Stop calling the Keystone pipeline a job creator! It will create 35 jobs.

Keystone will not create tens of thousands of jobs. The actual number? 35

 

The Keystone myth that refuses to die: Stop calling the pipeline a job creator!

(Credit: MSNBC)

Of all the reasons one might have to support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (like, say, a last-minute gambit to save one’s Senate seat), arguing that it’s going to create jobs is the least sensical — because, as the State Department itself determined, it will create only 35 permanent jobs.

Even with the 15 other, temporary jobs the project will create, for inspections and maintenance, that’s still not enough even to employ the 60 senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., needs to pass through approval of the pipeline when it comes to a vote Tuesday evening.

And yet the argument that Keystone will lead to jobs upon jobs upon jobs is perhaps the most pervasive, and fundamentally incorrect, myth surrounding the pipeline controversy.

Only an extremely skewed reading of the job projections could lead Fox News Host Anna Kooiman, for example, to claim that “there would be tens of thousands of jobs created” if the president approved of the pipeline, a claim that Politifact rounded down to “mostly false.” While it’s true that the State Department estimates that 42,100 jobs — many only tangentially related to the pipeline — will be created during its two years of construction, they’re almost all temporary, and include 10,400 seasonal positions that will only last for four to eight months. When you look at that over the course of two years, Politifact explains, that only comes out to 3,900 “average annual” jobs. Most of the construction jobs in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, through which the pipeline will pass, will rely on specialists brought in from out of state.

TransCanada’s CEO, Russ Girling, further stretched the truth into an outright lie on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday morning, claiming that the State Department called those 42,000 jobs “ongoing” and “enduring.” Again, Politifact corrects the record, explaining that, for the reasons above, those adjectives only apply if you have an incredibly short-sighted definition of “ongoing and enduring” (read: two years or less).



But if you really want to get an idea of how hard the jobs myth is to squash, look no further than lefty news channel MSNBC, where host Joe Scarborough propagated that same false narrative. Questioning a potential decision to delay the pipeline, he laughed: “Their own State Department says it’s going to create 50,000 new jobs.”

Again: not.

You know what already did create tens of thousands of jobs, in nearly every state? Renewable energy, which according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs created almost 80,000 of them in 2013 alone. The main thing holding back future growth, that same report found, is “ongoing regulatory uncertainty,” most notably with wind energy tax credits. It’s worth checking out, especially if you happen to be a politician who’s legitimately looking for a way to grow the economy.

Those other persuasive arguments for approving the pipeline, for the record, don’t hold up much better: The part of the State Department review finding that Keystone would have a negligible impact on the environment, for one, is made extremely suspect by the multiple conflicts of interest surrounding it. The local impacts of leaks and the global impacts of emitting any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would suggest otherwise; another study evaluating the State Department’s analysis concluded that the report downplays the pipeline’s environmental significance.

Studies have established that the pipeline isn’t going to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. And over at the Washington Post, Philip Bump has the ultimate explainer for why it isn’t going to lower gas prices in any straightforward way — it some regions, in fact, it could even raise them. What he boils it all down to: “The most direct beneficiaries of Keystone XL won’t be consumers.”

Here’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on CNN, trying to wrap his mind around the idea that approving the pipeline would make any kind of sense whatsoever:

Oh, and one other job pushing the pipeline won’t be able to ensure? Sen. Landrieu’s, as voters don’t seem to have been swayed by her pro-Keystone rhetoric. Although, as Salon writers Luke Brinker and Joan Walsh have both pointed out, we can expect to see a brand-new position with the oil lobby created just for her once this is all over.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and the greatest New York story ever

Sam Wagstaff was the patron and lover who connected Mapplethorpe and bohemian New York. Here’s how they met

Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and the greatest New York story ever

Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagstaff, in the cover photo of “Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe: A Biography”

There are two competing stories about who would introduce Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe during that bygone summer of 1972. Sam Green claimed, as he was wont to take credit for so many things, to have been the official matchmaker—out of spite. “Robert was the most ambitious and insistent person that I knew,” Green said. “He continuously harangued me to see his mediocre art. After my first visit to Robert’s studio, he made it clear he was looking for a male patron. I had an ax to grind with Sam Wagstaff, so I had intended to put them together in Oakleyville.” Still, years later, Green claimed to have been pleased that the introduction was successful. “Sam and Robert were one of the great unions of the twentieth century,” he said. “It worked for everyone. Robert was a master manipulator and he would do anything. When I introduced the two of them, I knew how much they needed each other.”

 But the actual introduction came from another visitor to Sam Green’s beach cottage. David Croland, a tall, slender young artist and model with fine features and dark hair, was a fixture of Andy Warhol’s Factory (by this point the Factory had come to refer to more than the physical studio, at times encompassing the people circulating around Andy, including his “superstars”). Croland had modeled for David Bailey and others in London in the late 1960s before being discovered by the Warhol superstar International Velvet (Susan Bottomly) while shopping at Fiorucci in New York. Croland, like so many gay men who came out gradually in that era, was still in his “bisexual phase” and was romantically involved with Bottomly for a while.

Croland had met Robert Mapplethorpe in 1970 through his friend Tinkerbelle, a contributor to Interview, who knew Mapplethorpe from the back room at Max’s Kansas City. One day Tinkerbelle brought Croland to Mapplethorpe’s loft on West 23rd St, several doors away from the Chelsea Hotel. Robert was living there with Patti Smith, his girlfriend while in art school, whose fame as a poet and rock star would come later. Although Mapplethorpe and Smith had been together for several years, by that point they were more like psychic twins than lovers. Croland and Mapplethorpe soon became lovers, keeping their romance a secret from Smith for almost six months.



In Just Kids, Smith’s memoir about her relationship with Mapplethorpe and their coming-of-age as artists, she evocatively describes a gradual shift in the nature of their bond during the period when they lived near Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, contrasting her need for artistic exploration in the world outside of herself with Robert’s mode of discovery, which was turning increasingly inward. That was when Robert had begun his first homosexual romance, with a young man named Terry, whom he met through a fellow student at Pratt. Robert and Terry were open about their sexuality with Patti, but it was not an easy emotional transition for her. “He had never given me any indication in his behavior that I would have interpreted as homosexual,” Smith writes.

It was Croland who would finally guide Mapplethorpe to the stratum of the art world he had been eager to penetrate. Croland introduced him to Henry Geldzahler, the curator of twentieth-century art at the Metropolitan Museum and a close friend and supporter of Warhol; to John McKendry, curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan; and, of course, to Warhol himself, whom Mapplethorpe worshipped from afar and whose cultural status had already eclipsed any other artist of that time. By 1972, Croland and Mapplethorpe had ceased being lovers, but they would remain close friends.

On Sam Green’s deck in Oakleyville one weekend afternoon that summer of 1972, Wagstaff took a flirtatious interest in Croland. The young man might have fit his type in certain ways—young, gaunt, and artistic—but Croland had Semitic features, and he was far too socially charming, animated, and garrulous to conform to the template of Wagstaff’s basic attractions. Still, Sam asked to see Croland again in the city and made a date to look at his drawings the following week.

Croland already knew about Wagstaff by reputation and, of course, about his long friendship with Andy. He was happy to have such an aficionado coming over to see his work. During Sam’s visit to his small apartment on Irving Place in Manhattan, Croland showed him some drawings he had been making as textile designs for Halston and other fashion designers. “These are like paintings,” Wagstaff said, and he ended up buying ten of them. “I’m going to keep some and give some to my sister.” Then, as Wagstaff was leaving the apartment, he spotted on the drafting table a small, framed photo-booth portrait of a young man in a sailor cap. He leaned over to look at the portrait more carefully. “Who is that?” Sam asked, an unmistakable lilt in his voice. “I want to meet him.”

Robert Mapplethorpe was precisely Wagstaff’s physical type— lanky, with taut features, a light complexion, and an unpolished physicality. Ellen Phelan made the astute observation that if Gordon Newton, Richard Tuttle, Michael Heizer, and Robert Mapplethorpe were all assembled in the same room, one would think they were related.15 All had the same chiseled features and coloring; all of them were young artists when Sam first met them; each one was original, inventive, and fierce in the exploration of his own ideas.

Seeing Wagstaff’s response to the portrait, Croland knew he was about to facilitate yet another advantageous introduction for Robert Mapplethorpe. He duly wrote down Robert’s number for Sam. Then, overriding his resentment at Robert for exploiting his connections yet again, Croland called his friend to announce that, this time, a patron unlike any other was about to give him a call.

Aside from an attraction that so far existed in miniature and only on photographic paper, Wagstaff had few other clues about Mapplethorpe. There was his association with David Croland and the proximity it gave him to Warhol’s Factory. Then each phrase David Croland used to describe Mapplethorpe’s work could be repeated over and over: he had described the assemblages as “pornographic constructions with Catholic iconography” that included “naked self-portraits draped with studs and jewelry.”  In the context of the important artwork of the period, whether minimal geometric abstraction, pop iconographic imagery, or the conceptual possibilities in earth art, what Croland told Sam about Mapplethorpe’s subject matter resonated as something distinctly new.

The juxtaposition of sex and Catholicism—the height of Western religious tradition, which stood in stark contrast to Wagstaff’s embrace of Eastern mysticism—was enough to pique his curatorial interest. Sam’s imagination roamed more broadly as he thought about the stranger in the sailor cap so that, by the time he picked up the phone to call Robert, he was already a little bit in love with the idea of the louche young man with a name that, like his own, might have sprung from the underworld of Charles Dickens: David Copperfield, Luke Honeythunder, Paul Sweedlepipe, Robert Mapplethorpe. His mood was playful and his voice flirtatious when Robert answered the phone. “Is this the shy pornographer?” Sam asked.

Mapplethorpe may have been hungry for attention, money, and artistic acknowledgment, and he was nervously eager for a patron who could give him the kind of financial support that would free him to make his art. But, when he heard the clever question delivered in that baritone drawl, he laughed a genuine, happy laugh.

