America’s Original Sin – By Annette Gordon-Reed January/February 2018 Issue

Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy

The documents most closely associated with the creation of the United States—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—present a problem with which Americans have been contending from the country’s beginning: how to reconcile the values espoused in those texts with the United States’ original sin of slavery, the flaw that marred the country’s creation, warped its prospects, and eventually plunged it into civil war. The Declaration of Independence had a specific purpose: to cut the ties between the American colonies and Great Britain and establish a new country that would take its place among the nations of the world. But thanks to the vaulting language of its famous preamble, the document instantly came to mean more than that. Its confident statement that “all men are created equal,” with “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” put notions of freedom and equality at the heart of the American experiment. Yet it was written by a slave owner, Thomas Jefferson, and released into 13 colonies that all, to one degree or another, allowed slavery.

The Constitution, which united the colonies turned states, was no less tainted. It came into existence only after a heated argument over—and fateful compromise on—the institution of slavery. Members of the revolutionary generation often cast that institution as a necessary evil that would eventually die of its own accord, and they made their peace with it to hold together the new nation. The document they fought over and signed in 1787, revered almost as a sacred text by many Americans, directly protected slavery. It gave slave owners the right to capture fugitive slaves who crossed state lines, counted each enslaved person as three-fifths of a free person for the purpose of apportioning members of the House of Representatives, and prohibited the abolition of the slave trade before 1808.

As citizens of a young country, Americans have a close enough connection to the founding generation that they look to the founders as objects of praise. There might well have been no United States without George Washington, behind whom 13 fractious colonies united. Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence has been taken up by every marginalized group seeking an equal place in American society. It has influenced people searching for freedom in other parts of the world, as well.

American slavery was tied inexorably to white dominance.

Yet the founders are increasingly objects of condemnation, too. Both Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. They, along with James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson, the other three slave-owning presidents of the early republic, shaped the first decades of the United States. Any desire to celebrate the country’s beginning quickly runs into the tragic aspects of that moment. Those who wish to revel without reservation in good feelings about their country feel threatened by those who note the tragedies and oppression that lay at the heart of this period. Those descended from people who were cast as inferior beings, whose labor and lives were taken for the enrichment of others, and those with empathy for the enslaved feel insulted by unreflective celebration. Learning how to strike the right balance has proved one of the most difficult problems for American society.


The issue, however, goes far beyond the ways Americans think and talk about their history. The most significant fact about American slavery, one it did not share with other prominent ancient slave systems, was its basis in race. Slavery in the United States created a defined, recognizable group of people and placed them outside society. And unlike the indentured servitude of European immigrants to North America, slavery was an inherited condition.

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Mueller closes in: what will the Trump-Russia inquiry deliver in 2019? – Tom McCarthy Last modified on Fri 28 Dec 2018 01.05 EST

The special counsel investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion is notoriously leak-proof but it could soon touch Trump directly or members of his family

The special counsel investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion is notoriously leak-proof but it could soon touch Trump directly or members of his family

After two years of the Donald Trump presidency, the national stores of civic goodwill are depleted. That could make for a testy 2019, because it appears that the country’s defining political tensions are about to break into open clashes.

One field of battle will be Congress, where Democrats say they will use their control of the House of Representatives to mount investigations of Trump and his coterie. Another will be the campaign trail, where Democrats (and maybe some Republicans) will begin to compete to replace Trump.

But perhaps overshadowing them all is special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election, and links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Mueller is expected to advance significant new aspects of his investigation, which could end up targeting Trump himself in a very public way in the new year, according to legal experts and observers.

Analysts interviewed by the Guardian uniformly warned that Mueller’s velocity and vector are basically unknowable, because his team does not leak private information, while salient public information, such as Mueller’s willingness to move to the sentencing phase for cooperative convicts such as Michael Flynn, is open to interpretation.

But the broadest possible question about what the next year might hold in store for Mueller pertains to his core investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and obstruction of justice by the president, analysts said.

