The Evening Blues - 1-18-22



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The day's news roundup + tonight's musical feature: Paul deLay

Hey! Good Evening!

This evening's music features Portland, Oregon harmonica player Paul deLay. Enjoy!

Paul deLay - Worn Out Shoes

“Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect any who seek it.”

-- Frank Herbert


News and Opinion

Why Did Democratic AG Kill Flint Water RICO Case?

Prosecutors investigating Flint's contaminated water crisis were pursuing a racketeering case against public officials whose austerity-driven policies caused the health catastrophe, but after newly elected Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel took over in 2019, those charges were dropped.

That's according to investigative journalist Jordan Chariton and Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Charlie LeDuff's explosive new story, which was published Monday in The Guardian and sparked fresh questions about holding perpetrators responsible for the ongoing calamity.

The Flint water crisis began nearly eight years ago when an unelected emergency manager appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, made the cost-cutting decision to switch the city's tap water source from Detroit's municipal supply to the Flint River, whose highly corrosive water caused aging pipes to leak lead into thousands of homes.

From 2016 to 2018, prosecutors working under Michigan's Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette were reportedly preparing to use a federal anti-organized crime statute—the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act—against state and city officials who, along with JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, played a role in the poisoning of Flint. But after those investigators were dismissed and the probe resumed under a new team, the RICO case never materialized.

Environmental justice defender Monica Lewis-Patrick said Monday that "water warriors NEED to know" why Nessel "dropped the RICO charges in the Flint water crisis."

When Republican Schuette was running for governor against then-Democratic candidate Gretchen Whitmer in 2018, Nessel, a Democrat, characterized the term-limited AG she was aiming to replace as "an opportunist who has used the crisis to further his political ambitions via a series of politically charged show trials" and vowed to revamp the investigation.

Soon after winning and taking office, Nessel fired the lead prosecutors and investigators working on the Schuette-launched probe, and restarted the inquiry with a new team.

"At that point," Chariton and LeDuff reported, "the prosecution team assembled by Schuette had been working for nearly three years—and filed criminal charges against 15 Michigan state and Flint city officials, including four officials charged with financial fraud that prosecutors said triggered the water crisis."

"But when Nessel relaunched the investigation," the pair wrote, "her office dropped charges against top state and city officials, citing flaws in the Schuette-era investigation. In 2021, Nessel's office recharged several of those defendants—with a new round of indictments that included involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice, extortion, and perjury. But gone were the financial fraud charges."

Last November, a federal judge approved a $626 million settlement for thousands of lead poisoning victims in Flint, but Chariton and LeDuff wrote Monday that "the disappearance of the financial fraud charges is significant because the bond deal that allowed the city of Flint to switch its water supply had been heavily investigated by the Schuette-era prosecution."

According to The Guardian:

In 2014, Flint needed to borrow nearly $100m to join the proposed Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), a new regional system that Flint would join as both a customer and part owner. But at the time, the city was broke and at its borrowing limit.

A state-issued environmental order allowed the city to get around its debt limit and access $85m in funding, money earmarked for an "environmental calamity"—in this case, the cleanup of a local lime sludge pit. But the prosecution under Schuette alleged that the money supplied by this order for the cleanup was redirected for other purposes instead allowing Flint to issue tens of millions of dollars in bonds to join the KWA.

The allegedly fraudulent environmental order also mandated that the city of Flint use the Flint River as its water source while the KWA pipeline was under construction. It outlined tens of millions of dollars in upgrades needed for the city's water plant so that the plant could safely treat Flint River water for residents to drink. The problem: updates were nowhere near completed when the city switched its water supply to the Flint River in April 2014. In addition, a failure to add proper corrosion control chemicals into the Flint River water supply resulted in lead leaching off Flint's older pipes and poisoning residents' drinking water.

Peter Hammer, a Wayne State law professor who authored an extensive civil rights report on the Flint water crisis, told The Guardian that he "never understood why the attorney general disrupted the initial investigation, dropped the initial charges, or set a different direction in her new charges that chart a course away from the issues of financing the KWA pipeline."

"Her decisions mean that some of the most important questions relating to the crisis—the political and economic forces driving the KWA pipeline—are not being addressed," said Hammer. "This adds a new tragedy for the people of Flint who deserve to know the root causes of their suffering and to hold any financial wrongdoing accountable."

Responding to the new reporting, progressive podcast host Krystal Ball tweeted that "political corruption poisoned Flint and political corruption shielded the wrongdoers from accountability."

According to Flint City Council Chair Eric Mays, who closely followed the criminal probe before and after 2018, "Nessel let it go."

"Was it a lack of political or legal will? I cannot say," Mays told The Guardian. "But it bothers me to this day her team hasn't addressed it."

Flint Water Crisis Rico Charges BURIED By MI AG Dana Nessel

False Flags Suddenly No Longer A Crazy Conspiracy Theory

In a drastic pivot from typical denunciations of false flag operations as conspiratorial nonsense that don’t exist outside the demented imagination of Alex Jones, the US political/media class is proclaiming with one voice that Russia is currently orchestrating just such an operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine.

“As part of its plans, Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday. “We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine.”

“Without getting into too much detail, we do have information that indicates that Russia is already working actively to create a pretext for a potential invasion, for a move on Ukraine,” Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby told the press on Friday. “In fact, we have information that they’ve pre-positioned a group of operatives, to conduct what we call a false flag operation, an operation designed to look like an attack on them or their people, or Russian speaking people in Ukraine, as an excuse to go in.”

