Uber exec secretly involved with self-driving car startups while still at Google - Axios

Uber exec secretly involved with self-driving car startups while still at Google

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Anthony Levandowski, the former Alphabet engineer at the center of an IP theft lawsuit against Uber, was secretly affiliated with competing self-driving car startups while working at Alphabet, according to October arbitration demand documents that were just made public.

Odin Wave: The company was incorporated in 2012, and registered to an address in Berkeley, Calif. owned by Levandowski. In 2013, the company reportedly ordered a custom part from a vendor used by Google that was very similar to Google's. Google employees questioned Levandowski but he denied any involvement with the company.

Tyto Lidar: By Feb. 2014, Odin Wave merged with Tyto Lidar, a company developing LiDAR sensor modules and whose manager is friends with Levandowki. In spring 2015, Google started considering work with or acquiring Tyto given the overlap in technologies, with Levandowski participating in the process without disclosing his relation to the company. By May 18, 2016, Tyto merged with Otto, the self-driving car startup Levandowski had recently left Google to start.

Otto: Levandowski and one other unnamed employee abruptly resigned from Google on Jan. 27 and 13, 2016, respectively, and formed Otto. They had been aggressively courting other Google employees in prior months, and hosted two meetings at Levandowski's home to convince them to join Otto that month. Google believes they hid their plans to form a competing company during their exit interviews. Google also believes Levandowski, who began plotting to leave in mid-2015, waited until he could collect the final payment of the $120 million for his work at Google.

What's next: Uber is still hoping to move the lawsuit to private arbitration, citing the arbitration clause in Levandowski's employment contract.


Mattis' unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Jonathan Ernst / AP

Defense Secretary James Mattis made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan Monday just hours after his Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Habibi, resigned after a fatal Taliban attack on the military, per Yahoo News.

The attack left more than 100 soldiers killed or wounded, and signals the Taliban's growing strength in the area. Afghans blasted the government for not doing more to defend its forces, but Habibi argued in a press conference Monday that "nobody in the world has been able to prevent such attacks."

Next steps: Mattis, who previously served with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, said he is compiling an assessment for Trump on the conflict. He is the second senior U.S. security official to visit Afghanistan this month — National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster traveled to Kabul in the days after the U.S. dropped a MOAB on ISIS hideouts in the area.


Trump rain checks on surprising SCOTUS dinner

Trump applauds as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch hugs his wife, Marie Louise Gorsuch, after a swearing-in reenactment ceremony in the Rose Garden yesterday with Justice Anthony Kennedy / AP's Evan Vucci

President Trump's surprising plan to dine with Supreme Court justices has been taken off his schedule.

  • When the White House announced his packed schedule leading up to his 100th day in office, the Thursday night entry said: "[T]he President will have dinner with the Justices of the Supreme Court, including his successfully confirmed nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch."
  • The plan had sparked a furor online, after ABC's Jonathan Karl tweeted that it was "highly unusual." Trump is a party to federal cases that might reach the Supreme Court.
  • The White House told us Monday that the dinner had been pushed back to a later date.

Obama begins new phase of public life

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Former President Obama's "Conversation on Civic Engagement" with hundreds of young people at the University of Chicago this morning — his first public event since leaving office — will be "a warmup for more visibility in the coming weeks," writes the Chicago Tribune's Katherine Skiba:

  • Globetrotting spring: "Obama is to receive a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in Boston on May 7. Then he flies to Milan for the Global Innovation Food Summit. In Italy, he'll be with Sam Kass, a good friend and former personal chef both in Chicago and the White House. On May 25, Obama is slated to appear in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel."
  • Future plans: The former president's office said in a statement that a private meeting on Chicago's South Side yesterday with at-risk young men, to talk about gangs and jobs, "is the first in a series of ongoing conversations and efforts by the President and Mrs. Obama including partnerships with the private sector, non-profit organizations, NGOs, and other government entities that are committed to tackling violence, poverty, and unemployment."

