Solar storms have the potential to wreak havoc on our modern world

The upcoming 11-year solar cycle, which kicks off in 2020, is forecast to be quieter than the last but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent about solar storms, experts say.

Why it matters: Although rare, an extreme coronal mass ejection (CME) — a large burst of plasma sent out by the Sun — could cause a months-long blackout, harm satellites and cause billions in damage.

The big picture: Even during relatively calm solar cycles, the Sun can assert itself in ways that could affect everything from GPS reliability to whether the lights stay on in your home.

It's happened before: Perhaps the most extreme example of a damaging solar storm occurred in 1859, when a huge CME hit Earth, lighting telegraph lines on fire and creating auroras that could be seen almost everywhere on the planet.

If our modern world were hit with a CME of that strength, the results would be far more costly and damaging than they were in the 1800s.

Details: Beyond satellites in space, experts are worried about the stability of critical infrastructure on the ground if a major CME were to impact our planet.

But, but, but: It would take a minimum of $3 billion to gird vulnerable transformers against the danger posed by these types of storms, according to Thomas Popik of the Foundation for Resilient Societies, a non-profit focused on protecting society from natural and human-caused threats.

What to watch: Last year, the Department of Energy established rules governing how emergency measures could be put in place to guard the grid against a storm.

The bottom line: Because of the high stakes involved, some are calling for more rigorous legislation and regulation to make the U.S. more resilient.

Go deeper: What we still don't know about the Sun

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 17:55:23 +0000

WHO calls for intense stewardship of essential drugs by adopting monitoring tools like AWaRe

Due to the lack of new antibiotics in the pipeline, current drugs must be better monitored and prescribed before the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) reaches a "Titanic" stage, World Health Organization scientists warned Tuesday as they launch a campaign to promote the use of a monitoring tool, AWaRe.

Why it matters: The growing level of superbugs is a potentially "catastrophic" global threat that could have a yearly death toll of 10 million people by 2050. WHO says using AWaRe would be one tool in promoting its goal that 60% of all antibiotics used come from the "access" category of antibiotics, or what's typically thought of as the first or second line of defense.

The backdrop: WHO's essential medicines list divides antibiotics into 3 categories: "access," "watch," and "reserve" with recommendations for when each category should be used.

But, WHO scientists say too many countries either don't have appropriate access to antibiotics or are using antibiotics incorrectly — including for wrong diagnoses, animal husbandry and even plants — causing an increase in AMR.

The bottom line: If AMR is not halted, "this will probably lead to a halt in modern medicine as we know it today," says Hanan Balkhy, WHO's assistant director general for antimicrobial resistance.

Go deeper:

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 17:25:40 +0000

Boris Johnson on top in race to choose Theresa May's successor as field continues to narrow

The U.K. Conservative Party's 1922 Committee announced Tuesday the results of the second round of voting by the party's members of Parliament in the race to replace outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May as its leader, narrowing the field from six candidates to five.

The big picture: Boris Johnson, a brash Brexiteer who has vowed to take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal if necessary, is in control of the race and all but guaranteed a spot in the final two. Crucially for Johnson, this last round of voting knocked out May's former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who gained support from the wing of the party backing a hard Brexit.

The state of play: Conservative MPs are now voting in a series of ballots to whittle the field down to two. This vote — and subsequent votes — will require at least 10% support (32 MPs) to stay in the race.

The results from the second ballot (change from the first):

Who's still in:

What's next: The series of ballots to determine the final two will take place over the next week — before the final leadership campaign kicks off in earnest on June 22. Registered Conservative Party members will then choose their favorite of the final two via a mail-in ballot, and the winner will be announced during the week of July 22.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about Brexit

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 17:09:36 +0000

Trump announces acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will step down

President Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will withdraw from the confirmation process, and that he will name Secretary of the Army Mark Esper to be his acting replacement.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family. I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!

Why it matters: The shakeup at the Pentagon comes amid a new phase of escalating tensions with Iran, with the Trump administration accusing the Islamic Republic of attacking a pair of oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. Yesterday, Shanahan announced that the U.S. will send 1,000 troops to the Middle East to combat the threat. The Trump administration has gone a record 169 days without a Senate-confirmed defense secretary.