The US government has substantiated these incendiary claims with the usual amount of evidence, by which I of course mean jack dick nothingballs. The mass media have not been dissuaded from reporting on this issue by the complete absence of any evidence that this Kremlin false flag plot is in fact a real thing that actually happened, their journalistic standards completely satisfied by the fact that their government instructed them to report it. Countless articles and news segments containing the phrase “false flag” have been blaring throughout all the most influential news outlets in the western world without the slightest hint of skepticism.

This sudden embrace of the idea that governments can stage attacks on their own people to justify their own pre-existing agendas is a sharp pivot from the scoff which such a notion in mainstream liberal circles has typically received. This 2018 article from The New York Times simply dismisses the idea that the 2014 Maidan massacre was a false flag carried out by western-backed opposition fighters in Ukraine to frame the riot police of the government who was ousted in that coup, for example, despite the existence of plenty of evidence that this is indeed what happened. This BBC article dismisses without argument the idea that the alleged 2018 chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria could have been a false flag carried out by the Al Qaeda-aligned insurgents on the ground to provoke a western attack on the Syrian government, yet there are mountains of evidence that this was the case.

Articles denouncing the very idea of “false flag conspiracy theories” surface routinely in the mass media. Snopes has a whole article explaining that false flags are kooky nonsense without any mention of the fact that this is a known tactic we’ve seen intelligence operatives discussing in declassified documents, like when the CIA considered planting bombs in Miami to blame Castro. I myself was once temporarily suspended by Facebook just for posting an article about false flag operations that are publicly acknowledged to have occurred. People who dare to question the many gaping plot holes in the official 9/11 narrative have often been treated with the same disdain and revulsion as neo-Nazis and pedophilia advocates.

None of this is to say that every theory about any false flag operation is true; many are not. But the way the mass media will instantly embrace an idea to which they’ve heretofore been consistently hostile just because their government told them to to do it says so much about the state of the so-called free press today, and the fact that the rank-and-file public simply accepts this and marches along with it as though talking about false flags has always been normal says so much about the level of Orwellian doublethink that people have been trained to perform in today’s information ecosystem. The way false flag operations were widely considered conspiratorial hogwash until the instant they were reported as real by the media institutions who’ve lied to us about every war is downright creepy.

The problem with preemptive false flag accusations is of course that the side making the claim can simply launch an unprovoked attack and then say “See? They’re staging a false flag to frame our side, just like we said they would!” And then they can present their subsequent actions as defensive in nature, when in reality they were the aggressors and instigators. We are seeing nothing from the obedient western news media to suggest they’d do anything other than uncritically regurgitate such claims into the minds of their trusting audiences.

As the Beltway doctrine that US unipolar hegemony must be preserved at all cost crashes headlong into the reality of an emerging multipolar world, the US government is now more dangerous than it has ever been at any point in its history. We need the press to be holding the drivers of empire to account with the light of truth, and we need the public to be opposing and scrutinizing these reckless escalations. Instead, we are getting the exact opposite. God help us all.

Blinken to urge de-escalation in meeting with Russia's Lavrov

Hawkish Pundits Downplay Threat of War, Ukraine’s Nazi Ties

With the United States and Russia in a standoff over NATO expansion and Russian troop deployments along the Ukrainian border, US corporate media outlets are demanding that Washington escalate the risk of a broader war while misleading their audiences about important aspects of the conflict.

Many in the commentariat called on the US to take steps that would increase the likelihood of war. In the New York Times (12/10/21), retired US Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman wrote that “the United States must support Ukraine by providing more extensive military assistance.” He argued that “the United States should consider an out-of-cycle, division-level military deployment to Eastern Europe to reassure allies and bolster the defenses of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” even while calling for a strategy that “avoids crossing into military adventurism.” He went on to say that “the United States has to be more assertive in the region.”

Yet the US has been plenty “assertive in the region,” where, incidentally, America is not located. In 2014, the US supported anti-government protests in Ukraine that led to the ouster of democratically elected, Russia-aligned Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych (Foreign Policy, 3/4/14). Russia sent its armed forces into the Crimea, annexed the territory, and backed armed groups in eastern Ukraine.

Since then, the US has given Ukraine $2.5 billion in military aid, including Javelin anti-tank missiles (Politico6/18/21).  The US government has applied sanctions to Russia that, according to an International Monetary Fund estimate, cost Russia about 0.2 percentage points of GDP every year between 2014 and 2018 (Reuters, 4/16/21).

Furthermore, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—a US-led military alliance hostile to Russia—has grown by 14 countries since the end of the Cold War. NATO expanded right up to Russia’s border in 2004, in violation of the promises made by the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton to Russian leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin (Jacobin, 7/16/18).

In the Washington Post (12/24/21), Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen jointly contended in Orwellian fashion that the Biden administration should take “military measures that would strengthen a diplomatic approach and give it greater credibility.” They wrote that “the United States must speed up the pace of assistance and provide antiaircraft, antitank and anti-ship systems, along with electronic warfare capabilities.” The authors claimed that these actions “will help ensure a free and stable Europe,” though it’s easy to imagine how such steps could instead lead to a war-ravaged Europe, or at least a tension-plagued one.

Indeed, US “military measures” have tended to increase, rather than decrease, the temperature. Last summer, the US and Ukraine led multinational naval maneuvers held in the Black Sea, an annual undertaking called Sea Breeze. The US-financed exercises were the largest in decades, involving 32 ships, 40 aircraft and helicopters, and 5,000 soldiers from 24 countries (Deutsche Welle, 6/29/21). These steps didn’t create a “stable Europe”: Russia conducted a series of parallel drills in the Black Sea and southwestern Russia (AP, 7/10/21), and would go on to amass troops along the Ukrainian border.