Stat of the day: tobacco companies are killing it

Nati Harnik / AP

From a Wall Street Journal front-pager, "Surprise Rebound ... Against All Odds, the U.S. Tobacco Industry Is Rolling in Money":

  • "Americans spent more at retail stores on cigarettes in 2016 than they did on soda and beer combined."
  • The gist ... Tobacco companies killing it: While far fewer people smoke today, the companies have jacked up prices so much that revenue is higher today than 15 years ago.

Silicon Valley investors are getting pickier

Paul Sakuma / AP

Silicon Valley investors are getting pickier. "There are companies that everybody wants to invest in, and there are a large set of companies that almost nobody wants to invest in," sventure capitalist Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures told the Wall Street Journal:

  • Boom: "Venture-capital firms remain flush with cash: They raised $44 billion last year, the most since the dot-com boom."
  • Bust: "But investors are staying away from scores of initially well-funded startups that once looked like relatively safe bets, forcing these companies to fight for survival as they burn through their stockpiles of cash and scramble for new money or buyers."
  • Why it matters: "'They're like the walking dead,' said David Cowan, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, who expects a steady stream of failures."

Trump and Pence's allies are reaping White House perks

Charlie Neibergall / AP

"Trump, Pence allies rake in millions as new Washington lobbyists," by USA Today's Fredreka Schouten and Maureen Groppe:

  • "Brian Ballard, a longtime Florida lobbyist and a fundraiser for both Trump's campaign and inaugural committee, appears to lead the pack, signing up 20 federal clients since opening his Washington lobbying operation this year."
  • Avenue Strategies, started last year by Corey Lewandowski, describes him as overseeing "all aspects of a historic presidential campaign where Donald J. Trump won 38 Republican primaries and caucuses and received more votes than any presidential candidate in the history of the Republican Party."
  • His co-founder is Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser who managed the presidential campaign of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
  • "Stuart Jolly, who worked as Trump's field director in the primaries, recently became president of the Sonoran Policy Group, and the firm has added New Zealand and the Czech Republic as international clients.

When can the GOP move on from health care? Never


The two big things to watch this week:

  • House Republicans are going to enter another week chipping away at a health care compromise — not really sure if it gains any votes, let alone what the policy impact would be, since there isn't enough detail for even sympathetic health care wonks to tell them.
  • On the more urgent task — funding the government and preventing a shutdown — the GOP will have to reach some kind of agreement with Democrats on funding Affordable Care Act payments to insurers. That's possible, but only if congressional Republicans and the White House can get on the same page.

The big takeaway: It would be a mistake to write off any House Republican attempt to revive its health care bill — because the White House wants a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act so badly, and the House GOP is so reluctant to give it up, that they may keep going until they win the bare minimum votes to pass it. Then it becomes the Senate's problem.

Key quote: From a GOP leadership aide: "It's hard to imagine not resolving the health care issue at this point. We are too far along to abandon the effort altogether."

Where things stand:

  • Repeal: Republican staffers are still vetting the legislative language for a possible compromise between Rep. Tom MacArthur, a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus made it clear on NBC's Meet the Press that the White House would still like a vote this week if possible — but House Speaker Paul Ryan already told his GOP colleagues on Saturdaythat it won't happen until the votes are there.
  • Insurer payments: President Trump was combative on Twitter this weekend, and so was Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney on the Sunday talk shows. But Priebus wasn't, and he sounded conciliatory on the main thing the White House wants in return for insurer payments: money to build the border wall. The lack of fighting words from congressional GOP leaders — who just want to move on — could suggest quiet movement toward an agreement.

Trump's new cable diet: More Fox News, less everything else


A series of reports this weekend reveal that the President has gotten pickier about his media diet publicly, but in private, he's still fueled by the entire cable news ecosystem — a circus he has created around his sharp attacks and viewing habits that seems to fuel him.

