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Monday, October 31, 2016

Since when did Republicans become the interstate trucking industry’s lobby?

GOP puts trucking interests ahead of the public interest
By Will Collette

Source: Rhode Island DOT
For most of this election, Rhode Island Republicans have been beating the drum on one issue: unless voters elect Republicans, motorists driving on I-95 MAY at some unspecified future date have to pay tolls.

There’s no evidence to support that prediction. However, there are present day FACTS. RI has some of the country’s worst bridges and roadways. These already cost us in car crashes, damage to vehicles, blown tires and damaged wheels, plus time lost in traffic jams.

Democrats pushed the RhodeWorks plan to repair all those roads and bridges without delay. Already, there are RhodeWorks projects all over the state fixing some of our worst bridges and, incidentally, putting a lot of unemployed construction workers back on the jobs.

Check out the work that’s being down on the rotten underbelly of the Route One bridges going through Wakefield to see not only how bad the problem really is, but how quickly the state RhodeWorks program can get to work on the solution.

Meanwhile, Republicans have become lobbyists for the interstate trucking industry.

Republicans seem to think road repairs can fund themselves, or that they can find enough loose change by searching the chair cushions in state office buildings.

They expected to fund it from waste and fraud, kicking off a big “Waste-O-Meter” media gimmick last winter. They found a few million in projects that in their opinion might be unwarranted, but hardly enough to fix even one bridge, so we don’t hear about the “Waste-O-Meter” any more.

Image result for elaine morgan RI
Elaine Morgan thinks the Russians
are coming
Some Republicans are looking to sell off our state roads to private companies who would toll each and every single driver. And they tell you they want to protect you from car tolls? Yeah, right.

For decades, we have been under-funding and neglecting highway and bridge repair and maintenance. Only an idiot (or a Republican) can fail to see that we need to raise and spend some serious money to deal with this public safety menace.

Democrats enacted legislation to finance RhodeWorks through tolls on interstate trucking. Studies showed those big rigs are the major cause of damage to our roads and bridges. The state truck toll plan was just recently approved by the federal Transportation Department.

Normally, Republicans LOVE “user fees” like this, but this time, I guess the interstate trucking industry made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Instead of embracing truck tolls, the state GOP wants voters to believe they are a threat. Hopkinton state Senator Elaine Morgan even likened truck tolls to “Soviet Russia.”


HealthHacks RI all about pushing boundaries of discovery

Teams pitch high-tech solutions to health challenges at URI hack-a-thon

From left, Nic Dacosta, a fifth year chemical engineering major from Cumberland, R.I., Scott Selig, a junior biomedical engineering major from Groveland, Mass., and Dan Medeiros, a junior biomedical engineering major from Attleboro, Mass., construct an EEG headset that records brain signals for later analysis at the Makerspace on the University of Rhode Island Kingston Campus on Oct. 15, 2016, during HealthHacks RI, a health and wellness hack-a-thon. (URI photo by Michael Salerno Photography)
From left, Nic Dacosta, a fifth year chemical engineering major from Cumberland, R.I., Scott Selig, a junior biomedical engineering major from Groveland, Mass., and Dan Medeiros, a junior biomedical engineering major from Attleboro, Mass., construct an EEG headset that records brain signals for later analysis at the Makerspace on the University of Rhode Island Kingston Campus on Oct. 15, 2016, during HealthHacks RI, a health and wellness hack-a-thon. (URI photo by Michael Salerno Photography)

 “Brainstorming” is not a strong enough word to describe the intense and frenzied activity that defined HealthHacks RI 2016, the health and wellness hack-a-thon held at the University of Rhode Island earlier this month.

Given the energy and creativity in evidence at URI’s Makerspace, a new resource of high-tech tools for collaborative thinking and design at the Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons — “brain-typhooning” might be a better description.

“It’s really all about experimenting. It’s exposure to failure,” says hack-a-thon competitor James Gannon, a sophomore from Coventry, R.I., studying electrical engineering and Spanish in URI’s International Engineering Program. “You come up with an extraordinary idea that might not seem possible and try to make it possible.”

Trump is the Nation’s Abuser-in-Chief

A checklist of 30 tactics used by emotionally abusive partners reads like Trump's debate prep to-do list.

Image result for Trump is an abuserAs an emotional abuse survivor, I get an eerie feeling watching Donald Trump.

In fact, a checklist of 30 tactics used by an emotionally abusive partner, published by the blog Live Bold and Bloom, reads like Donald Trump’s debate prep to-do list.

