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Can scientists build a blueprint for bluefin tuna?

By Tim Carman
Can scientists build a blueprint for bluefin tuna?
Brian Wyrwas, left, and Mike Selden, founders of Finless Foods. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Nick Otto for The Washington Post.

For several years, biotech companies have been promising "clean" meat, "cell-based" meat, "cultured" meat - whatever you want to call it - as a way to enjoy the taste of chicken, pork and beef without the brutality of animal slaughter or the environmental damage of big agriculture. But what about fish? What about something as prized as buttery bluefin tuna, a delicacy that has become the forbidden fruit of the sea because of the many threats that have landed the fish on threatened and endangered species lists?

Where are the Silicon Valley start-ups promising to free us from the guilt of gobbling down a finger of otoro sushi, the rich bluefin belly meat, without contributing to the decline of the fish or the decline of our own health via mercury that accumulates in the flesh of this apex predator?

Well, there is at least one scientific pilgrim: Brian Wyrwas is the co-founder and chief science officer for Finless Foods, a Bay Area biotech dedicated to growing bluefin tuna in a lab. He can tell you all about the difficulties of his task, starting with the bone-weary process of securing bluefin tuna samples, the pristine source material for much of the science that follows in this field known as cellular agriculture.

Unlike scientists who grow chicken or cow cells in a lab, Wyrwas can't exactly biopsy a living animal for tissue, given that bluefin tuna travel the world's oceans at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour. Nor can he grab a sample from one of the precious few bluefin tuna farms, which would view him as competition. Nor can he walk into a fish processing plant and request a sample. Bluefin tuna die on ship, many miles from shore, their cells slowly decomposing even when frozen or on ice.

No, to get an uncontaminated sample, Wyrwas has to head out to sea. Wyrwas, 26, and his Finless co-founder, Mike Selden, 27, don't like to talk specifics when it comes to sourcing bluefin tuna samples. In the competitive, tight-lipped market of cellular agriculture, no company likes to volunteer information that it earned the hard way: Through scientific trial and error or, in Wyrwas' case, through countless hours sitting on boats, fighting the elements and his sterile equipment to secure a quality sample that could, hopefully, provide healthy stem cells.

- - -

Even once he succeeded, Wyrwas and the Finless team had to learn how to culture, or grow, bluefin tuna cells without the actual animal. Without the fish's natural habitat. And without the fish's standard diet of squid, mackerel, herring and more. The scientists had few blueprints to follow.

"The cell culture would often die because we were sort of shooting in the dark in the beginning," says Selden, sitting in a conference room at Finless's offices in Emeryville, Calif. "We didn't know how to culture bluefin tuna cells because basically nobody knows how to culture bluefin tuna cells."

But if they can figure out the science from beginning to end and, perhaps more important, figure out how to scale up the process into a viable commercial venture, the folks at Finless Foods hint at an almost utopian reversal of fortunes for humans, fish and the environment.

Consumers could enjoy bluefin tuna above current recommended levels - one serving per month, says the Environmental Defense Fund; avoid altogether, counters the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch - without fear of ingesting mercury, plastic or other contaminants. Just as important, the three bluefin species could begin to recover from decades of overfishing, which has decimated wild populations mostly to cater to the Japanese market, by far the largest consumer of bluefin tuna. (The Pacific bluefin tuna population, for example, has dropped by more than 97 percent from its historical high.)

What's more, marine ecosystems could begin to restore the harmony that's disturbed when a top-level predator is removed in such large numbers. To cite just one example, scientists predict that jellyfish populations could explode without an apex predator, affecting both tourism and fishing operations. Plus, without the need for commercial fishing boats to chase after tuna, the oceans could see a drop in the pollution from these vessels, whether discarded plastics or dumped fishing gear.

So, has Finless Foods figured it out? Yes, in part.

The challenge ahead: to produce the fish in large quantities - and in a form that sushi lovers would recognize.

- - -

In 2013, when Dutch researcher Mark Post debuted what would become the world's most famous lab-grown meat - a five-ounce beef patty mixed with bread crumbs - the response from tasters was tepid. Which was not surprising. The beef was grown without any fat. Regardless, the tasting was designed more as a public-relations stunt to drum up interest in an emerging field that promised to give diners their meat with fewer of the harmful side effects - such as greenhouse gases, animal waste, reckless use of freshwater resources and animal suffering - of big ag.

But that staged burger tasting - especially the resulting photo - created a false impression about cellular agriculture, says Ben Wurgaft, a writer and historian who researched the industry for five years.

Post and his colleagues "left the media with the impression that you grew a burger in something that looked like a petri dish," says Wurgaft, author of "Meat Planet: Artificial Flesh and the Futures of Food," set for release next year. "It's like imagining that rice grew in a bento box."

In reality, the scientists grew thin sheets of bovine muscle cells - thousands of sheets, each no wider than a strand of hair - which they essentially fused together with a kind of meat glue. The process is "obviously not scalable," Wurgaft says.

In a whitewashed room that smells like bleach, Jennifer Tung, a senior cell biologist for Finless Foods, actually does rely on something that looks like a petri dish. It's called a cell-culture flask, and Tung uses a lot of them to keep bluefin tuna stem cells alive. It's a standard part of the R&D process. Each flask contains a thin layer of grapefruit-colored liquid - it's the food, or "media" as its known in the trade - that allows the cells to grow. The only way to see the cells is under a microscope.

One vital step in culturing meat is to create an "immortalized" cell line, which theoretically can grow forever, meaning you never again need to go out to sea to capture fresh samples.

"We think our bluefin tuna line is immortalized," Selden says. "We're pretty sure."

As important as that development is, however, "it is not the same as being able to make meat," Wurgaft cautions.

