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TBR News April 2, 2015

Apr 02 2015

The Voice of the White House

          Washington, D.C. April 1, 2015: “The naughty Putin’s invasion of the Ukranie with twelve tank armies and a lelgion of militant Russian Girl Scouts has dropped completely off the Internet to be replaced with the story of the suicidal German pilot.  

          Of course the pouting and posturing of our President didn’t move Putin at all and there was no invasion of the Ukraine, this having been invented out of whole cloth by their fraudster president.

This reminds me of the fictional “German Guy” who said Paul Wolfowitz had just nuked Houston some years ago or the hilarious stories about Tesla death rays or bomb-laden pigeons bringing down the WTC.

There are many credulous persons who actually believe such stories but then there are more who believe Jesus walked on water and got the rotting dead to jump up out of their graves and dance around the room.

The facts are bad enough without larding things up like a back-wards patient deprived of his Prozac.”

 

Emergency alert’ sparks panic among TV viewers across US

March 31, 2015

RT

The residents of about a dozen US states received a scare when an ominous message rolled across their TV screens announcing an ‘emergency alert’ with the names of their states – without any explanation or further information.

A test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) began shortly before noon on Monday and was seen by millions of television viewers in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, DC, Infowars reported.

EAS is a special department run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS).

The alert interrupted regularly scheduled television programs for 10 minutes with a listing of affected states and an announcement that the alert would remain in effect until midnight.

Operation Jade Helm, which is scheduled to kick off in July and run for eight weeks, will involve the participation of 1,200 troops in dozens of towns in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

No information was available indicating that the emergency alert was connected to this upcoming military drill, where Americans were asked to provide information on ‘suspicious’ activity to the authorities.

 

Passphrases That You Can Memorize — But That Even the NSA Can’t Guess

March 26, 2015

by Micah Lee

The Intercept

          It’s getting easier to secure your digital privacy. iPhones now encrypt a great deal of personal information; hard drives on Mac and Windows 8.1 computers are now automatically locked down; even Facebook, which made a fortune on open sharing, is providing end-to-end encryption in the chat tool WhatsApp. But none of this technology offers as much protection as you may think if you don’t know how to come up with a good passphrase.

A passphrase is like a password, but longer and more secure. In essence, it’s an encryption key that you memorize. Once you start caring more deeply about your privacy and improving your computer security habits, one of the first roadblocks you’ll run into is having to create a passphrase. You can’t secure much without one.

For example, when you encrypt your hard drive, a USB stick, or a document on your computer, the disk encryption is often only as strong as your passphrase. If you use a password database, or the password-saving feature in your web browser, you’ll want to set a strong master passphrase to protect them. If you want to encrypt your email with PGP, you protect your private key with a passphrase. In his first email to Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden wrote, “Please confirm that no one has ever had a copy of your private key and that it uses a strong passphrase. Assume your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second.”

In this post, I outline a simple way to come up with easy-to-memorize but very secure passphrases. It’s the latest entry in an ongoing series of stories offering solutions — partial and imperfect but useful solutions — to the many surveillance-related problems we aggressively report about here at The Intercept.

It turns out, coming up with a good passphrase by just thinking of one is incredibly hard, and if your adversary really is capable of one trillion guesses per second, you’ll probably do a bad job of it. If you use an entirely random sequence of characters it might be very secure, but it’s also agonizing to memorize (and honestly, a waste of brain power).

But luckily this usability/security trade-off doesn’t have to exist. There is a method for generating passphrases that are both impossible for even the most powerful attackers to guess, yet very possible for humans to memorize. The method is called Diceware, and it’s based on some simple math.

Your secret password trick probably isn’t very clever

People often pick some phrase from pop culture — favorite lyrics from a song or a favorite line from a movie or book — and slightly mangle it by changing some capitalization or adding some punctuation, or use the first letter of each word from this phrase. Some of these passphrases might seem good and entirely unguessable, but it’s easy to underestimate the capabilities of those invested in guessing passphrases.

Imagine your adversary has taken the lyrics from every song ever written, taken the scripts from every movie and TV show, taken the text from every book ever digitized and every page on Wikipedia, in every language, and used that as a basis for their guess list. Will your passphrase still survive?

If you created your passphrase by just trying to think of a good one, there’s a pretty high chance that it’s not good enough to stand up against the might of a spy agency. For example, you might come up with “To be or not to be/ THAT is the Question?” If so, I can guarantee that you are not the first person to use this slightly-mangled classic Shakespeare quote as your passphrase, and attackers know this.

The reason the Shakespeare quote sucks as a passphrase is that it lacks something called entropy. You can think of entropy as randomness, and it’s one of the most important concepts in cryptography. It turns out humans are a species of patterns, and they are incapable of doing anything in a truly random fashion.

Even if you don’t use a quote, but instead make up a phrase off the top of your head, your phrase will still be far from random because language is predictable. As one research paper on the topic states, “users aren’t able to choose phrases made of completely random words, but are influenced by the probability of a phrase occurring in natural language,” meaning that user-chosen passphrases don’t contain as much entropy as you think they might. Your brain tends to continue using common idioms and rules of grammar that reduce randomness. For example, it disproportionately decides to follow an adverb with a verb and vice versa, or, to cite one actual case from the aforementioned research paper, to put the word “fest” after the word “sausage.”

Passphrases that come from pop culture, facts about your life, or anything that comes directly from your mind are much weaker than passphrases that are imbued with actual entropy, collected from nature.

This short but enlightening video from Khan Academy’s free online cryptography class illustrates the point well.

Make a secure passphrase with Diceware

Once you’ve admitted that your old passphrases aren’t as secure as you imagined them to be, you’re ready for the “Diceware” technique.

First, grab a copy of the Diceware word list, which contains 7,776 English words — 37 pages for those of you printing at home. You’ll notice that next to each word is a five-digit number, with each digit being between 1 and 6. Here’s a small excerpt from the word list:

24456 eo

24461 ep

24462 epa

24463 epic

24464 epochNow grab some six-sided dice (yes, actual real physical dice), and roll them several times, writing down the numbers that you get. You’ll need a total of five dice rolls to come up with the first word in your passphrase. What you’re doing here is generating entropy, extracting true randomness from nature and turning it into numbers.

If you roll the number two, then four, then four again, then six, then three, and then look up in the Diceware word list 24463, you’ll see the word “epic”. That will be the first word in your passphrase. Now repeat. You want to come up with a seven-word passphrase if you’re worried about the NSA or Chinese spies someday trying to guess it (more on the logic behind this number below).

