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Sunday, February 28, 2021

CCA revives institutional racism in Charlestown

Re-hires Indian fighter Joe Larisa as ProJo draws attention to slavery on local plantations

By Will Collette

Violating normal rules of procedure, as well as rules of decency, the ruling Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) forced a third vote by the Town Council to re-hire, notorious attorney Joseph Larisa (left) as Charlestown Special Counsel for Indian Affairs, winning a 3-2 party line vote.

Larisa’s contract renewal for an annual payment of $24,000 a year plus expenses to monitor the behavior of our neighbors, the Narragansett Indian Tribe, was rejected by the Council in December.

But in January, CCA Councilor Susan Cooper, who had apparently been told that her December vote to reject Larisa’s contract renewal was not in keeping with her duty to obey all CCA Party directives, moved in January to reconsider Larisa’s re-hiring but failed on a 2-2 tie vote.

The third time was the charm when, at its regular February meeting, the Council took up the measure again. This time, the CCA Party Council majority prevailed and Injun Joe was re-hired at his old salary of $2,000 a month plus expenses to read news clips and the internet. If he has to do any real lawyering, he can charge Charlestown an additional $130 an hour.

It’s hard to decide where to begin to examine the substance and symbolism of this despicable action, a continuation of our town’s deep-seated problem of institutional racism (detailed HERE).

Following history’s direct line

Great Swamp Massacre monument
Since Larisa is but one episode in Charlestown’s long war with the Narragansett Indian Tribe, let’s start with history. In that, we are aided by an interesting article by G. Wayne Miller of the Projo, who wrote a February 26 article, “Two prominent R.I. families, Champlins and Stantons, had slave labor in 1700s Charlestown.”

Miller was aided in writing the article by the Charlestown Historical Society. The article details an often-forgotten detail of Charlestown’s history – Charlestown and its leading families built their prosperity on the backs of slaves.

While Miller focuses on the use of enslaved Africans, other historians describe the use of Narragansett Indian slaves, tribal members who survived the Great Swamp Massacre in 1675 and later during the King Phillips War. In 1755, one out of three residents of “Narragansett County,” of which Charlestown was part, were slaves.

Charlestown landowners also systematically took tribal lands as their own especially after the 1880 General Assembly declaration that the Tribe no longer existed. By 1882, Charlestown landowners had stolen all but two acres of the Tribe’s land.


Some believe, as I do, that these actions constituted genocide under the definition used by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court:

“The International Court of Justice defines the crime of genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.’”

History shows that between 1675 and 1882, the Narragansetts were slaughtered, enslaved, dispersed and displaced, had their land stolen and then declared nonexistent as a Tribe. By any reasonable reading of international law on genocide, this was it.

The war continues today

The Tribe never accepted this and a century later, the Narragansetts organized to fight back, filing suit in 1975 for the return of their land. 

In 1978, a compromise was reached when Congress passed the Settlement Act that restored 3,200 acres of the Tribe’s land with conditions that limited their sovereign use of that land.

In 1983, the Tribe won official recognition from the federal government. Far from settling affairs between the Tribe and the rest of Charlestown, it simply created new venues for conflict.

In 1992 and 1995, the Tribe proposed either a bingo hall or a casino as a way to bring income into the Tribe. Both plans were beaten down by objections and lawsuits from the town.

Unfinished cottages: elderly affordable housing or
Narragansett casino. You be the judge
In 1991, the Tribe alarmed Charlestown’s elite by buying 31 acres to use for affordable housing for the Tribe’s low-income elderly. 

The Tribe did not ask for Charlestown’s permission, triggering lawsuits to block what some Charlestown leaders felt was a way to sneak a casino into town, despite how totally impractical the site was for a casino.

As photos of the site show, the unfinished cottages could have held at least three slot machines or one roulette wheel each, at least in the fevered minds of some Charlestown leaders.

The Tribe petitioned the US Interior Department to take those 31 acres under trust, thus removing that land from state and local jurisdiction. In 1998, the Interior Department announced that it was granting the Tribe’s petition.


