Interesting & Important News & Analysis, August 14, 2019

President Trump Says Wind Turbines Cause Cancer. 99% of Iowans Disagree

Even in many places Trump won, like Iowa, clean energy sources enjoy bipartisan support. The industry creates jobs and supports the tax base. Some landowners even receive payments for leasing their land. More than three quarters of Iowans say they would support requiring local utility companies to get 100% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2050, according to the poll. Majorities all said they thought that such a transition would have a positive impact on the state’s economy, electricity costs and rural communities.

... Chinese Military Assembles Near Hong Kong Border

If Xi is stupid enough to order the Chinese military into Hong Kong, he will give the US a larger opening for ramping up military support for Taiwan and for also ramping up US naval activity and confrontation, even hot military action, in the South China Sea to back Xi down or even begin extensive regime-change efforts against him. European nations and most of the nations bordering the South China Sea would side with the US on it. It would likely reverse the trend in world public opinion concerning the independent status of Taiwan.

Putin would be hard-pressed to justify Xi's anti-democratic attack on the people of Hong Kong. Putin's credibility with democrats throughout the world would further deteriorate, exactly what he doesn't need for Russia's sake.

Solar now ‘cheaper than grid electricity’ in every Chinese city, study finds

Solar power has become cheaper than grid electricity across China, a development that could boost the prospects of industrial and commercial solar, according to a new study.

Projects in every city analysed by the researchers could be built today without subsidy, at lower prices than those supplied by the grid, and around a fifth could also compete with the nation’s coal electricity prices.

They say grid parity – the “tipping point” at which solar generation costs the same as electricity from the grid – represents a key stage in the expansion of renewable energy sources.

A la recherche of the roots of US inequality “exceptionalism”

US market income inequality is generally greater than in other rich countries and the American state redistributes less. So, we argue, both the underlying (market) inequality is high and redistribution is relatively weak.
... when we try to find the roots of lower pro-poor redistribution in the US we can find them both in more modest social transfers and in less progressive direct taxation. Combined with our earlier finding of relatively high market income inequality in the US, this means that American income inequality is “exceptional” because (a) underlying market income inequality is high, (b) social transfers are modest, and (c) direct taxes are not sufficiently progressive.

Trump Finds a Brawler for His War on Workers

Greenhouse, who covered labor for 19 years for The Times, acknowledges all the ways in which labor unions were maddening and retrograde. But he notes that corporations run amok when no one is minding them.

The problem with unions was that they were so easily taken over by bad actors and were so easily rolled back as a result. Of course, the price of democratic control is eternal vigilance. So, whether we go back to high rates of unionization or we handle everything unions used to do via general democracy instead will still require holding back the barbarians until we permanently eliminate the mental illness that is greed.

As I predicted shortly after the onset of the Great Recession, which was clearly caused by rolling back regulations, new regulations will be too weak and will also end up being rolled back.

Volcker Revamp to Ease Banks’ Trading Rules, Path to Investments

The rule has assumed that trades are banned unless banks show they aren’t.

The new version is expected to upend that by generally giving banks the benefit of the doubt that they’re in compliance ....

City commission OKs big Flower Market redevelopment

The materials and colors of the structures are intended to mimic the bright colors of flowers, project architects have said.

Better renewable energy storage could cut emissions

Adding 60 gigawatts of renewable energy to California could achieve a 72% carbon dioxide reduction. Then, by adding some energy storage technologies on top of that in California could allow a 90% carbon dioxide reduction.

I suppose most young people would be shocked to learn that we've known about this problem for many decades. I've known about it since my teens.

IPCC’s land report shows the problem with farming based around oil, not soil

... farming ... has been shaped by the power of fossil fuels. The problem of limited soil fertility was overcome through fertilisation, mainly with synthetic nitrogen, which is made using natural gas or coal.

Today, emissions from nitrogen fertilisation are a major source of greenhouse gases, and the emissions produced in making that nitrogen are the biggest carbon cost in a loaf of bread.

In addition, the development of diesel-powered machinery made it possible to cultivate land which was previously inaccessible. As a result, more land is brought into cultivation, further destroying natural ecosystems such as forests. As the IPCC points out, deforestation is indeed the biggest source of agriculture-related CO₂ emissions.

