You Wanna Know Why Progressives have No Power?

From: Pelosi’s Stand Blocking Impeachment in the House is Killing the Democratic Party – The Smirking Chimp.

It’s just the Constitution that’s suffering because of House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi’s nutty and unprincipled "impeachment-off-the-table" position
blocking any effort to impeach President Bush or Vice President Cheney for
their many crimes and abuses of power.

Her position on impeachment is killing the Democratic Party too, by driving
away not just progressived members of the party, but independents who voted
for Democrats last November expecting some action in defense of the
Constitution.

I see this anger welling up among progressives and independents everywhere I
travel, as people say they’ve simply had it with the Democrats. The support
of the party for a bill continuing funding for the war through September was
terrible. The Democrats’ rush to pass a bill granting Bush the authority to
spy without a warrant on Americans, and to expand the power to spy
domestically well beyond phones and internet to even include break-ins was a
last straw.

My own little call for people so sign an "I Quit This Party" petition has
seen a jump from 300 to now 400 signers. (Sign up on the column to the
right.) When it gets to 500 I’ll be sending the list off to Pelosi, as well
as to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic
National Committee Chair Howard Dean.

Four or five hundred party defectors may seem like small loss, but it
reflects a larger trend across the country.

Okay, this is how stupid progressives are at times. A democratic body, like the Democratic party, isn’t doing exactly what you want it to do, so you LEAVE IT??

Let’s see… let’s set up a hypothetical.

Say you have a group of 200 people. Of that group, 50 are true progressives, 100 are moderates, and 50 are conservative; 110 are against impeachment, while 90 are in favor of impeachment.

Now, 10 progressives LEAVE the party. Can someone PLEASE explain to me how reducing the number of progressives in the Democratic Party makes them more progressive?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage more progressives to JOIN? This is a democracy after all; doesn’t it make more sense to INCREASE the numbers on our side?
It’s NOT POSSIBLE.

The REASON the Democratic Party has drifted to the right over the last 40 years is because progressives have this fantasy that they can start a third party and revolutionize politics, which is patently absurd. Progressives, at best, make up 15% of the population; there are probably fewer of us than there are wingnuts. Progressives don’t cause Democrats to cower in fear because they might leave; they already LEFT!

See, here’s how politics works.

You recruit good progressives to run. You run them as Democrats, because the bulk of the population, for better or worse, will vote for a Republican or a Democrat, period. The Wingnuts will vote for pretty much anyone with a "R" next to their name, and do so in lockstep, so we really have to counter that effect.

Therefore, leaving the Democratic party, or even threatening to leave the Democratic party, is just the ultimate "biting off our nose to spite our faces" moment, and it’s the main reason progressives are generally like the kid looking at the puppy in the pet store window, but never really getting it. We’ve had a generation of wingnut politics now, and this is exactly why.

Now, as for Pelosi "taking impeachment off the table;" she said that almost a year ago for Chrissakes! In fact, she said it on 60 Minutes on October 22, 2006. I am unaware of any active movement led by Rep. Pelosi to actively derail any impeachment articles, currently.

I would also add that Pelosi really doesn’t have much of a say as to whether impeachment is on the table or not. The Speaker of the House doesn’t have the power to stop Articles of Impeachment from ever going to the Judiciary Committee and then to the floor. What’s stopping it right now is a lack of co-sponsors, and a lack of support. In other words, instead of dwelling on something Pelosi said on October 22, 2006, we’d probably be much more effective if we inundate our Congresspeople with letters (and I do NOT mean e-mails!, and I do NOT mean every goddamn Congressperson in the House!) and urge them to do the right thing.

I would also remind you that rushing into this would be a profoundly stupid idea. You only get to do this once, maybe twice, and politically speaking, they had better pass the articles. Not only that, but if you want to  convict, you have to swing at least 19-20 Republican Senators to vote to convict Bush and Cheney, which will take a hell of a lot more than just "Well, you’ve seen what they did!" there will have to be a lot of evidence.

Also, politically speaking, Pelosi is in an unusual situation, in that the impeachment call is for both Bush and Cheney. Such a move, if successful, would make her president, if only for a short time. Politically speaking, there would be consequences for her taking such a potentially self-serving step as introducing, or even actively helping along Articles of Impeachment. Ethically speaking, there might be questions if she led the charge. They will never come from her, and she really shouldn’t even co-sponsor them, truthfully.

