On Friday (May 7) a Russian hacker group named Darkside penetrated the business computers of the Colonial Pipeline. They encrypted the firm’s files and data and demanded a $5 million ransom to unlock the files. Colonial Pipeline moves 45% of the East Coast gasoline, oil, and jet fuel. Here’s a map of the pipeline’s service areas.
It’s important to understand that the Darkside hackers made no attempt to tamper with the pipeline’s pumping stations, to cause a spill, for example. But in an abundance of caution, Colonial Pipeline stopped pumping for a week, paid the ransom, and just last Thursday brought their system back online.
Unfortunately, news of the incident caused many people to panic and rush the gas stations to fill up their cars and gasoline cans. This created an unnecessary shortage at many east coast gasoline dealers.
As of today (May 15), Darkside announced that it is shutting down because they lost access to the Internet server that held their ransom money (in Bitcoins). While that sounds like the FBI and CIA may have retaliated, it could be just a bogus claim allowing them to abscond with the money and reappear later with a new moniker. The Darkside digital blackmail is a twenty-first century form of piracy. Is the Russian Government involved? Hmmmm, probably!
This digital looting, which you and I will pay for with increased gas prices, is not what really worries me. I’m concerned that one day one of these hacker operations will intentionally cause massive loss of life or property damage by tampering with the control systems of power plants, chemical plants, pipelines, water treatment facilities, and so forth.
We all remember the human cost of runaway power and chemical plants. Examples are Bhopal, India (3787 killed, 558,125 injured) when a Union Carbide pesticide plant accidentally released poisonous methyl isocyanate gas and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown (4000 dead) in the Ukraine, and so on.
While there was no loss of life, an interesting example in the United States was the Merrimac Valley gas explosions north of Boston. A monumental screwup by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts on September 18, 2018 caused the natural gas pipelines to the towns of Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence to overpressure from 0.5 psi (normal) to 75 psi (very bad). The gas company’s pipes and valves handled it, but the little valves and flexible pipes in people’s furnaces popped open – filling the houses with natural gas. Forty homes caught fire or exploded.
Can a hacker intentionally cause disasters like Bhopal, Chernobyl, and Merrimac Valley? Yes, they can.
Plants, be they electric, chemical, or water treatment, are typically operated by industrial PCs running SCADA software. SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) is a fancy software package that presents factory controls as a computer screen with digital buttons and knobs, graphs, meter readouts, and so on. An example of SCADA displays is shown below.
Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) have connections to the process’s valves, motors, and sensors and a set of instructions as to how to sequence the factory’s controls properly. A big factory might have many of these PLCs. The point is that all the PLCs are connected to the SCADA package via private industrial networks with names like ModBus, ControlBus, and so on. Here’s a typical PLC with screw terminals for sensors, motors, and electric valves.
The point of all this is that if you can break into the factory’s industrial computer (PC) running a SCADA system, you can command the PLCs to do dangerous things, like over-pressure a tank of poisonous gas, or shut off the Northeast power grid.
So you might say, “Just disconnect the factory and its SCADA system from the Internet.”
The problem is that companies like Colonial Pipeline prefer to control their factories from their Headquarters. In the case of the Colonial Pipeline, there are over 27 pumping stations with a Headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia.
If we disconnect the Internet from the Industrial PC above, we thwart potential hackers from triggering disaster. So, how do we provide the Home Office with at least the SCADA display data?
Provide a “mirror” industrial PC that runs the SCADA software, but it gets it’s data from a continual one-way data stream from the “real” industrial PC. Since the data streams one-way, the “real” industrial PC is isolated from the Internet. The factory now looks like this.
Management can still see everything in the home office, but they must call or email the desired change (e.g. reduce pump speed by 10%) to the Pumping Station manager, who will make the adjustments at his SCADA screen.
If we don’t disconnect our critical factory control systems from the Internet , it’s just a matter of time before some hacker from Russia, North Korea, or Iran will intentionally cause a disaster. People like Maksim Viktorovich Yakubet are patiently waiting to teach us a lesson, and he has lots of friends.
In my Information Theory class in engineering school, one of the final exam questions was: “Is the English Language a good language in terms of Information Theory?” The answer, of course, is a resounding “No” since, especially in the spoken format, a word may have multiple meanings, and analysis of context is required to understand the word’s usage.
The word “see” may refer to optically processing your environment, or it could refer to the ocean (the seven seas), or refer to the third letter in the English alphabet. Context is everything in our English language.
