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Daily Caller News Foundation

Feds Hide Secret List Of 11 Staggering Obamacare Insurers


Richard Pollock


Federal officials have a secret list of 11 Obamacare health insurance co-ops they fear are on the verge of failure, but they refuse to disclose them to the public or to Congress, a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation has learned.

Just in the last three weeks, five of the original 24 Obamacare co-ops announced plans to close, bringing the total of failures to eight barely two years after their launch with $2 billion in start-up capital from the taxpayers under the Affordable Care Act.

All 24 received 15-year loans in varying amounts to offer health insurance to poor and low income customers and provide publicly funded competition to private, for-profit insurers. The eight co-ops to announce closings served populations in ten states: Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Vermont, New York and Colorado.

Nearly half a million failing co-op customers will have to find new coverage in 2016. More than $900 million of the original $2 billion in loans has been lost.

The 11 unidentified co-ops appear to be still operating but are now on “enhanced oversight” by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which manages the Obamacare program. The 11 received letters from CMS demanding that they take urgent actions to avoid closing.

Aaron Albright, chief CMS spokesman, said 11 co-ops “are either on a corrective action plan or enhanced oversight. We have not released the letters or names.” He gave no grounds for withholding the information from either the public or Congress.

CMS officials have stonewalled multiple congressional inquiries into the co-op financial problems. The latest congressional inquiry came in a September 30 letter to CMS acting administrator Andy Slavitt demanding transparency over the troubled program.

“We have long been concerned about the financial solvency of CO-OPs,” three House Ways and Means committee members wrote to Slavitt. “Which plans have received these warnings or have been placed on corrective plans,” the congressmen asked. To date, they have received no reply.

Insurance commissioners in Vermont were the first to refuse to license the federally approved co-op there in 2013 because they feared those financial plans were unrealistic. But then the dominoes began to fall this year, resulting in at least eight co-op failures. And if CMS officials are to be believed, more failures may be on the way.

Sen. Charles Grassley , a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee who has been an outspoken critic of the troubled co-op program, said transparency should be a top priority for the faltering program.

“Since the public’s business generally ought to be public, CMS should have a good reason for not disclosing which co-ops are troubled,” he said.


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Working poor Texans struggle in Medicaid, ACA gap

by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist PETER HULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on February 5, 2014 at 6:29 PM

Updated today at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN — For 28-year old Irma Aguilar, raising four young children while working a full-time job is difficult enough.

Suffering from a damaged disc in her neck and debilitating high blood pressure that leaves her dizzy and bouts of anxiety, she needs medical coverage. An assistant manager at a national pizza chain, the San Antonio resident earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for discounted plans on the health insurance marketplace.
“It just makes me feel like, how am I supposed to get help? I thought that working hard for your money was supposed to help you go on in life and help you get some kind of insurance, and we can’t even get that,” said Aguilar. “We’re the ones working hard. We’re the ones doing everything, and we can’t even get a penny out of it. We don’t get nothing. So, do I have to stop working and let my kids drain and me drain so that way I can get help? It’s just not fair to me, and it’s not fair to my kids.”
Roughly 1 million Texans are in a similar situation: unable to qualify for Medicaid under Texas’ stringent restrictions and unable to afford to purchase plans offered under the Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, representatives of dozens of organizations gathered at the Texas Capitol to launch a new campaign demanding something be done for them.
“It’s a moral responsibility to address this situation,” said Sister J.T. Dwyer of the Seton Health Care Family. “Our mission is to care for and improve the health of those we serve with a special concern for the poor and vulnerable. So, wouldn’t we be interested in this? These are the vulnerable people who are left out.”
With 6 million uninsured individuals, Texas leads the nation in the number of residents without health care coverage. A project of the Cover Texas Now Coalition, Texas Left Me Out is a campaign to compel lawmakers to develop a solution to insuring Texas’ working poor who fall in the coverage “gap” resulting from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to require states to expand Medicaid to those unable to afford coverage through the health insurance marketplace.
“The problem is that, because the law was written assuming that the Medicaid piece would be there, they said nobody below the poverty line is going to get the sliding scale of subsidies with premiums in the new health insurance marketplace,” said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the progressive Center for Public Policy Priorities.
For a $15 billion investment in state money, over the next 10 years Texas would draw down about $100 million in federal funds, which Texans will be taxed for regardless. Gov. Rick Perry has opposed expanding Medicaid, calling the system “broken.” Instead, Perry has advocated for a block grant which the federal government has thus far seemed disinclined to provide.
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Attendees at an Affordable Care Act enrollment event in LaGrange, Ky., in October. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — People signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s federal and state marketplaces tend to be older and potentially less healthy, officials said Monday, a demographic mix that could threaten the law’s economic underpinnings and cause premiums to rise in the future if the pattern persists.

