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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 and r&b singer, guitarist and songwriter Robert Ward.  Enjoy!

Robert Ward & Ry Cooder - Your Love Is Real

“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

  -- Martin Luther King Jr.

News and Opinion

Huge swath of GCHQ mass surveillance is illegal, says top lawyer

GCHQ's mass surveillance spying programmes are probably illegal and have been signed off by ministers in breach of human rights and surveillance laws, according to a hard-hitting legal opinion that has been provided to MPs.

The advice warns that Britain's principal surveillance law is too vague and is almost certainly being interpreted to allow the agency to conduct surveillance that flouts privacy safeguards set out in the European convention on human rights (ECHR).

The inadequacies, it says, have created a situation where GCHQ staff are potentially able to rely "on the gaps in the current statutory framework to commit serious crime with impunity".

At its most extreme, the advice raises issues about the possible vulnerability of staff at GCHQ if it could be proved that intelligence used for US drone strikes against "non-combatants" had been passed on or supplied by the British before being used in a missile attack.

"An individual involved in passing that information is likely to be an accessory to murder. It is well arguable, on a variety of different bases, that the government is obliged to take reasonable steps to investigate that possibility," the advice says.

Head of UK’s secret eavesdropping agency GCHQ to step down

The head of GCHQ, the secret eavesdropping agency that has come under scrutiny following leaks by former US analyst Edward Snowden, is to stand down.

Iain Lobban, 53, will leave the agency later this year after serving nearly six years as director, the Foreign Office said.

It denied that his departure was related to revelations contained in Snowden's leaked documents that GCHQ was one of the main players in mass telecommunications surveillance. ...

Called to appear before a parliamentary committee last November in response to the Snowden leaks, Lobban insisted the agency was not conducting mass snooping on the British public.

Edward Snowden nominated for Nobel peace prize

Two Norwegian politicians say they have jointly nominated the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden for the 2014 Nobel peace prize.

The Socialist Left party politicians Baard Vegar Solhjell, a former environment minister, and Snorre Valen said the public debate and policy changes in the wake of Snowden's whistleblowing had "contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order".

Angela Merkel warns US over surveillance in first speech of third term

Angela Merkel has used the first, agenda-setting speech of her third term in office to criticise America's uncompromising defence of its surveillance activities.

In a speech otherwise typically short of strong emotion or rhetorical flourishes, the German chancellor found relatively strong words on NSA surveillance, two days before the US secretary of state, John Kerry, is due to visit Berlin.

"A programme in which the end justifies all means, in which everything that is technically possible is then acted out, violates trust and spreads mistrust," she said. "In the end, it produces not more but less security."

The NSA's Shadow Database

Last week saw the release of yet another independent report condemning the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records. In its report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) called for an end to the program, concluding that it is unlawful, threatens the privacy of Americans, and does little to keep the country secure. ... One element of the privacy board's report, however, hasn't received the attention it deserves. That's the push to limit the NSA's unfettered access to a pool of Americans' phone records called the "corporate store." ...

Here's how the corporate store works. It's basically a database that warehouses the results of the NSA's queries of the raw telephone data it collects daily. When the NSA runs a query on that raw data — called the "collection store" — the results are dumped into the corporate store, where they are combined with the results of previous queries. And, crucially, the corporate store is not subject to the restrictions that intelligence officials have been so eager to talk about.

Intelligence officials often claim that the NSA's access to our phone records is extremely limited. They emphasize that, under orders from the FISA court, the NSA queries its call-records database only when there is "reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulated facts" that a phone number is linked to specific foreign terrorist organizations. For empirical support, they cite the fact that the NSA conducted less than 300 queries of the raw phone data in 2012.

But these claims disguise much larger numbers and a wide open backdoor to much of the same phone data. Because NSA analysts were, for years, permitted to examine the call records of all individuals within three "hops" of a specific target (now two hops, since the president's January 17 speech), a single query could yield millions of phone numbers. And with each query, all of those numbers are added to the corporate store. ...

