Archive for December, 2010

It was a bad compromise

Well, I’m not happy with the compromise on tax cuts and unemployment benefits. Yesterday, I started my argument against this compromise but during my process, I heard a piece on NPR that articulated my concerns much better than I could have.

In this piece, David Stockman, who was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan articulates the problem with extending the tax cuts:

What we’re doing is perpetuating the most colossal fiscal mistake in history. These tax cuts and the Bush tax cuts were originally put in in 2001, 2003. They were premised on the prospect of a five trillion budget surplus over the coming 10 years, and the idea was to give some money back to the taxpayer.

Well, here we are 10 years later, two unfinanced wars, housing boom and bust, and bailouts everywhere, the huge stimulus programs, massive deficits have broken out. And in that 10 years, we’ve actually had five trillion of deficits.

So, we have accomplished over the last decade a $10 trillion swing from an illusory surplus to a gigantic deficit. And therefore, it just underscores even more as unaffordable as they were a decade ago. It is utter folly in the face of this deficit to be extending them.

It’s nice when a conservative can make my argument for me. On the other hand, I’m not sure I agree with Democrats on extending unemployment benefits, either. Granted, I’m not unemployed, so I lack perspective on this topic. And I know how hard it is to get a job right now. But, people collecting unemployment have had time to make adjustments in their lives. By now, they should have a plan for what they will do when their benefits end. I think we’ve extended them long enough.

I was personally hoping for a little gridlock on this deal.

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The revolution began in the late 1970’s but the first shot was fired in 1992 when a group of civil libertarian cryptologists, known as the Cypherpunks, started a mailing list. By 1997, there were thousands of subscribers who discussed politics, privacy, cryptography, philosophy, and wrote code. While the net was still in its infancy, these were the men and women who foresaw what was to come. They understood the battle about to be waged between privacy and secrecy. A manifesto was written in which the opening line reads:

Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy… An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.

What the Cypherpunks saw was a world in which the technology would soon exist where every transaction, every email, every purchase could, and therefore would, be tracked by governments and corporations against the public’s will. What made the Cypherpunks so unique is that rather than resist and rebel against this technology, they openly embraced it and transformed it in a way that protected privacy and attacked government secrecy.

We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do. We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.

Up until the 1970’s, cryptology had been something only governments were involved with. But in 1975, a computer hacker named Whitfield Diffie [pictured left] came up with a new system called “public-key” cryptography. What was so revolutionary about this was that it used an asymmetric key algorithm so that the key used to encrypt a file was not the same used to decrypt it. Traditionally, if you wanted to send an encrypted text, known as “cyphertext”, you also had to send the recipient the key to decrypt it into “plaintext”. The problem was that the information would need to be sent over insecure channels and was, therefore, susceptible to interception. But public-key cryptology changed that by using two separate keys, one for encrypting and one for decrypting, one public and one private. The publicly available encrypting key is widely distributed, while the private decrypting key is known only to the recipient. Messages can be encrypted with the recipient’s public key but can only be decrypted with the corresponding private key. To put it in laymen’s terms, the strength of the key is determined by its size. The bigger the key, the harder it is to hack. While the government’s data encryption standard (DES) at the time used a symmetrical key, it was limited to only 56-bits. But Diffie’s public-key allowed for a key to be used with an unlimited size which made it nearly impossible to crack.


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