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
2b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
Putting that into plain English, Socialism is a form of government where the state owns all the land, farms, factories, and stores. You work for the government; they pay your salary. Since you can’t own anything, there’s no incentive to work hard; it simply won’t improve your standard of living. In Socialism’s most extreme form, the Prima Ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet makes the same salary as the Novice. This political movement, Socialism, was proposed by the German philosopher Karl Marx, who died in 1883.
Socialism has been tried twice on planet Earth. In Russia (USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and China (PRC – People’s Republic of China). In those early days, Socialism and Communism meant the same thing.
In Russia, at the end of World War One in 1917, the Romanov family ruling Russia was overthrown and killed by the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. They instituted a socialist government called the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). It lasted until 1991, when unrest and economic stagnation caused the Communist government to collapse.
In China, revolutionaries led by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai waged a thirty-year civil war against nationalist warlord Chiang Kai-shek. They set aside their differences to fight the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, but the end of World War Two resulted in the resumption of the civil war. In 1949, Mao and the Communist Party prevailed, and Chiang fled with his followers to the island of Taiwan.
With firm control over mainland China, Mao instituted the “Great Leap Forward” in the 1960s, an audacious plan to convert China from an agricultural state to an industrialized one. The plan resulted in mass starvation and the loss of millions of lives from famine. But today, China is the industrial powerhouse that Chairman Mao wanted. Mao Zedong died in 1976 at the age of 82.
After Mao’s death, the Chinese Government dispensed with many of the precepts of Socialism, allowing private ownership of property and businesses. Today, there are many billionaires in China, while the one-party Government enables the country to advance quickly in our modern world, to plan for decades ahead. They are rapidly overtaking the United States economy and will surpass us in just a few years.
So, Socialism has been a flop in Russia and China. The question is this: Is anybody proposing Socialism here in the United States? Again, the answer is a resounding “No” if you understand what Socialism is.
Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics and a New York Times columnist, describes the United States government this way, attributing the quote to Peter Fisher, undersecretary of the Treasury, in 2002.
The United States Government is an insurance company with an army.
Is Paul Krugman correct? Here’s a pie chart of government spending for 2018.
Add up the Defense (21% for tanks and aircraft carriers), Pensions (25% for Social Security), and Health Care (28% for Medicare and Medicaid), you get 74% of the government’s spending for insurance programs and the military. That leaves just 18% for Education, NASA, IRS, and all other government necessities. Yeah, Krugman’s right – we are an insurance company with an army.
What about this guy, Senator Bernie Sanders? Is he proposing Socialism in the United States? Again, the answer is “No.” Sanders has never proposed government ownership of all land, farms, factories, and stores. He proposes increasing the 28% we currently spend on Health Insurance (Medicare and Medicaid) to a level high enough to insure everybody in the country. That’s not Socialism, as outlined in Webster’s definition above. It’s just decency, pure and simple.
Unfortunately, Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist.” That confuses many people, making them associate “Medicare For All” with Socialism, which it is not. I’d prefer that Bernie identified himself as a “Democratic Progressive” or “Liberal Democrat.”
It’s all a matter of semantics. A social worker is not a Socialist; they work with people. Social Security is not Socialism; it’s just an insurance program, and so on.
So when you hear a Fox News host or a conservative commentator rail about the Democrats trying to impose the evils of Socialism on the country, they don’t understand what Socialism is.
Massive wind turbines have blades carefully shaped to cause them to spin as the Earth’s winds stream across them. This rotational motion turns an AC generator which sends, on average, 1.67 megawatts to your house. If the blades ice up in freezing temperatures, they stop working. They slow to a stop.
Off-shore wind turbines and those operating in northern climates are fitted with heating elements that melt off the ice before it can retard performance. Such modifications are costly but necessary.
Texas, currently suffering from massive electric power outages, gets about 7% of its power from wind turbines. The power grid in Texas is operated by Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). ERCOT foolishly decided to install wind turbines without the heating elements, because “Hey, it’ll never get that cold down here!”
Well, Karma’s a bitch and this week, it came to Texas, the state most responsible for America’s contribution to global warming. Texas’s unchecked production and distribution of petroleum and natural gas has created the extreme weather events we are experiencing, and this week it came to bite them in their collective asses.
Now, to be fair to the wind energy business, 93% of Texas’s electric power comes from natural gas fired turbines. Texas is unique in that they don’t store their natural gas. They pump it directly from the gas field to the power plants. Just like the wind turbines, Texas’s natural gas pumping equipment wasn’t designed to operate in extreme freezing temperatures. These natural gas wells froze up, and the power plants went offline. This week, Texans had to endure rolling blackouts, deep freezing cities and towns for days at a time.