Using Diceware, you end up with passphrases that look like “cap liz donna demon self,” “bang vivo thread duct knob train,” and “brig alert rope welsh foss rang orb.” If you want a stronger passphrase you can use more words; if a weaker passphrase is OK for your purpose you can use less words.

How strong are Diceware passphrases?

The strength of a Diceword passphrase depends on how many words it contains. If you choose one word (out of a list of 7,776 words), an attacker has a one in 7,776 chance of guessing your word on the first try. To guess your word it will take an attacker at least one try, at most 7,776 tries, and on average 3,888 tries (because there’s a 50 percent chance that an attacker will guess your word by the time they are halfway through the word list).

But if you choose two words for your passphrase, the size of the list of possible passphrases increases exponentially. There’s still a one in 7,776 chance of guessing your first word correctly, but for each first word there’s also a one in 7,776 chance of guessing the second word correctly, and the attacker won’t know if the first word is correct without guessing the entire passphrase.

This means that with two words, there are 7,7762, or 60,466,176 different potential passphrases. On average, a two-word Diceware passphrase could be guessed after the first 30 million tries. And a five-word passphrase, which would have have 7,7765 possible passphrases, could be guessed after an average of 14 quintillion tries (a 14 with 18 zeroes).

The amount of uncertainty in a passphrase (or in an encryption key, or in any other type of information) is measured in bits of entropy. You can measure how secure your random passphrase is by how many bits of entropy it contains. Each word from the Diceware list is worth about 12.92 bits of entropy (because 212.92 is about 7,776). So if you choose seven words you’ll end up with a passphrase with about 90.5 bits of entropy (because 12.92 times seven is about 90.5).

In other words, if an attacker knows that you are using a seven-word Diceware passphrase, and they pick seven random words from the Diceware word list to guess, there is a one in 1,719,070,799,748,422,591,028,658,176 chance that they’ll pick your passphrase each try.

At one trillion guesses per second — per Edward Snowden’s January 2013 warning — it would take an average of 27 million years to guess this passphrase.

Not too bad for a passphrase like “bolt vat frisky fob land hazy rigid,” which is entirely possible for most people to memorize. Compare that to “d07;oj7MgLz’%v,” a random password that contains slightly less entropy than the seven-word Diceware passphrase but is significantly more difficult to memorize.

A five-word passphrase, in contrast, would be cracked in just under six months and a six-word passphrase would take 3,505 years, on average, at a trillion guesses a second. Keeping Moore’s Law in mind, computers are constantly getting more powerful, and before long one trillion guesses a second might start looking slow, so it’s good to give your passphrases some security breathing room.

With a system like this, it doesn’t matter at all that the word list you’re choosing from is public. It doesn’t even matter what the words in the list are (two-letter words are just as secure as six-letter words). All that matters is how long the list of words is and that each word on the list is unique. The probability of guessing a passphrase made of these randomly-chosen words gets exponentially smaller with each word you add, and using this fact it’s possible to make passphrases that can never be guessed.

Do I really have to use dice?

This is a longer discussion, but the short answer is: Using physical dice will give you a much stronger guarantee that nothing went wrong. But it’s time consuming and tedious, and using a computer to generate these random numbers is almost always good enough.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be user-friendly software available to help people generate Diceware passphrases, only various command-line-only Diceware projects on GitHub, which power users can check out. Stay tuned for a future post about this.

How to memorize your crazy passphrase (without going crazy)

After you’ve generated your passphrase, the next step is to commit it to memory.

I recommend that you write your new passphrase down on a piece of paper and carry it with you for as long as you need. Each time you need to type it, try typing it from memory first, but look at the paper if you need to. Assuming you type it a couple times a day, it shouldn’t take more than two or three days before you no longer need the paper, at which point you should destroy it.

Typing your passphrase on a regular basis allows you to memorize it through a process known as spaced repetition, according to promising research into high-entropy passphrases.

Now that you know passphrases, here’s when to avoid them

Diceware passphrases are great for when you’re typing them into your computer to decrypt something locally, like your hard drive, your PGP secret key or your password database.

You don’t so much need them for logging into a website or something else on the Internet. In those situations, you get less benefit from using a high-entropy passphrase. Attackers will never be able to guess a trillion times per second if each guess requires communicating with a server on the Internet. In some cases, attackers will own or take over the remote server — in which case they can grab the passphrase as soon you log in and send it, regardless of how strong or weak it is cryptographically.

For logging in to websites and other servers, use a password database. I like KeePassX because it’s free, open source, cross-platform, and it never stores anything in the cloud. Then lock up all your passwords behind a master passphrase that you generate with Diceware. Use your password manager to generate and store a different random password for each website you login to.

How we use Diceware to protect our sources

At The Intercept we run a SecureDrop server, an open source whistleblower submission system, to make it simpler and more secure for anonymous sources to get in touch with us.

When a new source visits our SecureDrop website, they get assigned a code name made up of seven random words. After submitting messages or documents, they can use this code name to log back in and check for responses from our journalists.

Under the hood, this code name not only acts as the source’s encryption passphrase, but it’s also really just a passphrase generated using the Diceware method, but with a digital cryptographically secure random number generator, rather than rolling dice. SecureDrop’s dictionary is only 6,800 words long (the developers removed some words from the original word list that could be considered offensive), making each word worth about 12.73 bits of entropy. But this is still plenty enough to make it impossible for anyone to ever simply guess a source’s code name, unless they happen to have massive computational resources and several million years.

Simple, random passphrases, in other words, are just as good at protecting the next whistleblowing spy as they are at securing your laptop. It’s a shame that we live in a world where ordinary citizens need that level of protection, but as long as we do, the Diceware system makes it possible to get CIA-level protection without going through black ops training.

 

13 ways the NSA has spied on us

April 1, 2015

by Timothy B. Lee

MSN

          Over the last couple of years, through the revelations of Ed Snowden and independent reporting by others, we’ve learned more and more about the National Security Agency’s spying programs. Indeed, there have now been so many revelations that it can be hard to keep them straight. So here’s a handy guide to the most significant ways the NSA spies on people in the United States and around the world.

          1. The NSA collects every American’s phone records

This was one of the first programs revealed by Snowden and it continues to be one of the most controversial. The Patriot Act allows the NSA to obtain business records that are relevant to terrorist investigations. The government claims that this gives it the power to obtain records — phone number dialed, time and duration of call — about every domestic phone call in the United States. Last year the Obama administration proposed changes to require judicial oversight of access to the database.

          2. The PRISM program lets the NSA access private user data on leading online services

A slide disclosed by Snowden lists 9 major internet companies — Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple — as participating in the PRISM program. The program allows the NSA to get private information such as emails, Facebook messages, and stored documents. It’s not known how carefully these information requests are scrutinized.