From Ashley Parker and Robert Costa for The Washington Post:

  • His morning friends: Trump turns on Fox around dawn and phones lawmakers who appear on the show to tell them how they did almost immediately after they appear. Trump has told friends he thinks the network is nicer to him in the post-Ailes era.
  • When he's not watching Fox: He likes the business shows. In the morning, the president typically flips between "Fox & Friends," Maria Bartiromo's show on Fox Business and CNBC's "Squawk Box."
  • The West Wing plays all the cable networks: Even though POTUS told the AP (below) that he doesn't watch MSNBC or CNN anymore, The Post reports that most of the TVs in the West Wing display CNN, Fox, Fox Business and MSNBC at all times.
  • His relaxation TV: He watches Golf Channel, a favorite of his on the campaign trail.

From an interview with The AP:

  • He says he doesn't watch CNN, MSNBC or Morning Joe anymore: Reports surfaced throughout Trump's campaign and inauguration that Trump liked watch Morning Joe and that he watched CNN for coverage of him. On Sunday he told the AP he doesn't watch those programs because they treat him badly.
  • But, but, but: The Washington Post reports that some in The West Wing thinks he still tunes in for the top of Morning Joe's program.
  • He doesn't watch anything "unpleasant": At the same time, the President says he watches Fox because it's the most accurate cable network, not because it treats him well.

From Ben Schreckinger and Hadas Gold in Politico Magazine:

  • He doesn't hate the fake news media, but he needs his base to think he does: "The great secret of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is that Trump's war on the media is a phony one, a reality show that keeps his supporters fired up and distracted while he woos the constituency that really matters: journalists."
  • The White House press shop issues: Official press passes have typos and factual errors and reporters have found press office staffers to be out of the loop.
  • The press shop likes stories about the inside: "If you're doing anything involving any sort of palace intrigue, they are crazy cooperative," said one reporter, voicing a common observation. "But if you have any sort of legitimate question, if you need a yes or no answer on policy, they're impossible."
Featured Facts Matter

The ACA marketplaces aren't imploding

Gerry Broome / AP

The issue:

President Trump and many Republicans in Congress say the Affordable Care Act is "imploding" due to some health insurer exits and higher premiums in the individual market.

The facts:

S&P Global Ratings analysts looked at financial data at Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, which serve as the anchors for most ACA marketplaces. S&P reported the Blues' gross profit margins for the individual market went up in 2016. The Kaiser Family Foundation also found that insurance companies improved the financial stability of their ACA plans in 2016, although a lot of uncertainty remains in the marketplaces.

Why it matters:

The ACA marketplaces had problems in the first two years, such as the technological meltdown of HealthCare.gov in the first year. And middle-class people who make too much to qualify for subsidies are feeling the pain of higher premiums and high deductibles in many areas. But the recent reports show the individual insurance market is not imploding. Enrollment has been stable, and insurers are not losing as much money after setting premium prices too low in the beginning.


Why a march may not change minds

Alison Snyder / Axios

A call for greater scientific literacy in the public and policy making echoed through Saturday's March for Science in Washington and satellite events around the world. Knowledge, reasoning goes, should lead us to a common solution. But people's attitudes toward some scientific issues are determined more by who they identify with rather than what they know, Yale law professor Dan Kahan said at a recent event at the university.

Our thought bubble: A march won't likely change peoples' positions on scientific issues that have become entangled with identity and politics (and it runs the risk of further polarizing people). The public divide over climate change and evolution isn't going to be solved by education, Kahan said. "Scientists shouldn't labor under the burden of thinking it is all their fault or they are going to save us." When communicating science, he suggested, "find some basis for using what science knows that is completely independent from denying your group identity."

Key takeaways:

  1. People who deny science are expected to not know much about it. But in a study by Kahan, those who were most polarized on the issue of climate change scored the highest on assessments of scientific literacy. They were using reasoning and evidence not to find out what's true but to cultivate their identity in a group, he said.
  2. The most polarized people are also the most curious and seek out information that challenges their political views, a finding Kahan describes as "heartwarming."
  3. Science isn't completely under siege. 40% of Americans say they have "great confidence" in the scientific community, a figure that has held steady for forty years making science one of the most and consistently trusted institutions in the U.S. While there are a minority of subjects that are very polarizing, Kahan said on most scientific issues people aren't actually divided. Left or right, people also perceived science as a useful endeavor: