Former CDC director Tom Frieden tells the Axios Re:Cap podcast that "COVID is here to stay," as part of a discussion of the highly contagious Delta variant that's becoming the country's dominant strain of the coronavirus.
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The concept of a new media ecosystem that's non-profit, publicly funded and tech-infused is drawing interest in policy circles as a way to shift the power dynamics in today's information wars.
Why it matters: Revamping the structure and role of public media could be part of the solution to shoring up local media, decentralizing the distribution of quality news, and constraining Big Tech platforms' amplification of harmful or false information.
Flashback: Congress in 1967 authorized federal operating money to broadcast stations through a new agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and what is now PBS launched down-the-middle national news programming and successful kids shows like "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street." NPR was born in 1971.
- Despite dust-ups over political interference of national programming and funding, hundreds of local community broadcast stations primarily received grants directly to choose which national programs to support.
Driving the news: A new policy paper from the German Marshall Fund proposes a full revamp of the CPB to fund not just broadcast stations, but a wide range of digital platforms and potential content producers including independent journalists, local governments, nonprofits and educational institutions.
- The idea is to increase the diversity of local civic information, leaning on anchor institutions like libraries and colleges that communities trust.
- Beyond content, the plan calls for open protocol standards and APIs to let consumers mix and match the content they want from a wide variety of sources, rather than being at the mercy of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube algorithms.
- Data would be another crucial component. In order to operate, entities in the ecosystem would have to commit to basic data ethics and rules about how personal information is used.
"It's about power. We don't want government to tell the platforms what to do, but we don't want the platforms to have the power to deplatform" and decide which voices get heard, said Ellen Goodman, co-author of the report, a professor at Rutgers Law School, and founder and director of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law.
- "No one thinks the most efficient way to do things was to have a gazillion broadcast stations, but it was to decentralize power. So what would that look like on the internet?"
Reality check: Allowing people to "tune" their own content preference dials could exacerbate filter bubbles.
- Still, the authors say the involvement of local trusted institutions in the creation and amplification of civic information — from public health updates to local election news — could improve people's overall media diet and exposure "so it's not just a battle of government vs. platform," Goodman said.
The big picture: More broadly, new models of non-profit media are gaining traction.
- The Local Journalism Sustainability Act takes a different approach to the government grant model. The bill would, for example, give a tax credit to people who donate to nonprofit newsrooms, or to small businesses who buy advertising at a nonprofit outlet.
What they're saying: "There absolutely has to be a much bigger role for nonprofit media, with public media as a subset of that, than there has been in the past," said Steve Waldman, CEO of Report for America.
- While today's public media predominantly skews toward broadcasting, which requires licenses from the FCC, the modern version can use a variety of funding sources and digital tools that don't rely on the same rigid infrastructure.
- "Right now a disproportionate amount of CPB money goes to TV," Waldman said. "From a local news point of view, we may need to loosen that up and have the money go to wherever it can strengthen local programming."
In a 2020 article, Waldman also called for "thousands of mini-Spans," by using streaming technologies to broadcast public meetings the way C-Span does for Congressional hearings.
Be smart: The debate over misinformation and disinformation is primarily focused on who gets to decide whether content is good or bad — an unwinnable battle.
- Revamping the underlying infrastructure that amplifies quality content — drawing on trusted local institutions and independent content producers — could give citizens a new source of news that doesn't rely solely on platform algorithms or polarized commercial outlets.
The U.S. women's soccer team lost 1-0 to eighth-ranked Canada in the Olympics semifinals on Monday, ending its chances at winning a gold medal in Tokyo.
Why it matters: The loss marks the second straight Olympics the U.S. team will not play in the gold medal match. The team was knocked out by Sweden in the quarterfinals during the Rio Games in 2016.
- Monday's loss also ends the team's quest for a historic back-to-back double — winning the Olympics after emerging victorious at the Women's World Cup.