With that in mind, here's the key point: The NSA is not limited in how it can further search, analyze, or datamine the phone records amassed in the corporate store. Instead, as set out in the court order governing the program, the NSA "may apply the full range of SIGINT analytic tradecraft" to this data, even by combining it with information collected under other surveillance programs. In short, the corporate store is very big, and the rules restricting its use are very weak.

So, for instance, if you happen to order take-out from the same restaurant as someone targeted by the NSA, your complete calling records can be examined by the NSA—and saved in the NSA's corporate store indefinitely for future searching without any type of suspicion or other restriction.

Attorney General Holder defends legality of surveillance program

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday aligned himself with the conclusions of judges who found the mass collection of telephone data to be constitutional.

But that legal conclusion, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not the end of the debate over the so-called Section 215 program.

"I believe (the judges) are correct that it is constitutional," Holder said, under questioning by a skeptical committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "The question is, just because we can do something, should we do it?"

Holder said he and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jr., are now wrestling with the privacy and policy implications, under an order by President Barack Obama to report back with recommendations.

US lifts veil on Obama's Guantánamo detainee review process - but not much

For 19 minutes over a streaming video feed on Tuesday morning, the American public got its first glimpse into President Obama’s new review process for Guantánamo detainees, touted as a key step toward closing the notorious detention center.

The few members of the public who witnessed the session – a handful of journalists and representatives of human rights groups, more than 1,000 miles away in Virginia and watching on a 40-second delay – never heard from Abdel Malik Ahmed Abdel Wahab al-Rahabi, a Yemeni who has been held without charge at Guantánamo Bay for 12 years. ...

Then, at about 9.40am ET, the feed stopped, as the participants adjourned to begin a classified hearing – away from cameras, far from public view and expected to last for hours.

[T]he public did not learn the names or faces of the representatives of the various agencies who will decide whether Rahabi poses a “continuing significant threat” to the US – the only question that the Periodic Review Board exists to adjudicate.

Those representatives are stand-ins for the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the military’s joint staff. They appeared as disembodied voices behind a camera that was trained on Rahabi, his translator, his civilian attorney, David Remes and a navy lieutenant commander and an air force major, Rahabi’s “personal representatives”, neither of whom were named. ...

Nor did the Periodic Review Board give any insight into how the anonymous representatives of the agencies will decide whether Rahabi is a threat to the US. They are not necessarily lawyers, and the review they conduct is, Pentagon representatives stress, not a legal one. They conduct a factual review, taking into account everything from diplomatic considerations to his behavior under detention, and decide according to a standard that is not public.

While the easiest available analogy for the Periodic Review Board is to a parole hearing, there are significant differences. Rahabi has never been charged with any crime, let alone convicted. ...

Observers at Rahabi’s review said both the process and the limited visibility into it were disappointments.

“Every time the Obama administration has an opportunity to provide greater transparency, they choose not to, and the PRB is a perfect example of that,” said Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch.

Ukraine considers amnesty as former president warns of civil war

Ukraine's parliament is considering measures to grant amnesty to those arrested during weeks of protests, but possibly with conditions attached that would be unacceptable to the opposition.

Two amnesty proposals are up for a parliamentary vote on Wednesday, one of which says amnesty would be granted only if demonstrators left the streets and vacated buildings that they occupy. ...

Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first-post independence president, urged deputies to come to an agreement on the amnesty issue, warning that the country was "on the brink of civil war".

"It is a revolution. It is a dramatic situation in which we must act with the greatest responsibility," Kravchuk – president from 1991 to 1994 – said to applause and a standing ovation. ...

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, warned Europe to keep its hands off Ukraine, as Brussels sent its top foreign policy envoy, Catherine Ashton, to Kiev to try to mediate in the standoff.

Putin told a meeting of EU leaders: "The more intermediaries there are, the more problems there are. I am not sure Ukraine needs intermediaries." He pointedly noted that European leaders would have complained if Russia had sent envoys to mediate in the Greek crisis of the past four years.

