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Monday, August 31, 2015

If you thought Charlestown was the center for morality and ethics, you were wrong

Charlestown and Richmond tops for cheaters
By Will Collette

The hacking of Ashley Madison, a Canadian-based website for married adults willing to pay a monthly subscription fee to look to extra-marital sex, has gotten a lot of media buzz.

Apparently, the hackers down-loaded all or most of the names and e-mail addresses of the site’s more than 30 million registered users worldwide.

The list itself has been published on and off the web – moving around, appearing and disappearing.

But the list is now in enough hands that lots of data is being developed from the Ashley Madison hack to expose a number of conservative hypocrites (among them Josh Duggar).

The data-crunching reports also give you some surprising insights into where people who are looking to a little something, something on the side are concentrated.

Charlestown, to my amazement, is one such surprising place. So is our neighbor Richmond. And I'm NOT making any of this up.

Explain this

Heating Up: Warmer Temperatures a Public-Health Concern

By ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — A new study that projects an increase in deaths and emergency visits in Rhode Island as climate change pushes summertime temperatures higher by the end of the century, has also revealed a finding of more immediate public-health concern: Even in the present day, when temperatures rise above 75 degrees there is a noticeable increase in medical distress among state residents of all ages.

The study by researchers at Brown University and the Rhode Island Department of Health is based on a detailed statistical analysis of emergency department visits, deaths, weather data and possibly confounding factors, such as ozone, from recent years. 

The researchers could tell from the records whether emergency doctors thought a patient’s condition was related to heat or dehydration.

Ethanol: A Love Story

The agriculture secretary's love affair with the biofuel industry is fleecing taxpayers.
It’s a timeless story of teenage romance: pledging love, abandoning reason, rebelling against authority. No, this isn’t the plot of a John Hughes movie. Instead, I’m talking about Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s love affair with ethanol.

While Vilsack is tasked with representing the interests of all of taxpayers, at times he seems to have never left Iowa — where ethanol is a big business and where the secretary served two terms as governor. He regularly attends ethanol trade conferences, and he’s among the industry’s most vocal supporters.

Shielding Wall Street from the Ravages of Bigotry

Perhaps Phil Gramm could run a telethon to support ex-executives shamed for their fat retirement packages.
Phil Gramm, the former right-wing senator from Texas, has surprised me.

I assumed he had zero charitable instincts. In office, he kept trying to kill safety net programs, such as food assistance: “We’re the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat,” Gramm smirkedback in 1981.

But the former lawmaker seems to have developed a new empathy for people who are demonized. Although he’s now a Wall Street operative, Gramm returned to Capitol Hill in July to express solidarity with victims of bigotry.

Wow. Was Gramm standing with Black Lives Matter and oppressed immigrants?

Not at all.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Speaker Mattiello swings early at Pawsox second pitch
By Mark Binder in Rhode Island’s Future
Perhaps there is something in the water on Smith Hill that infects speakers of the Rhode Island House with hubris. Perhaps it’s a side effect of suddenly being called, “The most powerful politician in Rhode Island.”

Keeping in mind that the speaker is not elected to his office by the citizens, but anointed by his peers, it is disturbing to read the news blips that report “progress” in the negotiations around a new PawSox stadium.

As we all know, the team, which has lost 80 of the 129 games it’s played (as of this writing), made a pitch to take over prime state-owned real estate in downtown Providence.

Claiming that McCoy Stadium, which was also subsidized by the citizens, was beyond repair, the Sox asked for an audacious blend of tax breaks, zoning variances and a huge subsidy—or else they might be forced leave Rhode Island.

This blend of corporate welfare and blackmail was greeted with loud disdain by voters on both sides of the (lopsided) aisle.

In short, the Sox struck out, and most of us went on vacation—although not on a paid junket to Durham —glad to see the end of the deal.

Now, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello claims to be “very close” to an agreement—even though terms have not been publicly announced.