In fact, growing stem cells into something that precisely mimics the fatty flesh of bluefin tuna is not considered possible yet. The technology for such a textured product is still years away from a commercial application, say Selden and others. At present, biotech firms can grow cells in devices called bioreactors, but the resulting meat is more paste than flesh. Which is why Just, the San Francisco company behind a plant-based version of mayonnaise, plans to first release cultured meat products that don't rely on firm, fleshy textures.

Before the end of the year, Just expects to introduce a chicken product to some still-unnamed restaurants in Asia. It won't be a cultured chicken breast or thigh, but something closer to the consistency of a nugget, with fried-chicken skin and with plant-based materials serving as binder and flavoring agents.

"If you buy Tyson chicken nuggets, some percentage of the nugget is plant-based," says Josh Tetrick, co-founder and chief executive of Just, formerly known as Hampton Creek, a company with almost as many controversies as successes. "A chicken bite is much easier than bluefin tuna."

Then there's taste. The flavor of the chicken you now eat occurs naturally, in part, from the animal's diet. Tetrick and his team at Just say they have found a way to incorporate plant-based material into the food media so that when chicken cells are cultured into paste, they end up tasting like the real thing.

In an experimental kitchen at Just's headquarters in the Mission District, Chris Jones gets to play around with the plant-based materials and cultured meats that others in the company discover or create. A former chef de cuisine at Moto, the once-celebrated and now-closed restaurant in Chicago, Jones is vice president of product development for Just. Recently, he's been dehydrating cultured chicken paste so that it resembles skin, presumably for those nuggets.

"I actually think it tastes cleaner, and better, than real chicken skin," Jones says. He hands me a golden sliver of the lab-based skin. It crackles under tooth, both salty and savory. Most people would never know it was developed in a lab.

- - -

Over on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, where Finless Foods has its offices, the seven-person team has yet to determine the exact food media mix necessary to give their bluefin tuna the proper flavor, ruby-red color and healthful omega-3 fatty acids that consumers desire. But they do have one advantage over the researchers who produced that cultured hamburger five years ago: The Finless folks have figured out how to grow three kinds of tissues from bluefin stem cells: Muscle, fat and connective tissue. They even claim they can manipulate the amount of fat to mimic the lush flavor of otoro tuna.

Last year, Finless hosted a tasting of its first fish prototype, a cultured carp paste, which a local chef mixed with potato into a croquette. Selden and Wyrwas figured that, if they had produced a pound of this cultured carp, it would have cost $19,000, not including labor. A reporter for the Guardian sampled the croquettes and found them "both delicious and disappointing . . . I just about detect a pleasant aftertaste of the sea, though not fish as such."

Flavor profiles are just one obstacle. Fetal bovine serum, or FBS, is an essential ingredient in the culturing process. The serum stimulates cells to divide and grow outside the animal's body. The problem is, as the name implies, FBS is derived from fetuses removed from pregnant cows during slaughter, which, as Tetrick notes, connects "clean" cellular agriculture to a sometimes inhumane system that the start-ups are trying to disavow. Just, Tetrick adds, has developed its own plant-based serum to replace FBS.

Selden and Wyrwas with Finless say they're working on their own alternative serum, too, which they plan to have ready in time to launch their first bluefin tuna product - a paste that could be used in sushi rolls and other dishes - by the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020.

"Barring major regulatory shake-ups," Selden notes.

The small cellular ag community is still waiting to learn what U.S. agency, or agencies, will have oversight of the industry. Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration can justifiably lay claim to the task. But Just's Tetrick, for one, isn't waiting around for the government; he's looking toward Asia. If the politicians in America, Tetrick says, can't clear a path to market for cultured meat, other countries will.

"And we will be buying our meat for the next 30 years from them," he adds.

Consumer acceptance is another hurdle. One study, conducted several years ago when cultured meat was just entering the public consciousness, indicated that only a quarter of the participants would be willing to try the product. One factor was cost, which Finless is working to reduce. Selden and Wyrwas say they already can produce a bluefin tuna paste that compares favorably to retail prices at California sushi restaurants.

But even if consumers are hesitant, some meat producers and fish processors are already on board. Cargill and Tyson Foods, two of the largest meat producers in America, have both invested in Memphis Meats, another Bay Area cultured meat company. In an email to The Post, Uma Valeti, co-founder and chief executive of Memphis Meats, said that "we believe that Tyson can help us on our journey to scale up production and bring products to consumers."

Henry Ichinose, owner of ABS Seafood in San Francisco, sees the potential of cell-based bluefin tuna. Standing in his warehouse on the famous Fisherman's Wharf, oblivious to the chilly temperatures required to process fish, Ichinose says: "The oceans are already taxed. Nobody really knows how bad it is out there." He thinks the seafood industry needs to embrace change to survive as the planet's population continues to grow and its resources continue to shrink. But will chefs, home cooks and diners accept cell-based fish?

"I don't see why not," Ichinose says. "Ultimately, it's cells dividing and growing, just like any other animal or plant."

Frozen out of China, American farmers refuse to sell their soy

By Shruti Date Singh, et al.
Frozen out of China, American farmers refuse to sell their soy
Bags of corn and soybeans sit in rows at Gingerich Farms in this aerial photograph taken over Lovington, Ill., on Nov. 9, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker.

Caught smack in the middle of the U.S.-China trade war, America's soybean farmers are taking a huge gamble.

Rather than selling the crop right away as they pull it out of the ground -- as they do almost every harvest season to pay the bills -- they are instead stashing it in silos, containers, bins, bags, whatever they can get their hands on to keep it safe and dry.

The hope is that over the next few months, trade tensions will ease, and China, the top market for the oilseed, will start buying from American farmers again, lifting depressed prices in the process. A bushel of soybeans fetched just $8.87 on Friday. Eight months ago, before trade tensions led to tariffs, it was about $2 more.

The risks are great. While futures trading indicates higher prices next year, that could change depending on trade negotiations and rising supplies. Moreover, the crop could go bad on them. Soybeans are not corn. They don't store nearly as well. If not kept super dry, they can take on moisture fast. Rot quickly follows, making them worthless -- and gross.

