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Friday, January 31, 2020

Thank you, Supreme Court

The Controversial Corporations Exploiting Citizens United
By Phil Mattera for the Dirt Diggers Digest

Related imageIt has now been exactly ten years since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for special-interest political advertising in its Citizens United ruling. 

To mark the occasion, the Center for Responsive Politics has published an excellent report detailing how political spending has changed over the last decade.

One significant finding is that, although Citizens United overturned the prohibition on independent political expenditures by corporations, most companies have not taken advantage of that new right directly. The biggest surges in spending have come from wealthy individuals and from Super PACs.

This is not to say that corporations have stayed on the sidelines. CRP notes that they are funneling much of their spending through trade associations and dark money groups that do not disclose their donors.

To emphasize its point about the limited role of corporations in independent expenditures, the CRP report notes that only 36 companies in the S&P 500 have contributed $25,000 or more to Super PACs since 2012. The report notes that the biggest of these spenders are oil and gas companies but otherwise does not identify them.


For more cartoons by Ted Rall, CLICK HERE.

Scammer alert

Protect Yourself from Social Security Scams

URI professor’s video system used to record sharks

Brennan Phillips’ equipment has been placed in remote parts of the ocean

sharpnose sevengill shark
A male sharpnose sevengill shark swims at the bottom of the Tongue of the Ocean. Photo by Brennan Phillips.

In the deepest, most remote parts of the ocean, there are species of sharks that have rarely been observed.

A video system developed by Brennan Phillips, University of Rhode Island assistant professor of ocean engineering, has led to the discovery of sharks in some very secluded areas. 

And this month he is returning with a collaborator to a deep=water feature near the Bahamas to examine shark behavior.

On an expedition to an underwater volcano in the Solomon Islands in 2015, Phillips’ deep-sea camera revealed hammerheads and silky sharks living inside a crater. 

Known as the “Sharkcano,” Phillips’ sightings were documented in Oceanography magazine and in a video produced by National Geographic.

Rhode Island girls under-counted

Statewide autism study finds later diagnoses for girls, high rates of co-occurring disorders
By Kerry Benson

Figure 2 from Autism Research study

A new study analyzing the first 1,000 participants in the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART) identifies key trends in the presentation and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The study was published in Autism Research on Monday, Jan. 20.

The first finding was that girls with autism receive a diagnosis, on average, nearly 1.5 years later than boys. This is likely because parents and clinicians tend to notice language delays as the first sign of autism, and girls in the study exhibited more advanced language abilities compared to boys, said study authors Stephen Sheinkopf and Dr. Eric Morrow.

Autism is far more common in boys. The RI-CART study found more than four times as many boys as girls with autism; however, given the large size of the sample, the study was well-powered to evaluate girls with autism. 

The finding that girls with autism are diagnosed later is clinically important, said Morrow, an associate professor of molecular biology, neuroscience and psychiatry at Brown University. 

Trump admits plan to cut Medicare and Social Security after the election

'Hobnobbing With Billionaires in Davos,' Trump Admits—If Reelected—He Will Seek to Cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare
Image may contain: possible text that says 'One-third of seniors rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income. We need to expand Social Security's modest benefits. SOCIAL SECURITY WORKS.'"It'll be toward the end of the year," Trump said from Davos, Switzerland. "And at the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that's actually the easiest of all things, if you look, cause it's such a big percentage."
While attending the World Economic Forum's summit of global elites in the Swiss mountaintop retreat of Davos on Wednesday, President Donald Trump openly admitted he would—if reelected in 2020—consider cutting back funding for key social programs including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

The remarks came in an interview with CNBC's Joe Kernen in Davos, and although the news outlet did not report them in their initial write-up of the exchange, they were captured in the transcript (and as Trump keeps saying, you should "READ THE TRANSCRIPT"):

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Lies in the White House, Cancer in Our Neighborhoods

Here's just a partial list of Trump policies and actions that increase Americans' cancer risk
Image result for trump cures cancer memesEarlier this month, still another one-day-wonder of a Twitter storm surfaced and quickly sank in Donald Trump’s America. 