* * *

The twenty-five-year-old Robert Mapplethorpe was stylish, appealingly soft-spoken, but decidedly still rough around the edges. His obvious talent came with an underlying arrogance—not unfamiliar to Wagstaff—that often propels such artistic ambition. Mapplethorpe’s beginnings were uninspired: he was the third of six children in a middle-class Catholic family; his adoring mother suffered from manic depression and his withholding father was missing the parental gene for encouragement. Nevertheless, he had made it to art school, where he developed an imperturbable confidence and an unyielding belief in himself as an artist. “I came from suburban America,” Robert said of his hometown, Floral Park, New York. “It was a safe environment. And it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.”

Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute, one of the preeminent art schools in the country, in 1963. The social upheavals that would come to define the 1960s were barely rumblings at that point, but evident at Pratt and other urban art schools was a visible bohemian repudiation of bourgeois conformity. While the environment there encouraged serious artistic exploration and the course of instruction centered on the high-minded fine art disciplines, the faculty promoted an almost religious belief in painting. Despite the school’s reputation, it failed to provide the rigorous instruction one might have expected. Pratt students, meanwhile, cultivated theatrically personal styles, often aided by recreational drug use and copious sexual experimentation. When Robert arrived, the atmosphere on the Brooklyn campus had not quite yet assumed the quality of a mannered, antic, if not hedonistic, drama; during his years there, it would acquire the sensibility of the Fellini film Satyricon as students went to class in outlandish costumes. Increasingly, the anarchic posture of rock ’n’ roll and the influence of hippie drug culture became evident as the students grew long hair and wore tie-dyed T-shirts and paint-splattered jeans. At the same time, nonconformity was prized as much as creativity, and students could be seen perched by themselves in the corner of the cafeteria or on the front steps of the main building drawing with their Rapidograph pens on large Strathmore pads or blocking out ideas in their journals.

Mapplethorpe, however, entered Pratt intending to fulfill his father’s expectation that he learn a trade that could earn him a living— either in Pratt’s more conservative engineering program, with graphic arts training in the design school, or through courses in the school of library sciences. As a member of Pershing Rifles, an elite military fraternity related to the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, the teenaged Mapplethorpe cut a surprisingly conventional profile in his first years in art school.

Within two years, though, as the school was becoming more radicalized in the wake of the Vietnam war, Mapplethorpe gravitated to the fine art program. He had been making elaborate drawings from an early age, and art is what he wanted to study. Among Robert’s schoolmates was Robert Wilson, the artist who went on to create with Philip Glass the operatic masterpiece Einstein on the Beach. Sylvia Plachy, Jan Groover, Judy Linn, and Betsey Johnson, each of whom would become prominent in the world of photography or fashion, were also studying at Pratt.

It was here that Mapplethorpe met Patti Smith. In the summer of 1967 she had found her way to Brooklyn not as a student but because she was staying with a friend of a friend after moving to New York from her working-class hometown in southern New Jersey. Smith’s first encounter with Mapplethorpe near the Pratt campus was brief. But, a short time later, purely by coincidence, Robert was standing in Tompkins Square, a junkie-haunted, garbage-strewn park in the East Village where hipsters often congregated in what felt like a perpetual streetwise “happening.” The atmosphere was always at once festive and ominous, street musicians playing their guitars on benches, students looking to buy marijuana, and innocent people getting robbed at knifepoint. Smith, barely twenty years old, sitting early one evening with a first date in the park, had become increasingly uncomfortable in the older man’s company. She recognized Mapplethorpe not only from that chance meeting at Pratt, but also from a more recent encounter, when he had come into Scribner’s, where she worked, and they had briefly chatted. Now, as something of a damsel in distress, she ran up to him to ask if he would rescue her by pretending to be her boyfriend. He agreed and they ran away from her date, to the other side of the park. Indeed, they became a couple that night.

It was an auspicious—and in the end historic—meeting. That night, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith discovered in each other something profoundly sympathetic. Soon after, they moved in together, sharing a small apartment on Hall Street in Clinton Hill along the southern border of the Pratt campus. Smith would come home from her job as a clerk at Scribner’s, the renowned bookstore on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and read or draw while Robert fulfilled his assignments for school, developing a style of collage and assemblage out of his own drawings, found photographs, cutouts of artwork from the ancient world, and other found objects. During that period Robert’s style of dress reflected his art school evolution and growing self-consciousness, from sheepskin vests to the more mannered, and fateful, sailor outfit. Smith described it in her memoir: “In his sailor dress and cap, he resonated a Cocteau drawing or the world of Genet’s Robert Querelle.”

Mapplethorpe short-circuited his graduation from Pratt in 1969 by skipping one final course. He and Smith crossed the river into Manhattan and, with a combination of characteristic luck and ambition, found their way to the Chelsea Hotel. The hotel had already been immortalized for them in the 1966 Warhol film Chelsea Girls. They had been told that Stanley Bard, the hotel’s proprietor, would accept a barter of artwork for a room in lieu of cash, and, indeed, the lobby was decorated with the residents’ drawings and paintings, large and small, hanging on the walls in ersatz salon style. Still, when Robert and Patti approached Bard, it was Patti’s employment at Scribner’s that persuaded him to give them one of the smallest rooms in the hotel. The bathroom was in the hallway. He charged them fifty-five dollars per week. Patti’s weekly salary was sixty-four dollars, so they could barely afford it. Robert continued to make artwork and beaded jewelry, but it failed to bring in additional income.

That year, the breakthrough movie Midnight Cowboy was released. The story of a petty thief and a male prostitute scraping by in Times Square, it was shocking in some quarters, but the movie instantly became a classic and was said to give Mapplethorpe the idea of turning sexual favors on 42nd Street to supplement their meager income. It started out as something of a romanticized adventure, but the novelty gave way to the reality of having sex with people who didn’t interest him, and he gave it up.

At the Chelsea Hotel, Robert and Patti as a matter of course came in contact with Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Milos Forman, and Virgil Thomson—whose extended stays or residences there provided a respite from the demands of the public. Most of the hotel patrons were eccentric; they also tended to know about all sorts of interesting or arcane events in the city, sometimes dragging Mapplethorpe and Smith out with them at night on cultural odysseys, exposing them to poetry readings at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery or experimental theater performances. One night it might be a concert at the Fillmore East and a backstage visit with the musicians, another a wild, avant-garde production of Orlando Furioso, by Teatro Libero di Roma, in an enormous tent in Bryant Park, where life-sized wooden puppets on tin horses performed as the audience roamed through a labyrinth where many scenes took place simultaneously.

Soon after settling in at the Chelsea Hotel, Mapplethorpe and Smith found their way to Max’s Kansas City. They may, as young artists, have been poor but it must have felt as if they had arrived in the right place. Just as Montparnasse had replaced Montmartre as the center of the art world in Paris in the 1920s, the art world axis in New York had recently shifted its psychic temperament. In the 1950s, Cedar Tavern on University Place was known for the masculine bravado and philosophical posturing of its patrons—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline—who would argue through many a drunken evening. A little farther south, the San Remo on Bleecker Street attracted an equally intellectually charged but less rowdy group of writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and Delmore Schwartz. Eventually both gave way to the theatrical androgyny and urban-cowboy swagger of the Chelsea Hotel and Max’s Kansas City.

The shift from Cedar Tavern to Max’s might well represent the evolution in art itself from one decade to another. Abstract expressionism was a Buddhist-influenced process of expressing interior reality at the actual moment of experience, and, at night, the conversation at Cedar Tavern was an ongoing existential argument. Pop art was focused on the iconography of popular culture, so, of course, nightlife at Max’s was a heightened display, in homage to but equally in mockery of the full range of Hollywood tropes.

In Max’s more outre back room, Robert and Patti inched their way into the ethos of Andy Warhol and his superstars, whose nightly soirees proved to be the Algonquin Round Table of the 1970s. Mapplethorpe on occasion would wear his sailor suit, while Smith was not compelled to dress up at all, preferring the uniform of comfort and anonymity—T-shirts and jeans. “They were this couple and they would sit away from everybody, as if they were shy,” said Gerard Malanga, the Factory mainstay who is also a poet.

Among the regulars at Max’s was Robert Smithson, at the time gaining prominence as one of the land artists with his just completed Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake, Utah. Smithson would dominate the conversation at one table, often inviting another artist like Richard Serra or John Chamberlain to join him, and everyone would talk about his work. Mapplethorpe met Brice Marden and Robert Indiana there. During that period Marden went to Robert’s studio to look at his work—the assemblages, collages, and framed pieces—and he said he would mention them to Klaus Kertess, his own dealer, at Bykert Gallery. It was in just this way that artists at the time would slowly become known.

Between Max’s Kansas City and the Chelsea Hotel, Mapplethorpe and Smith found themselves at the epicenter of cultural ferment in the art world, two young impoverished artists in waiting, cutting their teeth on what was becoming the very essence of urban cool. Perhaps in homage to Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, Robert agreed to star in a movie filmed at the hotel by fellow resident Sandy Daley. The film bore a self-explanatory title, Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, and was narrated by Patti Smith.

Mapplethorpe’s sexuality had already begun to evolve in those years. He was getting to know Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, and Joe Dallesandro—those inhabitants of the back room at Max’s whose gender-obfuscating antics were as much a kind of nose-thumbing challenge to convention as a sincere display of personal desire. Their life-as-art gestures turned out to be of revolutionary significance, paving the way—at least in the media—for a social movement that eventually became known to the mainstream as the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and, much later, transgender community. Lou Reed wrote “Walk on the Wild Side,” about this group in the back room at Max’s, and the song’s seductive and mysterious tone heralded the persona Mapplethorpe was cultivating there, too.

And so, by the time Robert answered the phone and laughed at Wagstaff’s wry opening gambit, he had already received a sterling introduction to the art world demimonde. His ambition had already been fueled and encouraged by his new connections. At the uptown dinner table of John McKendry and his socially prominent wife, Maxime de la Falaise, who had been a fashion model in London in the 1950s, Robert was introduced to an assortment of titled Brits, chic Parisians, and well-placed New Yorkers for whom this attractive, poetic waif from the downtown netherworld was a precious novelty.

Steven Aronson said that Mapplethorpe “was the one you wanted to talk to” at the McKendrys’ table. “He was marvelous looking, absolutely. He had the besmirched beauty of an urchin, and of course that wonderful whiny voice. He was positively languid, but then he began to talk about his work, and he became adrenalized—really, it was the only time he ever came alive. He made you feel as if a visit to his loft was an urgent matter. So you went, and you weren’t sorry.”