Context: USA Today reported earlier Tuesday that the FBI has been investigating a domestic dispute between Shanahan and his then-wife, who was arrested after punching him in the face in 2010. In a separate incident, Shanahan's son was arrested for beating his mother with a baseball bat.

Shortly before Trump's tweet, Shanahan put out the following statement addressing the reports.

"After having been confirmed for deputy secretary less than two years ago, it is unfortunate that such a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way as a result of this nomination process. I never laid a hand on my then-wife and cooperated fully in a thorough law enforcement investigation that resulted in her being charged with assault against me — charges which I had dropped in the interest of my family. … I wish nothing but the best for her and regret that my children’s privacy has been violated and they are being forced to relive a tragic situation that we have worked so hard as a family to put behind us."

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 17:02:33 +0000

The suicide rate for 15 to 24-year-olds is the highest it's been in two decades

The suicide rate for Americans aged 15 to 24 years old — the older half of Generation Z — is the highest it's been since at least 1999, according to Centers for Disease Control data.

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: The overall suicide rate for this age group has risen by 51% over the past decade. This has been accompanied by increased social media use, anxiety, depression and self-inflicted injuries among young adults and teens, according to a newly released study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Between the lines: The rise in suicide rates could be a result of more accurate reporting, with Americans more willing to label a death as suicide, according to the JAMA study. It could also be driven by changes in the use of opioids or the increased prevalence of depression in young people.

Go deeper: Deaths by suicide, drugs and alcohol reached an all-time high in 2017

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for anyone in distress, in addition to prevention and crisis resources. Also available for online chat.

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 15:09:16 +0000

From cryptocurrency to online dating, Facebook is still betting big on products and innovation

Love Facebook or hate it, you can't say the besieged company is shying away from new products or big thinking.

What's happening: In the past 18 months — amid Cambridge Analytica and all the other scandals — the company has launched bold new moves to help find you a date, to put cameras inside your home and, now, to encourage you to adopt a whole new cryptocurrency.

Driving the news:

Why it matters: On the positive side, Facebook isn't allowing privacy or antitrust concerns to thwart its ambitions. On the negative side, Facebook isn't allowing privacy or antitrust concerns to thwart its ambitions.

The big picture: The moves come as both privacy and antitrust regulators are taking a harder look at Facebook and other tech giants, while presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren and some other critics argue Facebook should be broken up.

Go deeper: Feds crank up antitrust heat on Big Tech

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 13:52:50 +0000

Since 2015, U.S. women's soccer team has generated more game revenue than men

Source: U.S. Soccer via Wall Street Journal; Chart: Axios Visuals

In the three years after they won the 2015 World Cup, the U.S. women's national team generated more game revenue ($50.8 million) than the U.S. men's national team ($49.9 million), according to audited financial reports acquired by the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: The women's team's ability to match, and even exceed, the men's team in game revenue (which is made up of mostly ticket sales) is a key factor in their ongoing gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Between the lines: Games are, of course, not the only way our national teams generate revenue. There's also sponsorship deals and broadcast rights.

Yes, but: As WSJ points out, "U.S. Soccer sells broadcast rights and sponsorships as a bundle, not separately for each national team. That makes it difficult to parse the value that broadcasters or brands see in the men's team versus the women's team."

The bottom line: Why is this so hard? Give the men and the women the same base salary and then allow them to earn bonuses based on ticket and merchandise sales and anything else that can be tracked.

Go deeper: Meet the U.S. women's national soccer team

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 13:31:15 +0000

Worldwide subsidies to lower the cost of fossil fuels hit $400 billion in 2018

Reproduced from IEA; Note: In 2018 dollars; Chart: Axios Visuals

International Energy Agency data shows that worldwide subsidies that lower consumer costs for fossil fuels grew to over $400 billion last year, their highest levels since 2014.

Why it matters: The persistence of the payments, despite some progress in pricing reforms in recent years in several nations, are among the many headwinds in the effort to combat climate change.

What they're saying: "The continued prevalence of these subsidies — more than double the estimated subsidies to renewables — greatly complicates the task of achieving an early peak in global emissions," IEA analysts said in a June 13 report.

Where it stands: Higher oil prices in 2018 than 2017 were one driver of the overall increase, while higher energy consumption was another.

The intrigue: Tackling subsidies is tricky — as IEA notes, there's a need to make energy more affordable to poor and vulnerable populations.