On January 9, President Trump claimed credit for new figures from the American Cancer Society that show — between 2016 and 2017 —  “the sharpest one-year drop in cancer death rate ever recorded.” 

Almost immediately, the American Cancer Society politely pointed out that the Trump administration had nothing to do with this encouraging decline.

The new death-rate numbers, American Cancer Society chief Gary Reedy explained, “reflect prevention, early detection, and treatment advances that occurred in prior years.”

Media outlets the nation over rushed to relate the back and forth of this latest Trump Twitter flap, often with a subtle sense of bemusement: just Donald being Donald, making still another wildly exaggerated claim that ought to test the credulity of even his staunchest supporters. End of story.

But this story doesn’t deserve to end there. Something is shaking on the cancer front that needs our full attention. The Trump administration, investigative journalist Sharon Lerner detailed just a few days after the President’s cancer tweet, “is executing an old tobacco industry scheme to dismantle the federal government’s ability to protect the public from cancer.” 

The Trump White House has packed the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s top echelons with free-market fundamentalists who’ve set about “freeing” chemical companies from regulations designed to limit the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in our nation’s air, water, and soil.

Uncle Donald wants YOU!

For more cartoons by Ruben Bolling, CLICK HERE.

Crime series at URI kicks off Jan. 31

Crime Scene Cleanup, Veterinary Forensics among topics of URI’s spring Forensic Science Seminar Series
By Ian Weiner

discover bbc GIF by britboxThe use of civil litigation in forensic science cases across the nation, how to appropriately and effectively clean up a crime scene, and an extensive look into Frances Glessner Lee’s recreations of crime scenes in dollhouses that were then used to train homicide investigators are among the topics that will be explored during the University’s spring Forensic Science Seminar Series.

The series brings leading figures in several forensic science specialties to URI, and is free and open to the public.

Green energy battles

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Image result for Green Development LLC wind turbineRhode Island Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Lanphear recently sided with renewable-energy developer Green Development LLC and its plan to build three ground-mounted solar facilities in Exeter.

The North Kingstown company contested an emergency moratorium on solar facilities approved by the Exeter Town Council in December 2018. The moratorium was created to challenge a previously approved zoning change that allowed solar projects to go forward.

The Town Council approved the amendment after two members who approved the original zoning amendment were voted out of office. The new council argued that the solar arrays were inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan.

In his Jan. 8 ruling, however, Lanphear said the moratorium wasn’t specific enough to warrant a reversal of the zoning amendment, enacted in 2015, that allowed the solar projects to advance.

“To invalidate such an amendment,” Lanphear wrote, “the moving party must demonstrate that the amendment is contrary to the public interest or does not comply with a specific part of the comprehensive plan.”

The decision cannot be appealed and means the case will head to trial.

RI pension fund earned $1.3 billion on its investments

That translates into a ROI (return on investment) of 16.7%

Related imageThe Rhode Island pension fund returned 16.7% in 2019, earning $1.3 billion from investments, allowing it to end the year with an all-time high value of $8.78 billion.

The 16.7% return significantly outperformed the fund's benchmark of which earned 15.0%. 

The performance was led by investments in global public equities, primarily in low-fee index funds designed to provide long-term growth.

The fund has earned $2.3 billion since Treasurer Magaziner implemented the "Back to Basics" investment strategy -which is designed to provide long-term growth and stability- in September 2016.

Detailed information about the fund, including the 'Back to Basics' investment strategy, performance, and detailed information about its managers are published online as part of Treasurer Magaziner's "Transparent Treasury" initiative at

Trump Says U.S. Is Ready for War.

Not All His Troops Are So Sure.
By T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose, and Robert Faturechi for ProPublica

footage vessel GIFBetween the killing of Iran’s most important general and Iran’s missiles hurtling toward American troops in Iraq, President Donald Trump took time to discuss America’s military prowess.

“The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment,” he tweeted on Jan. 5. “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way.”

Besides being wrong (the military has not spent that much), he repeated a mistake that military leaders have made for years: emphasizing weapons over the fitness of the men and women charged with firing them.

Over the past 18 months, ProPublica has dug into military accidents in recent years that, all told, call into question just how prepared the American military is to fight America’s battles.

If forced to fight in the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula, the Navy and Marine Corps are likely to play crucial roles in holding strategic command of the sea and defending against ballistic missiles.

Those branches, though, do not need billions of dollars of new weapons, our examination revealed. They need to focus on the basics: its service members, their training and their equipment.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog, has been sounding the alarm for years, to little effect. In 2016, the GAO found that years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan had taken their toll: “The military services have reported persistently low readiness levels.”

In 2018, the agency focused on the Navy and Marine Corps. All seven types of aircraft it tracked, from cargo planes to fighters like the F/A-18D, had repeatedly missed goals for being prepared for missions. “Aviation readiness will take many years to recover,” the GAO said.

In a report last month, the GAO found that only about 25% of Navy shipyard repairs were completed on time. “The Navy continues to face persistent and substantial maintenance delays that affect the majority of its maintenance efforts and hinder its attempts to restore readiness,” it said.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Big Picture

Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump, so far

Don’t get bogged down by the marathon minute-by-minute coverage of the Senate impeachment trial stretching late into the night. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the complex procedural maneuvers aimed at securing a fair and open trial with witness testimony and new documents that Republicans want to prevent at all costs.

We must stay focused on the big picture.  Here are the 10 big things you need to understand about the Senate trial and the historic moment our country is in right now.

1. Trump’s attempt to get foreign powers to help him win the 2020 election is an impeachable offense. 

It’s precisely the sort of thing the Framers of the Constitution worried about when they created the impeachment clause. If presidents could seek foreign help winning elections, there would be no end of foreign intrusions into American sovereignty and democracy.

This sums it up

No photo description available.

What Is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Do I Qualify for It?
By Kristen Doerer for ProPublica

Image result for earned income creditProPublica has covered how budget cuts at the IRS have made it harder for the agency to ensure the billionaires of the world pay up, but the cuts haven’t affected everyone equally.

In short: Wealthy taxpayers haven’t faced as much scrutiny.

For people who claim the earned income tax credit, also referred to as EITC, earned income credit or EIC, the audit rate has gone down less steeply than it has for wealthier taxpayers. Now, a person claiming the credit has as much of a chance of being audited as someone making 20 times more money.

But that shouldn’t deter you from claiming it if you are eligible.
(Here’s why).

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, you also qualify for an additional RHODE ISLAND state earned income credit. Rhode Island currently allows qualified workers to take a credit equal to 15% of their federal EITC off their state income tax bill. The average Rhode Island EITC is around $300.

DEM begins recruiting for summer rec jobs

400-450 seasonal openings

Spend your summer at the beach! Join our team of seasonal employees.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is launching its recruitment to staff state parks, beaches, and campgrounds for the 2020 recreational season. The Department is actively seeking qualified lifeguards for freshwater and saltwater beaches and other key staff for the summer of 2020. Rhode Island residents, ages 16 and older, are encouraged to apply.

With only 52 full-time employees managing 25 parks and preserves, eight saltwater beaches, and dozens of other properties, DEM's Division of Parks and Recreation relies hugely on seasonal employees. 

Every year, it hires between 400 and 450 "seasonals" to fill essential summertime positions such as lifeguards, park rangers, beach managers, facilities attendants, groundskeepers, laborers, and nature educators.

UPDATED: Art Speaks Out, February 1-2

Political art show by RI artists
By Robert Easton and Lin Collette

Artists have long used their work to comment on the state of the world. One thinks of Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, Kara Walker, Nancy Spero, Kathe Kollwitz, George Grosz, Diego Rivera—just to name a few.

Often it is difficult for artists to find a venue for art that speaks out. 

Galleries, art organizations and museums often don’t want to show or represent work that might offend their customers, members or visitors.

As an antidote, the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative presents “Art Speaks Out” curated by Rhode Island photographer Robert Easton. 

Using a variety of media that includes painting, photography, fiber art, collage and assemblage, participating artists from Rhode Island and the surrounding area are using their creativity to address social and political issues from various perspectives.

The exhibition lasts for one weekend, February 1st and 2nd at the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, 560 Mineral Spring Avenue, first floor, in Pawtucket.

Hours are: Saturday, 1:00-9:00 pm; Sunday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm. The opening reception will take place on February 1st from 6:00 pm-9:00 pm.

Can retinal scanning detect Alzheimer’s disease early?

URI and partners hope to find out
Image result for retinal scans for alzheimers
The University of Rhode Island, in collaboration with BayCare Health System in Florida and The Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital, an affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, is launching a clinical trial of retinal screening processes that could help clinicians detect Alzheimer’s disease possibly two or more decades before patients develop life-altering clinical symptoms.

The five-year, $5 million Atlas of Retinal Imaging in Alzheimer’s Study (ARIAS) is sponsored by BayCare Health System’s Morton Plant Hospital and St. Anthony’s Hospital and funded largely by Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation and St. Anthony’s Hospital Foundation in Pinellas County, Florida.

Will there be more off-shore wind farms?

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Six gigawatts of offshore wind energy have been proposed for the East Coast. (Engineering News-Record)
Six gigawatts of offshore wind energy have been proposed for the East Coast. (Engineering News-Record)

The forthcoming report from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the cumulative environmental impacts of the Vineyard Wind project will determine the future of offshore wind development.

BOEM’s decision isn’t just the remaining hurdle for the 800-megawatt project, but also the gateway for 6 gigawatts of offshore wind facilities planned between the Gulf of Maine and Virginia. 

Another 19 gigawatts of Rhode Island offshore wind-energy goals are expected to bring about more projects and tens of billions of dollars in local manufacturing and port development.

Some wind-energy advocates have criticized BOEM’s 11th-hour call for the supplemental analysis as politically motivated and excessive.

Safe boat navigation and loss of fishing grounds are the main concerns among commercial fishermen, who have been the most vocal opponents of the 84-turbine Vineyard Wind project and other planned wind facilities off the coast of southern New England.

Last month, state Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-New Shoreham, gave assurances that the Coast Guard will not be deterred from conducting search and rescue efforts around offshore wind facilities, as some fishermen have feared.

“The Coast Guard’s response will be a great relief to Rhode Island’s commercial fishermen,” Sosnowski is quoted in a recent story in The Independent. “We have many concerns regarding navigational safety near wind farms, and that was the biggest.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Trump’s other war is going well

No, not the war against the press. Or impeachment. Or immigrants. Or reality. But the swamp-draining, regulation-stomping, soul-crushing assault on the environment.
Image result for trump and environmental regulation
While the "Three I's"—impeachment, Iran, and ineptitude—steal headlines, key battles in another war with lasting consequences go largely unnoticed.

A key confrontation, the Battle of NEPA, is underway.

NEPA is the crucial National Environmental Policy Act, introduced in 1969 and signed into law 50 years ago this month. 

It's the law that requires the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for major development projects: highways, pipelines, subdivisions, fracking sites and much, much more.

The law is a more obscure sibling to the family of monumental environmental statutes passed under the aegis of that Green Gargoyle, Richard Nixon.

The early 1970s saw Nixon enact the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and more. As mentioned here last week, Nixon often wrongly gets credit for signing the Clean Water Act, which he vetoed as too costly, only to be overridden by Congress.

On January 9, Trump's Council on Environmental Quality rolled out its proposed revisions to NEPA. To no one's surprise, the changes are a veritable industry wish list.