"I can only imagine what the reaction would be if in the heat of the crisis in Greece or Cyprus, our foreign minister came to an anti-European rally and began urging people to do something. This would not be good," Putin said.

Obama's Address Fails to Look at Roots of Income Inequality

DESVARIEUX: David, do you think President Obama's focus on expanding educational opportunities and raising the minimum wage are sufficient steps to narrowing the income gap?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: No, not even close. It's important that we restore the minimum wage. We're not talking about raising it. We're talking about restoring it. Back in the mid '60s, it was almost $11 an hour. And education is certainly very important and too much neglected in this country. We put huge barriers to bright but poor and middle-class children getting first-rate educations, especially at college.

But we have much more fundamental problems than that. Many of these problems involve things like government rules that hardly anybody knows about that take money from the many and redistribute it to the few, the use of tax dollars to build factories, office buildings, and shopping malls, the rules that allow multinational corporations--not domestic, not mom-and-pop corporations, but multinational corporations-- to actually profit off their corporate income taxes by delaying payment of them for 30, 40, 50 years and having you and I let them deposit that money with the government to collect interest while the value of the tax they owe erodes.

Seattle socialist Kshama Sawant’s SOTU response: ‘We need a break from capitalism’

Socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant ripped not only President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, but the Democrats and Republicans alongside him as he delivered it.

“We will make progress only on the basis of a fundamental and systematic change,” Sawant said in a response on behalf of the Socialist Party. “We need a break from the policies of Wall Street and corporate America. We need a break from capitalism. It has failed the 99 percent. Both parties bow down before the free market and loyally serve the interests of their corporate masters, with the only difference being in matter of degree. The political system is completely dysfunctional, and it’s broken.” ...

“This is really a testament of [Obama's] own presidency — a presidency which has betrayed the hopes of tens of millions of people who voted for him out of a genuine desire for a fundamental change away from corporate politics and warmongering,” said Sawant.

State of the Union: Obama's Underwhelming Plan to Tackle Inequality

And… action! There he is, tall and lean, his pleasant face composed in an expression at once cheerful and slightly supercilious. It's our president, looking painfully aware of the inauthenticity of political spectacle, but resigned to it, because, whatever. Yet, as disenchantment has settled over his presidency, the Enchanter in Chief must get an enthusiastic vibe going. Which is to say that the wonky incrementalist must pass himself off as a man of big vision and jump over a giant believability gap that has opened in the last six years.  ...

Now, we're led to believe that the president has big plans, yes, big plans indeed. He will even thumb his nose at Congress to get them done if need be. His plans include include raising wages to $10.10 for people making a miserly $7.25, the current Dickensian minimum. Oh, wait, he's only talking about federal contract wages. OK, really only some of them. And only the new ones.

An income of $10.10 per hour falls short of a living wage. The plan does not even match the boldness of conservative California businessman Ron Unz, who wants to raise the minimum to $12 because he doesn’t like having to pay for all the social welfare programs people have to rely on when they get paid squat.

You didn’t hear about expanding Social Security, a sensible plan supported by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others. You didn't hear about getting to full employment (but you did hear some conservative rhetoric about how unemployment is really about workers not having the right skills, which has been repeatedly debunked). You didn't hear about bringing justice to criminal bankers who prey on hard-working Americas. You didn't hear about asking the rich to pay their fair share in taxes, or putting a financial transaction tax on Wall Street, or backing off the grotesque Trans-Pacific Partnership, or ending too-big-to-fail, or taking real action to get the money out of politics.

Instead of tapping into the full power of the federal government to tackle our most urgent problems, Obama meekly suggested that government might, in certain cases, be obligated to do something. A little something. At some point.