Questions about the law’s financial viability are likely to become the next line of attack from its critics, as lawmakers gear up for the midterm elections this fall. Republicans quickly seized on the government’s progress report on Monday as evidence that the health insurance law would not work.

But administration officials expressed optimism that more young people would sign up in the months ahead, calling the latest enrollment numbers “solid, solid news” for the health care law. They said that interest in obtaining insurance through the marketplaces was increasing sharply across all age groups and that youth outreach efforts would become more aggressive as the March 31 open enrollment deadline approached.


Health Exchange Enrollment Picked Up in December

Nearly 2.2 million people picked a health insurance plan through the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act through Dec. 28.

OPEN Graphic

“We’re pleased to see such a strong response and heavy demand,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. “Among young adults, the momentum was particularly strong.”

Of those who signed up in the first three months, administration officials said, 55 percent are age 45 to 64. Only 24 percent of those choosing a health insurance plan are 18 to 34, a group that is usually healthier and needs fewer costly medical services. People 55 to 64 — the range just below the age at which people qualify for Medicare — represented the largest group, at 33 percent.

The latest figures about enrollment add pressure on the Obama administration after a disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.gov website in October. Senior officials said they understood the stakes and were working to increase sign-ups. The White House recently hired Marlon Marshall, the deputy national field director for Mr. Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, to run a campaign-style effort aimed at increasing sign-ups, especially among young people.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, predicted that the White House would fail to meet its goals and said that insurance premiums would rise.

“There’s no way to spin it: youth enrollment has been a bust so far,” Mr. Buck said. “When they see that Obamacare offers high costs for limited access to doctors — if the enrollment goes through at all — it’s no surprise that young people aren’t rushing to sign up.”

The demographic information, which had not been broadly available until Monday, also offers the first concrete evidence about whether the national health care experiment will work the way it has in Massachusetts, where a government marketplace also offers insurance to people who do not receive it through their employers. Officials said they were optimistic because the pattern of sign-ups among young people looked similar to the one they had seen in that state, which had a surge in sign-ups as the deadline approached.

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Obama care sign AFP file.JPG
President Barack Obama pictured signing the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. As a result of the law, insurers next year can no longer sell or renew New Jersey’s “basic and essential” health care plans. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
By Ed Beeson/The Star-Ledger
Email the author
on August 18, 2013 at 11:20 AM

The bare-bones health insurance policy that’s been the plan of choice for New Jerseyans who can’t afford something better is set to go away next year, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

And what those policy holders will be left with may be a choice among pricey, pricier and priciest.

About 106,000 people in the Garden State are insured under what are known as “basic and essential,” or B&E, health care plans, according to state data. Since 2003, all health insurers that operate in New Jersey’s individual health market have been required to sell these plans which, as their name implies, offer only a thin layer of coverage for things such as doctor’s office visits and procedures that don’t involve a hospital stay.

But while B&E plans were meant to help young families get coverage and stanch the drop of enrollment in the individual health market, their relatively low price — as little as a couple hundred dollars a month for some people — made them the most popular option for those who don’t get insurance through an employer or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid. About 71 percent of those covered by the individual health market have a B&E plan.

Soon no longer.

In addition to requiring most everyone to carry health insurance, the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — starting next year will force health care plans to cover certain essential services while capping the out-of-pocket fees people pay in addition to their premiums.

As a result, after Dec. 31, insurers won’t be able to sell or renew plans that don’t meet this litmus test. That includes B&E plans.

And these changes won’t come without a cost.

“In general, richer products translate into higher premiums,” said Larry Altman, vice president of the Office of Healthcare Reform at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, New Jersey’s largest health insurer.

Uncertain Costs

How much higher than the amounts people pay for B&E?

That can’t be said just yet, for a number of reasons.

First, federal authorities are still in the process of approving the rates for policies that insurers have proposed selling next year. These will be grouped into four broad categories whose names imply the level of coverage they provide: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. There also will be a no-frills “catastrophic” plan for those 30 and under.

Second, the federal health care law has changed the way in which New Jersey insurers set rates. As a result, people may see higher or lower rates for the same type of coverage they have now, depending on their age, gender and even the number of dependent children they have, according to Altman.

“It could go down for one person and go up for their neighbor,” he said.

Third, many people who live on low to moderate incomes will be eligible for subsidies in the form of federal tax credits. These are meant to help them buy health insurance through the federal insurance exchange set to go live in New Jersey come Oct. 1. More than 610,000 New Jerseyans should be eligible for a subsidy, according to a recent study by advocacy group Families USA, although the size of the credit will vary based on household income.

Subsidies will be available for those whose income is at or below four-times the federal poverty level, or around $46,000 for an individual or about $94,000 for a family of four.

But absent a subsidy?

“A lot of folks on the individual market will see price increases if they’re not eligible,” said Ward Sanders, president of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, a group that represents health insurers.


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One in five families cannot pay for their medical bills – meaning 54 million Americans struggle to afford healthcare


  • Even those who earn twice the poverty threshold have trouble paying
  • Burden of costs affects quarter of those with Medicare or Medicaid

By Daily Mail Reporter





The number of families struggling to pay for their healthcare has come down slightly, but one in five families still struggles to pay for medical bills, federal researchers found.

Figures showed that 20.3 per cent of people under 65 are in families that had trouble paying a medical bill during the first half of 2012.

The figure was down from 21.7 per cent in the first half of 2011, the National Center for Health Statistics found.

Vital signs: The prognosis for affordable healthcare is not looking good, with one in five families struggling

Vital signs: The prognosis for affordable healthcare is not looking good, with one in five families struggling

The numbers will be closely scrutinized as the U.S. moves towards healthcare reform. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is designed to get more people covered by health insurance and, in theory, take away some of the financial burdens.

In the health statistics study Robin Cohen and colleagues looked at data from national surveys for their report.

They excluded people who are 65 or older because they have the right to coverage by Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for the elderly.

However, a quarter of those who had public health insurance such as Medicare or Medicaid struggled to pay for their medical care, the survey found.

‘In the first 6 months of 2012, among persons under age 65, 36.3 per cent of those who were uninsured, 14 per cent of those who had private coverage, and 25.6 per cent of those who had public coverage were in families having problems paying medical bills,’  the report said. 

Poor health: Researchers found 14 per cent of the wealthier families still struggled to pay for their medical bills

Poor health: Researchers found 14 per cent of the wealthier families still struggled to pay for their medical bills



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Fewer Families in U.S. Say Struggling to Pay Medical Bill




Fewer families are struggling to pay their medical bills, according to a report that suggests the cost of health-care may be starting to slow.


About 20 percent of people under 65 reported being in a family that was having problems paying for medical bills in the first six months of 2012, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics. That’s a decrease from about 22 percent in the same period a year earlier, a drop of about 3.6 million people, the report found.