Max Boot, also writing in the Post (12/15/21), argued:

Preventing Russia from attacking will require a more credible military deterrent. President Biden has ruled out unilaterally sending US combat troops to Ukraine, which would be the strongest deterrent. But he can still do more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.

The United States has already delivered more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, with $450 million of that coming this year. There are also roughly 150 US troops in Ukraine training its armed forces.

But Ukraine is asking for more military aid, and we should deliver it. NBC News reports that “Ukraine has asked for air defense systems, anti-ship missiles, more Javelin antitank missiles, electronic jamming gear, radar systems, ammunition, upgraded artillery munitions and medical supplies.” The Defense Department could begin airlifting these defensive systems and supplies to Kyiv tomorrow.

Later in the article, Boot contended that the US should help prepare Ukraine to carry out an armed insurgency in case Russia intensifies its involvement in Ukraine. He said that “outside support” is “usually the key determinant of the success or failure of an insurgency”: Because of aid from the US and its allies, he noted, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan “were able to drive out the Red Army with heavy casualties.” Amazingly, Boot said nothing about the many alumni of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan who joined the Taliban and al-Qaeda (Jacobin, 9/11/21).

That it might be possible to reach an agreement in which Ukraine remains neutral between NATO and Russia (Responsible Statecraft, 1/3/22) is not the sort of possibility that Boot thinks is worth exploring. He apparently would prefer to dramatically increase the danger of armed conflict between two nuclear powers.

US media should present Americans with a complete picture of Ukraine/Russia so that Americans can assess how much and what kind of support, if any, they want their government to continue providing to Ukraine’s. Such a comprehensive view would undoubtedly include an account of the Ukrainian state’s political orientation. Lev Golinkin in The Nation (5/6/21) outlined one of the Ukrainian government’s noteworthy tendencies:

Shortly after the Maidan uprising of 2013 to 2014 brought in a new government, Ukraine began whitewashing Nazi collaborators on a statewide level. In 2015, Kyiv passed legislation declaring two WWII-era paramilitaries—the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)—heroes and freedom fighters, and threatening legal action against anyone denying their status. The OUN was allied with the Nazis and participated in the Holocaust; the UPA murdered thousands of Jews and 70,000–100,000 Poles on their own accord.

Every January 1, Kyiv hosts a torchlight march in which thousands honor Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, who headed an OUN faction; in 2017, chants of “Jews Out!” rang out during the march. Such processions (often redolent with antisemitism) are a staple in Ukraine….

Ukraine’s total number of monuments to Third Reich collaborators who served in auxiliary police battalions and other units responsible for the Holocaust number in the several hundred. The whitewashing also extends to official book bans and citywide veneration of collaborators.

The typical reaction to this in the West is that Ukraine can’t be celebrating Nazi collaborators because it elected [Volodymyr] Zelensky, a Jewish president. Zelensky, however, has alternated between appeasing and ignoring the whitewashing: In 2018, he stated, “To some Ukrainians, [Nazi collaborator] Bandera is a hero, and that’s cool!”

Furthermore, according to a George Washington University study, members of the far-right group Centuria are in the Ukrainian military, and Centuria’s social media accounts show these soldiers giving Nazi salutes, encouraging white nationalism and praising members of Nazi SS units (Ottawa Citizen, 10/19/21). Centuria leaders have ties to the Azov movement, which “has attacked anti-fascist demonstrations, city council meetings, media outlets, art exhibitions, foreign students, the LGBTQ2S+ community and Roma people”: the Azov movement’s militia has been incorporated in the Ukrainian National Guard (CTV News, 10/20/21). Azov, the UN has documented, has carried out torture and rape.

The fact that that Ukraine’s government and armed forces include a Nazi-sympathizing current surely would have an impact on US public opinion—if the public knew about it. However, this information has been entirely absent in recent editions of the New York Times and Washington Post.

From December 6, 2021, to January 6,  2022, the Times published 228 articles that refer to Ukraine, nine of which contain some variation on the word “Nazi.” Zero percent of these note Ukrainian government apologia for Nazis or the presence of pro-Nazi elements in Ukraine’s armed forces. One report (12/21/21) said:

On Russian state television, the narrative of a Ukraine controlled by neo-Nazis and used as a staging ground for Western aggression has been a common trope since the pro-Western revolution in Kyiv in 2014.

Nothing in the article indicates that while “controlled” may be a stretch, the Ukrainian government officially honors Nazi collaborators. That doesn’t mean Russia has the right attack Ukraine, but US media should inform Americans about whom their tax dollars are arming.

In the same period, the Post ran 201 pieces that mention the word “Ukraine.” Of these, six mention the word “Nazi,” none of them to point out that the Ukrainian state has venerated Holocaust participants, or that there are Nazis in the Ukrainian military. Max Boot (1/5/22) and Robyn Dixon (12/11/21), in fact, dismissed this fact as mere Russian propaganda. In Boot’s earlier Ukraine piece (12/15/21), he acknowledged that the UPA collaborated with the Nazis and killed thousands of Polish people, but his article nevertheless suggested that the UPA offer a useful model for how Ukrainians could resist a Russian invasion, asserting that “all is not lost” in case of a Russian invasion, because “Ukrainian patriots could fight as guerrillas against Russian occupiers”:

They have done it before. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was formed in 1942 to fight for that country’s independence. Initially, it cooperated with Nazi invaders but later fought against them. When the Red Army marched back into Ukraine in 1943, the UPA resisted. The guerrillas carried out thousands of attacks and inflicted thousands of casualties on Soviet forces while also massacring and ethnically cleansing the Polish population in western Ukraine. The UPA continued fighting until the 1950s, forcing Moscow to mobilize tens of thousands of troops and secret policemen to restore control.

