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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Sad State of Disaster Relief

Trump and Congress shirk basic responsibility to aid disaster victims

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, meme and textEDITOR'S NOTE: Do you think there's any point to southern New England seeking federal help to recover from Sunday's damaging storm? There was a time when you would almost automatically expect federal help after a weather disaster. But under Trump, those days are gone. - W. Collette

Five former U.S. presidents recently came together to raise money for hurricane relief for the victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. 

This generous, bipartisan act is one of true generosity and statesmanship.

And yet, as former presidents, all five men know that there’s another way to help hurricane victims, or victims of any natural disaster. The federal government can quickly provide far more in money, 

personnel, and resources to help disaster victims than even the most generous outpouring of donations by Americans.

Congress recently approved $36.5 billion for disaster relief. That’s nowhere near enough given the scale of the crises from California to Puerto Rico. And further funding is going to run up against a GOP plan to cut $1.5 trillion worth of taxes — about 80 percent of which will go to the richest 1 percent.

It’s a sad comment on the current state of our government, when the current president and Congress aren’t doing enough to help disaster victims using the full weight and power of the federal government, so five former presidents have to cajole millions of Americans to give voluntarily.

George who?

Pic of the Moment

VIDEO: Secret identity revealed!

To watch this video on YouTube:

Huge energy potential in open ocean wind farms in the North Atlantic

Wind farms could provide sufficient energy to meet all of civilization's current needs
Carnegie Institution for Science

Related image
Donald Trump failed in his bid to block ocean wind farms in Scotland's
waters near one of his golf courses.
There is considerable opportunity for generating wind power in the open ocean, particularly the North Atlantic, according to new research from Carnegie's Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira. Their work is published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Because wind speeds are higher on average over ocean than over land, wind turbines in the open ocean could in theory intercept more than five times as much energy as wind turbines over land. 

This presents an enticing opportunity for generating renewable energy through wind turbines. But it was unknown whether the faster ocean winds could actually be converted to increased amounts of electricity.

Robots Aren’t Taking Our Jobs. Corporations Are.

Robots don't demand wages or health care.

 super robots factory GIFThere’s a robot in your future. Not one of those cute little labor-saving automatons — like a “Roomba” vacuum cleaner.

Far from saving you from doing extra labor, this new wave of robots is being brought into your workplace to rescue corporate bosses from paying you to work for them.

Oh, you might think, not my workplace, I’m not a factory worker — I’ve got a college degree and I work with my brain, so no contraption doing rote mechanical tasks can take my job.

Working for yourselves

By Aran Valente in Rhode Island’s Future
On September 19, 2017 the Rhode Island General Assembly passed Senator Donna Nesslebush’s Senate Bill 0676 Sub A and Representative Shelby Maldonado’s House Bill H6155, “Corporations, Associations, and Partnerships.” The bill was signed officially by Governor Raimondo on October 25, 2017 at Fuerza Laboral in Central Falls.

The bill “creates a statutory vehicle for the creation of worker owned cooperatives.” 

A worker owned cooperative is a business entity that is owned and controlled by the people who actually perform the work, and profit is delivered in the form of wages. 

Employees, rather than a sole proprietor or CEO, would make business decisions through a democratic process. US News reported, on June 2, 2017, that when worker owned cooperative legislation is signed, startup companies could file a certificate of incorporation to become a cooperative. According to the bill, worker owned cooperatives function on the principle of one person one vote.

Monday, October 30, 2017

FEMA's Puerto Rico cover up?

FEMA Had a Plan for Responding to a Hurricane in Puerto Rico — But It Doesn’t Want You to See It
Image result for FEMA coverupThe Federal Emergency Management Agency, citing unspecified “potentially sensitive information,” is declining to release a document it drafted several years ago that details how it would respond to a major hurricane in Puerto Rico.

The plan, known as a hurricane annex, runs more than 100 pages and explains exactly what FEMA and other agencies would do in the event that a large storm struck the island. 

