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Vox Sentences: It’s been almost 100 days. But who’s counting?

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Worker strikes across Brazil; a CRISPR trial on a cancer patient in China; Trump’s first 100 days.


Brazil’s nationwide anti-austerity strikes

YASUYOSHI CHIBA / Staff
  • For the first time in more than 20 years, a general strike throughout Brazil disrupted cities around the country Friday. Brazilian unions led workers to organize against austerity measures spearheaded by President Michel Temer — and closed schools, factories, banks, and businesses, and disrupted public transportation in the process. [Reuters / Brad Brooks, Anthony Boadle]
  • The austerity measures target Brazil’s pension program in particular, which enables many Brazilians to retire in their 50s, and its labor laws.
  • Some economists have argued that labor laws in Brazil are unnecessarily complicated and reduce competitiveness and hiring. The country’s unemployment rate is at 13.7 percent, and nearly half the population makes minimum wage — roughly $4,000 per year. [New York Times / Simon Romero]
  • But the legislation to change them is not popular —and the man selling that legislation austerity measures might be even less so. Temer was not elected; he took power in 2016 after his predecessor Dilma Rousseff was ousted, and to say his administration is scandal-ridden is an understatement. This month, a Brazilian supreme court judge authorized corruption investigations that involve dozens of politicians, including eight ministers in Temer’s cabinet. [New York Times / Simon Romero]
  • As Ella Mahony writes for Jacobin: “In an effort to bring Brazil’s labor standards in line with the priorities of multinational corporations, Temer is also championing a bill that would allow companies to outsource any job; extend the maximum duration of temporary work contracts from three months to nine months; and end the eight-hour workday. If these reforms pass, young Brazilians would face a grim future of more precarious work, fewer benefits, longer hours, and dwindling hopes for retirement.” [Jacobin / Ella Mahony]
  • Earlier this month, Temer tried to soften his pension reform bill, only to have it met with protests that turned violent. [Reuters / Maria Carolina Marcello, Ueslei Marcelino]
  • Friday’s strikes were paired with protests that took place in at least 26 Brazilian states — and some turned ugly. The Guardian reports that protesters used barricades of burning tires to block roads, and that riot police clashed with crowds, using tear gas and percussion grenades. [Guardian / Jonathan Watts]
  • Earlier this week, protests by indigenous people in Brazil turned violent as well. The protesters were organized on Tuesday against farmers’ and ranchers’ encroachment on reservations. When police would not let the protesters climb a ramp leading into the congressional building in Brasilia, “officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas while tribe members shot arrows in return,” reported Reuters. [Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino, Anthony Boadle​]

What we talk about when we talk about CRISPR

Jennifer Doudna, inventor of the revolutionary gene-editing tool CRISPR.
Nick Otto For The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • How often do you think about the fact that humans now have access to easy gene editing technology? Let’s go with “not often enough.” It’s a BFD.
  • CRISPR is widely considered the easiest gene editing technology to use, and in particular, a technique called CRISPR/Cas9 (which, in the broadest sense, uses a system that already occurs in bacteria to edit the genes of other organisms) seems to be the most promising for creating new medical therapies and treatments. [Vox / Brad Plumer, Javier Zarracina]
  • CRISPR is often discussed practically in the context of eradicating disease, or insects that carry deadly diseases, like certain breeds of mosquitos. Talk of using CRISPR on humans, though, has remained largely theoretical. [Smithsonian / Jerry Adler]
  • But here’s the little-discussed truth: We already are. At least, researchers in China are. On Friday, the Clinical Cancer Institute at Nanjing University injected modified human genes into a patient with late-stage throat cancer. It was the second time the gene editing technology was tested on a human. [Wall Street Journal / Preetika Rana]
  • The first test took place in November of last year, at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. That test was also aimed at helping a patient with an aggressive form of cancer. Other trials are expected to follow soon, including one at the University of Pennsylvania that was approved last summer by the National Institutes of Health. [Nature / David Cyranoski]
  • CRISPR/Cas9 also shows promise in eradicating genetic diseases because it enables researchers to basically edit, remove, and replace genes in an organism. That’s where things get very theoretical very quickly. There was some uproar in 2015 when Chinese scientists used CRISPR on human embryos to try to eliminate a certain type of anemia — but the embryos were not viable. The real potential for CRISPR, most immediately at least, seems to be in the medical therapy application. [Wired / Nick Stockton]
  • There is concern about the ethical implications of using CRISPR to, say, edit the genes of embryos in order to create “designer babies.” We may be faced with this choice someday, though it’s still far off. (Last year, the UK gave approval to scientists to edit human embryos, but they had to destroy the embryos after seven days, and engineering babies remains illegal in the UK as well as the US and most countries.) [Vox / Julia Belluz​]

