manger has been selected as the new chief of the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), per a Thursday announcement.

Why it matters: Manger will assume command on Friday, taking a role that became highly visible after the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The insurrection killed a USCP officer, injured several more and led to mental health challenges throughout the force.

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Pelosi considers adding more Republicans to Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled Thursday she’s considering adding more Republican members to the select committee to investigate the Jan 6. Capitol attack.

Driving the news: Asked during a news conference whether she would appoint Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to the committee, Pelosi replied, ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll see.‚ÄĚ

Jul 22, 2021 - World

At least 33 dead, 8 missing from central China flooding

Damaged cars that were swept away by floodwaters piled on an expressway on July 22 in Zhengzhou, China. Photo: Bai Zhoufeng/VCG via Getty Images

Flooding from torrential rain in China's Henan province has killed at least 33 people this week and eight more remain missing, according to CNN.

The big picture: Flooding has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to at least 1.22 billion yuan (around $190 million) in damage across the province, which is home to more than 99 million people.

Jul 22, 2021 - Health

Virtual doctor visits shrivel

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

One pandemic-era phenomenon that may have peaked: virtual doctor visits.

What's new: Nearly one-quarter of American adults had a virtual doctor appointment within the past month, according to the latest Census Bureau survey.

Mississippi urges Supreme Court to toss out Roe v. Wade

Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

Mississippi's attorney general on Thursday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which set a precedent for the constitutional right to abortion, and uphold a state law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Why it matters: This fall's hearings on the Mississippi ban could have widespread implications for healthcare, and gives the Supreme Court's "newly expanded conservative majority a chance to confront what may be the most divisive issue in American law: whether the Constitution protects the right to end pregnancies," the New York Times writes.

Jul 22, 2021 - Sports

Czech cyclist Michal Schlegel tests positive for COVID-19

Michal Schlegel during the 25th UEC Road European Championships 2019. Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

Czech road cyclist Michal Schlegel has tested positive for COVID-19 and will no longer be able to participate in Saturday's road race, the Czech Olympic Committee announced in a statement Thursday.

What they're saying: Schlegel is "[t]he fourth athlete and the sixth Czech member of the team, who did not avoid a positive test for COVID-19 at the Tokyo Olympics..."

Jul 22, 2021 - Sports

Pandemic drug-testing pause raises questions about Olympics

A barge carrying the Olympic Rings passes Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay. Photo: Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images

Olympic athletes were not subject to the usual, rigorous standards of the world anti-doping code during the 16-month period leading to the Games, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Why it matters: For approximately three months during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, virtually all drug-testing programs were suspended, which may have opened the door for athletes to engage in performance-enhancing drug use, AP notes.

Alison Snyder, author of Science
Jul 22, 2021 - Science

Movements on Mars unlock the Red Planet's interior

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Seismic action on Mars is revealing new details about the inner structure of the Red Planet.

Why it matters: Mars' interior holds the key to understanding how the planet and its atmosphere formed ‚ÄĒ and provides clues about how other rocky planets, like Earth, become habitable.

Top "Borderlands 3' developers leave Gearbox for new project

Image courtesy of Gearbox Software

Several senior developers at Gearbox Software who worked on ‚ÄúBorderlands 3‚ÄĚ are leaving the company and going to work on a new independent project together, Gearbox confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: Senior producer Christopher Brock, lead mission designer Keith Schuler, and art director Scott Kester have been with the company for more than a decade. Paul Sage served as the game’s creative director, alongside UX/Game Feel director Chris Strasz and lead character artist Kevin Penrod. All are leaving.

Jul 22, 2021 - Sports

NFL says teams will forfeit games delayed by coronavirus outbreaks

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio, in April. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The NFL told teams Thursday that postponed games due to coronavirus outbreaks among unvaccinated players or staffers will not be rescheduled this coming season and teams responsible for delays will automatically forfeit, according to NFL Network.

Why it matters: The league hasn't mandated vaccines for players, but this rule incentivizes teams to pressure unvaccinated players to get inoculated.