- Both teams struggled to generate much offense in Monday's semifinals, but Canada's Jessie Fleming converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to take a late lead.
The big picture: Entering the tournament in Tokyo with an experienced team — 17 played on the 2019 World Cup squad — the team struggled to gain its footing early in the Games.
- The U.S. players suffered a stunning 3-0 defeat to Sweden in their 2021 Olympic debut, before dominating New Zealand 6-1.
- They tied Australia, 0-0, which was just enough to earn them a spot in the quarterfinals.
- The U.S. then beat the Netherlands in a nail-biting penalty kick shootout on Friday.
- The team has earned four gold medals and one silver medal from six Olympic appearances.
What's next: The U.S. will vie for the bronze medal on Thursday at 4 a.m. ET against the team that loses the Australia vs. Sweden semifinal match.
- Canada will play the winner of the semifinal game in the gold medal match on Thursday at 10:00 p.m. ET.
For the first time in history, a white man is not in serious contention to be the next mayor of Boston, a city with a checkered racial history.
Why it matters: The face of Democratic Party politics has changed, with more women and people of color running and winning races. As high-profile races like Boston's — and New York's — attract multiple people of color in a primary, some candidates say that allows for more ideological diversity, as well.
- The field of candidates in Boston is historically diverse: all but three are women and all but one are people of color. The primary is Sept. 14.
- Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who is Black, and city councilor Michelle Wu, who is Asian American, led the field in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll from late June.
- That's a sea change for a city where a white man once attacked a Black man with an American flag, where forced busing created angry confrontations between Black and white parents and police officers, and where Black athletes have often complained about racist fans.
What they're saying: "There’s more than enough room for more than one Black woman to run in this race," candidate Andrea Campbell told Axios.
- She argued that, in particular, the presence of multiple Black women such as her helps chip away at the idea Black women are all the same — a monolith — in their political leanings.
- "At one point, some people suggested I drop out of the race because there was already another Black woman in the race," she added, referring to Janey. She replaced Marty Walsh, a white man, when he was tapped to be Labor secretary. Janey's now running to assume the position full-time.
- When Michelle Wu ran for city council in 2013, she was told her identity would prevent her from ever getting elected in Boston. “I was told over and over again that I would likely lose, and for reasons beyond my control: I was too young, not born in Boston, Asian American, female,” Wu wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed.
- She told Axios that this time around, she's not hearing that. "It’s been a rapid, inspiring transformation in Boston politics over the eight years that I’ve been honored to serve," Wu said.
Another candidate, Annissa Essaibi-George, the daughter of Arab and Polish immigrant parents, told Axios that Boston's history of electing white men even once convinced her father she couldn't be mayor.
- Years ago, Essaibi-George told her dad that she wanted to be mayor someday. "And my father said: 'An Arab girl with an Arab name will never be anything in this city,'" she recounted.
- "That was his experience immigrating to this country in his twenties — as an Arab, as a Muslim — and he didn’t see this as an opportunity for me" back then, she added.
The backdrop: From the notorious James Michael Curley to the late Tom Menino, an affable politician who became the city's longest-serving mayor, Boston has been led by white men not just in City Hall but also the powerful police and fire departments.
- In 2009, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) became the first woman of color to be elected to the city council. Wu became the second in 2013.
- "It started to shift the paradigm of what was possible in our city and particularly as we took on policy initiatives," Wu told Axios.
- In 2018, Pressley knocked off Rep. Michael Capuano, a well-liked fellow Democrat and liberal politician, to win a primary that propelled her to become the first Black woman from Massachusetts to be elected to Congress.
- She quickly took on national prominence as a member of "The Squad."
- William Gross was sworn in as Boston's first black police commissioner that same year.
While the Democratic Party is increasingly represented by candidates and elected officials who look more like the places they serve, some are looking to mayoral races in big blue cities like Boston and New York to determine whether the party is looking not just at race but also political philosophy.