99 days down; 1,362 to go

WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 25: (AFP-OUT) US President Donald Trump signs the Executive Order Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue looks on during a roundtable with farmers in the Roosevelt Room of the W Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
  • For better or worse, observers of American politics often see the first 100 days of a presidency as a critical window — the best chance for the newly elected president to enact his agenda, and a testing ground for whether he’ll be consequential for the rest of his term. (Case in point: Franklin D. Roosevelt; case against: Abraham Lincoln.) [Vox / Nicole Hemmer]
  • President Donald Trump, for his part, has insisted that the end of the “first 100 days” of his presidency means nothing. But knowing Trump, that means it matters very much to him. [New York Times / Peter Baker]
  • For one thing, he’s the one who put out a 100-day plan before Election Day, stuffed with promises to Make America Great Again in 30 different ways. (Spoiler alert: He hasn’t accomplished all 30. To put it mildly.) [Vox / Vox Staff]
  • Trump is historically unpopular for a president so early in his first term — he essentially had no honeymoon period, which is how the first 100 days typically gets characterized. Understanding these dynamics is crucial to understanding how he has flubbed his best chance to push his agenda. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • Several of Trump’s proposals and promises were sweeping legislative initiatives — laws that would each have be proposed, drafted as a bill, and passed by Congress before Trump could sign them into law. He’s made little process on those kinds of policy goals. Meanwhile, of his signature executive orders, some have proven to be toothless, and others have been blocked by the courts. [New York Times / Josh Keller, Adam Pearce]
  • Where Trump has been able to make progress, however, is in rolling back regulations and revamping the focus of federal agents. So while some things he targeted (like Obamacare) have become de facto winners of his presidency because they’ve avoided legislative threats, the environment and immigrants are already weathering serious and sustained attack. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • Trump himself seems to be having a terrible time of the presidency. In an interview with Reuters Thursday, he lamented: “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going.” He also says, unbelievably: “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” (He also provided 2016 election maps of the US to the reporters, perhaps in an effort to make himself feel better.) [Reuters / Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason, Steve Holland]
  • His supporters don’t seem much happier. Reuters interviewed voters in “swing” counties — places that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but for Trump in 2016. “What reporters found this time in more than two dozen interviews is that Trump voters are largely standing with their man but with signs of restlessness, mainly over foreign policy, concerns over getting legislation through Congress and some skepticism that he won’t be able to follow through with promises. …” [Reuters / James Oliphant]
  • The self-styled “resistance,” meanwhile, has been mobilized and energized to an extent most presidents don’t inspire at any time, much less at the beginning of their term — which raises the question of how long it will be sustainable. [NPR / Scott Detrow]
  • Another group that’s flourished even as the administration has labeled them the “enemy of the people” and “the opposition party”? The media. [Washington Post / Margaret Sullivan​]

Miscellaneous

  • Some first-person article pitches are better than others, and "Why I Hate My Uncle" by William P. Hitler is one of the all-time best. [Boing Boing / Mark Frauenfelder]
  • Ja Rule planned a music festival in the Bahamas, and like everything Ja Rule touches, it turned into a Lord of the Flies–like struggle for survival with an island full of rich American tourists forming a tent city and struggling to find food and water. [Washington Post / Abby Ohlheiser]
  • Obamacare was supposed to require chain restaurants to list their calorie content. The rules still haven't taken effect. What's going on? [AP / Mary Clare Jalonick]
  • The Handmaid's Tale guide to Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Rachel Greenhaus]
  • Keri and Royce Young learned that the daughter Keri was carrying had anencephaly, meaning she would almost certainly die shortly after birth. They still carried her to full term — so her organs could be donated to other babies. [Medium / Royce Young]

Verbatim


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