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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Twenty Stories of 2011

What a year it has been!
Progressive Charlestown's #1 story
By the editors of Progressive Charlestown

Progressive Charlestown was launched on January 28, 2011 with an article on affordable housing by Tom Ferrio. That article turned out to be the first of many on that topic – and on many other topics we’ve covered. Here are our top twenty editors' picks, counting up from the bottom,

Story number 20 is: Progressive Charlestown makes it through its first year. In 11 months, we published 1100+ articles, 1300+ comments and got over 120,000 hits. Often, we've scooped all the rest when covering Charlestown stories and we usually give you more depth than any other source.

Hungry Haven, Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Restaurant Review by Linda Felaco
UPDATE: December 31. I finally got to try the sea scallops, and I have a new favorite dish: Pan-seared sea scallops alla vodka. Don't try saying it, just point to it on the menu. Nine or 10 nice, meaty sea scallops on a bed of fettucine in a "pink" sauce of tomato and cream with caramelized onions. It was too much to finish, so I will enjoy the remainder tomorrow for lunch. Yum.

My husband and I had some errands in the vicinity of Route 1 and Route 2 one day shortly after we moved to Charlestown. We were getting hungry for lunch, and seeing as how we’d barely gotten our kitchenware unpacked, we looked for a place to eat and discovered the Hungry Haven.

Bonfire Tonight - Rain or Shine

The drizzle is expected to end later this afternoon and I have been told that the Ninigret Park New Year's Eve Bonfire will take place as scheduled this evening. The fire is scheduled to start at 5 pm and usually burns for about 45 minutes.

Three Cheers for the Nine-Spotted Ladybug

Until recently, New York's official bug had vanished from the state that honored it for three decades.

Great news, people! A colony of nine-spotted ladybugs has been discovered in Amagansett, New York.

This uplifting story is a rich organic mixture of state pride and nature's resilience, along with America's scientific pluck, teamwork, serendipity, and bug love. In today's hard times, we need this.

Let's start with the bug. This ladybug is the classic Coccinellidae beetle, with exactly nine black spots on its red back.

Two Cold War Milestones

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Czech leader Vaclav Havel, although political opposites, shared some things in common.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il consolidated communist rule. Czech leader Vaclav fought against corrupt communists. Yet they had some things in common, besides dying a week before Christmas. They both abandoned careers in the arts to become reluctant politicians, and they stabilized their respective countries during difficult times.
Kim Jong Il ruled in the shadow of his father, Kim Il Sung. He lacked his father's charisma and credentials.

And what a year it was!

The End of the Year, Part II
By Tom Tomorrow

For the whole cartoon, click here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Woody Guthrie's New Year's resolutions

Woody Guthrie’s New Years Resolutions: Take Bath, End Fascism, Etc.

Message from space

This will change your world
By Ruben Bolling

To see the whole cartoon, click here.

Political Bits

Building all-American; Charlestown real estate news, Foxboro says NO to the Patriots; we're all gonna die (redux), Ron Paul is nuts, Rick Perry discovers Canada
By Will Collette

We can build with MADE IN AMERICA materials. Despite the terrible beating American manufacturing has taken, here is proof that it is possible to build any entire, fully-equipped American home with ALL-AMERICAN materials. And you can do it within 1% or 2% of the price of using imported construction material. And the materials are not only competitively priced with their foreign counterparts, but of much better quality. AND by simply insisting on “Made in America” goods, we can create hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

Watch the video here. . Then go to the resource links on this page including lots of lists with contact information for US made construction materials.  

Zillow says Charlestown home values continue to fall. From

Thursday, December 29, 2011

“Peter Got Stomped by a Horse”

Planning Commission struggles with reasons why they can’t finish the lighting ordinance
By Will Collette

Very testy. Very snippy. At the December 29 Planning Commission meeting, Commissar Ruth Platner was clearly upset that the effort to get the Dark Sky lighting ordinance to the Town Council for enactment seemed bogged down in a hopeless SNAFU. Read the draft ordinance here. Listen on Clerkbase here.