VIDEO: Pizza cat

Watch the exploration of a sunked U-Boat off our coastline

R/V Endeavor expedition to reveal story behind WWII clash in RI waters
U-853 and crew
U-853 and its crew (from Wikipedia)

A team of University of Rhode Island oceanographers, engineers and students will spend four days in September investigating the underwater remains of a German U-boat sunk in one of the last World War II naval battles in the Atlantic, a battle that took place in Rhode Island waters. And the entire expedition will be streamed live so the public can watch every minute of it as it happens.

During the expedition Sept. 2 to 6 aboard URI’s research vessel Endeavor, scientists and historians will examine the condition of the wrecked submarine U-853, create a high-definition map of the site, and investigate the marine life around the sunken vessel.

Good news, bad news

The Lancet

Global life expectancy has risen by more than six years since 1990 as healthy life expectancy grows; ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, and stroke cause the most health loss around the world.

People around the world are living longer, even in some of the poorest countries, but a complex mix of fatal and nonfatal ailments causes a tremendous amount of health loss, according to a new analysis of all major diseases and injuries in 188 countries.

Thanks to marked declines in death and illness caused by HIV/AIDS and malaria in the past decade and significant advances made in addressing communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional disorders, health has improved significantly around the world. 

Global life expectancy at birth for both sexes rose by 6.2 years (from 65.3 in 1990 to 71.5 in 2013), while healthy life expectancy, or HALE, at birth rose by 5.4 years (from 56.9 in 1990 to 62.3 in 2013).

Healthy life expectancy takes into account not just mortality but also the impact of nonfatal conditions and summarizes years lived with disability and years lost due to premature mortality. The increase in healthy life expectancy has not been as dramatic as the growth of life expectancy, and as a result, people are living more years with illness and disability.

AIDS Walk RI Led by Top Public Health Official

Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD: “There is more work to do”
From Stephen Hug
RI Health Dept Director Nicole Alexander-Scott

The state’s top public health official is providing leadership for the annual AIDS Walk RI, happening Sunday, September 13.

Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, who was appointed the state’s director of public health earlier this year, will be an honorary chair of the event, which starts and ends on the Rhode Island State House lawn. 

Registration begins at noon, with a speaking program, including Dr. Alexander-Scott, at 12:30. The approximately two mile route steps off at 1 p.m.  Registration is also available on-line at

“From 2013 to 2014 in Rhode Island, the number of newly identified cases of HIV increased by nearly 33%. These data send a clear signal that despite the progress we have made in reducing HIV over the years, there is more work to do,” she said. 

“We are fortunate in Rhode Island to have great partnerships among state agencies and community-based organizations like APRI to continue our efforts to educate, test, and treat for HIV. The data remind us that we cannot become complacent.”

Joining Dr. Alexander-Scott as honorary chairs are NBC 10 reporter and anchor Mario Hilario and Dr. Philip Chan, director of the HIV/STD Prevention Clinic at the Miriam Hospital Immunology Center.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Pope is scaring Republicans

Pope Francis Is About To Enrage Republicans In 6 Glorious Ways!

The Vatican recently released details regarding the first trip to the United States byPope Francis, “a six-day visit that will take the pontiff from the halls of power to the margins of society,” including a 48-hour visit to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

According to the Pope’s official itinerary, Francis is scheduled to arrive at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on the afternoon of Sept. 22 after a three-day visit to Cuba. Francis is scheduled to meet with President Obama on Sept. 23 and to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress two days later on Sept. 24.

According to the noted Catholic website Crux, other highlights of the Pope’s trip to Washington, D.C. include speaking to US bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, canonizing Junípero Serra during a Mass in Spanish at the Catholic University of America, and visiting the headquarters of Catholic Charities of Washington, where the Vatican said Francis will meet with a group of homeless people. Francis will also visit DC seminarians, according to a statement from Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Hurricane Katrina: the Tenth Anniversary

Lest we forget
Athena Image

Just in time for me

Innovative program fosters teamwork across health professions

The University of Rhode Island has been awarded a $2.5 million grant to implement a program for the state’s health care workforce that will lead to higher quality care for older patients. 

The Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program, an initiative of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, is a $35 million program aimed at preparing the health care professionals for the issues associated with advancing age. The program will train and educate providers, students and patients about the integrated, interprofessional delivery of health care often needed by older adults.

