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: Technology

Internet Freedom to Disappear on Thursday

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Thursday, February 26, 2015:

Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del...

Ronald Reagan was right:

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: if it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

Tom Wheeler, the current FCC Chairman, doesn’t think that’s funny. He thinks they are his marching orders. Encouraged by his boss, Wheeler is reaching for the biggest hammer in his toolbox to bludgeon the internet into submission and turn it into a utility. On Thursday Wheeler will

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FCC to Vote on Net Neutrality Rules on Thursday

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, February 24, 2015:

Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...

On Thursday consumers will finally be able to see and read the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) planned new rules to regulate the Internet. Deliberately hidden from public view, the 332-page document is expected to be passed by the FTC, as demanded by President Obama last November when he told FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to adopt the “strongest possible rules” in regulating the Internet.

Leaks from the document were inevitable, and critics have slowly pieced together the latest attack on Internet freedom.

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Will this be OPEC’s Final Failed Gamble?

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, February 18, 2015: 

Cover of "The Prize: The Epic Quest for O...

Six years ago historian Daniel Yergin wrote in The Prize about OPEC’s failed gamble in 1986. The cartel tried to secure its preeminent place among the world’s oil producers by forcing crude oil prices down:

Was the price now poised for a great fall? Most of the exporters [primarily OPEC] thought so, but they expected no more than a drop [from more than $30 a barrel] to $18 or $20 a barrel, below which, they thought, production … would not be economical….

 

Actually, operating costs – the cash costs to extract oil – were only $6 per barrel [at the time], so there would be no reason to shut down production at any price above that.

The cartel was hoping to squeeze out marginal producers, which would result in cuts in supply, allowing it to raise prices at will. It didn’t work then, and it isn’t working now. The Saudis apparently suffer from an appalling lack of understanding about how the free market works.

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Re-fracking Old Wells Is Extending the Fracking Revolution

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, February 17, 2015:

English: A natural gas well (produces gas only...

A natural gas well

News that the oil industry is importing many of the new technologies developed by natural-gas producers, which led to steadily declining natural-gas prices, was greeted with great disappointment by at least one green group. Upon learning that fracking was not only a long way from disappearing in the face of declining oil prices but was actually on the verge of a resurgence, Sharon Wilson, a Texas organizer for Earthworks, told Bloomberg, “It’s terribly disappointing.”

It might be disappointing to Wilson, but

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FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules are ObamaCare for the Internet

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, February 6, 2015:

If the real intentions behind the benign phrase “net neutrality” were truly exposed, the conversation would be very short. As Will Durant noted in his The Story of Philosophy:

“If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.” How many debates would have been deflated into a paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms! This is the alpha and omega of logic, the heart and soul of it, that every important term in serious discourse shall be subjected to the strictest scrutiny and definition. It is difficult, and ruthlessly tests the mind; but once done it is half of any task.

Opponents in the freedom fight have for years used obfuscation and false front words to advance their cause, but none more effectively than its term “net neutrality.” How could anyone object to that?

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Internet Freedom Shrinking, Says the Freedom House

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, January 5, 2015:

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Excitement over the positive impact the Gutenberg Press had on freedom led Mark Twain to exclaim:

What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg. Everything can be traced to this source, but we are bound to bring him homage … for the bad that this colossal invention has brought about is overshadowed a thousand times by the good with which mankind has been favored.

More than two hundred years later, Andrew Wile, blogging at The Daily Bell, was equally ebullient, this time about the Internet – Gutenberg 2.0 – saying:

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Putin Demands All Data About His Citizens Be Stored Inside Russia

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, January 5, 2015:

 

On December 31, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the latest version of his country’s “personal data law” that, starting September 1, 2015, will require all companies to store data about Russian users only on computer servers inside the country. That way, according to the New York Times, “it will be easier for the government to get access to it.”

Whether those companies — Facebook, Twitter, and Google, among others — will comply is an open question. When Putin’s Internet “regulator” Roskomnadzor demanded that Facebook take down a page promoting a rally in support of political activist Alexei Navalny (whom the Wall Street Journal called “the man Vladimir Putin fears most”), Facebook complied. But within hours dozens of copycat pages popped up elsewhere, creating even more publicity for the January 15 event. 