Machines and fertilisers enabled more intensive farming, in which organic material is not returned back to the soil and organisms such as earthworms and microbes which make soils function are constantly disturbed through ploughing and compaction – such intensive farming leads to soil degradation and exhaustion.

If you're wondering why we haven't already fixed this problem, look no further than the greedy people behind synthetic fertilizers.

Synthetic vs. Organic Fertilizers

What are you using on your properties?

Will Trump lose West Virginia? It sure looks that way. By rights, he should lose all "coal country."

'Coal is over': the miners rooting for the Green New Deal

“A lot of guys thought they were going to bring back coal jobs, and Trump stuck it to them,” said 69-year-old Bennie Massey, who worked for 30 years as a coalminer in Lynch, Kentucky.
“What we’ve been doing is trying to transition into the 21st century and get on past coal,” he said.

King Coal is dead. Long live King Solar.

Those transition efforts are still being impeded by the coal industry, as Shoupe says the majority of property in the area is still owned by coal companies and they have denied his efforts to develop solar panel fields.
“The good old days you should remember is when we had unions and we could look forward to a future and our kids had a better future,” said Steele. “Now our kids are scared to death of their future. It’s because of greed and everything flowing to the top.”

I've been writing for a long time now that the Phillips Curve isn't dead but simply sleeping. I explained that many new headwinds have been introduced since the time the Phillips Curve was more predictive, such as when Volcker reined in inflation via austerity. If those headwinds are correctly and dynamically factored into the model, the curve will reflect reality. However, identifying the headwinds in real time and weighting for them correctly is to be able to see things from God's perspective. I have yet to read of any "modern" economist capable of even remotely doing that.

Improving the Phillips Curve with an Interaction Variable

Numerous studies have found that estimated versions of the Phillips curve have become flatter over time, implying that the standard relationship has less predictive power for future inflation than it once had. This Economic Letter examines a potential way to improve Phillips curve forecasts of future inflation by including an interaction variable, defined as the multiplicative combination of lagged inflation and the lagged output gap.

Online retailers are transforming warehouse construction

One of the main drivers of this transformation has been the addition of high-tech sorting equipment. Twenty-first century retailers rely on automated systems like pickers and robots to move merchandise faster and sometimes with less labor. These automated systems require special design and construction considerations, experts say, and require builders to stay up to date on changing specifications.

Because of the fast pace of technological change, retail clients look for builders with a willingness to learn and adapt as a project develops ....

Bonds Meet the Four Criteria for Defining a Bubble

... for now, it helps to know that bonds are in a bubble, and that there is no imminent catalyst to burst it.

Barring a disaster wiping out infrastructure or personnel, be aware that it's technically easy for the US Congress to avoid an economic recession.

By the way, that article goes on to laud Mauricio Macri. The next linked article explains why lauding Macri is silly. Macri is an economics illiterate.

Recalibrating Argentina’s Ponzi Program

To understand Argentina’s inevitable demise, it is necessary to recognize that the monetary-fiscal program currently in place—including as part of the IMF’s largest ever program—is a Ponzi scheme. And as with all Ponzi schemes, it’s demise is inevitable. In short, Argentina’s central bank (BCRA) has very few interest-earning assets, but pays a large interest on its sterilization operations—currently Leliqs, previously Lebacs and various other instruments. Without the real resources needed to fund its operations, BCRA has no choice but to monetize the cost of its operations. But to prevent the impact of this on base money, with associated pressure on the exchange rate, BCRA must issue ever greater sterilization instruments as an offset. However, over a long enough horizon, this policy implies BCRA’s monetary plus sterilization liabilities will grow exponentially relative to reserves assets. Inevitably, this must at some point unravel—all that was needed is a catalyst. Yesterday’s election duly delivered.

Brain-Dead Investors Get Crapped on Again by Argentina

The chase for yield in a central-bank manipulated low-interest-rate environment is very costly, as brain-dead buyers of Argentina’s dollar-denominated and euro-denominated bonds found out. These junk bonds were issued with great Wall-Street hype in 2016 and 2017, including inexplicably a 100-year bond, backed by a country that has defaulted on its foreign-currency bonds five times in my lifetime, and that defaults on its peso bonds on a daily basis via inflation running between 30% and 50% recently. “And yet, yield-desperate investors don’t seem to care,” I wrote in astonishment in 2017 when brain-dead investors bought that 100-year bond. So here we go again.