Platner repeatedly noted how upset she was at Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero and Town Building Official Joe Warner for raising objections to the Planning Commission’s July draft “Dark Sky” ordinance. She thought their concerns had been discussed and resolved after a September 8 meeting.

Free money for me!

By Tom Ferrio

This may not be as good as having the town purchase land to extend my back yard but I'm writing to send out a big "thanks" to everyone for your contribution!

As repayment I will be writing a series of articles about it for your reading enjoyment. 

Time is running out for URI's nuke

Nuclear Reactor at URI Showing its Age

BY TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
NARRAGANSETT — For a state so small, you would think it would be common knowledge that a nuclear reactor sits in the middle of a public university. [Editor's note: URI's nuke is 12 miles from Charlestown Town Hall. Good thing it's not a wind turbine!]
But even at the University of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay campus, some students aren't aware that the white, cement, box-shaped building is an atomic research facility, officially named the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center.

Who said that?

It wasn’t Ben Franklin
Not him
By Will Collette

Lately, we’ve received several crank e-mails warning Progressive Charlestown to stop writing about town issues, quoting the old proverb, "it's better to be thought a fool, then to open your mouth and confirm it" which was attributed to Ben Franklin by the e-mail writer.

We get e-mails like that from time to time – the author uses a quote or a statistic to try to establish that s/he is a serious person, but then the rest of the message either doesn’t make sense or is border-line obscene. Examples here and here

They remind me of pornographers after one of the early Supreme Court rulings that held that material is not obscene if it contains some content “of redeeming social value.” So porn makers would throw a couple of Shakespeare or Cicero quotes into the script to have something of “redeeming social value” to use during their obscenity trials. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's official - labor charges against the town are dismissed

Settlement between the town and town hall workers ends long-running dispute
By Will Collette

As I reported previously, the town negotiated a deal with Teamsters Local 251 which represents Town Hall workers to end the dispute without going to a final decision by the state Labor Board. Under the agreement, the town admits no guilt but fully acknowledges workers' right to organize and to function as a union without interference from the town.

See the final documents after the jump.

Reading Frog Entrails

Although the media may behave otherwise, Iowa's oddball caucuses are as apt to choose a loser as a winner.

The Iowa caucuses may be over by the time you read this. But it doesn’t matter. The caucuses are the second-most fraudulent event on the nation's political calendar.
The first, of course, is the Ames Straw Poll. It's entirely meaningless, but political reporters pay attention to it because if they didn't, their editors would make them cover a real story, like a meeting of the local water board.
Quick! Who won the Ames Straw Poll in August?
Did you forget already? I thought so.

Next thing you know, it'll be Class War!

Making it with Mitt
By Jen Sorenson

For the whole cartoon, click here.

Planning Commission to craft “advisory” on YMCA camp deal

TODAY: Are Charlestown taxpayers about to be ripped off?
By Will Collette

Tonight, at its Wednesday, December 28 meeting, the Charlestown Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the task of crafting an “advisory" opinion for the Town Council on the proposed $475,000+ town purchase of the derelict YMCA camp on Watchaug Pond.

This camp had been proposed as the site for a beautifully designed conservation development, but NIMBY opposition killed that idea. Instead, the YMCA proposes to sell the land to the town. But the town will not get to own it.

Tax dollars will buy the land, but the private Charlestown Land Trust will take title to it (though the town will pay for its maintenance). The principal beneficiary will be the Sonquipaug Neighborhood, immediately to the south of the camp.

The mostly part-time residents in that neighborhood have been using the camp as a de facto extension of their backyards.

Tonight: Watch the Planning Commission deal with failed Dark Sky ordinance

You can watch a movie, or take action on your own
By Will Collette

Once again, the Planning Commission has the proposed Dark Skies ordinance on their agenda for their Wednesday, December 28 meeting. This ordinance would regulate lighting in Charlestown to protect our relatively unique night time sky.

This ordinance was done and ready to go to the Town Council – at least according to Planning Commissar Ruth Platner – last July.

But if you read the documents attached to this agenda item on Clerkbase, it looks like the Planning Commission has flubbed its assignment and will be going back to Square One. 

