Archive for November, 2010

Smart Grid – here come the power police

Posted in BIG Government, Culture, Goin' Green, Nanny State, The Regime on November 30, 2010 by DaMook

The US Department of Energy (DOE), a virtually worthless government agency that fails its own energy mandates (more here and here), is hard at work making America “green.” So far $11B of “stimulus” money has been dedicated to the construction of a “Smart Grid” – an upgrade to the US electrical distribution grid. Of course this is only seed money as the overall cost is expected to be far higher to propagate this technology across the US.

In anticipation of Smart Grid, DOE is busy with their regulatory hammer to drive up the prices of household appliances that must conform to the new technology (story here from BigGovernment.com).

The next step in Green won’t even require Congressional approval. The Department of Energy recently decided they have authority over appliances in your home. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently issued five new energy efficiency standards for large appliances, and is reworking the policy to include ten new categories. According to Assistant Energy Secretary Cathy Zoi “…we have a mandate. Where we can actually just issue regulations and do market transformation.”

Ostensibly the concept of Smart Grid may seem like a good idea. The ability to manage power loads during peak hours and accommodate the fluctuations inherent in “green” (wind & solar) power generation seems like a pretty good idea. Unfortunately it also opens the door to the power policegovernment bureaucrat “geniuses” who always know better than you.

It is like we are moving backwards in time, seeing modern life outlawed one convenience at a time. Right now social engineers are busy working on “Smart Grid” technology. (The perennial question: if environmental choices are actually so intelligent, why do the marketers have to convince us, with names like “Smart Car,” and “Insight?”) The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 set aside $11 billion dollars to begin construction of that grid.

Smart Grid sounds harmless and modern, but it will be incredibly intrusive. Appliances in the future will have microchips installed; when you plug them in, they will handshake with the grid, and a central authority will determine whether that appliance deserves to get power or not. If a bureaucrat in Washington decides that it’s not hot enough for you to put on the air conditioner, your air conditioner will not work. If the Fed decides that Margaritas lead to too much trouble on Cinco de Mayo, all blenders can be disabled for the day.

They can also turn off radios, televisions and computers. In the era of electronic information, restricting the freedom of the press is as easy as turning off the light. The idea is to conserve power, but a Smart Government will be able to use the technology to retain power as well.

And as for my beautiful pink basement refrigerator, you can forget that. In fact every appliance that was built before the smart grid will eventually be forbidden power. Which means that once the “Smart” Grid is fully operational, everything in your house that requires a plug will probably need to be replaced –including your hysteria device (which will also leave a record the central office, every time it’s turned on).

There is no question that Air Conditioners in Washington DC will be functional year round, while those of us out  in Red State American will deal with the limitations of windmills that are incapable of keeping the entire nation cool in the stagnant summer air.

Nothing more than another government power grab with a “green” technology cloaking device.

Clueless congressman wants to extend unemployment for another year

Posted in BIG Government, Congress, Economy, Government Folly, Take back America on November 30, 2010 by DaMook

The unemployment extension (to 99 weeks) mandated by congress is about to run out. With time running short during the lame duck session, at least one clueless congressman is proposing to extend unemployment benefits yet again – this time for a whole bloody year. Of course, there’s no mention of how to actually pay for it (according to PayGo rules) so it simply piles onto the already unsustainable deficit. BOHICA! (story here from The Hill)

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced legislation Monday night that would provide long-term unemployed workers with benefits through the end of next year, with the program expected to lapse Tuesday.

Baucus told The Hill Monday night he wants to move quickly on the measure and “will try every way I can to get this passed.”

Whether the bill is pushed through as a stand-alone or as part of a larger tax or other legislative package, the federal program that provides jobless benefits for those whose 26 weeks of state benefits have ended, up to 99 weeks in states with the highest levels of unemployment, will expire Tuesday, affecting 800,000 by the end of next week and 2 million by the end of December.

The bill, which isn’t paid for, is estimated to cost about $56.4 billion, slightly below other estimates of between $60 billion and $65 billion, or about $5 billion a month. The Baucus bill would cost about $4.33 billion per month.