          3. The NSA engages in offensive hacking operations

Tailored Access Operations is the NSA’s elite hacking unit. While some other NSA programs collect information in bulk, TAO engages in targeted attacks on high-value targets. It is believed that the NSA has a large library of exploits, allowing it to hack into a wide variety of consumer gadgets and business IT systems.

4. The NSA taps long-distance internet connections

The NSA works with countries around the world to tap into underseas fiber optic cables carrying vast quantities of fiber optic data. There’s also evidence that the NSA has been tapping into fiber optic cables in the United States.

5. The NSA intercepted data flowing within Google and Yahoo data centers

When you log into GMail, you’ll see a “lock” icon indicating that communications between your computer and Google’s server is protected by encryption. But until recently, Google didn’t employ encryption when it moved data between its own servers. The NSA tapped into these connections and harvested large quantities of user data. Yahoo was also targeted.

6. The NSA has spied on foreign leaders

Documents released by Snowden suggest that at least 35 world leaders have been targeted by the NSA, including Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. There were also allegations last year that the NSA spied on German chancellor Angela Merkel, though a subsequent investigation cast doubt on that claim.

7. The NSA spies on millions of ordinary people overseas

The NSA tapped into communications systems in Brazil and Germany — and likely other countries as well — to collect information about ordinary peoples’ phone calls and emails.

8. The NSA has tracked cell phone locations around the worldThe NSA has spied on cell phone networks around the world, collecting 5 billion records per day about the locations of users’ cell phones. The agency isn’t allowed to deliberately target cell phone users in the United States, but some American cell phone records have been collected “incidentally.”

9. From 2001 to 2011, the NSA collected vast amounts of information about Americans’ internet usageIn 2001, the Bush administration began collecting data about Americans’ internet usage. The data collected included the sender and recipients of emails, as well as information about which websites a user browsed. The program operated for two years under President Obama but was shut down in 2011.

          10. The NSA has undermined the security of encryption productsOver the last decade, the NSA has persuaded technology companies to modify their products to make them “exploitable” — that is, vulnerable to targeted attacks by the NSA.

11. The NSA uses tracking cookies to choose hacking targetsMost commercial websites have “tracking cookies,” small bits of data that are stored on a user’s computer to help with ad targeting. Documents released by Snowden showed that the NSA uses these cookies to identify users as hacking targets.

          12. The NSA cracked a popular standard for encrypting cell phone communicationsMost cell phone communications are encrypted to protect the privacy of users. But in 2013 we learned that the NSA cracked one of the most popular encryption standards, called A5, allowing them to intercept the contents of cell phone communications.

13. An NSA program allowed the NSA to record every phone call in a certain, unspecified, country and store it for 30 daysIn 2014 the Washington Post has reported that an NSA program allows the agency to record every phone call in an unspecified country, and store them for 30 days for later analysis. The Post didn’t identify the country, but the Intercept has reported that the program is being used in the Bahamas. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says that Afghanistan has also been targeted under the program.

          12. The NSA cracked a popular standard for encrypting cell phone communications

Most cell phone communications are encrypted to protect the privacy of users. But in 2013 we learned that the NSA cracked one of the most popular encryption standards, called A5, allowing them to intercept the contents of cell phone communications.

          13. An NSA program allowed the NSA to record every phone call in a certain, unspecified, country and store it for 30 days

In 2014 the Washington Post has reported that an NSA program allows the agency to record every phone call in an unspecified country, and store them for 30 days for later analysis. The Post didn’t identify the country, but the Intercept has reported that the program is being used in the Bahamas. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says that Afghanistan has also been targeted under the program.

 

How Big Business Is Helping Expand NSA Surveillance, Snowden Be Damned

April 1, 2015

by Lee Fang

Intercept

 

Since November 11, 2011, with the introduction of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, American spy agencies have been pushing laws to encourage corporations to share more customer information. They repeatedly failed, thanks in part to NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass government surveillance. Then came Republican victories in last year’s midterm Congressional elections and a major push by corporate interests in favor of the legislation.

Today, the bill is back, largely unchanged, and if congressional insiders and the bill’s sponsors are to believed, the legislation could end up on President Obama’s desk as soon as this month. In another boon to the legislation, Obama is expected to reverse his past opposition and sign it, albeit in an amended and renamed form (CISPA is now CISA, the “Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act”). The reversal comes in the wake of high-profile hacks on JPMorgan Chase and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The bill has also benefitted greatly from lobbying by big business, which sees it as a way to cut costs and to shift some anti-hacking defenses onto the government.

For all its appeal to corporations, CISA represents a major new privacy threat to individual citizens. It lays the groundwork for corporations to feed massive amounts of communications to  private consortiums and the federal government, a scale of cooperation even greater than that revealed by Snowden. The law also breaks new ground in suppressing pushback against privacy invasions; in exchange for channeling data to the government, businesses are granted broad legal immunity from privacy lawsuits — potentially leaving consumers without protection if companies break privacy promises that would otherwise keep information out of the hands of authorities.

Ostensibly, CISA is supposed to help businesses guard against cyber attacks by sharing information on threats with one another and with the government. Attempts must be made to filter personal information out of the pool of data that is shared. But the legislation — at least as marked up by the Senate Intelligence Committee — provides an expansive definition of what can be construed as a cyber security threat, including any information for responding to or mitigating “an imminent threat of death, serious bodily harm, or serious economic harm,” or that is potentially related to threats relating to weapons of mass destruction, threats to minors, identity theft, espionage, protection of trade secrets, and other possible offenses. Asked at a hearing in February how quickly such information could be shared with the FBI, CIA, or NSA, Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity Phyllis Schneck replied, “fractions of a second.”

Questions persist on how to more narrowly define a cyber security threat, what type of personal data is shared, and which government agencies would retain and store this data. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who cast the lone dissenting vote against CISA on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared the legislation “a surveillance bill by another name.” Privacy advocates agree. “The lack of use limitations creates yet another loophole for law enforcement to conduct backdoor searches on Americans,” argues a letter sent by a coalition of privacy organizations, including Free Press Action Fund and New America’s Open Technology Institute. Critics also argue that CISA would not have prevented the recent spate of high-profile hacking incidents. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Mark Jaycox noted in a blog post, the JPMorgan hack occurred because of an “un-updated server” and prevailing evidence about the Sony breach is “increasingly pointing to an inside job.”

But the intelligence community and corporate America have this year unified behind the bill. For a look into the breadth of the corporate advocacy campaign to pass CISA, see this letter cosigned by many of the most powerful corporate interests in America and sent to legislators earlier this year. Or another letter, reported in the Wall Street Journal, signed by “general counsels of more than 30 different firms, including 3M and Lockheed Martin Corp.”