IOW, the thing to do is join the fricking Democratic Party, and move it left, and write your Congressperson, and ask them to co-sponsor articles of impeachment. Leaving the Democratic Party is what spoiled children do when they don’t get their way.

In other words, it makes us look like Wingnuts.
You look at stuff like this, and it’s no wonder the left has been impotent for 40 years…

Tenet Goes Under the Bus; Bush Comes Out Unscathed

Bush_tenet
You know, I don’t normally do the conspiracy thing, and i am no huge fan of George Tenet, but doesn’t it seem as if it’s at least possible that Tenet was a patsy in some sort of master plan to create a scenario in which Bush wold have to take no responsibility, should there be a security failure after taking office?

Think about it. Even if they didn’t plan 9/11 (and I truly doubt that they did), they did plan to invade Iraq, and they would need an "intelligence failure" of some sort to use as a rationale for the invasion. So, they kept Tenet on, as one of the very few holdovers from the Clinton Administration, with a plan to blame him when the intelligence failed.

Of course, then came 9/11, which was the worst intelligence failure in US history, and Bush was responsible. No, you can hem and haw and piss and moan all you want. Bush should have known something was up, he had graphic warnings, and he did nothing but stay on vacation, and then proceed to pee his pants when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

So, fast forward six years, and who gets thrown under the bus, so that Bush can avoid all accountability for his major f*** up?

From: The Blotter: CIA Report Blames Tenet for 9/ll Failure.

Former CIA director George Tenet "bears ultimate responsibility" for failing to create a strategic plan to stop al Qaeda prior to 9/ll, according to a review by the CIA’s inspector general that was made public today, more than two years after it was written.

The report says that while Tenet wrote he wanted "no resources or people spared" in going after al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, neither he, nor his deputy, "followed up these warnings and admonitions by creating a documented, comprehensive plan to guide the counterterrorism effort."

"I know now why Tenet worked so hard to kill this report," said former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, now an ABC News consultant.

In a written statement, Tenet, who received the Medal of Freedom from President Bush, said the report was "flat wrong." Tenet said the inspector general failed to interview him. "He fails to understand how intensely I pushed the counterterrorism issue," Tenet said.

Now, I don’t think anyone can absolve Tenet of responsibility altogether. But to place all of the blame on him, when the CIA and other Intelligence agencies — and the outgoing Clinton Administration, for that matter — warned the Bushies that terrorism was job one, and that al Qaeda and bin Laden were major problems, is, to put it mildly, disingenuous. The Bushies never took terrorism seriously, until it was laid bare on our doorstep (and for at least 7 minutes after).

Tenet’s responsible on some level, but the release of this report is obviously a calculated attempt by the Bushies to avoid accountability. Put it this way; Bush gave Tenet the Medal of Freedom after 9/11. Think about it…

 

Democratic Freshmen Raise Twice as Much as GOP for 2008 House Races

This is huge, folks. It’s not only a sign of support for Democrats, but a sign that even traditional Republican donors see the writing on the wall…

More: Dem freshmen get fundraising burst – USATODAY.com.

Democrats who captured control of the House last year after a 12-year hiatus are dominating the first clash of the 2008 elections: the money race.

The most vulnerable House Democrats — freshmen who won in districts that went for President Bush in 2004 — raised an average of $600,000 in the first six months of this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. That’s nearly double what Republican freshmen raised. If the trend continues, it will make it difficult for the GOP to reduce Democrats’ 231-202 House majority.

"Our goal is to put our members in the strongest position as possible, as quickly as possible," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "We are right on target."

The 42 Democratic freshmen raised an average of $1.8 million to win election in November, half of them in Bush districts. Four raised more than $3 million.

2008 should be a blowout year, folks, although we can’t get cocky. We need for Dems to not only have a majority in both halves of Congress, but to CONTROL them. Then, when they’re in, and the Democratic president is sitting pretty (provided we don’t end up with "President for Life" Bush), we can bombard them with letters and demands for what needs to be done to fix the problems the right wing has caused in the last (by then) 28 years, and become a progressive nation once again…

President for Life Bush??

Apparently, the Wingnuts don’t just plan to stop at a few stupid wars and the funneling of your tax money to their wealthy friends. Digby (and many others, apparently, has saved a nice little article from the web site Family Security Matters. They’ve tried to scrub it from the site, but it was still in their cache recently.

From: Hullabaloo.

Exclusive: Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy
Philip Atkinson

Author: Philip Atkinson
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: August 3, 2007

While
democratic government is better than dictatorships and theocracies, it
has its pitfalls. FSM Contributing Editor Philip Atkinson describes
some of the difficulties facing President Bush today.

Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy
By Philip Atkinson

President
George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. He was sworn
in for a second term on January 20, 2005 after being chosen by the
majority of citizens in America to be president.

Yet in 2007 he
is generally despised, with many citizens of Western civilization
expressing contempt for his person and his policies, sentiments which
now abound on the Internet. This rage at President Bush is an
inevitable result of the system of government demanded by the people,
which is Democracy.

The inadequacy of Democracy, rule by the
majority, is undeniable – for it demands adopting ideas because they
are popular, rather than because they are wise. This means that any man
chosen to act as an agent of the people is placed in an invidious
position: if he commits folly because it is popular, then he will be
held responsible for the inevitable result. If he refuses to commit
folly, then he will be detested by most citizens because he is
frustrating their demands.

When faced with the possible threat
that the Iraqis might be amassing terrible weapons that could be used
to slay millions of citizens of Western Civilization, President Bush
took the only action prudence demanded and the electorate allowed: he
conquered Iraq with an army.

This dangerous and expensive act
did destroy the Iraqi regime, but left an American army without any
clear purpose in a hostile country and subject to attack. If the Army
merely returns to its home, then the threat it ended would simply
return.

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to
use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with
his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little
risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he
did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term
of office, if not his freedom or his life.

The simple truth that
modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit
suicide. Israel provides the perfect example. If the Israelis do not
raze Iran, the Iranians will fulfill their boast and wipe Israel off
the face of the earth. Yet Israel is not popular, and so is denied
permission to defend itself. In the same vein, President Bush cannot do
what is necessary for the survival of Americans. He cannot use the
nation’s powerful weapons. All he can do is try and discover a result
that will be popular with Americans.

As there appears to be no
sensible result of the invasion of Iraq that will be popular with his
countrymen other than retreat, President Bush is reviled; he has become
another victim of Democracy.

By elevating popular fancy over
truth, Democracy is clearly an enemy of not just truth, but duty and
justice, which makes it the worst form of government. President Bush
must overcome not just the situation in Iraq, but democratic government.

However, President Bush has a valuable historical example that he could choose to follow.

When
the ancient Roman general Julius Caesar was struggling to conquer
ancient Gaul, he not only had to defeat the Gauls, but he also had to
defeat his political enemies in Rome who would destroy him the moment
his tenure as consul (president) ended.

Caesar pacified Gaul by
mass slaughter; he then used his successful army to crush all political
opposition at home and establish himself as permanent ruler of ancient
Rome. This brilliant action not only ended the personal threat to
Caesar, but ended the civil chaos that was threatening anarchy in
ancient Rome – thus marking the start of the ancient Roman Empire that
gave peace and prosperity to the known world.

If President Bush
copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and
repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate
results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by
converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it
from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while
terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar’s
example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield
military power to become the first permanent president of America, and
end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and
the out-of-control Supreme Court.

President Bush can fail in his
duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president”
Bush or he can become “President-for-Life” Bush: the conqueror of Iraq,
who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then
who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and
becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler
has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age
wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.

It seems that Family Security Matters is a bit more, um, radical, than other wingnut think tanks. Something tells me that, if I had written this article and substituted Hillary Clinton’s name for Bush’s, I’d be sitting in Gitmo right now.

Wonder how long before someone from FSM comes out and calls this article "just a joke"…

 

Leahy Says F*** You Back to Bushies

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say the Democrats in the Senate are going to become increasingly frustrated and pissy with the Bush White House. They’re simply not used to being the least effective body in Congress, and while they don’t have enough votes to do anything drastic, they can make it clear to the voting public where the problem is…

From: Leahy Threatens Bush Aides With Contempt – The Huffington Post.

A top Senate Democrat on Monday threatened to hold members of the Bush administration in contempt for not producing subpoenaed information about the legal justification for President Bush’s secretive eavesdropping program.

"When the Senate comes back in the session, I’ll bring it up before the committee," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I prefer cooperation to contempt. Right now, there’s no question that they are in contempt of the valid order of the Congress."

Leahy’s committee on June 27 subpoenaed the Justice Department, National Security Council and the offices of the president and vice president for documents relating to the National Security Agency’s legal justification for the wiretapping program.

White House lawyer Fred Fielding, in a Monday letter to Leahy, said that the administration needed more time.

"A core set of highly sensitive national security and related
documents we have so far identified are potentially subject to claims
of executive privilege and that a more complete collection and review
of all materials responsive to the subpoenas will require additional
time," Fielding said.