One of the telltale signs of such abuse, for example, is rooted in humiliation:

“They humiliate you, put you down, or make fun of you in front of other people.”

This seems to be a cornerstone of Trump’s political speech — like making fun of a disabled reporter, or placing the women who accuse Hillary Clinton’s husband of sexual misconduct in the audience at the last debate. (I wonder if Trump has ever heard that expression about glass houses and throwing stones.)

Kitty of the week

Meet Crosby!
Animal Rescue Rhode Island

Meow! My name is Crosby and I am a one-year-old male domestic shorthair mix.

I am a savvy cat who knows the score.

I'm pretty unflappable, and I don't mind entertaining myself, but a human at the other end of the couch and a nice scratch behind the ears always makes my day.

I can be shy at times, so if you need a cat who knows how to stay out of trouble and will always keep your secrets, I just might take your case.

If you're looking for a resourceful addition to your team, think about adding me!

Don’t like the car tax?

Image result for Tom Gentz & porsche
Poster child for the unfairness of car tax valuations: Charletown
Town Council Boss Tom Gentz behind the wheel of one of THREE vintage
Porsche convertibles.
Assessed tax value: ZERO
Like the weather, it appears that everybody in Rhode Island loves to talk about the state’s car tax but nobody ends up actually doing anything about it. The Vehicle Value Commission has the power to do something about it, and bears responsibility for the frustration and, sometimes, anger that taxpayers in the state have about it.

For years, the ACLU of Rhode Island has submitted testimony to the Commission to encourage revisions to these regulations in order to address that frustration and bring some semblance of fairness to the valuation process. 

No revisions have ensued, unfortunately. Despite our lack of optimism that this year will be any different, we offer our views once again.”

Click to enlarge. Gentz's actual tax bill from the
Charlestown Tax Assessor database.
Note - Gentz' veterans exemptions are applied to his property taxes.
So begins the ACLU of Rhode Island’s detailed seven-page testimony to the Rhode Island Vehicle Value Commission submitted in advance of a public hearing on the Commission regulations on November 10th. The testimony includes a thorough review of the car tax statute and regulation’s history.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

VIDEO: Candidates need to stop using language that incites violence

This year’s rhetoric is bad enough
By Will Collette

The Beatles got it right in 1968. To see this video on YouTube:

I think most voters will agree that the language and rhetoric used during this year’s political campaigns – from the Presidential campaign down to local races – has been the worst ever.

The racist, sexist hate speech from Donald Trump is beyond awful, but one trend in this year’s election bothers me even more. And that’s when candidates use incendiary language that may incite violence.

There’s been a lot of attention given to Trump’s calls for his followers to beat up protesters or news reporters at his rallies, or his remarks about a Second Amendment “solution” to Hillary Clinton when she beats him, or his apparent call for a general insurrection over what he calls a “rigged election” when he loses.

Trump’s calls to violence are pretty horrible, the worst anyone can recall in living memory or even in history. Maybe the rhetoric in 1860 before the Civil War was worse, but not by much.

Locally, we have two right-wing state representatives with public sympathies toward radical militia hate groups who espouse violence against the government.

Rep. Justin Price (R-Richmond) praised the “Three Percenters,” a militia offshoot that believes it can overthrow the government by rallying 3% of the population.

Rep. Blake “Flip” Filippi (Republican-Libertarian representing the 36th district) espouses “nullification,” the discredited notion that states can ignore federal laws they consider unconstitutional. Plus he has legally and publicly supported the Oathkeepers, a radical militia that recruits from the police and military. This year, the Oathkeepers plan to mount a heavily armed presence at polling places in minority communities to intimidate voters.

Unfortunately, incitements to popular revolt are not just limited to Trump or the ultra-right-wing.

VIDEO: Halloween special

To see this video on YouTube:

Lucky Loopholes

For more cartoons by Ruben Bolling, CLICK HERE

Last Minute Halloween costumes

Last Minute Scientific Halloween Costumes

'Last Gasp of Dying Industry'

Watts Bar's launch is "a symbolic gesture” - an extraordinarily dumb one

Image result for Watts Bar 2 reactorThe first new nuclear reactor in the United States in 20 years went live on October 19 in Tennessee, in what at least one nuclear expert is calling the "last gasp of a dying industry."

The Watts Bar 2 reactor, which began construction decades ago but faltered, only picking up again in the last four years, is now producing electricity for 650,000 homes and businesses, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

At $4.7 billion, the project is "arguably one of the most expensive, most over-budget, oldest reactors to be started in human history," Friends of the Earth senior strategic adviser Damon Moglen told Common Dreams. "It's a testament to the failure of the nuclear industry, rather than the resurgence."

