Category Archives: Technology

AT&T ANNOUNCES THOUSANDS OF LAYOFFS, FIRINGS JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS

Oh the irony, its a bitch!

AT&T plans to lay off and fire more than a thousand workers starting early next year, according to local reports.

Across the Midwest, an estimated 600 workers were notified they were being laid off by the company on December 16, a week before AT&T announced it was doling out $1,000 bonuses to 200,000 of its employees in celebration of the Republican Party’s tax overhaul.

The telecommunications giant told the Chicago Tribune in a statement that the most of the affected workers are from its landline and other legacy service sectors, but the company did not say how many workers total would still be employed in 2018.

Technology improvements are driving higher efficiencies, and there are some areas where demand for our legacy services continues to decline, and we’re adjusting our workforce in some of those areas as we continue to align our workforce with the changing needs of the business. Many of the affected employees have a job offer guarantee that ensures they’ll be offered another job with the company, and we’ll work to find other jobs for as many of them as possible.

The announcement came days after the New York Post reported that the company “pink-slipped more than 700 DirecTV home installers.”

On Friday, the Post also reported that AT&T has recently laid off “215 high-skilled technician jobs in nine Southern states” and plans to fire nearly 700 workers in Texas and Missouri beginning in February.

Union representatives expressed concern and resentment toward the company.

“How can you lay people off and then give them $1,000 and say that there’s going to be more jobs available? I wish someone could tell me how that’s possible because I have to explain that to my members, and right now at this time of year, this is a difficult pill to swallow,” Joseph Blanco, president of Local 6360 Communication Workers of America Union in Kansas City, told Fox 4 on Thursday.

Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, said in a statement that the GOP’s tax bill would improve the country’s economy and the company’s financial prospects.

“Congress, working closely with the president, took a monumental step to bring taxes paid by U.S. businesses in line with the rest of the industrialized world. This tax reform will drive economic growth and create good-paying jobs,” AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson said, according to CNBC.

Last year, senior executives at AT&T told The New York Times that “shrinking the [company’s] workforce by 30 percent is not out of the question.”

As reported by Reuters, AT&T is vying to acquire media conglomerate Time Warner Inc., but the Justice Department sued to prevent the $85.4 billion acquisition in November for fears that AT&T might charge rival networks “hundreds of millions of dollars more per year” for Time Warner’s catalog of movies and T.V. channels if the merger would stand.

Soon after the company announced it would give $200 million worth of bonuses, President Donald Trump praised the move as an indicator of how the tax bill could benefit American workers.

BY

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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The Army Is testing a futuristic exoskeleton to enhance solder mobility

Science fiction has a funny habit of becoming science fact after enough time has passed. The wide-eyed wonder of children sitting cross-legged in front of the TV eventually becomes inspiration for incredible feats of engineering, or the means of our own destruction. The latest example of this phenomenon is a new, powered up exoskeleton the U.S. Army is testing, per Scout.

There are tons of examples of this sort of thing in science fiction. It usually involves military personnel enhancing their combat capabilities with some manner of armor or exoskeleton. Samus Aran’s armor in Metroid , Master Chief’s armor in Halo and the goofy power gear that kills Tom Cruise 50 times in Edge of Tomorrow are a few examples. Now, Lockheed Martin has a mechanical knee-based exoskeleton in testing phases with the army.

The tech, named FORTIS, uses AI to fit different walking patterns and enable enhanced mobility and stress relief for heavy lifting on the battlefield. It uses a huge, three pound lithium ion battery to supposedly allow its wearer to carry 180 pounds up five flights of stairs, per Scout . The idea is to offload precious energy from the soldier onto the device, which would theoretically improve battlefield efficiency. Every little bit helps, so to speak.

Lockheed Martin’s engineers claim it can save the soldier nine percent of energy on essential battlefield actions using its AI-based torque technology. That may not sound like a lot to the layman, but you would probably feel better at the end of the day if you suddenly were no longer responsible for nearly one-tenth of your energy output. As long as you are willing to look a little goofy in a mechanical contraption that was designed for function and not form, anyway.

The system, which is supported by a “conformal upper structure” attached to a belt, is designed as an improvement over the older HULC mechanism, which weighed 85 pounds and restricted mobility. That seems a little counterintuitive and like it definitely needed improvement. It does not seem like there are imminent plans to make this standard battlefield apparel anytime soon, as it is merely in a testing phase at the moment.