Leahy said they had waited long enough.

"It has been almost two months since service of the subpoenas, three
weeks since the time they asked for additional time. And still, we have
nothing at all," Leahy said.

Is there a greater bunch of pussies on the planet than Congressional Republicans? Here they are, stuck with an incompetent White House, that is effectively killing the party slowly with its actions, and yet none of them have the balls to stand up to the Bushies. Even the few who aren’t chickenhawks seem to be deathly afraid of opposing this 29% popularity White House…

Write your Congressperson, and especially your Senators — and I do NOT mean e-mail, either — and let them know that they have to stand up to this White House and do what’s right. And by the way, that includes writing to Democrats AND Republicans; the GOP needs the wake-up call, and the Dems need the spine…

Karl Rove is a Liar — Here’s proof…

First, you have Karl Rove laying a load of crap on David Gregory on Meet the Press:

   
Then, you have Matt Cooper come on and prove, once and for all, that karl Rove is a bald-faced liar:
   

These videos came from Crooks & Liars, and they prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Karl Rove is both a crook and a liar.
Can’t wait to see how Fox Noise spins this one… expect Sean Hannity’s head to fly off and Bill O’Reilly to run to Geraldo or Dennis for a big hug…

Whose Taxes are Lower Again?

I cut the taxes on everybody. I didn’t cut them. The Congress cut them. I asked them to cut them.
    –George W. Bush, Washington, DC, 08/06/2004

Bushidiot_2

The next time a Bush fan tells you how much they cut everyone’s taxes, remember this story…

From: After Foreclosure, a Big Tax Bill From the I.R.S. – New York Times.

Two years ago, William Stout lost his home in Allentown, Pa., to foreclosure when he could no longer make the payments on his $106,000 mortgage. Wells Fargo offered the two-bedroom house for sale on the courthouse steps. No bidders came forward. So Wells Fargo bought it for $1, county records show.

Despite the setback, Mr. Stout was relieved that his debt was wiped clean and he could make a new start. He married and moved in with his wife, Denise.

But on July 9, they received a bill from the Internal Revenue Service for $34,603 in back taxes. The letter explained that the debt canceled by Wells Fargo upon foreclosure was subject to income taxes, as well as penalties and late fees. The couple had a month to challenge the charges.

Yes, that’s right, ladies and gentlemen. While right wing patrons get tax breaks for taking their friends to lunch at the most expensive restaurant in town and calling it "business;" while the relatives of rich Bush supporters who get millions of dollars in free money through inheritance get to pay next to nothing; while Wells Fargo Bank gets to write off the mortgage as lost, and not pay taxes on it, and keep the house as an asset to sell later, for even more income; the IRS actually considers forgiven debt to be "income" and forces you to pay tax on that.

Are you getting how the system is rigged yet? the net result of 26+ years of right wing addiction to "tax cuts" has the net effect of substantial tax cuts on the rich, who didn’t need tax cuts in the first place, and increased punitive taxation on everyone else. Like I said; rich CEOs of large corporations pay no taxes on the "deferred" portion of their compensation, which in many cases is most of it. They are largely able to shelter most of their income from taxation altogether. Meanwhile, the average working person sees their taxes go up, as their income goes up, and the IRS finds more and more ways to sock it to the poor.

Imagine the relief this guy felt at having been relieved of the burden of this mortgage he couldn’t afford, because the Bush economy screwed him, only to be told by the government that the forgiven debt was, in fact, "income." Meanwhile, across town, a rich CEO’s kid gets $2 million dropped in his lap after his father passes away, and pays nothing.

That’s the tax system the Republicans have created for us, folks. They only reduced taxes on the very rich, raised your taxes and they call every gain you see in your life "income," while exempting most of the income received by the rich…

Feel good about that, do ya?

A new series on security

Hello, folks,
This will be my first post in the interests of Cutting the Crap.  I’m a longtime online activist (dating back to days on Usenet), and am honored to be joining Milt in his quest to bring a little straight talk to political discussions.

I’ll be starting out with some recent posts I wrote for Daily Kos on computer security.  It’s far from my only area of interest, but considering the FISA follies which are much in the news these days, the topic is rather timely.

This first post is an introduction to data encryption.

(Posted on Daily Kos on Sunday, August 5th)

INTRODUCTION

I’ve long been a proponent of the use of encryption when it comes to electronic communication.  This pre-dates Bush’s massive violation of the FISA law; most electronic communication is vulnerable should some bad actor decide to listen in, and the situation has become 100 times worse in the age of email.

