Have nothing to do with the [evil] things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light... [For] when all things are brought out into the light, then their true nature is clearly revealed...

-Ephesians 5:11-13

Category Archives: Economics

Crude Oil’s Bear Market Is Crushing OPEC

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, July 3, 2017: 

Map of the territory and area covered by prese...

Map of the territory and area covered by present-day Saudi Arabia.

The world’s price of crude oil fell farther in the first six months of 2017 than in any six-month period in the last 19 years. From its peak in January it dropped by more than 21 percent by the middle of June, qualifying it in Wall Street jargon as a “bear market.”

This isn’t part of OPEC’s plan. The once-influential cartel was sure that by taking 1.8 million barrels a day of crude oil production off the world markets, the world price of oil would shortly hit its target of $60. And it almost made it, rising to $57 a barrel before beginning its long and crushing decline.

OPEC was sabotaged not only by noncompliance among its members and production from those to which it gave a pass (Libya and Nigeria), who produced more than was expected, but also by

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OPEC Continues its Descent into History as an Unlamented Footnote

Embed from Getty Images

This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, July 3, 2017: 

Two weeks ago, the world price of crude oil officially entered a bear market, down more than 21 percent from its high early in the year. OPEC’s plan appeared to be on track, taking enough production off the market to drive the price to $60 a barrel. That decline has enormous implications for the cartel’s members, as nearly all of them need the revenues to keep their welfare and warfare states fully funded. The decline must be especially painful for Saudi Arabia, the leader of the pack, which announced plans last year to sell part (estimated to be between five and ten percent) of its precious Saudi Aramco oil company. The company, thanks to deliberately opaque disclosures, was estimated to be worth, depending on the price of oil, between $2 trillion and $10 trillion.

That’s the operative word: “depending.” OPEC had big plans for the funds it hoped to raise, encapsulated as its “Vision 2030.” As Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the nation’s Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, wrote:

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Illinois Countdown to Junk Status Continues

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, June 29, 2017:

English: IL State Rep. Susana Mendoza 2011 Pho...

Susana Mendoza

Despite the clock’s ticking on the downgrade of Illinois’ $25 billion of indebtedness to junk status on midnight Friday, investors remain complacent. True, some mutual funds have offloaded $2 billion of Illinois debt in the last few months, but the Wall Street Journal provided salve to investors’ concerns that those remaining invested will be badly hurt. Unnamed analysts, wrote the Journal, “predict prices would drop only a few cents in the event of a junk downgrade.” They noted that Vanguard Group has $1.2 billion of Illinois bonds spread across seven of its bond mutual funds, with a company spokesman saying that it is “comfortable with the risk/reward” of investing in the state’s bonds.

Besides,

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Enjoying Record Low Gas Prices? Thank a Fracker!

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, June 27, 2017:  

On November 17, gas prices had dropped to $1.9...

Of the estimated 44 million Americans who will travel over the upcoming Independence Day holiday weekend (a record, by the way), 37.5 million of them will drive to their destinations. Along the way they will not only spend nearly a dollar a gallon less for gas than they have over the last 10 years on average, they will spend less on gas than any Independence Day since AAA has been keeping records. In addition, this will be the first time in nearly two decades that they will be spending less for gas in July than they did in January. On average over the last decade gas prices have been 47 cents a gallon higher on the Fourth of July than on New Year’s Day.

Consumers are always the ultimate beneficiaries of improved technologies, as producers are

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Starving Venezuelans Risk 60 Miles of Open Ocean to Barter for Food

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, June 26, 2o17:

A stylized representation of a red flag, usefu...

The red flag of socialism is red for a very good reason.

The end stages of socialism in Venezuela are forcing citizens to do anything they can to obtain food for themselves and their families, including risking their lives. Mariana Revilla, a medical doctor reduced to making midnight excursions over 60 miles of open ocean to feed her family, was making her fifth trip to Trinidad when her boat capsized, costing her her life and the lives of two others assisting her.

Her boat contained seven tons of flour, sugar, and cooking oil that she had obtained through barter at one of the west coast towns of Trinidad, exchanging them for the tons of fresh shrimp she had brought with her. Others making the midnight trips would take with them anything of value to exchange for food and basic necessities, making the boats look like a floating garage sale: plastic chairs, house doors, ceramic cooking pots, and even exotic animals such as iguanas and macaws to trade for food.