URI is one of 44 universities and organizations to receive the grant and is among 14 – including Johns Hopkins University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of California-Los Angeles – that received the maximum allocation of $2.5 million over three years. 

Building businesses that serve the community

First benefit corporations taking root in R.I.

On the last day of the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly enacted Rep. Teresa Tanzi’s bill allowing the establishment in Rhode Island of “benefit corporations,” companies that simultaneously pursue their commercial endeavors while also supporting social or environmental efforts.

Two years later, Rhode Island now has its first legally registered benefit corporations — or “B corps” — led by entrepreneurs who want their businesses to succeed not only in profitably making products, but also in helping the earth and the people on it.

Know it's a placebo?

University of Colorado at Boulder

You don't think you're hungry, then a friend mentions how hungry he is or you smell some freshly baked pizza and whoaaa, you suddenly feel really hungry. 

Or, you've had surgery and need a bit of morphine for pain. As soon as you hit that button you feel relief even though the medicine hasn't even hit your bloodstream.

These are two examples of the oft-studied placebo effect that demonstrate the amazing and still somewhat confounding powers of the human brain.

They have so much in common

Charles Koch Equates Himself With Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Ann Werner

Image result for MLK quote on corporate greedIn what has to be the height of hypocrisy—or perhaps the product of a grossly misinformed upbringing—multi-billionaire Charles Koch implored a group of 450 wealthy conservatives to go out there and convince people that the fight for unbridled capitalism can be likened to the civil rights movement.

Wow. Just wow.

I could say a lot of things, but it’s important to note that Charles and his brother David were fed this from birth. Their father, Fred Koch, was one of the founding members of the John Birch Society. If you are unfamiliar with what that is, just think of it as the unholy precursor to the Tea Party.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Once in a while, the good guys win

Replacing Pinstripes with Prison Jumpsuits
By Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest

We’ve just been treated to the rare sight of a corporate executive pleading guilty to criminal charges stemming from actions that harmed the public. This outcome was particularly satisfying given that the case was one that symbolized much of what is wrong with U.S. business and regulatory practices.

The culprit is Gary Southern, who was at the center of an incident last year in West Virginia whose details, I wrote at the time, sounded a parody: the company responsible for a toxic chemical leak into the Elk River that contaminated the water supply of hundreds of thousands of people and sickened many turned out to be named Freedom Industries and had been cofounded by a two-time convicted felon.

VIDEO: The beast

To see this video directly on YouTube:

Geologic record of ancient earthquakes and tsunamis will help understand future impacts

Sea level history vital to estimating earthquake, tsunami history

The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed 230,000 people has raised questions among coastal residents about when the next big tsunami will strike. It’s a question that University of Rhode Island geologist Simon Engelhart knows cannot be answered with any precision. 

But he and colleagues from Humboldt State University, Rutgers University and the Earth Observatory of Singapore, in collaboration with geologists from Indonesia, examined the geological record in northern Sumatra to better understand how frequently large earthquakes and tsunamis occur there. The research was published in the August edition of the journal Geology.

What they found was evidence that five to seven major tsunamis had occurred between 7,400 and 3,800 years ago, with an additional four to six tsunamis since that time. “We can surmise from this that a major earthquake and tsunami occurred about every 600 to 900 years,” said Engelhart, URI assistant professor of geosciences. “But those are maximum recurrences. We’re not at a point where we can predict earthquakes.”

Sticky mess

By Bill Walker in Environmental Health News

If you’re a chemical industry spin doctor trying to discredit the scientific evidence on the dangers of a cancer-causing compound that’s in virtually everyone’s blood and contaminates the drinking water of millions, August 20 was a bad day.

That morning, VICE News and other outlets reported on new research by two leading environmental health scientists who concluded that PFOA, which DuPont used for 50 years to make Teflon, is much more dangerous than previously thought. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have found that PFOA and other chemicals in its class, known as PFCs or PFAS, can cause cancer, birth defects and heart disease and weaken the immune system.