URI to host free lecture series on energy research, Nov. 2, 9, 16

Charlestown Leadership should go – they might learn something

Right now, this is just about the only form of "green energy"
that's OK to use in Charlestown
The University of Rhode Island’s Extension Outreach Center will host a three-part lecture series focusing on energy beginning Wednesday, Nov. 2 and continuing Nov. 9 and 16.

The second annual “Plugged into URI Energy Research” lectures will highlight cutting-edge energy research and outreach projects under way by URI faculty, staff and alumni and explore how the results of these projects impact Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders.

All of the lectures are free and open to the public and will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in room 170 of the URI Pharmacy Building on the Kingston campus.

Caution, oversight urged for corporate takeover deal that includes Westerly Hospital

Coalition seeks public role to protect patients
Matt O’Connor, AFT Connecticut

Image result for hospital mergerCommunity leaders, advocates, caregivers and area residents are urging the state's top health official to select a truly independent monitor to oversee the sale of Lawrence + Memorial (L+M) Health.

The coalition in a letter to the Department of Public Health (DPH) commissioner praises price caps in the agency's agreement green-lighting the purchase by Yale-New Haven Health Systems (YNHHS). They also at the same time question the settlement's requirements to retain vital services as "too narrow and vague" to protect the public.

"Yale-New Haven has essentially taken over Southern Connecticut's healthcare system," said Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) Executive Director Tom Swan. NOTE: this deal also swallows up Westerly Hospital and all its affiliated medical practices.

"This kind of change requires vigorous, transparent oversight — not a rubber stamp. The only way that patients and families will benefit from this deal is with a monitor and a consultant who are truly independent," added Swan, who in July provided testimony in the Certificate of Need (CON) hearings on the proposed acquisition conducted by the DPH's Office of Health Care Access (OHCA).

State pension fund earns big money

R.I. Pension Fund Continues to Rally, Earns $45.8M in September

Image result for Rhode Island pension fund
The state's pension system continued its months-long rally earning more than $45 million in positive returns in the month of September, announced Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner today at a meeting of the State Investment Commission.

"Rhode Island's investments continue to deliver positive performance for retirees and taxpayers," said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. 

"While this is encouraging, we are also taking steps to do even better. Our team is in the process of implementing our 'Back to Basics' strategy, which was designed to deliver stronger returns, reduce volatility, and strengthen retirement security for Rhode Island public employees."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Here we go with the e-mails again

Mike Luckovich
For more cartoons by Mike Luckovich, CLICK HERE
When former President Richard Nixon’s cronies broke into DNC Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972, it was a scandal so monumental and unprecedented that Nixon became the first and only president to resign from the office.

The perpetrators were trying to bug the offices and Nixon attempted to cover up the crime using government resources.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, merely used a personal server to receive and send emails as Secretary of State. While her decision to use a personal server was a bad one, it is hardly a crime and that is what the FBI declared in July when the agency declined to charge her with a crime.

Fast-forward to October and Hillary again finds herself in Republican crosshairs as Donald Trump and his deplorable supporters continue to call for her arrest after the FBI reportedly found three emails related to the email investigation on a device belonging to Anthony Weiner.

As NBC’s Pete Williams reported soon afterward, none of the emails were sent by Clinton or her campaign, nor were these emails hidden by Clinton or her campaign.

In fact, the FBI has only just begun investigating the emails and a conclusion won’t be reached until after the election and all the signs suggest the FBI will find nothing criminal about these emails either.

“Winning” at any price

Image result for trump & fascistDonald Trump’s warning that he might not accept the results of the presidential election exemplifies his approach to everything: Do whatever it takes to win, even if that means undermining the integrity of the entire system.

Trump isn’t alone. The same approach underlies Senator John McCain’s recent warning that Senate Republicans will unite against any Supreme Court nominee Hillary Clinton might put up, if she becomes president. 

The Republican Party as a whole has embraced this philosophy for more than two decades. 

After Newt Gingrich took over as Speaker of the House in 1995, compromise was replaced by brinksmanship, and normal legislative maneuvering was supplanted by threats to close down the government – which occurred at the end of that year.

Like Trump, Gingrich did whatever it took to win, regardless of the consequences. 

Compare for yourself

No comparison
For more cartoons by Jen Sorenson, CLICK HERE

Changes in state college savings program earn high industry rating

Overhaul put CollegeBound back on track to grow family savings for education

Image result for CollegeBound FundThe turnaround of Rhode Island's 529 college savings program under General Treasurer Seth Magaziner was recognized this week when Morningstar awarded the state's CollegeBound Saver and CollegeBound 529 plans Silver and Bronze medals, respectively in its 2016 national ratings.