Socialists promise that such things could never happen in the “paradise” they are determined to build. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) compared the promises to the reality which Venezuelans are now facing daily:

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Blockbuster Study: Seattle’s Minimum-wage Increases Cost Low-wage Workers $125 a Month

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, June 26, 2017:  

A study commissioned by Seattle’s city council just came back with results they didn’t want to hear: Their efforts to raise wages of the city’s lowest-paid workers are instead costing them about $125 a month. This is thanks to their employers cutting their hours in response to the law raising the minimum wage from $10.50 an hour to $13 an hour in 2016.

Mark Long, one of the authors of the University of Washington (UW) study, said:

If you’re a low-skilled worker with one of these jobs, $125 a month is a sizeable amount of money. It can be the difference between being able to pay your rent and not being able to pay your rent.

In addition, the UW study concluded that, thanks to the minimum-wage increase, some 5,000 low wage jobs in Seattle were never created.

All of which makes perfect economic sense:

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Oil Expert Yardeni: OPEC Should Break Agreement, Produce All It Can

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Wednesday, June 21, 2017: 

In Dr. Ed’s Blog, Ed Yardeni, for 25 years one of the industry’s leading energy strategists, proposed on Wednesday that OPEC should consider going back to Plan A to fund members’ treasuries as Plan B clearly isn’t working:

Rather than [attempting to prop] up the price [of crude oil], maybe OPEC should sell as much of their oil as they can at lower prices to slow down the pace of technological innovation that may eventually put them out of business.

Plan A, it will be remembered,

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Gov’t Collects Record $240 Billion in May; Still Runs $88 Billion Deficit

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Friday, June 16, 2017:

English: Medicare and Medicaid as % GDP Explan...

Medicare and Medicaid as % GDP Explanation: Eventually, Medicare and Medicaid spending absorbs all federal tax revenue.

The U.S. Treasury announced on Thursday that the federal government collected more money in May than in any other month in history: $240.4 billion. In the same breath, it said that the government spent $328.8 billion, creating a deficit of $88.4 billion.

From a wage earner’s perspective, it meant that in May the average worker paid $1,572 in taxes but the government spent $2,149, making up the $577 difference by borrowing. Such deficit spending is making the S&P Global credit rating agency increasingly nervous.

Just a week earlier, the agency affirmed its best rating — A-1+ — for the government’s “short term” debt, which means, in its own parlance, that the federal government’s ability to pay its current bills is “strong.” But in the longer term, the agency is far less sanguine. While holding its current long-term rating at AA+ (one full notch below its best rating), it said it’s unable to give the United States its highest rating (AAA) because of “high general government debt, relatively short-term-oriented policymaking, and uncertainty about policy formulation” for the future. It explained what it meant about that “uncertainty”:

Some of the [Trump] Administration’s policy proposals appear at odds with policies of the traditional Republican leadership and historical base. That, coupled with lack of cohesion, not just across, but within parties, complicates the ability to effectively and proactively advance legislation in Congress, particularly on fiscal policy. Taken together, we don’t expect a meaningful expansion or reduction of the fiscal deficit over the forecast period.

And what does it say about what’s likely to happen over that “forecast period”?

The U.S.’s net general government debt burden (as a share of GDP) remains twice its 2007 level. While, in our view, debt to GDP should hold fairly steady over the next several years, we expect it to rise thereafter absent measures to raise additional revenue and/or cut nondiscretionary expenditures.

What does that phrase “next several years” mean? How much time before the government’s national debt explodes upward? Says S&P:

Although deficits have declined, net general government debt to GDP remains high at about 80% of GDP. Given our growth forecasts and our expectations that credit conditions will remain subdued, thus keeping real interest rates in check, we expect this ratio to hold fairly steady through 2020. At that point, it could deteriorate more sharply, partly as a result of demographic trends.

Translation: Deficit spending will remain “subdued” for three and a half years, and then Katy bar the door!

Here is where S&P bows out of the picture, giving way instead to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which completed the picture in its March report:

Federal debt held by the public, defined as the amount that the federal government borrows from financial markets, has ballooned over the last decade. In 2007, the year the recession began, debt held by the public represented 35 percent of GDP. Just five years later, federal debt held by the public has doubled to 70 percent and is projected to continue rising.

“Continue rising”? By how much? And by when? The CBO is blunt:

Debt has not seen a surge this large since the increase in federal spending during World War II, when debt exceeded 70 percent of GDP. The budget office projects that growing budget deficits will cause the debt to increase sharply over the next three decades, hitting 150 percent of GDP by 2047.