“All is not lost,” for Boot, though the lives of thousands of Poles and Jews were, the latter of whom he didn’t bother to mention. Calling the perpetrators of such atrocities “Ukrainian patriots” is a grotesque euphemism that, first and foremost, spits on the victims, and also insults non-racist Ukrainians. After a two-paragraph interval, Boot wrote that

the Ukrainian government needs to start distributing weapons now and, with the help of US and other Western military advisers, training personnel to carry out guerrilla warfare. Volodymyr Zelensky’s government should even prepare supply depots, tunnels and bunkers in wooded areas, and in particular in the Carpathian Mountains, a UPA stronghold in the 1940s.

Evidently neither the UPA’s precedent of fascist massacres, nor the presence of similarly oriented groups in contemporary Ukraine’s armed forces and society, give Boot pause.  He’d rather the US continue flooding the country with weapons; the consequences aren’t a concern of Boot’s.

Readers seeking riotous calls to violence in Eastern Europe should turn to the Times and the Post, but those who are interested in a thoroughgoing portrait will be disappointed.

Germany may consider halting Nord Stream 2 if Russia attacks Ukraine, Scholz says

Russia would pay ‘high price’ for attack on Ukraine, says German minister

The new German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, sought to reassure a nervous Ukraine that she will not allow Germany to compromise on the basic principles of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty when she meets the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow for the first time on Tuesday.

Baerbock, a member of the Green party, said on a visit to Kyiv she was ready for serious dialogue with Russia about mutual security, but was not willing to backtrack “on basic principles such as territorial inviolability, the free choice of alliances and the renunciation of the threat of violence”.

She said Moscow, which has massed troops on Ukraine’s borders, would suffer if it launched an attack. “Each further aggressive act will have a high price for Russia, economically, strategically, politically,” she told a news conference with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba. “Diplomacy is the only way.”

Her visit is being watched warily by European, UK and US administrations for signs that Germany may revert to its traditional role of seeking independent dialogue with Russia in preference to firmness.

Baerbock is seen as part of younger generation of German politicians strongly committed to projecting human rights in foreign policy and determined to take Germany away from its historic willingness to compromise with Moscow, but the SPD-led German chancellery is thought less inclined to break with the policy of the former German chancellor Angela Merkel. It will be deeply frustrating for some other western states if Germany continues to act as a drag anchor as Europe and the US have been making strenuous efforts to present a united front inside Nato.

Russia Detains Six More Suspected REvil Group Members

A Moscow court on Saturday remanded in custody for two months six more suspected members of the ransomware crime group REvil over illegal trafficking of funds, a day after Russia claimed it had dismantled the group at the request of the United States. ...

A police and FSB domestic intelligence operation searched 25 addresses, detaining 14 people, the FSB said on Friday, listing assets it had seized including $600,000 of computer equipment and 20 luxury cars.

The United States welcomed the arrests. ...

A source familiar with the case told Interfax the group's members with Russian citizenship would not be handed over to the United States.

Israeli PM reiterates opposition to peace process with Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has reiterated that there will be no "political [peace] process" with the Palestinians, sticking to his hard-line stance on the matter, according to local media reports on Sunday.

Israeli broadcaster Kan 11 reported that Bennett informed the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee in recent days that there would be no negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, despite his meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas.

The report said Bennett had "poured cold water" on the hopes of the left-wing Meretz and Labour party members in his cabinet regarding the possibility of starting dialogue with the Palestinians.

Bennett's right-wing Yamina Party is opposed to a two-state solution, while others in the coalition government - such as Meretz and the Labour party - are more supportive of a peace process with the Palestinians if conditions change.

Israeli police in standoff with Palestinians over Sheikh Jarrah eviction

Israeli police are in a standoff with a Palestinian man who carried a gas canister on to the roof of his home in a Jerusalem flashpoint district as his family faced eviction. Israeli media reported that Mohammed Salhiya had threatened to set himself on fire if the eviction order from the Sheikh Jarrah area of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem was carried out.

Salhiya’s family has been facing an eviction threat since 2017, when the land where his home sits was allocated for school construction.

Police and the Jerusalem municipality said in a joint statement delegates went to the home early on Monday to carry out an eviction order after the Salhiyas ignored “countless opportunities” to vacate the land as ordered.

“We’ve been in this home since the 1950s,” said a Salhiya family member, Abdallah Ikermawi, from the roof of the property. “We don’t have anywhere to go,” he said in quotes provided by the Sheikh Jarrah Committee, adding that the family was made up of 15 people, including children.

An 11-day Gaza war between Israel and Palestinians erupted last year, fuelled by anger in Sheikh Jarrah, where families battled eviction orders.

Lawmakers Seek to Weaken Ban on Surprise Medical Bills

It's been less than three weeks since a federal ban on most surprise medical bills went into effect, but Democratic and Republican members of Congress are already teaming up with the for-profit healthcare industry to weaken a key provision in the law, The Intercept reported Monday.

The No Surprises Act is expected to protect millions of people in the U.S. from costly bills that private equity-owned providers foist upon patients who inadvertently receive out-of-network care during medical emergencies.

Before the bipartisan legislation, which passed during the Trump administration, took effect on New Year's Day, the Biden administration "fine-tuned" it, crafting a rule that may enable the federal government to standardize rates for procedures covered by private insurers—a move the for-profit healthcare industry has opposed for decades.

Even though experts say the provision—which requires insurers and healthcare providers to rely on median in-network prices to settle billing disputes—is consistent with the text of the No Surprises Act, leading opponents have filed numerous lawsuits alleging that the Biden administration's move exceeded Congress' intentions.

"Despite plaintiffs' questionable legal reasoning," key lawmakers from both major parties have thrown their weight behind the lawsuits, The Intercept reported. "Their apparent aim is to bolster providers' legal arguments that the Biden administration went beyond Congress' intent in crafting the rule that governs the resolution of unpaid medical bills."

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) are among the members of Congress who have supported the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and other proponents of privatized healthcare in their mission to get the rule thrown out in federal court.

The American Hospital Association has previously referred to Neal as its "friend in Washington."

"Who says bipartisanship is dead?" tweeted reporter Austin Ahlman.

Experts told The Intercept that opponents of the new rule are motivated by the fact that the dispute resolution process favored by the Biden administration "has the potential to drive down the high prices U.S. providers charge compared to other countries, stoking fears in the healthcare industry that it would lead to standardized rates. The drop in prices would at least partially be returned to Americans in the form of lower health insurance premiums."

As the investigative outlet explained:

Prior to implementation of the No Surprises Act, providers regularly billed patients covered by out-of-network insurers directly for the difference between their rate for a treatment and the insurer's allowed amount. These bills were often substantially higher than the true cost of the procedure or the price a provider would charge an in-network patient. That practice, known as "balance billing," will remain banned regardless of the outcome of litigation.

Instead, providers and insurers will enter forced baseball-style arbitration if they cannot agree on the price for treatment. Each side will send the arbiter a payment offer, and the arbiter will pick the offer they think is most fair. At issue in the lawsuits is the administration's interpretation of this process. Under the Biden administration's proposed rules, arbiters must prioritize the median in-network rate when deciding disputes, forcing providers to justify any departure from their typical rates. The rule effectively stops them from price-gouging consumers who are out-of-network.

Although "price controls for medical treatments are common" in other nations and exist to a limited extent in the U.S. thanks to Medicaid and Medicare, "U.S. legislators have historically been averse to regulations aimed at standardizing the rates private insurers pay," The Intercept noted. "As a result, the majority of the excessive cost Americans pay for healthcare can be attributed to the steep, unregulated prices charged by providers."

"Any move toward standardizing these rates poses a threat to providers that rely on inflating patients' bills and forcing them to cover massive surcharges far above the actual cost of the procedure," the outlet added. "The providers' investors in particular stand to lose if the new rule is enacted."

Last May, Hassan and Cassidy—both instrumental to the development of the No Surprises Act—argued in a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh that when implementing the law, the Biden administration should not prioritize the median in-network rate but should instead follow providers' preferred interpretation.

As The Intercept reported, "providers claim the text of the No Surprises Act requires the administration to weigh a number of other potentially extenuating factors, such as the physician's level of experience, equally to the median in-network rate."

"Cassidy released a similar follow-up letter in late December, but Hassan, whose office did not respond to a request from The Intercept to clarify her position on the administration's interpretation of the rule, did not sign," the outlet noted.

Following the Biden administration's release of the arbitration rule last September, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Neal and ranking member Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) sent Becerra, Yellen, and Walsh another letter that echoed the language used by Hassan and Cassidy.

And "in November 2021," The Intercept reported, "a large, bipartisan group of House members also sided with providers in the dispute. Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), and Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) led 150 of their colleagues in a letter that claimed to lay out, in starkly legalistic terms, the congressional intent behind the No Surprises Act."

Meanwhile, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), lead author of the bill, and Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent their own letter to Becerra, Yellen, and Walsh last year, arguing that the Biden administration's arbitration rule "is consistent with our intent."

Until recently, "courts have typically deferred to executive agencies when faced with ambiguous statutes," The Intercept reported, "but the Trump-stacked federal courts and the conservative Supreme Court are likely to be hostile to any regulation that appears to open the door for federal rate-setting."

Sinema's MLK Day Tweet Sparks Online Fury

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema set off a flurry of furious condemnation Monday with a tweet to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day just days after she helped sink Democratic Party hopes to pass voting rights legislation.

The tweet by the corporate Democrat from Arizona, stating that "today we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," came as progressive lawmakers urged against remembrances of Dr. King that gloss over or ignore his radical legacy and vision.

Sinema, along with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have faced sustained rebuke over their opposition to reforming the Senate filibuster in order to pass the most significant voting rights legislation since the Civil Rights Era.

Working Families Party responded with archival video footage of the assassinated civil rights leader denouncing the filibuster.


"I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting," King said at a July 5, 1963 press conference.

That same quote was shared in a tweet Friday by Bernice King, MLK's daughter, in which she tagged Sinema as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

A day earlier, Sinema reiterated her opposition to changing the rules of the filibuster, including for a carve-out to pass a pair of bills strengthening voting rights.

Voting rights defenders including members of King's family, who led an MLK Day march in the nation's capital Monday, have told lawmakers there should be "no celebration without legislation."

