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Sunday, October 1, 2023

It's in the Constitution

By Paul Noth


Drug-sniffing cats

Jake Thompson 

PUC approves scaled-down ‘smart meter’ plan from RI Energy

Will these devices be in your self interest?

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

Smart meters that allow people to monitor their energy usage in real time – and help the utility company track and fix outages faster – are coming to Rhode Island under a plan approved by utility regulators on Wednesday.

The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission’s 3–0 vote authorizes Rhode Island Energy to move ahead with an 11-year plan to overhaul the outdated power grid, replacing more than half a million electric meters in customers’ homes and businesses. 

The caveat: The utility company can’t spend quite as much as it originally proposed.

As part of its approval, the PUC capped Rhode Island Energy’s spending on the plan at $153 million – an 18.6% cut over the $188 million cost initially put forth.

The spending cap comes in part from disputed estimates of the value the new technology will bring. 

Rhode Island Energy said the project will bring $729 million in value to customers over the next 20 years, touting the return-on-investment as more than three times what it planned to spend – and charge to customers. 

But the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers in separate analysis warned that the company may have overestimated the cost-savings from faster outage notification, energy usage reduction and other factors, suggesting a return-on-investment of $266 million.

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General in a separate filing also recommended capping company spending, including a shorter-term limit on implementation spending in addition to the long-term maximum.

The PUC’s decision leaves it up to Rhode Island Energy to decide whether to move ahead with the plan.

Age, not money

Scientists Reveal at what age are we happiest?


A comprehensive review by several universities found that life satisfaction drops from ages 9 to 16, rises slightly until 70, then drops again until 96. Positive emotions generally decrease from age 9 to 94, while negative emotions fluctuate early on, decline until 60, and then increase.

An analysis of more than 400 samples sheds light on the progression of subjective well-being throughout a person’s life.

When do people reach their peak happiness? This seemingly simple question has been studied extensively over the past decades, but a definitive answer has long been elusive.

Powdered wigs and all

The Supreme Court’s originalists have taken over − here’s how they interpret the Constitution

Whitley R.P. KaufmanUMass Lowell

Nine people in black robes, sitting in two rows against a red curtain.
A majority of these justices embrace originalism to a
greater or lesser degree.
 AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Today a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices are either self-described originalists or strongly lean toward originalism. Yet less than 50 years ago, originalism was considered a fringe movement, hardly taken seriously by most legal scholars.

So, what is originalism, and why is it so influential today?

Originalism is the theory that judges are bound to interpret the Constitution as it would have been interpreted in the historical era when it was written. Understood this way, originalism is the idea that judges must follow the law as written and not merely ignore it or reinterpret it to their liking.

Why, then, aren’t all judges and legal scholars originalists?

How to read a constitution

There is no real controversy among judges or politicians about many provisions of the Constitution, for example that the president must be at least 35 years old or that each state gets exactly two senators.

But the challenge arises with certain passages in the Constitution – for example, the Fifth Amendment guarantee of “due process,” that is, the right to some sort of legal procedure when the government attempts to deprive someone of “life, liberty or property,” or the 14th Amendment’s principle of “equal protection of the laws.”

What these have in common is that they are written in vague, open-ended language, with no concrete guidance for interpreting the law. Few if any people would deny that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law. But what exactly does that mean?

Does a law providing for marriage only between a man and a woman violate equal protection, because it excludes gay marriages? Does a law that prohibits bigamy violate equal protection, since it excludes plural marriages? How is a judge to decide, given the vagueness of the text?

It is here in these moments that the originalists and their critics part ways.

For the critics, the only way to interpret the abstract principles such as “due process” or “equal protection” is to look to the overall values and purpose of the Constitution as well as evolving societal values – after all, the very words “due” and “equal” are value terms.

When the Constitution was written, for example, only men were eligible for public office. Thus, the Constitution uses “he” 26 times, in reference to the president, vice president, citizens and others, and never uses “she.” Do these rules now apply only to males?