Go deeper: 2020 Democrats pushing to end public financing of fossil fuels

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 12:34:00 +0000

Trump goes after the European Central Bank as euro drops against the dollar

President Trump attacked European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi in a Tuesday tweet after he signaled that he may lower interest rates as soon as next month, causing the euro to drop against the dollar.

The big picture: Trump has been waging a war with his own central bank, blurring the lines of the Federal Reserve’s political independence by calling on it to cut interest rates. Now, Trump is picking a fight with the ECB, one of the major central banks that has hinted at easing monetary policy as the global economy slows. The Fed is one of the few that has yet to make that pivot, though speculation abounds that it may indicate this week that a rate cut is coming.

Go deeper: ECB announces plans to stimulate slowing economy

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 12:19:04 +0000

Cancer treatments are one of the most in-demand Big Pharma assets

Pfizer's $11.4 billion takeover of Array BioPharma highlights how eager industry titans are to commercialize cancer medications, making cancer the most in-demand pharmaceutical asset outside of gene therapy.

The state of play: Big Pharma wants to expand cancer lineups because cancer drugs command huge price tags that health insurers and society usually pay for uncritically. 

Where it stands:

And all of that is just this year's activity.

What we're watching: Array has 2 FDA-approved drugs on the market, Mektovi and Braftovi, and more in development. The drugs have high prices, and Pfizer is known for its routine price hikes — even in the face of political pressure.

Go deeper: ACA reduced racial disparities in cancer treatment access

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 10:33:47 +0000

Digital ad industry backs a new alliance to self-regulate online safety

Dozens of the world's biggest advertising and content companies, including major tech firms, brands, ad agencies and industry groups, announced Tuesday their commitment to a newly-created alliance to take significant steps to improve digital safety.

Why it matters: It's the biggest and most comprehensive industry effort to date to tackle the ongoing brand safety crisis online. Competing groups are putting their differences aside to solve the problem quickly in the face of global regulatory threats.

"Because we don't know what the regulation is going to look like, we want to get out front and figure out how to solve the problem."
John Montgomery, EVP of Brand Safety at GroupM

Details: The immediate focus of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media is to create a working group that will prioritize a set of concrete steps to begin creating a set of actions, processes and protocols for protecting people and brands from nefarious content online.

The big picture: The coordinated industry effort comes as lawmakers around the world debate potential regulations for the digital advertising and content industries.

Be smart: While talks of growing regulation make new laws and rules feel inevitable, the advertising and digital content industries have been particularly good at coming together to self-regulate when their industries face existential crises.

Between the lines: One of the goals of the Alliance would be to create cross-industry brand safety standards that Big Tech companies would use when evaluating content online.

Our thought bubble: We've seen several times in recent weeks that different standards across platforms about what type of content is considered safe on the internet causes confusion and frustration among lawmakers, brands and consumers.

Go deeper: Big Tech's shifting lobbying army

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 10:22:01 +0000

Parole and probation sends hundreds of thousands of people back to prison

About a quarter of people behind bars in the U.S. on any given day are there for violating parole or probation, often times because of technical violations such as missing supervision appointments or failing a drug test, according to new data collected by The Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG).

Data: The Council of State Governments Justice Center; Table: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why it matters: Probation and parole are alternatives to incarceration that are designed to help lower the prison population and allow people to more easily integrate back into their communities. But perfectly following the rules of parole and probation can prove difficult, and many violators end up back in prison.

In 20 states, more than half of prison admissions are for parole or probation violations.

By the numbers: In 2018, there were an estimated 4.5 million adults under probation or parole — that's 1 in 55 American adults, according to study by Pew Charitable Trusts. Hundreds of thousands of those people end up back in jail or prison each year.

And it's expensive. Probation and parole violations cost state prisons $9.3 billion every year, according to the CSG study.

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 10:00:10 +0000

Apple needs a next act

With the iPhone's global dominance waning, there's a growing chorus of skeptics betting that Apple is headed the way of Blackberry and Nokia.

Why it matters: While Apple still generates ridiculous cash flow, the nearly $900 billion megacompany's growth is built on its ability to reinvent and dominate entire product categories, which it hasn't done lately. Doubters don't see evidence that Apple still has the innovative juice it needs to dominate not just tech but the global consumer marketplace.