It is worth wondering how much such a project would cost the United States military if a finalized build were to go into mass production. There are a bunch of potential improvements and add-ons Lockheed Martin could make before putting this thing out in the world. If we are going full science fiction, they should consider rocket boosters, a flight module, a laser cannon, stealth camouflage and a way for soldiers to use the bathroom on the go. Those would all probably drive up the cost and production time exponentially, but those are all hallmarks of any good space marine unit.

Of course, it is possible none of this ever comes to fruition and warfare continues to evolve in the direction of cyber attacks and unmanned drone warfare. We will all have to wait and see on this one.

From INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Why Net Neutrality Was Mistaken From the Beginning (AOL Edition) It turns out that Tom Wheeler, the FCC head who imposed the rules, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai memorably told Reason that “net neutrality” rules were “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Yet in 2015, despite a blessed lack of throttling of specific traffic streams, blocking of websites, and other feared behavior by internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers, the FCC issued net neutrality rules that gave the federal government the right to punish business practices under Title II regulations designed for the old state-enabled Bell telephone monopoly.

Now that Pai, who became chairman earlier this year, has announced an FCC vote to repeal the Obama-era regulations, he is being pilloried by progressives, liberals, Democrats, and web giants ranging from Google to Netflix to Amazon to Facebook, often in the name of protecting an “open internet” that would let little companies and startups flourish like in the good old days before Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook dominated everything. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which back in 2009 called FCC attempts to claim jurisdiction over the internet a “Trojan Horse” for government control, is squarely against the repeal.

Pai is also being targeted by net neutrality activists, who have posted signs naming his children by his house and reportedly ordered pizzas as a nuisance:

Yet the panic over the repeal of net neutrality is misguided for any number of reasons.

First and foremost, the repeal simply returns the internet back to pre-2015 rules where there were absolutely no systematic issues related to throttling and blocking of sites (and no, ISPs weren’t to blame for Netflix quality issues in 2013). As Pai stressed in an exclusive interview with Reason last week, one major impact of net neutrality regs was a historic decline in investment in internet infrastructure, which would ultimately make things worse for all users. Why bother building out more capacity if there’s a strong likelihood that the government will effectively nationalize your pipes? Despite fears, the fact is that in the run-up to government regulation, both the average speed and number of internet connections (especially mobile) continued to climb and the percentage of Americans without “advanced telecommunications capability” dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to the FCC (see table 7 in full report). Nobody likes paying for the internet or for cell service, but the fact is that services have been getting better and options have been growing for most people.

Second, as Reason contributor Thomas W. Hazlett, a former chief economist for the FCC, writes in The New York Daily News, even FCC bureaucrats don’t know what they’re talking about.

Hazlett notes that in a recent debate former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who implemented the 2015 net neutrality rules after explicit lobbying by President Obama, said the rise of AOL to dominance during the late 1990s proved the need for the sort of government regulation he imposed. But “AOL’s foray only became possible when regulators in the 1980s peeled back ‘Title II’ mandates, the very regulations that Wheeler’s FCC imposed on broadband providers in 2015,” writes Hazlett. “AOL’s experiment started small and grew huge, discovering progressively better ways to serve consumers. Wheeler’s chosen example of innovation demonstrates how dangerous it is to impose one particular platform, freezing business models in place.”

Deep confusion reigns on this point. In an explainer video posted earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal, net neutrality is analogized to package delivery. The overnight shipper, FedEx, delivers boxes to Amazon’s customers, treating them all the same. This, says the video, is exactly what net neutrality rules applied to ISPs do.

Wrong. FedEx is unregulated. The firm chooses to offer terms and conditions that apply generically. Its rival, UPS, not so much: “UPS is not a common carrier,” says the company’s website, “and reserves the right in its absolute discretion to refuse carriage to any shipment tendered to it for transportation.”

The firms are free to blaze different trails, with markets deciding the outcome.

Read the whole thing here.

And watch/read an interview with Hazlett from earlier this year where he discusses his epic history of the FCC, The Political Spectrum, and argues that deregulation gave us cable, HBO, and the iPhone.