“I think the biggest question is, is he going to present evidence that Trump committed crimes?” said Alex Whiting, a Harvard law professor and former prosecutor on the international criminal court. “Either obstruction of justice or collusion. He wouldn’t bring an indictment because justice department policy won’t permit it. But whatever evidence would be handed off, I think, to the Congress, and it will have to be considered.

“That’s as big as it gets. I think that’s really – that’s the ultimate question.”

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A simple guide to CRISPR, one of the biggest science stories of the decade – Brad Plumer Dec 27, 2018, 2:45pm EST

It could revolutionize everything from medicine to agriculture. Better read up now.

One of the biggest and most important science stories of the past few years will probably also be one of the biggest science stories of the next few years. So this is as good a time as any to get acquainted with the powerful new gene editing technology known as CRISPR.

If you haven’t heard of CRISPR yet, the short explanation goes like this: In the past nine years, scientists have figured out how to exploit a quirk in the immune systems of bacteria to edit genes in other organisms — plants, mice, even humans. With CRISPR, they can now make these edits quickly and cheaply, in days rather than weeks or months. (The technology is often known as CRISPR/Cas9, but we’ll stick with CRISPR, pronounced “crisper.”)

We’re talking about a powerful new tool to control which genes get expressed in plants, animals, and even humans; the ability to delete undesirable traits and, potentially, add desirable traits with more precision than ever before.

So far scientists have used it to reduce the severity of genetic deafness in mice, suggesting it could one day be used to treat the same type of hearing loss in people. They’ve created mushrooms that don’t brown easily and edited bone marrow cells in mice to treat sickle-cell anemia. Down the road, CRISPR might help us develop drought-tolerant crops and create powerful new antibiotics. CRISPR could one day even allow us to wipe out entire populations of malaria-spreading mosquitoes or resurrect once-extinct species like the passenger pigeon.

A big concern is that while CRISPR is relatively simple and powerful, it isn’t perfect. Scientists have recently learned that the approach to gene editing can inadvertently wipe out and rearrange large swaths of DNA in ways that may imperil human health. That follows recent studies showing that CRISPR-edited cells can inadvertently trigger cancer. That’s why many scientists argue that experiments in humans are premature: The risks and uncertainties around CRISPR modification are extremely high.

On this front, 2018 brought some shocking news: In November, a scientist in China, He Jiankui, reported that he had created the world’s first human babieswith CRISPR-edited genes: a pair of twin girls resistant to HIV.

The announcement stunned scientists around the world. The director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said the experiment was “profoundly disturbing and tramples on ethical norms.”

It also created more questions than it answered: Did Jiankui actually pull it off? Does he deserve praise or condemnation? Do we need to pump the brakes on CRISPR research?

While independent researchers have not yet confirmed that Jiankui was successful, there are other CRISPR applications that are close to fruition from new disease therapies to novel tactics for fighting malaria. So here’s a basic guide to what CRISPR is and what it can do.

What the heck is CRISPR, anyway?

If we want to understand CRISPR, we should go back to 1987, when Japanese scientists studying E. coli bacteria first came across some unusual repeating sequences in the organism’s DNA. “The biological significance of these sequences,” they wrote, “is unknown.” Over time, other researchers found similar clusters in the DNA of other bacteria (and archaea). They gave these sequences a name: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — or CRISPR.

Yet the function of these CRISPR sequences was mostly a mystery until 2007, when food scientists studying the Streptococcus bacteria used to make yogurt showed that these odd clusters actually served a vital function: They’re part of the bacteria’s immune system.

See, bacteria are under constant assault from viruses, so they produce enzymes to fight off viral infections. Whenever a bacterium’s enzymes manage to kill off an invading virus, other little enzymes will come along, scoop up the remains of the virus’s genetic code and cut it into tiny bits. The enzymes then store those fragments in CRISPR spaces in the bacterium’s own genome.