President Obama Speaks About Affordable Care Act


May 10 (Bloomberg) — U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House about the Affordable Care Act and benefits of the law. The White House has stepped up efforts to market the law as it approaches the Oct. 1 debut of health-insurance exchanges, at which millions of Americans will begin purchasing coverage. (Source: Bloomberg)

Health-care costs have eased because of increased use of cheaper generic drugs, more efficient care from hospitals and people putting off procedures during the economic downturn, said Peter Cunningham, a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change. Though the drop in people struggling to pay medical bills isn’t related to the health-care law, the trend may continue when insurance coverage is expanded starting in 2014, he said.

“Based on the earlier trends we’ve noted, this really isn’t a surprise and it coincides with moderating health-care costs,” Cunningham said. “People just started pulling back on what they are using and spending in terms of health care, which isn’t too dissimilar to what we’ve seen in other sectors of the economy.”


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CDC: One in five Americans can’t pay medical bills


CBS  News


When times are tough economically, medical care may suffer.


Recent surveys suggest Americans are skipping necessary medical care or not getting prescriptions filled because of cost concerns.


Play Video

Hospital prices vary widely, report shows



A new government report finds about one in five Americans face problems paying their medical bills, but things may be improving.


Statisticians at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reviewed government survey data, and found 20.3 percent of U.S. adults under 65 had troubles paying medical expenses during the first six months of 2012. That’s down though, from 21.7 percent during the first six months of the previous year. The new statistics, however, still reflect that more than 54 million Americans are facing troubles meeting medical costs.


Expenses may include medication, equipment, home care, or trips to doctors, dentists, hospitals and therapists.


Children 17 and younger were more likely to be in families who had bill problems than adult-only homes.



The new statistical report paints a snapshot of U.S. health care ahead of the Jan. 2014 implementation of the provision in the Affordable Care Act that mandates insurance for all Americans.


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Surprise: Americans are having less trouble paying medical bills.


Washington Post


Here’s a rare bit of good news on health care costs: Americans are having an easier time paying their medical bills than they did just a year ago.


New data from the Center for Disease Control show there were 57.8 million Americans who had trouble paying their health care bills in the first six months of 2011. That number fell by 3.6 million, hitting 54.2 million in the same span of 2012.


medical bills


Many of those gains accrued, perhaps surprisingly, to public health program enrollees, people signed up for programs like Medicaid.


medical costs 2

Splice the data slightly differently, and you can see that families with children under 17 saw a statistically significant


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 photo obamacarelogo_zps3de31909.jpg


The Hill

By Elise Viebeck 04/16/13 10:14 AM ET

House Republicans are moving quickly on a new bill to strengthen ObamaCare’s temporary insurance plan for people with pre-existing conditions.

The Helping Sick Americans Now Act (H.R. 1549) was introduced late Monday and is scheduled for a mark-up Wednesday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The measure seeks to shore up the Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan (PCIP), a struggling program designed to offer insurance to vulnerable patients while the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented.The Obama administration announced earlier this year that it would suspend enrollment in the PCIP, citing cost concerns.

GOP lawmakers have since mounted a push to transfer money from the law’s public and preventive health fund — disparaged as a “slush” fund by Republicans — to reopen the PCIP’s enrollment.

The new measure follows a letter from House GOP leaders to President Obama asking him to make that move without congressional action.

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Politics, Legislation and Economy News

Economic News  :    Rising Costs – Healthcare

Study: Costs will rise on mid-size firms from new healthcare law

By Sam Baker

President Obama’s healthcare law won’t erode employer-based health insurance — but it will raise some companies’ costs by nearly 10 percent, according to a new analysis from the Urban Institute.

Although the law’s critics usually focus on small businesses, the new paper says medium-sized firms will see the biggest cost increase.

Mid-sized businesses — firms that have between 101 and 1,000 employees — would have seen a 9.5 percent jump in their total healthcare costs if the Affordable Care Act had been fully in place this year, the paper says. (Many of the law’s key provisions don’t take effect until 2014.)

Small businesses would have seen their costs fall by 1.4 percent. Firms with more than 1,000 workers would have seen a 4.3 percent increase.

The report confirms one central criticism of the healthcare law — that it will increase employers’ costs — while also undercutting charges that the law will lead employers to quit offering healthcare coverage. Overall, about 4 million more employees would have had healthcare coverage if the ACA had been in place this year, the Urban Institute found.

Higher costs stem largely from expanded coverage, the report says.

“Overall, the evidence simply does not support critics’ arguments that the ACA will burden employers and undermine employer-sponsored health insurance,” the paper says. “On the contrary, except for a cost increase to mid-size employers due largely to enrollment increases, the ACA benefits rather than burdens small employers who want to provide health insurance.”

Small businesses are central to many criticisms of the new law. The National Federation of Independent Business was part of the lawsuit decided by the Supreme Court this summer, and Republican lawmakers argue that the law’s new mandates will crush small employers.

But according to the Urban Institute analysis, tax credits and purchasing efficiencies will help small businesses. New mandates, though, will make coverage more expensive for mid-size and large employers.

Medium-sized companies are less likely to offer health benefits than their larger counterparts, the paper says, and would therefore have to pay more in penalties. The healthcare law charges employers a fine for each worker who receives a government subsidy to buy insurance on his or her own.

Politics, Legislation and Economy News

Economic News  : Healthcare – Legislation – Taxation – Fiscal irresponsibility

There’s A Basic Flaw At The Heart Of Obamacare


Remember the big flap about the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Healthcare Act (AKA – Obamacare – ACA)? The issue that made the headlines was that the Supremes ruled that ACA was legal, provided that the penalty for not having health insurance was collected as a tax.

This is a big deal as the penalty ($700 a year per person) was supposed to be the discipline that forced people to go out and buy their own insurance. One either acquires health insurance, or they pay a price.

The CBO took a look at this last week (link). The results surprised me. The reality is that few people will end up paying the penalties. So the basic premises of ACA is actually a fraud.

CBO estimated that there will be 30Mn uninsured in 2016 when ACA goes into effect. Of that 30Mn, the following groups will be excluded from paying the penalty:

1)   Undocumented workers.

Really? But that is 10Mn people; a third of the problem!

2)   Religious Beliefs

Huh! What religion is that? If it gets you out of paying taxes, I want to join!

3)   Native Americans

Okay, after all, it is their land.

4)   Individuals and families with low incomes.

I can live with this. But isn’t this where we are today? Poor people don’t have health insurance today, and they don’t have to pay any fines. In 2016 they will still have no insurance, and they won’t have to pay any fines. What has been accomplished?

5)   Anyone who does not file federal income taxes.

This is directed to those with income of less than $10k per year (same as #4), but there are an awful lot of people who don’t file taxes who are making much more than the minimum amounts. Most waiters and bartenders would fall into this group.

6)   Individuals who can’t afford the cost of health insurance.

The annual cost of health insurance must be less than 8% of an individual’s income for the penalties to apply. What is this new insurance policy going to cost? If the answer is $250 per month (too low in my opinion) it means that anyone with an income less than $37,500 is excluded. If the cost of that Ins. policy is $500 a month(a more reasonable estimate), then anyone who has annual income of less than $75,000 would be excluded.

With these carve outs the number of individuals who would be subject to the penalty falls to 6Mn (80% drop). But it gets worse:

Among the uninsured individuals subject to the penalty tax, many are expected to voluntarily report on their tax returns that they are uninsured and pay the amount owed. However, other individuals will try to avoid payments.

Oh boy! How many of the remaining 6Mn will “voluntarily” pay the penalty, and how many will seek to “avoid” it? At least half will avoid it. There is not much risk of getting hit by the IRS if one’s income is < $75,000. The IRS does not have the manpower to chase after those who “avoided” the penalty. The CBO recognizes that the actual amount of fees collected is subject to:

the ability of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to administer and collect the penalty.

The only people who are going to end up paying are those who have something to fear from an audit.

Households with income that exceeds $60k are estimated to constitute aboutone-third of people paying penalties and to account for about two-thirds of the receipts from those penalties.

The CBO reckons that Uncle Sam will collect about $8Bn a year in fees. This money will be used to offset some of the costs of the uninsured. The Penalty is also the “stick” of ACA that forces people to get insurance by one means or another. I see it differently:

–       Post the introduction of ACA there will still be 30Mn people without insurance. These people will still get sick or injured; they will continue to be a drag on everyone else.

–       The fees/taxes that are supposed to provide discipline and revenue for ACA will accomplish very little. I will be amazed if the penalties total more than $2Bn a year (peanuts). There will still be 30Mn people without insurance, and they will get sick (not peanuts).

–       The Administration and Congress have cooked up a deal that got amended by the Supremes that will result in a great new opportunity for people to cheat on their taxes. Millions will take advantage.

–       ACA is a wealth redistribution program. ACA will create more TAKERS; the PAYERS will foot the bill.


Mitt probably lost any chance he had with the election with is words about the “other” 47%. But the fact is the country is divided between Takers and Payers. The CBO head, Doug Elmendorf had this to say about the dilemma the country faces:


Formidable? I would say impossible.

Four years from today the Taker – Payer ratio will exceed 50%. The argument then will be the same as it is today. In order to pay for the cost of government, taxes will have to be much higher than the historical norm. But the necessary higher taxes will drag on the economy, and growth will be far less than potential. Sub-par growth means high unemployment and low tax receipts. The vicious debt spiral will continue.

Where does this lead us? Elmendorf’s thoughts:


The conclusion is that we are headed into a crisis, and when it happens we will not have the resources available to fight that crisis off. What kind of plan is that?

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Politics and Legislation

Few Minds Are Changed by Arguments in Court

By Susan Saulny, The New York Times News Service | Report

The morning arguments before the Supreme Court had grown tense just as the lunch crowd was packing into the food court at a downtown Atlanta office complex to watch news coverage of the hearing.

Over a meal of fast food, Bebee Dillard, a cleaning business owner, could not have been more pleased with the conservative justices, who were asking tough questions about the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the law intended to overhaul the nation’s health system. Ms. Dillard objected to the individual mandate — the central provision of the law that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance — and was pleased by the adversarial nature of the arguments.

“It’s the idea of being forced to do anything,” Ms. Dillard, 47, told a reporter……

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District Court Permanently Blocks Oklahoma Ultrasound Law, Expect A Supreme Court Battle

By Robin Marty, RH Reality Check | Report

The 10th Circuit Federal Court has just issued a permanent injunction on a 2010 Oklahoma law that would require all women terminating their pregnancies to first undergo a mandatory ultrasound. The news, which is no doubt welcome to the women in and around Oklahoma who will no longer have to endure the added financial stress and emotional pressure of an unwanted, medically-unnecessary ultrasound, also sets up what is likely to be the next big battle — this time, before the Supreme Court……

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Can the Brics create a new world order?

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa seek a multipolar world – but some argue they’re bound by anti-Americanism

Today’s one-day annual summit of the so-called Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – has received scant attention in the west. That may be because the grouping has achieved little in concrete terms since its inception in 2009. Critics deride it as a photo-op and talking shop.

But this neglect, or disdain, may also reflect the fact that the Brics, representing almost half the world’s population and about one-fifth of global economic output, pose an unwelcome challenge to the established world order as defined by the US-dominated UN security council, the IMF and the World Bank. The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in-between. The five national leaders – presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, Hu Jintao of China and Jacob Zuma of South Africa and their host in Delhi, India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh – are not noted for iconoclastic radicalism.

Rousseff has been the most outspoken, insisting that developing countries must be protected from the global “tsunami” of cheap money, unleashed by the US and the EU in the wake of the financial crisis, that was rendering their exports less competitive. “We will defend our industry and prevent the methods developed countries use to escape from crisis resulting in the cannibalisation of emerging markets,” she said this month…..