The document could help experts assess both how well the federal government had prepared for a storm the size of Hurricane Maria and whether FEMA’s response matches what was planned. 

The agency began drafting such advance plans after it was excoriated for poor performance and lack of preparation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

ProPublica requested a copy of the Puerto Rico hurricane annex as part of its reporting on the federal response to Maria, the scale and speed of which has been the subject of scrutiny and criticism. More than a month after the storm made landfall, 73 percent of the island still lacks electricity.

Early last week, a FEMA spokesman said he would provide a copy of the plan that afternoon. It never came. 

After a week of follow-ups, FEMA sent a statement reversing its position. “Due to the potentially sensitive information contained within the Hurricane Annex of the Region II All Hazards Plan, there are legal questions surrounding what, if any, portions of the annex can be released,” the statement said. “As such, the documents that you seek must be reviewed and analyzed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by FEMA.” The statement did not explain what legal questions apply.

As ProPublica has previously reported, FEMA’s Freedom of Information process is plagued by dysfunction and years long backlogs. For example, FEMA hasn’t responded to a request for documents related to Superstorm Sandy that we filed more than three and a half years ago.

Boo. Just boo.

The progressive web comic about a Trump Halloween party.


For more cartoons by Mike Luckovich, CLICK HERE.

More awwww, less boo

cat picture
From the Infinite Cat Project

Sue Sosnowski named Legislator of the Year by Audubon

Her House counterpart, Art Handy also honored

Image result for sue sosnowski & environmentThe Audubon Society of Rhode Island honored Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) as Legislators of the Year for their long-standing dedication to Rhode Island’s environment, birds and wildlife during the society’s annual meeting on Oct. 22.

Senator Sosnowski, who serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, was lauded for her efforts, particularly:

> Creating a special legislative commission to study pesticide control regulations. It was passed by the Senate on June 22, 2017.

> Passing amendments to the Rhode Island Green Buildings Act to incorporate green infrastructure as part of public investments in buildings and properties.

> Creating a commission to study and strengthen the Rhode Island Water Resources Board, the state agency with authority to manage our critical water supplies.

“It is a tremendous honor to be recognized for my efforts by the Audubon Society,” said Senator Sosnowski. “I’ve always tried to fight hard for environmental and conservation issues in the state Senate and I look forward to building upon that work in the future.”

Some storm!

Lights out for most of Charlestown
By Will Collette

The one tree we lost was this oak that snapped near the base.
Amazingly, fell just along the side of our long, sloping
driveway without blocking it. (Photo by Will Collette)
I'm not sure how many Charlestown readers will see this piece - according to National Grid, most of town is without power after the lights went out all over town around 10 PM last night.

We put in a back-up generator after Sandy and then winter storm Nemo impressed on us the importance of having a reliable source of energy.

Currently, National Grid is estimating 4:15 PM for restoration of power to the several thousand homes in Charlestown and Westerly who were hit.

Maybe they can get some help from Whitefish Energy who now have time on their hands after being fired from their contract to restore power in Puerto Rico.

UPDATED: Trumpers denying any role in Puerto Rico-gate contract

Zinke attacks ‘dishonest media’ for asking questions about Whitefish Energy contract

"It's all their own fault!"
UPDATE: Puerto Rico's power company has announced it is canceling the contract after being urged to do so by the Governor of Puerto Rico. They have already paid the company $8 million. Governor Rossello says that he has asked utilities in Florida and New York to help restore power to the more than 70% of the island's population who are still without electricity more than a month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

Governor Rossello also criticized the US Army Corps of Engineers for failing to meet their goals in restoring vital infrastructure. - W. Collette

 A two-person Montana energy company based in the hometown of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is raising eyebrows after securing a $300 million no-bid contract to restore electricity to Puerto Rico. The island remains largely without power in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The firm’s connection to both Zinke and President Trump has set off alarm bells for both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, some of whom have called for an investigation into potential conflicts of interest between the utility and the administration.

