Ignoranus Republicans think if your data is encrypted, the terrorists win

Jeb “I’m my own man” Bush sounds more and more like his know-nothing ex-president brother every day. This time, in between defending the Iraq War and saying he might bring back torture if elected president, he’s demanding that tech companies stop letting billions of the world’s citizens use encryption online to protect their information because of “evildoers.”

Bush’s comments echo the dangerous sentiments of FBI director Jim Comey, who has publicly campaigned against Apple and Google for attempting to make our cell phones and communications safer by incorporating strong encryption in iPhones and Android devices…

First of all, he seems to either be attacking, or just doesn’t understand, that the entire internet – and much of the economy really – is based around strong encryption. Every time he logs onto his email, uses online banking or wants to check his medical records online, there is some form of encryption that is protecting his data from criminals. So the fact that technology companies are “creating” encryption protects all of us

It begs the questions: how many candidates have technologists or computer scientists advising their campaigns? Given how almost every week there is yet another security breach at a major company, and that voters are concerned about their online privacy, you’d think at least some of the candidates would attempt to capitalize on it by merely having a coherent policy that does not make them sound like they’ve never touched a computer (or sent a fax) before without the assistance of their aides.

Strong end-to-end encryption is one of the best defenses against the massive cyber-attacks that have become all too frequent. If there is not a giant pile of data that is accessible by anyone, then the criminals can’t get it either.

As much as rightwing idjits prattle about hating big government they’re always in favor of using government to get in the way of individual privacy, free speech and free thought.

We get that crap daily from the FBI and the NSA. Two bodies with a long iron-clad history of rejecting privacy or civil liberties for anyone they want to sniff around. It doesn’t matter whether the White House or Congress is led by the vaguely liberal half of our 2-party electoral politics. The heads of our officially-chartered thought police are inevitably some flavor of proto-fascist creep.

Today’s Republican candidates for president nod their bobbleheads in agreement.

What might kill wind and solar power?

Stephen Chu at Sandia Labs

Questions to Stephen Chu, Nobel Prizewinner in Physics, former Secretary of Energy

During your time at the Department of Energy the deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. doubled. Is the fall in fossil-fuel prices killing the business case for renewables?

The decline in fossil-fuel prices does have some effect, but remember that 78 percent of the economies of the U.S. have state-mandated renewable portfolio standards. They require that a specified fraction of electricity must come from renewable energy. For example, in California the goal is 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Right now renewable electricity is roughly 13 percent of total electricity generated in the U.S. Half is hydropower and the other half is mostly wind energy, with some solar, biomass and geothermal. Renewable energy costs have come down significantly. Even if natural gas, which is the cheapest form of electricity generation today, stays at $4 per million Btus [British thermal units], wind without subsidy is almost as inexpensive.

Electrical generation in the sunnier parts of the U.S. is also approaching equality with a new natural gas power plant. The cost of wind and solar is anticipated to decline for at least a decade or two. Perhaps in a decade, renewables will be competitive with any new form of energy in many parts of the U.S.

What do you think is the biggest energy problem today?

It’s a combination of things. As renewable energy and electrical storage become less expensive, one has to design the grid system to take full advantage of lower-cost energy.

As renewable energy becomes an increasingly larger fraction of the total energy, the cost of standby electricity and storage becomes part of the cost of renewables. Sometimes the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine…

…We can’t really abandon fossil fuels before the first half of this century because they are needed for backup power. We need to invent a method to transform very inexpensive electricity into cost-competitive liquid hydrocarbon fuels that can be shipped by tanker and stored around the world. After that we can begin to wean ourselves from fossil and fission nuclear energy.

You’ve straddled politics and science. At times this doesn’t seem to work. What’s going wrong?

Sometimes you can have sets of well-informed people who will have different opinions on how to deal with X, Y or Z. That’s where politics should come in.

…It makes no sense to say, “Unless science can prove unequivocally that very bad things will happen, we can continue on our present course.”

Science cannot predict who will get lung cancer if they smoke. With a half a century of hindsight we now know that the risk is 25 times greater than for nonsmokers.

Prudent risk management does not use uncertainty as an excuse for inaction, and fire and health insurance make sense. We need leaders who are scientifically well-informed and willing act in the long-term best interests of their countries.

Whatever the sum of our nation’s ignorance plus stupidity, the fact remains over half of our political choice is in the hands of fools who reject science, realistic decision-making, anything other than short-term profits for the smallest ownership class of American capitalism. Even the Chamber of Commerce – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuels industries – doesn’t advocate the range of self-destructive, cloud cuckoo-land policies propping up the Republican Party and their obedient little brothers among Blue Dog Democrats.

Science and economy-based analysis of markets and needs offers no lang-range threat to diversified alternative energy production. The opposite is true. What threatens all of our society is the politics of ignorance coupled with the politics of stupid.