Of course not.

When the Constitution was written, it was assumed that the sexes had separate spheres. Men belonged in politics, women to the domestic sphere. When that fundamental value judgment shifted radically in the 20th century – as expressed in the 19th Amendment giving women the vote – it meant that the Constitution had to be read in a new way so that “he” is now interpreted as inclusive.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Washington Trust scandal leads minority legislators to seek legislative remedies

RI Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus will explore potential legislation to better prevent redlining

The Rhode Island Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus (RIBLIA) will explore whether state-level legislative fixes could prevent redlining. 

Their announcement comes after learning about the recent Washington Trust bank settlement with the Department of Justice over accusations of “redlining” minority neighborhoods in Rhode Island.

The caucus is chaired by Sen. Jonathon Acosta (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) and Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket).

“The allegations that caused this settlement are deeply concerning to Rhode Island’s minority populations and, whether intentional or not, the practice of restricting and hampering standard banking services in Rhode Island’s Black and Brown communities needs to end. 

"We are grateful for the hard work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their investigation. Speaking generally, we fear allegations such as these may be an early warning sign of how the banking sector across our state treats communities of color. 

"The RIBLIA Caucus will explore if potential legislative action on the state level could help prevent redlining and better ensure that the state’s minority residents are not discriminated against. All of our state’s residents deserve the same access to credit and banking services in order to achieve the American Dream,” said the caucus.

The RIBLIA Caucus represents and advocates for the interests of disadvantaged people throughout the State of Rhode Island. It seeks to increase a diverse participation and representation in all levels of government. 

The goal is to close, and ultimately to eliminate, disparities that still exist between white and non-white Americans in every aspect of life.

Thank you for your service, General Milley


So sad

Communing with plants

Take a break from your screen and look at plants

Jacob S. SuissaUniversity of Tennessee and Ben Goulet-ScottHarvard University

You may be surprised by what’s growing on a familiar trail. 
Benjamin Goulet-ScottCC BY-ND
When you hear about the abundance of life on Earth, what do you picture? For many people, it’s animals – but awareness of plant diversity is growing rapidly.

Our planet has nearly 300,000 species of flowering plants. Among animals, only beetles can compete with that number. There are more species of ferns than birds, more mints than mammals, and more beans than butterflies. Measured in total mass, plants make up 82% of all life on land across the globe.

We are plant scientists and co-founders of Let’s Botanize, an educational nonprofit that uses plant life to teach about ecology, evolution and biodiversity. In the past several years we have witnessed a botanical boom, with participation in plant-based hobbies surging. From cultivating houseplants to foraging for wild foods and outdoor gardening, plant appreciation is on the rise.

Botanizing is spending time alongside plants in order to observe and appreciate them as living organisms – like birding, but with subjects that stay in place. 

When you botanize, a simple walk in the woods becomes an immersive experience shared with many species. Getting to know your nonhuman neighbors is a way to engage with a changing planet.

Burgers and fries with a side of PFAS

Nothing's sacred

EHN Staff

OK, let’s start with the bad news: a new report from Mamavation found evidence of PFAS chemicals in food packaging including a McDonald’s filet-o-fish carton, a Starbucks’ sandwich wrapper and a KFC bucket of fried chicken.

That’s not good. But many of these fast-food and fast-casual restaurants have announced plans to ban the “forever chemicals” and for some — Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Sweetgreen and others — it seems to be working. 

In total 35% of 81 pieces of fast-food packaging showed detectable levels of organic fluorine, an indicator of the group of chemicals known as PFAS, according to a new report from Mamavation.

What rights are in jeopardy in the new Supreme Court term?