On Friday, Zinke fired back at critics, blaming the “dishonest media” and “political operatives” for attempting to tie him to the contract. He called the allegations “baseless” and claimed that he had no contact with the company after the contract was awarded.

“Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime,” Zinke said.

Both Whitefish Energy and Zinke hail from the small Montana town of Whitefish, which has a population of just over 6,300. Zinke’s son worked for the company for a summer, and Zinke reportedly helped the company secure a contract in Montana last year. 

The company also counts the Dallas-based HBC Investments LLC among its investors; Joseph Colonnetta, founding and general partner of HBC, donated $5,400 to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

If You Want to Collect Social Security, Trump’s Tax Plan Is an Outrage

Social Security beneficiaries double-screwed by Trump

Image result for tax cuts & social securityHow much did your paychecks total last year? You know the answer, of course. So does the Social Security Administration. The totals for every American’s paycheck income are sitting in Social Security’s computers.

Once every year, Social Security does a serious data dump out of those computers to let us know just how much working Americans are actually making. The latest totals — covering 2016 — have just appeared.

Most of us, the new numbers show, are simply not making all that much.

In fact, nearly half of our nation’s employed — 49.3 percent — earned less than $30,000 in 2016. A good many of these Americans lived in poverty. In 2016, families of four that earned less than $24,339 ranked as officially poor.

State of Denial

For more cartoons by Tom Tomorrow, CLICK HERE.

VIDEO: Mueller delivers the indictments, dream sequence

 To see this video on YouTube:

Regional dialects?

Whales and dolphins have rich 'human-like' cultures and societies
University of Manchester
  dolphins GIFWhales and dolphins (Cetaceans) live in tightly-knit social groups, have complex relationships, talk to each other and even have regional dialects -- much like human societies.

A major new study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution(Monday 16th October), has linked the complexity of Cetacean culture and behaviour to the size of their brains.

The research was a collaboration between scientists at The University of Manchester, The University of British Columbia, Canada, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Stanford University, United States.

The study is first of its kind to create a large dataset of cetacean brain size and social behaviours. The team compiled information on 90 different species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises. 

It found overwhelming evidence that Cetaceans have sophisticated social and cooperative behaviour traits, similar to many found in human culture.

Trump's Week #40 in Review


The end of pneumonia?

New vaccine offers hope
University at Buffalo

Image result for pneumoniaIn 2004, pneumonia killed more than 2 million children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. By 2015, the number was less than 1 million.

Better access to antibiotics and improved nutrition account for part of the decline. But scientists say it's mostly due to vaccines introduced in the early 2000s that target up to 23 of the most deadly forms of the bacterium that causes pneumonia, Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Now, a new vaccine under development could deal another blow to the disease, lowering the number of deaths even further by targeting dozens of additional strains of S. pneumoniae, and anticipating future versions of the bacteria responsible for pneumococcal disease, which includes sepsis and meningitis.

The vaccine provoked an immune response to 72 forms of S. pneumoniae -- including the 23 mentioned above -- in lab tests on animals, according to new research published in the journal Science Advances. The study represents the "most comprehensive" coverage of pneumococcal disease to date, researchers say.

Inside the mind of killer kids

What characteristics do school shooters share?

Image result for columbine school shootingsBoys involved in school shootings often struggle to live up to what they perceive as their school's ideals surrounding masculinity. 

When socially shunned at school, they develop deep-set grudges against their classmates and teachers. The shooters become increasingly angry, depressed, and more violent in their gendered practice. 

A shooting rampage is their ultimate performance, says Kathryn Farr of Portland State University in the US. In a study published in Springer's journal Gender Issues, she investigated the characteristics shared by 31 school boys involved in 29 mass shootings at American schools between 1995 and 2015.

Farr's analysis suggests that boys' social status in middle and high school is determined in great part by peers' acceptance of them as "appropriately masculine." 

Their guidelines for gender appropriateness are found in a set of Adolescent Insider Masculinity norms that describe masculinity as the ideal that men are cool, heterosexual and tough, shy away from "sissy stuff" and embrace activities, behavior and mannerisms that are typical of "guys." 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Drug-dealing corporations

Getting Tough on the Corporations Behind the Opioid Crisis
By Phil Mattera for the Dirt Diggers Digest

Related imageThe withdrawal of Tom Marino’s nomination as national drug czar is a reminder of the power of whistle-blowing and aggressive investigative reporting, while the fact that he was named in the first place is a reminder of the hollowness of the Trump’s Administration’s commitments to draining the swamp and to seriously addressing the opioid epidemic.

Yet there is much more to be done beyond denying a high-profile job to the Congressman who did the pharmaceutical industry’s bidding in weakening the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to thwart illicit distribution of prescription painkillers.

The first step, of course, is for Congress to undo the damage caused by Marino’s bill, which Democrats and Republicans alike allowed to be enacted with little scrutiny. 

Also needed are reforms to the revolving door system, which the excellent reporting by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes and the revelations of DEA whistle-blower Joseph Rannazzisi (photo) showed to play a key role in the story as former DEA officials working for the drug industry or its law firms helped to draft and promote the legislation.

If the scourge of opioids is to end, there will have to be much stronger enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the law that forms the basis of U.S. drug control policy. For a long time, it appeared the problem was that the CSA was being enforced too strictly, at least when it was applied to drug users and low-level drug sellers.

Starting about a decade ago, federal officials and prosecutors began to pay attention to the pernicious role played by the supposedly legitimate drug industry. 

Mission accomplished

For more cartoons by Lalo Alcaraz, CLICK HERE.

Nothing to see here

Pic of the Moment

New RI pension investment plan pays off

$872 million in its first year, 11.6% return on investment

Related imageRhode Island's pension fund continues to deliver strong investment performance, earning $74.3 million in the month of September 2017, and more than $872 million in the 12 months since Treasurer Magaziner announced his Back to Basics investment strategy.

"I am committed to bringing growth and stability to our State's pension fund," said Treasurer Magaziner. "Our Back to Basics approach is improving investment returns through common sense investments and providing financial security for those who have dedicated their careers to public service."

For the 12-month period ending September 30, 2017, the fund earned over $872 million, a return of 11.6 percent, which beats the plan's 11.1 percent benchmark and a tradition 60% stock/40% bonds portfolio which would have earned 10.9 percent.

Trash pandas smarter than we thought

Raccoons solve an ancient puzzle, but do they really understand it?

Related imageScientists have been using an ancient Greek fable written by Aesop as inspiration to test whether birds and small children understand cause and effect relationships. 

In "The Crow and the Pitcher," a thirsty crow realizes it should drop stones into a pitcher in order to raise the water level high enough so that the bird is able to drink it. 

A group of US scientists led by Lauren Stanton of the University of Wyoming have now extended this body of work to study raccoon intelligence. Their research in Springer's journal Animal Cognition is the first to use the Aesop's Fable paradigm to assess if mammalian carnivores understand the principles of water displacement.

Aaron Regunberg wants to be Rhode Island’s next Lt. Governor

By Bob Plain In Rhode Island’s Future

Image result for Aaron RegunbergAaron Regunberg announced on October 24 what many had long assumed: The progressive state representative from Providence’s East Side is running for lieutenant governor.

The 27-year-old Brown University grad already has some important achievements under his belt. 

He authored a bill, now law, that mandates paid sick days for Rhode Island workers. 

He pushed for, and won, net metering, which increases the use of renewable energy, and he was an important voice, and legislative co-sponsor, of increasing the tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers. 

He helped start the Resist RI activist group and, before that, the Providence Student Union, an activist group for students.

Regunberg’s decision to run for higher office sets up a potential primary against current Lt. Governor Dan McKee, a conservative-leaning Democrat, and opens up his District 4 House seat, which the progressive left hopes remains deep blue. 