U.S. sanctions Cuban officials over protest crackdown

President Biden outside of Air Force One in Hebron, Kentucky on July 21. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Thursday imposed new sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.

Why it matters: The sanctions are Biden's first significant policy response to the crackdown by authorities during unrest in Cuba over widespread food and medicine shortages. The announcement came amid calls from Congress and Cuban Americans to increase pressure on the Communist government in support of the protesters.

California sues Activision Blizzard over unequal pay, ‚Äúsexist culture‚ÄĚ

Photo: SOPA Images / Getty

‚ÄúCall of Duty‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúWorld of Warcraft‚ÄĚ maker Activision Blizzard is accused of fostering a ‚Äúpervasive frat boy workplace culture,‚ÄĚ that subjects women to harassment, abuse and lower pay, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week by the state of California.

Why it matters: Activision Blizzard is one of the biggest gaming companies in the world and must now answer a litany of allegations.

House votes to allow more Afghans who assisted U.S. to evacuate before withdrawal

An Afghan interpreter with the U.S. Army helps to question a villager near Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2014. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The House on Thursday voted to expand a visa program that would allow more Afghans who helped the U.S. military quickly immigrate to the United States, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Last month, the Biden administration made plans to evacuate many of the Afghans who worked with the U.S. military before completing the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. These individuals and their families face threats of retaliation from the Taliban because of their service to the U.S. military.

Pelosi says she did not reject Jordan and Banks over Electoral College objections

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that her decision not to allow Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) to serve on the Jan. 6 select committee was not driven by their votes against certifying the 2020 election, but by statements they've made that "make it impossible for them to exercise judgment."

Why it matters: Pelosi's move to reject two of the five appointments offered by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has set off intense backlash among Republicans, prompting McCarthy to pull all five off the committee and threaten to pursue his own investigation.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Jul 22, 2021 - Technology

Spying for dollars

Illustration: Trent Joaquin/Axios

Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group has become a pernicious version of Steve Urkel, never acknowledging the calamity that its software seems to cause. Unlike the old TGIF character, however, NSO's consequences are very real and enabled by private equity.

Driving the news: An international journalistic consortium, in partnership with Amnesty International, this week reported that a piece of NSO software, called Pegasus, was used by used by governments to spy on journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and world leaders.

Jul 22, 2021 - Sports

The business of Shohei Ohtani

Photo illustration: Trent Joaquin. Photo: Thearon W. Henderson /Getty Images

Shohei Ohtani is an MVP candidate on the field, and his new exclusive memorabilia deal with Fanatics reflects his exploding off-field value.

By the numbers: Ohtani's $6 million in annual endorsements is already tops in MLB, per Forbes, thanks to his two-way stardom and popularity in two of the world's biggest markets.

Jul 22, 2021 - World

Free of COVID restrictions, England now faces contact tracing "pingdemic"

Empty shelves at a Tesco supermarket in central London on July 22. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Supermarkets and wholesalers in the U.K. are beginning to face shortages after the government's official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to self-isolate after contact with someone with COVID-19, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The "pingdemic" disruptions pose a new challenge to the highly vaccinated U.K., which is reporting more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases per day as the Delta variant tears through the country.

The 81 countries exploring central bank digital currencies

Central bank digital currency (CBDC) is probably not top of mind for most global consumers. But we may soon have no choice but to think about it ‚ÄĒ since 81 countries, representing over 90% of global GDP, are now exploring the development of one.

Why it matters: The U.S. lags much of the world. It could miss out on the opportunity to take a leadership role in an increasingly likely global transition to some form of digital currencies.

Wildfires in U.S., Siberia are unusually intense, setting emissions records

Data: Mark Parrington/Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

Wildfires across parts of the U.S. and Canada are burning unusually intensely and emitting larger amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than typical during midsummer, scientists say. Massive blazes in Siberia are also adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, while contributing to local air pollution.

Why it matters: The fires are thriving in areas experiencing extreme heat and drought conditions. They are both a consequence of climate change and an accelerant of global warming.

