Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Truth is Treason in the Empire of Lies

theburningplatform |  The forces of tyranny are winning. Our banking, financial, political, and media structures are wracked by corruption and controlled by a “few” insiders for the benefit of themselves and their cronies. Smedley Butler said war was a racket, but every institution is now a racket, with a corrupt powerful cadre of evil men reaping riches at the expense of the many. Their rackets are based upon nothing but lies and the continued blissful ignorance of the masses to their flagrant criminal activities.

The dark side of human nature has been on full display as the country has been hijacked by organizations run by psychopaths like Brennan, Clapper, Comey, Soros, Dimon, Bernanke, Paulson, Rubin, Zuckerberg, Bezos and a multitude of lesser known, but equally dangerous, psychopaths infecting government, business and the media.

Those pulling the strings of our ever-degrading society share many of the same traits – superficially charming, pathologically deceitful, manipulative, accepting no responsibility for their actions, lacking empathy, absence of guilt, no humility, dishonest, treacherous, having a grandiose sense of self-worth, and prone to dangerous destructive risk taking. These are the people who rise to power when citizens become lazy, disinterested, willfully ignorant, distracted by social media, dumbed down by government run education, and easily led to believe falsehoods peddled by a media doing the bidding of the psychopaths in power.

Just listen to Brennan or Clapper on fake news CNN or MSNBC to get a glimpse of psychopaths in action. It’s almost as if they believe their own lies. The faux journalist millionaires questioning these scumbags aren’t paid by their corporate masters to uncover the truth, but perpetuate the narrative of lies.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ate El Salvadoran Twice This Past Weekend - Oh My Gawd....,

Counterpunch |  U.S. pundits and politicians just discovered, it seems, that Washington’s decisions harm Central American families. For the New York Times, “separating families…is something new and malicious,” reflecting Trump’s “heartlessness” and violating “fundamental American values.” “This, apparently, is how you turn off the idea of America,” Alex Wagner (The Atlantic) added. The Los Angeles Times thinks “the administration’s cold-hearted approach to enforcement has crossed the line into abject inhumanity,” departing– so we’re to believe– from past practice.

These are half-accurate charges: Trump’s policy is malicious, heartless, cold-hearted. But it isn’t new. Both in Central America and along its Mexican border, Washington has helped rip apart families for decades, forcing children to endure a world without their parents, mothers to cope with their children’s sickening ends. Abject inhumanity, in other words, is a U.S. foreign policy hallmark.

Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras– review their histories. You’ll be crushed by evidence revealing which values shape Washington’s conduct, which norms govern its behavior in a region where it enjoys immense influence. And you’ll begin to understand why many had to flee these countries. Start with Guatemala. Ríos Montt, the dictator the U.S. funded, armed, and encouraged, oversaw the Mayan genocide there. In one episode, on April 3, 1982, the Guatemalan army overran the village of Chel, slaughtering its residents and orphaning Pedro Pacheco Bop, whose great-grandfather, parents, and five siblings (aged two to 14) were all murdered, their blood draining into the Chel River where the troops hurled the dead. Tomas Chávez Brito was two years old when the army fell upon his village, Sajsibán, seven months later, torching his home with his mother, sisters, and other family members inside. In the mountains, where Tomas hid for the following year eating plants to survive, one can only imagine how the idea of orphanhood, his new reality, settled in his mind. Margarita Rivera Ceto de Guzmán’s family separation was quicker. Soldiers knifed her in the stomach, killing her unborn child.

Egla Martínez Salazar, addressing this genocide, explains that assaults on Maya households conveyed “the message that Mayas did not live in ‘real’ families, but rather in ‘living arrangements’ that constituted breeding spaces for ‘international communist indoctrination.’” Erasing these spaces required “the mass murder of children,” plus “the forced transfer of surviving Maya children to military and paramilitary families,” tactics Salvadoran forces also adopted in the 1980s. Apart from killing most of the 75,000 slain there from 1980-1992– the stretch when Carter, Reagan, and Bush I funneled $6 billion into the country– “soldiers [also] abducted children in what an international court says was a ‘systematic pattern of forced disappearances.’” 

Why Isn't The Law Being Enforced On Replacement Negroe Lovers?

nakedcapitalism |  As readers know, I deprecate the (informal: disparaging and dffensive) noun “illegals,” not only because it’s a slippery slope to “frugals,” “orals,” “regals,” and so forth, but because I can’t think of a good reason to insult people who are, often courageously, trying to improve their own lives and those of their families. (“Scab,” of course, is another pejorative for people with similar motives. So, for that matter, is “banker.” It’s complicated!) In any case, it’s these migrants[1] presence that’s illegal, not they themselves, so, heck, maybe it’s all just an innocent case of metonymy…. In this post, I want to straighten out not these, but another small kink in our political discourse, which shows up when you read this story from the Times carefully. The headline:
An ICE Raid Leaves an Iowa Town Divided Along Faith Lines
Parenthetically, and just for the record, allow me to insert this photo of a church congregation that became a crossroads for families and supporters of the men detained in the workplace raid in that small town:
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I have the nagging feeling there’s something about that picture inconsistent with an important liberal Democrat construct, identity politics. Close parenthesis.

Immediately I asked, as one should ask, why is faith the chosen dividing line? After all, you can slice and dice a human population as many ways as you can a pineapple, or a cake. Could it be that there’s another, more interesting “divide” that the reporter’s choice elides?

The reporter, slicing the pineapple by faith, ignores the question of law. We know who is subject to the law: The migrants, caught up in the raid. Is there anybody in the story who is not subject to the law? Why, yes. Yes, there is:
No charges have been filed against the owners of the Midwest Precast Concrete plant in Mount Pleasant that was raided. An ICE spokesman declined to comment, citing a continuing investigation.
So, the elite have impunity when they break the law; et in Mount Pleasant ego. We know this, of course, from the Crash, so no surprises here. Oddly, or not, the reporter, when interviewing business owners, doesn’t raise this point:

Monday, July 09, 2018

A Crisis of Humanity

Medium |  Last year, I got invited to a super-deluxe private resort to deliver a keynote speech to what I assumed would be a hundred or so investment bankers. It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk — about half my annual professor’s salary — all to deliver some insight on the subject of “the future of technology.”