"A Silent Coup": Jeremy Scahill & Bob Herbert on Corporate, Military Interests Shaping Obama’s SOTU

"Dirty Wars" Filmmaker Jeremy Scahill on the "Drone President" & Obama’s Whitewashing of NSA Spying

JEREMY SCAHILL:  Obama has been the drone president. And his line with liberals is sort of "Trust me. I know what I’m doing. I’m monitoring this. I’m doing everything I can to make sure that civilians aren’t killed." But time and time again, we see incidents where large numbers of civilians are being killed, and there seems to be no public accounting for how this happened. They say that they investigate when civilians are killed, and yet we are now two years, almost, removed from the killing of this 16-year-old kid, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who appears to have been killed because of who his father was, was killed in a drone strike while having dinner with his teenage cousin and some other young people from their tribe while they were sitting down for dinner, killed in a drone strike. ...

His father is a separate issue. And I think it was extraordinary that Obama sentenced an American citizen to death without even charging him with a crime related to terrorism, and served as the prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, but that’s a separate issue from this kid. What was his crime that he committed, other than sitting there having dinner with his cousin and other teenagers? The White House told me that when—that they review all cases when civilians are killed. Where is that review? I’ve asked for it, and the White House said they won’t confirm or deny that there has been a review of that case.

Unions Sue Illinois Government for 'Pension Theft'

Coalition says lawmakers violated state constitution by cutting pensions already promised to workers

In a 55-page complaint delivered to Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield, plaintiffs with the We Are One Illinois coalition — whose members include the Illinois AFL-CIO, Illinois Federation of Teachers, and Illinois Education Association — demand an overthrow of the pension-gutting Senate Bill 1 that passed over a month ago upon approval by the Democrat-led legislature and democratic Governor Pat Quinn.

The controversial law raises the retirement age for workers 45 years old and younger, shrinks collective bargaining rights, reduces cost-of-living raises for retirees, and weakens the pension system for state workers. The result is a massive slash to pensions that will affect hundreds of thousands of present and future government retirees — including teachers, nurses, and caregivers.

The Evening Greens

West Virginia Chemical Spill Size Revised Upwards

The state still doesn't know how much of the mixture of crude MCHM and PPH in the tank seeped through an old concrete wall meant to contain such leaks.

Freedom told the DEP it had 110,375 gallons of the two chemicals combined on Jan. 8 in three different tanks. After the spill the company moved the rest of the chemical to a location it owns in Nitro, called Poca Blending LLC.

As of Jan. 21 Freedom "measured" 100,233 gallons in six tanks at the Poca Blending site.

"The difference between the value from the morning of Jan. 9 and the value from Jan. 21 is 10,142 gallons. We therefore estimate that approximately 10,000 gallons of MCHM/PPH blend was released the morning of Jan. 9," Freedom said in a response to a DEP order. ...

Estimates as to the amount that might have leaked from the container have seesawed since the spill. ...

There are 14 other tanks that at one point were used to store hundreds of thousands of gallons of other chemicals at the site.

It wasn't immediately clear how many gallons of other chemicals remained on site.

Freedom must remove all of those chemicals by March 15. It must start deconstructing the facility by that date as well, according to a different DEP order.

This is an interesting article with truly scary ramifications for West Virginians and others downstream.  It's well worth clicking the link to read both pages of this short article.
Marshall scientist found formaldehyde in Charleston water

A Marshall University environmental scientist and member of the state Environmental Quality Board said today that he has found formaldehyde in local water samples and that the continued lack of data on the chemical that leaked into the Elk River is very concerning. ...

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, a chemical that causes cancer.

4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or "Crude MCHM," the chemical compound that leaked into the Elk River, has methanol as one of its main components. Methanol breaks down into formaldehyde, Simonton said.

Simonton said that he found traces of formaldehyde in water samples taken from Vandalia Grille in downtown Charleston. He did not say when he found it, or how much he found.

Senators Introduce Chemical Safety And Drinking Water Protection Act In Response To West Virginia Spill

Three U.S. senators introduced legislation on Tuesday aimed at preventing chemical spills like the one that left 300,000 West Virginians without drinking water this month. ...