That brought Governor Donald Carcieri into the fight. 

Carcieri had little sympathy for the Tribe as he demonstrated when he ordered the infamous 2003 Smoke Shop raid – a melee between Tribal members and State Police. See photo, left.

The State filed suit to block the Interior Department from taking those 31 acres into trust.

Eventually, the case led to the Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision signed by Justice Clarence Thomas. 

The Court majority ruled the Interior Department could not take those 31 acres into Trust because the Narragansetts (as well as 500 other Indian tribes across the US) had no rights under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) that establishes the relationship between Indian nations and the federal government.

Why, you might ask? The Court ruled that Congress was not clear whether the IRA applied to tribes recognized after the law was enacted in 1934, notwithstanding the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal justice under law.

Charlestown leaders – i.e. the CCA Party – worry Congress might enact a “Carcieri Fix” that clarifies Congress’s intent to treat all Native American tribes equally. That would up-end Charlestown’s domination over the Narragansetts and end the second class status of tribes recognized after 1934. 

Click HERE for a clear explanation of what the Carcieri Fix means from the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Why Charlestown should fire Joe Larisa (again)

One hour of work on retainer, one hour at $130.
Net hourly rate: $1,090
Larisa takes credit for the Carcieri decision but in fact, he was not hired by Charlestown until 2003, five years after the Governor filed the case. 

Larisa’s main duty as Charlestown’s Indian Affairs lawyer has been to watch and wait for any action that might change the effect of the Carcieri Supreme Court ruling.

In the CCA pitch to re-hire Larisa, the CCA councilors stressed how important it is to have an experienced Indian fighter like Larisa on hand to fight any change to the Carcieri status quo even though that case was not his

CCA councilors Cody Clarkin, Susan Cooper and Bonnie Van Slyke argued that Larisa’s experience is both unique in the state and invaluable.

Except that’s not true. Larisa wasn’t even hired when Charlestown waged the lawsuit that morphed into Carcieri v. Salazar. 

Plus, according to Council President Deb Carney, Larisa’s knowledge is not unique: Claire Richards who was on the case is still at the Attorney General’s Office. If the Carcieri case is re-litigated, it won’t be Larisa doing it, but the state.

Also, there’s a reason why no other town has a professional Indian fighter on its payroll: Charlestown is the only town that is in a state of perpetual war with the Narragansetts.

This brings us to the merits of employing Larisa. Is he, as Councilor Cody Clarkin claims “worth it?”

In his letter requesting re-appointment, Larisa claims his victories not just include Carcieri v. Salazar (not his case), but also the Smoke Shop case (not his case). He claims the central role in addressing two police brutality civil rights cases brought by tribal leaders.

Speck leaves court after guilty plea to drug dealing
He omits any mention of his central role in the 2014-15 fiasco over the false arrest of two young members of the Tribe by the later discredited former Charlestown Police officer Evan Speck. Speck was convicted of drug offenses.

Read the unrefuted details of the case in this court filing HERE.

Larisa used the misdemeanor trial in Charlestown v. Gonsalves and Barber as a grandstand for his belief that the Narragansett Indian Tribe has no sovereign authority, a theory that was thoroughly rejected by Judge Joseph Houlihan in his ruling against the Town.

Larisa does not address charges by Tribal elders who have called him racist. I can’t see into Larisa’s heart to determine if he has racist intent, but I can look at his actions to see clear racist effect. But to the CCA Party, Larisa is a heroic figure standing up for the Town’s supremacy over the Tribe.

CCA Councilors Susan Cooper and Bonnie Van Slyke argue we need to have Larisa under retainer so he won’t represent interests contrary to Charlestown’s. But he already does!

There is consensus in Charlestown against a Charlestown casino, but no consensus to block the Tribe from making any economic progress. 

Nonetheless, as Charlestown’s official Indian fighter, Larisa worked to block the Tribe from getting into other gaming interests elsewhere, including fighting the statewide referendum on the Tribe’s proposal for a casino in West Warwick, and the Tribe’s attempts to buy into Twin Rivers and the new Tiverton casino.