"Today," Martin Luther King III tweeted Monday, "we honor my father and the #MLKLegacy by turning out in Washington, D.C. to call on @POTUS & the Senate to eliminate the filibuster & pass the voting rights legislation our democracy needs."



the horse race



“There Must Be a Moral Shift”: Bishop Barber Calls on Democrats to Pass Voting Rights, Protect Poor

Harris warns voting rights ‘under assault’ as family and activists honor MLK

Vice-president Kamala Harris on Monday warned that the right to vote in America was “under assault” and tens of millions of Americans faced potential disenfranchisement unless threatened voting rights legislation was passed by US lawmakers.

The speech was given on the Martin Luther King day public holiday and comes as King’s family and other civil rights activists in America are pushing for expanded federal voting rights legislation despite political opposition from Republicans. ...

Harris delivered strong words – though no new concrete plan of action – regarding fighting off a wave of Republican-led voting rights suppression. She said: “Our freedom to vote is under assault,” adding that “voter suppression laws can make it more difficult to vote for as many as 55 million Americans, or one out of six people in the country”.

Nina Turner: SHOULD Biden Be PRIMARIED In 2024?

Texas county rejects half of mail-in ballot applications amid new voter restrictions

Election officials in the Texas county that includes the state capital, Austin, have rejected about half of applications for mail-in ballots, following new voting restrictions brought in by Republicans. The voter identification rules have led to the rejection of about half of the 700 mail-in ballots requested in Travis county for primary elections in March, according to the county’s clerk.

The denied ballots in Travis county follow a similar trend across Texas, with officials in Harris county, which includes the city of Houston, and Bexar county, which includes San Antonio, also turning down a substantial number of mail-in ballot applications. ...

In Texas, state Republicans last year enacted new voting laws that require absentee voters to include their driver’s license number, state ID number or the last four digits of their social security number on their applications. Counties then have to match this information with voter profiles to approve them for a mail-in ballot.

The new rules also ban drive-through and 24-hour voting and allow more access to partisan poll watchers. The Biden administration has decried the wave of voting restrictions around the country as undemocratic and the US justice department has filed a lawsuit claiming that Texas’ new laws disenfranchised eligible voters contrary to their civil rights.

Will Oathkeepers Sedition Charge STICK In Court?

How the arrest of a far-right militia leader signals a new chapter in the January 6 inquiry

The arrest this week of Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers militia, marks one of the most significant moments thus far in the federal investigation into the January 6 Capitol attack. Rhodes, along with ten other associates, is charged with seditious conspiracy for plotting to violently overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election – the first sedition charges prosecutors have brought related to the insurrection.

Rhodes is the one of the most high-profile arrests yet in the year-long investigation into the insurrection, which has charged more than 700 people and counting with crimes related to the attack. Many of these cases have involved minor charges and the majority of suspects have received light sentences, but the sedition charges facing militia members could carry up to 20 years in prison and signal a shift towards more complex cases targeting organized extremist groups.

The conspiracy charges against Rhodes and other Oath Keepers members, as well as separate conspiracy to obstruct Congress cases involving Oath Keepers and Proud Boys extremists, are additionally significant because they may reveal the extent of planning that went into the attack. What level of prior coordination and plotting pro-Trump groups conducted prior to January 6 remains a key question, and one that is set to become a focal point of trials in the coming months.



the evening greens


Seeing 1,000 glorious fin whales back from near extinction is a rare glimmer of hope

Good news doesn’t get any more in-your-face than this. One thousand fin whales, one of the world’s biggest animals, were seen last week swimming in the same seas in which they were driven to near-extinction last century due to whaling. It’s like humans never happened.

This vast assembly was spread over a five-mile-wide area between the South Orkney islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. A single whale is stupendous; imagine 1,000 of them, their misty forest of spouts, as tall as pine trees, the plosive sound of their blows, their hot breath condensing in the icy air. Their sharp dorsal fins and steel-grey bodies slide through the waves like a whale ballet, choreographed at the extreme south of our planet.

The sight has left whale scientists slack-jawed and frankly green-eyed in envy of Conor Ryan, who observed it from the polar cruiser, National Geographic Endurance. Messaging from the ship on a tricky connection, Ryan, an experienced zoologist and photographer, says this may be “one of the largest aggregations of fin whales ever documented”. His estimate of 1,000 animals is a conservative one, he says.


“We were about 15 miles north of Coronation Island,” Ryan reports, with “four large krill fishing vessels working the same area”. The vessels’ presence makes clear the reason for this party. The whales were feeding on a grand scale, sucking up tonnes of tiny shrimps.

Fin whales are surprisingly slender, serpentine creatures when you see them underwater, and so long that they seem to take for ever to swim past. Like blue, humpback and minke whales, they’re baleen whales, distinguished by food-filtering keratinous plates in lieu of teeth. Unlike toothed whales, such as sperm whales and killer whales, they are not usually seen as social animals. In Moby-Dick Herman Melville classifies the fin whale as “not gregarious … very shy; always going solitary … the banished and unconquerable Cain of his race”.


Also of Interest

Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.