So, why would the government of Texas be so foolish, be so unprepared for a cold weather emergency as this? The answer is simple: Republicans.
Republicans have been in control of Texas politics for many decades. The Republican Party caters only to the rich – the billionaire class. Their mantra is low taxes, no regulation, and minimal spending on infrastructure, etc. The billionaires who have bought off the Republican Party operate on this singular financial principle: “What have you done for me this quarter.“
That short-sighted view has damaged the United States. The Republican leaders play only the short game, never looking to future needs (what have you done for me this quarter?). That kind of leadership would be prone to buying the wind turbines without the blade heaters, because it enhances the short-term profits, keeps taxes low.
The Republican promise of lower taxes and no regulations sounds seductive. But, when you vote for that, just be prepared to endure more power blackouts. These extreme weather events are going to get worse.
43 Republicans voted not guilty. The evidence against Trump was overwhelming. The mob, attacking the Capitol on January 6th and egged on by Trump, intended to kill any Senators and Congress Members attempting to do their duty and count the Electoral College votes.
So, why would anybody give a pass to the man who encouraged a violent mob to attack them?
The answer is simple: abject greed. The Senators love their vaunted position, the staff that comes with it, the PAC money, and the bribes from the rich to keep them in their seats.
Both of my Florida Senators voted “Not Guilty.” Senator Rick Scott, the giga-criminal who stole nearly a billion dollars from the Government in a Medicare Fraud scheme, is now one of the leaders of the Republican Sedition Caucus. Senator Marco Rubio has the spine of a jellyfish and the taint of hypocrisy that will never wash away.
These 43 Republicans are saying that your vote doesn’t count. If they don’t like the election result, they claim the right to simply overturn the election, by violence if necessary.
If you you voted for these 43 Republicans, or intend to vote for them in the future, you share in their treason.
Disgraced former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial begins today. I’m a realist; he’s going to be acquitted again in the Senate. I’m not OK with this, but I won’t be disappointed.
The situation is kind of like my beloved Buffalo Bills. I knew that the thuggish Kansas City Chiefs would eventually prevail and win the game two weeks ago. But I also realized that the Chiefs would get their comeuppance someday. Karma’s a bitch. It came Sunday night at the hands of football’s most skilled and successful quarterback, Tom Brady, and an inspired team who chased the Kansas City quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, all over the field.
Trump is guilty of treason (trying to overthrow the government). The evidence is overwhelming. He incited a riot. He urged a mob to attack the capitol and stop the usually perfunctory tabulation of the Electoral College votes. Below is an image of them swarming the Capitol building, looking to hang Vice President Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and anybody else that was chastised daily by Fox News.
As former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on January 10th:
“I think if inciting to insurrection isn’t [an impeachable offense], I don’t really know what it is.”
So I expect the Republicans (most of them traitors) to say. “Why are we bothering with this? Trump is out-of-office,” or resort to a laughable technicality like “He didn’t exactly say ‘Go Kill Mike Pence.'”
No, this impeachment trial is for the history books. Trump is the worst President ever elected in the United States, hands down. He will be the only President impeached twice. Like Lady Macbeth’s bloodstained hand, two impeachments are a stain that cannot be erased. The Republican Senators who vote to acquit will be seen by historians as the unprincipled and traitorous fools who hastened the end of the Republican Party.
And to all you people who bought MAGA hats, attended Trump rallies, and then voted for this liar, you’re now circling the drain as history flushes Trumpism down the toilet.
Thomas B. Edsall, a political journalism professor at Columbia University, wrote this analysis of the January 6th Trump riot.
“There is no question that out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy were high on the list of motivations of the pro-Trump mob that ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, January 13, 2021
So the MAGA insurrectionists wanted to return us to the days of Ozzie and Harriet, a lily-white utopia where people of color are relegated to a permanent status of second-class citizenship? Good luck with that. For like the Confederacy, this is a lost cause. In fact, it is already game-over.
When I went to college (Ohio University) in the early 1960s, the Engineering Department required all students to take two years of Liberal Arts courses to broaden our perspective, so to speak. I signed up for history, philosophy, speech, and social studies, among others. I still remember one lecture in a Sociology class; the professor’s analysis stayed with me all these years.