Baucus isn’t the only brain-dead senator as there are at least 27 more who are pushing for this. No doubt there will be some squishy RINOs who will go along with this too.

Earlier Monday, 27 Senate Democrats called for a one-year extension of the program in a letter Monday to Baucus and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“As our nation continues to battle high unemployment rates, we must act immediately to continue vital safety net coverage for those most in need,” the letter said.

Safety net indeed. This will stimulate nothing – it will only prolong the agony and add to the stunning deficit run up by this hideous congress. It will also add to state deficits as they are responsible for unemployment benefits as well (more here and here).

Again, trying to address a spending problem with more spending. If you really want to address this mess, you need to actually stimulate the economy. Here’s DaMook’s 6 point plan for the economy:

  1. Roll back federal spending and employment to 2008 levels. Freeze it there for 3 years.
  2. Repeal obamacare.
  3. Repeal Dodd/Frank financial regulation.
  4. Extend the Bush tax cuts at all levels – permanently.
  5. Roll back EPA and other government lunacy regulation to pre-2008 policies.
  6. After all of that is done, send congress home for a 1 year vacation and declare a 1 year moratorium on federal regulation.

Then we can start talking about shrinking the federal leviathan.

Obamacare fallout: SEIU drops health coverage for workers’ children

Posted in BIG Government, Culture, FAIL, The Regime on November 29, 2010 by DaMook

The SEIU was one of the most ardent supporters of obamacare. Now that the details of this hideous legislation are emerging (Pelosi: “We have to pass it so you can find out what’s in it.”), it appears that for at least one SEIU local, there’s some bad Karma (story here from the WSJ).

One of the largest union-administered health-insurance funds in New York is dropping coverage for the children of more than 30,000 low-wage home attendants, union officials said. The union blamed financial problems it said were caused by the state’s health department and new national health-insurance requirements.

The fund is administered by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Union officials said the state compelled the fund to start buying coverage from a third party, which increased premiums by 60%. State health officials denied forcing the union fund to make the switch, saying the fund had been struggling financially even before the switch to third-party coverage.

The fund informed its members late last month that their dependents will no longer be covered as of Jan. 1, 2011. Currently about 6,000 children are covered by the benefit fund, some until age 23.

The irony here is absolutely delicious…

UAW scores big with GM IPO

Posted in cars, Economy, The Regime on November 29, 2010 by DaMook

When the regime turned US bankruptcy law on its head with the bailout of GM, investors and taxpayers were big losers. GM’s stock and bondholders, you know, the ones who had actually lent money to the company, had to take a 1-100 reverse stock split on their investments (more here). Most were wiped out in the government enforced process. As an aside, the very GM execs who were responsible for the company’s failure reaped big bonuses in this perverted “bankruptcy” (more here).

Now that the “new” GM has held its IPO (more here), the government has recouped about 30% of the taxpayers’ “investment” while the original creditors got virtually nothing. One group however, will ultimately get the best deal of all – the unions. It appears that the regime engineered this deal so the unions would win while everyone else loses (story here).

General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union.

Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.

The boon for the union fits the pattern established when the White House pushed GM into bankruptcy and steered it through the courts in a way that consistently put the interests of the union ahead of many suppliers, dealers and investors — stakeholders that ordinarily would have fared as well or better under the bankruptcy laws.

“Priority one was serving the interests of the UAW” when the White House’s auto task force engineered the bankruptcy, said Glenn Reynolds, an analyst at CreditSights. The stock offering served to show once again how the White House has handsomely rewarded its political allies, he said.

The union’s health care and pension trust fund earned $3.4 billion through the sale of one-third of its shares in GM last week. Analysts estimate that it would break even if it sells the remaining two-thirds of its shares at an average price of $36 — close to where the stock traded shortly after the offering hit the market. GM shares closed at $33.45 on Wednesday.

For taxpayers to break even, by contrast, the stock would have to rise to at least $52 and by some estimates as high as $103 — levels that would take years to achieve.

And the ones who actually had money invested will never come close. They’ll be extremely lucky to get 30% of their original investment.