Indeed, even more worrying than the decline in investment following the implementation of net neutrality is the attempt by its supporters to assume that the current moment is how internet access will forever be delivered. Last year, for instance, mobile traffic surpassed fixed (or desktop) traffic for the first time, so the territory is changing fast. Pai told Reason about a variety of moves that will allow for new ways to deliver the internet, especially to rural areas that are currently lagging behind. He also noted to Reason that many of the legal actions lobbed at mobile carriers by net neutrality proponents have been to challenge “zero-rating” plans that allow customers to stream unlimited amounts of music, video, and other services without counting against a monthly data cap. Exactly how such services are bad is unclear, especially since they don’t block or throttle anything. In most contexts, giving customers something extra and unlimited is usually considered a good thing.

For Pai, repealing net neutrality isn’t being done to bolster the bottom line of ISPs. Rather, it’s to enable the very sort of innovation and experimentation that has worked so well from the early days of the commercialized internet. As Hazlett suggests, giving the government the ability to regulate business models is rarely a good idea, especially in fast-changing tech fields; there will be many competing models and many will die while some flourish. Pai’s FCC would still insist on transparency from ISPs and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be able to investigate anti-competitive practices by ISPs (Pai says that the FTC is actually better suited to this sort of role than the FCC, which is open to question). And in his interview with Reason, Pai also laid out some benchmarks by which to judge whether the repeal of net neutrality is successful or not.

read a full transcript here, or go to iTunes and subscribe to the Reason Podcast and never miss our thrice-weekly conversations about politics, culture, and ideas from a libertarian perspective.

By Nick Gillespie/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

China’s Technology Ambitions Could Upset the Global Trade Order

BEIJING — When President Trump arrives in Beijing on Wednesday, he will most likely complain about traditional areas of dispute like steel and cars. But Washington officials and major global companies increasingly worry about a new generation of deals that could give China a firmer grip on the technology of tomorrow.

Under an ambitious plan unveiled two years ago called Made in China 2025, Beijing has designs to dominate cutting-edge technologies like advanced microchips, artificial intelligence and electric cars, among many others, in a decade. And China is enlisting some of the world’s biggest technology players in its push.

Sometimes it demands partnerships or intellectual property as the price of admission to the world’s second-largest economy. Sometimes it woos foreign giants with money and market access in ways that elude American and global trade rules.

When concerned officials in Washington began blocking China’s ability to buy high-end technology last year, one American company found a way to help its Chinese partner around those limits. The company, Advanced Micro Devices, avoided scrutiny by licensing its exclusive microchip designs, rather than selling them.

The Chinese partner got access to the technology to make its own products. Advanced Micro Devices got a big payout.

The rules of global commerce are changing — and China and the United States are racing to create a future that aligns with their own distinct visions. The result could be an overhaul of 20th-century trade rules for a 21st-century global economic order, in which money, ideas and influence could become as closely watched and tightly regulated as hard goods packed on a ship and sent abroad.

Even before the Communist Revolution, China obsessed about absorbing foreign technology as a way to end a century of humiliation and restore its national strength. But Made in China 2025 is more ambitious than anything the government has ever attempted, a national industrial policy that aims to project a new type of global might and influence.

China is directing billions of dollars to invest in research at home as well as to acquire innovative technology from abroad. A Beijing-directed semiconductor fund is thought to have more than $100 billion at its disposal, while another plan aims to grow China’s artificial intelligence companies into a $150 billion industry by 2030.

Such efforts have some American government officials and business leaders calling for a rethinking of how the United States approaches trade. Lawmakers are pushing for tougher rules on technology purchases, which do not usually cover the types of deals that China increasingly prefers. Officials are also investigating whether China is stealing intellectual property.

“There are a few U.S. companies that have been leaning too far about sharing technology with countries that are potential enemies of ours,” said Wilbur L. Ross Jr., the United States secretary of commerce, in September remarks regarding information technology that were widely seen as referring to China.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea. I think it’s the ultimate short-termism to give up very valuable I.T. in order to get a few quarters or a few years of improved sales.”

Robots and Rice Cookers

China looks to the West for much of its technology. Even some of its most sensitive systems that run government computers, banks and laboratories use chips from Intel and Qualcomm and software from Microsoft or Oracle, a dependence it sees as a long-term vulnerability.

The government hopes to change that. It is backing the effort with money: $45 billion in cheap loans for its companies, $3 billion for advanced manufacturing efforts and billions more in other financial support, according to the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a German think tank.