I’ve never liked talking about the future. The Q&A sessions always end up more like parlor games, where I’m asked to opine on the latest technology buzzwords as if they were ticker symbols for potential investments: blockchain, 3D printing, CRISPR. The audiences are rarely interested in learning about these technologies or their potential impacts beyond the binary choice of whether or not to invest in them. But money talks, so I took the gig.

After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room. But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world. After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come with questions of their own.

They started out innocuously enough. Ethereum or bitcoin? Is quantum computing a real thing? Slowly but surely, however, they edged into their real topics of concern.

Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, and will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The Vast Fortune Behind Trump's Immigration Regime

splinternews |  Tanton’s individual persistence was at bottom made possible by the greater persistence of wealth across generations in the United States, coming to fruition in the hundreds of millions of dollars that Cordelia Scaife May left to the Colcom Foundation when she died. What endures is not any individual or personality but capital and institutions. Tanton’s best political skill was not his analysis or his rhetoric but his ability to flatter wealthy racists. He was not a great theoretician or leader or organizer, but an adroit servant of capital’s class interests, for this is how the capitalist class exerts power—not by engaging in democratic politics, but by creating a bulwark against it.

Ironically, Tanton recognized this dynamic himself, however accidentally, in his striving for an essentially American identity. “I think there is such a thing as an American culture, however difficult it may be to define,” he once mused. “For instance, the United States is the most philanthropic society on the face of the earth, and most of the work that FAIR and our opponents do is supported by philanthropy. Few, if any, other cultures have developed the idea of public philanthropy as strongly as we have here.”

What he failed to recognize is that the very idea of public philanthropy as it is practiced in the United States of America is wholly the creation of the American plutocracy—wealthy industrialists and corporate scions seeking ways to consolidate and protect their money over time. While the practice of establishing private family trusts and foundations and of spending copious amounts of money on ostensibly philanthropic (though in fact political) causes is now commonplace among the capitalist class, it was not always so. The first of these, the Rockefeller Foundation, was formed in 1913; a century later, according to political scientist Robert Reich, there were over 100,000 private foundations in the United States, controlling over $800 billion. “The tax code turned many extraordinarily wealthy families, intent upon preserving their fortunes, into major forces in America’s civic sector,” Jane Mayer writes in Dark Money. “In order to shelter themselves from taxes, they were required to invent a public philanthropic role.”

Scaife, were the beneficiaries of two charitable trusts of $50 million each, structured such that, after 20 years of donating all net income from the trusts to nonprofit charities, the siblings would receive their $50 million principals. Their mother did the same in 1961, setting up a pair of $25 million trusts, and again in 1963, setting up another $100 million in trusts for her grandchildren. Mellon Scaife, who once called a reporter for the Columbia Journalism Review a “fucking Communist cunt,” would go on to make some $1 billion in political and philanthropic contributions over a 50-year period, anticipating the Koch brothers’ current reign and shaping the right-wing of American politics for half a century. In a secret memoir, obtained by Mayer, Mellon Scaife gloated, “Isn’t it grand how tax law gets written?”

There is deep and horrible irony in Mellon family money, which powered American imperialism in Central and South America and which grew as a result of that imperial expansion, now being spent to denigrate and punish the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the men and women whose countries the Mellons helped to colonize, who now come to the United States seeking respite from their nations’ ruin. For people like Tanton and Scaife May or organizations like FAIR and CIS, the point is not to purge the United States of immigrants wholly but to ensure the continued immiseration and suffering of the poor and the dispossessed—the most destitute of whom, it is no accident, are mostly people of color.

The activity of the Tanton network and the support it has received from one of America’s oldest imperial families shows above all how one faction of the ruling class, at least, imagines it can create a permanent underclass from which to extract value: first, by dehumanizing migrants in the minds of the citizens; then, by allowing them to sell their labor to employers across the country; and finally, in the prisons and detention centers where they are housed until deportation, and the cycle begins anew. In turn, this contributes to the continued creation of a massive population of surplus labor, which puts downward pressure on wages for all workers.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Highly Regarded Incompetent Democrat Negroe Stooge Politician

Guardian |  Kansas City is booming. Employers and investors have poured into the midwestern city since the recession. At least $1bn has gone into its sparkling new downtown, revitalized arts district and shiny new condos. So why is Sly James, its highly regarded outgoing mayor, so unhappy?

James, who steps down in July 2019, is leaving office with a sense of disappointment that despite Kansas City’s obvious accomplishments, the city’s recovery has left one large section of society behind: African Americans.

About 30% of Kansas City’s population is black. Every month, seemingly, Donald Trump uses Twitter to trumpet how well black people have done under his presidency. Nationwide African American unemployment is now 6.5%, down from a peak of 16.8% at the height of the recession.
But national numbers in a country as big as the US can be misleading. For many African Americans in the Kansas City area, the spoils of a roaring recovery have passed them by.

“The impact of all things racial has left neighborhoods divided and segregated and that leads to a perpetuation of things like poverty and lack of opportunity,” says James, adding he would “have to disagree [with anyone] who says that the real African American unemployment situation is 5.9%”.

Kansas City may boast an unemployment rate of 3.6%. But take the city’s Blue Hills neighbourhood. Blue Hills is 91% African American and the unemployment rate is 17%. Neighbouring Ivanhoe is 86% African American and the unemployment rate is even higher, at 26%.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Failure Migration

unz  |  The victory of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) in the recent Mexican presidential election likely means an increase in immigration to the United States. AMLO has called immigration a “human right that we will defend” and will probably continue the Mexican government’s meddling in American affairs. AMLO has also reportedly promised to demand “respect” from President Trump and the United States, which probably means less cooperation in stopping Central American migrants from moving through the country. [Mexican populist Lopez Obrador triumphs in presidential race, by Sabrina Rodriguez, Politico, July 1, 2018] If Mexico continues its decline into lawlessness or goes into recession, immigration from Mexico itself will sharply increase.

The ironic result of all this: the worse Mexico performs, the more powerful that nation becomes. Many nominal American citizens believe their first loyalty is with Mexico. Though they don’t want to live there, they don’t want to surrender their identity. [Not a country, not even a team, by Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, June 26, 2018] Exporting its underclass to the U.S. spares Mexico and other Latin American countries the need for internal reform. As Tucker Carlson recently put it: “America is now Mexico’s social safety net, and that’s a very good deal for the Mexican ruling class”. [Mexican presidential candidate calls mass migration to US a “human right,” by Dominic Mancini, Daily Caller, June 22, 2018]

Furthermore, Mexico and other Latin American countries continue to benefit from the endless flow of remittances from the U.S. America is literally paying welfare benefits to illegal aliens (if only for their anchor babies), some portion of which they then proceed to send home [Cutting welfare to illegal aliens would pay for Trump’s wall, by Paul Sperry, New York Post, March 10, 2018].