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Chris Hughes – Just the Man to Resuscitate The New Republic

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, December 12, 2014:

Chris Hughes at Hacking Education event

Chris Hughes

Chris Hughes is so smart that he once was caught reading the French author Honoré de Balzac, in the original French. He led a pampered life, first attending and graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and then moving on to get a BA degree at Harvard University.

His roommates at Harvard were Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg was fooling around with a computer program that would link Harvard students together online when Hughes suggested that the program be extended to other schools.

When Facebook was officially launched, Hughes became Zuckerberg’s spokesman, making himself wealthy in the process. In 2008, he helped a virtually unknown senator from Illinois get elected president by running a social network website for him called

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The New Republic Magazine: New Format, Same Old Socialism

English: Chris Hughes Website

Chris Hughes, The New Republic’s new owner

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, December 9, 2014: 

 

The announcement late last week by top staffers at The New Republic (TNR) magazine that they were resigning to protest its “new direction” was met with rejoicing on the Right and consternation and anger on the Left.

In his subscription newsletter, Gary North called it “great news,” noting that the magazine had “always been a mouthpiece of the American left.” Wrote North:

The disappearance of The New Republic is part of a trend. Part of the trend is the shift from printed to digital communications. The Left has not made the transition. The other part is the shift away from traditional American liberalism.

On the Left, establishment journalist Dana Milbank, a graduate of Yale University (where he was a member of Skull and Bones), and later the author of a polemic biography of Glenn Beck, took it personally. He attacked TNR’s new owner, Chris Hughes, calling him “a dilettante and a fraud.” He explained the reason for the mass exodus: 

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Robots Everywhere

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, October 10, 2014:

First generation Roomba (Roomba is a trademark...

First generation Roomba (Roomba is a trademark of iRobot). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next wave of technological robots is here. When the Roomba iRobot made its grand entrance a few years ago, it was considered clever but expensive. Now, however, it is taking a big bite out of the $12 billion annual vacuum cleaner business as its technology continues to improve and its prices come down. According to Roomba, there is

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Robotic Pizza Delivery, Banking, and Now Over-the-road Trucking

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, October 9, 2014:

Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines

Last month, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its “Future Truck 2025,” an essentially driverless over-the-road tractor-trailer rig that the company expects will revolutionize the trucking industry within the next 10 years, if not sooner. While only a prototype, the company is investing millions in the concept expecting that inside the next decade driverless rigs will be commonplace not only in the United States but across the world.

The advantages are obvious:

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The Privacy Pendulum is Swinging back Towards Freedom

With Apple’s announcement of its new iPhone 6 10 days ago also came the announcement of an upgrade of its operating software – the iOS 8 – that now makes it impossible for law enforcement to break the code and retrieve the phone’s private information, even if it has a search warrant. On its website, Apple said:

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Common Core Gooses Homeschooling

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, September 10, 2014:

 

A mother and her homeschooled daughter, studyi...

A mother and her homeschooled daughter, studying in the kitchen about household chemicals and the hazard warning labels(flammability, reactivity, etc )http://www.flickr.com/photos/vr/1253261487. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time the headline underreported the news. From the Charlotte NewsObserver came this: “Homeschooling rate Accelerates in North Carolina.” A better headline would have read: “Homeschooling goes Exponential in North Carolina.” In 1985, the year that homeschooling was legalized in the state, there were about 2,300 home-schooled students. Two years ago there were 77,300 home-schooled students, which jumped to 85,900 last year. This year the number is closing in on 100,000, a gain of 27% in just two years. At that rate there will be more than 200,000 homeschooled students in North Carolina in less than five years. That’s exponential, with a vengeance.

It’s not surprising, given the federal pressure to adopt Common Core standards and curricula across the land. The greater the pressure, the greater the desire to opt out. Said Beth Herbert, founder of Lighthouse Christian Homeschool Association, “Common Core is a big factor that I hear people talk about. They’re not happy with the work their kids are coming home with. They decided to take their children home.”