"It smells like road kill," said Wayne Humphreys, a farmer in Iowa. "It has the consistency of mashed potato, slick and mushy."

Still, Humphreys is going to put as much of his harvest in silos as he possibly can because he likes to time his sales to the market. "It gives you a certain amount of control," he said.

The scramble for storage comes just as soy production is reaching a record. American growers are trying to recover as overall farm income is projected to fall for the fourth time in five years. Chinese appetite for soybeans, used in everything from hog feed to cooking oil, had once been a bright spot. But with the onset of tariffs, the country's imports of the oilseed from the U.S. have plunged, falling almost 90 percent in September from last year.

For some farmers, there is little choice but to keep their harvest. Millions of bushels have nowhere to go. Terminals in Portland, a key outlet in the Pacific Northwest to ship to China, are rarely offering bids. Supplies are backed up at terminals and elevators, even as cold, wet weather in North Dakota has left many acres unharvested. The country's soybean inventories are expected to more than double to about 955 million bushels by the end of this crop year, according to the USDA.

Iowa grower Robb Ewoldt, who's been farming since 1996, is storing most of his soy for the first time in about 15 years. His crop usually floats down the Mississippi River, about a half mile from his fields, on barges for export through the Gulf of Mexico to China and other countries. This year he's stashing beans in his silos, making room for them by selling or storing his corn in commercial storage, to await higher prices.

"It's probably more advantageous to store this year than any year in the past," he said.

Soybean futures for delivery next July were about $9.27 as of Friday, indicating selling later may bring in more money. And traders are speculating that China-U.S. trade tensions may ease as the countries discuss a deal heading into the Group of 20 meeting in Argentina this month.

Space for all the extra soy is tight. That's leading to some rarely taken measures, such as piling beans on the ground -- risking their exposure to bad weather. More farmers also are stuffing them into sausage-shaped bags that can stretch the length of a football field.

"I've heard farmers and commercial companies putting corn and soybeans into tool sheds and caves," Soren Schroder, chief executive officer of Bunge Ltd., the world's largest soybean processor, said in an interview last month.

The tariffs have particularly hit exports from North Dakota, where the expansion of oilseed acreage was a direct result of the growth of Chinese demand. The state plants the fourth-highest number of soybeans in the U.S. and about 70 percent go to Asia, largely because of its geographic accessibility to western ports.

North Dakota farmer Mike Clemens is so in need of space that he's breaking out a dozen and a half bins built in the 1960s to store about 45,000 bushels of soybeans, which is half his farm's production this year. He expects to fill up his five new silos with 300,000 bushels of corn.

Sarah Lovas, a grower in Hillsboro, North Dakota, has drawn several diagrams to map out storage for her entire crop. Her current plan is to fill up her 400,000 bushels of on-farm storage with 50,000 bushels of soybeans and the rest with corn. She's renting grain bins for soybeans from a neighbor for the first time, to store about 68,000 bushels.

"I wish I had more bins," Lovas said.

Farmers belonging to the James Valley Grain cooperative in southeastern North Dakota are hauling in so much that it will store at least 2 million bushels of crops in bags this year, twice as much as last year. The cooperative has 400,000 bushels of soybeans in one-time-use plastic bags, twice as much as a year ago, at its Berlin site.

Gingerich Farms in Lovington, Illinois, has used 300-foot plastic white bags for the last seven to eight years to store corn and soybeans. This year, the family operation has gotten as many as 10 calls from neighboring producers asking about how to use the bags, compared with one or two inquiries last year, said Darrel Gingerich, vice president of the farm.

"Corn is kind of a given," he said. "They were calling us about bagging beans."

Illinois, the largest U.S. soybean producer, may have the biggest storage shortfall, needing as much as 100 million bushels for storing crops, said Tim Brusnahan, an analyst with agriculture brokerage and consulting firm Brock Associates.

As of the start of this month, the Illinois Department of Agriculture had received requests for 11.6 million bushels of emergency storage capacity, such as bags, nearly triple the amount from a year earlier. Requests for temporary storage such as structures with waterproof covers increased 4 percent.

While Illinois's crops are less dependent on China demand, today's low prices make storing the soy a better choice, Gingerich said.

"The markets tell us to store it," Gingerich said. "It's tight, very tight."

Dan Crenshaw started the week as a 'SNL' joke and ended it as a GOP star

By Dan Zak
Dan Crenshaw started the week as a 'SNL' joke and ended it as a GOP star
Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, was elected to Congress from the Houston area after running for office for the first time.

HOUSTON - Dan Crenshaw's good eye is good enough, but it's not great. The iris is broken. The retina is scarred. He needs a special oversized contact lens, plus bifocals sometimes, to correct his vision. Six years after getting blown up, he can still see a bit of debris floating in his cornea.

His bad eye - well, his bad eye is gone. Under his eyepatch is a false eye that is entirely deep blue. One solid color. At the center of it, where a pupil should be, is the gold trident symbol of the Navy SEALs. It makes Dan Crenshaw look like a Guardian of the Galaxy.

He can't catch a ball very well anymore. He misses plenty of handshakes; his arm shortchanges the reach, his palm fumbles the grip. And he has trouble with dumb little tasks - he needs to touch a pitcher to a cup to properly pour a glass of water, for example. But nothing major. Nothing that would prevent him from coming out of nowhere, unknown and underfunded, to vanquish seven opponents in a Republican primary, then squash a state legislator in a runoff, and then on Tuesday, at age 34, win his first-ever general election - to represent his native Houston area in Congress.

He'll join a freshman class with two dozen other new House members who are under 40 , and at least 15 who are veterans. Yet Crenshaw seems poised to stand out - his potent life story, his striking presence and his military and Ivy League credentials setting him up as a rising star for a Republican party in bad need of one, after losing what could turn out to be three dozen seats after the dust settles.