The partnership between leading corporate lobbyists and the intelligence community was on full display at a cyber security summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a few days before the midterm election last year, in which NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers asked a room filled with business representatives for support in passing laws like CISA. At one point, Ann Beauchesne, the lead homeland security lobbyist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asked Rogers, “How can the chamber be helpful to you?” — even suggesting a viral marketing campaign akin to the “ALS ice bucket challenge” to build public support.

 Since November 11, 2011, with the introduction of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, American spy agencies have been pushing laws to encourage corporations to share more customer information. They repeatedly failed, thanks in part to NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass government surveillance. Then came Republican victories in last year’s midterm Congressional elections and a major push by corporate interests in favor of the legislation.

Today, the bill is back, largely unchanged, and if congressional insiders and the bill’s sponsors are to believed, the legislation could end up on President Obama’s desk as soon as this month. In another boon to the legislation, Obama is expected to reverse his past opposition and sign it, albeit in an amended and renamed form (CISPA is now CISA, the “Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act”). The reversal comes in the wake of high-profile hacks on JPMorgan Chase and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The bill has also benefitted greatly from lobbying by big business, which sees it as a way to cut costs and to shift some anti-hacking defenses onto the government.

For all its appeal to corporations, CISA represents a major new privacy threat to individual citizens. It lays the groundwork for corporations to feed massive amounts of communications to  private consortiums and the federal government, a scale of cooperation even greater than that revealed by Snowden. The law also breaks new ground in suppressing pushback against privacy invasions; in exchange for channeling data to the government, businesses are granted broad legal immunity from privacy lawsuits — potentially leaving consumers without protection if companies break privacy promises that would otherwise keep information out of the hands of authorities.

Ostensibly, CISA is supposed to help businesses guard against cyber attacks by sharing information on threats with one another and with the government. Attempts must be made to filter personal information out of the pool of data that is shared. But the legislation — at least as marked up by the Senate Intelligence Committee — provides an expansive definition of what can be construed as a cyber security threat, including any information for responding to or mitigating “an imminent threat of death, serious bodily harm, or serious economic harm,” or that is potentially related to threats relating to weapons of mass destruction, threats to minors, identity theft, espionage, protection of trade secrets, and other possible offenses. Asked at a hearing in February how quickly such information could be shared with the FBI, CIA, or NSA, Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity Phyllis Schneck replied, “fractions of a second.”

Questions persist on how to more narrowly define a cyber security threat, what type of personal data is shared, and which government agencies would retain and store this data. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who cast the lone dissenting vote against CISA on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared the legislation “a surveillance bill by another name.” Privacy advocates agree. “The lack of use limitations creates yet another loophole for law enforcement to conduct backdoor searches on Americans,” argues a letter sent by a coalition of privacy organizations, including Free Press Action Fund and New America’s Open Technology Institute. Critics also argue that CISA would not have prevented the recent spate of high-profile hacking incidents. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Mark Jaycox noted in a blog post, the JPMorgan hack occurred because of an “un-updated server” and prevailing evidence about the Sony breach is “increasingly pointing to an inside job.”

But the intelligence community and corporate America have this year unified behind the bill. For a look into the breadth of the corporate advocacy campaign to pass CISA, see this letter cosigned by many of the most powerful corporate interests in America and sent to legislators earlier this year. Or another letter, reported in the Wall Street Journal, signed by “general counsels of more than 30 different firms, including 3M and Lockheed Martin Corp.”

The partnership between leading corporate lobbyists and the intelligence community was on full display at a cyber security summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a few days before the midterm election last year, in which NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers asked a room filled with business representatives for support in passing laws like CISA. At one point, Ann Beauchesne, the lead homeland security lobbyist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asked Rogers, “How can the chamber be helpful to you?” — even suggesting a viral marketing campaign akin to the “ALS ice bucket challenge” to build public support. Watch the exchange below:

Rogers specifically mentioned during his speech before the Chamber how corporations who partner  with agencies like the NSA can shift some of their information security work to the government —  a major cost savings. “You have information that I need and I think I have information that can be of value to you,” Rogers said.

At the moment, there are multiple versions of CISA, including information sharing proposals from the House Homeland Security Committee and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., but momentum has moved behind the Senate Intelligence Committee version, amended under Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Ranking Member Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif. “The robust privacy requirements and liability protection make this a balanced bill, and I hope the Senate acts on it quickly,” said Feinstein as CISA passed 14-1 in a secret, closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Reversing course over past opposition to the previous iteration of the bill, CISPA, the White House has demonstrated firm support for information sharing legislation this year. And more importantly, the Senate has drastically changed, helping to create a far more National Security Agency-friendly Congress. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Col., the chief opponent of CISA last session, was defeated in his reelection campaign last November, and the new Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has made CISA a “priority.”

 

California drought goes from bad to worse as state grapples with heat wave

Experts say fix requires global effort going into an era of climate change in which ‘the temperature is essentially always conducive to drought’

March 29, 2015

by Lauren Gambino in Los Angeles

The Guardian

          Spring is starting to feel a lot like summer in California, as a record-setting heat wave punishes the parched state now in its fourth year of what is said to be the worst drought in a millennium.

Experts say the scorching spring days are part of a long-term warming pattern – driven largely by human activity – that is increasing the chances that future droughts will be as bad as this one. At fault is a warm and dry weather combination, which exacerbates the already dire drought conditions by drying soil, melting snow and driving up water usage.

“It’s like a one-two punch,” said Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager for the state Department of Water Resources (DWR). “Not having enough water to fill our reservoirs and having the hot weather evaporate the little that we do have.”

According to the most recent US drought report, moderately below-average precipitation, coupled with extremely above-average temperatures, has maintained or worsened drought conditions in California. The consequences have been devastating, from shriveling reservoirs to vanishing groundwater, dying crops, thinning herds and raging wildfires.

California relies on a series of massive storms during the winter months to drop snow on the Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. During the spring and summer months the snowpack, acting like a natural reservoir, melts as water demand rises.

But the recent extremely warm weather has caused precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow. The effect is dramatically less snowpack melt from the state’s mountain ranges, which can provide as much as a third of California’s water supply.

This year, the mountain runoff will likely be just a trickle. Snow on the mountains has fallen to 12% of average levels, from 28% last year. In March, data collected from parts of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains indicated that some sites were for the first time snow-free by the first of the month. Jones said the 1 April snowpack measurements, which will be reported next week, are expected to be the lowest on record.

“That does not at all bode well for our depleted reservoirs,” Jones said.