Kelly Swinney, a retired homeschool mom, was much more direct: “Common Core is bad, plain and simple. It’s a one-size-fits-all program and kids just aren’t that way.” The pressure to opt out of Common Core has reached North Carolina’s General Assembly which just voted in July to create a commission to figure out how to do it.

Similar numbers are coming in from Freedom Project Education (FPE), backed by the John Birch Society. In three years the number of students in its K-12 program, based on the Constitution and free market economics, has grown from 22 to more than 700. Alan Scholl, director of FPE, told this writer that he had to turn back 130 additional students who asked to be enrolled after the August deadline had passed. He estimates that his school will have 1,000 students next fall, a gain of 4,500% in three years.

When asked how much of that was due to people trying to escape the clutches of Common Core, Scholl said: “At least half!”

Even before Common Core entered the classroom, parents were increasingly disenchanted with what was going on in their children’s schoolrooms. They didn’t like their school’s environment, the quality of the academic teaching, the curriculum that was increasingly dumbing the kids down while leaving out critical parts of American history, the bullying, the inevitable peer pressure to conform, and the lack of moral or religious instruction. They were tired of hearing how homeschooled students were outperforming their kids in every discipline. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the average homeschooled student outperformed his public school peer by between 30 and 38 percent across all subjects. This was confirmed by Education News, which noted that “Homeschooling statistics show that those who are independently educated typically score between the 65th and 89th percentile on the [standardized assessment] exams, while those attending traditional [public] schools average at the 50th percentile.”

And when they hit college, they outperform their peers there as well. As Dr. Michael Cogan of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota noted in 2010, homeschooled students going to college achieve a higher first-year GPA than their peers, and that advantage is retained all the way through their college experience. In addition they have a higher graduation rate when they complete their studies.

And when they graduate from college, homeschoolers are much more active and involved in their communities, such as coaching a sports team, volunteering at a school, or working with a church or neighborhood association. In addition they are much more likely to be involved in political and civic affairs and vote at a much higher percentage than their peers. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI): “76% of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 voted within the last five years, compared with only 29% of the corresponding US populace. The numbers are even greater in older age groups, with voting levels not falling below 95%, compared to the high of 53% for the corresponding US populace.”

But it’s the pressure to conform to Common Core standards that have turbocharged the homeschool movement. The Common Core standards came about when Bill and Melinda Gates first began funding their vision for national education standards with their grant to the James B. Hunt Institute. So far the Gates have given more than $27 million as seed money, which led to the development of the Common Core Standards State Initiative and the Council of Chief State School Officers, two Washington, DC-based trade organizations. As noted at the FPE website:

In brief, each of the 50 states has been bribed by the federal government to accept the copyrighted and thus unalterable Common Core standards – even though most Americans have no idea what they entail – by offering those states millions….

To date, 46 states have accepted Common Core money, ceding curricula control to the federal government and taking it away from parents, teachers, and local school boards. Beyond the educational mediocrity the Common Core standards will further enshrine in public schools, there are elaborate plans to use the required national assessments within the Common Core standards as a tool to institute massive data collection about American schoolchildren that has nothing to do with education, and everything to do about government intrusion and control.

Emile Zola put it very well:

If you shut up the truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it burst through it will blow up everything in its way.

So it is with Common Core and the exponential response from parents who are increasingly aware of the danger and who want to see that their kids get a good education. Coupled with online schooling through the Internet, these concerned parents are increasingly opting out by doing it themselves and teaching their kids at home.

—————————

Sources:

Charlotte NewsObserver: Home schooling rate accelerates in North Carolina

Daily Signal: In One State, More Children Homeschool Than Attend Private Schools. Why That Shouldn’t Shock You.

Home Schooling

Home Schooling in the US

Education News: Number of Homeschoolers Growing Nationwide

The New American: Homeschooling Continues to Grow in Popularity Nationwide

FPE: What is Common Core?

National Home Education Research Institute (NEHRI)

 

Sanctions Boomerang, Threaten U.S. Supply of Russian Rocket Engines

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, September 4, 2014:

In response to sanctions announced by President Barack Obama in March against Russian Premier Vladimir Putin and some of his associates, and an escalation of those sanctions announced by the president in July, Russian Deputy Minister Dmitry Rogozin threatened to cut off all supplies of its RD–180 rocket engines to the United States. The engines are critical

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Why Aren’t Gas Prices Lower?