Perhaps the biggest losers are the investors in the old GM. None of the bankrupt company’s previous stockholders got any money, while the claims of thousands of investors who purchased the company’s bonds are still being kicked around in a Manhattan bankruptcy court.

“It gives outraged flashbacks to the old GM bondholders,” who remain mired in the bankruptcy proceedings and are unlikely to recover more than 30 percent of their investments, Mr. Reynolds said.

He compared the deal to the corrupt crony capitalism in Russia under President Vladimir Putin.

The White House “took a page out of the Putin political asset reallocation and reward system” when it engineered the deal, he said.

Mr. Reynolds also described the White House deal as a combination of “Boss Tweed on steroids” and “Hugo Chavez on meds,” as far as the bondholders are concerned.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Unions overwhelmingly supported our dear comrade leader’s campaign and continue to support the regime’s policies. This is nothing more than payback for that support.

Stuxnet – the first “weaponized” computer virus

Posted in Computers and Technology, Culture on November 28, 2010 by DaMook

Stuxnet (more here) is a computer virus that was designed to attack Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems manufactured by Siemens. These systems are used in a variety of industrial applications including power plants, energy distribution networks and water supplies. The primary target of this sophisticated virus appears to be the Iranian nuclear program and it had a significant effect on their progress. Thus far no one knows exactly who developed Stuxnet but as more info is revealed, it is clear that this was not the work of some kid looking for a thrill. The sheer complexity and stealthiness of this virus pushes the envelope of cyberwarfare. The whole scenario has all the makings of a spy thriller.

The mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected.

But in the 21st century, Bond doesn’t get the call. Instead, the job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran’s nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they’ve all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department’s acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The virus was designed to damage (but not destroy) the complex centrifuges which are used to enrich uranium. It did this by changing the rotational speed while hiding it from the built-in sensors. This not only damaged the centrifuge but also the uranium contained inside. Because this was hidden from the internal sensors and controls, the causes for the damage could not easily be determined.

The real genius of Stuxnet however, is in how it penetrated the many levels of security in the Iranian nuclear facilities.

–The nuclear facility in Iran runs an “air gap” security system, meaning it has no connections to the Web, making it secure from outside penetration. Stuxnet was designed and sent into the area around Iran’s Natanz nuclear power plant — just how may never be known — to infect a number of computers on the assumption that someone working in the plant would take work home on a flash drive, acquire the worm and then bring it back to the plant.

–Once the worm was inside the plant, the next step was to get the computer system there to trust it and allow it into the system. That was accomplished because the worm contained a “digital certificate” stolen from JMicron, a large company in an industrial park in Taiwan. (When the worm was later discovered it quickly replaced the original digital certificate with another certificate, also stolen from another company, Realtek, a few doors down in the same industrial park in Taiwan.)

–Once allowed entry, the worm contained four “Zero Day” elements in its first target, the Windows 7 operating system that controlled the overall operation of the plant. Zero Day elements are rare and extremely valuable vulnerabilities in a computer system that can be exploited only once. Two of the vulnerabilities were known, but the other two had never been discovered. Experts say no hacker would waste Zero Days in that manner.

–After penetrating the Windows 7 operating system, the code then targeted the “frequency converters” that ran the centrifuges. To do that it used specifications from the manufacturers of the converters. One was Vacon, a Finnish Company, and the other Fararo Paya, an Iranian company. What surprises experts at this step is that the Iranian company was so secret that not even the IAEA knew about it.

–The worm also knew that the complex control system that ran the centrifuges was built by Siemens, the German manufacturer, and — remarkably — how that system worked as well and how to mask its activities from it.

–Masking itself from the plant’s security and other systems, the worm then ordered the centrifuges to rotate extremely fast, and then to slow down precipitously. This damaged the converter, the centrifuges and the bearings, and it corrupted the uranium in the tubes. It also left Iranian nuclear engineers wondering what was wrong, as computer checks showed no malfunctions in the operating system.