So, that ratio of government debt compared to the country’s economic ability to produce goods and services was 35 percent in 2007, is now 70 percent, and will soon be 150 percent.

And what’s the reason?

The majority of the rise in spending is largely the result of programs like Social Security and Medicare in addition to rising interest rates. For example, Social Security and major health care program spending represented 54 percent of all federal noninterest spending, an increase from the average of 37 percent it has been over the past 50 years.

It appears to be an unstoppable locomotive. Non-discretionary spending (spending already locked into place by past Congresses and fully expected to be received by its beneficiaries) is on autopilot. And interest rates now coming off historic lows are only going to increase those annual deficits into the future as far as the eye can see.

The CBO is about as close as one can get to a truly non-partisan federal agency — one that has no partisan political agenda and is considered by many as the most reliable forecaster of future economic events. So it’s not only willing to cover, analyze, and present its findings candidly, it’s also willing to tell the truth. It asked, rhetorically, “What might the consequences be if current laws remain unchanged?” It answered:

Large and growing federal debt over the coming decades would hurt the economy and constrain future budget policy. The amount of debt that is projected under the extended baseline would reduce national saving and income in the long term; increase the government’s interest costs, putting more pressure on the rest of the budget; limit lawmakers’ ability to respond to unforeseen events; and increase the likelihood of a fiscal crisis, an occurrence in which investors become unwilling to finance a government’s borrowing unless they are compensated with very high interest rates.

Which brings one to the ultimate rhetorical question: What happens when even those “very high interest rates” aren’t enough to compensate those investors for the risks they are taking by loaning their money to a government that increasingly isn’t able to pay its bills and must continue to borrow increasingly massive amounts to cover its deficits? What happens next?

Is Illinois Admitting that it is a “Failed State”?

This article was published by TheMcAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, June 16, 2017:

The Constitution guarantees every state a republican form of government. Other than that it focuses on the legitimate functions of the national or federal government. The states were invited, as most of them did, to adopt similar state constitutions, limiting state powers to providing essential services: courts, police protection and, over time, other services like power, fire protection, roads, and the like.

There are global indexes of failed states, with many of them naming Somalia as the best (worst) example: crime, corruption, short life spans, poor medical help, and wrenching poverty are the rule there. But with its admission that it can no longer pay general contractors to construct its roads, is Illinois becoming a failed state? Those contractors just received this letter from Illinois:

Dear Contractor:

At this time appropriate funding is not available after June 30, 2017. Thus, work shall cease effective June 30, 2017.

Please bring all projects to a condition that will provide a clear and safely traveled way….

On July 1, 2017, all work shall cease except for maintenance … the department will notify you when work may resume.

Right now the state has $14.5 billion in unpaid bills, an increase of nearly $4 billion just since the end of December, with no end in sight. When Republican Governor Bruce Rauner (above) took office in January 2015 he promised he would bring order out of chaos by cutting government spending, and reining in out-of-control pension benefits and excessive teacher and administrative salaries. In brief, he managed to challenge directly state House speaker Michael Madigan, who, along with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, has sold out to the teacher unions. When Rauner proposed cutting pension plan contributions, the Supreme Court ruled that he couldn’t – that the state constitution guaranteed that the contracts were inviolable and fully enforceable. That’s when things went downhill. With no possible agreement over state spending – the state has been operating on a pay-as-you-go basis without a budget for nearly three years – unpaid bills began piling up as those contributions had to be paid first and other creditors were forced to take a back seat.

Mathematics and politics are directing Illinois’ future. The math is daunting: with $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities (which continue to increase despite making the state making the court-required contributions), $14 billion in unpaid bills (and increasing daily), wealthy companies and individuals leaving (Illinois leads the nation in depopulation), property and sales taxes among the highest in the nation, and credit ratings that are eight full notches below the other states in the union, there’s no place to go but down from here.

The state’s inability to rein in its spending has caused a ripple effect, touching the state’s institutions of higher learning. They have been forced to raise tuition and borrow just to stay open and now the credit rating agencies have been busy downgrading their debt issues as well. On June 9, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded seven Illinois universities, with five of them now rated as junk.

As the Illinois Policy Institute noted, the budget stalemate “has led to cuts in state appropriations to Illinois universities. But the universities’ financial difficulties started [long] before the state’s budget gridlock and are largely of their own doing. Illinois colleges and universities have long overspent on bloated bureaucracies and expensive compensation and benefits, prioritizing administrators over students.”

