Nov 29, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Thursday morning.

Situational awareness: President Trump departs the White House at 10 a.m. for the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, "where the homebody commander in chief will spend just 48 hours on the ground yet pack in eight high-level meetings with foreign leaders." (AP)

1 big thing ... A frightening new reality: Editing humans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The possibility that babies from genetically edited embryos may have been born in China has pushed the science into a frightening new stage, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes:

  • It has become more real, even if scientists don't think it should be done in this way.

Why it matters: The scientific world is now talking more seriously about the implications of gene editing embryos than when it was just a prospect.

  • National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins made it clear on Twitter that he wants to slow it down: "The need for development of binding international consensus on setting limits for this kind of research ... has never been more apparent. Without such limits, the world will face the serious risk of a deluge of similarly ill-considered and unethical projects."

The international reaction has been mostly outrage:

  • He Jiankui, the scientist who claims he edited and implanted the embryos that resulted in a twin birth earlier this month, spoke earlier this week at a symposium in Hong Kong about how and why he decided to buck international guidelines from the U.S. and the U.K. on experimenting with editing embryos.
  • He stirred even more dismay when he mentioned the possibility of a second pregnancy.

Between the lines: Not everyone viewed it as a 100% disaster. In fact, some scientists are ready to move ahead.

  • Harvard Medical School's George Daley suggested at the conference in Hong Kong that it's time to reconsider the massive amounts of research that was done over the three years since the international guidance was created.
  • "Just because the first steps into a new technology are missteps doesn't mean we shouldn't step back, restart and think about a plausible" method of moving forward, Daley said.

What they're saying: There are concerns about the safety and efficacy of editing genes in adults. And editing embryos raises an even bigger ethical concern: The genetic changes and all the unknowns around them can be passed down to future generations.

  • Patrick David Hsu of the Salk Institute tells Axios: "This is bad, irresponsible science."
  • Eric Topol of Scripps Research Translational Institute: "This was the fear — that someone, someday, would do something before it was ready. ... But, for the most part, there was international consensus that we were not ready."

What to watch: Scientists are cautious about predicting what the impact will be, in part because the details of this claim are thin.

  • Jonathan Moreno of the University of Pennsylvania says the situation reminds him of other times in history where there were tremors in the science world, like the death of 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger in 1999 from a gene therapy trial that led to years of diminished research.

The bottom line: The alarm over what could be next is real. Moreno says this week's announcement could hinder current research projects, while Hsu says there's hope it may spur more needed transparency in research.

  • Go deeper: The ethical red flags of genetically edited babies
2. New this morning: U.S. life expectancy down

Life expectancy for Americans fell again last year because of the opioid and suicide crises, continuing the longest sustained decline in a century, the WashPost's Lenny Bernstein reports.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, to 78.6 years.

Why it matters: This was "an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918, [which] included World War I and a flu pandemic."

  • "Public health and demographic experts reacted with alarm."
  • "In most developed nations, life expectancy has marched steadily upward for decades."

The reasons, per The Wall Street Journal, include "the sharpest annual increase in suicides in nearly a decade and a continued rise in deaths from powerful opioid drugs like fentanyl."

  • "Influenza, pneumonia and diabetes also factored into last year’s increase."
3. Speaker-to-be Pelosi
Alex Wong/Getty Images

A secret ballot by House Democrats overwhelmingly nominated Nancy Pelosi to be House speaker.

  • Her tally (203-32), puts her within range of the 218 threshold needed in January to be elected speaker when the new Congress convenes. (AP)
  • N.Y. Times' Julie Davis: "The result kept alive the threat of a messy intraparty feud and touched off what promises to be an intense period of internal arm-twisting and cajoling by a leader renowned for both."

Above, Pelosi speaks to the media in the lobby of Longworth House Office Building, along with (from left) Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), Rep. Joyce Beatty (Ohio), Rep. Kathy Castor (Fla.), Rep. Joe Kennedy (Mass.) and Rep.-elect Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.).

