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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Medical Providers Still Grappling With UnitedHealth Cyberattack

‘More Devastating Than Covid’

 

DALL-E Created Thumbnail
Two months after a cyberattack on a UnitedHealth Group subsidiary halted payments to some doctors, medical providers say they’re still grappling with the fallout, even though UnitedHealth told shareholders on Tuesday that business is largely back to normal.

“We are still desperately struggling,” said Emily Benson, a therapist in Edina, Minnesota, who runs her own practice, Beginnings & Beyond. “This was way more devastating than covid ever was.”

Change Healthcare, a business unit of the Minnesota-based insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, controls a digital network so vast it processes nearly 1 in 3 U.S. patient records each year. The network is a critical conduit for shuttling information between most of the nation’s insurance companies and medical providers, who submit claims through it to get paid for treating patients.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

We can't recycle our way out of our plastic mess

Reduce. Period.

By Daily Dose

This year’s Earth Day theme was Planet vs. Plastics, a problem we have been railing against since Alan Weisman first published his essay “Polymers Are Forever,” in 2007, where we first learned about the persistence of microplastics and their infiltration into the marine food chain.

“Plastic is still plastic. The material still remains a polymer. Polyethylene is not biodegraded in any practical time scale. There is no mechanism in the marine environment to biodegrade that long a molecule.” Even if photodegradable nets help marine mammals live, he concluded, their powdery residue remains in the sea, where the filter feeders will find it.

“Except for a small amount that’s been incinerated,” says Tony Andrady the oracle, “every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last fifty years or so still remains. It’s somewhere in the environment.”

The official Earth Day organization is “demanding a 60% reduction in the production of ALL plastics by 2040. Our theme, Planet vs. Plastics, calls to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single use plastics, urgently push for a strong UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and demand an end to fast fashion.”

What a nice boy!

Draw your own conclusions

Star Trek's Holodeck recreated using ChatGPT and video game assets

What could possibly go wrong?

University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science

Many of STNG's worst episodes centered around
holodeck malfunctions, such as "Fistful of Datas"
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise leverage the holodeck, an empty room capable of generating 3D environments, to prepare for missions and to entertain themselves, simulating everything from lush jungles to the London of Sherlock Holmes. Deeply immersive and fully interactive, holodeck-created environments are infinitely customizable, using nothing but language: the crew has only to ask the computer to generate an environment, and that space appears in the holodeck.

Today, virtual interactive environments are also used to train robots prior to real-world deployment in a process called "Sim2Real." However, virtual interactive environments have been in surprisingly short supply. 

Rhode Island public radio and TV merger is OK'd

Hopes high for stronger non-profit journalism

By Alexander Castro, Rhode Island Current

AG Peter Neronha's statement that the
merger offers "a community benefit"
Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio’s will soon be one entity.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha announced the approval of the merger of the two public media organizations Tuesday after conducting a review to ensure compliance with state law.

Elizabeth Delude-Dix, chair of the board of directors of The Public’s Radio, thanked the attorney general’s office and said in a statement: “The Public’s Radio and Rhode Island PBS have long provided honest journalism, robust educational programming, and engaging and entertaining content to Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Our impact will be increased and our audience expanded as we take these next exciting steps forward.” 

Torey Malatia, CEO of The Public’s Radio, said via email: “I agree the new institution has great potential for community service.”

Now, a new jointly-made board will begin to work with staff from both broadcast stations to align their respective operations and administration, according to a press release from Rhode Island PBS. 

UAW wins big at Volkswagen in Tennessee – its first victory at a foreign-owned factory in the American South

The first of many wins?

Bob BusselUniversity of Oregon

Volkswagen workers celebrate in Chattanooga, Tenn.,
after their bid to join the UAW union prevailed.
 AP Photo/George Walker IV
A decisive majority of the Volkswagen workers employed at a factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee cast their ballots in favor of joining the United Auto Workers union, the German automaker announced on April 19, 2024.

Persuading any Southern autoworkers to join a union had long been one of the U.S. labor movement’s most enduring challenges, despite persistent efforts by the UAW to organize this workforce.

To be sure, the UAW already has members employed by Ford and General Motors at facilities in Kentucky, Texas, Missouri and Mississippi.

However, the union had previously tried and largely failed to organize workers at foreign-owned companies, including Volkswagen and Nissan, in Southern states – where about 30% of all U.S. automotive jobs are located. It was the UAW’s third election at the same factory since 2014. The prior two ended in narrow losses.

The victory follows the UAW’s most successful strike in a generation against Detroit’s Big Three automakers, through which it won higher pay and better benefits for its members in 2023.

Volkswagen said it will await certification of the results by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency responsible for enforcing U.S. workers’ rights to organize. As long as neither side challenges the results within five business days, the NLRB will certify them – greenlighting the start of bargaining over a contract.

The union has already scheduled another election that will occur less than a month after the Volkswagen vote. More than 5,000 workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama, will have their say on whether to join the UAW in a vote that will run May 13-17, 2024.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

5 years after the Mueller report into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election on behalf of Trump

Mueller did a poor job of putting the facts about Russia's election interference before the public

Howard ManlyThe Conversation

In the long list of Donald Trump’s legal woes, the Mueller report – which was released in redacted form on April 18, 2019 – appears all but forgotten.

But the nearly two-year investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election dominated headlines – and revealed what has become Trump’s trademark denial of any wrongdoing. For Trump, the Russia investigation was the first “ridiculous hoax” and “witch hunt.”

Mueller didn’t help matters. “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the special counsel stated.