This phenomenon should be termed “Failure Migration.” The lower a people’s level of civilizational accomplishment, the more that people is able to expand its influence.

Law and Order is Sympathetic to Profit

Counterpunch |  To reverse angles, one need not be a self-affirmed racist to have complied with ‘red-lining’ or ‘white-flight’, only protecting your home value as banks and tax codes made fit.  In fact, a recent survey on immigration found Americans (along with Canadians) the mosttolerant among 27 polled countries, of non-native speakers, the unemployed, felons, radicals, or ethnic groups, so long as they’re citizens.  I’m not altogether sold, but we might not be the irreparable bigots we seem. According to the findings, ‘the US has a very legalistic vision of what it is to be an American’.[i]  (Of course, Nikki Haley stood it on its head when she told the UN it was ‘ridiculous to look at poverty in the world’s richest nation’.  Apparently just as citizenship welcomes our most-poor, it denies them outside protection.)

Thus it’s pertinent to ask, in both cases, should we be looking at conceptions of race and poverty, or of law enforcement and state-power to understand mass-incarceration or the police’ rising body count?

Consider the FBI memo that invented ‘Black Identity Extremism’ (BIE) the same time it granted them right to oppress it. ‘Racism’, in which case, is literally a state-authored fiction, as the group only exists on FBI records. Moreover, as with the ‘blue lives matter’ bill which makes resisting arrest a hate crime, their (straw) premise is that racism ‘goes both ways’.  I’d prefer that were true, since, as stray individuals, we’d have limited ability to act on it.  But it’s not. Racism has a definition: prejudice plus power.

Unlike BIE, ‘SIR’ (state-invented racism) and ‘CRP’ (capitalist-powered racism) have been the constant since answering the mixed ranks of poor in Bacon’s Rebellion with the 1705, Virginia Slave Codes, our first official color-line.  Since then, occasionally its been lifted due to public reckoning.  But it’s never been imposed without the help of some authority, be it state, judicial, or investment capital.  ‘Law and order’ is sympathetic to profit.  The Slave-trade launched our banking system, and the plantation supplied the organizational model for the corporate firm.ii  Post-slavery, fomenting racism was and remains an indispensable strike-breaker.

This doesn’t apply only to blacks.  Today, corporations open our borders to cheap, bracerolabor that it can throw away when its worn, or dares lift its head, while coaxing us to blame the workers.  Or stuff them in jail, along with 1 in 10 African-Americans.  After all, wrenching kids from their parents precedes our deranged president.

It’s ironic though, that the free-market is putting labor in cages, like the slave-market did.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Retail Zombie Apocalypse Exponentially Greater Than Vacancy Rates Indicate

WolfStreet |  Another regional long-established department-store chain bites the dust. One in an endless series. The 16 Magic Mart stores in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky, plus a distribution center and the company’s headquarters will be closed and liquidated, according to Ammar’s, Inc., a family-owned company that owns the stores and started with its first store 97 years ago.

In a letter to employees, the company blamed “continued inadequate sales leading to substantial financial losses,” and “difficult economic conditions that continue to persist in the markets we operate.” All locations will be closed “sometime around November 1.”

And then those stores, many of them located in less than booming environments, will become vacant.

Department stores have been hardest hit by online retail. Among them, regional chains have been hardest hit. Bon-Ton Stores – which operates department stores in 23 states under the brands of Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s, and Younkers – is now in the process of being liquidated. 24,000 employees are losing their jobs. Numerous smaller chains have shut their doors. Among the national chains, store closures have been widespread: Macy’s, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, etc. have closed thousands of large stores over the past few years. Smaller stores and specialty stores are shutting down across the country. And these stores become vacant.

Landlords have to find other tenants in this environment, or find another purpose, such as redeveloping them for use by chain restaurants, or bulldozing them and building office buildings or apartment buildings or whatever on the land.

Bon-Ton combined with Toys ‘R’ Us – which closed its remaining stores on Friday – occupied nearly 60 million square feet of retail space. Every square inch is now being vacated.

And there’s some handwringing about the so-called “vacancy rate” in the retail sector – a deceptively low measure for reasons that we’ll get to in a moment.

The retail vacancy rate rose to 8.6% in Q2, the highest since 2012, according to data from real-estate research firm Reis Inc., cited by MarketWatch. By comparison, the peak since the Financial Crisis was 9.4% in Q3 2011:
The impact is especially severe among strip malls and other neighborhood and community shopping centers, which suffered their worst quarter in nine years. About 3.8 million square feet of space was emptied from April to June, pushing the vacancy rate for this type of mall up to 10.2%, Reis said.
Note the magnitude: 3.8 million square feet were “emptied out.” This is tiny compared to the 60 million square feet emptied out by just Bon-Ton and Toys ‘R’ Us.

This is why the “vacancy” data, as unappetizing as they may be, aren’t in a steep swoon, though you’d expect them to be, given the rampant store closures.

Identifiable Vulture Capitalists Killed Toys-R-Us And Put 30,000 Americans Out Of Work

theatlantic |  In March, Toys “R” Us announced that it was liquidating all of its U.S. stores as part of its bankruptcy process, which began last September. Observers pointed to the company’s struggle to fight off new competition. In its court filing, the company laid the blame at the feet of Amazon, Walmart, and Target, saying it “could not compete” when they priced toys so low.

Less attention was paid to the albatross that Bain, KKR, and Vornado had placed around the company’s neck. Toys “R” Us had a debt load of $1.86 billion before it was bought out. Immediately after the deal, it shouldered more than $5 billion in debt. And though sales had slumped before the deal, they held relatively steady after it, even when the Great Recession hit. The company generated $11.2 billion in sales in the 12 months before the deal; in the 12 months before November 2017, it generated $11.1 billion.

Saddled with its new debt, however, Toys “R” Us had less flexibility to innovate. By 2007, according to Bloomberg, interest expense consumed 97 percent of the company’s operating profit. It had few resources left to upgrade its stores in order to compete with Target, or to spiff up its website in order to contend with Amazon. “It’s true that they couldn’t respond to Amazon,” Eileen Appelbaum, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me. “But you have to ask yourself why.”