On Wednesday, the president of one of those seven universities just downgraded – Northern Illinois University’s Doug Baker – suddenly announced that he will resign at the end of the month. This followed a bombshell state watchdog report that he and his administrators skirted state bidding requirements by improperly hiring consultants and paying them exorbitant salaries and benefits.

With the millions being poured into the state in support of a Democrat to replace Rauner in 2018, his initial support is melting away. Two-thirds of the populace supported Rauner in 2015, but as of March that support is less than forty percent.

If Rauner is replaced by a Democrat in 2018, then the combination of Democrat policies (and politics) and mathematical inevitability will turn Illinois into a failed state: unable to protect its citizens (see Chicago crime statistics), unable to build and maintain its roads, protecting one class of citizens at the expense of another, and unable to provide education for its citizens or a healthy regulatory climate for small businesses.

If Illinois isn’t a failed state, it will become one shortly. Just ask the general contractors who just received the “Dear Contractor” letter.


Sources:

Illinois Policy Institute: ILLINOIS’ UNPAID BILLS JUMP TO $14.3B

MishTalk.com: Unable to Pay Bills, Illinois Sends “Dear Contractor” Letter Telling Firms to Halt Road Work on July 1

Illinois Policy Institute: MOODY’S DOWNGRADES 7 ILLINOIS UNIVERSITIES, 5 ARE JUNK

Politico: How Illinois became America’s failed state

Heritage.org: Illinois: The Anatomy of a Failed Liberal State

Chicago Tribune: Miller: Illinois in danger of becoming a failed state

Definition of a Failed State

Chicago Tribune: Northern Illinois University president to resign after report alleges mismanagement

 

More OPEC Bad News: Increases in World Oil Supplies Overwhelming Its Cuts

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Wednesday, June 14, 2017:  

English: Map of OPEC countries. Dark green = m...

English: Map of OPEC countries. Dark green = member states, Light green = former member states. Light Grey = Prospective members.

In its regular monthly oil market report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that the world’s supply of crude oil increased in April by 18 million barrels just when it was expected to decline. To add to OPEC’s woes —OPEC is unsuccessfully trying to reduce the world’s oil supplies by cutting production so as to raise oil prices enough to fund the countries’ welfare states —  the agency also said it expected U.S. producers to increase their production by 430,000 barrels a day this year over last year, and by 780,000 barrels a day in 2018. The agency added that even this might be too pessimistic: “Such is the dynamism of this extraordinary, very diverse industry it is possible that growth [in crude oil inventories] will be faster [than we estimate].”

Its report makes for sobering reading for OPEC’s 13 members and the other 10 nonmembers who extended a production cut agreement to March 2018:

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Democrats Love to Tax the Rich – Except When it’s THEIR Rich

This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Tuesday, June 6, 2017: 

The Trump tax reform proposal has put the Democrats into a deliciously difficult position. He wants to eliminate state and local deductions for income and property taxes (but leave charitable and mortgage deductions alone) as part of his attempt to keep his proposal revenue-neutral.

The amounts involved are enormous. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates that, if passed, it would cost the rich $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years. The Tax Foundation ran the same numbers and came up with an even bigger number: $1.8 trillion.

The law currently allows state and local income and property taxes to be deducted in calculating an individual’s federal tax liability. But, as both tax groups noted, those benefitting the most from the deductions happen to live in liberal, Democrat-leaning and supporting states. This forces Democrats to face a conundrum:

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Aetna Next to Leave Connecticut for Better Business Climate

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, June 6, 2017: 

Aetna Insurance Company and Aetna National Ban...

Aetna Insurance Company and Aetna National Bank, Hartford, Conn, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views

Aetna, the $50 billion health insurer that has had its headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut, since 1853, confirmed rumors last week that it was looking to move out of state. The company said, “We are in negotiations with several states regarding a headquarters relocation, with the goal of broadening our access to innovation and the talent that will fill knowledge-economy type positions … and hope to have a final resolution by early summer.”

Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin expressed his disappointment:

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Hartford, Connecticut’s Troubles Mounting; Looking to Invoke Bankruptcy

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, June 6, 2017:  

The Connecticut State Capitol in downtown Hartford

The Connecticut State Capitol in downtown Hartford

Joseph De Avila, writing in the Wall Street Journal following Aetna’s announcement of its imminent departure from Hartford for more business-friendly climes, used the “B” word: “Hartford, Connecticut’s capital city and hub of the state’s insurance industry, is edging closer to a small club of American municipalities: those that have sought bankruptcy protection.”