The iPhone is Apple’s most important product and generates the bulk of its revenue. The App Store and various other offerings feed off the iPhone's ubiquity and popularity.

Apple's biggest problem is China, where it is no longer seen as a trend-setting company and the new iPhone has stopped being a must-have, luxury product, says Linda Zhang, CEO of Purview Investments.

By the numbers: Globally, consumers are slower to upgrade, and they're switching brands.

Investors have taken notice. Following the company's first quarter earnings report — which beat expectations, but revealed the steepest decline ever in iPhone sales — Apple has been by far the most shorted company in the world, according to data provided to Axios from data firm S3 Partners.

Yes, but: This could all turn around — because we really don't know what Apple is cooking. The iPhone itself was a second act for Apple, which nearly died in the late '90s.

Apple representatives declined to comment.

Our thought bubble from Scott Rosenberg, Axios managing editor for technology: The iPhone was such a monster product that Apple is unlikely to repeat the success, and for investors that may be argument enough to see the company as overvalued. But in Silicon Valley, there's still plenty of respect for Apple's potential to keep innovating.

But folks outside Silicon Valley are starting to see a different story. Aija Leiponen, professor of applied economics at Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, told Axios in March she's been wary of Apple's new offerings.

Go deeper:

What Apple knows about you

The inside story of Apple’s new Mac Pro

Apple buys voice startup Pullstring

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 09:45:13 +0000

Facebook unveils Libra, its long-awaited cryptocurrency project

After nearly a year of speculation, Facebook has finally unveiled its plans to create a cryptocurrency, which will be called Libra and debut in 2020.

Why it matters: With more than two billion users, Facebook is arguably better positioned to roll out a global digital currency than any other company, government, or organization. That's also a source of concern over how much influence Facebook will hold over the new currency, given the company's history of amassing power and its record of privacy controversies.

The details: While Facebook has spent the past year working in house on the plans and technology for Libra, the cryptocurrency will be managed by a separate Switzerland-based foundation initially backed by Facebook and 27 other organizations.

Facebook’s connection to Libra will be as a member of the governing foundation and as the maker of a digital wallet, called Calibra, for sending and receiving the currency. Calibra will be managed by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Facebook.

Be smart: This is not Bitcoin. Unlike the pioneering cryptocurrency and many of the other digital-token experiments out there, the goal here is not to supplant the traditional financial system but rather to extend it to serve people without access to conventional banking or stable "fiat" (government-created) currency.

Go deeper:

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 09:01:21 +0000

Trump tweets ICE will begin removing "millions" of undocumented migrants next week

President Trump tweeted Monday night that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin deporting "millions" of undocumented migrants next week.

....long before they get to our Southern Border. Guatemala is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement. The only ones who won’t do anything are the Democrats in Congress. They must vote to get rid of the loopholes, and fix asylum! If so, Border Crisis will end quickly!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019

Why it matters: There have been more border arrests so far this fiscal year than in any other full fiscal year in the past decade, with close to 600,000 migrant arrests. Immigration agencies have been struggling to care of the large numbers of families and children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many families are quickly released into the U.S. due to lack of space, Axios' Stef Knight notes.

By the numbers: The latest ICE figures show for the third month in a row, there were more than 100,000 border crossings — 144,278 in total.

What they're saying: Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a news conference last week Mexico and the U.S. had agreed to monitor migration in upcoming months, with a contingency for discussions on further asylum reforms if it was determined that individuals crossing the U.S. southern border had not been reduced.

Go deeper: Chart: How immigration levels in the U.S. have changed since 1900

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 02:49:41 +0000

Facebook's pragmatic new currency takes on the crypto underworld

A decade after Bitcoin was born in a declaration of liberty from central banks and anyone else's control, Facebook is about to announce a new currency that sheds much of the crypto-world's counter-culture origins in hopes of actually being used.

Driving the news: For a year, Facebook has secretly developed a crypto-currency it calls Libra. As early as tomorrow, it will reportedly unveil its concept in a white paper. But if Libra is to gain the mainstream ubiquity for which Facebook is known, it will be because it jettisons some of the central principles that have united crypto purists.

The big picture: When Bitcoin was created in 2009 amid the financial crash, many of its first apostles defended it as a rejection of the central control of money. As if to punctuate that philosophy, its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, generating the first Bitcoins, embedded a Times of London article about a Bank of England bailout of British financial institutions.