Shortly after the buyout, the company’s CEO implemented a plan to combine and remodel Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us locations. Customers liked the changes, but the company was able to revamp only 146 of its more than 1,500 stores by 2010. By that point, it was facing the effects of the Great Recession. Most retail operations try to keep their debt burden low to be ready for an inevitable downturn; when you sell a product as discretionary as toys, a recession can hit particularly hard. 

Thomas Paulson, the founder of the investment firm Inflection Capital Management, which focuses on companies that serve consumers, told me that when the retail landscape shifts, a company may need to make investments and even adapt its business model to stay afloat. If it’s already carrying significant debt, it’s “really handcuffed,” he said. “That’s what happened with Toys “R” Us.”

Josh Kosman, the author of The Buyout of America, agrees: “All it takes is for earnings to stop rising and level off, or even decline a little bit, and you’re in a whole heap of trouble.”

Toys “R” Us is hardly the only retail operation to learn this lesson the hard way. The so-called retail apocalypse felled roughly 7,000 stores and eliminated more than 50,000 jobs in 2017. For the spate of brands that have recently declared bankruptcy, their demise is as much a story about private equity’s avarice as it is about Amazon’s acumen.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

A System That Takes Necessities From The Masses To Give Luxuries To The Classes

ineteconomics |  The Millennial socialists are coming,” declared a June 30 New York Times headline, describing a surprise surge of young female candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America who beat their establishment opponents in primary races in New York and Pennsylvania. No longer is being a socialist considered scary — at least if you came of age after the Fall of the Wall. For many, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Martin Luther King, Jr., if he were around today, would likely be smiling. 

The image of the handsome, be-suited King, looking like a middle-class messenger of the American Dream as he mesmerized the masses on the steps of the Lincoln memorial with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, has been embraced by everyone from Coca-Cola executives to Donald Trump. It’s part of America’s cultural memory, our political DNA. 

Some may know that there was more to his legacy than the epic fight to end racism, recalling that in the period leading up to his assassination in 1968, King focused on building a multi-racial movement for economic justice with his labor activism and Poor People’s Campaign. 

But even that view, argues Michael Honey in his new book, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice, does not capture the whole story. 

Consider King’s words in a letter to Coretta Scott in 1952: “I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic,” he wrote, adding that capitalism had “out-lived its usefulness” because it had “brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.” 

King was 23 years old when he wrote that.

Socialism And Immigration Don't Mix

Counterpunch |  Socialists of different varieties have been debating immigration for a long time. Some socialists argue that immigrants bring down wages and weaken the welfare state because they raise the costs of keeping it intact. Critics think that this is just an electoral strategy, but there may be some political philosophy beyond the left’s immigration skepticism. Karl Marx himself argued that immigrants would be used to separate the working class in two camps. That being said, there are other socialists who insist that class solidarity extends beyond borders. Socialists have been inconsistent on immigration throughout history, and the debate still isn’t settled.

The recent separation of over 2,000 immigrant kids from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border energized massive protests around America, which eventually pressured President Trump to put an end to the policy of family separation. Though it’s still unclear what will happen to the immigrant families that are already separated, some left-wing activists argue this shows why Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should be abolished. But Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the most prominent members of the American left, surprised many when he dodged the question of abolishing ICE in an interview with Jake Tapper.

This is not the first time that Sanders hasn’t sounded as radical as expected on the issue of immigration. In an interview in 2015 he called open borders a “Koch Brothers idea.” Open borders is supporting the free movement of people between countries, an idea that many libertarians support—and yes, this does include some people working at foundations funded by the libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch. The libertarian argument is that open immigration would boost the economy and that states don’t have the authority to decide where a human being can live. Sanders resisted this line of thinking, and argued that immigration would bring wages down—an argument many socialists make, and not only in America.

But that doesn’t mean all socialists in America have the same position on immigration. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the young woman of Puerto Rican descent who just defeated Joseph Crowley in the recent Democratic primaries for Congress, supports abolishing ICE. Ocasio-Cortez identifies as a socialist and is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Unlike other leftist organizations, DSA is strikingly pro-immigrant.

Transnationalist 5th Column Putin Must Contend With...,

unz |  It all began in the late 1980s when the Soviet elites realized that they were losing control of the situation and that something had to be done. To really summarize what they did, I would say that these elites first broke up the country into 15 individual fiefdoms each run by gang/clan composed of these Soviet elites, then they mercilessly grabbed everything of any value, became overnight billionaires and concealed their money in the West. Being fabulously rich in a completely ruined country gave them fantastic political power and influence to further exploit and rob the country of all its resources. Russia herself (and the other 14 ex-Soviet republics) suffered an unspeakable nightmare comparable to a major war and by the 1990s Russia almost broke-up into many more even smaller pieces (Chechnia, Tatarstan, etc.). By then, Russia was subserviently executing all the economic policies recommended by a myriad of US ‘advisors’ (hundreds of them with offices inside the offices of many key ministries and various state agencies, just like today in the Ukraine), she adopted a Constitution drafted by pro-US elements and all the key positions in the state were occupied by what I can only call western agents. At the very top, President Eltisn was mostly drunk while the country was run by 7 bankers the so-called “oligarchs” (6 of which were Jews): the “Semibankirshchina”.

This is the time when the Russian security services successfully tricked these oligarchs into believing that Putin, who has a law degree and who had worked for the (very liberal) Mayor of Saint Petersburg (Anatolii Sobchack) was just a petty bureaucrat who would restore a semblance of order while not presenting any real threat to the oligarchs. The ploy worked, but the business elites demanded that “their” guy, Medvedev, be put in charge of the government so as to preserve their interests. What they overlooked was two things: Putin was a truly brilliant officer of the very elite First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) of the KGB and a real patriot. Furthermore, the Constitution which was passed to support the Eltsin regime could now be used by Putin. But more than anything else, they never predicted that a little guy in an ill-fitting suit would transform himself into one of the most popular leaders on the planet. As I have written many times, while the initial power base of Putin was in the security services and the armed forces and while his legal authority stems from the Constitution, is real power comes from the immense support he has from the Russian people who, for the first time in very long time felt that the man at the top truly represented their interests.

