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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Impeachment as Policy?

Impeaching Mayorkas won’t resolve border issues or much of anything, but whose fault is it really?


Rudy Gutierrez for The Texas Tribune
As part of its broadsides against the Biden administration, House Republicans reportedly are at work to build a rare impeachment case against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas – the first Cabinet impeachment since 1876.

As CNN tell it, three Republican House committee chairmen are already scheduling hearings within the next few weeks that would include testimony to show that Mayorkas has failed to secure the border. Even before any such hearings, Rep. Pete Fallon (R-Texas), has introduced articles of impeachment, and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), says he will reintroduce.

The apparent grounds are that Mayorkas has “undermined the operational control of our southern border and encouraged illegal immigration,” and has lied to Congress that the border was secure.

Doing this was all part of the behind-the-scenes negotiations with the most hardline Republicans to earn the Speaker’s post for Kevin McCarthy. As with much of what we have seen in these early days, this is puffery and messaging hype towards the administration, and to feed partisan political needs.

But as a matter of practicality, there are three main immediate problems, and could end up embarrassing themselves:

The hardliners may not have the votes in the House. Democrats will oppose impeachment, of course, and several Republicans who are not part of the Freedom Caucus say outright that failure on the border is not an impeachable crime.

The Democratic-majority Senate, which would try the case, won’t uphold an impeachment.

Most importantly, impeaching Mayorkas won’t resolve border policies, enforcement, security or much of anything.

GOP road to the White House 2024

By Mike Luckovich


This is what it's become


CRMC Gives New Life to Proposal to Expand Aquaculture Farm on Potter Pond.

Also hires new deputy director after political delays

By Rob Smith / ecoRI News staff

A proposal to add 3 acres of aquaculture farms to South Kingstown’s Potter Pond gained a new lease on life this week when coastal regulators voted to send a modified version of the project back to agency staff for further study.

The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), which regulates aquaculture and other developments found along Rhode Island’s coastline and state waters, was expected to make a final decision on the proposal Jan. 24, but council members instead opted to seek a compromise solution for the project by a 6-2 vote.

Jerry Sahagian, a prominent developer who has been on the council since the 2000s, proposed reducing the size of the project by 39%, trimming the farm’s footprint in Segar Cove from 130,000 to 80,000 square feet, or just under 2 acres in size. Sahagian also suggested replacing the floating gear for the farm with a different kind of aquaculture gear.

Sahagian noted agency staff recommended approval of the project at 3 acres in size, but acknowledged the concerns of community members who use the cove for recreation.

“This will add an additional 50 feet of buffer which I thought would address the safety issues for water skiers,” he said.

But not all council members agreed the panel had the power to modify the application as was proposed. Catherine Robinson Hall, a former Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management lawyer and coastal policies professor who was appointed to the council last year, questioned whether the panel was being transparent and fulfilling public notice requirements by making a major last-minute change to the project.

“It’s not a flat landscape, we’re not changing the contours of this desk,” said Robinson Hall. “We’re talking about changing the seabed, a very complex landscape. It’s not something we’re qualified to do as a council, it’s something only [agency] staff can do.”

It’s the latest development in a five-year tug-of-war between applicant Perry Raso, who owns Matunuck Oyster Bar and is seeking to expand his Rhode Island aquaculture operations, and local residents concerned about the impact the project may have on summer activities.

CRMC formed a special four-person subcommittee to study the project, the Perry Raso Subcommittee, which, after dozens of hours of public hearings, ultimately recommended the council reject the project in a November 2021 meeting. Subcommittee members expressed repeated concerns over the safety from conflicted uses in the cove.

The proposed farm would have three sections of 12 rows of scallop gear, with another 12 rows devoted to oyster farming. Raso already has aquaculture farms elsewhere in Potter Pond, and approval of the new farm would bring his total acres to 9.9, across 3% of the surface area of the pond. CRMC regulations limit aquaculture development from occupying more than 5% of the surface area of any waterbody.

CRMC staff reportedly received 149 objections regarding the project, noting that 79 letters came from out-of-state residents. The objections ranged from noise to recreational fishing impacts, to visual impacts to beach access.

“Segar Cove in Potter Pond has recreational activities. Mr. Raso has observed that they are limited,” wrote CRMC aquaculture coordinator David Beutel in his staff recommendation. “Any aquaculture project in Segar Cove will affect the recreational activities. Some of these activities may occur on the site and others adjacent to the site. Will those activities be prohibited in Potter Pond if this site is approved? No, those activities will still occur in Potter Pond.”

