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Welcome! "The Evening Blues" is a casual community diary (published Monday - Friday, 8:00 PM Eastern) where we hang out, share and talk about news, music, photography and other things of interest to the community.  

Just about anything goes, but attacks and pie fights are not welcome here.  This is a community diary and a friendly, peaceful, supportive place for people to interact.  

Everyone who wants to join in peaceful interaction is very welcome here.

Hey! Good Evening!

This evening's music features blues musician Larry Davis.  Enjoy!

Larry Davis - Texas Flood

“Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will  surely come, for even the White Man ... cannot be exempt from the common destiny.”

  -― Chief Seattle

News and Opinion

One of Henry Giroux' best articles in recent memory, well worth taking the time to click the link and read in full:

Neoliberalism and the Machinery of Disposability

Under the regime of neoliberalism, especially in the United States, war has become an extension of politics as almost all aspects of society have been transformed into a combat zone. Americans now live in a society in which almost everyone is spied on, considered a potential terrorist, and subject to a mode of state and corporate lawlessness in which the arrogance of power knows no limits. The state of exception has become normalized.  Moreover, as society becomes increasingly militarized and political concessions become relics of a long-abandoned welfare state hollowed out to serve the interest of global markets, the collective sense of ethical imagination and social responsibility toward those who are vulnerable or in need of care is now viewed as a scourge or pathology.

What has emerged in this new historical conjuncture is an intensification of the practice of disposability in which more and more individuals and groups are now considered excess, consigned to zones of abandonment, surveillance and incarceration. Moreover, this politics of disappearance has been strengthened by a fundamental intensification of increasing depoliticization, conducted largely through new modes of spying and the smothering, if not all-embracing, market-driven power of commodification and consumption.

Citizens are now reduced to data, consumers, and commodities and as such inhabit identities in which they increasingly "become unknowables, with no human rights and with no one accountable for their condition." Within this machinery of social death, not only does moral blindness prevail on the part of the financial elite, but the inner worlds of the oppressed are constantly being remade under the force of economic pressures and a culture of fear. According to João Biehl, as the realpolitik of disposability "comes into sharp visibility . . .  tradition, collective memory, and public spheres are organized as phantasmagoric scenes, [that] thrive on the "energies of the dead," who remain unaccounted for in numbers and law."

Economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich have argued that we are in a new Gilded Age, one that mimics a time when robber barons and strikebreakers ruled, and the government and economy were controlled by a cabal that was rich, powerful and ruthless. And, of course, blacks, women and the working class were told to mind their place in a society controlled by the rich. What is often missing in these analyses is that what is new in the second Gilded Age is not just about the moral sanctioning of greed, the corruption of politics by big money, and the ruthlessness of class power.

What is unique is the rise of a brutal punishing-incarceration state that imposes its power on the dispossessed, the emergence of a surveillance state that spies on and suppresses dissenters, the emergence of vast cultural apparatuses that colonize subjectivity in the interests of the market, and a political class that is uninterested in political concessions and appears immune from control by nation states. The second Gilded Age is really a more brutal form of authoritarianism driven by what psychologist Robert Jay Lifton rightly calls a "death-saturated age," in which matters of violence, survival and trauma now infuse everyday life.

Stockbroker's Unpopular Views

Ukrainian MPs brawl as nationalists are accused of playing into Russia's hands

A brawl erupted in the Ukrainian parliament chamber after the country's communist leader accused nationalists of playing into the hands of Russia by adopting extreme tactics early in the Ukrainian crisis.

Two deputies from the Svoboda far-right nationalist party took exception to the charges by communist Petro Symonenko and seized him while he was talking from the rostrum. His supporters rallied to his defence and a brawl broke out with deputies from other parties joining in and trading punches.

The fight erupted hours after Ukraine launched an "anti-terrorist" operation against pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in several of its eastern cities. ...

Against the backdrop of the deepening crisis in the south-east, Symonenko stirred nationalist anger in parliament when, referring to the pro-Russian protesters who had seized buildings in eastern Ukraine, he suggested that nationalists had set a precedent earlier this year by seizing public buildings in protest at the rule of the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Now, he said, armed groups were attacking people who wanted to defend their rights by peaceful means. "You are today doing everything to intimidate people. You arrest people, start fighting people who have a different point of view," he said, before being pulled away from the rostrum by the Svoboda deputies.