Now comes the clever part: CRISPR spaces act as a rogue’s gallery for viruses, and bacteria use the genetic information stored in these spaces to fend off future attacks. When a new viral infection occurs, the bacteria produce special attack enzymes, known as Cas9, that carry around those stored bits of viral genetic code like a mug shot. When these Cas9 enzymes come across a virus, they see if the virus’s RNA matches what’s in the mug shot. If there’s a match, the Cas9 enzyme starts chopping up the virus’s DNA to neutralize the threat. It looks a little like this:

CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing complex from Streptococcus pyogenes. The Cas9 nuclease protein uses a guide RNA sequence to cut DNA at a complementary site. Cas9 protein red, DNA yellow, RNA blue.

So that’s what CRISPR/Cas9 does. For a while, these discoveries weren’t of much interest to anyone except microbiologists — until a series of further breakthroughs occurred.

How did CRISPR revolutionize gene editing?

In 2011, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden were puzzling over how the CRISPR/Cas9 system actually worked. How did the Cas9 enzyme match the RNA in the mug shots with that in the viruses? How did the enzymes know when to start chopping?

The scientists soon discovered they could “fool” the Cas9 protein by feeding it artificial RNA — a fake mug shot. When they did that, the enzyme would search for anything with that same code, not just viruses, and start chopping. In a landmark 2012 paper, Doudna, Charpentier, and Martin Jinek showed they could use this CRISPR/Cas9 system to cut up any genome at any place they wanted.

While the technique had only been demonstrated on molecules in test tubes at that point, the implications were breathtaking.

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Even Anti-Abortion Gov. Kasich Couldn’t Sign This Extreme Abortion Measure – Olivia Exstrum December 27, 2018 3:38 PM

And Ohio lawmakers were one vote short to override his veto.

Protesters march to the Ohio State House in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month to protest the controversial “fetal heartbeat ban,” which would have prohibited abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/ZUMA Wire
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Despite efforts of conservative lawmakers and activists, the Ohio Legislature failed on Thursday to override a veto by Republican Gov. John Kasich on controversial abortion bill HB 258, also known as the “fetal heartbeat ban,” after passing it earlier this month. The measure, considered one of the most restrictive in the country, would have banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat is heard, which can happen as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Opponents of the bill argued it essentially would have amounted to a ban on abortion, as many women don’t know they are pregnant by the six-week mark.

When the measure passed, it was unclear if the Legislature could gather enough votes to cancel a veto by the governor. Although the House on Thursday had enough votes to nullify the veto, the Senate came up one vote short.

Despite his history as an anti-abortion politician, Kasich said in his veto messagethat the bill would likely be struck down as unconstitutional. As my colleague Rosa Furneaux has reported about Ohio’s success in limiting access to abortion:

For years, Ohio politicians have slowly whittled away at a woman’s legal right to end her pregnancy. In 1995, Ohio was the first state to ban so-called partial-birth abortion, an imprecise term for a rare procedure used late in pregnancy. A federal court struck down the law, which nevertheless set off a wave of copycat legislation nationwide. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, outlawing the procedure.

Kasich has signed 20 anti-abortion measures since 2011, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. These include a ban on abortion after 20 weeks and a law that makes it a criminal offense for women to abort a fetus that may have Down syndrome. Women have to have two in-person doctors appointments prior to receiving an abortion, and must undergo a state-mandated ultrasound. State-funded rape crisis counselors are not allowed to refer women to abortion services. Kasich has also imposed burdensome requirements on abortion clinics, which now have to have a patient-transfer agreement with a local private hospital. The various restrictions have contributed to the closure of 8 of the state’s 16 facilities over seven years.

According to local news reports, Republican state Sen. Mike Beagle cast the crucial “no” vote that prevented the override from succeeding despite voting in favor of the legislation when it first passed. Beagle told a local news station after the vote that he didn’t think the bill met the standards necessary to pass.

However, the defeat of this effort may be only temporary. Incoming Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said he was prepared to sign the legislation if it comes to his desk next year.

A storm is brewing in the hedge-fund business. Here are 5 major changes coming to the industry in 2019. Bradley Saacks

  • Hedge-fund performance slumped while fees were cut in 2018.
  • Industry insiders say equity managers, the battle for tech talent, and fee pressure are all coming up daily at hedge funds big and small.
  • “It’s not a great time to be in the hedge-fund business, relative to other times,” said Adam Zoia, CEO of the consulting firm CompIQ.