"The state overhauled both plans in July 2016, replacing former program manager AllianceBernstein with Invesco and Ascensus," wrote Morningstar. "[CollegeBound Saver] offers extremely low fees for Rhode Island residents--the plan's primary investors--earning it a Silver rating."

This week's praise stands in stark contrast to Morningstar's previous reviews, which regularly ranked the state's program at the bottom among its peers, due to the former program's high fees and poor investment performance.

Finding the Cure, but not to what you might imagine

URI researchers search for powdery mildew cure for pumpkins

URI students Emily Condon and Rassmeay Morm harvest pumpkins as part of a research project to determine the best varieties to grow for Halloween jack-o-lanterns. (Photo by Nora Lewis)

Rhode Island’s more than 100 commercial pumpkin farmers have been battling a fungus called powdery mildew that covers the leaves of pumpkin plants with a white film and reduces the size and weight of the pumpkins each plant produces. Some also become infected with black rot, a disease that looks as bad as it sounds.
With seed companies now offering new pumpkin varieties that are supposedly disease resistant, a University of Rhode Island researcher has undertaken a scientific “pumpkin trial” to identify the best varieties for farmers to grow in the future.

Climate change and the marine food chain

New 13-year Study Tracks Impact of Changing Climate on a Key Marine Food Source
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Image result for big fish eat small fishA new multiyear study from scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has shown for the first time how changes in ocean temperature affect a key species of phytoplankton.

The study, published in the October 21 issue of the journal Science, tracked levels of Synechococcus—a tiny bacterium common in marine ecosystems—near the coast of Massachusetts over a 13-year period.

As ocean temperatures increased during that time, annual blooms of Synechococcusoccurred up to four weeks earlier than usual because cells divided faster in warmer conditions, the study found.

Shifts like these could have a major impact on marine ecosystems worldwide, says WHOI biologist Heidi Sosik, who initiated the study. “Synechococcus and other phytoplankton are sentinels.

They can tell us how an ecosystem is responding to shifts in climate,” she says. “If ocean temperatures continue warming over the next century, some ecosystems could become more and more dominated by small phytoplankton, eventually leading to shifts that could affect the livelihoods of larger species like fish, whales, and birds.”

Location, location, location

The Democrats' Bad Map
by Alec MacGillis for ProPublica

Image result for electoral map 2016

Even as Hillary Clinton appears poised to win easily against a highly erratic candidate with a campaign in meltdown, a sobering reality awaits Democrats on Nov. 9. 

It seems likely that they will eke out at most a narrow majority in the Senate, but will fail to pick up the 30 seats they need to reclaim the House. 

If they do manage to win a Senate majority, it will be exceedingly difficult to hold it past 2018, when 25 of the party's seats must be defended, compared with eight Republican ones.

The Republican Party may seem in historic disarray, but it will most likely be able to continue to stymie the Democrats' legislative agenda, perpetuating Washington's gridlock for years to come.

Liberals have a simple explanation for this state of affairs: Republican-led gerrymandering, which has put Democrats at a disadvantage in the House and in many state legislatures. But this overlooks an even bigger problem for their party. 

More than ever, Democrats are sorting themselves into geographic clusters where many of their votes have been rendered all but superfluous, especially in elections for the Senate, House and state government.

Friday, October 28, 2016

YES on Question 4

By Bob Plain in Rhode Island’s Future

URI President Dooley signs agreement with Navatek CEO in 2013.
Still going strong, the deal has produced dozens of well-paid jobs for
URI graduates. (Photo by Will Collette)
There are two University of Rhode Island projects that would benefit if voters pass Question 4 on the statewide ballot this November.

One is a $25.5 million upgrade to Bliss Hall, a prominent classroom building on the Quadrangle at the center of campus that was built in 1929, and “hasn’t really been renovated since then,” said URI President David Dooley in a recent interview with RI Future.

“The exterior will look exactly the same except the air conditioners won’t be sticking out the window anymore because we will have state-of-the-art HVAC,” Dooley explained, “and there will be an addition on the back facing all the new engineering construction that will be going on behind Bliss Hall starting next year.”

The Bliss Hall renovation is part of an overall $150 million project, started under Governor Chafee, to upgrade the engineering program and its facilities, which Dooley described as a major area of growth at URI.

“We know it is one of our fastest growing colleges,” he said, noting there are more than 30 local businesses started by graduates of URI’s engineering school. 