PFOA is no longer produced or used in the U.S., but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found it in the blood of more than 99 percent of Americans – even those who weren’t yet born when it was used to make hundreds of nonstick, stain-resistant and waterproof products. PFOA and other PFCs can be passed from mother to unborn child in the womb.

Doctored video

The videos created by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress were altered, according to a forensic analysis of the recordings by a third-party group.

Fusion GPS, a research and corporate intelligence company, was given the tapes, and their discoveries were revealed in a congressional hearing organized by Republicans to attack Planned Parenthood. 

They found that the video was so manipulated “they have no evidentiary value in a legal context and cannot be relied upon for any official inquiries.”

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Republicans from basing calls to defund the women’s health group based on the videos.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How to pay less property tax, Part 8: mis-zoning

Inconsistent or flat-out wrong zoning saves some property owners a lot of money
By Will Collette

This article is part of a series on Charlestown property tax policies. All property owners had to get their new - increased - tax payments in by the end of July. Now, most of us are looking at paying our Fire District tax.

I think most taxpayers understand that not everyone pays the same tax rate, sometimes for good reasons. Sometimes not. This series attempts to give readers the truth of Charlestown taxes and the opportunity to see if they qualify for some of the available breaks.

This article is an update of one I wrote in July 2012 about how taxes for some Charlestown tax payers are skewed by misclassification. An example: the 118 acre Charlestown segment of Shelter Harbor's golf course, which is zoned "Open Space/Recreation" even though it contains a 25,280 square foot office/storage building.

The Town of Westerly, which holds the bulk of the golf course, taxes it at the commercial rate.

These and the other problems raised in 2012 were supposed to be addressed by the Planning Commission, run by Charlestown Citizens Alliance leader and Planning Commissar Ruth Platner.

Very few have been, most conspicuously, Shelter Harbor.

Note that the original article begins talking about the Heavers property. Since that article, Barbara Heavers has joined the Planning Commission on the CCA Party ticket. In addition to the property features described in the article below, Ms. Heavers also has a rental property on the land which she admitted she failed to disclose, as required, to the RI Ethics Commission - until I filed a complaint calling her out on it.

Here is my original article on one back-door way CCA Party supporters get to pay less property tax, where the basic facts stand pretty much as they were three years ago....

Fruit or vegetable?

Is A Tomato A Fruit Or A Vegetable?

Why we are smarter than chickens

University of Toronto
Toronto researchers have discovered that a single molecular event in our cells could hold the key to how we evolved to become the smartest animal on the planet.

Benjamin Blencowe, a professor in the University of Toronto's Donnelly Centre and Banbury Chair in Medical Research, and his team have uncovered how a small change in a protein called PTBP1 can spur the creation of neurons -- cells that make the brain -- that could have fuelled the evolution of mammalian brains to become the largest and most complex among vertebrates.

The study is published in the August 20 issue of Science.

Brain size and complexity vary enormously across vertebrates, but it is not clear how these differences came about. Humans and frogs, for example, have been evolving separately for 350 million years and have very different brain abilities. Yet scientists have shown that they use a remarkably similar repertoire of genes to build organs in the body.

Bear This in Mind

If park visitors want to see bears in the wild, we have to accept our share of the responsibility for living with them.
On August 7, an experienced hiker was found dead and half eaten by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. The offending bear was later euthanized.

A week later, a black bear injured a man near Yosemite National Park. The man had left a bag of trash outside his house, and the bear was eating it. When the man went out at 4 a.m. and discovered the bear, it attacked.

Again, authorities plan to kill the bear.

It’s understandable that Yellowstone doesn’t want its grizzly population to be in the habit of eating humans. It’s rare for grizzlies to hunt people, but they’re known to defend their cubs against humans who come too close — sometimes violently.

Black bears are a different story. They’re smaller than grizzlies and much less aggressive.

Ah-choo! Pollen count in the red zone

Some rain would help cut the pollen and grow our crops

Continue on to see the sources of our local pollen

Trying to stay alive

By Steve Ahlquist in Rhode Island’s Future
Cost of Living Calculator

A “single-parent, with an infant (age 0-1) and a school-aged child (age 6-12) needs to earn $62,693 a year or $30.14/hour to cover the basic expenses required to raise a family in Rhode Island,” says the Economic Progress Institute, (EPI, formerly The Poverty Institute) a nonpartisan research and policy organization dedicated to improving the economic well-being of low- and modest-income Rhode Islanders. “More than one-fourth of that family’s expenses will go towards child care; a whopping $1,446 a month.”