Thirty-six hours after his election-night triumph, Crenshaw still hadn't caught up on sleep. There was some stale cake sitting in his campaign office, and he was juggling phone calls and a haircut he was going to be late for. He just left a luncheon with business leaders and was due early the next morning for a veterans ceremony. In two days he would make a surprise appearance on "Saturday Night Live," before heading to Capitol Hill for a two-week orientation.

A whirlwind to everyone else, it seemed, but him.

"It's life," Crenshaw said, sitting at a conference table in his Houston office last week. "It's not a challenge." He was the picture of calm. The eyepatch was off. The gold trident sparkled. Behind him was a large framed photo of Ronald Reagan. Ahead of him was the next mission.

Weirdly, his election wasn't the biggest news in Crenshaw's life last week. That came in the first minutes of Sunday, Nov. 4, during the "Weekend Update" portion of "Saturday Night Live," when cast member Pete Davidson, riffing on the midterms, presented a photo of Crenshaw, eyepatch on.

"You may be surprised to hear he's a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hit-man in a porno movie," the comedian joked. "I'm sorry, I know he lost his eye in war, or whatever."

The studio audience laughed, but everyone else took to their soapboxes. How dare liberal jokesters malign an American hero! How dare conservatives put constraints on comedy! A wave of national media came his way and Crenshaw, appearing on CNN and Fox News, was cool as a cucumber. He wasn't offended. He was just disappointed that the joke was so lame and unfunny.

Then, he says, "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels called to apologize and invite him on the show. Crenshaw hesitated. He's not an entertainer. And he had Veterans Day events over the weekend. But he saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share a clear message with a national audience.

After roasting Davidson in classic "SNL" fashion ("This is Pete Davidson. He looks like if the meth from 'Breaking Bad' was a person"), Crenshaw took a moment.

"But, seriously, there's a lot of lessons to learn here," Crenshaw said, addressing the camera as he sat next to Davidson. "Not just that the left and right can still agree on some things but also this: Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country." He encouraged Americans to connect with veterans by telling them, "Never forget," instead of just "thanks for your service."

"When you say 'never forget' to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them. ... And never forget those we lost on 9/11 - heroes like Pete's father," a firefighter who died in the World Trade Center. "So I'll just say, Pete? Never forget."

"Never forget," Davidson replied.


Crenshaw's father's career in the oil-and-gas industry took the family to Ecuador and Colombia, where Crenshaw went to high school and learned Spanish. Captivated as a child by the SEAL memoir "Rogue Warrior," he was commissioned as a naval officer in 2006 and underwent SEAL training, fracturing his tibia during hell week but completing the challenge on his second go-round. He deployed twice to Iraq and then, in 2012, to Afghanistan.

On June 15, 2012, when Crenshaw was 28, he and his platoon choppered into Helmand Province on a last-minute mission to support Marine special ops. At the time, Helmand was littered with improvised explosive devices. Bombs were so ever-present that it was safer to crouch in place during oncoming fire - and wager on a sniper's uncertain aim - than to dive for cover onto uncertain ground.

While Crenshaw's platoon moved to secure a compound, an Afghan interpreter named Raqman, who wanted to become a Navy SEAL himself, responded to a call and crossed in front of Crenshaw. Raqman stepped on a pressure plate, triggering 15 pounds of explosives and suffering fatal injuries. A couple paces back, Crenshaw felt like he was hit by a truck while being shot at by a firing squad. On the ground, his eyes were numb. The rest of his body screamed like it had been scratched open and doused in Tabasco. He reached down and felt his legs. Good sign. He had no vision, but assumed his eyes were just filled with dirt.

A medic friend began assessing the damage.

"Dude, don't ever get blown up," Crenshaw said to him. "It really sucks."

He refused to be carried on a stretcher, because he didn't want to expose comrades to enemy fire for no good reason. He walked under his own power to a medevac, where he was put into a coma. He woke up in Germany a few days later, blind and swollen. The remains of his right eye had been surgically removed; eventually a copper wire would be pulled out of his left. Doctors said there was a chance he might see again, but for Crenshaw it was a certainty.

Seeing again became his mission, and that sense of mission helped him endure the hallucinations, the surgeries, the weeks he had to spend - face down and sightless - while his eye healed, and the two years it took for a medical bureaucracy to get him to a place of relative comfort. He remembered how his mother, who died of cancer when he was 10, never complained during her five-year struggle with the illness. He held fast to his sense that life is about mission; you need one in order to live, and to live productively.

Just over a year after his injury, he married his longtime girlfriend, Tara.

He deployed twice more, to Bahrain and South Korea, as troop commander of an intelligence team.

In various commendations, the Navy cited him for his "zealous initiative," "wise judgment" and "unswerving determination." Medically retired in 2016, Crenshaw then earned a master's degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

In 2017 he returned to Houston - for the first significant chunk of time since he was a child - to help with recovery after Hurricane Harvey.

And then, while Crenshaw was looking for a policy job on Capitol Hill, an adviser to Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., took one look at him and, before they even sat down to talk, told him to run for office. The day before, Rep. Ted Poe, R, had announced his retirement from Texas' second district, which starts in Houston and curves around the city like a sickly tadpole. It was kismet.

"He said he wanted to run for office one day, but wanted to get policy experience first," says a Capitol Hill aide who ended up advising the campaign (and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly). "I was like, 'Have you paid attention to some of the people we have up here? You don't need that.' ... And he went all in. It's the SEAL ethos. It was amazing to watch."


The campaign started last November, four months before the Republican primary.

"I had never heard of him before he arrived. I would venture to say most people had never heard of him," says Vlad Davidiuk, communications director for the Harris County Republican Party. "The district has changed demographically, and is no longer as solid red as it used to be. It required a candidate who was willing to campaign hard. ... What distinguished Dan Crenshaw most is his ability to engage with voters."