How Bad Is Windows 10 Affected By Process Injections

When it comes to process injection in Windows, there are only 6-7 fundamental techniques, right? That's what we thought in late 2018, when we started researching this area. Turned out we were way off the mark. We counted 20 techniques (so far…), which we had to collect, extract and analyze from many websites, blogs and papers.

Ukraine is a cybersecurity cesspool. It's not the only place.

Meet the World’s Biggest ‘Bulletproof’ [criminal websites] Hoster

Bulletproof hosting administrators operating from within Russia probably are not going to get taken down or arrested, provided they remain within that country (or perhaps within the confines of the former republics of the Soviet Union, known as the Commonwealth of Independent States).

That’s doubly so for bulletproof operators who are careful to follow the letter of the law in those regions — i.e., setting up official companies that are required to report semi-regularly on various aspects of their business, as Mr. Volosovik clearly has done.

However, occasionally big-time bulletproof hosters from those CIS countries do get disrupted and/or apprehended. ...
Whether AbdAllah ever really faces justice for his alleged crimes remains to be seen. Ukraine does not extradite citizens, as the U.S. authorities have requested in this case. And we have seen time and again how major cybercriminals get raided and detained by local and federal authorities there, only to quickly re-emerge and resume operations shortly thereafter, while the prosecution against them goes nowhere.

Some examples of this include several Ukrainian men arrested in 2010 and accused of running an international crime and money laundering syndicate that used a custom version of the Zeus trojan to siphon tens of millions of dollars from hacked small businesses in the U.S. and Europe. To my knowledge, none of the Ukrainian men that formed the core of that operation were ever prosecuted, reportedly because they were connected to influential figures in the Ukrainian government and law enforcement.

Intel 471’s Passwaters said something similar happened in December 2016, when authorities in the U.S., U.K. and Europe dismantled Avalanche, a distributed, cloud-hosting network that was rented out as a bulletproof hosting enterprise for countless malware and phishing attacks.

Prior to that takedown, Passwaters said, somehow an individual using the nickname “Sosweet” who was connected to another bulletproof hoster that occurred around the same time as Avalanche got a tip about an impending raid.

“Sosweet was raided in December right before Avalanche was taken down, [and] we know that he was tipped off because of corruption [because] 24 hours later the guy was back in service and has all his stuff back up,” Passwaters said.

The same also appears to be true for several Ukrainian men arrested in 2011 on suspicion of building and disseminating Conficker, a malware strain that infected millions of computers worldwide and prompted an unprecedented global response from the security industry.

So if a majority of bulletproof hosting businesses operate primarily out of countries where the rule of law is not strong and/or where corruption is endemic, is there any hope for disrupting these dodgy businesses?

New Extenbro DNS Changer Trojan Blocks Security Domains

A newly discovered DNS-changer Trojan dubbed Extenbro has been observed while blocking access to websites of security software vendors to prevent its victims from getting rid of the adware it dumps on their computers.

Elusive MegaCortex Ransomware Found - Here is What We Know

A sample of the ransomware called MegaCortex that is known to target the enterprise in targeted attacks has been found and analyzed. In this article, we will provide a brief look at the MegaCortex Ransomware and how it encrypts a computer.

How IT pros are building resilience against email security threats

... according to a survey by HubSpot, 86% of professionals say email is their preferred way to communicate for business purposes.

But while the trusty email will no doubt continue to be commonplace in the business world, it has become a core target for hackers. Security threats such as malware, spam, phishing, social engineering and unauthorised access are causing major concern for organisations and IT leaders.

In research compiled by Barracuda Networks, 94% of organisations admitted that email is the most vulnerable part of their enterprise security strategies and 87% of CIOs expect to see an increase in email security threats over the next 12 months.

Is this common knowledge yet? If not, it soon will be.

It's too late for Big Ag to crush this info. Hurray!

For a Sustainable Climate and Food System, Regenerative Agriculture Is the Key

The study followed 10 cornfields per farm on 20 farms over two growing seasons, half of which were regenerative and half conventional. The study tracked soil carbon, insect pests, corn yield, and profits.