Robert had a mischievous sensuality that the art-rock fashions of that period seemed to intensify. With his Mick Jagger–like androgyny, he made himself an object of desire. Still, he had grown weary of the expectations of super-daddy love; the older men whose favors he accepted were not generally attractive to him. Often, as is typical of young artists, Mapplethorpe had to balance a polite regard for his patrons even as he struggled to avoid their affections. It was tantamount to singing in an extended falsetto, and it strained his taste as much as his stamina. “Robert was highly sought after by both men and women,” Smith wrote in Just Kids. A string of secret admirers would come to the Chelsea Hotel, soliciting her permission to pursue Mapplethorpe romantically and even cheekily asking her advice about how to secure his affections. “Love his work,” Smith would tell them, but they ignored her. Sam Wagstaff, she wrote, was “the only one who truly grasped this.”

Losing no time, Wagstaff visited Mapplethorpe’s studio within a day of making the call. The second-floor loft had northern light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that faced a big YMCA sign across the street. There was no running water, but even so Robert and Patti were living there now; they snuck back into the Chelsea Hotel several doors away= as often as they could to shower. The loft was divided in half by several black sheets that hung from a clothesline, separating Robert’s workspace from Patti’s. The rent was one hundred dollars a month, still beyond their means.

The afternoon visit set off a profound upheaval for Wagstaff. A leather motorcycle jacket was hanging on a coatrack near the entrance. Below the jacket hung a pair of jeans. Together they composed a kind of urban scarecrow. Sam could hear muffled murmurs, as if people were having sex somewhere else in the loft. Robert smiled, reached into the pocket of the jacket, and pulled out a tape recorder. The murmurs had been recorded. Sam’s eyes then dropped to what appeared to be an unusual bulge at the crotch in the jeans hanging on the coatrack. Again Robert smiled. “It’s a baguette,” he said.

Wagstaff had encountered impromptu installations by artists in the past, as in the live, walking Dada piece he encountered at Ray Johnson’s apartment in 1959, when Dorothy Podber emerged from the closet with a tea cup and glove. This coatrack tableau was just the kind of thing that Sam would find appealing, an erotic provocation with a diabolical charge. It was sexy, arresting, and thoughtfully conceived, even as there was a strong whiff of adolescent hijinks about it that led Sam’s attention beyond the aesthetic. Sam had his own juvenile streak, which would now and again push through the patina of maturity and accomplishment. Observing the way Sam shed some of his controlled, patrician bearing while he was in Detroit, Susanne Hilberry, his assistant at the DIA, had concluded that the recreational drug use and the sexual freedom of the late 1960s “gave Sam permission to explore the adolescence he never had at Hotchkiss.”

Mapplethorpe suggestively showed Wagstaff a naked self-portrait, an assemblage with three small Polaroid images stacked as a vertical triptych to create a single figure. Over the Polaroids lay wire mesh he had cut out of a brown-paper potato sack and spray-painted purple. It gave the impression that the male nude was standing in a doorway, behind the window of a confessional, or, even, locked behind bars. The viewer had to peer through the mesh to see Robert’s entire naked body. The spectacle of his bare flesh, his nipples and navel, his pubic hair and penis, and the defiant but seductive expression on his face amounted to further provocation for Wagstaff. Mapplethorpe could not have been more overtly seductive; by the end of the visit he had won the patron’s approval.

Wagstaff had turned out to be nothing like the other older men seeking Robert’s affections. His informed interest in Robert’s work was as much a seduction for Robert as the variety of sexual decoys had been for Sam. Klaus Kertess, who was also an art critic, knew Sam Wagstaff quite well, not only from Sam’s visits to his uptown gallery but also as his longtime neighbor in the building at 54 Bond Street. He described Sam’s appeal to any artist: “His eyes would light up when he’d describe something he’d seen. He just took joy in seeing work and being around it,” Kertess said. “That openness, I think, is what drew so many artists to Sam.”

When Wagstaff became the earliest champion of minimal art, it was because he saw something completely new. The same was true when conceptual artists began employing everyday materials, and he saw it as a way into the future for art. He got excited by conceptualism’s offshoots, like fluxus-based mail art, in which he became a participant, receiving Dadaesque letters and odd correspondences through the mail from Ray Johnson and George Brecht. Next, he embraced the highly conceptual and limitless possibilities of earth art. Now, once again, he was confronted with a young artist whose collages and assemblage were both formally rigorous and overtly homoerotic. While the form referred to pop art, Mapplethorpe was doing something Sam had never seen before—addressing his own homosexuality with matter-of-fact ease. It was time for a movement that went beyond painting, and in the ineffable allure of Robert’s experimentation with assemblage and homoerotic imagery, Sam saw a new direction.

Robert sensed he was in a situation fundamentally different from his usual interactions with wealthy men. First of all, Sam’s striking appearance drew repeated comment from virtually everyone who knew him, to the point that it can become tiresome. “You didn’t have to search very far to think why somebody might want to go out with him,” Edmund White, the distinguished novelist, literary essayist, and biographer of Jean Genet, said. “Then he was also very rich, and then he was also very powerful in the art world. Those three things made him quite a catch.”

For Wagstaff, meanwhile, despite all the natural confidence he brought to the moment, the Detroit debacle continued to lurk and he felt something less than his best self; he was uncertain of his future and still somewhat attached to Gordon Newton. According to Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe’s biographer, it was no secret among Sam’s friends and acquaintances at the time that he was “looking for someone to spoil.”

Robert was natural and at ease in his body, ever so polite and gentle in his solicitation of Sam’s opinions and observations. “If you read books of etiquette in the eighteenth century in France,” said Ed White, “what they all talk about is the importance of naturalness. They say only the greatest aristocrats can respond in a totally quiet, easygoing, natural way. That’s the one quality they all prize, and I think Robert had that.”

Sam and Robert continued on to dinner that night. Falling in love over dinner is not an experience to be missed—even if dinner consisted of scrambled eggs, a Coke, and a Kool cigarette, Mapplethorpe’s standard fare throughout his twenties. Every sip of your drink and every bite of your meal merely restrains the urgency of desire. Robert’s sweetness of manner clashed powerfully with the sharp-edged menace of his sexual candor; he flaunted his carnality in a way that was perhaps too flamboyant even for Sam, but tempered it with a boyishness and physical grace. Sam had a saying “All artists are aristocrats,” but Robert appeared to be something of a sorcerer, too.

Sam, who was never shy about staring at anyone—and was often enough unconscious of the discomfort his penetrating scrutiny induced—stared at Robert now and then throughout the evening. The presence of Robert’s sexual mystique emerging from the freshness of his youth conjured the same feeling of giddy sacrilege that defined his artwork. To Sam, a curator and art historian, Robert’s presence resonated in line with a long tradition of homoeroticism in arts and letters, that of a sexual and artistic partnership between an established older man and a younger one. Like Sergei Diaghilev and Vaclav Nijinsky in the ballet world and the writers Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, the older man sees a kind of talent or genius in his young inamorato. He nurtures it, even if his judgment is clouded by his love (as Ed White has observed, Oscar Wilde thought his young lover Sir Alfred Douglas “was very talented”). Even while Sam and Robert were growing to know each other, there was a contemporary West Coast version of this sort of relationship: the British writer Christopher Isherwood and his Los Angeles–born lover, the painter Don Bachardy, who was three decades his junior. After all, White explained, “Robert was charming in a quiet way. He was an interesting person without being predictably intellectual or pedantic or anything like that. He was an original. Plus he was sexy.”

At dinner that night the two men discovered an extraordinary coincidence, an omen that their meeting was not only inevitable, but, to them, ordained in the mystical realm of astrology: they shared the same Scorpio birthday, November 4. By the end of that first meal, Sam and Robert both felt so enlivened that they went around the corner to David Croland’s apartment, and invited their mutual friend out for a drink. “Robert was seriously smitten,” Croland said, recalling his impression of the two of them that night. “You could see it. It was really very sweet. They were very happy. You could tell that they were together. I noticed that instantly.”

When Wagstaff brought Mapplethorpe home that night, his residence was not what the young artist would have expected. There was no sign of wealth in this long, mostly empty loft with only a few scattered pieces of secondhand furniture. Everywhere was a pack rat’s abundance of paper bags or boxes filled with prints and postcards. The black Tony Smith sculpture Throne dominated the space. Toward the back of the loft was Sam’s unmade bed, which was actually just a mattress on the floor—no better than Robert’s own, and laid out in a tableau much like his own postadolescent disarray. Still, it had the “privileged bohemian” appearance of studied destitution as much as cavalier disregard. It had been only recently, when Wagstaff had reached his late forties, that his stepfather’s inheritance gave him financial freedom, even though the penniless prince, who had first moved in almost a decade before while living on his meager curator’s salary at the Wadsworth Atheneum, had been a prince.

Being perceptive, as he was, Sam was likely attuned to the appraisal going on in Robert’s own mind. For all of Robert’s insouciant charm at dinner, the absence of visible wealth in Sam’s loft and his undergraduate-like living conditions would no doubt have soured the struggling young artist’s mood. In order to rescue the moment, it is possible to imagine that, with characteristic sangfroid, Sam allowed a knowing, mischievous smile, assuring his guest that the state of the loft was by no means representative of his circumstances. It would be just like Sam to then ask Robert if he would like to see a small painting. He would find a package among the pile of papers on the table with a letter on top, indicating it had been shipped from the Art Institute of Chicago, where it had been on loan. He would unwrap the small oil painting on cardboard, small enough to hold in his hands, and they would look at it under a bare lightbulb. Sam would offer the name, Le Jardin Nabi, mentioning that it was a postimpressionist work from one of the Nabi artists, a rebellious group who followed the example of Gauguin at the end of the nineteenth century in France. That might have piqued Robert’s interest enough to ask who painted it. “Oh, Vuillard,” Sam would say casually, prompting Robert to ask whether Sam owned it. It would be just like Wagstaff, ever the understated gentleman, to merely nod, offering just the flicker of reassurance, as well as the dash of glamour, that the young artist needed to understand that things were not exactly as they seemed.

Excerpted from “Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe: A Biography” by Philip Gefter. Published by Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton and Co., Inc. Copyright 2014 by Liveright Publishing Corporation. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. 