Ukraine ends one pro-Russia occupation but others persist

Ukrainian police cleared pro-Moscow protesters from a regional administration building in a lightning night-time operation, but others held out in two more eastern cities on Tuesday in what Kiev says is a Russian-led plan to dismember the country.

Shots were fired, a grenade thrown and 70 people detained as officers ended the occupation in the city of Kharkiv during an 18 minute "anti-terrorism" action, the interior ministry said.

But elsewhere in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking industrial heartland, activists armed with Kalashnikov rifles and protected by barbed wire barricades vowed there was no going back on their demand - a vote on returning to Moscow rule.

In the city of Luhansk, a man dressed in camouflage told a crowd outside an occupied state security building: "We want a referendum on the status of Luhansk and we want Russian returned as an official language."

"We will not let fascism pass," he shouted, leading the crowd in chants of "Russia! Russia!".

Ukraine crisis escalates as pro-Russia activists declare independence in Donetsk

Pro-Russian activists in Ukraine's industrial centre of Donetsk have proclaimed their independence from Kiev and pledged to hold a referendum in the next month, provoking fears that Moscow could be orchestrating a second Crimea scenario in Ukraine's east. ...

The protesters said they would hold a referendum no later than 11 May on the region's status, and also asked Russia to ready "peacekeeping troops", in a scenario reminiscent of the events that led to the annexation of Crimea last month. ...

The White House claimed pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine were paid outsiders, but declined to specify who it believed provided the money, simply blaming Moscow in general for renewed "provocation" ...

In Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities, which are largely Russian-speaking, there is real discontent with the new government in Kiev ... Nevertheless, the region is far less pro-Russian than Crimea, and analysts say Russia would find it harder and more complicated to introduce troops there. ... The protests are believed to be being carried out by a small minority in each city. ...

Mustafa Nayem, a journalist who was one of the instigators of the protest that led to the ousting of Yanukovych, complained that the new government had not done enough to reassure the east. "Since Viktor Yanukovych fled, more than a month has passed, and during that time not a single leader from the new government has been to Donetsk, Kharkov or Lugansk. It is unclear who is representing the interests of people in these regions at a national level," he wrote on Facebook on Sunday. He said the government should hold cabinet meetings in the east, visit local elites and involve them in decision making, rather than "sitting in Kiev like cowards".

Moscow warns Kiev against using military, mercenaries in southeastern Ukraine

The Russian Foreign Ministry has voiced concerns over the buildup of Ukrainian forces and US mercenaries in the southeastern part of the country, calling on Kiev to immediately cease military preparations which could lead to a civil war.

As parts of Ukraine push for greater autonomy – with Donetsk and Kharkov declaring independence on Monday – the self-imposed government in Kiev is reportedly dispatching additional forces in turbulent regions to avoid potential disobedience by local law enforcements.

“We are particularly concerned that the operation involves some 150 American mercenaries from a private company Greystone Ltd. [formerly Blackwater, formerly Academi, formerly Xe - js], dressed in the uniform of the [Ukrainian] special task police unit Sokol,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Organizers and participants of such incitement are assuming a huge responsibility for threatening upon the rights, freedoms and lives of Ukrainian citizens as well as the stability of Ukraine.” ...

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, special forces backed by militants from the Right Sector are being tasked with suppressing protests in the southeastern regions of Ukraine, which for weeks have been calling for a referendums on the regions' statuses within Ukraine.

Sergei Lavrov: It's not Russia that is destabilising Ukraine

The profound and pervasive crisis in Ukraine is a matter of grave concern for Russia. We understand perfectly well the position of a country which became independent just over 20 years ago and still faces complex tasks in constructing a sovereign state. ... Russia has done more than any other country to support the independent Ukrainian state, including for many years subsidising its economy through low energy prices. Last November, at the outset of the current crisis, we supported Kiev's wish for urgent consultations between Ukraine, Russia and the EU to discuss harmonising the integration process. Brussels flatly rejected it. This stand reflected the unproductive and dangerous line the EU and US have been taking for a long time. They have been trying to compel Ukraine to make a painful choice between east and west, further aggravating internal differences.