If all we want is to block a casino here, it would have been in our interests to help the Tribe find opportunities that don’t adversely affect Charlestown. But instead, Larisa has worked to block every such effort by the Tribe. From this, I conclude the CCA’s real agenda is to use Larisa to block the Tribe from gaining any economic power to make them easier to dominate.

Scout’s Honor

On February 5, I sent Councilor Cody Clarkin (left) a detailed account of the reasons why he should vote “no” to re-hiring Larisa. I had hoped his history of service to the town when he was an Eagle Scout would mean he shared the Scouts’ strong stand against institutional racism.

I was wrong. At 6:40 PM, February 8, 20 minutes before the start of the Council meeting where he voted the CCA line to re-hire Larisa, Clarkin sent me this e-mail:

Hi Mr. Collette,

I wanted to thank you for all of the articles and stories regarding Joe Larisa. As a lifelong resident, I have been aware of most of the big happenings in town over the past fifteen years but I cannot express my thanks enough that there are people like you that care about all of the happenings. The ones that go under the radar or aren’t big enough to garner the wider attention, still deserve to be understand [SIC] and recorded.

I have taken your comments under consideration over the weekend and today while I thought about this item. I do believe Charlestown is better served with an Indian Affairs lawyer at this time. Going through Larisa’s bills there are big items, like the Invergy [SIC] or Railroad fight, that included large bills. Without the retainer, those bills could go up drastically.

In the coming months if there is a time that you are available to meet over Zoom or a phone call it would be great to get to meet you and open a dialogue on other issues the town is facing or will face. Let me know if you are interested and if you are when would work best for you.

Best, Cody Clarkin

Clarkin is correct in noting the large number of hours Larisa claimed for the Invenergy and AMTRAK fights. However, as I have detailed in earlier articles, Larisa had no useful role to play in either campaign.

In the Invenergy fight, his intervention only served to wipe out the good will built between Tribal members and the town through collaboration to protect Charlestown drinking water. 

If anything, Invenergy and AMTRAK are two examples of Larisa padding his bills and his C.V.

Through the CCA Party’s abuse of its power, we have had a major setback in the fight against institutional racism.

Rather than acknowledge our long, shameful history with the Tribe and follow the example of the Chariho School District that set up a special taskforce to examine institutional racism in the school system, Charlestown has made a murky regression.

I agree with Council President Carney’s closing words on this subject: “It’s time to rethink our relationship to our Narragansett friends.”



New study identifies bird species that could spread ticks and Lyme disease

Global synthesis reveals bird traits that promote Lyme and flags high-risk species

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Birds play an underrecognized role in spreading tickborne disease due to their capacity for long-distance travel and tendency to split their time in different parts of the world -- patterns that are shifting due to climate change. 

Knowing which bird species are able to infect ticks with pathogens can help scientists predict where tickborne diseases might emerge and pose a health risk to people.

A new study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography used machine learning to identify bird species with the potential to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) to feeding ticks. 

The team developed a model that identified birds known to spread Lyme disease with 80% accuracy and flagged 21 new species that should be prioritized for surveillance.

Can cream stop skin cancer?

Clinical trial to evaluate whether topical medication can prevent common skin cancer

Brown University

Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, a professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Brown University, will lead a six-year clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of a topical medication as a way to prevent the most common type of cancer in the United States.

Backed by a $34 million award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program, the study will investigate the potential of imiquimod, a topical medication with minimal side effects, as a preventive measure against basal cell carcinoma.

Weinstock — who is the chief of dermatology research for the V.A. Providence Healthcare System — will lead the trial with co-chair Dr. Robert Dellavalle, chief of dermatology for the V.A. Eastern Colorado Health Care System and a University of Colorado School of Medicine professor.

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs on the face and requires surgery to avoid serious complications. 

An effective preventive medication could help many patients avoid or at least postpone the risks of surgery, and decrease the need for medical visits and their resulting costs, Weinstock said.

Vaccinating children: Is COVID-19 herd immunity possible without them?