I caught up with Regunberg, via email, to ask him about his campaign, his political strategy, why he’s running for lieutenant governor, and what he likes and doesn’t like about politics.

Friday, October 27, 2017

How to Cope with Trump Trauma

This presidency has caused an enduring traumatic shock.
Image may contain: textI am a trauma therapist in New York City. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, both my patients and colleagues were in shock. Many of them told me they felt unsafe and vulnerable. “I feel like I did after 9/11,” one said. “People on the subways look like they are in mourning,” said another.

I knew exactly how they felt. In the days following the 2016 election, my own mind struggled to focus. I was prone to spontaneous tears. It was difficult to summon the words to speak. I recognized these responses in myself and others as symptoms of traumatic shock, the possible harbingers of post-traumatic stress disorder.

When I finally managed to calm down enough to consider the intensity of our reactions, I was puzzled. It’s true that Donald Trump’s election to the presidency was alarming for many, particularly given his rageful expressions of xenophobia, sexism, racism, and Islamophobia. But it was a nonviolent event; we hadn’t been physically attacked, nor had we experienced a natural catastrophe. Or had we?

They knew what they signed up for

Pic of the Moment

From the Rhode Island Community Food Bank

Annual Meeting recap and hurricane relief update.
Scouts deliver door hangers on Oct 28, return on Nov 4 to pick up food donations.
Scouting for Food:
Look for Door Hanger & Prepare Donation
On Saturday, October 28, thousands of Scouts from across the state will be distributing door hangers to homes asking for donations of healthy, non-perishable food in the Food Bank’s biggest food drive of the year. As they’ve done for thirty years, the Scouts will return the following Saturday, November 4 starting at 9 pick up donations. We need your help to ensure that we have healthy food for our neighbors in need this holiday season. If the Scouts don’t canvass you neighborhood, please consider making an online donation.
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Food Bank member agency receives Loni McGrath Community Garden Award.
Leadership Recognized at Annual Meeting
At this week's annual meeting, the Loni McGrath Community Garden Award was given to member agency Westbay Community Action for their farm program that grows 15,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, squash and other vegetables each year. The Guy Abelson Leadership Award was presented to Joe MarcAurele for his service as Board President since 2011. In addition, three new board members were elected.
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Food Bank staff help with hurricane relief.
Food Bank Participates in Hurricane Relief
To help with Hurricane relief efforts in Texas, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank sent two members of our operations team, Charlie LeClerc and Joe Reynolds, to the Southeast Texas Food Bank in Beaumont, Texas. Charlie and Joe have safely returned home and share some of their experiences from visiting this devastated community.
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© 2017 Rhode Island Community Food Bank
200 Niantic Avenue
Providence, RI 02907
Phone: (401) 942‑MEAL (6325)

The budget - how most of us will lose so the rich can gain

Image may contain: text

Don’t let them Bee misunderstood

Proving the benefits of native bee with a bad reputation

Related imageCarpenter bees are among the largest bees in the Northeast, and since they burrow into wood – including houses – they have a bad reputation.

But University of Rhode Island junior Becky Gumbrewicz is hoping to change that reputation and demonstrate that the insects provide significant benefits to people, too.

The bees are important pollinators, but because they are so large they sometimes cannot get their head far enough into some flowers to collect nectar. 

So in a strategy called nectar robbery, they instead slit the side of the flowers to feed on the nectar without pollinating the flowers.

Gumbrewicz joined with graduate student Sara Tucker and URI Professor Steven Alm to see if the strategy had any negative implications for local blueberry crops.

An Independent Thinker’s Guide to the Tax Debate

There's a heist coming. Arm yourself with the facts!

Pic of the MomentFor 40 years, tax cutters in Congress have told us, “we have a tax cut for you.” 

And each time, they count on us to suspend all judgment.

In exchange, we’ve gotten staggering inequality, collapsing public infrastructure, a fraying safety net, and exploding deficits. Meanwhile, a small segment of the richest one tenth of 1 percent have become fabulously wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Ready for more?