Ukraine's realities notwithstanding, massive support was provided to political movements promoting western influence, and it was done in direct breach of the Ukrainian constitution. This is what happened in 2004, when President Viktor Yushchenko won an unconstitutional third round of elections introduced under EU pressure. This time round, power in Kiev was seized undemocratically, through violent street protests conducted with the direct participation of ministers and other officials from the US and EU countries.

Assertions that Russia has undermined efforts to strengthen partnerships on the European continent do not correspond to the facts. ... [W]estern states, despite their repeated assurances to the contrary, have carried out successive waves of Nato enlargement, moved the alliance's military infrastructure eastward and begun to implement antimissile defence plans. The EU's Eastern Partnership programme is designed to bind the so-called focus states tightly to itself, shutting down the possibility of co-operation with Russia. ...

The world of today is not a junior school where teachers assign punishments at will. Belligerent statements such as those heard at the Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on 1 April do not match demands for a de-escalation. De-escalation should begin with rhetoric. It is time to stop the groundless whipping-up of tension, and to return to serious common work.

Humor in the Ukraine

As you may be aware, it seems that protestors have seized government buildings in Eastern Ukraine and demanded a referendum on joining Russia.  Ukraine claims that these protests have Russian backing.  Now the protestors in Donetsk have declared independence and declared they will hold a referendum on joining Russia.

Quelle Horreur!

It is wonderful that the current, Ukrainian government, which was certainly, absolutely, not installed by protestors seizing legislative buildings, and was definitely not backed by the US, no sirree, is in a position to be outraged by government buildings being seized and outside interference in the Ukraine’s business.*

And how dare Eastern Ukrainians demand a vote on whether or not they should be able to join Russia.  There was certainly no vote on their current government.  No vote on whether to cut pensions in half, as the Ukrainian government plans, or to increase natural gas prices by 50%.  Why should they have a vote?

This material, it writes itself.

The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene

Ukraine_FullSince Russian troops first entered the Crimean peninsula in early March, a series of media polling outlets have asked Americans how they want the U.S. to respond to the ongoing situation.  Although two-thirds of Americans have reported following the situation at least “somewhat closely,” most Americans actually know very little about events on the ground — or even where the ground is.

On March 28-31, 2014, we asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans (fielded via Survey Sampling International Inc. (SSI), what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: In addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, we also asked our survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

Trans-Dniester leader wants independence

A separatist leader says the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova wants independence — and eventually to join Russia.

Evgheny Shevciuk, president of the self-proclaimed republic, said Monday the "Trans-Dniester people" want to be recognized as an independent state. ... The region voted in a 2006 referendum to join Russia but these were the strongest words on secession in recent months.

Trans-Dniester is a strip of land that borders Russian-speaking Ukraine, hundreds of kilometers (miles) from Russia.

There's lots of detail in this article that demonstrates that Obama's case for war in Syria was and continues to be a big lie.
The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case

One shouldn’t be surprised, I guess, that some wannabe-journalist bloggers are auditioning before possible mainstream employers by attacking investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh for writing a groundbreaking article implicating Syrian jihadist rebels and Turkish intelligence in the lethal use of Sarin on Aug. 21 outside Damascus.

From a sampling of these defenses of Official Washington’s old conventional wisdom – blaming the Syrian government – the chief attack line against Hersh is to repeat the initial U.S. government claim of a widespread strike involving multiple rockets.

The thinking then was that only the Syrian government had the capability to launch such a widespread assault. But this claim is outdated. The United Nations inspectors who fanned out across the Ghouta suburb of Damascus recovered only two suspicious rockets – and one was found to be clean of Sarin or any other chemical agent.

The one Sarin-laden rocket, which struck in the Zamalka/Ein Tarma neighborhood, was found to be crudely made and had a maximum range of about 2 to 3 kilometers, meaning that it would have been launched from rebel-controlled areas, not from a government zone.

But conventional wisdom is a difficult thing to shake once many “very important people” have embraced its certainties. Such VIPs don’t like to admit that they were suckered and there are always some aspiring operatives who hope to earn some brownie points by attacking anyone who deviates from the “group think.”

That’s what we’re seeing now as the Obama administration’s case against the Syrian government collapses, not that it was ever very sturdy. There is desperation across Official Washington to try to prop the old narrative back up.