The researchers aren't sure 

Rodney E. RohdeTexas State University

Most children don’t get severely ill from COVID-19, but they
can still spread the virus. AP Photo/John Minchillo
It may be summer before children under 16 can be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States. That’s a problem for reaching herd immunity quickly.

Children are a significant portion of the population – roughly 65 million are under the age of 16, making up 20% of people in the U.S. 

While children appear to face less danger of severe illness or death, they can still spread the virus, though how much young children contribute to transmission is still unclear.

Some simple math shows why America has an immunization numbers problem.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Trumpedemic: The Coronavirus Death Toll Reached 500,000 Because Trump Sabotaged the Covid Response

Donald Trump Placed His Perceived Political Interests Over Stopping a Pandemic

By Mitchell Zimmerman

An economy devastated. One in twelve Americans sickened. Millions hospitalized. One half million dead.

As we mourn 500,000 Americans who have died of Covid-19, we should remember that their deaths were not the inevitable results of a pandemic, not unavoidable acts of God. Most of the dead would likely be alive today – most of the suffering America has endured could have been avoided – but for Donald Trump.

In our year of the plague, Trump went from neglect and incompetence to sabotaging the national response, causing massive death.

A cynical and self-absorbed man, Trump saw a lethal contagion only an opportunity for political gain. He calculated that his prospects for reelection would be advanced if he generated political warfare over the difficult steps public health authorities knew were needed. So he called coronavirus a “hoax,” mobilized his credulous base to go to war against public health officials, and systematically undermined efforts to confront the challenge.

Trump understood coronavirus was no hoax. “This is deadly stuff,” he told journalist Bob Woodward in interviews early on. “It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

But Trump opposed actions “disruptive” of life as usual because he saw a rising stock market as key to reelection and feared that recognizing the crisis would “spook the market.” So he laid his political bets on opposing serious efforts to contain coronavirus and mobilized Republicans to resist precautions.

Trump’s resistance derailed efforts at the outset to limit the exponential spread of the disease. Epidemiology researchers from Columbia University concluded in May 2020:

“If the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths – about 83 percent – would have been avoided.”

In a mere two-and-a-half weeks, from March 18 to the beginning of April, identified Covid-19 cases would leap from 8,500 to 240,000 and deaths from 145 to over 7,000. Tragically, this was only the beginning. Once the disease had spread so widely, reining it in became exponentially more difficult.

Slowing Covid-19’s spread was hindered by longstanding weaknesses in our health care system and our threadbare social safety net.

The number of people without health insurance grew in the Trump years, particularly among people of color and vulnerable groups. And with no national requirements for sick leave – seven in 10 of the lowest paid workers have zero paid sick leave – millions who contracted Covid-19 were reluctant to quarantine and slow to seek medical care they couldn’t afford and risk their jobs.

Trump’s attacks on documented immigrants, threatening their status if they used public services, also made many reluctant to resort to medical resources specifically intended to safeguard health.  The crowded housing where the less-well-off reside, with health-impairing conditions such as pests, mold, chronic dampness, lead exposure and inadequate heating, also exacerbated health risks. And people of color and the poor suffer disproportionately from asthma and other respiratory conditions that make them sitting ducks for Covid-19.

All of these preexisting social and health conditions made tens of millions more vulnerable to coronavirus and accelerated its spread.

Against this backdrop, Donald Trump turned to sabotage. He campaigned against social distancing, mask use and closures. He convinced Republicans they were defending “liberty” when they behaved in a manner likely to spread infections, threatened public health officers, and defied public health requirements.

Inevitably, thwarting the recommendations of doctors, scientists and public health leaders led to a massive loss of life. No other country on Earth has had as many coronavirus cases or deaths as the U.S. Germany’s Covid-19 death rate is about half of ours. Canada, one third.  

Combatting a pandemic requires that the people of a country accept the need for sacrifice, that they act together and that they have the support of their government to endure the death of loved ones, serious illness, loss of income, school closures, and limitations on contact with friends, family and colleagues. It also requires government to recognize that the pandemic cannot be stopped unless the authorities remedy the vulnerability of those most afflicted.