In short: everyone should be encrypting their communications.  It is simplicity itself for a criminal to read your online communications.  You don’t have to be concerned about violations of the 4th Amendment to be concerned about protecting your privacy.

This is the first of a series of several diaries (not sure how long it will be) discussing encryption, the protection of private communications and the protection of privacy in general.  There’s no "insider knowledge" presented here, since I have none to present.  Rather, the information contained herein is gleaned from years of hobby interest in the field.  Any comments or corrections are welcome.

ENCRYPTION BACKGROUND

Secret codes have been around nearly as long as the written and spoken word.  With the advent of the Information Age, advanced mathematics has been leveraged to produce extremely powerful codes, commonly referred to as strong encryption.  These cryptosystems are sets of mathematical transformations that convert readable data (called plaintext) into random-looking sets of data (called ciphertext).  If properly done, ciphertext should, in fact, be indistinguishable from random numbers, e.g. the data you’d get counting the number and size of leaves on a tree, or digitizing the noise on a TV channel without a station broadcasting.

Modern encryption comes in two basic flavors: symmetric and public-key.  To make matters more complex, public-key encryption is generally not a terribly efficient system in terms of speed of encryption/decryption of data, so it’s usually used in conjunction with symmetric encryption.

Symmetric Encryption

Symmetric encryption is a system which combines a mathematical algorithm with a single digital key used to both encrypt and decrypt the same data.  Obviously the key used can be different from message to message, but the main point is the same key must be used to retrieve the original message as was used to encrypt it in the first place.

There are a number of available symmetric encryption algorithms that have been published and survived scrutiny.  Perhaps the most commonly-used  these days are:

  • IDEA
  • AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), formerly known as Rijndael
  • Twofish
  • Blowfish
  • Serpent
  • DES (Digital Encryption Standard) and triple-DES

AES is a standard used by the US government, and therein lies a tale…

Overview of AES

In 1997, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) decided the old National Security Agency (NSA)- and IBM-designed encryption standard called DES could no longer reasonably protect sensitive data, due to its relatively short key length (56 bits).  It was becoming feasible for modern computers to simply try all possible keys and decrypt messages.  So, NIST proposed a public competition to replace DES with a more robust encryption system, to be known as "AES".

The competition resulted in several submissions from various renowned encryption experts, and in the course of the competition, researchers, including those who submitted algorithms, tried every way they could to break the ciphers.  In the end, several algorithms were left standing, and the winner of the remaining algorithms was decided primarily on the basis of speed of encryption/decryption and code size of the implemented cryptosystem.

Further vetting of AES

Upon the selection of Rijndael as the new AES standard, NIST placed its seal of approval for use of the algorithm for the protection of sensitive but non-classified data.  But then a surprising thing happened.  In 2003, NSA announced they’d examined the algorithm upon request, and pronounced AES suitable for the protection of electronic data up to the classified TOP SECRET level.  This approval means the general public, for the first time, has access to strong encryption that the NSA itself has rated sufficiently strong to protect the US government’s most important electronic data.  And lest you think NSA was "pulling a fast one", AES is now used by defense and security contractors who provide encryption in products used by the government.  It’s the real deal.

This description of AES is not intended to say it is necessarily "better" than the other algorithms that are listed above.  There is good reason to believe all are sufficient to protect sensitive data.  However, of the listed algorithms only AES is approved for use by the government itself to protect its most vital secrets.

The problem of key exchange

Modern symmetric encryption algorithms are very powerful, and many are considered unbreakable with current technology.  However, they all suffer from one serious problem:  how does one make sure the recipient of a message also has the key?

There are several ways to implement key exchange, including meeting in person.  However, the problem of key exchange has always been a limiting factor when it comes to the widespread use of encryption.  After all, if you have a secure means to exchange keys, then presumably you could just exchange messages securely in the first place.  Encryption, then, becomes more a matter of convenience.

The advent of public-key encryption, however, has meant a whole new ballgame.  This will be described below.

The ultimate in security: the one-time pad

Most modern symmetric ciphers make use of keys that are significantly shorter than the data being exchanged, and at least in theory, may be broken.  The one exception to this rule is the "one-time pad".  A one-time pad is a string of truly random data known to both entities who wish to communicate, and no one else.  The pad is as long or longer than the plaintext data to be sent, and is never re-used to encrypt another message.  The encryption algorithm itself may be extremely simple: a simple bitwise xor logic function will suffice.  As long as the "no-reuse", "known only to the communicating entities" and "truly random" rules are followed, the one-time pad is provably unbreakable.