Bonus: Pic du jour
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Counter snipers are seen on the roof of the White House as birds fly past yesterday.

4. Rising sea levels could cost U.S. trillions
Expand chart
"Adaptation" refers to property elevation, beach nourishment, and shoreline armoring. Adapted from Sweet et al. 2017 and EPA 2017. Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

One of the most dire, and expensive, scenarios of climate change damage in the Trump administration's Black Friday report is the rising sea levels that are already causing problems in coastal cities from New Orleans to Boston, Axios science editor Andrew Freedman writes.

  • Why it matters: The report says the U.S. will have to ratchet up actions to adapt to global warming-related impacts at the same time that cuts to greenhouse gases are made.
  • But since the climate is a complex system that's tough to turn around on a dime, a certain amount of warming and sea level rise is baked into the next few decades.

These charts, which were adapted from the assessment, show possible trajectories that global average sea level rise may follow.

  • The outcome would depend on several factors, including greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, as well as the response of the world's ice sheets and glaciers to increasing temperatures.
  • Notably, the climate assessment includes some of the latest guidance showing that parts of Antarctica are far less stable than previously thought.

The backstory: The right side of the figure shows how sea level rise could affect the U.S. economy by damaging valuable real estate and infrastructure in coastal communities.

  • Specifically, the chart shows cumulative damages (in 2015 dollars) to coastal property in 17 multi-county coastal areas — including the Miami and New York City areas under different emissions and adaptation scenarios.

Go deeper:

5. $120 million deleted texts

A trove of text messages details an effort by former CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves to bury a sexual assault allegation. The scheme helped sink him — and may cost him $120 million, the N.Y. Times' James Stewart, Rachel Abrams and Ellen Gabler report:

  • On Jan. 16, ahead of his September resignation, Moonves disclosed to a lawyer hired by CBS’s independent directors "that a female television executive had filed a police complaint against him for sexual assault. He also said that there had been an incident with an unnamed actress — [Bobbie] Phillips — in which he exposed himself and that she 'ran out of room.'"
  • "Moonves said they had engaged in consensual oral sex. He did not explain why, if that were the case, she had fled."

On Aug. 11, the mogul told a Hollywood talent manager, Marv Dauer: "If Bobbie [Phillips] talks, I’m finished."

  • "Phillips has hired a lawyer, Eric M. George, to pursue claims against Mr. Moonves and CBS, including that he caused her emotional distress by dangling job possibilities to keep her silent and defamed her by insisting the encounter was consensual."

Why it matters: "Whether Mr. Moonves was honest with CBS’s investigators could determine whether he collects a $120 million severance payment. If he was fired for cause, CBS doesn’t have to pay him anything. Under his contract, failing to cooperate fully in a company investigation constitutes 'cause.'"

  • "One fact that could influence that determination: CBS lawyers recently discovered that Mr. Moonves deleted many text messages with Mr. Dauer from his iPad."
  • "Dauer still had them."

Worthy of your time.

6. Exclusive poll: Women's views on economy could hurt Trump in 2020
Expand chart
Data: SurveyMonkey online poll, Nov. 7-14, 2018, of 7,467 U.S. adults. Total margin of error: ±1.5 percentage points. Poll methodology. Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Women are far more pessimistic about the U.S. economy than men: Nearly half of female voters rate it "not so good" or "poor," compared to 26% of men, according to a SurveyMonkey/S&P Global Post-Election poll you're seeing first on Axios.

  • Why it matters, from Axios' Alayna Treene: There's already a large gender gap as women drifted away from the GOP in the midterms.
  • If this many female voters are concerned about the country's economic future, that could undermine President Trump's economic messaging in 2020.

The big picture: A record number of women were elected to Congress this year. Women are also becoming increasingly politically active at all levels of government and are poised to shift the political landscape — and priorities — across the country.

By the numbers:

  • 23% of women say they are now worse off than they were two years ago (15% of men say the same), and 28% describe their families as falling behind financially (compared to 18% of men).
  • Women trust Democrats by an 11-point margin over Republicans to better fight for economic policies that benefit their families (number was even higher among young women), while men trust the GOP over Dems by the same margin. Among both genders, 26% say they trust neither side.