The question is whether more moderate candidates will win favor this time around, not that the initial threshold of breaking a color barrier has been crossed.
- Some Democrats are drawing early parallels to the New York City mayoral and the Virginia gubernatorial races, in which a more moderate Democratic candidate (albeit a white one in Virginia) edged out a field of progressives at a time when the progressive wing of the party is a potent force.
- Others see the mayoral races as suggestive of a larger national trend within the Democratic Party.
“I am the face of the Democratic Party,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a Black former police officer, said after winning the New York mayoral Democratic primary in June.
- He believes his success was rooted in his moderate stances, including opposing defund-the-police rhetoric.
- “If the Democratic Party fails to recognize what we did here in New York, they’re going to have a problem in the midterm elections and they’re going to have a problem in the presidential election,” he added.
What to watch locally: Boston politicos are eager to see if a more moderate candidate, like Annissa, wins the primary by edging out the more progressive candidates.
- Several strategists who focus on national mayoral races said that when selecting a mayor, voters typically are looking for a candidate who represents stability, not someone to shake things up.
- For those who believe that theory of the case, President Biden's election offers a solid example.
- Such thinking could benefit Janey, who has quickly stripped "acting" from any references to her title and is running as all the white incumbents who had preceded her.
What to watch nationally: Another campaign on the Democratic radar is Seattle's mayoral race.
- Similar demographic and political dynamics are expected to play out there.
Cutting oil production before we cut our demand for oil could undermine much of the progress that needs to be made on climate change.
Why it matters: If companies cut back on producing oil but consumers don’t cut back on consuming it, demand will exceed supply and prices will shoot up. That’s bad for our pocketbooks and risks the transition to cleaner energy.
Driving the news: This appears to be the track we’re on. Lurking in the shadows of the pandemic-induced roller coaster of oil prices we’re on now is a deeper, systemic shift within the oil industry and its investors.
- Buoyed largely by politics and growing activism, Wall Street is demanding that oil companies invest less in new oil discoveries and more in cleaner energy (and pay off debts).
- In response to that pressure and the collapse in oil prices starting in 2014, overall industry investments in new oil and gas resources have collapsed in recent years, according to Bob McNally, president of consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group.
Yes, but: Despite ambitious goals to reduce heat-trapping emissions, most countries have actually not passed laws that significantly reduce oil demand by targeting consumers through taxes or mandates.
- Instead, most countries are pursuing less politically toxic options, like regulations that indirectly (and slowly and unevenly) reduce oil consumption.
- “If we curb supply but not demand, oil prices will spike well into the hundred-dollar range,” said McNally. “Gasoline prices would follow. Such an oil price spike would harm the economy, the political careers of elected officials, and the energy transition.”
- He projects that such a scenario is likely to start unfolding within the next five years.
By the numbers: The average price of a gallon of U.S. gasoline is $3.17 as of July 30, according to AAA. That’s the highest in seven years, though prices are fluctuating as the pandemic stamps down oil demand again with the Delta variant.
Where it stands: The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental group launched in 1974 to ensure global oil security, issued one of its most impactful reports in May. It declared that no new oil and gas discoveries would be needed in a future that reaches net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
What they’re saying: “Needing no more oil and gas is only true if previous actions by governments happen and demand follows that trajectory,” Laura Cozzi, the IEA’s chief energy modeler and lead author of the report, told me. “The sequencing is important.”
- In its report, the IEA identified 400 milestones that need to occur to achieve the net-zero goal, and 95% of those should be driven by policy changes affecting demand, not supply, said IEA executive director Fatih Birol, per Reuters.
- This includes imposing carbon pricing and phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies, both which have direct impact on consumers’ demand for those fuels.
How it works: Public sentiment generally skews toward concern about energy affordability during periods of economic recessions and instabilities. A recent Gallup survey shows that playing out in the wake of the pandemic.
- That sentiment creates headwinds for any type of policy that could be even perceived as raising the cost of energy — a key reason President Biden and other administration officials insist they’re not going to support a gasoline tax increase or any other tax on energy.
The other side: Environmentalists have helped propel a social movement around climate change by fighting projects producing and moving fossil fuels around (remember the Keystone XL pipeline?). In other words, they have focused on supply, not demand of those fuels.
- Tzeporah Berman, international program director at group Stand.earth, says some countries are now beginning to impose demand-side policies, like pledges to ban internal combustion engines cars within the next 15 years.
- But she is cognizant of the risks our world faces if demand reduction doesn’t follow soon after.
The bottom line: “Without political leadership and courage, a lot of this could be at risk,” said Berman. “The challenge for policymakers is to move quickly putting in infrastructure for electrification and efficiency.”
Editor's note: Amy Harder is vice president of publishing at Breakthrough Energy, a network of investment vehicles, philanthropic programs, policy advocacy, and other activities committed to scaling the technologies needed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. She is launching a new journalism initiative there. Previously full time at Axios, Amy is now writing her Harder Line column as an outside contributor.
TOKYO — While transgender inclusion in elite sports presents some challenging issues, bans on participation in youth sports are simply about hate and cruelty, several top trans athletes told Axios this week.
- Republican governors in South Dakota and Louisiana vetoed such bans, and several states have voted down or failed to act on proposed legislation.
"It’s absolutely sickening," Chelsea Wolfe, an alternate to the Tokyo Games and the first transgender woman to travel to the Olympics for Team USA, told Axios. "It just breaks my heart and I can’t imagine what kind of monsters do that to children."
- Such bans may score easy political points, but come at a huge cost to the health and well-being of trans youth, these athletes say.
- "This has become the next political weapon," openly trans and nonbinary WNBA player Layshia Clarendon told Axios.
- Clarendon noted that many of the states discussing such bans have no current transgender athletes even participating, and in no instance are states seeing girls' sports dominated by transgender athletes.
Between the lines: Athletes say the bans also miss the point of youth sports, which isn't about the small fraction of kids who go on to play competitive in college or turn pro, but rather the benefits they confer to all those participating.
- Clarendon said even if they had not become a professional athlete, sports gave them a place to belong.
- "You are supposed to just play sports and have fun," Clarendon said.
The other side: Some supporters of the bans insist they're needed to promote fair competition, arguing that biological differences make it unfair for non-transgender women and girls to compete against transgender athletes who were identified as boys at birth.
- "This bill is very simply about making sure that women can safely compete, have opportunities and physically be able to excel in a sport that they trained for, prepared for and work for," said Florida state Sen. Kelli Stargel, a supporter of the ban DeSantis signed into law, per NPR.
What they're saying: Chris Mosier, a distance runner who was the first transgender member of Team USA when he represented the country in duathlon (running and cycling), told Axios that "it is heartbreaking for me as an athlete who has represented my country internationally in sport to see that a younger version of me would be banned from playing."
- "This is about so much more than sports; it’s about health care and identification cards and housing and employment and our abilities to live safe and happy lives. Lawmakers are starting with sports, but it seems very clear that the end goal is to try to prevent transgender people from living in public."
Wolfe notes that opponents of transgender civil rights focus on youth sports because they know that while elite sports are grappling with the issue, they are relying on experts and research.
- "So they go after the legislatures who kind of go off their knee-jerk reactions instead of science," Wolfe said.
Of note: This year's Olympics includes at least four openly trans or nonbinary athletes, a first for the Games even though rules have allowed for transgender participation since 2003.
- Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weightlifter, is set to become the first openly transgender woman to take part in Olympic competition when she takes part in the over-87-kilogram competition later on Monday.
It’s getting harder and harder to communicate the two essential realities of human-caused climate change: that our failure to slow and eventually stop it is contributing to devastating human suffering all over the world, and that it’s not too late to act.