Made in China 2025 “is going to have substantial resources and focus devoted to it, especially at the local government level,” said Kai-Fu Lee, a prominent venture capitalist in Beijing.

The goal is not simply to beat the United States. China is preparing for a day when cheap manufacturing no longer keeps its economy humming. It wants to embrace industries offering skilled jobs that do not blacken its skies and cloud its rivers.

The plan itself has specific targets and quotas. By 2025 it envisions China meeting nearly three-quarters of its own demand for industrial robots and more than a third of its demand for smartphone chips. Other targets cover new-energy cars, like electric cars, and high-performance medical devices.

The template for Made in China 2025 was cribbed from a German government plan called Industrie 4.0, which calls for greater automation and the growing use of “smart factories” doing sophisticated work with fewer people. And the deal that woke up the world to China’s plan was a German one.

Last year, a Chinese appliance maker called Midea struck a surprise $3.9 billion deal to acquire Kuka, an advanced robotics company in Germany. The deal made Midea — best known for its refrigerators and rice cookers — a major player in automation.

“Our partnership with Kuka is actually about whole factory solutions,” said Irene Chen, a spokeswoman for Midea.

Where technology cannot be purchased, the government wants Chinese companies to extract it from foreign firms through deals or tough new laws.

China will soon require foreign auto companies to make electric cars there if they want to continue selling gasoline-powered vehicles in what is now the world’s largest car market. General Motors, Volkswagen and others have been scrambling to form joint ventures with Chinese partners to do so.

Cybersecurity laws enacted this summer give the Ministry of State Security the power to conduct security reviews of technology sold or used in China, said James A. Lewis, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Such a step could require companies to expose some of their most valuable secrets.

At some companies, Chinese security officials conduct the inspections in corporate “clean rooms” in the United States, with the Chinese officials traveling on business visas, Mr. Lewis said. The companies argue that the access takes place under controlled circumstances that limit what Chinese officials might learn.

“If American companies have a big market in China, they say to the Ministry of State Security, ‘Come in,’” Mr. Lewis said. “Everyone fears retaliation. No one wants to lose the China market.”

Old Rules, New Products

Wary of the push, the United States has used existing rules to stop Chinese purchases of foreign businesses in areas important to national security.

But many of those tools do not apply to today’s deals, as A.M.D.’s Chinese pact shows.

A.M.D.’s joint venture with its Chinese partner can be found in a gleaming industrial area of the city of Chengdu called Tianfu Software Park.

The park represents Beijing’s vision of the future. Trees and sidewalks jammed with ride-sharing bikes sit beneath a vast strip of office towers, hotels and apartment complexes. Offices of China’s most innovative companies, like Huawei and Tencent, sit next to outposts of their foreign analogues, like SAP and Accenture.

Inside one of its glass towers, A.M.D. works with its Chinese partner, a company called Sugon, to produce new chips.

Under the nearly $300 million deal, A.M.D. agreed to license chip technology to a Chinese joint venture with Sugon to make chips for servers. Because A.M.D. controls that joint venture, the technology is considered to remain in American hands.

But A.M.D. struck a second partnership that the Chinese company controls. That joint venture works on applications such as integrating the chips with servers. The two ventures are on the 11th and 12th floors of the same building.

Experts say the dual partnerships could help China develop a new generation of powerful supercomputers. China already makes the world’s fastest computers, but they run on homegrown chips that cannot read commonly available software for supercomputers. With A.M.D.’s help, experts say, Sugon could develop chips that could make China’s supercomputers more versatile and adaptable and replace those from foreign firms.

“We have worked closely with and been very clear with U.S. government officials on the strategy and specifics of the technology, which is classified as permitted for export,” an A.M.D. spokesman said in an emailed statement. He added that the processors are also lower performing than other options that A.M.D. sells in America.

Executives in Chengdu said there was a firewall between the two joint ventures, and the one outside of A.M.D.’s control was not involved in chip development.

Yet in an interview with the Chinese state news media, Zhang Yunquan, a top government researcher and head of the National Supercomputing Center in Jinan, China, said that Sugon could use the work of the joint venture to make supercomputer microchips. Such a supercomputer would be crucial in designing next-generation weapons systems, according to experts.

“When they first announced the partnership I was shocked,” said Stacy Rasgon, a semiconductor analyst with Sanford Bernstein.