Putin then did what Donald Trump could have done as soon as he entered the White House: he cleaned house. He began by immediately tackling the oligarchs, he put an end to the Semibankirshchina, and he stopped the massive export of money and resources out of Russia. The then proceeded to rebuilt the “vertical of power” (the Kremlin’s control over the country) and began rebuilding all of Russia from the foundations (regions) up. But while Putin was tremendously successful, he simply could not fight on all the fronts and the same time and win.

Truth be told, he did eventually win most of the battles which he chose to fight, but some battles he simply could not wage not because of a lack of courage or will on his part, but because the objective reality is that Putin inherited and extremely bad system fully controlled by some extremely dangerous foes. Remember the words of Khazin above: “if he starts to cleanse this “Augean stable”, then he will be obliged to shed blood, because they won’t voluntarily give back their privileges”. So, in a typically Putin fashion, he made a number of deals.

For example, those oligarchs who agreed to stop meddling in Russian politics and who would, from now on, pay taxes and generally abide by the law were not be jailed or expropriated: those who got the message were allowed to continue to work as normal businessmen (Oleg Deripaska) and those who did not were either jailed or exiled (Khodorkovski, Berezovski). But if we look just below the level of these well-known and notorious oligarchs, what we find as a much deeper “swamp” (to use the US expression): an entire class of people who made their fortunes in the 1990s, who are now extremely influential and control most of the key positions in the economy, finance and business and who absolutely hate and fear Putin. They even have their agents inside the armed forces and security services because their weapon of choice is, of course, corruption and influence. And, of course, they have people representing their interests inside the Russian government: pretty much the entire “economic block” of the Medvedev government.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

.45, Double-O, And The True Nature Of Facism...,

Counterpunch |  Clinton lost to Trump, not because millions of poor people were mobilized by a fascist message; but because millions of poor people didn’t turn out to vote; they understood that Obama was a friend of war, a guardian of Wall Street, and a keeper of the neoliberal status quo. They didn’t require more of the same in Clinton.  But the actual facts of Obama’s presidency are increasingly drowned out by the howls of ‘fascist’ which are hurled at Donald Trump week by week, month by month.  This is nothing new, incidentally. Every single thoroughly reactionary Republican president of the past fifty years has had this charge levelled at them: Nixon, Raegan, both Bushes and now Trump.  They were all fascists in their day.

But in allocating to an administration the label fascist – even if it is headed by a person with clear fascist ideological tendencies – we run the risk of underestimating not only the everyday run-of-the-mill racist and war mongering policies enacted by the ‘respectable’ parties of the parliamentary mainstream; we also fail to comprehend the symbiotic connection which opens up between the period of Obama and the time of Trump.  Trump’s regime is, for the most part, more reactionary, and more overtly and rabidly racist than the Obama administration ever was; this cannot be denied.  Trump’s accession marks a truly awful period in American politics.

But it reached its fruition precisely because the Obama administration had exhausted its facile promises of hope and change in the flames of international war and the unrelenting economic oppression of the poorer layers of the domestic population.  It is the continuation of such politics by more extreme means, with the ideological veneer of progressivism set aside, born from the thickening disillusionment of the poorer layers in a decaying political system and their increasing lack of interest in the ballot box (for very good reason).  It has the features of ineptitude and corruption which are the product of such a development.

But is not a fascist administration.  It does not mark a qualitative break in what has come before. The latest farrago involving immigrant children is unutterably awful, but its closest parallel in US history – if not the immigration policies of Obama himself – might be something like the locking up of the families of Japanese Americans in WW2.  That policy was carried out by the Democratic Party headed by Roosevelt.  The same party which, by the way, supported slavery, used nuclear weapons against Japanese cities and escalated the war in Vietnam to a shrieking crescendo.

In describing the Trump administration as fascist we subscribe to a liberal logic which separates out the material realities of fascism from its ideological expression. This helps whitewash the reality of the Democratic Party as a party of war and the financial elite, and instead recasts it in the type of morality play where the beleaguered and high minded liberals like Obama and Clinton become the last bastions of reason and humanity against an ever encroaching darkness – only their tragic struggle against barbarism is doomed to founder on the rocks of the prejudices and the whims of an easily excitable and unsophisticated mob.  It is a vision which combines hatred of the lower classes with a drooling sycophancy toward the elite.  As tragedy goes, it is more Vanity Fair then Shakespeare.
Don’t buy into it.

.45 Hated Because He's Abandoning The Interests Of The Transnational Ruling Class

voltairenet |  After having observed Donald Trump’s historical references (the constitutional compromise of 1789, the examples of Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon) and the way in which his partisans perceive his politics, Thierry Meyssan here analyses his anti-imperialist actions. The US President is not interested in taking a step back, but on the contrary, abandoning the interests of the transnational ruling class in order to develop the US national economy.

In 1916, during the First World War, Lenin analysed the reasons which led to the confrontation between the empires of his time. He wrote - Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In this book, he clarified his analysis - « Imperialism is capitalism which has arrived at a stage of its development where domination by monopolies and financial capital has been confirmed, where the export of capital has acquired major importance, where the sharing of the world between international trusts has begun, and where the sharing of all the territories of the globe between the greatest capitalist countries has been achieved ».

The facts confirmed his logic of the concentration of capitalism that he described. In the space of one century, it substituted a new empire for the precedents - « America » (not to be confused with the American continent). By dint of fusions and acquisitions, a few multinational companies gave birth to a global ruling class which gathers every year to congratulate itself, as we watch, in Davos, Switzerland. These people do not serve the interests of the US population, and in fact are not necessarily United States citizens themselves, but use the means of the US Federal State to maximise their profits.

Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States on his promise to return to the earlier state of Capitalism, that of the « American dream, » by free market competition. We can of course claim a priori, as did Lenin, that such a reversal is impossible, but nonetheless, the new President has committed to this direction.

The heart of the imperial Capitalist system is expressed by the doctrine of the Pentagon, formulated by Admiral Arthur Cebrowski - the world is now split in two. On one side, the developed, stable states, and on the other, those states which are not yet integrated into the imperial globalist system and are therefore doomed to instability. The US armed forces are tasked with destroying the state and social structures of the non-integrated regions. Since 2001, they have been patiently destroying the « Greater Middle East », and are now preparing to do the same in the « Caribbean Basin .»

Speaking Of Protecting Organized Criminal Syndicates...,

WaPo |  Federal prosecutors concluded an 18-month investigation into a former congressional technology staffer on Tuesday by publicly debunking allegations — promoted by conservative media and President Trump — suggesting he was a Pakistani operative who stole government secrets with cover from House Democrats.