UPDATED: Case Closed on Slattery’s latest caper

Slattery admits acting without authorization, and to breaking public promise
Those files are locked away
By Will Collette

UPDATE: The Attorney General's office responded to my request and by letter dated December 21, closed the file.

Charlestown Town Solicitor filed a response with the Attorney General to my open records complaint that Council Vice-President Dan Slattery needed to disclose the materials he collected when he conducted his “investigation” of allegations of wrong-doing at Town Hall.

The Town’s response included a sworn affidavit from Slattery where he admits he had no authorization to conduct this investigation, that it was his own personal quest, and although he brandished his collection of “evidence” and offered to show it to other Council members, he actually reneged on that offer when he turned down a request from Council member Gregg Avedisian.

After Slattery’s admissions that he violated Council rules by conducting a personal interrogation of Town staff and broke his public promise, I saw no further reason to run up the town’s legal tab, and have withdrawn my open records complaint. He makes it quite clear that his often repeated principles of open and transparent government only apply to others and not to himself.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

OMG-PD: Woman Dances, Shoplifts Her Way Onto Santa’s Naughty List

We compile the odd, unusual and ‘oh my gosh’ police items from throughout the region.

Trying to Get on Santa’s ‘Nice’ List
One North Kingstown woman had a unique way of trying to get on Santa’s “nice” list this year. South Kingstown police responded to the Wakefield Mall and arrested the 52-year-old woman after she reportedly shoplifted five DVDs — “Cinderella Man,” “Hellraiser,” “Alpha Dog,” “Direct Action” and “28 Days Later” — from FYE. Coincidentally, it wasn’t the only commotion she caused at the mall that day.

Just in Case

Your guide to indefinite detention
By Ruben Boling
Editor's note: under a new US law, persons, including US citizens, may be arrested on US soil and detained indefinitely in military prison merely on the suspicion of aiding or supporting terrorists. Here is a new guide to help you understand what is going on, should this happen to you.

Click here for the full cartoon

What price harmony?

By Linda Felaco

Of all the ugly charges that were leveled against the Homestead Tax Credit proposal at the December 12 Town Council meeting, there was one that I would have found comical in less-tense circumstances, namely, that the proposal would somehow destroy the “harmony” of the town. This town is harmonious, we were told by the nonresident property owners. Don’t ruin it by enacting this proposal.

Well, sure, I don’t suppose many people vacation in places that aren’t harmonious. Nobody vacations in a war zone. Wouldn’t be much of a vacation then, would it.

But it’s another matter entirely when you live in a town year-round.

Monday, December 26, 2011

How about building RI's second on Larry LeBlanc's land?

Cheers to RI's First Whiskey Distillery

By DAVE FISHER/ecoRI News staff
SOUTH KINGSTOWN — For many years, whiskey connoisseurs have been forced to source their favorite brown spirit from overseas.

Lovers of malt whiskey generally look on the American version of whisky — aka bourbon — with disdain. Bourbon, by definition, is made with at least 51 percent corn mash, which lends a distinct sweetness and viscosity to the liquor. Malt whiskey fans generally consider the corn-based booze as a bastardization of the classic whiskeys distilled in the United Kingdom, and fret about the fact that no one in the United States is making a solid single malt.

Christmas Junk, Christmas Junk

What to do with Grandma's Fruitcake?

By ecoRI News staff
Here's a list of what to do with all that extra gift-giving junk and holiday food scrap. Some items appear in multiple categories:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

We Should Buy More White Flags

Today, the business of America is war.

War for some,
Increases wealth;
For all the rest,
It ruins health.

On sale, the day after Christmas

Get yer gizmo!
By Jen Sorenson

See the whole cartoon here.

Xmas Music - Arlo Guthrie

"Santa Claus wears a red suit...."
By Will Collette

First comes a classic story, weaving the FBI and the "Last Guy" into one of my favorite of all Arlo's best.

Then at 5:49, Arlo sings one of my favorite carols, "The Pause of Mr. Claus."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wreath Nebula photo from NASA

Festival of LightsFrom NASAWISE, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, has a new view of Barnard 3, or IRAS Ring G159.6-18.5, that is awash in bright green and red dust clouds. Interstellar clouds like these are stellar nurseries, where baby stars are being born.