The results give the imprimatur of science to the successes regenerative farmers have reported for years. Lundgren and LaCanne found that there were more pests in the conventional cornfields that were treated with insecticides and/or used GMO seeds than in the pesticide-free regenerative fields, presumably because the cover crops attracted battalions of predator insects that decimated crop pests—and because there were no insecticides to kill off those beneficials.

And while the regenerative farms used older, lower-yielding corn varieties without fertilizer and had lower yields, their overall profits were 78% higher than the conventional farmers’. Partly, this was because the regenerative farmers’ costs were so much lower, with no cash outlays for costly insecticides and GMO seeds. They also “stacked enterprises” and had two or more sources of income on the same acre—in this case, they grazed their cattle on corn residue after harvest and got a premium price for pastured beef. What was the primary factor correlating with farm profitability? The amount of carbon and organic matter in the farmers’ fields, not their yields.

The Green New Deal Must Be Global

June 2019 was the hottest June in recorded history. July was even hotter — in fact, it was the hottest month ever recorded worldwide, as a wide swath of the continental United States sweltered with heat indexes of over 100 degrees.

Unless new action is taken to curb emissions driving the climate crisis, warns the Union of Concerned Scientists in a new report, the worst is yet to come. By mid-century, nearly one-third of Americans could be experiencing a month or more every year with a heat index above 105 degrees.

Add in more frequent storms, flooding, and wildfires, and the scale of the crisis is harder and harder to ignore. Public opinion polls show that a majority of registered U.S. voters now favor the ambitious Green New Deal, details of which remain to be spelled out. But it’s clear that the crisis is global, and that solutions cannot be limited by national borders.

U.S. Views of China Turn Sharply Negative Amid Trade Tensions

... Chinese President Xi Jinping receives negative ratings from the American public. Half of U.S. adults surveyed say they have little or no confidence in the Chinese leader ....

The sooner the Chinese people overthrow the dictatorship, the better.

Farm Rot is Eating America Alive

... farm rot is eating the country alive. It’s a repeat of the early twentieth century when Upton Sinclair wrote about the mafia-like culture of food and agriculture: the complete absence of government regulation, the loathsome slaughterhouses of Chicago, the adulteration and poisoning of food.

Because this blog post is covering, among other things, computer security, let me ask you whether you've seen evidence that Russia hacked any of our elections and our power grid? If you jump to saying to yourself that you have, that's because you're simply trusting others and not because you've actually seen any evidence. Nobody has seen any actual evidence, including those who've been telling people that the Russians did hack our elections and power grid.

All of this matters because we need to know where to focus our attention when so much is riding on it. The story that Russia hacked us is ramping up the New Cold War that could go hot, which could become a total thermonuclear exchange, which would be a nightmare beyond any nightmare you've ever had.

This article lays it all out.

New York Times Persists in Russia Election Hacking Conspiracy Theory

By the way, our election systems definitely haven't been remotely secure enough. However, it's our fellow Americans we most need to worry about hacking into them to change votes.

Windows 10 Security Alert: Vulnerabilities Found in Over 40 Drivers

To make matters worse, these drivers affect all modern versions of Windows....
Solutions to mitigate this threat include regular scanning for outdated system and component firmware, and applying the latest driver fixes from device manufactures in order to resolve any vulnerabilities.

Hackers Can Turn Everyday Speakers Into Acoustic Cyberweapons

Matt Wixey, cybersecurity research lead at the technology consulting firm PWC UK, says that it’s surprisingly easy to write custom malware that can induce all sorts of embedded speakers to emit inaudible frequencies at high intensity, or blast out audible sounds at high volume. Those aural barrages can potentially harm human hearing, cause tinnitus, or even possibly have psychological effects.
... manufacturers could physically limit the frequency range of speakers so they’re not capable of emitting inaudible sounds. Desktop and mobile operating systems could alert users when their speakers are in use or issue alerts when applications request permission to control speaker volume.

Speakers or operating systems could also have digital defenses in place to filter digital audio inputs that would produce high and low frequency noises. And antivirus vendors could even incorporate specific detections into their scanners to monitor for suspicious audio input activity. Environmental sound monitoring for high frequency and low frequency noise would also catch potential cyber-acoustic attacks.