Revealed: the Flint water poisoning charges that never came to light

US and NATO escalation of conflict with Russia is leading to war

The Case for Neutrality to Defuse Crisis With Russia

Yemen's Houthi Tell Abu Dhabi To Pull Back Its Forces

China’s Economic Plans Amount To Preparation For Cold War

Don’t Underestimate How Badly The Powerful Need Control Of Online Speech

Economist Michael Hudson Says the Fed “Broke the Law” with its Repo Loans to Wall Street Trading Houses

Nomura, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs Received a Cumulative $8 Trillion from the Fed’s Emergency Repo Loans in Fourth Quarter of 2019

Senate Democrats Use the Jim Crow Filibuster to Protect the Kremlin

Tonga's Volcanic Tsunami Foreshadows Effects of Glacier Melt From CO2

Protecting Homes From The Next Climate Firestorm


A Little Night Music

Paul deLay Live 1997 - 14 Dollars In The Bank

Paul deLay - Wait

The Paul deLay Band - What Went Wrong

Paul deLay - Tiger In Your Tank

Paul deLay and Arthur Moore - Beggin' Megan

Paul deLay - Ain't That Right

Paul deLay - Bring It On

Paul deLay - Oak Street Beach

The Paul deLay Band - Harpoon Man


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snoopydawg's picture

Yet the US has been plenty “assertive in the region,” where, incidentally, America is not located.

The MIC complex using their puppets to speak:

In the Washington Post (12/24/21), Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen jointly contended in Orwellian fashion that the Biden administration should take “military measures that would strengthen a diplomatic approach and give it greater credibility.” They wrote that “the United States must speed up the pace of assistance and provide antiaircraft, antitank and anti-ship systems, along with electronic warfare capabilities.”

Hey puppets see above. And nothing is stopping the shitlibs from hearing how democrats are supporting actual Nazis in Ukraine. But they are too focused on swallowing the new and improved Russia has WMDs lies and are fully behind Biden going to war with Russia. They ain’t too fond of China either because of the Uighers.

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10 users have voted.

It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.

joe shikspack's picture

@snoopydawg

heh, the neocons and the shitlibs are a marriage made in hell, but they do seem eager to join together to have a war with an enemy (the soviet union) that no longer exists. i can't wait.

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6 users have voted.

The quote which will set off the apocalypse:

"Look, Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country," McCain said. "It's kleptocracy. It's corruption. It's a nation that's really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy, and so economic sanctions are important."

Problem is the crazies, Senators, and Russophobes believe it:

And...

There is much more. For example, Russia is the largest export of wheat and fertilizer. Also, Russia exports not just gas but crude oil and diesel--in large amounts. Imagine what the cutting off of wheat and fertilizer will do for world hunger.

Without SWIFT:

The collapse of the German economy would in turn crash other economies. Added to hyper inflation will be corrupt Western corporations price gouging the shit out of customers for needed products just has they have been doing during the pandemic.

My impression is that neocon war mongers in DC want to stick the worst sorts of sanctions on Russia regardless of what they do, or not do (like not invade Ukraine).

A collapse of Western countries and not a shot or missile fired because the crazies are in charge.

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10 users have voted.
QMS's picture

@MrWebster

why does the US hegemony think by controlling gas exports from Russia there is a plus to
countries like Germany and the EU? When will the powerful states of Western Europe figure out
the US hegemony (NATO) is not about helping their neighbors? Too soon to tell maybe. When their citizens start freezing to death, it will be time to either craft their own solutions and say goodbye to uncle sam or blame it on some cooked-up confrontation. Like Ukraine, or Covid, or whatever is being pushed by the PTB.

Sheesh

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8 users have voted.
snoopydawg's picture

@QMS

How smart we are by threatening Russia and screwing ourselves in the bargain not to mention other countries. The same neocons want to keep China from exporting their products which is even more dumb since we offshored most of our manufacturing over there. Do those making these plans not understand that? Hell we haven’t been able to make cars here for a few years because auto makers can’t get chips. But sure circle China and see what happens to the exceptional Americans.

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8 users have voted.

It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.

mimi's picture

@QMS

When will the powerful states of Western Europe figure out
the US hegemony (NATO) is not about helping their neighbors?

I guess they know it since a long time. But as they are being scared that (NATO') bombs and weapons fall on their own territory, they play the dummies and cry some tears in their bedrooms before falling asleep.

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5 users have voted.

mimi

joe shikspack's picture

@MrWebster

heh, necessity is the mother of invention and people who want to trade will find a way to do so, with or without uncle sam's brand of cabbage or cabbage exchange system. i'm sure that it will be a big shock to uncle sam, but people have been trading for thousands of years before uncle sam got his hustle going.

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4 users have voted.
mimi's picture

Do you understand the world as it is? I am not. The more I try to read and understand, the less smart I feel. Something is wrong with it. But what is it? I guess it is my particular brain dysfunction.

Thanks for the EB. I will stop reading. Way too much info. I could live with one EB per week. And the wars we will get, with info or without it. You can bet on that.

Be well and have a good one. And nothing for Ungood. No offense meant. My human intelligence tells me I should go to bed and sleep. Good Night from my parts of the world.

.

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4 users have voted.

mimi

joe shikspack's picture

@mimi

pull the covers up and have a good night's sleep. the world will still be a mess tomorrow. Smile

have a good one!

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4 users have voted.

Thanks as usual for the news and blues. There have been some comments about some of the dismal concerns and solutions by the US government.

Was glad to read about the fin whales amidst the other more depressing news about the environment I have been reading in the news. Thanks.

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9 users have voted.

Life is what you make it, so make it something worthwhile.

This ain't no dress rehearsal!

joe shikspack's picture

@jakkalbessie

heh, yep, i am both surprised and pleased when things are going well for somebody here besides the oligarchs, especially the wildlife.

take care and have a great evening!

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4 users have voted.

the whale had krill to eat @jakkalbessie !

Imagine that going away.
Soon

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3 users have voted.

Ya got to be a Spirit, cain't be no Ghost. . .

Explain Bldg #7. . .

If you’ve ever wondered whether you would have complied in 1930’s Germany,
Now you know. . .
Sign at protest march

This doesn't happen without the US's blessing.