Over five days in February, Crenshaw laced up his sneakers and ran 100 miles through the district, campaigning along the way. Thanks to a surge in day-of voting for the crowded primary, he snuck into second place by 155 votes, besting an opponent who had spent millions of her personal fortune. By then, his personal story was resonating. His face was both recognizable and symbolic.

Most Texas Republicans aren't very exciting, says Mark P. Jones, a political-science professor at Rice University, in Crenshaw's district. "None of them are very compelling or appealing. They're just sort of random old white dudes. And Dan Crenshaw was something new and different."

He had schooled himself on border security, health care and flood-control issues - a big concern for a region still smarting from Harvey. He met with engineers to discuss infrastructure and with young Republicans to energize new voters. More than one yard in the district was adorned with both a Crenshaw sign and a "BETO" sign, in allegiance to Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (whom Crenshaw outperformed by 12 points in Harris County).

"He's just tenacious," Rep. Poe says of his successor. "I don't think folks are going to know what to do when he gets (to Washington), and I mean that in a good way."

In a 2015 Facebook post flagged by one of his opponents, Crenshaw called then-candidate Donald Trump an idiot and referred to his rhetoric on Muslims as "insane," according to the Texas Tribune. Three years later, Crenshaw says he supports the president's policies, save for the trade warfare, but prefers to comport himself in a manner that is the total opposite of the commander-in-chief's.

"His style is not my style," Crenshaw says now. "I'll just say that. It's never how I would conduct myself. But what readers of The Washington Post need to understand is that conservatives can hold multiple ideas in their head at the same time. We can be like, 'Wow, he shouldn't have tweeted that,' and still support him. ... You can disapprove of what the president says every day, or that day, and still support his broader agenda."

On Tuesday, he was the only true bright spot for the GOP in Harris County, where O'Rourke's candidacy brought Democrats to the polls and flushed out Republicans down ballot. Crenshaw won 53 percent of the vote, but reached out to the other 47 percent during his victory speech in downtown Houston.

"This life, this purpose, this American spirit that we hold dear - we are not alone," he said then, sharing the mission. "We do it together."


The Washington Post's Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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Electric scooters are like Q-Tips

By catherine rampell
Electric scooters are like Q-Tips



(For Rampell clients only)


SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Electric scooters are a little like Q-Tips .

In both cases, the products are marketed with explicit warnings about how (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) to use them, even though everyone knows that's precisely the way pretty much every customer (BEG ITAL)will(END ITAL) use them.

For scooter riders here in Santa Monica, it means: Don't you dare ride on the sidewalk, which is against the law, even though it sometimes feels super unsafe to ride next to cars. Or: Wink-wink, always wear a helmet. Also, the beach bike path is verboten, even though it is the smoothest, most fun, most scenic ride possible. And definitely don't just dump your scooter in the middle of a busy path or sidewalk.

Aw shucks, well, we did warn you. Guess it's your fault if you land in the ER.

I get it. Electric scooters are hard to regulate. They're different from other popular modes of transit -- skateboards, bicycles, motorcycles, cars -- so there's no template for rules or best practices. And how do we retrofit both our laws and our car-centric infrastructure to accommodate such a promising new(ish) technology?

Compounding all this, public officials are also somewhat scarred by their experience in the ride-share wars.

Not so long ago, companies such as Uber and Lyft appeared and proceeded to ignore existing livery laws -- some of which were sensible, some of which were stupid -- to gain market share. In the process of turning themselves into billion-dollar-plus "unicorns," the companies mounted aggressive public-relations campaigns. Persnickety politicians who tried to enforce the law were labeled puppets of Big Taxi, or -- worse -- Luddites.

Faced with this new alien e-species, regulators may fear earning another scarlet "L." About a year ago, Santa Monica became the first city to fully grapple with the task of regulating scooters. It shows how difficult it is to get the regs right.

Developments here followed an arc that will sound familiar to the scores of other cities that have since been inundated.

First came giddy media coverage about these whiz-bang devices. They're cheap and fast! They're super fun!

Second came the furious stories about tangled nests of discarded scooters and, more seriously, injuries to both riders or pedestrians. One gentleman, William Kairala, recalls waking up in the emergency room with a fractured skull and possibly permanent brain damage.

"They're very handy. The problem is: You find a scooter, but you don't find a helmet," he said during an interview for a "PBS NewsHour" segment I did on Santa Monica's experience. "And unfortunately I fell off of one. I wasn't even going fast."

Third, the backlash: scooters thrown into the ocean or off buildings, set on fire, or desecrated by dogs. Brakes and batteries cut. Furious town halls. Lawsuits.

Santa Monica initially fought with the scooter companies, even filing a criminal complaint against one, Bird. Ultimately the city launched a pilot program in September with tighter regulations governing when and where the devices could be used, which companies could operate, and so on. But after another PR campaign, Santa Monica appeared to cave on its original criteria for which firms could participate, and when I interviewed city officials more recently, they took on a more conciliatory tone.

So, strikingly, did the vendors themselves, perhaps wary of being banned altogether. Ride-sharing companies had an established, motivated customer base -- people frustrated with their local taxi monopoly -- willing to fight the regulators on their behalf. Scooter companies don't really have an equivalent.

Which perhaps explains why even Lyft emphasizes just how deferential it's being in rolling out its scooter business.

"Our goal here is to do what's right, and what's right in this context is to work closely with the cities, get permits and launch once we have permission," David Fairbank, Lyft's bikes and scooters market manager, told me.

Why does its scooter-sharing strategy seem so different from its car-sharing one? I asked. "I don't have a ton of context on that but, yeah, we're working closely with the governments this time," he said.

Meanwhile, the bad habits that riders developed during the Wild West days remain. Helmet use is still virtually nonexistent. (In January, California will actually stop requiring them.) Scooters are still on sidewalks, beach paths and other places officially forbidden for safety reasons.