Exclusive: ProtonMail wades into U.S. antitrust war

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Privacy-focused email app ProtonMail is stepping into the U.S. antitrust debate as it and other smaller players take on Apple and Google in a fight over app store fees and practices.

Why it matters: App makers have long feared antagonizing Big Tech firms that control their access to customers, but now some are seizing the antitrust moment as a chance to change the rules.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Jul 22, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Where Amazon wants to take Alexa

Amazon's Dave Limp addressing an event in 2018. Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

While many people think of Alexa as just the voice behind Amazon's smart speaker, Amazon sees it as the first step towards something more akin to "Star Trek's" remarkably versatile talking computer.

Why it matters: So-called "ambient computing" is seen as the next big wave of computing, where information is personal and delivered in the best way possible given the combination of devices one has nearby.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jul 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

Jobs of the future are catching up to jobs of the present

Expand chart
Data: Cognizant; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Postings for digitally enabled jobs of the future are recovering from a sharp dip during the pandemic, but they still lag behind postings for conventional jobs as companies desperately try to rebuild their workforces.

The big picture: The pandemic hit the labor pool hard across the board, but jobs previously poised to grow in the future lost even more ground as companies retrenched.

Jul 22, 2021 - Health

COVID cases are up 55% across the U.S.

Expand chart
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Note: Rhode Island and Iowa data is from CDC and from July 12-July 19; Map: Axios Visuals

Coronavirus infections are rising dramatically all over the U.S. as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads.

The big picture: Some ‚Äúbreakthrough‚ÄĚ infections are happening to vaccinated people, but this rising tide of cases and hospitalizations is mainly a threat to those who aren‚Äôt vaccinated. And in some parts of the country, most people aren‚Äôt vaccinated ‚ÄĒ so the virus can still do serious damage.

Hans Nichols, author of Sneak Peek
Jul 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Anita Dunn slides to make Biden's case on Hill

Document obtained by Axios

President Biden is dispatching senior adviser Anita Dunn to Capitol Hill on Thursday to brief congressional Democrats on selling Biden’s economic agenda.

Why it matters: By sending Dunn, a messaging and polling expert, to brief both chambers, the White House is acknowledging that it faces both legislative and political hurdles in getting its infrastructure bills passed.

Jul 22, 2021 - Sports

How the no-spectator Olympics could affect the athletes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

They’ve endured a delayed Olympic Games, rigorous COVID-19 testing requirements and logistical hurdles. But the next biggest test for Olympians may be competing without anyone in the stands.

Driving the news: Psychologists don't know for sure how a spectator-less Olympics will impact athletes' performance, but Olympians are already expressing concern about what it will be like to compete without hearing the cheers of their families and fans.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jul 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

Hong Kong's status as a financial center seems safe

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Given its assault on democracy, imprisonment of publishers, and a slew of human rights violations, "stable" might not be the first word that springs to mind with respect to Hong Kong. But amid social and political turmoil, one key part of the economy has remained unfazed: its legendary financial services sector.

Why it matters: Beijing's increasing control and influence over Hong Kong is seen by many banks and investors as more of a feature than a bug. While there are certainly downsides to staying, for the time being, the upside seems to be even greater.

Jul 22, 2021 - Health

Prominent Republicans find new enthusiasm for COVID-19 vaccines

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Some GOP lawmakers and media figures have been making a point to be publicly supportive of coronavirus vaccines as the Delta variant rips through parts of the country with low vaccination rates.

Why it matters: Vaccine resistance is much higher among Republicans than Democrats, and some party leaders have been openly hostile to the U.S. vaccination effort despite the effectiveness of the shots.

The underdogs from Latin America vying for Olympic gold

Photo Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Kieran Galvin (NurPhoto), Clement Mahoudeau (AFP), Patrick Smith, Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Athletes from more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are primed to compete in Tokyo ‚ÄĒ some making their Olympic debuts, and others overcoming obstacles like lack of training facilities, money for equipment or violence at home.