As a hanging tends to focus the mind, so is Aetna’s departure focusing more and more attention on Hartford’s financial problems and, to a greater extent, those of the state of Connecticut itself. After being headquartered in Hartford since before the Civil War, Aetna said

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What’s Wrong with Connecticut?

This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, June 5, 2017: 

English: Aetna building in Hartford, Connectic...

Aetna building in Hartford, Connecticut

The state has a staggering deficit of more than $5 billion, home prices are about where they were a decade ago, unemployment is rising (not falling as it is elsewhere in the northeast), and big companies who have been there for decades are leaving.

What is going on?

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May’s Jobs Report Stronger Than It Appears

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Friday, June 2, 2017:

The headline number from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) May jobs report, released on Friday, appeared weak: Just 138,000 new jobs were created last month compared to expectations of 185,000 by forecasters. But as usual, a peek beneath the headlines shows an economy growing steadily, providing it with more than enough workers to absorb those leaving or retiring.

After revisions were made to March and April numbers, May’s job creation was more than the last three months’ average of 121,000. Taking into account robust numbers reported from ADP, a national human resources and benefits firm, on Wednesday — it reported that 253,000 new jobs were created in May — Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics remarked,

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Credit Rating of Illinois Cut Again to One Notch Above Junk

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Friday, June 2, 2017: 

English: 1987 Illinois license plate

The day after Illinois failed to reach a budget agreement (for the third year in a row), Moody’s Investors Service followed S&P Global Ratings by downgrading the state’s credit rating to just one notch above junk status. The legislature has 30 days to come up with a budget or else the state’s rating will be downgraded further to junk status.

Moody’s was blunt in its assessment of the rolling catastrophe: “Legislative gridlock has sidetracked efforts not only to address pension needs [$129 billion in unfunded liabilities] but also to achieve fiscal balance [the state has $14.5 billion in unpaid bills with $800 million in late fees and penalties adding to the total]. Moody’s analyst Ted Hampton added:

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What if the Energy Department is Right?

This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, May 2, 2017:

English: A picture of the National Petroleum R...

A picture of the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska,

Tom Lombardo appears to be a self-effacing journalist, professor, and armchair philosopher with a certification as a Professional Energy Manager. He calls himself either “an idealistic pragmatist” or a “pragmatic idealist,” but with no discernible ties either to the energy industry or the green movement. That’s what makes his assessment of the Obama Energy Department’s study published last summer on renewable energy remarkable. If he’s correct, then Big Oil is shortly going to have a day of reckoning in Alaska.

Writing at Engineering.com, Lombardo reviewed a report emanating from the Energy Department in August last year titled, “Estimating Renewable Energy Economic Potential in the United States: Methodology and Initial Results.” After looking at various energy scenarios (the Energy Department did no forecasting in its report), Lombardo summed up the study:

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Alaska’s North Slope Oil Reserves Are “Open for Business”

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, June 1, 2017:  

Map of northern Alaska showing location of , A...

Map of northern Alaska showing location of , ANWR-1002 area, and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA).

Following a six-day trip to northern Alaska, Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order on Wednesday in Anchorage that reverses a 2013 Obama administration executive order. That 2013 order removed half of the immense National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) on Alaska’s North Slope from consideration for energy development. Said Zinke:

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Media Ignores Ongoing Socialist Disaster Unfolding in Venezuela

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Wednesday, May 31, 2017: 

Media Research Center (MRC), the conservative media watchdog whose stated mission is to “prove through sound scientific research, that liberal bias in the media does exist,” reported on Tuesday more evidence that the media is now guilty of publishing “no news,” at least when the subject is the ongoing meltdown taking place in Venezuela.

Readers of these pages are well-informed about that meltdown:

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Moody’s Revelation: “Managed” Economies fail

This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, May 26, 2017:  

Perhaps without knowing it, Moody’s downgrade of China one full notch on Wednesday exposed the fallacy of managed economies: that government bureaucrats with fancy degrees from the University of Chicago, Harvard, or Yale know what they’re doing. One of those fallacies that have been promoted for years came from Yale grad Arthur Laffer as far back as the Reagan administration. On the surface it sounds eminently logical: cut taxes and the economy will grow. The fallacy is knowing just how much to cut, whose to cut, when to cut, and how long to cut.

The Laffer Curve undergirds the whole idea of “supply side economics” –

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Many of the articles on Light from the Right first appeared on either The New American or the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor.