Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Gorsuch must resign

A “justice” who sits in defiance of the Constitution has cast the deciding vote in too many cases.

By Mitchell Zimmerman 

Much ink has been spilled over Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s failure to recuse himself from cases involving the 2020 election, despite his wife’s participation in efforts to overthrow it.

Those are sensible calls. But meanwhile, too little attention has been paid to another shattering blow to the Supreme Court’s legitimacy: the presence of a judge who sits in defiance of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court makes decisions that directly affect our personal lives — from abortion to college admissions and COVID-19 precautions. The court also makes decisions that affect our democracy, such as whether states can manufacture obstacle courses to voting.

For decisions to be entitled to respect, the justices must be appointed fairly and in a manner consistent with the Constitution. That includes each president having the opportunity the Constitution provides to appoint justices reflecting his or her judicial philosophy.

Justice Neil Gorsuch fails that test because he was appointed in defiance of our Constitution. The court’s decisions cannot be deemed legitimate when one of its members should not be on the court at all.

The Constitution provides the president “shall” appoint Supreme Court justices. So when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, President Obama had both the right and duty to fill the vacancy.

The Senate’s constitutional role is to “advise and consent” to nominations. But it has no authority to negate altogether a president’s duty to fill vacancies.

Brace yourselves

By Michael deAdder


The problem with our food system


How to balance biodiversity goals with limited economic resources

Primary culprit: land use changes

Arizona State University

Coca plants
In 2019, a landmark report gave the world its first report card on biodiversity loss. There was one crystal clear conclusion: human actions threaten more species with global extinction than ever before.

According to the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) report, currently 25 percent, or 1 million species, are threatened with extinction. The drivers of change have only accelerated in the past 50 years. 

The human population has doubled to 8 billion, contributing to climate change, land and sea-use change, overexploitation of resources and pollution. Two-thirds of the oceans are impacted. 85 percent of wetlands have been lost.

As a result of these stark data findings, the IPBES agreement fingered human land-use changes as the primary culprit.

7 Ways to Boost Your Mental Focus & Clarity Naturally

Common sense ways to be sharper


With improved mental focus and clarity, you can solve problems, make decisions, and get things done more quickly. With some changes to your diet and daily routine, you can help boost your mental clarity naturally.

Mental clarity is the ability to think clearly and process information quickly. When you have excellent mental clarity, you can better focus on the task at hand and get things done. Mental clarity and strength are crucial for accomplishing goals, solving problems, and making decisions.

Mental clarity is important because it can help you:

Be more productive at work and home

  • Make better decisions
  • Develop positive habits and break negative ones
  • Improve your relationships
  • Reduce stress and anxiety

Now, let’s look at some ways to improve your own mental clarity.

Rhode Island beats Trumplican effort to weaken election laws

US Supreme Court declines to review constitutionality of RI election finance disclosure law

Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that the United States Supreme Court has denied a petition for certiorari in Gaspee Project v. Mederos, letting stand a First Circuit decision affirming the constitutionality of Rhode Island’s election spending disclosure law.

The Office of the Attorney General had previously successfully defended the constitutionality of Rhode Island’s Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications Act (Act), a law designed to promote transparency and maintain the integrity of elections, in Federal District Court and later before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The Act, subject to certain exceptions, requires disclosures and disclaimers for election-related expenditures of over $1,000 or more in any calendar year for either independent expenditures or electioneering communications.

In 2019, plaintiffs, The Gaspee Project and Illinois Opportunity Project, challenged the constitutionality of the Act – specifically its disclosure and disclaimer requirements.

Friday, April 29, 2022

The GOP's Newfound Concern for "The Children" Doesn't Save Kids from Their #1 Killer: Guns

Firearms are now the #1 cause of child deaths, passing auto accidents


Nina Shapiro reports at Forbes this week in an article titled "The Leading Cause Of Death In Children And Youths Is Now Guns":

"Access to firearms by children, by unlicensed owners, and absence of safety measures when it comes to both intentional and unintentional gun-related injuries and deaths, are among the reasons that the incidence of this horrific, truly avoidable tragedy is on the rise."

The latest con from the GOP is that they're all about "the children."

  • They're worried that trans people will show up in the "wrong" bathroom and scare or threaten "the children."
  • They're hysterical that teaching American history will cause white children to "feel bad."
  • They're locking up women and threatening them with life in prison because they had a miscarriage that Republicans suspect might have been a self-induced abortion.
  • They're happily jumping on the 2022 GOP version of the Tsar's antisemitic blood libel, claiming their political opponents are "groomers" targeting children.
  • They're enthusiastically embracing the Qanon slogan: "Save the children!"

Until you mention children killed by guns.

Then, Republicans retreat into a bizarre cone of silence or simply turn and run away from the conversation altogether. Or, worse, they continue grooming their own young people to become school shooters, as you can see below.

Twenty years ago, car accidents were the leading killer of children and youth; today it's guns.

At the turn of the 21st century, there were about 14 car-crash deaths among young people (aged 1-24) per 100,000 young Americans, and only a bit over 7 gun deaths per 100,000. This year, almost 11 out of 100,000 children died from guns while only 8 per 100K died from car crashes.

Wingnuts of the week


Two SK state reps honored for their work to help those with mental illnesses

Dems Teresa Tanzi and Alana DiMario cited by Mental Health Association of Rhode Island

News releases from the State House news office

Mental Health Association of R.I. names Tanzi Legislator of the Year 

STATE HOUSE – The Rhode Island Mental Health Association has presented Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi with its 2022 Legislator of the Year award.

Calling her a “fierce advocate for the mental health community,” the association praised her years of work in supporting mental health initiatives as a member of the House of Representatives and in the community.

In the General Assembly, Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) has supported suicide prevention efforts and has helped to introduce and sponsor the Nathan Bruno and Jason Flatt Act each year since 2018 until its final passage in 2021. Representative Tanzi also helped to introduce the Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) legislation — often known as “red flag laws” — to empower families and law enforcement to prevent gun tragedies by temporarily restricting access to guns for individuals at an elevated risk of harming themselves or others. She is a former chairwoman of the House Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Services.

Representative Tanzi has sponsored the Mental Health Association’s legislation to increase reimbursement rates to behavioral health professionals as a means of rebuilding the broken continuum of care and increasing access to treatment.

Representative Tanzi is the recent past chairwoman of the Washington County Health Equity Zone, a state sponsored organization dedicated to ensuring equal access to quality health, education and recreation for all residents of South County. She has been a faithful member the South County Regional Prevention Coalition meetings and was a founding member of Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, which administers evidence-based programs to address a range of mental health and early childhood development topics. She completed the Crisis Intervention Team training with local police officers.

The association presented the award to Representative Tanzi at a State House event today to kick off Mental Health Month, which is marked each May. The award was presented by retired District Court judge Stephen Erickson. Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) is the association’s Senate honoree. 

Mental Health Association of RI names Senator DiMario Legislator of the Year for 2022

STATE HOUSE — The Mental Health Association of Rhode Island named Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) as Legislator of the Year during its “May is Mental Health Month” kickoff at the State House today for advancing mental health reforms through legislation.

“I am proud and humbled that the Mental Health Association would choose me for this award,” said Senator DiMario, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice. “The diverse and complex issues of mental health have always been very near and dear to me and I look forward to building upon the work we have begun in the General Assembly to address these issues with the voice and perspective of a mental health therapist when making policy decisions, especially around our mental health care system.”

Most recently, Senator DiMario has sponsored a host of mental health-related bills, including:

·         S2086: This bill addresses the practice of “clawbacks,” where an insurance company can come back to a provider up to 18 months later to dispute payment of a claim and take back the money that had been paid. S2086 reduces that time period to 12 months to help provide more stability for providers and keep them in network with insurance companies, increasing access for clients.

·         S2105: This bill would ensure that in cases of reported child abuse or neglect that the child receives the best possible support and outcomes if either the child's family or the perpetrator are involved with the military, and no one falls through the cracks due to lack of communication. 

·         S2120: Currently, children under 14 who have been the victims of sexual abuse can use a recorded video interview as their testimony for a grand jury. This bill would raise the age to 18. 

·         S2576: This bill empowers the Commissioner of Postsecondary Education to develop rules and regulations around using available external funding sources to pay mental health and social work students at public universities for their significant internship requirements. 

·         S2605: This bill would allow Rhode Island to enter into the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact, which would allow Rhode Island's psychologists to provide telehealth services across state lines with the 31 states that are already participating.

·         S2614:  This bill would create a plan for implementing best practices for children 0-6 and their caregivers to make sure we are identifying and intervening early where the impact on their future development can be the greatest. 

·         S2616: This bill would allow qualified graduates to see clients who have commercial/private insurance in addition to Medicaid which is already allowed. Making this change to a 2-tiered license structure would immediately increase access for Rhode Islanders needing counseling, and would increase income for new graduates. 

·         S2617: Creates parity with a 2-step licensure process that would match what is described in S2616, and also requires that the licensure exam for independent licensing be offered in languages other than English.

The Mental Health Association of Rhode Island is the watchdog of the mental health community. Through systems change, the organization promotes mental health, increases consumers’ access to treatment and services, and improves the lives of people touched by mental illness.

Designing the perfect piece of chocolate

Engineering a mouthful

Universiteit van Amsterdam

We like some foods, and dislike others. Of course, the way food tastes is important, but mouthfeel, and even the sound that food makes when we bite it, also determine whether we enjoy the eating experience. 

Is it possible to design edible materials that optimize this enjoyment? Physicists and food researchers show that indeed it is.

In research that was published in Soft Matter this week, researchers from the University of Amsterdam, Delft University, and Unilever, demonstrate that the mouthfeel of an edible substance can be designed, just like properties of many other materials can. 

That is: they create metamaterials, materials that are not found in nature but that are carefully constructed in the lab. Their building material of choice is not wood, concrete or glass -- they build their materials from chocolate.

Opposing abortion in the abstract

Opposition to abortion doesn’t stop some Americans from supporting friends and family who seek one

Tricia C. Bruce, University of Notre Dame

People holding placards that say 'pray to end abortion,' and 'keep abortion legal.'
Those opposed to abortion rights and those in favor demonstrate outside
the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.
Photo by Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images
Maxine, a pseudonym for a 58-year-old woman, is among a sizable proportion of Americans who are morally opposed to abortion.

Republican, Christian and a grandmother, Maxine “can’t believe that anybody could honestly say that life doesn’t begin at conception. … That’s the black and whiteness of it, for me: Either it’s life or it’s not.” Abortion is “murder,” she told me.

But Maxine has also driven a friend to a clinic to get an abortion.

As a sociologist, I met Maxine in May 2019 while leading a study about how everyday people across the U.S. think and feel about abortion.

Maxine explains that her friend wasn’t perfect and neither were her circumstances, but she was still worthy of help.

“[S]eeing how [my friend] was raised and all the things that had happened to her, I guess it gave me more of a viewpoint where I would still say [abortion’s] wrong, but I would never tell anyone, ‘You did wrong,’ or condemn them in my mind,” Maxine said.

The cost and logistics of undergoing an abortion in the U.S. mean that few Americans can obtain one without help. Abortion seekers – more than half of whom are already mothers, many with young children – commonly look to friends or family for help.

My research, in collaboration with social demographer Sarah K. Cowan and colleagues, shows that many Americans may be willing to help a friend or family member get an abortion – including those morally opposed to it.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Organized labor in RI oppose Fung

Why Allan Fung must not be sent to Congress

Statement from RI AFL-CIO President George Nee on Allan Fung’s entrance into the Congressional District 2 race  

Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee issued the following statement on Allan Fung's entrance into the Congressional District 2 race. 

“As an organization representing more than 80,000 working people across the State of Rhode Island, the RI AFL-CIO vehemently opposes Allan Fung’s candidacy for Congress and the agenda of the national Republican Party.

As a mayor and candidate for Governor, Allan Fung was consistently against minimum wage increases; he opposed continuing contract legislation, which levels the playing field for workers against management; he was against the Affordable Care Act, which provided health insurance to tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders; and he supported Right To Work laws, which serve to destroy the unions that give a voice to working people. 

Allan Fung has a long history of opposing policies that help workers in Rhode Island, and he will support a right-wing, anti-worker agenda on the federal level as well.

We need a representative in Congress who will stand up for working people – not tear them down – and that’s why we have put our full support behind Seth Magaziner, who has consistently proven himself to be a champion for Rhode Island’s working families.” 

Consistency, the hobgobblin of small minds

For more cartoons by Jen Sorenson, CLICK HERE


This explains Justin Price and Elaine Morgan


How to compete with robots

How screwed are we?

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

When it comes to the future of intelligent robots, the first question people ask is often: how many jobs will they make disappear? Whatever the answer, the second question is likely to be: how can I make sure that my job is not among them?

In a study just published in Science Robotics, a team of roboticists from EPFL and economists from the University of Lausanne offers answers to both questions. 

By combining the scientific and technical literature on robotic abilities with employment and wage statistics, they have developed a method to calculate which of the currently existing jobs are more at risk of being performed by machines in the near future. 

Additionally, they have devised a method for suggesting career transitions to jobs that are less at risk and require smallest retraining efforts.

Forecast: high tree pollen count in Charlestown through Monday, plus fire warning


The National Weather Service also issued a Red Flag fire warning due to weather conditions for today through Friday:

A very dry airmass will combine with gusty northwest winds,
resulting in elevated fire weather concerns today and Friday.
Northwest winds 15 to 20 mph with gusts of 30 to 35 mph are
expected today, and around 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 30 mph
for Friday. Minimum relative humidities between 20 to 30 percent
are expected both days.
You should curb outside burning and be mindful of where you discard lit cigarettes.

MIT Engineers Put an Oreo’s Cream Filling Through a Battery of Tests

This was at least partially funded - for some reason - by the Defense Department 

Introducing the MIT Oreometer  


MIT researchers have designed a 3D-printable “Oreometer” to put an Oreo’s cream filling through a battery of tests to understand what happens when two wafers are twisted apart.

Mechanical engineers put an Oreo’s cream filling through a battery of tests to understand what happens when two wafers are twisted apart.

When you twist an Oreo cookie open to get to the creamy center, you’re mimicking a basic rheological test. (Rheology is the study of how a non-Newtonian material flows when twisted, pressed, or otherwise strained.) MIT engineers have now subjected the sandwich cookie to rigorous materials testing in order to answer a vexing question: why does the cookie’s cream stick to only one wafer when twisted apart?

“There’s the fascinating problem of trying to get the cream to distribute evenly between the two wafers, which turns out to be really hard,” says Max Fan, an undergraduate in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Why does the cookie’s cream stick to just one wafer when twisted apart? MIT engineers pursue the answer.

In search of an answer, the team exposed cookies to normal rheology experiments in the lab and discovered that, regardless of flavor or amount of stuffing, the cream in the center of an Oreo almost always adheres to one wafer when twisted open. Only in older boxes of cookies does the cream sometimes divide more equally between the two wafers.

Vaccine Medical Exemptions Are Rare

Thousands of Nursing Home Workers Have Them.

By Emily Hopkins and Andrea Suozzo for ProPublica

More than a year after COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in nursing homes nationwide, the facilities have gone a long way toward blunting the virus’s threat to their most vulnerable residents.

Today, 88% of nursing home residents and 89% of employees are fully vaccinated, outstripping the rate among the general public. Even as cases soared to record levels in January with the rise of the omicron variant, the death rate of nursing home residents was a fraction of what it was during the surge at the end of 2020.

But with the pandemic now in its third year, thousands of workers have found a way to avoid getting vaccinated, claiming what experts say are questionable medical exemptions from a federal mandate for health care employees, which went into effect this year.

Although few reasons exist for claiming a medical exemption, nearly 20,000 nursing home workers nationwide, or about 1 in 100, have obtained them, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal data. That rate is three times that of nursing home residents, a notably vulnerable group, who didn’t get the vaccine for medical reasons.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

This Isn’t — and Can’t Be — 1970s style inflation

If Wage Growth Is Driving Inflation, Why Is Workers’ Share of Income Falling?


A popular line on our recent surge of inflation is that an over-tight labor market has led to rapid wage growth, which in turn forces companies to raise prices. Higher prices in turn lead workers to demand higher wages, which will give us a wage-price spiral and soon lead to double-digit inflation.

While this was a story that plausibly fit the data in the 1970s, it is very hard to make the wage-price spiral fit the current situation for a simple reason: the wage share of income has fallen sharply since the pandemic. By wage share I mean total compensation to workers, including fringe benefits, not just cash wages and salaries.

Here’s the picture:

Do you own the libs?


Warning signs


URI to host Get Housing RIght Conference to explore affordable housing options locally, nationally

Too bad Charlestown doesn't believe in affordable housing

By Kate LeBlanc

On the heels of a research project on public housing in Rhode Island, the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies is hosting the two-day Get Housing RIght Conference in an effort to explore affordable housing options and public policy. 

The event will be hosted virtually May 12 and in-person at URI’s Providence Campus, 80 Washington St., on May 13. Day one will focus on public housing issues nationally, and day two will focus on public housing issues in Rhode Island. 

Jennifer Vincent, who graduates this May with a master’s degree in public administration, is the conference organizer. Vincent began working on the conference last semester after helping on a public housing research project. 

Research began in 2021 after several professors in the political science department were approached by the South Kingstown Housing Authority and asked to generate research on public housing in the state, she said. The Housing Authority wanted to create a new public housing development in town and wanted to ensure it would be developed effectively, she said. 

The team of professors, graduate students and undergraduate students then set out on a three-part research process. Funded by the Rhode Island Foundation, the South Kingstown Housing Authority, and the Jonnycake Center in Peace Dale, the team conducted about 300 door-to-door surveys of public housing residents living throughout the state. The surveys asked residents about their satisfaction with the physical conditions of public housing, access to amenities such as public transportation, and interactions with housing authorities. 

What food sector needs to know about how to reduce sodium

More than a teaspoonful is too much 

University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Sodium is an essential micronutrient, but the amount we need is small. Three slices of bread or one teaspoon of table salt will do it, and chances are your daily sodium intake is far greater. 

More than 90% of Americans consume too much sodium, which can lead to hypertension, high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Most of the excess sodium comes from processed and packaged foods, so the food industry and food scientists continuously look for ways to reduce sodium. A new paper from the University of Illinois provides a comprehensive review of scientific literature on sodium reduction strategies in food production.

About 30% of COVID Patients Develop “Long COVID”

Symptoms of Long COVID | Epigram / Julia Riopelle
Here’s Who Is Most at Risk


According to new research, 30% of persons treated for COVID-19 developed Post Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), often known as “Long COVID.” Individuals with a history of hospitalization, diabetes, and a higher BMI were more likely to develop the condition.

New University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) research finds that 30% of people treated for COVID-19 developed Post Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), most commonly known as “Long COVID.” 

People with a history of hospitalization, diabetes, and higher body mass index were most likely to develop the condition, while those covered by Medicaid, as opposed to commercial health insurance, or had undergone an organ transplant were less likely to develop it. Surprisingly, ethnicity, older age, and socioeconomic status were not associated with the syndrome even though those characteristics have been linked with severe illness and greater risk of death from COVID-19.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Is this the year the RI General Assembly does something about wage theft?

When your boss steals your wages, that's a crime - it should be a serious one

By Steve Ahlquist in UpRiseRI

The North Atlantic States Carpenters, Local 330, held their third, almost-annual Tax Day of Action on the south side of the Rhode Island State House on Thursday afternoon to highlight two pieces of legislation being considered in the General Assembly.

H7677/S2775 will make wage theft a felony.

“To me, it is a matter of fundamental fairness,” said Attorney General Peter Neronha, testifying in support of the bill before the House Judiciary Committee hearing the night before the tax day rally. “If you get beyond all of the legalese and statutory language in this bill, what it comes down to is this: If someone steals your pet or your appliance, and the value is over $1,500, that’s a felony, but if they steal your hard earned wages, no matter how much it is, it’s always a misdemeanor. I don’t know how we got to this place in the law, but it seems to me that it is now time to fix it.”

The other bill, if passed, will hold contractors responsible for unresolved wage theft committed by their subcontractors. Right now, contractors employ subcontractors who oftentimes don’t properly pay their workers. This law would allow officials to move “up the chain” and hold the general contractor responsible if the subcontractor fails to pay workers what they are legally entitled to.

Wage theft in the United States far outstrips all over forms of theft, combined. In 2017 it was estimated to have cost workers around $8 billion dollars.

Raising wage theft to the level of a felony will help the Rhode Island Attorney General to prosecute thieving bosses.

Mix and match




A new heat engine with no moving parts is as efficient as a steam turbine

The design could someday enable a fully decarbonized power grid, researchers say.

Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office

A thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell (size 1 cm x 1 cm) mounted on a heat sink designed to measure the TPV cell efficiency. To measure the efficiency, the cell is exposed to an emitter and simultaneous measurements of electric power and heat flow through the device are taken. Image: Felice Frankel

Engineers at MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have designed a heat engine with no moving parts. Their new demonstrations show that it converts heat to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency — a performance better than that of traditional steam turbines.

The heat engine is a thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell, similar to a solar panel’s photovoltaic cells, that passively captures high-energy photons from a white-hot heat source and converts them into electricity. The team’s design can generate electricity from a heat source of between 1,900 to 2,400 degrees Celsius, or up to about 4,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Got food cravings?

What's living in your gut may be responsible

University of Pittsburgh

Eggs or yogurt, veggies or potato chips? We make decisions about what to eat every day, but those choices may not be fully our own. New University of Pittsburgh research on mice shows for the first time that the microbes in animals' guts influence what they choose to eat, making substances that prompt cravings for different kinds of foods.

"We all have those urges -- like if you ever you just feel like you need to eat a salad or you really need to eat meat," said Kevin Kohl, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. "Our work shows that animals with different compositions of gut microbes choose different kinds of diets."

Despite decades of speculation by scientists about whether microbes could influence our preferred diets, the idea has never been directly tested in animals bigger than a fruit fly. To explore the question, Kohl and his postdoc Brian Trevelline (A&S '08), now at Cornell University, gave 30 mice that lacked gut microbes a cocktail of microorganisms from three species of wild rodents with very different natural diets.

Some See Shellfish Farms as Beneficial

Others See an Eyesore

By Cynthia Drummond / ecoRI News contributor

Oyster grower Matt Behan on what he calls his "morning commute." Behan grows his Ninigret Nectar oysters, sold throughout the United States, on a 7.5-acre leased farm in the Ninigret salt pond. (Matt Behan photos)

Oysters provide food, clean the water, generate jobs and create fish habitat, but shellfish farms have encountered opposition from residents who say they mar the appearance of their views and interfere with their use of the water.

Two recent public presentations on aquaculture focused on restorative aquaculture and how it is used to improve marine ecosystems in the United States and the different ways people perceive aquaculture facilities that grow shellfish. The talks — on March 21 and April 6 — were part of a series of educational webinars organized by the Narragansett Bay Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC).

Northeastern University graduate student Kelsey Schultz discussed the results of her study of public perceptions of shellfish aquaculture on the Atlantic Coast. Also presenting was Stephen Kirk, coastal programs manager at the Massachusetts chapter of The Nature Conservancy. (None of the research for either presentation was conducted in Rhode Island.)

Monday, April 25, 2022

Elon Musk's Billionaire Taxation Misinformation

Don't tax gazillionaires, he says 


Elon Musk, the planet’s wealthiest person, is once again spreading disinformation in the hopes of keeping billionaires like himself from having to pay their fair share at tax time.

This latest disinformation involves the big chunk of Musk’s Tesla shares that he sold last year. Musk is claiming that he made this sale — and incurred a big tax bill in the process — because he polled his devoted fans on Twitter and they told him to make the sale. The reality: Musk was sitting on a stack of Tesla stock options about to expire. 

Options give their holders the right to buy shares at a predetermined, usually below-market price. Musk’s expiring options would have become worthless if he didn’t exercise them. In 2021 he was also facing a reasonable chance that federal tax rates on big incomes would be higher this year. Given all these factors, exercising his options last year made perfect business sense for Musk.

By claiming otherwise, by claiming his stock trading merely reflected his faith in his followers, Musk scored a disinformation two-fer. He could position himself as a “man of the people” by palming off a clear-eyed business decision as a victory for economic democracy. 

Musk also, by publicizing the tax bill on his stock trades last year, could claim that our current rotten tax system actually does tax the rich. In fact, Musk typically pays only a tiny share of his huge annual income in taxes. In one recent year, Musk paid nothing at all in federal income tax.

Now, in the wake of this two-fer, Musk and his fanboys are claiming that SpaceX and Tesla would not exist today had President Biden’s newly proposed Minimum Billionaires Income Tax been the law of the land back in 2008, the year both companies were experiencing growing pains and a nasty divorce had Musk on the financial ropes. This claim turns out to be dishonest, arrogant, and illogical, all at once.