What the FBI wants is the ability to eavesdrop on everything. Depending on the system, this ranges from easy to impossible. E-mail systems like Gmail are easy. The mail resides in Google’s servers, and the company has an office full of people who respond to requests for lawful access to individual accounts from governments all over the world. Encrypted voice systems like Silent Circle are impossible to eavesdrop on—the calls are encrypted from one computer to the other, and there’s no central node to eavesdrop from. In those cases, the only way to make the system eavesdroppable is to add a backdoor to the user software. This is precisely the FBI’sproposal. Companies that refuse to comply would be fined $25,000 a day.
The FBI believes it can have it both ways: that it can open systems to its eavesdropping, but keep them secure from anyone else’s eavesdropping. That’s just not possible. It’s impossible to build a communications system that allows the FBI surreptitious access but doesn’t allow similar access by others. When it comes to security, we have two options: We can build our systems to be as secure as possible from eavesdropping, or we can deliberately weaken their security. We have to choose one or the other.
Our government’s goal should be to bring in revenues of 18.5 percent of G.D.P. and spend about 21 percent of G.D.P. — levels that have been attained over extended periods in the past and can clearly be reached again. As the math makes clear, this won’t stem our budget deficits; in fact, it will continue them. But assuming even conservative projections about inflation and economic growth, this ratio of revenue to spending will keep America’s debt stable in relation to the country’s economic output. In the last fiscal year, we were far away from this fiscal balance — bringing in 15.5 percent of G.D.P. in revenue and spending 22.4 percent. Correcting our course will require major concessions by both Republicans and Democrats. All of America is waiting for Congress to offer a realistic and concrete plan for getting back to this fiscally sound path. Nothing less is acceptable.
Problem is, people sometimes have trouble distinguishing between different levels of government. Although it’s easy to understand complaints about federal taxes, given the mind-boggling dysfunction and inefficiency on Capitol Hill, discontent over a 3.4 percent state income tax rate largely doesn’t exist.
What about overspending? Sorry, but this state has been underspending for quite some time now — except, that is, on I-69 and football stadiums.
Nonetheless, proposing a tax cut is easier than telling people that cuts to schools must stop, or that DCS caseworkers must be paid more. It’s easier than investing in preschool programs. It’s easier than looking at the areas in which the state is lacking and aiming more resources at them.
In the end, it’ll be nice to receive $222 from the government. That will pay my Starbucks bill for a month or so. But I look forward to the day when someone at the top of our state’s government tells Hoosiers the truth.
And here is that truth: Our tax rates are reasonable, and our problems are daunting. A refund sounds good, but investments in our state would be more worthwhile.
But why are they here? I wondered, gazing at the raft of 20 and thirty-something faces huddled on the floor, peering expectantly at the stage.
What could these indie-minded granola kids and post-hippie grunge rebels possibly see in this scowling geezer, whose biggest hit, Heart of Gold, was four decades ago?
And then the great lumbering beast opened fire with its first feedback-packed salvo — Ragged Glory’s Love and Only Love — and it suddenly made sense: Neil Young, a Woodstock veteran who never gave up the promise of his youth, has somehow defied the aging process.
Not physically, with his double chin, baggy eyelids and balding pate. But deep inside, where it counts. In his soul.
Usually when a veteran artist like Young hauls out a new song, the crowd fidgets restlessly or heads for the bathroom. That didn’t happen here.
And the grimacing, scraggly haired rock survivor unleashed five of them — two clocking in at the 20 minute mark — with a couple of 10 minute feedback experiments that created so much cognitive dissonance for aging folkies they probably beat their heads with their fists.
Whatever. This wasn’t some ego-stroking reverie about the past. It was about rock and roll, man, that transcendent blast of blasphemous glory that once defined a music that has since become commodified, processed, robbed of its grit and spirit.
The truth is, there’s something almost mythical about Young, an iconoclastic Toronto native who almost died from a brain aneurysm seven years ago, but somehow rose from the near-dead to reclaim the needling counterculture ethos long abandoned by his aging, sell-out peers.
For the youngsters — who from my spot on the floor, outnumbered their hippie ancestors two to one — he’s a blast of fresh air, a living embodiment of what rock and roll should be but seldom is: vital, uncompromising, in the moment.
A wealthy friend of mine notes that we all pay for poverty in the end. The upfront way is to finance early childhood education for at-risk kids. The back-end way is to pay for prisons and private security guards. In cities with high economic inequality, such as New York and Los Angeles, more than 1 percent of all employees work as private security guards, according to census data.
This question of public goods hovers in the backdrop as we confront the “fiscal cliff” and seek to reach a deal based on a mix of higher revenues and reduced benefits. It’s true that we have a problem with rising entitlement spending, especially in health care. But I also wonder if we’ve reached the end of a failed half-century experiment in ever-lower tax rates for the wealthy.
All this has coincided with the decline of some public services and the emergence of staggering levels of inequality (granted, other factors are also at work) such that the top 1 percent of Americans now have greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
Not even the hum of the most powerful private generator can disguise the failure of that long experiment.