February 21, 2019

😎 D.C. readers ... You're invited: Join Evan Ryan and me tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. for an Axios News Shapers to mark the National Governors Association winter meeting:

  • Jennifer Garner and Save the Children SVP Mark Shriver will discuss early childhood education. And for a first-hand view from the states, we'll talk with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R).
  • RSVP here.

1 big thing: We're hitting a climate tipping point

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Dire scientific reports and extreme weather events are combining to force a make-or-break season for confronting global warming, Axios science editor Andrew Freedman reports.

  • The rare convergence includes extreme weather events nationwide, and shifting public views fueling support for stronger policies.
  • Why it matters: The actions we take in the next 10 to 20 years could be crucial to determining the climate for centuries to come.

Pollsters say minds are changing:

  • A December poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change and George Mason University found that the "alarmed" segment of the American public is at an all-time high of 29% — double the size in a 2013 survey.
  • The poll also showed a decline in Americans who are classified as "dismissive" or "doubtful."
  • The percentage of conservative Republicans who are worried about climate change has also reached an all-time high, according to Yale's Anthony Leiserowitz, who studies public opinion on climate change.

The recent science findings are also inspiring a new grassroots movement on this issue.

  • A 16-year-old in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, is citing a UN report to help inspire thousands of school kids to stage walkouts over the lack of climate action.
  • The protests have swept across Europe, and will reach the U.S. and other countries March 15.

What's next: There remains a stark partisan divide in public views on climate, with many Republicans remaining skeptical of the science.

  • The WashPost reports that despite studies that already answer the question, the White House plans a committee "to assess whether climate change poses a national security threat" — and is including a climate-science denialist.
  • But the ground is shifting: The left is galvanized. And oil and gas companies are increasing investments in clean energy, and supporting a carbon tax.

Share this story.

2. When Mueller wraps up

CNN reports that Mueller's investigation could end as soon as next week.

In WIRED, the well-wired Garrett M. Graff gives seven "wrap up" scenarios:

  1. "Mueller sends the attorney general a simple 'declination letter,' telling Bill Barr that he’s concluded his work as special counsel."
  2. "Mueller compiles a detailed 'roadmap,' providing Congress with an annotated bibliography or index of sorts outlining impeachment-worthy presidential 'high crimes and misdemeanors.'"
  3. "Mueller authors a detailed novelistic narrative, akin to what the 9/11 Commission wrote or what Ken Starr authored at the conclusion of his Whitewater hearing."
  4. "He offers both a final round of 'his' indictments as well as a detailed report like #2 or #3."
  5. "He offers a report, but not the report, something more akin to a progress report rather than a single, definitive one."
  6. "He closes up shop but refers numerous active cases to other prosecutors."
  7. "Mueller unseals one or more long-standing sealed indictments."

Wrap it up.

3. Inside 900 American yearbooks

"Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a stunning number of colleges and university yearbooks published images of blatant racism on campus, the USA TODAY Network found in a review of 900 publications at 120 schools across the country," USA Today's Brett Murphy writes:

  • "At Cornell University, ... three fraternity members are listed in the 1980 yearbook as 'Ku,' 'Klux' and 'Klan.' For their 1971 yearbook picture, a dozen University of Virginia fraternity members, some armed, wore dark cloaks and hoods while peering up at a lynched mannequin in blackface."
  • "Reporters collected more than 200 examples of offensive or racist material at colleges in 25 states, from large public universities in the South, to Ivy League schools in the Northeast, liberal arts boutiques and Division I powerhouses."

The bottom line: "The yearbook photos reflect campus communities that tolerated open displays of racism at the parties they attended, parades they marched in and posters they hung — despite the hard-learned lessons of the civil rights movement they grew up with."

4. Pic du jour

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A flock of geese waits out yesterday's snowstorm on the National Mall.

5. Keeping AI from the bad guys

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Artificial intelligence researchers, worried about potential harm from their own inventions, want to keep some findings under wraps to prevent their misuse, Axios emerging technology reporter Kaveh Waddell writes:

  • AI researchers are working to limit dangerous byproducts of their work, like race- or gender-biased systems and supercharged fake news.

What's new: OpenAI, a prominent lab, unveiled a computer program last week that can generate prose that sounds human-written.

  • OpenAI allowed reporters to test-drive the program. (We did: See the result.)
  • But OpenAI said it would withhold the computer code, fearing that somebody could use it to mass-produce fake news.
  • This was the first time a major research outfit is known to have used the rationale of safety to keep AI work secret.

The move got massive blowback: AI researchers accused the group of pulling a media stunt, stirring up fear and hype, and unnecessarily holding back an important advance.

  • Several experts praised OpenAI for tipping off a necessary debate.
  • Why it matters ... Against the backdrop of the techlash, we're seeing a messy conversation around an urgent question: What to do with increasingly powerful "dual-use" technologies — AI that can be used for good or for ill.

Be smart: Computer science is lurching toward the same tough decisions that biologists and nuclear scientists had before them — when to circumscribe openness in the name of safety and ethics.

6. Elizabeth Warren: "I see the value of markets"

"Knock, Knock": TIME cover package on the 2020 Democratic field, by Molly Ball and Philip Elliott (Courtesy TIME)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tells Tommy Vietor on Pod Save America why she identifies as a Democratic capitalist rather than, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist:

I see the value of markets and that they can produce a lot of good if they have rules. But let us all be clear: Markets without rules are theft and I am opposed to theft. There is a reason that the folks on Wall Street, the big CEOs, don't want me to even be in the Senate. ...
Because I get how the system works and how it can work when it works right — and how these are the guys who are ripping it off and make it not work.