Two members of the Perry Raso Subcommittee, Donald Gomez and Patricia Reynolds, voted to delay the council’s final decision and send the application back to CRMC staff for additional study and a future report.

Both council members indicated they were against the project based on the safety concerns unearthed during the subcommittee’s hearings.

Gomez said the council needed more information from agency staff on any proposed changes to the project’s size or gear.

“It’s still a slippery slope,” Gomez said. “If there’s an exchange [of gear], staff need to look at it.”

CRMC Gets New Deputy Director After Repeated Delays

By Rob Smith / ecoRI News staff

After months of delays, the state Coastal Resources Management Council finally has a new deputy director.

Laura Miguel was picked earlier this month to replace James Boyd, who retired last June after 22 years, for the No. 2 spot at the agency. Miguel has more than 30 years of experience at CRMC, and previously led its enforcement division.

The Rhode Island Department of Administration (DOA) had placed a hold on all personnel action requests from CRMC last August, according to records obtained by ecoRI News last fall. The hold included three other unfilled jobs within the agency: a new coastal policy analyst; a marine infrastructure coordinator; and a hearing officer to adjudicate contested matters before the CRMC.

What makes brown rice healthy?

Decoding the chemistry of its nutritional wealth

Okayama University

Asian diets feature rice as a staple grain, contributing towards nearly 90% of the world's rice consumption. 

Brown rice, in particular, is known to have several health benefits. As a regular addition to the diet, it can help reduce body weight, lower cholesterol, and suppress inflammation. 

The ability of brown rice to neutralize reactive oxygen species and prevent cellular damage is vital to many of its health-promoting effects. Although previous studies have shown that the antioxidant compounds in brown rice can protect cells against oxidative stress, knowledge regarding which major compound contributes towards these beneficial properties has long remained a mystery.

In a recent study led by Professor Yoshimasa Nakamura from the Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science, Okayama University, researchers from Japan have identified cycloartenyl ferulate (CAF) as the main "cytoprotective" or cell-protecting compound in brown rice. 

CAF is a unique compound owing to its hybrid structure. As Professor Nakamura explains, "CAF is a hybrid compound of polyphenol and phytosterol and is expected to be a potent bioactive substance with various pharmacological properties, such as antioxidant effect and blood fat-lowering effect."

Even bivalent updated COVID-19 boosters struggle to prevent omicron subvariant transmission

An immunologist discusses why new approaches are necessary

Matthew WoodruffEmory University

The FDA is proposing an annual shot against COVID-19,
signaling that a new approach is needed.
wildpixel/iStock via Getty Images Plus
By almost any measure, the vaccination campaign against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been a global success.

As of January 2023, more than 12 billion vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 have been administered in an effort that has saved countless lives – more than 14 million in the first year of vaccine availability alone. 

With a 95% efficacy in the prevention of severe infection and death, and better safety profiles than similar historically effective vaccines, the biomedical community hoped that a combination of vaccination and natural immunity might bring the pandemic to a relatively quick end.

But the emergence of new viral variants, particularly omicron and its array of subvariants, upended those expectations. The latest omicron strain, XBB.1.5. – dubbed “Kraken”, after a mythical sea creature – has rapidly become the dominant subvariant in the U.S. The World Health Organization is calling it the most contagious strain so far, with its success almost certainly attributable to an ability to dodge immunity from previous vaccines or infections.

The effort to get ahead of these ever-changing variants is also in part what has led the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider its approach to COVID-19 vaccination. 

On Jan. 23, 2023, the agency proposed that current guidelines for a series of shots followed by a booster be replaced by an annual COVID-19 vaccine that is updated each year to combat current strains. The proposal is set to be reviewed by the FDA’s science advisory committee on Jan. 26.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Charlestown Chunks #15

Good food, good stats. We need more affordable housing and less Bob Ritacco and Mikey Chambers 

By Will Collette

Chef/owner of Charlestown restaurant among finalists for prestigious James Beard award

The annual Beard Award is like the Nobel prize for chefs and Sherry Pocknett of Sly Fox Den Too is one of only three RI chefs to make the final 20 in the competition. Ms Pocknett, a Wampanoag, took over the old Gentleman Farmer space on Route 2 in 2021 and has been serving regional Native American food with remarkable creative flair. 

Since the pandemic, I haven’t gotten out to restaurants much, but Progressive Charlestown co-founder Tom Ferrio enticed me to lunch, and I was very impressed with the taste, quality and value. I had the “Indian Sammich” and it was delicious. I brought home some Indian Pudding for Cathy who declared it was the best she’d ever had. 

Winners will be announced on June 5 at a ceremony in Chicago. 

CRMC takes an unusual vote 

In other local restaurant news, Perry Raso, owner of the outstanding Matunuck Oyster Bar, wants to expand his oyster farm in Potter Pond in South Kingstown despite the usual opposition from area Aqua-NIMBYs. There is general consensus that oyster farming removes pollution from coastal pond water as well as providing jobs and helping to grow Rhode Island’s “blue economy.” 

But Aqua-NIMBYs hate the idea of seeing working people in the water, spoiling their million-dollar views. The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) whose approval is necessary, voted uncharacteristically to defer to agency experts who are reviewing Raso’s revised and scaled down plan.  

This decision comes after CRMC decisions, often contradicting staff recommendations, were defeated in court. All of this comes as part of a running battle between the Matunuck Oyster Bar and its neighbors after it gained its well-earned reputation as one of the best seafood restaurants in southern New England. 

Surprising survey results 

It’s been an article of faith, particularly among conservatives, that Rhode Island sucks. The media, especially the Providence Journal and GoLocal, feed into this by citing endless surveys ranking Rhode Island against other states. 

The survey industry is huge with numerous companies devoted to crunching numbers and coming up with best and worst listings. One of the largest is Wallethub. Every workday, I get an e-mail from them with the latest rankings they’ve devised. Recently, Rhode Island was ranked in several more unusual categories. 

For example, they did a survey of states that did the most to discourage smoking. In that survey, Rhode Island ranked 4th among the states, behind Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina were deemed the most smoker friendly. 

We also ranked the 4th worst state for driving that factored in congestion, gas prices, taxes, insurance costs, road quality and car thefts. We came in behind Hawaii, Washington State and Delaware. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see Rhode Island ranked 7th in the category of workers least likely to quit their jobs. This category was surprisingly divided Blue versus Red, with Blue states seeming to have the best rates of job satisfaction while Red state workers were more likely to want to quit – Alaska, Wyoming and Montana topped that list. The best states for job stability are New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  

Jamestown plans higher property tax credits for volunteer firefighters 

The Jamestown Town Council voted to ask its General Assembly representatives to secure state approval for a planned boost in property tax credits for volunteer first responders which is currently $700. The town wants to raise the credits to $1,000 to $2000 depending on the years of service.  

Jamestown fire chief James Bryer said, “volunteerism is a dying breed right now, and we are trying to figure out how to maintain it here in Jamestown.” 

Charlestown’s active fire districts (as opposed to FAKE districts in Shady Harbor and Central Quonnie) suffer chronic shortages. Charlestown offers no tax incentives to recruit or retain volunteer first responders. They should, in my opinion. 

State education aid would increase to Chariho towns 

If Governor Dan McKee’s budget is passed by the General Assembly, Charlestown would receive an additional $101,029 in state aid. Hopkinton would get an additional $622,664 and Richmond’s share would be $613,523. 

That’s a total of $1,337,216 of proposed additional state aid that would go into the Chariho school system.  

Major political change goes largely unnoticed 

I’ve been watching to see what else might come out to explain the abrupt January 3 notice that former one-term RI Secretary of State Matt Brown was out as both leader and board member of the RI Political Co-op which he founded in 2018. The Co-op largely recruited and helped to support progressive Democrats to run in primaries and elections to counter the mainstream Democratic leadership. 

The Co-op was also Brown’s launch pad for several quixotic runs for state office, all of which he lost in spectacular fashion. The Co-op’s highpoint was the 2020 election that saw eight co-op candidates win. In 2022, it was a different story as Co-op candidates failed across the state. 

In a twist, new state Rep. Megan Cotter originally started out as a Co-op candidate in her near successful 2020 effort to unseat Richmond rightwing nut Justin Price. She dropped her Co-op affiliation for an encore in 2022 and won. 

I’ll update you as more of the backstory comes out, especially as it may affect the 2024 election. 

Update on Bob Ritacco 

Bob Ritacco ran the Westerly Democratic Party like an old-fashioned stereotype of a political boss and dominated town politics despite a record of shady dealings. But his domination came to a decisive close when he was indicted by a state grand jury on two counts of first-degree sexual assault (i.e., rape) last April. 

He has been out on $20,000 bond awaiting trial. However, the Westerly Sun reported that he was supposed to have his pre-trial conference in January, but now that date has been pushed back to May due to time conflicts. 

Charlestown and Charlestownians in the media

Kudos to Thom Cahir who was interviewed by public radio’s Ian Donnis and made these comments about affordable housing: 

“Charlestown Affordable Housing Commission member THOM CAHIR:

 The issue of affordable housing in Rhode Island has been a minefield since the legislature mandated municipalities reach a 10% threshold 30 years ago. Living conditions should have become fairer and more equitable, but only disparity and dichotomy remain. Legislation passed at the end of the session last year was a good start, but with housing costs and rent so high, and people living outdoors and not enough space to shelter them, now is the time to bring all stakeholders together to craft something that allows for more than a "one size fits all" solution. What works in urban areas caused those of us in the hinterlands to rewrite whole swaths of affordable housing, zoning and planning ordinances to come into compliance. Work with local officials to find specific workarounds. Convene the experts to discuss renovating existing structures in cities, and boosting accessory dwelling units in the suburbs and rural areas. And most of all, educate the NIMBY class that their kids can't move back home after college if all they care about is their property values. Also, citizens need to know that communities can't thrive without a healthy workforce. I would urge whoever ends up as the new housing secretary to work with the General Assembly as an opportunity to enlist every stakeholder to push for every creative idea being explored in every corner of the state to make housing more affordable. If not now, when?”

Germane to Thom’s point: new data ranks Charlestown as #14 among Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns for fastest growing home prices. Charlestown’s home prices rose by 8.8% over last year with a typical Charlestown residence priced at $625,840. 

CCA ideologue Mikey Chambers has returned to his former role as the CCA’s most prolific commenter and writer of letters. Lately, he has joined in beating the drum on a couple of favorite new CCA themes: that Charlestown’s low tax rate absolves the CCA of all crimes and misdemeanors and that the CCA really and truly loves the town’s staff, especially those who do exactly what the CCA tells them to do. 

Mikey was particularly worked up over the resignation under pressure of the CCA’s favorite, Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz (whose rancid record is detailed HERE).  

In a Jan. 28 comment on the CCA blog, Mikey assumed the mantle of an Old Testament prophet on behalf of Stanky, writing: 

“The people responsible for forcing Mark out of his job will be judged on their humanity and character and cannot be absolved from this heinous act unless they publicly come clean. It is not my place to forgive them this sin, they sinned in public and need to seek redemption in public."

Holy shit, Mikey. That’s way over the top even for you. As one of Stankiewicz’s long-time critics, I am proud of my well-documented challenges to him and to his CCA masters.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat.


A bus carrying Prout High School’s girls’ varsity basketball team to Chariho High crashed on King’s Factory Road on the way to the game on January 6. The bus went off the road and hit a tree.  

Several of the young women suffered minor injuries. The driver was charged with several violations including failure to maintain control and leaving the lane of travel. He was not charged with hitting the tree, in violation of Charlestown Ordinance 163-10, “Protection of Trees within public rights-of-way.” 

Charlestown Police Chief Michael Paliotta said investigators found the driver was fiddling with the GPS at the time of the crash.  


Notices have recently appeared calling for local singers to audition for upcoming performances at the Chorus of Westerly.  This local institution is looking for singers, young and old, to apply. 

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
If you’re looking for something worth picketing, the RI Republican Party has joyously announced that former Trump strumpet Kellyanne Conway will keynote the GOP’s March 2nd Lincoln Day Dinner at the Event Factory in Warwick. Aside from showing a video of Abraham Lincoln spinning in his grave, you can count on Conway to serve up a steaming pile of lies for all the MAGAnuts in attendance to swallow up. Click here for more details on the event. 

Here's a sad non-event. The once annual RI National Guard Air Show at Quonset is “no longer,” according to Major General Christopher Callahan. The show took a big hit from the pandemic, but the cancellation now has more to do with logistics including a $100 million construction project. The show used to draw thousands of spectators.

Those were the days


Long COVID is real


He'll be outranked by Marjorie Taylor Green

Magaziner Named to House Homeland Security, Natural Resources Committees for the 118th Congress 

House Barely Speaker Kevin McCarthy put nutcase
Marjorie Taylor Greene on the Homeland Security
Committee, too.
Representative Seth Magaziner (RI-02) announced that he has been selected to serve on the Committee on Homeland Security and the Committee on Natural Resources.  

The jurisdiction of the Natural Resources Committee includes oceans, fisheries and waterways, directly impacting the economy and quality of life of Rhode Islanders. The Committee also deals extensively with energy issues, including offshore wind. 

While serving as the General Treasurer of Rhode Island, Rep. Magaziner worked to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, creating programs at the state Infrastructure Bank to finance solar and wind energy projects, reducing carbon emissions, creating good-paying jobs, and lowering energy costs for consumers.  

What to Know About the Risks of Gas Stoves and Appliances

First, those risks are for real

By Lisa Song for ProPublica

As a climate reporter, I was well aware of the growing concern about the gas stoves in people’s homes leaking dangerous pollutants, like methane, a potent greenhouse gas and explosive hazard; nitrogen dioxide, which worsens asthma; and benzene, which causes cancer. 

But I was a renter who had no control over my appliances. So I mostly ignored it — until one day last fall when I smelled the rotten-egg odor of leaking natural gas while baking focaccia.

I borrowed a $30 gas leak detector from a friend (a fellow climate reporter, of course). When I turned on the oven in my New York City apartment, the lights for a “significant” leak lit up. My kitchen was filling up with methane. 

According to the user manual, that meant I should “VENTILATE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY and move to a safe location” in case of an explosion. I opened the windows and ignored the evacuation advice (don’t follow my example), too intent on taking a video of the leak as proof for my landlord before turning off the oven. 

Then I vented my frustration by panic-texting friends and eating too much focaccia — after cutting it into pieces and baking it in my toaster oven. Luckily, my landlord replaced my faulty stove within days. I made sure to check the new stove (still gas, alas) for leaks after it was installed.

“People still don’t recognize that there are health downsides to cooking with gas in your home,” said Regina LaRocque, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on medicine and public health. “This is the 21st century, and we have better ways of cooking than over a fire.”

Tests Are Vital. But Congress Decided That Regulation Is Not.

Lobbyists cut a hole in patient safety

By Anna Clark for ProPublica

A number of tests used by patients to make major health care decisions have once again escaped regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, following intensive lobbying on behalf of test-makers, professional associations and academic medical centers.

For years, experts have warned about the dangers of so-called laboratory-developed tests — including certain cancer screenings and diagnostic tests for everything from Lyme disease to autism — reaching patients without FDA oversight.

ProPublica recently published an investigation about popular prenatal screenings that fall into this category, which one expert described as an unregulated “Wild West.” Upwards of half of all pregnant people now receive one of these prenatal screenings. (We also have put together a guide for expecting parents.)

Congress was on the cusp of finally creating a pathway for the FDA to scrutinize these tests, as it does for many other common commercial tests. For much of 2022, the VALID Act seemed on track for passage — and then, in the final weeks of the year, legislators backed away.

The VALID Act, which had bipartisan support, had been developed after nearly a decade of debate among stakeholders about ways to close a regulatory loophole and clarify the FDA’s role in overseeing the testing industry. The legislation had momentum thanks, in part, to Theranos’ fraudulent blood-testing scandal and the coronavirus pandemic, both of which revealed the possible consequences of unchecked tests reaching patients.

But lawmakers left VALID out of a must-pass end-of-year bill that dealt with a range of spending priorities.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

DOJ’s Polite Approach to Corporate Crime

The kid gloves approach simply doesn't work

Phil Mattera  Dirt Diggers Digest

The Justice Department cannot seem to decide what stance it wants to take toward corporate criminality. After Biden came into office, DOJ initially signaled a get-tough approach, only to hedge on that last year. A new policy creates even more ambiguity.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. just delivered a speech that lives up to his name. He insisted that DOJ is “using every tool at our disposal to combat corporate crime, including more sophisticated data analytics and other means to proactively identify criminal conduct.” 

Yet he put his main emphasis on the additional opportunities the department will give corporations to reduce penalties and avoid criminal prosecutions altogether. The presentation, in effect, offered a new get out of jail free card to Corporate America.

To be fair, the card is not entirely free—the price is self-reporting. DOJ has apparently decided that the silver bullet for fighting corporate crime is giving companies more incentives to snitch on themselves. Polite’s speech announced a set of enhancements designed to make self-disclosure even more appealing.

Tales from the culture war

For more cartoons by Jen Sorenson, CLICK HERE

Yeah, we know EXACTLY what you want to cut


COVID-19 deaths in the US continue to be undercounted

More than 1 million Americans and we're still counting

Andrew StokesBoston UniversityDielle LundbergBoston UniversityElizabeth Wrigley-FieldUniversity of Minnesota, and Yea-Hung ChenUniversity of California, San Francisco

An accurate count of COVID-19 deaths is critical both
scientifically and politically.
 Douglas Rissing/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, a recurring topic of debate has been whether official COVID-19 death statistics in the U.S. accurately capture the fatalities associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Some politicians and a few public health practitioners have argued that COVID-19 deaths are overcounted. For instance, a January 2023 opinion piece in The Washington Post claims that COVID-19 death tallies include not only those who died from COVID-19 but those who died from other causes but happened to have COVID-19.

Most scientists, however, have suggested that COVID-19 death tallies represent underestimates because they fail to capture COVID-19 deaths that were misclassified to other causes of death.

We are part of a team of researchers at Boston University, University of Minnesota, University of California San Francisco and other institutions who have been tracking COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. A major goal for our team has been to assess whether the undercounting of COVID-19 deaths has occurred, and if so in which parts of the country.

Rep. Magaziner pushes for lower energy costs

Rep. Magaziner introduces amendments to protect working people against increased energy prices 

Representative Seth Magaziner (RI-02) introduced two amendments to H.R. 21,  the Strategic Production Response Act to protect working Rhode Islanders from increased energy costs brought on by the Republican legislation. 

As energy prices have spiked, the Biden Administration has successfully used releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to lower prices at the pump and provide relief to American families. 

Now, Republicans want to hamstring the Administration's ability to release oil from the SPR in the future, which could have devastating impacts on working Rhode Islanders.  

In order to make sure that H.R. 21 does not reverse the progress of the last year, Rep. Magaziner introduced two amendments to the legislation. 

The first will require the Secretary of Energy to certify that the bill will not have any negative impacts upon households that use heating oil – which nearly 1 in 3 Rhode Islanders do – before H.R. 21 can go into effect. 

Magaziner also introduced an amendment to ensure that the legislation will not be permitted to stop the President from using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gas prices. 

“I am ready to work with anyone – Republicans or Democrats – to deliver real solutions for lowering everyday costs. But instead of looking out for the working people trying to make ends meet, this bill puts oil company profits ahead of the Rhode Islanders who are struggling to keep up with rising energy prices” said Representative Magaziner. 

“With these Amendments, we are drawing a line in the sand between those who stand for consumers and those who are doing the bidding of the Big Oil companies. I urge my Democratic and Republican colleagues alike to join me to show the working people who are struggling to fill their tanks and heat their homes that we have their backs.”

These amendments are the first that Representative Magaziner has offered in the 118th Congress in order to advocate for working Rhode Islanders. 

Cotter bill would establish limits on grocery self-checkouts

Their main purpose is to cut jobs 

Rep. Megan L. Cotter has introduced legislation that would establish limits on self-checkout lanes at grocery stores in Rhode Island.

The bill is meant to start a conversation about corporations’ ever-increasing use of self-checkout lanes to reduce the employment of cashiers, said Representative Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond).

“In addition to the frustration and inconvenience self-checkouts represent to many shoppers, this is mainly a jobs issue. Self-checkouts are specifically used to reduce the number of people that stores employ, and the number of hours that their employees work. The big corporations that own grocery chains no doubt hope the public will just slowly continue to accept this effort, but I’m hoping this bill will start a discussion so Rhode Islanders have a chance to voice their concerns in a place where these corporations will hear them,” said Representative Cotter.

Representative Cotter said she introduced the bill in large part of our concern for those who work as cashiers, and also for customers, many of whom benefit from the social interactions they have in the community with people like cashiers.

Medicare Advantage Is Neither Medicare Nor an Advantage

Medicare Advantage is a money-making scam. I should know. I helped to sell it.