It is great that regulators and firms have turned the temperature down a little this time and are trying to develop a workable, safety-minded set of regulations. But only if those regulations actually get enforced.

Catherine Rampell's email address is Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

If you give a shopper a box of cereal, he's going to be asked for a voter ID

By alexandra petri
If you give a shopper a box of cereal, he's going to be asked for a voter ID



(For Petri clients only)


(BEG ITAL)"If you buy a box of cereal -- you have a voter ID."

-- President Trump to the Daily Caller, sharing an opinion he has expressed before(END ITAL)

If you buy a box of cereal, they're going to ask you for voter ID.

And if they ask you for voter ID to buy your cereal, you're going to want to leave right away without getting a jug of milk, because what kind of a grocery is this?

But if you decide you want a jug of milk, you're going to keep coming back to check out, in different outfits, a wig maybe, six or seven times, but you have practice, because that's how you vote, apparently.

And if you keep coming back to vote in different outfits, because that's how you vote, apparently, it's going to turn out that you are ... Kris Kobach?

No, wait, if you keep coming back to vote in different outfits, then of course the president is going to want to be sure that as few votes are counted as possible to stop any alleged hat-related confusion,

And if the president wants to be sure that as few votes are counted as possible to stop any hat-related confusion, you are going to worry about your democracy and wait for a recount, or at the very least for all the votes to get in,

And if you wait for a recount, you are certainly going to want to check if the vote totals reflect any of the ballots sent in by servicemen and women or if they were just like, "No, we're good here," after election night,

And if the vote totals don't reflect any of the ballots sent in by servicemen and women because someone was like, "No, we're good here," after election night, you're going to want to wait for them to be counted,

And if you wait for them to be counted, it will make Marco Rubio want to use a football metaphor that makes limited sense,

And if Marco Rubio uses a football metaphor that makes limited sense, the Internet will yell at him while you wait for the ballots to be counted,

And if you wait for them to be counted, you might get a blue wave,

and if you get a blue wave, they are going to push for a Mueller report,

and if they push for a Mueller report, you know the president is going to want to fire Jeff Sessions and replace him with a bald Hawkeye who hates Marbury v. Madison and loves to lift.

And if the president installs a bald Hawkeye who hates Marbury v. Madison and loves to lift, they are going to want to ask what he was thinking,

and if they send Jim Acosta to ask what he was thinking, Jim Acosta is going to get accused of all the crimes of Grindelwald, which will cost him his press pass.

And if Jim Acosta's crimes of Grindelwald cost Jim Acosta his press pass, CNN is going to want to sue,

and if CNN is going to sue, it is going to make you think of apples,

and if you think of apples, you are going to want to go to the grocery store,

and while you're there, you may as well pick up some cereal.

So long as you have your voter ID.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Democrats are trying to steal an election in Florida

By marc a. thiessen
Democrats are trying to steal an election in Florida


(Advance for Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Republican Gov. Rick Scott leads Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 12,562 votes in the Florida Senate race. A margin of victory that large has never be overturned in a recount. According to FairVote, the average vote shift in statewide general election recounts is a meager 282 votes. "The biggest swing came in Florida's 2000 presidential election recount, when Al Gore cut 1,247 votes off George W. Bush's lead, ultimately not enough to flip the state to his column," according to a FiveThirtyEight report on what FairVote found.

So even if Nelson were to swing 10 times as many votes in this recount as Gore did in 2000, he would still come up short. Democrats know that recounting the existing votes is unlikely to change the result. So Democrats have filed a series of lawsuits asking courts to change Florida elections laws after the fact. The result would be that they can count ineligible votes in the hope that these will provide the margin necessary to overcome Scott's lead. For example, Florida statute mandates that, with the exception of overseas and military voters, vote-by-mail ballots are counted only if they are "received by the supervisor of elections not later than 7 p.m. on the day of the election." But Nelson has sued demanding that mail ballots that arrived after the 7 p.m. deadline to be counted as part of the recount.

Similarly, Florida law says mail and provisional ballots are counted only if the signatures on them match the signatures that elections offices have on record. If there is a signature mismatch, the voter is notified and can "complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure the vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the election" (emphasis added). But Democrats are asking a judge to throw that law out and count ballots with signatures that don't match the voter signature on file.

Federal prosecutors are investigating charges that Florida Democratic Party officials urged voters to fix their ballots after Election Day, including evidence that they changed official state election documents to indicate that ballots could be returned after the polls had closed. Initial reports indicated this was limited to a handful of counties, but a new report in the Naples Daily News has uncovered emails showing that "Florida Democrats were organizing a broader statewide effort beyond those counties to give voters the altered forms" with the goal to "fix and submit as many absentee ballots as possible with the altered forms in hopes of later including them in vote totals if a judge ruled such ballots were allowed."

Florida law also instructs the Department of State to "adopt specific rules ... prescribing what constitutes a 'clear indication on the ballot that the voter has made a definite choice.'" The Department of State has done so, providing clear standards for determining whether a voter intended to vote for a particular candidate. Now Democratic lawyers are asking a judge to order Florida to ignore this intent standard when reviewing "under votes," so they can add ballots that do not qualify under Florida law.

While national Democrats sue in the courts to change election law after the election, local Democratic officials running the recount are accused of engaging in serious irregularities. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Democrat-leaning Broward County submitted vote totals that include ballots disqualified by the canvassing board, while Palm Beach was rebuked by a judge after it duplicated 650 ballots without submitting them to canvassing board.

There is also evidence that officials in Democrat-leaning Broward Country have been dragging their feet in carrying out the recount. Miami-Dade -- the most populous county in the state -- was halfway done with its entire recount by Monday morning and easily met the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline required by law. But by Monday evening, Broward County had not yet started its recount. And on Thursday, Palm Beach failed to meet the legal deadline.