Hotter temperatures are predicted to be the new norm in California, the result of rising temperatures under climate change. This month, for the first time since record keeping began in the late 1880s, the temperature in Los Angeles peaked in the 90s fahrenheit for six consecutive days, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Based on the current warming trajectory, the likelihood that low rain years will coincide with high heat years is almost a certainty.

“California is in a climate regime where are much more likely to get this kind of drought event again because of the role of temperature rise,” said Stanford University professor Noah Diffenbaugh, who led a study examining the role of warm temperatures in California’s droughts.

That study, published earlier this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that historically, California’s worst droughts occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that those conditions had occurred more frequently in the past two decades than in the last century.

Diffenbaugh said global warming was increasing the risk that dry and warm years would coincide to almost ensure a drought similar to the present one. The researchers also found that in the early and mid-20th century, the warm and dry conditions occurred more or less independently.

“We’re heading into a regime where the temperature is essentially always conducive to drought,” he said.

With no foreseeable end to the drought in sight, policy makers at every level are scrambling to conserve the little water the state does have and avert dire predictions that the state could run out of a water soon, possibly in one year.

“This is a struggle,” California governor Jerry Brown said at a press conference earlier this month. “Something we’re going to have to live with. For how long, we’re not sure.”

On Friday, Brown signed into law a more-than-$1bn plan to fast-track emergency relief to drought-stricken cities and communities, including food aid and drinking water. The proposal also includes hundreds of millions of dollars to fund long-term projects, involving water recycling, conservation awareness and flood control projects. At the signing, Brown said the plan was part of a wider effort to prepare California for an “uncertain future”.

The legislation followed action by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) this month to pass what has been described as the most restrictive water conservation measures in state history. The plan limits the number of days residents can water their yards, and requires bars and restaurants to ask customers if they would like a glass of water before serving it.

“We are not seeing the level of stepping up and ringing the alarm bells that the situation warrants,” Felicia Marcus, the chairwoman of the SWRCB, said during the meeting this month. She said the measure was a first step, and that the board may consider even more stringent measures this spring.

Amir AghaKouchak, an assistant professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, said the $1bn water spending plan included “forward looking” measures that would help the state prepare for future dry spells. For example, the plan aims to improve infrastructure such as the state’s levees, which could help replenish underground aquifers, which have been drained by farmers drilling for groundwater to irrigate crops.

But he warned that there is still a lot scientists don’t know about droughts.

“We still don’t know a lot about how droughts develop, how they form, why they form,” AghaKouchak said. “If California wants to stay at the front of this, we have to consider science, and the best science. But it requires support.”

AghaKouchak said investing in “basic research” around water technology, water management and water harvesting could in the long-run improve strategies for responding to extreme weather. He also called for funding research to create better risk-assessment models to improve the predictability of droughts.

While there are conservation and planning policies that lawmakers can take now to conserve water and prepare the state for the next extreme weather event, California’s best hope lies ultimately in the willingness of the global community to confront climate change.

“This drought is not a local California issue,” AghaKouchak said. “This is a global issue. A single policymaker, or even all policymakers in California, alone cannot really do much about global temperature. This requires unprecedented international efforts and a truly global will to address these issues.”

 

Antarctica records unprecedented high temperatures in two new readings

Two temperature readings register ominous new potential measurements of accelerating climate change

March 31,2015

byTom McCarthy in New York 

The Guardian

          The 20th anniversary of the discovery of the first “hole” in the ozone layer on Tuesday had many climate observers focused on the Arctic, where a study published last week found that polar bears were eating more birds’ eggs, perhaps due to lost hunting grounds with the disappearance of summer ice.

But equally significant climate news was playing out in Antarctica, where two climate stations registered ominous new potential measurements of accelerating climate change.

A weather station on the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula recorded what may be the highest temperature ever on the continent, while a separate study published in the journal Science found that the losses of ice shelf volume in the western Antarctic had increased by 70% in the last decade.

Helen A Fricker of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, a co-author of the Science report, said that there was not necessarily a correlation between recent temperature fluctuations and disappearing ice.

“While it is fair to say that we’re seeing the ice shelves responding to climate change, we don’t believe there is enough evidence to directly relate recent ice shelf losses specifically to changes in global temperature,” Fricker said in an interview with Reuters.

What was incontestable were the unprecedentedly high temperature readings on the Antarctic ice mass.

The potential Antarctica record high of 63.5F (17.5C) was recorded on 24 March at the Esperanza Base, just south of the southern tip of Argentina. The reading, first noted on the Weather Underground blog, came one day after a nearby weather station, at Marambio Base, saw a record high of its own, at 63.3F (17.4C).

By any measure, the Esperanza reading this week was unusual. The previous record high at the base, of 62.7F (17.1C), was recorded in 1961.

But whether the recent readings represent records for Antarctica depends on the judgment of the World Meteorological Organization, the keeper of official global records for extreme temperatures, rainfall and hailstorms, dry spells and wind gusts. The WMO has recorded extreme temperatures in Antarctica but not settled the question of all-time records for the continent, according to Christopher Burt of Weather Underground.

One complicating factor is debate about what constitutes “Antarctica”. Both Esperanza and Marambio lie outside the Antarctic circle, though they are attached to the mainland by the frozen archipelago that is the Antarctic peninsula.

A conservative definition of what Antarctica is would seem to award the distinction of hottest-ever temperature to a 59F (15C) reading nearer the South Pole from 1974, according to Burt.

 

US-EU ‘Transatlantic Renaissance’ Plan Falling Apart At Seams

April 2.2015

Sputnik News

          While the US President urges his Western allies to rally support for Washington’s stance on the most burning international issues, he should not be surprised that consensus is hard to come by, notes David J. Karl, pointing to the fact Barack Obama has repeatedly snubbed the continent’s leaders.

The “continuing ructions” in the US relations with its Western allies caused by Obama’s failure to develop strong ties with European leaders have ultimately overshadowed Washington’s plan of a “transatlantic renaissance,” David J. Karl, president of the Asia Strategy Initiative, an analysis and advisory firm, pointed out.

“[In 2008] speaking before a massive crowd assembled in Berlin’s “Tiergarten”, [President Obama] grandly vowed to “remake the world once again,” this time in a way that allies would “listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.” That pledge is now so yesterday that Mrs. Merkel is reportedly longing for the days of George W. Bush,” the expert emphasized.

Instead of taking a chance to demonstrate to the world US-NATO solidarity, Barack Obama “in fact deliberately” missed an opportunity to meet with the new NATO Chief, Jens Stoltenberg, in Washington last week.

Stoltenberg requested a meeting with the US President “well in advance,” the expert underscored. Obama’s move could only be considered as an obvious slight to Jens Stoltenberg: the US President is one of a few Western leaders who have yet to with the NATO chief, who assumed the position almost six months ago.