"We Can’t Just Give a Blank Check": Lawmakers Call for Ending Secrecy of U.S. Intel’s Black Budget

Fury at attack on Dianne Feinstein by ex-CIA director Michael Hayden

It was some of the strongest language yet in the war of words between Congress, the CIA and the National Security Agency, complicating President Barack Obama's efforts to placate both sides.

The latest row broke on Sunday when Hayden, a former NSA and CIA director, said the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark report on torture and coercive interrogations was not objective because Feinstein, a California Democrat, was too “emotional”.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, defended her in a statement that launched a broadside against Hayden's credibility and honesty. 
“General Hayden’s suggestion that Chairman Feinstein was motivated by ‘emotion’ rather than a focus on the facts is simply outrageous. Over the past five years I watched Chairman Feinstein manage this investigation in an extremely thorough and professional manner, and the result is an extraordinarily detailed report based on millions of pages of internal CIA records, including operational cables, internal memos, and interview transcripts.”

The statement continued: “General Hayden unfortunately has a long history of misleading the American public – he did it on domestic surveillance when he was the head of the NSA and he did it on torture when he was the CIA director.”

Wyden, a leading voice in attempts to rein in NSA surveillance, said the former intelligence chief was part of a broader problem. “The best way to correct this culture of misinformation is to give the American people a chance to review the facts for themselves, and I’ll be working with my colleagues and the administration to ensure that happens quickly.”

Feinstein: CIA should not lead declassification review of report about interrogation tactics

The Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has called for the White House — not the Central Intelligence Agency — to lead the declassification process of the executive summary of the Committee’s massive 6,600-page study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

In a letter to the President dated April 7 and obtained by McClatchy, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for swift action on the summary and the findings and conclusions of the report, which members voted last week to declassify. The summary, Feinstein said, should be released “quickly and with minimal redactions.”

“As this report covers a covert action program under the authority of the President and National Security Council, I respectfully request that the White House take the lead in the declassification process,” the letter reads.

Feinstein’s request contradicts both the White House and CIA, both of whom have suggested in recent days that the agency would spearhead the declassification process. ...

The letter also highlights concerns over the CIA’s relations with both Feinstein’s committee and the executive branch.

“The Committee’s report contradicts information previously disclosed about the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, and it raises a number of issues relating to how the CIA interacts with the White House, other parts of the Executive Branch, and Congress,” the letter says.

Can Any Court Hold U.S. Accountable For Killing Americans Overseas with Drone Strikes?

US operates global drone war from German base – ex-pilot

A testimony by a former US Air Force drone pilot has revealed that the US is using its Ramstein Air Base in Germany to wage highly controversial drone warfare in Africa, Yemen, and Pakistan.

“The entire drone war of the US military wouldn't be possible without Germany," Brandon Bryant, who resigned in 2011, told NDR television and Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Last year, German media revealed that the US uses its military bases in Germany to conduct targeted killings of suspected terrorists in Somalia. But Bryant now says that Ramstein Air Base in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate is involved in strikes on Pakistan and Yemen.

During his five years of service, Bryant flew more than 1,000 operations in Pakistan and Yemen. He said his unit was responsible for 1,262 targeted killings. Although Bryant was seated at his control pad in New Mexico – far from the actual drones – there is mounting evidence that the base in Germany plays a key role.

Data from the remote controlled drones is transmitted via satellite to Germany. It is then sent back to America via fiber optic cable. Live pictures are analyzed and classified by teams of US intelligence officers in Germany, suggesting Ramstein is the nerve center behind the operations.

Edward Snowden: US government spied on human rights workers

The US has targeted prominent human rights organisations and has spied on their staff, Edward Snowden said on Tuesday, giving evidence to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Europe's top human rights body.

Speaking via a video connection from Moscow, Snowden said that the National Security Agency – for which he worked as a contractor – had deliberatly snooped on bodies like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

He told MEPs: "The NSA has targeted leaders and staff members of these sorts of organisations, including domestically within the borders of the United States." Snowden did not reveal which groups the NSA had bugged.

USAid chief faces questions over 'Cuban Twitter'

Rajiv Shah [administrator of USAID] will face a first round of questioning from Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who has publicly called the social media programme "dumb, dumb, dumb". ... A key question for the hearings will be whether or not the programme endangered its users by concealing that the US government was behind ZunZuneo. ...The government panel will also try to determine whether the programme should have been classified as "covert" under US national security law, which would have required authorisation by the president and a briefing to congressional intelligence committees. ...

