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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Roads and bridges fixed by magic

But let’s just give Quonset museum $4 million with no accountability
By Sen. James Sheehan
Rep. Costa flipping the finger at Bob Plain
of RI Futures. Stay classy, Doreen!

(Photo by Bob Plain)

In her efforts to assist the Quonset Air Museum, Rep. Doreen Costa (R-Dist. 31) of Exeter and North Kingstown successfully lobbied House leadership to secure a $25,000 state grant to assist the private, nonprofit corporation located in North Kingstown.

Costa presented a large ceremonial check to the museum August 21. However, the check has yet to be honored by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, the state agency overseeing the grant. The state agency refused to disburse the money as there were issues regarding the application. 

One issue was the commission was not satisfied with the corporation’s statement of intent on the planned use of the $25,000.

I find it ironic that a $25,000 grant would be held up to insure that the money would be used properly. 

Yet, Costa, who is surely aware the check is frozen, is seeking $4 million for the air museum without there being a stated purpose or other accountability measures in that bill.

VIDEO: Solving our fossil fuel crisis

Metadata Comes Home With New 'Threat Score' Policing Tools

Police in the U.S. are rolling out new technology that gives them "unprecedented" power to spy on citizens and determine their "threat score" based on metadata, the Washington Post reported.

Fresno, California's police department was one of the first to adopt the software, known as "Beware," which allows officers to analyze "billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches postings" to calculate an individual's alleged potential for violence, the Post explained.

Officers say the tool, made by a company called Intrado, can help them thwart mass shootings and other attacks like the ones that took place in Paris and San Bernardino last year. 

But critics say it's just another weapon in the mass surveillance arsenal, one that further threatens privacy and civil liberties and fuels police overreach.

Drowning in plastic

Report Warns that Plastics Will Soon Outweigh Fish in World's Oceans

The weight of plastic waste clogging the world's oceans threatens to exceed all fish by 2050 if the world's seemingly insatiable appetite for the material continues at the current explosive rate, warned a new report.

In fact, according to the study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation along with the World Economic Forum, "plastics production has surged over the past 50 years, from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014, and is expected to double again over the next 20 years."

The study—The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics (pdf)—introduced at the opening day of the WEF's annual summit in Davos, Switzerland is the first of its kind to comprehensively assess global plastic packaging flows. 

The report makes an economic case for what it calls the "New Plastics Economy," described as "a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks."

Big is often not good

Too Big to Be Honest
By Phil Mattera, editor of the Dirt Diggers Digest

For a long time the big financial institutions of the United States had an unrelenting urge to grow bigger. Acting on the principle that only the big would survive, banks and related entities spent the 1990s and the early 2000s gobbling up one another at a furious pace. 

The result was a small group of mega-institutions such as Citigroup and Bank of America that nearly brought down the whole financial system in 2008.

Federal regulators declined to break up the giants, which in recent years have grown only larger. But now some of the rules put in place in the wake of the meltdown are having the desired effect. 

Some major financial players are deciding to split themselves up in the hope of evading the more stringent capital requirements imposed on companies designated as systemically important (SiFi) institutions.

The latest firm to bow to this pressure is insurance behemoth MetLife, which just announced it is exploring a spinoff of its retail life and annuity business in the U.S. into a new presumably non-SiFi company. 

The move comes in the wake of moves by General Electric to dismantle large parts of its huge GE Capital business. Among the businesses that contributed to GE Capital’s heft was the banking operation it purchased from MetLife in 2011 as part of a previous move by the insurer to reduce its regulatory oversight.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Justice and politics

Harold Meyerson, editor of the American Prospect, notes that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously when they last considered public sector unions.

In the Abood case in 1977, they ruled that unions could not charge members to pay for their political activities, but that they could require members and non-members to pay for collective bargaining that improved their pay, working conditions, pensions, etc.  

Even the conservative members of the High Court agreed that it was legal and fair to expect even non-members to contribute to the cost of labor unions that advocate for them.

What changed from 1977 to 2016? The Supreme Court now has judges appointed by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. That’s one thing but not the only difference.

Nice work if you can get it

The comic about golf, the GOP, and minimum wage jobs.

Just friends

Pic of the Moment

Study Reveals Climate Change Impacts

An analysis of long-term, water quality monitoring data 

reveals that climate change is already having an impact on ecosystems 
in the coastal waters of Buzzards Bay, Mass. The impacts relate 
to how nitrogen pollution affects coastal ecosystems. 
(Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
An analysis of long-term, water quality monitoring data reveals that climate change is already having an impact on ecosystems in the coastal waters of Buzzards Bay, Mass. The impacts relate to how nitrogen pollution affects coastal ecosystems.