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/15/warhol_mapplethorpe_lou_reed_patti_smith_and_the_greatest_new_york_story_ever/?source=newsletter

Google’s secret NSA alliance: The terrifying deals between Silicon Valley and the security state

Inside the high-level, complicated deals — and the rise of a virtually unchecked surveillance power

Google's secret NSA alliance: The terrifying deals between Silicon Valley and the security state
Cover detail of “@War” by Shane Harris

In mid-December 2009, engineers at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, began to suspect that hackers in China had obtained access to private Gmail accounts, including those used by Chinese human rights activists opposed to the government in Beijing.

 Like a lot of large, well-known Internet companies, Google and its users were frequently targeted by cyber spies and criminals. But when the engineers looked more closely, they discovered that this was no ordinary hacking campaign.

In what Google would later describe as “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China,” the thieves were able to get access to the password system that allowed Google’s users to sign in to many Google applications at once. This was some of the company’s most important intellectual property, considered among the “crown jewels” of its source code by its engineers. Google wanted concrete evidence of the break-in that it could share with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence authorities. So they traced the intrusion back to what they believed was its source — a server in Taiwan where data was sent after it was siphoned off Google’s systems, and that was presumably under the control of hackers in mainland China.

“Google broke in to the server,” says a former senior intelligence official who’s familiar with the company’s response. The decision wasn’t without legal risk, according to the official. Was this a case of hacking back? Just as there’s no law against a homeowner following a robber back to where he lives, Google didn’t violate any laws by tracing the source of the intrusion into its systems. It’s still unclear how the company’s investigators gained access to the server, but once inside, if they had removed or deleted data, that would cross a legal line. But Google didn’t destroy what it found. In fact, the company did something unexpected and unprecedented — it shared the information.

Google uncovered evidence of one of the most extensive and far-reaching campaigns of cyber espionage in U.S. history. Evidence suggested that Chinese hackers had penetrated the systems of nearly three dozen other companies, including technology mainstays such as Symantec, Yahoo, and Adobe, the defense contractor Northrop Grumman, and the equipment maker Juniper Networks. The breadth of the campaign made it hard to discern a single motive. Was this industrial espionage? Spying on human rights activists? Was China trying to gain espionage footholds in key sectors of the U.S. economy or, worse, implant malware in equipment used to regulate critical infrastructure?



The only things Google seemed certain of was that the campaign was massive and persistent, and that China was behind it. And not just individual hackers, but the Chinese government, which had the means and the motive to launch such a broad assault.

Google shared what it found with the other targeted companies, as well as U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. For the past four years, corporate executives had been quietly pressing government officials to go public with information about Chinese spying, to shame the country into stopping its campaign. But for President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give a speech pointing the finger at China, they needed indisputable evidence that attributed the attacks to sources in China. And looking at what Google had provided it, government analysts were not sure they had it. American officials decided the relationship between the two economic superpowers was too fragile and the risk of conflict too high to go public with what Google knew.

Google disagreed.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg was at a cocktail party in Washington when an aide delivered an urgent message: Google was going to issue a public statement about the Chinese spying campaign. Steinberg, the second-highest-ranking official in U.S. foreign policy, immediately grasped the significance of the company’s decision. Up to that moment, American corporations had been unwilling to publicly accuse the Chinese of spying on their networks or stealing their intellectual property. The companies feared losing the confidence of investors and customers, inviting other hackers to target their obviously weak defenses, and igniting the fury of Chinese government officials, who could easily revoke access to one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets for U.S. goods and services. For any company to come out against China would be momentous. But for Google, the most influential company of the Internet age, it was historic.

The next day, January 12, 2010, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, posted a lengthy statement to the company’s blog, accusing hackers in China of attacking Google’s infrastructure and criticizing the government for censoring Internet content and suppressing human rights activists. “We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech,” said Drummond.

Back at the State Department, officials saw a rare opportunity to put pressure on China for spying. That night Hillary Clinton issued her own statement. “We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation,” she said. “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.”

As diplomatic maneuvers go, this was pivotal. Google had just given the Obama administration an opening to accuse China of espionage without having to make the case itself. Officials could simply point to what Google had discovered as a result of its own investigation.

“It gave us an opportunity to discuss the issues without having to rely on classified sources or sensitive methods” of intelligence gathering, Steinberg says. The administration had had little warning about Google’s decision, and it was at odds with some officials’ reluctance to take the espionage debate public. But now that it was, no one complained.

“It was their decision. I certainly had no objection,” Steinberg says.

The Obama administration began to take a harsher tone with China, starting with a major address Clinton gave about her Internet Freedom initiative nine days later. She called on China to stop censoring Internet searches and blocking access to websites that printed criticism about the country’s leaders. Clinton likened such virtual barriers to the Berlin Wall.

For its part, Google said it would stop filtering search results for words and subjects banned by government censors. And if Beijing objected, Google was prepared to pull up stakes and leave the Chinese market entirely, losing out on billions of dollars in potential revenues. That put other U.S. technology companies in the hot seat. Were they willing to put up with government interference and suppression of free speech in order to keep doing business in China?

After Google’s declaration, it was easier for other companies to admit they’d been infiltrated by hackers. After all, if it happened to Google, it could happen to anyone. Being spied on by the Chinese might even be a mark of distinction, insofar as it showed that a company was important enough to merit the close attention of a superpower. With one blog post, Google had changed the global conversation about cyber defense.

The company had also shown that it knew a lot about Chinese spies. The NSA wanted to know how much.

Google had also alerted the NSA and the FBI that its networks were breached by hackers in China. As a law enforcement agency, the FBI could investigate the intrusion as a criminal matter. But the NSA needed Google’s permission to come in and help assess the breach.

On the day that Google’s lawyer wrote the blog post, the NSA’s general counsel began drafting a “cooperative research and development agreement,” a legal pact that was originally devised under a 1980 law to speed up the commercial development of new technologies that are of mutual interest to companies and the government. The agreement’s purpose is to build something — a device or a technique, for instance. The participating company isn’t paid, but it can rely on the government to front the research and development costs, and it can use government personnel and facilities for the research. Each side gets to keep the products of the collaboration private until they choose to disclose them. In the end, the company has the exclusive patent rights to build whatever was designed, and the government can use any information that was generated during the collaboration.

It’s not clear what the NSA and Google built after the China hack. But a spokeswoman at the agency gave hints at the time the agreement was written. “As a general matter, as part of its information-assurance mission, NSA works with a broad range of commercial partners and research associates to ensure the availability of secure tailored solutions for Department of Defense and national security systems customers,” she said. It was the phrase “tailored solutions” that was so intriguing. That implied something custom built for the agency, so that it could perform its intelligence-gathering mission. According to officials who were privy to the details of Google’s arrangements with the NSA, the company agreed to provide information about traffic on its networks in exchange for intelligence from the NSA about what it knew of foreign hackers. It was a quid pro quo, information for information.

And from the NSA’s perspective, information in exchange for protection.

The cooperative agreement and reference to a “tailored solution” strongly suggest that Google and the NSA built a device or a technique for monitoring intrusions into the company’s networks. That would give the NSA valuable information for its so-called active defense system, which uses a combination of automated sensors and algorithms to detect malware or signs of an imminent attack and take action against them. One system, called Turmoil, detects traffic that might pose a threat. Then, another automated system called Turbine decides whether to allow the traffic to pass or to block it. Turbine can also select from a number of offensive software programs and hacking techniques that a human operator can use to disable the source of the malicious traffic. He might reset the source’s Internet connection or redirect the traffic to a server under the NSA’s control. There the source can be injected with a virus or spyware, so the NSA can continue to monitor it.

For Turbine and Turmoil to work, the NSA needs information, particularly about the data flowing over a network. With its millions of customers around the world, Google is effectively a directory of people using the Internet. It has their e-mail addresses. It knows where they’re physically located when they log in. It knows what they search for on the web. The government could command the company to turn over that information, and it does as part of the NSA’s Prism program, which Google had been participating in for a year by the time it signed the cooperative agreement with the NSA. But that tool is used for investigating people whom the government suspects of terrorism or espionage.

The NSA’s cyber defense mission takes a broader view across networks for potential threats, sometimes before it knows who those threats are. Under Google’s terms of service, the company advises its users that it may share their “personal information” with outside organizations, including government agencies, in order to “detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues” and to “protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google.” According to people familiar with the NSA and Google’s arrangement, it does not give the government permission to read Google users’ e-mails.

They can do that under Prism. Rather, it lets the NSA evaluate Google hardware and software for vulnerabilities that hackers might exploit. Considering that the NSA is the single biggest collector of zero day vulnerabilities, that information would help make Google more secure than others that don’t get access to such prized secrets. The agreement also lets the agency analyze intrusions that have already occurred, so it can help trace them back to their source.

Google took a risk forming an alliance with the NSA. The company’s corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” would seem at odds with the work of a covert surveillance and cyber warfare agency. But Google got useful information in return for its cooperation. Shortly after the China revelation, the government gave Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounder, a temporary security clearance that allowed him to attend a classified briefing about the campaign against his company. Government analysts had concluded that the intrusion was directed by a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. This was the most specific information Google could obtain about the source of the intrusion. It could help Google fortify its systems, block traffic from certain Internet addresses, and make a more informed decision about whether it wanted to do business in China at all. Google’s executives might pooh-pooh the NSA’s “secret sauce.” But when the company found itself under attack, it turned to Fort Meade for help.

In its blog post, Google said that more than twenty companies had been hit by the China hackers, in a campaign that was later dubbed Aurora after a file name on the attackers’ computer. A security research firm soon put the number of targets at around three dozen. Actually, the scope of Chinese spying was, and is, much larger.

Security experts in and outside of government have a name for the hackers behind campaigns such as Aurora and others targeting thousands of other companies in practically every sector of the U.S. economy: the advanced persistent threat. It’s an ominous-sounding title, and a euphemistic one. When government officials mention “APT” today, what they often mean is China, and more specifically, hackers working at the direction of Chinese military and intelligence officials or on their behalf.