The green ring is made of tiny particles of warm dust whose composition is very similar to smog found here on Earth. The red cloud in the center is most likely made of dust that is more metallic and cooler than the surrounding regions. HD 278942, the bright star in the middle of the red cloud, is so luminous that it is the likely cause of the surrounding ring's glow. The bright greenish-yellow region left of center is similar to the ring, though more dense. The bluish-white stars scattered throughout are stars located both in front of, and behind, the nebula.


Warning: This image is a bit graphic

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
(Hat tip to George Takei's Facebook page)

Cereal Crimes

Your family's "natural" granola may contain toxic chemicals and sewage sludge.

Remember when "natural" meant things like blue sky, green grass, and food you could trust to be good for you?
No more.
Thanks to corporate greed, "natural" foods aren't necessarily wholesome. Even when applied to granola, the term often signifies mere marketing hype aimed at separating health-conscious consumers from their hard-earned dollars.
Contrary to consumers' reasonable expectations, many "natural" processed foods contain plenty of artificial ingredients, such as pesticide residues and neurotoxic solvents. Yet they cost the same or, in some cases, more than organic food.

More holiday conversation starters

Sale price for five frozen straws of semen from Gladiator’s Hammer, a breeder deer, at a Texas auction last August: $21,000

Good news for Obama?

Amount employees of private-equity firm Bain Capital have donated to the campaign of its co-founder Mitt Romney: $69,500

To the Obama campaign: $119,900

On money and politics:

Amount former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf paid a lobbying firm for access to top U.S. lawmakers: $175,000

Number of U.S. senators he met on a single day within a month of signing the contract: 6

Percentage of Republicans who say the current economic order “favors a very small portion of the rich”: 62

Percentage increase in total congressional net worth since 2008: 24

Common sense development practices

R.I. Development Needs to be Low Impact

By KEVIN PROFT/ecoRI News staff 

LID techniques result in less stormwater and
manage any that is created sustainably.
Here, the narrow road reduces impervious
surfaces, the lack of curbs and gutters
allow water to infiltrate the ground close to its
source and the dense vegetation
on the property helps absorb rainwater.
(Photos courtesy of DEM)
Rhode Island is experiencing more rain and more storms, and the state’s current infrastructure doesn’t manage this excess water very well.

The Ocean State’s abundance of impervious surfaces, such as roads, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, roofs and compacted soil in residential lawns stop rainwater from being filtered by the ground in a natural way. Worse, curb and gutter systems along the sides of roads funnel all this stormwater runoff into drains, which then pipe the water en mass directly into local streams, wetlands and Narragansett Bay.
While rainwater making its way into a stream just down the road doesn't sound detrimental to the environment, it is, according to Scott Millar, the state Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) watershed initiative leader. The problem is that by the time the water reaches the stream, it has collected a wave of pollution — oil from streets and driveways, fertilizers from lawns and pesticides from gardens. This toxic concoction pollutes the local ecosystem, as well as the entire network of streams and rivers downstream from the stormwater’s point of entry. All of it eventually flows into Narragansett Bay.

No news news

It’s Christmas weekend – why are you reading this article?

Kim Jong-Il looking at rice: this is probably what killed him

By Will Collette

I have placed this article in the queue to be posted automatically for the amusement of those of you who don’t have any thing better to do. 

Kim Jong-Il is dead. As you probably know already. What you don’t know is that his death has had the unintended consequence of spelling the end of one of my favorite websites, “Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things.” This site has had a long and honorable history of posting photos of….Kim Jong-Il looking at things. I especially liked the one posted on December 22 that shows him looking at toilet paper. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Missoula's Supremely Important Vote

Making clear that corporations aren't people takes people power.

In November's elections, the national media gave extensive coverage to a proposed "personhood amendment" to Mississippi's state constitution. This extremist, anti-choice ballot initiative declared that a person's life begins not at birth, but at the very instant that a sperm meets the egg.
However, extending full personhood to two-cell zygotes was too far out even for many of Mississippi's anti-choice voters, so the proposition was voted down.
Meanwhile, the national media paid no attention to another "personhood" vote that took place on that same day. This was a referendum in Missoula, Montana on a concept even more bizarre than declaring zygotes to be persons with full citizenship rights.

Who is rich? Who is poor?

These are not simple questions

By Will Collette


There has been a lot of banter on this blog lately about the rich and the poor. How are they defined? Do they deserve what they get (or what they’ve got)? Do we foment class war by discussing these subjects? Should we hate the rich (or the poor) and, if so, why?

These weighty and complicated subjects have been addressed in micro-bursts of words in our comments section – about what you might expect in a blog. Or on the internet.

But let’s first acknowledge that these subjects do have relevance to Charlestown. It certainly exploded out into the open on December 12 when the Town Council majority – to the applause of a mob of Charlestown’s upscale property owners – killed a $1000 Homestead Tax Credit proposed by Town Democrats.

Holiday conversation starters

If this is what "recovery" looks like, let's bring back the recession:

Percentage decrease in the median U.S. household income during the “Great Recession”: 3.2

During the subsequent “recovery”: 6.7

Portion of income growth since the end of the recession that has gone to corporate profits: 9/10

Number of the 100 highest-paid American CEOs who earned more than their employers paid in taxes last year: 25

The War on Christmas - the final days

Have yourself a merry little nitpick
DePetro and company crashing the State House
"holiday tree" lighting ceremony. Very classy.
By Will Collette

Each year, there are lots of stories about the alleged plot by progressives, communists, leftists, Muslims, Democrats and assorted others to undermine Christianity by "taking the Christ our of Christmas."

Like Gov. Lincoln Chafee's affront to all that is holy  when he followed Gov. Don Carcieri's precedent of calling the Christmas Tree at the State House a "holiday tree."

This sparked WPRO Radio shock jock John DePetro's  festive protest where he and his followers disrupt the tree-lighting ceremony, making the little kids in the children's choir cry when these "adults" drowned out the kid's carol-singing.

But I'd like to see DePetro pull that stunt with these folks....

This is what the Homestead Tax Credit could look like, if this was Florida

An example of how Homestead exemptions work out for one Charlestown property owner
By Will Collette

Two people who didn’t speak at the December 12 “Riot of the Rich” at the Charlestown Town Council were Kallie and John Jurgens, the immediate past president and treasurer respectively of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance. Both of them still serve on the CCA Steering Committee and both had a lot at stake.

I have a theory why the CCA didn’t roll out these two big guns. It’s not like Kallie Jurgens is bashful about advocating for reducing taxes on big-ticket shoreline property owners, or demanding that non-residents be given the right to vote. It’s not that Ms. Jurgens is bashful about accusing Democrats of engaging in “class war” when they advocate for working families.

Ms. Jurgens has done this, and more, while CCA President and as a leader within the RI Statewide Coalition.

It’s something else.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chained COLAs and the Battle over Social Security

The supercommittee shouldn't have considered this unreasonable, unprincipled, and unfair cost-cutting plan.

Like something out of a bad movie, the failed congressional supercommittee plotted to use "chained COLAs" to cut future Social Security benefits for America's retired workers.
No, chained COLA isn't some kind of carbonated beverage gone bad. It's a new way to calculate cost of living adjustments that will reduce Social Security benefits more and more every year. It represents the ultimate triumph of theory over reality.
The supercommittee's basic idea was that when prices go up, you cut back on consumption. When the price of gasoline went up from $3.00 to $3.60 a gallon, you probably started driving less. You had to. You couldn't afford gas at $3.60 a gallon.

The year in review, part 1

In case you were asleep
By Tom Tomorrow

See the whole cartoon here.

Progress on waste water treatment, salt pond protection

RIDEM agrees to major changes to wastewater treatment rules

Rep. Donna Walsh organized meeting to find common ground on environmental and economic issues
News Release from Rep. Donna Walsh

On Dember 16, Representative Donna Walsh (D-District 36) brought officials from the RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) together with town officials from Charlestown, South Kingstown and Westerly, and Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-District 34) and Rep. Spencer Dickinson (D-District 35) to resolve problems and find alternative waste water treatment approaches that protect coastal salt ponds without inflicting crippling financial burdens on homeowners or exerting a chilling effect on area construction.