Health care is the most important issue for women, dwarfing "jobs and the economy," which was the most important issue for men.

7. Cars send real-time data to Chinese government

Teslas and other electric vehicles in China constantly send information about the precise location of cars to the government, AP's Erika Kinetz reports.

  • Why it matters: The data adds "to the rich kit of surveillance tools available to the Chinese government as President Xi Jinping steps up the use of technology to track Chinese citizens."
  • "China has unleashed a war on dissent, marshalling big data and artificial intelligence to create a more perfect kind of policing, capable of predicting and eliminating perceived threats to the stability of the ruling Communist Party."
  • "There is also concern about the precedent these rules set for sharing data from next-generation connected cars, which may soon transmit even more personal information."

"More than 200 manufacturers, including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi and U.S.-listed electric vehicle start-up NIO, transmit position information and dozens of other data points to [Chinese] government-backed monitoring centers."

  • "Generally, it happens without car owners’ knowledge."

The responses: "The automakers say they are merely complying with local laws, which apply only to alternative energy vehicles."

  • "Chinese officials say the data is used for analytics to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programs."
  • "But other countries that are major markets for electronic vehicles — the United States, Japan, across Europe — do not collect this kind of real-time data."
8. Steven Rattner: Trump wrong about GM bailout

Steven Rattner, who led the restructuring of the auto industry in 2009 as head of President Obama's Auto Task Force, writes in the N.Y. Times:

  • "Trump is correct that some countries — notably, China — don’t play fair, but his strategy has led only to acrimony, a jittery stock market and rising international tensions."
  • "General Motors said that Mr. Trump’s tariffs on steel and other products would add $1 billion to its production costs, which puts more pressure on the company to cut workers."

Trump "called on G.M. to close one of its plants in China, even though G.M. doesn’t import a meaningful number of cars from there."

  • "He said G.M. should no longer have access to incentives to stimulate electric car production, which would simply damage the government’s effort to make the industry more competitive by spurring investment in new technologies."
9. GOP senators changing stance on Saudis

Fourteen Republicans joined every Senate Democrat to take a step toward directing the removal of U.S. support in Yemen, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • In March, only 44 senators voted for the resolution. 63 voted for it yesterday, signaling how much the situation has changed since then.
  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a lead sponsor of the measure, said: "The Khashoggi killing has begun a major rethinking of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. It may happen slowly, but policy with the kingdom will never be the same."

Many senators were dissatisfied with the administration's briefing earlier yesterday on Yemen.

  • A Dem aide told Axios that senators are unhappy that CIA Director Gina Haspel won't brief the Senate.

The measure is expected to get a final vote in the Senate. This was a procedural vote, meaning that no senator is obliged to vote "yes" again.

  • "Most R will flip to a no if admin gives us enough cover," texted a senior GOP aide to a member who voted for the measure.

The Republicans who voted for the measure were an interesting mix of the usual independent-minded members (Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker) and senators who have been less inclined to directly challenge the administration (Mike Lee, Lindsey Graham, Todd Young and Rand Paul). 

10. 1 🎬 thing

Commercial hits look strong in this year's Oscars race, which could become a "Battle of the Blockbusters," The Hollywood Reporter's Pamela McClintock writes:

  • "The list of Hollywood studio titles popping up on potential best-picture lists include Disney's 'Black Panther,' Ryan Coogler's superhero film that has earned $1.34 billion since its release in early February."
  • "Warner Bros.' Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga crooner 'A Star Is Born' has earned a rousing $353.3 million worldwide."
  • "Disney's 'Mary Poppins Returns,' opening in theaters Dec. 19, is also being touted by awards pundits who have seen the Emily Blunt-Lin-Manuel Miranda musical directed by Rob Marshall."
  • " So ... is Paramount's John Krasinski-helmed 'A Quiet Place,' which grossed $340.7 million worldwide this year."