Obviously, the one-time pad system suffers from several problems, the most serious of which is how to exchange the pad between those who want to communicate, without anyone else intercepting it.  The need to not reuse the same random data on a second message, combined with key exchange difficulties, makes the one-time pad difficult to use for practical protection of communications.

Public-Key Encryption

Public-key encryption makes use of so-called "one-way functions".  These mathematical functions are easy to calculate one way, but very, very difficult to reverse.  They are based upon "hard problems" that mathematicians have examined for centuries and been unable to solve.  There are two main types.  The first (and first generally available) is based upon the difficulty of factoring extremely large numbers that are the product of two prime numbers.  This is the basis of the so-called "RSA" encryption algorithm.  The second type is based upon the "discrete logarithm" problem (don’t ask me the details).  "El Gamal"-type algorithms make use of this system.

In public-key encryption, there are two keys: one used to encrypt data, and the other used to decrypt it.  Most of the time, this system is used by publishing one of the keys, and keeping the other secret.  In this way, anyone can use your public key to encrypt a message to you, and only you, the holder of the private key, can decrypt it.  If two people exchange public keys, they can send messages back and forth to each other, without ever having to meet and without risking compromising security.

The development and availability of public-key encryption is a huge step forward.  One of the most difficult problems in encryption is how to exchange the key necessary to decrypt ciphertext.  This problem is especially acute when the two individuals who wish to communicate cannot meet in person or .  Public-key encryption solves this problem; indeed, it is what has made the widespread use of encryption possible.

The one remaining problem with public-key encryption is the issue of trust: making sure that the person with whom you exchange keys is who he or she claims to be.  I’ll discuss that more in the next installment.

Digital signatures

A subset of public-key encryption is the "digital signature".  With digital signatures, the key usage is reversed: the person signing the data uses his or her secret key to "sign" the data, and others use that person’s public key to check the signature.

When data is "digitally signed", a string of data with a known length (the "hash" or "message digest") which represents the data being signed is calculated using a specialized encryption algorithm.  This data is then encrypted using the signer’s private key.  Anyone else looking at the same data can also calculate the correct hash for the data that was signed, and using the original signer’s public key, decrypt the hash the signer had calculated (which is provided with the signed data).  If the two match, it may be assumed the data has not been altered and the original signer did, in fact, sign the data.

Good digital signatures depend upon good hash algorithms, which must:

  1. Produce one, and only one, hash string for a given input,
  2. Be immune from the ability to find two messages that produce the same hash value within a reasonable amount of time.

Because hash algorithms produce hashes that are usually much shorter than the data being hashed, it must be true that many messages of that size can produce the same hash.  However, due to the hash size and the algorithm, it should be basically impossible to find other messages that produce the same hash.  This is the basis for the utility of digital signatures.

In practice, designing hash algorithms that can do this has proven very difficult, and even NSA-designed and published algorithms have been found to have serious flaws.

STRONG ENCRYPTION

A word on key length

You will hear quite a bit about "key length" when encryption is discussed.  This can be a confusing topic, primarily because 1) the efficacy of a given key length for protecting sensitive data depends, in part, upon the algorithm used and 2) key length means wholly different things when discussing symmetric and public-key encryption.

Key lengths are usually specified in terms of binary bits.  Typical key lengths in common use are 128 bits, 192 bits and 256 bits for symmetric ciphers and 1024-4096 bits for public-key ciphers.  Longer keys are invariably more secure (assuming the encryption algorithm used is a good one); however, there is an issue of diminishing returns for larger key lengths, and good encryption algorithms may take longer to calculate longer keys or even to use them to encrypt and decrypt data.

The basic idea when using strong encryption is to make it impractical, using current and projected computational power, to simply try all of the possible keys until the right one is found (a procedure called "brute forcing").  With strong encryption algorithms and long keys, brute forcing using currently-available computer systems may take longer than the projected lifetime of the solar system.

It’s also a good idea to keep on top of developments in encryption cracking: public-key encryption using 1024 bits is generally not considered very safe at this point, as brute-forcing keys of this length within a reasonable amount of time is rapidly becoming feasible.  For AES, NSA has specified key lengths of 192 and 256 bits for the protection of TOP SECRET data.