The “advanced” part of the description refers in part to the hackers’ techniques, which are as effective as any the NSA employs. The Chinese cyber spies can use an infected computer’s own chat and instant-messenger applications to communicate with a command-and-control server. They can implant a piece of malware and then remotely customize it, adding new information-harvesting features. The government apparatus supporting all this espionage is also advanced, more so than the loose-knit groups of cyber vandals or activists such as Anonymous that spy on companies for political purposes, or even the sophisticated Russian criminal groups, who are more interested in stealing bank account and credit card data. China plays a longer game. Its leaders want the country to become a first-tier economic and industrial power in a single generation, and they are prepared to steal the knowledge they need to do it, U.S. officials say.

That’s where the “persistent” part comes into play. Gathering that much information, from so many sources, requires a relentless effort, and the will and financial resources to try many different kinds of intrusion techniques, including expensive zero day exploits. Once the spies find a foothold inside an organization’s networks, they don’t let go unless they’re forced out. And even then they quickly return. The “threat” such spying poses to the U.S. economy takes the form of lost revenue and strategic position. But also the risk that the Chinese military will gain hidden entry points into critical-infrastructure control systems in the United States. U.S. intelligence officials believe that the Chinese military has mapped out infrastructure control networks so that if the two nations ever went to war, the Chinese could hit American targets such as electrical grids or gas pipelines without having to launch a missile or send a fleet of bombers.

Operation Aurora was the first glimpse into the breadth of the ATP’s exploits. It was the first time that names of companies had been attached to Chinese espionage. “The scope of this is much larger than anybody has ever conveyed,” Kevin Mandia, CEO and president of Mandiant, a computer security and forensics company located outside Washington, said at the time of Operation Aurora. The APT represented hacking on a national, strategic level. “There [are] not 50 companies compromised. There are thousands of companies compromised. Actively, right now,” said Mandia, a veteran cyber investigator who began his career as a computer security officer in the air force and worked there on cybercrime cases. Mandiant was becoming a goto outfit that companies called whenever they discovered spies had penetrated their networks. Shortly after the Google breach, Mandiant disclosed the details of its investigations in a private meeting with Defense Department officials a few days before speaking publicly about it.

The APT is not one body but a collection of hacker groups that include teams working for the People’s Liberation Army, as well as so-called patriotic hackers, young, enterprising geeks who are willing to ply their trade in service of their country. Chinese universities are also stocked with computer science students who work for the military after graduation. The APT hackers put a premium on stealth and patience. They use zero days and install backdoors. They take time to identify employees in a targeted organization, and send them carefully crafted spear-phishing e-mails laden with spyware. They burrow into an organization, and they often stay there for months or years before anyone finds them, all the while siphoning off plans and designs, reading e-mails and their attachments, and keeping tabs on the comings and goings of employees — the hackers’ future targets. The Chinese spies behave, in other words, like their American counterparts.

No intelligence organization can survive if it doesn’t know its enemy. As expansive as the NSA’s network of sensors is, it’s sometimes easier to get precise intelligence about hacking campaigns from the targets themselves. That’s why the NSA partnered with Google. It’s why when Mandiant came calling with intelligence on the APT, officials listened to what the private sleuths had to say. Defending cyberspace is too big a job even for the world’s elite spy agency. Whether they like it or not, the NSA and corporations must fight this foe together.

Google’s Sergey Brin is just one of hundreds of CEOs who have been brought into the NSA’s circle of secrecy. Starting in 2008, the agency began offering executives temporary security clearances, some good for only one day, so they could sit in on classified threat briefings.

“They indoctrinate someone for a day, and show them lots of juicy intelligence about threats facing businesses in the United States,” says a telecommunications company executive who has attended several of the briefings, which are held about three times a year. The CEOs are required to sign an agreement pledging not to disclose anything they learn in the briefings. “They tell them, in so many words, if you violate this agreement, you will be tried, convicted, and spend the rest of your life in prison,” says the executive.

Why would anyone agree to such severe terms? “For one day, they get to be special and see things few others do,” says the telecom executive, who, thanks to having worked regularly on classified projects, holds high-level clearances and has been given access to some of the NSA’s most sensitive operations, including the warrantless surveillance program that began after the 9/11 attacks. “Alexander became personal friends with many CEOs” through these closed-door sessions, the executive adds. “I’ve sat through some of these and said, ‘General, you tell these guys things that could put our country in danger if they leak out.’ And he said, ‘I know. But that’s the risk we take. And if it does leak out, they know what the consequences will be.’ ”

But the NSA doesn’t have to threaten the executives to get their attention. The agency’s revelations about stolen data and hostile intrusions are frightening in their own right, and deliberately so. “We scare the bejeezus out of them,” a government official told National Public Radio in 2012. Some of those executives have stepped out of their threat briefings meeting feeling like the defense contractor CEOs who, back in the summer of 2007, left the Pentagon with “white hair.”

Unsure how to protect themselves, some CEOs will call private security companies such as Mandiant. “I personally know of one CEO for whom [a private NSA threat briefing] was a life-changing experience,” Richard Bejtlich, Mandiant’s chief security officer, told NPR. “General Alexander sat him down and told him what was going on. This particular CEO, in my opinion, should have known about [threats to his company] but did not, and now it has colored everything about the way he thinks about this problem.”

The NSA and private security companies have a symbiotic relationship. The government scares the CEOs and they run for help to experts such as Mandiant. Those companies, in turn, share what they learn during their investigations with the government, as Mandiant did after the Google breach in 2010. The NSA has also used the classified threat briefings to spur companies to strengthen their defenses.

In one 2010 session, agency officials said they’d discovered a flaw in personal computer firmware — the onboard memory and codes that tell the machine how to work — that could allow a hacker to turn the computer “into a brick,” rendering it useless. The CEOs of computer manufacturers who attended the meeting, and who were previously aware of the design flaw, ordered it fixed.

Private high-level meetings are just one way the NSA has forged alliances with corporations. Several classified programs allow companies to share the designs of their products with the agency so it can inspect them for flaws and, in some instances, install backdoors or other forms of privileged access. The types of companies that have shown the NSA their products include computer, server, and router manufacturers; makers of popular software products, including Microsoft; Internet and e-mail service providers; telecommunications companies; satellite manufacturers; antivirus and Internet security companies; and makers of encryption algorithms.

The NSA helps the companies find weaknesses in their products. But it also pays the companies not to fix some of them. Those weak spots give the agency an entry point for spying or attacking foreign governments that install the products in their intelligence agencies, their militaries, and their critical infrastructure. Microsoft, for instance, shares zero day vulnerabilities in its products with the NSA before releasing a public alert or a software patch, according to the company and U.S. officials. Cisco, one of the world’s top network equipment makers, leaves backdoors in its routers so they can be monitored by U.S. agencies, according to a cyber security professional who trains NSA employees in defensive techniques. And McAfee, the Internet security company, provides the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI with network traffic flows, analysis of malware, and information about hacking trends.

Companies that promise to disclose holes in their products only to the spy agencies are paid for their silence, say experts and officials who are familiar with the arrangements. To an extent, these openings for government surveillance are required by law. Telecommunications companies in particular must build their equipment in such a way that it can be tapped by a law enforcement agency presenting a court order, like for a wiretap. But when the NSA is gathering intelligence abroad, it is not bound by the same laws. Indeed, the surveillance it conducts via backdoors and secret flaws in hardware and software would be illegal in most of the countries where it occurs.

Of course, backdoors and unpatched flaws could also be used by hackers. In 2010 a researcher at IBM publicly revealed a flaw in a Cisco operating system that allows a hacker to use a backdoor that was supposed to be available only to law enforcement agencies. The intruder could hijack the Cisco device and use it to spy on all communications passing through it, including the content of e-mails. Leaving products vulnerable to attack, particularly ubiquitous software programs like those produced by Microsoft, puts millions of customers and their private information at risk and jeopardizes the security of electrical power facilities, public utilities, and transportation systems.

Under U.S. law, a company’s CEO is required to be notified whenever the government uses its products, services, or facilities for intelligence-gathering purposes. Some of these information-sharing arrangements are brokered by the CEOs themselves and may be reviewed only by a few lawyers. The benefits of such cooperation can be profound. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, became friends with George W. Bush when he was in office. In April 2006, Chambers and the president ate lunch together at the White House with Chinese president Hu Jintao, and the next day Bush gave Chambers a lift on Air Force One to San Jose, where the president joined the CEO at Cisco headquarters for a panel discussion on American business competitiveness. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also joined the conversation. Proximity to political power is its own reward. But preferred companies also sometimes receive early warnings from the government about threats against them.

The Homeland Security Department also conducts meetings with companies through its “cross sector working groups” initiative. These sessions are a chance for representatives from the universe of companies with which the government shares intelligence to meet with one another and hear from U.S. officials. The attendees at these meetings often have security clearances and have undergone background checks and interviews. The department has made the schedule and agendas of some of these meetings public, but it doesn’t disclose the names of companies that participated or many details about what they discussed.

Between January 2010 and October 2013, the period for which public records are available, the government held at least 168 meetings with companies just in the cross sector working group. There have been hundreds more meetings broken out by specific industry categories, such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation.

A typical meeting may include a “threat briefing” by a U.S. government official, usually from the NSA, the FBI, or the Homeland Security Department; updates on specific initiatives, such as enhancing bank website security, improving information sharing among utility companies, or countering malware; and discussion of security “tools” that have been developed by the government and industry, such as those used to detect intruders on a network. One meeting in April 2012 addressed “use cases for enabling information sharing for active cyber defense,” the NSA-pioneered process of disabling cyber threats before they can do damage. The information sharing in this case was not among government agencies but among corporations.

Most meetings have dealt with protecting industrial control systems, the Internet-connected devices that regulate electrical power equipment, nuclear reactors, banks, and other vital facilities. That’s the weakness in U.S. cyberspace that most worries intelligence officials. It was the subject that so animated George W. Bush in 2007 and that Barack Obama addressed publicly two years later. The declassified agendas for these meetings offer a glimpse at what companies and the government are building for domestic cyber defense.

On September 23, 2013, the Cross Sector Enduring Security Framework Operations Working Group discussed an update to an initiative described as “Connect Tier 1 and USG Operations Center.” “Tier 1” usually refers to a major Internet service provider or network operator. Some of the best-known Tier 1 companies in the United States are AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink. “USG” refers to the U.S. government. The initiative likely refers to a physical connection running from an NSA facility to those companies, as part of an expansion of the DIB pilot program. The expansion was authorized by a presidential executive order in February 2013 aimed at increasing security of critical-infrastructure sites around the country. The government, mainly through the NSA, gives threat intelligence to two Internet service providers, AT&T and CenturyLink. They, in turn, can sell “enhanced cybersecurity services,” as the program is known, to companies that the government deems vital to national and economic security. The program is nominally run by the Homeland Security Department, but the NSA provides the intelligence and the technical expertise.