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Imran Awan pleaded guilty to a relatively minor offense unrelated to his work on Capitol Hill: making a false statement on a bank loan application. U.S. prosecutors said they would not recommend jail time.

But the agreement included an unusual passage that described the scope of the investigation and cleared Awan of a litany of conspiracy theories promulgated on Internet blogs, picked up by right-leaning news sites and fanned by Trump on Twitter.

“The Government has uncovered no evidence that your client violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems,” including stealing equipment or illegally accessing or transferring information, prosecutors wrote in an 11-page plea agreement dated and signed Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors described in the agreement a “thorough investigation” that included forensic analysis of computer equipment and other devices, log-on and usage data and interviews with about 40 witnesses. 

Awan and four of his associates, including family members, worked as IT specialists for dozens of Democratic lawmakers until they were banned from the computer network in February 2017, accused of violating House security rules. The ensuing investigation attracted aggressive coverage by conservative media outlets — led by the Daily Caller — and prompted calls from Trump to prosecute Awan, whom the president referred to in one tweet as the “Pakistani mystery man.”

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Oxford Union Protecting The Most Powerful Organized Crime Syndicate The World Has Ever Seen

wsws |  The Oxford Union has finally responded to the exposure of its attempts to censor one of its own panel discussions, “Whistleblowing: Exposing injustices or undermining institutions?” held on February 27.

The response came in the form of an article in Oxford University’s student newspaper, Cherwell, June 7 under the headline “Union denies censoring whistleblowing panel video.” In it, the Oxford Union’s society bursar Lindsey Warne and current president Gui Cavalcanti use evasions and lies against one of the panel members, human rights activist Heather Marsh.

As the World Socialist Web Site has explained, “Records of the event, including transcripts and videos, have been withheld from publication.” The only plausible reason for this was to suppress Marsh’s devastating criticism of one of her co-panelists—former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative David Shedd.

For more than three months Oxford Union have kept silent on why the event was not reported. This is despite repeated requests by Marsh, asking when the video of the panel would be uploaded and why this was not being done.

The International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) has made its own attempts to establish on whose authority and on what grounds the panel was censored but has been ignored.

Only after Marsh visited Oxford Union in person in April did she receive a response. Marsh states that Warne informed her that Shedd had pressured for the video to be withheld—something Warne now claims she never said.

We're America Bitches!!!

strategic-culture |  The beginning of the end of the Bilderberg/Soros vision is in sight. The Old Order will cling on, even to the last of its fingernails. The Bilderberg vision is the notion of multi-cultural, international cosmopolitanism that surpasses old-time nationalism; heralding the end of frontiers; and leading toward a US-led, ‘technocratic’, global economic and political governance. Its roots lie with figures such as James Burnham, an anti-Stalin, former Trotskyite, who, writing as early as 1941, advocated for the levers of financial and economic power being placedin the hands of a management class: an élite – which alone would be capable of running the contemporary state - thanks to this élite’s market and financial technical nous. It was, bluntly, a call for an expert, technocratic oligarchy. 

Burnham renounced his allegiance to Trotsky and Marxism, in all its forms in 1940, but he would take the tactics and strategies for infiltration and subversion, (learned as a member of Leon Trotsky’s inner circle) with him, and would elevate the Trotskyist management of ‘identity politics’ to become the fragmentation ‘device’ primed to explode national culture onto a new stage, in the Western sphere. His 1941 book, The Managerial Revolution,” caught the attention of Frank Wisner, subsequently, a legendary CIA figure, who saw in the works of Burnham and his colleague a fellow Trotskyite, Sidney Hook, the prospect of mounting an effective alliance of former Trotskyites against Stalinism.

But, additionally, Wisner perceived its merits as the blueprint for a CIA-led, pseudo-liberal, US-led global order. (‘Pseudo’, because, as Burnham articulated clearly, in The Machiavellians, Defenders of Freedom, his version of freedom meant anything but intellectual freedom or those freedoms defined by America’s Constitution. “What it really meant was conformity and submission”).

Trump evidently has heard the two key messages from his constituency: that they neither accept to have (white) American culture, and its way-of-life, diluted through immigration; and, neither do they wish – stoically – to accommodate to America’s eclipse by China.

The issue of how to arrest China’s rise is primordial (for Team Trump), and in a certain sense, has led to an American ‘retrospective’: America now may only account for 14% of global output (PPP – Purchasing Power Parity basis), or 22%, on a nominal basis (as opposed to near half of global output, for which the US was responsible, at the close of WW2), but American corporations, thanks to the dollar global hegemony, enjoy a type of monopoly status (i.e. Microsoft, Google and Facebook, amongst others), either through regulatory privilege, or by marketplace dominance. Trump wants to halt this asset from decaying further and to leverage it again as a potent bargaining chip in the present tariff wars. This is clearly a political ‘winner’ in terms of US domestic grass-roots, politics, and the upcoming November mid-term elections.

America’s dollar hegemony has proved toxic to the rest of the world in very many ways, and Trump - in leveraging that hegemony so gangsterishly: “We’re America, Bitch”, as one official described America’s approach – is fueling antagonism towards dollar hegemony (if not yet towards America per se). It is pushing all of non-America into a common stance of rebellion against America’s unipolar financial dominance.  

Virtue-Signaling Imbeciles Don't Get A WHOLE LOT Of Things...,

kunstler |  You can’t overstate how fortunate this country was after the Second World War. The mid-twentieth century was the apex of American industrial wealth. We produced real goods and lived in extraordinary comfort. Now, of course that has all turned around, the industry is mostly bygone, the magnificent energy supply is getting sketchy, and all that’s left is a false-front financialized economy based on swindling and accounting fraud. Medicine and health care have become unabashed rackets, and good luck finding a place to live for less than half of your monthly income.

Things have changed, as Bob Dylan once noted in song, and the times they are a ‘changing once again. This is probably the worst time in recent history to go full-bore socialist. Look, it’s as simple as this: the 20th century saw the greatest rise of global GDP ever. The prospect of that is what drove the various socialisms of the period — the belief that there would be evermore material wealth and that a lot of it had to be fairly redistributed to the workers who brought it into being. You can debate the finer socio-ethical points of that — and indeed that’s what much of politics consisted of throughout the industrialized world — but the stunning bonanza of wealth compelled it.