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8 users have voted.
joe shikspack's picture

@humphrey

yep, the blinki man is off to "de-escalate tensions" while the u.s. and its allies are arming ukraine to the teeth with progressively more advanced weaponry.

insert something about words and actions here.

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6 users have voted.
snoopydawg's picture

@joe shikspack

by Russia. They have stated numerous times that if countries get weapons that can threaten Russia they will remove them themselves and probably with strikes on where they are located. Countries better not bunk their troops anywhere near the weapons because that could cause lots of bug splatter. Excuse me I meant collateral damage. It looks like that is what it’s going to take to get Blinken’s mouth to understand that they are serious about their red lines. Little Jake Sullivan should start believing that too. Klobuchar was one of the congress critters that went to Ukraine recently to yuk it up over there. Might have been yukking with some of those fine Nazis.

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6 users have voted.

It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.

enhydra lutris's picture

Heavy, heavy crude hangs over the head of those who don't think before they act. Our sources were Venezuela, oops. the Mid East, as might be expected, cut way back by OPEC, Kazakhstan, where our color revolution failed, and Russia, Russia, Russia, where we keep on poking the Bear. A lot of our refineries are now geared to use those really heavy crudes for a good portion of their feedstock and can't instantly change back over to the sweet light we used to use. Meanwhile, taking aim at the other foot ...

It's so easy to get stressed and angrified (ht to Satchel Page) by all the craziness that we lose sight of the fact that it is craziness, and plenty amusing. I saw a headline somewhere to the effect that Texas hasn't done anything to harden its energy system since that huge debacle in breathless prose as if this horror to be inflicted on the populace is an oversight and not intentional. Heh.

be well and have a good one

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7 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

joe shikspack's picture

@enhydra lutris

presumably the problem of maintaining a supply of heavy crude, since god seems to have erred and placed it under somebody else's sand is to be solved by piping tar sands in from canada. i guess we'll see how that works out.

heh, yep who knew that the favored narrative of the powers-that-be was a tragicomedy?

have a great evening!

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6 users have voted.
snoopydawg's picture

Hopefully when democrats get wiped out in the midterms the republicans will vote to overturn this turd.

Biden's Infrastructure Bill, Now Signed Into Law, Mandates "Vehicle Kill Switches" By 2026

The rumors we first reported on back in December have turned out to be true: the United States federal government is apparently in the process of trying to force automakers to install kill switches in their vehicles that authorities can use to shut down any newer vehicle.

The law comes as part of President Biden's infrastructure bill, which was recently signed into law, according to Yahoo. The government kill switch is - like all good thefts of civil liberties - being positioned as a "safety measure". The mandate needs to be put into effect by 2026, Muscle Cars & Trucks reported.

We noted last month that former Rep. Bob Barr, writing for The Daily Caller, called the measure included in the bill "disturbingly short on details", but for the fact that the proposed device must “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.”

That decision will now "rest in the hands of an algorithm", the report said. Similar monitoring and control devices have faced constitutional opposition, the report notes, "notably with the 5th Amendment’s right to not self-incriminate, and the 6th Amendment’s right to face one’s accuser."

Thank dawg I bought a car earlier this year that should last me for the rest of my life and I won’t need to bother finding a way to nullify it, but it’s another huge assault on our liberties. Seems like the only right that is left standing is the 2nd. If you’re naughty too many times then you can’t drive your car farther than your doctor’s office or grocery store when they PTB install the social credit system. Blehh!

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6 users have voted.

It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.

joe shikspack's picture

@snoopydawg

i can't wait for the ads for the new kill-able cars. "the car for people with nothing to hide!"

heh, i hardly drink anymore and i certainly don't drink and drive, but i sure don't want a car that big brother controls.

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6 users have voted.

@joe shikspack The local school district shut down for 7 days. My assistant does not have nearby family, day care center, or reliable baby sitter.
Dammit.
At least my family, and her family, are all healthy.
Thanks for those in depth articles about looming war. Oh, they frustrate me, worry me a bit, but I despise surprises.
Take good care!

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5 users have voted.
joe shikspack's picture

@on the cusp

heh, if i should need to find another vehicle, i'll probably see if i can find a mid-60's to early 70's car. they're easy to fix and keep running if they aren't completely rusted out.

sorry to hear about your assistant's troubles, but glad that everybody is healthy.

take care and have a great night!

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6 users have voted.
snoopydawg's picture

@joe shikspack

It doesn’t have any bells and whistles but I will have to leave the cellphone home to avoid tracking. A 22 year old car with less than 40 k miles on it. Can’t beat that.

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5 users have voted.

It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.

a twenty-five year old 4X4 pick up @snoopydawg with a Manual tranny AND a llimited slip rear end with under 85k miles?

Eh? SMINTy!

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3 users have voted.

Ya got to be a Spirit, cain't be no Ghost. . .

Explain Bldg #7. . .

If you’ve ever wondered whether you would have complied in 1930’s Germany,
Now you know. . .
Sign at protest march

snoopydawg's picture

@Tall Bald and Ugly

Oh man I wish the convertible was a manual. Funny how I disliked it when I had it way back then, but now would like to have it back. My Nissan has a manual mode, but it’s no fun without a clutch. I learned to drive in a '65 Plymouth valiant station wagon with the stick on the steering wheel in the winter. Heh..taking off whilst on black ice and then hitting clear pavement. Wheeeee! The car was my grandpa’s then it got passed down through the family. Great car. Great memories.

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3 users have voted.

It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.