Supreme Court supermajority will clarify its constitutional revolution this year, deciding cases on guns and regulations

Morgan Marietta, University of Texas at Arlington

Guns lying on glass display shelves.
Semi-automatic firearms are seen displayed on shelves in
a gun store in Austin, Texas.
 Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images
The first Monday in October, the traditional date for the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term, is almost here: On Oct. 2, 2023, the court will meet after the summer recess, with the biggest case of the term focused on the limits of individual gun rights.

The other core issue for the coming year is a broad reassessment of the power of the administrative state.

Both issues reflect a court that has announced revolutionary changes in doctrine and must now grapple with how far the new principles will reach.

Two years ago, the court began what many consider to be a constitutional revolution.

The new supermajority of six conservative justices rapidly introduced new doctrines across a range of controversies including abortion, guns, religion and race.

When the court announces a new principle – for example, a limit on the powers of a specific part of government – citizens and lawyers are not sure of the full ramifications of the new rule. How far will it go? What other areas of law will come under the same umbrella?

In a revolutionary period, aggressive litigants will push the boundaries of the new doctrine, attempting to stretch it to their advantage. After a period of uncertainty, a case that defines the limits on the new rule is likely to emerge.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Boss Trump threatens autoworkers to endorse him or die

Trump to UAW: Endorse me or you won’t have a union

By Andrew Roth, Rhode Island Current

Former President Donald Trump told United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders Wednesday that they would not have a union if they fail to endorse him in the 2024 presidential election.

“They have to endorse Trump, because if they don’t, all they’re doing is committing suicide,” Trump said.

UAW President Shawn Fain criticized Trump’s Wednesday night visit to Drake Enterprises, a non-union automotive parts manufacturer in Clinton Township, which the former president scheduled to counterprogram the second 2024 Republican presidential debate.

Only the important issues

For more cartoons from Tom Tomorrow, CLICK HERE


Renowned New Zealand PM will speak at Brown on October 5

Former NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to speak at Brown about global leadership

In an Odgen Memorial Lecture on Oct. 5, Ardern will share insights from her six years as prime minister, her commitment to women’s empowerment and her passionate advocacy for climate action.

Jacinda Ardern, who served as prime minister of New Zealand from 2017 to 2023, will visit Brown University on Thursday, Oct. 5, to deliver the 102nd Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs.

In a presentation titled “Global Leadership in the 21st Century,” Ardern will share insights from her career in public service.

In 2017, Ardern became prime minister of New Zealand at just 37 years of age. 

During her time in office, she faced the challenges of a live-streamed domestic terror attack against the nation’s Muslim community, a volcanic eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ardern’s focus on people, kindness and what she has called “pragmatic idealism” saw New Zealand achieve some of the lowest losses of life experienced by any developed nation through the pandemic, the ban of military style semi-automatic weapons, and creation of the Christchurch Call to Action to eliminate violent extremism online, with which Ardern continues to hold the role of special envoy. 

Ardern is a champion of women’s empowerment. While in office, New Zealand reached 50% representation of women in parliament and on government-appointed boards. 

She decriminalized abortion, improved pay equity laws and extended paid parental leave to six months — all while being only the second woman in the world to have a baby while leading her country. 

She is a passionate advocate on climate action and is a board member of The Earthshot Prize, which focuses on solutions to climate change and environmental issues. 

Deal on Point Judith aquaculture?

Decision on disputed Point Judith Pond oyster farm project postponed

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

Coastal regulators postponed a decision Tuesday on a disputed Point Judith Pond oyster farm.

Instead, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council opted to push a public hearing and decision two its Oct. 24 after the applicant and opposing neighbors put forth an eleventh-hour compromise agreement.

The agreement, outlined in a two-page letter obtained by Rhode Island Current, would end the opposition by area residents to a proposed half-acre oyster and quahog farm in the pond by adding half a dozen conditions to the project. 

The project proposed by South Kingstown resident Andrew Van Hemelrijck initially drew outcry from nearly two dozen property owners along Narraganett’s Mollusk Drive who claimed the farm would interfere with their ability to boat, fish and otherwise enjoy the pond.