That is the world we are moving out of right now, despite the fantasies of Elon Musk and the many techno pied pipers like him. GDP growth has stalled, the implacable trend is toward contraction, and the wizards of financial hocus-pocus are running out of tricks for pretending that they create anything of value. In short: there’s no there there. All that’s left are IOUs for loans that will never be paid back — and that kind of loan (especially in the form of a bond) doesn’t have any value.

So, the Democratic Party has embarked on a crusade to redistribute the wealth of the nation at the exact moment when the “wealth” is turning out to be gone. Good luck with that.


Monday, July 02, 2018

180 Degree Reversal: I'm Now With Jeff Sessions On The Danger Of SkunkWeed!!!

Independent |  What is really needed in dealing with cannabis is a “tobacco moment”, as with cigarettes 50 years ago, when a majority of people became convinced that smoking might give them cancer and kill them. Since then the number of cigarette smokers in Britain has fallen by two-thirds. 

A depressing aspect of the present debate about cannabis is that so many proponents of legalisation or decriminalisation have clearly not taken on board that the causal link between cannabis and psychosis has been scientifically proven over the past ten years, just as the connection between cancer and cigarettes was proved in the late 1940s and 1950s.

The proofs have emerged in a series of scientific studies that reach the same grim conclusion: taking cannabis significantly increases the risk of schizophrenia. One study in The Lancet Psychiatry concludes that “the risk of individuals having a psychotic disorder showed a roughly three times increase in users of skunk-like cannabis, compared with those who never used cannabis”.  

As 94 per cent of cannabis seized by the police today is super-strength skunk, compared to 51 per cent in 2005, almost all those who take the drug today will be vulnerable to this three-fold increase in the likelihood that they will develop psychosis. 

Mental health professionals have long had no doubts about the danger. Five years ago, I asked Sir Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, about them. He said that studies showed that “if the risk of schizophrenia for the general population is about one per cent, the evidence is that, if you take ordinary cannabis, it is two per cent; if you smoke regularly you might push it up to four per cent; and if you smoke ‘skunk’ every day you push it up to eight per cent”. 

Anybody wondering what happens to this 8 per cent of the skunk-smoking population should visit any mental hospital in Britain or speak to somebody who has done so. Dr Humphrey Needham-Bennett, medical director and consultant psychiatrist of Cygnet Hospital, Godden Green in Sevenoaks, explained to me that among his patients “cannabis use is so common that I assume that people use or used it. It’s quite surprising when people say ‘no, I don’t use drugs’.” 

The connection between schizophrenia and cannabis was long suspected by specialists but it retained its reputation as a relatively benign drug, its image softened by the afterglow of its association with cultural and sexual liberation in the 1960s and 1970s.

Both Gaming And Pocket Rectangles Are Process Addictions

WaPo |  For many people, leisure time now means screen time. Mom’s on social media, Dad’s surfing the Web, sister is texting friends, and brother is playing a multiplayer shooting game like Fortnite.
But are they addicted? In June, the World Health Organization announced that “gaming disorder” would be included in its disease classification manual, reigniting debates over whether an activity engaged in by so many could be classified as a disorder.

Experts were quick to point out that only 1 to 3 percent of gamers are likely to fit the diagnostic criteria, such as lack of control over gaming, giving gaming priority over other activities and allowing gaming to significantly impair such important areas of life as social relationships.

Those low numbers may give the impression that most people don’t have anything to worry about. Not true. Nearly all teens, as well as most adults, have been profoundly affected by the increasing predominance of electronic devices in our lives. Many people suspect that today’s teens spend much more time with screens and much less time with their peers face-to-face than did earlier generations, and my analysis of numerous large surveys of teens of various ages shows this to be true: The number of 17- and 18-year-olds who get together with their friends every day, for example, dropped by more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2016. Teens are also sleeping less, with sleep deprivation spiking after 2010. Similar to the language in the WHO’s addiction criteria, they are prioritizing time on their electronic devices over other activities (and no, it’s not because they are studying more: Teens actually spend less time on homework than students did in the 1990s). Regardless of any questions around addiction, how teens spend their free time has fundamentally shifted.

If teens were doing well, this might be fine. But they are not: Clinical-level depression, self-harm behavior (such as cutting), the number of suicide attempts and the suicide rate for teens all rose sharply after 2010, when smartphones became common and the iPad was introduced. Teens who spend excessive amounts of time online are more likely to be sleep deprived, unhappy and depressed. Nor are the effects small: For example, teens who spent five or more hours a day using electronic devices were 66 percent more likely than those who spent just one hour to have at least one risk factor for suicide, such as depression or a previous suicide attempt.

It's Nothing Like A Broken Leg

Guardian |  When I am well, I am happy and popular. It is tough to type these words when I feel none of it. And sometimes when I am most well I am… boring. Boring is how I want to be all of the time. This is what I have been working towards, for 12 years now.

When friends decades older tell me off for saying that I am old, at 28, what I mean is: I haven’t achieved all the things I could have done without this illness. I should have written a book by now. I should have done so many things! All the time, I feel I am playing catch-up. Always. I worry, and most of the literature tells me, that I will have this problem for life. That it will go on, after the hashtags and the documentaries and the book deals and Princes Harry and William – while the NHS circles closer to the drain.

Maybe it’s cute now, in my 20s. But it won’t be cute later, when I am older and wearing tracksuits from 20 years ago and not in an ironic hipster way but because I no longer wash or engage with the world, and it’s like: my God, did you not get yourself together already?

When I left appointments and saw the long-term patients, walking around in hospital-issue pyjamas, dead-eyed (the kind of image of the mentally ill that has become anathema to refer to as part of the conversation, but which in some cases is accurate), four emotions rushed in: empathy, sympathy, recognition, terror. It’s one of those things you can’t really talk about with authenticity unless you’ve seen it, not really: the aurora borealis, Prince playing live and the inpatient wards.

Maybe my prognosis will look up, maybe I’ll leave it all behind. I’ve noticed a recent thing is for people to declare themselves “proud” of their mental illness. I guess I don’t understand this. It does not define me.

It’s not something that, when stable, I feel ashamed of, or that I hide. But I am not proud of it. I’d rather I didn’t have it – so I wasn’t exhausted, so I wasn’t bitter about it – despite the fact that I know some people, in all parts of the world, are infinitely worse off.