“We know that every year we have more applications to the College of Engineering than we did the year before. We know we can’t accommodate all the qualified applicants that want to come here to become engineers.”

The second part of Question 4 would direct $20 million to fund “innovation campuses”  – or partnerships with the private sector.

Yeah, rigged.

When winning is everything

Join with the Scouts to help your neighbors

Rhode Island Community Food Bank

Boy Scouts are collecting food donations for the Food Bank

Scouting for Food:
Look for your Door Hanger & Prepare Your Donation

Boy Scout delivering food donation to Food Bank
On Saturday, October 29, thousands of Boy Scouts from across the state will be distributing door hangers to homes asking for donations of healthy, non-perishable food. The Scouts will return the following Saturday, November 5 starting at 9 a.m to pick-up donations. We need your help to ensure that we have healthy food for our neighbors in need this holiday season. Please give generously!

Food Bank’s Annual Meeting Recognizes Leadership

Tyler Young and his potato crop
At this week's annual meeting, the Guy Abelson Leadership Award was presented to Tyler Young of the Young Family Farm, our single largest donor of fresh produce grown in Rhode Island. The Loni McGrath Community Garden Award was given to member agency Looking Upwards Lake House for creating a community garden to enrich the lives of adults with developmental disabilities and children with special healthcare needs. In addition, three new board members were elected.
Ten Students Graduate Community Kitchen Program 

Community Kitchen Graduation Ceremony
Last week ten individuals earned their graduation certificate from the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen program. Through the 14-week culinary job-training program for low-income or jobless adults, students gain cooking skills and learn about food service as well as work readiness skills to succeed on the job. Please join us in wishing the graduates luck as they begin their careers in the food service and hospitality industry!

Help Feed Our Hungry Neighbors

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

DEM grants promote local agriculture growth

Funding supports specialty crop production, sales in Rhode Island

Image result for Rhode Island farms

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today announced $225,524 in grant awards to five local groups working to grow the state's agricultural sector.

The grants, funded under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, support efforts to grow the marketplace and increase local production of specialty crops. USDA defines specialty crops as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, and nursery crops, including floriculture and turf grass.

"Agriculture is an important, diverse industry poised for growth in Rhode Island," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "We're pleased to announce these awards that support our local growers and their businesses as well as increase consumer understanding and demand for Rhode Island's specialty crops. 

The work these grant recipients are doing is vital to ensuring the continued viability of agriculture in Rhode Island, and we are proud to be a partner. Kudos to all!"

Grant recipients include:

Three new inhabitants of Charlestown's coastal waters

The Animal Rescue Team Released Three More Pups Abandoned at Birth

Photos courtesy of the Mystic Aquarium
Another successful Mystic Aquarium seal release took place Thursday morning at Blue Shutters Beach in Charlestown, RI as three young harbor seal pups returned to their ocean environment. This brings the Animal Rescue Team’s release numbers for the 2016 season to a remarkable 20 seal count.

Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Team released Potch, Topaz and Crystal, all named for this year’s theme of minerals and rocks, following four to six months of rehabilitation, respectively. 

Potch and Topaz were rescued by the Marine Mammals of Maine along the coast of Maine while Crystal was rescued by Mystic Aquarium’s First Responders in North Kingstown, RI. All pups were abandoned shortly after birth.

Deemed healthy and prepared for life at sea, the pups made a quick dash to the water’s edge before wading in the shallow and calm surf.

One nuclear accident can spoil your whole millenium

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

Image result for fukushima explosion
Five years ago, the largest single release of human-made radioactive discharge to the marine environment resulted from an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
Approximately 80 percent of the fallout happened over the Pacific Ocean.

Jordi Vives i Batlle of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre explores the environmental consequences in the marine environment of the accident in an article published in the October issue of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.

He outlines the status of current research about the impact of the fallout on plant and animal life and what remains to be done as the radioactivity continues to spread.

His article is part of a series of invited commentaries from international experts on "Lessons Learned and Consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident, 5 Years Later."

Overall, the radioactivity levels in the marine biota near Fukushima were lower than predicted by some early studies immediately following the accident, and exposures were too low for acute effects at the population level to be observed in marine organisms ranging from microalgae to mollusks to fish.

One study cited in the article concluded that the quick radioactive decay of the iodine-131 (one of the main isotopes, initially) and the confinement of the fallout to only some species and areas close to the power station were contributing factors to the low threshold exposure.

However, more recent studies have shown variable levels in individual fish, though they too confirm that population-level effects have not been observed.