Through this exchange of intelligence, the government has created a cyber security business. AT&T and CenturyLink are in effect its private sentries, selling protection to select corporations and industries. AT&T has one of the longest histories of any company participating in government surveillance. It was among the first firms that voluntarily handed over call records of its customers to the NSA following the 9/11 attacks, so the agency could mine them for potential connections to terrorists — a program that continues to this day. Most phone calls in the United States pass through AT&T equipment at some point, regardless of which carrier initiates them. The company’s infrastructure is one of the most important and frequently tapped repositories of electronic intelligence for the NSA and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

CenturyLink, which has its headquarters in Monroe, Louisiana, has been a less familiar name in intelligence circles over the years. But in 2011 the company acquired Qwest Communications, a telecommunications firm that is well known to the NSA. Before the 9/11 attacks, NSA officials approached Qwest executives and asked for access to its high-speed fiber-optic networks, in order to monitor them for potential cyber attacks. The company rebuffed the agency’s requests because officials hadn’t obtained a court order to get access to the company’s equipment. After the terrorist attacks, NSA officials again came calling, asking Qwest to hand over its customers’ phone records without a court-approved warrant, as AT&T had done. Again, the company refused. It took another ten years and the sale of the company, but Qwest’s networks are now a part of the NSA’s extended security apparatus.

The potential customer base for government-supplied cyber intelligence, sold through corporations, is as diverse as the U.S. economy itself. To obtain the information, a company must meet the government’s definition of a critical infrastructure: “assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.” That may seem like a narrow definition, but the categories of critical infrastructure are numerous and vast, encompassing thousands of businesses. Officially, there are sixteen sectors: chemical; commercial facilities, to include shopping centers, sports venues, casinos, and theme parks; communications; critical manufacturing; dams; the defense industrial base; emergency services, such as first responders and search and rescue; energy; financial services; food and agriculture; government facilities; health care and public health; information technology; nuclear reactors, materials, and waste; transportation systems; and water and wastewater systems.

It’s inconceivable that every company on such a list could be considered “so vital to the United States” that its damage or loss would harm national security and public safety. And yet, in the years since the 9/11 attacks, the government has cast such a wide protective net that practically any company could claim to be a critical infrastructure. The government doesn’t disclose which companies are receiving cyber threat intelligence. And as of now the program is voluntary. But lawmakers and some intelligence officials, including Keith Alexander and others at the NSA, have pressed Congress to regulate the cyber security standards of critical-infrastructure owners and operators. If that were to happen, then the government could require that any company, from Pacific Gas and Electric to Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos, take the government’s assistance, share information about its customers with the intelligence agencies, and build its cyber defenses according to government specifications.

In a speech in 2013 the Pentagon’s chief cyber security adviser, Major General John Davis, announced that Homeland Security and the Defense Department were working together on a plan to expand the original DIB program to more sectors. They would start with energy, transportation, and oil and natural gas, “things that are critical to DOD’s mission and the nation’s economic and national security that we do not directly control,” Davis said. The general called foreign hackers’ mapping of these systems and potential attacks “an imminent threat.” The government will never be able to manage such an extensive security regime on its own. It can’t now, which is why it relies on AT&T and CenturyLink. More companies will flock to this new mission as the government expands the cyber perimeter. The potential market for cyber security services is practically limitless.

Excerpted from “@WAR: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex” by Shane Harris. Copyright © 2014 by Shane Harris. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Shane Harris is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State, which won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism and was named one of the best books of 2010 by the Economist. Harris won the 2010 Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He is currently senior writer at Foreign Policy magazine and an ASU fellow at the New America Foundation, where he researches the future of war.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/16/googles_secret_nsa_alliance_the_terrifying_deals_between_silicon_valley_and_the_security_state/?source=newsletter

The Interregnum: Why the Future is so chaotic

The Interregnum:

Why the Future is so chaotic

“The old is dying,and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a diversity of morbid symptoms”-Antonio Gramsci

The morbid symptoms began to appear in the spring of 2003. The Department of Homeland Security was officially formed and despite the street protests of millions around the world, the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext of capturing Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction”. By summer it was obvious that there were no such weapons and that we had been tricked into a war from which there was no easy exit. Pollsters began to notice that a majority of American’s felt we were “on the wrong track” and the distrust of our leadership has gotten worse every year.

So while the citizens exhibit historical levels of anger with the country’s drift, neither the political nor the economic leaders have put forth an alternative vision of our future. We are in an Interregnum: the often painful uprooting of old traditions and the hard-fought emergence of the new. The traditional notion of an interregnum refers to the time when a king died and a new king had not been coronated. But for our purposes, the notion of interregnum refers to those hinges in time when the old order is dead, but the new direction has not been determined. Quite often, the general populace does not understand that the transition is taking place and so a great deal of tumult arises as the birth pangs of a new social and political order. We are in such a time in America.

For those of us who work in the field of media and communications the signs of the Interregnum are everywhere. Internet services decimate the traditional businesses of music and journalism. For individual journalists or musicians, the old order is clearly dying, but a new way to make a living cannot seem to be birthed. Those who work in the fields of film and television can only hope a similar fate does not await their careers. In the world of politics a similar dynamic is destroying traditional political parties and the insurgent bottom up, networked campaigns pioneered by Barack Obama now become the standard. And yet we realize that for all it’s insurgency, the Obama campaign really did not usher in a new era. It is clear that there is an American Establishment that seems to stay in power no matter which party controls The White House. And the recent election only makes this more obvious. But this top-down establishment order is clearly dying, but it clings to it privileges and the networked, bottom-up society is not yet empowered.

Since 1953 when two senior partners of a Wall Street law firm, the brothers John Foster and Allen Dulles began running American foreign (and often domestic) policy, an establishment view, through Democratic and Republican presidencies alike, has been the norm. As Stephen Kinzer (in his book The Brothers)has written about the Dulles brothers, “Their life’s work was turning American money and power into global money and power. They deeply believed, or made themselves believe, that what benefited them and their clients would benefit everyone.” They created a world in which the Wall Street elites at first set our foreign policy and eventually (under Ronald Reagan) came to dominate domestic and tax policy — all to the benefit of themselves and their clients.

In 1969 the median salary for a male worker was $35,567 (in 2012 dollars). Today it is $33,904. So for 44 years, while wages for the top 10% have continued to climb, most Americans have been caught in a ”Great Stagnation”, bringing into question the whole purpose of the American capitalist economy. The notion that what benefited the establishment would benefit everyone, had been thoroughly discredited.

Seen through this lens, the savage partisanship of the current moment makes an odd kind of sense. What were the establishment priorities that moved inexorably forward in both Republican and Democratic administrations? The first was a robust and aggressive foreign policy. As Kinzer writes of the Dulles brothers, “Exceptionalism — the view that the United States has a right to impose its will because it knows more, sees farther, and lives on a higher moral plane than other nations — was to them not a platitude, but the organizing principle of daily life and global politics.” From Eisenhower to Obama, this principle has been the guiding light of our foreign policy, bringing with it annual defense expenditures that dwarf those of all the world’s major powers combined and drive us deeper in debt. The second principle of the establishment was, “what is good for Wall Street is good for America.” Despite Democrats efforts to paint the GOP as the party of Wall Street, one would only have to look at the efforts of Clinton’s Treasury secretaries Rubin and Summers to kill the Glass-Steagal Act and deregulate the big banks, to see that the establishment rules no matter who is in power. Was it any surprise that Obama then appointed the architects of bank deregulation, Summers and Geithner, to clean up the mess their policies had caused?

So when we observe politicians as diverse as Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul railing against the twin poles of establishment orthodoxy, can we really be surprised? Is there not a new consensus that the era of America as global policeman is over? Is there not agreement from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street that the domination of domestic policy by financial elites is over? But here is our Interregnum dilemma. It is one thing to forecast a kind of liberal-libertarian coalition around the issues of defense spending, corporate welfare and even the privacy rights of citizens in a national security state. It is a much more intractable problem to find consensus on the causes and cures of the Great Stagnation. It does seem like we need to understand the nature of the current stagnation by looking back to the late sixties when the economy was very different than it is today. In 1966, net investment as a percentage of GDP peaked at 14% and it has been on a steady decline ever since, despite the computer revolution which was only getting started in the early 1970’s.

Economic growth only comes from three sources: consumption, investment or foreign earnings from trade (the Current Account). We have been living so long with a negative current account balance and falling investment that economic growth is almost totally dependent on the third leg of the stool, consumer spending. But with the average worker unable to get a raise since 1969, consumption can only come from loosened credit standards. As long as the average family could use their home equity as an ATM, the party could continue, driven by the increasing sophistication of advertising and “branded entertainment” to induce mall fever to a strapped consumer. And by the late 1990’s consumer preferences began to drive a winner take all digital economy where one to three firms dominated each sector: Apple and Google; Verizon and AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable; Disney, Fox, Viacom and NBC Universal; Facebook and Twitter. All of this was unloosed by the establishment meme of deregulation — a world in which anti-trust regulators had little influence and laissez-faire ruled. These oligopolies began making so much money they didn’t have enough places to invest so corporate cash as a percentage of assets rose to an all time high.

Here is my fear. That our current version of capitalism is not working. Apple holds on to $158 billion in cash because it can’t find a profitable investment. And because U.S. worker participation rates are only 64%, a huge number of people can never afford an I Phone and so domestic demand is flat (though very profitable) and the real growth in the digital economy will be in Asia, Africa and South America. There is not much the Fed lowering interest rates can do to alter this picture. What is needed is not more easy money loans; it more decent jobs.

But unlike our left-right consensus on military spending, there is a fierce debate raging between economists about the causes and solutions to this stagnation. Though both left and right agree the economy has stagnated, there are huge differences in the prospects for emerging from this condition. On the right, the political economist Tyler Cowen’s new book is called Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. Here is how Cowen sees the next twenty years.