WENDELL POTTER for Common Dreams

Right now, well-funded lobbyists from big health insurance companies are leading a campaign on Capitol Hill to get Members of Congress and Senators of both parties to sign on to a letter designed to put them on the record “expressing strong support” for the scam that is Medicare Advantage.

But here is the truth: Medicare Advantage is neither Medicare nor an advantage.

And I should know. I am a former health-care executive who helped develop PR and marketing schemes to sell these private insurance plans.

During my two decades in the industry, I was part of an annual collaborative effort to persuade lawmakers that Medicare Advantage was far superior to traditional Medicare—real Medicare. 

We knew that having Congressional support for Medicare Advantage was essential to ensuring ever-growing profits—at the expense of seniors and taxpayers. We even organized what we insiders derisively called “granny fly-ins.” We brought seniors enrolled in our Medicare replacement plans to Washington, equipped them with talking points, and had them fan out across Capitol Hill.

I regret my participation in those efforts. Over the 20 years since Congress passed the Medicare Modernization Act, the Medicare Advantage program has become an enormous cash cow for insurers, in large part because of the way they have rigged the risk-scoring system to maximize profits. 

As Kaiser Health News reported last month, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated “net overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans by unconfirmed medical diagnoses at $11.4 billion for 2022.” That was for just one year. Imagine what the cumulative historical total would be.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Reps Cicilline and Magaziner discuss first days in Republican-controlled House

"Working" with the right

By Steve Ahlquist for UpRiseRI

On Thursday January 19th Uprise RI alongside other local journalists sat down with Rhode Island’s United States Representatives David Cicilline and Seth Magaziner, both Democrats. Representative Cicilline has served since 2011, Representative Magaziner was recently sworn in for his first term, after a long delay as Republicans in the House, who hold a small majority, struggled to elect Kevin McCarthy to the Speakership.

This conversation was held in Representative Cicilline’s Pawtucket office with a small number of local journalists. It was rather informal, with a good back and forth in questions. The transcript has been edited for clarity, you can watch the full interview here: United States Reprepresentatives David Cicillini and Seth Magaziner Press Conference - Jan 19 2023 - YouTube

What do you say about this, Clay Johnson?


How to make elections nicer


Magaziner co-sponsors new ethics legislation

Representative Seth Magaziner Signs onto Bipartisan Legislation to Ban Members of Congress from Owning and Trading Stocks

The TRUST in Congress Act is the first bill that Magaziner co-sponsored as a Member of Congress 

Representative Seth Magaziner (RI-02) announced that he has joined Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Chip Roy (R-TX-21) as an original cosponsor of the Transparent Representation Upholding Service and Trust (TRUST) in Congress Act.  

The TRUST in Congress Act – which effectively bans Members of Congress and their families from owning and trading individual stocks – was the first legislation that Rep. Magaziner co-sponsored as a Member of Congress. Magaziner joined 45 of his Democratic and Republican colleagues in signing onto the legislation as original co-sponsors.  

Planning for Rhode Island’s food future

URI brings together stakeholders for 7th Annual R.I. Food System Summit

The summit, "Setting the Table," for a 2030 Food Vision focused on the next iteration of Relish Rhody, the state’s food strategy, and developing a more resilient, sustainable and equitable food system. (URI Photos/Nora Lewis)

More than 350 people have tuned in to learn about and discuss Rhode Island’s food future as part of the 7th Annual Rhode Island Food System Summit. Hosted by the University of Rhode Island, the summit focused on “Setting the Table for a 2030 Food Vision” and featured an update from Rhode Island Commerce Corp. Director of Food Strategy Julianne Stelmaszyk. 

Also featured was a keynote address by author Sophie Egan, an authority on food’s impact on human and environmental health, and a discussion of Matunuck Shellfish Hatchery and Research Center, a new partnership between the University and Matunuck Oyster Farm.

Speakers also focused on efforts to grow and innovate aquaculture and agriculture within the state.

This was the 7th Annual Rhode Island Food System Summit hosted by the University of Rhode Island.

'Open Admission of Fraud'

United CEO Says Airlines Are Scheduling Flights They Can't Fulfill

JESSICA CORBETT for Common Dreams

Travelers look at a flight information display listing canceled and delayed flights due to a Federal Aviation Administration outage that grounded flights nationwide at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on January 11, 2023. 