“You would think intellectual property and joint ventures would belong under Cfius review,” Mr. Rasgon said, referring to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews foreign deals. “It should. It’s surprising it isn’t.”

New Rules for a New Era?

For some in the Trump administration, an 18-year-old book by two Chinese Air Force colonels has become required reading.

Called “Unrestricted Warfare,” the book argues that China does not need to match the United States militarily. Instead China can take advantage of the global economy and the internet to take down its main rival.

Some American officials see in it a guide to China’s plan. Some United States lawmakers are proposing to toughen American takeover laws to evaluate deals on an economic as well as a national security basis. They are also pressing for reviews of licensing agreements and joint ventures. The United States trade representative has also launched an investigation into whether Chinese companies are stealing intellectual property.

“There’s concern that U.S. firms are transacting away their competitive advantages,” said Greg Levesque, managing director of Pointe Bello, a research firm in Washington, and a former executive at the US-China Business Council.

Such changes could ripple through the tech world. Chinese investment often means more money with fewer strings attached. Some tech companies say that is good for innovation. China’s spending on science and research is also growing at a time when the United States government and others are cutting back.

Still, many American companies fear the deck is stacked against them. The United States long believed bringing China into the World Trade Organization, which oversees global trade disputes, would ensure it would follow the rules. But the W.T.O. has proved ineffective when it comes to tech issues.

At a recent dinner event in Washington, an American technology executive held up a dinner plate to illustrate the size of the China market, said a person who was there who asked not to be identified because the event was not public. Then the American executive held up a wine coaster that represented the size of his firm’s business.

The message was clear: American companies are at risk of being muscled out of the market.

“Made in China 2025 seems to reject all notions of comparative advantage and future opportunities for high-value-added manufactured exports from the rest of the world to China,” said Jeremie Waterman, president of the China Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“If Made in China 2025 achieves its goals,” he said, “the U.S. and other countries would likely become just commodity exporters to China — selling oil, gas, beef and soybeans.”

By Jane Perlez/NYTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Donald Trump vowed to revive the coal industry but figures show its future is as bleak as ever Long-term growth and hiring prospects remain weak despite administration’s policy changes to make energy sector more competitive at expense of environmental concerns

us-coal.jpgEarth moving equipment sits by a coal pile at the Century Mine in Beallsville, Ohio Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A year after Donald Trump was elected President on a promise to revive the ailing US coal industry, the sector’s long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever.

A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year – much of it from a temporary up-tick in foreign demand for US coal rather than presidential policy changes.

US utilities are shutting coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace and shifting to cheap natural gas, along with wind and solar power. And domestic demand makes up about 90 percent of the market for US coal.

”We’re not planning to build any additional coal facilities,“ said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest US utilities. “The future for coal is dictated by economics… and you can’t make those kinds of investments based on one administration’s politics.”

Coal plants now make up 47 percent of AEP’s capacity for power generation, a figure it plans to shrink to 33 percent by 2030.

The situation highlights the limitations of presidential policy on major industries and global economic trends. As some energy experts have said all along, the forces that will make or break mining are well beyond the powers of the Oval Office.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has likely done all he can do to help the industry, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents major US coal companies.

“The government is no longer against us,“ he said. ”We now only have market forces to contend with.”

Trump has taken action on many promises he made to coal interests in states that helped him win the election.

The President started the process of killing former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, meant to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; ended an Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands; ditched limits on dumping coal waste into streams; and started withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, is attempting to push a rule through the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would subsidise power plants that store at least a 90-day supply of coal on site. The goal is to extend the life of some coal burning power plants, a move Perry says will make the electric grid more reliable.

While the full impact of Trump’s coal policy could take years to understand, the changes so far are unlikely to boost domestic demand, energy analysts and utility officials said.

Trump has cast the coal industry as a victim of burdensome regulation.

The industry has lost more than 40 percent of its work force in less than a decade and seen production drop to its lowest levels since 1978. Its share of the power market has fallen to less than a third from about half in 2003.

“We’re going to bring the coal industry back 100 percent,” Trump said at a rally in Virginia in August of 2016.

So far, progress has been limited.

US coal production is on track to rise more than 8 percent in 2017 over the previous year, to 790 million tonnes, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). But 2018 output is expected to decline.

The number of coal miners has also risen slightly to 51,900 in October, up about 2,200 since November 2016 – but down about 70 percent from a 1985 peak, according to the Labour Department.