It may take the Iranians more than a year to clean their systems of Stuxnet. Meanwhile a clampdown by the state counterintelligence services will hamper the normal activities of the scientists – a side benefit of the virus.

One additional impact that can be attributed to the worm, according to David Albright of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is that “the lives of the scientists working in the facility have become a living hell because of counter-intelligence agents brought into the plant” to battle the breach. Ironically, even after its discovery, the worm has succeeded in slowing down Iran’s reputed effort to build an atomic weapon. And Langer says that the efforts by the Iranians to cleanse Stuxnet from their system “will probably take another year to complete,” and during that time the plant will not be able to function anywhere normally.

More details will likely emerge about this affair, although we may never find out who was responsible. Hopefully it will serve as a lesson that we need to step up our efforts to protect all vital computer systems – not just military. Cyberwarefare is real and Stuxnet just raised the threat level.

Senator “skipper” celebrates himself

Posted in Congress, FAIL, UGH! on November 28, 2010 by DaMook

SkipperKerryDecember 13th – be there or be square! Senator John “Skipper” Kerry (D-MA) is planning a big celebration – of himself. Kerry, who was recently caught cheating his home state out of about $500K in taxes (story here), has rented the Boston Symphony for a combination celebration and campaign fundraiser. (story here from the Boston Herald)

Battle-weary Bay State Democrats are getting squeezed by U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry this Christmas, as the nation’s richest senator puts the arm on cash-strapped party donors to fill his campaign war chest — even though he’s not up for re-election for another four years.

“I think people feel very tapped-out,” said Phil Johnston, former Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman, who is helping to organize Kerry’s Dec. 13 gala. Johnston, who said he is seeing steady ticket sales, still expects a full house.

“It’s a mea- sure of John Kerry’s strength among Democrats that this event should be hugely successful,” he said.

The state’s senior senator — recently ranked the nation’s richest with $2.7 million in his campaign coffers and an estimated net worth of $239 million — is asking fellow Democrats to open their wallets yet again after they dug deep during a hard-fought election year. His extravaganza at the Boston Symphony — where tickets range from $75 to $4,800 — could be a tough sell as the party’s rank-and-file struggles through another Christmas in a tough economy.

“For Democrats, there’s a bit of fatigue — people have been giving aggressively,” said Democratic consultant Scott M. Ferson, president of the Liberty Square Group. “But we need John Kerry now more than ever. He’s one of the few (Massachusetts) Democrats left in a leadership position.”

Jeez, I wish I would have known sooner. I would have loved to go but I’m getting my nails done on the 13th. Drat!

Boston University pol-itical professor Thomas Whalen said the extravagant blowout — meant to celebrate Kerry’s 25 years in the Senate and 45 years of public service — could be a turnoff to struggling Bay Staters.

“The symbolism really works against him, which is typical of Kerry,” Whalen said. “It doesn’t exactly portray him as a man of the people. He could inadvertently tick off a lot of supporters given that a lot of people are going through a tough time.”

I guess I’ll just have to send a card to thank him for his 45 years of “public service.” Oh yeah, did I mention that he served in Vietnam too?

UGH…

Great idea: make congress part time

Posted in BIG Government, Congress, Take back America on November 28, 2010 by DaMook

Every once in a while a politician actually has a great idea. It’s extremely rare but it does happen and here’s the proof:

Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal wants members of Congress to stay home more often.

“We used to pay farmers not to grow crops, let’s pay congressmen to stay out of Washington, D.C.,” Jindal said in an interview with Human Events. “Mark Twain said that our liberty, our wallets were safest when the legislature’s not in session.”

Jindal, himself a former congressman, said once elected, many lawmakers become entrenched in Washington and become the very people they once campaigned against.

“Make them part-time, give them term limits,” Jindal said. “Don’t let them become lobbyists. When they have to live under the same rules and laws they pass for the rest of us, maybe you’d see some more common sense coming out of Washington, D.C.”

As the system works today, he said, “you’ve got a permanent governing political class.”

Not sure about the “more common sense” part but they sure could do a lot less damage by staying out of Washington. Don’t look for this to happen anytime soon, however.