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Three unidentified U.S. airlines are under federal investigation for potentially scheduling flights the companies know they ultimately will not be able to fly—a revelation The New York Times reported Friday, just two days after United Airlines' CEO suggested competitors are doing just that.

The Times focused largely on how air travel issues—including mass cancellations from a winter storm during the holidays last month and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) system outage that grounded air traffic across the country last week—have put Pete Buttigieg, the head of the U.S. Department of Transporation (DOT), "in the hot seat."

"Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation has been hesitant to hold the airlines accountable," John Breyault, the vice president for public policy at the National Consumers League (NCL), told the newspaper. "While Secretary Buttigieg has talked a tough talk, particularly over the past few months, we have yet to see that really translate into action."

In an interview, Buttigieg defended his record—which has included a proposed rule on refunds, an online dashboard of airlines' commitments, and nearly $16 million in fines—saying that "in terms of what we've done and in terms of what we're doing, I would stack up our work in this area against anybody who’s taken this on at the federal level."

According to the report, "The department is also investigating three U.S. airlines over whether they scheduled flights that they did not have enough staff to support, a spokeswoman for the agency said, though she declined to identify the airlines."

That reporting came after United CEO Scott Kirby said Wednesday during an earnings call with investors that "there are a number of airlines who cannot fly their schedules. The customers are paying the price. They're canceling a lot of flights. But they simply can't fly the schedules today."

"What happened over the holidays wasn't a one-time event caused by the weather, and it wasn't just at one airline. One airline got the bulk of the media coverage, but the weather was the straw that broke the camel's back for several," Kirby said—presumably referring to Southwest Airlines, which faced intense scrutiny for canceling nearly 17,000 flights partly due to issues with its personnel management system that employees and other critics claim could have been avoided with technological upgrades.

United has recognized "the new reality and the new math for all airlines," Kirby asserted, while warning that "our industry has been changed profoundly by the pandemic and you can't run your airline like it's 2019 or you will fail."

"We believe any airline that tries to run at the same staffing levels that it had pre-pandemic is bound to fail and likely to tip over to meltdown anytime there are weather or air traffic control stresses in the system," the CEO said, highlighting the need for investments in not only staff but also technology and infrastructure.

Kirby's comments about competitors' alleged scheduling practices caught the attention of the anti-monopoly think tank American Economic Liberties Project (AELP), which described them as "the airlines' open admission of fraud."

"What an extraordinary admission," William McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at AELP and author of the airline industry exposé Attention All Passengerstweeted Thursday.

Friday, January 27, 2023

A Lesson for America 90 Years After Hitler's Ascension to Power

Corporate Germany got what it wanted and the rest of the world had hell to pay.

WERNER LANGE for Common Dreams

American Nazis in the 1930s....
January 30 this year marks the 90th anniversary of the corporate-facilitated appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of a deeply divided Germany. 

There is an alarming lesson in this disastrous historic development for a deeply divided America today: Cutting deals with fascists to catapult a voraciously power-hungry politician to high national office places a nation in grave peril.

...and the 1960s and 70s...
Right-wing German corporate leaders from the Freundenkreis der Wirtschaft (Club of Friends of the Economy) did just that in 1933 in the wake of national elections which led to the collapse of a conservative government and the rise of communist representation in Parliament. 

At secret meetings arranged by the influential banker, Kurt von Schröder (now generally recognized as “the midwife of Nazism”), it was eventually agreed after some contentious negotiations that a new government headed by the fascist Hitler was the preferential option of alarmed conservatives and capitalists. 

...and today
As Schröder himself later testified at the Nuremberg trials: “The general desire of businessmen was to see a strong man come to power in Germany who would form a government that would stay in power for a long time.” Corporate Germany got what it wanted and the rest of the world had hell to pay over the following 11 years.

Fast forward to January 2023 and the secret contentious negotiations that eventually culminated in Kevin McCarthy’s election as Speaker of the House. The anti-democratic deals cut for that embattled promotion were dictated by a pack of political wolves from the far-right House Freedom Caucus. They did not act alone. 

Alarmed by growing trends toward liberalism, even socialism, America’s ruling class seized the moment of a slight Republican majority in the House to call in their chips and demand a return on their political investments.

A review of the mega-donors to the congressional campaigns of the 46 members of the House Freedom Caucus reveals it as an authoritarian gang hopelessly beholden to the most reactionary extremes of finance capital and corporate America.