He explained that the media drives change. The example he used was cigarette smoking for women. Initially frowned on by polite society, the movies turned out to be the prime mover for glorifying women smoking. Specifically, he mentioned Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – the song-and-dance darlings of 1930s movies. In one of those movies, Fred lit up two cigarettes and handed one to Ginger. It wasn’t long before the cigarette brand, Camel Cigarettes, included him in print advertising.
In hindsight, cigarette smoking turned out to be a very bad idea. It killed both of my parents and to some extent my brother, Tim. I have never smoked, but grew up in a house that was filled with smoke.
Fast-forward to today. Is the mass media advocating a return to white supremacy?
The answer is a resounding NO. Look at the movies on Netflix and other streamers. Pay attention to advertising on regular television and streaming channels. All you see today is mixed-race couples and families.
Once again, the movies and media are driving public opinion, just like my professor suggested in 1964. Is the media doing this because it is the right and just thing to do, or is there a profit angle involved? The answer is probably a little bit of both.
The younger demographic is the one doing all the buying in today’s society, not the over-fifty crowd that ransacked the capitol. The movie, streamer, and advertising business all recognize where the country is heading (a multi-racial society), and that’s where the money is.
Pretty stark choice, isn’t it? Do you want the Trump reality show (white supremacy)?
Or do you want the Netflix show “How to Get Away with Murder,” with a racially diverse cast.
My Sociology Professor was right. The media makes it pretty clear that the nation is rejecting white supremacy, gravitating inexorably to a racially diverse society. The MAGA crowd can’t stop it. They just don’t know it yet.
Wednesday, we swear-in the first woman-of-color Vice President. Twelve years ago, we swore-in the first mixed-race President. I’m still hopeful about this country.
Wednesday, January 6th, 2020 was a date that will live in infamy.
A mob of Trump supporters, stoked into a volcanic rage by Donald Trump, his family, Rudy Giuliani, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and a phalanx of other Republicans, attempted to enter the US Capitol, murder and kill Vice President Pence, House Speaker Pelosi, and any member of Congress doing their Constitutional duty to count and certify the Electoral College votes. Fortunately, they did not succeed.
There should be no mercy for those who traveled to Washington, DC to overthrow the government. Fortunately, there is a mountain of video and social media evidence showing the faces of those who assaulted our seat of democracy. The most severe penalties should be meted out to those who actually entered the Capitol.
The FBI should patiently analyze every video clip, every social media post, of those who attacked our Capitol. Offer a reward to people who identify these criminals and extradite them to the District of Columbia for booking and prosecution. There has to be severe consequences for these acts of sedition.
Next in line for legal scrutiny will be the media giants who stoked this rage (Rupert Murdoch and Fox News). More on that in a later blog post.
The short answer is “You Can’t.” These followers of Trump (about 40% of the nation) are members of a cult. They are wallowing in conspiracy theories, faithfully devoted to a despicable President, and willing to bring our democracy to its knees with no idea what to do next. The next time they rush the Capitol, they will come with guns blazing.
I know about cults. I was born into one: the Roman Catholic Church. You know, the people who taught me that eating meat on Friday would send you to Hell. All religions qualify as cults, to varying degrees. The Catholic Church has moderated quite a bit since the Middle Ages.
Cults are everywhere you look. Some examples:
Mega-churches that preach the Prosperity Gospel.
The anti-abortion crowd
right-wing anti-gay people
Ultra-conservatives who want to return to our white supremacy roots
Then there’s the Trump Cult, born of a totally phony NBC reality television show, The Apprentice starring Donald Trump. The Trump cult members happily overlook Trump’s lack of character, incessant lying, utter stupidity, and dismal record as a business failure. He’s their leader and they will follow him off a cliff if asked. Which they did yesterday when they staged a mob attack on the US Capitol Building.
Of all the images of yesterday’s insurrection in Washington, DC, this one of Adam Johnson blithely scurrying out of the Capitol Rotunda with a lectern is my favorite. Turns out that Adam is 36 years old, married with 5 children, and lives in Parrish, Florida. Apparently he has a rap sheet with drug and alcohol citations.
How do we know this? These Trumpers foolishly posted photographs of their Capitol Invasion on social media. People in Parrish, Florida identified this idiot as soon as this photograph appeared. If Adam Johnson makes it home, he can expect a visit from the FBI. They will no doubt make an example of him, with charges of sedition, theft of government property, criminal trespass, and so on.
So comes the suggestion, posed by some pundits, that we need to to listen to these Trump cultists, understand what their grievances are, and maybe come to an understanding. FAT CHANCE.