The rise of intelligent machines will spawn new ideologies along with the new economy it is creating. Think of it as a kind of digital social Darwinism, with clear winners and losers: Those with the talent and skills to work seamlessly with technology and compete in the global marketplace are increasingly rewarded, while those whose jobs can just as easily be done by foreigners, robots or a few thousand lines of code suffer accordingly. This split is already evident in the data: The median male salary in the United States was higher in 1969 than it is today. Middle-class manufacturing jobs have been going away due to a mix of automation and trade, and they are not being replaced. The most lucrative college majors are in the technical fields, such as engineering. The winners are doing much better than ever before, but many others are standing still or even seeing wage declines.

On the left, Paul Krugman is not so sure we can emerge from this stagnation.

But what if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?…In fact, the case for “secular stagnation” — a persistent state in which a depressed economy is the norm, with episodes of full employment few and far between — was made forcefully recently at the most ultrarespectable of venues, the I.M.F.’s big annual research conference. And the person making that case was none other than Larry Summers. Yes, that Larry Summers.

Cowen forecasts a dystopian world where 10% of the population do very well and “the rest of the country will have stagnant or maybe even falling wages in dollar terms, but they will also have a lot more opportunities for cheap fun and cheap education.” That’s real comforting. He predicts the 90% will put up with this inequality for two reasons. First, the country is aging: “remember that riots and protests are typically the endeavors of young hotheads, not sage (or tired) senior citizens.” And second, because of the proliferation of social networks, “envy is local…Right now, the biggest medium for envy in the United States is probably Facebook, not the big yachts or other trophies of the rich and famous.”

Although Cowen cites statistics about the fall in street crime to back up the notion that the majority of citizens are passively accepting gross inequality, I think he completely misunderstands the nature of anti-social pathologies in the Internet Age of Stagnation. Take the example of the Web Site Silk Road.

Silk Road already stands as a tabloid monument to old-fashioned vice and new-fashioned technology. Until the website was shut down last month, it was the place to score, say, a brick of cocaine with a few anonymous strokes on a computer keyboard. According to the authorities, it greased $1.2 billion in drug deals and other crimes, including murder for hire.

From Lulzsec to Pirate Bay to Silk Road, the coming anarchy of a Bladerunner like society are far more vicious than a few street thugs in our major cities. The rise of virtual currencies that can’t be traced like Bitcoin only make the possibilities for a huge crime wave on the Dark Net more imminent—one which IBM estimates already costs the economy $400 billion annually.

So while both Cowen and Krugman agree that stagnation is causing the labor force participation rate to fall, they disagree as to whether anything can be done to remedy the problem.

In the early 1970’s the participation rate began to climb as more and more women entered the workforce. It peaked when George Bush entered office and has been on the decline ever since. As the Time’s David Leonhardt has pointed out, this has very little to do with Baby Boomer retirement. The economist Daniel Alpert has argued in his new book, The Age of Oversupply, that “the central challenge facing the global economy is an oversupply of labor, productive capacity and capital relative to the demand for all three.”

Viewed through this lens, neither the policy prescriptions of Republicans nor Democrats are capable of changing the dynamic brought about by the entrance of three billion new workers into the global economy in the last 20 years. Republican fears that U.S. deficits will lead to Weimar-like hyper-inflation ring hollow in a country where only 63% of the able bodied are working. Democrats hectoring for The Fed and the banks to loan more to business to stimulate the economy are equally nonsensical when American corporations are sitting on $2.4 trillion in cash.

But there is a way out of this deflationary trap we are in. First the Republicans have got to acknowledge the obvious: America’s corporations are not going to invest in vast amounts of new capacity when there is a glut in almost every sector worldwide. Secondly, that overcapacity is not going to get absorbed until more people go back to work and start buying the goods from the factories. This was the same problem our country faced in the great depression and the way we got out of it was by putting people to work rebuilding the infrastructure of this country. Did it ever occur to the politicians in Washington that the reason so many bridges, water and electrical systems are failing is because most of them were built 80 years ago, during the great depression? For Republicans to insist that more austerity will bring back the “confidence fairy”is exactly the wrong policy prescription for an age of oversupply. But equally destructive, as Paul Krugman points out are Democratic voices like Erskine Bowles, shouting from any venue that will pay him, that the debt apocalypse is upon us.

But the Democrats are also going to have to give up some long held beliefs that all good solutions come from Washington. If the Healthcare.gov website debacle has taught us anything, it is that devolving power from Washington to the states is the answer to the complexity of modern governance. While California’s healthcare website performed admirably, the notion of trying to create a centralized system to service 50 different state systems was a fool’s errand. So what is needed is a federalist solution for investment in the infrastructure of the next economy. This is the way out of The Interregnum. Investors buying tax-free municipal bonds to rebuild ancient water systems and bridges as well as solar and wind plants will finance much of it. But just as President Eisenhower understood that a national interstate highway system built in the 1950’s would lead to huge productivity gains in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Federal tax dollars will have to play a large part in rebuilding America. As we wind down our trillion dollar commitments to wars in the Middle East, we must engage in an Economic Conversion Strategy from permanent war to peaceful innovation that both liberals and libertarians could embrace.

The way to overcome the partisan gridlock on infrastructure spending would be for Obama to commit to a totally federalist solution to us getting out of our problems. The Federal Government would use every dollar saved from getting out of Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other defense commitments in block innovation grants to the states. Lets say the first grant is for $100 Billion. It will be given directly to the states on a per capita basis to be used to foster local economic growth. No strings or Federal Bureaucracy attached to the grants except that the states have to publish a yearly accounting of the money in an easily readable form. And then let the press follow the money and see which states come up with the most imaginative solutions. Some states might use the grants to lower the cost of state university tuition. Others might spend the money on high-speed rail lines or municipal fiber broadband and wifi. As we have found in the corporate sector, pushing power to the edges of an organization helps foster innovation. As former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano told his colleagues, “we have to lower the center of gravity of this organization”.

If it worked, then slowly more money could be transferred to the states in these bureaucracy free block grants. Gradually the bureaucracies of the Federal government would shrink as more and more responsibility was shifted to local supervision of education, health, welfare and infrastructure.

In the midst of our current Washington quagmire this vision of a growing American middle class may seem like a distant mirage. But it is clear that the establishment consensus on foreign policy, defense spending, domestic spying and corporate welfare has died in the last 12 months. The old top-down establishment order is clearly dying, but just how we build the new order based on a bottom-up, networked society that works for the 90%, not just the establishment is the question of our age.

“There is but one way out for you”: Read the uncensored letter J. Edgar Hoover wrote to MLK

Historian discovers unredacted copy of longtime FBI chief’s chilling letter

"There is but one way out for you": Read the uncensored letter J. Edgar Hoover wrote to MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar G. Hoover (Credit: AP)

The mutual contempt between civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and longtime Federal Bureau of Investigation chief J. Edgar Hoover was hardly a well-kept secret. It was 50 years ago this month that Hoover denounced King as “the most notorious liar in the country” after King publicly took the bureau to task for its woefully inadequate enforcement of civil rights protections. In the years since, historians have documented the FBI’s smear campaign against King, which primarily consisted of wiretapping the activist and digging up dirt on his sexual rendezvous. Perhaps the most chilling piece of evidence uncovered in investigating the FBI’s crusade against King was a threatening 1964 letter — confirmed by U.S. Senator Frank Church’s investigative committee as Hoover’s handiwork — in which Hoover, posing as a disillusioned black supporter, warned that King’s “countless acts of adultery and immoral conduct” would be exposed. For the first time, that letter is available in uncensored form.

 Previous versions of the letter redacted details about King’s sexual liaisons, but while conducting research for a biography of Hoover this summer, Yale University historian Beverly Gage happened upon an uncensored version “tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives,” she writes in the forthcoming New York Times Magazine.

Containing no fewer than six uses of the word “evil,” the letter assails King as a fraud and appears to have been sent along with a wiretapped recording of the civil rights activist engaged in an extramarital encounter.

“Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” Hoover writes in one passage.

“You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes,” the letter reads. “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that,” Hoover later adds.

Hoover vows that King will soon be “exposed on the record for all time.”

“Yes, from your various evil playmates on the east coast to [here an individual's name is redacted because Hoover's allegations about her have not been confirmed or debunked] and others on the west coast and outside the country you are on the record. King you are done,” Hoover declares.



The letter concludes with a menacing declaration that “there is only one thing left for you to do,” giving King a deadline of 34 days before he would be exposed.

“You are done,” Hoover writes. “There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

As Gage notes, King told associates that he was convinced that someone — likely Hoover — was trying to provoke him to commit suicide.

“One oddity of Hoover’s campaign against King is that it mostly flopped, and the F.B.I. never succeeded in seriously damaging King’s public image,” Gage writes. “Half a century later, we look upon King as a model of moral courage and human dignity. Hoover, by contrast, has become almost universally reviled. In this context, perhaps the most surprising aspect of their story is not what the F.B.I. attempted, but what it failed to do.”

Read the letter below, via Gawker:

Luke Brinker is Salon’s deputy politics editor. Follow him on Twitter at @LukeBrinker.

Americans Clearly Aren’t Buying into the Dems’ Empty Economic Promises



They do not have a program that offers real improvement in the average person’s life.

 It looks like the Democrats will take another shellacking in the congressional elections this week. Part of this is due to factors like the normal falloff in voting in a non-presidential year and the weariness with a president after six years in office, which tends to cause the electorate to support the opposing party.

However, part of the reason for the shellacking is the Democrats’ refusal to address the economic issues that trouble most of the public. As folks know who are either familiar with the data or live in the real world, the economy is still bad for most people. President Obama can rightly say that he inherited a mess from his predecessor, but at some point that does get old. He can also honestly blame the Republicans in Congress who have eagerly proclaimed their opposition to any economic proposal that doesn’t have the primary purpose of making the rich even richer.

While the grim reality can offer legitimate excuses, the Democrats still suffered from the fact that they didn’t have a real economic agenda for the bulk of the population. The Republicans at least have a clear agenda. Everyone knows if they get back in control they will give everything left on the table to the richest 1 percent. But what would the Democrats do?

We do know they would raise the minimum wage. This is good policy to get more money in the pockets of low income workers who can badly use a raise. It is also popular. Polls regularly show that large majorities of people across the political spectrum support increasing the minimum wage.