The big picture: Experts have long told climate communicators —including scientists, journalists and politicians — that disaster porn immobilizes people, leaving them cowering in a corner. You've got to give them a sense of hope, the research shows.
Yes, but: Climate news right now continues to be a steady, terrible drumbeat of doom.
- During the past few months, we've seen an unprecedented, deadly heat wave in the Pacific Northwest that shocked veteran climate researchers, wildfires raging across the West well ahead of peak fire season, and cities and towns flooded in Europe, China and elsewhere.
- Each of these events has ties to climate change.
Why it matters: Climate change is not an existential cliff that we'll suddenly fall off of, with no turning back. It's more like a hill we're sliding down at ever-increasing speed.
- We can choose to alter course at any time by hitting the brakes and slashing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, emanating from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
- But the longer we wait, the faster we'll be traveling, and the more effort it will take to slow down and achieve the cuts that are needed. And we've already waited a long time to start pumping the brakes.
Between the lines: Optimism has its place in climate change discourse.
- Many of the technologies needed to dramatically reduce emissions, such as renewable energy resources like wind and solar power, are seeing increasingly wide adoption. In most cases now in the U.S., they even have a cost advantage over fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
- Electric vehicles are gaining traction, and money is flowing into next-generation technologies like carbon removal mechanisms.
- A social movement is pushing for climate action in the U.S. and abroad. And corporations are seeking ways to reduce their emissions in response to pressure from customers and regulators.
But the fact is that we're still on course for at least 3°C (5.4°F) of warming compared to the preindustrial era, based on the latest emissions reduction pledges. And if climate models that project even more warming for the same amount of emissions are correct, it could be closer to 4°C (7.2°F).
- Almost unimaginable consequences would stem from that level of warming, particularly in the developing world.
- The planet has only warmed by about 1.2°C (2.16°F) since the preindustrial era, and even that has left us with a summer straight out of "The Day After Tomorrow."
My thought bubble: Being a climate reporter today is like being a chronicler of human-caused disasters, along with a bearer of grim policy news as leaders fail to stem the tide of ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
- My job is to inform, not to inspire, and that means being blunt about the fact that climate change is ravaging the Earth right now.
- But I also know that too much doom risks leaving people with a sense of fatalism, obscuring the equally true and equally relevant fact that the damage does not have to keep getting worse at this pace. Choices made today will determine what the planet will be like in just a few decades.
What's next: The doom, for now, is going to keep coming.
- The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is set to release a new compendium on Aug. 9 — a policy-neutral, authoritative report that's expected to highlight how difficult it will be to adhere to the Paris climate agreement's temperature targets, while also depicting in more granular details the consequences of failing to do so.
- The report is expected to detail the differences between a world that warms by only 1.5°C -- an increasingly unrealistic target — versus a world that warms by 2°C or more.
- Expect alarming headlines to accompany that report, and a renewed push for action.
Simone Biles will compete in the Olympic individual balance beam final, her last event of the Tokyo Games, USA Gymnastics announced Monday.
What's happening: "We are so excited to confirm that you will see two U.S. athletes in the balance beam final tomorrow — Suni Lee AND Simone Biles!! Can’t wait to watch you both!" USA Gymnastics tweeted.
The big picture: The 24-year-old four-time Olympic gold medalist withdrew from last week's Tokyo Games women's gymnastics team finals and the individual all-around finals and on Sunday morning, USA Gymnastics announced she would not be competing in the final floor exercise event.
- "[T]he outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before," Biles said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.
Day 10 of the Tokyo Olympic Games saw Puerto Rico bag its first-ever track gold medal when Jasmine Camacho-Quinn beat American world record holder Kendra Harrison to win the women’s 100-meter hurdles Monday.
The big picture: There was better news for Team USA in the basketball, where the women's national team beat France 93-82 — meaning the Americans are entering the medal round undefeated as they go for yet another gold, Axios' Ina Fried reports from Tokyo. France still advanced to the quarterfinals as well.