Now, Trump and congressional Republicans have rolled out a tax plan that the independent Tax Policy Center estimates will give 80 percent of the benefits to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers.

The good news is the majority aren’t falling for it this time around. Recent polls indicatethat over 62 percent of the public oppose additional tax cuts for the wealthy and 65 percent are against additional tax cuts to large corporations.

Here’s the independent thinker’s guide to the tax debate for people who aspire to be guided by facts, not magical thinking. When you hear congressional leaders utter these claims, take a closer look.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

US Soldiers Died in Niger. What on Earth Are We Doing There?

It's a danger to democracy to be fighting wars we don't even know about

In our military-revering culture, it’s a strange thing for a president to start a war of words with the grieving families of slain soldiers.

Strange, yes. But from Donald Trump’s campaign season feud with the parents of Humayun Khan, who died protecting fellow soldiers in Iraq, to his recent feud with the mourning widow of La David Johnson, who died on patrol in Niger, it’s no longer surprising.

At root in the latest spat is a comment Trump made to La David’s widow Myeshia Johnson: “He knew what he signed up for.” Myeshia thought that remark was disrespectful — she later said it “made me cry.”

Beyond insensitive, though, there’s a good chance it simply wasn’t true.

Image result for where is niger
See if you can find Niger in this map of Northern Africa. Answer below
the fold.
Why, after all, should La David have expected to die in a dusty corner of Niger — a Saharan country most Americans (and, one suspects, their president) couldn’t find on a map? And where the U.S. isn’t actually at war?

If you were surprised to learn the U.S. has nearly a thousand troops in Niger, you’re not alone. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who serves on the Armed Forces Committee, told NBC he “had no idea.” Neither did Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat.

Well, the surprises may keep coming.

Gotta get me this

For more cartoons by Matt Bors, CLICK HERE.

Sexual assault by the numbers

Image may contain: 4 people, text and outdoor
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

VIDEO: Astronomy Picture of the Day

Spectacular star merger event detected for the first time - the origin of gold

Illustrative Video Credit: NASA's Conceptual Imaging Lab. To watch this video on YouTube:

Both gravitational and electromagnetic radiations have been detected in rapid succession for an explosive merging event for the first time.

Data from the outburst fit well with a spectacular binary neutron-star death-spiral.

The explosive episode was seen on August 17 in nearby NGC 4993, an elliptical galaxy only 130 million light years distant. 

Gravitational waves were seen first by the ground based LIGO and Virgo observatories, while seconds later the Earth-orbiting Fermi observatory detected gamma-rays, and hours after that Hubble and other observatories detected light throughout the electromagnetic spectrum.

Pictured is an animated illustrative movie of the event's likely progenitors. The video depicts hot neutron stars as they spiral in toward each other and emit gravitational radiation.

Anti-Vaxxers, climate change deniers rejoice

Climate change may accelerate infectious disease outbreaks, say researchers
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Image result for climate change and infectious diseasesAside from inflicting devastating natural disasters on often vulnerable communities, climate change can also spur outbreaks of infectious diseases like Zika , malaria and dengue fever, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

"Climate change presents complex and wide-reaching threats to human health," said Cecilia Sorensen, MD, lead author of the study and the Living Closer Foundation Fellow in Climate and Health Policy at CU Anschutz. 

"It can amplify and unmask ecological and socio-political weaknesses and increase the risk of adverse health outcomes in socially vulnerable regions."

How do insurance companies contribute to the opioid problem?

Pressure Mounts on Insurance Companies to Consider Their Role in Opioid Epidemic
Image result for insurance companies & opioidsA prominent Democratic lawmaker asked major health insurers today whether their policies and preferred prescription drug lists have made the nation’s opioid epidemic worse.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote to the companies after an article by ProPublica and The New York Times found that insurance companies sometimes favor cheaper, more addictive opioids over less addictive, but more expensive, alternatives.