A roller-coaster has followed:

But more recently, crypto's revolutionary air has in part given way to pragmatism. Among a new crop of crypto actors is Facebook, seeking to attract the masses into a proprietary payment system, a long-lived aim of the big social platforms.

Facebook 's idea is a payment system based on a type of crypto-currency called "stablecoins," which are linked to government-issued currencies, per the WSJ. That linkage is what accounts for their name — they are meant to be as stable as a basket of the world's main currencies.

Facebook did not respond to an email. But oddly, news of Facebook's plans has fed a Bitcoin recovery. Since April, Bitcoin's price has risen above $9,200.

The bottom line: Facebook has a shot but the jury is out on whether Libra really will become significant commercially. "Anything FB does is significant!" said David Hoffman, a law professor at UPenn. "But I honestly don't know about Libra until it's been released and you get a sense of its market uptake. I don't know why FB would be that good at payment system innovation."

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 00:35:38 +0000

Justice Thomas: Supreme Court shouldn't follow "demonstrably erroneous precedent"

Justice Clarence Thomas said in a case concurring opinion Monday the Supreme Court should not feel bound to uphold precedent in reaching decisions.

Why it matters: If adopted by enough Supreme Court justices, this approach could see past decisions being overruled, including the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Conservative states are passing the most restrictive abortion laws in generations, setting up what could be a precedent-smashing Supreme Court challenge to the abortion status quo.

When faced with a demonstrably erroneous precedent, my rule is simple: We should not follow it."

The big picture: The court now has a 5-4 conservative majority. Thomas, one of the most conservative justices, made the comments in a double jeopardy case, Gamble v. United States, which generally prohibits a person from being charged twice for the same crime.

Go deeper:

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 00:32:02 +0000

Walmart and Amazon bet big on unmanned drone delivery

Drone delivery — tied up in regulatory debates and largely nonexistent beyond a few, isolated pilots — hasn't boomed in the U.S. yet, but Amazon and Walmart are placing big bets on unmanned vehicles.

The big picture: The hooplah has intensified to the point where a number of upstarts are popping up to offer drone-delivery-in-a-box to the retailers who can't afford to invest themselves. The two retail rivals are betting that drone delivery — currently estimated to be worth $30 billion — will take an increasingly large share of the $1.5 trillion logistics business.

"The market for drone logistics can be tremendous," says Sertac Karaman, a professor at MIT.

What's happening: Amazon stole the headlines last week when it debuted a brand new package delivery drone at its annual re:MARS conference. But the e-commerce titan has a worthy opponent in Walmart, which has actually outpaced Amazon in the drone patent race in 2018 and 2019, per the FT.

And the two could force other smaller retailers to use drones in order to compete.

There are already companies hoping to capitalize on this need, Karaman says. Top Flight Technologies in Boston makes drones and the software that powers them. Another called Flirtey is offering drone delivery as a service.

Worth noting: Chinese companies are far ahead of their American counterparts when it comes to delivery by air. Chinese e-commerce giants JD.com and Alibaba have used drones to transport packages to China's hinterlands since 2016.

Tue, 18 Jun 2019 00:14:40 +0000

Trump to send 1,000 troops to Middle East as U.S. continues to accuse Iran of attacks

The U.S. is deploying an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East in response to "hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups" that threaten U.S. "personnel and interests," acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan announced Monday.

The backdrop: The U.S.-Iran standoff is reaching uncharted waters. As the Trump administration scrambles to rally an international response to Iran’s alleged covert attacks last week, Tehran is taking a long-feared step in broad daylight — announcing it will breach the 2015 nuclear deal’s limits on enriched uranium in 10 day's time.

The big picture: President Trump now faces dual challenges — deterring attacks on oil shipments through the critical Strait of Hormuz and keeping Iran from marching toward a nuclear weapon — amid a crisis that many of America’s allies privately hold him at least partially responsible for.

Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council argues for Axios Expert Voices that Iran is “signaling the death” of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The White House, meanwhile, is accusing Iran of “nuclear blackmail” and vowing to never allow the regime get a bomb.

What to watch: Iran is now betting that the Trump administration "is too risk-averse to resort to military action and potentially touch off a regional conflagration," Slavin writes. That too will be put to the test.

Mon, 17 Jun 2019 22:35:22 +0000

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