Why it matters: The athletes come from countries where most Olympic sports are underfunded and sponsorships were hard to come by even before the pandemic. Add a new challenge this year: The coronavirus continues to run rampant in their countries.

Updated Jul 22, 2021 - Health

China's government rejects WHO plan for COVID origins study

Zeng Yixin, Vice Minister of National Health Commission, and director of the vaccine R&D working group under the State Council's inter-agency task force, at a press conference in Beijing, China last December. Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP via Getty Images

A top Chinese health official said Thursday the government doesn't accept World Health Organization plans for a follow-up investigation into COVID-19's origins ‚ÄĒ labeling a theory that it started from a laboratory leak a "rumor," per AP.

Why it matters: National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin's comments come days after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was "too early" to rule out the lab leak theory and proposed a second phase of study into the virus' origins.

Massive California wildfire crosses into Nevada

Emergency personnel working around the clock to contain the Tamarack Fire near the town of Markleeville on July 17. Photo: Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A massive, uncontained wildfire has crossed the border from Northern California into Nevada ‚ÄĒ triggering fresh evacuations, this time in the Silver State, AP reported early Thursday.

The big picture: The Tamarack Fire, south of Lake Tahoe, has razed over 68 square miles since erupting on July 4 ‚ÄĒ¬†one of 23 blazes ignited by lightning strikes, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It's one of 78 large fires raging across 13 U.S. states.

Jul 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Ohio "incel" charged with hate crime over alleged plot to shoot women

Photo: Chandan KhannaH/AFP via Getty Images

An Ohio man involved in a misogynistic online community known as "incels" was arrested Wednesday and charged with an attempted hate crime over a plot to conduct a mass shooting of women.

Driving the news: Tres Genco, 21, of Hillsboro, "allegedly plotted to commit a hate crime, namely, a plan to shoot students in sororities at a university in Ohio," per a Department of Justice statement. He's also charged with illegally possessing a machine gun.

Biden swipes at Fox News' "altar call" over COVID vaccinations

President Biden participates in a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden jabbed at Fox News during his CNN town hall Wednesday night, saying the network had "an altar call" over stepping up messaging on getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Why it matters: Fox News has long been criticized for allowing some of its personalities to spread misinformation as they've railed against pandemic measures.

Web/fundraising email loop

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ideologically driven news outlets are providing a steady stream of funding for like-minded political candidates by harvesting readers’ emails and charging campaigns to fundraise from them, an Axios examination shows.

Why it matters: The mutually beneficial arrangement reinforces the partisan divide. The news sites bombard readers with content attacking political adversaries, and the candidates then step in with a solution: give me money and I’ll stop them.

Jul 22, 2021 - World

Congress, Europeans trash pipeline deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Stefanie Loos/Pool/Getty Images

Almost nobody is happy with the U.S.-Germany deal on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. On the Hill, Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz expressed outrage and Democrats like Sen. Tim Kaine voiced concern. In Europe, the Ukrainians feel bullied and the Poles disappointed.

The big picture: Ukraine and U.S. allies on the eastern flank of NATO argue the pipeline will make it easier for Moscow to isolate Kyiv and pressure Europe. They say the U.S.-Germany deal doesn't sufficiently address those concerns.

Infrastructure deal's Democratic opposition

Rep. Peter DeFazio. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Some progressive House Democrats ‚ÄĒ and potentially 20 members of the pivotal Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ‚ÄĒ are signaling they'll vote against the Senate‚Äôs $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

Why it matters: With just three Democratic votes to spare, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Biden must seriously consider every possible House defection if they hope to pass the Senate package.

Biden pollster's inflation warning

President Biden toured a union training center Wednesday before his CNN town hall in Ohio. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

A top party pollster and senior adviser to the Biden political team is urging Democrats to confront the problem of rising prices ‚ÄĒ which she says is starting to bite with voters.

Driving the news: Celinda Lake, who polled for the Biden presidential campaign and still advises Team Biden, told Axios that worries about inflation are coming through loud and clear in both public polls and her own focus groups.