When instead a president mobilizes as many as quarter or a third of the population to rebel against the discipline needed to contain the pandemic, it becomes nearly impossible to control the outbreak.

President Biden is providing a reality-based, science-respecting and honest response to the pandemic. But to be effective, Democrats’ coronavirus plan must also confront the “underlying conditions” that have facilitated mass illness and death.

Coronavirus may not be the last epidemic to strike the world and America. We must attack the roots as well as the symptoms when contagion strikes.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning.

VIDEO: Drug of choice

 To watch this video on YouTube:

March 9: Free on-line program on preparing for the coming major floods

Coastal State Discussion Webinar: The Future of Coastal Megaprojects

Monica Allard Cox

Rhode Island is long overdue for a major hurricane. Even a brush with Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which caused $11.2 million in damages and left 122,000 Rhode Islanders without power, was not a worst-case scenario, but a reminder of the state’s exposure and vulnerability. 

And a record-setting hurricane season in 2020 with 30 named storms, 12 of which made landfall in the U.S., was another reminder of how a changing climate makes rising seas and storm flooding more devastating.

Storm surge barriers, levees, and other coastal flood protection megaprojects are being investigated as strategies to protect U.S. cities against devastating coastal storms and rising sea levels. But these projects are large scale and complex, often taking years to decades to complete and costing billions of dollars with long-lasting impacts on the economy, environment, and society. 

Additional layers of social conflict and other political factors also cast doubt on their ability to serve as practical climate adaptation options.

On March 9 from 3 to 5 p.m., Paul Kirshen, professor of climate adaptation at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and D.J. Rasmussen, an engineer and climate scientist who recently graduated from Princeton University’s School of Public Policy & International Affairs, will discuss the technical, environmental, economic, and political factors of why some coastal flood protection megastructures break ground in the U.S. while others do not, using Boston Harbor and Rhode Island’s Fox Point Hurricane Barrier in Providence–the first gated hurricane-protection structure in the U.S.– as case studies.

Salt battery design overcomes bump in the road to help electric cars go the extra mile

Building a better battery

University of Nottingham

Using salt as a key ingredient, Chinese and British researchers have designed a new type of rechargeable battery that could accelerate the shift to greener, electric transport on our roads.

Many electric vehicles (EV) are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, but they can lose energy and power over time. Under certain conditions, such batteries can also overheat while working or charging, which can also degrade battery life and reduce miles per charge.

To solve these issues, the University of Nottingham is collaborating with six scientific research institutes across China to develop an innovative and affordable energy store with the combined performance merits of a solid-oxide fuel cell and a metal-air battery. The new battery could significantly extend the range of electric vehicles, while being fully recyclable, environmentally-friendly, low-cost and safe.

Researchers propose that humidity from masks may lessen severity of COVID-19

Study compares how different face masks affect humidity inside the mask

NIH/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

NIDDK’s Dr. Joseph Courtney breathes into sealed box while wearing
a mask
Masks help protect the people wearing them from getting or spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but now researchers from the National Institutes of Health have added evidence for yet another potential benefit for wearers: The humidity created inside the mask may help combat respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.

The study, led by researchers in the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), found that face masks substantially increase the humidity in the air that the mask-wearer breathes in. 

This higher level of humidity in inhaled air, the researchers suggest, could help explain why wearing masks has been linked to lower disease severity in people infected with SARS-CoV-2, because hydration of the respiratory tract is known to benefit the immune system. The study published in the Biophysical Journal.

How to spot a liar

This new method is effective and ethical

Cody PorterUniversity of Portsmouth

Guilty? The length of your answer may give it away. 
Motortion Films/Shutterstock
Most people lie occasionally. The lies are often trivial and essentially inconsequential – such as pretending to like a tasteless gift. 

But in other contexts, deception is more serious and can have harmful effects on criminal justice. From a societal perspective, such lying is better detected than ignored and tolerated.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect lies accurately. Lie detectors, such as polygraphs, which work by measuring the level of anxiety in a subject while they answer questions, are considered “theoretically weak” and of dubious reliability. 