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UK fuel-tanker drivers won’t strike over Easter

LONDON (AP) — A union representing British fuel tanker drivers on Friday ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter which had led to some panic-buying in parts of the country.

Unite, which represents around 2,000 tanker drivers, said it retains the right to call a strike if talks due to start next week break down.

The move came after the government had warned consumers to stock up at the pump ahead of any threatened strike, sending gasoline sales soaring as lines formed at gas stations.

In some parts of England the lines were so long that police ordered stations to close to ease congestion.

Britain’s Petrol Retailers Association said that gasoline sales were up more than 170 percent on Thursday, while diesel sales were up almost 80 percent…….

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Amidst the Deepest Slump since the Great Depression, Obama is Touting an “Economic Recovery”

by Barry Grey

While the United States remains mired in the deepest slump since the Great Depression, President Barack Obama is touting a modest improvement in employment over the past several months to boost his electoral prospects in November.

The three-month period from December through February has, according to the Labor Department, seen a net gain of 744,000 jobs, the largest for any three-month stretch since 2006. The official jobless rate has fallen from 9.1 percent in September to 8.3 percent in February.

It is necessary to place these gains within the context of the catastrophic collapse in employment that followed the Wall Street crash of 2008, which has left the US economy with 5 million fewer jobs than at the official start of the recession in December 2007. At the height of the crash, US businesses were cutting more than 744,000 jobs every month.

While the US economy added 335,000 net new manufacturing jobs in 2010 and 2011 combined, it lost 1.6 million manufacturing jobs between January 2008 and March 2009, a reduction of 10 percent. The current level of 12 million manufacturing jobs is down 7.5 million from its peak in 1979.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, speaking Monday at a business conference in Washington DC, was notably cautious about the recent upturn in employment figures. He suggested that the improvement in the labor market could not be sustained at the current rate of economic growth.

“A significant portion of the improvement in the labor market has reflected a decline in layoffs rather than an increase in hiring,” he said, adding, “Conditions remain far from normal, as shown, for example, by the high level of long-term unemployment and the fact that jobs and hours remain well below pre-crisis peaks, even without adjusting for growth in the labor force.”

What Obama and his supporters in the trade union apparatus conceal is the basis for the modest growth in jobs in general, and manufacturing jobs in particular. The president hinted at the question when he spoke last month at the Master Lock factory in Milwaukee. “Our job as a nation,” he declared, “is to do everything we can to make the decision to insource more attractive for more companies.”….

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Wars and Rumors of War

USS Enterprise Prepares To Cross Suez Canal, Days Away From Anchor In Arabian Sea

Much noise has been emanating out of Israel vis-a-vis its Iranian intentions, with some opinions suggesting an attack is imminent, while others claiming that Israel will ultimately defer to D.C., and postpone an attack, and the eventual gasoline price shock, until after the election. The truth is nobody but a few select generals, knows: in warfare surprise is the key factor, so outright flashing invasion intentions is usually an indicator of just the opposite. That said, the most recent update that Azerbaijan has granted Israel access to its airbases along the Iran border is hardly encouraging for Nobel peace prize winners and other pacifists. Yet as we have been claiming for the past two weeks, ever since the launch of CVN-65 on its last tour of duty, the true catalyst, if any, will be the arrival of the USS Enterprise at what may well be its last place of anchor – somewhere in the Arabian Sea, just off the side of CVN 70 and CVN 72 both of which are patrolling the Straits of Hormuz. And as the map from Stratfor below shows, the Enterprise is about to cross the Suez Canal, from which point it will be at most days from entering its catalyst location, namely supporting the Israel air force. Just because the US has never had 3 concurrent aircraft carriers in proximity to Iran before…….

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Drone strikes in Yemen soar as U.S. stokes ‘secret war’

America has dramatically stepped up its “secret war” in Yemen with the U.S. ordering dozens of drone attacks on al-Qaida hotspots, which have also killed scores of civilians.