However, Obama has demonstrated disinterest in the US’ European allies many times before. For instance, in November 2009, Barack Obama opted out of holding a meeting with European Union leaders at the White House sparking speculations that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the most pro-American French leaders, felt like they were being ignored.

Remarkably, a year later the American President once again missed a summit with the EU leaders.

In September 2009, during a so-called “reset” of relations with Moscow, Barack Obama changed his plans of deploying a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, but did not bother to inform his eastern European counterparts about his decision.

David J. Karl cited a top Polish security official who said that Warsaw heard Obama had shifted the plan though the media.

Curiously, the members of the Obama administration also demonstrated little if any respect to the US’ continental allies.

A senior German official close to Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked that Susan Rice, the US National Security Adviser, in 2013, pressed the German team to adopt the US approach to the Syrian crisis openly demonstrating that she was not interested in the EU view, David J. Karl noted.

The expert added that Rice even used the hardly diplomatic term “motherfucker,” causing outrage among German politicians.

The leaked phone conversation of Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who graphically cursed the EU, once again demonstrated the Obama cabinet’s attitude towards its European allies.

While Obama is urging the EU to rally common Western positions on such issues as the Ukrainian conflict, Iran’s nuclear program and the rise of China, he should not be surprised that consensus is hard to come by, the expert underscored.

Instead of repairing ties with Europe, Barack Obama has evidently mismanaged relations with the continent, David J. Karl stated.

 

 

Plutocracy The First Time Around: Revisiting the Great Upheaval and the First Gilded Age

by Steve Fraser

TomGram

 

[The following passages are excerpted and slightly adapted from The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (Little, Brown and Company).]

 

Part 1: The Great Upheaval

 

What came to be known as the Great Upheaval, the movement for the eight-hour day, elicited what one historian has called “a strange enthusiasm.” The normal trade union strike is a finite event joining two parties contesting over limited, if sometimes intractable, issues. The mass strike in 1886 or before that in 1877 — all the many localized mass strikes that erupted in towns and small industrial cities after the Civil War and into the new century — was open-ended and ecumenical in reach.

So, for example, in Baltimore when the skilled and better-paid railroad brakemen on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad first struck in 1877 so, too, did less well off “box-makers, sawyers, and can-makers, engaged in the shops and factories of that city, [who] abandoned their places and swarmed into the streets.” This in turn “stimulated the railroad men to commit bolder acts.” When the governor of West Virginia sent out the Berkeley Light Guard and Infantry to confront the strikers at Martinsburg at the request of the railroad’s vice president, the militia retreated and “the citizens of the town, the disbanded militia, and the rural population of the surrounding country fraternized,” encouraging the strikers.

The centrifugal dynamic of the mass strike was characteristic of this extraordinary phenomenon. By the third day in Martinsburg the strikers had been “reinforced during the night at all points by accessions of working men engaged in other avocations than railroading,” which, by the way, made it virtually impossible for federal troops by then on the scene to recruit scabs to run the trains.

By the fourth day, “mechanics, artisans, and laborers in every department of human industry began to show symptoms of restlessness and discontent.” Seeping deeper and deeper into the subsoil of proletarian life, down below the “respectable” working class of miners and mechanics and canal boat-men, frightened observers reported a “mighty current of passion and hate” sweeping up a “vast swarm of vicious idlers, vagrants, and tramps.” And so it went.

Smaller cities and towns like Martinsburg were often more likely than the biggest urban centers to experience this sweeping sense of social solidarity. (What today we might call a massing of the 99%.) During the 1877 Great Uprising, the social transmission of the mass strike moved first along the great trunk lines of the struck railroads, but quickly flowed into the small villages and towns along dozens of tributary lines and into local factories, workshops, and coal mines as squads of strikers moved from settlement to settlement mobilizing the populace.

In these locales, face-to-face relations still prevailed. It was by no means taken for granted that antagonism between labor and capital was fated to be the way of the world. Aversion to the new industrial order and a “democratic feeling” brought workers, storekeepers, lawyers, and businessmen of all sorts together, appalled by the behavior of large industrialists who often enough didn’t live in those communities and so were the more easily seen as alien beings.

It was not uncommon for local officials, like the mayor of Cumberland, Maryland, to take the side of the mass strikers. The federal postmaster in Indianapolis wired Washington, “Our mayor is too weak, and our Governor will do nothing. He is believed to sympathize with the strikers.” In Fort Wayne, like many other towns its size, the police and militia simply could not be counted on to put down the insurrectionists. In this world, corporate property was not accorded the same sanctified status still deferred to when it came to personal property. Sometimes company assets were burned to the ground or disabled; at other times they were seized, but not damaged.

Metropolises also witnessed their own less frequent social earthquakes. Anonymous relations were more common there, the gulf separating social classes was much wider, and the largest employers could count on the new managerial and professional middle classes for support and a political establishment they could more often rely on.

Still, the big city hardly constituted a DMZ. During the mass strike of 1877 in Pittsburgh, when 16 citizens were killed, the city erupted and “the whole population seemed to have joined the rioters.”

“Strange to say,” noted one journalist, elements of the population who had a “reputation for being respectable people — tradesmen,​ householders, well-to-do mechanics and such — openly mingled with the [turbulent mob] and encouraged them to commit further deeds of violence.” Here, too, as in smaller locales, enraged as they clearly were, mass strikers still drew a distinction between railroad property and the private property of individuals, which they scrupulously avoided attacking. Often enough the momentum of the mass strike was enough to win concessions on wages, hours, or on other conditions of work — although they might be provisional, not inscribed in contracts, and subject to being violated or ignored when law and order was restored.

 

“Eight Hours for What We Will”

 

Brickyard and packinghouse workers, dry goods clerks, and iron molders, unskilled Jewish female shoe sewers and skilled telegraphers, German craftsmen from the bookbinding trade and unlettered Bohemian freight handlers, all assembled together under the banner of the Knights of Labor or less formal, impromptu assemblies. The full name of the Knights was actually the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, a peculiar name that like so much of the electric language of the long nineteenth century sounds so dissonant and oddly exotic to modern ears. With one foot in the handicraft past and the other trying to step beyond the proletarian servitude waiting ominously off in the future, the Knights was itself the main organizational expression of the mass strike. It was part trade union, part guild, part political protest, part an aspiring alternate cooperative economy.