On 1 November, Trump cited the modest production increases in a Tweet, saying, “It is finally happening for our great clean coal miners!”

But these increases are largely attributable to demand for US coal from Asian steel mills after temporary outages from their usual suppliers in Australia, according to James Stevenson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit.

During the first six months of 2017, Asian countries took in 7.5 million short tonnes of US coal, up 97 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the EIA.

That demand will soon fade, Stevenson said.

“We are not going to get a repeat of 2017,” he said of the spike in exports.

Forecasts from utilities and the US government reveal little reason for hope of a sustained coal rebound.

Utilities are expected to shut down more than 13,600 megawatts of coal plant capacity in 2018. That follows a loss of nearly 8,000 MW this year and 13,000 MW in 2016, according to EIA and Thomson Reuters data.

By 2025, coal-fired power plant capacity will dip to 226,380 MW, down about 30 percent from 2011, according to EIA.

Three Texas coal plants owned by Vistra Energy subsidiary Luminant are among the latest to close, bringing the number of plants that shut, or plan to, to 265 since 2010 – a figure higher than the 258 plants that remain, according to the Sierra Club, which has campaigned against coal.

Vistra said the closures were forced by lower prices for natural gas and renewable power – and not by environmental regulations.

Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest utilities, has shut down more than 5,400 MW of coal capacity since 2011 and plans to shed another 2,000 MW by 2024.

Over the next decade, Duke plans to invest $11 billion in new natural gas and renewable power – and nothing in new coal-fired generation, said spokesman Rick Rhodes.

A 2 November report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – which has two of the largest coal producers in its district, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal – said coal-fired power plants “may eventually become obsolete.”

Coal companies believe they can survive despite the troubling market outlook.

Peabody expects a “modest number” of coal power plant retirements in the coming years, with some of that lost capacity shifting to remaining plants that will increase output, spokesman Vic Svec said. Arch spokeswoman Logan Bonacorsi offered a similar forecast.

Robert Murray, the chief executive of privately-held Murray Energy – one of America’s biggest underground miners – said Trump could do more for the industry. The administration, Murray said, should end tax breaks for wind and solar power and reverse an EPA finding that carbon emissions endanger human health.

But Trump’s tax bill last week preserved most solar incentives, which have bi-partisan backing. And the EPA has so far steered clear of the so-called “endangerment finding” on emissions that is the basis of many fossil-fuel regulations, given the breadth of scientific evidence that would be needed to reverse it.

Murray Energy, meanwhile, announced on 31 October it will buy a 30.5 percent stake in a coal-mining partnership in Utah called Canyon Consolidated Resources.

The deal might help the companies cut costs, but it’s unlikely to help workers: Murray said about 200 of 1,000 jobs in Utah could be lost.

By Timothy Gardner/Reuters

Posted by The NON-Conformist

‘Year late & bad info’: California says DHS falsely accused Russia of hacking its voting systems

It appears that in its eagerness to accuse Russian hackers of meddling in the US presidential election, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wrongly claimed California’s election systems had been breached.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla released a statement in which he confirmed that DHS officials had told him that the state’s election system had been “scanned” by Russian hackers.

“Last Friday, my office was notified by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Russian cyber actors ‘scanned’ California’s Internet-facing systems in 2016, including Secretary of State websites. Following our request for further information, it became clear that DHS’ conclusions were wrong,” he wrote in a statement published on Wednesday.

He went on to stress that last Friday’s notification from the DHS wasn’t just “a year late,” but was also “bad information.”

Now the DHS instead maintains – without any stated evidence – that “Russian scanning activity…occurred on the California Department of Technology statewide network,” rather than Secretary of State websites.

California’s Secretary of State does not use the Department of Technology to provide IT services for its website, internet-facing applications, or the statewide voter registration database, according to Padilla’s office.

Padilla’s statement added that based on this additional information, “the California Secretary of State elections infrastructure and websites were not hacked or breached by Russian cyber actors.”

As for the Department of Technology allegedly being breached, the office said its security systems were able to block “suspect activity.” However, claims that Russians were behind any such attempt remain unsubstantiated.

Padilla’s statement comes after California – along with 20 other states – was told last week that its systems were targeted last year “by Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to US election infrastructure.”