With the backing of Yemen’s fragile government, President Barack Obama has authorized a rapid increase in attacks since last May, with 26 incidents recorded.

The pace appears to be accelerating, with nine attacks so far this year and at least five this month, including a strike last week near the terrorist hotbed of Zinjibar. Up to 30 militants were killed in three separate missile strikes on the town, witnesses said.

Nationwide the figures are comparable to those in Pakistan, where America has struck on 10 occasions this year, despite a fierce public reaction.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at London’s City University has found that as many as 516 people have been killed in the Yemen attacks – mostly suspected members of al-Qaida’s local ally al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). As many as 104 were civilians……

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Cyber Space

Microsoft censoring Windows Live Messenger chats under guise of fighting piracy

By Madison Ruppert

Piracy seems to be the favorite excuse nowadays when it comes to censorship, destroying internet freedom, and even absurdly large domestic digital surveillance operations.

Now Microsoft, one of the world’s largest corporations in the technology sector, has been actively monitoring and censoring conversations on their Windows Live Messenger program.

Even more disturbing, Microsoft now admits that they have been censoring conversations between users on Windows Live Messenger for quite a while now.

They are blocking certain links from being shared between users, one of which includes the Pirate Bay, one of the most popular and well-known file sharing websites on earth.

Interestingly, they are not only blocking the torrent tracker section of the website which enables peer-to-peer file sharing, they are also blocking a page which is devoted to completely legal file sharing.

Recently popular file sharing news site Torrent Freak discovered the block lists being used by Windows Live Messenger. Interestingly, they found that the Pirate Bay was blocked by the messenger service while other torrent tracking websites which offer the exact same copyrighted content were not.

Today Raw Story discovered that in addition to the Pirate Bay’s main page, Microsoft is also blocking something called “The Promo Bay.”

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Articles of Interest

Patent awarded for “behavioral recognition” surveillance software system

Madison Ruppert, Contributor
Activist Post

The American surveillance state is becoming increasingly advanced, expansive and capable of processing huge amounts of data at blinding speeds.

Now Behavioral Recognition Systems, Inc., also known as BRS Labs, has developed an artificial intelligence-based system which supposedly can automatically recognize human behavior.

Technology which seems similar on the surface already exists and is being used on surveillance platforms like the “Intellistreets” street lights. These street lights, which are outfitted with a great deal of surveillance equipment, are reportedly capable of monitoring activity and telling the difference between certain behaviors while also being able to tell the difference between humans and animals. This technology could be used to enforce curfews, track the movement of individuals, and supposedly spot fights and other crimes…..

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Robotic Sand Flea Jumps 30 Feet

Analysis by Jesse Emspak

……The Sand Flea — along with the throwable Scout XT robot — is headed to Afghanistan, where it will be tested in real-world conditions.

Afghanistan is becoming a hotbed of robotic soldiering, as thousands have already been deployed there. The numbers are even higher when one considers the unmanned aerial vehicles used. Land-bound robots do things like bomb disposal and reconnaissance, reducing the risk to the troops in the field.

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Read the FBI Memo: Agents Can ‘Suspend the Law’

By Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman

The FBI once taught its agents that they can “bend or suspend the law” as they wiretap suspects. But the bureau says it didn’t really mean it, and has now removed the document from its counterterrorism training curriculum, calling it an “imprecise” instruction. Which is a good thing, national security attorneys say, because the FBI’s contention that it can twist the law in pursuit of suspected terrorists is just wrong.

“Dismissing this statement as ‘imprecise’ is a rather unsatisfying response given the very precise lines Congress and the courts have repeatedly drawn between what is and is not permissible, even in counterterrorism cases, over the past decade,” Steve Vladeck, a national-security law professor at American University, says. “It might technically be true that the FBI has certain authorities when conducting counterterrorism investigations that the Constitution otherwise forbids, but that’s good only so far as it goes.”….

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See Image of Memo Here