Headlines about high-profile hedge-fund closures and performance troubles commanded the industry’s attention in 2018. A year that started with promise for both established managers and new players quickly tanked after the second quarter’s close.

Fees are pushed lower with every new fund launch, and large managers like Dmitry Balyasny’s firm laid off large swaths of staff. On top of all the industry pressures, the markets in the fourth quarter lobbed off any kind of returns many managers had managed to squeeze out so far this year — through the end of November, hedge funds had lost 2% on average, according to Hedge Fund Research.

Going into 2019, industry observers and participants believe these trends will dominate the conversation:

Equity funds will be put to the test

It’s time for long-short funds to prove their worth. After nearly a decade of a tranquil, post-crisis bull market, when equity hedge funds on average finished in the black but rarely beat the S&P, market volatility in 2018 has given investors reason to turn to active management again. Now these equity hedge funds have to prove to clients they’re able to crank out positive returns with the markets in constant spasms.

“More and more people believe the large-cap developed index is highly efficient, and it’s very hard to deliver any excess returns,” said Don Steinbrugge, CEO of the hedge-fund consultancy Agecroft Partners. “You consistently have to be doing more.”

Steve Cohen, the founder of Point72 Asset Management.

Long-short strategies still hold the highest proportion of assets of any hedge-fund strategy in the industry, according to Troy Gayeski, a senior portfolio manager at the fund-of-funds manager SkyBridge Capital, with 40% to 50% of industry assets under management. The hedge-fund industry’s asset total — more than $3.2 trillion — was partially inflated by this equity exposure during the market’s long bull run.

If long-short players can’t keep the returns up during bouts of volatility, then industrywide assets will start to slip because of poor performance and investor outflows.

With a lower benchmark to beat, equity hedge funds would be under the microscope in 2019.

‘2 and 20’ will continue to fade away

The 2% management fee and 20% performance fee structure typical of the hedge-fund industry’s early days has been slipping away for years. Hedge Fund Research reported that only 30% of the industry had fees at or greater than the traditional “2 and 20” rate. The average management fee has fallen to 1.43% industrywide, and incentive fees sat at 16.93% as of the end of the third quarter, according to the data provider.

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Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, listens during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York City on Jan. 31, 2018. Photo: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez is setting a kind of cover charge to get onstage for the Democratic presidential primary debates, but not just any money will do. In addition to the usual polling metrics required to join the debate, candidates will also have to meet a to-be-determined criteria for “grassroots fundraising.”

Including small-dollar fundraising as a necessary element for debate participation would have two effects. First, it incentivizes candidates to invest — strategically, financially, and emotionally — in growing a small-donor base. Second, it will force potential billionaire self-funders like Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Howard Schultz to demonstrate some level of popular enthusiasm for their campaigns, meaning they can’t just flash their own cash and buy their way onstage.

This is a remarkable decision for any political party, and it reflects a growing shift in how campaigns are run and won. It also previews what will be an important way to measure the success of candidates in the Democratic primary: not just looking at how much money candidates raise, but how much of their money comes from small-dollar donors.

The rise of small-dollar contributions in the 2018 election cycle shows a growing appetite for the Democratic base to fund campaigns on its own — and a potential distaste for traditional Democratic power brokers (and their money) determining the winners of primaries. That spells trouble for candidates who might rely on big money or self-funding for their campaigns, and especially for those who will tolerate outside Super PACs supporting their candidacy.

The DNC Needs to Define “Grassroots Fundraising”

A word of caution before getting too excited about the idea of “grassroots fundraising” being a new standard for whether Democratic Party sanctions candidates: The only way it will be a meaningful metric is if the party defines it as how much of a candidate’s money comes from people donating $200 or less, which is the federal definition of an “unitemized,” or small-dollar, contribution. This dividing line is a useful way to understand the amount of money a candidate can raise from people who don’t necessarily have $200 of disposable income for political contributions, but who still feel compelled to donate.