This is because, as any traveler who has been questioned by customs officials knows, it’s possible to be anxious without being guilty.

We have developed a new approach to spot liars based on interviewing technique and psychological manipulation, with results just published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

Our technique is part of a new generation of cognitive-based lie-detection methods that are being increasingly researched and developed. These approaches postulate that the mental and strategic processes adopted by truth-tellers during interviews differ significantly from those of liars. By using specific techniques, these differences can be amplified and detected.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Trump Intelligence Chiefs Hid Evidence Of Russian Election Interference

 Internal Intelligence Community Report Names Grenell and Ratcliffe for ‘Politicalization’ of Analysts’ Findings

By Alison Greene

Even in his re-election campaign, Trump's ties to Russia
stood out
Lost in the news on the day of Trump’s Insurrection was a devastating new watchdog report to Congress on the politicizing and distorting of intelligence during Donald Trump’s time in office.

The analytic ombudsman, career intelligence community veteran Barry A. Zulauf, determined that under Trump national intelligence reports had become highly politicized. 

Important findings were suppressed to appease Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in American elections.

Zulauf’s unclassified report paints a frightening picture of just how much the Trump administration skewed intelligence to suppress knowledge of interference by Russia in our 2020 elections.

From March 2020, in the critical months leading up to the elections, Zulauf “identified a long story arc of—at the very least—perceived politicization of intelligence.”

Bow all ye Trumpnuts and worship the Golden Jackass

This is a screenshot from a video posted by Bloomberg News showing a golden statue of Donald Trump being wheeled into the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) convention. It's in Orlando, Florida (of course). Trump is scheduled to speak this weekend. 

You just can't make this stuff up.

Trump will probably insist on taking the statue home to Mar-A-Lago since it certainly matches his style and taste. This is also another clear sign of the rapid movement of the Trumplican Party into becoming a religious cult.

Who could tell?


Tomaquag Museum gears up to build new site near URI

18 acre site on Ministerial Road will cost $4 million

By Will Collette

G. Wayne Miller recently wrote an interesting piece in the Providence Journal that announced major progress in finding a new home for the Tomaquag Museum.

The Museum is a local treasure of Native American history and culture despite its cramped quarters and out of the way site in Exeter. 

Executive Director Loren Spears, a Narragansett-Ninigret, has been working on a new and improved museum for a long time.

Progressive Charlestown first reported on the effort in January 2015 when Westerly was considered the prime site. Charlestown architectural design firm Oyster Works drew up the master plan for that site.

Miller’s article notes that Tomaquag has now finalized the agreement with URI to use the new 18-acre rural site on Ministerial Road south of Route 138 in South Kingstown.

They are getting design help from RISD and Frank Karpowicz Architects of Wakefield have drawn up the landscaping plan and design of the four new buildings.

According to Miller’s article, the $4 million capital campaign will kick off in the fall (though you can CLICK HERE to give now).

They hope to break ground next year and open in 2023.

I’ve been to the Tomaquag Museum half a dozen times and enjoyed every visit, knowing that I would learn something new every time.

Rhode Island School of Design and the Wakefield firm of Frank Karpowicz Architects on landscaping and design of the four buildings that will comprise the new museum campus. A capital campaign for the $4-million project will begin this fall, with groundbreaking expected in 2022 and opening in 2023.

Cathy and I have also met some great artists during our visits – potters, wood-workers and the amazing Allen Hazard who created museum-quality jewelry from quahog shells.

Here's Loren (center) out on the line along Route 2
Loren is also active in education and public affairs. She has given talks and led workshops for many groups in the area, several of which we have publicized in Progressive Charlestown.

In Fall 2017, Loren was one of the organizers of the first protests in Charlestown against the Invenergy power plant’s now defunct scheme to truck out Charlestown water to supply the plant. She and many other Narragansett Tribe members started Charlestown’s resistance to the broadly reviled plan that was later joined by the rest of Charlestown.

I plan to contribute to the building fund to build a new Tomaquag Museum and I hope you will, too.