What makes an encryption algorithm "strong"?  Well, there are several things:

  1. There must be no faster way to decrypt the ciphertext without the key than by trying an impossibly-large number of keys by brute force
  2. The encryption system should not depend upon secrecy of the algorithm for its security, or depend upon lack of attacker knowledge of some of the plaintext
  3. Retrieval of the key should not be feasible even when the attacker knows the original data, the algorithm and the ciphertext.

Breaking encryption

The breaking of an encryption system is generally accomplished using a combination of two methodologies:

  1. Reducing the key space (the effective number of possible keys that need to be tried) by finding mathematical weaknesses in the encryption algorithm, and
  2. Brute-forcing the possible keys.

Thus far, none of the above-listed encryption algorithms has been truly "broken" by anyone publicly, meaning a mathematical shortcut has been found allowing the plaintext to be derived from the ciphertext without the key.  Several weaknesses have been found in most, which reduce the keyspace of each.  However, all have been subjected to substantial and ongoing review by a sizable community of extremely knowledgable mathematicians and cryptologists (professional encryption experts) and all are deemed secure using sufficiently long keys.

So how do I know what (insert three-letter agency here) might be able to break?

The simple answer is: you don’t.  There is no way to know what mathematical breakthroughs someone deep in the bowels of our government–or anywhere else, for that matter–has made and can leverage to break commonly-used encryption algorithms.

A more qualitative answer involves guessing the answers to the following questions…

  • Would the US government use encryption to protect its most important data that it knows has a weakness?  Can it take the chance that someone else hasn’t discovered the same weakness?
  • How likely is it that top government mathematicians, working with nearly unlimited resources over the span of about five decades, have been able to solve hard problems that have stood the test of time for millenia?

PRACTICAL USE

Modern strong encryption has been implemented in many products available to the end user, and quite a few of them are available for free.  Encryption products are available to keep your email, your files, even your voice and video data private.  In the next installment of this series, I will detail some of these products and their use.

FURTHER READING

GOP again says, “Constitution Be Damned…”

Another reminder of what the Republican Party was really about when they ran the show for six years, folks. All of that talk about "states’ rights"? It was bullshit. What they really meant was, they would take your tax money, and give the states less money, thus giving them the "right" to collect more taxes and decide which services they would pay for.

Seriously, have you ever seen such a complete disregard for the basic principles in our Constitution (did you know, for example, that requiring you to provide ID in a national park without probable cause is a violation of your rights? And while the individual airline has a right to require identification as part of its ticketing procedures, the federal government actually can’t?), combined with so many unfunded mandates coming from these supposed "states rights" idiots?

From: Federal ID plan raises privacy concerns – CNN.com.

Americans may need passports to board domestic flights or to picnic
in a national park next year if they live in one of the states defying
the federal Real ID Act.

Purely illegal. You don’t have to prove who you are, folks; THEY have to prove you aren’t who you say you are. From the morons who brought you the "no-fly" list, in which everyone named "Robert Johnson" has to jump through hoops to board a plane, comes this disaster, where you have to now have a passport to drive from New York to Los Angeles, if you happen to stop in a National Park for lunch?

When did we become the Soviet fricking Union? Didn’t we used to laugh at them for crap like this?

The act, signed in 2005 as part of an
emergency military spending and tsunami relief bill, aims to weave
driver’s licenses and state ID cards into a sort of national
identification system by May 2008. The law sets baseline criteria for
how driver’s licenses will be issued and what information they must
contain.

I want you to make note of this, folks. This is how sneaky the current crop of Republicans is. They knew they couldn’t pass a goddamn bill like this outright, so they snuck it onto a bill they knew the Democrats would have to support, at least in part, so that they couldn’t be portrayed as being "against the troops" or against humanitarian relief for tsunami victims.

This is what the current Democrats have to deal with; a bunch of sneaky assholes, who will do anything, no matter how underhanded, to either get their agenda passed, or stop the Democrats’ agenda altogether. Got that?

The Department of Homeland Security insists Real ID is
an essential weapon in the war on terror, but privacy and civil
liberties watchdogs are calling the initiative an overly intrusive
measure that smacks of Big Brother.

This is the same Homeland Security Department that insisted that they be given the power to handle natural emergencies, such as, oh, Hurricane Katrina. They are far more interested in being able to spy on Americans — and ask yourself this; how many Americans have blown up large buildings in the United States in the last, oh, 12 years. Now, ask yourself this; given that Tim McVeigh had a military ID, a drivers license and presumably a passport, tell us again how having identification stops terrorism again?