[Senator Barbara Boxer] introduced the legislation with the two senators from West Virginia, Joe Manchin and John Rockefeller, both Democrats. ...

The bill, the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act, would require state inspections of aboveground chemical storage facilities and the industry's development of state-approved emergency response plans. It would allow states to recoup emergency response costs and to ensure drinking water systems have the tools and information to respond to spills and other emergencies.

The proposed legislation follows a move last week by West Virginia's governor to regulate aboveground storage tanks, including those near public water supplies and distribution systems.

FDA Concealed the 'High Risk' Livestock Antibiotics Pose to People

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed at least 30 antibiotics used in animal feed to remain on the market despite its own internal analysis finding a majority of them contribute to the dangerous problem of antibiotic- resistant bacteria in people.

The scientific analysis, which was conducted between 2001 and 2010 by the FDA, was kept quiet and only made public when the Natural Resources Defense Council obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The FDA, which is the government body responsible for regulating the use of antibiotics in animal livestock, examined 30 penicillin and tetracycline additives —which play an important role in human medical care — in animal feed.

They found that 18 of these additives are at "high risk" of exposing people to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through food consumption and constitute a danger to human health. In addition, the FDA found all 30 of the antibiotics would not meet requirements for approval today due to insufficient information about their safety for humans, and 26 of them would not satisfy the safety standards established by the FDA in 1973, according to an NRDC summary of the documents.

Yet the FDA took no meaningful action on these additives, according to the NRDC. As a result, "at least nine of these additives are being marketed today, and all but the two voluntarily withdrawn additives remain approved for use today," according to a statement released by the NRDC.

As California drought continues, feds could seize water

Farmers from California’s San Joaquin Valley set aside precious water last year, like money in a bank.

But now someone else might claim the investment. ...

The water currently in question includes about 340,000 acre-feet stored at San Luis Reservoir on behalf of west side farmers, as well as a significantly smaller amount stored behind Friant Dam on behalf of farmers on the valley’s east side. The water was provided through the federal Central Valley Project, a Redding-to-Bakersfield network of reservoirs, pumping plants and canals.

Some irrigation districts last year were able to meet their aquatic demands without fully tapping their CVP contracts. What they didn’t use, they had the federal Bureau of Reclamation store and carry over until this year. Usually, that’s not a problem. But over the last week or so, as federal officials have confronted the enormity of California’s drought, they have declined to rule out the possibility of taking the carried-over water for other, legally compelling purposes. ...

The federal Bureau of Reclamation, though, must also listen to those with legally compelling claims on San Joaquin Valley water. These include farmers between Patterson and Mendota, known as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors.

The exchange contractors are so-called because they exchanged their claims on San Joaquin River water for other water delivered by the federal project. Their water rights that date back to the 19th century, however, still remain senior to other valley irrigation districts.

Blog Posts of Interest

Here are diaries and selected blog posts of interest on DailyKos and other blogs.
What's Happenin' Is On Hiatus

More states looking to neutralize NSA through local legislation

Dead Protesters, Tortured Prisoners: Ukraine At the Point of No Return

Spying Scandal Taints Obama’s Rosy SOTU Story – and His Legacy

Are the Police Becoming More Violent?

A Little Night Music

Robert Ward - Somethin' Funky's Goin' On

Robert Ward & Ry Cooder - Forgive Me Darling

Robert Ward - Your Love Is Real

Robert Ward - My Love Is Strictly Reserved For You

Robert Ward - I'm Gonna Cry A River

Robert Ward - Your Love Is Amazing/ Danger Zone

Robert Ward - I Will Fear No Evil

Robert Ward - Potato Soup

Ohio Untouchables (Robert Ward) - Hot Stuff

Robert Ward - You Ought To Stop It

Robert Ward + Wilson Pickett - Let's Kiss and Make Up

Robert Ward - I Ain't Drunk

Robert Ward - Blessings/ K-Po-Kee

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 Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Team DFH.

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