I want it gone, so that I am not dealing with it all the time, or worrying about others having to deal with it all the time. So I don’t have to read another article, or poster, about how I just need to ask for help. So that when a campaigner on Twitter says, “To anyone feeling ashamed of being depressed: there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s illness. Like asthma or measles”, I don’t have to grit my teeth and say, actually, I am not OK, and mental illness couldn’t be less like measles. So that when someone else moans about being bored with everyone talking about mental health, and a different campaigner replies, “People with mental illness aren’t bored with it!” I don’t have to say, no, I am: I am bored with this Conversation. Because more than talking about it, I want to get better. I want to live.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

The Omnigenic Model Of Complex Human Traits

quantamagazine |  The question most of genetics tries to answer is how genes connect to the traits we see. One person has red hair, another blonde hair; one dies at age 30 of Huntington’s disease, another lives to celebrate a 102nd birthday. Knowing what in the vast expanse of the genetic code is behind traits can fuel better treatments and information about future risks and illuminate how biology and evolution work. For some traits, the connection to certain genes is clear: Mutations of a single gene are behind sickle cell anemia, for instance, and mutations in another are behind cystic fibrosis.

But unfortunately for those who like things simple, these conditions are the exceptions. The roots of many traits, from how tall you are to your susceptibility to schizophrenia, are far more tangled. In fact, they may be so complex that almost the entire genome may be involved in some way, an idea formalized in a theory put forward last year.

Starting about 15 years ago, geneticists began to collect DNA from thousands of people who shared traits, to look for clues to each trait’s cause in commonalities between their genomes, a kind of analysis called a genome-wide association study (GWAS). What they found, first, was that you need an enormous number of people to get statistically significant results — one recent GWAS seeking correlations between genetics and insomnia, for instance, included more than a million people. 

Second, in study after study, even the most significant genetic connections turned out to have surprisingly small effects. The conclusion, sometimes called the polygenic hypothesis, was that multiple loci, or positions in the genome, were likely to be involved in every trait, with each contributing just a small part. (A single large gene can contain several loci, each representing a distinct part of the DNA where mutations make a detectable difference.)

How many loci that “multiple” description might mean was not defined precisely. One very early genetic mapping study in 1999 suggested that “a large number of loci (perhaps > than 15)” might contribute to autism risk, recalled Jonathan Pritchard, now a geneticist at Stanford University. “That’s a lot!” he remembered thinking when the paper came out.

Over the years, however, what scientists might consider “a lot” in this context has quietly inflated. Last June, Pritchard and his Stanford colleagues Evan Boyle and Yang Li (now at the University of Chicago) published a paper about this in Cell that immediately sparked controversy, although it also had many people nodding in cautious agreement. The authors described what they called the “omnigenic” model of complex traits. Drawing on GWAS analyses of three diseases, they concluded that in the cell types that are relevant to a disease, it appears that not 15, not 100, but essentially all genes contribute to the condition. The authors suggested that for some traits, “multiple” loci could mean more than 100,000.

Evolution Is Cleverer Than You Are

theatlantic |  But chimeras are not just oddities. You surely know one. In pregnant women, fetal stem cells can cross the placenta to enter the mother’s bloodstream, where they may persist for years. If Mom gets pregnant again, the stem cells of her firstborn, still circulating in her blood, can cross the placenta in the other direction, commingling with those of the younger sibling. Heredity can thus flow “upstream,” from child to parent—and then over and down to future siblings.

The genome, Zimmer goes on to reveal, eludes tidy boundaries too. Forget the notion that your genome is just the DNA in your chromosomes. We have another genome, small but vital, in our cells’ mitochondria—the tiny powerhouses that supply energy to the cell. Though the mitochondrial genes are few, damage to them can lead to disorders of the brain, muscles, internal organs, sensory systems, and more. At fertilization, an embryo receives both chromosomes and mitochondria from the egg, and only chromosomes from the sperm. Mitochondrial heredity thus flows strictly through the maternal line; every boy is an evolutionary dead end, as far as mitochondria are concerned.

Beyond the genome are more surprises. Schoolchildren learn that Darwin’s predecessor, the great French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, got heredity wrong when he suggested that traits acquired through experience—like the giraffe’s neck, elongated by straining and stretching to reach higher, perhaps tenderer, leaves—could be passed down. The biologist August Weismann famously gave the lie to such theories, which collectively are known as “soft” heredity. If Lamarckism were true, he said, chopping the tail off mice and breeding them, generation after generation, should eventually produce tailless mice. It didn’t. Lamarck wasn’t lurking in the details.

Recent research, however, is giving Lamarck a measure of redemption. A subtle regulatory system has been shown to silence or mute the effects of genes without changing the DNA itself. Environmental stresses such as heat, salt, toxins, and infection can trigger so-called epigenetic responses, turning genes on and off to stimulate or restrict growth, initiate immune reactions, and much more. These alterations in gene activity, which are reversible, can be passed down to offspring. They are hitchhikers on the chromosomes, riding along for a while, but able to hop on and off. Harnessing epigenetics, some speculate, could enable us to create Lamarckian crops, which would adapt to a disease in one or two generations and then pass the acquired resistance down to their offspring. If the disease left the area, so would the resistance.

All of these heredities—chromosomal, mitochondrial, epigenetic—still don’t add up to your entire you. Not even close. Every one of us carries a unique flora of hundreds if not thousands of microbes, each with its own genome, without which we cannot feel healthy—cannot be “us.” These too can be passed down from parent to child—but may also move from child to adult, child to child, stranger to stranger. Always a willing volunteer, Zimmer allowed a researcher to sample the microbes living in his belly-button lint. Zimmer’s “navelome” included 53 species of bacteria. One microbe had been known, until then, only from the Mariana Trench. “You, my friend,” the scientist said, “are a wonderland.” Indeed, we all are.

With this in mind, reconsider the ongoing effort to engineer heredity. The motto of the Second International Eugenics Congress, in 1921, was “Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution.” Since then, controlling heredity has become technically much easier and philosophically more complicated. When, in the 1970s, the first genetic engineering made medical gene therapy feasible, many of its pioneers urged caution, lest some government try to create a genetic Fourth Reich. In particular, two taboos seemed commonsense: no enhancement, only therapy (thou shalt not create a master race); and no alterations in germ-line tissues, only in somatic cells (thou shalt not make heritable modifications).