“We all recognize the importance of reducing nitrogen loading to our ponds but we also recognize the importance of providing affordable solutions for our citizens and a stimulus for the stagnant construction industry,” said Rep. Walsh.

December Town Council meeting, the sequel: The Notorious F.O.N.

Oh Mageau, Where Art Thou?
By Linda Felaco

After last week’s “shock and au revoir diatribe,” as commenter Sisyphus Opine put it, I was anticipating more fireworks at Monday’s sequel. After all, Jim Mageau was on the agenda to gloat over his ruling from the Attorney General about Town Administrator William DiLibero’s evaluation, and due to illness he’d been unable to attend last week to try to object to the Town Council’s pro forma redo that the ruling had necessitated.

Alas, Mageau was once again a no-show. But Mageau’s specter hovered over the discussion of the Friends of Ninigret (F.O.N.).

Our mixed-up open space priorities

Why one and not the other?
The bull's-eye is Larry LeBlanc's 81 acres - site of the proposed wind farm.
The 27.5 acre YMCA parcel on Watchaug Pond is a little over half a mile
to the west
By Will Collette

Aside from Dan Slattery's search for Charlestown’s “phantom” open space properties, the two biggest “open space” controversies” in Charlestown during 2011 both came down to this question – is it in the public interest for Charlestown to buy more property to reserve for open space, or let the land be used for another purpose?

One of the properties is the 27.5 acre derelict YMCA camp on Watchaug Pond, subject of a green-light vote at last week’s Town Council meeting.

The other is the 81 acres of wild and undeveloped land overlooking Route One that is owned by developer Larry LeBlanc and which is still in play for maybe (a) a wind turbine complex, (b) a large affordable housing development or (c) sale to the Narragansett tribe to provide the land they could use to build a casino. Earlier this year, the Council rebuffed LeBlanc’s offer to sell the land to the town.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Many Charlestown voters will have new state Senate choices on 2012 ballot

Redistricting changes affect South County Senators
Out with the old....
By Will Collette

Five Rhode Island Senate districts (#s 34 through 38) encompass South County, compared to nine House Districts. Currently, South County is represented by three Republicans (Francis Maher, Dawson Tucker Hodgson and Dennis Algiere) and two Democrats (James Sheehan and Sue Sosnowski).

All five districts will be changed significantly by census-driven redistricting. Redistricting is not just an exercise in arithmetic, but also politics. The law requires districts to be redrawn every ten years after each new census to equalize the population.

Some of the line changes may affect the re-election prospects of the incumbents.

Bring back the sun

Official start of winter
Winter solstice sunrise at Stonehenge 
By Will Collette

Today is the winter solstice, the day when the tilt of the earth puts the northern hemisphere the farthest distance from the sun. That marks the first official day of winter and it is also the day with the least amount of sunshine. 

From now on, the daylight hours will only get longer (hooray!) but for weeks, that change will be nearly imperceptible (boo!).

It’s hard for some people to endure. They suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression. 

Astronomy Picture of the Day

A Horseshoe Einstein Ring from Hubble 

What's large and blue and can wrap itself around an entire galaxy? A gravitational lens mirage. Pictured above, the gravity of a luminous red galaxy (LRG) has gravitationally distorted the light from a much more distant blue galaxy. 

More typically, such light bending results in two discernible images of the distant galaxy, but here the lens alignment is so precise that the background galaxy is distorted into a horseshoe -- a nearly complete ring. 

Town and Teamsters settle unfair labor practice charges

Without acknowledging wrong-doing, the town promises not to do it again
By Will Collette

Since last February, the town and Teamster Local 251, the union that represents town hall workers, have been in an on-going dispute over alleged unfair labor practices.

The Teamsters filed charges against the town last February based on a clash between Town Administrator William DiLibero, the Teamsters staff rep Dan Manocchio and the union steward for town hall workers, Liz Travis.