These counties' problems could have many different possible causes, including incompetence, or fraud, or both. But it's fair to ask whether these Democratic counties are intentionally slow rolling the recount to delay final election results in the hopes that Democratic lawsuits will work and that a judge will allow them to count ineligible votes in violation of state law. As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., explained, "That isn't a strategy to win an election, that is a strategy to steal an election."

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

America's overt payback for China's covert espionage

By david ignatius
America's overt payback for China's covert espionage


(Advance for Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: Tweaks throughout.


WASHINGTON -- While the bombastic U.S.-China "trade war" has been getting the headlines, U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have been waging a quieter battle to combat Chinese theft of trade secrets from American companies -- a practice so widespread that even China trade boosters regard it as egregious.

The Trump administration's much-ballyhooed campaign of tariffs will eventually produce some version of a truce -- economists say that any other result would amount to a mutual suicide pact. But the battle against Beijing's economic espionage is still accelerating, and it may prove more important over time in leveling the playing field between the two countries.

To combat Chinese spying and hacking, U.S. intelligence agencies are increasingly sharing with the Justice Department revelatory information about Chinese operations. That has led to a string of recent indictments, and in one case, the arrest abroad of an alleged Chinese spy and his extradition to America to face trial.

The indictments don't just charge violations of law, they expose details of Chinese spycraft. And there's a hidden threat: The Chinese must consider whether the U.S. has blown the covers, not just of the people and organizations named in the criminal charges, but others with whom they came in contact.

This law-enforcement approach to counterespionage requires public disclosure of sensitive information, something that intelligence agencies often resist. But it seems to be an emerging U.S. strategy. The Justice Department has pursued a similar open assault on Russian cyber-espionage, with three recent indictments naming a score of Russian operatives and disclosing their hacking techniques, malware tools and planned targets.

China, like Russia, is displaying an increasingly freewheeling and entrepreneurial approach to espionage. Several indictments unsealed since September reveal how the Ministry of State Security, the Chinese spy service, has operated through its regional bureaus -- in this case the Jiangsu provincial office of the MSS -- to obtain precious U.S. technology.

The indictments allege that from 2010 to 2015, the Jiangsu branch ran a team of nine hackers who tried to steal U.S. techniques for making jet engines. This is a subtle and highly valuable aspect of aerospace technology, one of the few that China hasn't yet mastered or stolen, and the Chinese evidently wanted to obtain by stealth what they couldn't produce on their own.

"The concerted effort to steal, rather than simply purchase, commercially available products should offend every company that invests talent, energy and shareholder money into the development of products," said Adam Braverman, the U.S. attorney in San Diego who helped prosecute the cases.

The San Diego indictment lists the hacker names used by the alleged conspirators, handles such as "Cobain," "sxpdlcl," and "mer4en7y." A separate indictment charged an MSS officer named Yanjun Xu, a deputy division director in the Jiangsu bureau, with trying to steal jet-engine secrets from GE Aviation; Xu was arrested last April in Belgium after he began trying to penetrate the company's operations, and he was extradited to the U.S. last month. The U.S. in September arrested a U.S. Army reservist named Ji Chaoqun and charged that he had helped the Chinese gain information about aerospace industry targets.

This month, the Justice Department also unsealed a September indictment that accused a Chinese company and its Taiwanese partner, both funded by the Chinese government, of trying to steal eight trade secrets for a memory-chip technology known as "DRAM" from Micron Technology Inc., based in Silicon Valley. The indictment notes that the Chinese government had identified DRAM as "a national economic priority" that Beijing was determined to obtain.

The indictment, brought by the U.S. attorney in San Jose, uses blunt language to describe the alleged plot: "In order to develop DRAM technology and production capabilities without investing years of research and development and the expenditure of many millions of dollars," the defendants "conspired to circumvent Micron's restrictions on its proprietary technology."

What gives these indictments extra bite is that President Xi Jinping had promised back in 2015 that China wouldn't conduct economic cyberespionage anymore. That pledge followed an indictment the previous year that revealed an elaborate plot by Chinese military hackers to steal U.S. commercial secrets.

But in the espionage world, promises not to spy are dubious, at best. Over the last three years, the Justice Department has charged former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee and five other Americans for stealing secrets on behalf of Beijing.

As a rising power, China is also a rising threat in the intelligence sphere. The U.S. counterattack, in part, seems to be a public revelation of just how and why Beijing is stealing America's secrets -- overt payback for covert espionage.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's absence at majority Asian summits is another sign of American retreat

By fareed zakaria
Trump's absence at majority Asian summits is another sign of American retreat


(Advance for Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Zakaria clients only)


NEW YORK -- It's easy to get distracted by the circus of the Trump presidency. But what is its larger effect? For an answer to that question, take a look at three gatherings this week on the other side of the planet.

Attended by all the major Asian countries, the ASEAN and East Asia summits in Singapore and the APEC conference in Papua New Guinea are particularly important because countries in the region are trying to navigate the once-in-a-lifetime power shift taking place -- the rise of China. For this, it is crucial they understand the role of the world's current superpower, the United States.

But the president of the United States is MIA. Donald Trump chose to skip the summits and send Vice President Mike Pence in his place. Yet China's Xi Jinping, Russia's Vladimir Putin and India's Narendra Modi are all visiting either Singapore or Papua New Guinea, while Japan's Shinzo Abe and South Korea's Moon Jae-in are traveling to both. Really, everyone except Donald Trump is going.

A persistent complaint from Asian countries has been that while the United States worries about the rise of China -- as Pence did in his speech at the ASEAN summit -- it is abandoning the field to Beijing. It does not take the time to attend meetings, shape the agenda, shore up its alliances and deepen its ties in the region. Trump's continued lack of interest will only feed this fear.