7. Axios interview: Saturday's D-Day in Venezuela

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks about Venezuela in Miami on Monday before President Trump's arrival. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Saturday looms as a flash point in Venezuela's crisis, which threatens to spill into civil strife, Axios' Jonathan Swan writes.

  • Thousands of members of the opposition, spurred by their leader Juan Guaido, are expected to dare dictator Nicolas Maduro and his military to stop them from forcing emergency medicine and food across the Colombian border into Venezuela.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently returned from the Colombian border, where more than 300 metric tons of aid are stockpiled. Maduro has blocked the American-backed aid from entering Venezuela.

  • Rubio, an early shaper of the Trump administration's Venezuela policy, told Swan he met with members of the Venezuelan opposition.
  • "They are well aware of the risks they run to their personal safety by undertaking this," Rubio said in an interview yesterday. "But if you put yourself in their position they really have no alternative."

Why it matters: Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared "interim president," has designated Saturday as the day the opposition will defy Maduro and begin to force emergency aid across the border.

  • Some of Trump's senior aides are frustrated that Maduro still clings to power in the face of mounting pressure from the Venezuelan opposition, mass hunger and economic ruin, and international calls for his resignation.
  • These officials hope Saturday's confrontation will loosen Maduro's grip over his military — the key to his power.
  • Trump has thrown his full weight behind regime change; he recognized Guaido as the legitimate leader (as have around 50 other countries), and he's even toyed with a U.S. military intervention. Despite his bravado, however, he'd rather not commit U.S. troops to another overseas campaign.
  • Axios World editor David Lawler points out: The U.S. and allies like Brazil and Colombia hoped that by tightening the screws on the regime, they could peel Venezuela's military brass away from Maduro.

What's next? One of two things is going to happen on Saturday. Either Maduro's military will stop the aid entering Venezuela, "and the world will see what you're dealing with here," Rubio told Swan.

  • "Or, it [the aid] is going to get to in and it'll expose that the emperor here has no clothes."
  • "And at that point," Rubio said, "I think you could see a cascade effect."

8. A single bet lost $1.6 billion

Deutsche Bank "racked up a loss of $1.6 billion over nearly a decade on a complex municipal-bond investment that it bought in the runup to the 2008 financial crisis, and failed to confront head-on even as markets were upended and regulations tightened," report the Wall Street Journal's Jenny Strasburg and Gretchen Morgenson (subscription).

Why it matters: It "represents one of Deutsche Bank’s largest ever from a single wager — roughly quadruple its entire 2018 profit — and ranks as one of the banking industry’s biggest soured bets in the last decade."

  • "[T]he bank was telling investors its internal financial controls were sound, and it raised billions of dollars in the capital markets without any disclosure of the bond valuation issue. Behind the scenes, the badly timed bet exerted a sustained drag on the bank’s finances."

9. Inside Elizabeth Holmes' chilling final months at Theranos

Maria Shriver (left) and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in 2015 (Mike Windle/Getty Images)

Nick Bilton writes on Vanity Fair's Hive about the fall of Elizabeth Holmes, 35, the founder of Theranos, a startup once valued at $9 billion that turned out to be a massive con:

Forbes, which once estimated Holmes’s wealth at $4.5 billion, wrote it down to zero. The young founder, who was once compared to Steve Jobs, [was] dubbed a "millennial Madoff" by the New York Post. ...
Holmes is currently living in San Francisco in a luxury apartment. She’s engaged to a younger hospitality heir, who also works in tech. ... [T]he couple regularly post stories on Instagram professing their love for each other. ...
Notably, she is far from a hermit. She tells former colleagues ... that she is greeted by well-wishers on the street who are rooting for her resurrection.
Former Theranos employees I have spoken to have relayed horror stories about their inability to find work after leaving the company, now with a permanent stain on their résumé.

Buzz in.

10. 🎬 1 film thing

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush in a scene from "Vice" (Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures via AP)

Oscars are Sunday ... "Normally a fairly predictable process with one or two favorites, this year's best picture race has been maddeningly unclear," AP's Jake Coyle writes:

  • In earlier awards, producers went for "Green Book," the directors chose "Roma," the actors voted for "Black Panther," the editors chose "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "The Favourite," the cinematographers elected "Cold War" and the writers picked "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" and "Eighth Grade," a movie the academy snubbed entirely.

AP's tip sheet on the eight Best Picture contenders:

  • "Roma": Many think this is Netflix's Oscar to lose. "Roma" is Netflix's first best-picture nominee and would be the first foreign-language best-picture winner.
  • "Green Book": Peter Farrelly's interracial road trip drama seems to be the strongest challenger to "Roma."
  • "The Favourite": Yorgos Lanthimos' British period drama comes tied with "Roma" for the most nominations and yet it has few assured wins.
  • "Bohemian Rhapsody": The biopic about Freddie Mercury is a massive hit, especially abroad, with more than $850 million in ticket sales worldwide.
  • "A Star Is Born": Bradley Cooper's remake (also a box-office hit with $423 million globally) has been nominated just about everywhere and yet has gone home with little, besides awards for its music.
  • "BlacKkKlansman": Many would like to see Spike Lee, who was given an honorary Oscar in 2015, win his first competitive Academy Award. Lee has called his film this year's dark horse, "pun intended."
  • "Black Panther": Only once before has a movie with no other major nominations won best picture, and that was "Wings" in 1927, when they were giving out two top awards (the other went to "Sunrise").
  • "Vice": Adam McKay's Dick Cheney biopic probably has the longest odds of any of the eight nominees.

Printable ballot.