If it fits, you won't emit

Proper fit of face masks is more important than material, study suggests

Fitting the face perfectly is a difficult technical challenge and small differences, such as a centimetre wider nose or slightly fuller cheeks, can make or break the fit of a mask

Eugenia O'Kelly

N95 and KN95 respirators tested. Top row, from left to right: 3M 8511, 3M 8200, Aero Pro AP0028. Bottom row, from left to right: Makrite 9500, Xiantao Zong ZYB-11, Zhong Jian Le KN95.

A team of researchers studying the effectiveness of different types of face masks has found that in order to provide the best protection against COVID-19, the fit of a mask is as important, or more important, than the material it is made of.

The results, published in the journal PLoS ONE, also suggest that the fit-check routine used in many healthcare settings has high failure rates, as minor leaks may be difficult or impossible to detect by the wearer. 

While the sample size was small, the researchers hope their findings will help develop new fit tests that are quick and reliable, in the case of future public health emergencies. The current study only evaluated the impact of fit on the wearer of the mask – the team will evaluate how fit impacts the protection of others in future research.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, carried out a series of different fit tests, and found that when a high-performance mask – such as an N95, KN95 or FFP2 mask – is not properly fitted, it performs no better than a cloth mask. Minor differences in facial features, such as the amount of fat under the skin, make significant differences in how well a mask fits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made well-fitting face masks a vital piece of protective equipment for healthcare workers and civilians. While the importance of wearing face masks in slowing the spread of the virus has been demonstrated, there remains a lack of understanding about the role that good fit plays in ensuring their effectiveness.

“We know that unless there is a good seal between the mask and the wearer’s face, many aerosols and droplets will leak through the top and sides of the mask, as many people who wear glasses will be well aware of,” said Eugenia O’Kelly from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s first author. 

“We wanted to quantitatively evaluate the level of fit offered by various types of masks, and most importantly, assess the accuracy of implementing fit-checks by comparing fit-check results to quantitative fit testing results.”

For the study, seven participants first evaluated N95 and KN95 masks by performing a fit check, according to NHS guidelines. Participants then underwent quantitative fit testing – which uses a particle counter to measure the concentration of particles inside and outside the mask – while wearing N95 and KN95 masks, surgical masks, and fabric masks. The results assessed the protection to the mask wearer, which is important in clinical settings.

N95 masks – which are a similar standard to the FFP3 masks available in the UK and the rest of Europe – offered higher degrees of protection than the other categories of masks tested; however, most N95 masks failed to fit the participants adequately.

In their study, the researchers found that when fitted properly, N95 masks filtered more than 95% of airborne particles, offering superior protection. However, in some cases, poorly-fitted N95 masks were only comparable with surgical or cloth masks.

“It’s not enough to assume that any single N95 model will fit the majority of a population,” said O’Kelly. “The most widely-fitting mask we looked at, the 8511 N95, fit only three out of the seven participants in our study.”

One observation the researchers made during their study was the width of the flange of the mask - the area of the material which comes in contact with the skin – may be a critical feature to fit. Masks which fit the greatest number of participants tended to have wider, more flexible flanges around the border.

In addition, small facial differences were observed to have a significant impact on quantitative fit. “Fitting the face perfectly is a difficult technical challenge and, as our research showed, small differences such as a centimetre wider nose or slightly fuller cheeks can make or break the fit of a mask,” said O’Kelly.

Self-performed fit-checks are attractive because they save on time and resources, and are often the only method of fit testing available. However, this study, and studies of fit-check systems in other countries, indicate that such fit-check systems are not reliable.

The researchers hope that their results will be of use for those who are working on new technologies and programmes to assess fit, so that healthcare and other frontline workers are adequately protected in the case of any future pandemics. Additionally, they hope these results will bring attention to the importance of fit in clinical-grade masks, especially if such masks are to be widely used by the public.  This study did not evaluate the impact of fit on protecting others, which is a future area of research. 