Trump Bible: illustrated version

I'm with Joe

Biden's new solar energy plan will bring $50 million to Rhode Island

On Earth Day, RI Delegation Delivers $49.3M for Cost-Saving Clean Energy Upgrades

In an effort to make clean energy upgrades accessible to more Rhode Islanders, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Seth Magaziner and Gabe Amo announced that the state will receive $49.3 million in federal funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Solar for All Program.

The Biden Administration’s $7 billion announcement of clean energy funding comes on Earth Day 2024 and was made possible by the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (P.L. 117-169), which Democrats passed in 2022. 

The funding secured for Rhode Island Equitable Access to Solar Energy (EASE) programs will support the launch and expansion of a comprehensive suite of seven financial assistance programs and twelve project deployment technical assistance initiatives designed to equitably address financial barriers to solar adoption. 

These initiatives will facilitate broader, more equitable access to reliable solar power across Rhode Island’s most historically underserved communities. 

According to Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER), these funds will help serve thousands of households in the Ocean State, help to unlock millions in household energy cost savings over time, and realize significant reductions in annual carbon dioxide emissions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In 2017, we took advantage of the Solarize Charlestown to install solar panels at a discount. Over the past seven years despite living in a wooded area, our monthly electricity bill is much lower plus we get a monthly check from National Grid for their purchase of excess power our panels produce and feed into the grid. We've long past the break-even point. Charlestown ought to do this again and if they do, you ought to consider going solar.     - Will Collette

Here are ways to filter out some harmful ‘forever chemicals’ at home

Removing PFAS from public water will cost billions and take time

Kyle DoudrickUniversity of Notre Dame

PFAS are showing up in water systems across the U.S.
 Jacek Dylag/UnsplashCC BY
Chemists invented PFAS in the 1930s to make life easier: Nonstick pans, waterproof clothing, grease-resistant food packaging and stain-resistant carpet were all made possible by PFAS. 

But in recent years, the growing number of health risks found to be connected to these chemicals has become increasingly alarming.

PFAS – perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are now either suspected or known to contribute to thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol, liver damage and cancer, among other health issues.

They can be found in the blood of most Americans and in many drinking water systems, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency in April 2024 finalized the first enforceable federal limits for six types of PFAS in drinking water systems. 

The limits – between 4 and 10 parts per trillion for PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA and GenX – are less than a drop of water in a thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools, which speaks to the chemicals’ toxicity. The sixth type, PFBS, is regulated as a mixture using what’s known as a hazard index.

Meeting these new limits won’t be easy or cheap. And there’s another problem: While PFAS can be filtered out of water, these “forever chemicals” are hard to destroy.

My team at the University of Notre Dame works on solving problems involving contaminants in water systems, including PFAS. We explore new technologies to remove PFAS from drinking water and to handle the PFAS waste. Here’s a glimpse of the magnitude of the challenge and ways you can reduce PFAS in your own drinking water:

EPA’s New Guidelines, and Funding, Will Boost Testing and Controls of PFAS in Rhode Island

Numerous sites across South County, including Charlestown

By Mary Lhowe / ecoRI News contributor

PFAS, manufactured since the 1940s, can be found in our food, our drinking water, and in our body tissue. They are in the soil, in rainwater, and in emissions spewed into the air. (EPA)

The Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency announced new guidelines this month that will give a push to efforts around the nation, including in Rhode Island, to eliminate or reduce toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — a class of chemicals known as PFAS — from drinking water.

The announcement created the first nationwide and enforceable ceiling — or “maximum contaminant level” (MCL) — of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS in drinking water. A few types of PFAS chemicals were given a federal MCL of 10 ppt.

The new federal levels are more restrictive than the current maximum contaminant level in Rhode Island, which is 20 ppt in drinking water. Up to April 10, when the guidelines were announced, no federal level existed; states devised maximum contaminant levels for themselves.

The announcement also said the federal government would offer $1 billion to states and territories for testing and treatment of drinking water. It is part of a $9 billion investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities track and clean up PFAS and other “emerging contaminants” in drinking water.

EPA believes that 6% to 10% of the nation’s 66,000 public drinking water systems may have to take action to reduce PFAS to meet the new standards. It also said the final rule of April 10 would reduce PFAS exposure for about 100 million people.

Both through legislation and in water treatment facilities and water pipes, Rhode Island has been working over the past few years to get control over PFAS — a class of toxic chemicals that have been used since the 1940s in a wide range of consumer products from food wrappers to carpets to Teflon pans to firefighting foam.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Republicans keep wasting our money on their ideological boondoggles

Americans Pay a High Price for the GOP's Fiscal Irresponsibility

DAN BROOK for Common Dreams

The GOP is fiscally irresponsible in all sorts of ways.

Republicans are worse for the economy overall, worse for gross domestic product, worse for the budget deficit and national debt, worse for the trade deficit, worse for job growth, worse for wage increases, worse for inequality, worse for the stock market, and worse for much else.

No modern Republican president has ever reduced the deficit in any year with any budget. Every Republican president raised the federal budget deficit by overspending wildly on the military, the wealthy, and other wasteful things that don't constructively add to our economy or society.

The only three modern presidents to reduce the budget deficit have been Bill Clinton (who eliminated it and created a surplus), Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, all Democrats.

  • About three-fourths of the entire national debt was accrued under Republican borrow-and-spend presidents.
  • Republicans run higher trade deficits than Democrats.
  • Unemployment is higher under Republican administrations
  • The stock market does worse under Republican administrations, on average.
  • Most recessions have begun under Republican administrations, as did the Great Depression.

None of the tax cuts for the rich and corporations that Republicans said would pay for themselves wound up paying for themselves. Instead, they made the wealthy wealthier. 

Push back on November 5

 

A cartoon by Clay Bennett