Shah said last week that the ZunZuneo programme was not covert, ... that a study by the government accountability office into democracy promotion programmes run by USAid and the state department – including the Cuban Twitter project – found the programmes to be consistent with the law. ... But the author of the GAO study, David Gootnick, said this week that investigators did not examine the question of whether the programmes were covert.

Gootnick said the GAO's report was focused on examining the extent that USAid knew what its contractors were doing. It found that the agency was adequately monitoring the work.

[USAid in a blog posted on Monday] said references to the use of "smart mobs" in documents obtained by the AP "had nothing to do with Cuba nor ZunZuneo", though the two are clearly referenced. The agency also said that several CEO candidates for the network's company were told explicitly that the US government was involved. Documents showed that the creators of ZunZuneo wanted to keep the origins of the service secret from CEO candidates. Associated Press reporters contacted two of the candidates, both of whom said they'd interviewed for the job with no idea of US involvement.

Sneaky Social Network: US busted over subversive Cuban Twitter campaign

Venezuela protests are sign that US wants our oil, says Nicolás Maduro

Venezuela's president has accused the United States of using continuing street protests to attempt a "slow-motion" Ukraine-style coup against his government and "get their hands on Venezuelan oil".

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Nicolás Maduro, elected last year after the death of Hugo Chávez, said what he described as a "revolt of the rich" would fail because the country's "Bolivarian revolution" was more deeply rooted than when it had seen off an abortive US-backed coup against Chávez in 2002. ...

Maduro claimed Venezuela was facing a type of "unconventional war that the US has perfected over the last decades", citing a string of US-backed coups or attempted coups from 1960s Brazil to Honduras in 2009. ...

Pointing to the large increases in social provision and reduction in inequality over the past decade and a half, Maduro said: "When I was a union leader there wasn't a single programme to protect the education, health, housing and salaries of the workers. It was the reign of savage capitalism. Today in Venezuela, the working class is in power: it's the country where the rich protest and the poor celebrate their social wellbeing," he said.

Venezuela's protests have been fuelled by high inflation, which reached a peak of 57% but has now fallen to a monthly rate of 2.4%, and shortages of subsidised basic goods, a significant proportion of which are smuggled into Colombia and sold for far higher prices. Opposition leaders accuse the government of mismanagement. ...

The protests, often led by students and overwhelmingly in well-off areas, have included arson attacks on government buildings, universities and bus stations. From a peak of several hundred thousand people in February, most recent demonstrations have dwindled in size and are restricted to opposition strongholds, such as Tachira state on the Colombian border. ...

Last month the US secretary of state, John Kerry, claimed Venezuela was waging a "terror campaign" against its own citizens. But the Organisation of American States and the south American Unasur and Mercosur blocs of states backed the Venezuelan government and called for political dialogue.

Turkey's Erdogan vows to 'liquidate' treachery at home and abroad

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday local elections had given him a mandate to "liquidate" the enemies he sees as contriving a corruption scandal and would go after their international activities and sources of funding.

In his first parliamentary speech since his ruling AK Party dominated March 30 municipal polls, Erdogan said "traitors" responsible for a stream of graft allegations and the illegal tapping of thousands of phones would be brought to account.

Erdogan accuses Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally now based in the United States, of orchestrating the graft scandal to undermine him. Gulen's Hizmet network claims millions of followers and holds influence in the police and judiciary.

Erdogan has accused the movement of running a "parallel state", spying on thousands of government officials over years and leaking manipulated recordings in a bid to unseat him ahead of last month's elections.

"March 30 is the day when the page was turned on tutelage, when the monuments of hubris were felled, and the privileges (of an elite) were lost forever," Erdogan said.

"The nation gave us a mandate for the liquidation of the parallel state. We will not have the slightest hesitation. We shall never forget the betrayal," he said.

Senate votes to extend jobless benefits, faces divided House

The Democratic-led U.S. Senate passed a bill on Monday to restore expired jobless benefits for 2.4 million Americans who have been out of work for at least six months. ...

The bill, passed by the Senate 59-38, had long seemed certain to die in the House amid stiff Republican opposition. Pressure has mounted, however, for the House to help the unemployed this election year.

Shortly after the Senate vote, seven House Republicans - many from high unemployment regions or districts that are seen as competitive in the November election - wrote party leadership, asking that a House vote be held on the bill or on a similar measure.

In addition, the lead Republican sponsor of the Senate bill, Dean Heller of Nevada, said he wants to meet with House Speaker John Boehner and find a way to move the effort forward.

Boehner and other Republicans oppose the bill, saying it does not meet their demands that it include job creation provisions. Boehner has also called the measure "unworkable," citing concerns by state administrators.

Equal pay for US women taken up by Senate as study highlights gender gap

American women are paid, on average, between 64 to 90 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to a new state-by-state analysis by the National Partnership for Women and Families that comes as Congress and the White House take steps to address the gender pay gap.

Across the nation, women who work full time earn on average 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, an annual wage gap of $11,607 that is especially relevant to more than 15 million US households led by women, the study found. A third of households led by women live in poverty.

The study, based on US Census data, analysed the gender pay gap and women's spending power in all 50 states. It also looked at race, which made the gender pay gap even greater. Nationally, African American women and Latinas are paid 64 cents and 54 cents to every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. They found that large disparities exist across the states.

The US Senate is due to vote this week on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, to make it more difficult for employers to discriminate and to establish stringent workplace protections for women.

U.S. regulators to vote on final bank leverage rules

Financial regulators will vote on Tuesday to finalize tough requirements for U.S. banks' leverage that are expected to be stricter than the rules overseas firms must follow.

The rules, under consideration by the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, would force banks to fund part of their business through less risky sources such as shareholder equity, rather than by borrowing money. ...

The proposed rules called for JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street to meet a leverage ratio of 6 percent of their total assets.

Their holding companies would have to meet a 5 percent leverage ratio under the proposal. Banks see tougher capital rules as costly for them, but U.S. officials have said the banks should have little problem meeting the higher requirements.

All the Presidents’ Bankers: Nomi Prins on the Secret History of Washington-Wall Street Collusion

Proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage plans out, payments hikes in

In a move that blunts a potent line of political attacks from Republicans, the Obama administration reversed itself on Monday, announcing that private health plans that provide Medicare benefits will see a slight increase in government payments next year, rather than the reduction that was proposed earlier.

Congressional Democrats, many facing tough re-election bids, had recently joined Republicans in asking that these private health plans, known as Medicare Advantage, be spared from payment cuts next year, even though they receive an average of six percent, or $8 billion, more this year to cover their enrollees than it would cost under the traditional Medicare program.

The administration had proposed a two percent cut in Medicare Advantage payment rates in February as part of an Affordable Care Act initiative to help bring the payments more in line with the regular Medicare program. ...

A series of attack ads by the insurance industry and Republican-backed groups claimed the Medicare Advantage cuts would reduce benefits for seniors, cause premiums to spike and force some plans to pull out of certain markets altogether, making access to coverage more difficult.

The ads helped Republican David Jolly narrowly defeat Democrat Alex Sink in a House race in the Tampa, Fla., area last month that was largely viewed as a critical early test of how the health care could affect the November mid-term elections.

Sink’s loss, in a match that was considered a toss-up, bolstered the GOP’s harsh messaging strategy on the Affordable Care Act and caused Democrats nationwide to re-think whether or not to embrace or ignore the health law in their upcoming campaigns.

Even the healthy locked out of 2014 policies now

Americans thinking about buying health insurance on their own later this year, or maybe switching to a different insurer, are probably out of luck. The policies are going off the market as a little-noticed consequence of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

With limited exceptions, insurance companies have stopped selling until next year the sorts of individual plans that used to be available year-round. That locks out many of the young and healthy as well as the sick and injured, even those who can afford to buy without government subsidies. ...

The next wide-open chance to sign up comes in November, when enrollment for 2015 begins in the government-run insurance marketplaces created by the health care law. Companies are following that schedule even for the plans they sell outside the federal and state exchanges.

The health care law allows insurers to keep selling all year. But it also creates the conditions prompting them to stop.

Justice Roberts told America to accept plutocracy or revolt

“Common Sense” and “Hardcore History” host Dan Carlin blasted Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday for his “breathtaking” decision in the McCutcheon v. FEC case, warning it was pushing Americans towards radical action. ...

Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to believe the very idea of campaign finance reform was wrong. Roberts wrote in his ruling that the government had no legitimate reason to regulate money in politics, besides outlawing a very specific and narrow type of corruption.

“No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field,’ or to ‘level electoral opportunities,’ or to ‘equaliz[e] the financial resources of candidates,’” the chief justice wrote.

The government can only enact laws to prevent quid pro quo corruption — in which a candidate accepts money from a donor in return for voting in favor or against a specific piece of legislation — the court said.

“This is where the decision is so breathtaking, you can see where this is going to go,” Carlin said Friday on his “Common Sense” podcast. “If this is the rationale that the court is operating under, and don’t kid yourself, because Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the majority on the court but went even farther and basically said, why are we having any of these limits at all? If this is indefensible, all the other stuff is indefensible too. If this is the rationale, and the chief justice says it is — you shouldn’t even try to do this — well, then all this limiting money is wrong. So we’ve opened up the door to this without ever explaining how people who don’t have money are supposed to get a response from government.

Occupy activist facing seven years in jail was 'promoter of non-violence'

An Occupy Wall Street activist charged with assaulting a police officer is a “promoter of non-violence” who wandered into a tussle with law enforcement while celebrating St Patrick’s Day, her lawyers plan to argue in court this week.

Jury selection began on Monday morning in the trial of Cecily McMillan, who denies assaulting Officer Grantley Bovell as he arrested protesters from the anti-capitalist movement in New York’s Zuccotti Park on 17 March 2012.

“An innocent woman is being accused of something that could send her to prison for seven years,” McMillan’s attorney, Martin Stolar, told reporters outside the state supreme courtroom in lower Manhattan. “She was leaving the park pursuant to the police department’s orders when she was brutally assaulted by a police officer and subsequently accused of assaulting that police officer.” McMillan told a small group of supporters: “Thank you for being here today.”

Prosecutors are expected to argue that McMillan, 25, intentionally elbowed Bovell in the face as he carried out his official duties. They are expected to cite testimony from police officers and a long-range video clip of the incident.

McMillan insists that she did not know Bovell was a police officer and swung her arm at him only after he grabbed one of her breasts from behind. Stolar told the Guardian in an interview that the court would hear that she was renowned among fellow campaigners in the Occupy movement and in other activist circles as “a profound pusher of non-violent political action”.

Promotion Given To Cops Who Shot Occupy Activist Scott Olsen

As if there was any doubt that police departments all across America are rewarding their officers for egregious acts of violence, the Oakland police department has recently promoted two of the police officers involved in the shooting of Occupy activist Scott Olsen.

Olsen, readers may remember, was an Occupy activist and Iraq war veteran who was shot in the head with beanbag bullets by Oakland police in 2011. Olsen was only about fifteen feet away from the officer who shot him, fracturing his skull and sending him to the hospital in critical condition. Police also fired flash grenades at activists who rushed to Olsen’s aid and continued to assault the demonstrators as they attempted to drag Olsen to safety and provide him with medical attention. Olsen temporarily lost his ability to speak, perform basic motor functions, and concentrate adequately. While he has recovered the ability to speak, his speech is still slurred and his memory and concentration are still significantly impaired.

Yet despite the fact that the City of Oakland was forced to pay out $4.5 million to Olsen in a settlement, the Oakland Police Department has now promoted two of the cops involved in the shooting.

Even more concerning is the fact that one of the officers, Paul Figueroa, has been promoted to the position of Assistant Police Chief and is now the second in command of the Oakland Police Department.

Roland Holmgren, a Sergeant with a “Tango Team,” a type of Oakland tactical squad consisting of five officers and one sergeant each, was also involved in Olsen’s shooting. Like Figueroa, he was also promoted. Holmgren was awarded the title of Lieutenant earlier in 2014.

The Evening Greens

Germany ushers in renewable energy reform

Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet approved on Tuesday a reform of Germany's renewable energy law designed to curb a rise in the cost of electricity in Europe's biggest economy driven by the rapid expansion of green power.

The reform will slow the growth of green energy, which accounts for 25 percent of Germany's electricity, and force new investors in green power to take some risk. ...

Germany's shift to green energy and away from nuclear power and fossil fuels is one of conservative Merkel's flagship policies but the cost of ballooning subsidies has threatened to undermine it.

Under the draft law, the government plans to increase the share of renewable sources to 40-45 percent of total electricity production by 2025 and to 55-60 percent by 2035. This is needed to offset the elimination of nuclear power by 2022.