Eugenia O’Kelly et al. ‘Comparing the fit of N95, KN95, surgical, and cloth face masks and assessing the accuracy of fit checking.’ PLoS ONE (2021). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245688

Catching COVID from surfaces is very unlikely

Perhaps we can ease up on the disinfecting

A lot has happened over the past year, so you can be forgiven for not having a clear memory of what some of the major concerns were at the beginning of the pandemic.

However, if you think back to the beginning of the pandemic, one of the major concerns was the role that surfaces played in the transmission of the virus.

As an epidemiologist, I remember spending countless hours responding to media requests answering questions along the lines of whether we should be washing the outside of food cans or disinfecting our mail.

I also remember seeing teams of people walking the streets at all hours wiping down poles and cleaning public benches.

But what does the evidence actually say about surface transmission more than 12 months into this pandemic?

Before addressing this, we need to define the question we’re asking. The key question isn’t whether surface transmission is possible, or whether it can occur in the real world — it almost certainly can.

The real question is: what is the extent of the role of surface contact in the transmission of the virus? That is, what is the likelihood of catching COVID via a surface, as opposed to other methods of transmission?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Time to bring charges against Trump

 GOP senators said Trump was culpable, but he’s a “private citizen” now. Fine — indict him like one.

By Mitchell Zimmerman

In the wake of his second impeachment acquittal, Donald Trump proclaimed victory in what he called “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country.”

Trump was acquitted. But the Senate hardly absolved him: A 57-to-43 majority concluded he had incited a riot.

Few if any of those who voted to acquit did so because they considered Trump innocent of the charge. Rather, after refusing to hold the trial while he was still in office, they relied on the technicality that Donald Trump is now “a private citizen.”

All the more reason, then, to hold Citizen Trump responsible under criminal law for his effort to overthrow our democracy by force. Maybe it’s time for him to face 12 jurors.

Many Republicans agree Trump was responsible for the sacking of the Capitol.

“There is no question, none,” said GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, “that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day… A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him.”

Similarly, GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy concluded, “The president bears responsibility” for the “attack by mob rioters.”

Donald Trump whipped up his supporters, including violent white supremacists he had previously instructed to “stand by,” and incited them to march to the Capitol, “never give up,” “fight much harder,” and “fight like hell” — as hard as it took to “stop the steal.”  That meant: Do whatever it takes to force Congress to set aside Joe Biden’s election victory.

A few political leaders have called for an indictment, but not many. Perhaps they don’t want to politicize criminal law enforcement.

But silence is still political. It reflects a presumption of impunity for presidents and other high officials. It’s the same impunity that protected Richard Nixon from being charged with conspiracy to commit burglary and Bush-era cabinet officials from being charged with conspiracy to commit torture following 9/11.

The First Amendment protects offensive and controversial speech, even Trump’s “right” to utter the lie that the election was stolen. But it includes no right to incite mob violence.

Supreme Court decisions have long confirmed that you can be charged with a crime if your speech is (1) “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) “likely to incite or produce such action.” The First Amendment does not protect “preparing a group for violent action and steeling it to such action.”

A Sixth Circuit case involving Trump himself explains: If a speech “explicitly or implicitly encourage[s] the use of violence or lawless action” and violent or lawless response is likely and imminent, you’ve gone beyond free speech.

That’s what we all saw Trump do on national television.

Over the last four years Trump has repeatedly been denounced for acting as though he were above the law. We can’t allow a supposed need for “unity” to confirm that he was right.

Editor's Note: I've read this book and
highly recommend it - Will Collette
Impunity is incredibly dangerous. In Central America, it means you never worry about being prosecuted if you’re a corrupt police chief. In Russia, it means you can poison your political enemies without punishment. In Saudi Arabia, it means you can literally dismember a critic in another country’s embassy and suffer no consequences.

And here in the United States, it may mean you can incite your supporters to sack the Capitol — and feel free to try again in the future.

Impunity is a disease that rots the rule of law. Left unchecked, it will rot American democracy. America must teach Donald Trump that he is not above the law — and that his impunity has finally come to an end.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning. This op-ed was distributed by

Give it to me now

By Matt WuerkerPolitico