Still, a higher minimum wage doesn’t offer anything to the bulk of the labor force whose wages will not be affected by plausible increases in the minimum wage. To these people the Democrats offered nothing but empty rhetoric and the public wasn’t stupid enough to buy it.

There is no shortage of policies that the Democrats could be pushing which would help ordinary workers. To start with one that features prominently in the business press, the Democrats could take a strong position behind an expansionary monetary policy from the Federal Reserve Board. This means strong opposition to rate increases until there is clear evidence of inflation.

The Fed is independent and has to make its own calls, but it would help them make the right calls if they know that there are many in Congress who are prepared to insist the Fed follow its mandate for maintaining high employment. The Fed faces intense pressure from the financial industry to pounce on any hint of inflation.

The financial industry wants the Fed to raise interest rates to keep unemployment high and prevent workers from gaining bargaining power. It would be a nice switch if Democrats stood could say in public that the Fed should allow workers to get jobs and to gain some bargaining power.

Another switch would be if the Democrats could talk seriously about the trade deficit. Talk of restoring “competitiveness” is cute, but basically complete nonsense. No one in either party has any proposal that will make more than a marginal difference in the productivity of the U.S. economy any time in the near future.

If we want to get the trade deficit down then we have to get the value of the dollar down against the currencies of our trading partners. And this is not a question of beating them up for “manipulating” their currency. It is a question of negotiating where we give up things like enforcement of Microsoft’s copyrights or Pfizer’s patent monopolies in exchange for a lower valued dollar, and therefore more balanced trade.

Democrats also should be able to speak simple truths about national income accounting instead of being afraid in the way that Republicans are scared to openly endorse the theory of evolution. If we have a large trade deficit, the only ways we can get to potential GDP is either through asset bubbles that pump up investment and consumption or through government deficits. Like evolution, this is true.

Unfortunately the Democratic Party seems to be controlled by economics denialists. This will prevent it from having a coherent economic message.

Finally, a Democratic Party that hopes to have an appealing economic message for ordinary workers has to be prepared to attack Wall Street. This is not an abstraction. If the industry was forced to pay the same sort of taxes as other industries, as even the I.M.F. now advocates, and we broke up the big banks, it would go far towards ending the financial sector’s drain on the rest of the economy. It would also go far toward reducing inequality.

In short, it is not surprising that voters are not happy with the Democrats. They do not have a program that offers real improvement in the average person’s life. And the message that the other guy is worse apparently is not cutting it this year.

Aldous Huxley on Drugs, Democracy, and Religion

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“Generalized intelligence and mental alertness are the most powerful enemies of dictatorship and at the same time the basic conditions of effective democracy.”

In 1958, five years after his transcendent experience induced by taking four-tenths of a gram of mescalin, Aldous Huxley — legendary author of Brave New World, lesser-known but no less compelling writer of children’s books, modern prophet — penned an essay titled “Drugs That Shape Men’s Minds.” It was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post and eventually included in Moksha: Aldous Huxley’s Classic Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience (public library) — a selection of Huxley’s fiction, essays, and letters titled after the Sanskrit word for “liberation.” In the essay, Huxley considers the gifts and limitations of our wakeful consciousness, our universal quest for transcendence, and the interplay of drugs and democracy.

Huxley begins by considering why religion is nothing more nor less than an attempt to codify through symbolism our longing for what Jack Kerouac called “the golden eternity” and what Alan Lightman described in his encounter with the ospreys — a sense of intimate connection with the universe, with something larger than ourselves:

Every fully developed religion exists simultaneously on several different levels. It exists as a set of abstract concepts about the world and its governance. It exists as a set of rites and sacraments, as a traditional method for manipulating the symbols, by means of which beliefs about the cosmic order are expressed. It exists as the feelings of love, fear and devotion evoked by this manipulation of symbols.

And finally it exists as a special kind of feeling or intuition — a sense of the oneness of all things in their divine principle, a realization (to use the language of Hindu theology) that “thou art That,” a mystical experience of what seems self-evidently to be union with God.

The ordinary waking consciousness is a very useful and, on most occasions, an indispensable state of mind; but it is by no means the only form of consciousness, nor in all circumstances the best. Insofar as he transcends his ordinary self and his ordinary mode of awareness, the mystic is able to enlarge his vision, to look more deeply into the unfathomable miracle of existence.

The mystical experience is doubly valuable; it is valuable because it gives the experiencer a better understanding of himself and the world and because it may help him to lead a less self-centered and more creative life.

He echoes Mark Twain’s lament about religion and human egotism, Huxley examines the self-consciousness at the heart of worship:

We love ourselves to the point of idolatry; but we also intensely dislike ourselves — we find ourselves unutterably boring. Correlated with this distaste for the idolatrously worshipped self, there is in all of us a desire, sometimes latent, sometimes conscious and passionately expressed, to escape from the prison of our individuality, an urge to self-transcendence. It is to this urge that we owe mystical theology, spiritual exercises and yoga — to this, too, that we owe alcoholism and drug addiction.

Huxley then turns to how drugs have attempted to address this human urge and the interplay of those attempts with religion:

Modern pharmacology has given us a host of new synthetics, but in the field of the naturally occurring mind changers it has made no radical discoveries. All the botanical sedatives, stimulants, vision revealers, happiness promoters and cosmic-consciousness arousers were found out thousands of years ago, before the dawn of history.

In many societies at many levels of civilization attempts have been made to fuse drug intoxication with God-intoxication. In ancient Greece, for example, ethyl alcohol had its place in the established religion. Dionysus, or Bacchus, as he was often called, was a true divinity. His worshipers addressed him as Lusios, “Liberator,” or as Theoinos, “Godwinc.” The latter name telescopes fermented grape juice and the supernatural into a single pentecostal experience. . . . Unfortunately they also receive harm. The blissful experience of self -transcendence which alcohol makes possible has to be paid for, and the price is exorbitantly high.

Huxley argues that while the intuitive solution seems to be to enforce complete prohibition of mind-altering substances, this tends to backfire and “create more evils than it cures,” while also admonishing to the diametric opposite of this black-and-white approach, the “complete toleration and unrestricted availability” of drugs. Peering into the future of biochemistry and pharmacology, he foresees the development of “powerful but nearly harmless drugs,” but also notes that even if these were invented, they’d raise important questions about use and abuse, about whether their availability would make human beings ultimately happier or more miserable. He finds reason for concern in medicine’s history of overprescription of new drugs and writes:

The history of medical fashions, it may be remarked, is at least as grotesque as the history of fashions in women’s hats — at least as grotesque and, since human lives are at stake, considerably more tragic. In the present case, millions of patients who had no real need of the tranquilizers have been given the pills by their doctors and have learned to resort to them in every predicament, however triflingly uncomfortable. This is very bad medicine and, from the pill taker’s point of
view, dubious morality and poor sense.

He then turns to how these psychopharmacological tendencies might be exploited in a political context:

The dictatorships of tomorrow will deprive men of their freedom, but will give them in exchange a happiness none the less real, as a subjective experience, for being chemically induced. The pursuit of happiness is one of the traditional rights of man; unfortunately, the achievement of happiness may turn out to be incompatible with another of man’s rights — namely, liberty.

Wondering whether it would even be possible to “produce superior individuals by biochemical means,” Huxley points to an experiment Soviet researchers embarked upon in 1956, a five-year plan to develop “pharmacological substances that normalize higher nervous activity and heighten human capacity for work” — in other words, psychic energizers. Rather ironically given the context of subsequent geopolitical history of despots, from Putin to Yanukovych, Huxley considers the fruits of these experiments an assurance against despotism:

Let us all fervently wish the Russians every success in their current pharmacological venture. The discovery of a drug capable of increasing the average individual’s psychic energy, and its wide distribution throughout the U.S.S.R., would probably mean the end of Russia’s present form of government. Generalized intelligence and mental alertness are the most powerful enemies of dictatorship and at the same time the basic conditions of effective democracy. Even in the democratic West we could do with a bit of psychic energizing. Between them, education and pharmacology may do something to offset the effects of that deterioration of our biological material to which geneticists have frequently called attention.

Huxley ties this back to religion and the parallel artificiality of the transcendent experience:

Those who are offended by the idea that the swallowing of a pill may contribute to a genuinely religious experience should remember that all the standard mortifications — fasting, voluntary sleeplessness and self-torture — inflicted upon themselves by the ascetics of every religion for the purpose of acquiring merit, are also, like the mind-changing drugs, powerful devices for altering the chemistry of the body in general and the nervous system in particular. Or consider the procedures generally known as spiritual exercises. The breathing techniques taught by the yogi of India result in prolonged suspensions of respiration. These in turn result in an increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood; and the psychological consequence of this is a change in the quality of consciousness. Again, meditations involving long, intense concentration upon a single idea or image may also result — for neurological reasons which I do not profess to understand — in a slowing down of respiration and even in prolonged suspensions of breathing.

(Coincidentally, scientists have just begun to shed light on why meditators hallucinate — Huxley was, once more, ahead of his time.)

He concludes by reminding us of the deeper spiritual and psychoemotional roots of both drug-induced and religious experiences:

That men and women can, by physical and chemical means, transcend themselves in a genuinely spiritual way is something which, to the squeamish idealist, seems rather shocking. But, after all, the drug or the physical exercise is not the cause of the spiritual experience; it is only its occasion.

He once again peers into the future:

For most people, religion has always been a matter of traditional symbols and of their own emotional, intellectual and ethical response to those symbols. To men and women who have had direct experience of self-transcendence into the mind’s Other World of vision and union with the nature of things, a religion of mere symbols is not likely to be very satisfying. The perusal of a page from even the most beautifully written cookbook is no substitute for the eating of dinner. We are exhorted to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

[…]

My own belief is that, though they may start by being something of an embarrassment, these new mind changers will tend in the long run to deepen the spiritual life of the communities in which they are available. . . . From being an activity mainly concerned with symbols, religion will be transformed into an activity concerned mainly with experience and intuition — an everyday mysticism underlying and giving significance to everyday rationality, everyday tasks and duties, everyday human relationships.

Whether one considers Huxley a madman or a prophet-genius, Moksha is a fascinating read and an unusual, dimensional lens on the human longing for transcendence. For a wholly different side of Huxley, see his only children’s book.

 

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