The DHS’ mistake in California is the second time in a week that the department’s credibility has come into question, as it was forced to backtrack earlier this week on its claim that Russian hackers attempted to hack Wisconsin’s election infrastructure.

Just as in the case of California, the DHS quickly pointed to another government department which the elusive Russians allegedly tried to hack – the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

It is an interesting – and once again unproven – claim, considering the office merely oversees job training and unemployment benefits.

Despite ongoing claims and an investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential election, no evidence has been provided to support the hysteria.

A congressional investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election has been dragging on 10 months, with any hard evidence explicitly pointing to the role of Russian authorities yet to be produced.
Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the election campaign.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rebuffed the meddling claims, on one occasion noting that the US is not “a banana republic,” for others to interfere with its people’s choice.

In an interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone in June, Putin instead accused the US of meddling in Russia’s most recent presidential elections in 2012, by campaigning on the side of the Russian opposition.

Moreover, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in August that there is “no doubt” the US will again try to meddle in the 2018 presidential election.

That same month, US President Donald Trump told a rally in West Virginia that the Russia story is a “total fabrication” and an excuse used by Democrats for the “greatest loss in the history of American politics.”

He said that prosecutors should instead be focused on Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails rather than alleged Russian meddling.

From RussiaToday

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Stingray tracking of cellphones unconstitutional without a warrant – US court

A federal court has ruled that police must obtain a warrant before using Stingray tracking devices to locate a suspect via their cellphone signal. Civil rights groups argue that such tools also violate the rights of innocent bystanders.

In a 2-1 decision Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that law enforcement’s use of cell-site simulators to track an individual’s cellphone without a warrant violated the US Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment.

The ruling comes from a lawsuit filed by Prince Jones, who was found guilty of sexually assaulting two women and stealing their cellphones at knifepoint in 2013.

Officers with the Sexual Assault Unit of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) were able to locate Jones using a cell-site simulator, a device that acts as portable cell phone tower. The most common of these products is called a Stingray. Able to intercept signals from any cellphone, police triangulate the location of a suspect, collect metadata from cellphones, and even record the contents of communications.

View image on Twitter

Stingray: “Cell-site simulator surveillance” infographic via @EFF ht @jsundmanus

“One consequence of this is that locating and tracking a cellphone using a cell-site simulator has the substantial potential to expose the owner‘s intimate personal information,” the court stated. “A cell-site simulator allows police officers who possess a person‘s telephone number to discover that person‘s precise location remotely and at will.”

 

Jones argued that by using these devices, police violated his Fourth Amendment rights that protect against unreasonable search and seizure.

The defense argued that since a cellphone “‘must continuously broadcast a signal,’ a person who carries or uses a cellphone is engaging in ‘conduct [that] is not calculated to keep [his] location private and… thus has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his location.’”

However, the court found that argument “unpersuasive.”

“A person’s awareness that the government can locate and track him or her using his or her cellphone likewise should not be sufficient to negate the person‘s otherwise legitimate expectation of privacy,” the ruling states.

The court found that the “government’s use of the cell-site simulator to locate Mr. Jones was, therefore, a search,” and since the government did not obtain a warrant, the search was “unlawful under the Fourth Amendment.”

Civil rights groups also argue that these devices are “amplifying the Fourth Amendment concerns,” because they indiscriminately gather signals from every other cell phone in the area, not just a single suspect’s phone.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a friend-of-the-court brief that when police used the cell-site simulator to locate Jones, it was “impossible to know how many people were affected.”

“This is so even when the government is using a cell-site simulator with the intent to locate or track a particular suspect; collection of innocent bystanders’ phone-identifying data and location information is an inherent feature of current cell-site simulator technology,” the civil rights organizations said.

In 2016, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report that found the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security had spent a combined $95 million on 434 cell-site simulators between 2010 and 2014. Additionally, DHS provided more than $1.8 million in grant money for local law enforcement to purchase cell-site simulators, with the cost of an individual device ranging from $41,500 to $500,000.

“While law enforcement agencies should be able to utilize technology as a tool to help officers be safe and accomplish their missions, absent proper oversight and safeguards, the domestic use of cell-site simulators may well infringe upon the constitutional rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the right to free association,” the report said.

Under former Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice issued a policy directive in 2015 that said: “law enforcement agents must now obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause before using a cell-site simulator.” However, the policy was never written into law and could be reversed in the future.

From Russia Today

Posted by The NON-Conformist