Utilizing 22 years of data collected by a network of citizen scientists, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and their colleagues at the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and the Marine Biological Laboratory found that average summertime temperatures in embayments throughout Buzzards Bay warmed by almost 2 degrees Celsius—roughly 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oceanic Acid Trip Bad for Business

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

Nearly 40 million clams were harvested from Narragansett Bay in 2012, according to Rhode Island Sea Grant. Estimates of clams in the bay are used to set fishing limits. In Rhode Island, commercial shellfishermen use a bull rake for harvesting clams. (R.I. Sea Grant)
Nearly 40 million clams were harvested from Narragansett Bay in 2012, according to Rhode Island Sea Grant. Estimates of clams in the bay are used to set fishing limits. In Rhode Island, commercial shellfishermen use a bull rake for harvesting clams. (R.I. Sea Grant)

Shellfish are arguably one of southern New England’s most valuable natural resources. Like the region’s many popular beaches, the area’s quahogs, oysters, lobsters and clams attract tourists. Clamming, as much as sunbathing, is a local summertime ritual.

Ocean acidification, however, a byproduct of the planet’s changing climate, is threatening shellfish and the industries they support. Studies have found that more acidic salt waters make it more difficult for oysters, mussels, scallops and other shelled mollusks to develop their hardened protection.

Shellfish rely on aragonite, a naturally occurring form of calcium carbonate, to generate their shells. Increased ocean acidity, however, means less aragonite, forcing mollusks to expend more energy to build shells and less on reproduction and survival.

Mark Gibson, deputy chief of marine fisheries at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, told the Providence Journal last year that ocean acidification is a “significant threat” to local fisheries.

In fact, a study published last year said the Ocean State’s shellfish populations are among the most vulnerable in the United States to the impacts of acidification.

Must be true because it fits what we believe, say Republicans

If you thought the Republican Party was going to drop their Planned Parenthood witch hunt after the indictment of their criminal “whistleblowers” David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, you don’t know the GOP very well. 

Honest people might back away from the fraudulent baby parts videos and admit they’d been had, but we all know that the right-wing Teapublican lawmakers aren’t the brightest, nor most ethical, crayons in the box. 

Instead of dropping their investigation, lawmakers have decided to keep wasting your tax dollars — all while claiming the country is broke.

According to the Huffington PostRep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) released a letter in the wake of the indictment and assured her fellow pro-fetusers that she would not give up the war against women:
“We will continue to gather information and get the facts about medical practices of abortion service providers and the business practices of the procurement organizations who sell baby body parts. These are issues of importance to the American people. We will study the laws on the books and follow the facts to defend life.”

This is how great the chasm between reality and fiction is for these people. She knows that the videos have been debunked, and yet she continues to insist that the beloved women’s health organization is selling baby parts. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Trump the race card

Why did the white working class abandon the Democrats?

The conventional answer is Republicans skillfully played the race card.

In the wake of the Civil Rights Act, segregationists like Alabama Governor George C. Wallace led southern whites out of the Democratic Party.

Later, Republicans charged Democrats with coddling black “welfare queens,“ being soft on black crime (“Willie Horton”), and trying to give jobs to less-qualified blacks over more-qualified whites (the battle over affirmative action).

The bigotry now spewing forth from Donald Trump and several of his Republican rivals is an extension of this old race card, now applied to Mexicans and Muslims – with much the same effect on the white working class voters, who don’t trust Democrats to be as “tough.”  

All true, but this isn't the whole story. Democrats also abandoned the white working class.

Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and in that time scored some important victories for working families – the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.

But they’ve done nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that has rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top, and undermined the working class. In some respects, Democrats have been complicit in it. 

The poor are so lucky

For more cartoons by Ruben Bolling, CLICK HERE

Help your neighbors

Rhode Island Community Food Bank

Hungry Neighbors Face a
Tough Choice...
Heat or Eat?
Heat or Eat

Dear Progressive Charlestown readers,
One of the most difficult choices for our hungry neighbors is whether to buy food or pay for their utilities. Tragically, 70 percent of families served by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank have to make that choice.
Both nutritious food and a warm home are essential to good health and children's safety and security. But high heating costs mean the choice between going cold and going hungry. This challenge has become a daily dilemma for many in Rhode Island.
Your generous gift today will help stock our shelves with food so our hungry neighbors don’t have to make the choice of paying for heat or buying food.

The call for help is very high in the winter months and we urgently need your support. Please donate today and help us provide meals for the 60,000 hungry neighbors we serve each month.
Thank you,
Signature of Andrew Schiff
Andrew Schiff
Chief Executive Officer

Footer Image
Help Feed Our Hungry Neighbors

Rhode Island Community Food Bank
Rhode Island Community Food Bank
200 Niantic Avenue
Providence, RI 02907
P: (401) 942-MEAL (6325)

One of these is correct

Two studies on meat & climate change, taking opposite positions
By Will Collette

Two recent reports, both out of esteemed academic institutions in Europe, came out almost back to back. They deal with one of the important subparts of the climate change debate: the role of agriculture and animal husbandry in contributing to climate change.

The argument centers on the ethics of eating meat and whether meat-eaters are creating demand for foods that inevitably put a lot of methane into the atmosphere. 

One report says eating less meat will help save the planet. The other report says that meat-eating doesn't have much effect on climate change one way or the other.

As a guilty meat-eater, I've been following this subject closely. And I present you with articles on both studies so you can see the pro and con arguments laid out so you can form your own judgments.

Slurp, Baby, Slurp

Donald Trump is pandering to Iowa voters and the ethanol industry.

As the “lamestream” media, late-night talk show hosts, and Sarah Palin impersonator-in-chief Tina Fey lapped up the former Alaska governor’s first remarks to Donald Trump’s “right-wingin’ bitter-clingin’” supporters, one of her most hilarious lines didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Some Republicans are “even whispering they’re ready to throw in for Hillary over Trump because they can’t afford to see the status quo go,” 

John McCain’s 2008 running mate said. “Otherwise, they won’t be able to be slurping off the gravy train that’s been feeding them all these years. They don’t want that to end.”


Iowa, home to the first official contests for the major parties’ nominations, is the nation’stop ethanol producer

Saluting its corn-flavored gravy train is a rite of passage for presidential candidates courting Iowa voters like the ones at the Ames rally Palin was addressing.

And Trump, like every presidential candidate other than the libertarian-tinged Republicans Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, supports the government-pampered ethanol industry.

Border Boondoggle

The GOP's "just build a wall" simpletons don't know what they’re talking about.

Statue of TrumpertyGood fences, wrote Robert Frost, make good neighbors.

But an 18-foot high, 2,000-mile wall? That’s another story. It just antagonizes your neighbor — and shows your own fear and weakness.

Yet this is what self-described conservatives running for president propose to build to stop migrants from coming across our country’s southern border. Simple, right? Just fence ’em out!

Haven’t we already tried this?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What was that thing about “fear itself?”

Are Most Americans Still Afraid to Be Unafraid?
“Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies. But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands…. they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.”
– President Obama, State of the Union, January 12, 2016
“Even worse, we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.”– Gov. Nikki Haley, Republican response to State of the Union
The Republican consensus these days comes down to this: Be Afraid. Don’t Give Peace a Chance. Ever.

Pretty much all Republicans and too many Democrats buy into the notion that ISIS is a serious threat to the United States. 

Of course it’s not, as the president reminded us, before pretty much contradicting himself and arguing the need for the US to wipe out ISIS. 

Keeping germ-free

Keep Germs At Bay

Week from Saturday - Charlestown e-waste drop-off

Will trade trump climate pact?

A powerful legal tool designed to protect foreign investors could undermine commitments made in Paris last month to reign in climate warming emissions. 

The tool is tucked into two pending trade deals President Obama wants to finalize this year. The language is de rigueur for trade agreements and is designed to protect against what's known as "loss of expected profits." 

TransCanada, citing this clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement, on Wednesday filed a $15 billion lawsuit against the United States for blocking its Keystone XL pipeline.

The language gives companies an avenue to challenge regulations that undermine investment plans, and it could chill or even curtail global efforts to trim carbon emissions.

Almost 200 countries pledged last month to cut global warming gases in an attempt to keep temperatures “well below” 2 C above pre-industrial times. 

A Healthy Way to Build Communities

Local gardens bring people together who might never become acquainted.
Our own community garden in Charlestown's Ninigret Park will soon be looking for volunteers
Mark Winne, an author and anti-hunger activist, often says that the most important word in “community garden” isn’t “garden.” I saw this firsthand not long ago.

Standing in the sun between several small garden plots all morning, it may not have looked like much was going on. A few people stood in a circle, chatting. Occasionally, one would leave, or another would arrive. Several others were nearby, working in their garden plots.

Some of the people were black. Some were white. And two — a mother and child — appeared Southeast Asian.

The garden plots were equally varied. One was filled entirely with sugarcane. Another grew luffa gourds. Still another grew banana trees. That’s one of the perks of gardening in San Diego — you can grow your own bananas if you wish.

First seal release of 2016 on Friday at Blue Shutters Beach

Be there: Blue Shutters Beach, Charlestown. Friday at 10:30 AM

Mystic Aquarium Animal Rescue
Mustard Seed

Join us as we release harbor seal Mustard Seed! 
Friday, January 29, 2016 at 10:30am 
Blue Shutters Beach, Charlestown, RI 

Mustard Seed is male harbor seal that was rescued from Dennis, MA on October 4, 2015 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
He had several facial wounds that needed treatment and was also in poor body condition, weighing only 33 lbs. when he arrived at Mystic Aquarium's Animal Rescue Clinic.
Now approximately 8 months old, weighing more than 65 lbs., and completely healed, Mustard Seed is ready for release.

Please remember that marine animal release dates and times may change at the last minute given a variety of factors. Thank you for your support and understanding. 

Help our Animal Rescue Program continue their work of rescuing marine animals in need by making a donation today. 

The mission of Mystic Aquarium is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education and research.

Mystic Aquarium | 55 Coogan Boulevard | 860.572.5955

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Profiting from Misery

Are Human Rights Abuses Powering Your Smart Phone?
Amnesty traces the sale of cobalt, used in batteries for cell phones and electric cars, from mines where children work in 'perilous conditions'

Charles, 13, sorts stones before taking them to a nearby trading house
that buys the ore. Charles goes to school each morning,
and works in the afternoon. (Photo: Amnesty International)
A damning new report issued Tuesday accuses Apple, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen, among other major multinational corporations, of failing to do basic checks to ensure that cobalt mined by child laborers has not been used in their products.

The investigation by Amnesty International and Afrewatch (Africa Resources Watch), an NGO based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), traces the sale of cobalt, used in lithium-ion batteries for cell phones and electric cars, from mines where children as young as seven and adults work in "perilous conditions."
"The glamourous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks, and miners in narrow manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage." —Mark Dummett, Amnesty International
In the DRC—by far the single most important source of cobalt in the world, the report states—"the vast majority of miners spend long hours every day working with cobalt without the most basic of protective equipment, such as gloves, work clothes or facemasks to protect them from lung or skin disease," according to Amnesty. 

Unleaded, please

If Flint’s water problem happened to rich people
For more cartoons from Jen Sorenson, CLICK HERE

March 5: ‘Gardening with a Purpose’

That’s the theme of URI Master Gardener Symposium

KINGSTON, R.I. –The annual gardening symposium sponsored by the University of Rhode Island Master Gardener Program will feature keynote speakers, panel discussions, a variety of educational displays and great food, all focused on the theme of “Gardening with a Purpose: Natives, Pollinators and Edible Gardening.” 

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 at the URI Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences in Kingston.

Featured speakers at the symposium are:

Good people, good breakfast this Saturday

Planned Parenthood’s Activities Are Legal

…And Republicans Are Proving It

Planned Parenthood’s activities are completely legal and Republicans are intent on proving it through investigations.
Republican governors, attorney generals and state legislators have been calling for investigations since last July when highly edited and misleading viral videos were released by a pro-choice organization.

This Monday, a grand jury in Houston investigating accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood cleared the organization of any wrong-doing and “has decided that after reviewing the evidence, the real criminals in this case are the anti-abortion activists who made the series of bogus videos attacking Planned Parenthood over the summer.

The two activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, are now facing two charges of tampering with a governmental record, which is a second degree felony carrying up to a 20 year prison sentence, and the purchase and sale of human organs, which is a misdemeanor.

And this is only the latest setback for Republicans out to shutter the doors to Planned Parenthood clinics in their respective states.

As The Los Angeles Times reported, “Officials in 11 states have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing after investigating claims that they profited from fetal tissue donation, officials said, including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington.”

For all intents and purposes, eight other states cleared Planned Parenthood by declining to investigate, citing a lack of evidence of any misconduct. Those states include: California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia.

'Great Day for Clean Energy'

In a decision heralded as "great news for consumers and the environment," the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand.

As Timothy Cama explains for The Hill, the court ruled (pdf) that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) "did not exceed the authority Congress gave it when it wrote its 'demand response' rule, mandating that electric utilities pay customers to reduce use during peak demand periods."