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Friday, August 29, 2014:

 

English: Took image myself as an example of th...

With gasoline prices averaging, according to the AAA Motor Club, just $3.43 a gallon as of August 28, Clifford Krauss celebrated the “new American oil bonanza” in an article for the New York Times. Unfortunately, Krause is behind the times and only half right. The “new” American oil bonanza is not new, nor is it confined to oil. The first economical natural gas shale fracture was completed in 1998 by George Mitchell’s company, Mitchell Energy, using slick water fracturing. Since then, natural gas from shale has been the fastest growing contributor to total primary energy in the United States, with crude oil extraction from shale right behind.

Happily, Krause got the rest of it right when he noted that

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Leahy Offers Weak Bill to Curb NSA Eavesdropping on Americans

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Wednesday, July 30, 2014:

English: Official photo of Senator Patrick Lea...

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy (shown, D-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced his version of the USA Freedom Act intended to strengthen a similar bill passed by the House last May. It’s scarcely an improvement and likely won’t be taken up before November, if at all in this congress.

But Leahy was optimistic nonetheless, saying that his bill, if enacted, “would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since … the USA Patriot Act 13 years ago.” That was easy for this hard-left Democrat to say, as there has been no reform of the unconstitutional Patriot Act since it was passed. In fact, without revelations provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, even these modest “reforms” would never have been presented. Without Snowden, the NSA would have continued collecting every last piece of communications data it could and storing it for future reference at one or more of its vast collection facilities around the country. Since the bill was presented so late in this Congress, it is virtually certain no action will be taken on it.

The House bill that was passed back in May was so full of loopholes and modifications by last minute amendments as to make the effort essentially ludicrous. Although offered jointly in October 2013 by Leahy and his House counterpart, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin (the author of the Patriot Act), only the House bill ever saw the light of day. At the time, Sensenbrenner expressed great hopes for his bill:

Following 9/11, the USA Patriot Act … has helped keep Americans safe by ensuring information is shared among those responsible for defending our country and by enhancing the tools the intelligence community needs to identify and track terrorists.

But somewhere along the way, the balance between security and privacy was lost…. Washington must regain Americans’ trust in their government. The USA Freedom Act [I am offering] is an essential first step.

That first step was more like a stumble. Under the bill, according to The Guardian, “the government will still be able to collect phone data on Americans, pending a judge’s individualized order based on ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’ — the standard preferred by the NSA (National Security Agency) — of wrongdoing.” This is a far cry from the “probable cause” requirement demanded in the Fourth Amendment, but that’s only the beginning.

The bill purports to modify Section 715 of the Patriot Act while saying nothing about Section 702, which allows worldwide surveillance by the NSA. The bill allows for the continuous collection of Americans’ telephone records, according to the Open Technology Institute. Most grievously, the bill extended the Patriot Act until December of 2017.

Once the House passed its USA Freedom Act, 303 to 121, those opposed, including Republicans Darrell Issa, Ted Poe, and Raul Labrador and Democrat Zoe Lofgren expressed their disappointment with it. Said Lofgren, “[This] bill will actually not end bulk collection, regrettably.” It shifts collection responsibilities from the NSA to the telephone companies to which the NSA has virtually unlimited access, so it’s a cosmetic change only. The bill requires the NSA to get permission from the FISA Court, but FISA is not known for having a high regard for the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.

When Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) saw what the House had wrought, he said he was “gravely concerned that the changes that have been made to the House version of this bill have watered it down so far that it fails to protect Americans from suspicionless mass surveillance.”

Not surprisingly, the White House endorsed the watered-down version of the bill:

The Administration strongly supports … the USA Freedom Act…. The Administration applauds and appreciates the strong bipartisan effort that led to the formulation of this bill, which heeds the President’s call on this important issue.

The bill ensures our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the authorities they need to protect the Nation, while further ensuring that individuals’ privacy is appropriately protected.