Two major incidents. Every single person involved had a federally mandated identification card. No one was stopped.
(…)

The cards would be
mandatory for all "federal purposes," which include boarding an
airplane or walking into a federal building, nuclear facility or
national park, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the
National Conference of State Legislatures last week. Citizens in states that don’t comply with the new rules will have to use passports for federal purposes.

"For terrorists, travel documents are like weapons," Chertoff said. "We do have a right and an obligation to see that those licenses reflect the identity of the person who’s presenting it."

Chertoff
said the Real ID program is essential to national security because
there are presently 8,000 types of identification accepted to enter the
United States.

"It is simply unreasonable to expect our border
inspectors to be able to detect forgeries on documents that range from
baptismal certificates from small towns in Texas to cards that purport
to reflect citizenship privileges in a province somewhere in Canada,"
he said.

Excuse me, but that is a baldfaced lie. There are 51 state ID cards
in this country, and a few ID cards from scattered territories. For
foreigners coming here, they must have a visa and/or passport, and
passports don’t vary widely from country to country. At most, there are
maybe 100 different identification types. Seriously, why aren’t
reporters asking for a list of these 8,000 acceptable identification
cards? And if we’re allowing people to cross the border based on a baptismal certificate in the first place, obviously the type of identification we require Americans to carry doesn’t matter much. If rangers stop someone in a National Park, and they don’t seem to present a danger, what happens if they don’t have a passport, or an "acceptable" ID? Are Park Rangers then supposed to kick them out of the park? Are they going to detain them, and spend hours verifying their identity? Are they going to declare them "enemy combatants" and send them to Gitmo?

Where is our Bill of Rights, and why aren’t we defending it? The government is supposed to have limits on it, not us.

Chertoff attended the conference in Boston,
Massachusetts, in part to allay states’ concerns, but he had few
concrete answers on funding.

The Department of Homeland Security,
which estimates state and federal costs could reach $23.1 billion over
10 years, is looking for ways to lessen the burden on states, he said.
On the recent congressional front, however, Chertoff could point only
to an amendment killed in the Senate last month that would’ve provided
$300 million for the program.

In other words, folks…

The Senate, which is pretty much still a de facto Republican majority, what with one Democratic Senator recovering from a stroke and another pretending to be a Republican because he’s mad at Democrats, rejected funding for the very bill that they themselves mandated. In other words, they’re mandating that your state do exactly as they’re told with regard to issuing drivers licenses and other identification cards, but refuse to give them the money to do so. State taxes will have to come up with the $23.1 billion required to pay for this mandated program.

To Republicans, "states’ rights" apparently means the right to bend over and take whatever the feds give you.

 

Aren’t These Stories Kind of Important?

Why were these stories buried in the news in the United States, well past the stories about hurricanes, Peruvian earthquakes, Karl Rove’s obsession with Hillary Clinton, brides ripping up wedding dresses and nude protesters on a glacier?

Isn’t the apparent reconstitution of the Soviet Union, and perhaps an alliance with China kind of important?

From: Putin revives long-range bomber patrols | Russia | Guardian Unlimited.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, yesterday announced Russia had resumed long-range flights of strategic bombers capable of striking targets deep inside the United States with nuclear weapons.

Mr Putin said Russia had restarted the Soviet-era practice of sending bomber aircraft on regular patrols beyond its borders.

Speaking after Russian and Chinese forces completed a day of war games in Russia’s Urals, Mr Putin said 14 Russian bombers had taken off simultaneously yesterday on long-range missions.

From: Russia forces World Service off FM radio | Russia | Guardian Unlimited.

The
fallout from the diplomatic row between Britain and Russia spread to
the BBC yesterday when Russia announced it was closing down the World
Service’s main Russian-language broadcasts.

The BBC World Service said it had been told it could no longer
broadcast on the FM frequency in Russia. All broadcasts ceased at 5pm
local time yesterday. On Thursday the Russian licensing authorities
ordered the BBC World Service’s Russian partner, Bolshoye Radio, to
drop the BBC from its programming or lose its licence.

It seems to me that, perhaps, if American media moguls want their audiences back, instead of emulating Fox Noise, and simply repeating Republican talking points, they might want to report actual news. The few American news organizations who bothered to carry these buried them, thus forcing those of us who are resourceful to get them from foreign news organizations, all of which carried these stories as if they actually mattered.

It seems that just a few years ago, we were celebrating the spread of democracy and freedom almost everywhere… now, it seems to be slipping away almost everywhere, and no one notices.