The typical Trump supporter is powered by conspiracy theories, in most cases the conspiracies promulgated by the shadowy group QAnon. Trump has re-tweeted QAnon conspiracies often last year. Here’s a photograph of a typical QAnon adherent.
Let’s unpack this lady’s countenance and message. She’s “woke” which means that she’s now cognizant that the government is run by lizard people (re: my last blog post). “Q” refers to the QAnon group, who have made a raft of predictions that have fallen flat. The line about “Pedophilia” is a code word to evoke sympathy for a cause we all believe in – fighting child abuse, giving QAnon a smidgen of respectability. Last, but not least, is the reference to “Pizzagate is Real.”
Pizzagate is a conspiracy theory that appeared in 2016, during the Presidential campaign. The claim was that Hillary Clinton ran a child pedophilia operation out of the basement of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. (the Comet Ping Pong restaurant has no basement). On December 4th, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch showed up with an AR-15, fired three shots, and demanded to see the basement where the pedophilia ring was in operation. Welch was arrested and sentenced to four years in the slammer.
As ridiculous as this conspiracy theory is, QAnon supporters still believe that it’s true, including recently pardoned felon General Mike Flynn. If you explain to any Trump/QAnon supporter that this Pizzagate conspiracy is ridiculous and thoroughly debunked, they’ll angrily respond with “Fake News” or you’re an “Enemy of the People.”
Can a normal person communicate with a member of a cult? The answer is usually “No,” for anytime a cult member encounters speech that contradicts the cult’s dogma, they go into a brain freeze and refuse to listen. Their replies are usually automated, like “Fake News” or “Stupid Liberal.”
So, the answer to the question “Can You Reason With A Trump Supporter?” is simply “Hell, No!”
In fact, after yesterday’s attempt to overthrow the Government, I think the proper answer to any Trump Supporter is to use your best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation and say “Fuck You, Asshole!“
Adam Christian Johnson, the guy pictured above carrying a lectern out of the US Capitol last Wednesday, was booked into Pinellas County, Florida jail shortly after 9 p.m., Friday, January 8th. Adam’s home is about 40 miles from me. (we’re practically neighbors!)
The FBI has entered a single felony charge, but expect more to come. Here’s his mug shot.
Last Christmas Morning, 63-year-old Anthony Warner parked his camper van on a Nashville Street, across from the AT&T offices. After giving Police fifteen minutes warning that he was going to explode a bomb, he killed himself in a massive explosion.
Fortunately, thanks to quick action by the Nashville police, Warner was the only casualty in the explosion. Sadly, a year earlier, Warner’s girlfriend disclosed to the Nashville Police that he was building bombs in his truck. They arrived at his house, but when he wouldn’t answer the door, they left without any other investigation (They should have called the FBI).
FBI explosives experts speculate that Warner created a practical fuel-air bomb, using propane as the fuel. He apparently got just the right mix of propane and air in the truck, and then used an electronic timer to detonate it. It’s not known when he killed himself, but his flesh and DNA was recovered from the debris.
So, the question is: “Why did Anthony Warner do this?”
Apparently, it has come to light (interviews with neighbors, social media, etc.) that Warner was a conspiracy-theory nut. He believed an obscure QAnon theory that “Lizard People are Running Our Country.” So, where did this nutty idea come from? Allow me to explain.
In 1983, NBC exhibited an entertaining mini-series called “V” which refers to alien Visitors. These extraterrestrials looked just like us, promising to help the Earth with its problems. The big reveal in the show was that these Visitors were actually reptilian lizard people with fake human skins. In a climatic scene, the good guys ripped off the facial covering of the leader, John, on national television.
Of course, John and the Visitors claimed Fake News, Hollywood special effects, and whatnot and began a round-up of all the “Dirty Scientists.” The V mini-series was spun into a two season television series, and a few years ago was rebooted with a new cast and special effects.
In the past several years, we’ve seen the rise of the conspiracy group, QAnon, whose crazy theories have been re-tweeted by President Donald Trump. Buried within the usual conspiracy theories (Moon landing faked, 9/11 an inside job, John F Kennedy Jr is still alive, Barack Obama born in Kenya, and so on), there is the conspiracy theory that the government is run by Lizard People.
That’s right, there are people in the government that are actually disguised lizards. (They’re Democrats, of course). Why, I could be one of these Lizard People.
While this might all sound like good, clean comedy fun, the United States has gone crazy. Next Wednesday, a number of well-educated Republican Senators and Congressmen are going to attempt to overturn a peaceful and fair election that elected Joe Biden in a massive landslide.
Shame on them and everybody who voted for these traitors.