The EPI released this sobering news along with an updated version of its Cost of Living Calculator, designed to provide “a more realistic measure of economic security than the commonly used federal poverty level (FPL) which measures economic security based on the cost of food,” according to a press release. “The Calculator allows users to see what it costs families of different sizes to pay for housing, child care, health care, food, transportation and taxes and then calculates the pre-tax (gross) income they need to meet their expenses.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Do the Rich Rule America?

Our campaign finance system isn’t just sending us toward a new Gilded Age — it’s a new Platinum Age.

Is America’s political system controlled by a small financial elite? One former president thinks so.
Almost 40 years after he was elected, former President Jimmy Carter commented recently that our political system is now “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.” He may be right.

For the last three decades, wealth has concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Just how few? As of 2013, the wealthiest 3 percent of households in the United States held more than half of all private wealth.

All that concentrated wealth translates into concentrated political muscle — including the power to influence elections.

Solving two problems at once

This week in "That's Disgusting: Oil Wastewater Irrigation
By Jen Sorenson

What could possibly go wrong with this brilliant plan.
This week in That’s Disgusting: Oil Wastewater Irrigation

Charlestown residents walk to fight cancer

Participating in September 27 Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk
Zach Coville-Carney

CHARLESTOWN, RI — On Sunday, Sept. 27, four Charlestown residents will walk up to 26.2 miles along the historic Boston Marathon® route in the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk.

Those residents include:

They will join 8,500 expected participants in the Walk which raises the most money of any single day walk in the country. This year’s fundraising goal is to raise more than $8.2 million for the Jimmy Fund for adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The event has raised more than $100 million in its 27-year history. Since 1989, the Boston Athletic Association has supported the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk and since 2002 Hyundai has been the presenting sponsor.

Blockaders of Burrillville Gas Construction Site Sentenced

Charged “filed” for a year; no other penalty

Neely Kelley of Mothers Out Front
On August 13, Curt Nordgaard, a resident pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, and Peter Nightingale, a professor of physics at University of Rhode Island and a member of Fossil Free Rhode Island, were arrested after locking themselves to the front gate at the site of Spectra Energy's compressor station in Burrillville, Rhode Island in a direct action organized by Fighting Against Natural Gas (FANG). 

“Natural” gas has been touted as a bridge fuel by both the industry and the Obama Administration, but evidence has been mounting since 2011 that, independent of the use to which it is put, it is more dangerous for the climate than coal or oil. 

This development, along with a growing awareness of local impacts such as air and water pollution, threats to public health, earthquakes, etc. are continuing to draw unexpected activists into increasingly defiant acts of civil disobedience against fracking and gas-related infrastructure.

Seal release tomorrow at Blue Shutters Beach

Mystic Aquarium will set free a rescued seal

The Drill Is Gone

GOP hopefuls are paying close attention to energy policy even if they’re mum about it.
Charlestown Citizens Alliance Town Councilor Bonny Van Slyke and her
husband own a share in an oil stripper well in Kansas a lot like this one.

When Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, the GOP’s battle cry from that race also prevailed. Remember “drill, baby, drill”?

This country produced 3.2 billion barrels of oil last year, up 75 percent from 1.8 billion in 2008. The boom helps explain why, as the 2016 Republican presidential candidates sparred in their first official debates without saying much about energy, barrels of our black gold were on the verge of striking a six-year low of $43.

When supply spiked, demand lagged. As the laws of economics dictate, oil prices plunged. With the coal industry reeling and natural gas prices receding, fossil fuels are in their biggest freefall since, well, the 2008 electoral cycle.

Big Oil’s profits are plunging. Some 150,000 oil workers have lost their jobs. The population of Williston, North Dakota — the drill, baby, drill capital — is shrinking. No wonder the GOP candidates don’t want to discuss their energy policies.