Especially grievous is the power that continues to be granted to the so-called FISA “court.” This is the secret court that first came to light when Edward Snowden in 2013 leaked a top-secret order issued by the court requiring a subsidiary of Verizon to provide a daily, on-going feed of all call detail records — including those for domestic calls — to the NSA. As Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School, explained,

The Administration and the intelligence community believe they can do whatever they want, regardless of the laws Congress passes, so long as they can convince one of the judges appointed to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to agree. This isn’t the rule of law. This is a coup d’etat.

Leahy’s bill allegedly will tighten up the House bill somewhat, creating a “special advocate” for liberty at the FISA courts, and limiting the NSA from vacuuming up data from an entire zip code or all the records from a communications service provider. It also declassifies some of those FISA court orders which have remained sealed and protected from public view. In its tentative support for Leahy’s new offering, Nadia Kayyall of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said,

The legislation may not completely end suspicionless surveillance … it allows the NSA to get a second set of records (a second “hop”) with an undefined “direct connection” to the first specific selection term.

Because the “direct connection” standard is vague, the government may seek to construe that phrase to mean less than reasonable suspicion.

Translation: The NSA, under Leahy’s new stronger, tighter, more restrictive language, may continue to do whatever it pleases in collecting and storing for later use all private communications from Americans.

Leahy’s bill will probably never see the light of day in this congress and will have to be reintroduced in the next session if anything is to be done to rein in the NSA’s collection of data. In the meantime, the NSA’s vacuuming of innocent Americans’ private communication continues unabated.

 

 

Link Between Fracking and Earthquakes Remains Tenuous, Say Experts

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Friday, July 11, 2014:

Aerial view of resource extraction in Texas. A...

Aerial view of resource extraction in Texas.

On July 3, Science magazine reported that, using its models in place of data they claimed was unavailable, water flowing from fracking disposal wells in Oklahoma “is potentially responsible for the largest swarm” of earthquakes recently noted in that state. The report, available in full to subscribers only, was immediately picked up by the Los Angeles Times, which said the study confirmed the link between fracking and the earthquakes.

Science, published by the environmentalist group American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has maintained a veneer of credibility for years while promoting the questionable science behind global warming. In December 2006, AAAS adopted an official statement on climate change:

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Gas Prices Ease as U.S. Oil Production Soars

This article was first published by TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, July 7, 2014: 

English: $4.06 Gas Prices, Lewiston, Maine, Cu...

Despite predictions to the contrary, the price of gas over the July 4 weekend dropped by two cents per gallon, confounding seers who were looking at gas approaching $4 a gallon. Those prognosticators were guilty of “straight-line thinking in a curvilinear world” — meaning that since gas this year was 20 cents a gallon more than a year ago, they believed it would continue to go up steadily for the foreseeable future.

With political disruptions in Iraq and Syria seriously reducing their contributions to the world’s oil supplies, one would think that prices would have to go straight up.

One would be wrong.

On July 4, Bank of America reported that U.S. production of crude oil (along with the liquids separated from natural gas) “surpassed all other countries this year with daily output exceeding 11 million barrels [per day] in the first quarter.” Francisco Blanch, BofA’s head of commodities research, told Bloomberg,

The U.S. increase in supply is a very meaningful chunk of oil. The shale boom is playing a key role in the U.S. recovery [from the Great Recession].

If the U.S. didn’t have this energy supply, prices at the pump would be completely unaffordable.

The nearly exponential growth in oil production, thanks to the free market’s invention and development of fracking technology, has put the United States firmly on the path of energy independence. As we become energy independent, disruptions in the supply chain from the Middle East will matter less and less.

Texas and North Dakota — which Professor Mark Perry calls “Saudi Texas” and “Saudi Dakota” respectively — are now producing almost half of all U.S. oil, and would rank as the fifth largest oil producing country as a separate nation. The growth in production is astonishing, according to Perry:

A decade ago the combined conventional crude oil production in the states of Texas and North Dakota … represented less than 21% of total U.S. crude oil output.

By 2008, the combined crude oil output in the two states … were producing one-third of all U.S. crude oil.

In eight out of the last nine months, their combined share exceeded 47% of all U.S. oil.