At all times and especially in smaller industrial towns, the Knights relied on ties to the larger community — kin, neighbors, local tradespeople — not merely the fellowship of the workplace. Like the Populist movement, it practically constituted an alternative social universe of reading rooms, newspapers, lecture societies, libraries, clubs, and producer cooperatives. Infused with a sense of the heroic and the “secular sacred,” the Knights envisioned themselves as if on a mission, appealing to the broad middling ranks of local communities to rescue the nation and preserve its heritage of republicanism and the dignity of productive labor.

This “Holy Order,” ambiguous and ambivalent in ultimate purpose, nevertheless mustered a profound resistance to the whole way of life represented by industrial capitalism even while wrestling with ways of surviving within it. So it offered everyday remedies — abolishing child and convict labor, establishing an income tax and public ownership of land for settlement not speculation, among others. Above all, however, it conveyed a yearning for an alternative, a “cooperative commonwealth” in place of the Hobbesian nightmare that Progress had become.

Transgressive by its nature, this “strange enthusiasm” shattered and then recombined dozens of more parochial attachments. The intense heat of the mass strike fused these shards into something more daring and generous-minded. Everything about it was unscripted. The mass strike had a rhythm all its own, syncopated and unpredictable as it spread like an epidemic from worksite to marketplace to slum. It had no command central, unlike a conventional strike, but neither was it some mysterious instance of spontaneous combustion. Rather, it had dozens of choreographers who directed local uprisings that nevertheless remained elastic enough to cohere with one another while remaining distinct. Its program defied easy codification. At one moment and place it was about free speech, at another about a foreman’s chronic abuse, here about the presence of scabs and armed thugs, there about a wage cut.

It ranged effortlessly from something as prosaic as a change in the piece rate to something as portentous as the nationalization of the country’s transportation and communication infrastructure, but at its core stood the demand for the eight-hour day. Blunt yet profound, it defined for that historical moment both the irreducible minimum of a just and humane civilization and what the prevailing order of things seemingly could not, or would not, grant. The “Eight Hour Day Song,” which became the movement’s anthem, captured that intermixing of the quotidian and the transcendent:

 

“We want to feel the sunshine

We want to smell the flowers;

We’re sure God has willed it.

 

And we mean to have eight hours.

We’re summoning our forces from

shipyard, shop, and mill;

 

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will.”

 

When half a million workers struck on May 1, 1886 — the original “May Day,” still celebrated most places in the world except in the United States where it began — the strikers called it Emancipation Day. How archaic that sounds. Such hortatory rhetoric has gone out of fashion. The eight-hour-day movement of 1886 and the mass strikes that preceded, accompanied, and followed it were a freedom movement in the land of the free directed against a form of slavery no one would recognize or credit today.

 

Part 2: A Potemkin Village of the Nouveau Riche

 

Feudalism of a distinctly theatrical kind was the utopian refuge of the upper classes. Mostly that consisted of a retreat from an active engagement with the tumult around them. Some plutocrats, like George Pullman or J.P. Morgan, were, on the contrary, deeply implicated in running things. Morgan functioned as the nation’s unofficial central banker, but from a distinctly feudal point of view, famously declaring, “I owe the public nothing.”

Other corporate chieftains, like Mark Hanna, a kingmaker within the Republican Party, or August Belmont, who performed a similar role for the Democrats, became increasingly involved in political affairs. (Hanna once mordantly remarked, “There are only two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”) The two party machines had exercised some independence immediately after the Civil War, demanding tribute from the business classes. As the century ran down, however, they were domesticated, becoming water carriers for those they had once tithed. Legislative bodies during this era, including the Senate, otherwise known as “the Millionaires Club,” filled up with the factotums of corporate America.

Far larger numbers of the nouveau riche, a rentier class of landlords and coupon clippers, however, were gun-shy about embroiling themselves. Instead, they confected a hermetically sealed-off Potemkin village in which they pretended they were aristocrats with all the entitlements and deference and legitimacy that comes with that station.

Looking back a century and more, all that dressing­ up — the masquerade balls where the Social Register elite (the “Patriarchs” of the 1870s, the “400” by the 1890s) paraded about as Henry VIII and Marie Antoinette, the liveried servants, the castles disassembled in France or Italy or England and shipped stone by stone to be reassembled on Fifth Avenue, the fake genealogies and coats of arms, hunting to hounds and polo playing, raising pedigreed livestock for decorative purposes, the helter-skelter piling up of heirloom jewelry, Old Masters, and oriental rugs, the marrying off of American “dollar princesses” to the hard-up offspring of Europe’s decaying nobility, the exclusive watering holes in Newport and Bar Harbor, the prep schools, and gentlemen’s clubs fencing them off from hoi polloi, the preoccupation with social preferment that turned prized parterre boxes at opera houses and concert halls into deadly serious tournament jousts — seems silly. Or more to the point, it all appears as incongruously weird behavior in the homeland of the democratic revolution. And in some sense it was.

Yet this spectacle had a purpose, or multiple purposes. First of all, it was a time-tested way of displaying power for all to see. More than that was going on, however. It constituted the infrastructure of a utopian cultural fantasy by a risen class so raw and unsure of its place and mission in the world that it needed all these borrowed credentials as protective coloring. An elaborate camouflage, it might serve to legitimate them both in the eyes of those over whom they were suddenly exercising or seeking to exercise enormous power, and in their own eyes as well.

After all, many of these first- and second-generation bourgeois potentates had just sprung from social obscurity and the homeliest economic pursuits. Their native crudity was in plain sight, mocked by many. Herman Melville remarked, “The class of wealthy people are, in aggregate, such a mob of gilded dunces, that not to be wealthy carries with it a certain distinction and nobility.” As their social prominence and economic throw weight increased at an extraordinary rate — and, along with it, the most furious challenges to their sudden preeminence — so too did the need to fabricate delusions of stability and tradition, to feel rooted even in the shallowest of soils, to thicken the borders of their social insulation.

Caroline Astor, better known as “Mrs. Astor,” the doyenne of this world, whose grandfather-in-law had started out as a butcher, wrestled to express how such tensions might be resolved. Her family’s life was described by one observer this way: “The livery of their footmen was a close copy of that familiar at Windsor Castle and their linen was marked with emblems of royalty. At the opera they wore tiaras, and when they dined the plates were in keeping with imperial pretensions.”

Similar portraits were painted of many of the great dynastic families and their offspring; the Goulds, Harry Payne Whitney, the Vanderbilts, and others were depicted in ways that made them highly improbable candidates to form a socially conscious aristocracy. Mrs. Astor herself was once described as a “walking chandelier” because so many diamonds and pearls were pinned to every available empty space on her body.