We are seeing the Trump effect in the retreat on trade in Asia. The two mechanisms for greater prosperity and cooperation that were moving toward completion in the region had been the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Trump pulled America out of the TPP, undermining the pact's goal of giving Asian countries an alternative to a Chinese-dominated system. The RCEP, which includes China, is also meant to open up Asian economies and increase commerce and contact in the region. But after 24 rounds of negotiations, momentum appears to have slowed, perhaps even stalled.

India is trying to protect its market from Chinese imports, other countries are trying to keep India's service industries out, and everyone can take solace that this is all simply an echo of what the world's superpower, the United States, is doing in its own trade negotiations.

I've written before, and continue to believe, that the Trump administration has a valid point about China's abuse of the trading system and is right to get tough with Beijing. But it is grossly mistaken in its instinctive opposition to trade, repeatedly voiced by the president. "If we didn't trade, we'd save a hell of a lot of money," Trump said in a speech in July, a statement that is simply false. According to calculations by Gary Hufbauer and Lucy Lu of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, the expansion of trade since 1950 increased U.S. GDP to the tune of $2.1 trillion in 2016. That is equivalent to a gain of $7,014 per person or $18,131 per household.

To watch India's government now try to protect its markets and raise tariffs is a sad case of a country that appears to have forgotten its own history. India has decades of experience with high tariffs, which were designed to give its domestic industries a boost. The result was uncompetitive companies, shoddy products, widespread corruption and economic stagnation. Then, in the early 1990s, it slashed tariffs and red tape, ushering in three decades as the world's second-fastest-growing large economy, lifting more than 150 million people out of extreme poverty. Does it really want to try to make Indian socialism great again?

There are few ideas that have been as thoroughly tested through history as the notion that trade raises a country's income and living standards. It can also have the effect of creating habits of cooperation, even peace, as it has done in Europe and as it might help do in Asia. American leaders understood that for decades, until now. In 1988, Ronald Reagan warned, "We should beware of the demagogues who are ready to declare a trade war against our friends -- weakening our economy, our national security, and the entire free world -- all while cynically waving the American flag. The expansion of the international economy is not a foreign invasion; it is an American triumph, one we worked hard to achieve, and something central to our vision of a peaceful and prosperous world of freedom."

Fareed Zakaria's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Will a GOP candidate stand up against Trump in 2020?

By michael gerson
Will a GOP candidate stand up against Trump in 2020?


(Advance for Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Republicans who are thinking about opposing President Trump in the 2020 primaries are facing the hardest of political choices.

Toppling a sitting president of your own party is a maneuver with the highest degree of difficulty. The most relevant historical model is probably Eugene McCarthy's race against Lyndon Johnson in 1968, which helped convince a politically wounded president to withdraw. But McCarthy had a clear policy handhold -- opposition to an increasingly unpopular war -- and appealed to a discontented element of his party.

What are the handholds for a challenger to Trump? Economic conservatives are generally happy with the 2017 tax cut. Social conservatives are generally satisfied with Trump's judicial nominees (and should be). Foreign policy conservatives are generally not pleased with Trump's sabotage of alliances, his compulsive personal diplomacy and his abdication of leadership in promoting American values. But the Republican foreign policy establishment was almost uniformly opposed to Trump the last time around, and it mattered not at all.

So why undertake this difficult, perhaps thankless political task?

First, no political moment is permanent. After a particularly damaging new administration scandal (not unlikely) or a severe economic downturn, a hopeless quest might suddenly seem like remarkable political foresight. Or not. But no alternative to Trump can benefit from changing circumstances if he or she doesn't run in the first place. Fortune favors the slightly irrational.

Second, the Robert Mueller report and a string of congressional investigations could destabilize Trump's personality in escalating and disturbing ways. The president could move against important institutions, or against the separation of powers, in a manner that causes a serious portion of the Republican electorate to reconsider its blind support. I am not holding my breath, but who could judge this impossible?

Third, even in the absence of a policy handhold, there are elements within the GOP that seem open to a counter-Trump message. In one recent poll, 16 percent of Republicans prefer for Trump to be a one-term president. On the evidence of the midterm, this discontent skews young and female. Many of these voters, presumably, are less focused on Trump's tax policy, and more on his racism and misogyny. It is at least a place to start.

At this stage of the 2020 campaign, the Republican case against Trump is not mainly about policy or ideology (though it could be eventually). It is not primarily about his ignorance and refusal to learn and improve at his job (though that is concerning). The main Republican argument against Trump is this: He is a person of horrible character who corrupts everyone around him, undermines essential social standards and is branding his party with an image of bigotry that will last a generation.

The problem with Democrats making this argument about Trump's character is simple. To abandon the president in favor of a Democrat, Republican voters are forced, not just to value public character, but to value public character above conservative economic policy and above the appointment of conservative judges. And -- thought it pains me to say it -- not many Republicans place that much weight on matters of character. They will take Trump plus Justice Brett Kavanaugh over any Democratic of unimpeachable integrity. If, however, any of the serious Republican prospects -- Nikki Haley, Jeff Flake, Bob Coker, Mitt Romney or John Kasich -- run against Trump, Republican primary voters will face the challenge: Why not conservative policy (BEG ITAL)and(END ITAL) public character?

This is the main reason that some Republican on that list (or some talented candidate still unknown) must run. There needs to be an alternative focus of intellectual energy and moral leadership in America's party of the right. This is what a presidential campaign -- successful or not -- can accomplish. To those who say it is useless to protest the direction of the GOP, a campaign embodies the reply: "Well, I protest anyway." To those who say that traditional conservatism is a lost cause, it represents the answer: "Not to me." To those who claim that the effort can't succeed, it says: "Let's deserve success first, then see where honorable effort leads us."

At some point, there must be a limit to political calculation. History has an honor roll of those who show seemingly futile courage. Someone on the American right must contend that racism and sexism violate the promise at the heart of America. Someone must be offended when national ideals are debased by cruelty and corruption. Someone must be willing to defy good political sense in a great political cause.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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