Perry predicts that it will exceed 50 percent sometime before the end of the year. And that prediction could come back to embarrass him, if the International Energy Agency (IEA) is correct. The IEA is estimating that total U.S. crude oil production (currently at 8.4 million bpd) will continue to soar, exceeding 13 million barrels per day in less than five years. That 50-percent increase in oil production would mean that the United States could be producing nearly 80 percent of its domestic needs for energy, closing in on energy independence.

In the very short run, gas prices will remain higher than they should be, thanks to the disruptions of supply in the Middle East, but with the continuing success of fracking making shale oil deposits now available with current technology, prices may reasonably be expected to decline further over time. Blanch admitted as much to Bloomberg:

The shale production story [in the United States] is bigger than Iraqi production, but it hasn’t made the impact on prices you would expect.

Typically such a large energy [production] growth should bring prices lower but in fact we’re not seeing that because the whole geopolitical situation outside the U.S. is dreadful.

Those involved in capitalizing on the fracking revolution, however, are taking a much longer view. The annual investment in oil and gas development and production hit a record $200 billion this year, one-fifth “of the country’s total private fixed-structure spending for the first time,” said Blanch.

The explosion in the oil patch is doing much to offset the otherwise nearly stagnant economy. In the last 10 years, direct jobs in the patch have almost doubled, while “indirect” jobs that support the industry have almost tripled in that same time period. As Professor Perry noted: “No other sector … has added as many jobs for American workers or made as much of an overall economic contribution to the US economy as the oil and gas sector.”

Citizens often don’t know how well they have it here. At present the average cost of gasoline is $3.69 a gallon for regular. In Norway it’s an astounding $9.79 a gallon, while in Germany it’s $8.50, and in England a gallon of petrol is $8.25.

The only thing that will keep the price of gas from continuing its two-year decline is government, either through restrictions on energy development or through increased taxation. At present about $2.37 of that $3.69 represents the cost of crude oil. Refining costs are about $.45 a gallon, while distribution, marketing costs, and profits (estimated to be between eight and 15 cents per gallon) cost another $.33 a gallon. Taxes (federal and state) take up the balance: $.42 a gallon. Federal excise taxes are $.184 cents a gallon, while state taxes average about $.24 cents a gallon. If gas continues to drop in response to the natural laws of supply and demand (greater supply means greater demand thanks to the lower price), the temptation to raise state and federal excise taxes will become overwhelming.

In Germany, for instance, half the cost of a gallon of gas is due to taxes. In Great Britain the tax take on a gallon of gas is more than 60 percent. In Sweden it’s even higher.

At present, however, the laws of supply and demand are providing an enormous advantage to American drivers compared to their counterparts abroad. And they continue to confound the experts predicting ever higher prices at the pump as well.

A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at www.LightFromTheRight.com, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at badelmann@thenewamerican.com This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Russian Malware Infecting U.S. Energy Grid

This article was first published by TheNewAmerican.com on Wednesday, July 2, 2014:

 

English: United States Power Grid

English: United States Power Grid

An alert from software giant Symantec on Monday announced an “ongoing campaign” by Russia-based cyber-terrorists who have changed their focus from espionage to sabotage. Their primary targets are energy companies using oil and natural gas to provide electrical power to the national grid.

The infections are so powerful that not only can they disrupt internal messaging and controls but they can also disrupt the operations of the physical power plants and pipelines, according to Symantec:

An ongoing cyberespionage campaign against a range of targets, mainly in the energy sector, gave attackers the ability to mount sabotage operations against their victims.

 

The attackers, known to Symantec as Dragonfly, managed to compromise a number of strategically important organizations for spying purposes and … could have caused damage or disruption to energy supplies in [the] affected countries.

The attacks emanating from Russia target not only the United States but Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, and Poland, but they are focused primarily on the United States and Spain.

Symantec said that Dragonfly is no small group of weekend hackers, either: “The Dragonfly group is technically adept and able to think strategically … the group found a “soft underbelly” … invariably smaller, less protected companies.”

According to Symantec, this a government-sponsored operation: “The Dragonfly group is well-resourced with a range of malware tools at his disposal and is capable of launching attacks through a number of different [malware protocols].”

Eric Chien, the chief researcher for Symantec, is frightened over the implications of its discoveries: “When they do have that type of access, that motivation wouldn’t be [just] for espionage. When we look at where they’re at, we’re very concerned about sabotage.”

Dragonfly has already had success in infecting “industrial control systems” (ICS) equipment providers by using “software with a remote access type Trojan.” Once installed, the software handed off control of physical plant operations to the saboteurs in Russia:

[The Trojan] caused companies to install the malware when downloading software updates [to their] computers running ICS equipment.

These infections not only gave the attackers a beachhead in the targeted organizations’ networks but also gave them the means to mount sabotage operations.

In trying to decipher the attacks for laymen reading their chilling report, it compared the Trojan malware to Stuxnet, the computer worm that targeted Iran’s nuclear power plant’s fast-spinning centrifuges. It resulted in nearly one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning out of control, destroying themselves as a result. The big difference is that Stuxnet was focused on a very narrow target, while the latest expansion now targets entire power grids across the country and around the world.

Explained Symantec: “Dragonfly appears to have a much broader focus, with espionage … as its current objective with sabotage as an optional capability.”

Dragonfly is Symantec’s name for the operating group behind the attacks, while other observers call it the “Energetic Bear.” Its existence has been known and tracked since at least 2011, said Symantec, and its initial targets were defense and aviation companies in the United States and Canada. But it shifted its focus to the more vulnerable energy sector in the United States in early 2013.

While using arcane language in its customer alert such as “back doors” and “watering holes” — terms familiar only to computer techies and their managers — Symantec identified seven different companies targeted by the group, one of whom downloaded the infected software to 250 of its unsuspecting customers.

Symantec is not the first to discover the group masterminding the attacks, nor the first to pin the blame on government-sponsored groups in Russia. Stuart Poole-Robb, a former MI6 (British Secret Intelligence Service) agent and founder of a security consulting firm, said:

To target a whole sector like this at the level they are doing … speaks of some form of government sanction.

These are people working with FAPSI [Russia’s Spetssvyaz intelligence service], working to support mother Russia.

CrowdStrike, a California company engaged in exposing Internet adversaries, has been tracking Dragonfly for years, and in its January update, it noted that “Energetic Bear [synonymous with Dragonfly] is an adversary group with a nexus to the Russian Federation that conducts intelligence collection operations against a variety of global [targets] with a primary focus on the energy sector.”

Symantec offers Internet security software and consulting services to help companies protect themselves from such attacks but the U.S. government has also been very busy as well. Recognizing the potential disaster inherent in such potential attacks, which could destroy the energy infrastructure of the country, the United States Cyber Command was established as a part of the United States Strategic Command in 2009 in Fort Meade, Maryland. Its mission is: “To conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to … ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”

This is being matched by similar cyber warfare units in South Korea and Great Britain.

Neither Symantec nor CrowdStrike offered any scenarios of the possible impact such attacks might have on the United States, but fiction writers such as James Wesley Rawles (author of Survivors) and William Forstchen (author of One Second After) have carefully crafted believable scenarios following successful attacks on America’s power grid. In One Second After, after an electromagnetic pulse shuts down the electric grid, no electronic appliances work, and citizens are largely forced to live an 18th-century life — hunger and die offs of people begin quickly when food storage is compromised.

What is clear from Symantec’s warning to its customers, however, is that Russia is no friend of the United States. It fully intends to extend its present advantage through its “well-resourced” efforts to gain control of America’s electric power grid, while the U.S. government and private companies such as Symantec are playing catchup ball to keep that from happening.

House Investigator Issa Subpoenas Lois Lerner’s hard drive

Rose Mary Woods (1917-2005), Richard Nixon's s...

Rose Mary Woods (1917-2005), Richard Nixon’s secretary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier this week Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed the hard drive from Lois Lerner’s computer that allegedly crashed – along with those of six other IRS personnel – in August 2011. He wanted everything, including “all hard drives, external drives, thumb drives and computers” plus “all [other] electronic communications devices the IRS issued to Lois G. Lerner.”

When asked about the matter, an IRS “spokesman” told Politico:

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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.