Her relative John Jacob Astor IV, a notorious playboy, was chastised, along with his peers, by an Episcopal minister: “Mr. Astor and his crowd of New York and Newport associates have for years not paid the slightest attention to the laws of the church and state which have seemed to contravene their personal pleasures or sensual delights. But you can’t defy God all the time. The day of reckoning comes and comes not in our own way.” Some years later Astor went down with the Titanic. Another member of the clan declined an invitation by President Hayes to serve as ambassador to England on the grounds that it violated the family credo: “Work hard, but never work after dinner.”

Ward McAllister, the major-domo of the Social Register’s “400,” took a stab at coherence from another angle. “Now, with the rapid growth of riches, millionaires are too common to receive much deference; a fortune of a million is only respectable poverty,” McAllister said. “So we have to draw social boundaries on another basis: old connections, gentle breeding, perfection in all the requisite accomplishments of a gentleman, elegant leisure and an unstained private reputation count for more than newly gotten riches.”

But the “old connections” were as new and ephemeral as yesterday’s business negotiation, and “gentle breeding” for some didn’t even include full literacy or numeracy but did include copious spitting; the “accomplishments of a gentleman” would have to embrace every kind of shrewd dealing in the marketplace, or else the pickings would be scarce. And the tides of America’s volatile economy meant that no matter how high the sand dunes were built around the redoubts of “old money,” they could never resist for long the onrush of new money.

 

“Awful Democracy”

 

It was all, as one historian noted, a “pageant and fairy tale,” a peculiar arcadia of castles and servants, an homage to the “beau ideal” by a newly hatched social universe trying but failing to “live down its mercantile origins.” But this dream life was ill-suited to the arts and crafts of ruling over a society that at best was apt to find this charade amusing, at worst an insult. What was missing was an actual aristocracy.

Wall Street Brahmin Henry Lee Higginson, fearing “Awful Democracy” — that​ whole menagerie of radicalisms — urgently appealed to his fellows to take up the task of mastery, “more wisely and more humanely than the kings and nobles have done. Our chance is now — before the country is full and the struggle for bread becomes intense. I would have the gentlemen of the country lead the new men who are trying to become gentlemen.”

The appeal fell mainly on deaf ears. Many in this set were sea-dog capitalists, dynasty builders, for whom accumulation was a singular, all-consuming obsession.

They reckoned with outside authority if they had to, manipulated it if they could, but just as often went about their business as if it didn’t exist. Bred to hold politics in contempt, one Social Register memoirist recalled growing up during the “great barbeque.” He was taught to think of politics as something “remote, disreputable, and infamous, like slave-trading or brothel-keeping.”

Together they concocted a world set apart from the commercial, political, sexual, ethnic, and religious chaos threatening to envelop them. An upper-class “white city” of chivalry, honor codes, and fraternal loyalties, mannered, carefree, and self-regarding, it was a laboratory of narcissistic self-indulgence, an ostensible repudiation of those distinctly bourgeois character traits of prudence, thrift, and money-grubbing.

Born into an age defined by steam, steel, and electricity, they attempted to wall themselves off from modernity in an alternate universe, part medieval, part Renaissance Europe, part ancient Greece and Rome, a pastiche of golden ages. The long nineteenth century had given birth to a plutocracy unschooled and indisposed to win the trust and preside over a society it feared. Instead, the plutocracy preferred playacting at aristocracy, simultaneously confirming all the popular suspicions about its real intentions and forming a society that had forsaken society.

 

Brute Force

 

The self-imposed aloofness and feudal pretentiousness of the upper classes left the institutions and cultural wherewithal of the commonwealth thin on the ground. An indigenous suspicion of overbearing government born out of the nation’s founding left the apparatus of the state strikingly weak and underdeveloped well past the turn of the twentieth century. All of its resources, that is, except one: force, rule by blunt instrument. The frequent resort to violence that so marked the period was thus the default position of a ruling elite not really prepared to rule. And of course it only aggravated the dilemma of consent. Those suffering from the callousness of the dominant classes were only too ready to treat them as they depicted themselves — that is, as aristocrats but usurping ones lacking even a scintilla of legitimate authority.

The American upper classes did not constitute a seasoned aristocracy, but could only mimic one. They lacked the former’s sense of social obligation, of noblesse oblige, of what in the Old World emerged as a politically coherent “Tory socialism” that worked to quiet class antagonisms. But neither did they absorb the democratic ethos that today allows the country’s gilded elite to act as if they were just plain folks: a credible enough charade of plutocratic populism. Instead, faced with mass social disaffection, they turned to the “tramp terror” and other innovations in machine-gun technology, to private corporate armies and government militias, to suffrage restrictions, judicial injunctions, and lynchings. Why behave otherwise in dealing with working-class “scum” a community of “mongrel firebugs”?

One historian has described what went on during the Great Uprising as an “interlocking directorate of railroad executives, military officers, and political officials which constituted the apex of the country’s new power elite.” After Haymarket, the haute bourgeoisie went into the fort­ building business; Fort Sheridan in Chicago, for example, was erected to defend against “internal insurrection.” New York City’s armories, which have long since been turned into sites for indoor tennis, concerts, and theatergoing, were originally erected after the 1877 insurrection to deal with the working-class canaille.

During the anthracite coal strike of 1902, George Baer, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and leader of the mine owners, sent a letter to the press: “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for… not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country.” To the Anthracite Coal Commission investigating the uproar, Baer proclaimed, “These men don’t suffer. Why hell, half of them don’t even speak English.”

Ironically, it was thanks in part to its immersion in bloodshed that the first rudimentary forms of a more sophisticated class consciousness began to appear among this new elite. These would range from Pullman-like Potemkin villages to more practical-minded attempts to reach a modus vivendi with elements of the trade union movement readier to accept the wages system.

Yet the political arena, however much its main institutions bent to the will of the rich and mighty, remained ostensibly contested terrain. On the one hand, powerful interests relied on state institutions both to keep the “dangerous classes” in line and to facilitate the process of primitive accumulation. But an opposed instinct, native to capitalism in its purest form, wanted the state kept weak and poor so as not to intrude where it wasn’t wanted. Due to this ambivalence, the American state was notoriously undernourished, its bureaucracy kept skimpy, amateurish, and machine-controlled, its executive and administrative reach stunted.

No society can live indefinitely on such shifting terrain, leaving the most vital matters unresolved. Even before the grand denouement of the Great Depression and New Deal arrived, an answer to the labor question was surfacing, one that would put an end to the long era of anti-capitalism. It would become the antechamber to the Age of Acquiescence.

Steve Fraser is an historian, editor, writer, and TomDispatch regular.  His newest book is The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, excerpted above. His previous books include Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life and Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace. He is the co-founder of the American Empire Project.

 

Excerpted from the book The Age of Acquiescence by Steve Fraser

 

 

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