It will scale back green subsidies and upper limits will be placed on onshore wind power expansion (at 2.5 gigawatts in capacity per year), photovoltaic (2.5 GW per year) and offshore wind plants (6.5 GW to 2020).

From 2017 green energy producers will have to compete more on the market with conventional power generators. The draft is due to become law in August

Company pulls out of Alaska's controversial Pebble Mine

Global mining giant Rio Tinto is pulling out of the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, the latest blow to the controversial plan to build an open pit mine in the best wild salmon stronghold in the world.

Rio Tinto said Monday that it will donate its 19 percent share in the project to a pair of Alaskan charities, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.

Rio Tinto’s decision comes as after the Environmental Protection Agency last month moved closer to blocking the mine. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the mine would "likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the salmon of Bristol Bay. She said her agency would decide on action to protect the salmon under the Clean Water Act, which could lead to a veto of the project.

The British mining powerhouse Anglo American pulled out of the Pebble project last year and now Rio Tinto is abandoning it as well. The company said Monday that "the Pebble Project does not fit with Rio Tinto’s strategy." ...

The Pebble mine ranks among the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the world. Project developer Northern Dynasty Minerals is vowing to push on despite the controversies and continual setbacks. The pullout of Anglo American left Northern Dynasty without a needed partner to bankroll the development of the mine

Eight Members of Congress Call for EPA to Reopen Contaminated Water Studies Near Fracking Fields

Eight members of Congress, led by Democratic Representative Matt Cartwright (PA), have written to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking it to “investigate and address” water contamination in Dimock, PA, Parker County, TX, and Pavillion, WY.

The EPA's initial investigations indicated drinking water contamination was caused by oil and gas extraction. The EPA compelled industry to provide clean water to those affected, but later abandoned its investigations without issuing final reports, letting industry off the hook.

In the letter to Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA, requesting the agency reopen its investigations, the congressmen state, “A patchwork of state regulations, exemptions from many of our federal environmental laws and a lack of enforcement have forced communities living in and near to heavily drilled areas to pay the price for the [fracking] boom.”

ANR Pipeline: Introducing TransCanada's Keystone XL for Fracking

anr lineWhen most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Although not actually a new pipeline system, TransCanada wants ANR retooled to serve domestic and export markets for gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale basin and the Utica Shale basin via its Southeast Main Line.

“The [current Southeast Main Line] moves gas from south Louisiana (including offshore) to Michigan where it has a strong market presence” ... Because of the immense amount of shale gas being produced in the Marcellus and Utica, TransCanada seeks a flow reversal in the Southeast Main Line of its ANR Pipeline System.

Like Keystone XL, ANR's flow reversal will serve — among other things — the global export market.

“This project will…allow more natural gas to move south to the Gulf Coast, where markets are experiencing a resurgence of natural gas demand for industrial use, as well as significant new demand related to natural gas exports from recently approved liquefaction terminals,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in his company's March 31 press release.

Blog Posts of Interest

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Loved to Death

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A Little Night Music

Larry Davis - Goin' Out West

Larry Davis - I Tried

Byther Smith & Larry Davis - I Tried

Larry Davis - (My) Little Girl

Larry Davis - Angels In Houston

Larry Davis - Down Home Funk

Larry Davis - The Years Go Passing By

Larry Davis - I've been hurt so many times

Larry Davis - 102nd St Blues

Larry Davis - Help The Poor

Smokey Wilson/Jimmy McCracklin/Larry Davis - Tired Of Cryin'

Larry Davis - For 5 Long Years

Larry Davis & Memphis Horns - I'm Workin' On It

Byther Smith & Larry Davis - I'm A Honey Bee

Larry Davis - Sweet Little Angel

Larry Davis - Everybody lives in the Ghetto

It's National Pie Day!

The election is over, it's a new year and it's time to work on real change in new ways... and it's National Pie Day.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to tell you a little more about our new site and to start getting people signed up.  

Come on over and sign up so that we can send you announcements about the site, the launch, and information about participating in our public beta testing.

Why is National Pie Day the perfect opportunity to tell you more about us?  Well you'll see why very soon.  So what are you waiting for?!   Head on over now and be one of the first!

Originally posted to DFH writers group on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Team DFH.

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